Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ten Favourite Books by Ten Favourite Authors (who Happen to be Women)

This isn't the snappiest title in the shop, and I'm shamelessly stealing the idea from one of Juliet E Mckenna's recent tweets, where she said she'd love to see something like this in print (well, what else are you going to do?). With my act of daring theft done, I started to put this list together. It feels a bit odd, I'm conscious that I'm a man, and as such this may seem patronising, which isn't my intent here at all. I'm trying to approach it as a reader rather than being defined by anything else.

I don't know that there's a particular order to the books, mostly I've just put them down as they occurred to me.

1) Storm Constantine: The Monstrous Regiment

One of the Constantine's first novels, Monstrous Regiment depicts a matriarchy on an alien planet and it pulls no punches. It strips the fairytale or golden age elements from the idea of this system of government in favour of a full bore assault, reflecting the idea that power corrupts, and power corrupts absolutely. Is that in anyway indicative of the time the novel was written, when Mrs Thatcher was in power and being disowned by feminists left, right and centre? Perhaps but the fact remains that Monstrous Regiment is powerful and hard hitting.

2) Lauren Beukes: Zoo City

The first Beukes I read, shortly after FantasyCon in... ooh 2010 I think. The subject is fascinating and the
novel provides a window into a different culture, one that is a curious mix of Western and African. The ideas in the book pop and left me wanting more - if only to get an explanation of why the animal spirits had emerged in the first place, why they chose the people they did and what the purpose of it all was. The characters are vibrant and exciting, Sloth in particular made me smile.
3) Margaret Atwood: Year of the Flood

To my shame I haven't read Atwood's most famous novel yet (I have it on my Kindle, waiting). Year of the Flood really impressed me though, the story it tells is strong, apposite and (whisper it) good science fiction. The world is well told and feels as if it might happen in a few decades' time, which is rare. The action of the novel feels apocalyptic all the way through and the way the plot develops illustrates not only the destructive way capitalism undermines society and community but the dangers of fringe religions.

4) Poppy Z Brite: Liquor

The first of Brite's non horror novels, Liquor focuses on two gay chefs setting up their own restaurant where
everything is alcohol related. It's well written and was a good move away from her horror books, essentially she reinvented herself through the book. The book is coarse and shallow, wonderfully so and the characters jump off the page. Brite does not pull her punches, choosing to let her creation breathe and flow, throwing little jokes; the book is more human than her horror novels.

5) Caitlin R Kiernan: The Red Tree

One of my favourite writers, Caitlin's work reaches out to the dispossessed and the lost. The Red Tree is a particularly strong example, focusing on an author who takes a house on Rhode Island in an effort to get her mojo flowing again by cutting the world away and in doing so opens a Pandora's Box of terrifying events with a singular tree as the central motif. The work taps into many sources, from Lovecraft to New England's folklore and creates a scarier, nastier feeling to the closest thing I can think of (in this case, Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood)

6) Juliet E McKenna: Darkening Skies

This book slew me. Not in a funny way, but in the way it presented a realistic slice of fantasy fiction and
forced me to think about how different a medieval culture would be to the one we have now. The characters are well rendered, the action well written. The relationships between men and women are strikingly drawn, leaving no doubt what lies at the heart of the novel beyond the concept of 'what if wizards went to war'. I remain of the opinion that McKenna is one of the writers doing the most not only to write good fantasy but to attach it to some sort of reality and use it to comment on the real world.

7) Freda Warrington: Dark Cathedral

I read this during the 1990s and only once. That's not to say it's not a favourite, it is well written and gripping
and a good read. But its quite nasty in a very human way and once experienced I found I did not really want to go back to it. Warrington makes good points about the fringe of Christianity, the churches that are more cult than congregation and about the nature of the faith itself, underscoring it with a good foundation of Pagan thought. At times it does peter off into cliche but the plot keeps moving and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just only read it once.

8) Sam Stone: Zombies of New York and Other Stories

Sam is definitely a unique voice in the horror and, whilst she's an acquired taste, this book of short stories is
fantastic, especially when the stories move from her vampire fiction to more general horror tales. She writes lushly, illustrating her tales with enough detail to unsettle but not enough to sicken, even in the Toy Maker's House. The book is a lovely little collection of stories that demonstrate the range the author has, tackling killer clowns, Jack the Ripper and other subjects in all their grisly glory.

9) Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns

Another author I rave about, Emma Newman's work is vibrant and passionate. The Split Worlds series is brilliant in that it confronts our obsession with the past (in British culture at least) and pretty ruthlessly comparies it with the lot of people who aren't members of the upper classes. The books, which are in part 'pure feminist rage' in the author's own words make a nice parable for the modern age, where so much of the time we're told that battles have been won and now things can be allowed to progress 'naturally'.

This underlines for me one of the great things about the genre, the fact it can call out things about the world we live in and discuss them.

10) Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber

A beautiful collection of fairy tales, written from a feminist perspective, the Bloody Chamber does a lot to
break the image of women as pale, pure victims of circumstance to being protagonists in their own right - it explores the idea that there's a 'beast in woman too'. Carter's voice is powerful and intelligent, compassionate and wise.

And that's the lot!

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