Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

October 7, 2011

Towards a Hope Mirrlees Award, Redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sam @ 6:16 pm

Here’s a more detailed proposal building on my previous suggestion. Please do suggest alternative possibilities, explain why my suggestions won’t work, and point out the obvious things that I’ve forgotten!

What: A yearly award for the best fantasy novel of the previous year; a sub-award for the best first novel by a woman writer; and a second sub-award for fantasy artwork (cover, cartography, or illustration).

Eligibility: Must be arguably fantasy of some kind: high fantasy, low fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, rainbow fantasy, hamster fantasy if anyone decides to publish some. Must have first been published in English in the year since the last award. Can be submitted; may be co-opted.

Criteria: Quality, innovativeness, and an elusively magical sensibility. Sales, popularity, or past record will not be taken into account either positively or negatively.

Judging model: A jury of six, including a coordinator with a casting vote in the event of a tie. Each year, within three months after the award, the three longest-serving members resign and the remaining three co-opt three more members to serve for the next two years. If someone resigns during their term, another member can be co-opted immediately.

Shortlists: Shortlists should be published in good time before the presentation, and should show a commitment to inclusivity (without aiming to be comprehensively representative) and against discrimination of any form. At the same time, jury members should disclose any financial, professional, or personal interest they have in any of those books, their authors, or their publishers, and should consider recusing themselves from commenting on a book if they have such an interest. Those interests, on the other hand, shouldn’t preclude a book from consideration, or bias other jury members against it.

Award: An art object and a nontrivial sum of money, which should be raised through donations or sponsorship, but not co-branding, because having Mirrlees’s name on the award is important. Besides, that way people can say they officially have a Hope.

September 16, 2011

Towards a Hope Mirrlees Award

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sam @ 11:27 am

A brief discussion on Twitter (brief because nobody disagreed) has resulted in the conclusion that a) we need more genre awards named after women, and b) there should be one named after Hope Mirrlees.

Why? — well, to address point a), it’s pretty much universally recognized that women’s contribution to fantastika is greatly undervalued. Not enough gets to market; not enough of that gets reviewed; and not enough of that gets nominated or chosen for awards. Having almost all our high-profile awards named after men or gender-neutral objects (the Tiptree is the sole exception that springs to mind) doesn’t help this; it flags the field as one dominated by men, and for men, and that “women’s fiction” is something unique and separate and lesser.

(Just to clarify, I do think there’s something qualitatively distinct about fantastika by women, as there is about fantastika by members of other underrepresented groups. However, discussing this here would be derailing, so we can do that some other time.)

As for point b), Mirrlees is an amazing author; in Lud-in-the-Mist she produced something utterly unique and strange, fantastic in the oldest senses of the word, and something that’s rarely given the acclaim it deserves.

I propose that we (collectively) establish such an award, for fantasy published in the previous year. There are a few questions that need to be nailed down, though.

  • Eligibility: All authors, women only, or a requirement for shortlists to be more-or-less balanced? English-language, for practicality as much as anything else. Should there be a geographical restriction?
  • Prize: Realistically, there would need to be a monetary award as well as an art object. Sponsorship or donation drives should deal with that.
  • Operating requirements: eg. website design & hosting, publicity, promotional materials, fundraising overhead, ceremony costs. Quite a bit of it can be crowd-sourced or donated, but some will require actual money.
  • Judging model: jury, popular vote, or a combination of the two? The same model for the shortlist as for the final choice?
  • Mission: basically, what’s it for? To encourage good writing & inclusive publishing, or to encourage a particular style or characteristic of fantasy literature?

A lack of reliable health & energy, combined with a lack of most of the relevant skillset, means I can’t take a proper lead on this, but if anyone fancies setting up a proper committee then I’m very much in. (Also, I’m about to go away for a week and a half. But I wanted to make a proper post for discussion first.)

Fundamentally, though, this is very much doable.

June 24, 2011

Women in fantastika – an alphabetical meme

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 12:46 pm

In lieu of real content, have a meme. Here’s a list of women who write/wrote fantastika, one for each letter of the alphabet. (Where I couldn’t think of one beginning with that letter, I’ve doubled the previous one—if you know one I don’t, let me know and I’ll insert them.) Bold means I own some of their work, italics mean I’ve read and remember something they wrote. If I’ve mis-alphabetized any of the non-English names, again, let me know.

Since it’s only one per letter, I’ve purposely picked less well-known women, or ones I haven’t seen on most lists.

Aiken, Joan
bes shahar, eluki (also writes as Edghill, Rosemary)
Cooper, Louise
Dean, Pamela
El-Mohtar, Amal
Furey, Maggie
Gloss, Molly
Hambly, Barbara
(I) Hunter, Mollie
Jones, JV
Kerr, Katherine
Lee, Tanith
McKenna, Juliet E
Nimmo, Jenny
Okorafor, Nnedi
Pierce, Tamora
(Q) Priest, Cherie
Reichert, Mickey Zucker
Swainston, Steph
Tepper, Sheri S
(U) Tuttle, Lisa
Volsky, Paula
Williams, Liz
(X) Willis, Connie
Yolen, Jane
Zettel, Sarah

March 3, 2011

Literary SF – some examples

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 10:20 am

Further to my previous post, I’m getting curious about what “literary SF” actually is.

There are two basic ways of defining a (sub)genre in literary criticism. One is to argue about themes, styles, motifs, sensibilities, modalities, et al; another is to choose some examples, wave your hands around a bit, and say “things like that”. We’ve been trying the first, so let’s have a collective go at the second.

Disclaimer the first: this is not implying that non-literary SF has less merit or is less interesting.

Disclaimer the second: this is not implying that “literary SF” is a globally useful term. You do not need to pay attention to it.


  • No more than six examples of core literary SF; others may be noted as “penumbra”, if they’re less literary, or less SF, but still worth talking about.
  • Only things you’ve personally read in their entirety.
  • If in doubt, leave it off.
  • Must have been published as SF (ie. science fiction in this context): SF imprint, author’s assertion, spaceships on the cover, whatever.
  • No explanations or justifications of your choice, unless someone asks for them. If you don’t like someone else’s list, suggest your own.

Karel Čapek, War with the Newts
John M Ford, The Dragon Waiting
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day
Maureen F McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
Catherynne M Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed

November 30, 2010

Jekkara Press

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sam @ 2:21 am

I recently got hold of an Android phone, so of course I’ve been looking through the free SF&F ebooks available. There are some really good ones available, and if I scrape up the time I’ll post some recs, but I also found something very odd which I need to post about.

To wit: Jekkara Press, and their gender-switched reissues of classic SF, fantasy, and adventure books. (All out of copyright; they seem to be using texts available through Project Gutenberg.)

In The Three Musketeers For All, by Alexandra Dumas, d’Artagnyn, Athys, Porthys, and Aramys battle the minions of the Duchess de Richelieu and serve Queen Louise XIII. Cathan L. Moore writes about Norawest Smith, and Joanna Harker is the guest of Countess Dracula in Brandy Stoker’s Dracula Refanged.

I’d normally approve wholeheartedly of what they’re doing, but there are a few problems with it. First, they’re straightforward search & replace jobs, and sloppy ones at that—M. d’Artagnan becomes M. d’Artagnyn, rather than Mlle d’Artagnyn. Some compounded terms (godfather, churchman) are left alone, but on one occasion a “nice” gadget becomes a “nephew” one. In one particularly humourous example, the Countess Dracula is described thus:

Within, stood a tall old woman, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about her anywhere.

Second, at least one of their books is by a living author—Harry Harrison—and though it’s entirely legal as far as I can tell, it seems a bit much.

Thirdly, many of the cover images are inappropriately pornographic. Not only is this annoying and offensive in itself, but rather ruins the general subversiveness.

It was a nice idea, but the publisher could have done so much better a job.

December 4, 2009

Tanith Lee – Piratica

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Sam @ 12:50 am

I’ve been wanting to write about this wonderful book for a while now, but haven’t ben able to find a way of explaining just how utterly fantastic it is without major spoilers.

So I’m pleased to be able to link to this review of it, by Susan de Guardiola.

November 30, 2009

Author interview – Blake Charlton, Spellwright

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 2:50 pm

This sounds fascinating, and I shall have to read it.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy

Filed under: review,Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 2:48 pm

Another library book I don’t have in front of me anymore. Released in the US & Canada as “Scepter of the Ancients”.

This is YA, with the requisite 13-year old heroine. Stephanie (Valkyrie Cain) is tough, active, but definitely not feisty – she actually gets things done, instead of spending all her time acting out and screeching. She’s not a fan of arbitrary authority, but then that’s a trait of sensible adults as well as sensible teenagers.

Lots of good stuff here; magic, adventure, a paranormal community with some practices that make sense and aren’t explained in tiresome detail, and a smart-talking skeleton detective. Recommended.

July 29, 2009

The Grey King

The Dark is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper. Book 4.

Very Welsh, and feels right to me. Given that I spent a lot of my A-level science lessons looking out of the window at Cader Idris, if I’m happy with it then anyone should be.

I can’t find any Welsh spelling mistakes – though Welsh is a language with a lot of stratification and regional variation – and Bran’s Welsh pronunciation lesson to Will is pretty much spot on.

It does well on Welsh mythology, too; at one point, Bran and Will are asked riddles, the answer to which are Triads – Who are the three wise elders of the world?[1] Who are the three generous men of the Island of Britain?[2]

As far as plot goes, this one lives out the first prophetic verse we heard at the end of Greenwitch, and emphasizes very pointedly that the Light is Not Nice. Unpleasant things have to happen to good people, or the Dark will win and everyone will be vastly more unpleasant to each other. To be more specific, the Light has to do unpleasant things to good people, and there isn’t any mention in the text of alternatives being considered & rejected – the things the Light do are the right things to do because the Light did them. On the other hand, victory is by no means predestined[3], so the idea of just treading out the predestined steps is a little problematic. Of course, it’s not the only problematic thing – it’s heavy on the “birthright” angle. Anyone trying to reach the plot coupon who wasn’t born to do so will be killed, and all that.

[1] The owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, the eagle of Gwernabwy, and the blackbird of Celli Gadarn. Oddly, the romance of Culhwch and Olwen lists five – the ouzel of Cilgwri, the stag of Rhedynfre, the eagle of Gwernabwy, the owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, and the salmon of Llyn Llyw.
[2] Nudd the Generous, son of Senyllt, Mordaf the Generous, son of Serwan, Rhydderch the Generous, son of Tudwal Tudglyd. And Arthur himself was more generous than the three.
[3] Well, except in the sense that we’re reading 1970s children’s fantasy.

July 22, 2009

Mendlesohn & James – A Short History of Fantasy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sam @ 11:05 pm

This is precisely what it says – a history of the fantastic, beginning with mythology and moving through fairytale and the Gothic novel to the beginnings of Fantasy As We Know It and then forward to the present day.

The first text mentioned (in passing) is the Epic of Gilgamesh; the most recent is Alice in Sunderland (graphic novel, Brian Talbot, 2007). At 280 pages including chronology, glossary, and further reading, there’s little enough space for any particular text, but plenty of them are given a thorough enough discussion that it’s clear where they fit into the braided narrative of fantasy.

An extensive “Chronology of important texts” always invites the reader to tick off what they’ve read, and I’m mildly disappointed by my lack of erudition there; but I’m pleased to find that I’m familiar with most of the texts referenced in the main body, at least until the last chapter (2000-2010).

Clearly, I need to read more heavyweight-recent SF!

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