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The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an effective & unsettling listening experience, at least partly because the book did not deliver what I was expecting. And that's probably a good thing.

I'd heard The Power described as a feminist dystopian novel, sometimes compared to The Handmaid's Tale. For me, at least, this wasn't accurate. Rather than being centered on the USA, or triggered by abusive religion, this is a global dystopia triggered by a truly science-fictional concept. (I suspect everyone reading this knows the concept, but no spoilers from me.)

The book offers multiple sympathetic viewpoints from diverse characters: an emotionally scarred African-American girl "savior," a politically driven American mother with a troubled daughter, an ambitious male Nigerian journalist, a vengeful young woman from a British criminal clan. Within the novel's framing story (again, no spoilers here), the setting is disturbingly modern, complete with Eastern European chaos and social media trolls. When the author's SF concept changes just one thing, the world begins to fall apart with alarming rapidity.

In the end, this may be less a feminist dystopia than a human dystopia, more about humans & power than humans & gender. It's a thrilling listen (or read), but I can't say the ending gave me a lot of hope or warm fuzzies. Recommended for those ready to accept a solid dose of SF plus a touch of dark fantasy in a thought-provoking novel.

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The Silence of the GirlsThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't completely sure whether to give this one 4 or 5 stars, but finally settled on 5 for its sheer emotional power. Yes, there is rather modern British dialogue & slang (but, hey, we already know the PBS Roman Empire speaks British English, why not the ancient Greeks?). Yes, it is occasionally disconcerting when the plot shifts viewpoints between Briseis (first person) and her captor Achilles (third person). And even at the end, I was never completely sure who Briseis was telling her tale to. Other than me, of course.

However, none of this mattered while I was reading this very different, very lovely, & very brutal take on the Trojan War. This is war from the captive's view, and not just any captive. Briseis, a young royal woman from a Trojan city, was Achilles' personal prize -- and the the cause of his refusal to fight after Agamemnon took her away. Most of the novel is told from her POV, and it's every bit as harsh (& conflicted) as you'd imagine. Although Barker never gets gratuitously graphic, there's no question here about what happens to women in war.

If you've read the Iliad, you know the plot already. What matters here -- other than some breathtaking writing every so often -- is how women, mostly enslaved, figured into that plot. And how some men were decent in spite of the situation, and how many weren't.

Recommended (strongly) for Mary Renault fans, and anyone else looking for a different view of classical war. Or, probably, war as it still is.

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Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different & character-driven Mythos novel, set in America's Cold War era. Aphra Marsh, the tale's first-person POV, is about as far from a standard Lovecraftian narrator as one can imagine, but perfect for this complex story.

Spy-hunting, Red Scare paranoia, and deadly serious practitioners of both dark & (semi?) white magic all figure into this one, along with references to America's Japanese internment camps. Race relations of the time also inform the plot -- as does the status of women, and the very perilous status of non-straight folks (male and female). That's a lot of (justifiable) social commentary, but it never quite gets in the way of the pure fun of a well-crafted Lovecraftian world, Miskatonic University and all.

The references here go way deeper than your standard Call of Cthulhu gaming chrome. Emrys has obviously done her research (both Lovecraftian and historical), managing to tie in most of HPL's major Mythos tales, plus one or two I wasn't expecting. I'll definitely be putting the sequel, Deep Roots, on my Want to Read (or perhaps listen to) list.

Recommended for Lovecraftians open to social comment and history in their Mythos fiction. I'm not sure that those completely unfamiliar with Lovecraft's work would get the most out of this novel, but they might still appreciate the world-building, history, and magic.

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The Good HouseThe Good House by Tananarive Due

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent modern Gothic horror novel -- feels like Southern Gothic even though most of it takes place in the Northwest --with some really fascinating Vodou aspects. The story is female-focused with a sympathetic protagonist who refuses to be a victim. All good! This is the first Due novel I've ever read / listened to, and I was hoping to broaden my horror reading experience.

In some ways, the novel did this. Unfortunately, it felt much too long, even given that it was a generational story. Combine this with a nonlinear storytelling style (the entire plot zigzags back and forth, sometimes by decades at a time) and an unsatisfying ending, and you wind up with a book that's rather hard to get through.

I think I may have stuck with it because the Audible narrator was doing an excellent job. I'm not sure I would have been so persistent if I'd had, say, a paperback.

YMMV, especially if you're really looking for a chewy late-summer chiller.

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I've just received my early contributor's copy of Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press), a really lovely little haiku anthology.

Billing itself as "a groundbreaking anthology of haiku by women in the international haiku community," this perfect-bound volume is edited by Roberta Beary, Ellen Compton, & Kala Ramesh.

These three editors hail from Ireland, the USA, and India respectively, and their selections are equally diverse. I haven't finished this anthology yet -- it begs to be nibbled through and paused over! -- but a quick flip through its pages reveals haiku poets from Singapore, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places. This is not a themed anthology, so there's a lot of variety in the haiku themselves as well.

The official publication date for this one is September. It will be available on both Amazon & the Jacar Press website,
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Tor.Com is celebrating Space Opera Week (yes!). Author Judith Tarr has contributed an article of particular interest to those of us intrigued by women's literature:

"From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera"

This one's worth every minute of reading time, but be warned. It is loaded with useful, fascinating, & time-eating links on female writers of space opera, gender inequalities in the field, & even the Smurfette Principle (of which I was totally ignorant until today).
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
When it comes to reviews, glad tidings are always welcome!

Hippocampus Press publisher Derrick Hussey recently let me know about some very kind words re my 2015 fiction collection Dark Equinox & Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. In Wormwood #27, reviewer John Howard finds that

. . . Schwader unflinchingly shows the disintegration of the personal and the cosmic: and nothing is, or ever again can be, secure. (re 'When the Stars Run Away')

Intense and with a superb sense of place, each tale refers obliquely back to one or more stories or concepts from the Cthulhu Mythos, and runs with it in a refreshingly distinctive way. Lively and intriguing, they are utterly Lovecraftian in spirit. (re my five linked tales of Cassie Barrett)

Dark Equinox is available from the publisher, or from Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
I'm a day late for her birthday, it seems -- but there is no bad day to post about James Tiptree, Jr., & I only stumbled across this very informative article on today.

What James Tiptree, Jr. Can Teach Us About the Power of the SF Community

If you aren't (yet) familiar with Tiptree's groundbreaking work -- most of it short fiction -- also has a link for that!

Where to Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr.

Either way, happy belated birthday to one of the most unique voices in women's SF.

Or SF, period.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a reread for me, though I originally read it so long ago that little had stayed with me beyond a good dystopian chill. It still has that, of course – and, if anything, that chill has settled deeper.

What it also has, however, is marvelously lyrical prose. Atwood is also a poet, and most of the book’s descriptive passages reflect this. It’s a bit odd to find yourself stopping in the middle of a truly bleak novel to admire the beauty of the writing, but I did this time and again.

Rereading this after at least a couple of decades also gave me an entirely different view of the main character. In a society obsessed with fertility, older women have few options and little worth aside from their husbands. Younger women have a different, if equally limited, set of options. Which side of the age divide the reader is on matters a lot! To be fair, there’s an age divide for the male characters in this novel, as well. Atwood may not draw it as clearly, but it is no less real – and I suspect male readers will experience it more fully than I did.

A recommended reread (as well as a first read) for fans of literary dystopias, or still-edgy feminist spec fiction.

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Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was apparently Jane Austen’s first completed novel – a satire of the Gothic novels popular during her time. Though it lacks the subtlety of her later, longer works, this one offers a taste of Austen with her claws out. Her talent for making pithy observations about what really matters in polite society (generally, money) is already evident.

Austen also discusses her heroine as living up to -- or not living up to -- the Gothic heroine ideal in considerable detail throughout. Though it’s all part of the satire, it’s also an unusual and welcome glimpse into the writer’s thought processes.

I’ve read (and in most cases, reread ) all of Austen’s novels, finding different things to appreciate in each. This one felt a bit lightweight, but her sly observations about Gothic novels (and their readers!) plus her sharp-eyed account of society life in Bath made it well worth my time. YMMV, as ever.

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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Deed of Paksenarrion (The Deed of Paksenarrion, #1-3)The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An old-school, character-focused high / epic fantasy -- originally a trilogy (Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, (Divided Allegiance, and (Oath of Gold), now published in one volume. The trilogy originally came out in the late 1980s, which is when I think I may have encountered it. I recently reread it, over several months, as “comfort reading.”

And I’m glad that I did.

Many of the plot devices – and certainly the standard Northern European fantasy trappings – are a little dated now. Though gritty enough, the storyline would probably be considered YA. However – and it’s a big However – the notion of a Hero’s Journey for a heroine still resonates, and there are still far too few of them in modern fantasy.

Elizabeth Moon’s prose is tight and clear, her characters are fully worked out, and her knowledge of military subjects comes from actual experience. This is a well-crafted page-turner suitable for fantasy readers of any age, though younger female readers might appreciate it a bit more.

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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)

It’s World Fantasy Award season again, and I’m thrilled to note that three anthologies I’m in have been nominated. (One of them was nominated for two WFAs!)

Cassilda’s Song (Chaosium) , edited by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., has been nominated for Anthology and -- thanks to Selena Chambers’ The Neurastheniac”-- Short Fiction.

Black Wings IV (PS Publishing), edited by S.T. Joshi, has been nominated for Anthology.

She Walks in Shadows (Innsmouth Free Press), edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, has been nominated for Anthology.

For the full list of finalists, check here.

Best of luck to everyone in October!
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga, #16)Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s almost impossible to review this one without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this is what fans of the Vorkosigan universe have been waiting for since the ending of Cryoburn.

Set three years after those events, this is a lovely, strange, and mature romantic comedy with science-fiction packaging – some of that quite thought-provoking. It is also a Secret History of the Aral / Cordelia marriage, an advanced course in Betan vs. Barrayaran thinking, and a number of other delightful things, all delivered with style and wit.

What is isn’t is the sort of space opera Bujold does very well. It took me a few chapters to realize this wasn’t forthcoming, and I was slightly confused until I did. I also suspect that this book may resonate more with readers who are parents than with those of us who aren’t. However, it’s a must for all fans of this series – and very likely to result in frantic rereading of the earlier books.

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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)

The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First published in 1969, Le Guin’s classic novel of gender, diplomacy, friendship, adventure, and heartbreaking choices on an Ice Age planet is as fresh as ever. SF readers who prefer a “full immersion” experience -- or anyone who appreciates hard questions combined with jaw-droppingly lovely prose – should not miss it.

This was my second reading. I suspect it would reward several more.

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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)

It’s been a bit of a wait, but Mike Davis of The Lovecraft EZine reported today that the Kindle edition of Cassilda’s Song is now available, with the print edition coming soon.

Edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Cassilda’s Song is a new anthology of tales inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow mythos -- & all these tales are written by women. As most readers of this LJ already know, I’m one of these women!

A glance at the TOC should reveal why I’m so happy about this. And why KIY enthusiasts really ought to consider adding this item to their libraries, electronic or otherwise.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Staff blogger Diane Severson’s[ profile] divadiane1 latest post is up at the Amazing Stories site, & this time she’s offering a themed November 2015 Round Up.

Entitled Women Destroy Hard SF Poetry!!! ( title permission granted by John Joseph Adams), this comprehensive look at women writing verse on the harder end of the SF spectrum includes links to work by 22 poets. Five are featured, and one of those five is Yours Truly. Here’s the full list:

Lisa Timpf
Roxanne Barbour
Landon Godfrey
Wendy Van Camp
Sarah Blake
Margaret Rhee
Ruth Berman
Ann K. Schwader, featured
Marianne Dyson, featured
F.J. Bergmann, featured
Christina Sng, featured
Liz Bennefeld, featured
Deborah Guzzi
Renee M. Schell
Lark Bertran
Deborah P. Kolodji
Marge Simon
Stephanie Wytovich
Snigdha Chaya Saikia
Ada Hoffmann
A.E. Ash
Bronwyn Lovell

Though I don’t generally consider myself a hard SF writer, I do enjoy taking inspiration from the sciences (astronomy is a favorite), and I’m delighted to be part of this distinguished sisterhood. There’s lots to read – and think about – here!

ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Received my contributor’s copy of She Walks in Shadows this week – just in time for Halloween!

Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, this anthology of Lovecraftian tales by women features authors & artists from several countries, all investigating & expanding upon the feminine side of the Mythos. Some provide new views of established characters / entities, others (including myself, in the anthology’s one poem) offer entirely new creations to stretch the bounds of Lovecraftian weirdness.

Find the whole TOC – plus easy ordering information – here. She Walks in Shadows is available in both paperback & ebook formats.

And I am so thrilled to be a part of this puppy.

ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
The Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although this short but incredibly concentrated collection is apparently a modern classic, I’d never run into it until now. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the more elegant bits of darkness I’ve read in some time.

In these ten tales, Angela Carter doesn’t so much retell various fairy tales & legends as rip them apart and rebuild them entirely. Her style is elaborate, poetic, and measured. Her viewpoint is unabashedly feminist, yet critical to the point of cynicism. Her obsessions – and she seems to have had quite a few – are worked out over & over again, reflections in a series of precisely warped mirrors.

Whether this approach works or not depends upon the individual reader. It certainly worked for me – once I slowed down enough to absorb these stories as the near prose-poems they are. My personal favorites were “The Bloody Chamber,” “The Tiger’s Bride,” and “The Lady in the House of Love,” but YMMV – and it’s almost sure to. Do yourself a favor, though, and read this collection in order. Many of the tales play off previous ones, and skipping around may dilute the effect.

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ankh_hpl: (Ankh)
I haven’t posted about this poetry project before, because I wasn’t at all sure when it would be available . . . but I’ve finally been told that it’s coming out for Lovecraft’s 125th birthday.

Which is August 20th!

Dark Energies is my first collection of poems since 2011 -- and my first collection ever published in Australia, from P’rea Press. It’s a little over 100 pages of Lovecraftian, cosmic, archaeological, historical, & just plain weird darkness, including a brand-new sonnet sequence for Keziah Mason. The cover and elegantly creepy black & white illustrations are by David Schembri, with preface and afterword by S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, respectively. There’s also a short interview with me, done by editor Charles Lovecraft.

Dark Energies will be available in both paperback & hardcover editions (another first for Yours Truly), with an ebook format to follow later on.

If you’re attending NecronomiCon Providence 2015, Dark Energies will be available at the Ulthar Press table in the Vendors’ Hall. Otherwise, just check here for all the details – including how to preorder. (The current link is for the hardcover edition, but there are ordering options for both editions.)

ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
I am really, really happy to report that my new dark fiction collection, Dark Equinox & Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror, is now available from Hippocampus Press. The web site’s still listing it as being released for NecronomiCon 2015 -- but I checked with the publisher, & it’s already in stock.

This nicely produced trade paperback offers sixteen tales (four previously unpublished, others emerging from many years in the dark) of the cosmic &/or supernatural. Available here for the first time is the entire run of my Cassie Barrett tales, which take place in rural Wyoming & the Southwest. The Southwestern cover art & very spooky frontispiece are by Lyndsay Harper. Find all the details -- & ordering information -- here.

And if you’re planning to attend NecronomiCon Providence yourself, I’ll be delighted to sign your copy there!

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