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Wonderfully left-wing publishing house PM Press has been putting out a series called Outspoken Authors which consists of collections of writings by visionary left-leaning writers, most of them writers of sff. I've read and talked a number of these before, including volumes that contained selected works (and an original interview) with people like Ursula Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Terry Bisson and Eleanor Arnason.

My latest read from this series is a collection of essays, poems and other works from Marge Piercy called My Life, My Body. Woven through all the selections is a strong, politically and socially radical consciousness, conjoined with a commitment to feminist analysis, addressing topics ranging from the effects of gentrification on marginalised communities to the enforcement of a white male canon in literature.

Her focus ranges from social justice to literary criticism. Several of the selections here deal, in part or in whole, with the growing problem of homelessness, particularly among women. Others argue passionately against the trend in criticism that demands the separation of politics and art, and devalues literature written from a political consciousness (which, she notes, is often work created by women and marginalised peoples.

In addition to the essays and poems, the volume includes an interesting interview with Piercy conducted by fellow leftist and science fiction writer Terry Bisson.

If you're a fan of Piercy's work, you'll appreciate the pieces collected here immensely. And after that, I heartily recommend that you have a look at other volumes from the Outspoken Writers series.

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Gypsy is one of the latest additions to PM Press's remarkable Outspoken Authors series. As with previous volumes in the series, Gypsy contains several collected works a single author. This collection features selections from the works of eclectic writer Carter Sholtz, including the novella Gypsy, two bitingly funny satirical short stories, an essay on the ease with which the US and its corporations violate national and international law, and an interview conducted with Sholtz by Terry Bisson.

The novella Gypsy takes place in an unsettlingly familiar dystopic future - climate change, corporate greed, resource depletion, war and the collapse of civil society. It's gotten bad enough that an underground network of dissidents have managed, in secret, to cobble together a space ship that will be able - if everything goes right - to transport a small number of people to the Alpha Centauri system in the hopes of finding a livable planet. It's a desperate shot in the dark.... but letting the situation on earth continue without some attempt to create another place for humans to survive seems unthinkable.

This is not a happy story. It is unrealistic to expect that that everything would go right in such an endeavour, and this is, given the opening situation, a very realistic, hard sf story. But it is also a powerful story, and a thought-provoking one.

In addition to the novella, the other pieces in the collection are well worth reading. I particularly enjoyed "Bad Pennies," a wicked satire on the American penchant for meddling in other countries' business and for doing business at whatever cost.

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Some interesting anthologies and collections of short stories came my way last year. The anthologies included two nicely edited theme anthologies by John Joseph Adams (dystopias and homages to Barsoom), a vamipre themed antholgy edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, a survey of urban fantasy edited by Peter Beagle and a dragon-themed anthology edited by Jack Dann.

Of particular interest were two volumes edited or co-edited by Connie Wilkins: the second volume in a new annual series of anthologies featuring short stories with lesbian protagonists; and an uneven but engaging selection of alternate history short stories with a focus on queer protagonists as nexi of change.

I was also delighted to be able to obtain a copy of an anthology edited by Nisi Shawl of short stories written by authors of colour who attended Clarion as Octavia E. Butler Scholars. The anthology was offered by the Carl Brandon Society for a limited time as a fund-raising project and is no longer available.

Peter Beagle (ed.), The Urban Fantasy Anthology
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Under the Moons of Mars
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Brave New Worlds
Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead
Jack Dann (ed.), The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Nisi Shawl (ed.), Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars
Connie Wilkins & Steve Berman (eds.), Heiresses of Russ 2012
Connie Wilkins (ed.), Time Well-Bent: Queer Alternative Histories

I also read several collections this year, including two more volunes from PM Press's Outspoken Authors series, featuring work by and interviews with Nalo Hopkinson and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Other collections of works by SFF writers included: a set of novellas from Mercedes Lackey featuring two familiar characters, Jennifer Talldeer and Diana Tregarde, and a new heroine, techno-shaman Ellen McBride; a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Bear featuring forensic sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett; short stories by Maureen McHugh; and forays ibto the fantasy realm of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

In honour of Alice Munro, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature, I read a collection of her more recent short stories (and plan on reading several more in the coming months - I've always loved her work and am delighted that she has been so deservedly recognised). Also worthy of note was Drew Hayden Taylor's collection of stories set among the residents of the fictional Otter Lake First Nations reserve, and Margaret Laurence's short stories set in Ghana. In the realm of historical fiction, There were stories by Margaret Frazer featuring medieval nun and master sleuth Dame Frevisse; I discovered and devoured Frazer's novels last year, and will speak of them in a later post.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Lucky Strike 
Nalo Hopkinson, Report from Planet Midnight
Mercedes Lackey, Trio of Sorcery
Elizabeth Bear, Garrett Investigates
Maureen McHugh, After the Apocalypse
Lloyd Alexander, The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain

Margaret Laurence, The Tomorrow-Tamer
Margaret Frazer, Sins of the Blood
Drew Hayden Taylor, Fearless Warriors
Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

All in all, I found a wide range of short fiction to enjoy this year.

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Eleanor Arnason, Moby Quilt (novella)

A Lydia Duluth novella, thoughtful, as Arnason always is, but also funny. Well wprth reading.

Kage Baker, Empress of Mars (novella)

Taking place in Baker's Company universe, although not a Company story, it's one of those 'ornery Martian settlers outwit the authorities' tales, and it's quite good.

Ken MacLeod, Intrusion

MacLeod is very, very good at exploring various kinds of fascist states. In this case, he gives us a dark and satirical look at world in which women are defined primarily as childbearers who must be overseen by the state to ensure that they do nothing that might endanger their children, even if that means heavily restricting the freedoms of all women to manage their own lives. Thought-provoking as always.

Keith Roberts, Pavanne

Classic work of alternate history in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated and Roman Catholicism retained its stranglehold over European politics, culture and innovation. In a series of linked novellas, Roberts introduces us to a mid-20th century England still in a state of feudalism, controlled by the Church, and relying on steam-powered technology. But even though it is long delayed (as measured by our own timeline), change begins to force its way into this rigidly structured world.

Maureen McHugh, Nekropolis

McHugh is always worth reading. This novel tackles such varied elements as life in a repressive fundanentalist theocracy, the rights of artificially constructed people, the ethics of love when people can be programmed, chemically or genetically, to want to please others, and the experience of being a refugee trying to adapt to a strange new culture.

Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain

Another alternate history - the fracture point here is John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, which succeeds and sparks a revolution leading eventually to a socialist nation called Nova Africa in the former southern states. Great reading.

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I must being your attention to a wonderful small press. I mean, what else can you call a publishing house whose co-founder says things like "The challenge, I think, has always been not only to better inform 'the movement', but to figure out how to get the ideas across to everyone else. In effect, how do we actively contribute to building a movement (however defined) which is genuinely going to take on Capital and the state."?

PM Press publishes both fiction and non-fiction, everything from classics of anarchist thought to vegan cookbooks to science fiction with a left wing consciousness.I've already mentioned one book I ordered from them, Eleanor Arnason's Mammoths of the Great Plains. I actually bought three books from PM Press last year (and plan on buying several more this year). All three books are from their Outspoken Authors series, which showcases authors like Arnason, Ursula Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson among others. Each volume contains one or more pieces of shorter fiction (novella length or less) plus an interview and a biographical sketch. And they are publishing some very interesting work in this series.

Terry Bison, The Left Left Behind

The title piece in this volume is an absolutely hilarious satire of the Rapture movement in general and the scenario presented in the Left Behind books in particular.

Actually, this is what the publisher says about this piece and the other short piece in the volume:
The Left Behind novels (about the so-called “Rapture” in which all the born-agains ascend straight to heaven) are among the bestselling Christian books in the US, describing in lurid detail the adventures of those “left behind” to battle the Anti-Christ. Put Bisson and the Born-Agains together, and what do you get? The Left Left Behind--a sardonic, merciless, tasteless, take-no-prisoners satire of the entire apocalyptic enterprise that spares no one--predatory preachers, goth lingerie, Pacifica radio, Indian casinos, gangsta rap, and even “art cars” at Burning Man.

Plus: "Special Relativity," a one-act drama that answers the question: When Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, and J. Edgar Hoover are raised from the dead at an anti-Bush rally, which one wears the dress? As with all Outspoken Author books, there is a deep interview and autobiography: at length, in-depth, no-holds-barred and all-bets off: an extended tour though the mind and work, the history and politics of our Outspoken Author. Surprises are promised.
And it's all true.

Ursula LeGuin, The Wild Girls

Constant Reader must know by now that I believe Ursula Le Guin to be a goddess. Possibly an avatar of the child of Athene and Kwan Yin. A beacon of wisdom and compassionate understanding, while remaining a warrior of the mind determined to bring light to that which brings about injustice. The Wild Girls is pure Le Guin, compressed to diamond sharpness. The story cuts into heart and mind and lays bare the power relations of a rigid and hierarchical society built on inequalities of class, race and gender. Of course, it's only a story. Or is it? I love Le Guin's work because she makes me feel and think.

There's a good traditional review of the book by Brit Mandelo on Tor.dom.

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Steve Perry, The Musashi Flex

After re-reading all of the Matador series books published back in the 1980s and 90s, I discovered that Perry had returned to the Matador universe and had written a prequel that harkened back to the origins of the fighting style used by the Matadors in their revolution. I am pleased to report that the first of the prequels was just as good as the original series. I understand from Wiki that two more prequels are in progress, and I’m waiting for them eagerly.

Linda Evans, Far Side of Darkness

This is a well written and rather enjoyable book. There’s a conspiracy involving scientists and the military and a few other assorted people who want the world to be run their way. There’s a co-opted top secret government project involving time travel. And there’s a group of ordinary people caught up in all of this, accidentally sent through time, who eventually manage to come together and start to figure out what is going on and realise they may be the only ones who can stop it.

But I cannot recommend it, because the book ends on a cliffhanger, with no resolution at all. It was clearly intended as the first half of a tightly-connected duology, and given that it was originally published in 1996, it seems unlikely that the second half will ever be available. So, as things stand, don’t buy it – you will find yourself with a severe case of reading interruptus. That said, if the sequel is ever published – grab both volumes and go for it.

Eleanor Arnason, Tomb of the Fathers
Eleanor Arnason, Mammoths of the Great Plains

Eleanor Arnason is brilliant. She thinks deeply and honestly about things like gender, class, race, colonialism and imperialism, and how they affect her characters and the stories she wants to tell. And then she folds these important considerations into fascinating tales with interesting and multi-dimensional characters. She writes with wit and grace. Her work is thought-provoking and satisfying. I was going to say something about the two Arnason books I read last year, but then I discovered a review by Kelly Jennings at Strange Horizons that says much of what I would have said abut them, so I will direct you there instead:

Lyda Morehouse, Resurrection Code

For those who know Morehouse’s AngeLINK series – this is a must-read. Mouse and Morningstar. Prequel and sequel. Betrayal and redemption. Cyberpunk and angels. Gender fluidity. Prophecy and portent. Everything that Morehouse does so well. For those who do not know the world of AngeLINK – this is probably not the place to begin, but I urge you to try your hardest to find Morehouse’s four previous AngeLINK novels (sadly out of print) and read them. I’ve never been able to understand why these books, which are full of amazing characters, provocative ideas about mind and soul and sex and technology, and complex and satisfying storytelling – all that science fiction at its best is about – have failed to find a wider market. Perhaps it is the moral (and gender) ambiguity of some of the characters – but Morehouse knows that all beings are complex, and contain multitudes and contradictions. If you haven’t figured out by now, I love Morehouse’s work in this series. She has written other books that are a joy to read – under the name Tate Hallaway – but this series truly is her masterwork. And it really should be in print again.

For those who are interested, here is a link to a review of Resurrection Code by Russ Allbery (where you can also find links to his reviews of the other AngeLINK books).

Elizabeth Moon, Hunting Party

While I do enjoy some milsf, I tend not to read it as often as I do fantasy, whether high or otherwise. So even though I love Moon’s high fantasy, I had never really made reading her milsf a high priority. However, after finishing the new volumes in the Paladin’s Legacy fantasy series, I found that I wanted more Moon – so I decided to try this, the first volume of volume in her Familias Regnant milsf series. And enjoyed it. The things that I enjoy so much in Moon’s fantasy are there in her sf too – strong female characters, well-paced stories with political intrigue. I intend to read more.

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

A darkly satirical post-apocalyptic action-adventure comedy which poses serious questions concerning the nature of reality and identity, Harkaway’s first novel is perhaps a bit excessive, but has moments of sheer genius and more than enough energy to pull the reader through the rough spots. To say nothing of the question that is likely in the back of every reader’s mind – what the fuck will he do next? I really can’t easily describe it – just check it out for yourself.


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