Top Things I Liked From 2017

Now in lazy format!

The absolute topmost is Re:Creators. It’s glorious, gorgeous, very surprising, and also surprisingly lesbian. I’ve raved about it at great, frequent length on twitter. Don’t let the cheery tone and seemingly bland premise at first glance fool you. Yes, the woman in the bulky armor is a lesbian; yes the pink one too; yes so is the girl with the infinite swords. It’s all gay up in here.

I’ve also watched Houseki no Kuni, which is not perfect and is a bit more of an acquired taste–Re:Creators is pretty conventional in comparison–and is animated in a very… particular way. But it’s also quite beautiful, unique, and daring in ways Steven Universe isn’t quite (jokes about Houseki no Kuni being an anime SU aside). I’m looking forward to the rest of it airing.

I’ve written a LOT on NieR: AutomataBy Installing NieR: Automata, You Have Agreed to Heartbreak and Love in the Time of (NieR:)Automata. It is just so good and IMO deserves all its accolades, and it’d be nice if it sold even more than it already does (it still doesn’t perform as well as more mainstream AAA titles, despite the fame). Having said that, Fate/Extella is also really surprising. It’s not good, but it’s just the thing if you want a lot of lesbian romancing–three distinct routes, three different romances, all lesbian all the time–played out in a beautifully over-the-top anime way.

My Stuff

I have a new book out. If you follow me on twitter you’re already sick of hearing about it, but, well.

So there. People have said rather nice things about it. Barnes and Noble SFF Blog:

This ornate novella from the John W. Campbell Award nominee drips with lurid fairytale magic. The once-tropical Southeast Asia-inspired city-state of Sirapirat has been frozen in ice ever since the arrival of the Winter Queen, who seeks the shards of a magical broken mirror that will grant her every wish. Those pierced by the shards gain great strength, but are at risk of corruption. Over years, a girl named Nuawa, who has one of the winterglass splinters lodged in her heart, has prepared to strike back against the queen and free her people—but her well-honed plans are shattered when she falls in love with Lussadh, the queen’s greatest general and a traitor to the people of Sirapirat. Sriduangkaew’s poetic prose fairly sings, and this retelling of the Snow Queen legend is a dark delight.

Skiffy and Fanty:

Benjanun Sriduangkaew creates a fascinating and very loose retelling of The Snow Queen folktale with Winterglass, a high fantasy novella that infuses steampunk technology and an interesting form of magic.  With gorgeous prose and a refreshing perspective on fantasy in general, Sriduangkaew’s unique take on a classic tale creates a captivating narrative with twists, turns, and deadly secrets.  Sroduangkaew’s own-voices retelling features an entirely POC cast and lots of queer rep, set in Southeast Asia.  It’s a relatively quick read, and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the world of ice and intrigue.

I should probably have more to say about the book and its launch but it has been incredible and incredibly unreal! It’s a book I am very proud of, and it’s good to write long-form once in a while; there’s something very luxurious about having this much room and having a consistent world to work with.

Short fiction wise, my two highlights of the year were these stories. ‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review is a story about resistance through survival, and it’s also about interracial adoption. ‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies is secondary-world fantasy that’s taken some things from Attack on Titan, some things from Claymore. I expect you’d be able to recognize the inspiration if you’re familiar with both.

Advertisements

WINTERGLASS blog tour and interviews

DMVZ7rhVoAARiL6

On CK Oliver’s blog, I write on queer tragedy tropes, trauma porn, and the decisions I made to not be lazy and exploitative with Winterglass.

Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard that in Chechnya, they’re rounding up gay people and putting them in concentration camps. Recently it came out that gay singer Zelimkhan Bakaev has, most likely, been tortured to death in such a camp.

This is the reality for queer people; this is happening in the real world. But in the popular imagination, of television shows and epic fantasy and science fiction, such an event is just another trope to tug at the heartstrings of and thrill the cisgender, heterosexual audience. It’s just another trope to make cisgender, heterosexual creators feel good and socially aware; it’s just another trope to make them feel radical, daring. It’s just another trope. Here’s a queer character, she lives under mortal terror of being rounded up, stuck in a concentration camp, or — as in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, in a scene aired to critical acclaim— watching her lover hanged and then being genitally mutilated. This, popular media wants to tell you, is what it means to be queer: constantly terrified, miserable, brutalized, sexually assaulted and then finally dead.

Don’t forget to check out CK Oliver’s Daybreak Rising!

Ana Mardoll was very kind and hosted my post, Reverse-Engineering Eternity: The Puzzle of the Snow Queen where I went into decisions I made with a fairytale retelling and on the themes of the innocent, pure girl pitted against a seductive ice queen.

It’s a very Christian story (Gerda literally dispels the Snow Queen’s enchantments with Christian prayers). The Finnish woman doesn’t remark on her endurance or strength: it is Gerda’s purity alone that she praises, and Gerda’s purity alone that — she asserts—compels and charms all into serving Gerda. Vinge has an interesting take on this, where her Gerda figure Moon Dawntreader does win through kindness and empathy rather than purity, and there’s mileage to be had from stories where kindness and empathy are the guiding principles (Steven Universe, Puella Magi Madoka Magica). But so often what happens is that writers position Gerda as the virgin, the queen as the whore, the way it happens in any story where a powerful woman is pitted against a younger, naiver one: just look at Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Disney’s own take on Snow White (1937) or Sleeping Beauty (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989).

Ana has written urban fantasy, Poison Kiss, that’s focused on an all-queer cast.

At The Future Fire, I consider how Nasuverse reconfigures Arthuriana into its own separate canon, dislocated from Britishness: Fairytales Told Twice, and the Idylls of the King.

This more than anything is what keeps me interested: that a team of writers (ever-expanding) would take a body of legend that is considered quintessentially English and then discards its Englishness entirely. It’s not something that white, western writers do — even limp retellings like Avalon High cleave to British origins, with the protagonists’ parents as professors of Arthuriana studies. Several darker-and-grittier fantasy makes a point of distinguishing the various English/British identities, down to the regional distinction between Caledonian and Saxon and Scottish or what have you, all distinctions that Nasuverse never even thinks about because to Japanese writers, all white Britons are more or less the same, belonging to a single amorphous culture (so much so that Lancelot being French is beside the point, he’s lumped in with the rest of the Round Table).

The Future Fire also very kindly interviewed me.

My friend J. Moufawad-Paul graciously hosted me for a guest post: Narratives of Exclusion.

(He’s the author of Continuity and Rupture, among other things, which makes socialist philosophy quite accessible–quite crucial, I think–and is really incisive to boot.)

If you read Winterglass, you may — or may not, depending — notice that nobody in it is white. Not even the Winter Queen. Or, more accurately, particularly not the Winter Queen.

The idea of the wintry monarch (all their fairy-queen variants) is popularly linked with western cultures (though far from unique to them), and The Snow Queen itself was written by a Danish author. The fear of a winter that never ends is European. And it is a story about colonization, a land taken over by a climate for which it was never built, a killing climate. The Winter Queen could have been white — most tranformative iterations of her are — but that would have necessitated that I wrote Winterglass around whiteness. Nuawa and Lussadh would exist in opposition and in relation to that whiteness.

I got interviewed! The Unpublishables is an Asian pop culture website and I got a super neat set of questions to answer: on Winterglass, writing while Asian/of color, and more.

Many POC writers, including our contributors, have felt the pressure by agents, editors, and publishers to write about our cultures in a way that fits in with the larger Western idea of diversity (eg. themes like the struggle between the “restrictive, traditional East” and the “free, modern West”, exotic elements, or whitewashed characters). Do you have any suggestions or advice about that?

I once recommended my Hong Kong urban fantasy, Scale-Bright, to a white reader. He asked ‘Is there kungfu in it?’ It was an alarming reminder that most white people can communicate with POC only through stereotypes.

Next, B. R. Sanders very kindly hosted my post, The Rightful King on Her Rightful Throne, where I talked about revolution, lineage, and the romance of the ‘good’ monarch.

But, because this is fiction (and the package is so attractive), I still find myself gravitating toward the glamour of it, to the romantic but destructively flawed ideal held by Urobuchi’s character that kingship is a service. We come to why one of Winterglass’ protagonists General Lussadh al-Kattan used to be a prince.

(Their book Ariah I found very good and they have exceptional finesse with characterization. I recently picked up their new book, Extraction, which I expect I’ll quite enjoy.)

‘I made my protagonist bi because I wanted to add a bit of flavor’

Another day, another Powerful Ally lost to the fire of criticism from the minorities they profess to champion. As one does, I came across a straight man who was complaining that he feared that, having made the protagonist of his nonexistent fantasy novel bisexual, the fact would ‘bite him in the ass’.

Hmm, interesting. I proceeded to ask him if he was queer. What happened next will shock you!

Read More »

WINTERGLASS cover reveal!

winterglass_cover

The art is by Anna Dittman, the design by Mikio Murakami. I’m way beyond chuffed. 

(New to the book? Here’s what it’s about.)

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

One of the most important things for me was that the cover absolutely must feature an East Asian woman, which makes the process… tricky. Most art of East Asian women is a fetishistic nightmare, racist caricatures, or stereotypical (dragons, kimonos or what have you). The state of representing East Asian women is rather specific, and specifically awful. The majority of fantasy art of East Asian women is also, inevitably, in traditional getups (kimonos, hanfu, etc) which don’t at all suit Winterglass (it is, after all, not set in the fantasy equivalent of either China or Japan). That’s when it’s not women in skimpy ‘Chinese-inspired’ outfits with boob windows ala Jade Empire.

Looking for ‘inspiration’ or ‘mood board’ images I came across these promotion shots of the Chinese fantasy drama (incredibly named) Ice Fantasy.

Cool, but not quite what I’m looking for. The girl in the first is, well, too soft for lack of a better word. I wanted something icier, more aloof. Still, they looked nice and I set them aside in the ‘this is the sort of thing I’m looking for’ folder.

I’ve always liked Anna Dittman’s work: her East Asian women are beautifully painted and dignified. These two were favorites, Bauhinia and Lantana. The piece we used for the cover of Winterglass is just the right kind of icy and aloof, I felt, and perfect for the mood I want to convey. Mikio Murakami’s work on the title graphic pulls the entire cover together, I think, and it’s basically flawless.

title

The book should be up for pre-order soon and is slated for December release.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

When she comes we scatter coins before her, every disc polished, some so new they are still warm from the making. She walks bare-footed but does not seem hurt or troubled by this gleaming path. I catch her smiling from the corner of her mouth as she treads on these symbols of wealth, the luster and hard glint of Tarangkaya’s prosperity.

She is robed tightly, cerise brocade and propolis sash. Her scalp, shaven in the fashion of her country, is painted in red ink with the calligraphy—again her country’s—signaling luck, fertility, a hundred children.

I am similarly patterned, from the back of my head to my brow, my bare shoulders and my arms, as my skin makes for good canvas. In retrospect perhaps I should not have been there, a foreign and startling sight to the foreign and startling bride. But the household’s bulwark must preside, like a pillar or statue. I even gleam like one, mostly celadon and the odd tracery in umber and old ivory, the shades of my skin back when I was still mostly skin.

 ‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ is a story that I cheerfully, and very intentionally, advertise as ‘What if Attack on Titan, but lesbians‘ (and without the weird glorification of fascists). Also, of course with characters of color rather than a mostly-white cast.

I’m very resentful about what happens to Ymir, by the way. You know what I mean. We always know what it means when a lesbian couple is bound for tragedy, and we’re given a little bit of hope, a bone thrown here and there. But then the inevitable happens and tragedy strikes anyway. Sometimes it’s done tastefully, more or less, but most often (when written by men in particular) it’s just nasty. Predictable, but nasty.

Before season two, I’d heard before that Attack on Titan has a lot of uncomfortable overtones, in particular with regards to its militaristic glorification and something that flirts uncomfortably with fascism, and not exactly as a critique of it. The first season of the show didn’t seem to lean on that too much, so I didn’t think too long on it; season two is somewhat more overt, and it became oddly… uncomfortable to watch. After learning what happens to the one and only lesbian couple in Attack on Titan, it’s just about soured the series completely for me. Which is a shame, and it’s also a shame that we’re so desperate for any sort of lesbian representation that we eagerly chase scraps. That comes to why I will always center queer women in my work, and why for me writing what I want to read is an especially charged thing.

Charles at Quick Sip Reviews reviewed the story here.

The emotional beats are strong and I love the food elements, the way that poison is used, the way that sex and sensuality are used. It’s a great story and you should definitely check it out!

Bridget at SF Bluestocking also has a kind word!

The major draw for me in #232 was a new story by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. “No Pearls as Blue as These” is a gorgeously clever queer romance with a great setting, a fascinating protagonist and a nicely hopeful message that makes it pretty much exactly the sort of thing I want to read these days.

Also, a couple readers livetweeted reading this story from reading the BCS issue before the story went up for free. Hella cool, and I always appreciate this.

Marginalized editors and sensitivity readers list

I don’t usually need editorial services myself, but there are frequently calls for sensitivity reading and editorial services, and while databases/lists of such already exist I wanted to compile another one so I can point people to when I see tweets cross my timeline that ask for sensitivity readers and freelance marginalized editors. I believe that, whenever possible, your money should go to marginalized people. Rates are usually in USD.

To be added to this list, ask me on twitter! I’m @benjanun_s. Please tell me what areas of marginalization you’re willing to read for and state, if possible, your rates.

My suggestion is that you state your rates per word–how much you want to be paid per word (or per 100/500/1000 words)–or per hour, that’s up to you. For prospective clients, that’s the easiest way to count since different novels have different lengths, as do short stories. I’ll link your twitter, your website if any, and include your rates. If you want any of this modified or updated, just let me know (again, on twitter).

Read More »

Machine Girls: Accord

I’m still inordinately obsessed with NieR: Automata and I’ll probably write a lot about it, but I want to jot down a tinfoil hat theory about a certain recurring Drakengard/Nier character. I also want to complain about a particular endgame antagonist, so be aware that this is full of spoilers for Routes C, D, and E.

If you’re familiar with Drakengard 3, you may recall a certain android named Accord

She appears in Drakengard 3, claiming to have been sent from a distant future to observe events of the past, particularly those centered around Zero, a woman who bears a parasitic flower (itself an entity intent on destroying the planet). For the most part Accord doesn’t interfere; the one time she does interfere is to ensure Zero fulfills her mission of wiping out her sisters One, Two, Three, Four, Five and then to finally commit suicide and destroy the flower. Accord is confirmed to have existed across timelines, and to also exist within the world of NieR: Automata, though never onscreen.

Read More »