Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Overlooked Author - Gael Baudino


By Lyn McConchie, science fiction and fantasy author.

Gael Baudino born in 1955, started selling in the 1980s. Most of her work is solid but not outstanding. Always competent and sometimes compelling, it appeals more to women than men, is primarily fantasy from a semi-real background, and is a worthy read-once. However, here and there she has produced work that is outstanding. Her standalone fantasy, Gossamer Axe, published in 1990 is that one book that seizes a reader. (Happily here and there copies can still be found. If you are female/a heavy metal music lover, then see if you can find it, G.A. appeals in particular to women and/or heavy metal music lovers.)
It’s the story of a girl who became a harper in ancient Ireland, and who through folly and bravado ended up with her lover taken into Faerie, and who, even after so long, is still determined to get her back. She raises a heavy metal band because heavy metal is so far away from the dreamy harp song that prevails where they were. And with the band on a night of magic and conflict she comes to tear down the walls between Faerie and the human world.

Yes, it’s an odd theme, unusual musical background, and yet it works. Since the book first appeared there’s been considerable comparison between it and Emma Bull’s War For the Oaks. I think the comparers are wrong, both books have their own strengths, and I don’t think that Gael drew from Oaks at all, despite the fact that Oaks appeared three years earlier. In some ways, this is considerably the better book. The main female character is a more interesting personality, and has considerably more of a backbone. But the book is very female-centered, I doubt many men would enjoy it, however for women it hits home very powerfully, particularly in the song that is used and reused throughout the book. That too is likely to strike a chord with almost any woman reader.

And while Baudino’s short stories also mostly fit my book description, predominantly fantasy, competent but not hugely outstanding, there’s one short story that is stunning and I recommend it to Military SF readers of any persuasion. That’s “Bitterroot”, in Sisters in Fantasy II edited by Susan Swartz 1996. It’s set during a war, and it’s savagely, brutally, and cruelly real. And I suspect that any combat pilot – or those knowledgeable on the subject - will read it and nod recognition.

I met Gael in 1995 at a convention in Wales (Bangor) she reminded me of one of her characters, a fine harpist, tall, slender and blonde, and with a mesmerizing intensity when she talked of her work. I’d read Axe by then (twice) and congratulated her on the power of the writing, noting that while I can’t sing (I have a voice like a crow with laryngitis) the book made me ache that I lacked the ability to sing and grieve all over again that I don’t each time that I read it. Gael nodded, then said that there are other ways of singing. Something I have since realized and accepted – and used in my own books, usually by writing songs in them as an alternative. Which has led to others writing the music and singing them for me, a fairly good substitute.

A fair amount of Baudino’s work IS brutal, her fantasy is not sweet, and on a bell curve it falls to the realistic and savage side, the Strands series in particular which begins with a woman escaping from witch-finders and includes graphic descriptions of what’s been done to her in the prison. And it’s all readable, Gossamer Axe and Bitterroot in particular. The lady seems to have either stopped being bought, or stopped writing in the late 1990s, either is rather a pity, if her work had continued to appear we might have seen more work along the lines of the two items I strongly recommend.

Dragonsword Trilogy
Dragonsword (1988) ISBN 1558020039
Duel of Dragons (1991) ISBN 0451450973
Dragon Death (1992) ISBN 0451451473

The Strands Series
Strands of Starlight (1989) ISBN 0451163710 [5]
Maze of Moonlight (1993) ISBN 0451452305
Shroud of Shadow (1993) ISBN 0451452941
Strands of Sunlight (1994) ISBN 0451454081
Spires of Spirit (1997) ISBN 0451455681 - A collection of six short stories set in the "Strands" universe..

The Water! series
O Greenest Branch! (1995) ISBN 0451454499
The Dove Looked In (1996) ISBN 0451454979
Branch and Crown (1996) ISBN 0451455533

Gossamer Axe (1990) ISBN 0451450256
This book won the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Short stories
"Lady of the Forest End" - Amazons II edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (1982) ISBN 0879977361
"The Shadow of the Starlight" - published in:  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (April 1985)  An edited/updated version published in 1997 in Spires of Spirit.
"The Persistence of Memory" - published in: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (November 1985)

The Year's Best Fantasy 12 edited by Arthur W. Saha (1986) ISBN 0886771633
The Bank Street Book of Fantasy edited by Howard Zimmerman (1989)
"Tidings of Comfort and Joy" edited by Dennis L. McKiernan - The Magic of Christmas (1992) ISBN 0451451902
"Before" - Lammas Night edited by Mercedes Lackey (1996) ISBN 0671877135
"Bitterfoot" - Sisters in Fantasy 2 edited by Susan Schwartz (1996) ISBN 0451455037
"Charity" - in Spires of Spirit.
"Lady of Light" - in Spires of Spirit.
"A Touch of Distant Hands" -in 1997 in Spires of Spirit.
"Elvenhome" - in Spires of Spirit.
"Please Come to Denver (in the Spring)" - in Spires of Spirit.

By lyn Conche

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