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Posts Tagged ‘Bookery’

This is the Dystopia We’ve Built: The United States of Japan

TW for discussion of physical abuse

My grandparents met in France during World War II. My grandfather, whose German family had emigrated to America just a generation or two before, found himself part of the force that liberated France from Nazi occupation. Like many GI’s, my grandfather did not talk much about the war. Mostly he talked about meeting my grandmother, and how he spoke very little French, and she spoke no English.

But what I gleaned over the years is that one of his primary jobs in Europe after the war was driving the trucks that hauled out the bodies from concentration camps. I am not a fan of my grandfather – he was a petty tyrant, probably with a host of untreated issues related to the war that I can sympathize with in retrospect, but in practice, he was mean and abusive and I didn’t cry when he died. My grandmother looked after me and my sister and brother and my older cousin during the week while our parents worked. My parents would get us up so early that we’d still be huddling in our pajamas in the car on the way to grandma’s house so they could get to work on time. My parents would pick us up around six every night with just enough time for dinner and bed by the time we got home. This went on until I was twelve, and legally old enough to stay home and watch my siblings. Until then, my grandparents’ house was our second home.

peter_tieryas_the_united_states_of_japan_by_alternatehistorian-d986jlsBut as many families know, not all homes are happy all the time, and though I had, overall, a fabulous childhood, warm memories do not erase the bad stuff that would go down there sometimes: I remember the searing red imprint of my grandfather’s hand on my little brother’s thigh, from when he smacked my brother so hard that my brother ran away, screaming, for several blocks before my grandfather caught him; the day my grandfather pushed my cousin down the stairs and took me by the hair and slammed by head against the wall; my grandfather dragging my brother, shrieking, out from under the Christmas tree where he was trying to hide from my grandfather’s wrath. My older male cousin, and my little brother, as he got older, got the worst of the physical abuse, which was not constant, certainly, but it was always a looming threat; a possibility. The stories my father told me were of far worse abuses, verbal and physical, that my grandfather had meted out when he was a younger man with five children to feed on a military salary. It’s a wonder my dad turned out to be the World’s Greatest Dad with that upbringing, but as his three older sisters are always quick to point out, my grandfather was so happy to have a son after three daughters that despite the occasional explosive outburst of physical abuse, my dad was showered with praise and expectations while they were called whores and sluts.

And it made a very big difference in how they all went out into the world. But that’s a story for another time.

My grandfather, like all people, was not, however, the cartoon villain from some badly written story. I have some happy memories of being out in the garden with him, weeding, even if he did constantly deposit worms in my pockets to make me scream in terror. When his dog ended up having a litter of puppies that rotted inside of her, and had to undergo major surgery and couldn’t go outside to relieve herself for weeks, he and my dad rolled her onto a plywood board and took her outside to relieve herself, putting in the weeks and weeks of recovery time required instead of putting her down. He went to church, and paid his $100 to the Catholic church every month no matter how poor they were, to secure a place in Heaven. He had a deep fondness for processed American cheese slices, which he would offer up and I would devour, most likely leading to my positive associations with processed cheeses of every sort. Yet when I try to think of other positive memories of my grandfather, what strikes me most is how few I have. For the most part living with my grandfather was like living with a large bear. Most of the time the bear is sleeping – literally in the case of my grandfather, who, after retiring from the military, worked as a night security guard at a bank – but every once in a while, the bear wakes up. And you’re never sure what the bear is going to do. It might go out weeding in the garden with you, or throw you down the stairs. You just never knew.

That was always the worst part, the not-knowing.

None of us are all bad, or all good. I’d argue that this is what makes it so difficult to leave abusive people, because they are never 100% awful all the time. Just like our lives, our jobs, our countries. It’s very rarely a constant shit-fest. This is what can make it so difficult to change it. Oppressive societies and governments, in particular, are like living with that large, unpredictable bear.

It’s this understanding, that we are all a little bit the hero and a little bit the villain, that The United States of Japan understands and illustrates so well. It’s this awareness of itself, and of the current state of America, and what America could be, that makes both this and the Amazon series for The Man in the High Castle such important reads right now. We have built a dystopia in which we live with the bear, now, here in America. Would the USJ be so different?

The United States of Japan opens with the Japanese liberating the US internment camps where we kept tens of thousands of Japanese Americans prisoner for years during the war. I could tell this bit was added later because, admittedly, the prose is a little clunky and ham-handed here. I almost stopped reading the book. But the idea was so compelling that I kept going to see what Tieryas would do with it. This was an important reframing of how we are taught about World War II in this country, and USJ asks the tough question: What if the Japanese were seen as the liberators, here in the US? How would that change not only the whole global economy, but the whole story of history?

The premise of USJ is a clear homage to The Man in the High Castle, only in this instance what the authorities are seeking to suppress is a video game, not a film reel, that posits the idea that the Japanese lost World War II. The game’s proliferation across the country and the world is seen as hugely disruptive, and inspires rebellion. The two primary characters are Beniko, head censor, coward, and bumbling ladies’ man; and Akiko, a hardened, slightly psychotic member of the secret police. Pairing these two opposites together throughout the book results in much of its humor and tension, as their ways of solving problems as they seek to hunt down those responsible for making the game are… quite different.

The action in this one starts slow and picks up the pace throughout to batshit insane levels. For real, there was a moment about 3/4 of the way through where it was like Tieryas was channeling God’s War, with torture, reversals, plans that go wrong, characters who make dumb choices, gooey organic tech, stimulants, explosions, and hey, here’s a giant mecha battle for good measure! It’s so wild that after a time you just don’t even care if there are plot holes because you’re having so much fun in this insane world. Characters are good at keeping their secrets close to their chests, so as the truth bleeds out along the way about what’s going on, you’re surprised and fully invested in the outcome. Bonus points for having complex, interesting characters throughout that are actually gender-balanced. united_states_of_japan_by_alternatehistorian-d92fhzn

While the characters are fun and insane at times, it’s the worldbuilding here that’s truly captivating. Tieryas goes all-out. Remember that whole, nothing is all good or all bad? Japan continues its human experimentation and eugenics programs, which means that though the book is set in 1988, technology and health have advanced tremendously. Cancer has been cured, artificial limbs and implants and stimulants are highly advanced, better than anything we’ve got today. But again: eugenics, human experimentation. There are far more relaxed attitudes toward sex, but the Emperor is divine, so if you talk shit about him, you’re dead. The hey, that’s cool! Oh shit, but you’d have to do that, moments are many, and they reminded me often of the give and take in our own society, the decisions that must be made for every society to build its shadowy Omeleas. Even and especially our own.

This is what’s so clever about books like this one. Books like USJ perfectly illustrate why we read and write science fiction. They have the ability to pick us up out of our own time, so that when we’re finished we look back at our world with new eyes. When you come back from the USJ you can’t help but ask tough questions about history, technology, and the exploitation of labor here in the USA. You are compelled to turn around and see the USA as it really is, not the way the stories pretend it is… and it leads to you question, again, the stories you’ve been told about the way it was, too. We are all of us living with the bear, the oppressive state, to greater or lesser degrees.

We are not all good. We are not all evil. Societies and their histories exist in the seams between things, just like people do.

The United States of Japan is one of those books that you think about long after you put it down. I haven’t been able to shake it. This is a darkly fun, clever, and unrelentingly ambitious book. Pick it up and enjoy the ride.

Just be careful about poking the bear.

Awards Eligibility & Reading Recs

It’s here! It’s time!

I know, I know, seems like it was just yesterday we went over this, eh? But ’tis the new season, and so: the new post.

BEST NOVEL

The second book in the Worldbreaker Saga, EMPIRE ASCENDANT came out in October of 2015, and is eligible in all the best novel categories.

That said, this was another insanely great year for books, and I don’t have my fingers crossed for this one. It’s a middle book, and it’s up against some books I’ll be happily nominating for best novel, including THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT and PLANETFALL. Ann Leckie made another powerful showing with ANCILLARY MERCYUPROOTED was also a huge treat, and if I was nominating work on pure entertainment value, it would be up there.

Yet as much as I loved those, I think this is going to be THE FIFTH SEASON’S year. It’s an incredible book, not just a great read, but thematically and technically brilliant, and I expect to see it on a lot of lists, mine among them. So. Good.

BEST NOVELLA

As ever, a category I don’t read or write a lot of, but there was a huge number of novellas out from Tor this year, and Tachyon, Subterranean, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction continue to put out great stuff. I’m just under-read.

I did really enjoy Catherynne Valente’s “Speak Easy “. So check that one out, too.

BEST NOVELLETE

My Patreon novelette, “The Judgement of Gods and Monsters” came out in 2015 via Patreon and is being reprinted this year in Beyond Ceaseless Skies, which will actually mean it’s eligible for 2015’s awards (I know, the rules are weird). I’ll update this post when the story is live for those who haven’t read it yet.

I really love this one, but I’m biased, naturally.

BEST SHORT STORY

I had some short fiction come out that’s eligible, my favorite of which is “The Light Brigade.” This one was selected for a Year’s Best, but I had to turn it down because it was coming out from Night Shade Books, and I’d like to keep as much of my work away from them as possible; the editor of that anthology is great and totally understood my reasons. It was also chosen for inclusion in PWNING Tomorrow, the EFF benefit anthology.

Elephants and Corpses, a Tor.com short story about body-hopping mercenaries and endearing elephants, came out in May, making it eligible for 2015 awards.

“Body Politic” was out in the anthology Meeting Infinity, and is also eligible, as it’s an original story.

“The Improbable War” which debuted in Popular Science Magazine also counts, as many “short story” categories have an upper but not a lower word count limit.

As for what I’ve read this year, folks know that I’m a fan of Seth Dickinson’s short fiction, like this eligible story.

Nino Cipri wrote a lovely time-travel story I thought was fabulous, “The Shape of My Name.” Read it (I’ve discovered I’m kind of a sucker for time travel stories almost as much as war stories). Another I liked, also chosen by editor Ann VanderMeer, is Haralambi Markov’s “The Language of Knives.” You’ll see why pretty quickly.

I’ll also point folks in the direction of Cassandra Khaw, whose work is new to me this year. Check out “You’re All Going to Die on Mars” and “Her Pound of Flesh.”

BEST RELATED WORK/BEST ANTHOLOGY/BEST COLLECTION

Meeting Infinity fits into any of these categories on various ballots. I think something like half of the stories in it have already been pulled for Year’s Best collections, so you may want to check this one out.

BEST FAN WRITER

Abigail Nussbaum is repeatedly robbed of this title every year. Read her stuff to see why you should vote for her this year.

BEST NEW WRITER/CAMPBELL

As ever, the toughest category of all, as one doesn’t know if an author is eligible unless they tell you. I’ll update this one as the lists start to come out. Cassandra Khaw has let me know that this is her first year of eligibility, so there’s one!

As for the other categories across various awards ballots, I’m going to be reading other recommendations posts looking for new work and artists to check out, and I hope you will too.

The great part about awards season that we don’t talk about enough is how great it is to find little gems of work that we missed in the last year, and great new-to-us authors that we can follow into the new year.

 

 

The Long Fall to a Sentient, Creepy Planet: Planetfall

I read Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To… when I was in my early twenties. It’s the story of a bunch of unrelated people who crash land on an uninhabited but habitable planet, and whose male members quickly decide that what they really all ought to do, since no hope of rescue is forthcoming, is colonize the planet and start breeding for the cause.

This is a dumb thing to consider, but it’s an assumption we see in a lot of Golden Age SF parables about how the last man and woman alive should hook up so humanity can carry on. Russ skewers this idea neatly by lobbing a homicidal no-nonsense heroine into the fray.

A lot of these starry-eyed tales forgot that when we’re going off to colonize new planets, who we are as humans comes with us. Russ’s book did not. Nor does Emma Newman’s blistering SF/mystery/colonization novel PLANETFALL. It took me a few pages to get into this one, enough that I considered setting it down for about half a minute before the mystery kicked in and I realized there was more to this seemingly utopic colony than first meets the eye.

When it comes to pinpointing what it is I love about a particular book, or why I get passionate about it, sometimes I can’t come up with much more than “I just liked it.” Other times I write something like 4,000 words of personal essay on it. So the mileage really varies. PLANETFALL was the perfect merging of two genres I love – mystery and science fiction – with fascinating worldbuilding and community politics. We forget, in getting wrapped up in our huge epic fantasies, that the original seat of political backstabbing happened within small, insular communities just like the one in PLANETFALL. It’s little towns that often harbor the biggest secrets.

It’s what those secrets do to us, and their consequences to our larger communities, that make up the creepy heart of this fun, engaging science fiction novel.

Five stars of win. Highly recommended. Best of all, it’s out today, so you can click and buy right now.

What Will You Sacrifice? The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Reading is a very personal experience. And so we start here, with the personal:

What would you sacrifice, to achieve your life’s ambition?

I know what I’ll sacrifice for mine, because I’ve already done it, and it is this:

I will sacrifice everything. All of it.

And I will never look back.

I didn’t have any hobbies in school outside of writing, or many friends. I came home and I wrote. I wrote in class. I wrote during summer breaks. I wrote on vacation. I wrote when other people went to birthday parties and dances and family reunions and played video games. I worked a lot of grinding temp jobs to make ends meet while I wrote. I cleaned dog kennels. I sold popcorn. I worked in a vitamin store. I was a waitress. But always, I wrote, because all I ever wanted was to be a writer, to be published. I figured I’d spend my whole life working food service jobs, trying to get a novel published, because I didn’t have the time to invest in being good at anything else.

It turns out that getting published and making a career of it is easier for some people than others. For me, it was and is hard. I had to burn down a lot of other things around me. I still do. And I’m still a long way from making a living at this.

Not everyone has it as tough as me. Some have it  much, much harder. Some have it easier.

But I’m not naturally talented. I’m not a savant. So all I can do is work harder.

What We Give Up

I blew through a series of disastrous relationships in my mid-twenties. People wanted love and commitment from me, but all I wanted was a book contract. I started writing GOD’S WAR when I was 24, the ninth novel in a long line of failed novels that I had been writing for the last 12 years. When people asked me what I did, there was only this: writing, and writing, and writing. I wasn’t as good as other people, and I knew it, but dammit, I wanted it, and I was willing to work for it. I was willing to fight up through what I was told was an inherently rigged game: women were going to be reviewed less, judged more harshly, and feminist work in particular was going to be a hard sell. The system was broken, they said. You don’t have a chance, they said. You can’t sell that fucking book about a bisexual bounty hunter and bugs, they said, because nobody knows how to fucking market it.

I decided that if nobody else knew how to fucking market my shit, I’d figure out how to market it my own damn self.

I finished and shopped around GOD’S WAR when I was 27, but it took nearly four more years of messy publication madness for it to see print.

I had to work harder.

When GOD’S WAR finally hit, it was the passion in the writing, folks said, that drew them to it. I wasn’t an exceptional writer when it came to plot or prose as yet (getting better), but my passion and grit shone through. It was the passion and drive and persistence (and luck) that helped get MIRROR EMPIRE picked up even after my third book in the GOD’s WAR series tanked. And it was MIRROR EMPIRE, paired with the success of an unapologetically feminist essay (of all things!) called “We Have Always Fought” that finally helped me generate the respectable sales numbers and public profile I needed to sign more contracts.

Feminist work doesn’t sell? Well, fuck you.

I will sell it my own damn self.

That’s a long road, and a long time to give things up to get there. Nearly twenty years.

I read an essay from Samuel R. Delany once where he talked about all of the things he had given up in his pursuit of being an exceptional writer – his health, his relationships, having children, a profession other than writing or teaching. Some people had to work harder, he said, and to work that hard at one thing – especially if you’re working up inside a system that’s not friendly toward you and your work because of your race, your gender, who you go to bed with, what your politics are– sometimes you have to give up everything else… and even then, there are no guarantees that you’ll make it.

I saw a lot of myself in that essay.

I was the person who worked and worked right up until getting hauled off to the emergency room when I was 26, yelling “I’m fine, I’m fine!” from the back of the ambulance before learning I had a chronic illness and all that time writing was going to have to count for extra, because now not only was I not starting out better than other people, or as a dude writing about dudes, but I was going to have less time than other people to write all this bullshit, too.

My path to getting published, when I look back, is not only a long slog of hard work, but a ruthless slash-and-burn wreck of everyone and everything that I saw getting in the way of that.  I’ll note that it wasn’t until after GOD’S WAR sold the first time that I hooked up with the person who would later become my stellar spouse. But that was about all I could manage and still fulfill my contracts and manage my illness. I had my tubes tied three months after GOD’S WAR was finally published.

It’s only as I write this that I see the grim irony in that.

I knew what I had to give up to have what I wanted. I knew the odds were stacked. I had to push back.

I had to work harder.

Sacrifices May Vary

Does everyone have to give up everything to be a writer, or a lawyer, or a politician, or an accountant who rules the world? Of course fucking not. Most authors have children and alternate, successful high-powered careers outside of writing, and a multitude of friendships and fountain of hobbies. I see these people all the time. Some even have first novels that hit it big the first time out, and get to give up their day jobs and create their own schedules. Some aren’t in this to be career writers, and are more than happy to write a book a decade without trying to murder themselves at the frenetic book-a-year (or more) pace.

But not all of us. Not all of us. Some of us start much further behind. Some of us have to grind to keep up. And we forget that sometimes. We want to believe in overnight successes. We want to believe we can have everything and sacrifice nothing.

The truth is, we can’t, always. That’s a shitty thing to hear. It’s a shitty thing to live.

And it’s why, sometimes, we need stories that acknowledge that.

I offer this preamble to my review of THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT because reading experiences are, by their very nature, incredibly personal and subjective things. Only half of the reading experience is what the author puts on the page. The other half is what you bring to it.

I brought a lot of baggage to Baru.

Luckily, Baru has baggage too.

CNM-g0cVAAAFfKuWho’s Baru?

I got the pitch for this book from editor Marco Palmieri sometime in November of last year. In part, the pitch went like this:

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, overwrites her culture, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her fathers, Baru Cormorant vows to swallow her hate, join the Empire’s civil service, and claw her way high enough to set her people free. Sent as an Imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn, another conquered country, Cormorant discovers it’s on the brink of rebellion. Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious dukes, Baru may be able to use her position to help. As she pursues a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with freedom as the prize. But the cost may be much higher than she is willing to pay. For Baru’s meticulous plans did not include falling in love with the woman she might have to betray to win the long game of saving her people.

I had read a short story by the author, Seth Dickinson, called “A Tank Only Fears Four Things” and it gutted me, so I was intrigued to see how he’d pull off this story. I knew Dickinson was a mean, precise writer who wielded words with scalpel-like precision, and he wasn’t afraid to hit you just where it hurt most.

What I did not expect was to get the book and cry through the first forty pages of the book.

THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It’s set up from the beginning as a tragedy about power and commerce and sacrifice, and that’s exactly what you get. As in every good tragedy, Baru is given the opportunity to change her course many, many times throughout the novel. But she is single-minded and ruthless in her pursuit of vengeance against the empire that destroyed her home and murdered her father. She is willing to give up everything and everyone to achieve her life’s ambition.

She’s going to change the power structure of the whole world. And she’s going to do it without picking up a gun or a sword or head-butting anyone in the face. She’s going to do it with a pen.

Indeed. I have no idea why I liked her so much. None at all.

What will you sacrifice?

If you are Baru Cormorant, you will sacrifice everything.

Grim Optimism

There are some folks who won’t like this book. It’s a book where bad things happen to people. But what makes this an inspiring book, for me, as opposed to a story of suffering where Everything is Awful, is that this story doesn’t exist just to tell you that Everything is Awful and colonialism is Bad and We’re All Fucked. It says Everything Can Be Awful but even people who endure the worst – people who are colonized, who are beaten, who are overwhelmed by far greater numbers, by technology – can pick up a pen, and a sword, and work their asses off, and give up everything, and they can win.

Baru drives this story. Things don’t just “happen” to her, just as they did not just happen to me. This is not a book about someone lying around and having terrible things happen to them and boo-hoo isn’t life shit let’s all die. Baru orchestrates this plot, and the empire that seeks to destroy her way of life, like a maestro, certainly with far more agency than I’ve ever managed to achieve in the orchestration of my own life.

And I can say Baru’s journey is one of grim optimism. Yes, she gives up everything.

But you know what? (spoilers) She achieves what she set out to achieve, even if it meant giving up far more than she ever imagined.

Whether or not winning was worth giving up everything, well, that’s something for her to figure out.

But there’s a grim comfort in that, for people like me who aren’t sure if we’re going to win, who aren’t sure if there’s an end game.

Not all of us win.

The Bad Ass Accountant

Traitor-UK-487x750“I work in banking,” the reader who won my ARC bundle contest said after reading THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT, “and Baru is the most BAD ASS ACCOUNTANT EVER.”

And she is.

In truth, it was refreshing to read a book where a protagonist topples whole governments with… like, banking schemes and commerce and shit. The one time in the book she picks up a sword is played as a comic moment, because she really has no idea how to use it. This is a fearless and ruthless intellectual hero, and I honestly can’t think of anyone in fiction like her.

Is there an over-emphasis here on the horror of systematic homophobia in this colonialist society? Probably. Is the worldbuilding odd in that respect, as homophobia of this nature is, in our world, largely tied up in Abrahamic religions? Sure. My God’s War books have some systematic homophobia in various societies, reinterpreted and reimagined to fit in each particular culture. The Worldbreaker books don’t. That has a lot to do with one being SF and one being fantasy. It’s a fair criticism. How and why relentless homophobia exists in this world isn’t fully teased out. But it’s no more or less lazy than some other fantasy worldbuilding I could eviscerate here, especially in regards to how woman are treated in most other books. And though sometimes it sucks to live in this world, goddammit, every single one of the people struggling through it are real people, not cardboard cutouts, not stereotypes, and not people who exist to be shit on.

There’s something to be said for that.

At any rate, as Baru climbs up through the ranks of power to infiltrate and undo her enemy, the book also asks important questions about whether or not those of us who try and change a system from the inside are forever changed by it. Does the process of infiltrating the system transform us into the very enemy we were fighting?

And this was the other very personal question that the book laid bare for me, and why I responded so strongly to it, because it’s a question I’m sitting here asking myself as I type up my own work, and as I share posts like this. After ten years of yelling on the internet, and twenty of writing and submitting work, I’ve got a voice people are listening to. Big posts of mine will reach twenty thousand or more readers. My books have now crested that reader mark, too. That’s not the hundreds of thousands or millions that other people see, but compared to the hundred people who used to read this blog ten years ago, that’s a lot. When I speak, people listen, and I’ve become even more aware of what I’m saying.

With great power comes great responsibility, and all that bullshit.

Grinding on Up

As I grind up through the publishing millhouse I am very aware of who and what I’m becoming, and watching Baru struggle with that at a higher level, with more frightening stakes, tore up my insides because I have felt something like that here on my own tiny little plane of existence.

You spent all this time getting here, but now, really, are you any better than the people in the system who you were fighting against?

I know that no matter what I do,  or how good I hope to be, there will be a lot of people who will always see me as the enemy now. I, like Baru, have become part of The Empire. I’ll read stuff about me online and it’s very clear that to many folks on the margins, I’m the worst shit in the universe. There are younger feminists ranting hard and long about what a sellout I am. People think it’s all far-right hate mail, but my most vociferous haters are actually folks on the far left who think I’m far too conservative and conventional. I’ve become an Enemy of the People.

I’m always going to be someone’s enemy, because people need enemies…and because I’m doing the best I can in a system that’s so very broken.

And I look at me, and I look at Baru, and I look at our choices, and I wonder if this is the only end game, or if we could have succeeded without wrecking all this destruction, and without becoming a part of the very system(s) we set out to destroy. I wonder if it was inevitable that all of our choices led us here, or if there was another way to get here.

On Tragedy and Comfort Fiction

I’ve talked before about how tragedy is like comfort fiction for me, and that’s why I found THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT to be such cathartic read. I could read about somebody asking the same questions I’ve had to ask, someone whose stakes are far higher, whose life is far grimmer, whose resolve is far stickier, and I can step back and watch someone else navigate that horrible road, and I can cry for them in a way I can’t cry for myself.

She deserves the pity. I don’t. I probably just need a fucking vacation. There’s a lot less at stake if I burn out than there is when Baru burns out. And her burn out is coming. I can feel it.

I don’t know what Baru or I are going to have any hard answers, in the end. Maybe we’ve done terrible things to get here (I have not destroyed the economies of whole countries, but looking at some of the vitriol spewed my way online, you’d think I might have). Maybe we’ve become terrible people in the process.

I know there are some who hate tragedies all together, especially ones with queer protagonists, and I get that: this isn’t the book for you. But you know what? I’m queer and female and my life sure has felt fucking tragic at times, screaming from the back of an ambulance, getting evicted from my apartment, living on expired insulin because I was too poor to buy new stuff. I am at the point in my life where I can cheer and say I’m winning now (FOR NOW), but at the time it pretty much looked like I’d given up everything and gotten nothing. I have been Baru standing there holding ash in my hands and wondering if it was all fucking worth it.

The truth is that sometimes, especially in broken systems like ours, those of us who aren’t playing on the lowest difficult setting have to give up a lot of things to achieve our life’s ambition. That’s the reality. And yes, I need stories that say fuck that, and envision better futures, and I even write some of those! But sometimes, just sometimes, I need stories that acknowledge that fight, and that sacrifice, and that invite me to interrogate that experience, and to let me feel it, really feel it, in a way that’s safe.

Because I need to ask, and to understand, who I am at the end of all of this – am I really Luke Skywalker, fighting the good fight against evil, or has fighting up through the system turned me into just another Stormtrooper for the Empire?

What side will Baru be on, in the end?

Let’s all find out.

THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT.

Read it and weep.

I did.

New Story Covers: Self-Pub/Hybrid/Trad Chat

After finishing the cover for “The Judgement of Gods and Monsters,” my second Patreon-funded short story, I got a lot of compliments on the cover, and a few people asked who had done it for me.

I’m still pretty cash poor around these parts, funneling most of my money toward getting out of debt, so I’ve been doing these on my own for some time. What I realized with that cover, and with the one I did for “The Light Brigade” is that I had leveled up enough at this skill that it was probably time to revisit what I’d put on the covers for my self-pubbed short stories and collection.

I put out most of these back in 2011 and 2012 as part of my marketing campaign for the GOD’S WAR novels.

As you can see… well, they needed some… updating:

old covers

One of the things I’ve been doing the last five years is studying covers and trying to understand what works and what doesn’t. I also study titles, but in this case I wanted to keep the titles the same just to avoid confusion, so I decided not to update those.

The break down on what I’ve figured out: covers need to clearly convey what genre you’re selling. SF needs spaceships or planets or space, generally. Fantasy does well with epic landscapes and armies and/or fighting. It’s far less important to show what happens in the book on the cover than it is to convey a feeling of the book and what it’s going to cover. You want to drive expectations: this is a story about spaceships fighting. This is a story about nobles who run with wolves. This is a story about Cthulu (tentacles. Always tentacles).

You also need to take small viewing screen into account, especially now that people aren’t just browsing on computers  or laptops – but from tablets and phones. Clear, bold, uncluttered text and simple imagery will get you further than overbusy graphics. You want people to be able to easily see and understand what you’re selling.

Another thing I wanted to figure out was how to mark short stories as being part of existing worlds that I’m writing in, like Nyx’s Umayma from the God’s War universe, or the Worldbreaker series, if I ever write any in that. I came up with a lot of different text treatments, but they all seemed cluttered and difficult to understand, so I just went with a straight-up text treatment:

BDA 2

I tried this a couple of times with death heads, but bloody heads and skulls code horror, and I needed something that coded “gritty” and that was this text treatment. Yes, I considered using bugs, but every image I put together looked awful. I may go back and add a bug peeking out from the bullet hole there as an Easter egg for those who look closely, but I’m happy with how this looks on the revised covers:

new covers
Same stories. Better designs.

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Purchase

The Seams Between the Stars | After Birth | The Body Project | Brutal Women: The Short Stuff

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I think my most successful cover in this set is for “The Body Project.” It’s a clean design with black text on a pale background. The hovering people in the beam of light not only evoke the story, but also code SF very well without a lot of over complicated detail:

Body Project FINAL cover 9-4-15

For my short story collection, I actually re-hashed a redesign I’d started for the relaunch of my old God’s War blog tour post collection, before I sold a THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION to Tor earlier this year, which contains some of those essays. It looks a little literary for what it is, but yanno, fuck it, so does Ursula K. LeGuin’s covers:

BW Short Stuff Cover 9-4-15
Kameron Hurley: Literary as fuck.

I’ll also be curious to see what affect, if any, new cover designs have on these old stories. I’ve always been keen on running cover/pricing experiments on self-pub stuff, but just never had the time. So far I can say, after a few days, that it’s absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Folks ask me, often, why I don’t go full self-pub, and the reason is that the types of books I write just aren’t suited as well for digital-only. They’re complex books low on romance and supernatural elements. They aren’t the world’s most accessible books. There’s a far greater audience for 100-level fantasy like the Dragonlance novels and The Name of the Wind than for 300-level fantasy like The Mirror Empire. That said, I’d argue the Malazan novels are far more complex than my books, and they’ve found their audience, so hope springs eternal (though the Malazan audience is not primarily digital either, I’ll note. LET US STORM THE PAPER MARKET: MY AUDIENCE POTENTIAL HAS YET TO BE REACHED).

So as much as I enjoy my little self-pub experiments, for me and my career, a hybrid approach where I’m putting up some self-pub, doing some Patreon stories, and working with three or four (or more) publishers is the right mix for now, unless somebody can give me a better deal. In an ideal world, I’d be pulling enough in traditional contracts that I could dedicate myself to one or two traditional publishers, but no one has yet made me a good enough offer to do that.

But someday soon. Sooooon.

So we carry on. We persevere, we make covers, we make deals, we keep our day jobs.

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Purchase

The Seams Between the Stars | After Birth | The Body Project | Brutal Women: The Short Stuff

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Bad Plants in New Packages and Other Cool Stuff

The mass market paperback edition of the grim, parallel-universes colliding epic THE MIRROR EMPIRE is out today and includes a bonus first chapter of EMPIRE ASCENDANT.

READ IT AND WEEP MY FRIENDS.

EMPIRE ASCENDANT can now also be pre-ordered from Audible, and will be out the same day as the ebook and paper version, October 6th.

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As this is a Tuesday, that also means a bunch of other BRAND SPANKING NEW books are hitting the shelves today, including these reads:

UPDRAFT

Updraft

 

TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI

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SORCERER TO THE CROWN

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CHAPELWOOD

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THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS

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And loads more. Happy reading!

Books You Should Be Reading

THE FIFTH SEASON

In a land where geological apocalypses recur every 100-300 years, one society has survived by enslaving the planet’s geomancers to try and prevent apocalyptic events from disrupting their lavish society. Get ready for a ruthless, pulls-no-punches exploration of slavery, madness, and betrayal told with some very clever narrative tricks that will leave you impressed with the author’s gutsy confidence. As I was reading THE FIFTH SEASON I couldn’t help but feel I was witnessing a master of fantasy coming into her full powers.

Jemisin_FifthSeason-TP

DARK ORBIT

If what you’d like is some more science in your science fiction, this is the book for you. Gorgeous writing, incredible worldbuilding, and interesting, dynamic characters make this a satisfying read. It does get a bit talky-talky there in the middle, which left me skimming pages as I neared the end, and there are some problematic issues with the Great Savior Among the Veiled Women trope, but overall it was a grand mystery that delved deeply into our perception of the cosmos and how it limits the way we perceive both it and ourselves. A classic feminist science fiction story in the best way.

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THE WHITE TRIBUNAL

An oldie but a goodie. I re-read this recently because I grew up loving Paula Volsky’s work and wanted to make sure it held up. It does. This is a clever story about  the deluded stories we tell ourselves, and the price we will pay for revenge. A loose retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo in a secondary world rife with illegal magics.

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To Blurb or Not to Blurb: My Book Reading & Rec Policy

Sometime in the last year, the number of requests I’ve gotten to blurb or simply early-read books has gone up tremendously. For folks who can read a book in a three or four hour stretch, this may not be a big deal, but unless I’m in the midst of a gripping made-for-me book, it takes me a long time to finish things (and even then, bare minimum, it takes me 3-7 days). Add in all my other deadlines, especially here at year’s end, and I’m just overwhelmed.

I’ve been hearing a lot of murmurs at cons that “a Kameron Hurley blurb means something”(but what???) which kind of worries me (no pressure!), and has also contributed to this uptick. I may not sell millions of my own books, but my opinion is apparently taken seriously inside some genre circles.

Because I get so many requests now, I wanted to talk a little about what makes the difference between “Books I’ll blurb,” “Books I’ll review” and “Books I’ll signal boost” so that folks understand what I’m thinking when I choose to blurb or review what I dol.

Books I Will Probably Blurb

Ok, listen. If you send me a book to blurb and I don’t get back to you it’s MOST likely because I wasn’t able to finish it – I was too busy, it got lost among other things, I picked up a book that grabbed hold of me more than yours, etc (I still haven’t finished books I’m reading for fun like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR and THE PERIPHERAL and the last three Christopher Priest books). Next most likely is that I got into and realized it wasn’t for me and put it down again.

22.alamyThat said, there is a strange strata of books I read that I enjoy but that I don’t blurb, and that’s generally because it doesn’t seem like something that people who read my work would be into. Case in point: early in my career I was asked to blurb a secondary world supernatural romance. It was a good book with enjoyable worldbuilding, but it had some problematic power dynamics, and I just couldn’t put my name on it without a disclaimer. I didn’t think people who read my stuff would be into it; if my audience isn’t a good crossover audience for your book, then my blurb isn’t going to help you. I could be wrong! But that’s something I take into account. People tend to come to my work for the worldbuilding, the genderbending, and the kickass women protagonists. If I’m not seeing a lot of that in your book, I will probably just review it instead of providing a pre-release blurb.

I also bear some responsibility for the books that I blurb – if those books are problematic, that does blow back on me, so I blurb with care. I need to love something enough to swallow that and be OK with it.

What I really want to avoid, of course, is becoming one of those authors whose blurbs mean nothing except that I’m friends with the author, or that I feel sorry for them. I don’t want to be one of those authors who just blurbs everything like, “Well, this book promises to be good if only I could have finished reading it!” or some ridiculous nothing-statement like that.

Books I’ll Review

I’ll review pretty much everything that I enjoy or think is worthwhile and challenging in some way on my site in the “Books You Should be Reading” feature. That said, I have to FINISH it, first, and whoa boy, yeah – that’s the real issue, there. What I like about reviews as opposed to blurbs is that I can put the disclaimers in there – yes, this book was great, but watch out for that rape scene, or yes, this book was great, but understand that it has some serious women problems.

Books I’ll Signal Boost

If I know you/have met you and I like you and your books are well-written and not a scourge upon the earth and you’re not a giant asshole, I’ll probably signal boost your release news/goodie tweets, etc. Please don’t ASK me to do this, because it’s at my discretion and I’d prefer to keep this as a “Nice thing to do when I see it” instead of yet another full-time job thing, though. I have enough full time jobs, thanks.

Bonus Trivia

Don’t send me generic medieval dudebro books. For real. Just don’t. You’re wasting your time and my time and your book marketing budget. Send me a book with wicked women protagonists, fabulous worldbuilding, and great writing.

Blurb/Review requests should go through my agent (Hannah Bowman) or to my publicity @ kameronhurley.com address. If you send me a pitch and the book doesn’t sound like it’s up my alley, I will decline or decline through my agent, and save us all some time.

I’m more likely to read paper copies of a book than ecopies. Sorry, marketing budgets. This has something to do with having it staring at me on my nightstand instead of buried on Kindle Cloud on my phone.

I hate fishing for blurbs just as much as you do. I have to fish for blurbs, too, and I know it sucks. Please know that I understand this is something we all have to do even though we hate it, and I’m not mad or annoyed at you or anything for asking, as long as you’re not annoying about it. In general when I ask for blurbs I ask once, then follow up once a couple weeks before blurbs are due for people who requested the manuscript to let them know blurbs are due soon. I don’t expect replies and leave it at that and never mention it again if they don’t blurb or review the book.

To sum up, I love you all (probably), but I have three jobs and very exacting reading taste. So say we all.

Books You Should Be Reading: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR

I want you to look at the cover of THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR. JUST LOOK AT IT. Anyone who says covers don’t sell books is lying. There’s a reason it’s the biggest marketing expense a publisher spends on a novel, and if they get it wrong, you may not be entirely fucked, but you will be put at a severe disadvantage.

The cover was enough for me to click, and when I opened to the first page, well… it’s about a librarian walking along the road with a detective’s blood all over her, and why the hell would you NOT read that IMMEDIATELY?

It was such a clever way to start a mystery book: it’s not a woman dead on the road. It’s not about the detective standing over her body. It’s about a woman who has just killed a detective, which sets you up for just how wild things are going to get.

Of course, this isn’t actually a mystery book, either. I’ve seen it called “contemporary fantasy” and I guess that will have to do. I don’t want to go into the plot too much because half the fun of this book is the slow, steady reveal of how fucked up and weird and crazy things are. Suffice to say that you have not read this book before, and if you think you know what’s going on, you are probably wrong.

61VYqrAgpzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There are unending cruelties here. Psychotic families. Insane political machinations. Weird magic. Surprising twists.

Any complaints I might have about this book were minor. It’s a first novel, and there were some longish talking scenes (goodness knows I’ve written a lot of those myself) that repeat information to characters that you, as a reader, already know. That was fine – I just skimmed over them. The pacing of the last act runs a little long; but again, by that point I didn’t fucking care because the book was just laying down the payoff of the mysteries it promised to solve at the beginning, and I was down with that. There are horrible things done to people. Horrible things. Including rape and being burned alive. But it’s not voyeuristic and purposeless. There is a method to the horror and madness, and it’s treated fairly; I did not feel punched in the face, though there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions that I can’t really touch on without spoilers. Maybe another time.

I also find it terribly funny that I’m drawn to books with really complex and purposeful plots these days, something I’m not very good at, myself. THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT and even PLANETFALL are political mysteries at their heart, and so is THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR.

If you’re looking for a weird, wild, rough and engaging contemporary fantasy novel unlike anything you’ve ever read before, pick up this book.

Thoughts on That Controversial Awards Announcement…

So, that Tiptree list, amirite?

(what, you thought there was another awards announcement I was interested in talking about? Silly rabbit!)

I had a few people ask why MIRROR EMPIRE wasn’t on the Tiptree longlist, which is always awkward, when people ask why you weren’t nominated for something, because the short answer is always, “Uh, because people didn’t vote for it? Go figure!”

My work has only been longlisted once, for GOD’S WAR (though I have a hazy recollection of a short story of mine also longlisting a long time ago, I can’t find a record of that) and to be honest, I hadn’t much thought about the Tiptree because MIRROR EMPIRE kind of seemed like a no-brainer for that one.

But MIRROR EMPIRE is, I suppose, also an “in between” book. It’s made people on both the far right and the far left angry. Some thought it went too far. Some thought it didn’t go far enough. It’s was too “epic fantasy.” It wasn’t enough “epic fantasy.” The discussion of gender wasn’t radical enough, the discussion of gender was too confusing, etc. I’d actually bet that the reason it’s sold OK is actually because it walks that line between “too much” and “not enough” in all things. I’m told pre-orders for EMPIRE ASCENDANT are strong as well (which you can do now!).

So please don’t sit around gnashing teeth on my account because MIRROR EMPIRE is on no lists this year – just keep buying it. I have a royalty check nearly as large as my first book advance on the way. I’ve been telling people all year when they congratulate me about all the award noms I’ve gotten the last two years that I’d take sales over awards, and this is the year I am doing that, and yes – I’m doing just fine. Sometimes you do get what you asked for.

The reality is that the Tiptree is a juried award, and just like popular awards, it’s determined by the personal taste of the folks voting. All awards in SFF can be political awards, too. The Tiptree has always been so, the Hugos certainly are, the Nebulas are like the Oscars, etc. etc. This is a casino, friends. It’s a crap shoot.

It’s cool when people like your work who are judging awards, but equally cool to see so many fabulous writers get recognized for work that expands and explores our notions of gender. The Tiptree list is always a delight.

So do please read the fabulous Tiptree winners and excellent longlist. The Tiptree longlist always makes a fabulous suggested reading list, and this year is no different. I would certainly like to see more talk online about this list than I’m seeing; there are tons of great book discussions ahead – don’t feel limited by the selections offered for bigger awards. Go forth and read! I’m in the middle of reading Monica Byrne’s THE GIRL IN THE ROAD right now, and it’s fab.

Let’s celebrate an award worth talking about.

2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton
2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton