Today’s helping of women writers of science fiction and fantasy includes books by Margaret Weis and Connie Willis, as well as a short story (her first pro sale!) by Brooke Wonders. If you’ve enjoyed something else by these authors, or just have some comment on the works I’m reviewing, please feel free to leave a comment on this post.
Mistress of Dragons by Margaret Weis
Anyone who loves epic fantasy or role playing (or both) knows Weis’s name. Half of the creative pair who brought us Dragonlance and so much more, she has been creating wonderfully complex worlds for decades. Mistress of Dragons, first in the Dragonvarld series, is no exception.
The descriptions in the first chapter as the High Priestess Melisande heads out before sunrise to watch for approaching dragons are evocative, dropping the reader right into a fully formed world with ongoing conflicts. We learn some history of the priestesses, of the monastery where they live, and of the kingdom of Seth. The love between Melisande and Bellona (leader of the monastery’s warriors) is clear, as is their desire to protect those under their care.
One of the brilliant things I loved in this book was how, once Weis had the world and the situation established, she turned it on its head, showing us the same conflict from the point of view of the dragons. Others from outside the country (notably, King Edward of Idlyswylde) are drawn into the story, and Weis does an admirable job of developing each main character and exploiting the internal and external conflicts inherent in them. This may replace the Deathgate Cycle (which she recommended to me at a con a number of years ago) as my favorite of her works. Definitely recommended.
About her writing, and this series in particular, Weis had this to say:
The way this series came about is very interesting. One of the questions I often receive is this: Do I start with characters or the world when developing a plot line? I’ve actually done both. The Deathgate books started with a single character, Hugh the Hand. The Star of the Guardian series began with three characters: Sagan, Lady Maigrey, and Prince Dion. Darksword began with the world in which everyone was a wizard. Sovereign Stone began with a world designed by artist, Larry Elmore. Mistress of Dragons began with the title.
My editor and dear friend, the late Brian Thomsen, called me one day to suggest that I write a book titled Mistress of Dragons. He had no idea for the plot or the characters, just the title. He asked if he could have the plot idea for three books in two weeks. If so, he thought he could sell it to Tor.
I was excited and intrigued by the challenge. I began thinking about a woman who would be known as the “Mistress of Dragons”. Why would she use that title? This led me to an astonishing discovery about her. Having created her, I began to develop the society around her and from there expanded out into the world, adding other characters who would interact with her. I went on to plot out the first book and roughly outline the next two books, which would be Master of Dragons and The Dragon’s Son. Brian liked the idea and he sold the series to Tor.
These books have always been favorites of mine. They established a number of “firsts” for me as an author. They are more adult than many of the fantasy novels I had written up to that point. And although the Dragonvarld books were not the first novels I had written featuring gay characters, they were the first to present a loving gay relationship. (And because of that, they were the first that garnered hate mail!)
Perhaps the main reason I am so fond of them is that they will always remind me of my editor and friend, Brian Thomsen, who died far too young. Mistress of Dragons began with him and I will always thank him for that!
You can see everything that Margaret Weis is up to on her Website, www.margaretweis.com.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This is time travel à la Wodehouse. It has everything from the bishop’s bird stump (a sort of vase) to Difficulty with Sounds to romance to temporal incongruities. Oh, and cats, or at least one cat, who gets taken through time, thus leading to the incongruities. The humor is delightful — as I said, it reminds me of Wodehouse, and I’m a big fan of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. One example is when Ned Henry mishears “cat” as “fan” and starts talking about Lady Windermere’s — seemingly random, but completely sensical from his point of view. Also, the way he goes on about seraphim (with the eyes) and naiads (a word he has to keep trying to recall) is very Bertie-esque.
The humor would, in my opinion, be reason enough to read this book. However, it’s also an excellent read for both the historical details and the SFnal perspectives. This is one of a series of books written in the same world, where time travel is considered easy but of no interest to anyone but historians. Others include Doomsday Book, Blackout, and All Clear. The world building is solid, both in the present and the past of the novel, as well as in the characterization of the people. Highly recommended.
Connie Willis can be found online at ConnieWillis.net.
“Substitution” by Brooke Juliet Wonders
This short story (published by Daily Science Fiction and available here) is bittersweet. Told from the robot’s point of view, it evinces great emotion, caring, loss, and grief, as well as worry for what will become of Jenny without him around. Wonders does a marvelous job in a short span of sketching the outline of a world that supports the emotional depth of the story without competing with it for attention.
The protagonist gives himself no name, although he says that the local children call him Mr. Jenny. His replacement has a name. Perhaps that is part of why Jenny is replacing him — he has no identity of his own; he only “lives” for her. His worries about the children at the school belie this easy explanation, though. In the end, we know no more than he does. He has been replaced, and although he feels it keenly, his girlfriend doesn’t care about his feelings. A truly human relationship, on both sides.
This being her first pro sale, Wonders doesn’t have any other work for me to point you to, but I definitely suggest you keep your eyes out for more in the future.
When asked about her writing, Wonders said,
At the moment, I write the way I write because I’m interested in allegory, in its potential to reveal something about the way we live now. For me, the kinds of images and narratives that can sustain contemporary allegory arise naturally out of SF/fantasy/speculative fiction (robots, fairytales and the like). Those narratives already contain an implicit commentary on modern life. Robots are the threatening Other against which we define our humanity, fairytales the stories we whisper to fend off the dark. I like messing with that commentary–writing a robot that’s better at unconditional love than any human, for instance.
Brooke Juliet Wonders blogs at brookejulietwonders.com.