21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 16: Filter House

Books & Mags

Continuing my latest reading project with Filter House by Nisi Shawl. Published in 2008, it is a collection of 14 short stories.

21 Authors Filter House

The collection is mixed (sub)genre-wise: some of the stories are scifi, some fantasy, some speculative / weird. There are also a couple of tales influenced by or modeled on folklore or mythology. There’s also a variety of settings: from undisclosed to Detroit to exoplanets and pretty much everything in between.

The stories are about magic, race, power and relationships. Most are serious stories, even though some have humorous elements or events. Some (like “The Raineses’,” “The Pragmatical Princess” and “The Water Museum”) I’d love to see expanded into a longer work.

The name of the anthology comes from a house-like structure that larvaceans (small marine filter feeders) create to concentrate floating nutrients as a survival mechanism. I believe it’s meant as a framing device to unify the varied stories, but for me it’s the one feature that’s confusing about the collection and doesn’t quite work.

A number of the stories just threw you into the thick of it with little or no explanations. It took a mental adjustment, but it’s to Shawl’s credit how economically she’d get you acquainted with each setting after getting the stories going.

The stories were almost entirely hit or miss for me, and mostly the former; there were very few that I’m unsure about. Overall a polished, imaginative, quick read with many different voices. I’m definitely going to be checking out Shawl’s new novel Everfair.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 14: Bodies in Motion

Books & Mags

My latest reading project rolls on with Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj (published in 2005).

21 Authors Bodies in Motion

The collection turned out to be a kind of a family chronicle with interlinked or related short stories. Mohanraj herself calls it, aptly, a novel-in-stories. The stories follow the lives of two families over 60 years, but each piece focuses on different, occasionally recurring characters.

There are twenty stories, presented chronologically and grouped into six sections including beginnings, interlude and epilogue. The locations vary from Sri Lanka to England to U.S. and back again.

In the background, there are political tensions between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, with the threat of violence propelling characters to action in some stories. In the foreground, there’s the clash between family and individual, and/or traditional and colonial, and/or traditional vs. immigrant expectations and experiences, especially with regard to arranged marriages and finding love or fulfillment.

The individual stories are shortish, subtle mood pieces. Rather than concentrating on plot, Mohanraj offers us glimpses of her protagonists’ lives through their decisions and emotions. Occasionally we also see one event through more than one characters’ eyes, which was an interesting choice and convincingly carried out.

I was impressed how effortlessly Mohanraj created such distinct individuals. Even so, keeping track of the characters’ relationships to each other was sometimes difficult; the two family trees at the beginning did help.

Despite my general preference for novels over short stories, I found Bodies in Motion, like The Ship Who Sang, to be a very successfully built collection. However, when I chose Bodies in Motion for this project, I somehow missed that it isn’t SF/F or speculative. I didn’t mind, though, for I fell in love with Mohanraj’s writing pretty much immediately. Her language is sensual, beautiful and nuanced. The stories are also spiced (if you’ll pardon the expression) with detailed, tempting descriptions of Sri Lankan food.

An additional note: Mohanraj was born in Sri Lanka but has lived most of her life in the U.S. As an immigrant to the U.S. myself who’s moved here only relatively recently, I found the collection really interesting and helpful in fitting my personal experience into a larger context.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 13: The Salt Roads

Books & Mags

I took summer off to read other interesting books, but now I’m back to my 21 Authors project. Book 13 is The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson (published in 2003).

21 Authors The Salt Roads

Content note: references to slavery, sex work and burning a man alive.

First Batch of Reflectors Is Now on Etsy

Ahem Ahem!, Arts & Crafts, Leveling Up

The first batch of reflectors is now listed in my Etsy shop.

1st Batch of Reflectors

These 2-sided personal safety reflectors are meant for pedestrians. They are designed to attach inside a coat pocket and to hang down at your side when in use. The reflectors come with a safety pin and string for hanging. Like so:

Reflectors in Use Not in Use

The concept is based on the reflectors I wore in my childhood, growing up 2 hours south of the Arctic Circle in Finland. In fact, I still use them – even though Massachusetts isn’t nearly as dark as Finland in winter, here in the south it gets dark year-round. The reflectors increase your visibility so much in low light conditions that I almost feel naked without one. Each of my jackets has its own dedicated reflector, and I keep extras around just in case. (They do occasionally break or get lost.)

Made with polyester felt and reflecting fabric in three silhouettes: heart, minimalistic feather or dragon’s head. Each of the three designs comes in two or three different colors.

Dragons Head Reflector Colors Collage
Feather Reflector Colors Collage
Heart Reflector Colors Collage

Check out Flickr and Twitter for some work-in-progress photos.

It’s exciting to get a new project out into the world! 🙂

A Feathery Sneak Peak

Arts & Crafts, Behind the Scenes, Colors

…of my current project:

Turq Feathers Partly Done

I’m making reflectors; this batch is based on my feather doodles. I’ve already done turquoise and white feather reflectors. I’m still trying to decide whether I’ll make other colors. Any input?

P.S. Other behind-the-scenes photos connected to this project are included in my Flickr (July 2016).

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 11: Falling Free

Books & Mags

Book number 11 in my latest reading project is Falling Free (published in 1988) by Lois McMaster Bujold. She is probably best known for her Miles Vorkosigan books.

21 Authors Falling Free

Leo Graf, a master engineer and welder, is invited by a former student to visit planet Rodeo. The student, Bruce Van Atta, is now managing a zero-g habitat project on orbit and wants Graf to teach the engineers in his new workforce. This 1,000-person-strong populace known as quaddies turns out to be people with two pairs of arms instead of a pair of arms and a pair of legs.

The quaddies were created through experimental bioengineering. They’re defined as “post-fetal experimental tissue cultures” and as such, in the legally ambiguous state that Rodeo is in, considered to be property of GalacTech. They’re quick, intelligent, agile, and much more suitable for weightless conditions than unaltered humans.

Producing them has been tremendously expensive, however, and when GalacTech finds out that a competitor has developed commercially viable artificial gravity, Van Atta is tasked with shutting down the Cay Project and reallocating or destroying the related property, including quaddies, with as little expense as possible. Graf, who’s forged a connection with his students, is appalled and comes up with a daring plan to not just save the quaddies for now, but to set them free forever.

Falling Free reminded me of James Tiptree, Jr.’s The Starry Rift in that the human protagonists were characterized very effectively and economically; they’re all distinct and memorable. Unfortunately, the quaddies don’t rise quite as high as characters in their own right: of the main quaddie characters, Tony is the father, Claire is the mother and Silver the girl trading sexual favors for contraband.

Plotwise the book is well-paced and engaging. Again, Bujold’s high reputation is clearly well deserved, like Tiptree, Jr.’s. Not exactly a full-on Adventure! story, Falling Free has nevertheless a good dose of action, tension and scheming, and opens up a whole universe of possibilities for the quaddies.

Falling Free is set in the same universe as the Vorkosigan saga. The events take place 200 years before the birth of Miles. There was a handy timeline at the end of the book for placing the Vorkosigan novels in context. Not having read any of them, though, I’m still unsure of which events or details (if any) in Falling Free were of special significance. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m in a good place should I want to go on with reading Bujold – and I well might!

As a sidenote, in 1988, we finally have data disks. (Every single book that I’ve read for this project so far that has had computers has mentioned tapes or cassettes for data storage.) Wo-hoo for catching up with technological development!

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 10: The Starry Rift

Books & Mags

Moving on to the tenth new-to-me SF/F author, which means I’m half-way through the project! The Starry Rift by James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) was first published in 1986.

21 Authors The Starry Rift

Set in the same universe as the acclaimed Brightness Falls from the Air, the book contains three novellas that are combined through a frame narrative. We begin, return to and end with a short scene in the Great Central Library of the Deneb University, where a librarian is helping two students find so-called human fact/fiction materials.

These materials are our short stories, and they’re all about navigating a troubled frontier region, the Great North Rift (a low-star region between the arms of the Milky Way). Separated in time and each with its own separate cast of characters, they nevertheless share common themes such as change, memory, self-sacrifice, swashbuckling vs diplomacy and what makes a being a person.

The first, called “The Only Neat Thing to Do,” is about Coati Cass, a 15-year-old would-be explorer who becomes host to an intelligent brain parasite. Together with Syllobene, the Eea inhabiting Coati’s brain, Coati endeavors to search for two missing freighter pilots. During her attempt, she discovers a seriously worrying aspect of the Eea lifecycle and decides to commit suicide in order to protect humanity from accidental contagion.

In the second, “Goodnight, Sweethearts,” ex-soldier / salvager / repairman / roadside assistant (of sorts) Raven encounters a drifting ship. Because of long stretches in cold sleep, Raven’s lived years only add up to 30 or so, despite having been born a century ago. While working, he realizes that onboard is Illya, his beloved girlfriend from decades ago when they both attended university. However, a slaver ship attacks soon after they leave Raven. Fortunately, still within sensor range, Raven detects the attack and swoops in, attempting a rescue. He discovers an enslaved clone of Illya and has to make up his mind whether to become involved with one or the other – if his rescue attempt succeeds, that is.

Finally, in the third story, “Collision,” we follow the first Federation ship set out to actually cross the rift. They find an advanced alien civilization, but building trust turns out darned hard due to attacks by Black Worlds ships – humans not part of the Federation pent on raiding and killing anyone they can profit from. The small crew of humans and Zilla, an enthusiastic Ziello linguist serving as translator, have to find a way to turn the pending calamity into a peaceful First Contact.

The Starry Rift has difficult questions and situations, problem-solving, action and economically but vividly created characters – no wonder that Tiptree has a high reputation. Despite some unevenness (it might have benefited from an edit pass or two), I liked the stories and characters, especially the linguist in “Collision.”

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.

21 SF/F Authors Project, Book 9: The Female Man

Books & Mags

Next in my new-to-me reading project is The Female Man by Joanna Russ (first published in 1975).

21 Authors The Female Man

We follow four women: Jeannine, Joanna, Janet and Jael. In a sense they’re versions of the same woman living in parallel / alternate Earths.

Librarian Jeannine’s world never saw the end of the Great Depression; 1970s Joanna struggles to make it in a man’s world; Whileawayan Janet is a woman of many trades and chosen to be her world’s first interdimensional explorer; ruthless Jael comes from a world where men and women are physically at war with each other. The novel starts with Janet and her sudden appearance in the middle of Broadway in Jeannine’s Manhattan. A series of jumps, acclimatizations and meetings follow.

The book is divided into nine parts, with each further divided into chapters. The stream-of-consciousness(-ish) POV changes often between the characters, or skips between locations and times without clearly indicating who the current narrator is. At times characters are referred to by variants of the same name (“When Laura came into the room… We noticed the floss and dew on the back of her neck – Laur is in some ways more like a thirteen-year-old than a seventeen-year-old.”). Some chapters are also exceedingly short. All of these features made reading a fragmentary and confusing experience for me. For example, the last three chapters of the first part read as follows:

XIV

“Jeannine, out of place, puts her hands over her ears and shuts her eyes on a farm on Whileaway, sitting at the trestle-table under the trees where everybody is eating. I’m not here. I’m not here. Chilia Ysayeson’s yongest has taken a fancy to the newcomer; Jeannine sees big eyes, big breasts, big shoulders, thick lips, all that grossness. Mr. Frosty is being spoilt, petted and fed by eighteen Belins. I’m not here.

XV

“JE: Evason is not ‘son’ but ‘daughter.’ This is your translation.”

XVI

“And here we are.”

That’s literally it. I’m sure this stylistic choice would not be so jarring for people who are into experimental prose, but I’m not keen on it.

What Russ does really well, however, is to show how differences stemming from our initial assumptions change how we see people’s actions, although it can be hard to track the characters’ thoughts across the various parts and chapters.

Despite it counteracting some sexist concepts in powerful ways, I found the novel too fragmentary to enjoy. In one word: it’s weeeeird. If I were to read it again, I certainly wouldn’t do it in smallish increments before bed – the book requires longer stretches of time and a much more alert brain than that.

P.S. Find all posts in the project with the 21 authors tag.