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Category: Fantasy Page 5 of 8

30 Days of Reviews: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

last_unicorn_coverTitle: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Publisher: Roc
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5 out of 5

My husband likes to joke sometimes that I’ve led a deprived childhood because I there are many classic children’s books and movies I haven’t been exposed to. But you know what? There are a lot of stories I’ve missed out on so far. That’s life. The best part about today’s review is that I can say that through reading The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, I’ve filled in a hole in my literary education that I didn’t even know existed.

I’m not sure if I even need to provide a plot summary, but here: A unicorn living in an enchanted wood learns by accident that she may be the last one in existence. Stunned that her happy solitude has transformed into loneliness, she embarks on a quest to find out what happened to the rest of her kind. Along the way she meets Schmendrick, a bumbling magician, and Molly Grue, the put-upon wife of a bandit leader. All hope appears lost, however, when they encounter King Haggard, who has imprisoned the remaining unicorns for his own enjoyment, as well as his ultimate weapon, the Red Bull.

You don’t need me to go on, do you? About the stunning transformation of the unicorn, a pure creature, into a human, who can feel love and regret? About the sheer density of thought, beauty and longing within such a slim volume?

Looking at today’s established and up-and-coming speculative fiction writers, I can see the impact of The Last Unicorn. I hear echoes of the sinuous, crystalline quality of Beagle’s prose across the field of science fiction and fantasy. I may not know a lot, but I think it’s easy to see that The Last Unicorn is an urtext for how genre has unfolded over the last 40-odd years.

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

30 Days of Reviews: The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

Title: The Steerswoman
Author: Rosemary Kirstein
Publisher: Self-published (It was first traditionally published, but then the rights reverted back to the author)
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: Friends recommended it so I bought it through Kobo

Imagine two women sitting around a campfire in a forest. They’ve only just met and are still sounding each other out, but are coming to the slow realization that they each like the other’s companionship.

One, Rowan, has traveled far and wide, mapping the terrain and documenting local flora, fauna and customs. The other, Bel, is a raider from the outskirts who is new to her companion’s land and watches the fat, prosperous towns around her with a calculating eye.

If I asked you what they were discussing, what would you answer? Military tactics? The strange behaviour of local wizards?

Neither. They’re trying to figure out orbital mechanics. Specifically, they’re determining the trajectory and grouping of objects falling to the ground at a high velocity by drawing rudimentary graphs in the dirt.

Some books pay lip service to the Bechdel Test. The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein takes that well-worn idea, expands it, and tailors it into a compelling mix of fantasy and sci-fi that feels intelligent, sharp, and yet as comfortable as an old leather coat.

Bel and Rowan are fascinating, complex characters with an easy inteprlay, and the central question that The Steerswoman engages with is surprisingly multifaceted: who is allowed to control knowledge? How is it categorized, and how does control over it benefit or hinder society?

Most interestingly, the world of The Steerswoman looks like a bog-standard fantasy at the beginning, but there are compelling hints at the end that what we’re really encountering is some post-post-post industrial society after a technological collapse. I have certain theories about the provenance of the strange blue gems that form the basis of Rowan’s quest, and I hope those theories are proven true in the sequels.

Which, of course, means that I’m buying them. You should too.

Uncanny Magazine, Issue 13

30 Days of Reviews: Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

Uncanny Magazine, Issue 13I’ve gotten very good at being polite. I tamp down my fear and my rage and pretend it doesn’t exist, because acknowledging it can be dangerous — women who aren’t polite aren’t respected.

That’s because I’m a coward.

Brooke Bolander is not a coward. Or rather, she refuses to be ladylike. Her writing plucks a visceral, angry chord, with its profanity and politics and questioning of gender norms. And her newest story Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies, published in this month’s issue of Uncanny Magazine, is an excellent example.

The narrator of Talons may not have a name we can understand, but she has a thirst for life that anyone can get behind — especially if they were murdered in cold blood by an entitled young man who only wanted attention, like she was. Luckily for her, our narrator isn’t human at all, but a cosmic being capable of reincarnation. And she wants revenge:

You may not remember my name, seeing as how I don’t have one you could pronounce or comprehend. The important thing is always the stories—which ones get told, which ones get co–opted, which ones get left in a ditch, overlooked and neglected. This is my story, not his. It belongs to me and is mine alone. I will sing it from the last withered tree on the last star–blasted planet when entropy has wound down all the worlds and all the wheres, and nothing is left but faded candy wrappers.

If you liked Bolander’s Hugo-nominated And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead, read this story. If you’re angry about being minimized and neglected, and need a voice that knows that pain, read this story.

What I’m Voting for in the 2016 Hugo Awards

2015 Hugo Award statuette. Design by Matthew Dockrey and photo by Kevin Standlee.

2015 Hugo Award statuette. Design by Matthew Dockrey and photo by Kevin Standlee.

Today’s the final day to vote for the 2016 Hugo Awards. If you’ve left things to the last minute, like I have, you may be still figuring out which works will get your vote. In case you’re in that boat, here’s a look at what I’m voting for this year, and why — maybe my choices will be helpful to you.

Best Novel

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin — As I mentioned when I read and reviewed this book last yearThe Fifth Season blew me away. I’m so glad this one ended up on the ballot. Jemisin’s writing is lyrical and her willingness to put her politics front and centre in her stories is great.
  2. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie — My review of this book will be posted in the near future. In the meantime, I think that, although the conclusion wasn’t as explosive/revelatory as I imagined it would be, Ancillary Mercy contains a very clear thematic throughline. Leckie’s playing a different game here than I expected, and I like it.
  3. No award.

I was right in guessing a while back that Uprooted by Naomi Novik would also be a Best Novel nominee. I’m sure that I would have enjoyed this book, but I didn’t have enough time to source my own copy, and didn’t like the fact that the voters’ packet contained only an excerpt. So I haven’t read it yet, which means that I don’t feel comfortable voting for it.

I HATE when I get excerpts only.


I had no interest in reading the other two nominees, since I’m pretty sure they were Puppy picks. Besides, I’ve never been a big fan of Jim Butcher’s work.

Best Novella

  1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – I included this on my nominating ballot and I also reviewed it last year. Of all the Best Novella nominees I read, this was the only one that I felt accomplished anything new or different.
  2. No award.

I read a few of the other nominees in this category even though they were Puppy picks. This was because the authors were relatively well-known enough on their own that it seemed unlikely they were there solely because of the Puppies’ political leanings. However, the other choices were rather meh: the protagonist of Penric’s Demon was a Mary Sue living in a generic medieval fantasy setting, Perfect State was a stale Matrix retread with a weak ending, and Slow Bullets started out strong but petered out quickly.

Best Novelette

  1. “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander
  2. “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu
  3. No award.
  4. “Obits” by Stephen King

Brooke Bolander’s work was the only one not supported by the Puppies in this category, and its vicious, gleeful tone is amazing. Although “Folding Beijing” was supported by the Puppies this year, I think this was one of the choices where they were trying to co-opt a story they would ordinarily hate to make a point; I generally have found Liu’s translations to be not my thing, but the ideas in “Folding Beijing” are worthwhile. “Obits”, even though it got Puppy support, has a very interesting premise, but King’s impressions of social media and millennial culture are kind of hackneyed. I didn’t even bother to read the other nominees because they came from Castalia House, a Puppy stronghold.

Best Short Story

  1. No award.
  2. “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer

This was a hard category for me to rank. “Cat Pictures Please” is a cute story, and it’s the only one on this section of the  2016 Hugo Awards ballot that got there on its own merits, rather than as a result of a Puppy slate. However, reading it, it just feels…slight. It’s a cute story with a good sense of humour, but I don’t really think of it as the best/most innovative story of 2015. However, if a story had to win, this one would be good as any other.

Also, while I appreciate Chuck Tingle’s ability to out-troll the Puppies, I’m too much of a prude to take a parody title like “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” seriously. My fingers hurt just typing the title out on the keyboard.

Best Related Work

  1. No award.

I didn’t want to touch any of the nominees in this category with a 10-foot pole.

Best Graphic Story

  1. No award.

I wasn’t very familiar with any of the nominees in this category outside of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Unfortunately, the voters’ packet contained only an excerpt instead of the full Sandman book, so I just avoided the category entirely.

Seriously. If I’m paying $50 USD for the privilege of voting in these awards, I WANT TO READ THE FULL WORKS. I can’t judge the quality of the completed work by the first 20 pages. Why is this so hard to understand? This is particularly galling because the exchange rate between Canadian and US currency is very unequal. In Canadian dollars, I paid approx $65, rather than $50. I don’t want the publishers to half-ass it if I’m paying that much.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Ex Machina
  3. The Martian
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This was one of the toughest categories of the whole thing. The only “meh” nominee was Age of Ultron. Everything else, listed above, was just plain, solid entertainment. Ultimately, I gave Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina the top two spots because MM:FR is just a relentless watch, while Ex Machina is an excellent examination/takedown of tech-bro culture. In a different year, The Martian would have made the top of my ballot easily.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  1. No award.

I generally don’t watch a lot of TV, so I’m woefully under-informed about this category.

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. John Joseph Adams
  2. Neil Clarke
  3. Ellen Datlow

I am nowhere near unbiased here because I’m a slush reader for Lightspeed, John Joseph Adams’ flagship short fiction publication. Neil Clarke and Ellen Datlow have a lot of name recognition too, and for good reason.

Best Editor, Long Form

  1. No award.

This was another category I either didn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole (because of Vox Day) or felt uninformed about (everyone else).

Best Professional Artist

  1. No award.

This was yet another category I didn’t feel informed enough to make a decision about.

Best Semiprozine

  1. Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  3. Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, A. J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons staff

All three of these magazines produce amazing stuff. If I could give each of them an equal rating on the 2016 Hugo Awards ballot, I would — they are that close. Ultimately, I went with Uncanny in the top spot because they’re the only magazine I’ve actually subscribed to. BCS was my second pick because I want to give them a little bit of notice for just passing the 200-issue mark. Strange Horizons is third because that’s just the way things roll out — I still think their lit-crit book reviews are the most amazing thing ever.

Best Fanzine

  1. File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
  2. No award.

File 770 has played a central role in curating SF/F fan news from across the web, linking to pretty much every post of consequence and providing write-ups really quickly.

Best Fancast

  1. No award.

As with some of the other categories, I’m pleading ignorance here.

Best Fan Writer

  1. Mike Glyer
  2. No award.

This is for Glyer’s work in managing File 770.

Best Fan Artist

  1. No award.

Another category of which I know nothing about the nominees.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  1. Alyssa Wong
  2. Andy Weir

Alyssa Wong’s stories have a richness and darkness to them that I’m in awe of. Her interrogation of cultural identity and willingness to discuss and deconstruct queer narratives is what gets her the top spot in my book. As for Andy Weir, he gets kudos for writing a book (The Martian) that not only became a best-seller and Hollywood hit, but also celebrates the value of science. We need more books that just make science fun!

The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again by A.C. Wise

ultra_fabulous_glitter_squadron_coverTitle: The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again
Author: A.C. Wise
Publisher: Lethe Press
Format: eBook
Rating: 5 out of 5
How I got it: I was given a free copy by the author in exchange for a review


But the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron will have to do. At least one of them self-identifies as male, Butch in all his spangled glory. He tucks proudly, or sometimes not at all, and fuck you very much if you don’t like it.

By night, they work at clubs with names like Diamond Lil’s, the Lil’ Diamond, and Exclusively Lime Green. Every Thursday, they bowl. In between, when they’re not bowling, or dancing, or singing on stage, they kick ass harder than you’ve seen ass kicked before. And they do it all in silver lamé and high heels.

This is Bunny, their leader, born Phillip Howard Craft the Third. At the moment, she is up in the recruiter’s face, waving a poster of Uncle Sam under the aforementioned tag line, a floating head against a backdrop of Martian red. Her nails are manicured perfection, each painted a different metallic shade, all the colors of the rainbow, and then some. Her hair is piled in a frosted bouffant so high it barely fit through the recruiter’s door. Despite the anger written in every line of her body, she doesn’t raise her voice.

Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueer/gender-nonconforming/non-binary comrades of all stripes, please bear witness to perhaps the most spectactular, vivid opening paragraphs to a book I’ve read all year. Take notes. Bask in the voice and tone of this whip-smart prose. Glory in the short, precise character sketch above. Because the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron has invaded my tablet and filled my head with a delightful array of characters who kick ass and look amazing while they’re at it.

But who are the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron, you ask? A varied group of cis and trans heroes who are the people to call when you’re menaced by mad scientists, monster bugs, alien eels, and angry ghosts, plus the occasional piece of cursed jewelry.

Its members include:

Bunny, who was originally a bartender named Philip Howard Craft — handsome, but also a love-em-and-leave-em type. Life as Philip was an unfulfilling stream of booze and willing women, but now, with her bouffant hair, bunny ears, and multi-coloured nails, Bunny feels whole and brave. She founded the Squadron; the other members marvel at both her unwavering emotional support and her ability to wield a harpoon like no other.

Starlight, a new recruit. Born with the name Walter, she started presenting as her true self at age 7. Before joining the Squadron, she was the best damned waitress at RollerRama, the local skating rink. However, despite her fierce protective streak, she’s an innocent at heart. She doesn’t realize it, but the other members of the squadron think she’s been a hero ever since she was a child.

Penny, a former solider. Penny has red-hot hair, plus an outfit — and a temper — to match. No matter the gig, with her incomparable array of weapons (including a Big Fucking Gun) and her multiple black belts, her body is ready. Her mind, however, not so much. She has trouble admitting it, but she’s still got her own demons to deal with.

Esmeralda, who lives a double life. Her mother and sister may think she’s a mild-mannered accountant, but it’s the Glitter Squadron where she truly feels like herself. However, it turns out that keeping the unconventional part of your life a secret from hidebound relatives is something that runs in her family.

M. M has a story, but it’s not meant for the likes of you. All you need to know is that behind that all-leather costume is a being who intimately understands pain.

Sapphire and Ruby, the not-so-twins. Sapphire is tall, dark, trans, and poised. Ruby is short, round, pale, cis and one of the strongest women alive. They fit together like yin and yang. However, despite their differences, they’re united by the bond that comes from finding a way out of shitty situations together, and by the fact that they’re still in the process of figuring out who they’re meant to be.

CeCe, the Velvet Underground Drag King. She could probably make a killing as a Bowie impersonator with her androgynous, dapper style. But under that marvelous bone structure is a wounded soul desperately trying to convince herself that it’s okay to remain distant from others. CeCe reminds me a lot of Desire from Sandman.

Madeline, the Silk Songstress. A femme fatale with a voice of honey and smoke, Madeline is the love of CeCe’s life. Too bad it took nearly losing her to a succubus for CeCe to realize it. Still, she’s a forgiving sort. Plus, now that CeCe’s finally decided to stay, they’re working on an even bigger project together: adding a new, pint-sized member to the team.

The world of the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron is one of pulp, bright colours, and in-your-face style. However, don’t let the pulpy, glittery, fun-loving exterior fool you — the stories and characters within tackle complex topics like gender presentation, toxic masculinity, creating families of choice, PTSD, the theft of cultural patrimony, and more.

Plus, A.C. Wise herself is a witty writer who sprinkles references to classic genre literature like candy throughout the book. In addition to the thinly-veiled nod to H.P. Lovecraft, Wise also alludes to the stories of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson, and The Story of O. Plus, I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other hints and nods that I didn’t catch.

The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is a story collection well worth reading if  you’re looking for something with glitter, mayhem, attitude, and ass-kicking trans characters.

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