Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Feathered Edge: The Australian Connection

Another of the writers whose work I got to know through the SFWA Circulating Book Plan was Australian Sean McMullen. I think the book was Glass Dragons, the second of his Moonworlds series. It's often challenging to begin a series in the middle, but this one posed no problem. Dragons and vampires and "War of the Worlds" and angsty heroes and radical organizers-of-the-people's-revolution, oh my! Well, not all in that first book, but it was enough to get me hooked.

So a little while later, I wandered into the Tor party at a WorldCon and there was Sean McMullen. I think the introduction caught me by surprise because the first words out of my mouth (after "Hello, I'm Deborah") were, "I love your work!" And received a glorious smile in reply, as if I'd just handed him a precious gift. And yes, it was. We create in such solitude, and reviews are such treacherous things when it comes to "did people like my book? did they understand it?" Then to come all the way to a different continent, to be surrounded by people you've heard of and maybe corresponded with but never met in person, and to have a fellow writer recognize your name and have read -- and remembered -- your work. What a joy!

That conversation was necessarily brief. If you've attended a publisher's party -- or any part -- at a WorldCon, you will understand why. Most communications at large conventions are sound bytes anyway, but when you add a crushing crowd, noise, and alcohol, it's many times so. But Sean and his work kept crossing my path -- we both love cats, we're both martial artists (or I used to be -- 30 years of tai chi and kung fu). By the strange synchronicity of publishing, when I returned to the pages of F & SF with my own work ("The Price of Silence," April/May. 2009), it was to an issue that had a story of Sean's as well.

I can take a hint. When I was scheming The Feathered Edge, I wrote to him. We worked together on one story idea, and eventually he sent me "Culverelle." Curiously enough, is set in the same world, with the same overall characters and tale, as "The Spiral Briar" from F & SF. They are not the same stories in that they have different emotional and moral centers, but if you fell in love with Eleanor (as I did), and you savor the wonderful blend of engineering, chivalry, and Faerie, I encourage you to run out and find the other story -- and make a note to look for the novel The Iron Warlock when it's released.

"Culverelle" in some ways belongs to the small but excellent group of stories about women learning to be warriors -- by training. By practicing, by learning what their strengths and weaknesses are and by using those strengths in an intelligent way. (Another example is Barbara Hambly's novel, The Ladies of Mandrigyn.) I love that Sean doesn't simply wave his authorial hands and turn a determined but unfit woman into a super-paladin in a few paragraphs. When we take on such a training, we must be prepared for it to change us in more than physical ways.

Later in the anthology, you'll meet another woman warrior, from Judith Tarr's "The Woman Who Fell In Love With The Horned King." See what you think about what they have in common, and how their experiences are different. As a fascinating side note, the swordswoman on the cover could be either!


  1. Speaking as Culverelle's author, I was delighted to see that Deborah grasped the point of the story so well. Culverelle is actually a romance about training - I've trained so many people over the past thirty years, it's about time I wrote about it.

    Real dedication to training changes people, so when Eleanor trains so very hard to be able to fight for Sir Gerald, she gradually becomes someone else. Like may students, she develops a crush on her instructor, Tordral (it's never happened to me, but I'm not as interesting as Tordral), but this does not last. Eventually she realises that she does not love Tordral, she actually loves what Tordral is - a determined and dangerous warrior. Even better, by the time the final showdown takes place, Eleanor has become a real warrior. Not a great warrior - yet - but good enough to deal with an elf with an attitude problem.

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