The Courtesan Prince Reading Questions

Some Book Club Discussion Questions for Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

What do you find appealing about Reetion society?

What makes you uncomfortable about it?

What do you find appealing about Gelack society?

What makes you uncomfortable about it?

In what ways was Von’s personality shaped by his experience as a courtesan?

Why do you think the Reetions and Gelacks drifted so far apart in terms of their values and social behaviours even though they both came from Earth?

What do you think of the idea of Reality Skimming as a method of space-faring? How does the fact that it causes bodily damage add to or take away from its use as a plot device?

What were some of the biggest questions you found yourself asking as you read this novel?

What were some of the things that were most notable about Ann’s personality?

What would you focus on from this novel if you were to adapt it into a play?

What do you think of the Reetion idea of Social Transparency? What are some of the benefits and dangers of this idea?

What was most notable to you about Okal Rel? Why do you think this religious system developed?

Why is secrecy such a prevalent theme in the novel? What are the different ways that the theme of secrecy appears?

How does trauma shape and change these characters?

How does the theme of racism and cultural difference play out in this novel? Why is it so significant and how does Lynda Williams tackle racism differently than other authors?

Advertisements

Interview with Anna Frost

An interview with Anna Frost

Author image of Anna Frost.  Anna Notes: "This was taken in Nara, Japan, in 2008. Nara is a popular destination because of its numerous temples and its tame sika deer. They close in rather quickly when they figure out you’ve got deer crackers in hand! "

Author image of Anna Frost.
Anna Notes: “This was taken in Nara, Japan, in 2008. Nara is a popular destination because of its numerous temples and its tame sika deer. They close in rather quickly when they figure out you’ve got deer crackers in hand! “

By Derek Newman-Stille

Anna Frost is the author of The Fox’s Mask and The Fox’s Quest, both fantasy novels that are set in ancient Japan and feature Japanese mythical beings. As a Teen Fiction (YA) author, she pushes genre boundaries and brings in characters that question norms.

Spec Can: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Anna Frost: I’m a French-Canadian girl with hermit tendencies and a fondness for World of Warcraft player vs player fights. My house is full of chinchillas and ferrets and therefore impossible to keep clean for longer than five minutes.

Spec Can: What inspired you to set your novel The Fox’s Mask, in Ancient Japan?

Anna Frost: I’ve been reading manga (Japanese graphic novels) and watching anime (Japanese animation) since high school. Add in a few years of Japanese language classes, a month-long trip to Japan, and a fascination with Japanese fox shifters (kitsune). That kind of prolonged exposure was bound to influence the ideas that pop out of my head.

Spec Can: Why do you think so many authors set their fantasy novels in a world that is reminiscent of the Western Middle Ages instead of places like Japan? Why do they seem disinclined to explore Japan as a site of fantasy?

Anna Frost: I think people are inclined to write what they know, or at least start there. Because North American writers have a general cultural awareness of what the Middle Ages were like, it’s a logical starting point for world building. It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes. It’s certainly something I worry about, but I think it’s better to try and fail than not bother trying.

Spec Can: What fascinates you most about Japanese myth?

Anna Frost: Generally speaking, I love how different their mythology is. My favorite example is the contrast between the Japanese fox shifter and the European werewolf. The mythical werewolf has no depth: it’s a terrifying man-eating beast. The fox shifter, however, is not so limited. It can be malicious in its tricks, but it can also be benevolent. It can even be portrayed as a seducer of men.

Spec Can: What were some of the issues that came up as a non-Japanese Canadian writing about Japanese subject matter?

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

Anna Frost: It’s frequent for me to have to do extra research to understand certain aspects or details of Japanese culture. Everything related to religion is especially tough, because not only do I lack any sort of personal experience with Buddhism and Shintoism, the way these two religions coexist in Japan seems unique. Today the Japanese do not seem to consider them separate at all. I’ll spare you the historical reasons for it, but it’s both extremely interesting and difficult for an outsider to grasp and portray properly.

Spec Can: What inspired you to make your kitsune characters capable of transsexual transformations?

Anna Frost: That part comes straight from Japanese mythology. A male fox can turn into a human woman as well as a female one can. It’s one big reason why I find the kitsune legends fascinating. 

Spec Can: When I was a teen, LGBTQ2 books were non-existent for teens. How is that changing now? Do you see there being more LGBTQ2 books for teens in the future?

Anna Frost: Author Malinda Lo recently compiled a graph that indicates that if you put all the main publishing houses together, LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights.

Spec Can: Fantasy books tend to still be pretty heterosexist. What are some ways that authors can “queer” their fantasy books a bit more? How can authors bring more LGBTQ2 content into their novels and what are some of the challenges they may encounter?

Anna Frost: That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview. The best advice I can give is this: do your research, avoid stereotypes, and always remember that LGBTQ characters are no less human and complex than anybody else. They need motivations and goals unrelated to their sex life. My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.

Spec Can: What are some of the things you hope your novels will do to inspire readers?

Anna Frost: I don’t have lofty aspirations. If the reader is entertained, I’m happy. If the reader has also learned something or been spurred to find out more about Japan, I’m extremely happy.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

Cover photo courtesy of Anna Frost

Cover photo courtesy of Anna Frost

Anna Frost: I’d like to mention that Masque Books, a brand new imprint from Prime Books, will be publishing a new project of mine in the fall. I would call it a Japanese steampunk fantasy with a genderqueer main character. It’s got samurai on airships, giant sea serpents in the water, and steam mechas on the battlefield. The name is pending, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun one.

I want to thank Anna Frost for this fantastic interview and I encourage you to check out her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 . I am pleased that she was willing to share so many insights and was willing to talk about how easy it is to include LGBTQ2 characters without those characters being entirely and exclusively defined by their sexuality.

Upcoming interview with Anna Frost on Monday July 8th

Anna Frost is a Teen Fiction (YA) author of novels set in ancient Japan. This Monday July 8th, check out our interview and discussion about writing Japanese culture as a French Canadian, why fantasy authors so often favour a Western Medieval world context for their novels, cultural awareness and the dangers of writing about a culture that is not one’s own, myth, writing queer/ LGBTQ characters, and exploring trans characters.

Here are a few teasers for our upcoming interview:

Anna Frost: “It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes.”

Anna Frost: “LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights. “

Anna Frost: “That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview.”

Anna Frost: “My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.”

Check out our upcoming interview to see some of Anna Frost’s tips on how to avoid cultural and sexual stereotypes and create strong, realistic, deep characters. If you are not familiar with her work, you can explore my review of Anna Frost’s The Fox’s Mask at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/transformations/ , and you can explore her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 .

April Aliens – Wednesdays throughout April

Throughout the month of April, Speculating Canada will be bringing you discussions of aliens every Wednesday.Alien mountie

Aliens in Canadian SF can be used to explore Canadian multiculturalism, the feeling of alienation, diaspora (being without a home), ethnicity, the clash of cultures, and the extents and limits of the human. Aliens are often created as a foil, an opposite, an other to humanity, but many Canadian SF authors (such as Julie Czerneda, and Douglas Smith) complicate this ideology and put the reader in the perspective of the alien, occasionally even alienating the reader from the experience of the ‘human’ by presenting human beings as alien in behaviour as the figure from a different planet.

Aliens call on us to question ourselves, to see ourselves from a new perspective and examine what it means to be human. They challenge us to look at ourselves in a distorted mirror. In the words of Canadian author Judith Merrill “We have met the Alien and it is us” (Afterward, Tesseracts).

Unmasked

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Iron Justice Versus the Fiends of Evil” (in Masked

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories Ed. Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa, Tyche Books LTD., 2013)

Many superhero stories in the golden age of comics tended to focus on young, white, straight, able-bodied men. Silvia Moreno-Garcia seeks to disrupt that exclusionary notion of the ‘regular’ superhero by injecting some diversity into the superhero serum. Iron Justice is a retired Mexican wrestler, who, in his youth fought vampires, mummies, and other monsters that threatened humanity. Now, he and another aged superhero, La Colorada, have to solve a crime in Vancouver as the city gradually begins believing that the criminals are a South Asian group called the Tcho Tcho,  and begins preparing to do racialised violence against people because their cultural customs differ from the Vancouverite majority. As much as they desire to solve the crime and find out which monsters are responsible, they are also working to prevent hate crimes based on a society’s need for easy answers and an outsider group to direct violence toward.

Moreno-Garcia’s “Iron Justice Versus the Fiends of Evil” explores issues of cultural commodification and appropriation as well as simultaneous abjection and hatred directed toward people who are depicted as culturally “other”.

She unmasks the racism and lack of diversity in the portrayal of superheroes by portraying her hero as one who defies comic book tropes. He is non-white, and rather than just stealing cultural characteristics from culturally diverse cultures (as many superhero figures do – stealing their powers from the tombs of people that are culturally distant from them), he is, himself, of Mexican birth and embraces the cultural history of the portrayal of Mexican wrestlers. Iron Justice is also gay in an era when few superheroic characters are portrayed as queer-oriented, and those that do inspire controversy and are often relegated to an alternative universe, a less popular super team, or are rarely depicted in same-sex relationships for fear of losing comic book fans.

Although comics generally portray heroes trapped in a consistent state of youth, afraid to explore the question of “what happens when my body is no longer what society considers the peak of bodily perfection”, Iron Justice and La Colorada are aged, suffering from bodily pains, and having to fight in different ways to keep their bodies from being damaged.

As aged characters, they face a world that has changed, modified, and inconsistent with the characteristics of the world of their youth. Villains have changed – they are no longer the monsters of the past but became instead drug-dealers, embezzlers, and white-collar criminals. Their nostalgia reminds the reader of their own nostalgia for the comic books of their youth, but filtered through the lens of diversity Moreno-Garcia has applied to the story, readers recognise that the comics they are nostalgic for were inadequate, not presenting the diversity of experience, but rather the power structures at the time. One looks backwards and notices the absences in past super stories, the underrepresented and deleted people.

To read more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia and her work, you can visit her website at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ . You can find out more about Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories on Tyche Books’ website at http://tychebooks.com/ .

Haunting Lullabies

A review of Holly Bennett’s Redwing (Orca Book Publishers, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In her novel Redwing Holly Bennett follows the life of two young musicians who have both been the victims of loss. Rowan has lost his entire family to the plague and has survived. At age 15, he has been forced to search for employment, busking as a musician in small cities. Without even knowing it, he is haunted by the ghost of his sister, a lingering presence that seeks to lend a spectral comfort to his lonely existence.  Her voice is hidden to his own internal silence, the depths of loneliness within him, until he meets a young competitor for his musical busking, a boy named Samik.

Samik has also been the victim of loss, having to move away from his family when he defends his brother from a warlord who is trying to kill the boy and accidentally wounds the warlord. In order to escape his inevitable fate, Samik travelled to a new land, Prosper, a place that he considers backward.

These two boys, brought together by their love of music and by their experience of loss overcome cultural differences and the snobberies built into them by the cultural void between them. They find a common place, forging a family from a friendship. Bennett explores the ability of people to create a common voice through music, creating a sense of family and learning to move past the horrors of the past by exploring other possibilities of family, united by the musical voice. Rowan’s sister haunts the background of this narrative, her voice only given form through Samik (who has the gift of the Sight and can see spirits) who communicates the existence of Rowan’s sister’s ghost to him, and in times of peril when Rowan hears the spectral voice of his sister helping him to save his own life or that of his new family. The ghost of the past serves as a link to forge old family with new, playing with the notion that we create new relationships from the spirits of past relationships that haunt and comfort us.

Rowan learns that loss is not absolute, but that there can be a sweetness mixed with sorrow, a laughter and love within loss. This fantastic Young Adult novel allows the reader to really delve into the idea of loss and the comforts that we are able to find in loss – that combination of the music that becomes our voice for expressing sorrow and for self discovery and the new friendships and family that we create even when we are not intending to move on and connect with others. Bennett reveals to readers that grief can form a sort of language and that it can tie people together into new relationships.

The music of this narrative becomes a haunting lullaby weaving new and old, one place and another, and diverse people together.

You can find out more about Redwing on the Orca Book Publisher’s website at http://www.orcabook.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=1016 . You can explore more of Holly Bennett’s work on her website at http://www.hollybennett.net/ .