Friday 1 July 2011

Women in SF: writing in invisible ink?

I have been following (and contributing to) the online debate about Women in SF. This was discussed at this year's Eastercon and has been a hot topic recently on Twitter, the Guardian Books blog and various review blogs and author's websites. This has long been a favourite topic of mine (see my post from March 2010 'My Top 40 Female SFF Writers') and it has been very reassuring to see so many people, not only acknowledging that there is indeed inequality within the SF publishing world but who are prepared to do something about it. As Nicola Griffith wrote on her blogpost 'Taking the Russ pledge'
"The single most important thing we (readers, writers, journalists, critics, publishers, editors, etc.) can do is talk about women writers whenever we talk about men. And if we honestly can't think of women 'good enough' to match those men, then we should wonder aloud (or in print) why that is so. If it's appropriate (it might not be, always) we should point to the historical bias that consistently reduces the stature of women's literature; we should point to Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, which is still the best book I've ever read on the subject. We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women's work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed. Call it the Russ Pledge. I like to think she would have approved."
What has surprised me is the number of people who profess not to care about the gender of the authors they read. In an ideal world, this would not be an issue, but we live in a culture where there is still a significant gender imbalance, and not just in the world of SF publishing. There are noticeably few women in the UK who are currently under contract to publish SF, indeed they can be counted on one hand [note: the US situation is better and some UK writers are published there but their books are only available here as imports e.g. Karen Traviss].

  • Are those who claim not to care about the gender of the writers they choose to read not wondering why this is? 
  • Do they think that women just don't write SF worth publishing? 
  • Are they happy with this situation? 

Maybe it is time to wake up and take some action, however small, in an attempt to redress the balance... that is all the Russ Pledge is asking. But denying that there is a problem or just ignoring the issue will not improve the situation. And unless things improve for women wanting to write SF, we will all lose out.

One of the positives that have resulted from this debate has been a new blog SF Mistressworks, set up and maintained by Ian Sales. I have contributed 2 reviews to date (Grass by Sheri S. Tepper and The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K.Le Guin). It is a valuable resource, highlighting books written pre-2000, that may have been forgotten, overlooked or are out of print.

Some further reading:
Torque Control: SF by Women, 2001 - 2010
SF Signal: Mind Meld: What's the Importance of 'The Russ Pledge' for Science Fiction Today? (some of the comments are jaw-dropping!)
SF Signal: Guest post by Judith Tarr: Girl Cooties: A Personal History (again the comments are worth reading)
Guardian Books blog: The Incredible Shrinking Presence of Women SF Writers by David Barnett

Thursday 30 June 2011

Time of seclusion ending... Murf returns

"I wasn't born with enough middle fingers"
[Marilyn Manson]
So far 2011 has been the year of change, and not all of it good. The impact on my life has been dramatic and this led to me not posting any reviews or updating my blog for several months while I dealt with some heavy real-life issues. But things are improving and I am almost back to 'normal' (whatever that may be!).

But on a brighter note, I have moved out of London and am settling into life up north in Manchester. I also went to Eastercon, although it was a disappointment after the previous year's experience. The Heathrow venue is definitely much better for food and accommodation! But I made some new friends, *waves at Ian Sales and Lavie Tidhar* caught up with some people I haven't seen for a while, Amanda, Gavin, Adrian, Sharon to name a few, and had a Tarot reading from Liz Williams, which meant it wasn't all bad :-) Maybe next year will be better...

I am resuming reviewing on Speculative Book Review, which I am looking forward to, and the first book up is *drum roll* Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper, to be followed by The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton. I will continue to submit occasional reviews to SF Mistressworks (and elsewhere, if anyone asks me!) and will also review books here, mainly non-SFF I expect. In addition, I am now an Amazon 'Vine Voice' which is great as they send me free books in return for reviewing them on the site. I don't seem to get many SFF books in the list I can choose from, sadly, but there is generally enough mainstream and historical fiction to interest me. So all that should keep me busy and out of mischief for a while!

Article: Women in SF: writing in invisible ink
Review: The Salt Road by Jane Johnson
Review: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

Friday 17 December 2010

Another Book Challenge for 2011...

The 2011 Stephen King Challenge!
Hosted by BookChickCity
Welcome to The 2011 Stephen King Challenge! I love horror, and I've loved every Stephen King book I've read. Unfortunately that's not that many. I really want to read more books written by this amazing author, which is why I created this challenge. So, if like me you want to delve further into the dark imagination of Stephen King, then join me in my quest!
This time to read a minimum of 6 Stephen King books in 2011. I can do that! The Stand is long overdue a re-read and I also have the entire Dark Tower series sitting neatly on the shelf. OK, that's 8 so far. And I still haven't read Under the Dome, On Writing or Full Dark No Stars yet. One more to choose and that gives me 12. Will have to think about that... I haven't read either It or The Tommyknockers, are they worth reading? Or what would you recommend instead? Let me know what Stephen King book should make the list in the comments.

Reviews will be published on this site so watch out for the first one in January. 
All reviews will be tagged with #SKChallenge2011

Thursday 16 December 2010

2010: the year of the book

I think I can safely say that 2010 has been the best year of my life in terms of reading and books in general. Hyperbole? I don't think so... I have found a host of new authors (old and new) to read; made friends with some lovely and talented people; reviewed over 60 books; attended 2 conferences; had my name published in the acknowledgements section of a forthcoming book; had quotes from my reviews used in book trailers and on book websites; attended book signings; learned a lot about the speculative fiction genre; set up a personal blog and joined a group review blog... this has been the year when I immersed myself into my passion. Books, reading and writing about what I have read. And I have loved every minute of it!

It's a big wide multiverse out there

My Best of 2010 has been published at Speculative Book Review along with the other collaborators' lists. It makes for interesting reading as our tastes vary considerably within the speculative fiction genre. Read the post here.
What I realised when compiling my list was that I had read less new releases than I thought. Some of the books I loved best were first published in the 70's and 80's. I have been discovering a rich seam of unmined gems in the form of classic SF and Fantasy.
[Picture from]

I reviewed books by:
  • Octavia Butler
  • Sheri S. Tepper
  • Christopher Priest
  • Joanna Russ. 
I read short stories by:
  • Howard Walthrop
  • Pamela Sargent
  • Avram Davidson
  • Tanith Lee. 
I sought out books by:
  • Gwyneth Jones
  • Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Charles de Lint.
What about the new and shiny? Well, I can be distracted by 'the next big thing' as much as the next person and have discovered some excellent new authors, most of whom had their publishing debut in 2010. There is some incredible new talent out there, and many of these are women, which always pleases me. Of the guys, these are names to watch:
  • Mark Charan Newton
  • Blake Charlton
  • Adam Neville
  • M.D. Lachlan
  • Stephen Deas
  • Scott Harrison
  • Gary McMahon
  • Sam Sykes
  • Mike Shevdon
  • J.C. Marino
There has been a lot of debate on a range of blogs and forums about women writing speculative fiction. All I will say on the subject is more, more, more! There are not enough women being published, partularly in science fiction yet some of the best new talent out there is female, especially in the realm of Fantasy. Here are my recommendations:
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Catherynne M. Valente
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • Lauren Beukes
  • Kaaron Warren
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Kim Lakin-Smith
  • Jaine Fenn
  • Suzanne McLeod
  • Elizabeth Bear

And to all the new friends I have made: from bloggers, to authors, to tweeters and beyond, a very big thank you to you all, I couldn't have come this far without you. You know who you are and I appreciate every one of you. 

A few special mentions: Yagiz, Ty, Peter and Victoria at Speculative Book Review, Harry at Temple Library Reviews; Gav, ex of Nextreads for Short Story Month; Jason and Amanda for Eastercon; Mark CN for keeping me up to date with environmental issues. And to Kev, I have only one word to say to you... "Olives!"

[Cover of City of Hope and Despair by Ian Whates (released early 2011?)]

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Taking up the Speculative Reading Challenge 2011

One of my (many) New Year's resolutions is to read those classic Science Fiction and Fantasy novels I have bought but never actually got round to reading. Amanda at Floor to Ceiling Books is hosting the Speculative Reading Challenge for 2011 and so I have decided I will join in this time.

My aim is to read and review at least two books per month (one female and one male author) here on this site and the provisional list is as follows:

  • The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
  • Replay by Ken Grimwood
  • Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr
  • Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Transformation by Carol Berg
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones
  • Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard
  • Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Keeping it Real by Justina Robson
  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney
  • Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
  • Snake Agent by Liz Williams
  • The Wild Wood by Charles de Lint
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
An ambitious list perhaps, but as I already own all of these books, this is a good opportunity to read them and to find out what makes them firm favourites with many of my fellow bloggers and reviewers. 

Monday 1 November 2010

Sir Terry Pratchett's Official Coat of Arms

"Illustrated left are the Armorial Bearings granted to Sir Terence David John PRATCHETT of Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, Knight, OBE by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux Kings of Arms dated 28 April 2010.

The Arms are blazoned: Sable an ankh between four Roundels in saltire each issuing Argent.

The Crest is Upon a Helm with a Wreath Argent and Sable On Water Barry wavy Sable Argent and Sable an Owl affronty wings displayed and inverted Or supporting thereby two closed Books erect Gules.

College reference: Grants 175/35."


CONJOUR 2011: Science Fiction and Fantasy comes to Leeds


On Saturday March 12th 2011, Leeds will be hosting its first Science Fiction and Fantasy event in many years - ConJour.

The one day event is being sponsored by Tor UK and SFF fans will have the opportunity to attend guest talks and panels, and meet some of their favourite authors at signing sessions taking place throughout the day.

Confirmed guests attending the event are Mike Carey, Kate Griffin, Mark Charan Newton, Justina Robson, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Freda Warrington.

The venue is the Leeds Park Plaza hotel which is set in the heart of Leeds city centre, with nearby bus and train transport links, and it is very close to a host of shops, bars and places to eat.
“I’ve been to many conventions and events over the years,” said Stephen Aryan, one of the event organisers. “But the majority of them tend to be in the south, which is a long way to travel for some people. So I’m hoping that by setting ConJour in Yorkshire it will attract fans from all over the country.
“I also appreciate that full weekend events can be a bit intimidating, especially if it’s your first time or you’re attending on your own. This way, by running a one day convention fans can enjoy the event, maybe make some new friends, and they won’t miss out on anything.”
For more information about ConJour visit the website or email or follow on twitter conjour1


A one-day conference, with a very good line-up of guests has my vote! One for the calendar I think :-)

Sunday 31 October 2010

Halloween Horrors

So it's Halloween today, the day the veil between the worlds of human and spirits is at it's weakest and Google makes me the star of it's special logo. Go Velma!!!

As Halloween is special to all Speculative Fiction fans, today I will be doing a round up of horror books worth taking a look at, along with some interesting bits and pieces that are relevant to All Hallows Eve.

Yesterday I went to a book signing at Forbidden Planet, London for N.K.Jemisin's second book in The Inheritance Trilogy, The Broken Kingdoms and Karen Miller's The Reluctant Mage. While I was there, I picked up some new books, one of which is The Child Thief by Brom. This is a beautiful edition, larger than a trade paperback, with black and white full page illustrations of characters at the beginning of each chapter and a glossy insert of 8 colour paintings of the main characters. Brom is known for his artwork and graphic novels, and this is his first foray into fiction. I have read the first couple of chapters already (I just couldn't help myself) and I think I am going to enjoy it, a lot! The Child Thief is the story of Peter Pan, but not as Disney portrayed him...
"Peter is quick, daring, and full of mischief—and like all boys, he loves to play, though his games often end in blood. His eyes are sparkling gold, and when he graces you with his smile you are his friend for life. He appears to lonely, lost children—the broken, hopeless, and sexually abused—promising to take them to a secret place of great adventure, where magic is alive, and you never grow old. But his promised land is not Neverland. . . ."
Goodreads describes the book as follows:
"With this haunting, provocative, relentlessly thrilling reconsideration of a timeless children's classic, the acclaimed artist Brom dramatically displays another side of his extraordinary talent. Exploring the stygian blackness that gathers at the root of the beloved Peter Pan legend, he carries readers into a faerieland at once magically wondrous and deeply disturbing."
From my initial reading of the first couple of chapters yesterday, this is a deliciously dark take on the Peter Pan legend, written in a rich and luscious prose with descriptions that reflect Brom's background as an artist. I will be reviewing the book in full soon, at Speculative Book Review as I think this will be a book to savour.
I also bought Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett. This has been on my radar for some time and promises to be a dark and frightening read...
"It is the time of the Great Depression and thousands have left their homes seeking a better life. But Marcus Connelly is not one of them. He searches for one thing only: revenge. For somewhere out there - riding the rails, stalking the camps - is the mysterious, scarred vagrant who murdered his daughter. No, Marcus Connelly seeks not a life, but a death. The question is: how much is he willing to sacrifice to get it?"
I have read some very good reviews of Mr Shivers and long winter nights seems, to me, to be the best time of year to read this.

Another recent purchase is of a book that was published in 2002, but The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce was recommended to my by a friend and so I am looking forward to reliving some old childhood nightmares!
"The disquietude in Graham Joyce's coming-of-age tale is that of having too much power as a child--the kind of power that turns your slightest wishes into mayhem. This power is granted to the rather ordinary and fearful member (neither the smartest nor the strongest) of a trio of friends growing up in small-town England by his stinky and enigmatic night visitor, the Tooth Fairy. The charm of this British Fantasy Award-winning novel is in his subtle and unsentimental portrait of a supernaturally benighted childhood. As Ellen Datlow writes in Omni, "Joyce immediately hooks his readers from the very first page with a small sharp shock and holds the reader with engaging characters and an air of menace. This tooth fairy is ... mischievous and destructive, representing our own worst aspects.""
 I love the cover for The Tooth Fairy and the summary and reviews I have read lead me to think this book may just frighten the life out of me, especially with my phobia of dentists and all things tooth related. For reading wrapped up in a warm duvet with all the lights on, I fear!

A recent short story anthology caught my eye and found it's way into my TBR pile, and that book is Sympathy For The Devil, edited by Tim Pratt.
"The Devil is known by many names: Serpent, Tempter, Beast, Adversary, Wanderer, Dragon, Rebel. His traps and machinations are the stuff of legends. His faces are legion. No matter what face the devil wears, Sympathy for the Devil has them all. Edited by Tim Pratt, Sympathy for the Devil collects the best Satanic short stories by Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Stephen King, Kage Baker, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Kelly Link, China Mieville, Michael Chabon, and many others, revealing His Grand Infernal Majesty, in all his forms. Thirty-five stories, from classics to the cutting edge, exploring the many sides of Satan, Lucifer, the Lord of the Flies, the Father of Lies, the Prince of the Powers of the Air and Darkness, the First of the Fallen... and a Man of Wealth and Taste. Sit down and spend a little time with the Devil."
With the Devil as the theme, this anthology of 35 stories from authors across the range of speculative fiction genres will no doubt revive some of the lingering legacies of an Irish-Catholic upbringing! This is a book where I will read one story a day before reviewing it on completion... I don't want to scare myself too much all at once.

The final book I will highlight today is one first I read many years ago, but it triggered a love of supernatural horror fiction that remains today. This book is Edgar Allan Poe's Selected Tales, a classic author of the horror genre. I had just seen (and been terrified by) the Vincent Price movie The Pit and the Pendulum and found a collection of Poe's stories on my parents bookshelves. Knowing they would disapprove, I hid the book under the mattress until I had read every word. To this day I don't think they ever realised that the spate of nightmares their 10-year old child experienced was brought on by me reading Edgar Allan Poe for the first time!
"Since their first publication in the 1830s and 1840s, Edgar Allan Poe's extraordinary Gothic tales have established themselves as classics of horror fiction and have also created many of the conventions which still dominate the genre of detective fiction. As well as being highly enjoyable, Poe's tales are works of very real intellectual exploration. Attentive to the historical and political dimensions of these very American tales, this new selection places the most popular - "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Masque of the Red Death", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"; and "The Purloined Letter" - alongside less well-known travel narratives, metaphysical essays and political satires."
Of all Poe's stories, The Pit and the Pendulum remains my favourite and even now, many years after my first encounter with it, the story still sends shivers down my spine when I read it.

Websites and Blogs
On Wednesday I posted the press release for a new site, Dark Fiction Magazine, which launches tonight with 4 audio horror short stories. This is a site I will visit regularly as the idea of listening to a short story whilst travelling on the tube or a bus holds a lot of appeal for me. With the advent of podcasts and eReaders, the advantages of short stories come into their own, and I, for one, will be embracing this trend wholeheartedly.

My friend Jason at Kamvision is running a series of posts about Halloween, but more specifically Samhain, the ancient pagan end of year festival, from which Halloween derives many of it's 'traditions'.
Both articles are well researched and give us more insight into how our ancestors celebrated the time we now call Halloween. Needless to say, trick or treat was not part of the tradition! I highly recommend these articles for anyone who is interested in celtic/pagan mythology.

As it is Halloween tonight, I will be curling up with a big mug of hot chocolate to watch Let The Right One In. I have been saving this DVD for a while and tonight is the perfect opportunity to watch this Swedish film.
"A well-crafted horror film in the tradition of Guillermo del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, Swedish import LET THE RIGHT ONE IN ably blends genre chills with genuine feeling. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old outcast who is frequently picked on by his classmates. He dreams of getting his revenge, but he never stands up to the boys. With the arrival of his new next-door neighbour, 12-year-old Eli (Lina Leandersson), Oskar may finally have found a friend, ally, and first love. But Eli is no ordinary girl: she must keep her pale skin out of the sunlight, she can perform inhuman physical feats, and she has thirst for blood. The bodies begin to pile up, but Oskar can't stay away from the girl who has finally given him courage.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Linqvist (who also wrote the script), LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the best kind of horror film: one that transcends the tropes of the genre to become something new. This is director Tomas Alfredson's first foray into horror, and he doesn't hesitate to include bits of vampire mythology. But his background making comedies and dramas gives the film a surprising depth; the relationship between Oskar and Eli is tentative and sweet, even though their interactions may be surrounded by blood and violence. Composer Johan Soderqvist and the sound department create a fascinating palette of music and sounds that add to the film's perfectly chilly mood, and setting the film in a snowy Swedish suburb gives director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema a starkly beautiful environment for shooting. Though LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is ostensibly about a pair of children, this is a horror film for adults. There are plenty of scares, but it remains moving and intelligent, a rare feat for the genre."
So, a Happy Halloween to you all, and may "the ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night" come out to play!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Excellent new cover for paperback of City of Ruin

Mark Charan Newton released the cover image for the forthcoming paperback of City of Ruin. This is the second book in his Legends of the Red Sun series. And isn't it lovely? Much better than the slightly 'Manga-like' image of Brynd used on the hardback. Here it is, full-size...

The artwork is by Richard Jones, and a fine job it is too. 
I have reviewed City of Ruin here: I gave it 10/10 as it was absolutely brilliant! Yes, I loved it and am eagerly awaiting book three.
I also reviewed the first book in the series, Nights of Villjamur on Amazon UK (I wasn't blogging then) here: I gave it 5 stars.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

The thrill of the thriller

Long before he became the ‘most popular author on the planet’ (sic) I read some Dan Brown novels. No, they weren’t particularly well written or even original, but he told a good story and I enjoyed the religious aspect of the plotlines. Nowadays, the general fiction shelves in bookshops are groaning under the weight of religious, mythological and legend based thrillers of mixed quality. I have to admit, I enjoy reading this type of novel especially when the plot involves subjects such as Atlantis, Tibet, Nostradamus, Mayan prophecies, and of course the Bible. However, while there are long established authors who have been writing this type of thriller for years, the Dan Brown phenomena has opened the proverbial floodgates. How to sort out the good from the also-rans is becoming tricky as the choice available now is huge. Here I will share some of my favourites. Will you agree with my choices?

Clive Cussler has written over 40 bestselling novels, most reflecting his love of marine archaeology. They have been described as techno-thrillers as advanced technology tends to be a recurring theme in his adventures. My favourite book (and the first one I read) is Inca Gold, and Atlantis Found is another enjoyable novel, both featuring Dirk Pitt of NUMA [National Underwater and Marine Agency].

James Rollins also writes fantasy as James Clemens (The Banned and the Banished and the Godslayer series). I enjoyed both Last Oracle, set in Tibet with links to Nazi Germany, and Amazonia and have several more of his novels on my TBR pile.

Mario Reading wrote The Nostradamus Prophecies, set in France and involving the Roma (or gypsy) people. I am currently reading the sequel, The Mayan Codex, where the action moves to the Americas. The first book was very detailed, involving lost prophecies of Nostradamus, and I am thoroughly enjoying the continuation of the story in the second book of a trilogy.

The Atlantis trilogy by Thomas Greanias (Raising Atlantis, The Atlantis Prophecy and The Atlantis Revelation) was another well plotted and interesting read, especially the second book which included detail about the American founding fathers and their Masonic associations.

Other books I have enjoyed are:
  • The Last Secret of the Temple – Paul Sussman
  • The First Apostle – James Becker
  • The Atlantis Code – James Brokaw
  • The Last Templar – Raymond Khoury
  • Temple – Matthew Reilly