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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Books - The Idylls of the Queen

I've been re-reading The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr, which originally came out in 1982.

It's been one of my favorite books for a long time. It's an unusual murder mystery, set among the people of King Arthur's Court as they were written by Mallory, but it's also a fantasy, as there's no attempt to make it "realistic." Morgan Le Fay and Merlin and Dame Nimue are really sorcerers with real magic, there are magical cities under various lakes, all the crazy events described by Mallory really did actually happen, etc. The thing that is awesome about it is that Karr makes all these characters deeply flawed people with real emotions, affected and changed by these events. Nobody's all good, nobody's all bad, everyone has their own reasons for what they do, no one goes unscathed, there are consequences for everything. She's really good at taking events where the characters' actions seem nutty and inexplicable and giving them a solid emotional underpinning so they make sense in their context. And she doesn't gloss over or make any attempt to excuse Lancelot's (and other characters') many episodes of sexual violence, though those are described and not depicted explicitly.

There's a lot of characters, but the book is told in the first person by Sir Kay, who I personally liked despite his flaws. He explains who everyone is and describes the events that are the possible motivations for the murder (the deaths of Queen Morgawse and Lamorak de Galis, the May Babies, etc) as he investigates. It's colored by Kay's caustic opinions on everyone, but he's also pretty good at admitting when he's biased. The book is also a gorgeous example of worldbuilding expanding an established universe. It's like Mallory is the one dimensional version and this is 3D in an OmniMax.

I don't think Phyllis Ann Karr is well known today. She's one of those women writers of the 80s and 90s who got disappeared. Two of her other fantasies Frostflower and Thorn and Frostflower and Windbourne are dark gritty brutally real fantasy set in a world that feels almost post-apocalyptic (if they came out nowadays, someone would have to write an article (probably in the Guardian) to explain how they were written by a woman so therefore must really be fluffy romance, and all that stabbing with swords and sexual violence is imaginary, or something).

Anyway, she was a big influence on me. And I just hope that when I inevitably get disappeared (again), somebody still remembers my books like I remember hers.


There’s a GoodReads giveaway for the audiobook of The Wizard Hunters, which came out on Oct 21. (The Ships of Air and The Gate of Gods will both be out in November.) Five copies will be given away and it'll run until November 7.


I supported the kickstarter for this and now it's available online: Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond
These authors in this anthology (including Junot Diaz, Lauren Beukes, Victor LaValle, N.K. Jemisin, S.P. Somtow, Tobias Buckell, and more) have earned such honors as the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Bram Stoker, among others.

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Phyllis Ann Karr is local to me (Minnesota/Wisconsin area) and turns up at local cons reasonably regularly. I believe Wildside just put out ebook versions of Frostflower and Idylls and that she's working on some new stuff.
I'm sure she'd be thrilled to know that her work is fondly remembered. :-)

Oh, cool. I'd like to meet her, but I'm terrible at meeting writers I admire. I'm the person who just stands there and can't think of anything to say, while inwardly jumping up and down.

I swear, that comment could have come straight out of my head. So if I ever meet YOU in person, know that that is what's going on. ;)

A slightly belated but still sincere hurray! ;)

I always used to wonder what the deal was when Authors I liked stopped publishing. I don't have that problem as much nowadays with the internets being so ubiquitous. But if it were the 80's or even the 90's I would never have heard, for example, that Kage Baker had passed away and would be left wondering what was up.

I miss Paula Volsky, whose "Illusion" I loved back in the day, and I just found out (via the Internets, you have to love the internets) that she has a new series out under another name so I'm going to go and find that on Amazon.

Thank you for making me think about authors I haven't seen in a while, I would never have thought to look otherwise.

(Also me to with losing words when I meet writers I admire, I always think of what to say about an hour after I've met them)

Yes, that is the really good thing about ebooks - so many people are able to make their backlist available, and you can find them again.

(I got to meet Andre Norton once at my first World Fantasy Con; I just babbled something and ran away.)

i will look this book up; i hadn't heard of her, but have enjoyed other books you've reccomended here.

and: i *adore* your work, have read everything you've published, and loan my copies of your books to friends all the time. there is no way they can disappear you from my shelf, or your work from my imagination, or that of so many many other people. you're *here.*

Thank you, I really needed to hear that today.

Idylls of the Queen has been a long-time favorite of mine, too. It's so nice to see it pop up somewhere where I wasn't the one bringing it up! :)

For some reason, I've never explored her other work. Thanks for the push.

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