Given that this is about a lesbian Latina boxer who is genetically unable to feel fear, I have no idea why it took me so long to get to it. It is not only exactly up my alley, but is very well-written, gripping, moving, sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, and probably of wide appeal even to people who don’t find that premise instantly charming.

In the not-quite-post-apocalyptic near future, the town of Santa Olivia has been cordoned off as part of a gigantic effort to seal the border between the US and Mexico. The inhabitants of the town, mostly poor and Latino/a, are stuck there, subject to the American military base on site but with no recourse from the government of either country. However, it’s not an orderly dystopia, but a poor and somewhat lawless town where people live their lives and have relationships and sports and happy times, even though conditions are hard and unjust.

Speaking of sports. The American military commander loves boxing. Once a year, a match is held between an Olympic-level boxer he brings in, and whatever man from Santa Olivia wants to face him. If the latter can win, he gets a ticket out of town. Needless to say, this creates a thriving boxing subculture, jumping at the prize that’s perpetually just out of reach.

But all this is prologue. The story concerns a young woman from Santa Olivia who falls in love with a fugitive from Haiti… a man who was experimented on and genetically engineered. Urban legend calls those men werewolves, but they can’t shapeshift. However, they’re stronger, faster, and unable to feel fear. He’s on the run and soon leaves… but not before fathering a little girl, whom he playfully names Loup.

The bulk of the story is about Loup growing up, mostly in an orphanage. Being unable to fear gives her an odd emotional tenor, not quite autism spectrum but similar. She seems strange to other people, and in her circumstances, being unable to fear means that she needs to hide herself lest she attract unwanted attention. But while she puts off some people, she intrigues others, and soon she’s at the heart of a little band of orphanage kids.

Loup may not feel fear, but she knows injustice when she sees it, and there’s a lot around. There’s also a local legend of a child saint, Santa Olivia, depicted as a little girl in a blue dress. Loup and her friends take on the role of Santa Olivia, stealth dispenser of justice. (In one hilarious scene, she creates a rain of live snakes.) And then there’s that boxing match…

I loved this book. The town and its people feel incredibly real, making unpredictable choices in the way that actual human beings do. The power dynamics, both social and individual, were also strikingly realistic. The relationships were wonderful, from Loup’s childhood buddies to her first romance to (my favorite) her relationship with an arrogant asshole male boxer who goes from being an enemy to a sparring partner to an unexpected friend.

This is written in a completely different style and tone from Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart books, so if you didn’t like those, you may well like Santa Olivia. If you did like those, you may also like Santa Olivia. There’s a sequel, but the story feels complete within the book.

Santa Olivia
Six of Doris Piserchia's sf novels are now on Kindle for $3.99. (You'd think Hachette could afford to give them covers.) Piserchia is one of those writers who would probably be more famous if she had been male, or written under a male pseudonym. Then she might have been considered ground-breaking and innovative, rather than merely weird. Her books are wild space adventures with a distinctly hallucinatory atmosphere, often starring young women who go for what they want, whether it's sex or adventure, with no regard whatsoever for the proper place of women or what others might think of them. Sadly, that attitude is still rare.

Typical summary (minus female protagonist): It all began when someone tried to push Creed into the flesh pool to be ingested. The assassination failed, but Creed was never the same again. Because it launched the new cliff-dwellers of Creed's colony onto a new course of life - which could lead to humanity's re-emergence as Earth's masters.

In those far future days, Earth's masters were two trees. Not trees as we know them, but two Everest-high growths, whose sentient roots and fast-growing branches dominated every living thing on the world. Men lived between their arboreal combat.


A few quotes from Goodreads:

Levi: Pretty much as bizarre as I remember. I think another reviewer called Piserchia's work dreamlike, and I'm going to second that description. The kind of dream where everything is extraordinarily complex but it all makes perfect sense at the time and it's only when you try to describe it later that you realize you don't quite know where to start.

Vroom: Still delightful, decades later. I remain convinced Piserchia was either heavily medicated or using recreational pharmaceuticals when writing this. My favorite of her writing.

I remember enjoying Spaceling and Star Rider.

My next mention is not a rec per se given that I have not yet had a chance to read it, and it is less easy to obtain than one might expect from an e-book. But this is the sort of thing that I bet a small but select few of you might really, really like.

Graydon Saunders was one of the most interesting posters on rec.arts.sf.written and .composition back in the Usenet Cretaceous Period. Every now and then, he would post excerpts of his fiction. It was completely obvious to me that he was a very good writer, and also that he was way too strange of a writer to ever be published by a major publishing house. His excerpts, which were always quite evocative and beautiful, tended to read as if they were written from an alternate dimension in which fantasy had taken a completely different direction than it did in our world, and the ur-influences were not Tolkien and Lewis, but Beowulf, Njal's Saga, and "Uncleftish Beholding."

He finally self-published his book. Here it is! The March North, by Graydon Saunders Read the comments to this review for an explanation of how to obtain it. I'm sure Graydon would send a copy if you ask.

ETA: Explanation of how to purchase it is now in the comments of the LJ entry.
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria described below. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to read or buy.

I have not read all these books! Commentary on the ones I have read reflects my opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon, and some descriptions were taken from Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally in reprint, as YA (Vanyel was never published as YA), 2) It must contain at least one major LGBTQ character who is clearly identified as such within the book itself. (Dumbledore is not; neither are Tom and Carl), 3) Major is defined as having a POV and/or a storyline of their own and/or lots of page-time. 4) In most cases, it must be published by a mainstream or small-press publisher in the USA.

Books in which the protagonist is LGBTQ are marked with a star.

I made this list because less than one percent of all YA novels published in the USA within the last ten years have any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting ones. Of those few novels, most are mainstream literature, not sf or fantasy.

I have not specified the authors' sexual orientation or gender identity. This list is about characters rather than authors, and I don't know how all the authors identify.

Check out the list! )
The first two books in this series were easy to describe. In a Spain-esque fantasy land, a baby princess, Elisa, has a magical rock materialize in her belly-button. This marks her as chosen by God to fulfill some special but unknown mission. She grows up feeling unworthy, but is plunged into adventure and political machinations and grows up a lot, eventually coming to master her magical powers, learn to be a competent ruler, and come to a greater understanding of the world.

By the end of the second book, a number of intriguing revelations and plot twists alter the premises set up above, making a detailed description of book three highly spoilery. Specific notes go beneath the cut; spoilers will appear in comments.

Overall, I enjoyed this trilogy a lot. The world is vivid and intriguing, despite some jarring errors. (It was the one with the jerboa filets and the vomiting horses. On that note, warning for animal harm (poisoning horses for strategic purposes) and Scorpions of Unusual Size.) Actually, the fact that Carson did any worldbuilding at all unfortunately made the errors and blank spaces stand out more.

It has interesting characters and excellent narrative drive, and uses God or something which the characters believe is God in a non-obnoxious manner – that is, no “Come to Jesus,” no “religious people are morons,” and no “Surprise twist - God is a computer!”

The three books feel very different from each other, even though they end up telling a single complete story. The first book is primarily about character growth via a fish out of water narrative, the second book is about learning to rule and expanding the world, and the third book is a classic quest narrative and also about the costs and moral compromises involved in being a ruler. As a whole, the trilogy touches on all those aspects, but character growth most of all. The Elisa of the first book is a completely different person by the end of the trilogy.

My biggest problem with the final novel is that by the end of the second book, I was primarily interested in the world and how it had come to be. By the end of the third book, a few questions were answered and more were implied, but a whole bunch of the most intriguing questions were never addressed.

As if Carson knew exactly what I was thinking, on literally the last page Elisa rattles off a list of questions which she says are still unknown. I guess I’m glad that Carson noticed that she’d raised a lot of intriguing issues that were never addressed, but I would have liked to have her actually address them. Especially since I was more interested in the worldbuilding than in the political maneuvering which took up the final third of the book.

The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns)

Read more... )
This is the sequel to Malinda Lo’s Adaptation. The entire premise of Inheritance is a spoiler for Adaptation, so all I will say outside of the cut is that I enjoyed the sequel. Below the cut are huge spoilers for both books.

Read more... )

Inheritance
Lo’s Adaptation starts out with a small-scale threatened apocalypse by birds, and turns into an X-Files episode starring a bisexual teenage girl in San Francisco. I liked it a lot, and that’s all I can say without spoilers.

“Natural Selection,” a novella, is set after Adaptation and before its sequel, Inheritance. “Natural Selection” can be read independently of either book, but is hugely spoilery for Adaptation. I liked it a lot, but that’s all I can say about it without spoilers.

Natural Selection. Only $1.99!

Read more... )
In a post-apocalyptic Brazil ruled by a council of Aunties, a teenage Summer King is elected once a year. For one year, he is famous, feted, and given anything he wants, not to mention having a limited amount of actual power. At the end of the year, he is ceremonially executed.

There is an in-story reason for this which readers may or may not find plausible, but I do find it completely believable that a fair number of teenagers would compete to be king for a year: live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. In fact, one of the most notable aspects of the novel was how convincingly teenage the teenagers are: idealistic and self-centered, impulsive and passionate, equally and alternately obsessed with sex and death, fashion trends and the meaning of art, hot celebrities and best friends.

June is a teenage graffiti artist whose best friend, Gil, falls for Enki, the glamorous, newly elected Summer King. Reluctantly, because she doesn’t want to screw up her friendship, she also develops a crush on the beautiful and doomed Enki. It turns out that June and Enki have quite a bit in common, and begin collaborating on dangerous, radical, guerilla art projects!

This novel has gotten a lot of positive press, but the rave reviews I read for it actually put me off reading it. The book was so highly praised for its politics that I got the impression that it was nothing but politics: worthy but dull, as if it should be consumed solely for its nutritional value. I didn’t read it until I was on the plane for Sirens, where Alaya was a Guest of Honor. So I was pleasantly surprised by how completely enthralled I was — and by how fun and even id-tastic it was!

Regarding id-tastic, let’s start with Enki, the object of desire. He is beautiful and doomed. He’s self-destructive, hot, a revolutionary, a dancer, and a king. He has connected himself to the city via illegal nanotech, so if something goes wrong with the city, he feels its pain and dramatically faints. If this is the sort of thing you like – and I am not ashamed to say that is the sort of thing I like – you will like this book.

The future!Brazil setting is vivid, the science fiction details are cool, there’s lots of sense of wonder, the love triangle didn’t make me want to tear my hair out, the plot moves fast, the characters are genuinely diverse, the hero has his nervous system wired into the city, and the heroine is a guerilla graffiti artist.

It’s got dark and serious aspects, but overall, it’s fun to read. This is not an “eat your broccoli” book. It’s a fruit tart with real fruit (so you’ll get your vitamin C) but the crust is made with butter, and there’s whipped cream on top.

The Summer Prince
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Aug. 20th, 2013 01:48 pm)
Sherwood Smith has a new book out, Lhind the Thief. I haven't read it yet, but she says it contains "disguises, flying, swashbuckling on land and sea, tree-houses, secrets, telepathy, magical powers and spells, food, good-looking villains as well as heroes, and even some romance." You can buy it for $4.50 at Amazon (Lhind the Thief) or at Book View Cafe, where the authors get 95% of the money (Lhind the Thief). That is my hand on the cover, attempting to launch a new career as a hand model.

Melinda Lo's delicious YA science fiction thriller Adaptation - think X-Files with a teenage bisexual heroine-- is a Kindle daily deal at $2.99. Do not click on the links for her upcoming sequel or on her upcoming promotional novella unless you want to get spoiled for everything! However, if you click on my author tag for her, you will be linked to a review with the spoiler-cut intact. Adaptation.

Read anything good lately?
My quest to read more self-published books is mostly demonstrating to me that there is often no difference in quality between them and traditionally published books. In fact, in certain genres, it is much easier to find more ambitious or unusual books, of equal literary quality, in self-publishing.

I am tempted to say that this middle-grade book is more ambitious than most, but recently middle-grade seems to be getting more ambitious, while YA, overall, is getting less so.

It's divided into three timelines, which bleed into each other from fairly early on. In modern times, American Meredith is sent away from her beloved pregnant Lipizzan horse and her mother, who is recovering from cancer, to accompany her archaelogist aunt on a dig in Egypt. In ancient Egypt, Meritre, a singer in the temple of Amon, worries about her pregnant mother and the pharoah's daughter, who is sick with a mysterious plague. And in a cyberpunk future that has cured most diseases, Meru pursues her missing mother into a secret quarantine zone.

This novel reminded me of a childhood favorite, Mary Stolz's Cat in the Mirror, which also contrasted dual timelines, of the same soul reincarnated in ancient Egypt and modern New York. Tarr's book is more complex and ambitious. The three timelines are not merely compared and contrasted and paralleled, but directly affect each other.

The book starts a little slow, probably due to having to set up three plot lines rather than one, but becomes quite a page-turner by about the one-third mark. The themes are grief, times changing and times staying the same, the inevitability of death, and the equal inevitability of life going on: reincarnation, and birth, and life itself.

Satisfying and complex. I especially liked the pets of the three girls: a horse, a cat, and a half-insubstantial alien creature.

Note: The author is a friend, so I'm probably not that objective.

Living in Threes
This is a very difficult book to review. It's a sequel to Anderson's Ultraviolet, which had some nice twists. Though the cover copy suggests that Quicksilver can be read on its own, it spoils every plot twist in Ultraviolet, starting from the very first page. (I also think it would be pretty difficult to follow without having read Ultraviolet first. In fact, I found some plot points difficult to follow because it had been so long since I had read Ultraviolet.)

They're both good books. But if you have any interest in reading either, start with Ultraviolet and don't even read the premise of Quicksilver - literally everything about it is a spoiler for Ultraviolet.

I am going to do two levels of spoiler cuts. The first level will be spoilery for Ultraviolet, the second for Quicksilver.

giant Ultraviolet spoilers )

giant Quicksilver spoilers )

Ultraviolet


Quicksilver
Clever YA sf in the old-school vein of "work through all the implications of a premise."

Teenage Ephraim finds a "magic coin" which can alter reality, and uses it improve his life: make his mom not an alcoholic, make his crush like him, etc. However, each change creates snowballing changes, often of a monkey's paw nature.

Without getting into moderate spoilers for the nature of the premise (revealed about a third of the way in) about all I can say is that yes, it does deal with the moral implications of "make someone like you," but other implications aren't dealt with as well. As a whole, the novel is solid and gripping but not quite inspired; the second half moves away from extrapolation and into action, and the extrapolation was more interesting.

Read more... )

Fair Coin
Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.


Solid, inventive, well-characterized YA science fiction. By “science fiction,” I mean “cool powers and alien invasion,” not “paper-thin dystopia in which the government’s main concern appears to be micro-managing the love triangles of teenagers.”

Madeleine, an aspiring artist, visits Sydney to paint her cousin Tyler’s portrait. Tyler is a famous cross-dressing actor, and probably my favorite character in the book despite his comparatively small part.

Her plans are stymied by an alien invasion. Starry towers rise up from the cities, and dust falls from the sky. Some people are given powers, others strange vulnerabilities, and still yet others are possessed by aliens. Stars shine from Madeleine’s skin, and she gets together with other teenagers to learn to use their powers and try to save the world.

The opening sequence, in which Madeleine tries to escape from a wrecked subway station, gets the book off to a great start. I stalled out for a while in a slow sequence in which the teenagers are interminably holed up in a hotel, but the story picks up enormously after that.

Host has a lot of respect for teenagers, and I liked the unabashedly heroic tone of the story. Rather than taking the apocalypse as an excuse for an orgy of rape and cannibalism, Host’s characters band together, form a community, explore their new relationships, take the time to make plans that make sense, and risk their lives for a cause they believe in. It’s engaging, uplifting, and, by the end, surprisingly moving.

This isn’t a flawless novel. Some events are confusing or poorly set-up, some of the dialogue is clunky, and I read the explanation of the alien invasion three times and I still don’t understand it. Too many characters are introduced in too-quick succession, and I didn’t realize that “Emily” and “Millie” were the same person with a nickname until I got to the cast of characters at the end. The sequence at the end with Gavin was really confusing, too. The book could have used one more rewrite.

However, so could at least half of the professionally edited YA novels I’ve read recently, many of which have glaring continuity errors, nonsensical motivations, ridiculous worldbuilding, unlikable characters, and, often, proofreading errors and poor formatting. In some cases, they are nothing but a string of action sequences strung together by plot holes.

And All the Stars isn’t Code Name Verity. But it’s imaginative, well-thought-out, and heartfelt. I will definitely read more of Host’s books.

Giant spoilers lurk below.

Read more... )

And All the Stars. Only $4.99!

Host self-publishes because of the glacial pace of traditional publishing, which got one of her novels stuck in review for TEN YEARS.

But there may be other reasons as well, which have nothing to do with the quality of her writing. Again, I'm not saying that she's one of the absolute best YA writers out there. But based on this, she's certainly one of the better ones. And when I say "better ones," I mean "compared to all the YA novels I've been reading that come out from major publishers," not "compared to the slush pile."

Speaking only of American publishing, which is the only publishing I know anything about, I can see why this novel would be a hard sell. It is not set in America, it involves aliens, and the tone and style are different from most YA sf I've read recently. (And there are gay characters, though in the supporting cast.) For a first-time author, those could be insurmountable obstacles.

M. C. A. Hogarth has a thought-provoking article on those issues. Maybe the audience for books about middle-aged female Hispanic space Marines is small. Maybe the audience for psychic Australian teenagers fighting aliens is small. But I'm glad that e-publishing makes it possible now for those books to find their audience.
I have often had this book recommended to me as a small classic of YA sf in the subcategories of post-apocalyptic, psychic kids, and Australian. It was written in 1987, when there wasn't quite such a glut of psychic kid and post-apocalyptic YA as accumulated later on. But it was still unimpressive.

As is explained in prologue of infodump, after a nuclear war, mutations and science were banned. Mutants can be executed or exiled if caught.

Teenage Elspeth is a telepathic mutant who can read minds, force people to do her bidding, and communicate with animals. She also has other extremely powerful abilities which are revealed later, when it's convenient for her to be able to unlock doors and kill people with her brain. Despite these abilities, her family has been executed and she is in a precarious position, under threat of death if her talents are discovered. Her brother, a teenage total jerk, has a somewhat higher status for reasons I forget and is not very helpful to her.

She ends up exiled to a prison/lab/boarding house for teenage mutants. There she is forced to slave in the kitchens, while sinister experiments are going on off-page. This section occupies about two-thirds of the book, and it felt like absolutely nothing was going on.

I was mostly bored by the book. Elspeth has very little personality. In fact, the only character with personality is a stray cat. Though a summary of events would make it seem like exciting things are happening, they are often narrated rather than shown, and are so underdeveloped that the sense is that nothing is happening. Dullsville.

Obernewtyn: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 1
I’m catching up on reviews; I read this some time last month. This is a bit unfortunate, because I enjoyed it while I read it, and if I’d reviewed it immediately afterward, I would have been more positive. One month later, I’m finding it un-memorable, which is not what I want from a Vorkosigan book.

In other ways, too, it wasn’t what I wanted. I always liked Ivan as a character, and what I probably would have liked best would be something with a tone along the lines of the early Miles books – funny with serious undertones, or serious with lots of funny moments – like The Warrior’s Apprentice or The Vor Game. I would have loved to see Bujold take Ivan a little more seriously, and have him wrestle with taking himself a little more seriously. Alternately, I would have enjoyed a pure light-hearted romp like Cetaganda or Ethan of Athos.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance had a few good serious moments, and it had some excellent light-hearted romping. But it was embedded in a lot of low-conflict, low-stakes, low-emotion, low-intensity scenes hanging around Barrayar. I found this especially frustrating because I kept seeing how a scene or plot point could have played out in a more interesting way, and then it often didn’t.

I did enjoy reading this, so the review is more grumpy than my actual experience of the book. The first quarter or so, on Komarr, was pretty great. Especially the scene with the groats. I also loved the offering to the dead, and the conversation where Tej and Rish talk over their problems and keep coming to the conclusion that they could probably be solved by someone having sex with Byerly.

My issues with this book come down to why I love Bujold’s earlier books. They tend to have very intense feelings and high stakes, whether emotional or physical. This book had low-key emotions and low stakes. It had some good comic scenes, but was too slow-paced to work as pure comedy.

The issue of stakes also applies to comedy, as a lot of comedy only works if the characters are extremely, extremely worried that something will go wrong, and are putting tons of effort into ensuring that it won’t, or trying to fix it if it does. A lot of this book would have been funnier if the characters had been more frantic.

Spoilers below.

Read more... )

Please feel free to put spoilers in comments.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga)
In an alternate future America, everyone is born with two souls in a single body. They are given two names, like the novel’s protagonists, Eva and Addie. But by about age five, one of the personalities fades away—effectively, it dies. The rare “hybrid” children, who grow older with both personalities intact, are considered a menace to society and are whisked away, never to be seen again. The “multiple personalities are banned and the government controls hybrids” premise is not given a detailed explanation, but the reason for the ban is at least given a justification with slightly more substance than the usual “because.”

Eva and Addie seemed on track to become hybrids when they were children. But, realizing that this would doom them, they instead pretended that Eva had faded and died. In fact, the novel is narrated by Eva, who is very much alive. However, she has lost the ability to move their shared body, and exists only as a secret presence, able to communicate with Addie, but with no one else.

This intriguing YA dystopia is both promising and disappointing. It is far better-written than average, has a genuinely clever premise, and avoids a number of stupid tropes which seem almost obligatory in YA dystopias. The unusual choice of narrator— Eva, who lives within Addie’s body— is quite compelling, and their shared existence and peculiar dilemma is handled with a touching emotional realism.

The first third or so of this novel, which simply explores Eva and Addie’s situation, is excellent. However, after that, they spend most of the rest of the novel locked up in a government facility with other hybrid kids. The story becomes much more conventional, moving from an intimate exploration of identity under strange circumstances to a typical “teenagers learn that their dystopia is a dystopia.” Zhang is excellent at little emotional moments, but not so good at action sequences; the book moves away from emotional moments and toward action sequences, to its detriment.

Her choice of plot doesn’t serve her premise as well as it could; it probably needed to be smaller and more character-focused, or else broader and more about social implications. The second two-thirds of the book rest in an in-between place, no longer intimate but without showing much more of the wider world. Also, considering that the entire premise is about two souls in one body, it would have been good if any of the hybrids beside Addie and Eva actually had two souls with noticeably different personalities.

That being said, Zhang is a talented writer, and the premise really is great. I would check out the second book to see if it focuses more on being a double soul, and less on "dystopian governments are bad."

What's Left of Me: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book One
Malinda Lo’s latest novel opens with birds falling dead from the sky. Teenage Reese Holloway and her crush object/debate partner, David Li, are caught in a strange near-apocalypse as all over the world, flocks of birds crash into airplanes. Unable to get a flight home from their debate, they rent a car and try to drive back. After adventures which I won’t spoil, they make it back to San Francisco, where life has gone more or less back to normal… except for their strange new abilities, gaps in their memories, and the men in black who keep following them around. Reese meets a cute, mysterious girl, Amber, and finds that she isn’t as straight as she had thought. But that’s only the beginning of her discoveries…

Adaptation is quite different from Lo's Ash, a fairytale retelling, and Huntress, a quest fantasy. I liked it the best of the three, partly because so many elements of Adaptation suit my tastes, but more because it has an emotional immediacy that the other two didn’t quite reach. The setting, from apocalyptic freeways in Nevada to a lesbian club in San Francisco, is as vividly depicted as the characters’ feelings. The structure is distinctly three-act: action-packed beginning, long leisurely slow build of a middle, action-packed climax. I enjoyed all three, but you will probably like the book more if you know going in that the whole thing isn’t the wild ride of the beginning.

It’s old-school science fiction given new life by Lo’s gift for depicting moment-to-moment physical and emotional sensations, especially those of sexual attraction, and by her likable cast of characters, who are diverse in a natural-feeling, realistic way. Adaptation is built from familiar tropes, though ones currently extremely rare in YA, but is executed beautifully. Imagine an episode of the X-Files – an early one, back when it was still good – done as a sensual YA novel with a bisexual heroine and a love triangle that doesn’t make you want to throw things. If that sounds good to you, you will almost certainly enjoy this novel immensely.

It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it’s definitely one half of a complete story. The sequel will be out next year. I intend to buy it in hardcover.

Adaptation

Read more... )
rachelmanija: (Godchild: flapping embryo)
( Oct. 3rd, 2012 11:31 am)
I found a fascinating blog entry by Rahul Kanakia, the guy who wrote the bedbugs-and-squatters story, with a gay teenage Indian hero (yay!), for Diverse Energies. (I see elsewhere on the site that "I'm currently shopping a gay-themed YA novel -- set in a dystopian Washington, D.C. -- to agents." I hope it sells. Depressing or not, I would read it.)

The sly humor in his story also comes through in his post, but that's not why I'm linking it. It's about how he got into the anthology in the first place. He was not solicited for a dystopian story, but for "an action-oriented SF story with a teen protagonist who had some kind of diversity."

He adds, "Actually, no one ever told me (when I was writing a story for it) that it was going to be marketed as an anthology of dystopian stories. I wonder if that’s because they just assumed my story would be dystopian (which it was, of course) or if everyone else also turned in dystopian stories and they just decided to roll with it, marketing-wise."

In comments, anthology editor Tobias Buckell notes, "In the YA market they’ve decided anything that looks SF is ‘dystopian’ because ‘SF’ is like a bad word, so if there is a way to shoehorn the word dystopian on the cover it seems to end up there."

Regarding Diverse Energies, it intrigues me that, when given the guidelines Kanakia quotes, almost every single author wrote a genuinely dystopian story - a story in which the world is objectively awful, oppressive, and/or doomed. (Exception: Tempest Bradford. The other two non-quite-dystopian stories were reprints, not stories written for that prompt.)

This is not just about marketing, but about perception. Buckell could have just as easily received a bunch of non-dystopian stories, in which the world was not horrible, and slapped "dystopian" on the cover to satisfy the demands of marketing.

But in fact, not a single author read the prompt "action-oriented sf with a teen hero and diversity" and wrote a space opera, a story about teens meeting aliens, a non-horrific future world like Nnedi Okorafor's biotech wonderland, a story about mutant or psychic or uploaded or immortal or robot or alien teens, or anything that could not be very easily and accurately classified as a dystopia. (Again, exception for Bradford, who wrote an intriguing alternate realities story with dystopian elements.)

I see some circularity going on here, not merely regarding this particular anthology, but perhaps in YA as a whole. All science fiction is labeled "dystopia," whether it is or not. Actual dystopian fiction is popular. Writers begin to assume that "science fiction" means "dystopia," so when they get a request for science fiction, they write a dystopia. Non-dystopian stories are harder to sell, and so don't make as many appearances.

And so, the fictional future, at least as far as teen sf is concerned, is incredibly bleak.

Too bad! I don't much like dystopias, or the sort of post-apocalyptic stories that are about cannibal rape gangs and mass slaughter. I like post-apocalyptics that are about a transformed and marvelous and terrible landscape (like Railsea or Nnedi Okorafor's books), space opera, other planets with different cultures and aliens, and mutants. I like to think that the future will be different rather than doomed.

As far as my own personal tastes go, the future of my YA sf reading looks dystopian indeed.
An anthology of dystopian YA short stories with a focus on diversity, ie, most of the protagonists are not white.

As a whole, this anthology is not much like most current YA dystopian novels, which are generally about naïve privileged white girls slowly coming to realize that their “the government controls everything” society actually sucks, while navigating a love triangle. The characters in this anthology are often aware from the get-go that everything sucks, and the central problem is generally not an over-controlling government, but a devastated environment, poverty, and the haves grinding the have-nots beneath their feet.

The result is more realistic and less paper-thin, but also quite depressing. Few of these teenagers are trying to save their world, but only to scratch out a few more days for themselves and their loved ones in a world which is clearly already doomed. With two possible exceptions, no one makes any difference at all to anyone beyond themselves or a handful of people in their immediate surroundings. (I say “possible” because there are two stories in which characters make an effort, but the story ends before we learn whether or not they succeed in terms of the larger picture.)

Sure, it wouldn’t be realistic for teenagers to save the world singlehandedly… but I don’t read science fiction for realism. Also, in real life people do make large changes collectively. A few more stories in which the protagonist is part of a larger effort to save or even improve the world would have been nice. (There is one story in which that's the case, Tempest Bradford's.)

I did really like some of the stories. But I would recommend reading a story or two here and there, as you feel like it. If you read the entire anthology from start to finish, the grimdark is overwhelming.

“The Last Day” by Ellen Oh. An alternate history of WWII set in Japan comes out… extremely similar to real history, so far as the main characters are concerned. Maybe the point was that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Otherwise, it’s a straightforward “war is bad and children suffer horribly” story, all the way down to its awesomely depressing conclusion. If you’re disturbed by graphic atom bomb scenes (I am) this might be one to skip. I would not have selected this as the story to open the anthology – it’s the darkest in the whole batch, and that's saying a lot.

“Freshee’s Frogurt” by Daniel H. Wilson. Oral history of robots run amuck, much along the lines of World War Z. A robot attacks two employees in a frozen yogurt shop, and there’s a bloody battle. That’s it. This was an excerpt from the novel Robopocalypse, which may explain how slight and unfinished it felt, but on the other hand it didn’t leave me wanting more. On the positive side, it’s only depressing in the sense that its space could have been given to a better story. In fact, it’s probably supposed to be funny in a hipster-ironic mode. (I did not find it funny.)

“Uncertainty Principle” by K. Tempest Bradford. A young girl notices reality shifting around her, but nobody else does. Over the years, the President changes, wars break out and are erased from time, and her best friend vanishes as if she had never existed. This extremely intense and existentially horrifying set-up turns into a more standard action-based science fiction story about halfway through. The whole thing is well-written but I liked the first half much more. It probably needed to be longer to give the second half the same emotional weight as the first. This one is more bittersweet than depressing.

“Pattern Recognition” by Ken Liu. Kids in an orphanage are told that they’ve been rescued from a hellish world outside, and are made to play video games all day. Very good prose; plausible but predictable story. There’s a really jarring, confusing transition right before the climax, possibly exacerbated by the poor formatting of the version I read (an e-book via Netgalley.) Moderately depressing.

“Gods of Dimming Light” by Greg van Eekhout. Alone among the stories, this is fantasy, not science fiction, and so reads more oddly than it probably would have in a more fantasy-geared anthology. In a doomed and dying world, a boy of Indonesian descent finds a connection to the other side of his heritage – his descent from Odin! The ancient Norse theme of the brave fight against inevitable doom meshes powerfully with the modern apocalyptic setting.

This was one of my favorites, mostly because of the ending. Read more... ) I didn't find this one depressing, but that was purely because the tone was heroic/tragic. Everyone's still doomed.

“Next Door” by Rahul Kanakia. The haves have gotten so plugged in to VR that they barely notice squatters living in their houses. A boy and his boyfriend search for a squat that isn’t bedbug-infested, and tangle with a family of haves that aren’t as out of touch as most. This story made me itch. Literally. It’s a black comedy and quite clever. And yes. Everyone is probably doomed. Including, quite possibly, Read more... )

“Good Girl” by Malinda Lo. Alone in the collection, this was an X has been banned and the government controls X story. (Interracial procreation is banned and the government controls marriage.) Ironically, it was my favorite of the original stories in the collection – sexy, well-written, well-paced, believable, and even with a somewhat hopeful ending. A biracial girl who can pass meets another biracial girl who’s living underground – literally and metaphorically. Lo is fantastic at depicting sexual attraction in a hot but non-cheesy way. The characterization is good, too. Great last line. I would read a whole book of this.

“A Pocket Full of Dharma” by Paolo Bacigalupi. A scarred, disabled, half-starved plague survivor leaves his village to become a beggar in a future Chinese city in the hope that things will be better there. Spoiler: they aren’t. Lots of colorful details of the setting, but I have a low gross-out threshold for descriptions of bodily fluids, and I ended up unable to finish this one.

“Blue Skies” by Cindy Pon. A have-not boy kidnaps a have girl in an environmentally devastated future Taiwan, in the hope of getting her wealthy family to pay a ransom. Very well-observed details, and a poignant relationship given just enough room to breathe. In another world, those two might have been lovers or friends… but this is not that world. The tone is more wistful than depressing, but the world as a whole is probably doomed.

“What Arms to Hold” by Rajan Khanna. Indian children are slave labor in a mine… and the details are even more grim than one would expect from that thumbnail description. Well-written and with a surprisingly hopeful ending, but most of the story is excruciatingly depressing. Appropriately so, given the subject matter. But still.

“Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin. A reprint from The Birthday of the World. A fantastic, non-grim story – there’s even some funny lines – about a future anthropologist who goes to a planet with her two young children to study the ways of a culture that seems to have no community. The mother and older son learn a lot about the culture; the young daughter becomes part of it. Can a culture really be based on solitude? A fascinating, moving, beautifully written, well-characterized work of anthropological science fiction.

I was puzzled at first as to why it was in this collection, as I would have never thought of that culture as a dystopia. Then I realized that while the daughter sees it as her home, and sees all the positive aspects (as well as the negative ones – she’s only naïve when she’s very young), the mother sees it as a dystopia. The idea that the same place can be utopia for one person and a dystopia for another is unique to this story, in this collection: it’s the only one set in a world that isn’t objectively, unequivocally horrible. No wonder it’s the only story that, while it has some sad and dark moments, isn’t depressing at all. No one is doomed! It was such a relief!

There are some excellent stories in the anthology, and not every single one is depressing. But the cumulative effect is awfully grim. This is purely my personal preference, and I do realize that dystopian sf is not a cheery genre, but I would love to see a diversity-focused YA anthology that’s a bit more fun.

Diverse Energies
In China Mieville's wildly inventive science fiction/fantasy take on Moby Dick, earth and water are reversed. No one may step on the terrifying land lest they immediately be munched by some predatory creature tunneling up from below. Luckily, the railsea is covered in train tracks and traversed by a multitude of trains - including the moler train Medes, which hunts giant moles and is captained by a woman obsessed with the great ivory-colored mole that bit off her arm.

This was probably the most purely enjoyable book I've read all year. That being said, it's a love-it-or-hate-it novel - it has a very distinctive and odd prose style, bizarre (awesomely bizarre!) worldbuilding, and lots of metafictional authorial intrusions into the text. But if you've always liked the sound of China Mieville's worldbuilding but don't like grimdark, this is the book for you - all the worldbuilding, none of the grim. (Spoiler: the cute pet survives.) Also, you don't need to have read Moby Dick (I haven't) but a number of things are much funnier if you know the general outlines of the story.

Railsea is packed full of cool details, fascinating beasts, and sense of wonder. The worldbuilding is wacky but logical on its own terms, and the world keeps unfolding and unfolding, revealing more and more secrets and marvels. The ending is the logical outcome of everything that came before, and perfectly so: a succession of satisfying revelations leading up to a final image that made me grin until my face nearly cracked. (Not the thing about the bill, that fell flat; I mean everything else.) Tons of little details which at first seem annoying (like the use of & instead of "and") or throwaways turn out to be there for a purpose - worldbuilding, thematic, or just a running joke. (I cannot believe that Mieville actually managed to sell me on the ampersand, which annoyed me immensely when I began reading.)

Railsea repeatedly made me laugh out loud, sometimes at the author stepping in to give the readers a head-up about the plot, sometimes from events in the story itself. And though the hero is a boy, it has tons of women and girls in the supporting cast - so many that it made me realize just how unusual that is in most science fiction novels.

I didn't like Mieville's other kids' book, Un Lun Dun, but I absolutely loved Railsea. Highly recommended. I suggest that you give it some time if the style and metafiction put you off at first - it took me a little while to warm up to it, but I ended up falling in love. I would also advise against knowing too much going in. A lot of the fun is discovering all the little details for yourself. Also, be aware that the beginning, though not super-graphic, is gorier than the rest of the book.

By the way, this did not read at all YA to me, so also don't be put off if you don't generally like YA. It's more of a playful adult novel with a young protagonist. Though I could also see it being a good read-aloud.

Railsea

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.
I am delighted to announce that Stranger, the post-apocalyptic YA novel that I co-wrote with Sherwood Smith, will be published by Viking (Penguin Group) in Winter 2014.

The acquiring editor is Sharyn November. I have wanted to work with her ever since we met twelve years ago, at World Fantasy Con in Corpus Christi, Texas. She said that she was reprinting classic children's fantasies. I grabbed her by the shoulder and said, no doubt with a mad gleam in my eye, "Lloyd Alexander's Westmark! Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince! Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea" She smiled and said, "We're doing all three. Got any other suggestions?" Sharyn, thank you so much for championing our book.

Also, thank you very much, Eddie Gamarra and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein of the Gotham Group!

Yes, it's the Yes Gay YA book. Here's a little more about it:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

There are five main characters. One is Ross, who knows all about prospecting, fighting, and desert survival, but hasn't had to interact with other human beings on a regular basis since he was twelve. The others are teenagers from Las Anclas: Mia Lee, introverted genius and town oddball, who can design six different weapons before breakfast; Yuki Nakamura, an aspiring prospector who is dying to get out of his small town and explore the rest of the world; Jennie Riley, Changed telekinetic and over-achiever, who must choose between becoming the teacher of the one-room schoolhouse or joining the elite military Rangers; and Felicite Wolfe, the Mayor's narcissistic daughter, who likes to spy on people with the help of her pet mutant rat.

And yes. Yuki is still gay. So is his boyfriend, Paco Diaz, the drummer in the town band. And Brisa Preciado, who has the power to make rocks explode, is still dating shy Becky Callahan, who works after school waiting tables at the saloon. As you can see, this isn't so much a "gay book" or a "straight book" as an ensemble book.

Sherwood and I wanted to write something fun and exciting, with adventure and romance and mutant powers and martial arts and a vivid sense of place. And we wanted it to be about the people who are so often left out of those sorts of books: Latinos and African-Americans, Jews and Asian-Americans, gay boys and lesbian girls, multiracial teenagers and teenagers with physical and mental disabilities. We didn't do this to fulfill some imaginary quota, but because we wanted to write about teenagers like the real ones we know, the real ones in Los Angeles, the real ones we were.

We hope that, however flawed it may be, our novel will make even a few of those teenagers happy.

This is a very personal project for me. People often ask me if I'm ever going to write about coming back to America, after spending most of my childhood in an ashram in India. In a metaphoric sense, this is that book. To tell the story of what it was like for Ross to come to Las Anclas, I drew upon my own experiences of stumbling into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules, beset by memories I couldn't bear to recall and reactions I didn't understand, longing for connection but with no idea of how to relate to people.

Stranger is a post-apocalyptic adventure, not an issue novel. But all stories have their genesis somewhere, and for me, it was my wish to say, "It's okay. You're okay. You'll get better. You'll make friends. You'll fall in love. You can be a hero." I hope it finds its way to the people to whom it will speak.

If you would like to be notified when the book actually comes out, please comment to this post to say so. I will reply to your comment when the book is published, and you should get an email notification. Or you can leave your email address in a comment. (I can copy the address, then delete or screen the comment.) If you're not on LJ/DW, you can comment anonymously (or email me) with an email address where I can reach you.

Incidentally, I am putting out an e-book anthology of my short stories and poetry in a couple months. If you'd like to be notified when that's available, please comment to say so.

If you're interested in reading our book, you may also be interested in this list of YA science fiction and fantasy with major LGBTQ characters. And here's a list of YA fantasy and science fiction with protagonists who aren't white..

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, about the novel or anything else.

Finally, please feel free to Tweet, link to, or otherwise promulgate this post. Lots of people mentioned during Yes Gay YA that they would like to know what happened to this book, but the vast majority probably don't read my blog.
.

Profile

rachelmanija: (Default)
rachelmanija

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags