R is for Range of Ghosts

Even if I didn’t already love Elizabeth Bear’s writing (see my review of Carnival last year), I would have wanted to pick up the book as soon as I saw her basic description on The Big Idea on Scalzi’s blog:

[I]t seemed to me that the obvious solution was to invent a different sun. Or maybe a whole slew of different suns.
So I did. Everybody gets their own sun! Or suns. And a set of skies to go with them.

How cool is that?! Not just suns, but moons, too. Then you add in descendants of Genghis Khan, or that world’s equivalent (Mongke Khagan) — you want to go find this book already, don’t you?

Picking up the book, I found it every bit as gripping as I’d hoped. Temur is on a battlefield, surrounded by the dead, both men and horses. His throat was cut, and he should by all rights be dead, but instead he lives, crossing the battlefield and looking for safety, somewhere where the very fact of his existence isn’t going to bring death to those around him. And the pace, excitement, and tension pick up from there.

Digression for those who read my post on Orullian — when Bear changed viewpoints, she didn’t lose me. I don’t know whether this is because she named somebody fairly quickly (from the first such scene — “Mukhtar ai-Idoj, al Sepehr of the Rock, crouched atop the lowest and broadest of them, his back to the familiar east-setting sun of the Uthman Caliphate.”), because I was already predisposed to trust her as an author, or because of a combination of the two. I think primarily it’s because she’s good with point-of-view; the first trilogy I read by her (the Jenny Casey books) mixed first-person and third-person point-of-view flawlessly.

(And do you notice how she worked part of what makes this not our familiar world into that sentence? “The familiar east-setting sun of the Uthman Caliphate” first of all puts the sun’s direction opposite to our own and underlines the fact that it is so only for this country; others have their own rules for the sun, some of which she delineates right afterward.)

Definitely recommended!

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

Bear, Bernobich, Bradford, Butler

Carnival by Elizabeth Bear

You’re going to think I have a soft spot for espionage, double agents, and excellent science fiction. . . . You’d be right.

Michelangelo and Vincent (have to love the names!) are working for the Coalition. Maybe. Kidnapping, escape, branes, double-crosses, and unexpected allies make for a wonderful tale. As for the end — I agree with what Bear said about some people’s disappointment: if everyone expected it to go the other way, then she did choose the better ending.

I write the kinds of books I do because they’re the stories I have to tell–and also because they’re the kinds of stories I want to read. It’s hard for me to say just what is the best starting point, since I write such a wide variety of things–it will vary by reader. My most recent publications are Grail from Spectra and The Sea Thy Mistress from Tor. Those are each the final book in a series, however, so I’d recommend going back to the first book in each.

(Note from Erin: The first books would be Dust and All the Windwracked Stars, respectively.)

You can find Elizabeth Bear on her Website, www.elizabethbear.com, and on her LiveJournal account, Matociquala.

Passion Play by Beth Bernobich

I’ve met Bernobich at Boskone a couple of times. I fell in love with her writing when I read “River of Souls” on Tor.com, so I’ve been really eager to read this book.

Her world-building shines from the opening scene, which shows a word game between two friends, Therez and Klara, girls of the merchant class. She shows us their relationship as well as a wealth about the book in only a few pages, and it grows from there, as Bernobich includes details of religion, dress, parties, caravans, and more. As the book progresses, Therez runs away, leans magic, changes her name to Ilse, and works to find her place in the world.

One thing I found jarring in this world was that they worshipped a goddess (maiden, mother, and crone) but it was a heavily patriarchal society. In a book where the world-building was otherwise so well thought out (loved the life dreams and past lives), this felt to me like it didn’t fit. However, I still highly recommend this book.

I write all kinds of stories, but my favorite kind of story is where the character win through difficult situations to strength and independence. That strength isn’t confined to physical strength, but also emotional and intellectual, and the victory might be epic in scale or personal. Or both together. Because to me, while I love grand events, it’s the people involved in those events who matter the most to me.
A good starting place for my work in general would be my collection, A Handful of Pearls & Other Stories (available as an e-book from all the usual sources). For someone who wants a taste of the Erythandra Series, I’d suggest my story “River of Souls” (http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/09/river-of-souls).

You can find Beth Bernobich on her site, Through the Looking Glass (www.beth-bernobich.com).

“Until Forgiveness Comes” by K. Tempest Bradford

This story is a look at the aftermath of a bombing and the emotions and discord that arise in the remembrance of what happened. It is written as a feature piece by a reporter, one that offers glimpses of different people but not the deep involvement common to much fiction. It is, however, an effective technique — we have all read or heard such reports (without the magic), and we know how to relate to the people described.

Her choice of using a world where Egyptian religion is mainstream and Gaelic people are the religious extremists and not the majority flips the world we know on its head. Is what we know and believe about what’s right still true if we change places?

Definitely a strong story, and I will keep an eye out for other fiction by Bradford.

Until Forgiveness Comes” is available on Strange Horizons’ Website. You can find K. Tempest Bradford on her Website, tempest.fluidartist.com.

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

I haven’t read any of Butler’s novels, which is ironic, as the preface to this book begins, “The truth is, I hate short story writing.” For not enjoying it, she created some very powerful tales. This book includes five, as well as a couple of essays: Bloodchild, The Evening and the Morning and the Night, Near of Kin, Speech Sounds, and Crossover. I first read this book years ago, but both “Bloodchild” and “Speech Sounds” stayed with me.

I love good fiction that plays with biology.

Rereading it for this post, I remembered how much I enjoyed “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” as well — also well written biology-dependent science fiction. What else do these stories have in common? They deal with family and our beliefs about ourselves (and how others’ beliefs might be different). Three of the stories are first person; two are in third. Each one explores how people adapt to limitations. The essays are also definitely worth reading; in one, she speaks of being the only Black woman (her capitalization) writing science fiction. Although there are others writing now, diversity in the field still has quite a way to go.

I mentioned that I haven’t read any of her novels. That’s a lack I really need to correct, although, honestly, if her novels are as powerful as her short stories, I might have to read them very, very slowly.

Octavia Butler died February 2006, but you can find some information about her on her SFWA member page.