The Women in SFF Issue
May 2012 - Issue #5
Welcome to the fifth issue of The Book Smugglers' Newsletter! This month, based on the awesome event being held by Fantasy Cafe celebrating women who write Science Fiction & Fantasy, we also choose to celebrate women. We'll take a look at upcoming SFF releases this month from female authors, and are thrilled to present our monthly exclusive interview with N.K. Jemisin, author of the phenomenal Inheritance trilogy as she celebrates her new duology with the release of The Killing Moon. (N.K. Jemisin is one of our very favorite authors - just check out Ana's review of 2010 favorite novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.)
Here are some of the upcoming new releases from women writing SFF:
The Killing Moon
A Q&A With N.K. Jemisin
TBS:The Dreamblood duology is your newest series, on the heels of your highly acclaimed Inheritance trilogy. How do the two series compare and/or diverge?
NKJ: They're pretty different. The Dreamblood is my effort to write traditional epic fantasy, just to see if I could. Problem is, most modern epic fantasy bores me to tears! Too much of it feels to me like it originated as a D&D campaign, with stock characters who have to grind through a stock setting, a magic system that's supposed to be logical but is really just complicated, and a very foregone conclusion. I would've gotten bored halfway through writing one of those. So I had to write the kind of traditional epic fantasy I could enjoy: with a setting that looked nothing like medieval Europe, characters who don't fit the usual archetypes, and magic that owes less to 3D6 and more to social science and non-Western beliefs about the supernatural. My favorite epic fantasies all do this, as do my favorite ancient epics, so I tried to emulate those.
I also resisted the traditional trilogy structure. The Dreamblood is like the Inheritance Trilogy in that it consists of separate stories in the same setting with a few overlapping characters. But it's not as "grand scale" as the Trilogy -- no universes were harmed in the making of this duology -- so I didn't feel a pressing need to write three books. Also, the Inheritance Trilogy was first person; this one is third, because that's more traditional. The Inheritance Trilogy focused on gods; the Dreamblood focuses on ordinary people. There's no romance in the first book of the Dreamblood (although there is an almost-romantic subplot in the second), and there's a much more explicit examination of theocracy in this one than there was in the Inheritance books. The Dreamblood also relies more on a traditional "active" plot, in which the characters have to go somewhere in order to do something -- but I promise, no Macguffins of Power! No Prophecies of Importance! Just nation-state politics and deadly magic and wicked smart ambassadors and badass ninja priests single-handedly taking on the forces of corruption.
'Course, it's still me writing it, so I imagine there's similarities that I can't see because I'm too close to my own work. I'll leave those for the critics to find.
TBS: The Dreamblood duology is set in an Egypt-inspired world with a majority cast comprising people of color. You are also a prolific, vocal blogger that advocates for diversity in fantasy fiction, movies, TV shows, and other creative works. Why is diversity important to you, and how does it factor into your worldbuilding?
NKJ: It's important to me because I'm sick of finding some promising story, engaging with it and starting to love it, and then getting "kicked out" when it suddenly stops making sense. This happens to me all the time, like when I'm watching a TV show set in New York that contains an all white cast. When I read a book set in medieval Europe in which the only brown people are brutish sex-obsessed monsters, the only gay people are evil, and the only women are prostitutes or get raped (or are prostitutes who get raped). When I play videogames set in Africa which are all about the white American characters, maybe with a leopardskin-clad black woman thrown in for sex appeal, or to die saving the hero.
All of this is bad worldbuilding, as far as I'm concerned -- bad writing altogether. Yet I see some of our society's best media creators do this over and over again. They pour so much energy and thought into characterization and setting and plot and marketing -- and yet they seem to pay no attention at all to something as simple as who should be there. Either that, or they do think about it... and then they decide that some people's stories just don't matter.
So I write worlds that matter to me. In the case of the Dreamblood, that means a fantasy ancient Egypt whose main characters range in coloring from paler than Elizabeth Taylor to darker than anyone American television would ever put in a lead role. It means a society in which women control power as much as men, and have just as much of a stake in manipulating it. It means a women's priesthood that readily admits men, so long as those men are willing to behave as and refer to themselves as women -- and vice versa, as we see in the second book of the duology, when a woman joins the men's priesthood. It means the barbarians of this world aren't savages and the civilized people can be. It means a world that isn't about good and evil, or Us or Them, because the real world just isn't that damn simple.
To be really blunt here: the odds are already against me. I'm trying to succeed as a black woman in a genre dominated by white men, as a socialist in a genre that venerates authoritarian feudalism, as an anti-racist in a genre infamous for inadvertently reinforcing white supremacist ideologies, etc. For some readers, I will always be "that" writer -- the outsider, the Other, the token, the fluke. Some will love me undeservedly because of what I am, and some will hate me unreasoningly because of what I am. So fuck it; if that's what I've got to deal with, then I'm damn well going to write what I want to read. I'm going to challenge myself in ways that I deem relevant, and write what feels right to me. If other people want to read my work, great. If not, I may never make bestseller, but I'll still respect myself in the morning.
TBS: Your five favourite fantasy novels of all time are:
NKJ: I hate this question! :) I'm not good at prioritizing. But fine, I'll try. This will have to include some series as well as individual novels. In no particular order, and picking among many more favorites:
The Time Master trilogy, by Louise Cooper
The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King
The Coldfire trilogy, by C. S. Friedman
The first Wraeththu trilogy, by Storm Constantine
RG Veda, by CLAMP (manga, but technically these count! The tankoubon are basically graphic novels!)
TBS: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ’smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
NKJ: Yes! I've had a couple of sig-os who gave all my books the side-eye, but sounds like you're more tolerant than I am; I dumped the guys, kept the books. That's partly because when I was a child, I got a lot of crap from other kids because I was such a bookworm. I tried hiding the covers of the books so they'd look like textbooks, putting the books in my purse so no one would realize I had a small library with me at all times, you name it. I started writing in part to avoid that childhood censure -- it was still reading, just reading stuff that didn't obviously look like a book because I was writing it myself. My teachers and classmates always praised my diligent note-taking. Little did they know. But nowadays I'm too old and too proud to hide my books. To paraphrase "Avatar: The Legend of Korra," I'm the bibliophile! You gotta deal with it!
Look out for our review of The Killing Moon
on May 3! You can find out more about N.K. Jemisin by visiting her website www.nkjemisin.com
or following her on Twitter
Non-European Fantasy by Women
(Fantasy by Women Who Broke Away From Europe - a List Compiled by Martha Wells)
Still on the subject of Women in SFF: we couldn't leave out this awesome-looking list compiled by Martha Wells (helped by a myriad of other awesome SFF writers and readers) and published last week over at Mad Hatter's Review. Although we've read a few of these titles there are many that we hadn't even heard of before (woe).
Thus, we decided to set up a challenge for The Book Smugglers: we will aim to have at least one book from that list read and reviewed by each of us every month for the foreseeable future. Who's with us?
May 2012 Calendar
In which we share our upcoming schedule of big reviews and coverage (fancy reviews, author spotlights, and more)…
5/01 - Review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth
5/02 - Review of Silence by Michelle Sagara
5/03 - N.K. Jemisin guest post + review of The Killing Moon
5/04 - Interview w/ Paolo Bacigalupi + review of The Drowned Cities
5/08 - Bitterblue (+ Giveaway) by Kristin Cashore
5/09 - Andrew Fukuda guest post + review of The Hunt
5/10 - Christopher Healy guest post + review of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
5/16 - 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
5/17 - Cat Valente spotlight: Deathless & The Folded World
5/21 - 5/25 JOINT REVIEW WEEK
5/31 - Redshirts by John Scalzi
...and much, much more.