So, still going old school for this post, but how can we talk about women to read in SFF without Lois McMaster Bujold? I was/am a latecomer to her books — it was only when the Curse of Chalion was recommended to me on a writer’s forum that I’d even *heard* of it. She’s not usually stocked in my local bookshop (and why that is, when she’s such a prominent SFF author, along with other award winning female SFF authors, is a post for another time…). I couldn’t even order in the sequel, but had to borrow it. And this sequel won a Hugo, a Nebula and a Locus award for crying out loud!
Anyway…I was late getting to her. But once I started…well, once I started I could not stop. I’ve still got about a bajillion books of hers to read, but I’ve loved every one so far. Curse of Chalion is in my ‘top five books of any genre, all time’ list. Threads are woven together with subtle expertise, the world-building is fantastic, the description flowing and not overblown, the MC is intelligent, not your typical hero, but so believable and likeable…I love that book so hard, it gives me that I Am A Talentless Hack feeling.
Not just a one off either — every book I read of hers evokes such things in me I cannot describe. I haven’t even started on her most famous series, the Vorkosigan saga, yet. At least partly because I know that’ll be it for quite some time, reading wise.
In conclusion — read her books. Now.
So, inspired by the #womentoread hashtag, whereby people are listing great female SFF authors (in response to that hypothetical, but sadly all too real ‘women don’t write proper SFF’ *eyeroll*) I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about said female authors. I’m going to start with a few ‘old school’ authors before I dive into the latest crop, and especially with the woman who made me want to write – CJ Cherryh
Once upon a time, many years ago, I encountered a book called The Chronicles of Morgaine. And lo, I fell in love with it, very hard indeed. I had no idea until years later what gender the author was, and I didn’t care. I DID care that here was a fantastic story, written in a style I’d not seen before (in SFF anyway) but which utterly absorbed me. The third POV was nailbitingly close, the worlds subtly drawn but viscerally real, as real to me as this one even when they were sometimes uncomfortable, (one of) the main protagonist, Morgaine, was tantalisingly mysterious because we only got to see her through the POV Vanye’s eyes. Other subtleties were there too, ones that again I’d not seen before, or not to that extent (okay, I was young, but I’d read a heck of a lot — I was and am always reading something) — namely Vanye’s duality, that is, that he thought of himself as a coward and a failure due to his upbringing, but it was obvious to me as a reader that he was, in fact, steadfastly loyal and recklessly brave. The treatment of ‘magic’ too; a good example of Clarke’s Law, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Morgaine’s tools are clearly technological, but Vanye sees them as magic (and is afraid of the witchery of them). And, ofc, it was fantasy, but it was SF too.
But back then, when I were a girl, I didn’t know about Clarke’s Laws, or unreliable(ish, kinda, not really but…) narrators or show, don’t tell, or even that women in SFF were advised to change/rearrange their name for publication (Cherryh was advised to add the ‘h’ to her name to avoid sounding like a romance author…., and to use her initials to disguise the fact she was female). All I knew was this was one heck of a story written in a way that engaged my emotions — all of them. I ran out and bought half a ton of other books by Cherryh. They didn’t all grab me to the same extent (though I reserve Merchanter’s Luck as one of my all time favourite reads), but they did always interest me, and they certainly made me think about people, and how they work.
And when, years later, I decided to give this writing lark a try, it was Morgaine and the other books that came to mind. How did she do this and that? How can I do that?
I wish I could go back and read them for the first time again. But, because this writing malarky changes how you read, whether you will it or no, I find myself reluctant to go back and reread Morgaine. What if I don’t love it as much? Instead, I remember it, so distinctly I can remember where I was sitting, the time of day, what the weather was like, each time I sat down to read, for the week it took me to read it. I remember it because it instilled in me a love for characters, and an ambition to realise my characters just as well (a feat I fear I will never manage).
In short, CJ Cherryh inspired me to write, and if I was going to write, do it well.