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.)
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.
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.