Tag: pirates

Top Ten Queer Characters

  1. Innon – The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin. A bi, poly pirate who’s also really hot. *mic drop*
  2. Sissix – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers. Sissix and Rosemary’s relationship is one of my favourite things about this book. They actually TALK about things instead of trying to guess at what the other person’s feeling. And visibly support each other. Also! I think this was the first queer SF book I read, and I read it when I was just starting to come out (to myself as much as anyone), and I was so grateful that Sissix/Rosemary could exist.
  3. Nyx – God’s War, Kameron Hurley. “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.” Boom! Nyx is bi – as are most of the characters in the novel, actually – and defiantly, violently female, and lord knows she’d be a terrible person to have dinner with but she’s a great character to read about.
  4. Lila – A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab. Lila is a cross-dressing, genderfluid steampunk pirate who (at least in the first book) shows no interest in romance, and it’s great.
  5. November – Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente. I mean. Everyone in Palimpsest is queer. I like November most, though: I’m drawn to lonely, unassuming characters trying to fill the spaces left by their hopes.
  6. Alma – The Real-Town Murders, Adam Roberts. So Alma is here because she’s incredibly unusual in fiction: she’s in a long-term relationship with another woman, who she cares for 24/7. And they’ve been together so long (and Marguerite is so ill) that it’s not even particularly romantic any more. It’s a couple dynamic we see very rarely in fiction – although Roberts presents it so matter-of-factly it’s easy to miss how radical it is.
  7. Pencil Khan – The Glass Republic, Tom Pollock. Pen’s another really unusual character: a teenage girl, practising Muslim and trauma survivor who gets a queer romance that’s believable and adorable without getting in the way of the very real dangers she faces. All this is brilliant in a YA novel.
  8. Ingray Aughskold – Provenance, Ann Leckie. This is another novel where Everyone is Queer (the best kind of novel), and Ingray’s developing crush on a female police captain is just adorable. And one of those romances that make you want to shout “JUST KISS ALREADY!”
  9. Avice Benner Cho – Embassytown, China Mieville. I just remembered this one! Avice is in an asexual relationship with her husband Scile, because they don’t enjoy sex together but still want to be partners. Which is another unusual, and welcome, dynamic.
  10. Fevvers – Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter. OK, so it’s never confirmed that Fevvers is in a relationship with her chaperone? agent? friend? Lizzie, but my word this book is definitely queer. And Fevvers is brilliant: larger than life, subversively feminine, altogether wonderful.

(The prompt for this post comes from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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Top Ten Books for Steampunks

A Brief Definition of Steampunk as it lives in my head, because some of these are maybe stretching the definition of “steampunk”: steampunk is alt-history for the marginalised. The “-punk” part is important. Steampunk – good steampunk – punches our historical prejudices in the face. It lets women fly dragons for the Aerial Corps. It lets spinsters roll around with hot werewolves while solving murders in gorgeous dresses. It has artificial intelligences that run on programme cards and wheels made so pi is exactly three and cities that eat each other. It lets conmen take down corporate bastards and apprentices watch their decadent cities burn and petty thieves live with their rich lesbian lovers. It’s fun. It’s subversive (maybe only to a limited extent, but). It lives in capitalism and finds ways to resist it.

I’ll shut up now.

  1. Soulless – Gail Carriger. This is just so much fun. It’s the first novel in Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and it follows a spinster who, yeah, rolls around with hot werewolves while solving a murder. It is brilliantly camp (seriously, there’s a gay vampire who wears outrageously colourful Victorian outfits and it’s amazing) and somehow ridiculously British despite being written by an American, and all that semi-repressed Victorian sexuality? Is. Steamy.
  2. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve. This is young young adult (say, early Harry Potter age), but when I read it last year I was seriously impressed by how it manages to do working-class post-apocalyptic steampunk. By which I mean: one of steampunk’s big flaws is that it tends to be interested in bourgeois middle-class characters who, if they’re not exactly rich, at least have enough to get by comfortably. But the young protagonists of Mortal Engines are very much considered second-class citizens by their rapaciously capitalist/Darwinistic society, and so the novel becomes a critique of capitalism and colonialism and privilege. And it’s still definitely steampunk: it has airships and cities on caterpillar tracks and neo-Victorian social structures. It’s very cool.
  3. Steampunk Fashion – Spurgeon Vaughn Ratcliffe. This is essentially a coffee-table book showcasing various steampunk costume designers. I flick through it reasonably regularly when I feel like doing steampunk for the day. Like a lot of steampunk fashion, it is inordinately interested in women wearing outfits that supposedly say “sexy airship pirate!” or “sexy explorer!” but actually say “sexy accident waiting to happen!” (JEEZ, PEOPLE, WHAT KIND OF OUTFIT IS THIS TO WEAR IN AN APOCALYPSE?) But it does also have plenty of steampunk fashion that actually looks like something someone would reasonably wear in an alternative neo-Victorian timeline. And is also sexy. (If I ever have a spare £500 floating around, I will seriously consider a jacket like this. Till then, I must content myself with slightly less-than-excellent-quality steampunk items from Camden Market.)
  4. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. This is steampunk, but…weird. It’s got an artificial intelligence that’s assembled itself from scrap metal and corpses, and little half-intelligent machines that run on programme cards, and a huge sprawling city threaded by a web of train lines with a huge hulk of a station at its heart, and a mad inventor trying to solve the mysteries of flight. But. You know. It also has human-alien sex scenes, and an embassy from hell, and monsters that make your mind dribble out of your ears, and a stewing revolution. This book, you guys. It’s steampunk and then some.
  5. The Scar – China Mieville. It’s in the same series as Perdido Street Station, and it still feels steampunk to me, but it has a slightly different flavour of steampunk. In other words, it has steampunk pirates. It’s set on a socialist floating city that trundles around the sea living off what it can steal. If Armada isn’t quite my favourite fictional city, it’s very close.
  6. Everfair – Nisi Shawl. Everfair‘s not exactly steampunk to me – it’s alt-history without the playful -punk suffix. But it’s at least marketed as steampunk, and it feels important enough to deserve a place on this list. Like Mortal Engines, it deals with the colonialist, bourgeois prejudices of traditional steampunk head-on. Its characters build a new society in which people who are usually excluded from mainstream accounts of history can find a home – the victims of colonialism, the queer people, the Christian missionaries who assimilate into local religions, the women, the socialists, the exiles. There are difficulties and conflicts. Utopia recedes constantly out of reach. But there’s also compromise that allows people to live together – things aren’t perfect for anyone, but they’re as good for everyone as they can possibly be.
  7. Going Postal – Terry Pratchett. I…am totally not including this here because of Adora Belle Dearheart. Nope. Not at all. Seriously, though, is there anything more steampunk than the clacks: like the internet, but with semaphore? Than a story about a man who invents stamps and hires golems and generally cons everyone into supporting the Post Office? It’s so adorably Dickensian, but without Dickens’ shitty gender politics. (Did I mention Adora Belle Dearheart?)
  8. Retribution Falls – Chris Wooding. Talking of shitty gender politics…well, things could be worse, but Retribution Falls isn’t quite the model of equality I’d like it to be. It’s here because, like Soulless, it’s riotous fun, and because, like The Scar, it has pirates. Maybe it tips a little closer to dieselpunk than steampunk – but it still has that anti-authoritarian alt-history streak I associate with steampunk.
  9. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters. This is probably the least steampunk of any of the books on this list: it’s actually just Victorian pastiche, but I’m including it here because its central couple consists of a rich heiress and the thief girl who’s sent to pose as her servant and rob her. AND THEN THEY FALL IN LOVE, and it’s a novel about how they both navigate the gender constraints of Victorian society to try and find each other again; to try and create a space where they can be together. It’s every bit as tense and heartwarming as it sounds.
  10. Palimpsest – Catherynne Valente. This…is steampunk in almost no traditional sense. It’s quite obsessed with trains, and that’s the main reason why it’s here – or, rather, the main excuse for its being here. Really it’s here because its fictional city Palimpsest feels very Victorian: it’s symbolic and meaningful and layered in a way that modern cities in fiction rarely are. It carries a weight of meaning. Crucially, it’s also a queer city: a city where real things are queered, and a city that only the queer can really reach.

(The prompt for this post comes from the Broke and the Bookish’s recently retired meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Review: A Universal History of Iniquity

I suspect A Universal History of Iniquity was the wrong place to start with Borges, which is what happens when you pick up books on a random whim at the library. It was shelved under “Short Stories”; this was a lie. It’s actually a collection of short, pulpy biographical pieces about renowned criminals and con artists from history, including such colourful and varied individuals as Billy the Kid, Arthur Orton (the claimant in the Tichborne case) and female Chinese pirate captain Ching Shih.

They were first published in a newspaper called Critica, which seems to have been the 1930s Argentinian equivalent of The Sun. Which gives you a good idea of what these pieces are like, tonally.

Probably the most interesting thing about them is their truth-value, which, as you’d expect from a writer of Borges’ reputation, is very dubious. As translator Andrew Hurley helpfully explains, Borges plays merry hell with his sources, quoting them extensively in some passages without mentioning it, while fabricating direct quotes elsewhere. (Which is, come to think of it, not unlike the kind of journalism employed in The Sun. YES, I WENT THERE.)

I’m not sure, though, exactly what the point of this is. The pieces themselves feel slight, unstriking, forgettable, if reasonably nicely written; Borges describes them in an introduction as “baroque”,

that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature…the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders its resources.

I’d be interested in thinking with this quotation about Gothic texts like Gormenghast or House of Leaves, but I have no idea how to engage with it in the context of A Universal History of Iniquity. The pieces are too insubstantial to claim that they exhaust their own possibilities.

It’s possible that this is all an elaborate joke about the ephemerality of authorship, the flimsiness of authority, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’d enjoy that joke more if I’d actually read any of Borges’ major works. Which I will! A Universal History of Iniquity hasn’t put me off, but it hasn’t exactly whetted my curiosity either.

Top Ten Sequels I’d Like to Read

  1. The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin. This is on my TBR pile! I will read it soon! I promise! (Not least because The Fifth Season was one of my top 10 books of 2017 – seriously, if you haven’t read it, you should get on that soon.)
  2. Infidel – Kameron Hurley. I have been wanting to read this for ever (since I read God’s War, in fact), but it suffers severely from the First Law of Libraries, which is that if a library has the first book in the series it will never, ever have the second, and vice versa.
  3. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers. Apparently this is due out in July. I. AM. EXCITED.
  4. Changeless – Gail Carriger. This is the second Parasol Protectorate novel; the first, Soulless, is probably the best self-consciously steampunk novel I’ve read in terms of pure fun.
  5. Minority Council – Kate Griffin. My faith in the Matthew Swift series has been shaken a little, but it has not yet fallen! Plus, I have definitely seen it in my local library. It exists. I shall read it.
  6. The Black Lung Captain – Chris Wooding. Retribution Falls had its problems, but it was fun to read, and sometimes you do just need a world to curl up in.
  7. The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman. This is the sequel to The Book of Dust; the title implies that it will focus on the more fantastical elements of that first novel, which were the bits I thought didn’t work so well, but we also get to meet grown-up Lyra, so it might be worth it.
  8. Raven Strategem – Yoon Ha Lee. There were things I liked about Ninefox Gambit – it was certainly different, and not afraid to plunge readers in at the deep end. I’d probably get the sequel from the library rather than buying it, though.
  9. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home – Catherynne M. Valente. I have my doubts about this one: the later Fairyland books are all a little less magical than the rest of her work. But I have to read this at some point, just for the sake of completeness.
  10. The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I have to admit, I kind of lost interest in the Long Earth series: all the books essentially tell the same story. But at least this last Pratchett will almost certainly be better than the later Discworld novels.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Ten Characters Who Should Have Their Own Novel

  1. November – Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente. November is admittedly one of the protagonists of Palimpsest, but there are also four of them, so we don’t get to spend that much time with her. I’d love to know more about her past, or even her future in Palimpsest.
  2. Balthamos – The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman. It could be called THE ADVENTURES OF A SARCASTIC GAY ANGEL. (Except it couldn’t, because that’s a terrible title.)
  3. Adora Belle Dearheart – Going Postal, Terry Pratchett. THE ADVENTURES OF A STEAMPUNK BUSINESSWOMAN WHO AIN’T TAKING YOUR SHIT.
  4. Innon – The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin. I couldn’t remember his name when I was brainstorming this list, so I called him “that bisexual pirate from The Fifth Season“. Which just about covers it all, really.
  5. Belladonna Took – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. Because there’s a point when Gandalf refers to her as “poor Belladonna”, and as far as I know nobody ever explains why. Also, The Hobbit uses the word “she” once. Once.
  6. Lieutenant Tisarwat – Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie. What’s it like being half-tyrant? Not really knowing who you are any more? Tisarwat is a fascinating character who deserves more screentime.
  7. Foaly – Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer. Foaly is hands-down the best supporting character in Colfer’s series: sarcastic and paranoid and clever and brave in his own way. How did he end up as LEPrecon’s version of Q?
  8. Catherine Harcourt – Temeraire, Naomi Novik. What’s it like being a woman in the Aviator Corps? Does she experience sexism from her fellow officers? Her crew? How does she feel about being completely and irrevocably cut off from genteel society? Does she want to get married? Did she always know she was going to be an aviator? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
  9. Mogget – Sabriel, Garth Nix. We know that Mogget gets up to all kinds of mischief between his appearances in the books. How does he manage that? And why? There’s also an opportunity here to explore the morality of enslaving Mogget: on the one hand he’s a highly dangerous Free Magic creature; on the other hand, he’s a sentient being, and definitely unhappy with his situation. The books don’t really go into this, but there could be a rich seam of storytelling here.
  10. Miranda Carroll – Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel. Miranda gets one of my favourite lines ever: “You don’t have to understand it. It’s mine.” I’d like to know more about the comic she’s writing about Station Eleven, about her marriage to Arthur Leander, about her life before the flu comes.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

50-Word Review: Retribution Falls

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding

Retribution Falls is a steam/dieselpunk romp with an ensemble cast of sky pirates. As many reviewers have noted, it’s not dissimilar to Firefly – except it’s less interested in undercutting our narrative expectations. Unsurprisingly, the women get short shrift here (TW for sexual violence), and the ending’s consolatory. Fun, though.

50-Word Review: Master and Commander

Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows hot-headed Captain Aubrey as he hunts enemy ships. A meticulously-researched comedy of manners, the novel’s interested in the social structures of the time. Published in 1969, it’s essentially conservative, centring a white man, but does feature a gay man and POCs.

Word count: 50