As R.E.M. would remind you, September is coming soon—so soon, in fact, that it’s already here. And, in a sort of head-spinning coincidence, a lot of books are hitting shelves that I had the privilege of reading early. Many of these come out with a quote of mine somewhere on the cover, but since blurbs are an imperfect critical mechanism, I’ll tell you why you might find this particular month hard on your wallet.
But first, an order of business! If you want signed copies of any of my books, the fine folks at Porter Square Books, my local bookshop, can hook you up. They just set up a clickthrough signed copy order system—you order through them, I drop by and sign your book, and it’s shipped out to you with all due haste.
You can visit my author page on their site, which seems to think I wrote The Dante Club for some reason but I’m sure we’ll get that cleared up presently—for direct links, though, check out Three Parts Dead in Hardcover and Paperback, Two Serpents Rise in Hardcover and Paperback, Full Fathom Five in Hardcover and Paperback, and Last First Snow in Hardcover!
And with that out of the way: BOOKS.
Out this week
Updraft, by Fran Wilde – A story about a young woman coming of age in a society where people live in bone towers growing out of a bank of impenetrable clouds far, far below. Folk use artificial wings to fly from tower to tower! The wings would actually work! (There’s a lot of wonderful observation here about wind-reading and -riding; if you’re an SF reader and the high concept sounds too much like fantasy to you, don’t make the mistake of giving this one a miss. You’ll regret it.) Eyeball kicks, they are here, in the Mieville-esque bone towers and societal weirdnesses and the giant invisible sky squid. (Did I mention the giant invisible sky squid? No? Sorry. Sky squid, we have them.) I love how Wilde plays with the initiation story tropes—and how she addresses their often-underlooked underbellies, like how initiation ceremonies reinforce complicity in society’s Faustian bargains. (Every initiation has an Omelas in it somewhere.) Also people have knife fights in midair. And there’s a bright bloom of language over the whole work—definitely read it.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson – My blurb for this namechecked Gene Wolfe, Samuel R Delany, and Fritz Leiber, and I think I was entirely justified. That will be enough for some of you. To expand: in shockingly few pages Wilson constructs a dense layered science fantasy combining the allusive hidden pipe blink-and-you’ll-miss-it worldbuilding I love in Wolfe’s work with Delany’s personal and social and erotic vision & verbal pyrotechnics. The Leiber—well, it’s a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, sort of, a kind of sword-and-sorcery (or sword-and-planet? I have my theories…) tale about hard folk traveling through a hard cosmopolitan world that takes many cultural cues from a range of African societies. Wilson’s prose keeps sharp rhythm, twists, goes for the hamstrings and throat. There aren’t many women in this book—it’s a book about men traveling together, and it seemed to me that women were intentionally present in their absence, if that makes any sense, which sets it apart from, say, The Lord of the Rings, where no characters ever seem to notice how few women are around, and few think about women much at all. The absence feels more like a decision and less like an oversight, is what I’m saying. Still, you may disagree with me on this score, or you might not care, depending on your goals. Regardless, I think this is an important book, and a great book, and you should get it now so you can say you read it before it was cool.
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho – I have not read this book yet! But Cho’s novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo was the best surprise of 2013 for me, and I’ve been waiting for her to publish a novel ever since, and this is that novel. Cho has a fantastic vision and a crisp, joyful prose style, funny and sharp, like a good Riesling. She cares. Advance praise for this book has been swelling. I have no doubt it’s deserved. Check it out.
Out September 15
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson – The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a sharp-edged brilliant revenge drama in which the injustice to be avenged is the murder of a way of life. We see the murder take place—our hero Baru is a young girl when she watches her island home colonized the modernist way, through trade agreements, education, and managed disasters rather than raw force of arms. (Though of course force of arms is deployed, when needed, to “protect trade.” Sound familiar?) Baru, a genius, decides to destroy the colonizing empire from the inside—to join their system, climb its ranks, and break it from the heart. I’m scratching my head to remember a book I’ve read in genre that more aptly displays the vicious process and logic of modern hegemonic colonialism. (Should-be-obvious disclaimer: I have not read all books in genre.) This is a well-written, passionate, fast-paced, burning book. It says in pages stuff I feel like I’ve taken books to try to say. It points fingers. Most of the fingers it points are pointed at us. (I mean here technocratic hegemonic high modernist kyriarchy, AKA The Song of My People.)
TBC also engages, obliquely and sneakily, with the often-ignored central challenge of “destroy the system from within” books (I’m thinking especially of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising here)—often the secret revolutionary ends up replicating the system’s practices and values in their attempt to destroy it. (In RR Darrow fights the Golds, rulers of his far-future Neitzsche-esque caste system, by becoming better than the Golds at being a Gold, which means that according to Red Rising, the Golds’ value structure is correct. To beat the Masquerade in TBC, Baru must become better than them at Masquerading, literally, which means… eek!). Audre Lorde’s on point—the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house. (A point on which Lorde and Tolkien agree—huh, there’s a Lorde of the Rings essay to be written somewhere in here. For future work. Unless someone’s done it already? Please tell me someone’s done it already.) But—the master’s most vicious trick is to convince you those tools can. Baru’s out-Masquerading the Masquerade, but out-Masquerading the Masquerade may only replicate the Masquerade, and many of her moves actively further Masquerade goals. The ending is the conceit, and the ending is viciously ambivalent. But I think that’s Dickinson’s entire project, and I’m eager to see where he takes it in the promised sequel.
That said, this is a book about the full court press of modern kyriarchy—the Masquerade are viciously exploitative, racist, sexist, and homophobic to the foundations of their thought; doublethink and desire suppression and false consciousness and bordering infinities are tools in their arsenal. People who do what they want pay horrible prices here, if what they want doesn’t align precisely with the Masquerade’s exploitative, racist, sexist, homophobic worldview, and to succeed at her quest, Baru must appear to conform to those standards. (Which often means actually conforming, outwardly—see previous graf.) It made me feel the costs and sorrow of living under such pressure, in such a system, in my gut, but then, while I was joking a few grafs ago when I said technocratic hegemonic high modernist kyriarchy was The Song of My People, I wasn’t wrong. As someone who’s about as privileged as I can be without being me and also rich (as I’ve mentioned before), such oppression isn’t my day-to-day lived experience—I can be struck and harrowed by Invisible Man, for example, it can (and does) inform my life and politics and art, but I don’t live Invisible Man, which, hard to deny that changes my experience of the text, is all I’m saying. Someone on the day-to-day receiving end of the kinds of oppression this book depicts and damns might have a different experience of it than mine. This is vicious and complicated stuff.
(I’m reminded here of a great scene in early Family Guy: Peter’s in prison, and a huge inmate has threatened to shiv him at midnight. Peter’s freed a few minutes before the hour. The inmate arrives at the promised time, with his knife, and finds the cell empty. Sits on the bed. Stares at his knife. Gets a sort of wondering expression on his face. “Hmmm….” Stabs himself, shallowly, in the gut. “OW!” Stares in horror at the blood, the knife. “Is that what I’ve been doing to people all this time? I belong here.”)
Dickinson and I had a great conversation on Tor.com a while back about all these questions, which you should go read if you haven’t already! My blurb compares his book to DUNE; there’s not much higher praise you’re gonna get from me.
Out September 29
Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C Myer – I’ve not read this book either! Myer and I share an editor, and I keep hinting, but I still haven’t read this book! *Glares at editor with great glares.* But she and I have talked about her project—a fantasy about art and music and creation and growth—and I’m so looking forward to taking a nice long late September evening with this novel and a very large cup of tea. Join me. Join me in tea and late September and Last Song Before Night.