La Belle Sauvage

I finished Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage, first in his new Book of Dust prequel series. In some sense it's more of the same from the first series, His Dark Materials. England has been corrupted by the malicious, oppressive influence of a government beholden to a Geneva-based religion that might be construed as Nazi Catholicism. Mostly the people live in fear and hope to be left alone, but there are some stout-hearted native elements fighting against the regime. And Lord Asriel from the first series is even now pursuing his grandiose anti-deity program without anyone yet knowing what he's doing.

After some initial set-up, this volume is mostly a flight-and-journey story similar in some ways to those early chapters of the Lord of the Rings where the hobbits are fleeing the Nazgul but haven't yet made it to Rivendell, or indeed, even to Bree and Aragorn. There is another echo of LoTR here as well, the notion of a magical, essential England (here called Albion), derived originally I think from William Morris's distilling of various pre-Norman myths and folklore. This is never overt in Tolkien because after all there is no England in Middle Earth, but every lyrical word about the delights of the Shire and the hobbits' way of life is a paean to an imaginary Olde England that never existed in the real world.

The two main characters, young Malcolm and Alice, are carrying the infant Lyra (who might as well be the One Ring except for the need for nappies and powdered milk). They are caught up a vast, catastrophic and magical flood of the Thames, making their riverine way from Oxford to London, trying to keep her out of the hands of several groups of bad guys. The chief villain here is very memorable and horrible, but nevertheless pitiable and sad in his way. The allegory of the anima/animus daemons allows the superficially attractive Bonneville to be depicted as horrifyingly evil merely through the unconcealable malice of his daemon. 

If you liked the first book of the Golden Compass you'll like this book as well. The main character, Malcolm, is resourceful and sympathetic, but for me Alice is much more attractive. Alice is a lower-class adolescent girl living in this oppressive and retrogressive society which demeans everyone in general, but as you might expect is especially demeaning towards women. She is extremely bitter and even sullen at times, but in the circumstances of her life and what she's subjected to this isn't a negative at all; she has every right, and she overcomes her own attitudes when she needs to. And despite total lack of chosen-ness and absence of any special training or power whatsoever, Alice is nevertheless valorous and independent, facing down any number of challenges ranging from the quotidian to the horrible and otherworldly. I wanted to cheer her on all the way through the book. "La Belle Sauvage" is the name of Malcolm's canoe, and the epithet might also be applied to a Fairy-queen character in the novel, but I'd say Alice is also a belle sauvage because she defies authority, hierarchy, and paternalism throughout. One way or another she's always carrying chains around, but she wants to be free, and as a reader you'd like to her be strong and free enough to be wild.

Thirteen Bullets at Podcastle

I'm delighted by the reading of my story Thirteen Bullets up at Podcastle. Austin Malone did an excellent job of narration.

For those who might be wondering, I did my best to capture the attributes and temperaments of Maman Brigitte and the Guédé Barons presented in the story based on research into Vodoun, though I am not a devotee myself. Two features are wholly invented, though: first of all, there is no legend of thirteen bullets being a sovereign against Baron Samedi that I'm aware of, and secondly I don't believe that he is generally associated with the element of fire. The first element was included to fulfill a writing prompt that demanded thirteen of something appear in the story, and the second was to provide an Oz-like bridge between the spirit world of Cimetière and the real-world town of Tombstone.

Event Horizon 2017 anthology

I'm extremely pleased to have been included in this year's Event Horizon anthology, which collects works by Campbell Award-eligible authors. There are many great stories in this collection, which is available for free from the above link until July 15, so I strongly advise anyone interested in short science fiction and fantasy to download it. My particular contribution is Dragonfly Tea, originally published last year by the New Haven Review.

Closing in on Draft Zero

Now that I've bitten the bullet and accepted that Evolutionary Intelligence Enkidu is going to be a duology (or possibly a longer series) and not a standalone novel, I'm closing in on draft zero. Currently just over 100,000 words with a couple of chapters left to go. I'm very pleased with progress so far. Though there will be plenty of revision before a final draft, I don't think there will be any gross structural reassembly, which is by far the worst part of rewriting. Honestly I enjoy low-level polish and mot-juste revisions....

Oh yeah, what is Evolutionary Intelligence Enkidu? It's a near-future military-aviation alien-invasion AI-romance novel. Tagline: "A plane and his boy."

For inspiration I cite the anime Sentou Yousei Yukikaze (Battle Fairy Yukikaze) for which I offer this AMV as a sample.

Best SF Novel of the Year

My vote for best SF novel of the year goes to Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. This is a brilliant if somewhat disturbing novel of the far-future, set in an interstellar empire in which calendarial and symbological science is so far advanced it is indistinguishable from magic. In addition to being the best SF of the year, it's also the best military SF for many years.