Present Writers
February 12, 2021 9:02 AM   Subscribe

[C.J.] Cherryh has been incredibly prolific for literally longer than I've been alive. She has over eighty novels and loads of short stories. She's won all the major awards. If Cherryh is not a Grand Master, the term has no meaning. | The Steerswoman series. There are four out already, apparently Rosemary [Kirstein] is at work on not one but two more (oh that is so hopeful), but the four that already exist make me so happy. | Nisi Shawl is a great example of a writer who has grown, changed, and expanded her horizons - and other people's - long past her debut.

Marissa Lingen describes this series on her blog, Present Writers, in the first entry (on Marta Randall):

This is the beginning of a new series I'm doing here on the blog: Present Writers. I thought about eligibility for this, and I finally decided that what I want it to be is the opposite of a retirement party. I want to take retirement age and say: yay! We're glad you didn't retire and are still around doing cool stuff - you are present, and your work is a gift. Let's keep the part of a retirement party where your colleagues say cool stuff about your work and ditch the part where you, y'know, go away and stop actually doing it. I don't like the part where you go away. Don't do that! I just like the part where people say the cool stuff about your work. This is in lieu of a cake and a gold watch, which are harder to shove through the internet at this time.

Other entries:
posted by smcg (31 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Wait, what?! Foreigner is still going! THIS IS NEWS TO ME. I think I stopped at 9(?)
posted by Glinn at 9:16 AM on February 12, 2021

I read Merchanter's Luck in grade 8 and it was the only Sci-Fi book in my Junior High school's library with an actual sex scene in it. Judging from the stamps in the back the secret was safe with me.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:18 AM on February 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

My favorite Cherryh is Rimrunners, which has the rare knack of not only revealing new facets every time I read it, but of the even rarer treasure (for my adolescent reading) of never having been tainted by the suck fairy when I reread it in later life. (Cherryh's "The Paladin," though still well written, has some gender and power dynamics that squick me in later life)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

posted by clew at 9:53 AM on February 12, 2021

I would also lead with Cherryh, but I’d add Gillian Bradshaw. More historical as than SF novels, but "history is the trade secret of science fiction".
posted by clew at 9:56 AM on February 12, 2021

I also loved The Paladin when I was a young'un. It's not perfect but there's a lot about it that's compelling.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been following the series since its start. I don't always concur with Marissa's commentary, but I've never been disappointed to see a name getting a deserved boost.
posted by Quasirandom at 10:47 AM on February 12, 2021

Wow! This is a GREAT idea, and I'm so excited to see a whole bunch of names that I don't even recognize - that means there's a lot of great stuff for me to discover.

I clicked in and skimmed the most recent posts - I really like Lingen's writing, the ways she describes the books and their authors - and saw her entry on Kate Elliott, and the "Cold" trilogy:
My personal favorites are–and everyone who knows me will be shocked to hear this–the trilogy with “cold” in their titles–Cold Magic and its sequels. They’re funny and adventurous and doing an alternate history thing that is not the common run of alternate history things. (Phoenicians many years on!)
Well THAT sounded interesting, so I clicked over to Elliott's page (Lingen: "She has even, conveniently, put together a page to tell you where you might want to start with her books depending on your tastes! I call that considerate."), and I immediately delighted in Elliott's elevator-pitch style descriptions of her own series ("Gender swapped Alexander the Great in space." "Little Women meet American Ninja Warrior in a setting inspired by Cleopatra’s Egypt."). Her description of the "Cold" trilogy:
It’s a story with female friendship at the center (and what I’m told is a memorable love interest), as well as a fantasia of a gaslamp-era alternate history whose ramifications I’m rather proud of. I call the setting Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk fantasy adventure, with Phoenician spies, revolution, well dressed men, and lawyer dinosaurs.
That sounds like immense fun. I'm looking forward to reading these.

I love it when people celebrate and highlight the artists and works they love, and I really love this.

Thank you so much for sharing it with us, smcg!
posted by kristi at 11:15 AM on February 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Chanur series by C.J. Cherryh remains my favourite Alien PoV SF.
posted by bouvin at 11:15 AM on February 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

So glad to see Nisi mentioned here. Everfair is really good.

(She and I used to work in the same used book store in Ann Arbor, back in the day.)
posted by doctornemo at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Steerswoman is one of my favourites. It's such a pleasure to read a fantasy/scifi series with characters that actually act like they are intelligent. Usually, you are told they are, but they don't demonstrate it at all. There are so many little touches and moments with characters that actually think, approach problems methodically, or demonstrate genuine compassion. There's also some really great stuff with regard to freedom of knowledge, the responsibility of technology, and so much more. To say more really dives into spoilers in a series that is all about journeys and discovery. I can't recommend it more.

When I first read Steerswoman, *cough* 25ish years ago, I can't explain how weird it felt that the male Steerwomen were still referred to as "Steerswomen." It's such a minor thing and really no different from how we gender professions elsewhere in the opposite direction, but it felt like a manifesto in the '90s.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2021 [20 favorites]

Oh how nice to see Caroline Stevermer included! I never understood the fuss over the badly written Potter books when they could have had College of Magics, but then, we all know what happens to things with male protagonists vs. female ones.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I loved the epistolary collaboration of Caroline Stevermer / Patricia Wrede , Barbara Hambly started as an OK but very entertaining writer and got a lot better as the years went on, nice to see Laurie Marks who I think is a bit overlooked possibly because queer/lesbian sf isn't quite mainstream enough yet (although a lot better than it used to be). This is a great list full of great authors, but if they're all retirement age I'm a little sad now because I'm not sure they'll keep publishing for all the years I'll still be reading.

Kate Elliot's cold trilogy is definitely worth a read, kristi, I hope you like it.

Kress, Bujold & McKinley are such great authors too, but I hope they're already well recognized.

Despite loving books I am not someone who goes to cons or follows the lives of authors much and it's disconcerting to realize the ages of some authors who came to it as a second or third career. If I'd been guessing I'd have thought Elizabeth Bear and Nicola Griffith would've been old enough to make this list (they're not) and that some on the list were 20-30 years younger than they are.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:12 PM on February 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

There's nothing about this I don't love. Please help curate, what should I read next?
posted by signal at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2021

If you haven't read Steerswoman, don't start another book until you've eaten all four.

(They're available DRM-free on Smashwords.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:13 PM on February 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

Stevermer owes us a third book in the A College of Magic series, and has for so long I'm thinking of sending her account to the Speculative Fiction Series Sequel Debt Collection Service, but they did jack with GRRM, and after The Wheel of Time debacle no one trusts them any more.
posted by jamjam at 1:23 PM on February 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

seconding Steerswoman, they are awesome.

that said, I do not understand why Kate Elliott isn't a HUGE name. She's a better world-builder and plotter than Jordan or Martin, and her women have lives and agency, and she deals with cultural clash and oppression in really nuanced and complex ways. She writes multi-volume epic fantasy series with plots that go places and characters you love, plus creative bits like Giant Magic Eagles of Justice and Dinosaur Lawyers. She's so great.

I'm still bummed out that the new trilogy starting with Black Wolves appears to be off; it looked like it was going to be great.

I also adore Molly Gloss: her writing is just gorgeous on a simple prose level, and deeply, deeply humane in its approach to relationships and society and animals. The Hearts of Horses is a historical novel I reread periodically for comfort. And she's the only writer I'm aware of who sent Quakers to space.
posted by suelac at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen omnibus is easily the best novel I've read in the past few years.

> The spying, brainwashing, training tapes, and coercion run amok at Reseune, the city-sized laboratory on Cyteen where almost-human azi are grown and trained.
posted by are-coral-made at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

I do not understand why Kate Elliott isn't a HUGE name. She 's a better world-builder and plotter than Jordan or Martin, and her women have lives and agency, and she deals with cultural clash and oppression in really nuanced and complex ways.
I think there’s a very simple explanation, and I completely agree that there are plenty of male authors who have achieved much greater commercial success with work which isn’t better. It’s especially unfortunate when people say that someone else’s work is derivative because they read the heavily promoted author first.
posted by adamsc at 2:04 PM on February 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

@suelac: The other Quakers-in-space writers to name-check are Joan Slonczewski (Still Forms on Foxfield) and Judith Moffett (Pennterra). Gloss's Dazzle of Day is the best of the three, but Foxfield comes also excellent.
posted by Quasirandom at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

posted by brainwane at 2:45 PM on February 12, 2021

I will just say that it is an enormous injustice that Hollywood is squatting out yet another version of Dune, while there's been nothing for the Chanur series, The Steerswoman series, or Cold Magic, or, or, any of the others (the less said about the Vorkoskigan script treatment they better).

There's so many good novels, so much excellent worldbuilding and characterization, and all more or less forgotten. And once again, in 10 years we'll get another crop of "Women are writing science fiction now!" articles.
posted by happyroach at 4:12 PM on February 12, 2021 [10 favorites]

> it is an enormous injustice that Hollywood is squatting out yet another version of Dune, while there's been nothing for the Chanur series, The Steerswoman series, or Cold Magic, or, or, any of the others

Octavia Butler’s Dawn revived for Amazon Studios by Ava DuVernay and Victoria Mahoney (2020/02/26)
posted by are-coral-made at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2021 [9 favorites]

while there's been nothing for the Chanur series

As much as I love the Chanur series (Pyanfar is my kickass earring-wearing politcally-savvy heroine), I would love to see the Morgaine series filmed. Horses and battled and interdimensional gateways and a fabulous intense emotional relationship between Morgaine and Vanye (and Roh). It could be so great. (For a long time my fantasy casting for Morgaine kri Chya was Claudia Black.)
posted by suelac at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

nthing the brilliance of the Steerswoman saga. It is a rare work in SF--or really any genre--that is simultaneously very clever and very humane. And the Steerswomen are by far my favorite depiction of scientists in SF. They are a like a secret order--only they're not secret, because they're scientists, and sharing information is what they do. The contrast with "wizards" could not be greater.

Ellen Kushner is the one on this list who I think is underappreciated. Sowrdspoint, Privilege of the Sword and Thomas the Rhymer are all great.
posted by mark k at 10:00 PM on February 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

My favourite CJC book has always been Downbelow Station, it sort of has everything and is one of the critical points of her main universe, a lot comes out of the events there

I also really like the Faded Sun Trilogy which I suspect few have read.

What she really seems to relish is putting people (or aliens) into impossible situations and then explore their angst. Going native/alien (and learning to think like them) seems to be another theme
posted by mbo at 4:11 AM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wait wait wait, happyroach: WHAT Vorkosigan script treatment?
posted by gakiko at 5:31 AM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

while there's been nothing for the Chanur series

Wait. This is the one about space cats, right? I say this knowing they are great books, it's just...they're also space cats. You are never going to get a big commercial adaptation that is primarily space cats. If you did it would center completely on the one human male among them (which: I mean, that's also the conceit the author uses, IIRC?), and even then, it won't appeal because space cats. Unless somebody got really high and was like "what if we make the space cats fuckable?"

Even if you were to somehow get around the grossness of that sort of calculation and actually just try to adapt something because the story is are probably not going to get another Avatar out of it, because James Cameron bends the laws of commercial physics.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:49 AM on February 14, 2021

This is the one about space cats, right?

Yeah, you're not wrong, but that's kind of why I love it. Like, it's not that they're cats specifically, but that the whole series is told from the POV of the non-human characters, who find the one human being entirely baffling and quite unattractive. The setup with the 6 or so different alien sapient peoples all having to negotiate their way through cultural and language and physiological barriers (two species are actually methane breathers) to find enough peace to engage in trade sufficient to support their economies -- that is just fabulous.

And then this one lost human being shows up, and he fucks up the entire balance of power in the region, because everyone gets spun up about new trading partners/new enemies/new allies. And of course because it's Cherryh, everyone is always exhausted and desperate.

You're right that nobody's ever going to make it in live action because the cost would be prohibitive, unless they went straight Disney-Lion-King.

But I still love it and people should read them, they're great. Especially since the middle book in the trilogy is called The Kif Strike Back, which was a working title that the publisher kept anyway, and I think that's hysterical.
posted by suelac at 10:54 AM on February 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

I finished reading Dorothy Heydt's The Witch of Syracuse Sunday night and it is wonderful.

I don’t know where or how she got that education in the Classics, but it’s hard to imagine it put to better use.
posted by jamjam at 12:12 AM on February 15, 2021

Huh, I must have read some of those stories, being a devotee of the Sword and Sorceress series for quite a few years, but they don't ring a bell.
posted by tavella at 8:44 AM on February 16, 2021

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