Conservation of Shadows
Release Date: 20130418
Publisher: Prime Books
Up until recently, short stories, as a medium, were largely off my radar. Though I read them avidly and voraciously as a child, at some point during my mid to late teens, I just sort of… stopped. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a consequence of the fact that, for whatever reason – their length, presumably – short stories are frequently marketed to kids, but less so to teenagers (or at least, that used to be the case), and once they were no longer being thrust upon me, I didn’t seek them out. I kept writing them, of course, but not very well or often, because it’s extremely hard to develop any proficiency at an art form you aren’t actively exposed to. But ever since I bought a subscription to Clarkesworld for my Kindle and remembered, somewhat belatedly, how amazing good short stories are, I’ve been ravenous for them.
Conservation of Shadows is, to put it bluntly, breathtaking.
Enter Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee – a collection I heard about via Aliette de Bodard, who wrote the introduction – which has well and truly reminded me that, if you’re not reading short stories, you’re missing out on something vital. With settings that range from the fantastic to the science fictional – and including plenty which blur the lines between them – Conservation of Shadows is, to put it bluntly, breathtaking. Lee writes with extraordinary power and beauty: her worldbuilding, which frequently draws its influences from Korean culture and history, is compulsively original and detailed, but without being overwhelming (except on the level of sheer professional envy). Thematically, her stories deal with empire, colonialism, warfare and its aftermath, and the many ways in which all these elements impact on people, history, language and culture. Continue reading
The Raven Boys
Release Date: 20120918
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Set in Henrietta, Virginia, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys exhibits characteristics of the “southern novel”, a form I associate strongly with Tom Wolfe or Harper Lee. Novels of the American South tend to focus on the gross inequalities that exist there, often couched in racial terms, but also the nature of inherited wealth juxtaposed with the lack of opportunity that exists in the more urban centers. In the case of The Raven Boys, Stiefvater creates that paradigm between Blue Sargent, daughter to a poor, but comfortable, and exceedingly proficient psychic, and four boys from Aglionby, a feeder high school for the Ivy League.
The Raven Boys is an examination of the power dynamics between people.
For all her life, Blue has been warned that Aglionby boys are trouble. They’re rich and live by a code that means the rules don’t apply to them. These Aglionby boys–Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah–would be no different, except they can’t accept the lives they’ve been given. They want something more, for themselves and for each other. Bound up in a brotherhood dedicated to uncovering a measure of magic in the world, the boys come to Blue and her family for help. While the story is a quest, the novel is hardly about it at all. Not just about the unequal nature of the American South, The Raven Boys is an examination of the power dynamics between people. The power we give to others over us, and the power we reserve for ourselves. In other words, it’s a novel of character and the connections that bind them together. Continue reading
We See A Different Frontier
Release Date: 20130610
There’s a saying my grandmother likes to use when people are eating dinner: instead of saying ‘I’m full’, she prefers ‘I’ve had an elegant sufficiency’. It’s this phrase which sprang to mind as I finished We See A Different Frontier: because everything about it, from the overarching themes of the stories themselves to their place and number in the collection, feels perfectly designed to amaze, impress and satisfy. It is, in every way that matters, an elegant sufficiency of stories; the kind of anthology that leaves you feeling eager – but not starving – for more of the same.
Bracketed by a preface from Aliette de Bodard and an afterword from Ekaterina Sedia, Frontier is a powerful, fascinating and deeply necessary examination of colonialism through an SFFnal lens – and, by extension, of its real-world history and legacy. In a genre which so often deals with questions of technology, expansion, power and revolution – spacefaring explorers discovering new worlds, rebels battling empires and dystopian states, humans negotiating with elves and aliens – the Western, imperial roots of much classic SFF also dictate that, even though there’s a glut of stories championing the underdog, exulting in their endless against-the-odds victories over a sea of evil masters, it’s comparatively rare for the oppressed heroes of science fiction to resemble those groups most oppressed in real life.
All too often, we shy away from stories whose oppressor/oppressed dynamics purposefully and overtly reflect our many real-world inequalities.
There are, for instance, any number of dystopian stories that lament the narratively-imposed lack of heteronormative romantic choice, but none I can think of that mimic the actual, real-world oppression of queer love. Similarly, and despite the awful volume of historical evidence that human colonialism and Western expansion have invariably been fraught with violence, evil and bigotry, our stories tend overwhelmingly to suggest the opposite, couching human colonists as either enlightened liberators or scientific progressives, and Western (or Western-style) hegemony as the system that supplants, rather than endorses, tyrannical empire, or which at the absolute best is shown to be open to abuse, not because of any inherent flaws, but due to the temporary lack of a Good King. All too often, we shy away from stories whose oppressor/oppressed dynamics purposefully and overtly reflect our many real-world inequalities: at best, we brush them off as didactic, simplistic and agenda-laden, their messages so obvious as to go without saying (because doing so makes us uncomfortable, natch), and at worst, as biased propaganda designed to make “us” look like the bad guys. Continue reading
Release Date: 20140318
Full of Pratchett’s trademark wit and humor, Raising Steam is a tour de force of comedic fantasy and proves that despite recent health issues and uncertainty about his future as a novelist, Terry Pratchett is still a wordsmith and storyteller at the top of his game.
Steam power has come to Discworld and caught in the middle of it all is the irascible (but oh-so-lovable) Moist von Lipwig, the golden-tongued swindler and conman. As if running the Royal Mint, Royal Bank and Post Office of Ankh-Morpork wasn’t enough, Moist is quickly thrown to the wolves after being named (err… forced) by Lord Venitari to the role of civil representative for the new railway system as it spreads its tendrils through Discworld, maneuvering between mountains of trouble (literal, figurative and, well, always enormous) at every turn.
Moist von Lipwig, who should be recognizable to Discworld fans for his appearance in some of Pratchett’s most loved novels, returns to the Ankh-Morpork’s spotlight after being handed the responsibility of handling the next great invention on Discworld: the steam engine. As expected, hilarity and much fuss ensues, leaving Moist to navigate the politics and fast-moving (no pun intended) world of steam-powered locomotion. Add to this a civil war among the dwarfs, who are none-too-fond of the new-fangled railway, and you’ve got a story that’s chockfull of amusing misadventures, hair raising escapes and, as Pratchett fans will expect, a few genuinely tender and perceptive moments, too. Continue reading
Lightning in a Bottle, an unfilmable story.
Last year, after a decade of speculation, failed starts and mountains of expectation, Peter Jackson released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, The Hobbit, for the big screen. Following in the footsteps of its bigger brother, Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings, a modern film classic in its own right, The Hobbit was almost destined to disappoint. With his first trilogy, Jackson captured lightning in a bottle. He took the movie industry by storm, and revitalized mainstream excitement for fantasy to a level not seen since the ’80s. He did so, somehow, by executing an enormous passion project that seemed almost impossible under the circumstances: no major stars, a production and special effects company that no one had heard of, a story deemed unfilmable by many fans, and a film industry that had not seen anything of its scale since Lucas’ Star Wars (which, in itself, faced many challenges and doubters before it found success.)
When Jackson first approached New Line Cinema, he pitched them on an adaptation of The Hobbit, with a two-film adaptation of Lord of the Rings to follow. As these things go, film rights to The Hobbit were split between two companies (which would again later impede production of The Hobbit trilogy we know today), while Lord of the Rings was entirely under the umbrella of New Line Cinema’s owner, Saul Zaentz. Jackson, a relative unknown in the world of big budget Hollywood films, was given the reigns to one of the most revered entertainment properties in the world. Continue reading