35 - Clarke Awards pt 2

Megan of From Couch to Moon and Maureen (and special guest Bridget of SF Bluestocking!) join me to discuss the 2016 Clarke Award shortlist. In this episode: Way Down Dark, Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and The Book of Phoenix. (Spoiler, discussed in ascending order of preference).

Here's Abigail Nussbaum at Strange Horizons on the Shortlist, and here's Tomcat Redroom blogging it.  

A roundup of reviews from Martin Petto.

Transcript to come.

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by  @etrandem

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34 - Science Fiction Recreated Anew

Megan of From Couch to Moon and Maureen join me to discuss the 2016 Clarke Award shortlist. In this episode: ArcadiaChildren of Time, and Europe At Midnight. (Spoiler, discussed in ascending order of preference).

Here's Abigail Nussbaum at Strange Horizons on the Shortlist, and here's Tomcat Redroom blogging it.  

Margaret Atwood - Squids in Space

Gary Wolfe - Evaporating Genre

Transcript to come.

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by  @etrandem

Send feedback! Tweet meTweet the showBe a guest on the show

Music - Jazzy Ashes by The Underscore Orkestra

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33 - Representation with Justina Ireland (2)

This episode is part 2 of my interview with Justina Ireland about race, representation, and reviews in Science Fiction & Fantasy.  In addition, I'll be reviewing the Clarke Award 2016 shortlist with Maureen K Speller and Megan of From Couch to Moon, and I opened by talking a bit about what I think of when I think "Science Fiction"


The Atlantic: Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain (yes, I did just grumble about giving these sorts of articles much credence.  I am not particularly consistent)


Transcript of Interview

JSM - I feel like I've heard two different positive statements about diversity & inclusion.  One that there are familiar (I dunno that tropes is quite the right word), but familiar roles and stories that have been told where there's still a lot of value to retelling those stories with historically marginalized identities at the center of those stories - giving the black woman the chance to be the romantic lead, and probably, and I don't know a whole lot about disability and neurodiversity but I'm sure that being able to retell stories with more diverse or disabled leads, that there are a plethora of stories out there that would give a whole lot of people a chance to see themselves in a role they've never seen themselves in.  I remember that being one of the big things about MAd Max.

JI - Yes

JSM - And I feel like there's also - being able to to experiment and explore and get rid of some of the assumptions that we've always made opens up lots of new possibilities.  Where just there's all sorts of stuff out there that because we've been writing the same sorts of books and if we can get more creators in there & people willing to take more risks and explore the boundaries of their imagination even more, there's a whole host of stories well outside of things that may not put focus on identities that haven't been on the page very much, but will give all of us a chance to see commonalities & see differences in ways that we haven't before.  Which is I think kind of a thing people say about having aliens in SF.  And that that's also a very untapped field and area.

JI - So I think classic stories, I think familiar stories are a good entry point for people who wouldn't necessarily pick up a book with a marginalized main character.  I think there are people who are resistant to picking up a book with a neurodiverse lead, or resistant to pick up a book with a disabled lead, because they're like "oh, it's a hassle book, it's a deep book, it's going to be deep, I just want a light hearted fun read" that's what you hear a lot of times when people are kind of pushing back against diversity, I just want something light & fun I don't want all that seriousness stuff.

And I think when you take something like Snow White or Cinderalla or any kind of classical story, Romeo & Juliet, these stories that we know, I always call it the medicine in the hot dog.  I have a dog, so whenever I have to give him medicine, I shove the medicine in the hot dog and when I do that he wolfs it down and he doesn't even notice the medicine until afterwards.  And I think that when you take a familiar story & you racebend it or you y'know genderbend it or you do something that kind of shifts that narrative enough people seem familiar with the medicine they need, and the medicine they need is the diversity.  You need to see people outside yourselves in stories, just as people need to see themselves in stories, it behooves you as a human being to see people beside yourself so that you can be a better human being and build some of that empathy.  And there's actually a study that was done where if you read books and are situations

JSM - it increases empathy?

JI - Yeah, it increases your cognitive ability to deal with situations & you're more willing to embrace differences in real life & stuff like that.  So I think that's really important, but I also think there are only so many stories that are going to be told.  Ancillary Justice if you look at the story, it is nothing really new.  There are a million swashbuckling revenge space stories out there. What made it different was the way that Leckie used gender,

Rachel Bach who just wrote the Fortune's Pawn books, it's just basically a mercenary in space, but because the main character happens to be a female mercenary all of sudden it's something new & fantastic & fresh.  It's actually an awesome trilogy I loved it.

I think it's really important to think there really are no new plots.  Everyone's had that English Teacher who's like

JSM - Right

JI - all the stories were all told by Shakespeare

JSM - Yep

JI - And that's true to a degree but the difference is the character, y'know.  I will go to hell and back with an interesting character & a shitty plot.  But I'm not going to step 2 with a plot that's formulaic & bland characters.  I don't care how complex your plot is, if your main characters, if your characters are flat, no one's going anywhere with you.  And I think ... just writing different character, giving people something they haven't seen before & a familiar plot, it's really great, it's like training wheels for diversity, it's like people were going to read it just because they know the story, people LOVE the kidnapped Princess, or Mistaken Identity stories, there's million stories of Mistaken Identity in Fantasy, but if you y'know put in two princesses who fall in love instead of a princess and a boy, or if you put in a disabled princess or a neurodiverse princess, all of a sudden the story is different & the obstacles are different

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Of course, even when authors do choose to write stories with characters from marginalized backgrounds who speak and act and live in their own communities and not the federation starships or pseudo-medieval Europe that so many stories are set in, their books are reviewed and discussed by a community that may or may not be familiar with those backgrounds.  I’m going to link to an annual survey by the genre magazine Strange Horizons which looks at the gender and racial backgrounds of reviewers at many genre outlets as well as the books they review.  Certainly there are authors and editors out there taking risks and telling stories from their own perspectives.  More than once on this podcast I’ve mentioned the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.

*Interstitial Music*


JI - My biggest pet peeve when people do make those daring choices, when they do try something different is the reviews you read & the pushback you see in these reviewers - we saw it with the Long Hidden anthology where someone was like "it was all good except for this one story written in Vernacular AAVE"

JSM - "The Literrary Trick" I believe was the phrase

JI - Yes it was, and I'm like that's not a literary trick, just because you've never been somewhere where people speak that way, doesn't mean it's like a literary trick

Or, when Karen Lord's the Best of All Possible Worlds came out, there was I think a Strange Horizons review that was talking about like "I liked it but it wasn't very feminist because the Main Character falls in love with one of the other characters", and they were like it wasn't feminist because she fell in love, but the idea of a woman of color being able to be in love to be a love interest & to be cherished by somebody, that is pretty feminist for a woman of color, right?

Y'know WOC have been property for most of american history, they've been just something for people to use, so the idea that a WOC can be cherished and loved and be a love interest, that's revolutionary, to think that you're deserving of that same kind of tenderness that white women would take for granted, y'know when was the last time you saw a romantic comedy with a WOC as the lead, that wasn't a quote-unquote Black Movie (that Tyler Perry wasn't involved), so that's the point - just because it's not revolutionary for you doesn't mean it's not revolutionary for me.  And I think that's one of the things that reviewers are terrible at, is taking themselves out of their little narrow headspace of experience & say how would other audiences receive this piece & how do I review this in the broadest possible terms, because I don't think ... if you're a reviewer & you only read, y'know you'd never have a reviewer who's only like "I only read military SF set on a generational spaceship", you would never have a reviewer that's that narrow, yet we do have reviewers who are like I will only give a good rating to something that's very white male heterosexual and plays into that SFF,

JSM - And it may well be doing that not necessarily consciously

JI - Correct

JSM - not saying to themselves, I'm only, but just *we* (and I'm certainly including myself in this one) are used to reading things with a certain audience in mind and so when things are written not towards that audience it is I think easy for a reviewer to miss that and to not, not be aware of the significance of the ways that that's been changed.

JI - And I think that's one of the thigns that as a reviewer you should ... so one of the things I do now when I read, because I'm trying to read, I'm trying to question myself because obviously I have a lot of internalized bias, even against POC, right, that's one of the things about living in society is even as a POC you start to internalize those biases.  So one of the things I do when I read things if I have a negative reaction to something in the text I try to stop myself, and think, why am I having a negative reaction, is it because I find it truly offensive or is it because it goes against something I've been taught?

You see that a lot with promiscuous women on the page, you get that AAAUUGH, why is she a whore? It's like no, wait, like why am I thinking those thoughts when there's nothing wrong with ... if it was a dude, I'd be like yeah! Go Get it!

So that's one of those things that you have to question yourself and I worry about anybody who attempts to be a critic isn't always questioning their own taste and internalized bias, because if you're a critic that should be part of your mantra, is, looking at a piece of work & looking at it critically, looking at the subtext, looking at how people would receive it, and looking at how you received it & what that says about you as well as what it says about the work. And I think there's a lot of folks who aren't willing to look beyond the end of their nose when they read a book.

If it's not something that completely speaks to their experience it's crap.  And it doesn't mean it's not crap if it doesn't speak to your experience, but I do think we need to do better at thinking like how does this play into the larger canon, how does this, what does this say about the larger world around us, how does this fit in this space, and does it have merit even if it's not something I like.  There's a lot of stuff I read, I'm not a big fan of Literature, y'know capital L.  I'm not a big fan of the Franzen's and the ... all those deep Literary meaning kind of books where like middle-aged white dude tries to have sex with someone he shouldn't have sex with.  That's not my deal, but I understand why people like it, and I understand why people think that's a worthwhile  bit of literature. Why it’s a worthwhile reading.

JSM - You're a better person than I am.

JI - *laughs*

JSM - I will try to figure that out sometime later

JI - well they're pretty sentences, like you read those books at a sentence level and they're just yknow it's just a really interesting way of arranging words, and then sometimes you're just like aaah.

But at the same point I understand why people like it, y'know it's not my thing,  but I can critique something and say that this doesn't appeal to me but these are the the people it would appeal to. And I think that's something reviewers especially should do a better job of. I don't expect everyone to give good reviews, but I do think especially when it's something this was clearly not written for me, there was clearly a subtext I missed, that doesn't mean it was a bad book because you missed the subtext, it means you missed the subtext.  Those are two different things.

*Interstitial Music*


JSM - I remember you tweeting, and half the reason I had you on this podcast was to ask you about some things you tweeted.  You tweeted something like "If prejudice is shown on the page, it should be deconstructed on the page" and I think in that you were talking specifically about some books with historical setting, but I think it applies in many ways both to secondary world or to far off science fiction as well as historical.  Are there things that you've noticed that say to you "I'm gettting worried about how the author is going to handle this" or "I really like how the author is handling this, as they're able to both portray prejudice but also kind of deconstruct & show what the problems are with that worldview?

JI - Yeah, so one of the things we see, I see a lot in books, is when you have, we always call it the good white person or the white savior character who's the main character who doesn't necessarily know anything about this world.  We see it a lot with conquerors, the Dances With Wolves syndrome or the Last Samurai syndrome & this white dude shows up in a foreign culture, it could be an alien culture, it could be elves or orcs, or whatever the hell you want to put in there, because it's usually not POC, it's usually some other kind of fantastical stand in, and they show up & they learn a Valuable Lesson, because they do all these things that are wrong, there's this kind person they usually fall in love with, usually this very stereotypical kind of native american woman kind of character.  Just think, what was the movie with the blue people, that

JSM - Avatar, right

JI - Thank you!

JSM - I was just thinking that, I was just thinking are you just giving me the plot synopsis of Avatar here?

JI - I actually didn't watch that movie because I'd seen Dances With Wolves when I was younger, and Avatar's basically DwW with Blue People

JSM - I didn't see DwW, but that sounds right

JI - So what happens is like you have this character & it happens in fiction all the time, it happens on the page as well, they show up, do everything wrong, they're just terrible, ohmygosh, how can these people be so mean to them, you get to the end of the book, we all learned a Valuable Lesson to be more accepting, and then usually some kind of magical negro fatherly figure or motherly figure is dying, 10 pages from the end of the book, so the main character can learn this valuable lesson from the aliens or orcs or elves or whoever we're learning this lesson from

And we all read the page and we're like oh it was a great book!

But if you're the stand-in, if you're the orcs or the elves, you're like that guy was kind of a dick!  The whole thing! The whole book, and that's what has to happen, if your main character is doing all these things through the book, there needs to be something right after they do it where they deconstruct why they're doing these things that are wrong.

Because for me, I already know he's doing things that are wrong, like I don't need to wait to the end of the book to learn the valuable lesson.  I know racism is real, I know homophobia is real, I don't need to go 20 chapters to get to that.

So that's part of writing for an inclusive audience, if you're writing for that audience, you're like hey, I'm writing about blue people being marginalized, maybe some of my readers have been marginalized, maybe they know what that's like, maybe I should address it on the page right after that happens.  You don't have to have the main character realize it, that's part of craft, but your characters who are around the main character should say something about it, and should have some reaction to it.  And what happens nine times out of 10 is that main character, we're so deep in their POV or their perspective, there's nothing else to tell the reader this was a Bad Thing.  And it isn't until we get to the end and we all learn the valuable lesson that we learn that OOHHH that thing that happened on page 2, that was a bad thing.  But if I'm the person who's already experienced that and didn’t need to learn that lesson, I'm not hanging around with you until page 200, right? I'm bailing on page 2 because I'm like I know where this is going I've seen this story before.  So that's one of the things that I think if you're writing with a margin- and especially if you're writing from a marginalized perspective, so if you're in a marginalized character's POV, the marginalized character's not going to say "oooh, maybe these people are racist?", the marginalized characters going to say "OH, Hell, These People are Racist and I'm just going to get through this day the best I can."

JSM - mmm hmm

JI - What you see a lot of times ... and this is where the whole idea of authenticity, is like you'll have the Big Moment, right, you'll have the Big Moment where the marginalized character is Realizing They're Marginalized, instead of realizing that being marginalized is like a hundred little moments.  It's not a big thing, right, y'know there's it's very rare that I can walk down the street and someone calls me the N-word.  It happens but it's very rare.  But it's a lot of little things, where people are like "oh, can I touch your hair?" or "oh, let me hold your bags while you walk around the store", like y'know and nobody else's bags are being offered to be held, or people following you & offering to help you & they're a little bit too helpful and that kind of stuff.  It's not big things, it's a hundred thousand little things that add up to big things.  And I think that's one of the things that makes me crazy is when you don't address it on the page.  It's just all this stuff is happening and we’re supposed to know it's because this character's going to learn a valuable lesson, but I don't want to wait for them to learn a valuable lessons.

*Interstitial Music*

And part of that's what we call the promise of the story, like if you don't kind of give your reader the, this is one of the reasons I don't read George RR Martin anymore for example, because there's no guarantee that he's going to treat me as a reader well.  Once you get through book 3, you know he's going to kill the person that you love the most.  And it's like do you want to set yourself up for abuse like that anymore? Like how good is the story? It's like, every one you love is going to die, and I'm, I'm good, I don't need that.

And that's part of the promise of the story, it's that, kind of giving the reader, like hey look, it sucks right now, but I'm going to pull you through it and I'm going to make it worth your while.  And if you can't do that for people from marginalized backgrounds just as well as you do for mainstream readers, that's when you have that problem, and that's when you're not looking at your microaggressions and you're not looking at the crap that's going on your page, and deconstructing it.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Thinking back to Court of Fives, and remembering the kind of throughout that, the daughters are very aware that their situation is precarious.

JI - Right

JSM - And I feel like early on, there was the scene in the market and the spiders came through and rounded up a bunch of people, and it was kind of dangerous but it was much less dangerous for her, because the thing was it was going to embarrass her father.

JI - Right

JSM - But then one of the characters who got rounded up, he showed up later & there was a chance to reveal that the official explanation for what was going on was not the actual reason for the repression that was happening.  I felt like Court of Fives did *laugh* did representation really well, and in part did ... I felt like making the reader aware that the protagonist was privileged, and that she came to that realization, but she came to that realization gradually partly because I guess it took her a while to go from realizing I am privileged to "what does privilege actually mean?"

Like I think it is easy for me to acknowledge "I have white privilege" and "I have male privilege", but it is harder for me to describe what does it mean to have those things, and I felt like there was a kind of similar journey to discovery in Court of Fives.

JI - Yeah, I think she does a great job in that, so she, she does a great job in that marketplace scene, right, because you have the spiders who're coming in, because they’re looking for this playwright, this poet, and so y'know her and her sister are just shopping and they're kind of oblivious to all this stuff, she doesn't understand why the people in the marketplace don't like her, she knows she's privileged because her dad is this patron and he's taken care of her mother very well, but it's not until the small child is crushed by the spider and the soldiers are like, just don't even notice that they crushed this small child that she's like holy crap, what's going on here?

She thinks - it's OK, the spiders are here to help, whereas the people in the marketplace, the reactions are very different.  I think Kate does a great job of saying "this is what it looks like to not understand: this is what oppression looks like".  Because even though she knows hey, it's not really fair I'm not going to ever get to be a patron or have those kinds of opportunities, she still doesn't understand the true depth of what is going on in the country, the main character, Jes.

And I was actually lucky enough to read Kate's draft for her second book, and it goes deeper, there's a lot more of that awakening and she realized what it means for her identity to be in between these two worlds, and the second book's actually - I love the first book, but trilogies usually fall apart for me in the second book, I always hate that middle bridge, "what're you doing with this bridge book, just give us the third book!" because usually the second book in a trilogy is usually very weak, but this is a great, the second book is amazing! It's better than the first book, and there's a lot of growth that happens with the character, and there's a lot more of that realization that like y'know what does it mean to be a conquered people, what does it mean to have to give up your identity when somebody new comes onto the scene, y'know how much of history that we're told is true, and how much is rewritten by the conquerers, there's all these kinds of questions.

But I think that marketplace scene is like, for authors & writers who want to understand what it's like to write microaggressions on the page & dismantle them, and not in the obvious way, the obvious way is like "how dare you call that person that thing? that's not nice to call that person", it's a very obvious dismantling of a microaggression or a belief, then there's also the more nuanced where you just have the crowd reacting differently than your main character & you show that and your MC is like why is everyone acting differently? And they just kind of get to observe this stuff.  Court of Fives is such a great book and it's such a good example of how you can do diversity within fantasy without hitting someone over the head with the diversity.

(Close with Paul Weimer’s memory of The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings)



32 - Jaime Lee Moyer wants to add to your TBR pile

This episode, Jaime Lee Moyer (@jaimeleemoyer) joins me to discuss Historical Fantasy and basically drops a huge pile of To Be Reads across many genres and eras.  Also a review of Sorcerer of the Wildeeps from Leslie Light of Black Nerd Problems.

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by  @etrandem

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 JM - I think one of the joys of writing fantasy is being able to write the world you want to see, to a certain extent

*Opening Music*

JSM - Welcome to Cabbages & Kings, a podcast for readers of Science Fiction & Fantasy, I’m your host, Jonah Sutton-Morse


My guest this episode is Jaime Lee Moyer, an author who lives in San Antonio.  She writes books about murder, betrayal, and kissing, an activity her cats approve of, even the kissing. She’s the author of the Delia & Gabe books, and also a poet, editor and reader.  We’re going to talk this episode about historical fantasy among other things.


But I think we will start as we often do just with a little bit of your history with the genre - how did you get into reading SFF, has it always been there, was it something you drifted in and out of?


JM - Once I got into SFF, I never left.  When I was a kid my mother would take all of us to the library at least once a week. There were four of us, we would walk down the streets of LA to wherever the closest library was where we were living, and we were allowed to check out as many books as we could carry.

And I discovered, the first book I remember reading was The Borrowers, which is a fantasy book by Mary Norton, a British author, and it's about a race of people, small people, that live in the houses unseen, unheard, and unnoticed.  And I fell in love with that book, and it was the first in a series, and I read the whole series and then I went looking for more.

And as I went on, I discovered Bradbury and Heinlein and Asimov and once I took off, I just kept going.

JSM - OK, so you went from the borrowers to spaceships it sounds like?

JM - I did.  When I was younger, the majority of what I read was Science Fiction.  And I loved all of it.  I loved being in other worlds and other places, but as I got older, and became an adult, fantasy became my first love.  I still, I still love Science Fiction, I still read science fiction, but my heart is really in fantasy.

JSM - And are you an omnivore, do you stay very close to the genre, do you differentiate fiction & nonfiction?

JM - Oh yeah.  My friends actually laugh at me because I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fantasy writer & the vast majority of my nonfiction reading is science.

JSM - Okay?

JM - I've read through entire sections of the library about y'know human evolution, paleontology, dinosaurs, paleoarcheology ... I read Howard Carter's original 3-volume set on discovering King Tut’s tomb. I have read so much science anthropology that its not even funny, but yet I write fantasy.

JSM - Is that research? Or just that this is what interests you & draws you and you've gotta be reading something new & learning something more?

JM - It's what draws me. I'm curious all the time.  I want to understand how people function, I want to understand how the world functions, and reading Jane Goodall's books about the chimpanzee's or reading Lewis Leakie's books about discovering early humans, all of that fascinates me. And it keeps me entertained.


I have never been a person that likes the classics.  I know a lot of people think this is heresy, but I can't stand to read Jane Austen.  It drives me crazy. If anything I think studying psychology may have made me a better writer.  Because I understand characters and motivation and studying abnormal psychology probably helped make my bad guys worse.

*Interstitial Music*

JM - The first story I remember writing and finishing,I was eleven.

And I showed it to my best friend's mother, who took the story and kept it because she said that what I had written was inappropriate for an 11 year old girl.


JSM - That's helpful

JM - It was very helpful.  And on the one hand I was like, she kept my story, and on the other hand I was like: wow, I had an impact.

So I, y'know, I have written my entire life

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - We’re going to move now to Jaime’s connection to fantasy and historical fantasy, and moving on from the spaceships of Bradbury and Heinlein.  You’ll be shocked to learn there’s a library involved.

*Interstitial Music*

JM - It was kind of a discovery and a revelation, because what I found in the bookstore was mainly male SF writers, and then we moved to a different place, and I'm going through the library, and I found these books, a series of anthologies that Pamela Sargent edited called Women of Wonder, which were a mix of SF and I believe there was some fantasy in there too, but it introduced me to all these authors I had never heard of before, and they were all women.  And I was just, I was like, wow! So I started looking, consciously looking for these women.  And a lot of them wrote fantasy. And that's how I discovered Anne McCaffery, Mercedes Lackey, Vonda McIntyre, Barbara Handley, as I'm chasing these authors down the rabbit hole and trying to find books by them I found books by other women, and once I got into that kind of fantasy, I didn't leave. It was amazing.

JSM - Now McCaffery for me was always, like my images are always gonna be Lessa sort of afraid and seeing the dragons for the first time, and being introduced to the little wyrmlings, the dragonets or whatever they're called, but I remember that having very strong, kind of visual & having a scene that sort of jumps out & is in my head. Is that the sort of connection you made there? Or was it characters?

JM - It was characters, it was the dragons, it was the fire-lizards, it was the Harpers, it was the jumping between and the cold and the breathlessness.  All of that hooked me.  And before I got to her dragon books, I was reading the Ship who Sang, her science fiction.  And I loved those books.  I read those, I loved that, and that's what led me to her dragon books.  And I can see some of the problems with the books now that I couldn't see when I was tearing through them like, y'know

JSM - mmhmm

JM - a starving person

JSM - I'm pretty sure that Dragonriders was the first book I fell asleep reading.


JM - I can't say that, but I, once I discovered these books I just ripped through them as fast as I could.  Everything I could find, and I found Ursula Le Guin, and that was like instant love. The Wizard of Earthsea, loved those books, just loved them.  And I love her science fiction too, but the Earthsea books were the first ones that I read, and they were just astonishing.  Barbara Handley's books were astonishing to me.  She doesn't get the recognition she deserves.

JSM - I don't know anything about her.  Science Fiction, Fantasy, what's

JM - She writes a little bit of everything. She writes - the books I was reading were fantasy, I can never pronounce this correctly, but it's the Darwith trilogy I believe.  The Time of the Dark, the Walls of Air, and there's a third one.  Those books scared the crap out of me.  They scared me, they delighted me, I adored them.  And I read every single thing she wrote in the science-fiction & fantasy genre.  Everything I could find.  She also writes mysteries - she writes the Benjamin January mysteries.  I have friends who devour those, I haven't gotten into them because I'm trying to keep up with my own genre here

JSM - mm hmm

JM - She wrote two books, two vampire books that to me are probably the top 2 vampire books written before, y'know M L Brennan started her generation V series.  They're called Traveling with the Dead and Those Who Walk The Night.  They're set in like a victorian era England, and they were amazing, they weren't like other vampire urban fantasy that was out there that I'd been reading.  They were incredible.  They're still incredible.  People will read them until their copies fall apart & then hunt down new used copies because they're out of print.

So, y'know, Barbara Handley is amazing.  One of my favorite fantasy books is one that she wrote called Dragonsbane about John & Jenny who are older, they're parents, and they are like it was one of the best books I have ever read, because y'know Jenny has to make choices she has to decide between whether her husband and her children come first or whether she's goes off & does this other thing, and they were incredible books.  y'know they're part of a series too, and I loved 'em.  I loved all of it.  

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Jaime came onto this episode to talk about historical fantasy, a genre I’ve heard discussed more than read.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - This is pretty far out of my wheelhouse because I tend to read or have been reading the sort of big secondary world vaguely medieval but the point was not really to capture any essence of medieval fantasy, and I've sort of dabbled in historical fantasy a couple of times, but not a lot.  Can you maybe talk a little bit about what that is, and what are some of the hallmarks of the genre and some of the books that really define it for you?

JM - Historical fantasy can be a lot of different things.  A lot of what I see defined as alternate history I think is really historical fantasy in disguise.  In some ways steampunk is historical fantasy because it's set against the backdrop of the victorian era and uses a lot of those different tropes and shorthands, and then there's there are writers like Charlie Finlay again, he put out a series of novels set during the revolutionary war that dealt with magic and witches and wizards, but he peopled his novels with real historical figures, historical figures were the characters, and then there's the kind of historical fantasy I write & I believe Elizabeth Bear writes, and there are other people out there, Marie Brennan with her Lady Trent memoirs.  The history is the backdrop for the characters, and that's the way I like, that's my favorite kind of historical fantasy - to where the history is what goes on around the people in the book, and around their story & they're just living their lives just like you would or like I would.  And that's how I like to write historical fantasy & that's my favorite kind to read.

I love Elizabeth Bear's last book - Karen Memory, it's set in a Seattle that never really existed, it's kind of sort of steampunk, but it's in the american west, and it's a great book and she put a couple real historical figures in there.  Bass Reeves is a Marshall who shows up in the book who was a real US Marshall in US History.  That was great.  I love Marie Brennan's books because even though they're not real-world historical fantasy

JSM - well, with dragons and all

JM - yeah, with the dragons and the made-up countries, but they still have that same society to them, that happened in that, in an equivalent time period in the united states.  Mary Robinette Kowal's books are the same way.

Things like that.  I love historical fantasy where the characters are an integral part of the world but the history itself is not the story. Just like we might be concnered about the presidential election, they might be concerned about getting women the vote.  And my characters are.

For instance, in my trilogy, WWI is always there, because the trilogy takes place during those years, and people could not escape it if they wanted to, and every once in a while it reaches out & it touches their lives.  It taps them on the shoulder and reminds them it's there. There will be newsboys on the corner, they called them newsies then, they were usually barefoot children and they would be standing on the corner shouting the latest headlines from Europe, refugees fled to the United States, fleeing the war, so there are reminders, but it's not the centerpoint of the story.

JSM - mm hmm

JM - If I want to read history as the centerpoint of the story, I will read a biography or a history book.

JM - There's, there's a series of books I read a long time ago - the first book was called Across the Nightingale Floor, which was set in a world that was feudal Japan, but not real Japan, and it was ... an excellent book, I loved it. Not only because of the beauty of the language the writer used, and the history and the atmosphere and the culture, actually it was because of the language the history and the atmosphere and the culture.  I never totally connected with the characters, which is why I never finished the series.  But the first book I loved it for those other things, and that's what I mean, to a certain extent, about everything needing history to back it up, because Liam Hearn, this writer did great things with that background and that history, and created a culture I could totally believe in, including y'know the restrictions on widows marrying other men, and it was, it was an incredible book just because of that, and that's what I - and it was totally, definitely, fantasy, just like George R R Martin's books are based on I think it was the War of the Roses

JSM - Yeah, I think so although I don't, I don't know enough of that period to recognize the references, but I've heard from people who do that it's recognizable.

JM - Yes, so y'know you can take any period in history and read it and let it churn and mix in your brain and spit out a totally different story that still has a historical background, y'know it doesn't have to say "hi, this is about the year 1214", y'know it can be, but it has to be ... based in that, it has to have some foundation, or it doesn't come across as a realistic world. Readers aren't gonna invest in it.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - I’ll note for those interested that there’s also a new Liam Hearn series coming out - I’ll have a link in the show notes.  We’re going to take a break now to run a review of one of my favorite books - Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.  Those of you who follow on Twitter or listen closely are probably aware that I adored this book.  I read a review by Leslie Light of the website BlackNerdProblems that captures the book extremely well, and Leslie agreed to read it for the podcast.  

(starts at 15:45)

Leslie’s review - linked in Show Notes

(ends at 21:30)

JSM - Again, thanks to Leslie for that review - I’ll probably be experimenting with running a few other reviews on the podcast.  Let me know what you think, or if there’s a piece you’ve really enjoyed somewhere.  Now we’re going to return to the discussion with Jaime about the importance of fantasy, and also add a few more books to your To Be Read pile.

*Interstitial Music*

JM - I think one of the joys of writing fantasy is being able to write the world you want to see, to a certain extent.  I'm not thinking in terms of message books, but in because you're building a world basically from scratch even when you're doing historical fantasy, you can change things around and give people a view of the way it could be, or the way you'd like it to be.

JSM - mm hmm

JM - And I think that's one of the best, the very best things about science fiction and fantasy.

They used to say that SF was the literature of ideas. I think it still is, I think fantasy is to, and you can show people things in a story that you couldn't just come out and say to them.

JSM - mm hmm

JM - And that's one of my favorite things about genre. Hands down.  That and keeping the sense of wonder. Y'know I never ever want to lose that wow factor when I'm reading a book or when I'm writing a book, I always want to amaze myself and I want to be amazed when I'm reading.

JSM - Yeah, I  just finished Julie Czerneda's Survival which is the first book in a trilogy that she's got and it's science fiction and it's a scientist who's a, she studies salmon in a near-future earth that's part of an intergalactic civilization and she makes friends with an alien & discovers a great possible threat to all life, and the book kept reminding me that there was this human and this human with a kind of small worldview and focus, she'd been very focused on doing her science and studying her salmon and sort of ignoring the outside world as much as possible, reminding me that there was this human who didn't know all that much who was interacting with an alien and an alien with a different physiology and a different psychology and I've found one of the things, like I think there are a lot of different ways to think about and read let's see if I can remember how you said it - the world that you would like to see, or maybe making possible, or showing the world as it could be, and I really like when a book - if it's a science fiction book and it's making me more conscious of and thinking about a way to look at the world and a way to see how different species are interacting and a way that those differences kind of drive some level of tension and friction, and thinking about societies and how societies could function and who's in the background and who's in the foreground and I am reading a book right now that in some ways is really trying to have more equitable gender dynamics but at the same time there's just this background threat to women, sort of if there are some characters in the background and if there is an evil knight around (because it's got a medieval setting), probably the way that the badness of the knight will be shown is going to involve a threat towards women, and it's interesting that now I'm noticing that, and I'm seeing that in the books I'm reading & I'm seeing that & realizing there's an authorial decision there, and that's a perception of the world, but you see that enough & it sort of becomes an assumption about how the world works, and so I do - what you said about being able to show the world as it could be or the world the way you would like it to be really registered for me, because I know some of the things I've responded to in books (both positive and negative) are ways that the world is being shown to me as I don't see it right now, because books have that possibility.

JM - Books are powerful - they really are, and you can't forget that when you're writing.  If you're a reader you can forget it sometimes, but you can't forget it as a writer because the words you put out there will affect somebody somehow.

One of the best days of my life was when someone new I met on Twitter through another friend & I friended her - she told me that she'd read my books multiple times & they were her comfort reading, and I was like blown away.  And I can't forget that people I don't even know, that something I write could have this affect on them.  And that's why I'm very careful about what I write.  I'm very careful about how I portray women in my books, um, in the series I just finished, the first book has six women main characters.

JSM - mm hmm

JM - Y'know and women are the main characters. Tehre's two guys that go through the book the whole time - Gabe and Jack go through the whole series.  But there is no doubt that the women drive the story & they are the protagonists.  I just read two books recently that illustrate this, they're by two new writers, one was called "Radiant" it's the first book in a series by Carina Sumner-Smithe and it is an amazing book about a young girl in a post-apocalyptic world who ... is rare for the fact that she doesn't have any magic.

Magic is the currency in this world, and she doesn't have any, so she's the lowest of the low, but she can see ghosts, so people will pay her off in magic to deal with their ghosts.  And the way she evolves and the way the world evolves in this book is incredible.  I fell into that book and immediately fell into the second one and I just got the third one and I can't wait to read that.

And another book that blew me away is called Archivist Wasp by Nichole

JSM - I've heard really good things

JM - You need to read this book. You really do. And again it involves - Wasp is the archivist for her people & what the archivist does is capture ghosts & try and get them to relay their history.  To tell them something because they've lost their history.  But she is dominated and controlled at least as much as he can control her, by a priest who, from this y'know this I don't want to say cult but it kind of comes across as this y'know cult religion

JSM - mm hmm

JM - And he has control of all these girls and young women and Wasp finds a way to take that away from him, and she does it by freeing one of the ghosts.  And becoming involved in the ghost's life and I can't tell you all of it because I'll spoil the whole thing


JM - But it's incredible  and she discovers there's so many things in her world that she didn't realize existed.  And so many layers and lies and other stories and y'know it, I loved it.

*Interstitial Music*

JM - Have you ever read Robert Jackson Bennett

JSM - I haven't, although City of Stairs is one of the books that comes up in about half the episodes I'm recording

JM - I'm about 150/160 pages into City of Stairs, and it's not the first of his books I've read: I read Company Men first and I read the Troupe, and The Troupe could be looked at as historical fantasy because it's set like in the 1930's in a vaudeville troupe that travels around the country. And it is one of the wierdest books I have ever read.


JM - But wierd in that vastly entertaining y'know way, and it made me cry at the end and there's no higher praise from me than for a book to make me cry.  So you should read his books.


*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Each Episode closes with a memory of a significant book

*Interstitial Music*


JM - The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

JSM - ah hah?

JM - I read that book I don't think I was even fourteen yet.  I read it again later, late in my teens.  But the visions of the martians in their crystal spires, and y'know dark they were and golden-eyed, I have never forgotten that: the visions of Mars that Bradbury put into my head will be with me my entire life.  And Bradbury taught me as a writer that you can write the most beautiful poetic prose in the world, and scare the crap out of people.


JM - I will never forget the Veldt, although that wasn't part of the Martian Chronicles, but I read all his books: I read Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Golden Apples of the Sun, R is for Rocket. I read all of those books, and at one time I owned all of them.  I loved all his stuff, but the Martian Chronicles will always live on with me.  The sands, the canals, the town that they built, the american settlers built on Mars that transformed into a martian town and they became martians ... all of that just blew me away and it will always be with me and be one of my very favorite images in books.

*Interstitial Music*

Thanks for listening!

31 - Women in Grace of Kings

This episode, Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF) joins me and @afishtrap to discuss women in Grace of Kings.  The (lack of) women in the story is highly noticeable early on, while the great warrior Gin Mazoti & other women come to prominence late in the novel.  We talked about the roles of women, loving a story while seeing its flaws, specific characters (particularly Kikomi and Mira), and how women are often presented in Epic Fantasy.

Other episodes in this series can be found here.  

Kate's review of Grace of Kings at A Dribble of Ink

Booksmugglers' review of Grace of Kings (quoted in episode)

Kate's essay at tordotcom about the historical roles of women.

Outtake here - a clip that didn't quite make the cut discussing the historical roles of women.

The amazing art which inspired me to actually get this project off the ground was created by  @etrandem

Send feedback! Tweet meTweet the showBe a guest on the show

Music - Jazzy Ashes by The Underscore Orkestra

If you want to subscribe to the show, the RSS feed is: http://www.cabbagesandkings.audio/?format=rss


(AF - @afishtrap, KE - Kate Elliott, JSM - Me!)

KE - I just think this whole thing of where we're trying to list the women & what their relationships are is an interesting part of how women are often used in Epic Fantasy, female characters, I mean


*Intro Music*

JSM - Welcome to Cabbages & Kings, I'm your host, Jonah Sutton-Morse. With this episode, Kate Elliott joins Afishtrap & me to discuss the women of Grace of Kings. Those of you who’ve read it probably remember that despite the large cast, there are few women early on, and they are generally defined by their relationships with men. Later, more women appear - I remember being on Twitter as people read Grace of Kings, and the frequent chorus from those of us who’d finished the book to those who were wavering partway through: wait for Gin, wait for Gin!

In this episode, you’re going to hear us talking about a book we love, an aspect of the book we didn't always love, and various ways we responded to different women in Grace of Kings.  The conversation is rooted in the book, but it is also a snapshot of the many ways that readers navigate their relationships with problematic faves and the presence or absence of women in epic fantasy.

I'm going to start with Kate Elliott, just after we had refreshed our memory & cataloged the women of Grace of Kings.


KE - I need to start what I’m about to say because it’s going to sound critical.  First of all, I loved this book.  I loved this book, and I can't wait to read the second one, I think it is an incredible piece of work, brilliantly written, brilliantly conceived, and I adored it, and I actually hit a point about a third of the way in, and I had no idea what to expect.  And about a third of the way in, I got in and I said to myself "there's like two women in this book"

AF - *laughs*

KE - A third of the way in there are only two women in this book, and two things I talk about later had kind of irritated me, and I sat there for a minute and I said “normally, normally when I read an epic fantasy and I'm a third of the way in and there's only two women and they're minor characters, and one of them's whole story seems to revolve around sex, and beauty, I'm done, the book's over.”  And I sat & I thought, but I love this book so much that there could never be any more women in this book & I would still love it, because I can love things just because I enjoy them, they don't have to fit whatever my thing is, so I'm just going to love this like I've loved so many things across my life that had almost no women in them.

AF - Yeah

KE - I loved the first Star Wars film and it has Carrie Fisher who's phenomenal and she's like the only woman, right?

AF - She is the only one

KE - Well, the aunt is there briefly


AF - Oh, that's right

KE - And in the second one I think there's the senator who speaks a line, maybe she's in the third one

But having said that, what's interesting to me about this list we're making, is that we are identifying all these women according to how they fit the men's stories, whereas the men we identify them by their stories.

AF - Well, the counterpart to that is I got a third of the way through this story and hit a certain chapter and said to myself this story has so much of what I have always wanted to read, but couldn't because most of the stories have this sort of feeling, haven't been translated into english

So I either have to wait for somebody to post it so that I can read it, very slowly, or for it to be made into a television show.  The Chu-Han contention just is not something that you see in western media a lot, and and so I was so loving getting to be able to read somebody who's in dialog with that history that what would've usually had been a completely Do Not Finish point for me I was just like y'know what we're just going to skip this chapter, this chapter just doesn't exist, because otherwise it would've been a DNF, but the rest of the story, yes! I mean I wouldn't have talked for so many hours with Jonah if this were not a story that entranced me in a hundred other ways

*Interstitial Music*

KE - Have both of you seen Red Cliffs, the film?

JSM - No

AF - Yes

KE -I love that film.  I love it.  And so, in a way, I'm totally agreeing with what you're saying, this book is in dialog with that tradition, and that tradition has this element in it.  And so what was interesting to me is that Ken, then, at the end, and we'll talk about this more at length, but at the end because he's set up this tradition in which women are very minor characters & they have very set piece roles that are always in relationship to the men, and then suddenly at the end he kind of blows that up, and it wouldn't have ... this is the irony is that it wouldn't have worked as well if he hadn't adhered to that expectation and that tradition through so much of the book.

AF - Yeah but at the same time, it's if he had not been telling the story with which I was already really familiar, I don't think I would've ... if it had been say for instance a retelling of The Odyssey, or one of the Greek Myths, I think I probably would've made it a third of the way through the book & said I've foudn the cure for insomnia. It was the dialog with the history that I already knew that got me through the parts where normally I would be like, I don't ... life is too short to put up with having women shoved to the background.

That requires a great deal of trust in the text, to be able to say I will wait it out and see if you're going to turn this around, because 99 times out of a hundred the books never turn it around and the text never even seems to realize that it needs to be turned around, it speaks to the text's ability to ah to have that authoritative storytelling voice that I kept reading

KE - There's a ... this is so fascinating, what you're saying is so fascinating to me first of all, that element of trust is *really* important to point that out, I think you're absolutely right about that.  And a third of the way in, I trusted the story, to be a story that would have things in it that would interest me whether or not women were included.

Because again I'm old enough that I'm so used to loving stories that have no women in them.

I mean I love Lord of the Rings, how many women are there in LotR, right?

AF - uhhh *laughs*

KE - The expectations have gotten ... I'm now less patient, I mean I think as all three of us are now, about stories that don't include women now, but sometimes I'll read something and I'll say, y'know.

So I trusted him.  I also know people who did read the first third & say I'm done with this.  I know people who stopped reading because of that issue.

But I wanted to go back to something else you said - you said you felt you were able to continue because you were familiar with the tradition

AF - Yeah

KE - And I was able, if this had been a story set in a medieval Europe, I would've stopped at that point.  But because I knew enough of this tradition from watching films and reading y'know some of Dream of, I've read like 3/5ths of Dream of Red Mansions, I've read a little bit of Three Kingdoms. I've read enough of it, it was the fact that it was something new for me, the landscape was new for me, and I could kind of accept that, that was why I kept reading because there was new stuff in it, but if it had been the medieval stuff I would've been out.


*Interstitial Music*


JSM - So we’ve talked about the strength of the narrative voice, and the other appeals of the book that made us fall in love even as the opening was so empty of women. Now we’re going to turn to Kikomi, the beautiful queen who aspires to lead her people & is advised by the goddess to do so with her sex appeal.

*Interstitial Music*


AF - Sometimes I would rather not be on the the page at all than see myself on the page done wrong. And I did get to that point with Grace of Kings where I was thinking y'know what, if you can't do women right, just don't try, just stop. And that's, that's a wierd kind of position to be in as a reader where you would rather take erasure over yet another "oh look, she's using her sex and beauty in order to get ahead, who thinks this is good", I'm just like no just don't.

And I think that was the one point of irritation because it felt like, it felt like it was pandering to that sort of expectation that if a woman was going to show up and get any sort of airtime at all then that was one of the four things she had to fit into.

KE - You're talking about Kikomi, right?

AF - mmhmm

JSM - Yeah

KE - You know what? If you want to know the two things that irritated ... I had very mixed feelings about Kikomi, because I had very much similar to your feeling, it was like why, why is this what we're getting and then because I loved the book so much, if I love a book a lot of course don't we all do this, that we make excuses and find ... it's not excuses, we say "well, hey, we can make it", like if my friend says this offensive thing then I'll find a way to say it wasn't so bad but if someone I don't like says it than I'm like ohmygosh I gotta like y'know drop a piano on them, right?

So we all do, I don't know maybe you guys are not like this.

JSM - Oh no, yes.

KE - This is why I don't read, like if I meet someone and I really don't like them I will never read a book by them because I can't give them a fair shake, and I know that about myself as a reader, so I just accept that that's how it is, I'm judgemental and subjective.  But, but

So I got to Kikomi, but then he did that thing, then I thought y'know what I think he's trying to show that this limited sphere she has, right, you can hear my brain ticking the rationalization, the limited sphere she has she's trying to make the statement that the young prince does when he immolates himself, and at the same time she's trying to protect her country and this is the only way she knows how to do it.


*Interstitial Music*


AF -There is one thing I'd like to explain what in particular actually, because Kikomi is very textbook, we've read her in a thousand other books, there was a maneuver that the text does that was the specific part that made me want to just start throwing things.

It's when she first meets the goddess. She's been introduced as somebody who's like, I can do this, I can take care of things, I can be more than everybody expects me to even if they're disappointed that I'm not a boy.  And so you've got this emphasis that she's willing to go beyond that, and I'm like, OK this is pretty standard.  But it's the maneuver when the goddess meets her, that feels kind of like, one big fucking lampshade where the author says "hey by the way, I'm going to maneuver this character into the same end result that you would've had anyway, but I'm going to try to be slick about it" and that is what actually pissed me off the most.  It was not that you have a stereotypical character who could've been stereotypical, coming to a stereotypical end, it's this little interlude with the goddess where you have the character saying to the goddess: "I want to do more, I want to be, I want to lead these people right" and the goddess is saying "oh, no no no, you know what would be really, really good, is if you used your sex appeal, and then the character goes "oh my goodness, you're so right"

I'm like, “what the hell, what the hell am I reading here?” And that in particular felt like - the text felt like it was well aware that it was contorting things to reach a specific end, but it treated me like an idiot in the course of doing it, and so that was actually the part, not the rest of Kikomi, but that particular discussion that made me feel like, oh just be honest, just say that you wanted her as a plot device to die.

KE - Is that, because the Kikomi incident comes very soon after the prince who immolates himself, am I correct about that? Because I felt like it was an echo of that - these are people trying to salvage what they can of their kingdoms or their places they rule & are responsible for

JSM - mm hmm

KE -  And so I felt like it was almost written as part of that same discussion about what must a responsible ruler do, what is their duty, and in both those cases, the end result is that they must die in order to protect their people.

JSM - Right

KE - But then the choices that are made, how they each get to go, are

AF - Yeah, are so based on their sex organs instead of, I mean, really what I got to at about the halfway point of the book, I just flipped the genders: in my head, Kikomi became male & the young prince who immolates himself became female, that was all I needed

I just wanted to see something other than “girls uses her sex”

JSM - And in fact the goddess' speech is very explicitly that - she says "these are the labels men have put on women.  You speak as though you despise them, but you're parroting the judgements of historians.  Think of the hero who played with the hearts of Rapa and Kama, who showed his naked body to the gathered princes & princesses of Crescent Island, claiming himself to take equal delight in men & women.  Do you think historians call him a seducer, a harlot, a mere bauble?"

And, I feel like there's - that is the attempt to say y'know, if you gender flip what is happening with Kikomi it doesn't read as the stereotype that it is.  But I ... I think it just didn't, it didn't make that jump.

*Interstitial Music*

AF - it's one of the things that Jonah & I have talked about before, of, his sense and the idea that certain plot elements are happening in order to maneuver us and manipulate us towards Kuni is awesome & no matter what he does the plot is going to prove that out.

JSM - Well, yeah, so I justified my, doing the "well I love this book so this problematic element I'm going to kind of make excuses for" as just seeing this as yet another set piece, another origin story because there were so many of those scattered throughout the book. And I felt like so many of those origin stories lean into cliche. And lean into trope.  And I said OK, we are leaning into a trope,

AF - Just roll with it

JSM - and I'd rather not see it, and I wish something else, but y'know that's a piece of ... going back to the notion that one of the things that is really neat about GoK is there it is unfamiliar & it is doing things that you don't see in a lot of other epic fantasy, one of the things that I really jumped on as something that I liked was the structural sort of "okay we're just going to take a minute & tell you an episode"

KE - I loved that

JSM - that's very cliched & tells you how the hero became who they are.  And I loved that & so when I read this Kikomi bit, especially because he spent so much time setting up the beautiful, perfect, idyllic city that she ruled over, I just thought all right, that's the piece of this that I'm going to be reading, is how is this particular tale told, not the fact that this particular tale could probably do without being told at all

AF - I'm pretty sure that on the list of Jonah's 10 things he remembers about this book, that city is number 1, 2, and 3.


JSM - No, the Narwhals riding up the castle is number 1, the city is in my top 5 of the things that I remember.

AF - That visual.  Yeah.  But it is also one of the few places in the book where he really, where the text does layer on the visual.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Is there more to say about Kikomi?

KE - I have one more thing I can say about here - so I do think that y'know we meet, first we meet Jia and Jia is clearly so much smarter than any other man in the book, right? And she's always got, she's like such a classic character who is the woman who has devoted her life - I saw this in graduate school in the academic world all the time.  The woman who has devoted her life to her husband's career.

AF - ah-huh, I saw it growing up in the military

KE - Yeah, and she is that character, and so on the one hand I was like why couldn't the book have been about her, but OK, that's what this book is, right, so I'll go with that.  But with Kikomi I was like, that was really for me, because those two are really the only women in the first 2/3rds.  So with Kikomi it was like okay now we really get hammered now with the sexism and the patriarchy of the society.  And, what for me happens with that is that then when he does bring in, start bringing in more women.  

When the women do enter the story you set up so much expectations and especially with Gin that um that great scene, where she crosses the river and there's that great scene where that dude is going oh no we can't fight them because we can't cross the river because that would be bad, that goes against tradition and furthermore she's a woman what could she do anyway.

The text doesn't have to say anything more, it doesn't have to explain anything because we have seen this for 2/3rds of the book.  We totally get that this would happen, I don't have any trouble believing that she can win victory after victory because these idiots see her as a woman and then can't do anything.


*Interstitial Music*


JSM - I think this point about how Kikomi & Jia’s stories reinforce the patriarchal society in Grace of Kings is really important, and I’m going to take a minute here to quote from a review by Ana of the Booksmugglers that really hammered home for me why the absence of women in so much of Grace of Kings is a problem for so many readers. After acknowledging that the text challenges and questions the misogyny of the society even in the early pages, Ana wrote:


“I cannot begin to tell you how much I resent – and a lot, it appears – this. The lives of women are not a “long game”, sorry. I don’t want to be “incremental woman”, you know, one who appears only when it’s convenient after a point has been made, regardless of the obviously good intentions behind this choice.”


We’re going to turn away from Kikomi now to some of the women who did appear later in the story, and two stories in particular that reflect each other quite nicely & also show the breadth of the stories brought into Grace of Kings as the novel unfolds.


*Interstitial Music*


KE - I liked Mira because she didn't have any ambitions.  She leads a life that is very similar to what many women in many societies lead across the entirety of their lives, and these are lives that are so ignored and treated so much as if they don't matter, these, they're just like treated as disposable in narrative, y'know the invisible people who we just kind of throw away,

AF - The background expendables,

KE - the background, but her journey of her grief and her trying to understand what it means & her hatred and how she turns it to tidying up after this man and then the whole thing that happens with her & Mata, I found it so interesting that he chose, that that story was told at all and I think it's important because I think that those stories are almost the ones that get left out more than any other stories of the narratives that we value and that we trumpet.

AF - And you know actually the part I liked with Mira was that Soto, Lady Soto seemed to be the bookend, that you have Mira for whom everything seems to be on the surface, in other words the narrative tells you right up this is what's going on, this is her background, this is what she's working through, and then you have the completely opaque one who is kind of performing the same sort of background, expendable but in a different household, so these two acted as different facets of that same person in the background who normally would just be ignored and I did like that part.  I did think that was in some ways the more Mira got highlighted in terms of how she felt the more intriguing I found Soto for not getting any of that attention, yet still being in the narrative.  Still very much playing a role.

KE - Yeah, I do think that they form bookends, and for me I always felt that there are all these hidden depths in lady Soto that we're gonna not find out until book 2 that she knows a lot & that she's hiding a lot and that she has her own, her own plots and plans and schemes and long-term motives whether, whereas Mira's just like trying to make sense of this, of how her life was destroyed by all this war.

Y'know, she's a refugee, which is why I loved the thing where she just starts tidying up, she's putting her life has been torn apart, she's been completely torn out of all of the things that she had to where she was rooted to herself and now she's just tidying up, and I thought that was just symbolically, and because she is a very surface character - you really know who and what she is and what her conflicts are, and there isn't a lot of depth in there, and I don't mean that in a negative way I mean that's just who she is.  and I liked that contrast between the two women, and how their what they're doing in each of those different households, because they're performing similar but kind of different functions.

AF - Well it's also, the interesting thing is Mira seems to be there to learn, about herself and about what's going on and about what she wants to do whereas lady Soto is there to teach.

KE - mmmm that's interesting.

AF - Both of them are assessing the person they think is an opponent.  Mira assumes that Mata is her opponent on some level, and Lady Soto walks through the door quite aware that Kuni in some ways is a potential opponent and yet both of them end up making their peace and their resolution is Mira is very much I'll learn what comes next, and Soto's like all right, you've got the potential, sit down kid I'm going to teach you a few things because you're going to need to know this, and Jia's response is allright, it's a nice architectural move in terms of the structure of the story.


KE - yeah


*Interstitial Music*


JSM - One of the reasons we invited Kate Elliott to help with this discussion (beyond the obvious delight afistrap & I both took in being able to talk to one of our favorite authors & her general thoughtful reading) was that Kate posted a review of Grace of Kings that specifically engaged with the absence of women in the story.  She had a few other critiques as well, and Kate and afishtrap had a discussion of the distant islands that Kuni approaches with his men.  Earlier, we brought up the way that stories like Kikomi’s and Jia’s reinforced the patriarchy that limited the society in Grace of Kings, which heightened the prominence of women later in the story.  What follows is more along the lines of a missed opportunity - a discussion of alternative historical precedents that could have been contrasted with the overwhelming patriarchy of the empire, a what-might-have-been.  For those of you who want to dive deeper into historical precedents, I’m going to link to another essay Kate wrote, and post an excerpt that didn’t quite fit into this episode onto soundcloud. Those’ll all be findable in the show notes.


*Interstitial Music*

KE - Actually the two things that bugged me most were right at the beginning in the procession where like the second thing you see is the fucking dancing girls

AF - *much laughter*

JSM - Ah Ha

KE - The first thing, I'm like oh my god, no, no, why do they have, that's so western to me, it's not even western, they wouldn't even have that if they had a procession in medieval europe, that's so modern to me, it's like why? I almost stopped right there, but then I'm like no I'm going to keep going.


And then the other one that bugged me, uh, man if I'd been his editor I'd have told him to cut that because it doesn't even matter, right, the other one was when they go to the islands for the first time

AF - ooooh, yes

JSM - I hadn't picked up on this until I read your review & comments

KE - What bugged me was that I thought, as a reader, that here was an opportunity to suggest that this is a different society, with different customs and that you could still have the dudes that were following be sexist, but that you could undercut it, right, you could undercut it with them not quite getting things that are going on but that we the reader could be reading, but instead the women are seen as tits and ass and people who bring food to the men.  That was it.  And it is so, the other thing is is I thought there was a suggestion this was kind of more of an islander culture, and it was so not an islander culture, which just doesn't work like that.

AF - how is that, I mean, islander culture?

KE - Well, I read at least a couple of reviews that have said they felt that they drew from Polynesian, that he drew from Polynesian influences and I just don't see that.  Because for one thing in Polynesia you have definitely a culture with a lot of war going on, and a warrior culture, but first of all *laugh* someone, someone was saying to me that there was more, for instance in Hawaain culture, in ancient Hawaaiin culture, and I'm not an expert on this so if someone who actually knows, if a native Hawaain who actually knows something hears me say some things that are untrue, I hope that they will correct me, I've been told for instance that there were no taboos about sex, about having sexual relationships with people, I mean in the sense that , in the Puritanical sense that we see in our culture for example, but there were a lot of taboos about food, the other thing is that the nature of social relations is such that  - you see this also in bronze age Greece as compared to classical Athen- Athens Greece -  the differences between the hierarchy between who are the nobles and who are the commoners is greater than the differences between the genders.  So, how the

AF - oooohh

KE - If you're an Ali’i If you're the chief, whether you're male or female, if you're in Hawaii you would have, y'know, you would have mana,

from bronze age, speak sharply to a man who speaks to him too familiarly, but he treats Penelope as an equal, even though of course it's a patriarchal society but he treats Penelope as an equal because they're both nobles & so therefore

And so in Polynesian society I ... you would see that, the common people would have more between the men & women would be, they wouldn't have this gender divide in the same way and instead it's just like a mirror of what happens in the other culture where gender is the big divide

AF - And the thing that twigged me about the islanders is was actually something completely different

KE - oooh

AF - Which is, these islanders, and it was more a missed opportunity, in that one of the things that fascinates me the most in reading SE Asian history is the way that each culture interacted with, western contact and include arab contact in that as well as indian continental contact, and the changes that those had on the different cultures and then the arrival of the colonizers, so in this story, we have an emperor who united a bunch of different islands, right, he was basically an imperial dude who said everybody is gonna do this my way, so why is it that we travel out to the islands and the islanders aren't like "screw you, and your continental colonizing ways", why was it, "oh, hey, dude, c'mon over & lets all hang out" because colonization even for a short period of time scars people.

And so the reaction that the islanders had to all be so friendly and welcoming just felt really contrived.

JSM - My impression was that the, the empire had never gone there.

AF - I got the impression that they had interactions.  

KE - I thought that they had an interaction, I wasn't, it wasn't clear to me or else I guess I don't remember whether they had conquered it, or if they just showed up and said "hey, we're a big empire, why don't you y'know, sometimes"

JSM - I got the sense that there was some level of contact

AF - Interaction

JSM - But at no point, I think that the island is Tana Du, and I don't think it had ever been conquered & absorbed into the empire

AF - However the other thing that you need to remember is that islands are not islands in the - I think westerners, especially living within a continental landmass as opposed to say Hawaii where you might have absorbed a slightly different view of things, is that we tend to think of oceans as being vast expanses between land, when in fact when you have an island culture, we think of the waters as a front yard and a back yard, so the idea that they would not be aware of what's going down in other places, like is there no trade, is there no interaction? You know what's going on in your backyard, it's your backyard.  So even if they were put themselves in & "we were pretty lucky, no one came & took us over", I just it makes no sense to me to have a world where somebody on an island wouldn't in some way be aware by some means of what's going on in what they consider their territory, their backyard.

KE - That's an excellent point! Do either of you remember how long it takes to sail there?

JSM - The text says "the sun always set to the right of the ship as they sailed ever southward & then sometime later so presumably at least a few days they were at Tan Adu ... savage cannibals, not a place for civilized men, over the years various states had tried to settle and subdue the island but they'd always failed. " so, it's not y'know it took days to get there, was not easy to get there & there was clearly a level of hostility to people who tried to [garble], or at least that's what the text sets up before Kuni manages to land & talk his way into stay on Tan Adu for a while


KE - Yeah, because, just because yeah the polynesian islands were in contact with each other and of course island chains that were relatively close together even if you couldn't see the next island if you could get there in a day or two or three or four, that was still considered a neighbor

And this is why I thought that there was such a chance here to show a different form of gender, relations, than the main archipelago, and that instead it just seemed to be a recapitulation of the same thing.  Because even if the guys don't, can't really see it, you can still show it.  

And I want to add here, it's so funny for me, because I really really never, I don't like to criticize books, and I've reached a point in my life where I will only criticize a book if I really loved it.

AF - Yes, agreed

JSM *laugh*

AF - The books that I really loved are the ones that I criticized the most.


*Interstitial Music*

JSM - I said at the beginning that this is a discussion of Grace of Kings, but it’s also a broader discussion of the genre.  We’ve talked about some specific characters, though our conversation on Gin Mazoti never got much farther than what Kate wrote in her earlier review: a martial character she very much appreciated & enjoyed, we’ve talked more broadly about how much a text changes depending on who women are relating to and whose story is being told.  As often happens, the discussion ranged from the fantastic elements and the secondary-world of Grace of Kings to analogues and historical precedents in our world.  I’m going to close with another exchange along those lines.

*Interstitial Music*

AF - Well, all I was going to say was the one problem with Medieval history & Chinese history or any other history is This Book Is Fantasy! It doesn't even take place in our world.  It's like that excuse just doesn't hold water to say oh, well, my ahistorical view of that time period is X, and I'm like But You're Writing Fiction, Make It Up!

KE - Y'know and it's interest - this kind of thing about "well there's dragons why do we also have to have patriarchal sexism?"

And like I'm, first of all I totally agree with that, but even, this is my other thing, even if you just take actual history you can see that the stereotypes that people have about history are totally wrong!

You don't even need the element of saying "well it's just a fantasy" because we have examples of women doing every possible thing in real history, so y'know between those two elements, a) it's a fantasy and you have dragons & magic, and b) historically women did everything that you could possibly want to do, you just have to make the choice to put them in.  You have to be able to see them & ultimately the problem becomes is we get (and I include myself in this because I struggle with this all the time) we have to get past that own, that veil that obstacle that gate that we are shut behind and we have to say "hey wait, I can open this up"


*Interstitial Music*


JSM - As it turns out, there are many gates we are shut behind, and many wonders visible to us when veils are removed.  This has been a tough episode for me to fit together, since the roles of women in the Grace of Kings have been the most discussed and most criticized pieces of the book.  If I were a better editor I’d have mixed it better among the other episodes focused on Grace of Kings - the technology of “silkpunk”, the marriage of eastern and western tradition & ideas of divinity, heroism and nobility, the techniques that mediate orientalist reader expectations, and the heroic episodes interspersed throughout this gorgeous sprawling narrative.  


I’d like to thank Kate & Afishtrap for lending their time and expertise to this discussion.  And I’d like to reiterate the earlier statements that all three of us loved this book, we spent a lot of time discussing it because it was wonderful & it enchanted us, and we are all eagerly awaiting book 2! I’d also like to thank you listeners for sticking with these Grace of Kings discussions.  There have been a lot.  This is it, barring one possible future episode talking to Ken to see what else we missed, so thanks for coming along on this journey.

JSM - Thanks for listening.  Give us feedback! (paraphrase)