Posts Categorized: Feature Article

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Conversations with
My Favorite Author

“Guess how long the space ships are in this book!”

“Guess how long the space ships are in this book!”

The conversation often starts something like this. Sometimes it’s, “Guess how many different genders are in this world!” or, “Guess what Gwenna just discovered about Annick!”

I’m not the person asking. My husband poses these questions, and it is my job to answer them. If I don’t guess correctly, I’ll get another opportunity in a few minutes, a few hours, a day or two. When he’s reading a new book, each masterful bit of world-building is fodder for a conversation like this one. When he’s writing a new scene, each plot point or moment of character development is an opportunity for a pop-quiz.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “Half a galaxy long?” I think this is a plausibly impressive size, given his enthusiasm, given the volume and intensity with which he has asked the question. He knows that I cannot tell a furlong from a parsec, but he refuses to believe that a person can live in the world without understanding basic measurement and scale. Read More »

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“The thing is,” I pointed out, “It’s all work. This is work.”

“The thing is,” I pointed out reasonably, “I’m working even when my fingers aren’t physically pressing the keys.” I pointed helpfully at my head, trying to indicate the furious labor going on inside. “Writing is not a linear process. It’s all work. This is work.”

My argument might have been more compelling if I hadn’t been standing in my boxer shorts at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon drinking an IPA and watching the local porcupine trying to snag that last apple without falling out of the tree.

“You may be working,” Jo replied, “but I want to punch you really hard in the neck.”

It seemed like an uncharitable thing to say to a man who was hard at work writing his second novel. It seemed doubly uncharitable given that Jo is my wife, and that our division of labor – the very division that led me to be standing on the porch in my boxers in the first place – was something we had hammered out together, something we had both happily embraced.

I pointed this out. The things she said next were even less charitable. Read More »

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What We Didn’t See:
Power, Protest, Story*

My parents taught me not to stare.

My parents taught me not to stare.

As children, even as adults, prolonged staring at others is something we do when we first encounter difference. It’s a long, often critical or fascinated look at something to try and understand it, to gauge where it fits in our taxonomy of things. First: is this a threat? Should I respond with a fight…or flight? Second: where does this person fit within my existing boxes? Woman or man? Black or white? Friend or foe?

We have nice neat boxes for everything, boxes we learned in childhood which have been reinforced by stories, by media, by our peers, as we grow older. We stare longest when we cannot fit what we see into an existing box; when we cannot figure out if it’s dangerous, or merely different: which many of us, unfortunately, still feel are the same thing.

And, if after staring long enough, we decide that this different thing is dangerous: we kill it.

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Women Made of Chrome

“Jane Navio was a chrome-assed bitch … but she was right.” Up Against It, M. J. Locke

I wish there were more Jane Navios in fantasy. Oh, you see them in science fiction and horror, but not in fantasy. There is an unwritten code that women in fantasy novels must not be older than thirty, or they’re all the grandmotherly types over sixty, but rarely are there any in the forty to fifty range. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but since the 1990s, female characters over forty seem to have faded into the background scenery, and very few are protagonists.

Part of this is our current culture. I see it every time I go online. So-and-so actress is aging well, but only because she appears as if she is ten or twenty years younger. Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench are the exceptions to this rule. Both of these ladies have played chrome-assed bitches in their films. They don’t waffle or give long, righteous speeches about women and what they need. They wade right into a situation and get the job done.

The genre community talks about writing worlds that are a clearer reflection of the world in which we live, yet no one talks about the need for older protagonists. People don’t cease to exist after thirty, nor do they turn into fountains of knowledge and wisdom. Old bearded men, who guide young men, or ancient wise women, who are kind and giving, simply don’t exist in abundance in the real world. It’s easy become lost in the wonder of youth, but wonder does not automatically stop after a certain age. Even at fifty, I am still discovering new aspects of self and the world around me.

Like everyone else, older people like to see themselves reflected in the fiction they read. When I posed the question on Twitter one day, people were quick to mention George R.R. Martin’s Catelyn and Cersei as good examples of mature women in current literature, and I can’t disagree. Of the two, I’d say that Cersei falls closer to chrome than Catelyn. They are the biggest reasons I’ve stuck with the series as long as I have. Read More »

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Author’s Note:

This piece is meant to be a broad-ranging retrospective on the work of Gene Wolfe, one of the most significant authors of speculative fiction. As I imply in the essay below I think it is quite impossible to “spoil” a Gene Wolfe novel (each work is just too protean), but I do discuss both his plots and possible interpretations of several puzzles his books present. So if you haven’t read the books in question, you’ve been warned.

A good essay, like any good story, needs solid bones.

A good essay, like any good story, needs solid bones. It needs a foundation, a structure, a framework on which the subject can hang. When I sit down to write about a genre, or a story, or an author’s work I always start with that core: I try to find some central tenet, a grain of sand small and indivisible, some immutable truth inherent to the work around which my analysis can accrete. But trying to sift the work of Gene Wolfe – one of my favorite authors – I find that each grain becomes as mutable, as multifaceted, as slippery as his work itself. And maybe it is that slipperiness, that coy teasing play, that is itself the heart of Wolfe’s writing. Perhaps that is as good a place to start as any.

Gene Wolfe – as he has stated time and again – sets out to write books which can deliver a different kind of enjoyment each time they are read or re-read. He engineers his work from the very start to operate on multiple levels, to manipulate the reader using different levers.

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