Court of Fives is a Norton Award Finalist

I’m thrilled and honored to announce that COURT OF FIVES is a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (2015).

I’m particularly thrilled and honored to be among such fantastic company in this category, with excellent writers Daniel José Older, Laura Ruby, France Hardinge, Fran Wilde, Fonda Lee, Tina Connelly, Noelle Stevenson, and Nicole Kornher-Stace.

CoF-cover

 

Here is the full list (thrilled to see so many great writers honored, including several friends of mine — in fact, I don’t even know how I am going to vote in the Novel category because I want a three way tie):

Source: http://www.sfwa.org/2016/02/2015-nebula-awards-nominees-announced/

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards (presented 2016), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Novel

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Novella

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
“The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles,” Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Novelette

“Rattlesnakes and Men,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
“The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
“The Deepwater Bride,” Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
“Our Lady of the Open Road,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story

“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

•••

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

•••

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

2016 Prospective

After the previous post’s exhausting round up of all my 2015 publications, I must now mention I won’t have nearly as many new publications in 2016.

In fact the only confirmed publication I have is:

August 2016: Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives 2), Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

PB

What else am I working on? What else might I like to be working on?

Here is the state of the Kate Elliott in January 2016.

Under contract and actively working on:

Court of Fives 3, the third and final novel in the Court of Fives trilogy.

Dead Empire, the second volume of the Black Wolves Trilogy.

A novelette for an anthology, not yet announced. The story will be set in the Spiritwalker universe.

Under contract, not yet working on:

Another novella in the Court of Fives universe.

The third Black Wolves Trilogy volume.

Not under contract partials: novels or short fiction I have written a bit on, that I am anxious to complete someday:

Short Fiction:

A possible novella that may be part of Dead Empire but might be published separately beforehand.

So much Spiritwalker short fiction:

Monster: Kemal at thirteen

Bloom: Includes the incident in which a teenage Andevai comes to the attention of Four Moons House, but is really a story about how a young woman mage who is a diviner comes to realize her power.

The Architect: An incident that takes place a few months after Andevai begins training at the mage house, told from the point of view of the mansa’s uncle.

The First Thing: Fourteen-year-old Augustus Sidibe stows away on a dirigible crossing from Expedition to Europa, and witnesses a terrible event.

Two post-Spiritwalker stories that to give details would be spoilers for the series.

Novels:

Jaran universe novels. Yes, there are several more to be written, although at this point I would write them as standalones rather than as a series or trilogy.

Here is the next Jaran novel I would write. It would be a standalone, and it’s working title used to be The Game of Princes but you can see that “Game of” constructions are basically out at the moment. Here is the opening page:

At Diana’s last acting job one of the props had been a centuries-old revolver, still in working condition. When, after the final night of the production, she found herself sitting alone in an empty park with the purloined revolver in her lap and a bullet in five of the six chambers, she had finally understood that she’d crossed a line past which she could no longer return.

So it was only forty eight hours later, having shed her life in a wretched, slipshod haste, that she stood in a dusty hanger among sixty-two other people desperate enough to take this drastic step.

The manager mounted the podium and greeted them with a weary smile. “Remember, we only take volunteers. This is your last chance to turn back. I advise that you do.”

After a pause, during which no one spoke, the manager went on.

“Statistically you have a one in six chance of contracting angel-lung, which will at best cripple you and will definitively make it impossible for you to return to Earth or anywhere because angel-lung interdicts you from vector travel so you can never leave that hellhole of a moon at all, ever again. Never.”

The man next to Diana scratched the stubble of his shorn head, a gesture that made her want to touch her own shaved head, but she had cut that golden life all away from herself and let it be swept aside. Someone else coughed, and then the silence became focused like a drop pulling off the surface tension of water, ready to fall.

“All right, then. Get your staple and proceed along the gangway to your berth in the shuttle.”

They filed into an obedient line, one by one stepping into the cradle.

As she waited for her turn she studied their faces, because emotion was her scholarship and expression her skill. One man had his eyes closed, as if replaying a memory he wasn’t yet willing to erase. A woman wearing a blue cap was tracing a crazy path with her eyes along the ceiling, almost certainly following some kind of nesh game on her neural network. A couple held hands contentedly, their tight smiles of triumph making it seem they had just scored a secret victory.

There were no children.

Children weren’t allowed, only the hopeless, the cast-off, the chronically debt-stricken, and the woman who had pressed the muzzle of an antique gun to her head and decided it would be too much trouble for someone else to clean up and besides that too much of a shock for the young daughter she rarely saw.

Space Opera: I have about 5 chapters of this written because it is my “no pressure just for fun” secret project that I work on when I am feeling stressed.

Invasion: A modern day sff novel, set in Hawaii. Can’t say more because even though I know the entire physical plot (i.e. the order of events) and all the characters, and have 4 chapters written, I don’t have the underlying mechanism (the underlying engine/trick that makes the plot go).

A sequel to Crown of Stars, but set 500 years later, that would (among other things) involve Count Lavastine getting released from the paralytic poison to which he succumbed in volume (um) (whatever volume that happened in). It would also follow the adventures of the Phoenix Guild of traveling sorcerers, an offshoot of the school Liath has (so modestly) founded at the end of Crown of Stars.

Other novels. But it’s too exhausting to list my other ideas, which are legion, because the reality is that I most likely won’t get to most/any of them, even in a perfect world.

Reading:

I counted up last year’s reading total: 48 books (fiction and non fiction).

In 2016 I want to try to read 52 books.

Also, as my Big Book Classic 2016 project: the Dick Davis translation of Ferdowsi’s The Shahnameh is ON. If anyone wants to join me in this project, let me know. This is truly EPIC writing.

shahnameh

Media:

My word for tv, film, games, and other stuff. I will continue playing Guild Wars 2 until I get bored of it, and will watch stuff. I am looking forward to The Expanse and other shows/seasons I haven’t yet seen that came out last year. Also, hoping for a new season of Longmire.

Online:

I would love to get my newsletter actually going (it isn’t yet), and my big dream is to create a focused podcast on writing, comics, production, and craft with my daughter and a third person with engineering skills. But that’s for the medium term.

Short term, and more reasonably do-able, I hope simply to blog more in 2016, and to write several long essays like Writing Women Characters as Human Beings from last year or The Omniscient Breasts from 2012. But mostly I just want to blog more in the capacity of a person who is talking out loud and, if all goes well, engaged in conversation with others. In 2015 I got too fixated on the idea that I *had* to produce a certain kind of publicity writing in conjunction with book releases, and in the end this rigid idea created so much anxiety that it exhausted my capacity to write casually about things that interest me and that I would hope to be able to post casually about as a means of sharing ideas and discussion with people who want to read about and discuss such things.

In other words, I want to have more fun and BE MORE FUN in 2016.

2015 Writing/Publishing Retrospective

Yes, 2015 was an exceptionally busy year for me. It’s not that I write quite that fast but that I had no fiction released in 2014 with the exception of The Courtship, a Spiritwalker-related short story posted on my blog. Due to scheduling, two novels, a short fiction collection, a novella, a short story, and several long non-fiction pieces appeared this past year. I also attended four conventions.

Here is the 2015 rundown of professional (money-making) pieces [and a quick comment about when the piece was actually produced]. I don’t list blog posts on my blog or as guest posts elsewhere although I wrote several I thought were pretty ace.

January:

A review of The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein appears in Cascadia Subduction Zone.

[I wrote this in 2014.]

February:

The Very Best of Kate Elliott, a short fiction collection by Tachyon Publications, is released to quite good reviews and with an exceptionally excellent Julie Dillon-illustrated cover.

[All the stories in this collection were written prior to 2014. The introduction was written in 2014.]

March:

An essay titled Writing Women Characters as Human Beings published at Tor.com.

[An ongoing project that went through multiple revisions, I finished this in 2015. I hope to finish a companion piece in 2016.]

April:

A reprint of my novelette “On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New” appears in Lightspeed Magazine (the story appeared for the first time in the short fiction collection). It is set in the Crossroads universe.

[This piece has been around some years but the final revisions were done in 2014.]

May:

I wrote the foreword for Speculative Fiction 2014: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke and published by The Book Smugglers Publishing.

[Written in 2014? I think? Or early 2015?]

Guest of Honor at SFeraKon in Croatia. I tell you this: The Croatians are THE BEST.

I’m already exhausted and we aren’t even halfway through the year.

July:

San Diego Comicon, panel and signings. BIG. REALLY BIG.

August:

My Young Adult debut novel, Court of Fives, is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The audiobook (narrated by the wonderful George Dolenz) is published by Hachette Audio. Among other things, CoF was listed as one of NPR’s Best Books 2015.

[First draft written Winter 2012/13, revisions 2013 into early 2014]

Sasquan/Worldcon, in Spokane, Washington. Fun for me. Bad forest fires for the people in Eastern Washington.

October:

Guest of Honor at Sirens Conference together with Rae Carson and Yoon Ha Lee. Wow, this was grand. You should come in 2016.

This month I also turned in final revisions for Poisoned Blade, Court of Fives 2, scheduled for publication in August 2016. I wrote the first draft and completed three revision passes, all in 2015.

November:

And then, yes, volume one of a long-awaited (by me if by no one else!) new adult epic fantasy, Black Wolves, published by Orbit Books.

[First draft written 2013-2014, revisions 2014/early 2015]

Black Wolves has an audiobook narrated by the fabulous Richard Ferrone, and published by Recorded Books.

December:

The year rounds off with two final pieces of short fiction.

Night Flower is an ebook only novella, a prequel set in the Court of Fives world.

[Written and revised in 2015.]

The Beatriceid is a short fiction feminist retelling of the Aeneid, in verse, set in the Spiritwalker universe and published by The Book Smugglers.

[Written and revised in 2014.]

Whew. What was I thinking?

Tomorrow: 2016 Prospective & maybe a resolution or three.

ICYMI: Kate Elliott Interviews & Guest Posts

In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of Kate Elliott’s recent online appearances:

Nov 5 – John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog Guest Post: The Big Idea
“Change always happens, but as Kate Elliott explains in this Big Idea for Black Wolves, the opening novel in a new fantasy trilogy, not all change happens at once.”

Nov. 13 – Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Guest Post: 10 Fantasy Novels Whose Depictions of Women Did Not Make Me Smash Things
“Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, […] it [was] almost impossible to find fantasy novels that gave me a fresh, provocative, innovative landscape without simply replicating the same dull and retrograde roles for women. Fortunately these days it’s new world dawning and I, for one, am thrilled.”

Nov 20 – Fangirl Happy Hour Ep. 27: “That Darn Internet”
“This week on Fangirl Happy Hour, Renay and Ana welcome Kate Elliott back to the show to discuss H.P. Lovecraft, the World Fantasy Award, fandom, rec the best pigeon dating game you will ever play, and answer some listener questions.”

Nov. 23 – Tor. Com’s Rocket Talk Ep. 69: Kate Elliott & Emma Newman
“This week’s episode features fantasy and science fiction authors Kate Elliott and Emma Newman on their recent novels, what it’s like to write aged characters and what kinds of resistance exists in society to hearing those stories. They also discuss the rarity of anxiety disorders in fiction.”

Dec. 2 – Lady Business Guest Post: The Call to Adventure
“Kate Elliott shares the old opening to her new novel, Black Wolves, which came out November 3.”

E.P. Beaumont Interview: The Muse of Research with Kate Elliott
“Kate Elliott took time from a very busy schedule of writing, revising, and promoting her work to grant this interview. As reader, I’m entertained; as writer, I’m taking notes.”

Happy reading!

The Book Smugglers’ SFF Roundtable

Kate Elliott is one of five fantasy authors, all of whom have new novels out, who participated in The Book Smugglers’ recent SFF in Conversation roundtable. Together with Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown), Aliette de Bodard (The House of Shattered Wings), Cindy Pon (Serpentine), and Tade Thompson (Making Wolf), Elliott discusses how culture and history inform their respective writing, expectations of SFF Western audiences, and diversity within the genre.

We have curiosity, imagination, and empathy for a reason: To build gates and windows into places that aren’t us. Story creates connection.

Court of Fives is set in a fantasy world inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt, the history of Hawaii’s annexation and cultural renaissance, the sports/obstacle course game show Sasuke/American Ninja Warrior, and the 19th century novel Little Women. Across time and regions, cultures have met and mingled and influenced each other, and as the child of an immigrant I think that mindset of how things connect and how they change each other is what I often bring to my writing. I’m always exploring the crossroads.

Read more at The Book Smugglers.
SFF in Conversation is a new monthly feature on The Book Smugglers where guests talk about a variety of topics important to speculative fiction fans, authors, and readers. “Our vision is to create a safe (moderated) space for thoughtful conversation about the genre, with a special focus on inclusivity and diversity in SFF.”

Diversity Panels: Where Next?

I’m writing this post not because I have answers but because I have questions.

I just returned from WorldCon 73/Sasquan, held in Spokane, Washington, from 18 – 23 August 2015. From my perspective both Sasquan programming and everyone who organized and volunteered for Sasquan as a whole did a fine job in a particularly difficult and fraught year. I say that to make it clear this post is not about Sasquan but rather about the general situation within the SFF field and the larger world of publishing and popular culture in general.

In the past SFF conventions have sometimes featured panels on “using foreign lands and histories to give new color and detail to your SFF,” a format I personally find appropriative (even though I can be accused of doing just that in my writing). Those aren’t panels analyzing and opening up for discussion the need for and presence of often-marginalized writers/artists and stories and characters, and how (usually USA) publishing (and Hollywood) culture supports or hinders these efforts.

In the wake of 2009’s #Racefail discussion, LJ blogger delux-vivens (much lamented since her passing) asked for a wild unicorn herd check in to show that people frequently told they don’t read SFF and aren’t present in SFF circles do in fact exist. In some ways I personally think of this as the first unofficial “diversity panel.”

Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo launched the Diversity in YA tour and website in 2011. At that time, featuring a diverse group of authors talking about the existence and importance of Diversity in YA seemed fresh. In 2011, when the World Fantasy Convention took place in San Diego, Lo wrote to the programming committee to offer to moderate a Diversity in YA panel for convention programming. Instead, WFC programming scheduled a panel titled “I Believe That Children Are the Future” whose description began, “How do we convert YA fantasy readers into adult fantasy readers?”

These days, more conventions & comiccons feature panels on diversity: what it is, why it matters, how we can support it. I’ve seen examples of these being absolutely packed, especially when they first became features of the con and library landscape, because they addressed a pressing need to discuss how the publishing industries too too often marginalize many as they highlight the same few and provide more publicity and visibility to certain kinds of stories while neglecting others in a systemic way.

Now, however, without in any way suggesting that the need for discussion is over or that we have solved the problems, I am wondering to what degree the “diversity panel” may be beginning to become less effective and perhaps even to exacerbate the problem.

I’m not the first person to bring this up or ask these questions, not by a long shot. [Please feel free to link to related discussions in the comments.] I emphasize I don’t have answers; I only have questions, and I’m writing this post not to suggest solutions but because I am wondering what people think and what their own experiences are.

For example, at Sasquan I was on a Diversity in YA panel with Fonda Lee, Cynthia Ward, Cassandra Clarke, and Wesley Chu. First of all, Fonda Lee did a fantastic job moderating: She prepared for the panel by emailing us a list of questions she planned to ask and a course of action she planned to take as moderator to cover as much ground as possible in the 45-minute time frame we were allowed. The panelists all had smart things to say. But let’s look at the line up.

Ward was placed on the panel because she and Nisi Shawl wrote a well-known and much cited work on “Writing the Other”. Lee and Clarke have both published YA (Young Adult) novels, Zeroboxer and The Assassin’s Curse, respectively. My YA debut fantasy Court of Fives was released the week of Worldcon. Chu, however, has not written YA or MG although his debut novel, The Lives of Tao, did receive a special citation from YALSA as a novel that could also work for teens. As Chu himself pointed out, there really was no reason for him to be on the panel except that he is of Asian ancestry and thus fits in an obvious diversity box.

Chu’s fourth novel Time Salvagers was published in July, a straight-ahead SF time travel story, yet at Worldcon he was not placed on any of what I’ll call “mainstream” science fiction programming items in which he could discuss, as a writer with other writers, writing science fiction, science fictional ideas, and the use of science fiction to comment on trends and futures. This strikes me as the very opposite of what we might hope to accomplish with an emphasis on more “diverse” programming.

In this same fashion, besides a reading, autographing, and Kaffeeklatsch (small group meeting), I participated in five other programming items: two I proposed (a dialogue with Ken Liu (The Grace of Kings) on world building and a powerpoint lecture on Narrative Structure and Expectation), one last minute (and really fun) Ditch Diggers live podcast (hosted by Matt Wallace and Mur Lafferty), and two “assigned by the convention,” which were both YA panels, one on world building and the other on diversity. I was also offered a panel on Teen/YA Romance, which I asked to be taken off of.

That’s three YA panels. Now in one sense I believe the programming committee was kindly acknowledging that my YA debut was out that week, and yet I couldn’t help but notice that although I have a new epic fantasy series whose first volume comes out in November (not so far away) and although I have under my belt multiple multi-volume series, I was not asked to be on a panel titled “Writing the Multi-Volume Series” (populated by four male authors all of whom, I hasten to add, are bestsellers). This isn’t the first time in recent years I’ve been given programming in diversity or gender and not in multi-volume series and/or epic fantasy, which has been my main sub genre for — oh — all of my career.

I understand the desire of a convention committee to present bestselling authors on their panels (or much beloved older authors at Worldcon given the importance of fannish history). People naturally want to see them! I do too! Yet at the same time if they are the only ones consistently tagged for such panels, the practice ends up highlighting the visibility of a limited number of (often already very visible) people.

I wonder if the “diversity panel” is in some circumstances becoming a way to “fulfill” the pressure to have the diversity conversation while meanwhile funneling it off to one side in a way that prevents actual diversity from fully integrating into the “regular” “mainstream” discussion.

I’m not saying this happens deliberately on the part of organizers but rather that people may need to pause and reflect on how decisions like this get made. The need for discussion remains acute, and a diversity panel may be an effective way to introduce people to concepts they haven’t thought much about, yet discussion only takes us so far. Dismantling the systemic biases embedded in our culture is the ultimate goal but obviously is a vast, complex, and long term endeavor.

Meanwhile: Visibility matters. Action matters.

Here’s a final observation from Sasquan. My world-building dialogue with Ken Liu happened to be scheduled back-to-back with the Diversity in YA panel, in the same room. Ken and I had a full room, while the Diversity in YA panel (which took place in the next time slot) had perhaps a third of the audience. While I understand that most who came to the world building panel were writers hoping for insight, I can’t help but think that people are increasingly looking for diverse panels rather than diversity panels.

What have your experiences been with diversity panels? Where next?

 


END NOTE:

The diversity conversation includes many voices. I list a very few here:

Five SFF Stories Complicated by Intact Family Relationships

In Kate Elliott’s first Young Adult novel, COURT OF FIVES, protagonist Jessamy comes from a family with a complicated background. Elliott describes the novel as “Little Women  meets American Ninja Warrior in a setting inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt,” hinting at important familial relationships amidst all the action.

For Tor.Com, Elliott has compiled a list of Five SFF Stories Complicated by Intact Family Relationships. In it, she says:

[W]ith Court of Fives I specifically wanted to write a story in which the main character’s family is intact and present, and therefore plays a part as one of the complicating factors in her journey. What happens when a choice we need to make will hurt someone we care about? How much will we risk for those we love?

See which five families she picked at the link!

Remember: COURT OF FIVES releases in five days on 18 Aug. 2015! You can pre-order online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound (USA and Canada only)

April 2015 Lightspeed Magazine includes a Crossroads Trilogy story

My story “On the Dying Winds of the Old Year, On the Birthing Winds of the New” appears in the April 2015 Lightspeed Magazine as part of the exclusive print/ebook content (as opposed to the free online content).

“On the Dying Winds of the Old Year, On the Birthing Winds of the New” stands alone, but will be of particular interest to people who have read the Crossroads Trilogy since it is written by the point of view of Mai, some years after the end of the trilogy.

 

http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/wp-content/files_mf/lightspeed_59_april_2015.jpg

 

You can find the Table of Contents and more information here.

Enthusiasm Thursday: SHADOWBOXER by Tricia Sullivan

“But some days when I get this weather inside me it seems no matter how I want to be good, sooner or later I’m going to let off on somebody.”

Shadowboxer is the story of Jade Barrera, a seventeen year old mixed martial artist with anger issues who wants to fight professionally. Her story intersects that of a Burmese girl, Mya, in Thailand who has the ability to walk from our world into a deeper world that lies alongside and intertwined with ours. I’m not going to try to encapsulate the plot (although it includes drug smuggling and child slavery as well as the world of Mixed Martial Arts) but rather discuss some elements that really stood out for me.

 

https://smokintundra.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/shadowboxer-mockup-rgb.jpg

This is a novel that excels at voice. Sullivan’s writing shines. She deftly switches from Jade’s first person narrative to Mya’s third person narrative in a way that feels completely natural within the text. What I found most impressive is how each voice is entirely distinct; leaving aside the first/third person differentiation, there is no way a reader can mistake Mya’s sensitive and observant point of view for Jade’s fierce personality because the language and the kinds of things each character notices, describes, and remarks on fit each girl’s psychology.

Jade fights her own demons and her tough, uncompromising voice and her mistakes and imperfections and her constant pushing of herself to figure things out and do better just make me love her as a protagonist. Her interactions with other characters are consistently fitting to her blunt and yet genuine manner. Mya’s situation is stark and frightening but her compassion and courage, and her intelligence and ability, keep her moving and striving. The language flows through the narrative in a way that reveals how each point of view character acts and reacts within the world.

 

The secondary characters also stand out. It’s not a particularly long novel and yet the other characters remain vividly drawn and easy to tell apart. The dialogue is just so good. It has the the rhythm of real exchanges and there is always just the right amount of it to tell the reader what she needs to know. I can read and re-read certain of the dialogue scenes because they’re so well done, so dexterous, so agile as they unfold impressive amounts of information and emotion.

How much do I love how Sullivan depicts serious training and the drive to compete? How much do I love the intense, sweaty, physical fight scenes? There are no training montages here, no smooth moves or easy grasp of competence. Jade trains hard in a way I found tremendously believable. Furthermore Sullivan really knows how to fight and therefore her fight scenes read like they’re actual Mixed Martial Arts bouts taking place rather than as if they are literary fight scenes written with Hollywood-style choreography. I’ve rarely read a book in which the fighting felt as real.

In four fascinating essays Sullivan writes about how martial arts are depicted on screen and in novels, and how she wrote the fight scenes in Shadowboxer. You can find all four linked here, and I highly recommend them.

Eggs, Bees, and Toilets: Jupiter Ascending as WomanSpace

 

Image result for jupiter ascending

 

 

Last year I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy because of its bold visuals, energetic cast, and good pacing. It was not, I thought, an excellent film but I wasn’t bored while watching it, and these days the big ticket spectacle movies that should be my greatest love often bore me (I’m looking at you, Avengers and co) so a film that doesn’t bore me gets a thumbs up.

GotG features the appealing Chris Pratt in the lead role of lovable rogue, together with the well-worn but always popular story of reluctant comrades who turn into friends/family by the end (I’m not being sarcastic; I love this trope). It also features several memorable women characters, although unfortunately with a jolt of random and unnecessary slut-shaming. As is typical in many of these sorts of stories, the women’s roles revolve around or tie directly back into their relationships with men. Star-Lord left behind a newly-dead mother who never told him who his (mysterious) father really is and who left him a legacy of old pop tunes on cassette tapes. Gamora and her sister Nebula are tied together by their complicated relationship with their adoptive father, Thanos; during the course of the film they each ally with a man on opposite sides of a conflict, and it is their relationship to those men that defines them most (within the film universe; I haven’t read the comic).

This is the kind of setting for women I expect in spectacle film-making, alas. I’m usually just happy if there are more than two female characters walking through the ocean of men.

Standard Disclaimer: I like men! Men are great! I even married one!

Compare the opening scenes of Jupiter Ascending.

[If you are totally averse to spoilers do not read on.]

Jupiter’s father is brutally murdered before she is born (all we know of him is that he loves sky-gazing and her mother, and plays Jarvis wonderfully in Agent Carter) and leaves her a legacy of wanting to buy a telescope. She is born in a container on a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean amid a group of women–all women!–seeking to illegally enter the United States, for whom the birth of a girl child is an act of hope during an uncertain journey whose end (we all know) will in most cases involve them working hard to service other people’s needs. We see her first as an adult with the two central figures of her life, her mother and her aunt, and then later with her extended family who are difficult, argumentative, and selfish in the way families can be but who are later (of course) revealed to be supportive and caring in the way families can be.

We see her cleaning the homes of rich people, with her mother and aunt, doing the unsung work that most stories ignore and without which no society can function. Her basic empathy and likability is revealed when one of the rich women she cleans for, who seems oblivious to the gulf between their lives, asks her advice on “which dress to wear” in a conversation which may seem to not pass the Bechdel Test but which (in my opinion) really does. The conversation between Jupiter and Katherine Dunleavy centers on how Katherine must learn to trust and stand up for herself. The man she is to have dinner with that night is inconsequential, merely a vehicle for the discussion.

The veil between Jupiter’s humble life and the world that is coming after her to kill her is revealed when she goes to a fertility clinic to donate eggs (in order to earn money to buy a telescope). Eggs!

In the course of her escape (ably managed by a capable, handsome, and stoically angsty wolf-man) she discovers she is literally a queen bee in one of the coolest (but in retrospect most throwaway and ridiculously inexplicable) bits in the film.

It’s no wonder some people don’t get this film: eggs, bees, living mothers, trust between women, and cleaning toilets (which besides being receptacles for human waste are, of course, bowl-shaped). Even the spaceships are a complex conglomerations of parts rather than sleek pointy rockets. Where the heck have my phallic symbols gone?

Having said that, I take a brief detour to mention that Jupiter Ascending is kind of a hot mess. The visuals are stunning and the plot (despite criticism I’ve heard) is coherent, but the rescue-in-the-nick-of-time sequences feel like repetitive hiccups, several character threads are highlighted only to be discarded without further notice (WTF Sean Bean’s daughter?), and while the action sequences are well choreographed and dynamically filmed they all went on a few beats too long for my taste.

Here’s the thing, though. I feel OBLIGED to acknowledge the film’s imperfections, as if I will lose all credibility if I don’t list out a ream of reasons why we should all criticize its unworthy elements. Yet let me flip that script. It’s all too easy to find reviews of male-written and especially male-centered work that undercuts a mutedly rote recitation of the work’s flaws with a huge BUT WHAT SHINING BRILLIANCE AND GLORY THIS MAN HATH WROT!

So my point is: While I’m happy to acknowledge JA’s imperfections, I didn’t particularly care about them in the face of SPACE LIZARD-DRAGONS, and Bae Doona and David Ajala as competent bounty hunters who trust each other, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as the most bad-ass ship’s captain maybe ever. Plus an elephant pilot.

I didn’t care about imperfections because of the unusual way JA highlighted a woman at the center of a story in which her existence matters within two different family structures.

Now we move into the more spoilery part of the review.

No really. Spoilers.

When Jupiter leaves the mundane world of Earth behind she discovers she is the “recurrence” of the matriarch of an extremely wealthy ruling dynasty. At her death this matriarch left behind three adult children, fabulously played by Tuppence Middleton (the unambitious one who just wants to keep her perks), Douglas Booth (the charming sociopath), and Eddie Redmayne (who ought to be nominated for an Oscar for his magnificently over-the-top performance as The Sensitive One).

As the cleaning of toilets has alerted us, this is a story about those at the height of power, the few who literally consume the substance of the many in order to live longer and better lives. A constant jockeying for wealth and inheritance goes on between the three siblings, and the unexpected appearance of their “recurred” mother throws their usual interactions into disarray. Each in their own particular way try to rid themselves of the mother whose arrival upsets the equilibrium.

In some ways Jupiter (ably acted by an appealing Mila Kunis) can feel passive once she has left Earth behind but while I was sometimes frustrated by the way she let others guide her, I also found realism in the portrayal. She does not kick ass because she is not trained to do so. She has no idea what is going on and does not magically figure it out instantly. She observes, learns, makes the best decisions she can given what knowledge she has (and makes mistakes doing so), and at the last makes the hardest–and in a way the most selfish–decision of all (although in the end the plot gives a victory that negates that choice).

But as much as Jupiter gets rescued one too many times in exactly the same dramatically-constructed way, in her final encounter with Balem (Redmayne) she alone defeats this most dangerous adversary not because she is rescued or because she physically harms him but because she chooses for herself her identity.

When she emphatically tells him, “I am not your mother” she closes the loop and claims a place that is hers alone. She defines who she is in relationship to her own life, not who she is in relationship to someone else’s life.

Think about the radical essence of that for a moment.

I’ve seen at least one snide review that mocks the story’s choice to have her go back to cleaning toilets at the end but that’s exactly the point. She doesn’t go back to cleaning toilets. She goes back to the work that the least among us do, to get her head together, to ground herself in the face of the (ridiculously) astonishing truth about her new status in the world beyond. In no way does she give up on her “spectacular” future, but she is prudently appalled by the economic status quo of that other life because she already knows what it is like to be one of the people whose lives will be used up by others.

She gets romantic love, yes (although note that, within our bee analogy, she and her man have asymmetric status). What she really takes is something far more important: space to understand who she is and who she can become.