My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the category “Books”

Trash Magic and Queer Love at Trashmance.com

Trashmance.com is now live!

Trash Romance is a serial romance fiction available for free at Trashmance.com. However, in order to keep it free for everyone and keep new updates rolling in several times per month, I need the support and patronage of folks like you.

From the patreon page:

The coolest thing about magic? Duh, it’s magic. The worst thing about magic? It’s magic. No one understands how the fuck it works. Yet for Mackenzie Chen, whose magic power is limited to manipulating the broken, cast-off junk of society, it’s hard to not feel the world owes her an explanation. Or an apology. But when she meets magical girl-turned-barista Natalie, she learns just how valuable broken things can be.

Contributors get access to a DRM-free monthly digest in any eReader format, as well as free copies of my other short fiction: “Mercy Killing the Dragon”, “The Last Warband”, and part 1 of “Parts: A Steampunk Tale of Love and Mechanomorphosis”.

Reset: A game by Lydia Neon

Screenshot of Reset by Lydia Neon

Play Reset

Reset is a game about the bizarre, frightening, and exciting possibilities for kink in the cyborg / transhuman future.

Who can you trust with your source code if you can’t trust your Administratrix?

Reset was created with Twine as part of the Big Chaos Twine Jam.

 

Play Reset Here

 

 

Being Emily by Rachel Gold – A young adult novel about a transgender girl

How often can you say that something made you uncomfortable and mean it as a compliment? After all, when I learned that Being Emily, the first young adult novel written in first person from the perspective of a transgender teen girl, was written by a cisgender lesbian, I was expecting something along the lines of another Transamerica. That was a film that accurately portrayed all of the worst stereotypes of trans women in a single 103-minute faceplant into the pavement. So when I say that movie made me “uncomfortable”, it was because it gave a dated, cisssexist outsider’s view of what our poor, pitiful lives must be like, all in the guise of being an ally.

Luckily I met Rachel Gold at a conference in the run up to the book’s release,  otherwise the bad taste still left in my mouth by that movie might have put me off even reading her book. It was there I realized she was someone who knew what the hell she was talking about, and most importantly I noticed how intently she was listening. So if there’s any fault for a cis person writing the first novel of its type, it’s on us for not beating her to the punch, because Being Emily hit the mark in every way Transamerica didn’t.

So this is where I say Being Emily was sublimely discomforting in the best way: rather than being a rehashing of tired tropes with no resemblance to actual experience, Emily’s story is instead too familiar to the journey so many of us embark upon to make for a comfortable read. Gold’s storytelling dances deftly along my rawest nerves, which tells me she took the time to really learn more than just the superficial fluff that often characterizes stories about trans people. If it were comfortable to read a story so eerily similar to my own, then I don’t think I could have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Being Emily tells the story of Emily, a high school student whose stable midwestern life is thrown into chaos when she begins the process of coming out as transsexual to her friends and family. When the rest of the world looks at Emily, they only see Chris, a sixteen year old boy on the swim team with a girlfriend, a little brother, and Catholic parents. But what Emily sees in the mirror is a body growing more visibly male each day, a body that she needs to save from the testosterone slowly poisoning her.

For Emily, puberty isn’t simply the more-or-less awkward time of waiting for one’s body to mature while worrying about test scores and crushes. What Being Emily captures so well is that for transsexual kids, puberty is the horrifying realization that no fairy godmother (or, in Emily’s case, Glinda the Good Witch) is going to come along and with a flick of a wand reverse the course her body is taking.

Emily differs from the typical LGB coming out tale because, like for so many trans youth, time is of the essence; when her parents react poorly, the message of “be patient, it gets better” is less than helpful advice. Her body isn’t waiting, and so neither can Emily.

Throughout the book, Gold remains mindful that her target audience is unlikely to be as familiar with concepts such as gender identity as her precociously educated protagonist. While some readers might find Emily’s knowledge distractingly improbable, I submit that yours truly knew more about sex going in to freshman sex ed than anyone coming out. (In fact, I would be in college before my Human Sexuality class caught up to my own autodidactism on the topic.) In short: when it is relevant to your life, you would be amazed by how quickly a person can consume all the available knowledge on a subject.

However, for the reader who is not personally affected by these issues, Gold weaves the necessary background information into the struggle of Emily’s girlfriend, Claire, to make sense of Emily’s transition. Some of these lessons feel slightly forced, but consider that whole books have been written to help explain the topic and still just barely scratch the surface. The few fact-heavy passages sprinkled in are easily forgiven in the face of Claire’s sincere realization that femininity isn’t a burden unfairly thrust upon Emily, but a truly welcome self-expression being denied to her. The idea that femininity is a gift and not a curse is a lesson that is rarely expressed with such clarity, even in the books in which it is a central theme.

What impressed me most was the way in which Gold captures the essence of the little, mundane aspects of life that take on a new, monstrous form when a person is a (closeted) trans girl: filtering thoughts to ensure sufficient masculinity before speaking them aloud, the need to pee forcing a person to choose between two wrong answers for which restroom to use, the way the choice of a character’s gender in a video game requires layers of justification to throw people off the scent. It was these moments in the story that rang most true, and the echoes of my own memories haunted me while I read each one. (Gold did miss one factoid that would not have escaped such an astute protagonist’s notice: spironolactone tastes like mint. It’s one of those pleasantly surprising discoveries we all make and no trans woman I know fails to mention it whenever spiro comes up. But I’ll let that one slide. 😉 )

While Gold does fall back on a few clichés, she goes to great length to dispel some of the more common ones (“X stuck in a Y body”, “just men in dresses”). The fact of the matter is, that is a battle she couldn’t have won to begin with. Many of these clichés exist not because they ring true for trans people, but because they’re the most about a trans experience that cis people can relate to. Beyond vague notions of “X stuck in a Y body”, or detailed neurobiological explanations of sexual dimorphism in the brain, there are precious few words to express with any success what it feels like. Because it doesn’t actually feel like being an “X stuck in a Y body”. I have no words to explain the physical discomfort I feel, or even how it differs from things like being dissatisfied with my weight. They’re absolutely different feelings, but when I try to put into words the way gender dysphoria feels, I know what cis people think because the next words out of their mouths are “Lots of us have issues with our weight/appearance/etc. Part of puberty is learning to accept it.” If that’s the dismissal, then speaking as someone who struggles with both weight and sex characteristics, I know for a fact you don’t realize I’m talking about something of a totally different nature. It truly is something that you can’t grasp unless you feel it, and if you do, you don’t need complex explanations or justifications to understand the difference.

The most important lesson, though isn’t the actual internal feeling of dysphoria. And as such, Gold only touches lightly on those aspects of the story. Instead, what the reader sees is a character who has an otherwise typical teenage life with this layered on top. What come through loud and clear is the very palpable fear and urgency that accompanies trans youth, coupled with the inability to put off either high school or transition. Adopting a “wait until you’re older and see” attitude isn’t a neutral choice*, because puberty doesn’t wait, and neither does graduation. Gold captures that urgency perfectly in the way small successes alleviate the burden for a time, but even minor setbacks to a typical teen can quickly become catastrophic for a trans teen, because until a person is on the right track, just holding ground is losing ground.

In the end, it is what Being Emily gets right that makes it such an uncomfortable experience for me. While it can be easy for hardened activists to dismiss it as yet another story about a trans person’s transition, it has none of the typical “freak show” spectacle nor does it elicit any of the “that must be so hard” pitying by the reader that so many do.

With good reason, Being Emily is now among the list of two books I have read in a single sitting. I highly recommend picking it up.

[Amazon Affiliate Link] [Author’s Website]

* The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) published in their 7th edition of their Standards of Care the following:

“Risks of Withholding Medical Treatment for Adolescents”, WPATH, Standards of Care V7, p21

Refusing timely medical interventions for adolescents might prolong gender dysphoria and contribute
to an appearance that could provoke abuse and stigmatization. As the level of gender-related abuse
is strongly associated with the degree of psychiatric distress during adolescence (Nuttbrock et al.,
2010), withholding puberty suppression and subsequent feminizing or masculinizing hormone
therapy is not a neutral option for adolescents.

Parts – Part 1: Egg is available now!

Parts

Cover By Autumn Nicole Bradley

When Professor Grey was invited to the mechanical biology symposium, he thought he had finally gained the respect of his peers. In truth, his colleagues simply could not be bothered. Their loss, for that was where the professor met the brilliant (and by all accounts sociopathic) Doctor Ileana Winthrop, and his mechanomorphosis began.

Told in epistolary form, Parts documents the journey of Professor Grey in his most remarkable mechanomorphosis. It originally appeared online, and is republished in complete form here.

Get your copy at Smashwords.com!

Follow along with the latest updates at the Parts tumblr. And don’t forget to follow!

Towers of Midnight predictions

Over at the Tor.com blog,  Leigh Butler posted a bunch of “feedback” tidbits while reading, sort of a liveblogging without the live part, and left us to guess just what each refers to.

  1. “I totally cannot decide whether to be pleased about this, or kind of freaked out.”
  2. “Okay, that may or may not have been quite a Crowning Moment of Awesome for _____, exactly, but that is unquestionably one of the coolest things that has ever happened in this series. All is forgiven, man.”
  3. “Is it possible to have a complete seal-clapping moment of YAY, and shriek in utter fannish outrage at the same time? Because I have a feeling I’m about to find out.”
  4. “This is suddenly seeming veeery familiar…”
  5. “Well, finally, I have only been asking for this for like fifteen years. This is awesome. This is—wait. Uh, what’s going on… what are they… what does that… oh crap.”
  6. “Man, it’s like a Barry White song up in here, except hilarious.”
  7. “Wow, and just when I thought it wasn’t possible to despise you more. Nice job RUINING EVERYTHING, ____. Gah.”
  8. “Oh. Er. So, I totally called that wrong. Am a bit red-faced now.”
  9. “Okay, so maybe – maybe – you have redeemed yourself a little bit here, ____. You are provisionally allowed off my shit list. FOR NOW.”
  10. “I think this is what they mean when they use the term ‘logical extreme’. About time, really.”
  11. “WHAT? That is… that is horrible. No, no, no, no. THAT HAD BETTER NOT HAPPEN, TEAM JORDAN, DO NOT MAKE ME HURT YOU. I need a cookie now. And a hug. I HATE YOU ALL. (But, uh, man. Good writing, right there. I never would have seen that coming in a million years. P.S. I STILL HATE YOU.)”
  12. “Well. I was kind of thinking that was going to be a bit more… dramatic. Or at least have a lot more yelling. But, you know. Okay then.”
  13. “Holy hell, _____ just had a Moment of Awesome. Of all freakin’ people! I didn’t even think that was possible.”
  14. “Oh for the love of Pete, _____, will you please DIE already? What’s it going to take, a nuclear goddamn strike? Sheesh.”
  15. “Wait, what the hell just happened? I am so confused. And also, what?”
  16. “HAHAHA I TOTALLY KNEW IT HAHAHAHA

So, here are my guesses:

  1. Demandred swears a blue streak because Rand inadvertently undercut his authority.
  2. Not-quite-crowning-moment-of-awesome for Elayne when she uses the OP to give herself a C-section to deliver the twins.
  3. Leigh wonders whether Moiraine will actually survive the escape from the ToG.
  4. Mat mouths off to the Finns, and nearly gets himself roped again.
  5. Moiraine rescued from the Finns (Her incident with the Red Stone Doorway was about 15 years ago now, so it fits) but the BA or Seanchan show up and throws an a’dam on her.
  6. Mat and Fortuona, on the back of a raken, with her Voice there to witness for protection.
  7. Supreme Ponce of Randland, Perrin. Gotta be. I’ll say he shows up and attacks the Band while Mat and Tuon are having “relations.” (Possible alternative: Cadsuane gets uppity yet again)
  8. Turns out he wasn’t attacking, he was protecting them from trollocs.
  9. Continuation of the previous. (Possible alternative: Cadsuane gives a heartfelt, meaningful apology)
  10. Cadsuane’s pride finally bites her in the ass and she gets put in her place by Min.
  11. Min dies. (Or Thom dies.)
  12. Rand and Egwene chat over tea and balefire.
  13. Berlaine
  14. Padan Fain goes down all Rasputin-style. Ten separate fatal wounds before he finally hits dirt. Or Lanfear v Moiraine rematch.
  15. Moridin and Rand trade places through T’A’R after Moridin gives Rand a combination of the Morpheus speech and the “We’re not so different, you and I,” speech. (Alternative: Perrin v Slayer in the Wolf Dream, and the fight spills out into the real world with both of them still wolves)
  16. Taim is Demandred.

We’ll find out how well I did in November. 🙂

I read Brandon Sanderson’s The Gathering Storm in two days.

For those who don’t know, author of the Mistborn series and now the Way of Kings series Brandon Sanderson took on the daunting task of finishing Robert Jordan’s magnum opus, The Wheel of Time. To Sanderson’s credit, The Gathering Storm “fits.” It doesn’t stand out as another author’s writing; he captured Jordan’s voice perfectly.

He makes slightly more extensive use of italics to provide emphasis, and there are many scenes that seem to play out a little differently that one might expect. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. For example, Egwene’s plot in the White Tower, and Nynaeve’s quieter ruminations on Rand’s psyche. I feel like had Jordan penned that all himself, Egwene would have been much “harder,” and thus, less likeable.  Or it would have emphasized the wrong aspects of her mindset to highlight her struggle. Nynaeve’s personality seems completely different. She’s far more brooding, and does a better job of picking her battles. I feel like this is more the result of the author change than character growth. The character of Talmanes’s new sense of humor seems entirely the handiwork of Sanderson. In short, all of the characters are just plain more likeable than before.

On the down side, there are a few scenes that lacked the Jordan “ah ha!” touch. They suffered due to too much foreshadowing to the point of being predictable. Tam’s disastrous reappearance, and the announcement of the Hall of the Tower’s decision on the bridge of Tar Valon spring to mind. Each one suffered from just one line of misplaced dialogue in previous scenes that inched toward what the scene would be, and then just barely nudged it over the line into “obvious consequence” territory, ruining the surprise. For instance, if the secret meeting had ended one page earlier than it did, it would have served its purpose of reminding the reader who these characters were and what their role was behind the scenes without giving away their decision.

I think the other major factor that makes me love this book is that it finally, finally, FINALLY wraps up all the plots that started five books earlier in the Path of Daggers: Cadsuane’s goal, Rand’s hardening and apathy, Rand’s madness, Perrin vs Masema, Perrin and Faile, Egwene vs Elaida. All of them are finally resolved after being dragged out for fucking ever. The only one that isn’t is Elayne’s troubles in Andor. This is the opposite of Crossroads of Twilight which served as an 800 page prologue (which featured its own 100 page prologue. . . ) to Knife of Dreams. We also get the hints that Mat and Thom are finally going to the Tower of Ghenjei in book 13. About time. I feel like the Mat plot in KoD (the Tuon romance) could have been done entirely during CoT, leaving KoD to be about visiting the tower.

Empress of Mijak: The Villain Protagonist

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If you are looking for dark fantasy, look no further. Empress by Karen Miller, first in her Godspeaker trilogy (the others being The Riven Kingdom and The Hammer of God) is emotionally draining, and uncompromising in its presentation of a dusty and bleak world. Miller has crafted a world and society so alien to her readers, and done so with such a loving attention to detail that it borders on author masochism, that it is difficult to imagine how anyone could relate to it.

The story follows Hekat on her rise from nameless slave to the eponymous empress, and as the tagline of the book states, “she will be slave to no man.” Just unfortunately co-dependent on them.

The first thing that struck me was how much I disliked the protagonist, Hekat. And I am not alone. For the record, I disagree with a lot of the reviews that consider this a failing of the book. In fact, it’s utterly brilliant. Hekat doesn’t start out unlikeable. Her exceptionally humble beginnings as a nameless “she-brat” sold into slavery by a father whose misogyny borders on caricature sets up a character that you want to root for. You want to watch her triumph over this awful hand she’s been dealt.

And boy, does she ever. The epic spans roughly thirty years, chronicling her rise.

Each achievement Hekat has on her rise to power, each word of praise, each message from her god, strengthens the woman’s sense of pride and self-assuredness until she is hard as stone. But as Hekat becomes less likable, and less relatable, Miller does something genius: she shifts the focus of the book from Hekat, to her son Zandakar and her one friend, Vortka. Both were already well-rounded characters, and they save us from Hekat’s growing madness just in time. Their point of view also gives us an external perspective by which to judge Hekat’s actions even within the internal morality of a very warped culture. While a reader would be appalled from page one by the world, when Hekat’s actions begin to appall them, you know she has crossed the line.

As a woman who rises from lowly beginnings to rule a nation with strength and cunning, some have compared her to Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. (Satima Flavell of the Specusphere also includes a brilliant observation that similar women arise throughout history and are always east of the Dardanelles) But I feel the character is more like that of Olympias of Epirus, better known as the mother of Alexander the Great. Like Olympias, Hekat rules Mijak using her husband’s authority until his death, and then her son’s while he is away on a war to conquer the world in her name.

But more startling to me was the cycle of co-dependence she falls into with the men in her life. Thanks to the window into her mind via the book’s POV, we get to see, rather than speculate, what her motivations truly are. At times, she is explicitly, desperately seeking the approval and admiration of the men in her life. First, her father, a man as nameless to her as she was to him, for whom she feels only hatred and disgust. Her purpose early in life is defined in comparison to him, and that squalor that she seeks to forget for the rest of her life. Then when Trader Abajai praises her, she comes to need that praise and approval. It feeds her pride. When he “betrays” her, her attentions shift to the warlord Raklion. When she has used him to lift herself up first to warrior in his retinue and then to his bed, her attention shifts to her son. From that moment, Raklion is dead to her and her life revolves around her son becoming the warlord; Raklion is only useful for his ability to conquer Mijak so that her son may inherit it. All the while, she is repeating the mantra that she is precious, first to the men, and then to her god. Even as empress, she doesn’t achieve any real measure of independence from the men in her life; even though she has power over them, she is emotionally beholden to a man at all times.

Thus, the tragic irony of the novel’s “slave to no man” tagline.

Yet, all those who say they hate Hekat, and hate the book because of it have missed the point: you were never supposed to like her, or identify with her. At most, you can empathize with her one real moment of loss which comes, no joke, on the very last page. At most, you can empathize with her feelings as a mother for what she is going through in that moment. But that still isn’t the point.

Empress is a story about the birth of a villain.

And when you view it with that perspective, it is an amazing profile in tragedy brought about by pure, undiluted hubris. It’s similar to the new Star Wars Trilogy. When you view all six movies together you realize it isn’t about Luke, it’s about Anakin’s rise, fall, and redemption. This is a tragedy that sets up a character who you want to see get what’s coming to them in the future novels.

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As far as the setting, I had a hard time liking it. I don’t think I was supposed to like it for the same reason I didn’t like Hekat: it’s a world that by its very nature will inevitably give rise to someone like her. The original cover of the book, with the original title Empress of Mijak tells more about the woman and the setting than the U.S. cover: It depicts Hekat on her scorpion throne sitting in her godtheatre toward the end of the book (though the woman in the chair seems a bit young still). But I like the U.S. cover style when viewed with the entire series.

If you haven’t read Empress, you’re missing out on one of the best villain origin stories in modern fantasy.

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