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What to say about The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Just before publication in 2015, it seemed like a concentrated effort to torpedo the book occurred over several prominent SFF review sites and blogs; then shortly after publication came all the counter-arguments and effusive praise, and then it abruptly dropped off my RSS feed. Now it’s three years on with its sequel set for publication in October, and I’ve finally read it.

Seth Dickinson creates a secondary world custom-built for postcolonial theory, or at least that’s how things appear in the first few chapters. The Masquerade, a Granbretanean-style maritime “imperial republic” modelled after the British Empire but where everyone wears masks because masks are cool, conquers Baru Cormorant’s homeland of Taranoke by using paper money. She’s picked up by their schools, educated, and goes out into the world as an imperial accountant in the far-off northern nation of Aurdwynn. (more…)

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On his blog Morphosis, Adam Roberts wrote about fantasy literature’s preoccupation with physical violence. His article covers a lot of ground, but I’m extrapolating on two small parts of it:

  1. How some fantasy (increasingly more of it) portrays killing others without compunction or emotional repercussions as heroic.
  2. How authors use the shock of physical and sexual violence as a shortcut to make the imagined world become relevant to the real one. The common reaction of “things just got real” to a text when the story takes a dark turn is probably the basest example of how the trick operates.

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Yet another jumble of notions for the month.

Comics

I’ve been burning my way through past episodes of The TradeWaiters, a podcast where a group of Canadian web comic artists get together to comic books. The hosts really get into the more technical aspects of draftsmanship, paneling, page and character design, colouring, and lettering, which have all helped deepen my appreciation for the mechanics of visual storytelling. I just don’t linger on the art when I’m reading comics, something I always feel is a bit of a disservice to the time and effort that goes into producing these works, since I can get through something that took years to create in a matter of hours. My thoughts on that are starting to change—the strength of comics is imparting a huge amount of narrative information in a small amount of space, and getting so much meaning at a glance is exactly what makes the medium uniquely powerful for storytelling when in the right hands. (more…)

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I read Spring Log II almost immediately after finishing Wolf and Parchment. Volume 19 of Spice and Wolf continues the gentler peak into the day-to-day life of a married couple that we saw in Spring Log I: another collection of short stories and novellas that run in more-or-less chronological order after a short flashback to an earlier time. Isuna Hasekura has come into his own with short fiction with these last two volumes, choosing character-focused pieces that explore close relationships and emotional states, quite the change from some of the clumsier offerings in the Side Colours volumes of the main Spice and Wolf series. Notably, a good chunk of this book comes comfortably from the wolf goddess Holo’s point of view rather than that of her husband Lawrence, a perspective largely absent from the novels in the series proper. (more…)

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Another smattering of thoughts for the month, as I just couldn’t come up with topics that quite warranted an article of their own. Up today: Pornokitsch, the Hugos, and Wolf and Parchment.

End of an era

1qdtdbod_400x400Pornokitsch shut down at the end of March and will not be posting new content. It’s a bit unusual to talk about a favourite website these days, but Pornokitsch was mine. They posted articles regularly on science fiction, fantasy, pop culture ephemera, cheesy music, historical oddities, old pulp paperbacks, and the occasional short story. It was a diverse mix fueled by the passions of the editors Jared Shurin and Anne Perry and their countless contributors from across the sff world. (more…)

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Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel?

I heard about My Own Kind of Freedom at the tail end of an announcement of an official line of Firefly tie-in novels. I admit that the tie-in news didn’t interest me at all, but what did get my attention was learning that over a decade ago, Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel on spec and submitted it for publication, was ultimately turned down, and released the finished work under Creative Commons Licence as a free ebook. Like Scott Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands, the combination of author and subject matter was too perfect to resist. (more…)

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I’m fresh dry on ideas for blog posts (as you might notice from my increasingly erratic posting schedule), so some scattered thoughts for February, the cruelest month, instead:

  • The most rote feature of any writer’s blog is posts on writer’s block. I’ve had a really long spell of sitting in front of my computer and words not coming out, and none of the strategies I’ve tried to far have really worked. That being said, there are a few anthology calls that would be a real shame to miss since they fall right in my wheelhouse. I now have a small notebook I carry around to jot down ideas.One thing I noticed is that the last two stories I did manage to finish came right out of drawings and paintings I’d done, and maybe I’m onto something there.

 

  • On that note, probably the best thing I’ve done for improving my artwork was buying a cheap, 500-sheet pad of newsprint from the local office supply store. I have had a weird relationship with sketchbooks where I was adamant on only including “good” work in books most people wouldn’t see. For newsprint, over the past few months I’ve filled it every day with small sketches and concepts, almost all out of my imagination, and that freedom to just dump out any idea no matter how rough has really helped improve my ability to pose figures, make compositions and create diverse people and landscapes. Experimenting and just moving onto the next iteration when you fail because you don’t perceive the sketchbook as a place for “quality” work is really helpful, and if I’m out of ideas for finished pieces I can always go back and flip through my thumbnails until I find something that catches my eye.

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