Hugo reading 2018: Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Liz Bourke

I wasn’t going to do the Related Works in one big batch, but I accidentally opened Liz Bourke’s Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy on my Kobo and it was engaging enough that I kept reading.

For the Voter Pack, Bourke provided a 90-page extract from her book – the first two sections, I believe.  The book is a collection of reviews and reviewish essays, focusing on women SFF authors.

The first four reviews all talk about Susan R. Matthews’ novels, which centre around characters who do horrifying things because the situation is horrific and the alternatives appear worse. There is a lot of conflict between duty and honour and ethics in her work. Bourke’s reviews are tantalising – they make it crystal clear to me that I never, ever want to read the books, but she brings out elements that sound so fascinating that I wish I could. (Doubly frustratingly, the last, Avalanche Soldier, sounds as though it might be really my style – but evidently one simply can’t trust Bourke not to torture her characters, sometimes literally, so I’m not game to read it…)

The next three reviews are of books by RM Meluch. On the whole, Bourke wants to like them, but doesn’t – they have fun premises (Roman Empire fighting the USA – in space!), but many problematic elements – sadistic homosexuals seems to be a common theme; rape culture is another, alongside male gaze; and a certain background level of denigration of non-western cultures. Also, it sounds like Meluch hasn’t thought through the history that would give you Romans versus the USA in space, something that mildly irritates Bourke but would drive me batty… Jerusalem Fire, though, escapes these issues, and does sound interesting.

We then get reviews of two books she really likes – Slow River, by Nicola Griffiths, and Trouble and her Friends, by Melissa Scott. Both featured strong female main characters who were lesbians. Both went out of print shortly after publication and have only been republished recently. Bourke does not think this is a coincidence.

Part two is a lot of individual reviews. Reviewing reviews is beginning to feel silly, so I’ll just say that these were, by and large, books that Bourke really enjoyed and she sells them well and usefully – I got a good sense of whether or not I’d enjoy a particular book or not from her writing, which is the gift of a good reviewer. It helps that Bourke’s idea of a good book is character-driven, with complex emotional journeys and diverse characters. She’s more drawn to science fiction and darker themes than I am, but she writes about them very well and usefully, and, be it good or bad, everything she writes about sounds *interesting*.

Overall, Liz Bourke is a very engaging writer.  I enjoyed this collection of her work, and will keep an eye out for her reviews generally.

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