Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Tag: diversity

Spec from the Margins: A Chat with Anathema Magazine

Anathema Magazine: Speculative fiction from the margins

Anathema Magazine is a Canadian short-fiction publication that accepts spec-fic stories, artwork and non-fiction work from writers and artists from across the world. Anathema published its first three issues in 2017, which included pieces by the likes of Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng, and Nibetida Sen.

Now they’re running a crowdfunding campaign until early March to continue work on years two and three. Anathema is filling a lovely role within the Canadian spec-fic space, so it’s my pleasure to chat with the editors and share their thoughts. Take a look at what they have to say and don’t forget to check Anathema’s fiction out.

Me: For those who are unfamiliar, what is Anathema Magazine?

Editors: Anathema is a tri-annual speculative fiction magazine for queer POC/Indigenous/Aboriginal writers and artists. The speculative element is very loose: we like a broad range encompassing everything from sci-fi, fantasy, and horror to slipstream, surrealism, absurdism, noir, etc. Mostly we want to see unbounded creativity.

Me: Tell me more about each of the editors. What have you all written/edited before? What makes each of you tick?

Andrew Wilmot: Primarily I make my living doing academic work—dissertation edits, mostly, in the areas of psychology, feminist studies, gender studies, and body dysmorphia/eating disorders. I also edit for a magazine called HOLO, which celebrates the cross-section of science/technology and art, do copy and substantive editing for several independent publishers, and review for subTerrain magazine and Publishers Weekly.

With respect to writing, I go back and forth between short fiction and novel work. I’ve had maybe 20 shorts published so far. One of which—“When I’m Old, When I’m Grey”—won first place in the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest back in 2015. My first novel, The Death Scene Artist, is set for release this fall from Wolsak & Wynn’s Buckrider Books imprint. Most of my work straddles the line between either horror and surrealism, or science fiction and surrealism. Lots of body horror, synaesthesia, and mental health in my work. Such are the things that make me tick, among others.

Michael Matheson: I’m just going to cheat and mostly fall back on my publication bio. Which is to say: I’m a genderfluid writer, editor, anthologist, and occasional poet. I’ve been longlisted for the Sunburst Award, and I’ve had work published in Nightmare, Shimmer, anthologies like Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, and a host of other venues. I edited The Humanity of Monsters anthology, and I’m a former Managing Editor with ChiZine Publications and former Submissions Editor with Apex Magazine.

A Clarion West (’14) graduate, I’ve been a freelance editor for far more years than I want to admit at this point. That’s entailed working in multiple genres with a lot of indie clients and publishers like Ravenstone, Publishers Weekly, Harlequin, and others. And I’ve done a reasonable bit of ghostwriting over the years in a few different fields, so tracking down publications can end up depending on what I’ve signed an NDA for or not.

Chinelo Onwualu: I was born in Nigeria but now live in Toronto, Canada. I mostly do editorial consulting for international development organizations in West Africa and I am also editor and co-founder of Omenana, a magazine of African speculative fiction. My fiction and essays can be found in a bunch of places, including Strange Horizons, The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Jungle Jim, Ideomancer, and the anthologies AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond, Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa, and Imagine Africa 500. 

I’d say what makes me tick professionally would be a need to put down my stories and those of others in the clearest ways possible. I want people to read work that best expresses what the writer—whether it’s me or someone else I’m editing—is trying to say. I used to be a journalist for newspapers and magazines so I approach my non-fiction editing like a reporter. The goal is to be as clear and concise as possible. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible, while making sure everyone understands exactly what you mean. I try to get writers to think through their ideas because one can’t assume that everyone will get what you mean.

Me: What would you describe as the perfect Anathema story? What makes a story a unique fit for your magazine?

Andrew: I don’t know that we have a story that perfectly represents what we publish or are looking for. We don’t want to set such expectations because the best thing in the world is reading something incredible that you had no idea you were looking for in the first place. That said, I’m happy to rattle off some of my favourite authors, if it helps give people a sense of my personal taste: N.K. Jemisin, Amelie Nothomb, Lauren Beukes, China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Roxane Gay, Charles Yu, James Ellroy, Amber Dawn, and Suzette Mayr. There’s not a lot of SFF in there, but that’s kind of the point for me: I love seeing genre work and lit crossing streams in unexpected ways.

Michael: It’s true, there’s no one quintessential Anathema story. As editors, we’re drawn to a huge range of styles and approaches partly because, as Andrew rightly noted, we love being surprised by things we didn’t see coming. Editorial taste will always factor into our decisions—we’re all drawn to strong prose work and solid and/or unusual structural choices, for example—but we’re driven more by a desire to find exceptional work and see how it fits together in the confines of an issue.

One of the best parts of shaping a table of contents for any project is how the individual works interact and play off each other. And we’ve had excellent luck with our issues so far, finding themes and topical works that have come together in some absolutely delightful ways. We never know what’s going to happen with the next issue, and therein lies the fun of the thing.

Me: Related to that last question, is there a particular story already published by Anathema Magazine that one (or all) of you think is somehow quintessential?

Andrew: I don’t think I can play favourites with any of our authors or their work. Fact of the matter is, I genuinely love what we’ve published so far. We wouldn’t have published any of it if we didn’t love it. As Michael said, I don’t think we have a “quintessential” story, nor do I think it’s possible for us to have one.

Me: You’re running a fundraising campaign throughout February. What goals are there for the campaign?

Andrew: Our current month-long IndieGoGo campaign ends March 2nd and is seeking $6,000 to pay for two more years of operating costs. We’re also using the campaign to raise our fiction and non-fiction rates to $100 (CAD). We obviously want to improve our reach and our subscriber base in order to become self-sustaining, But ultimately we fundraise because we believe it’s worth paying our content creators—and paying them as well as we can.   Because they’re worth it, and their work is worth it.

Me: How do you work together to run Anathema Magazine? Do you find that you have a particular working style together?

Andrew: It’s pretty symbiotic, really. We were all quite close prior to starting the magazine, and while we all have different ways of operating and different demands on our time, we’re pretty respectful and adaptable (ie: if someone is facing a terrible deadline or is under the weather, the others are able to help pick up what needs to be done).

We also all have our individual strengths and try to play to that as much as possible: Chinelo far outstrips both Michael and I as a non-fiction editor, and is also quite busy with her other magazine, Omenana, so she primarily handles that corner of things while Michael and I do the bulk of the fiction editing. At the end, we all proof each other’s work.

Michael is incredibly skilled at communication, and is knowledgeable about so many more aspects of the speculative side of things than I am (I come mostly from the lit side of the industry), so they handle a lot of the awards submissions and solicitations, as well as managing our Twitter account. I have, on top of editing, some experience with production, so I handle creation of the PDF and ebook versions of each issue, and also manage the Tumblr account. We both manage the Facebook account.

Me: What has your feedback from readers been like so far since the magazine’s launch?

Andrew: Incredibly positive. While we’re still growing our readership and have yet to hit any kind of mainstream awareness, those who have found our content have been universal in their appreciation—for which we could not be happier.

Michael: It’s true, the response to the mag has been incredibly encouraging—especially as there was some early concern that what we were trying to do might be too niche in a variety of ways. Which is not to say we don’t get random asshats on social media calling us racist because we won’t publish white content creators. But, delightfully, those interjections have been few and farther between than we’d expected. Much of what we’ve heard from the communities actually reading Anathema has been people happy to see themselves represented. To see positive queer relationships in the work. And to see a variety of genres represented.

Hell, we’ve had readers enjoy the work enough to have three stories on the 2017 Nebula Reading List, and to have multiple stories from our first year’s issues show up repeatedly in both established and more personal short fiction reviews online. That’s a pretty good start.

How do you feel that Anathema Magazine is in dialogue with the rest of the short fiction field in SF/F?

Andrew: This is a hard question for me because—and this is where I reveal myself to be a terrible person—I don’t read that many SFF magazines. I adore short fiction, both reading and writing, but for the most part I’m an anthology/short story collection sort of person.

For me, Anathema is as much in dialogue with anthologies and collections as it is with online publications, because it’s an answer, in some small part, to a problem that exists within both realms: a startling lack of diverse voices, and an associated pushback against such things from a small but irritating and obnoxiously loud segment of the industry. These are people who think that “diversity” and “identity politics” are ruining their fun, not at all caring about who they hurt in their dismissals and attacks. To which we say: fuck that and fuck them.

Michael: It’s definitely true that Anathema’s in conversation with the wider field—specifically many of the conversations around inclusion in editorial and fictional spaces that picked up in intensity after Fireside’s #BlackSpecFic report came out in 2016. In 2017 a lot of those discussions bore fruit in the form of decolonialist magazines like FIYAH, Arsenika, and Koru.

But the work of decolonizing creative spaces can’t be placed solely on writers and artists of colour. White editors, for all their good intent, gravitate more readily toward fiction they see as accessible, or “recognizable.” And that means they’re going to gravitate to white-authored content, especially where white writers are writing “diverse” work instead of making space for authors of colour.

Anathema, too, treads a difficult line in this, given that two of our three primary editors are white. Hence why our mandate calls for only intersectionally-authored content, making space for marginalized creators. And that’s our contribution to the conversation, and our part in that dialogue: being a platform for amazing voices that are still underrepresented.

And that’s that! You can read the first three issues of Anathema Magazine online or contribute to their crowdfunding campaign until early March.

Checking in on My 2016 Plans to Read Diverse Books

At the end of 2015, I wrote a post about my goals to read more diverse books in 2016. We’re not only about a third of the way through the year yet, but I figured it would be a good time to go through the list of the types of books I wanted to read this year and see how on track I am.

How have I fared so far?

At the end of 2015, my goals for 2016 included reading:

At least one book written before 1800 — Nope, not yet.

At least one romance novel — Not yet, but I do have a few Courtney Milan books ready to go on my tablet.

At least one book with a queer, trans, intersex, or gender-nonconforming main character — There are a few here, but most of them feature queer characters, rather than intersex or trans ones: Bitch Planet Vol 1 by by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, An Alphabet of Embers edited by Rose Lemberg (a short story anthology containing protagonists with varying identities and orientations), The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, and The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. I think one could argue that Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett also qualifies. Plus, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord contains a secondary character with a non-binary gender identity.

At least one book with a disabled main characterThe Illegal.

At least one book with a main character of colourElysium, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Bitch Planet Vol 1, The Kingdom of Gods/The Broken Kingdoms, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zenahat Khan, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, Captain America: The Truth, by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest, The Illegal, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. I bet there are some I’ve forgotten, too.

At least one book from an independent/small press — Elysium. Plus, I’m currently reading The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar, another book done through a small press.

At least one book about science — Does advanced mathematics count? If so, then How to Bake π by Eugenia Cheng totally counts.

At least one book about food and culture — Not quite. How to Bake π kinda counts since it contains recipes in addition to discussions of advanced math. I bet I’ll read a book about tea later on this year, though.

At least one book written by a Latin American author — Nope, not yet.

At least one book by an Asian author — Eugenia Cheng (How to Bake π) is of Asian heritage. But I really want to add a bit more here.

At least one book by an African author — Nope, not yet.

At least one book by a Caribbean author — Karen Lord, Jennifer Marie Brisset and Nalo Hopkinson are all of Caribbean background.

At least one book by an LGBTIA authorAn Alphabet of Embers was edited by, and contains works by, people who identify with various terms under this umbrella.

At least one book by a disabled author — Nope, not yet (that I know of).

At least one book on a topic I know nothing about — Before How to Bake π I knew nothing about category theory, so there you go.

At least one memoir/biographyHAAAAAAMMMIIIILLLLTOOOOOOON on the biography side. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the memoir side.

At least one work translated into English from another language — Nope, not yet.

At least one book of poetry — I’m in the process of reading The Honey Month, so this will be checked off soon.

At least one historical fiction novel set before 1800 — Nope, not yet.

At least one mystery novelThe Unquiet Dead.

At least one YA novelPen Pal and Midnight Robber, plus A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.

At least two finalists of the 2016 Canada Reads competition — So far, I’ve only read The Illegal. I picked up Birdie by Tracy Lindberg, but it wasn’t grabbing me, so I put it down.

At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a LGBTIA creator — None that I currently know of.

At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a womanBitch Planet Vol 1, Squirrel Girl Vol 2 (which I’ve read but chosen not to review because I already reviewed the debut volume last year).

At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a person of colourCaptain America: The Truth

At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a disabled person — None that I currently know of.

At least one graphic novel from an independent/small press — Nope, not yet.

What do these results mean?

I’ve done pretty well in some categories, but not in others — in particular, I was proud of reading only black authors this February. However, there were a lot of books overlapping between several different categories.

This indicates that I need to do more work finding and reviewing books that meet the different criteria I’ve listed above, because having the same book fit multiple categories is just too easy/lazy. So I need to do more research on things like authors from different countries, authors who are disabled or write about disability, and authors who identify as trans/intersex. On top of that, I really need to diversify my reading in terms of genre, and stretch outside of my non-fiction/speculative fiction comfort zone.

However, I can’t go it alone. And this is where you come in, gentle reader. What awesome books would you recommend to me? What books meeting the criteria on this list do you think are worth a look at? Tell me in the comments!

Reading Diverse Books in 2016

One thing you may have noticed about my book reviews over the past few months is that I haven’t read/reviewed a book that was written solely by a straight white man. I’ve tried to expand my horizons this year and make my reading more diverse over the past few months, but I want to come right out there and say that in 2016, this will be a central policy of my reading.

Why? Because I know that others have had fun setting certain reading challenges, and I want to try. Because I want to expand my literary diet, rather than just reading the same kinds of stories over and over. Because I want to expose myself to new ideas, and while you can do so by changing where you live or who you hang out with, changing what you read is much easier in comparison. Because I think proving to the publishing industry that there is an appetite for different stories is important.

Most importantly, it’s because I want to.

So, in case you want to read diverse books too, or you want to follow along at home as I read my way through the upcoming year, here is a list of things I want to accomplish in terms of my reading in 2016.

In 2016, I want to read:

  1. At least one book written before 1800
  2. At least one romance novel
  3. At least one book with a queer, trans, intersex, or gender-nonconforming main character
  4. At least one book with a disabled main character
  5. At least one book with a main character of colour
  6. At least one book from an independent/small press
  7. At least one book about science
  8. At least one book about food and culture
  9. At least one book written by a Latin American author
  10. At least one book by an Asian author
  11. At least one book by an African author
  12. At least one book by a Caribbean author
  13. At least one book by an LGBTIA author
  14. At least one book by a disabled author
  15. At least one book on a topic I know nothing about
  16. At least one memoir/biography
  17. At least one work translated into English from another language
  18. At least one book of poetry
  19. At least one historical fiction novel set before 1800
  20. At least one mystery novel
  21. At least one YA novel
  22. At least two finalists of the 2016 Canada Reads competition
  23. At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a LGBTIA creator
  24. At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a woman
  25. At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a person of colour
  26. At least one graphic novel written or drawn by a disabled person
  27. At least one graphic novel from an independent/small press

Of course, I won’t abandon my current reading habits entirely — I still plan on reading science fiction and fantasy, and I plan to read the 2015 Hugo Awards finalists, plus catch up on a few series like Discworld and the Gentlemen Bastard books.

I also plan to maintain the routine of doing one book review a week (with the occasional break) and mix up my fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novel reading accordingly. It looks like reading diverse books could be challenging, but I also think it will be a lot of fun, and quite mind-expanding.

The 2015 Hugo Awards: A Huge Sigh of Relief

The 2015 Hugo Awards: Thoughts

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.

The 2015 Hugo Awards were announced this past weekend, and I was suffused with a glow of happiness and a sense of order (somewhat) restored when I heard that the Sad/Rabid Puppies were pretty much a dud. Out of all the works that were part of their slate, only one — the Guardians of the Galaxy, nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category — won a Hugo. Otherwise, the rest of the categories were either won by non-Puppy nominees or given No Award.

Here’s the full list of Hugo winners. For what it’s worth, I followed the voting recommendations as outlined in Deirdre Moen’s Anti-Puppy guide, with the exception of voting for Laura Mixon despite Moen’s concerns.

The really interesting thing is seeing the post-voting statistical breakdown now that the award ceremony is over. It’s heartbreaking to see what works didn’t make the final ballot because of Puppy slate engineering. The short story category could have been amazing if it included work by Aliette de Bodard, Ursula Vernon, Amal El-Mohtar, and the late Eugie Foster. Plus, no recognition for Jo Walton for Best Related Work? What a calamity — I think that What Makes This Book So Great is an excellent primer for people who (like me) aren’t very familiar with Golden Age science fiction.

The only thing I’m sad about is that The Three-Body Problem won out over The Goblin Emperor. However, I still voted for Three-Body above No Award, so I’m not too put out. It really is a wonderful milestone that a translated work won the award. This just strengthens my resolve to read more translated fiction. (And, as someone who reads slush for Lightspeed, I’m ecstatic that they won another Hugo for Best Semiprozine. I bask in their reflected glory!)

However, these are just the thoughts of a very, very small player within SF/F fandom. You’d be far better served by looking at the writings of others in the industry like Chuck WendigCory Doctorow, and Tobias Buckell, among others. Hell, even The Wall Street Journal is taking about this!

Looking Forward to Years Ahead

On a different yet positive note, Helsinki won the bid to host the 2017 WorldCon. I knew several people in person and online who were big proponents of having it in Helsinki, and the argument for doing so — that sticking to mostly English-speaking host cities, particularly in the US, was privileging a parochial, narrow mainstream — was pretty compelling.

I doubt I’ll have the resources to go to Finland in 2017, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t celebrate in my own way. The day the news regarding Helsinki broke, I bought an anthology of speculative fiction by Finnish authors. (I also bought a copy of Jagganath by Karen Tidbeck.) Remember how I said in my review of The Three-Body Problem that I wanted to make my reading more diverse? Well, I think It Came From the North and Jagganath make a fine start.

I guess we’re now free to speculate on what will happen in 2016. Will the Sad/Rabid Puppy contingent whinge and say that the number of No Awards given out just proves their point? Yes — they started saying so immediately after the awards were announced. Will they continue to agitate for their works on next year’s ballot? Also yes.

However, I hope that at this point they’ve been somewhat defanged. Here are some of my predictions for titles that may be nominated for Best Novel next year. I haven’t read any of these yet, so I’m just going off of the buzz I’m hearing about them from others:

  • Ancillary Mercy by Anne Leckie (This is due to be released this October.)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  • The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett (I think there will be a big push since Pratchett was so beloved and this is his final chance to win, even if it’s posthumous. Mr. BooksandTea also reminds me of the tantalizing possibility of the voting public “pulling a Wheel of Time” and nominating the entire Discworld series in one fell swoop.)
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (This is the sequel to Three-Body, translated by Joel Martinsen.)

Book Review: The Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear

About the Books

Title: The Eternal Sky trilogy — Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor
Format: eBook and print
Rating: 4 out of 5 total (3/5 for Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars, 4/5 for Steles of the Sky)
How I got this book: I purchased Range of Ghosts to read on my Kobo, then got the two sequels from the library

My Thoughts

Note: This review is long and contains some spoilers. I think I’ve learned my lesson about trying to review an entire series at once. Oy.

When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he popularized several concepts that by now have become fantasy tropes: magic, kingdoms and dynasties, a battle for the fate of the world, etc. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s Eurocentricism has also become a trope: you can’t write a fantasy series where all the good (pale, tall) guys come from the West and all the evil (and dark-skinned) guys come from the East without deserving at least a little bit of side-eye.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to read a series like the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear: instead of using medieval Europe as the template for her fantasy series, she’s cast her eye far northeast and built an epic story based on the world of the Mongols and the Asian Steppes, with several imagined cultures standing in for those of our world. Instead of the Silk Road, you’ve got the Celadon Highway. Instead of the Mongols, you’ve got the horse-loving, egalitarian, yet war-like Qersnyk who worship the Eternal Sky. And instead of empires in the Middle East, Tibet, and China, you’ve got the Uthman Caliphate, the Rasan Empire, and the various principalities of the Song.

Re Temur is the grandson of the Great Khagan, whose empire stretches along the length of the Celadon Highway, fostering trade and accepting tribute. The death of the Great Khagan divided the Khaganate as two came forth to claim the Padparadscha Seat: Temur’s older brother, Qulan, and his uncle, Qori Buqa.

As Range of Ghosts opens, Temur is one of the few survivors of the battlefield after his uncle’s victory over his now-dead brother. But in the aftermath of the battle, as he joins a refugee train heading for the mountains, events overtake him and he sets on a path to rescue his lover, Edene, who has been kidnapped by a supernatural force.

He eventually learns that the person behind Edene’s kidnapping is also the same puppetmaster that’s been secretly pulling his uncle’s strings: Mukhtar ai-Idoj, a sorcerer secretly working to sow discord across the Steppes in order to resurrect the Carrion King, an evil power that the gods defeated ages ago.

As Temur travels to stop ai-Idoj’s nefarious plans, he makes several allies. The most important are Samarkar, a former Rasan princess who gave up royal life to become a wizard; Brother Hsiung, a blind monk who has taken an oath of silence; and Hrahima, who is literally a walking, talking tiger. (Yes, bipedal sentient tigers are a thing in this series, and they are fucking awesome.)

Oh, and there’s also Bansh, Temur’s trusty mare who is more than what she seems. The other characters catch on pretty quick that she’s not your average horse.

There is just so much going on in these books that I haven’t mentioned yet. There are the wizards of Tsarepheth, who give up their reproductive abilities for the prospect of gaining magical power — only some actually do, even if all wizards go under the knife. When we first meet Samarkar, she’s literally recovering from a magical hysterectomy. (I don’t know why, but I love this idea so much. That a culture in a fantasy setting actually has the medical knowledge and skill to do this sort of invasive surgery is pretty cool, in my book.)

There are also the various skies of the world itself, which change to reflect the religion of the local ruling power. The religion of Temur’s people, the Eternal Sky, results in a lush blue sky with multiple moons at night. The sky of the Razaheen, the sect of the villain ai-Idoj, has a sun that rises in the west and sets in the east. Then there’s the sky of the Song, which doesn’t really have a night at all — instead it has two suns with different levels of brightness, resulting in multiple kinds of twilight.

And I still haven’t mentioned things like the ghuls, djinns, and dragons that show up. Oh, and did I mention that it’s heavily implied that the dragons are radioactive? And that the magic of the wizards of Tsarepheth is based on a rough understanding of atomic theory?

No? I didn’t mention those yet? Did I mention that the second book in the series also features a demonic plague that’s gory enough to rival the chestburster scene in Alien?

(If you can’t guess, I think the sheer inventiveness here is delicious.)

From a diversity perspective, the Eternal Sky books are pretty good; there are straight characters, gay characters, women and men of all ages, and even intersex characters. Also, almost none of them are white. The covers do a good job of this as well — there’s no whitewashing here, and it’s particularly clear on the cover of Shattered Pillars that the main characters are Asian. However, I thought that making the villain come from a pseudo-Muslim culture was a really bad decision, especially considering that the villain’s sect is misogynistic. It’s a bit too narratively convenient, you know?

I could also have done without the implication throughout the books that the intersex characters have two fully functioning sets of reproductive organs. There are a lot of different ways that people can be intersex, and the series’s treatment of this identity type strikes a really sour note in comparison to almost everything else.

There are other faults I’ve found with the series, such as the abruptness of certain plot events (especially the fall of the Uthman Caliphate in Shattered Pillars) and the contradictory motivations of secondary characters like Ümmühan, a slave poetess, and Anil, a wizardly peer of Samarkar’s.

Plus, the plot arcs of two of Samarkar’s sisters-in-law were cut short. One sister-in-law, Payma, travels on a perilous journey with Temur and Samarkar in Range of Ghosts but is never seen again once they find a safe place for her to stay; after that, she’s not mentioned at all in the second book and only once in the final one. The other sister-in-law, Empress Yangchen, grows a lot as a person over the course of the series, but her character is pretty much forgotten about in the final third or so of Steles of the Sky only for her to be mentioned on the final page of the trilogy without any context about how she met up with the other main characters. That’s a particular head-scratcher.

However, there were other character arcs that I loved, like those of Brother Hsiung, the blind monk, and Tsering, a wizard who is skilled in magical theory but never actually manifests magical power herself. There’s also the fact that the series avoids the trope of having the relationships between Temur, Edene, and Samarkar devolve into a bitchy, catty love triangle. Temur ends up having sexual relationships with both Samarkar and Edene, and both women like each other once they finally meet in Steles of the Sky. In the lead-up to the final battle, the two women recognize that the three of them together make a pretty formidable team. That’s awesome!

There’s so much more I could say about these books, but won’t because I have no idea if any of you are even reading this far. The prose here is beautiful, even if I felt the ultimate climax of the book needed more groundwork to earn its resolution. The final pages of the book are precisely calibrated to be both beautiful and full of muted mourning. Elizabeth Bear has pulled of an amazingly deft balancing act, and I can’t wait to read more books by her in the future.

What Tea Suits These Books?

Tea shows up repeatedly throughout the Eternal Sky trilogy; I remember that Steles of the Sky has characters at various points drink yak butter tea as well as “a mellow red oolong sweetened with puffed rice”. Those teas sound super interesting!

However, one particular moment in Steles of the Sky made me crow with delight. In advance of the final battle, Temur and his allies have set up camp at Dragon Lake. Unbeknownst to them, the lake’s namesake dragon is still resting there underground; when they discover it, it asks for tribute as per an old treaty with a previous ruler. But here’s the thing: when they refer to the dragon and its lair, they actually call it a dragon well, and actually state that in one of the story’s languages, the correct term is “lung ching.”

“Dragon well” is a type of Chinese green tea, also called “long jing” or “lung ching.” To celebrate, I drank some Dragonwell the morning after I finished the book. But that doesn’t seem like such a surprise, does it?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén