Last Friday I read from “Lyes” in my collection Skin Deep Magic as a part of the Lambda Literary Finalist Reading series. A friend snapped the photo above.
I will be at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta next month (May 7-10). I was invited to moderate a panel on WHC’s Lifetime Achievement Winner Tanith Lee. It is an unexpected honor. Lee will not be there, due to health reasons. (She is intensely private, but this information has ‘leaked’). I will also be on another panel.
My schedule is as follows:
FRIDAY, MAY 8:
10-11 AM Panel: Dancing With Darkness: A Tribute to HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Tanith Lee – DUNWICH
Moderator: Craig Laurence Gidney. Panelists: Ellen Datlow, Naima Haviland, Mandy Slater, Lisa Tuttle
1-2 PM Panel: WORLD HORROR: Different Visions: African-American Spec-Lit From Afro-Futurism to Beloved – SARNATH
Moderator: Balogun Ojetade. Panelists: Jeff Carroll, Gerald Coleman, Crystal Connor, Craig Laurence Gidney, John Edward Lawson
Join finalists of the 27th Annual Lambda Literary Awards for readings of their nominated works at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art . All readings are free and open to the public.
Confirmed readers: Timothy Liu, Michael Carroll, Ellen Bass, Dia Felix, Jameson Currier, Craig L. Gidney, Michael Broder, David Swatling, Ron Suresha, Rafe Haze, Kelly Cogswell, Susan Kuklin, Sean Strub, Vinton McCabe, Bob Hofler, Rob Smith, Shelly Oria, Dominic Ambrose, Sheela Lambert, Philip Gefter, Ann Herendeen, Stephen Morrison, Alexis De Veaux, Tim Federle, Heru khuti, Andi Marquette, R.G. Emanuelle
The reading starts at 6:30pm
The place is: Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art 26 Wooster St, New York, New York 10013
Hope to see you there!
Much has been written about the current unpleasantness in the Science Fiction and Fantasy fan community. The TL;DR version is that two groups of right wing blowhards ballot stuffed the Hugo Awards. The first group uses dogwhistle language—they are against “Affirmative Action Fiction” (works that feature trans or gay or ethnic minorities characters, and believe that women should be a hero’s reward). The other group is not subtle about about their contempt. They include a White Supremacist editor and an author known more for his unhinged homophobic rants is nominated six times(!) The message they are sending is quite clear.
Other people have written about this issue—including George R.R. Martin and John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal. I agree and support their efforts and suggestions.
But here’s the thing for me. and frankly, the elephant in the room.
I don’t feel safe. I’ve been called the n-word and the f-word in public more times than I can count. And where I live is perhaps the bluest of blue cities—Washington DC. I have no desire to pay my hard earned money for the pleasure of being insulted by a bunch of people who despise my very existence. Elimination rhetoric is only a hairsbreadth away from violence. I’ve seen it way too many times. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. I’ve got to wonder about how many gay people, or fans of color will actually show up to Worldcon, and frankly, any other con as long as these toxic people are going to attend.
A snake bite opens The Girl in the Road, a novel that seems to have all of the hallmarks of a thriller. The book is set in the near-future, a time where the West’s power has waned and India and Ethiopia have become world powers. Technological wonders, such as sub dermal implants and new energy sources, abound. Political turmoil still exists, and the heroine Meena believes that the death of her lover and the poisonous snake found in her bed are connected to a terrorist organization. Meena inexpertly treats her wounds, and starts running. She is being followed by a young barefoot woman; she sees the young woman in crowds, staring at her, relentlessly on her trail. The narrative pace is quick and full of feverish imagery. Told in first person, present tense, Meena’s story manages to mix, in near perfect equilibrium, her suspenseful flight, the world she lives in (minus the dreaded InfoDump technique sometimes employed by Science Fiction writers), and her character. We learn that Meena has been raised by her grandparents, due to the fact that her own parents died in mysterious circumstances that may or may not have to do with the terrorist organization that is pursuing her. We also learn that Meena is polyamorous, with a broken trail of lovers of both genders, and her one true love is a transgender/genderqueer woman. The breathless narrative of the first part ends with a stunning cliffhanger.
Then we are thrown into the first person narrative of another woman named Mariama. Her narrative takes the form of a long, incantatory letter to another woman, named Yemaya. Mariama recounts her first few memories. She was born the daughter of a sex slave, in extreme poverty in India. Upon the death of her mother at the hands of the slaveowner, she runs away. She eventually becomes a stowaway on a truck traveling to Addis Ababa. Before then, she has her own experience with a snake. Mariama eats a piece of sea snake which gets lodged in her chest, and bothers Mariama during times of fear and stress. She imagines the fragment of sea snake as a living entity within, which she calls the kreen.
The rest of the novel alternates between the two narratives. Meena, the woman of the future, eventually heads toward Ethiopia, in hopes of finding out why her parents were murdered. As she travels on the Trail, a kind of high tech ocean-based energy source, Meena loses her grip on her sanity. Mariama, who exists in some earlier but undefined time, begins her own trip to Ethiopia, where she meets the mysterious Yemaya, a beautiful fugitive who has her own agenda. The relationship between the two women, separated by the span of years, slowly becomes apparent.
But, in spite of all the trappings of a speculative thriller, The Girl in the Road is not a plot-driven novel. It belongs to a micro-genre of Visionary Fiction, the sort of work championed by Steve Erickson, Helen Oyeyemi, or Angela Carter. The subtext of the novel is as intricately crafted as the foreground. It is a novel that uses the conventions of genre fiction without being bound to them. The novel is allusive and illusory, full of dream logic, and references to mythology. The images of roads and serpents flow through both women’s stories. Meena, for instance, chooses the name Durga (an avatar of an Indian goddess) as an alias, and Mariama interacts with a woman whose name is Yemaya (an orisha, or pan-African goddess of the sea).
Byrne’s prose is rich, poetic, and musical. Many sections deserve to be read aloud. Readers should also know that this a very adult novel—both Meena and Mariama’s sexuality play an important part in the story and define their characters. The world Byrne creates is marvelous, and like the best speculative fiction, it manages to both have a sense-of-wonder and also serve an as allegory. The interplay of the personal and the political, myth and technology is woven throughout this novel.
Other reference points: Toni Morrison’s magical realism and Afro-Canadian Caribbean fantasist Nalo Hopkinson’s novel The Salt Roads, and Joanna Russ’ The Female Man. The Girl in the Road is a mythic quest novel masquerading as a futuristic SF novel.
My author interview with Ms. Byrne is forthcoming.
Happy Book Birthday to my colleague (we did a workshop together) Dale Bailey’s new collection of speculative fiction, The End of the End of Everything. His work is filled with poetic, Bradburyesque prose, keenly observed characters and inventive plots that range from time travel stories to alternate history to apocalyptic horror.
My author interview with Bailey will appear sometime soon.
The Washington Independent Review of Books posted my interview with Forrest Aguirre, whose excellent historical fantasy novel, Heraclix and Pomp: A novel of the Fabricated and the Fey deftly weaves a tale of esoteric magic, horror, whimsy and romance against the backdrop of the late days of the Holy Roman Empire.
You can read the interview here.