Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Four Questions and Answers about Time's Oldest Daughter



Aqueduct Associate Editor Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez put four questions to Susan W. Lyons about her just-released debut novel, Time's Oldest Daughter:

Why Sin [the novel's protagonist]?

Because I always thought of her as, forgive me, more sinned against than sinning.  She has such an intriguing genealogy. I think about one of her literary ancestors as the Scylla in Homer’s Odyssey but also in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a beautiful virgin who is transformed by the jealous sorceress Circe into a woman fair above the waist but with dog’s jaws below (maybe the original vagina dentata) that whelp hellish creatures.

Yikes! 

Another more recent ancestor, as described in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, is Errour: half woman, half serpent, who gives birth to all kinds of ugly little heresies.

Gender is destiny for them as well as both female characters in Paradise Lost, who are commanded to report directly to their authors rather than God. Eve reports to her author Adam from whose rib she is generated. Sin, less fortunate, reports to Satan, who births her parthenogenetically, the way Athena springs from the head of Zeus, although with none of his love or pride in her, nor with Athena’s early association with Wisdom. 

Come on, Milton!  Really?

Seriously, what kind of authority figure is Satan? To make matters worse, when Satan ignores her, it is God who assigns Sin to live with Death, bear more creepy monsters, and guard the gates of Hell. Where’s the free will in that? 

She’s a character begging to tell her own story her own way.

                                                                                                  
One of the things I love about Time's Oldest Daughter is its cheerful mingling of the chemical and the biblical. It seems to reflect your background in teaching science and literature at the same time. How has this informed your writing, and more generally, your approach to art?

I learned from Milton that distinctions between the metaphor, the metaphysical, and the physical are relatively recent. When, in book 2, he describes chaos with its “embryon atoms” (900) and “shock of fighting elements” (1014-15), can particle physics be far behind?  And while Milton’s timeline about Earth’s creation may be a little hazy, his ordering of light, water, and the “washy ooze” of the primordial (7, 303) travels companionably with evolutionary theory toward the origin of life. Sarah Tolmie, author of The Stone Boatmen and Two Travelers, has characterized Milton as the “domineering father of speculative fiction in English.” Although an irritating misogynist, Milton was also a marvelous world-builder who made connections between and among the emerging bodies of knowledge in 17th century metaphysics, natural science, and philosophy. 

Among more contemporary academics, the temptation is often to disaggregate knowledge into piles of specialized disciplines, but the metaphor remains as useful to a physicist constructing string theory as to a writer playing with time.  And who can resist a cosmic big bang?

You discovered feminist science fiction later on in life. How did it happen, and through whom?

It turns out I liked feminist science and speculative fiction all along, but I didn’t know that’s what it was called.  I admired the feminist writings of Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, Marilyn French, Elaine Pagels, and, in particular, Carol Gilligan, but I didn’t associate them with the kinds of speculative literature I enjoyed by Madeleine L’engle, Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter, Peter S. Beagle, and, later, Marie de France. I also liked the stories of John Milton, J.R.R. Tolkien and T.H. White, despite their offensive ground rules about race and women. I just didn’t put feminism and speculative fiction together.  Nor did I associate any of those stories with science fiction. You know—Chewbacca and outer space? 

Fortunately, my friend Pamela Bedore, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut whose areas of scholarship include popular literature and feminist theory, guided me gently into the vocabulary of literary genres. For non-theorists like me, Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (New York: Anchor Books, 2011) provides a wonderful introduction to the kind of world-building that can occur away from the patriarchal gaze.  In the introduction, Atwood describes an amiable argument with Ursula Le Guin about  fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction, the genre borders of which, Atwood writes, are “increasingly undefended, and things slip back and forth across them with insouciance” (7). 

An insouciant little story shrugs her shoulders as she travels freely and charmingly across those genres still guarded by canons and other academic artillery. “You can call me fantasy,” she murmurs to the remaining gatekeepers, “or you can call me science fiction.” Then she whispers, “Just make sure you call me.”


You have mentioned in the past that something you admire about feminist science fiction is the ability to re-imagine myths and fairy tales that are traditionally told by authoritative male voices in new ways. What does it mean for you to reimagine Milton's particular view on Genesis, the source not only of religious dogma but also of deeply-running assumptions about humanity's purpose on Earth?

Fairy and folk tales, quests, and myths are our creation stories: the first ones we learn as children; they form the foundation of our understanding of what it means to be human and gendered.  How did we get here?  Why are we here? What is our purpose? Do we discover knowledge or construct it?

Genesis provides a fundamental set of western creation stories and not one but two versions of how God makes humans.  In the first, from the King James version (1.27) “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created he him; male and female he created him them.”  What a confusion of pronouns!  Robert Alter, in his Genesis: Translation and Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), points out that “man” (the Hebrew is adam) is generic for human, and that ‘him’ is “grammatically but not anatomically masculine” (p. 5).  


The second version of this story occurs in the second chapter of Genesis: God creates Adam (Man) first and Eve (Woman) out of Adam’s rib, to be his helper.

Guess which version Milton chose?

But Milton was only reinforcing the dogma already in place for 17th century Crown and Cross, when the pronouns and sources of power had syncretized into the portrait of a ruler God who is singular, male, domineering, frequently angry, dangerously whimsical, and entirely transactional.  Eerily contemporary, yes?

And Milton was also writing literature that would find generations of Paradise Lost readers believing such a God was simply dull and overbearing when compared to Satan with his high energy, rhetorical flourishes, and championing of individuality. Talk about unintended consequences.

So you have to hope and believe that the dogma that locks Genesis in a dusty case in a dim room in the museum of the past can be trumped by literature that brings these stories out into the light of day and invites everyone to take a fresh look.



Monday, February 20, 2017

Time's Oldest Daughter by Susan W. Lyons


I'm pleased to announce the release of Susan W. Lyons' debut novel, Time's Oldest Daughter, in both trade paperback and e-book editions. As the cosmic Big Bang propels Time, energy, and matter into motion, God and Satan squabble over their respective domains while Sin and her son Death stew in squalor and despair at the Gates of Hell. All she wants is to care for her child, who has an enormous appetite but nothing to eat in their dreary prison, other than herself, of course. But then Sin notices, far above the stink and squalor of Hell, the clean and sparkling garden of Eden, where Death’s apple-cheeked cousins Adam and Eve enjoy delightful childhoods and plenty of fresh, wholesome food in a setting where Death himself could thrive. So what’s a good mother to do?

Sarah Tolmie, author of the acclaimed novel Stone Boatmen and Two Travelers, writes:
Time’s Oldest Daughter tells an impossible story of the world before the world, the time before time, when none of the categories we use to think with yet existed. Lyons spins out the intertwined beginnings of semiotics and physics, from the first separation of subject and object in language (Satan’s separation from God) to the necessary co-presence of matter and time in the universe (as Satan and his daughter Sin fall into the world of physical and temporal forces and order them through their experience). The primary agent who navigates the ongoing process of a creation that includes quarks and photons, bacteria and algae is female, and infinitely older than Eve: Sin, born in heaven before the fall, the shadow that fell as Satan stepped away from God. John Milton, Sylvia Plath, Stanley Fish and Julia Kristeva would all recognize themselves in this book, though none of them wrote it. Lyons did, and her remarkable rethink of Paradise Lost in the person of Sin, Satan’s daughter, struggling to find a place for her son, Death, in creation is wonderfully and determinedly original.”
Faren Miller, in Locus, notes, "Susan W. Lyons's lead quotes in Time's Oldest Daughter ignore the limits of fantasy, with a line from biblical ''Genesis,'' three from Paradise Lost, then Einstein at his most succinct: E=mc². The daughter (Sin) speaks in the first-person, addressing a Daddy who’s not Time (as the word always appears here, regardless of context) but Lucifer, Bringer of Light, AKA Satan.... Time's Oldest Daughter magnifies notions like winter-death to cosmic dimensions without excessive length, solemnity, or bombast. This Divine Comedy can be genuinely comic (raucous and vulgar, with a great cast of caricatures) yet manages to slip both wise and touching moments into its sly insights about life, the universe, et cetera.

You can purchase copies of Time's Oldest Daughter from Aqueduct here

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Guest post by Beth Plutchak: White Ladies, We Need to Talk


White Ladies, We Need to Talk
by Beth Plutchak


It’s been a ride. I’m feeling a little queasy. But honestly, we’ve been here before and we need to be prepared not to make the same mistakes. I had such mixed feelings when I first heard about the Women’s March on Washington, originally named the Million Women’s March. I thought, this is a great thing, this is going to be big, this is important, this is solidifying (at least once they changed the name from the one they appropriated from black women). I also thought, what? Now? Now, you’ve noticed that white women are under attack. What about everybody else? And where were you before the election?

I’m terrified by the profoundly anti-American changes that have happened in Trump’s White House, from his nominees for key positions, to the unprecedented types and circumstances of his executive orders, to the central role of neo-Nazi supporter Steve Bannon and the reflection of neo-Nazi ideals in afore-mentioned nominees and executive orders. My family is black, brown, queer, poor, and disabled. The people I love are under attack in dangerous and specific ways that don’t touch me as a white woman, even though I am also under attack.

I was happy to learn that sister marches were being organized for women who couldn’t make it to DC. I live twenty minutes outside of Madison, WI and expected many of my family and friends would make the Madison March. At the same time, black women started saying “Where y’all been?” It took white women no time at all to call them out for being divisive.

The whole thing had echoes of the “divisiveness” in the feminist movement of the seventies. For my white college classmates feminism was about access to birth control and legalized abortion. We were so young, so naïve. Family planning, we thought, was about putting off having children until we were settled in our careers, and managing the number of children we did have. But I got kicked out of white feminism when I got pregnant at nineteen. And all of a sudden black and brown feminists who wanted to talk about forced sterilization, leaving their children uncared for when they were at work caring for white women’s children, and the violence of poverty made much more sense to me.

White feminists, led by the National Organization for women, made a strategic decision to focus on narrow interests that centered white women’s concerns. The only family planning they wanted to talk about was access to birth control and legalized abortion. NOW’s singular focus on the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment meant burying the concerns of women marginalized across more axes than gender. It turned the focus of the white feminist movement away from radical change. Later Gloria Steinman famously quipped, “We’ve become the men we wanted to marry.”

White women didn’t want to end the capitalist patriarchy so much as we wanted to have equal access to its fruits. We took up the mantle of progressivism, promising the more marginalized that their turn would come. We misquoted Martin Luther King—“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We ignored the fact that the universe itself is amoral. The universe couldn’t care less about moral justice. That depends upon the acts of human beings. We settled for a rising tides approach to equality, and look what that got us: the Reagan revolution. Seriously, it was only a matter of time before we were fighting these fights all over again. Conservative forces learned what would satisfy white women and how easily they would betray women of color, queer, and disabled women. The Overton window was pushed further and further right. And it’s not like black and queer women didn’t warn us. They encouraged us to join the movements that they created to fight poverty, mass incarceration, police brutality. And what did we do? We doubled down. We bought over two million copies of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. We either declared the goals of black mothers “special interests” or used the tone argument on anyone who didn’t agree with us.

We, we white women, helped to set up the chain of events that got us to Trump’s America. And now there is only one way out. Inclusiveness is not the answer. We don’t need to bring more women of color into white movements.

We need to pay attention to what those more marginalized than us have been saying and what they are doing.

We need to ask humbly what we can do to help. We need to recognize and internalize the fact that our country was founded on violence against black and brown bodies.

We need to recognize that American art, literature, and music are infused with the courageous will to live in the face of genocide and slavery. We need to stop centering whiteness. After all, we are sleeping with the enemy. That enemy gave us a reprieve in return for upholding systemic racism. That reprieve is now over.

Beth Plutchak is the author of Boundaries, Border Crossings, and Reinventing the Future, just published by Aqueduct Press.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Beth Plutchak's Boundaries, Border Crossings, and Reinventing the Future



I'm pleased to announce the release of Boundaries, Border Crossings, and Reinventing the Future by Beth Plutchak, the fifty-fourth volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, in both small trade paperback and e-book editions. The personal is political, and the political is personal. This collection of essays and an sf tale explores the intersections of representation, science fiction, feminism, social justice, and fandom, specifically in relationship to the feminist sf convention WisCon. Beth argues that to build a new future we need new stories, stories that tell us where we have been as well as show us where we are going, and she uses feminist theory to analyze feminist sf fandom's history, present, and future.

 You can purchase the print and e-book editions here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Cynthia Ward's The Adventure of the Incognita Countess

I'm pleased to announce the release of The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, a novella, as the fifty-third volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. It is available in both small trade paperback and e-book editions.



It's the easiest assignment a British intelligence agent could hope for. Lucy Harker needs only see the secret plans of the Nautilus safely across the Atlantic. As German spies are largely a fantasy of newspapers, she anticipates no activities more strenuous than hiding her heritage as Dracula's dhampir daughter. Then among her fellow Titanic passengers she discovers the incognita Countess Karnstein--and it seems the seductive vampire is in Germany's service. Can Agent Harker stake Carmilla before her own heart--and her loyalty to the British Empire--are subverted by questions as treacherous as a night-cloaked iceberg?

The Adventure is available now through Aqueduct's website, and will soon be available elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Guest post by Sally Seattle: Hate Speech, Free Speech, and the UW Shooting

 [Note: "Sally Seattle" is a pseudonym for the author of this post, who is personally known to me. I have agreed to preserve the author's anonymity to protect the privacy and safety of them and their family. I welcome further contributions to this discussion, provided, of course, that they meet Aqueduct's sense of community standards. --Timmi]

Hate Speech, Free Speech, and the UW Shooting 
by Sally Seattle

On January 20th, a man was shot outside an event at which Milo Yiannopoulos was speaking. The event took place in Seattle, Washington, USA, at the University of Washington's "Red Square." The alleged shooter was apparently a Trump supporter who had showed up to the event intoxicated and with a loaded gun. And the victim was an antifascist and member of the Industrial Workers of the World General Defense Committee. (He has asked his name not to be shared publicly.)

The incident has received international attention now, with articles appearing in major U.S. newspapers, a Southern Poverty Law Center report, and the Guardian newspaper. (Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/25/shooting-milo-yiannopoulos-speech-seattle-charges) It is also raising a lot of questions, the kind that are tough to handle. Since the feminist science fiction community has dealt with similar problems, I thought I would put out a general “ask” for advice and opinions, specifically to be shared with people doing antifascist work.

 1. How to tackle the "free speech" angle?

In the weeks leading up to the event, I listened to discussions from the left about why "hate speech is not free speech" or why, conversely, leftists should support the right to free speech. There was an ongoing discussion about whether shutting down Yiannopoulos was the right thing to do, or whether it would be better to ignore him and hold a competing event. These conversations are repeating themselves every time a Yiannopoulos event is held. It seems to me that the entire debate has taken a wrong turn somewhere. But I don’t have a solid analysis here -- just a collection of questions and thoughts.

One thing that strikes me: Yiannopoulos' right to free speech was never truly at risk. As a member of the one percent, he has the money and the fame to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and get the word out to all his supporters. In fact, Yiannopoulos could have easily given the exact same speech virtually rather than in person, probably without the protests.

Another thing is that the university gave him not only free speech, but also a platform, publicity, and a police presence. At the same time, earlier in the day, they tore down posters that protestors had put on the building.

It seems that people are skipping an important conversation about which limits we typically put on free speech and why. It is illegal to cry "fire" in a crowded theater, for example. But the kind of violence Yiannopoulos is notorious for doing is more indirect. People are arguing that this is or is not free speech, but not talking about where exactly the line should go.

There is also a general lack of clarity of what constitutes a limitation of free speech. There is a big difference, often missed, between shouting somebody down and asking the government to do it for you.

Finally, the specific context of Yiannopoulos speaking on college campuses is worth exploring. It is fundamentally ironic that the speaking event is part of a right-wing attempt to silence left-leaning professors, on the grounds that left-leaning professors are silencing their students by putting limits on hate speech. Also, looking at the history of Gamergate, which violently suppressed the voices of women gamers, it is clear to me that Yiannopoulos wants free speech for himself alone. But that wouldn’t be clear to his followers or to confused bystanders.

2. How to handle accountability?

On the one hand, there is a call going out (https://itsgoingdown.org/shooter-unarmed-anti-racist-walks-free-authorities-silent/) asking why the alleged shooter has not been charged with a crime, and there is concern that failing to arrest them sends a message that it's fine to go into a crowd and shoot an unarmed person.

On the other hand, according to news sources (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/25/shooting-milo-yiannopoulos-speech-seattle-charges), the shooting victim himself is asking not for charges but for a "restorative justice" process. This comes out of a much-needed movement against the prison-industrial complex--which is the modern-day continuation of slavery.

Who exactly should be held accountable, and what form should that accountability take?

3. Did the university and the police take a side?

As local activist and blogger Geov Parrish has pointed out (http://geov.org/gp/?p=653), the police presence was unusual. Ordinarily, if a crowd of fascists and anti-fascists were occupying the same space, police would stand between the two sides. All the police were up front, protecting the people coming to see Yiannopoulos, leaving the people in the crowd unprotected.

4. What can the feminist science fiction community contribute to this conversation?

The science fiction community has had its own run-ins with Gamergaters, in the form of the man who calls himself “Voice of God.” He invoked the right to free speech after calling author N.K. Jemisin an extremely vile name on an official Science Fiction Writers of America forum, and there was a hue and cry over his ultimate ejection from SFWA. He went on to start his own publishing house and rig the Hugo Awards through his “Rabid Puppies” campaign. Along the way, liberals and feminists became rebranded as “social justice warriors” -- and, as warriors, a legitimate target for attack.

There is a thorough treatment of these events in an article on Eruditorumpress.com, in an article whose title begins with the strangely appropriate beginning “Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons. ” ((http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/guided-by-the-beauty-of-their-weapons-an-analysis-of-theodore-beale-and-his-supporters/)

Science fiction fans ultimately decided, through voting and much discussion, that we wanted diverse voices rather than rabid dogs. That was a win. There are a ton of lessons to be learned here. And some of them are extremely relevant to ongoing attempts to deal with Yiannopoulos’ tactics. I’m just not sure what they are.

5. How soon will the shooting victim recover?

I left this question for last, but it is topmost on my mind. Although the struggle going on here is political, it is also deeply personal. At the same time as we are fighting fascism, we are also trying to heal the hurts in our communities, and this is one of many. In the days after the shooting, his situation was upgraded from "in critical condition" to "stable" to "recovering." May he make a full recovery.

And in the meantime, there is a fundraiser for his medical expenses, which are unknown at this point.

Fundraiser link: https://www.crowdrise.com/medical-fundraiser-for-iww-and-gdc-member-shot-in-seattle/fundraiser/gdcsteeringcommittee

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Resistance and solidarity events

I've just learned that Seattle's Stranger keeps a calendar of resistance and solidarity events. Glancing at their list of events for the week ahead, I see a wide variety of things one can attend, ranging from marches (there's one this afternoon, and another later in the week for Black Lives Matter) to rallies ("Stand with Immigrants! An Emergency Protest", which is scheduled for Sunday afternoon) to shows ("Resist! A Show of Burlesque, Bellydance, and Punk Rock") to art exhibits ("Protect the Sacred: Native Artists for Standing Rock") to workshops ("Black Arists Lead: Creative Education for Liberation and Survival"), and much, much more (concerts, fundraisers, etc). If you live in the Seattle area, the link is: http://www.thestranger.com/events/resistance.

Are such calendars being kept in other cities? If you know of additional examples, please furnish a link to them in a comment. I'd love to be able to post other sources that this blog's readers can consult. Such events not only allow you to express your concerns and outrage at all  the injustice and damage and pain that the current administration in Washington is inflicting on the US and the world at large, they also feed your spirits, strengthen your hearts, and enlarge your imagination. (And sometimes even bring amazing insights to your understanding of the world you live in.) Resistance and solidarity are our hope for making a future we can stand to live in.

ETA:

For people in Portland, check out the Portland Mercury's page:  https://www.portlandmercury.com/events/resistances-and-rallies

Friday, January 27, 2017

Orwell's not our go-to guy

One week into the new regime ruling the US, resistance is mounting on all fronts (even in, of all unexpected places, every rank of the Democratic Party), as the PotUS has signed a flurry of obnoxious and inadequately thought-out executive orders, fired the four senior career officials managing the State Department, censored and harrowed employees of the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, and made a series of wild, incoherent tweets and speeches.  (Among other things, of course. My list is in no way comprehensive.) Added to that, a lot of people are becoming preoccupied with rumors circulating furiously about how many top Republicans and West Wing staffers are voicing concern about the PotUS's sanity with reference to the Twenty-fifth Amendment (presumably with special reference to Section 4, which makes provision for the removal of the president should they be found unfit to carry out their duties). I agree, of course, that it's scary to think about the VP's taking over: we know a lot about his place on the ideological spectrum, and we can't help but suspect that Washington insiders would be so relieved to have him replace the sitting PotUS that he'd likely enjoy the proverbial "honeymoon" with both the press and Congress that the sitting PotUS has done his best to sabotage. But let me point out: this all just speculation. Even if the top Republicans manage to make the VP the US's commander-in-chief, we'll need to go on as we've begun. Make no mistake, because he would be disciplined and methodical, the VP would probably actually be worse

And how is it we've begun? With resistance and the organizing of resistance. To quote Rebecca Solnit's report on the first week in the Guardian:

 The word resistance is everywhere. Former labor secretary Robert Reich gives a daily address on Facebook Live called the Resistance Report. The group 18millionrising.org, which represents Asian and Pacific islanders in the US, has launched a “100 Days of Resistance” campaign. The Working Families party reports that on Tuesday more than 10,000 people went to congressional offices to protest against Trump. Climate and human rights groups launched Unstoppabletogether.org to link human rights, racial and environmental justice. Greenpeace hung a gigantic banner off a crane next to the White House: it said “Resist”. Organizers tell me that hordes of people who have never been active before are looking for ways to plug in. People whose immigration status, religion or healthcare needs mean they may be directly threatened are terrified, and in many cases mobilized.
For me, the picture of the US today is one of dawning hope. Congress has been chipping away at us for years, doing incremental damage that many people either did not recognize or simply stomached in silence. The sitting PotUS, in all his unhinged, ill-informed, self-deceiving outbursts, puts a single face on the demand for privilege in all its possible manifestations, visible as it's never been visible before. Maybe 34% of the US public is in accord with his sentiments, but that's as much support as he's going to get. The rest of us know we don't want to live in his reality. I hear that Orwell's 1984 is selling like hotcakes. May I suggest a more heartening choice of reading, one that refuses despair and has a more realistic view of change and possibility? Rebecca Solnit wrote Hope in the Dark back in the chill, gray days following the 2004 election. In it she notes how quickly resistance to power is forgotten, how insistently power crafts narratives that obliterate how often and significantly resistance brings about change. Change begins first in the imagination. And I don't mean in Orwell's imagination, either.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Buchi Emecheta (1944-2017)


Buchi Emecheta, one of the first Nigerian authors I ever read, has died at age 72. She wrote numerous books and plays, and an autobiography. She attended a Methodist girls high school, where she was made to ask God's forgiveness for wanting to be a writer. Then she married, and she had her first child when she was 17. She accompanied her husband to London (so that he could attend school there) and had four more children. Her husband burned the manuscript of her first novel, which she re-wrote and had published as The Bride Price in 1976. After he burned her manuscript, although she was pregnant, she' felt the native, bush, independent woman in me come to the fore,'  packed up herself and her young children, "and faced the streets." She then worked "odd jobs" and wrote in the morning before work. Eventually she studied sociology at the University of London. At some point, she founded a publishing house in Nigeria; I have no idea of its fate, though, given that Emcheta lived for most of her adult life in England.

The Guardian  has published an obituary for her. Here's an excerpt:

Her friend and publisher Margaret Busby paid tribute to her pioneering fiction, which explored sexual and racial politics in the Britain of the 1960s and 70s. “Given the odds she had to overcome, it was a triumph that she produced the powerful writing for which she will be remembered,” Busby said.

 Author Aminatta Forna described Emecheta as “one of [Wole] Soyinka’s so-called ‘Renaissance generation,’ those Africans who came of age at the same time as their countries. She and other writers all over the continent had both the challenge and the joy that comes with being first, of writing Africa and Africans into literary existence. They embraced the task.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Monday after


Okay, we've gotten out into the streets in numbers. We did that to lift our spirits, show us we're not alone, and to gird our loins. More than one journalist who's worked in Russia has advised USians that one of the most effective weapons in the autocrat's arsenal is misdirection. Senior accomplices in this administration's dissemination of disinformation and misdirection, Spicer and Conway have been loudly proclaiming "alternative facts" that at least half of the US public already know are lies. In the meantime, the White House has been busy issuing executive orders that need our attention. Today, "surrounded by other white men," as the Huffington Post puts it, "President Donald Trump signed an anti-abortion executive order that has far-reaching consequences for women's reproductive health access world-wide." If you're old enough, you'll probably remember the despicable gag order that the Reagan Administration first initiated; this order forbids anyone at an NGO receiving grants from the federal government from even mentioning abortion to the women it serves. (Needless to say, it's not a matter of federal money actually paying for abortions.) The PotUS also signed an order freezing federal hiring. And one of the very first orders he signed, on Saturday, halted a planned rate cut for government-backed mortgage insurance.  

Of course, other news is of interest, too: Today, a group of constitutional-law professors filed suit against the PotUS on the grounds that he is in violation of a the Foreign Emoluments Clause, a provision in the US Constitution. I'm feeling doubtful that this suit will get very far, since the professors will probably not be granted standing, and if they are, will face a barrage of objections to anything but the narrowest interpretations of the clause brought by the army of attorneys who've long been living handsomely off their employer's highly litigious habits. But I'm glad they did. This PotUS has more conflicts of interest than an ordinary mortal could keep track of--besides being the only president in recent history to refuse to make his tax returns public.

In the meantime, allow me to point you to three excellent pieces to feed our spirits. First, The Guardian has printed a transcript of the speech Angela Davis gave in DC on Saturday. She begins, "At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again..." Read the rest here.

Second, let me point you to Mistinguette Smith's "Some Notes on Resistance." She begins:

Three days ago, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Within hours, he delivered an ominous, nationalist speech and presided over a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue; signed a vague Executive Order to reduce the costs of the Obamacare to insurance and drug companies; and removed all references from the White House web page about health care, LGBT equality and civil rights. The next day, in response, almost three million people across the globe — half a million of them descending upon Washington D.C. — demonstrated for women’s freedom, self-determination and human rights. Among the largest protests in US history, long time feminist activists and women new to organizing and street protest unleashed their voices and power in a collective vow to resist.But today is Monday. Many of us are putting away our pink pussyhats, wondering what we can do to prevent settling back into business as usual. 
And finally, Tananarive Due gives us this powerful essay: "Surviving President Tr*mp: Lessons from the 1960s & Octavia E. Butler." She begins:

In the late Octavia E. Butler’s near-future novel Parable of the Sower, a teenage girl,  Lauren Olamina, is the only person in her thinly protected community who sees how fragile their way of life is, how susceptible to destruction—and no one will listen until it’s too late.

In a way, my late mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who braved jail and teargas in the 1960s, was like Lauren Olamina: warning of dire consequences if communities and organizations didn’t work to stop the threats of Jim Crow, segregation and voting restrictions. My mother and father, “Freedom Lawyer” John Due, were willing to die for a better future for their children. My mother forever warned of efforts to “turn back the clock.”

Well, the clock has turned. Now another Really Bad Time has come. It’s the time Butler warned us about, when even the fascistic presidential candidate in her novel Parable of the Talents (the second Parable novel) used the phrase “Make America Great Again.”

Friday, January 20, 2017

The 2017 Philip K. Dick Award nominations

The 2017 Philip K. Dick Award nominations have been announced, and I'm delighted to find two Aqueduct Press titles among them. Congratulations to all of the nominated authors, which include Eleanor Arnason and Susan diRende!

 Here's the text from the press release:

The judges of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society, along with the Philip K. Dick Trust, are pleased to announce the six nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:

CONSIDER by Kristy Acevedo (Jolly Fish Press)
HWARHATH STORIES: TRANSGRESSIVE TALES BY ALIENS by Eleanor Arnason (Aqueduct Press)
THE MERCY JOURNALS by Claudia Casper (Arsenal Pulp Press)
GRAFT by Matt Hill (Angry Robot)
UNPRONOUNCEABLE by Susan diRende (Aqueduct Press)
SUPER EXTRA GRANDE by Yoss, translated by David Frye (Restless Books)

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 14, 2017 at Norwescon 40 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, SeaTac, Washington.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States during the previous calendar year.  The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the Northwest Science Fiction Society.  Last year’s winner was APEX by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot) with a special citation to ARCHANGEL by Marguerite Reed (Arche Press). The 2016 judges are Michael Armstrong (chair), Brenda Clough, Meg Elison, Lee Konstantinou, and Ben Winters.

For more information, contact the award administration:
                                                                        Pat Lo Brutto (301) 460-3164
                                                                        John Silbersack (212) 333-1513
                                                                        Gordon Van Gelder (201) 876-2551

For more information about the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society: http://www.psfs.org/ :
                                                                        Contact Gary Feldbaum (215) 665-5752

For more information about Norwescon:  http://www.norwescon.org/ : info@norwescon.org.




Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2016, pt. 19: Cynthia Ward



2016 in Review: Birthday Presidents, Mass Media, and Other Monsters
by Cynthia Ward

"He is the October Surprise!" (Radio and Film)

In 2016, it seems, I did not pick the best day for a birthday.  So far, I haven't figured out how to return my president-elect, er, present.  Suggestions welcome.

Despite my politics, I did not share the widely held liberal view that Trump would be defeated.  Once he won a primary, I began researching international moves and finding conversations with many of my fellow lefties maddening.  "Trump'll be taken out by an October surprise," one assured me.  Familiar with white voters' tendency to lie to look good and with black swan and grey swan events (9/11, stock market crashes, etc) --not to mention with history--I replied, "He is the October surprise!"  Those who do not learn history doom everyone to repeat it.

It was hard to be surprised when the media mentioned Trump about 60 times more often than any other presidential candidate, if not every other candidate combined. I like variety in news sources, but I rarely listen to commercial radio during election years, since a little logic translates to a lot of headache with every commercial break.  Still, I would've sworn there were a couple dozen other presidential candidates across 2016.  However, I literally couldn't tune in to a National Public Radio newsfeed without hearing discussion of or interviews with Trump voters (no graphic for NPR, but an aggregate of PBS candidate mentions may serve as a proxy. I finally flipped entirely over to the Internet feed for radical SoCal station KPFK and the Progress channel on SiriusXM.

On a related note, it was indeed truly, truly horrible about Hillary Clinton's e-mails--so horrible, I've only heard them mentioned once in the media (KPFK) since Election Day (I'm finishing this on 12/21/2016).

But I don't want only to gaze into the abyss of 2016.

Joe and I have just watched the '50s-set 2015 film Carol, which is based on a pseudonymously published novel by the late Patricia Highsmith:  the first-ever happy-ending lesbian romance, The Price of Salt . I read this 1952 novel in the 1990s, so my memories are hazy, but I suspect the pyrrhic victory of the movie's ending essentially recapitulates the novel's. I also suspect the book may be more ambiguous generally, given it's from the author of such disturbing modernist thrillers as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley et seq. Whatever the case, Carol is reasonably subtle and well worth a watch.

Recently, Joe and I revisited Suffragette (2015), that affecting if ultimately limited film about the British suffragist movement in the early 20th Century. I don't think it's unreasonable to make a movie about the transformation of a fictional young, white, heterosexual Englishwoman as she learns how the feminist movement intersects with her working-class concerns as a low-income wife, mother, and factory worker.  But I wish the film's creators had intruded such aspects of reality as the movement's racial and sexual diversity, or put the English-born Sikh princess, Sophia Duleep Singh, on the balcony with her fellow radical suffragist, Emmeline Pankhurst (real women who deserve movies of their own, not that I'm holding my breath).

Earlier, we saw the acclaimed 2014 hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Why? we were left asking ourselves.  Why was it a hit?  The only thing we liked about this science fiction pic was the intelligent evolved tree, Groot, played--in, ironically, the only non-wooden portrayal--by action movie hero Vin Diesel.  Though not even present physically in the film, he brought nuance and sensitivity to his role, reminding me it's time to revisit his excellent early movie of shady stock salesmen, 2000's Boiler Room.

Still earlier, we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), which is the best of the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back (1980), perhaps because it basically pastiches Empire and its 1977 prequel.  Regarding Han Solo, a seventysomething friend exclaimed in wonder, "A movie with an action hero my age!"  I similarly appreciated that they let Princess Leia Organa show her age, which is close to mine.  I also appreciated that the young woman co-lead, like Leia before her, got to enjoy competence and fighting abilities without intruding the cliché that "girls must be traumatized to gain agency."  I got a little statue of Rey to keep watch as I write.

 * * *

"For this disaster we will all be present" (Books)

At press time last year, I had not yet finished reading Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy, the graphic novel collecting the Bronze Age (1970s-1980s) solo adventures of Peter Quill, the future leader of the subsequent Guardian of the Galaxy comics and movies.  Alas, what started out so promisingly degenerated into a patch of cheesecake costuming sufficient to make Red Sonja's chain-mail bikini look reasonable.  Eventually it dissolved like Jell-O crystals in generic bad writing about some other guy assuming Quill's role.

In other graphic novel reading, Marvel's controversially gender-flipped Thor: Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder proved disappointing, especially in light of Marvel's excellent race-flipped Hugo Award winner, Ms. Marvel: Volume 1: No Normal.  Thor as a woman is promising in concept, but not so much in a storyline devoted largely to fight scenes and concealing the identity of the new Thor from the old.  To be fair, I might've enjoyed The Goddess of Thunder more if I'd known what role the new deity's mortal identity plays in the Marvel Universe.  Alas, the Marvel Universe, like DC's, has proliferated far beyond the comprehension of any mortal who's not a fanatic with a photographic memory.

There's also some gender and ethnic (but not racial) flipping in the graphic novel DC Comics: Bombshells Volume 1: Enlisted, which combines female DC heroes and villains like Wonder Women, Catwoman (white comics version), etc, with Rosie the Riveter-inspired female variations on Batman, Superman, and other prominent male DC superheroes in a World War II setting.  Interesting, yes?  No.  While some of the changes (lesbian Bats, Soviet Supes) are promising, others are ridiculous.  That Batwoman's heiress alter ego is literally a professional "girl" baseball player isn't bad, per se…but she goes on to dress like one--complete with bat weapon--as a superhero (one can only assume sports fans in this alternate history are all blind or stupid).  John Constantine retains his male identity and biology…but as a rabbit.  More generally, the writer seemed to be losing the struggle with the concept.  Given these issues, I was unsurprised to learn this alt.WWII series is based on a line of collectible statuettes. Had I but known. Actually, I should've known to avoid any project which incorporates the annoying yet boring villainess Harley Quinn, who was apparently created only to provide unconvincing evidence the Joker is an allosexual het.

I re-read the uneven alternate-history graphic novel, Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons, after learning more about British suffrage.  The aggravating fate of Mrs. Pankhurst is not an event in our timeline, and not even necessary to trigger the GN's subsequent events, which include an alternate cause of World War I.  On the plus side, it's true many suffragists in our timeline learned martial arts.

In the interests of completing this post before the end of the century, I'm not going to discuss every book I read for research last year, but I'll mention a few titles which seem likely to interest Aqueduct Press readers:

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild (a history of the [mostly British] Left in the Great War; despite the subtitle, it covers earlier years as well)

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I by the late Barbara A. Tuchman (lives up to the praise)

Kings, Queens, and Pawns: An American Woman at the Front by the late Mary Roberts Rinehart (personal account of the first and only visit by a woman war correspondent to the Western Front)

The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin (he interviewed the last U.S. WWI veterans, including a woman, before they were gone)

Testament of Youth by the late Vera Brittain (the self-unsparing memoir of the feminist author, skeptic, and WWI nurse, and the basis of the rather different but also excellent recent movie)

Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics by Kathryn Atwood (aimed I suspect at YA readers, this is a good starting place for learning about some remarkable women rarely remarked on in the histories)

Three of my research reads I want to discuss more fully.

West With the Night is the 1942 memoir of Beryl Markham, the Kenya-born, partially indigenous-raised British aviatrix, bush pilot, and racehorse trainer who became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.  Written in beautiful prose envied by Hemingway, this matter-of-fact recounting of a remarkable life makes me appreciate memoirs which are not tell-all.  It also left me wondering if Circling the Sun, Paula McLain's smoothly written but almost piloting-free 2016 novel about Markham, which centers on needy romantic interactions with Denys Finch-Hatton and Baron Blixen, had anything to do with Markham's personal life. I hope not.

A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney, is a fascinating and well-researched cross between an encyclopedia and an almanac.  As you've probably deduced, this reference work is centered on all things Holmesian--a broader subject than you might think.  The entries are arranged by date, letting you read a timely entry every day and not feel intimidated by the impressive whole.  While this oversized 352-page softcover is not inexpensive ($34.95), it would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, enjoys either of the current TV series, or has a general interest in Victoriana, British mysteries, or steampunk.

Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, the British journalist Anita Anand's first book, is the fascinating biography of the above-mentioned Sikh princess, Sophia Duleep Singh. A goddaughter of Queen Victoria, the tri-racial radical suffragist simultaneously experienced great power and absolute powerlessness, which must have caused her much frustration (surely it contributed to the stretches of deep depression).  As one would hope, the work intersects meaningfully with British and Indian history.  It also presents captivating if inevitably too-brief glimpses of Sophia's parents, ancestors, and full and half siblings.  I hope Ms. Anand is overwhelmed by the desire to write a biography about Sophia's intriguing fellow feminist and beloved big sister, Catherine Duleep Singh, who was unique in their family in finding a happy relationship, a life-long partnership with a German woman.

Researching late 19th-early 20th Century European history brushed me against three noteworthy novels.  One is Mary Robinette Kowal's 2016 alternate history of WWI, Ghost Talkers, in which Allied spiritualists can communicate with the new war dead for intelligence purposes…unless the Germans figure it out.  Another is the late British author Radclyffe Hall's uneven, decades-spanning 1928 novel, The Well of Loneliness, in which the woman writer protagonist serves in WWI as a volunteer ambulance driver. I also read The Friendly Young Ladies (sometime U.S. title, The Middle Mist), a 1943 work of contemporary fiction by the late Mary Renault, a British author better known for her brilliant novels of ancient Greece. Like Hall's book, The Friendly Young Ladies is a novel about a woman novelist. Renault's look at bohemian 1930s London is considerably stronger and less melodramatic (and, I would say, more mean-spirited) than Hall's title, but both books' central lesbian romances make it clear why The Price of Salt was so radical when it appeared.

I could've, given its time period, but I didn't read the new, feminist alternate history of the Belgian Congo, Everfair, because it's set in my current era of research.  I read it because I know Nisi Shawl is a great writer, and I knew it would be a great novel.  I'm right, but since I'm her Writing the Other collaborator and her friend, you may deduce I'm biased.  You can check out the reviews, though. They agree with me.

When I left the 19th-20th Centuries it was for Georgette Heyer's Regency romance novel, The Corinthian.  It's a witty mix of assumed identities, jewel thieves, cross-dressing, lies, and murder, with a plot so intricate, I frankly cannot tell you if it makes sense.  I can tell you it was a most diverting and entertaining read, which was useful in the immediate aftermath of Election Day.

The Corinthian reminded me I love Ellen Kushner's Regency-inspired, largely fantasy-free Riverside fantasy novels.  Happily, Kushner and several collaborators have released a new one--or two.  They're serial novels, and the sequel's chapters haven't all been released yet.  I'm just getting started on the second sequence, but I quite enjoyed Tremontaine: The Complete Season One by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, and Patty Bryant.  Sex, swordplay, scandals, secrets, intersectionality, chocolate, wit--what's not to like?

Another fantasy of manners a la Heyer is Zen Cho's impressive debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown. It concerns a scandalous development in the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, by which I don't refer to the failing of magic as the threat of Napoleon rises.  I mean the society's new leader is a freed slave.  Furthermore, he seems not entirely opposed to magic by women!  I daresay you'll want to see what develops, shocking as it must prove.

In a far different mode, I re-read a few cyberpunk classics.  Interesting, the difference time makes in perception. William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) seemed so diverse when I read it in the 1980s. Richard Kadrey's Metrophage (1988) didn't seem so much like a pastiche. Chairman Bruce's exhortations against effete, decaying older forms of science fiction didn't seem like a rejection of 1970s feminist SF. But you can have feminist cyberpunk, and you don't need a new wave of cyberpunk writers to get it. You can read the Queen of Cyberpunk, Pat Cadigan.  Good entry points for this past WisCon guest of honor's science fiction, fantasy, and horror are her excellent collections, Patterns (1989) and Dirty Work (1993).

Speaking of feminist science fiction, you'll find a fine example of feminist first-contact SF in 2015's The Weave, the debut novel by Nancy Jane Moore.  In contrast to many other tales of Earthlings on a new world, this diverse work thoughtfully explores alternatives to exploitation. It also offers an exploration of gender unique in my experience.

Neither highly feminist nor highly diverse at this juncture are the two issues of old-school Weird revivalist magazines I read last year, Skelos #1 (2016) and Weirdbook #31 (2015).  This doesn't surprise me overmuch; I grew up with Weird and pulp speculative fiction as my preferred reading material, and, as far as I can tell, such subgenres are where hard-boiled detective fiction was when women, PoC, and queer authors began transforming it in the 1980s and 1990s:  heavily white, cis, het, and male in authors and characters.  I know at least one editor involved in these projects pursues diversification, so I expect to see a broadening of contributors and characters going forward.

While I don't foresee Aqueduct Press fans stampeding to acquire the 'zines I've mentioned, Skelos #1 does include an article of feminist interest:  Nicole Emmelhainz's "Blades:  C.L. Moore and the Gender Dynamics of Sword and Sorcery."  I was particularly intrigued by her exploration of an idea new to me, which is that "in the imaginary worlds of the best sword and sorcery, gender becomes a strategic performance rather than an essential source of identity."  I've always assumed my teenage immersion in sword and sorcery, sword and planet, and other forms of adventure spec-fic contributed to my nascent development as a feminist largely in a negative manner, by annoying me with sexist clichés; this suggests the subgenres played an important positive role, as well.

For The Cascadia Subduction Zone  I've most recently reviewed Hugo Award winner David D. Levine's diverting debut novel, Arabella of Mars, which blends elements of Heyer with clockpunk, Patrick O'Brian, and the interplanetary romance (although if you go in expecting Jane Carter of Mars, as some promotional material suggests, you will be unpleasantly surprised).  My review is available, along with other nonfiction, poems, and art from divers hands, in this free downloadable issue of CSZ.

Most recently I've read the multi-genre writer Tade Thompson's excellent new book, Rosewater, which provides the quote that opens this section.  This second novel moves Thompson to book-length science fiction, but retains many of the successful suspense elements of his West Africa-set debut novel, 2015's Making Wolf (which I discussed last year). Rosewater is the second "first contact" novel out of the three I've read lately that takes place in Nigeria, but that's almost the only thing Rosewater has in common with Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon (also discussed last year). Rosewater is thoughtful and compelling--and, I fear, prescient.  It's another demonstration of what a powerful and important writer Thompson is.

Up next:  Black Panther: Marvel Masterworks Volume 1, collecting the ground-breaking comics about the titular black African superhero originally published in Jungle Action (1972-1976), from the Bronze Age greats Donald McGregor (writer) and Rich Buckler (artist), and Marvel Comics' best-selling graphic novel of 2016, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Volume 1, written by MacArthur Genius Grant and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by long-time sequential artist Brian Stelfreeze.




Cynthia Ward has sold stories to Asimov's SF, Shattered Prism , Weird Tales, and other magazines and anthologies. For WolfSinger Publications , she edited the diversity themed anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West V.1-2. She has a pair of reprint anthologies forthcoming in collaboration with the eminent editor, Charles G. Waugh , the first science fiction professional she ever met.  With fellow Aqueductista Nisi Shawl, Cynthia coauthored Writing the Other: A Practical Approach . Her short novel, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, is forthcoming in 2017  from Aqueduct Press .