Book Reviews, Novels

The Tiptree Awards: Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937)

There’s a lot to admire with Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night. Published in 1937, she foresaw WWII, the holocaust, the endgame of nationalism, and even the entire plot of George Orwell’s 1984. I didn’t enjoy Swastika Night much, despite that — despite how much I can admire the writer of this story and the ideas it presents.

Set 700 years after ’37, our experience of WWII was instead the Twenty-Year War — a war survived only by Germany and Japan’s diseased nationalism. Hitler won. Minorities have been extirpated except where otherwise desired for slave labor. The German people are heralded as the master race for their pure Blood (with a B). But — even Hitler’s warped, stupid philosophy couldn’t survive forever, and the world of Swastika Night isn’t just a static continuation of Hitler’s racist obsessions. His philosophy was perverted further by subsequent leaders, most notably by an overbearing misogyny.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories

Jirel of Joiry and the uncomfortable roots of feminist fantasy

Jirel of Joiry, an honorable, red-haired, female clone of Conan the Barbarian, could be considered the foundation for all ‘strong female characters’ in genre fiction today, but only in the most shallow sense of the term.

I appreciate that C.L. Moore broke ground in 1930s sword and sorcery, a hyper-masculine genre full of hyper-masculine (read: shitty) men, but any attempt to combat the intense sexism of the genre only goes as far: C.L. Moore was objectively a woman, and Jirel objectively a female character who sometimes swung a sword and killed things.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Star Songs of an Old Primate (1978)

Star Songs of an Old Primate was the first collection of short stories published by James Tiptree, Jr. after the unmasking of Alice B. Sheldon in 1978. It remains out of print today, but five of its seven stories — “And So On, and So On” (1971), “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (1974), “A Momentary Taste of Being” (1975), “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976), and “She Waits for All Men Born” (1976) — are currently available in the best-of anthology, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

I just want to focus on the two unique stories to this collection. For my responses to the five other stories, see my review of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)

I won’t call her “James Tiptree, Jr.,” a name that tolls off the tongue like mud. Her name was Alice Sheldon. Alice Bradley Sheldon. She’s no longer hiding in a genre ruled by masculinity, so we could and should forego the dated sexism, and celebrate her work and her ideas and her mind as they were.

I rarely fall for short stories, so I approached this collection with trepidation, digging through lists of classic sci-fi authors associated with the cyberpunk movement. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever wasn’t just a pleasant surprise, but a constant state of shock and awe. With a fraction of the word count, Sheldon consistently put her peers to shame, creating believable characters of every gender and background, characters that oozed complexities, insecurities, prejudices, and all the signs of wonderful fiction.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)

Bloodchild and Other Stories was my introduction to Butler’s writing, and it reflects a masterful (and masterfully-thoughtful) writer. This collection features every short story — and two essays — that Octavia Butler wrote between 1971 and 2003. At just over 200 pages, it’s not many, and she herself admits to not being a writer or fan of short stories in her comments.

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Graphic Novels, Novels, Random

dendrobiblio’s Top 10 Reads of 2016

10. Stephen King’s the Dark Tower I : IV (1982 : 1997)

A somewhat difficult one to include, Stephen King’s writing, while always entertaining, is similarly always bothersome. The King-isms build and bug me. The Dark Tower series has been no different so far, with the Drawing of the Three and the Waste Lands, in particular, being hampered by bloated writing and awkward pacing. Wizard and Glass, the fourth of an eight-part series (including #4.5), and the last I read this year, was an absolutely engrossing and addictive fantasy yarn. The horror and post-apocalyptic settings were mostly removed in favor of straight fantasy in an extended flashback story — which was worrisome — but Roland’s tale was so focused and wonderfully-told that it alone puts this series on the list. I hope 2017 lets me finish the the final four books.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Transgressive poetry in Yuri Kageyama’s the New and Selected Yuri (2011)

Why hadn’t I heard of Yuri Kageyama before? She’s been quietly publishing poetry, essays, and short stories for over 30 years. Her style ranges between transgressive and journalistic, channeling similar frustrations as writers like Kathy Acker, but with a style devoid of flourish or absurdity. She’s published in journals and magazines, and had her one and only poetry collection, Peeling, published by her close friend and fellow author, Ishmael Reed, in 1988. The New and Selected Yuri, published in 2011, contains 41 short works of poetry and prose dating from 1978 to 2011. It contains short stories, essays, anecdotes, conversations, cultural explanations, and a wealth of poems.

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