Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Ruthanna Emrys, A Writer I Like
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
Are you reading the fantasy or science fiction of Ruthanna Emrys? I recommend it.
I found out via Ada Palmer's glowing review about "The Litany of Earth". This is your way into Emrys's work if you want stories about secrets, furtive faith, government mistakes, and the silenced Other from a well-known narrative. "The Litany of Earth" hits about two thirds of my "some things I like in fiction" list, especially "recognizing and even celebrating the work of underappreciated people."
Sometime later in 2014 I wandered across "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land", which is a good place to start with Emrys if you like stories about religious communities, hospitality, fighting illness and drought, girls, women, and making friendships across boundaries. People familiar with fables or Judaism will get something extra out of the allusions. Among other things I like in fiction: "point-of-view character outwitting or outworking a terrifying antagonist."
Then yesterday I read "Exposure Therapy" (Part I, Part II). If you like fast-moving prose, Harry Potter/Global Frequency-style "you have been selected for a special secret mission" plots, good-faith cooperation, scientists, and phobia, check it out. It has "closely observed characters going through uncomfortable changes in life and identity," which I like, but the reason I particularly recommend it is that it hits with a whanging great mallet another of my favorite tropes: the (eventually triumphant) struggle to empathize with the Other.
All three of these stories are, in some way, about one of the most important themes in speculative fiction: empathy with the Other, especially if we get to see the struggle it takes to get it. (The power of that trope, by the way, is a big reason why the Star Trek: The Next Generation fable "Darmok" and Deep Space 9's "Duet" make us cry, and why Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is genuinely readable.) The personal is political here; temperamentally and ideologically I want to treat others as I wish to be treated, respectfully, assuming good faith until counter-evidence arises, reciprocating with mutual aid, and inviting to join in common causes.
If her fiction is any guide, Ruthanna Emrys gets that. (Also, at a recent WisCon, she enjoyed the "Imaginary Book Club" panel that my friend and I originally conceived, so clearly she has good taste.) I look forward to reading more of her work!