Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spoiler-Free Book Review: "Rainbird" by Rabia Gale

Before I go into my review of Rabia Gale's novella, I take great pleasure in announcing that my short story, "Atheists in the Cemetery," has been accepted for publication in Burial Day Book's upcoming anthology, "Gothic Blue Book 4!"

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Just as the halfbreed title character of Rabia Gale's 31,000-word novella "Rainbird" belongs to neither one world nor the other, the story itself is neither one genre nor another. It has elements of Steampunk, but isn't, quite; there's a great deal of future noir, but it isn't all that; and the story itself is very heroic fantasy, without actually being heroic fantasy. It's a hybrid, like Rainbird herself.

And I love it.

I first discovered Rabia Gale while reading Sword & Sorceress 28. Her story about a kite-maker and the children she helps was done so well, the writing so tight and so ethereal, I had to look her up. I found "Rainbird" on her site and bought it without a second thought.



"Rainbird" takes place in some undisclosed time, presumably in our world, though even that's neither confirmed nor denied. What is told to the audience is that there is no more sun. No giant yellow ball of gas in the sky to provide light, heat, and life. Instead, the role of the sun is played by a giant heat lamp of sorts called the Day Sun, which travels on a track called the sunway across the land.

Oh, and that track? Runs along the spinal cord of a long-dead, continent-sized dragon who fell to earth.

Yeah.

Did I mention how much I love this?

Rainbird is half-human through her father Petrus, and half a species called eerie, angel-like creatures who resent the humans and their sunway and their Day Sun. The eerie have very specific rules about half-breeds, and Rainbird's mere existence is not part of those rules. As such, Petrus keeps her in hiding as his assistant inspector. They live and work in the skeleton of the dragon, helping the Company to keep the sunway running.

I. Love. This.

There's nothing about any of this I don't love. Gale's writing itself is strong and descriptive. She knows when to crank up the action and when to let you breathe. She knows exactly how much detail to give, and when. She's created a fantastical, whimsical, dark, world that is simultaneously familiar and utterly strange.

I love halfbreed stories, and I love stories of underdogs who become the hero through chance and circumstances. I love the sunway on the dragon's spine, I love the black market on Rib Three, I love the egg and mushroom houses along the dragon's bones. I love that a dragon fell to earth and got used in this way. I love the eerie's snark.

And I love the ending. Not giving anything away, but with a story like this it would have been very easy for Gale to take an extreme: either a very happy, sappy ending, or a very dark and sad one. She chose neither, and I respect that and love the choice she made.

I look forward to many, many more quality works from Rabia Gale, one of my new favorite writers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Interview With Winifred Burton, Author of "Girl Out of Water"

As I've posted about before, my Reading Project for 2014 is to read as many speculative fiction books - sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and all their subgenres - by Women of Color as I can. On Twitter, I've been using the hashtag SpecFicByWomenOfColor to chronicle my journey...and through that hashtag, I found Winifred Burton, author of the Cryptid Coterie series, fellow nerd, and Seattle-based WoC.

Girl Out of Water is the first book in the Cryptid Coterie series. If you're looking for a little science with your magic, plenty of well-drawn female characters, and urban fantasy without the ubiquitous alpha male love interest, check it out.

Here, Winifred Burton and I chat about creating magic worlds, the portrayal of women in spec fic, starting your own indie publishing company, and geek out over dragons and Hogwarts.

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Meredith Morgenstern: It was fun to read some urban fantasy in which the main character has to be introduced to the world of magic, rather than already being a part of it. That situation reminded me a lot of Lev Grossman's book, "The Magicians," in which the MC has to both cope with his/her new reality while simultaneously battling a big baddie. Why do you think it's important for the main character to start off as a "muggle" in some stories? Why did you make that choice for Tabitha?


Winifred Burton: I enjoyed The Magicians incidentally.


I think it's important because it mirrors the way most of us go through life. Very few people start out with enormous advantages, and I think it's probably more interesting as a narrative to watch someone create themselves in the midst of that struggle.

Also it gives those of us on the Muggle grind hope that our invitation has been delayed, but it's still coming.

MM: I'm 38 and still waiting for my invitation to Hogwarts...
Do you think it's kind of a coming-of-age thing? Tabitha's a little old for puberty, but she's still starting a new chapter in her life.

WB: Same.
And yes I do.
Part of it, part of Tabitha's story is about what it's like to be a grown up (the magical power to eat cereal at midnight and do as she pleases), but then what do you do with that? Is it what you thought it would be?

I also think for women, puberty has an especially subtle emotional process that you can't see until you're on the other side of it. Tabitha's old for omg, I have boobs, but she's still inexperienced and fumbling emotionally.

MM: I like your blending of elemental magic and science fiction, in terms of genetics and physics. Do you think that straight-up "sci-fi" and straight-up "fantasy" are becoming old-fashioned as genres get blended?

WB: I hope not because in many ways I am very much addicted to the traditional tropes and stories. Some things are just better with dragons for instance.

MM: ALL things are better with dragons, IMO. Dragons are like cheese, chocolate or bacon: There's nowhere they don't belong.

WB: We agree about these things! I think classic science fiction and fantasy don't get less interesting, as much as maybe our approaches to them aren't as fresh.

Robot overlords, mining planets, magical macguffins. They never get old for me.

One of my favorite little novels is One for the Morning Glory, and it's about as old-fashioned as I think fantasy comes.




MM: Do you see technology seeping into fantasy more?
I'm thinking of things like, stories with scientific explanations for vampirism, for example.

WB: I honestly think the line between technology and magic is pretty thin.
So yes I think we'll see more of that. As leaps are made in technology there's a weird gap in the time it takes for us to accept and adopt it. I think our understanding of it in that gap is blind faith and magic. Irene and Tabitha are...In many ways on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Irene has some very interesting origins. And Tabitha is somewhat less intentional as an elemental.

MM: What they both had in common was a kind of reluctance to accept their powers. They both try so hard to be normal.

WB: I live in Irene's backyard in a way, Hanford is just a few hours away, and they've had some very scary congenital issues in their population [trigger warning for disturbing image after link]Writing them, I wanted the reader to feel like Irene had potential as a protagonist and Tabitha had potential as a villain.

MM: It's so rare these days to read paranormal fiction in which romance takes the back seat. Your story not only has a female protag and antag, but almost exclusively female supporting characters. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

WB: Absolutely. I think the Bedchel test is fantastic but a fairly low bar.

MM: Agreed. Yet it's depressing how many films, books, and TV shows still can't pass that very low bar.

WB: I'm pretty vocal about how boring I find the standard love triangle, or quadrangle even. I wanted to explore the range of female relationships and their complexities.I also didn't want to fall into a trap of "we're all women here", so everything and everyone is harmonious.

MM: Yes! Life is not "Sex and the City." Not all women get along all the time.

WB: I tried to make the characters as real as possible, and then I gave them bizarre environs and objectives.
It was important to me to have women in competition with each other, in a totally non romantic way.
I think we so often are, but those impulses are fed into a body image/romantic context and so you lose the subtleties of it.

Also, can we just agree that if you have superpowers, falling in love is slightly less...cool isn't the right word. It's out there, that's a part of the experience, but it's odd to make it THE experience, if you can also say, move things with your mind.




MM: Who are some of your influences in both fantasy and sci-fi? Or, what movies, books, TV shows?

WB: Without seeming too fangirlish, certainly Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Octavia Butler, Clive Barker. I've always wanted to be the lovechild of Clive Barker and Toni Morrison actually.

MM: Let's talk about your experience in publishing. Why did you choose Cirrina Books?

WB: Creating a small imprint to publish my work was my first choice. I may yet in the future, but I never queried agents or the Big 6.

MM: Why?

WB: I knew it would be more work, oy such work, but I don't see myself as a good fit for that model.
Control is massive, and while I don't think self-publishing is the gold rush some people think it is, I know traditional publishing is even less so. Creatives in other areas like music, have opted out of the studio and record label system and I've admired that for a long time. I created Cirrina almost without a second thought. Maybe my entrepreneurial influences like the Ani DiFranco of my girlhood made that seem normal to me and less stigmatized. 

When I was Tabitha's age it was common for people making things to strike out on their own in the hopes that someday some nice company would later ask them to sell out.

MM: Like the Riot Grrrl zines of the early 90s.

WB: Exactly.

MM: To that end, do you have any advice for other writers considering this option?

WB: Much like adulthood, it's full stop responsibility and reward.
It doesn't require much money but it will require an enormous amount of time and dedication.
Also people like Hugh Howey have pulled back the curtain on the data for publishing this way and made it less about who's good enough to be chosen and more about who's willing to assume all risks and responsibilities.

MM: Do you think, then, that the future lies with all authors self-publishing, or creating small presses?

WB: I think the future will be more hybridization.
I think we'll see the odd self-published title,even from the big names. I have no idea what consumption via subscription will do to content generation, but I think the era of indie vs. trend will mellow a bit. Readers don't care how something is published if they like the content.

MM: Anything else you'd like to share, either about Girl Out of Water, or Cirrina, or writing in general?

WB:  I am tidying up a final edit of Broken Wave the follow up to Girl Out of Water. And I have a stand alone paranormal thriller called Mercies that just needs a cover of all things, that will release sometime this fall.

MM: Thank you! Good luck with Cirrina!

WB: Thanks!


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Winifred Burton can be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/winnaburto
At her website here: http://winifredburton.com/