Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships 11/18

Hello again, nerd-friends and fellow geeks.

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Book Riot’s newsletters!

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During his acceptance speech last night at the National Book Awards, Colson Whitehead confessed that he had been struggling with what to say to people about the election as he toured for The Underground Railroad. What he finally came up with was (and I am paraphrasing slightly):

“BMF: Be kind to everyone. Make art. Fight the power… Remember, ‘They can’t break me, because I’m a Bad Mother F$#@!er.'”

Set this side by side with a quote from Ursula Le Guin’s speech at last year’s National Book Awards:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.”

A final quote for you, this time from comics artist Valentine De Landro at Book Riot Live last weekend:

“We want Bitch Planet to be speculative fiction.”

Us too, De Landro. Us too.

Like many others right now, I am searching for explanation, illumination, inspiration, motivation. The fact that I turn to books and writers for these things is, well, why I’m writing a newsletter about genre fiction — and, I imagine, why you’re reading one. Science fiction and fantasy have always been the first and last place I turn. They are the cloudy mirror, the escape, the wake-up call, the great what-if. And now more than ever, we need the capacity to ask, “What if?”

Every book does this, of course, but some ask a bigger and stranger “What if?” than others. Since this question has never felt more relevant or urgent, I give you a list of 11 novels of science fiction and fantasy that have asked questions that pulled me out of myself, sparked my mind, and changed me as a reader and citizen.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl: What if the victims of the Belgian Congo had had better technology?

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin: What if gender was both variable and sporadic?

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: What if the oppressed used their power to fight back?

Infomocracy by Malka Older: What if government was no longer tied to geography?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: What if everything we put our faith in was made manifest?

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro: What if unruly women were sent to prison?

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer: What if we could watch the arc and fall of an empire through its stories?

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: What if two people found love amidst war?

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes: What if our crimes were made manifest for all to see?

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier: What if our pain was made visible and impossible to hide?

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter: What if we reconsidered what it means to be human?


Next installment we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming; until then, I wish you good books and fruitful thoughts.

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