Feminist YA SFF by Melissa Eastlake

Greetings! By the time you read this, I will probably be in Canada enjoying some maple-syrup-covered delights. That’s what people eat in Canada, right? In all seriousness, I’m told the bagels use maple syrup somehow and it makes them extra delicious.

This week, we have a lovely post by Melissa on her favorite feminist speculative fiction young adult books. A mouthful, but totally worth a read. Her bio is at the end, so please check her out!


When I was a young reader, YA fantasy felt more real to me than the world I lived in. The books I loved were fun or beautiful, but they also explained power and politics in an evocative way that history class couldn’t—or wouldn’t—analyze. I’ve been a devoted YA reader and writer ever since. With a sharp, discerning audience and fast pace, YA is on the leading edge of realistic representation. Since I know Amanda’s readers are interested in feminist fantasy, I’m here to share a few of my favorite feminist stories in YA SFF.

Ash by Malinda Lo

This queer retelling of Cinderella is a contemporary classic, and one of the books that expanded my ideas about YA, fairy tales, and stories themselves could be. Love triangles in YA catch a lot of flack, but in deft hands they turn romances into stories about choice and agency. Fairy tale characters can lack agency as allegorical worlds or authorits pull them toward allegorical fates. Ash flips that convention, telling a story about a girl finding her decisiveness and voice. She chooses not only between lovers but between worlds.

“Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton, from The Anatomy of Curiosity

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a writing book, pairing novellas with essays and marginalia that explore different elements of craft. “Desert Canticle” is a master class in inventive, meaningful worldbuilding. Characters from two conflicting cultures working together to defuse magical bombs in a war-ravaged desert world. The magical system is just gorgeous, and the matriarchal society and character arcs explore how gender conventions are created—and create us. Writer or not, you’ll think in new ways about how worlds are built.

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles explores gender and sexuality in its worldbuilding, as well: there are three genders, asexuality is named and accepted, and bisexuality is normalized. These conventions are woven into a unique and fascinating desert world, revealed along with complex relationships and a vivid magical system. Khya, the main character, is forced to question stories she’s always accepted, and she finds the process as eye-opening—and devastating—as many of us right here on earth do.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

For worldbuilding that explores power and identity in a way that’s accessible to younger readers without ever talking down to them, this lower YA/middle grade novel is perfect. You’ve got beloved fantasy tropes, with a young girl learning to use her magical powers and fighting a big bad with a team of friends, as well as a deep exploration of Nigerian mythology and a cast of characters who are funny, relatable, and diverse across many intersections.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

My personal favorite is contemporary fantasy that puts a magical or supernatural twist on the world we live in. Paper Valentine is set in a normal town, combining a wonderfully strange, tender ghost story with the threat of a serial killer. Without preaching, it reflects on the power structures between and around girls.


Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and dog. Find her on Twitter @melissa_e.

A few recent reads

I’ve been reading a lot lately, because I’ve been super stressed, which means that I read every spare minute. Don’t ask me why this is. I can’t tell you. You would think that, being stressed, I would engage directly with my stressors and then take my time to enjoy books, but not. I’ve just been spamming everything and screaming internally.

The upside of this is that I have read a lot of good stuff recently. Most of my recent reads have been novellas, but I’ve also devoured some novel-length pieces (always more satisfying for me). So what have I been reading? So glad you asked.

Final Girls – I actually went on a binge of Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) around the first of the month and read a bunch of stuff, including some of her free and Patreon-supported short stories in the Toby universe. That was after I read this novella, which was good in the way all ghost stories and haunted houses are good. I highly recommend.

Binti – I’m not sure what I was expecting from this novella, but it wasn’t exactly what I got. That’s not a bad thing. I can definitely see why it won so many awards, and I’m excited for the next one, though it’s not on my immediate to-read list. That said, I think that I will need to read the actual book next time, instead of listening to the audiobook. I love Robin Miles, but audiobook of a novella is a little too brief for me, I think. It was perfect for my drive back from a conference, though!

She Wolf and Cub – I’ve read a lot of Lilith Saintcrow, and I enjoy her stuff. Her worldbuilding is solid, as always, and her system of magic (or in this case, science) is inventive. Sandworms, dystopias, nanobots, and one really made lady – sign me up! I enjoyed this book, though it’s one of the more pulpy ones on this list.

One Fell Sweep – Speaking of pulpy, this is a new book by Ilona Andrews, who always fits that bill. Space vampires and lots of explosions lie within. Check it out if you need something light, but beware – it’s the third in a series.

A Closed and Common Orbit – Reading A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is not a prerequisite for this book in my opinion. That said, it does spoil a small part of the ending of the Hugo-nominee, so if you were planning to read that to see what the fuss was about you might want to get on it before you read this book. I liked this one loads better than Small, Angry Planet, which I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of, mostly because the pacing didn’t quite work for me. A solid book, with two powerfully complex and interesting characters narrating.

All Systems Red – This is a novella, and it is by Martha Wells, and if you know anything about my reading habits, you know I love Martha Wells. Admittedly, you may not realize because she puts out new stuff a little less frequently than, say, McGuire. Anyway, read her stuff, all of it is phenomenal and this novella is no exception. Hands down, Wells remains one of my favorite writers.

On my to read list for my honeymoon and the strenuous two weeks leading up to it, I have:

Depictions of AI

Hey, friends. This weekend is Roanoke Author Invasion! I’m bringing a bunch of books and oddments, so I hope to see you there! I promise to take more pictures this time and post them for you next week, but until then please enjoy this discussion of robots and artificial intelligence.

A few weeks ago I finished Lightless  by C.A. Higgins. It was a masterful book that depended uniquely on interpersonal conflict. Yes, there were explosive moments, but most of the tension was constructed through dialogue and interactions between characters. I definitely recommend this book if you’re interested in reading a good example of solid character-driven plot. I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you haven’t read this book, so my recommendation would be to go read it and come back at this point. We also might see spoilers for a few other books and movies going forward, specifically Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, but I will warn you ahead of time.

Still here? Good.

lightless

One of the characters in Lightless was actually a computer. Ananke was originally not sentient, but gains sentience over the course of the book due to some unfortunate or fortunate events. The depiction of Ananke and her decision-making processes was probably my favorite part of this story. Althea, whom she views as something like her mother, grows to simultaneously love, fear, and hate Ananke – understandable when you essentially have a five year-old-who is devoted to you but has the power to asphyxiate you if you piss her off. I always find meditations on the psychology of an artificial intelligence interesting and I wanted to compare and contrast some other, very differing examples of AI from some recent stories I’ve come across.

One of the oldest versions of an AI story that I’ve found is that of the German silent film Metropolis. You may remember me mentioning this movie in my post on Feminine horror and Ex Machina. In that post I focused more on feminist critique, but we’re going to sidestep the gender issue for a minute (I know, shocking) and just look at the construction of an artificial intelligence in the context of the plot for this movie. The AI in Metropolis is clearly a servant of the devil, possibly being the embodiment of that spirit. Its goal is, simply, to destroy mankind and the works that he has built (“he” being used here because, in the world of Metropolis, there don’t seem to be a lot of women building things – product of its time I suppose). Thus, we see an early depiction of AI as something unnatural and to be feared.

In a more recent iteration of AI, we can look at Ex Machina. Again, see my feminist critique of this movie above. In this iteration of an AI, we see something that is still alien and inhuman. It is not necessarily an ethical creation either. Yet there is some attempt to give this AI reasonable motives for harming others – specifically self-preservation. That said, AI are still not presented as equal to human beings per se, or rather, both humans and AI are evil and twisted in different ways. It remains a pretty dark view of AI, if more nuanced.

Yet a third example of AI can be found in River of Gods by Ian McDonald. (SPOILERS)

river-of-gods

In this story, there are various types of artificial intelligence that have evolved from computer programs. They do not need bodies, since they can download and replicate their programming infinitely in the world of data. The one AI that does seek to grasp at humanity or something like it does so in order to better understand humankind. I’ll leave her unnamed in order to hopefully shield you from being too keyed to what happens in the book. (Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, look away now.) This AI is brutally murdered, at last understanding the desperation of humanity all too well. She is represented as nearly saintly, sacrificing herself for the good of her kind and humanity. I have to be honest, this book made me enraged – not so much at our decisions as human beings, but at the rules that entrap our corporal selves. In this case, AI is imagined as an evolution towards something more inherently free and everlasting than humanity. It’s a stark contrast against the demonic robot of Metropolis and the very impermanent Ava.

I would argue that Ananke from Lightless most closely resembles Ava as something that is alien and makes decisions with a logic that is not human. Ananke, however, has managed to include emotions that are not logical in her personality – anger comes to mind. Love, or something like it, is another emotion that she consistently expresses. She is a somewhat unique take on AI in that the implication is that those emotions, such as they are, are real in her. Her development is presented almost as that of a child. In that respect, she may more closely resemble the AI in River of Gods who goes among humans. I particularly like this representation, as it seems very believable to me. It makes sense that an AI would take time to come into itself, and that it might want to model itself off of the other beings around it – specifically, people.

There are numerous other depictions of AI in all different stripes out there, and it is always fascinating to see a new take. Do you have a favorite?

MystiCon schedule

Hey everyone! Taking a brief break from cover reveal stuff for a special MystiCon Schedule post!! Check out the panels, readings and signings I will be doing below.

Reading – Friday at 4:30 pm, Room 533

If you want to hear an excerpt from the upcoming Daughter of Madness, check in here! I’ll post the excerpt up on the blog the following weekend for those who can’t make it.

Panel – “It’s the End of the World”, Friday at 6:00pm, Ballroom C

We’re going to talk about apocalypses! I’ve got some fun projects I’m querying in this vein, and I LOVE dystopias, so I am very, very excited.

Signing – Saturday at 11:00 am

I’ll be taking over one of the signing tables at eleven! Come out to get free swag, sign up for the newsletter, buy a book, or chat about your favorite characters!

Panel – “Epic Scale Fiction”, Saturday at 4:00pm, Dogwood 1

I’ll probably mostly talk up the Creation Saga and the epic fantasies I have loved that have inspired it. Maybe there will be some LotR and ASOIAF references!

Panel – “I Must Create a System”, Sunday at 9:00am, Ballroom C

I actually have no clue what this panel is about or how I got on it, since I intentionally was trying not to schedule things for the morning. Wee!

Panel – “The Last Race Benders/Gender Benders”, Sunday at 11:00am, Dogwood 1

I am ridiculously excited to talk about gender/race bending in ANYTHING.

Panel – “Viewer’s Guide to Anime”, Sunday at 2:00pm, Ballroom E

Anime is the best. I will probably talk about my pet peeve of how everyone assumes all anime characters are white and obviously they are Japanese???? Unless otherwise specified??? Otherwise mostly glorious anime goofiness and how I love reverse harems. Yep.

I hope to see you all there! If you need more information, you can check out their website.

 

 

 

Inspiration for THE CREATION SAGA: Books

So the draft of Daughter of Madness is done, and the edits continue. While we wait, here is the second piece of the cover reveal, and a list of some of the books that inspired The Creation Saga or which The Creation Saga might inspire you to read. You can find the first piece of the cover in this post about music.

Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

This book contains a lovely re-imagining of the immortal fairy. You will see some familiar elements that I didn’t intentionally mimic, I swear, but which creep in regardless: the twins as main characters and royal heirs, the king imprisoned, dark magics which undermine the self. It’s a lovely series from a writer who is praised as one of the foundational scribes of modern fantasy. You may be most familiar with Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, which I read as a wee lass of thirteen or somewhere around then.

shadowmarch-series_mini

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

This book started a revolution in the fantasy genre, so it’s no surprise that it would inspire me and many other writers. One of the things I like the most about Martin’s writing is that his women are complex and just as terrible (sometimes more terrible) as the men they interact with. Melisandre comes to mind as a fiery lady you do not want to mess with, and Arya as a relatively sweet child who is twisted into a murderer. Cersei, who you can’t help but admire in a crazy, screwed up way, and Sansa, who you go from pitying to possibly fearing – these are the kinds of women that interest me the most. These evolutions definitely inspired some of the character arcs in The Creation Saga.

The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lyn Flewelling

Compared to the previous two series, this is a lesser known book. That said, it is probably the one that had the most overt influence over my writing. This book is messed up at best. It’s about a princess and prince who are born together –
problem being that the princess is set to inherit and will be murdered by her uncle if she survives. So her caretakers murder her brother and essentially pass her off as him. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but this book is definitely worth reading if you liked Mother of Creation.

 

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

hero-and-the-crown

Who, looking at the cover of this book, would not want to read it? I’ll confess that I read this book after I had written Mother of Creation, and while I was deep in the Daughter of Madness draft. It was so…echoing, to read this. Nostalgia, perhaps? I’m not sure, but the themes in this book are very much themes that come up in the Creation Saga, perhaps more than in the other books on this list in some ways. So if you are enjoying that, I recommend. Plus, there’s a dragon.

Okay, now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Check out those eyes.

dfw-am-dom-cover-proof2-4

 

 

Some upcoming dates

Early post this week to update you on some upcoming events! And while we’re here, some discussion of what’s been going on in my life! You’ll get a regular post on Friday about some fun Daughter of Madness inspiration, but stop in with me for a moment to get up to date.

This weekend I will be at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other local writers. Maybe I’ll come out of it with a new critique group, or a lead on one! MystiCon is also coming up at the end of February, and I’m very excited to be on several panels for that con. I’ll remind you again closer to time. As always, all of my upcoming events are on my events page. Really, this reminder is the reasons for this post! I’ll likely have some books for signing, so if you see me, snag them while I have them!

In other news, things have been busy at the start of the new year, which is perhaps unsurprising. These separations are mostly artificial, after all. I’m happy to say that the house hunting is on the back-burner, for now, leaving me juggling Daughter of Madness (nearly done with a first draft, more on that soon) and wedding stuff mostly, in addition to the day job. This is a welcome state of affairs.

On the wedding front, in fact, we are making great progress. I’ll be getting married end of May in a rather informal affair, but we needed to check some basic boxes for sanity’s sake. A venue for people to gather in, since there wasn’t one big enough in the family that anyone felt up to volunteering, and a caterer to feed folks. Those, happily, are pretty much firmed up. There’s more to do – decorations are a huge thing, rings to order, and just generally coordinating an event like this is a big deal. So there is a lot more to do, but I finally feel like I’m moving instead of just standing still waiting for the train to hit me.

We also had snow at the beginning of the month! Followed by MLK day, it means that I’ve had a lot of time off recently to cook and hang out with folks. It’s been great for my writing productivity, honestly. These are the things that help me make words, after all. Good food, good time with friends, tea and beer and time outside. I even went for a run a few days ago, which was monumental!

 

A picture from one of my snow hikes.

 

In other news, I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot. I devoured Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire this month, chewed through Earth Logic, sequel to Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks, and have also enjoyed The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. I’ve also been chipping away at Upside Downa collection of short stories put out by Apex Books. I promised them a review when I’m finished, but I forgot how slowly I read short story collections. I’ll have to keep that in mind for ARCs I snag in the future, since it’s not nice to keep folks waiting. It’s just hard for me to digest a story and move on to the next one – I can only read about three short stories in a day at most. The completion is the best part, after all.

Other story consumption has included watching Mushi-Shi with the S.O. He has really enjoyed it. The animation style is very clean, and the stories are eerie and whimsical and sometimes tragic. Some of it has unfortunately gotten stuck in my head – I’ve had a couple of Mushi-Shi inspired nightmares, actually. That said, it’s solid storytelling, and refreshingly original – or, at least, based so thoroughly in another culture that it feels original, which is just as good for a devourer of stories like me. We’ve also been watching Cowboy Bebop still, which is a very different anime of course.

For Christmas I got The Cat Returns, which is one of the few Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen yet, so that is on our to-watch list. We’ve also got Grave of the Fireflies now, though that’s going to have to wait for the right time to watch since I know we’re both going to cry through it. That movie is so gut-wrenching, but it’s definitely worth watching. It gives great context to the effect of WWII on the Japanese, and it is beautifully done. So those are in the pipeline on the anime front. I’m excited to see what the S.O. thinks of them.

I’m also hoping to read March soon, since I got it for the S.O. for Christmas as well. He says its really good so far.

What have you been reading lately?