Today, I was fortunate to be able to tune in to the Litquake virtual event with Rivers Solomon and Charlie Jane Anders. This event was supported by Green Apple Books in San Francisco and 48 Hills, a source for SF news and culture.
Both Solomon and Anders are phenomenal writers of science fiction and fantasy with several books under their name. I’ve bought, read, and loved all of the books each of these authors has written thus far — so I was so excited to be able to hear them read from and discuss their recently released books.
Here are some bits of goodness from the event.
About the Books
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon: “Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.
But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.
To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.”
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jan Anders: “Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.
But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.”
(Both descriptions pulled from Goodreads.)
Both of these books are very different in terms of storyline and tone. Solomon’s novel is a gothic horror novel, while Anders’ books is a YA science fiction with a brightly vibrant tone. However, one of the many cool conversations to come out of this event is about the connection points between these two books. From writing about queer experiences to incorporating singing into their readings, these books feature similar topics and themes, though they’re approached in highly different ways.
One of the first aspects to be discussed was the fact that both books deal with found families, with the main characters trying to figure out where they belong and discovering their communities along the way.
Solomon noted that the ways in which found family narratives can come about, particularly in the queer community, can sometimes be romanticized — as if once the new family is found, all the problems go away. However, in their book, they wanted to explore the tensions and complications of found families and how people are able to come together despite these tensions.
Anders expanded on this idea by talking about how family, whether found or otherwise, has an obligation to it. She explained that by being a part of a community, you’re not just there to have other people lift you up, but also to lift them up — and that’s a part of the communal element.
Coming of Age
Both authors also discussed the ways in which their books deal with coming of age, and how that process often deals with transformation. When you’re growing up, you’re going through a number of changes both emotional and physical — and science fiction can deal with these elements in unique ways by make such transformations more dramatic in physical sense.
The Burden of Past Struggles
Another connection point is the way in which the main characters in these books are burdened by past struggles that have been going on before they were born. Both Verne and Tina are enlisted into challenges and battles that have been going on in the generations before them. However, as Anders points out, the expectations of them as heroes may not be as simple as one first thinks.
Language and Naming
“If you name something, you can hate it.” Quoting from Sorrowland, Anders brought up how both Sorrowland and Victories Greater Than Death deal with aspects of language and naming and how words language can have a direct impact on communities and their struggles.
Solomon noted that what came to mind for them is how language and terminology are used and policed in the queer community. They explained that on the one hand there exists the ideal, and on the other there is the way that language can sometimes reduce that expansiveness of that idea by trying to explain it. In a way, language can often be an act of oppression and can have a roll in colonization, which needs to be considered.
Playing with Genre
Solomon and Anders both have a history of playing with genre and giving it a twist in their work — and their most recent books are no exception.
Solomon explained that genre means different things to different people, and really it’s mostly a way of managing people’s expectations. They tend to lean into wanting to write things that are entertaining and dark, whether it’s a story with a spaceship or with monsters. So, they mostly allow the story to go where it needs to go.
Anders agreed and explained that she approaches her work by considering how genre can serve the story that she’s trying to write, rather than the other way around. When she’s tried to put the cart before the horse (as with an unpublished novel), then she’s found that the story will become trapped in expected tropes of the genre, which don’t necessarily work for what she’s trying to achieve.
A number of topics were discussed during this amazing discussion (which I believe will be shared on the Litquake YouTube channel and I’ll link to it, once it’s available). Attending this event was a reminder of how much I’ve been wanting to read these books, both of which I’ve have now bought through Green Apple (because I love supporting small bookstores).
I’m pretty sure this is the first author reading I’ve attended since the start of the pandemic. Although I’ve been wanting to attend various digital readings throughout the past year, somehow the events would always float by me as I’ve been lost in the weird timelessness of my days.
Attending readings and staying connected to the writing community has always been something I’ve found inspiring and vital to my experience as a writer and human. Having been away from it for so long, I had forgotten how important it was for me.
I’m so grateful to have attended this event with Solomon and Anders — and I’m feeling immensely inspired. I hope to attend more similar events (and perhaps some in-person ones) in the near future.