shrew (n) :
1. "small mammal," O.E. screawa "shrew-mouse."
2. "peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman" [Johnson] c.1386, from earlier sense of "spiteful person" (male or female), c.1250, traditionally said to derive from some supposed malignant influence of the animal, which was once believed to have a venomous bite and was held in superstitious dread.

Synonyms: amazon, battle-ax, bitch, calumniator, carper, dragon, fire-eater, fishwife, fury, harpy, harridan, hell cat, hellion, hussy, madcap, muckraker, nag, ogress, scold, she-wolf, siren, spitfire, termagant, tigress, virago, vixen, wench

This blog features reviews of LGBT science fiction and fantasy, tales of the life of a freelance writer, the occasional meme, and pictures of cats. If any of this offends you, please press Ctrl+W.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Featured Author Fridays: Catherynne M. Valente

The author for today's Featured Author Fridays is the incomparable Catherynne M. Valente.

To introduce Catherynne M Valente, here is a review I wrote* for her book Palimpsest, which won a Lamda Award this year as well as being a finalist for both the Hugo and the Locus. Also, I thoroughly love this book.

A palimpsest is a parchment from which writing has been partially or completely erased so that it can be written over with another text. In her 2009 novel, Catherynne M Valente explores how history, community, and the human heart are all palimpsests, erased and written over again by experience. Valente’s lyrical style perfectly complements the fantastical subject, and she makes the urban fantasy genre itself into a palimpsest, erasing what went before and rewriting the genre with richer, more evocative images.

The novel explores the magical city of Palimpsest, a city where all manner of nightmare creatures live lives parallel to our own. There are fairy-sized tea shops, silent cathedrals for beast-headed beings, insect factories, living trains, canals of clothing. These unusual details might seem off-putting to the casual reader, but those hungry for unique visions will explore the city as eagerly as the characters themselves. The novel moves back and forth between Palimpsest and the real world, and Bantam was smart to mark the shift with different fonts to avoid confusion. Valente’s lush writing makes the Palimpsest sections read beautifully, capturing a city where the unusual reigns supreme. The reader is drawn into the dreamscape completely, and comes to love Palimpsest as the characters do. Like any kind of traveler, the reader explores the city, marveling at each new fantastical image Valente creates. The landscape of Palimpsest is truly a dreamscape, and Valente describes each architectural detail with a lyricism worthy of her phantasmagorical subject. The city of Palimpsest is so lovingly realized that the mundane world seems dull by comparison, a place of heartbreak, death, and missed connections.

Yet, Palimpsest is not just about the title city, but also about a group of four travelers from our world: November, a beekeeper from California; the Italian bookbinder Ludovico; a young Japanese woman with blue hair named Sei; and the Russian locksmith Oleg. Each of them runs to Palimpsest to avoid a personal tragedy. November escapes her own alienation, Ludovico the loss of his wife, Sei the death of her mother, and Oleg the ghost of his sister. By entering the dreamscape of Palimpsest, their heartaches and personal histories are scraped clean and written over with new experience. Yet traces of their tragedies remain in the fantasy realm of Palimpsest. November meets the Queen of the Insects, Casmira, the leader of Palimpsest, another sort of bee to commune with. Ludovico chases after the specter for his wife, and eventually finds absolution for his sins. Oleg likewise chases his sister’s ghost, and is forced to confront his own demons in the process. Sei, obsessed with trains, finds echoes of her mother’s ghost in the animate trains of Palimpsest. Each character, though running into the dream city to erase their pain, finds it reflected by the city, transmuted into nightmare. Their experiences in Palimpsest allow each character to work through their tragedies, transforming their lives.

In turn, Palimpsest marks each of the would-be immigrants both mentally and physically because once they enter, the travelers are literally inked with a section of the city’s map. They carry a part of Palimpsest with them forever, indelibly inked onto their skin. These map tattoos become both a badge of honor and a scarlet letter for those who have been to the city. As the characters find others with the tattoos, they get drawn farther into the world and politics of Palimpsest. These tattooed travelers need each other to enter Palimpsest not only out of a need for community, but because that is the secret way into the city: one must sleep and dream after a night with another traveler, one with the map on their skin.

*Review originally published in HUMID, the Undergraduate Literary Journal of Stephen F Austin University, Vol 2  2010.

Be sure to check out her newest novel, The Habitation of the Blessed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick Note: Rainbow Awards

The Rainbow Awards were given out for outstanding LGBT fiction, and there were categories for LGBT science fiction, LGBT fantasy and LGBT horror. I have not personally read any of these books, but I probably will hunt them down for reading soon. It looks like many of these titles are genre romance, so be forewarned. I have linked to Kindle editions where possible because many of these books are cheaper in ebook format.

The winners are:

Best Gay Fantasy
1) Heidi Cullinan - Hero
Heidi Cullinan - Miles and the Magic Flute
2) Becca Abbott - Cethe
3) J.C. Herneson - Spring of the Stag God

2) Jane Fletcher - Wolfsbane Winter
3) Alex Mykals - Nigredo

Best Gay Sci-Fi / Futuristic
1) Mark Alders - Light of the Body
2) Mark Kendrick - Trenekis of Hiera
3) Belinda McBride - An Uncommon Whore

Best Gay Paranormal / Horror
1) Viki Lyn - Last Chance
2) Jenna Byrnes & Jude Mason - Alex's Appeal
3) Marguerite Labbe - Our Sacred Balance

Best Lesbian Paranormal / Horror
1) Nell Stark & Trinity Tam - Everafter
2) Moondancer Drake - Natural Order
3) Gill McNight - Goldenseal

A short article at Science Fiction Awards Watch can be found here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Shrew's Obession with LGBT Speculative Fiction: The Roots

The Literate Shrew is back from her long hiatus and ready to get back to business. I started this blog not only to have a place to vent about my favorite things, but to showcase some of the amazing writing I have been privledged to read. As ever, life got in the way. Well, I'm not putting up with that BS anymore. Let me kick off my new LGBT speculative fiction focus by explaining how I fell down this particular rabbit hole.

Speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction, to the unintiated) has fascinated me since I was old enough to read. In my time, I've devoured every fantasy, science fiction and horror book I could get my hands on. In recent years, my genre reading habits have narrowed significantly. Gripping tales of the dangers of new technologies or the price of magic on mortal souls no longer quite satisfy me. I've grown up, and my tastes have grown up too.

Now I look for books that have characters who fall into a different definition of "other." That is to say, characters who are gay.

It's taken me many years to come to terms with my own identity as a queer female, and even longer for me to actively seek out stories featuring characters who, like me, don't fit into society's narrow definition of acceptable sexuality. Looking back, I can see that I was always drawn to speculative fiction with a LGBT focus, but only recently has that interest galvanized. This also has a lot to do with the fact that I just finished my first novel, which is urban fantasy with a gay male protagonist, and I realized that I had no idea if anybody else had written a book like that. Am I alone? I had to know.

Thus began the searches, the discoveries of new writers and the rediscoveries of old favorites. Before I get into a long, fan-girly list of the new discoveries, I’d like to look at some of my “root” authors, or the writers that I've been reading for years that, lo and behold, have written some excellent fiction with LGBT characters or *gasp* might even be gay themselves.

Samuel R. Delany
This author started it all. I first discovered him through my Dad’s collection of science fiction novels (thanks Dad), and, like many a burgeoning geek, devoured Dhalgren in high school. Delany’s stories and novels were opaque and different, captivating and strange. As a wee shrew, most of the speculative fiction I read was from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (way to date yourself, Shrew), and this was a time in speculative fiction where people were playing with ideas of gender and sexuality in new and amazing ways. Delany was in this vanguard, depicting fluid sexuality amidst speculations on the nature of the universe veiled in literary allusions. Delany is a certifiable genius, and also happens to be gay. Discovering this fact was a revelation for the teenage shrew, and I have been in love with him ever since.

Perhaps my favorite Delany titles are the Neveryon series, which features a bisexual (if I remember correctly) main character and many homoerotic elements. He has also written openly about his personal sexual journey in essays and most notably in the novels The Mad Man and The Motion of Light In Water. Delany is a treasure. If I ever get to Clarion, I will no doubt follow him around like a puppy.

[Sidenote: In the intellectual circles that concern themselves with literary criticism of science fiction (yes, they exist), Delany is pointed to when people talk about gay sci-fi, kind of like Ursula Le Guin is indicated when the words “feminist” and “science fiction” are in the same sentence. I won’t get into any major literary fights here, but let’s just say that doesn’t exactly mean the SF community throws pride parades. But that’s a post for another time.]

Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee is a prolific British writer who was also part of the New Age SF vanguard. She has written vampire fiction with transgendered characters and “hard” science fiction with fluid gendered characters, but my favorites are her old DAW sword and sorcery fantasies with the yellow spines. Those old DAW books had the best late 70s barbarian covers, and even if they didn’t have anything to do with the story inside, they were a joy to behold. To this day, I will scan the shelves of used book stores looking for those bright yellow spines. But I digress.  

Tanith Lee has most recently written an excellent book called Disturbed By Her Song that features stories by the Garber twins, Esther and Judas, both of whom are homosexual. Like many of her works, it is a beautiful, dreamlike book with timeless settings and fascinating characters. This book is really a jewel in any LGBT speculative fiction collection. The Shrew highly recommends it.

James Tiptree Jr, AKA Alice Sheldon
As James Tiptree, Jr, Alice Sheldon wrote some of the most intense and influential science fiction stories of all time. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” is considered a classic of feminist science fiction, and has been widely collected, most recently in her collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I fell in love with her works after reading some stories in my Dad’s vast Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction collection. In particular, “The Color of Neanderthal Eyes” absolutely floored me. 

The life of Alice Sheldon is as fascinating as the stories of her pseudonym, James Tiptree Jr. The fact that she chose a male persona to write under and her subsequent journey as a science fiction author is fascinating by itself. I could write a whole blog post about her, so instead I’ll simply recommend her biography: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon.
Those are the roots authors of my queer science fiction obsession. More authors and book reviews will follow, notably a more substantial review of Lee's Disturbed By Her Song, which I recently read.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Influence of Fantasy/Sci-Fi Literature (from Something Awful)

Apparently, "Led Zeppelin loved them some hobbits."

This interesting article by Dennis Farrel @ the always-funny Something Awful (one of the progenitors of LOLcats, dontchaknow) lists some connections between F/SF literature and rock and roll. Good stuff!

Some tidbits:

1. From the Not Really Surprising Department: "The foundation for David Bowie's Space Oddity was formed at a friend's party, when Bowie came across an open copy of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey with an enormous pile of cocaine covering the pages."

2. From the "Yes, They Are THAT GOOD" Department: "The entirety of Beck's album Sea Change is a word-for-word reading of George R.R. Martin's first book in A Song Of Fire And Ice series, A Game Of Thrones."

3. From the Shrew's Childhood Favorites Department: "Bob Dylan's decision to return to an acoustic sound was inspired by a number of fantasy books, primarily Anne McCaffrey's then-new Dragonriders Of Pern series, in which a number of fantastical events take place without the use of electricity."