Book Haul 8/26/08

I’ve been traveling so much this month that I’ve had books come in and stack up, so instead of the usual one of these posts I do every couple of weeks or so, I’ll be doing three of them: One today, one tomorrow and one Thursday, at which point I’m sure I’ll have even more new books in, but then I’ll be on my way to Lexington and Atlanta. It never ends. In this group, however, are some recent and upcoming hardcovers. What have we got?

Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder: Karl’s Virga series keeps getting bigger and better, and this latest book is even more hot space opera goodness. As most of you know, I had a chance to work with Karl directly recently with our upcoming Metatropolis audio anthology, and I’ll tell you what: The man can spin out ideas like the rest of us breathe. If you haven’t been reading Karl’s stuff, you need to start, and if you have read Karl’s stuff, you need to get Pirate Sun. It came out a couple of weeks ago.

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, Victor Pelevin: What? Another book about urban werewolves? What’s this one got that the others don’t? Well, in this case, the urban area is Moscow and the werewolf in question is actually a millennia-old seductive werefox from ancient China. Which, you know, is not the usual thing. Author Pelevin is apparently a big seller in Russia (this book sold a quarter of a million copies there), so Viking’s hoping lightning strikes twice. Well, see. Superhot ancient werefoxes seems like a good way to do it. This book comes out September 4 (i.e., next week).

The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip: This light fantastical mystery, aside from its own qualities as a story, also has a jacket that’s in the running for the prettiest book cover of 2008. And there’s nothing bad about that. This book arrives on September 2.

The Scourge of God, S.M. Stirling: The followup to The Sunrise Lands, one of the “Books of the Change,” in which ordinary mechanical physics was shown the door and magic brought in to take its place — damned inconvenient if you spend most of your time on the Internet, I suspect. I actually saw S.M. Stirling a couple of times at Worldcon and meant to go over and say hello, but each time someone else crossed my path before I could get to him. I will track him down eventually. And now having said that I realize how much like stalking that sounds like. Really, it’s not like that. This is also with a September 2 arrival date.

Riders of the Storm, Julie E. Czerneda: The sequel to Reap the Wild Wind, which is in itself a prequel to Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe trilogy, which I suppose goes to show that a sequel to a prequel does not, in fact, always get you back to where you originally started. Not cracked this one open yet, but I’ve enjoyed other stuff from Czerneda that I’ve read, so I’m looking forward to this. Also comes out September 2.

Mars Life, Ben Bova: Bova returns to the world of Mars and Return to Mars (that world being, uh, well, Mars) for a story that pits the explorers of the ruins of an ancient Martian civilization against an increasingly fundamentalist US government. Fundamentalists! They never go away. I finally got the chance to meet Bova in Denver; he was going out of a panel while I was coming in for another one. We had 45 seconds of polite pleasantries. Hopefully I’ll meet him again. This time maybe for a minute and a half! This one’s already out.

Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik: This is the Subterranean Press signed limited edition of the book, complete with ginchy inside illustrations. It is very, very pretty (which it should be, because it’s a $125 book). If you’re a Temeraire fan, you can begin your lusting now — there do seem to be some copies still available.

Starlady/Fast-Friend, George RR Martin : Another SubPress offering, this one involving two 70s-era novellas from Martin, arranged “Ace Double Novel”-style. Yes, it will take you back, my friends. Available now.

Ubik: The Screenplay, Philip K. Dick: PKD is famously the go-to guy for Hollywood science fiction, but what many people don’t know is that he tried his hand at screenplays himself. This edition puts Dick’s Ubik screenplay back into circulation after a couple of decades; the screenplay, as noted by Tim Powers in his introduction, is more than just a rearrangement of the story into the film medium — it offers some insight into the characters that only Dick would have been in a position to provide. Now what would be cool would be to have this screenplay see the light of a projection bulb one day. Also available now, from Subterranean Press.

Your thoughts on any of these?


Me Me Me (and the Cat)

Some stuff relating to me:

* First, here’s a shot of the recent Ann Arbor appearance of me, Tobias Buckell and Paul Melko, talking about science fiction today. We’re up there in the front. I think it went very well — Toby and Paul are smart, funny people to talk science fiction with, and the audience was into it as well and asked some good questions. My understanding is that at some point a video of the talk will go up; naturally when it does I’ll point you all at it. In the meantime, thanks to Anne KG Murphy for this photo here, and all her assistance in setting this up. She is awesome.

* Dayton and southwestern Ohio folks, remember that tonight Toby and I are coming to Books & Co. at the Greene tonight, from 7 to 8pm. We’ll talk about our books, do a little bit of reading and maybe do some Q&A (and of course, sign books). Please come so Toby and I aren’t just standing there, looking uncomfortably at each other for an hour.

* Hey, look! An interview with me at Blogging the Muse, in which I reveal when I decided to be a writer, whether I have any “trunk novels” and why authors spend too much time worrying about “making it.” Mmmm.. blathery.

* And because it’s been two weeks and if I don’t post a new picture I’ll get death threats, here’s Ghlaghghee, looking oh so pensive:

I think she’s reliving special memories of rodent disembowelments, but honestly. With cats, you never can tell.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Lauren McLaughlin

Every teenage girl has “that time of month,” as it is so euphemistically referred to, but in Cycler, the totally inventive and fun debut novel from Lauren McLaughlin, Jill McTeague discovers that during her time, her body goes through entirely different changes than most girls — specifically, four days a month, she becomes Jack, right down to all the appropriate plumbing.

As you might expect, an idea like this is fertile ground for an examination of gender politics, particularly the teenage division, but as McLaughlin notes in this Big Idea, once she started in on the writing, the book went places she never expected it to regarding gender concepts — because of the characters themselves. Where does it go? Well, here’s the author herself to explain it all.


Gender is a prison. That was the Big Idea behind Cycler. I actually wrote it in sharpie on a piece of white paper and taped it above my desk as I worked. I wanted this story, about a girl who turns into a boy four days out of every month, to be an examination of gender as a cultural construct. I wanted to explore the ways in which gender identity constrains us, shapes us, limits is. But a strange thing happened.

Once I set my characters in motion, they immediately adapted to their bizarre circumstances and made the best of it. The girl persona, Jill, strategizes to hide her alter ego so that she can blend in with the rest of her high school peers. The male persona, Jack, who spends his four days hidden from view, develops a powerful memory so that he can scour Jill’s life and live vicariously through her.

Neither of them confronts the issue of gender directly. And why would they? They have no control over the powerful transformations that rule their lives. I think in some ways this reflects our experiences of puberty. Our bodies change, our interests change, and we begin thinking as sexual beings. We are not in control of the process; rather it feels as if the process is controlling us. We are subject to its whims and ever on the cusp of heartbreak and humiliation.

And it is in this crucible of thwarted longings and desperate fumblings that we lay the foundation for our sexual identities. No wonder, then, that a great many of us get it dreadfully wrong, our bodies hungering for one thing while our fragile egos lead us to seek conformity at all cost. The obvious example, of course, is the gay or lesbian teen rebelling against desire to begin a journey of self-denial and self-loathing.

But I think this disconnect between what we carnally desire and what we seek to conform to is more broadly applicable. Think of the popular girl who finds herself uncomfortably smitten with the class nerd or the purple-haired rebel secretly pining for the quarterback in defiance of the misfit code. In our desperate attempts to find a box to fit into, we betray our own desires. We do it to ourselves.

But we don’t keep the damage to ourselves. We inflict it on everyone. One of the strangest things about gender conformity in our society is the way we have become addicted to the bloodsport of it all. Think of the Mommy Wars, the Hillary Wars, “Iron my shirts.” All of these are examples of people trying to enforce their version of femininity on all women. To celebrate their favored brand of femininity, they must demonize all others. What the soldiers in this pointless battle fail to realize is that gender is not binary. There is no one correct expression of femininity and no one correct expression of masculinity. Nor is gender timeless. Even the most “traditional” or “conservative” fighter in the culture wars will hold opinions on gender that his or her great grandmother would find radical. Gender changes through time, through place, and from person to person. It is a fluid and creative construct. But oh, how we love to shape it into a blunt instrument and bash at each other.

In Cycler, I represent what I call the Binary Theory of Gender through Jack and Jill’s mother, Helen. Go to your local bookstore and you will find countless books promising to decode the opposite sex by reducing them to a set of stereotyped characteristics. The Rules, Why Men Marry Bitches, and, of course, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus are just a few examples.

A Rules girl through and through, Helen encourages her daughter to nurture the most stereotypical feminine traits. Because she’s willing to try anything to achieve her twin goals of safeguarding her secret and landing the perfect prom date, Jill jumps right on board.

The problem with this approach is that it presents the opposite sex as, at worst, the enemy and, at best, a dim-witted booby prize. How can you love someone you have basically manipulated into a relationship? Anyone who’s actually been in love knows that love is a wild and lawless thing. Attempts to decode the endeavor with comforting gender stereotypes might sell a lot of self-help books, but they won’t guarantee smooth sailing. Just ask The Rules co-author, Ellen Fein. After “capturing the heart of Mr. Right” by putting her own rules into action, she wound up divorced.

But one thing I wanted to avoid in Cycler, was replacing one Theory of Gender with another. While it’s all well and good to poke fun at girlie girls and macho boys, the truth is, I’d miss them if they were gone. In fact, some of my best friends are Rules girls, bless them. While I consider myself fairly androgynous (psychologically, if not physically), I would hate to live in a world where that became the official prescribed gender identity. What I hope to accomplish with Cycler, other than telling a sexy, thrilling and hilarious story, is to poke holes into everyone’s conception of gender, including my own. I want to destabilize the notion of gender as a stable category. Because it isn’t stable. Whatever feels right to you now will seem quaint and ridiculous to your great grandchildren. And that is exactly as it should be.


Cycler: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit Lauren McLaughlin’s blog here. Read an excerpt from Cycler here.

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