Today’s contributions in the ongoing series of women authors in science fiction and fantasy are Ginn Hale, Carolyn Haley, Barbara Hambly, and Kameron Hurley. The books reviewed range from classic fantasy to recently released science fiction, and the characters are just as diverse. If something sounds interesting to you, please check the book and the author out.
Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale
This book is in two parts, and I haven’t gotten Book Two yet. I will. I definitely will. I have to know the ending, after all.
In some ways, this is a Regency tale, with cardsharps and duelists. The book starts with Kiram being jolted awake in a carriage, moving swiftly to concern about his clothing (“He frowned at the creased front of his white linen shirt and tucked a loose edge back into his dark pants. His curly blonde hair was always a wild mess after he had slept on it. He tried to smooth it with his hand, feeling the tight spirals spring back as his fingers brushed over them.”).
However, then we move on to Kiram’s mechanical aptitude, his acceptance into a school where no full-blooded Haldiim has ever been, accepted solely because the Academy hopes he can win the Crown Challenge for them. In this way, it’s fairly typical fantasy — the fish out of water, the boy who comes far from home because he’s special but who doesn’t fit in.
Both of those, however, are superficial, mere outward setting for the deeper story. Kiram’s roommate, Javier Tornesal, is hell-branded, the heir of the man who opened the gate of the white hell and used the power to repel the invaders of his land. He’s not an outcast because he’s from a foreign land; everyone’s just afraid of him. Despite all their differences, the two become friends and more, and Kiram struggles to free Javier from his curse, battling family, classmates, and tradition along the way.
I love the world. I love the characters. I already mentioned I’m going to get the second book, right?
Hale says of her writing:
I started really reading fantasy and thinking about writing it in the mid 80’s. Back then, I had little access to books from gay or lesbian presses; online communities and bookstores did not yet exist and brick and mortar gay bookstores were the domain of adults living in big, distant cities. Still, I loved the way those mainstream fantasy novels transported and inspired me. But, as a lesbian, I often found myself and my friends either entirely excised from the genre or, worse yet, consigned to the roles of villains and freaks.
The few books I could find that did feature gay or lesbian protagonists never conferred on them the powerful, triumphant endings that their heterosexual counterparts enjoyed. They tended to die or be doomed to morose lives of solitude. They weren’t fun or inspiring — and I rarely came away from them feeling anything but depressed. So, I ended up making up my own stories to share with my growing circle of gay and lesbian friends. Eventually those stories developed into published novels.
Since then I’ve discovered that minority characters of all kinds are being embraced by fantasy readers from a multitude of backgrounds and orientations; for me that is not only heartening but an inspiring thought.
Currently, Blind Eye Books, in conjunction with weightlessbooks.com is releasing my epic fantasy, The Rifter, as a ten-part serial. I’ve never done anything like this before and I’ve been surprised at how much fun I’m having chatting with the readers group on Goodreads as they speculate about the events of the book.
Find Ginn Hale on the Web at www.ginnhale.com.
The Möbius Striptease by Carolyn Haley
Madeline is an artist and a race-car driver, and she believes in science. Her visions and impressions of others she puts down to subconscious observation and interpretation by her brain. Her twin, Blanche, is a singer and dancer who believes whole-heartedly in her psychic gifts. Blanche’s true love is Dru Montclair, mega-rock star and creator of the New Atlantean community.
From the beginning of the book, things go wrong for Mad when she goes to visit Blanche and Dru — she’s driven her car into a ditch, she gets a vision of the gatekeeper, she discovers her ex working as a roadie for Dru’s band, freak weather puts an early end to Dru’s final concert, and someone with a visibly evil aura is walking around as part of the community. Events go from bad to worse, and the only way to bring things to a happy conclusion is for Madeline to accept what she has not been able to: she has to accept her gifts in their totality, making peace with herself, and she has to make peace with her past.
Haley’s characters are very believable, and the book kept me up late reading. One of my favorite things about the book? Madeline’s love of the male form. She talks about men as an artist, discussing planes and lighting, but just genuinely appreciating the aesthetic. I, for one, would go see her Men at Work show. Sure, it seems like a minor part of the story, but it makes the character that much more sympathetic for me.
On her writing, Haley says,
If I wrote the kind of books I mainly read, then my output would be all series mysteries. But what goes in ain’t what comes out, which keeps ending up as hybrids launched by what-if personal fantasies that eventually morph into novels.
Möbius, for instance, began as the question, What would I do if something supernatural actually happened to ME? Then I galloped off in a dozen directions, grabbing bits of my life and people therein and favorite ideas or intriguing problems, and stirring them all together in a soup. Not an efficient way to write a book! So it took (more than) a few recasts to make it all work as a novel (especially since I started out believing in the paranormal and ended up as a skeptic). It will eventually have a sequel (something like Moebius Secrets), based on the question, OK, so you have supernatural powers — now what?
My current work-in-process, conceived when I was 10, came from this question: What if I had my own horse and the boy I’m infatuated with fell in love with ME? Then I galloped off in the same multiple directions, and many iterations later it’s almost ready for publication.
My short work is all nonfiction, and either comes from an assignment (write XYZ piece for ABC magazine at ### words) or arises from a curiosity and I pitch the finished piece to a publication. Most recent example of that is an article about super-prolific novelists (How the heck to they DO it?) that will run in the October 2011 issue of The Writer magazine.
Find Carolyn Haley on the Web at carolynhaley.wordpress.com.
The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly
This is more of a classic work — first printed while I was in high school — and re-immersing myself in Hambly’s work is always a joy. In The Time of the Dark, Gil and Rudy travel from their well-understood lives in Southern California to the Realm of Darwath, a world under siege once more by the Dark, a place whose only hope is a six-month-old child and the ancestral memories he bears.
I love the way Hambly describes the overpowering smells of this medieval world, as well as the way she brings her own knowledge of the era (She has a masters degree in medieval history.) to her writing — from nobles who travel with windows because it’s too expensive to glaze the windows in all of one’s homes to the keeping of livestock. The interpersonal tensions are wonderfully realized, from the large scale (competition for power between the Chancellor and the Church) to the small (neighbors bickering over placement in the Keep). I don’t know that I’d agree with the wizard Ingold that there is no such thing as coincidence, but I do love his maxim that the question is the answer.
There is a reason Hambly has been around so long as a writer: she’s good. I recommend the Darwath Trilogy, and pretty much anything else she’s written.
The Official Barbara Hambly Page can be found at www.barbarahambly.com.
God’s War by Kameron Hurley
Umayma is a dark world — not literally, as it has two suns with such intense radiation that scraping skin cancers is almost a casual fact of life, but the life itself is dark. The first sentence tells us that Nyx sold her womb. Later, we discover that deserters are punished by being beheaded (no second chances), that gene pirates are criminals, and that would-be refugees from other planets have been shot out of the sky. The technology of this world is unfamiliar, biotech based on insects (controlled by people called magicians), and space-twisting tech used for some transport on the surface and presumably transport between worlds.
Amid all this alienness, however, is something sadly familiar: a religious war — not exactly surprising, given the title of the book, of course. Two nations, each convinced that their way of worship is the right one, each willing to kill (and to let some of their own people die) to rid their world of the heretics. It’s chaotic, it’s messy, and the thought of there ever being a winner is virtually inconceivable.
Nyx and Rhys are from opposite sides in the conflict, and they wind up working together. Nyx is a bounty hunter, an assassin, a woman who believes if she doesn’t kill, she has nothing to live on. Rhys is a magician, outcast from his family and his country, a man who will do anything to avoid killing.
The characters are rich, the world complex, and the story impossible to get out of your head.
Kameron Hurley, when asked about her writing, says,
Joanna Russ once said that the reason she read science fiction was because, in SF/F *things could be really different*. All of our assumptions about people, gender, race, class, sex, culture, travel, the universe, and everything could be really different on other worlds, in other times, and science fiction gave us a sandbox to play out all those possibilities. Fiction can be both liberating and limiting, and I wanted to write stuff that broadens our possiblities, that gives people new ways of thinking – about themselves, their societies, their assumptions.
That said, for folks who aren’t quite ready to jump into the seething chaos of my longer fiction, my best “gateway” piece is probably the short story “The Women of Our Occupation” (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2006/20060731/women-f.shtml), which deals with issues of power and control in a steamy country after a brutal force descends upon its cities.
If you’re still with me after that, GOD’S WAR is a great introduction to some of the stuff I’m working on now. The sequel, INFIDEL, is out in October, and a third, RAPTURE, is forthcoming. So the good news is that if the crazy, gun-slinging, whiskey drinking, head collecting assassins in GOD’S WAR are up your alley, there’s plenty more to come.
Find Kameron Hurley at her Website, www.kameronhurley.com.