49 - Rion Amilcar Scott discusses Insurrections


Rion Amilcar Scott (@reeamilcarscott), author of the award-winning collection Insurrections joins me to discuss his book, the aesthetic of speculative fiction, and the boundaries between the real and the fantastic.  Also Charles Payseur (@clowderoftwo) recommends short stories with whales.  

Story recommendations from Charles Payseur (transcript of Charles' reviews)

“An Account of the Sky Whales” by A Que, translated by Andy Dudak (Clarkesworld June 2017)

“We Who Live in the Heart” by Kelly Robson (Clarkesworld May 2017)

“The Beachings” by JY Yang (Sockdolager Fall 2016)

“Whale-Oil” by Sylvia V. Linsteadt (BCS April 2016)

“Whaling With Clowns” by Chris Kuriata (Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix 2017)

“A Brief History of Whaling with Remarks Upon Ancient Practices” by Nicasio Andres Reed (QDSFLightspeed June 2015)

Two stories from Insurrections

202 Checkmates

Boxing Day

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46 - Surrounded by the Past

This episode I'm joined by Kate Heartfield (@KateHeartfield) to discuss Historical Fantasy, and Charles Payseur (@clowderoftwo) has short fiction recommendations.

Four Haunted Houses Adam Troy Castro, Nightmare (Sep 2016)

The Girl Who's Going To Survive Your Horror Movie Barbara Bennett, Flash Fiction Online (Mar 2017)

If We Survive The Night Carlie St. George, The Dark (Mar 2017)

The Venus Effect Joseph Allan Hill, Lightspeed Magazine (Dec 2016)

None of This Ever Happened Gabriela Santiago, POC Destroy Horror (Oct 2016)

Indigenous Futurisms Roundtable at Strange Horizons

Transcript to come.  Review text here.

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43 - Sword & Sorcery with Jared Shurin

This episode I'm joined by Jared Shurin (@straycarnivore) of the award-nominated genre site Pornokitsch (@pornokitsch), and editor with Mahvesh Murad of the upcoming anthology The Djinn Falls in Love.  We discuss the Sword & Sorcery subgenre, and an old quote from Lin Carter defining the genre.

We call a story Sword & Sorcery when it is an action tale, derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, set in a land, age or world of the author's invention - a milieu in which magic actually works and the gods are real - a story, moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with the forces of supernatural evil.

In addition, Charles Payseur joins us to recommend short fiction centered around falling.

Transcript here.  Transcript of Charles' review here.

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39 - "Sort of true, if not factually accurate"

This episode, Ken Liu (@kyliu99) joins @afishtrap and I to begin wrapping up the discussion of The Grace of Kings.  In this episode, themes of history, myth, and how they intersect.  In addition, Charles Payseur of Quick Sip Reviews recommends short stories for the resistance, and (from the archives!) Kip Manley (@kiplet) has a quote from Margaret Wise Brown.

Short story recommendations from Charles.

Screamers - Tochi Onyebuchi, in Omenana

The Gentlemen of Chaos - A. Merc Rustad - Apex Magazine

Plea - Mary Ann Mohanraj - Lightspeed Magazine

Standing on the Floodbanks - Bogi Takács - Giganotosaurus 

The Book of How To Live - Rose Lemberg - Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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JSM - Hello and welcome to Cabbages & Kings, the podcast for readers of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  This episode I'm joined by Ken Liu, the author of Grace of Kings, as well as AFishtrap to begin to find the end of our podcast obsession with Grace of Kings.  As an aside, I'd like to heartily recommend the sequel, Wall of Storms, which I'm working through now & which advances Grace of Kings in really interesting ways.  I don't think there are going to be 17 episodes on Wall of Storms, but here's the first part of my discussion with Ken and afishtrap, focusing on what's going on with the various styles and heroic episodes within the novel.

KL - one of the things I was trying to do with the novel is this idea of examining history, and examining the ways that history becomes history.  So, in some passages, right, remember one of the big themes that I have in a lot of my work really is that idea of foundational myth, and how by mythmaking we also end up defining who we are, that is the way we live our lives is about telling ourselves a story, right, so for example a very popular question to ask writers is "when did you decide you were going to be a writer?" "How did you decided you wanted to be a writer?" and writers, i don't know, I think other writers, but I hate answering that question because it's a question that forces you to make up a myth, because the real answer is, idiotically mundane, because often there is no such moment when that happens and there's no such origin story where you know Athena comes out and says you are a writer. and then you become a writer, there's just no story like that, and so you're forced to come up with some story that is sort of true if not entirely factually accurate, that is somewhat pleasing to a listener and inspiring. A lot of our lives, a lot of the important events in our lives are done that way, y'know they happen fortuitously because of some random points and so later on to give it meaning you have to form a narrative, you have to tell a story about it, and give it a cause and effect. What I was trying to do in parts of the Grace of Kings especially with these origin stories is to sort of highlight and foreground the artificiality of these stories, because the stories are being told, already as though they were legends and myth even though they were supposedly in the meta context of the novel supposedly stories about actual people happening.

JSM - In my early discussion with afishtrap, we thought about the first three chapters as a procession from the exotic to the mundane - Emperor Mapidere's fantastic (and dare we even say exotic or oriental) procession, Mata's heroic story, and Kuni's story.  Here's Ken's view of the way in to the book.

AF - The first one is this is the myth as you expect it, you've got the pagoda, you've got the dancing girls, you've got the logograms and blahblahblah, and then the second chapter is here is the origin of the myth as you expect myths to be where it's, y'know, family tragedy and then he works his way up and then he kinda rise back up and reclaim what his family had, and then the third chapter is "here's how the myth really happens", so it's like a layer after layer in terms of the reader expectations of how a mythic story begins and so the novel really begins in that third chapter with Kuni, and that was kinda of what we were saying: that each chapter was "here's what you thought you're getting, no no no, here's what you thought? no no no, here's the real story."

KL - I like that.

AF - Didn't plan that at all?

KL - So what I was doing was something slightly different in intent, but ah it looks like the effect is ultimately similar.

So, one of the things the I try to do in Grace of Kings was to play with multiple registers of narrative. So there are some sections that are written in this very very high epic sort of voice, this is how a myth begins, this is where you invoke the muse. and you say "sing goddess..." here comes the high perspective and the first two chapters are sort of like that - one of them is very evocative of a very old western epics, in that sort of the second chapter, and the other one is very evocative of um, sort of high cinema visions of epic storytelling, it's how, how modern films done by Hollywood would try to portray a story of this sort, they would start off with this very high spectacle kind of drama thing, but it's not just Hollywood, Hollywood is tapping into a very old tradition and so in some ways I was trying to evoke the very old uhm stylized opera kind of format the traditional Chinese folk opera that are very spectacle oriented and they try to tell the main point with, with a song if you will, that's very stylized and very artificial.  The third chapter on the other hand is very much evocative of Pingshu storytelling, it's the oral low art form, this is the one where it's just a storyteller in the tea house trying to tell you a historical romance, stories about, that are based on history but are really romances, that have very little to do with actual history, and yet at the same time, these storytellers tales are often the folk version of history that most people know, and so in the third chapter that's the tone that's being taken, it's a much lower tone in terms of perspective, we're no longer concerned about grand, issues of family dynasty .... fate, we're no longer talking about honor and glory of the entire nation , we're really talking just about one dude who wants to, wants to drink for free essentially.

AF - *laughter*

KL - ah, that's his highest ambition in life - he wants to be nice to his friends and he wants to, he wants to drink for free, and he's got a swagger, he's got this kind of very market-oriented attitude to everything, and yet the ultimate point is that all of these registers of storytelling are important, you cannot tell a story without reaching all these registers, just as Kuni eventually has to learn that it takes all kinds to build a nation. So that's kind of the intent.

AF - That first chapter was the only place that you mentioned anything that would really fall in that category of that quintessential hollywoodized asianness of

KL - mm hmm

AF - of Pagodas and Elephants and Logograms and ah, dancing girls and I think there were a number of things that we even called out that those are the only places in the entire 195,000 words that those words were used & we figured that was kind of intentional, that there seemed like this setup at the very beginning of "get this all out of the way"

KL - Yes, that's definitely true, because um, with a novel like this, where you start out by saying y'know the essential myth is Chinese & we're trying to, I'm trying to do a reimagning of the foundation of Chinese myth, using this new vocabulary of what I call silkpunk, then one of the first things I have to do is to say, look, y'know we're gonna leave the shore, if you will, and the first thing we gotta do is to paint you the port we're departing from, so here's what people expect when they hear a story that's based on Chinese characteristics, so we'll see that out, and sort of show how we're not going to be using these elements in that way and then from that point we're leaving the shore and leaving that behind

JSM - Yeah, it's interesting because, I love that image and that metaphor because for all of the railing against "oh, another generic pseudo-medieval European setting" that shows up, it feels like in some ways because there have been so many of those, the weight of any individual story or vision on kind of the next book that has a pseudo-medieval european setting is maybe a little bit less. But yeah, I mean, I probably had two or three stories and movies in my head that came vaguely from China, and that was kind of my image of what, um, a Chinese-inspired story would be, and I really like the idea of kind of being at the port and setting out from that, saying "I understand what your expectations are, but let's move on", and I would imagine that that probably presented it's own challenges.

KL - Yeah  there were multiple issues, I mean one of the big fears I had with the book before I finished it was whether people are going to say "this is not Chinese enough", that they're going to say where are your chopsticks, where are the kowtowing ministers? Where are the

JSM - Where's your wise dragon

KL - Yeah and all that stuff

It's like, there are certain things people want. There are supposed to be some scholars standing around spewing about loyalty to the emperor, right, there's gotta be some of that

AF - Honor to the family

KL - Mandate of HEaven, we've gotta bring that up.  Which is comical because none of those things are actually Chinese at all, they are Chinese as perceived by somebody who was not Chinese, which is why it's comical.

I mean a lot of the things about how readers react to the GoK is pretty interesting, because there are actually super super Chinese things in the book, but they're very deep, and sometimes they're not perceived as Chinese at all, I mean for example a lot of people have commented on the fact that, it feels very Japanese to them because people sit on the ground & have elaborate sitting positions, and there are all these talks about warriors who have this code that seems samurai-like, which is kind of comical to me because the reason they probably seem Japanese to a lot of readers is because the classical Chinese tradition I'm drawing on especially around the Han, the time of the Han dynasty was very likely that, people did sit on the ground, they did not sit on chairs, that happened much later, elaborate sitting positions were in fact the case and this code of warrior-ethics was very much the ethic of the warring states period, it might remind people of Japanese in that the high culture of Japanese Medieval culture in some ways shares the same root

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - As Ken mentioned, there are these heroic episodes in which many of the questions of tone and style, mythology, and history come into play, we're going to take a look at a few of these heroic episodes, beginning with the rebellion of the fish

KL - the rebellion starts with two of these, um, characters who are not who don't really have huge ambition, they were just desperate, they were captains of a bunch of covey laborers and they had no choice but to rebel. And the way they rebel is they create this fake message from the gods by putting it inside a fish.

AF - Yes, the two goons.

KL - Right

AF - The two goons, that's what they were

KL - Yes, the two goons *laughter*

They play this trick to fool their followers into believing them, but if you remember later on there's this episode where one of them says, lets look back on that episode a little bit and think about what actually happened, could it not be that the gods inspired us to come up with that in the first place, so maybe it actually is true? I mean, we made that myth up but maybe it's actually true.  And in terms of the court historians writing this down, I think you should write it down as though it actually happened that way, the gods really did inspire us and the gods really did put the message there, I'm actually believing it myself.  And that's kind of how it happens. And that was sort of the overall, move I wanted to make

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - OK, now I'm going to pass the baton to Charles Payseur for some timely short fiction recommendations

CP - Hi everyone, my name is Charles Payseur, and I'll be recommending some speculative short fiction today.  There is a part of me that wants nothing more than to provide some stories that are unabashedly fun, and funny, and light, because our current situation is anything but.  Ignoring what has happened, though, or even encouraging others to ignore it, would seem irresponsible to me. Right now, there is fear yes and anxiety and worry and stress, but I think that at times like this, the thing that we have to remember is resistance.  That in the face of injustice and a growing inequality and a growing feeling of threat, there is still strength to be taken from standing for what is right.  To not looking away from the difficult realities we find ourselves in. A lot of SFF deals explicitly with that.  And today I want to share some of my recent favorites that deal with themes of resistance in the face of oppression and violence.

First up is a brand new story from Omenana's November issue, Screamers by Tochi Onyebuchi, which follows a father brought over from Africa to be a police officer and his son who eventually follows in his footsteps.  The piece centers on a series of violent explosions that perplex the police until they discover the soruce, that these aren't bombs but the condensed essences of African Americans dealing with living under the constant institutional oppression of America.  Dealing with the racism and the hatred, finally able to strike back in the form of a deadly scream, a deadly empathy.  Which is what I feel the story is ultimately about.  The danger and the power of empathy, and xpression.  The danger for those who benefit from hate, and the power of those living under hate's shadow, to express themselves in a way that others understand and resonate with, sometimes to violent effect.  It's an amazing read.

The second story is The Gentlemen of Chaos by A Merc Rustad, from August's Apex Magazine, a story that looks at a main character forced to work for an oppressive system, in this case for an unjust king.  And through this work the main character who has to live under a false name and identity assigned him by the king is used to protect the system, to prop it up.  To keep the king safe.  But the story shows the power of resistance, of taking control of your own narrative, and ultimately being able to fight back, to destroy the lies and the systems of injustice and find some level of peace and hope, that the future can be better.  It's a dark but beautiful story and very worth checking out.

Next is Plea by Mary Ann Mohanraj from October's Lightspeed Magazine.  The story shows a family waiting in line which might not seem that compelling a premise, but they're trying to escape a growing violence against people like them, people who have been genetically modified to live better with their situation.  And the violence coming from people who are intolerant of this, who see them as having unfair advantages, who want to make humanity more human again, like that's an actual thing.  And they're trying to emigrate to avoid the violence threatening them, and the two mothers, Gwen and Rose, have to make a heartbreaking decision in the face of what those they're trying to seek protection with decide about their case.  So it's a story about emigration that is heavy and difficult and reveals that resistance can mean leaving a dangerous system behind, and can also mean not being able to.  Definitely grab a firm hold of your feels before reading this one, and even then be prepared to cry because I definitely did.

Standing on the Floodbanks by Bogi Takács, is another story about seeking to escape an oppressive government, an unjust and violent situation only to find that in conflicts often there is no just side, which I think is something that we don't see enough in SFF.  The main character, ah, Aniyé goes from a tool of war on one side to the opposing side wanting to use her in the same way.  Only through the intervention of someone with power is Aniyé able to resist, to find her own path, which involves exposing the injustices she finds on both sides of the conflict and choosing to work for peace in spite of serving a brutal war.  And I don't think the face that Aniyé needs to rely on aid lessens the theme of resistance in the piece because it's often the situation that those with power do need to give that to other people, do need to protect people in order to give them the opportunity to resist and express themselves and find a way forward.

And lastly I want to talk about The Book of How to Live by Rose Lemberg from Beneath Ceaseless Skies' anniversary October issue. Where the magically named and the magicless unnamed live very different lives.  Where to be magicless is to be lesser, and where a group of those without magical names but with keen intellects and dragon passions to fulfill their potential decide that they aren't content with the scraps they are being offered.  This is a story about how resistance can begin.  About pushing back past hesitation and doubt from all sides and working for something righteous.  And the worldbuilding of the piece is strong, and this is a birdverse story and I am just such a fan of that setting and the narratives coming out of it, and it's an amazing read and one that I have returned to again and again in recent days and weeks to try and remind myself about the work of resistance, about how to go forward even in the face of growing difficulties and tensions.

So yeah there you have it, if you want even more speculative stories on the theme of resistance, I have a large list that came out recently at Quick Sip Reviews.  Otherwise stand strong and fight on.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Thank you Charles.  We'll return to the interview with Ken, and the idea of the stories we tell and how they shape the world we inhabit

JSM - Going back a little bit Ken to your anecdote of asking writers when they chose to be a writer, the number of times that people will ask about the 5 year old & 2 year old, oh were they always so quiet, were they always so, y'know , and it's like "well, no they were never always anything"

KL - Right

*general laughter*

AF - They've only been on the planet for five years

JSM - We like to tell stories

KL - Yes, we like to tell stories, we like to tell stories not just as individuals but as nations. we love to tell origin stories about y'know the origin of the Anglo-Saxon character, the origin of the american nation.  We love these stories.

*HAMILTON INTERSTITIAL* - Immigrants, We Get The Job Done

KL - For a lot of these heroes, they have these unbelievable origin stories, and the question is do they believe it or not? One of the key differences beteween Mata & Kuni is Mata ended up believing his story.  That's what lady Mira's critique and conversation with him was about.  Mira says: look, everybody tells you who you are, and you end up believing that, and that's why you're so sad. Because you, you are living the stories other people tell you are your stories, and that is why you're sad, and that is why you're always worried & always unhappy. I'm not like that, and that's why even thought I am not anything like you, I don't have your power, I'm much better than you in a lot of ways, and that was lady Mira's point. um whereas with Kuni if you recall, he's had those incredible mythmaking moments, he takes up the sword and he chops off a snake's head and everyone thinks like this is a portent and it means that he's going to be the king, he's going to be the emperor, he's gonna be awesome, but even near the very end of the book, he doesn't believe these stories right, because Kogo is like, Kogo makes up this terrible interpretation of the gods portents and says this means that the gods are all in favor of you, yeah lets celebrate! and Kuni says "who knows what the gods really think", and Kogo says "well that doesn't really matter, the people care about what you think" that's all that matters, and Kuni says yeah I guess you're right, but even at that moment Kuni knows that y'know he's not favored by the gods.  He doesn't really believe in favor of the gods, even at that moment he does not believe that Origin story the way Mata believes in his origin story.  Anyway so that's kinda where I was going with that.

*Interstitial Music*

KL - There's this fundamental yearning, by a lot of the characters at least, that the world and the universe is knowable.  And that's fundamentally a very science fictional idea, and so that's why there are large parts of it where the mental outlook of the characters and the way the book treats the world is that kind of science fictional yearning for a sense of wonder.  And it's not necessarily based on the supernatural, but rather on the very idea of humans being able to accomplish great things through the power of technology.  And that is a theme that gets developed more, later on in the other books, ah, that tends to become a more dominant note if you will.

JSM - Now you're making me wonder what the second book will be like if Mata had won instead of Kuni

KL - It would be a very different world, right? A very different world

*Interstitial Music*

Instead of a Favored Book this episode, I'm going to dip into the archives, looking back to when Kip and I talked about books for kids, and a lovely quote from Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon.

KM - Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown, who studied with, basically is writing this under the influence of the theories of Gertrude Stein, about getting at language and learning how kids are going to learn, and she said something marvelous about children being absolutely the best audience for just the raw primal music of poetry.  And that, one of the things that I'm always concerned with, perhaps overly much when I'm writing is the sound of a sentence, the way that it sounds, the rhythm that it strikes and how they flow and a paragraph, so just reading that and finding this connection so long ago on something that I remember from when I was very small,

JSM - mm hmm

KM - she's writing a paper on books for five year olds.  She describes a child who quote carries with him the glamour of a 2-year-olds own small self, the 3-year-olds humor and love of pattern, and 4-year-olds first playful flights into the humor of incongruous things, and finally the 5-year-olds careful watching of his own eyes and ears.  Here is an audience sensitive to the sheer elements of the English language. Translate their playfulness and serious use of the sheer elements of the language into the terms and understanding of a 5-year-old and you have as intelligent and audience in rhythm and sound as the maddest poet's heart could desire.

JSM - Thanks for listening to C&K.  Please let me know what you think of the show.

30 - Representation with Justina Ireland (part 1)

This episode, I am joined by Justina Ireland (@justinaireland) a Young Adult author & purveyor of awesomeness.  Justina often tweets about issues of representation of marginalized identities, and recently launched Writing In The Margins which mentors and facilitates emerging authors so that those whose stories have been silenced by history & societal oppression can find their audience.

I apologize for the delay in new episodes (should be back with a slightly looser format and 2-3 episodes per month), Justina talks about seeing yourself on the page (or not), praises Kate Elliott's Court of Fives, and tells her story of reading Ancillary Justice.  Also Charles Payseur is back to recommend short stories.

(We also briefly alluded to the decision to remove the H. P. Lovecraft bust as the symbol of the World Fantasy Award)

Short fiction recommendations from Charles Payseur (of Quick Sip Reviews)

Letter Writing resources: International Geek Girl Letter Writers, Letter Writers Alliance, The League of Extraordinary Penpals

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

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JSM - Me

JI - Justina Ireland

CP - Charles Payseur

*Intro music*

Welcome to Cabbages & Kings, I'm your host Jonah Sutton-Morse, and I want to start by apologizing for the delay in getting this out.  March got a little bit crazy & I realized it was going to be a little while until I got the new episode out & also I wanted to reimagine the show a little bit, so thank you for your patience.  I am rethinking the show a little bit.  You are probably at the beginning of most episodes going to hear me rambling.  Right now it's about the show, in the future it'll be about what I'm reading.  I am also going to have some more guest spots that I am hoping to integrate.  In this episode we've got Charles Payseur back with some short story recommendations for us.  I will probably as part of this not be holding quite so strictly to the 30 minute limit.  Between me, other guests, and the main interview I would expect the show will often be pushing about 40 minutes, but hopefully as I get better at editing & finding key moments in an interview, that'll move back down.  I am certainly not giving myself permission to go ramble forever. Today is the first of two parts interviewing Justina Ireland.

*Interstitial music*

JSM - My guest this episode is Justina Ireland a young adult author and purveyor of awesomeness.  Among many other things, Justina often Tweets and Tumbls about representation of historically marginalized identities, and I wanted to bring her on to talk about this representation. Specifically what it's like to read an identity presented well on the page, and what exactly presented well even means.  And also ways that reader can see negative presentations deconstructed on the page.  And the ways authors can do that, and present problematic material.

I usually start by asking guests about their path into the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre.  Can you tell us a bit about your reading history & what brought you into the genres that you read.

JI - Sure, yeah, I do read pretty broadly, I read a lot of SFF, that's kind of where my heart has always been. The first I think, I mean most people usually point to something like A Wrinkle In Time as the first book where they fell in love with SFF, and for me it was actually Anne McCaffery's Pern Books.


JI - I actually read the Pern books out of order because you know when you're a poor kid & you go to the library you just take whatever's on the shelf.  So I ended up reading, the first book I ended up reading was DragonsDawn, which is this weird mix of SF & F, and so I spent a lot of time reading that kind of stuff and kind of escaping, because like a lot of kids I had a terrible childhood and so  one of the reasons I like SFF is it gives you this outlet to explore heavy subjects without really exploring those really heavy subjects.  So when you talk about race relations or race issues, there's this automatic instinct to hunch your shoulders and take a defensive posture, but when you're talking about y'know the interplay between cat people & mice people, it's a different kind of interplay.  So I've always liked that ability to look at social aspects or aspects of social justice within fantasy & SF, without really looking at those aspects.

So even within young adult when I read Young Adult books or Middle Grade or whatever I read, there's always that aspect of SFF. Young Adult is a little bit more willing to embrace the idea of representation and this, y'know this diversity soapbox, whereas there's a lot of pushback in the SFF world.

JSM - Yeah

JI - Yeah, and very kind of unexpected pushback - wow I didn't really think anybody could actually thing that way

JSM - I was just going to note, since I often run these well after the interview that this is the weekend after the World Fantasy Award announced Lovecraft will no longer be the bust of the WFA.

So some of tgat pushback & people owning their bigotry is happening online right now.

JI - Right, and I'm just kinda surprised because it's Lovecraft, but like no one (garble) for Poe, like no one is out there picketing the streets because someone talked bad about, um, Bram Stoker.  It's less about Lovecraft & more about the idea of having to give anything, like give any kind of ground.  Like if we let Lovecraft be removed from the WFA then the terrorists win.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Yeah, do you remember either one of, or an early time or a recent time that you found yourself feeling represented in what you're reading?  I'm assuming it did not happen with Dragonsdawn ...


JI - No, so the strangest thing is it was a different Anne McCaffery book, I think it was Elvenborn, which is this realy really kind of terrible book, with humans and elves - Anne McCaffery & Andre Norton are the two writers, they co-wrote it, and it came out in the mid 90's

JSM - I think Lackey was the coathor, so Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey

JI - Yeah, there you go, Andre Norton & Mercedes, thank you

The whole premise of the book is there's an alternate planet fantasy kind of realm where like the royalty they're basically like white plantation owners, and humans are enslaved.  But humans have magic but they're all collared

So, I think Norton died before the series was finished, because there were a couple more books that were supposed to happen.

Anyway, there was this character who was half-human and half-elf, so she has this magic & she finds a way to lead a rebellion, which y'know yadda yadda yadda, but she was the first character I had ever that was kind of existed between two worlds. I'm actually biracial, my mom is white & my father is black, and that was a constant theme when I was growing up, that existence between two worlds, and that kind of fitting in, really in neither world, so when I read this book I was, for me it was kind of like oh, wow, this was really awesome, you can do this! But at the same time I kind of was irritated that you had taken something like the idea of being enslaved, and like chattel slavery and then just put white people in there.  *laugh* which is kind of like a terrible thing, let's talk about slavery without talking about slavery.

JSM - the flip side of fantasy & SF being able to tackle social issues without really tackling social issues.

JI - Right, it's very much a double-edged sword to use a cliched term, but at the same time it was nice to see a couple of authors taking on this idea, and there was a whole bunch of stuff about feminism and like equality within there as well, but mostly it was just nice to see someone take on this idea of, y'know, obviously slavery is inherently bad, but how do you reconcile that with, because by the time you get to the third book you get the elves' point of view and you realize y'know they're thinking feeling people too, they're not all just evil, terrible plantation owners, so how do you reconcile being a good person with participating in this ... kind of system that is, terrible?

JSM - mmhmm

JI - I kind of like really enjoyed that but at the same time

I was kinda like, you took black people out of slavery, and you just completely erased them from the landscape, and we always talk about reading White, and that when you read the default is White unless somebody tells you otherwise, and it was very much, this was very much the case, like the humans had tan skin and the elves had really, really pale skin, and that was really the only variation in skin tone you got in the books.

So, just more recently I read Kate Elliott's Court of Fives, and she does a similar thing.  Her main character is biracial as well, but Kate does a really great job of actually saying this person is half black, and she talks  about how the mother has this very coily hair, how she's very tall, how the main character is very strong, and everyone looks at her and calls her a mule because of her looks, but she does a great job of doing the same thing that Lackey & Norton had done, but without the erasure of people of color, and I think that's so so important, to be able to tackle these very deep ideas of colonialism & identity and actually put them into constructs that don't erase POC.

Because when you don't, you're kind of saying it's a problem but it's not really a problem for those people who are impacted, so you're kind of giving the real meat of the subject short shrift.  So, I'm just really in love with what Kate's done in the book. I'm a sucker for a romance, forbidden romance has always been my deal, y'know I think we can blame Romeo and Juliet for that, but I think she does a great job of acknowledging those cultural differences, and the fact that she can do it as a woman who does have a lot of privilege, she's taken herself out of her current construct and we always talk about the empathy, always trying to find that empathy, and like I won't lie, I've read a lot of books where I think it's going to go well, and there's something in the middle of the story where it's like "oh my god! it just went off the rails! where'd the empathy go?

JSM - mm hmm

JI - And I didn't have that moment with Kate's book, and I think that's just, it's just really nice to be able to lose yourself in a story & not get to a point halfway through where you're like "whelp, here's the part where now I'm upset" and just be able to enjoy the story.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - Going back for a second to sort of noticing ... noticing representation and noticing seeing yourself on the page, do you remember kind of the flip side of that and when you noticed an author or commenter or reviewer or something who was not writing with that empathy and just sort of imagining a world that doesn't include me or that I don't fit into?

JI - I think that's part of the nature of marginalization, after a while you don't expect to see yourself anymore, which is probably kind of the saddest thing of all.  So what happens is when you do see yourself it becomes a huge treat.  I've had this conversation ... my husband is a white dude so you know he has all the privilege, and we've had this conversation a lot and he's like, I don't, I can't imagine picking up a book and not being able to see myself in the pages at some point.  And I'm like y'know it's kind of funny, I'm the opposite, if I pick up a book and I can see myself in the pages, that's pretty exciting, y'know, the majority of the western canon revolves around heterosexual able bodied white men, so y'know you spend your entire childhood reading books that are not about you, everything you read is not about you except for like a couple books about suffering like Sounder and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and I'm thinking even Sounder that's a children's book but it's a male lead, so you go through your entire life being told the world is not for you, that at best you can be like a secondary character.

*Interstitial Music*

JI - It's difficult to say like when did you recognize the world was not for you, I think the bigger question is "when did you recognize the world didn't have to be that way?" And for me as a reader I mean honestly it was probably five years ago that I was like wait a minute, why am I not a main character in a book, and not just like The Bluest Eye which is a book about suffering, something like I can have a happily ever after, you see the same thing in Romance, where you have all these couples and you have, maybe a hundred redheads,  on the page, but god help you if you find a woman of color, and I think that's ... a profound thing to see and to think, hey wait a minute I could be a main character, why am I not a main character? Even thinking like to movies, like it's y'know it's very rare that you even see a woman of color leading in movies.  Now TV has gotten a little better, the percentages are still awful, we're so used to seeing white dudes that even a couple women we're like "oh my god women are taking over!" but yeah I think it's more a fact that I should be able to see myself, but I don't expect to.  And I think that's what makes me sad, is even ... I'm pretty plugged into this stuff, I talk about diversity a lot, I talk about it with my friends a lot, with my husband a lot, I talk about it at work a lot, but even me being somebody who we always say "someone who's woke", I still don't expect it.

For example, back to TV when I watched Empire and I saw, like Cookie (the main character on the show who she served 17 years in jail is Cookie), but she's not a stereotype she's got depth to her, and when I watched that I was like "holy crap! there's a woman who has depth, who has something going on!" because even movies where you have a woman of color starring and she has this role & people are like oh such a moving role & so awesome, it's still reduced to a stereotype.

Like if you look at the movie Precious, that's a terrible movie! It's the most depressing story of the inner-city there is no light in that movie, there is no hope in that movie.  That doesn't mean it's not realistic or authentic, but that's the story that usually gets told.  I always joke that if you're a Woman of Color on TV, you're probably the maid or a slave, or marching for civil rights, the civil rights movement, so like the roles & positions that you see WOC in both in TV and movies, and on the pags of books tend to be very reductive, but then like you look now and you're like we have How To Get Away With Murder and we have Empire and we have all these really great roles for women especially WOC, but then you have Sleepy Hollow where you have a great role for WOC, and then halfway through the second season she's reduced to some sort of caricature again.


So it makes me mad, it makes me mad at myself because I don't expect to see myself anymore, and it makes me mad that why have I given in to that idea so easily when I should demand more representation, instead of just saying "wow I'm excited I have some representation", and as far as bad representation that's *laugh* that's more often than not, to the point where the more the reviews talk about how great & moving a book is, the more I know its going to be a terrible terrible book.  I always call it The Help syndrome.  Like the more mainstream white America likes a book, the more I know it's probably a terrible depiction of people of color.  I think it's a Chris Rock joke who says "the movie that's great about slavery is the one black people want to see not the one white people want to see because Nazis aren't lining up to see movies about the holocaust", right, so if it's an authentic & moving portrayal of slavery for POC, it's probably not going to be something white people want to see.

And that tends to be, that's more that conversation of who are you writing for, who is your lens, because what you see a lot of times is even when authors of color write books, they're still thinking of a white middle-class heterosexual audience and that tends to skew the story that's told.

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JSM - I read Sorcerer of the Wildeeps recently, which is one of TorDotComs novellas, by Kai Ashante Wilson

JI - I haven't had a chance to read it, but I've seen the cover and the cover's amazing.

JSM - The cover's amazing, it is spectacular, it's very secondary world, they're off on an adventure, going traveling through a jungle, but it's a group of caravan guards so it's a group of Men being Men Together and two of them are in love with each other, and many of them are speaking African American Vernacular English, and some of them are speaking French, and there are different varieties of Black Men together, and they have different attitudes towards gay people and different attitudes towards women when they stop off at the caravan stop & there are the brothels down the street, and it was interesting for me reading it, partly because there would be scenes where there would be dialog between 5 or 6 people, and I kind of pick up on what a couple of them were talking about, and ways that a couple of those conversations related to conversations that I've y'know heard people talking about on Twitter and talked about with African American friends, but there was stuff there that I wasn't getting, and it was clear to me that there was some level of discussion of masculinity and black masculinity that just I was not aware of, and I don't have the context for, and that was there in the book, and thinking about who is the author writing for, it's one of the very few times that I've read a book and felt "I don't understand this, this isn't being written for me, I don't have the context to know what's going on there." But I really enjoyed it.

JI - *laughs*, yeah and I think I don't think the book all the time has to be for us.  I think you get something different from a story when you're not necessarily the intended audience.  The problem comes when you're always not the intended audience.  And this is one of the things I talk about a lot with Hamilton, because y'know everything in my brain right now is Hamilton

JSM - Sooo goood.

JI - It's so good, it really is. But one of the things I love about Hamilton is that there's this subtext that you don't get if you aren't necessarily, there's subtext if you're an immigrant in there.  There's subtext about respectability.  Like I talk about Hamilton with some people and they're like, I didn't get that they were doing that.  Like the fact that Burr doesn't Rap, that Burr is always all about being the respectable, black man

JSM - I had missed that ...

JI - right, so when you're listening to it, you get different things from it.  I had a coworker who tried listening to it who said "Oh I didn't like it, it was just too much", and I'm like, well, I understand, I get that, but y'know for me when I listen to it, it reminds me, it's very much like the rap music I listened to in my childhood: y'know old Run DMC and Beastie Boys and that kind of stuff, and then it kind of as you move through the story the styles change and like I have this conversation I think I said with my husband, and his rap touchpoints tend to be different from mine, just because different upbringings, so it's kind of funny that the things he picks up on are not the things I pick up on, so we have these conversation and he's like "oh I see what you're saying I totally missed that" and I'm like "right" and in addition my bachelor's degree's in History, so there's also this historical subtext. And I think not everybody needs to pick up on  every subtext to enjoy the story. But I think it's super-super important to include those groups that don't ever get any kind of subtext to give them a subtext.


There was a YA book, not spec fic, but a contemporary YA called Gabi: Girl in Pieces, and huge portions of the story were in Spanish, the author did that on purpose, she wanted to kind of communicate this experience of being in America and then also being part of this other culture, and y'know people were really upset because they're like I don't read Spanish why is so much of this book in Spanish, but I'm like "if you are a Spanish speaker there's a different story you take away from that."  You can still get the great story even if you aren't able to read the Spanish, being able to read the Spanish helps, now I don't think it was, especially difficult Spanish, there was enough you could google it, google translate is a thing.  But people were really angry that they felt they were left out of this story because they didn't speak Spanish.

And I'm like imagine feeling like that All the Time

JSM- *intensely* THAT'S ...

JI - That's the thing, like imagine you pick up a story and you know like only half the story's going to be for you.  I don't think people understand that's what it feels like to never see yourself reflected in media.  You know going in there's going to be something that's going to make you feel like oh, well this sucks.

That's what happens when you never see yourself reflected, or you see yourself reflected poorly consistently.  Like oh look here comes the magical negro character, obviously they're going to help out and then die in some self-sacrificing heroic act, they never make it through Act II.  so I think it's really important to keep that in mind that y'know not every story has to be for every person, but if you never have any stories for you, that's a huge tragedy.

*Interstitial Music*

JSM - On that note, we're going to take a break to get some short fiction recommendations, then Justina will be back to talk about Ancillary Justice and share a memory of a significant book.

*Interstitial Music*


CP - Dear Listeners, it looks like you're trying to recommend short fiction. Do you need assistance?

Hello, and if that clever intro did not clue you in, I'm going to be recommending some stories today that take the form of letters, and part of why I'm doing this is that I want to show just how versatile the form of the letter is in fiction.  It's very prevalent, it's used all the time, and yet it's done so for a very good reason.  And most of the stories that I'll be recommending today are from 2016, one of them is from 2015, but very still worth checking out.  Without further ado, I'm just going to get straight into it.  There are 5 in total, the first 2 came out in February, important I guess, or appropriate, because February is both the month that includes Valentines day, which these are both romantic stories, or kind of romantic stories and secondly that February is lettermo, so letter writing even more appropriate.  The first appeared at Flash Fiction Online in February and it is Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea by Rachael K Jones and it's this very romantically dark story, so you get that juxtaposition right in the title: love letters / nightmare sea, and it's about two people who had a long distance, or are in a long-distance relationship that is finally coming together and the power of words to overcome barriers.  And to pierce the distance and to get over anxieties and worries.  And it's this very romantic story that is told as a letter to someone who's present but mentally not there.  That sort of feeling of distance between the characters is palpable, and there's also Nightmare Jellyfish which is creepy.  It's just all very well done.

The second story is very different but still very romantic.  It appeared in Uncanny's February content, and it is the Deseret Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Barrevyar by Rose Lemberg and in this one this features letters two-sided.  The letters in the previous story were pretty much one-sided but here you get both sides of the exchange and people meeting for the first time in letters, and establishing a relationship in letters, and talking about art and about distance again and that sense that letters are something that overcomes distance.  That here are two people who are separated not just by miles but by cultures, by climates, by all of these things, that they're just from two incredibly different worlds, linked by the art, linked by the magic that they share, and they have this connection that goes deeply and allows them to sort of bridge the gap between them and take chances that they wouldn't and just it's a very lifting romantic story.

so the first two are like the romantic stories and the theme sort of continues and gets a little darker as we progress.

The next story could be almost considered romantic, but it is more on the erotic side of things.  It appeared in The Flesh Made Word, an anthology of speculative erotica from Circlet Press in later 2015, and it is Rival Pens by Benji Bright.  And that story, it's in a collection of erotica for a reason but it's not exactly what one would call romantic.  It's sensually rich, the tone of it, the voice is charming & it's about two playwrights who are kind of frenemies I guess, or the current term would be frenemies, who are exchanging letters back and forth, and the letters sort of both inspire and destroy each other's muses.  It's like they're sharing a muse, it's like they have the opportunity to do something constructive and instead they decide to be destructive, and the outcome of that is that they're both completely, well, I will not spoil too much, but it's a very evocative and strong piece that uses the form of the letter to, these letters back and forth between them to show just how kind of nasty they can be, just how biting, but also captures this eroticism in the piece that's just very good and worth checking out.

Along a similar vein but darker still we move to a piece that appeared in the first issue of Orthogonal Science Fiction, which was out I believe in late January of 2016, called The First Wife by Sarah L Johnson.  This piece is very short, like the first one that I did, but it is ... very dark.  And it's nicely done, it's like brilliantly done because it's a little bit of a mystery & it has this great twist later on & you're getting this sense of what's going on.  It's taking a very classic kind of letter, one that is normally reserved to something that's much more innocent, and it's making it something that is definitely not.  It's another one that has a great sense of eroticism to it, a dark eroticism definitely but a sensualness and a language that is just sharp and cutting and hits and very much worth checking out, and then we get to the last piece which sort of goes full circle, now we're into like full horror.  So we've transitioned from more romantic sides of things into the more strictly horror side of things.  And this one appeared in Nightmare Magazine's March issue.  And it's the Modern Lady's Letter Writer by Sandra McDonald and this story again is taking the form of the letter & dos something different than all of the other ones.  The other ones were about bridging distances or creating distances, this one is about how letters and language can be used as tools of oppression, and just the ways that letters are used throughout these stories is very interesting.  This one is letters being written to a woman to try & get her to do a specific thing, to get her to fit into a specific role, it's part letter, part etiquette manual, but it's very well done, it captures a feeling of a time & it works itself into a different kind of story, it's a Cthulu-Mythos story which is very well and subtly done here, it's not a monster story, it is definitely one that is exploring the idea of letters & the idea of voice, and the idea of things reaching out in these ways that are unexpected and all of these stories really do an excellent job showing why the form of fiction of letter has endured, and why it probably isn't going anywhere despite the fact that many people don't see letter-writing as exactly a thing to do anymore, which is a shame.

I am a letter-writer myself, I like the old snail mail, and to see these stories just gives me a bit of a uplifting boost even though they're by and large kind of on the darker side of things, they're very much also capturing sort of the strength of why people write letters, the hope that they can inspire, the amount of damage that they can do.  Yes, they have this thing, there's a sort of intimacy and also a facelessness that comes with writing letters that all of these do very well to capture.

And they come from some unusual sources, or at least sources that I feel people don't always look to for Speculative Fiction.  The first two places, Uncanny Magazine & Flash Fiction online are fairly big.  Orthogonal is brand new the last two - Nightmare despite being a SFWA qualifying market & putting out amazing content I don't think gets enough credit for the, it's speculative horror, and I think too often people see the horror aspects and just don't want to look at it.  But it's speculative fiction first and that applies as well to the Circlet piece, which is seculative fiction first, erotica as well.  They're linked, yet, but it's not like the erotica makes it not SFF.  So, there you have it, 5 stories that do an amazing job with the form of the letter.  Most of them from 2016.

For people who might think about getting into snail mail, just on a similar topic, there are a number of geeky ways that you can do that: there is the International Geek Girl Letter Writers, the IGGL, which you can look up.  There is the Letter Writers Alliance, which does a lot of wierd things with the mail, like you can send fake pigeons, there is the League of Extraordinary penpals, which again sort of a geeky letter-writing group, some of them you have to pay for, some of them are free, but, indeed.

Sincerely, Charles Payseur


*Interstitial Music*

JSM - We've talked about the impact of representation, it's scarcity, the problems with chronically stereotyped representation. Justina also talked about her experience reading Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, both in terms of reader representation and also the importance of challenging reader assumptions.

I hadn't read any review I had just heard some buzz it was a really great book, oh that's cool, there hadn't been any cool space operas in a minute that had come across my radar and so I picked it up & I had no idea about the everything was female pronoun, so I'm reading this book & probably a third of the way through I'm like "man there's a lot of women in this book!" and then I'm like "holy shit! that's not really the case right she's just using this female pronoun in like a wierd way", so then I had to go back to the beginning and read again and I was halfway through the book and I was like "why do I care?"

JSM - ah hah

JI - It doesn't matter because she's managed to write a book, Leckie managed to write a book that, like, the main character is empowered enough that like it you assume the main character's, I assume the main character's female regardless of the gender pronouns, but what she kind of did there was kind of give everyone a way into the story, unless you are truly a genderfluid person in which case she kind of didn't do the, that so great, but y'know if you subscribe to like if you're cisgender and you're just kind of like this is my pronoun you could imagine Breq as male just using a female pronoun or you could imagine Breq is truly female.

And for me that was like, it shouldn't be, it's 2015, it's the future, but for me that was groundbreaking because this is the first time I can actually read a story and not worry that the person, that the main character's going to end up falling in love with the wrong person (because that happens all the time when you have a female main character), or doing something stupid so the male character can save her (because that happens all the time when you hve a female main character),

And then this is why I'm excited! I'm excited to read, read something that's truly gender-neutral.  I'm excited to read something that's truly genderfluid, I'm excited to read a fantasy with a trans main character. because y'know when you take people out of their comfort zone & when you give them that thing they're not expecting and you do it well, it opens up whole new ideas. I'm Cis, I don't think about gender as much as I do in terms of y'know feminism, so I don't think about gender identity and the more I read about it, the more I think about it, the more I think about it, the more I questions how we interact in the world, and I think the more I question how we interact in the world the more I'm open and receptive to new ideas.

*Interstitial Music*


JSM - Each episode closes with a memory of a significant book: The Right Book at the right time, an interesting find, or just something that stuck around.

*Interstitial Music*

JI - Probably my favorite book, we were just talking about Jemisin, that I read and the book that I was like it doesn't have to always be this way! Was the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  I picked that up kind of on accident, somebody had given it to me & they were like "you have to read this book" & I was like "Okay" and it was somebody who actually didn't like Fantasy, so that's always a nice thing when somebody who doesn't like fantasy is like you like fantasy, you'll like this book.

But it was just amazing! Like, I am a huge, huge, fan of the pantheon fantasy where you have the gods kind of the meddling gods in the story but to be able to finally read a story where you had POC, where you had brown people feature prominently, and you also had, she was, back again being between two worlds, the main character in that book is also biracial, and that was my first book I ever read and I'm like y'know you could write a fantasy with POC and it doesn't have to be reductive & POC don't have to be orcs or some other type of fantastical creature, you could have just really well-done fantasy that doesn't feel alienating, and that was kind of the first book I read and I was just, this, and it's still on my shortlist whenever someone's like "I want to start reading fantasy what should I start with?" That's the one I hand them. Without fail.

JSM - Yeah, it's so good.

JI - It's so good

JSM - That was another one I had to read more than once, the first time through for me it was all about Nahadoth and Sieh & her relationship with the gods and the romance going on there, and I just, I was at that point kind of walking away from fantasy because I'd been reading the same book over and over again by lots of different authors with lots of different titles and then I read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and sooo good.

JI - Yeah, you're right it did come at a time where everything was very much the same, I saw a quote on Twitter the other day: "Maybe you're not tired of Fantasy, maybe you're tired of old white kings camping in the woods?"

That's really the thing, how has something that allows us to dream as big as we want to dream become so reductive? Like how does that happen?

Jemisin is, she's my literary hero!

*Interstitial Music*

JSM- Thanks for listening to Cabbages & Kings, please let me know what you think of the show!