Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

July 30, 2015

The Last of my Hugo Reviews

This month was a slog, but I made it in just under the deadline! The voting for the 2015 Hugo Awards closes tomorrow, Friday, July 31st. Cast your ballot! If you don’t know what to vote for, consider what I have to say about the short fiction categories. I’ve reviewed them all, lastly the novellas, at Apex Magazine.

July 17, 2015

When I Was a Kid…

I have, admittedly, been trying to turn my kids into nerds since slightly before they were born. Comics and graphic novels have been part of our bedtime routine since before they were age-appropriate, and there was a mushy time a year or so ago where it looked like my intentions had backfired and the elder child was having nightmares about Bone‘s rat creatures. (I am not the world’s best mom – maybe only second or third best.)

But this year, all of those sewn seeds have taken root and flowered in a most spectacular way. It helps that the comic market for the under-ten set has exploded. It also helps that some of the best and brightest comic creators in the world are trying their hands at children’s picture books with wonderful results. Even mega-best-selling and award-winning children’s book franchises like Mo Willem’s Piggie and Gerald books are essentially gateways into comics. You’d have to be childless under a rock not to be swept into – well, not just comics, but excellent comics.

M&O love, LOVE James Kochalka’s Dragon Puncher books.

I brought my two daughters – now 7 and 4 – to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this year, where for the first time they led the way. They spent every penny of their own hard-earned money on books, sketches, bookmarks and buttons. We still have books on the shelf we haven’t tried yet, distracted, as they are, by their favourites.

I’ve learned a lot. #1 thing is that what I like and what they like are two very different things. This sometimes leads to fights at storytime, power struggles over whether we’re going to read Moomintrolls or whether I have to drag myself through Power Ponies again. Nevertheless we agree on a number of gems, a lot of them new, so I’ve assembled a little roundup below.

Dragon Puncher by James Kochalka

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 5 stars

These are short, simple and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek comics about the titular hero (played by Kochalka’s cat, Spandy) and her self-appointed sidekick, Spoony-E (played by Kochalka’s son.) I was reluctant to buy them because they didn’t seem to have much substance to them, but they are hilarious. Good old slapstick, absurd premises taken seriously, and innocent fun make this pretty much the ideal small-child indie.

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley

Kid’s Rating – 3 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4 stars

I wanted to like this one. A high-fantasy adventure starring a stubborn, resourceful girl of colour with a pet dragon and a mission to save her sisters? Sign me up!

And it is amusing – for me. The kids? Well, the younger one liked the dragons and action. But most of it went right over their heads. Princeless draws a lot of its humour from subverting existing Disney/comic/fantasy tropes about the roles of women and princesses – tropes my kids know nothing about. The idea that a princess needs a prince to come save her? Yup, my kids heard it first here. It’s possible that kids better-acquainted with Disney will get the jokes, but mine were just lost.

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard

Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3.5 stars

This is a beautiful book. So beautiful that my kids refused to read it for the first few months because the strange creatures and eerie setting were “scary.” I was enchanted and eventually just started reading it myself, and, like cats, my children wound up on my lap reading along. They loved it.

But a few pages in, I found myself frustrated with the storytelling. The plot moves too fast and there isn’t a lot of character-building. My kids didn’t care. The images and ideas were perfectly-paced for them. I can see how this book has captured their imaginations, even if I felt it could have been written better. A surprise little-kid hit.

Ana & Froga by Anouk Ricard

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars

Strip-style comics about a group of friends doing pretty ordinary things. These are funny, I guess – funnier to the kids than me. I found the comic a bit mean. The characters are all sort of jerks to each other. My kids don’t care. They think these are hilarious. The friends never seem to really hold any grudges and they do all kinds of interesting things together… so I guess I should chill out about their jerkiness. Maybe that’s just “real.” Anyway, I’m torn on this one. The kids love it but the interactions leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4.5 stars

This was an unexpected hit. This is the story of a “lame” monster who lacks the self confidence to monster properly. The town he is meant to be terrorizing is pretty disappointed in him and send up a doctor to “fix” him. Adventures ensue.

Author Rob Harrell is probably better known for having inherited the abjectly terrible daily syndicated strip, Adam @ Home, which immediately put me at my guard. But the art in Monster is so lush and the world so fantastically fun that my reservations were swept away. The humour is occasionally pretty lame in a way that was over the kids’ head, but it didn’t distract too badly. My only major complaint is the total lack of any female characters at all. The kids have no complaints and have read this thing into the ground.

Gon by Masashi Tanaka

Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars

Gon is a wordless comic (like Andy Runton’s popular Owly) about a baby dinosaur in our own world, living in various biomes and befriending and/or terrorizing the animals there. My elder child, obsessed with nature and animals, loves these to pieces. They are gorgeously-drawn and expressive, featuring lots of really interesting real-life animals we never see.

On the other hand, I find wordless comics – even Owly – exhausting to “read” to the kids. These are dramatic performances, not readings. I look forward to my kids being willing to sit alone with these, rather than wanting my involvement.

My Little Pony by various committees

Kid’s Rating – 4+ stars
Mom’s Rating – 3-4 stars

Okay, not exactly high literature, here. But it would be misleading for me to suggest my kids are reading all these great books without owning up to the fact that we have read 10+ volumes of pony comics to pieces over the last two years. They love them. They can’t get enough of them. They rush to the pony shelf first thing when we get to the comic shop. Le sigh.

But, okay, as far as mainstream brands go, MLP is really not bad. The “mane six” ponies are well-developed, strong, interesting characters with relatable strengths and weaknesses. They go on incredibly epic adventures of every conceivable kind. The comics give more nods to adult readers than the cartoons do – they are probably written for the adult fan base, not younger kids. Lots of visual geek gags including some incredibly meta Discord/Q (from Star Trek) jokes. MLP’s major weakness is a big racial blind spot (yah yah, the ponies are a rainbow of colours. But they are also all white. Zecora the Magic Negro Pony is a zebra and there are indigenous bison. The clear implication is that ponies are white, white, white.) Later seasons of the cartoon have tried to de-white the state of ponyness, but it’s still pretty lame.

But wait, there’s more! A lot more. If you’ve fallen out of touch with comics and think Marvel/DC is all there is to offer, I really recommend you get yourself to a comic book shop – any comic book shop – with haste. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what we have on my kids’ bedstand here, let alone what is available in stores. Some of the most imaginative work in any genre is being done in this medium, in my humble opinion. It’s worth catching up.

July 9, 2015

Reviewing the Hugo Nominees: Best Novelette

It took me forever to slog though them, but Apex has published my reviews of the Hugo nominees for Best Novelette. Novelettes are… long. So, maybe I’m saving you some time, here.

June 29, 2015

Every day I’m publishin’

June 2015: I have to remember this month. It has been a serious banner month for me as a writer, and I’m only just beginning to really digest it all!

I’ve had two stories published!

The first, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of The Sockdolager. This is a light and funny story about a feisty and rather cranky woman just trying to live an ordinary life in a world filled with magic, monsters, heroes and villains. “What’s the point of marrying a great, celebrated hero if he won’t even keep kobolds from harrying your cow?” Indeed.

The second, “The Posthuman Condition,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of Kaleidotrope. This is the story of Jesse, an unpaid intern at a transhumanist nightclub, having the worst night of her life. It lands somewhere between splatter horror and cyberpunk with a dose of myth thrown in. TW: suicides. “The God of Post-Man: Who Chooses the Posthuman Condition? A Folly by Jesse Bauman. And Friends.

I’ve also sold three short stories this month!

I have sold my alt-history Revolutionary-era Quebec novelette, “More Heat Than Light,” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This will be my second appearance in F&SF and I’m OVER THE MOON about it. Publication date unconfirmed, but possibly early 2016.

I sold another alt-history, “Eleusinian Mysteries,” to Luna Station Quarterly.This is the story of a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker who discovers a map of a city on the moon, and a secret Dutch East India Company plan to travel there. Publication date September 2015.

The third sale is still a secret, but I hope the TOC will be announced soon! I like having announcements. This is a thing I could serious get used to…

June 4, 2015

Reviews: June 4th 2015

I’m partial to crazy critters, and there are some real doozies on display in the stories I reviewed this week at Apex Magazine! Read ’em and shiver…

April 30, 2015

Reviews: April 30th 2015

I looked at political imprisonment in some short work this week! And let me just recommend both the anthologies I read – Octavia’s Brood ed. Brown & Imarisha and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good ed. Nelson & Merriam. Both have a bookload of smart, interesting ideas. Just a sample at Apex!

April 9, 2015

Reviews: April 9th 2015

I love “visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun” stories and the good news is there are a lot of them in my “niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology” playground. Wondering where? Look no further*!

* Do look further, but look here too.

March 31, 2015

Interview @ the F&SF Blog!

The F&SF blog has posted an interview with me about my piece “La Heron”. This one was really fun to answer and gave me a chance to rant a little about women in martial cultures, high vs low literature, the total plausibility of brawling nuns, and so on. Anything pique your interest? Comment here or there! I like discussions.

March 26, 2015

Reviews: March 26th 2015

Once again, I’ve reviewed some interesting shorts over at Apex Magazine. Parents beware, this time around….

March 25, 2015

Mind Meld!

Over at SF Signal, me and about a hundred other people gave up our thoughts on our favourite (recent) short fiction! It’s a big article, but the key is to look for those stories and writers who merited multiple recommendations…

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