What’s Making Me Happy: April 2016

Audiobooks.

“Read me a story.” Short-sighted people believe this is a pleasure we outgrow by the age of ten, but of course those people aren’t paying attention to the popularity of audiobooks. The more I listen, the more I feel that audiobooks are a marvelously comforting and stimulating hearkening-back to the oral tradition, to a time when one absorbed a tale through the ear rather than the eye, and listening, remembering, and repeating were essential skills. The oral tradition draws in young and old alike.

I’ve been enjoying two very different novels-on-CD this month: Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni. At first I found the narrator of the former, Jack Garrett, sounded rather like the “Honest Trailers” guy, and I found the resemblance a distraction. But the more the story drew me in, the more I liked his voice. Now I’m learning how all those made-up words and names (e.g. Kiin, Ahan, Telrii) should be pronounced. (Apparently “J” is always “Y” in Sanderson’s worlds.) The latter’s narrator, George Guidall, is a mature man whose gentle Semitic accent perfectly suits Wecker’s novel, set in an ethnically diverse turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York. I enjoyed both these works when I read them in print, and it’s a joy to revisit them in a new form and remember why, and how much.

The Fell Sword.

Sometimes my heart yearns for a good old-fashioned fantasy epic with a sprawling cast, action sequences full of heroic (and not so heroic) derring-do, monsters, dastardly villains, and magic as a neatly integrated part of the furniture. Miles Cameron’s Traitor’s Son Cycle is such a series, and The Fell Sword is its second volume. It’s been compared to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and I expect a good many fans of Martin’s work would find much to like here, including violence, political machinations, and a dash of moral ambiguity in the “good” guys. But this saga, I find, has a lighter, more frequently humorous tone, and while traditional gender roles do come into play, this world isn’t quite as brutally misogynistic as Martin’s Westeros; rape is an occasional rather than an omnipresent threat. And I like Cameron’s women — the female knight Ser Alison (who, unlike Martin’s Brienne of Tarth, has the respect of most of her colleagues), the wise-woman seamstress Mag, and the magically gifted nun Amicia, a devout woman depicted sympathetically — better than most of Martin’s.

Blindspot.

I started watching this freshman mystery series, about a tattooed amnesiac woman who becomes the linchpin for a series of cases worked by a team of dedicated but flawed FBI agents, because I relished seeing Jaimie Alexander, whom I’ve loved as Lady Sif in the Thor films (darn it, why does Thor keep looking at other women when Sif is right there?), as the center of her own show. As I expected, she’s awesome. But I’ve come to enjoy the entire diverse cast, which offers a satisfying punch in the eye to the Smurfette Principle. Many shows would have expected us to be content with Alexander alone, but this one also gives us a tough Latina agent battling her own demons, a gay black woman (the superb Marianne Jean-Baptiste) as the team’s director, and a blonde computer specialist and puzzle expert who, in her spare time — insert squeal of delight here — plays Dungeons & Dragons! Yes, girls and women play D&D too, and it’s wonderful to have a TV show acknowledge this at last, even if it is only in a throwaway moment in an episode that focuses on something else entirely. The mysteries are tight and involving, both the stand-alone cases and the ongoing arcs, but for me, the people make it worth watching.

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Anatomy of a Front Cover

My second novel, Nightmare Lullaby, is very nearly ready to make its debut before the world — I’m reading the “home stretch” of the proof even now — and it has a front cover, courtesy of Gilded Dragonfly Books‘ artist Gina Dyer.

One of the things I love about working with GDB is their approach to covers. I’ve heard many writers complain about complete lack of input when it comes to the images meant to sell their books to the public. GDB, however, does nothing without checking with me first. The images you see on this cover are an integration of pictures I found on depositphotos.com, so in a sense I collaborated with Gina on this cover.

The vision of a white-skinned woman dominates, the closest I could find to a representation of Meliroc, my lead character. She lacks the blazing, angry green eyes I describe in the novel, but hey, when you choose to make your lead an eight-foot-tall albino, finding even a “close-but-no-cigar” image can be a challenge. The pictured woman does have Meliroc’s otherworldly beauty, and even better, her skittish mistrust, as she’s looking over her shoulder to confront whatever threat may approach from behind. In the distance to the left, we see a winter-scape. I started working on this book during a cold January and decided a wintry setting suited the tale.

The blazon “Lullaby” covers a background image of a xylophone, which represents the instrument that masked musician Feuval bestows on Meliroc. The music she makes with it proves to be her lifeline but also her greatest danger.

Nightmare Cover.jpg

Toward a More Female-Friendly Fantasy Canon

Part 3: Worthy Additions

To frame my suggestions for inclusion in a female-friendly fantasy canon, I’ve considered some of the characteristics for which books often included on “Best Of” lists tend to be praised. Strong and vivid prose is, of course, one aspect they have in common, though their styles may differ.

If you seek detailed world-building, complex politics, and a dash of moral ambiguity, you may enjoy–

  1. Michelle West’s multi-volume epic series The Sun Sword. The first book, The Broken Crown, is as violent, dark, and troubling as A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s much-loved series better known by its TV name Game of Thrones. Yet sadly and inexplicably, few fantasy fans seem to have heard of these books. They deserve far more recognition.
  2. Kate Elliott’s Crossroads series. The first volume, Spirit Gate, is almost too dark and violent for my tastes, but the intricacy of the detail is tremendous, and we do get to know some fascinating heroines. The Steampunk-inflected Spiritwalker Trilogy, starting with Cold Magic, is even better in my opinion.
  3. Django Wexler’s The Shadow Campaigns, a planned five-part historical fantasy that begins with The Thousand Names. It may be very new, but other brand-new series have made it onto “Best Of” lists, so why not this one? The action sequences are stirring, and the political wheeling and dealing is a blast. And there are women. Lots of them.

If you’re looking¬† for detailed world-building and a sense of awe and wonder, you may like–

  1. Kate Forsyth’s Eileanan series, beginning with The Witches of Eileanan, a.k.a. Dragonclaw. Magic in threat, faeries, monsters, shifters, stalwart heroines, scheming villains — they’re all here. The sequel series, Rhiannon’s Ride, which I accidentally read first (and liked far too much to put down and backtrack to the first series) is also well worth a read. It has a female pegasus! I’m practically sold right from that point.
  2. Elizabeth Bear’s The Eternal Sky, the trilogy beginning with Range of Ghosts. This book offers a treat for those weary of pseudo-Medieval Europe fantasy worlds. Djinns, afrits, magical horses, and mutant tigresses populate this Arabian Nights landscape, along with female wizards (two of them, both wonderful), a destined hero, and a queen who can command an army of monsters.
  3. Anything by Patricia McKillip. The words “awe and wonder” are all but synonymous with McKillip’s numinous, poetic writing style. Those I’ve read: Winter Rose, The Bards of Bone Plain, Alphabet of Thorn, Ombria in Shadow, The Sorceress and the Cygnet, and The Cygnet and the Firebird.
  4. The Sevenwaters Trilogy, beginning with Daughter of the Forest. Juliet Marillier’s series brings Celtic mythology vividly and lyrically to life, and it reminds us that a heroine does not always need to wield a sword in order to save the day, as Sarah Letourneau points out.

If you like rough-and-tumble action with heroes and heroines kicking butt side by side, you should appreciate–

  1. Barbara Hambly’s Sun Wolf and Starhawk trilogy, beginning with The Ladies of Mandrigyn. Hambly is one of the most solidly readable writers I’ve discovered in the last decade. (I’ve heard her Star Wars tie-in novels aren’t the best, but at this point I’d be tempted to read a shopping list if Hambly wrote it.) Her heroes are flawed but understandable, and boy, do they ever make the villains sorry they crossed them. A touch of moral ambiguity is on the menu here (there’s a distinct gritty toughness), but so are friendship, loyalty, and satisfying self-discovery.
  2. Violette Malan’s Dhulyn and Parno series, beginning with The Sleeping God. I admit I picked up that first book because the statuesque, muscular, poised-for-action image of heroine Dhulyn Wolfshead looked like someone I wanted to read about. Now, with only one more book to go in the series, I find it criminal that Malan’s work isn’t better known. There’s plenty of action here, for those who love action, and romance, for those who love romance.

If you enjoy alternate-history or historical fiction with fantasy elements, you should try–

  1. Kate Forsyth’s “fairy tale” series. Bitter Greens merges a retelling of Rapunzel with the story of one of the ancien regime fairy-tale authors who recorded it, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild, the girl who became the wife of Wilhelm Grimm and one of the storytellers whose tales he and his brother recorded. Both books are immensely powerful and cathartic, more of a challenge than the superbly dreamy Eileanan novels. To read both sequences is to witness the versatility of a gifted writer. The “fairy tales” series has a new entry, The Beast’s Garden, which I’ve yet to read but can’t wait to get my hands on.
  2. Anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, but especially A Song for Arbonne, alternate-history France in the age of the troubadours, and The Lions of Al-Rassan, a depiction of the conflict between Christian (Jaddite), Muslim (Asharite), and Jew (Kindath). Lions is my favorite due largely to its female lead, the Kindath physician Jehane, a beautifully realized rule-breaker.

If you like fantasy that intersects with the real world and presents complicated, often disturbing moral dilemmas, you will enjoy–

  1. Kindred and Wild Seed, both by the justly lauded Octavia Butler. In the first, a modern African-American woman is transported to the pre-Civil War South and saves the life of an adorable redheaded boy — only to return again and again and watch as he evolves into a vastly less adorable young man. In the second, a powerful shape-shifting force of creation is locked in a centuries-long dance of doom with her evil opposite number. Both books are strong meat, and would serve as a wake-up call for those who believe women only write “soft” fiction.
  2. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death. The heroine who strides powerfully through the wastes of post-Apocalyptic Africa is part destroyer, part savior. Once again, very strong meat.

If you like urban fantasy in which the plot is NOT driven by the protagonist’s sex life, you should be pleased with–

  1. Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, a foundation work in the subgenre. Musician Eddi McCandry may fall in love with a supernatural ally, but she doesn’t let romance distract her from fighting to save her city from Fair Folk with evil intent. This book has plenty of humor and verve, and I need to reread it soon.
  2. Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook. Good and evil mutants battle for the life and soul of contemporary London, and the female protagonist is an amnesiac, fearless, supernaturally gifted office drone. What’s not to love?
  3. The Girl With All the Gifts. I’m not sure if M.R. Carey’s novel of a zombie-plagued England and the mismatched misfits who try to navigate it really belongs in this category, but I have to put it somewhere. It’s just too good for me to leave out.

Whew! That’s quite a lot, and I’m sure I will need to add more as my reading life proceeds. For a finish, I offer a list of books that may do for young readers what Hambly’s Dragonsbane did for Brandon Sanderson:

  1. Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
  2. Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, beginning with The Wee Free Men, and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
  3. Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Spindle’s End
  4. Anything by Tamora Pierce
  5. Anne McCaffrey, The Harper Hall of Pern, beginning with Dragonsong
  6. Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, starting with Dealing With Dragons. (She has several good series, but this is my favorite.)

Toward a More Female-Friendly Fantasy Canon

Part 2: Choosing the “Best”

In my last blog post I wrote of my difficulties as a new fantasy fan trying to find something “like Tolkien, but with more women.” Because this was the late ’80s and early ’90s, I had no vast and wondrous Internet to guide me, no Goodreads or Library Thing or genre-specific websites like Reddit Fantasy, Fantasy Cafe, or SFFWorld. Resources like this might have proved a huge help to me when I was starting out, yet even with them I could have run into a difficulty, a thorn in the foot of readers in search of high-quality fantasy literature in which women play central or at least important roles: outdated notions about “target audience.”

Put simply, too many people cling to the idea that stories centering on female characters will only appeal to female readers, while stories with male protagonists have universal appeal. Women readers can be engaged with equal ease by men’s and women’s stories, but boys and men are only interested in reading about other boys and men. Evidence of this notion in action is painfully easy to find. Author Shannon Hale, whose The Goose Girl I’ve enjoyed, describes on her blog the notion’s roots and the way libraries, teachers, and especially parents unconsciously water this poisonous plant. Then we have the recent brouhaha over the teaser trailer for the upcoming film Star Wars: Rogue One. Evidently, to a noticeable number of male Twitter users, two Star Wars movies featuring female heroes are too many, and the highlighting of female characters leaves the poor male viewers out in the cold, with no one awesome to latch onto.

This in a toxic nutshell is holding us back, keeping the number of active, capable female protagonists comparatively small. Until we find a way to root it out and burn it, progress will be slow.

Recommendation lists abound, purporting to point newcomers to fantasy toward the best the genre has to offer. If you want to know just how amazing and thought-provoking fantasy fiction can be, the list-makers claim, these are the books you must read. Yet take a good look at such lists. On this one posted by “Cory Novah Fifi Stars,” female authors are conspicuous by their absence, and, a likely consequence, stories of men dominate — male Chosen One heroes, scruffy male anti-heroes, male villain-protagonists. The most female-positive series listed here is probably Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, which does place a woman in the central role in the second book and does not subject its female characters to threats of rape or other forms of degradation every five pages.

Here’s another “Best Of” list which is a bit wider-ranging. A few female authors do make the cut, but on a list of thirty they are substantially outnumbered by men, and female protagonists, while better represented here, remain a distinct minority. quartzen, a friend of mine on Twitter and Library Thing, puts it this way: “How to write a ’10 fantasy novels…’ list: 8 books by men with male protags, 1 by a man about female protag, 1 by a woman about male protag . . . (Note that you can swap out one or two series about sprawling ensemble casts heavily skewed towards male characters for any entry above).” (used with permission) When the number of choices increases from ten to thirty, the ratio remains much the same, if not worse. Yet sometimes, when somebody remembers that female readers enjoy fantasy, we get lists like this. The choices aren’t the problem; this list includes some very good ones indeed. The problem is that in the title of this list we see yet another repetition of the idea that fantasy novels with complex and intriguing female protagonists must be “for women.”

Such lists leave me wondering: are fantasy stories about men somehow better — more riveting, more challenging, more imaginatively constructed — than those about women? Do authors both male and female magically write better when they’re writing about men? If the answer is “yes,” that’s the most disheartening prospect I’ve come across in a long time — so disheartening that I refuse to accept it. Rather than questioning the worth of women’s stories and authors’ ability to write them well, I question the biases, conscious or unconscious, of those who make the lists and their judgments of which books deserve a place in the “fantasy canon.”

If we want to come up with a more woman-positive fantasy canon, the first thing we have to accept is that works don’t have to be cut out in order to make room for others. Do Robert E. Howard’s highly testosterone-driven “Conan” stories need to be erased in favor of C.L. Moore’s tales of the sword-wielding heroine Jirel of Joiry? Why not read both, for double the rollicking adventure? (Confession: I haven’t read either — yet.) I’m not here to suggest that the works of Gene Wolfe, Fritz Leiber, Mark Lawrence, and R. Scott Bakker don’t belong on anybody’s Best-Of lists, though it’s doubtful they would ever make mine. Rather, I want to see a little more acknowledgement of the quality of female-centric fantasy novels, a quality that should appeal to all readers, not just women. Recently Brandon Sanderson delighted me with an article in which he honored the middle school teacher who recommended the book that changed his life. That book? Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane, which tells of the adventures of witch Jenny Wayrest.

Coming Soon: Part 3 — Nominees for inclusion in the fantasy canon

 

 

 

Toward a More Female-Friendly Fantasy Canon

Part 1: My Own Experience

As a child I read quite a bit of fantasy, most of it the animal or fairytale variety but fantasy nonetheless. I also saw my fair share of both fantasy and science fiction movies. I would almost invariably latch on to a character whom I perceived as the “coolest,” and I would imagine myself as that character, engaged in adventures galore.

When I read Kipling’s The Jungle Book, I was Bagheera — much cooler in Kipling than in Disney, and besides, I loved that name. When I first encountered The Wind in the Willows, I was Toad; when I’d grown up just a little, I became Water Rat. When I fell in love with Watership Down, I couldn’t decide if I most wanted Hazel’s good sense, Fiver’s mystical insight, or Bigwig’s bluff badassery, so I took turns being all three. When I got my first taste of the King Arthur stories, I was, from time to time, most of the knights except Lancelot. When I saw the 1940 Korda fantasy classic The Thief of Bagdad, of course I was the rakish and fearless Abu, and when Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope entered my life, I couldn’t be anyone but Luke. (It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that I grew to appreciate Han.) This habit lingered even into my teenage years, for when I saw The Princess Bride, I was instantly Inigo Montoya.

In those days it didn’t occur to me to question why the coolest characters, the ones I so badly wanted to be, always seemed to be male. Yet oddly enough, when I slipped into their shoes (or paws, as the case may be), I didn’t become male. Instead, they became female. Since none of my favorites were heavily involved in romance plots, I saw no reason why they couldn’t be girls if I imagined hard enough. Even when certain plotlines made their maleness necessary, my imagination always found some work-around. I wanted them to be female, like me, and so they were.

Not until I entered adolescence did I find female characters I really wanted to be — Scout Finch, Jo March, Anne Shirley, Jane Eyre. But by that time, I was drifting away from fantasy, at least as far as reading was concerned. Where were the female characters in fantasy that might have won my allegiance to the genre? Tamora Pierce’s Alanna the Lioness, Robin McKinley’s Harry and Aerin, Anne McCaffrey’s Menolly of Harper Hall? They were there when I was a teen, yet somehow, to my everlasting regret, I missed hearing about them, and I didn’t encounter them until much later, when I’d aged beyond the presumed target audience.

In my last year of college, fantasy found me again. I reread Watership Down, and read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for the first time. An ambition woke in me, to write fantasy novels of my own, and I was anxious to read more in the genre because first, it would improve my understanding of fantasy as a whole and give me some idea of the techniques I might employ, and second, it would be fun. So I started to sniff around libraries and bookstores, knowing what I wanted: something as wondrous as Tolkien, but with¬†more women, since by then I was growing impatient with turning male characters into heroines and wanted to find stories where the “coolest” characters might actually be girls. But without Goodreads or Library Thing to help me, I wasn’t sure where to turn.

I turned first to Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, assuming naively that a female author would be bound to include more female characters and give them interesting things to do. How quickly I realized my mistake. Very early in the books, a key ethos is laid down: “Weak is women’s magic” and “wicked is women’s magic.” After I read that, I thumbed through the rest of the book, noted the scarcity of female names and pronouns, and returned it to the library unfinished. (I know now that if I’d started with the second book in the Earthsea Series, The Tombs of Atuan, my reaction might have been very different.) My second experience with a female fantasy author wasn’t much better: Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, starting with The Crystal Cave. These books I actually enjoyed, but I had to wait until Volume 3, The Last Enchantment, to meet with any character resembling a heroine, and she didn’t appear until halfway through the book. Clearly, trusting in female authors just because they were female wasn’t the answer.

I had very little guidance, since at that time none of the people to whom I was very close were avid fantasy readers who could point me toward exactly what I was looking for. Thankfully, when I entered grad school, I found some friends who were fantasy fans, and from them I learned about Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, Tad Williams’ Osten Ard (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn), the various alternate-history worlds of Guy Gavriel Kay, and best of all, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.This helped me find my feet, and from there I’ve moved on to Barbara Hambly, Juliet Marillier, Patricia McKillip, and quite a few others whose new releases I await with pounding heart. Thanks to these I learned that female characters could and did have a place in fantasy literature — in fact, a variety of places. They didn’t have to be the hero’s reward, or the passive avatar of Goodness/ the active agent of Evil, or the damsel in need of rescue. They could be heroes.

My story of falling in love with fantasy has a happy ending (though the term “ending” hardly fits, since I have books to go before I sleep). But I wonder what might have changed if I’d discovered the right books sooner, if I’d sought out Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley as a teen. I wonder if their work might have made me a little more confident, a little more optimistic, on my rough ride through adolescence. I wonder if my ambition to become a fantasy novelist, which hasn’t abated since college, might have taken earlier root.

I also reflect with amusement on my habit of making heroines out of male characters. Just yesterday I browsed through an old Reddit Books thread that began with the question to the men of the group: how often did they read books by female authors and/or books with female protagonists? While plenty of the responding men wrote that they have and would happily read a book by a female author, I lost track of the number of posters who claimed they just couldn’t get into stories with female protagonists because they “couldn’t relate” to those characters. My first impulse was to judge them harshly for their unimaginative short-sightedness, but then, while I’ve identified with countless male characters, I’ve never really identified with them as male, even if they were played by Mandy “Mr. Awesome” Patinkin. I still have the habit of transforming my favorite male characters into female, even though I’ve now found plenty of female characters in the genre to love and admire. If I can’t identify with the characters as I find them, as their authors give them to me, but instead feel moved to make them something else, how am I any better than those posters on Reddit?

I will say only this in my defense: that gender-flipping habit of mine has had an inescapable influence on the way I gender my own stories and the kinds of characters I imagine as female. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I leave to my readers to decide.

(Coming Soon: Part 2 — The “Best” Fantasy Novels?)

Movie Adaptations I’d Love to See

The difference between books I’d love to see become TV series and those I’d love to see become movies is simple and obvious. If the book is part of a series, it needs to be adapted for television Game of Thrones style, with one or two seasons to cover each book. But if the book is a stand-alone, it could work very well as a movie. What the Big Screen needs even more than its small counterpart is diversity, so that’s the theme for my choices of dream book-to-movie transformations.

Kindred. OscarsSoWhiteMale? A well-done adaptation of Octavia Butler’s compelling and troubling timeslip fantasy could be a big step away from that, with Selma‘s Ava DuVernay directing and Condola Rashad, of Showtime’s Billions, starring as Dana, the modern African-American woman mysteriously transported to an antebellum plantation. Dana is just the sort of active, smart, complex heroine the movies could use more of, and her story, if told with the care and attention it merits, should be impossible for the Academy to ignore. Oscars all around, for DuVernay, Rashad, and the heartbreaking score by Thomas Newman.

Wild Seed. If Kindred‘s Dana is a victim of circumstance who must find a way to claim some measure of power despite a system designed to keep her powerless, Anyanwu, the heroine of another Butler classic Wild Seed, is a mighty force, a shape-shifting entity whose transformations are delightfully detailed; her transformation into a dolphin, for instance, could become a moment of pure joy on screen. Anyanwu is a figure of creativity and love, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who impressed me in the underrated costume drama Belle, could bring her to vivid life. For her opposite, the destructive Doro, Idris Elba would be perfect; he even fits Butler’s description of the character. He could endow Doro with the charisma he needs in order for an audience to understand how so many people could willingly fall under the evil man’s spell.

Who Fears Death. I don’t have a dream cast for this one. Onyesonwu, the heroine of Nnedi Okorafor’s fantasy of injustice, anger, and supernatural power struggles in post-Apocalyptic Africa, could be a career maker for some gifted unknown. (Twenty years ago, the superb Sophie Okonedo might have played her to perfection.) The story is harrowing and hopelessly involving, impossible to look away from even though all instincts warn that heartbreak waits at the end, as Onyesonwu tries to understand the nature of her strange power and the responsibilities that come with it. Done right, this movie could leave an audience devastated — in a good way — for hours afterward.

The Secrets of Jin-Shei. A faithful, well-directed, and well-cast rendering of Alma Alexander’s fantasy novel set in mythic China, with its roster of heroines ranging from an introspective poet to an ambitious alchemist to a sensual dancer, could transport audiences and leave them breathless. As with Who Fears Death, I don’t have a dream cast for this one (although Michelle Yeoh might be wonderful as the narrator, the poet looking back on her youth and friendships), but Ang Lee, so brilliant at the helm of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense and Sensibility, is the very director to do the project justice. I don’t really see Hollywood having much to do with it at all. Rather, I see an Asian cast, screenwriter, and cinematographer (Peter Pau, who worked with Lee on Crouching Tiger). This could be a strong Best Foreign Language Film contender.

The Rook. Daniel O’Malley’s novel of a secret organization of metahumans operating in London is one of the few urban fantasies I like unconditionally. Like my other choices, it’s led by women, with a hapless heroine, Myfanwy Thomas, coming into her strength guided by a series of letters from her pre-amnesiac self. Jenna Coleman, recently departed from Doctor Who, matches with uncanny precision the physical description of Myfanwy in the book, so much that I have a hard time picturing anyone else in the role. She has the smarts and the energy to pull it off. Cate Blanchett is probably too big a star to be considered for the role of secretary Ingrid, who’s much more badass than she first appears, but she’s the actress I have in my head. And Firefly alum Gina Torres would rock as Shantay, the American metahuman agent who becomes Myfanwy’s bestie.