SFFnal Book Classics: Redemption in Indigo

Redemption in Indigo was Karen Lord’s first published novel. It won a number of awards and nominations, including the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.

Current Reading Redemption in Indigo

The description from Lord’s website reads:

“Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha, now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi—who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.”

Redemption in Indigo has been called a contemporary fairy tale, a mix of Caribbean and Senegalese influences (chapters 1-3 are based on the latter), and a story of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit, complete with trickster spiders.

I found Redemption in Indigo intriguing and refreshing. Since it pulls from such different traditions than my native northern Finnish ones, I did occasionally have to consciously stop and adjust my expectations (like I did when I was reading Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death).

Anyway. Paama’s humor was a delight, slightly sarcastic at times, and I’m definitely a fan of well-crafted sarcasm (like Jane Austen’s). Her bit-of-a-dumbo husband Ansige cannot control his appetite, with consequences bordering the ridiculous. Lord also made some interesting structural choices which nod towards oral storytelling traditions.

The most enjoyable feature of the novel, however, was how seemingly small scale beginnings (a wife walking out on her husband) actually turned into life and death siatuations, and, yet, that wasn’t turned into a DRAMATIC OMG IT’S THE END OF THE KINGDOM / EMPIRE / WORLD (again)TM story like so many western fantasy novels tend to be. Lord’s subtle telling just rolls smoothly on, forcing the reader to pay attention. I had more than one “Wait, what?” moment… Which, to be explicit, is a good thing!

Dr. Lord is a Barbadian ownvoices author, editor, and research consultant. Visit Lord’s website for more.

Image by Eppu Jensen

ICBIHRTB—pronounced ICK-bert-bee—is short for ‘I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read This Before’. It’s an occasional feature for book classics that have for some reason escaped our notice thus far.

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Quotes: To End That Was to End Their History, Their Present, Their Future

“All that was left of a person’s life was recorded on paper, in annals, in almanacs, in the physical items they produced. To end that was to end their history, their present, their future.”

– Aster Grey in An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

…Which is why the attitudes and words of those writing our world’s history matter; why social sciences, humanities, and languages matter (and not just STEM); why diversity, inclusion, and empathy matter.

Solomon, Rivers. An Unkindness of Ghosts. Brooklyn, NY: Akashic Books, 2017, p. 327.

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Quotes: Trust Isn’t a Gift

“Trust isn’t a gift […] You earn it, and it’s not cheap.”

– Harper Blaine in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker

However long I live, I cannot understand how some people can’t (or won’t) grasp this concept.

Richardson, Kat: Greywalker. New York, NY: Roc, 2006, p. 185.

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Quotes: Conflict Is One Kind of Behavior

“Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

I’d like my speculative fiction actually inventive, you know. Just like a human being is rarely reducible to one trait, yet that treatment is often used in storytelling as a shortcut, especially when it comes to characters deemed less important, like women, children, old people, or minorities of various stripes.

Which is not to say that stereotypes, caricatures, or the like don’t or cannot have a place in storytelling. However, if the majority of storytelling focuses on nothing else than characters or story elements reduced to their bare bones, it’s bound to become boring and empty.

There is so much more to our world, let alone imaginary worlds!

Found via Martha Wells on Tumblr.

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Two weeks to A Wrinkle in Time

It’s just over two weeks ’till A Wrinkle in Time opens at theaters (March 09, 2018). The movie is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle. It was first published in 1962, and starts a series called Time Quintet.

While the book wasn’t for me, I have higher hopes for the screen adaptation. Here’s the U.S. teaser trailer…

A Wrinkle In Time Official US Teaser Trailer by Disney Movie Trailers

…and the official U.S. trailer:

A Wrinkle in Time Official US Trailer by Disney Movie Trailers

The adaptation was written by Jennifer Lee (of Frozen and Zootopia fame) and directed by Ava duVernay. A favorite actor I’m most looking forward to seeing is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whom I loved in Doctor Who as Tish Jones (Martha’s sister) and Belle.

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Quotes: They Could at Least Coexist in the Same Space Well Enough

“With that, Maggie took Frank’s arm, and together, they strolled down the broad avenue without talking. That was one thing Frank liked about Maggie—she didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with gabbing. He wasn’t even sure if she enjoyed his company or not—and frankly, he could say the same of hers—but they could at least coexist in the same space well enough. There were worse things.”

– Michael J. Martinez: MJ-12: Inception

Maggie and Frank belong to a team of superpowered U.S. operatives in a 1940s Cold War speculative world. Even though Maggie is the token female character, it’s really very refreshing that the author doesn’t try to shove in that bane of Smurfette stories, the inevitable romantic subplot.

Martinez, Michael J.: MJ-12: Inception: A Majestic-12 Thriller. New York, NY: Night Shade Books, 2016, p. 247.

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Writing, Reading, Living Different Cultures

I saw a Twitter thread about writing culture by author Joan He, on the face of it about her (or your) own but by extension that of others, and it has plenty of food for thought:

 

As a reader, and specifially a reader of speculative and historical fiction primarily not in my native language, I run into differences in culture a lot. And as a person in a multicultural, multilingual relationship in a strange country where I’m a cultural and linguistic minority, from time to time I find myself slammed against more deep-seated cultural assumptions.

Joan pointed out that culture is a way of thinking, or cognition, or perspective. As an example, I’d like to share two failures of cultural expectations from my personal experience.

Ratatouille Anton Ego Perspective Quote

At a con once, I wanted to get a book signed by an American author. I happened to know from their online presence that the author is an introvert. Even though we were both at a public place where introverted authors and panelists often don a more outgoing persona than they do in private, as another introvert I wanted to make sure I’d be especially considerate. However, quite without intending to I tripped over a distinctly Finnish quirk.

One of the big unspoken assumptions in the Finnish culture is that silence isn’t a negative. (Erik and I have both written about it for instance here, here, and here.) In essence, how I understand it, silence means space, and space means respect to other people.

Accordingly, at the abovementioned autograph session, when it came my turn I said my hellos, presented the author with my book, and waited silently. It wasn’t until the author asked me “Did you read it?” that I realised they expected me to say something else. And I had thought I was being courteous not to burden them with yet another dose of chitchat on a weekend full of being “on” at a busy con. I can’t remember for sure, since it was a kind of a deer in the headlights moment for me, but I think I was able to stutter my way to an exit without actually breaking into a run. In any case, not terribly smooth on my part.

I’ve also had a previously friendly person walk away from me when, in the middle of a presentation, I (I’m guessing “merely”) nodded to them to acknowledge their presence and silently continued to listen to the speaker (I’m guessing instead of starting a conversation with the friendly person). Although it’s been years, I still find that an utterly, completely, and thoroughly puzzling reaction.

Over the years, I’ve built a store of strategies and stock exchanges I can pull out if needed, but it’s been hard to try and perform—for it is essentially a performance—in a way that feels unnatural and at times even rude to me. Even after 10+ years, I still can’t bring myself to commit to it wholeheartedly. I suspect I’ll always be the odd, quiet one in Anglo-American contexts, but that’s my background and temperament.

So: yes, cultural assumptions and perspectives are difficult to convey, whether in writing or otherwise. Adding surface details to a fictional culture is easy, and it can be a fantastic tool for both creating distance from the everyday world and deepening the invented one. I love seeing glimpses of the practicalities that fictional characters deal with; I would find—and have found—stories seriously lacking without them. Never, though, should the surface glitter be where invention on the part of author ends; that is as unsatisfying as a lack of external cultural markers.

Being a truly exceptional author has, for me, come to mean not only the ability to create layered, nuanced worlds (or convey the complexities of everyday life in historical fiction). In addition, skilled authors I enjoy the most are able to avoid massive infodumps and to suggest underlying cultural values subtly, as inseparable part of narration and dialogue. And that’s a very challenging thing to do. It sometimes takes me more than one read-through to feel I’m beginning to understand a story. Then again, worthwhile things often are the most difficult ones.

Image via The Autodidactic Hacker

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Annihilation Teaser Trailer

The opening volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, will hit the big screens in February 2018. The teaser trailer looks wonderful:

Annihilation (2018) – Teaser Trailer – Paramount Pictures

Writer / director Alex Garland seems to be doing a good job on the basis of the little we see. Certainly the effects and scenery are breathtaking. And the cast looks so awesome!

I’ve read the trilogy, but since it leans more towards horror than I’d like my speculative fiction to be, I’m not sure I want to see the movies. I do applaud VanderMeer’s mindfulness, though: he donates part of his royalties from the novels to environmental causes.

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Quotes: Believing All That Matters Is What They Want

On his blog, author Jason Sanford talks about story submission and publication data, specifically with SFF genre in mind. He refers to an essay, an interview, and his experience as editor, and talks about how men tend to submit many more stories than women, even when their stories were “totally inappropriate” (in Jason’s words). His conclusion?

“In the case of why male authors are far more likely to not read a magazine or their guidelines before submitting, and are more likely to submit multiple stories in a short time frame, I think it ties in with them not seeing the motivations of others and believing all that matters is what they want.

“But if you’re submitting your stories to an editor, what you want isn’t what lands the acceptance. It’s what the editor wants. Otherwise, an author is merely wasting everyone’s time.”

– Jason Sanford

I’ve no comment on the data and survey side of the post, being a not-numbers person. What struck me was that this is the strongest-worded remark I’ve seen—and note that it really isn’t—saying a number of male authors behave in a blatantly self-centered manner and suggesting they change.

Sanford, Jason. “The Submissions Men Don’t See.” Jasonsanford.com, September 24, 2017.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.