Katherine Addison: THE GOBLIN EMPEROR

Looking at the prospect of the next few novels to review on my Epic Reading List (a long stretch of scifi from the late ’70s that I didn’t particularly enjoy), I have suddenly and inexplicably decided that it’d be more fun to just review novels as I read them, particularly ones that I really loved, instead of trying to talk about them in any particular order*.

SO.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, Hugo nominated in 2015 (and my #1 pick for its category).

You guys. YOU GUYS. If you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing the fuck out. Fantasy! Politics! Worldbuilding! Court intrigue! People trying to behave as ethically as possible in a position which is inherently unethical! There is nothing not to love here.

I had some slight hesitations when I set out to read THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, because politics can get very dry in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Court intrigue can get to be a real strain on the ol’ suspension of disbelief if too many of the characters start acting like they’re not real people — being evil and conniving for no reason beyond “The author needed someone to be evil and conniving”, for example. The thing is, you see, that people are basically the same everywhere: The vast majority of people act in accordance with their own moral code, whether they realize it or not. Most people don’t do things they know are bad. They do things that they think are the right and noble thing to do, and turmoil arises when their personal moral code diverges from the society’s moral code, or from another person’s.

(Which is not to say that we shouldn’t hold people accountable when their actions hurt other people — we should. We absolutely should. But a person who is setting out to Do A Thing generally tries to find a way to justify that the Thing they’re Doing is fine, really, whether it’s helping the little old lady cross the street or arming themselves and occupying a government building to protest ‘injustice’ — the brain finds a way to say, “This is necessary, this is important, this is a thing I have to do to uphold my personal worldview.” We can hold people accountable for their actions at the same time as understanding the mechanism of how they decided to do it. These things are not mutually exclusive.)

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR’s politics and intrigue works exactly because Katherine Addison understands this concept. She understands that 99% of people will act according to their personal ethical code, and if people act unethically, it’s proooobably because it didn’t occur to them that what they were doing was an asshole thing to do. So the book is full of people with contradictory and conflicting moral/ethical codes, who are all trying to uphold their own beliefs in a world which has suddenly changed around them. It’s FANTASTIC. It’s amazing commentary, and it investigates questions without beating the reader over the head about it. You can read the book on many different levels — read it shallowly and it’s a delightful story about an unpopular, semi-forgotten prince, the youngest of his siblings, who suddenly finds himself crowned Emperor when everyone else in line to the throne dies, and (being a generally decent person) what he does with his position afterward. Or you can read it more deeply and get your teeth into all this political and philosophical commentary. There is nothing not to love about this book.

As my final note, I completely, completely ship Maia (the titular goblin emperor) and his bodyguard Cala. I was begging them to make out the entire time. My god.

Love yourself: Read THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. I recommend it with zero reservations whatsoever.

Patricia McKillip: THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD

Published: 1975
Winner or Rec? World Fantasy Award winner
Started reading: September 28, 2014
Finished reading: September 29, 2014

A momentous occasion! The first-ever World Fantasy Award winner, and glad we are to see her too. The Epic Reading Project has thus far been a long, long tour through the great (overwhelmingly white, male) authors of science fiction, with only the occasional break for fantasy (THE LAST UNICORN, ILL MET IN LANKMAR, THE BROKEN SWORD, Earthsea — I’m looking at you guys. I appreciate you).  McKillip’s third novel marks a significant change in the landscape of the genre from here on out, and damn if it’s not a great one to kick off the WFAs with.

As you may have figured out, I am a terribly soft touch when it comes to lush worldbuilding, and THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD provides that in no small measure. McKillip’s writing is rich and detailed and helplessly lovely, but it’s a quiet, cozy sort of thing.

And then there’s Sybel — cold and emotionally distant Sybel, who has very little need for other people, and who cares for perhaps two people and her animals. Sybel keeps the world at arm’s length, and I love her for it.

Really enjoyed this book, I’d recommend it!

A Small Update

Wow, it has been a while, hasn’t it? I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly show my gratitude to Veera, who has been an absolute treasure these past couple months. She is the most steady and reliable and punctual person I know, and I appreciate her so much for keeping Paperwights up and regularly posting. 🙂 Thank you thank you thank you.

So where have I been?

In November, I went AWOL to participate in National Novel  Writing Month for the twelfth consecutive year. I wrote roughly 90,000 words in 30 days, finished a manuscript, got a solid chunk of a second manuscript done, and started a third. I like bouncing around between lots of projects at one time. And then, as if that wasn’t an exhausting amount of work…

In December, I buckled down with a completely different manuscript than any of the ones I worked on in November — WINDFALL, my steampunk adventure novel! I spent the month beating it to death with blunt objects and polishing it to a high gloss (and learning to write a synopsis, but that’s a whole different rant) in preparation forrrrrr…

January! When I brushed its hair and helped it put its tiny backpack on and sent it off to Gollancz for their open submissions period! This is the first time I have submitted a novel to a traditional publisher, and it was just as exciting and nerve-wracking as you might imagine.

So, now that those enormous tasks are done, I’m going to try to start regularly scheduled reviews again next Thursday. 😀 Stay tuned.

(Veera, I love you. Thank you so much for your support and patience these last couple months. You are a jewel.)

Trends in Genre Fiction — The ’60s, or: “HOLY FUCK YOU GUYS, THE MOON! MARS! …ALIENS???”

(Check out the first of this series, The ’50s: Or, “Omg Rockets”, for an explanation of what I’m doing here.)

The award-winning books of this decade were:

  • Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
  • Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
  • James Blish, Cities in Flight
  • Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
  • Clifford D. Simak, Here Gather the Stars (also known as Way Station)
  • Fritz Leiber, The Wanderer
  • Frank Herbert,  Dune
  • Roger Zelazny, ...And Call Me Conrad (also known as This Immortal)
  • Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
  • Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
  • Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17
  • Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
  • Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Peter S Beagle, The Last Unicorn
  • Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection
  • John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
  • Alexei Panshin, Rite of Passage

Strikethroughs indicate books I either skipped or did not finish reading. (Oh, Brunner. Oh, Zelazny. You guys and I just don’t think any of the same things are cool. You just keep on doing your thing. Lots of other people like you. Godspeed.) Also, I’m just going to note, here? There’s only one woman on this list. Come on, SFF fandom of 50 years ago. Get it together, guys. 😛 Spoiler alert: SFF awards were won by women four entire times in the 1970s. And two of those wins were still Ursula LeGuin. So… three women. Three women winners from 1970 to 1979. ONE in the ’60s. I will grumble about this at greater length for my ’70s recap.

Following naturally from how we were all shitting ourselves over rockets in the 1950s, scifi of the 1960s (and it was pretty much exclusively scifi in those days*) began setting its sights a little higher (while continuing to mostly shit itself over rockets). With the US-Soviet space race dominating the decade, and the American moon landing capping it off gloriously in 1969, the world’s eyes were fixed on the heavens.

Science fiction writers have always had the sacred duty of figuring out, “What next?” While the moon landing was so close that America could taste it, the scifi writers were busily planning what we’d do after we got there. To many of these would-be prophets, the next step would be to set up a moon colony (THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS); and after the moon, Mars and the rest of the cosmos was only another skip further on (THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA, RITE OF PASSAGE. DOUBLE STAR, Heinlein’s 1956 Hugo winner, was a good 5-10 years ahead of its time on this front; Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy… well, like him or not (and many of you know I don’t), you gotta admit that the guy was lightyears ahead of all of us). With humanity making its first foray into space, we were potentially joining a galactic or universal society, and with this step outside came the potential to… meet some of the neighbors, as it were (THE WANDERER, WAY STATION, BABEL-17… Not to mention two of the most popular TV shows in history, DOCTOR WHO and STAR TREK, both of which started airing in this decade).

It was a decade of hopes and dreams and aspirations, when Alpha Centauri seemed almost close enough to touch, when scientific progress in the real world was beginning to accelerate at such a pace that, as cliche as it sounds, anything seemed possible. We, today, who have grown up with technology, who have in the palms of our hands computers thousands of times more powerful than the ones we used to land on the moon — it’s impossible for us today, I feel, to really grok what the zeitgeist of that era was like. We were in limerance with the whole fucking cosmos, we were going to stride out into the galaxy with our arms wide open…

And then in the 70s we started to realize that we’d fucked it all up.


*Although fantasy was just starting to stir up its own following in this decade; the 60s gave us the first Earthsea book by Ursula LeGuin and Peter S Beagle’s game-changing THE LAST UNICORN. Additionally, this interview with JRR Tolkien, published by the Telegraph in 1968, is particularly interesting — they don’t even use the word fantasy to refer to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. They call it a “three volume epic fairy-tale”. The only time the word “fantasy” is used at all in this article is in the sentence, “To Professor Tolkien, a retired Oxford philologist and a man used to dealing evidentially with his material, everything, even in fantasy, must be specific.” And they’re not using that as a genre-descriptive term, but as a synonym for “daydream”. WILD, RIGHT?

Jonathan Gottschall: THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL

Another once-in-a-blue-moon review! This week I’m reviewing a nonfiction book, THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL: HOW STORIES MAKE US HUMAN.

I picked this up on a rec from a friend, seeing how I am in the thick of a manuscript that is all about stories and our relationships to them, how they affect us as individuals, and as communities, and as macro-scale societies. Which sounds really boring when I put it like that, eh? Think of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS. It’s like that.

Gottschall’s book is mesmerizing — it’s a paean for story and language, and it explores the biological impetus that makes humans tell stories. From a scientific stance, I felt like Gottschall was citing studies that were rather older than ideal, and perhaps using too many anecdotes. HOWEVER, if you approach this book as if it is philosophy — one man’s personal argument on the importance of story in human life, and indeed the inability for story to be extricated from human life —  rather than as if it is science, these problems vanish. It’s a lovely book, and while it didn’t really introduce any new concepts to me (having been aware of story and its impact both as a reader (for my whole life) and as a writer (for roughly fifteen years)), it put into words some nebulous ideas that I have always understood but never had concrete ways to think about.

It’s a lovely book, and I recommend it particularly for writers.

Outlining: Another Method

Since NaNoWriMo is starting up in a couple weeks, I thought I’d post something a little different today (and I might continue posting a-little-different things through November, since I’ll be pretty busy — I’m aiming for 100k next month!).

For yeaaaars and yeeeeeaaars, if you had asked me to write an outline, I would have looked at you with unveiled horror and slight nausea, with tears springing to my eyes. I would have offered to clean your entire kitchen as a more preferable alternative. That’s because my concept of an outline was the kind that you learn in third grade:

  • I. Introductory paragraph.
    • A. First Point
    • B. Second Point.
      • a. Supporting evidence

…and so on. Great for academic essays, utter shit for novels. I had tried to force a novel into this format a few times before. It was like trying to force one’s feet into really painful shoes. Hated every second of it, felt in nigh-physical pain, cried a lot, decided that outlines were The Worst Thing That Ever Were Invented. But my mama didn’t raise me to give up after the first try, so I did some research and experimented with other outline methods, NONE of which jived with my brain, none of which made the job easier – and that’s what they’re allegedly supposed to do. If a method didn’t make me cry, then it killed all the enthusiasm and interest I had in the idea and left me high and dry with a soggy, cold idea-corpse. Not sexy.

So for years I accepted that I simply did not have a brain that played nice with outlines. Seat-of-the-pants discovery-writing was what worked for me (within a limited definition of the word “worked”). Then one day I found myself with a half-written novel on my hands and no idea of what was going to happen next. I *needed* an outline – when you’re lost in the wilderness, what you want is a map and a compass (or, y’know, a smartphone with GoogleMaps on it). So I came up with a very cunning plan – a plan to trick my outline-hating brain.

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