21 February 2014

The erasure of high fantasy and space/planetary adventure

In one of the more recent rounds of the perenniel "women don't write..." discussion came this post by Foz Meadows discussing a Waterstones (British book chain) guide to fantasy and SF that listed 9 women in 113 authors.  This was related to a discussion of Juliet McKenna's about the invisibility of women in epic fantasy, and how very unlikely it was that any women would be included on display tables of "like George RR Martin".

Of course it's complete nonsense to say that women don't write epic fantasy, or fantasy like George RR Martin, and that was easily and immediately rebutted by various lists popping up.  This is pretty much business as usual in this discussion.

What interested me was the sub-genres listed on the pamphlet:

  • Space Opera
  • Hard Science Fiction
  • Time travel, steampunk and alternate history
  • Military science fiction
  • Near future and future noir
  • Classic science fiction
  • Heroic, epic and high fantasy fiction
  • Urban fantasy
  • Classic fantasy
  • Comedy science fiction & fantasy

Now although I've read and enjoyed books in every one of these sub-genres, the vast majority of books I read fall into two sub-genres: space/planetary adventure, and high fantasy.

So, high fantasy is actually listed in the "Heroic, epic and high fantasy fiction" group, but a quick scan of the books and authors reveals a great mass of epic fantasy and a couple of outliers.  The Lies of Locke Lamora is what I think of as 'caper fantasy', in the vein of Fritz Leiber, but also appears to cross into the epic fantasy genre.  Scar Night appears to be a secondary world angels novel, and is also called 'epic fantasy' on the back cover blurb of book two of the series.

So every single book listed appears to be fat, multi-volume epic fantasy.  Some of it is gritty epic fantasy and some of it is heroic epic fantasy, and technically all of it is high fantasy since 'high fantasy' just means 'secondary world fantasy'.  Yet high fantasy is clearly listed here as a third point along with "Heroic, epic" because 'high fantasy' also stands for 'secondary world fantasy that is not epic and not comedic'.

And by that definition there are no high fantasy books on this list.  Hell, there are no standalone books on this list.  There is no room made for Robin McKinley.  No space for Patricia McKillip.  Because 'secondary world fantasy that is not epic or comedic' is apparently not a genre needing any representatives, despite high fantasy most often being that rare place where the 'numinous' resides.

Space/planetary adventure doesn't even rate a mention.  Space/planetary adventure is not space opera.  Troy Horan's stiffbacked search for a job, and attempts to solve the problem of a trade in intelligent animals, does not even come close to space opera's usual themes.  Do Melissa Scott's SF books fall into the "space opera" category?  I don't think so.

The closest I could find to my favourite sub-genres came under "Classic fantasy" and "Classic science fiction", and obviously a new book is going to find it difficult to fit itself into "books that helped form and influence modern fantasy fiction".

I read a fair whack of epic fantasy back in the day.  I only very very rarely pick it up now.  Space opera is fun, but I love space/planetary adventure more.  And a lot of my favourite female authors may as well not exist if their sub-genres are not considered worth reading.  [Much as this booklet not only fails to list female urban fantasy authors, but doesn't even mention paranormal romance.]

Is it a coincidence that the sub-genres not listed have a strong showing of women?  Not to mention that books by women are often pushed out of the epic genre by narrowing the definition of epic to equal 'fat, gritty fantasy'?  Or is this erasure of the sub-genres something that comes along with the dominance of series books, which epic fantasy and space opera are far more inclined to indulge in?

The lack of space/planetary adventure cuts out almost all my favourite science fiction novels.    The erasure of high fantasy means no The Last Unicorn on this list.  No The Blue Sword.  No Forgotten Beasts of Eld.  Books I would take over every single fat fantasy series out there.

For me, these sub-genres are the heart of SFF, not something to be left off the list.

14 February 2014

The Pyramids of London - Cover reveal and genre questions

I've been looking forward to this cover for quite a while!  Another gorgeous Julie Dillon piece that I'm totally going to have to have as a print on my wall.



In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt's vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia's fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.
But the peace of recent decades is under threat.  Rome's automaton-driven wealth is waning along with the supply of their power crystals, while Sweden uses fear of Rome to add to her Protectorates.  And Prytennia is under attack from the wind itself.  Relentless daily attacks destroy crops, buildings, and lives, and neither the weather vampires nor Prytennia's Trifold Goddess have been able to find a way to stop them.
With events so grand scouring the horizon, the deaths of Eiliff and Aedric Tenning raise little interest.  The official verdict is accident: two careless automaton crafters, killed by their own construct.
Nothing could convince the Tenning children, or Aedric's sister Arianne, that the deaths were anything but murder.  They will stop at nothing to uncover what really happened.
Not even if, to follow the first clue, Aunt Arianne must sell herself to a vampire.
Here's the full image.  It's my first wrap-around cover (which I wanted because I wanted that sweep of city with the pyramids rising above it).



The genre of this one is going to be super tricky and I imagine a lot of people will pick it up thinking it's one thing and find it's another.  A lot of my books feature both adult and child POV characters, and this is no exception, swapping between Eluned (at the front in the picture) who is fifteen, and Arianne, who is in her thirties.  I don't consider it YA because it doesn't involve moving from childhood to adulthood in any particular way.

It's also not Steampunk, in that it's not a Victorian setting, and does not use Victorian clothing or social mores, but the tech level is similar.  It's both fantasy and science fiction, since the main plot of the series revolves around awakened gods and scientific change.  It is certainly alt-world, in that it started with our world and then had increasing points of divergence - and it's involving such an enormous amount of research, even if all I can research is the starting points before the divergence - so I'm going to think of it as alt world kitchen sink.

The release date will maybe be at the end of this year (all that research is slowing me down, although I'm collecting some lovely books like one which is maps of London through history).  If not this year, then early next year.  It's very hard to tell since I'll be overseas from August - November and expect that will impact my output rather significantly!

07 February 2014

Poisoned Wells

There's been a bunch of articles lately about how the vast morass of terribly written self-published books on the market poison the well for all self-published authors.  Readers are being tricked by untrustworthy reviews into paying good money for incompetent work.  The dreckworthy quality of these books causes the reader to swear off self-published books, and Something Must Be Done.

These articles primarily come from trade published authors who claim to support self-publishing (while proclaiming the majority of it dreck), and usually produce irritated/angry responses from self-publishers (along with many reasoned arguments pointing out that bad videos haven't killed off YouTube and Snooki hasn't killed off trade publishing, etc, etc), which are then used as evidence that self-publishers are delusional, hostile and crazyballs and overreact so much when people tell them what's wrong with them.

It's not a particularly productive conversation.  Self-publishers are able to impact the quality of their own work, and maybe give some helpful feedback on the work of others if and when asked.  But the truly incompetent either never ask for feedback or (as I've seen) simply don't care even when a forum full of self-publishers point out that they have a dozen typos on their first page.  There already is a strong culture of "make your books better" among some self-publishers, while others are more interested in the latest trick for discoverability, and others still don't talk to any other self-publishers, but do their own thing.

The Borg has not yet gotten around to assimilating self-publishers.  There is no hive mind here.

Nor is this an argument anyone's going to win.  Some people won't read self-publishers.  Some people will.  Some self-publishers will put out good work.  Some self-publishers won't.  Some trade published books are good.  Some trade published books are used as the fall-back example of "trade publishing puts out bad books too!".  Some of those books make trade publishing millions of dollars.

One person's dreck is another person's doradango.

The majority of the books I read are trade published, but I'll happily buy self-published if I'm drawn by the cover, the blurb interests me and the sample's good.  I've never chosen books to read by who published them.  I'm undisturbed by the idea that some readers will never touch my books because I'm self-published.  They can join the readers who won't read my books because I'm a woman, or because they contain swearing, or the occasional bi-normative world.

Long story short: wow, there's been a lot of Chicken Little posts about self-publishing lately.