This week’s episode of SF Crossing the Gulf focuses on one of my favourite books: TIll We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I discovered it late, less than a decade ago, and it is often overlooked when readers talk about his books. I strongly believe it should not be overlooked. If you have any leanings towards reworked myth, many-layered stories and strong, complex female protagonists, this is a book you should read. And when you have read it, check out my discussion with Karen Burnham.
And this is where I’m spending part of my summer:
Shared Worlds, a non-profit science fiction/fantasy teen writing summer camp hosted by Wofford College, has received a third consecutive supporting grant from Amazon.com and has named author Karen Lord as its Amazon.com Writer in Residence for 2013.
I’m really looking forward to this!
Very belatedly, I give you a link to episode 11 of SF Crossing the Gulf in which we discuss some classic sci-fi: Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon. This proved to be a rich and profound work, and it felt as if we had barely skimmed the surface after more than an hour. However, if we can inspire you to pick it up and read it for yourself, our job is done!
Charles Tan, the Bibliophile Stalker, tagged me for the Next Big Thing meme. Every Wednesday, a different set of authors (and sometimes editors) talk about their upcoming work. I’ve answered the questions, but I’ve failed miserably at finding people to tag. You’ll find out by the end just how miserably, but for now … on to our questions!
What is the working title of your next book?
The title is The Best of All Possible Worlds.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
After the Boxing Day Tsunami, I was particularly moved by news articles on certain fishing communities that lost almost all of the women and children while the majority of the men survived because they were at sea. The reports of the individual and community reactions to this kind of crisis added to what I already knew about less dramatic (though still significant) instances of gender imbalance in contemporary and historical societies. I didn’t have a story in mind at the time, but that was the foundation.
There’s an accidental link to another disaster. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami was a devastating event that provoked Voltaire to challenge the idea that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’. That phrase and its associated theodicy are from Leibniz. But I did not have any of this in mind when I came up with the title. My brief mention of Leibniz in the book is also accidental and is entirely to do with calculus rather than philosophy.
What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction with some light background romance.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The story is carried by a core group of characters, so I’d need a great ensemble cast. For the leads, I think Angel Coulby would be perfect as Grace Delarua. Dllenahkh, the male protagonist, has been harder to cast. The ideal actor would be a middle-aged Pacific Islander who could convey a lot of gravitas with a hint of humour.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Refugee aliens on frontier planet seek genetically compatible brides for the purpose of post-genocide repopulation; bureaucracy, culture clash and hilarity ensue.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Sally Harding of the Cooke Agency sold the manuscript to Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus in the UK and Del Rey/Random House in the US.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Three months. A lot was changed in the third month, and there were significant additions about a year later.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The size of the mission team and their visits to small, rural communities as well as larger towns is reminiscent of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. The romance has been compared to Jane Eyre. The sociological and anthropological focus has been compared to the works of Ursula LeGuin.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
After the Star Trek reboot came out, I read a hypothesis that the Vulcans might now have a skewed demographic because their offplanet occupations appeared to be very male-dominated. That resurrected my earlier thoughts on gender imbalance in societies and further inspired me to use a sci-fi framing for my ideas.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are Elves in it. Sort of.
I was supposed to tag five more people but a) it’s late in the meme and a lot of people have already been tagged, and b) it’s December and people are Christmas-busy as well as deadline-busy. But I did find one person: Karen Burnham. Look out for her blog post this time next week.
The last episode of my podcast series with Karen Burnham went up on SF Signal last Thursday. I was at first slightly peeved that there was another cool thing to blog about that would have to wait until I got back from Toronto, but the delay ended up being profitable. Thanks to Cheryl Morgan and Karen Burnham, we now have a cleaner, better audio for Episode 6 (The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell).
All the podcasts can be accessed via the link http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/category/columns/sf-crossing-the-gulf/ but they show up in reverse chronological order, as tagged posts are wont to do. This gives me an excuse to list them here separately with relevant comments and links.
Click here for my post on this blog introducing the podcast in general and this episode in particular. I included library links for My Bones and My Flute and The Rainmaker’s Mistake.
My deepest regret for this podcast was the challenge to readers trying to find a 1950’s, out-of-print book. But Mittelholzer is a key West Indian author and I could not imagine starting a discussion on Caribbean SF without him. You can read about the lengths I went to in order to secure a copy.
Running out of time for Ted Chiang during Episode 1 proved an advantage as we spent Episode 3 comparing and contrasting his work with Greg Egan’s.
Click here for a reading and interview with Erna Brodber, and links to other interviews, reviews and resources.
I was afraid this would be too challenging, but Karen took to it like a duck to water and shared with me some important insights into this literary work from the point of view of a non-West Indian and a genre reader.
I had to urge Karen not to be modest about the fact that she has spent over three years researching Egan’s fiction. With her knowledge of Egan’s entire fictional universe(s), she stopped me from making assumptions based on the snapshot of a single short story. We acknowledge that we’ve missed out some of Egan’s best work because we chose stories available for free on the internet. We hope to make up for this in the future.
Oh, you have no idea the pangs this episode gave us. We loved the book, we were in awe of the author, and we spoke with fluid eloquence (relative to previous podcasts!) about our love and awe. But Karen was moving house and the change in the usual setup resulted in some distressingly poor audio. We actually decided, very sadly, to re-record the podcast, but bad weather (I cannot podcast during heavy rain and/or thunder!) and continuing tech issues made that impossible. Karen did her best to manually improve what we had. However, I am very happy to report that Cheryl Morgan recently performed some added cleanup and with their combined efforts we now have a fresh upload of a podcast that should be much easier to listen to.
I thought Karen would find this easier and more enjoyable than The Rainmaker’s Mistake and I was wrong (though thankfully not badly wrong). I think there is more in there for the reader who knows West Indian history, culture and literature and gets the little hits of nostalgia and recognition at the right moments. Nevertheless, Karen was very appreciative of the author’s talent and put it into the slipstream category with The Rainmaker’s Mistake. Overall verdict on Caribbean SF? Readable, enjoyable, layered, literary and well worth the effort.
We made it to the end, and we finally found a graphic for the podcast! You may already know that Karen Burnham’s internet moniker is Spiral Galaxy. The photo shows the Whirlpool Galaxy interacting with its companion NGC 5195. We decided this interaction was a symbol of clear boundaries vs fuzzy boundaries, the linear vs the elliptical … which is a good way of differentiating between hard SF and Caribbean SF as well as different reader/critic approaches to understanding them. I won’t be changing my moniker to Elliptical Galaxy just yet, but it pleases me to think that there might be a curve and a swerve and a cycle to how I tell and read stories as well as a certain lack of defined boundaries that might be a challenge or a delight.
For the seventh episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we discuss Ghosts by Curdella Forbes. I liked Ghosts when I first read it, and I liked it even more after our discussion. It was published August this year and is available at the publisher and at the usual online bookstores. Recommended for lovers of literary SF in general and slipstream in particular.
This is the last book of our podcast series as our final episode will be a rambling wrap-up of all that has gone before.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Way back in August, Ron Eckel, my representative at Cooke International, sold audio rights for The Best of All Possible Worlds to Audible.
Today, I contributed to the Mind Meld at SF Signal on the topic of what SF texts should appear on a secondary school English Literature syllabus.
And finally, Episode 6 of SF Crossing the Gulf is up. Karen and I discuss The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and we get fairly giddy with all the lovely, complex, layered literary goodness the book has to offer.
The fifth episode of our podcast is up! Karen Burnham and I wrap up the discussion of Greg Egan’s short stories which we started in episode three. Karen demonstrates her impressive knowledge of Egan’s works and worlds and saves me from making uninformed judgements.
The next episode will be about The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. As always, discussion will be spoilery, so please do buy or borrow it and be ready in a fortnight’s time. The book is well worth the effort for both genre and literary readers.
First of all, congratulations to all the Hugo award winners, and special congratulations to the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, E. Lily Yu!
(For the record, these are not belated congratulations, these are extended congratulations. I have been congratulating by tweet and email since Sunday.)
Secondly, it’s Wednesday-fortnight again and that means podcast! I’m delighted to be discussing The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Jamaican writer and sociologist Erna Brodber. I thought Karen Burnham would find it challenging – hah, she didn’t! And she loved it and we hope you do too. You can listen to the podcast here at SF Signal, but before you do, it’s worth visiting The Spaces Between the Words for an interview with Erna Brodber that will enhance your podcast experience.
Here it is. We could have spent a lot more time talking about Greg Egan’s short stories and how they compare to Ted Chiang’s work, but we stayed strong and more or less kept to time. However, we will continue talking about Egan and Chiang … not in the next episode, but the one after that.
Next episode (in two weeks) we’re looking at Caribbean SF again: Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake. I invite you all to listen to the marvellous reading and interview by Erna Brodber at The Spaces Between the Words and check out the other links to interviews and reviews. It will be good preparation. Again, if you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. This is the kind of book that we could summarise and spoil to the max and you’d still find it new and surprising when you read it.