K. Tempest Bradford
I don’t know if Tempest is actually Ms. Bradford’s middle name. If Tempest was my middle name, well, I’d probably affect it for my pen name too. On paper, however, it strikes me as trying too hard–like Storm Constantine’s completely fakeass-sounding name. Of course, I’m being superficial. Deciding whether you’re going to like a piece of writing based on how you like the author’s name is worse than judging a book by its cover. A picture, at least, is worth a thousand words; a name is worth three, four at most. I guess I’m only bringing up the matter of her name because it’s indicative of a problem I have with this story, at least in this anthology: I don’t think it’s interstitial. I think it’s in here more because of the author’s interstitiality than the story’s. The story, as I see it, is straight-ahead urban fantasy in the style of Gaiman, using all the tropes you’d expect, and no real surprises: ravens, dreams, the obvious dichotomy of black and white, plot structures lifted straight from myth, implausible premises such as the existence of a patch of actual wilderness on the north end of Manhattan. Not that it’s a bad urban fantasy, but any means. It just doesn’t live up to the demands she seems to make of it.
From K. Tempest Bradford’s author bio:
“In response to a question I don’t remember (probably about whether there can be interstitial artists as well as interstitial art), Ellen Kushner said that she didn’t think that a person could be interstitial. I raised my hand and replied ‘I am.’ I have always felt in-between. In-between races, in-between sexual orientations, in-between cultures.”
It comes back to the name: with a name like Storm Constantine, you’d be hard-pressed to sell anything but epic fantasy. To get in under the interstitial umbrella, is it enough to identify yourself as interstitial?
“Black Feather” does briefly acknowledge an in-betweenness in race: the main character, Brenna, is of African, Irish and Native American descent. Yet in a story that is about ancestry, about being defined by one’s past, she passes up a lot of opportunities to engage that in-betweenness. The myths she treats with are all drawn from the usual European roots. At one point we see Brenna make an actual physical retreat from her Algonquian heritage. And her blackness…well, I don’t really get a sense of that at all. She’s almost an everyperson, except for these giant overshadowing mythical intrusions that drive the plot.
I guess I could be asking too much. I generally demand a certain depth from my reading or I get bored. Depth isn’t a characteristic of all genres, and interstitiality seems designed to accommodate all genres, or at least fragments of them. I’ve never cracked a book by Storm Constantine, which would be pretty asshole of me if it were just because of his (her?) name—but there’s also the fact that I just don’t read contemporary straight fantasy anymore from anybody, ’cause I don’t enjoy it.