(Originally aired 2018/03/17 - listen here)
Heather Rose Jones: Last week, we had Elizabeth Bear on the show to talk about her queer steampunk stories, Karen Memory, and the brand new, Stone Mad. In this segment, she’s here to talk about historically based books with queer women that she's particularly enjoyed reading.
Elizabeth Bear: Hi. [Laughter] Well, I have my - I brought a book to class today. The book that I have brought to class is Nisi Shawl’s Everfair. And I’m going to be honest since I didn't entirely do my homework because I have had this on my nightstand for a month, and I literally just started reading it.
H: Well, I think you're gonna really enjoy it. I love the book, and it’s a very different type of story structure than I’m used to, which, I always like having my story expectations shaken up.
E: I'm just a couple of chapters in, and I’ve been really soaking in the language which is gorgeous and the characters who are just delightful. But what I’m getting an idea of the structure of the book so far, going into it, is that it seems to be a sort of historical tapestry.
E: It reminds me almost of some of the structures that epic fantasy uses sometimes where we have a lot of small points of view showing us different aspects of how the story comes together and different perspectives on events that are happening in different parts of the world.
H: So, let's bring the listeners up to speed with the concept of the book here.
E: Sure. Everfair is an alternate steampunk history which deals with the historically hideous Belgian colonization of the Congo and their massacre there of about 50% of the Congolese citizens. And this is a happier – this is a fix-it fic for history.
E: [Laughter] This is a book about what happens if those people managed to buy a lot of the land back from the colonizers and survive, and thrive, and create a kind of “proto-Wakanda,” I think.
H: Yeah, good comparison.
E: Yeah, I think if you want queer historical fantasy to tide you over – well, I mean, the Black Panther will have been out by the time this airs. If you want queer historical fantasy as Black Panther methadone, this is your book. [Laughter]
H: Yeah, and another aspect that it brings in is the way that the well-meaning white people in Britain, the socialists – was it the Fabians, if I’m remembering correctly, in Britain?
E: Yeah, I think that’s who they are.
H: …Bring money in to buy up this land and form a progressive colony with all of its wonderful steampunk elements and then, eventually, discover that just coming in and doing good doesn't make them the good guys of the story necessarily.
E: Isn't that a hard thing to learn?
E: Yeah, and the characters, the engineers… As I said, it's early in the book. I am particularly taken so far, actually, with the first character we meet who I think is Lisette, the bicyclist, the woman who’s in love with machines.
H: Yes. And, of course, she's one of the characters that makes the book relevant for this podcast because there is a lovely sprinkling throughout the book of women in love with women in various types of relationships.
E: And she eventually goes off into the main plot line and hooks up with somebody, doesn't she?
H: Oh, yeah.
E: I think that's where this is going. [Laughter]
H: Okay. So, I know you said you don't mind spoilers but, yeah, she hooks up with someone.
E: I don’t mind spoilers.
H: And there are multiple other relationships between women of various types that will be lovely to see as well as just lots and lots of different relationships.
E: I'm so excited about this book. I have been a huge fan of Nisi’s for years. She is an amazing human being. I’m actually thrilled that I’m going to be teaching a workshop with her this year, and she's going to be an instructor at Viable Paradise with me. Her command of language is so amazing and engrossing that I just keep reading sentences two or three times. [Laughter]
H: [Laughter] And one of the things that I particularly liked about Everfair is that the presentation of the relationships and the people’s, the characters’ understanding of their own desires and sexuality is very true to the times. It's not modern people stuck back in a historical story. And I really appreciated that they're having issues, and problems, and delights that are rooted in the times of the story.
E: Oh, that's fantastic. I'm so looking forward to this. I just have to turn in my novel, [Laughter] and then I can sit on the couch and read all day.
H: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing your love for this book that you look forward to loving even more as you go along.
E: Thank you for giving me the opportunity, and thank you, Nisi, for writing it.
H: Yes, absolutely.
In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured authors (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.
In this episode Elizabeth Bear recommends a favorite queer historical novel:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
Links to Elizabeth Bear Online