Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Andrea Hairston's Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays

I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct Press's publication of Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays by Andrea Hairston. Feminist sf readers primarily know her as the author of Mindscape (winner of the Carl Brandon Society's Parallax Award and shortlisted for the James Tiptree and Philip K. Dick Awards) and Redwood and Wildfire (winner of the James Tiptree Award and Carl Brandon Society's Kindred Award). Those who've attended WisCon, IFCA, and Readercon will also know she writes (and performs) fabulous essays, eight of which appear in this collection. The speech mentioned in the title is her GoH speech for WisCon. Andrea has long been a writer, director, and performer of plays as well, and Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre and Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. Not surprisingly, given Andrea's interests and cast of mind, her plays are science fictional, and two of these, "Hummingbird Flying Backward" and "Lonely Stardust," are included in the collection.

How to sum up the collection as a whole? I can only try:  Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays brings us the texts of nine marvelous works of scholarly performance as well as two works of drama in which the fantastic shows us the way through despair. In several of the pieces here, Andrea's sharp, visionary eye examines Hollywood blockbusters and finds a great deal to think about, even as she impatiently slices through hackneyed received views that do popular culture and its fans no favors. Taken together, these essays and plays broadcast a message of hope and intelligence that defiantly insists that our ability and desire to tell stories defines our humanity and is one of our most valuable resources.

This collection, for me personally, is an exceedingly valuable resource. Andrea's vision, though infused with hope and love, never ever pulls its punches. I can't tell you how happy I am to be publishing it.

Aqueduct will be selling Lonely Stardust through our website at a reduced price until June 1, 2014, its official date of release. The e-book edition is also available there now.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 4, 2







The new issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out. Brit Mandelo leads off with "Revisiting In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction by Sarah Lefanu"; Minister Faust gives us this issue's Grandmother Magma column; Mark Rich, Sona Taaffe, and Bogi Takács offer us poetry; and Victoria Elisabeth Garcia, Caren Gussoff, Gord Sellar, Cynthia Ward, and Tom Foster review books by Eileen Gunn, Bart R. Leib, Patrick Ness, Gail Simone and Walter Geovanni, and Sarah Tolmie. The issue also features the art of Dale McBride.

Table of Contents

Essay
Revisiting In the Chinks of the World Machine:
Feminism and Science Fiction
by Sarah Lefanu
   by Brit Mandelo

Poems
The Swooning
   by Mark Rich

The Etruscan Prince
   by Sonya Taaffe
Autonomous, Spacefaring
     &
Grow
   by Bogi Takács

Grandmother Magma
On Angela Davis’s An Autobiography
   by Minister Faust

Reviews
Questionable Practices, by Eileen Gunn
   reviewed by Victoria Elisabeth Garcia

Fierce Family, edited by Bart R. Leib
   reviewed by Caren Gussoff

The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness
  reviewed by Gord Sellar

Red Sonja, Volume 1: Queen of the Plagues,
by Gail Simone and Walter Geovanni
   reviewed by Cynthia Ward

The Stone Boatmen, by Sarah Tolmie
   reviewed by Thomas Foster


Featured Artist
Dale McBride


You can purchase the issue at http://www.thecsz.com/subscribe.html for $3 or a year's subscription for $10. And like all issues of the CSZ, it will be available for free download six months from the date of publication.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sheila Finch's Myths, Metaphors, and Science Fiction

I'm pleased to announce the release of the 39th volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, Myths, Metaphors, and Science Fiction: Ancient Roots of the Literature of the Future, by Nebula-award winning Sheila Finch.It's available now through Aqueduct's website in both print and e-book editions, and will be soon be available in all the usual places.  Here's a bit from the introduction:

"The great myths seek to explain us to ourselves--our exploits, passions, triumphs, and failures. They can be found all over the world, often displaying remarkable similarity.

"Nobody--scientist, seer or science fiction writer-- can reliably predict what will happen two days from now, let alone two millennia. Science fiction is really about us as humans--living, loving, fighting, raising families-- but set in another place and time so that the message may get through without being censored by the self-protective function of our egos."


“This welcome discussion of the connections between future fiction and stories about human inception emphasizes how mythic roots contribute to the emotional power of narrative. Finch investigates the inexplicable awe and wonder that emanates from close encounters between myth and science fiction. This juxtaposition emphatically indicates that science fiction is the predominant mythic metaphor of our time.” –Marleen S. Barr, author of Feminist Fabulation and Oy! Pioneer

James Gunn, author of The Listeners and Transcendental, writes: “The gifted writer Bob Sheckley once told me that when he was hard up for a story idea he opened his book of fairy tales. Now the gifted and insightful Sheila Finch tells us why.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Numa: An Epic Poem with Photo Collages by Katrinka Moore

I'm pleased to announce the release of Numa: An Epic Poem with Photo Collages, the 38th volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, by Katrinka Moore.

Fire
Circle the fire, night
at their backs. A lone
voice sings — archaic
strain — flame ashes
spiral of smoke —
Numa the darkness surrounding
them / Numa a vixen edge-
flickering / a sleepy child
catches hazel-eyed
gleam / spark
The poems in Numa tell the story of a shape-shifting numen. Numa, whose home body is that of a wild feline, learns by trial and error to take the form of other animals, plants, and the elements. As she grows up, she uses her skill to experience and share the divine in ordinary aspects of the world. She gives birth to a cub and begins raising her to shape-shift. Then an interloper appears, a young man on a quest for glory who believes he should defeat the “monster” in the forest.

Aqueduct is releasing the book in both print and e-book editions. It's available now here, at Aqueduct's site, and will soon be available elsewhere.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Inclusive Reviewing

This week is flashing past like a speeding bullet. Before it's completely gone, let me point you to a discussion (if you haven't already encountered it) of reviewing and issues of inclusivity, featured this week at Strange Horizons. It comes in three parts: Nisi Shawl's excellent essay Reviewing the Other: Like Dancing about Architecture; Samuel R. Delany's essay Escaping Ethnocentriticty?; and Inclusive Reviewing: A Discussion, by Samuel R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Fabio Fernandes, Andrea Hairston, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Sofia Samatar, and Aishwarya Subramanian.

Monday, March 24, 2014

2013 Galactic Suburbia Award





Galactic Suburbia's Alex, Alisa, and Tansy have announced the 2013 Galactic Suburbia award for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction! Here's the list:



Honor List

Malinda Lo's continuing statistics gathering on LGBT YA books 
  Foz Meadows for her blogging generally, but particularly "Old Men Yelling at Clouds." 
  Anita Sarkeesian - Tropes vs Women in Video Games (Damsel in Distress 1 & 2, Ms Male Character) 
  The Doubleclicks - Nothing to Prove music video 
  Cheryl Morgan - The Rise & Fall of Grimpink 
  Deb Stanish for her essay in Apex magazine: "Fangirl isn't a Dirty Word." 


Honorary shortlistee (the Julia Gillard Award):

  Wendy Davis for her amazing filibuster


Joint Winners this Year!!! (drum roll please) 

  NK Jemisin for her GoH speech from Continuum (link
  Elise Matthesen for her essay "How to Report Sexual Harassment at cons" (link


But do go listen to the podcast, which announces and discusses the winners and honor list, here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sarah Tolmie's The Stone Boatmen

Sarah Tolmie's The Stone Boatmen is back from the printer. The novel won't be officially released until April 1, but Aqueduct Press is selling it now for a pre-release price of $16 through its website, until the official release date. The Stone Boatmen evolved out of Tolmie’s fascination with the fourteenth-century visionary poem, Piers Plowman, which she has also explored in the media of virtual reality and dance. Her novel weaves a tale of three cities, separated by oceans, lost to one another long ago: the first, the city of rituals, of ceremonies; the second, the city of words, of poetry; and the third, the city of the golden birds, of dreams. In their harbors stand the stone boatmen, pointing outward toward the unknown. Now the birds are fostering a new-found relationship of the three cities of the ancestors, and the voyages of the ship Aphelion and its crew are beginning to rebuild the links.

Ursula Le Guin declares of The Stone Boatmen: “Certain imaginative novels never best-sell, yet remain alive, a singular treasure to each new generation that finds them — books such as Islandia, The Worm Ouroboros, Gormenghast. The Stone Boatmen has the makings of one of these quiet classics. It is lucid yet complex. Its strangeness fascinates, captivates. To read it is to find yourself in a country a long, long way from home, taken on a unforeseeable journey — and when it's over, you wish you were still there.”

Publishers Weekly has given The Stone Boatmen a starred review: "The voyages of the ship Aphelion reconnect three isolated cities whose shared past is an enigma of half-understood relics and myth. Tolmie gently guides the reader through a winding thread of linked relationships that span decades as each generation rediscovers infatuation, love and hate, grief, and joy; what could be mere grand inhuman spectacles of epic historical processes are firmly rooted in individual friendships, romances, and bitter feuds that add a vital human dimension. Tolmie's prose is addictive, 'a feast of words burning bright against the dark,' drawing the reader into the subtle tale. Intimacy is favored over flashy action, contemplation over bold speeches. This unique little gem eludes comparison to other works, and discerning readers will count themselves lucky to discover it."

You can purchase the print edition from Aqueduct now, as well as the e-book edition. Both will be available in the usual places on April 1.

ETA: Nancy Hightower wrote about The Stone Boatmen in the March 18, 2014 Washington Post: " In Tolmie’s novel, writing becomes a holy act, temple birds carry an ancient grief, and statues that never move are eerily alive. You will want to find such places once you’ve finished reading this remarkable novel."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Remedial history months

It's Women's History month. For those who might wonder why we still need such a thing, Ruth Rosen explains spells it out in an article published at Open Democracy last Sunday. She begins:

"Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the center of the human enterprise and women are at the margin "helping" them. Such a world does not exist —never has” —Gerda Lerner
Aside from the Republican’s relentless War on Women, let me offer you another reason why even one token month is still necessary to America’s political culture.

I’ve just finished reading a book titled The Season of the Witch, written by David Talbot, who founded Salon.com in 1995, the first web magazine in the United States, known for breaking investigative journalistic stories. The book is an evocative political, social and cultural history of San Francisco from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. Since he dealt with every trend and movement, often in overheated prose, I kept waiting—and waiting--for him to describe the sudden explosion of the women’s liberation movement.

Astonishingly, Talbot didn’t even write one paragraph about the women’s movement, which certainly transformed American political and social culture more profoundly than did the two chapters he devotes to the San Francisco 49ers football team.

Did his publisher tell him that half the population was dispensable? Did his agent convince him that including feminism would diminish the appeal and profits? Is he just ignorant?

This is just one example why we need Women’s History Month in the United States. It’s to prevent students, teachers, intellectuals and writers from forgetting about half its population.

The origins of this month reflect an era in which the grassroots efforts of a few prescient individuals created a national month dedicated to informing the public about women’s lives. It was during the late 1970s when a growing number of women, grasping the subordination of women in the present, began to wonder about what women did in the past. The idea of “women history” was still very new, and yet a group of women on the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a "Women's History Week" celebration for 1978.

Rosen goes on to recount some of the history of the area of the discipline called "Women's History." And then she concludes:
Fast forward to 2014 and one has to ask, so is Women’s History Month still necessary? Didn’t we transform the curriculum in all the disciplines, change laws and customs, legalize abortion, force everyone to call us Ms. instead of Mrs. and Miss, and teach students not to faint when a female professor entered the room?

Unfortunately, it is still necessary to have a token month devoted to women’s lives. Every generation of little girls and women need to learn their past so that they can imagine a future in which gender equality is the norm and not the exception.

Understanding women’s history is also an essential antidote to the Republican’s “war on women.” We are no longer in the midst of just a “backlash” against the women’s movements, as was true in the 1980s; feminism is the object of a serious right-wing attack against women’s rights, especially women’s reproduction freedom. And even our friends and allies, writing about San Francisco’s cultural history, clearly need reminding that women transform history.

No one ever expected Women’s History Month to change our political culture, at least not by itself. It doesn’t change the double standard that still exists when a woman runs for electoral office. (Did she spend too much or too little time with her children?) Nor does it change the endless scrutiny of women’s appearances—attacks against Hillary Clinton’s thighs or descriptions of Wendy Davis, a Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas who stood up for women’s reproductive rights as “Abortion Barbie.”
I've sometimes wondered, and I know that others have, too, why we still have such remedial "token" months as "Black History Month" (which was last month) and "Women's History Month." Black people should be an integral part of all non-specialized histories of the US, and women should be, too. When I was a university teaching assistant in the 1970s, one of the professors I taught for excoriated me after a visit to one of my classes, chiding me with the assertion that "Women and children are irrelevant to 19th-century European history." He, I already knew, was clinging to what Lerner calls "a world that does not exist"--and did not really exist even in the 1970s. That was forty years ago. Do people still cling to worlds that shove anyone who isn't a white male so far to the margins that those worlds, too, do not really exist? We know they do. Will we still need these token months forty years hence? You tell me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Introducing Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez



Hello all! This is Arrate speaking. I am Aqueduct Press’ new trainee, freshly arrived to Seattle to learn about and train in all things Aqueductian.

A few years ago I left my Spanish home for England, where I learned the ins and outs of publishing from a book’s conception through to its printing and delivery. This work made me happy and I had long been dreaming of applying my skills to literature I really care about, and hence it just seemed natural that my next step would be knocking at Aqueduct Press’s door.

My love affair with feminist science fiction began only a few years ago, although the preamble to it had been ballooning inside me since encountering Pamela Zoline’s 1967 short story "The Heat Death of the Universe," a very much discussed piece of subtle science fiction that showed me that there was another way, a different, exciting way to write speculative fiction—or just fiction, for that matter—that spoke directly to me as a woman and a feminist. Zoline’s Californian housewife Sarah Boyle put my world upside down and it has never been quite the same ever since. I have always been intrigued by liminal beings that inhabit several worlds and none at the same time. Creatures that we cannot quite pin down, neither evil nor good, that escape the constraints of human-animal, male-female dichotomies. The trickster Loki (without whom the surviving mythological Norse tales would not be half as fun) quickly springs to mind, but there are many more such characters, and I find that feminist science fiction is a world in which they thrive.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s gendered-at-will citizens of planet Winter in The Left Hand of Darkness, to brave, compassionate Luciente in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, to the innocent but resourceful teenage girl Rachel trapped in a chimp’s body in Pat Murphy’s "Rachel in Love," to, more recently, the bodyspeaking nectar collector WaLiLa of Kiini Ibura Salaam’s James Tiptree Jr. Award-winning short story collection Ancient, Ancient: these are characters that inhabit margins and mezzanines of meaning, reassembling and dismantling constructions of humanity and gender. And these are the books I love: books that tear apart the conventions perpetuating unjust power structures, restrictive sexual roles, and finite expressions of humanity in beautiful, inspiring ways.

Aqueduct Press turns ten years old this year and I will be helping to celebrate the feat by bringing back the newsletter and organizing a party at this year’s WisCon. I will have lots of reading to do as well, and I will be digging for classic titles that may deserve a proper reappearance on our shelves.

I will also be looking to build bridges between Seattle and the feminist science fiction being written in Spain, which is little, but fierce. While a great deal of Spanish science fiction, both by women and men, faithfully follows the conventions of the canon, there are some voices—Elia Barceló and Lola Robles, for instance—that have been paving the way for the last couple of decades towards a change in the tradition. I suspect there will be more about this topic soon enough.

I look forward to putting my passion for books that matter to good use, and I can’t wait to get started.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nebula Award nominations

SFWA has just announced nominations for the 2013 Nebular Awards, and I have to say that you'd never guess from this slate that work by women is as under-reviewed as it actually is. I wonder what this says about the venues that consistently grant a third or less space to reviewing work by women? Apart from that, it's a strong, interesting list--and notes, as you've already probably heard, that Samuel R. Delany, at last, will be given the Damon Knight Grand Master Award.

Here's the list:
Best Novel
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)
Best Novella
‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Tor.com 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (lawrencemschoen.com, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)
Best Novelette
‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)
 Best Short Story
‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)

Damon Knight Grand Master Award: 
Samuel R. Delany
Special Guest: Frank M. Robinson

About the Nebula Awards
The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1, and close on March 30.  More information is available from http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/how-to-vote/.
About the Nebula Awards Weekend
The 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 15-18th, 2014, in San Jose at the San Jose Marriott. The Awards Ceremony will be hosted by Toastmaster Ellen Klages. Borderland Books will host the mass autograph session from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16th at the San Jose Marriott. This autograph session is open to the public and books by the authors in attendance will be available for purchase. Attending memberships, and more information about the Nebula Awards Weekend, are available at http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/. Membership rates increase on March 1. The Weekend is open to non-SFWA members.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

John and Mary's Insect Army

John Scalzi's post Join the Insect Army! has had me chuckling all day. If you haven't already read it, I urge you to do so now. He and Mary Robinette Kowal have delightfully turned an old white dinosaur's insult on its head, with the help of Ursula Vernon's marvelous image of Cockroach Rosie the Riveter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2013 James Tiptree Jr. Award

Exciting news! 
 
WINNER OF THE 2013 JAMES TIPTREE JR. AWARD ANNOUNCED

The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council (www.tiptree.org) is pleased to announce the winner of the 2013 Tiptree Award: N.A. Sulway for her novel Rupetta (Tartarus Press 2013).
The James Tiptree Jr. Award is presented annually to a work or works of science fiction or fantasy that explores and expands gender roles. The award seeks out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. It is intended to reward those writers who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society. N.A. Sulway’s imaginative and highly original novel tells the story of Rupetta, an artificial intelligence created 400 years ago from cloth, leather, and metal, brought to life by the touch of her creator’s hand on her clockwork heart. Although Rupetta is a constructed being, she is not a robot. Her consciousness is neither digital nor mechanical. Nor is she an android, a creature that is, etymologically, male. (The word is not gyndroid). Rupetta’s power does not come from her brain, but from her heart. Sulway has placed her construct not in the future, but the past, and made her female, created with traditionally feminine technology: sewing and weaving. Rupetta is a woman, made by a woman in the image of a woman, and the world changes to accommodate her existence. A deft blend of fantasy, science fiction, romance, and even gothic horror, this beautifully written story challenges the reader’s expectations about gender and of a gendering society. It examines power and what makes an object of power, relationships and love, sexuality and identity, and how culture is shaped and history is made. Rupetta was published by British independent publisher Tartarus Press in a limited hardback edition and a more widely available e-book version. Both are available for purchase from Tartarus’s website (http://freepages.pavilion.net/tartarus/rupetta.htm). Nike Sulway lives and writes in Queensland, Australia. Her novel The Bone Flute won the Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Best Emerging Author in 2000. Since 2007, she has been the co-director of Olvar Wood Writers Retreat, and one of the editors of Perilous Adventures, a literary magazine. Honor List
* Eleanor Arnason, Big Mama Stories (Aqueduct Press 2013) — Big Mamas are galaxy-sized women, powerful beings who can stroll around space and travel through time by sheer force of character. They are feminist, sensible, and adventurous. They come in all kinds of colors, and they survive by their wits, sometimes aided and abetted by Big Poppas. In these five stories, Arnason offers a new mythos, laced with both humor and wisdom.

* Aliette de Bodard, "Heaven Under Earth" (Electric Velocipede #24, Summer 2012,http://www.electricvelocipede.com/2012/08/heaven-under-earth-by-aliette-de-bodard) In a world with few biological women, some men have been medically altered to carry children and live as wives. When a new wife who was born a woman in a household, her presence causes Liang Pao, an altered man, to scrutinize his reasons for wanting to keep the status quo and to re-examine his own sexuality and feelings towards family, culture, status, and gender.
 
    * Nicola Griffith, Hild (Farrar Straus & Giroux 2013) — This stunningly beautiful historical novel describes what life might have been like for a woman whose mother has arranged for her to be "the light of the world": the real-life St. Hilda of Whitby. In a rollicking good read, the reader is drawn into action and adventure as Hild becomes a king's seer, a warrior, and a vessel through which the dynamics of power and gender in war-ravaged 7th-century Britain can be explored.
 
     * Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine 2013) — Set in a somewhat dystopic matriarchal future Brazil, this lavish, provocative YA novel centers on June Costa, a rebellious teenage artist. She and her best friend Gil become entwined with Enki, the Summer King, who is elected to a position of celebrity and social eminence for one year before he becomes a ritual sacrifice. This book grapples with the nature of love, social and political conscience, creative rebellion and personal awakening, and an exploration of sexuality remarkable for its treatment of bisexuality and multiple relationships.
 
     * Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (Orbit 2013) — This political revenge story draws the reader into a fraught and ruthlessly colonizing military galactic empire. The protagonist is a human being whose consciousness began as a spaceship inhabiting dozens of bodies and vessels. Now stranded in one body, she bides her time and plots against the leader of the culture she once unquestioningly served. The story examines the brutality of occupation as well as exploring questions of gender and embodiment within a cultural framework that does not recognize gender, only class. 
 
     * Bennett Madison, September Girls (HarperTeen 2013) — In this young adult fantasy, a young man named Sam spends a summer in a beach town where he encounters numerous Girls with mysterious pasts that even they have a hard time recalling. Exploring the myth of mermaids and gods of the deep through an examination of gendered power dynamics, Sam learns how to become a man in ways that differ from the models he's been supplied with by his somewhat clueless father, abrasive older brother, and American culture in general.
  
  * Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs (St. Martin’s 2013) — A modern-day retelling of the myth of Orpheus, this is the story of two teenagers who grew up closer than sisters despite their parents' drug-fueled rock-star baggage. The girls' relationship is tested when the mysterious Jack moves to town, along with strange and disturbing otherworldly interest in his musical talent. The lyrical beauty of the writing and the way the story's concerns support the value of all of the girls' relationships (not just the romantic ones) make this contemporary myth surprising and affecting. 
 
     * Janelle Monae, Electric Lady (Bad Boy Records 2013) — Janelle Monae’s latest album is a musical work of science fiction, the latest installment in the conceptually rich world of Cindi Mayweather, a prototype android. A cross-medium Afrofuturist fable, loosely inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, Electric Lady has dramatic scope, powered by magnetic waves of sound and rhythm.
 
    * Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (Harper 2013) — This debut novel combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology in an immigrant tale, the story of two supernatural creatures in 1899 New York. Ahmad is a jinni, a “man” made of fire. Chava is a golem, a “woman” fashioned of clay. A golem is traditionally male. By making Chava a female figure, Wecker expands this well-trod fantasy element. Although she is a powerful and supernatural being, Chava discovers that in 19th-century New York, her choices and freedoms are limited by the gender of the body she inhabits.
   
 * S. M. Wheeler, Sea Change (Tor 2013) — This debut novel tells a dark, fairytale-like story of a young girl and her best friend, Octavius, who is an eloquent, intelligent kraken. When Octavius is captured, Lilly sets out to rescue him, bargaining with a greedy circus master, a witch, and a pair of gay bandits. She is transformed by her quest, giving up everything she has known, including her gender, to save her friend.

The Tiptree Award winner and authors on the Honor List will be celebrated during Memorial Day weekend at WisCon (www.wiscon.info) in Madison, Wisconsin. N.A. Sulway will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.

Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2013 jurors were Ellen Klages (chair), Christopher Barzak, Jayna Brown, Nene Ormes, and Gretchen Treu.

Reading for 2014 will soon begin. The jury panel consists of Darrah Chavey (chair), Elizabeth Bear, Amy Thomson, Joan Haran, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

As always, the Tiptree Award invites everyone to recommend works for the award. Please submit recommendations via the Tiptree Award website at www.tiptree.org, where you can also read more about the award, about works it has honored, and about past winners.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Guest Post: Mathematics and Narratives, Take Two

Mathematics and Narratives, Take Two
by Neal Koblitz

The title of your recent posting "Mathematics' need for narratives" resonated with me. I am a research mathematician, and when I write a paper, usually jointly with my collaborator Alfred Menezes, we decide whether it deserves a place on our website (anotherlook.ca) by asking ourselves if it truly "tells a story." In our case the "story" is typically an analysis of mathematical proofs of security of computer protocols that reveals a dark underside --- an overlooked flaw in the proof, a misleading interpretation of the result, reliance on a model that is woefully inadequate for the intended application, a hypothesis to the theorem that is so strong as to render the argument essentially circular.  In our critiques of the paradigm of "provable security" (which in my opinion is an oxymoron), we depict scenarios in which the promised mathematical guarantees lose their validity, if possible with humorous references to popular culture and current events. One of our papers, jointly written with Ann Hibner Koblitz, raises some technical issues involving the math while presenting a historical narrative that draws on research in the social construction of science and technology; the subtitle of this paper is "the serpentine course of a paradigm shift." In this paper we introduce the term "narrative inversion" to refer to narratives of mathematical certainty behind which one finds a reality that is full of doubt and contingency.

However, when I read the introduction and perused the table of contents of Circles Disturbed... by Barry Mazur et al, I saw that the contributors' definition of mathematics and of the narratives that guide mathematicians' thinking is narrow and insular. To them, mathematics means pure theory.  They seem uninterested in the stories that arise from applied branches of mathematics or from misguided and self-serving attempts to apply mathematics to social and economic questions.  If anyone needs to be convinced that the mathematical enterprise encompasses a lot more than pure theory --- and can provide many dramatic narratives about topics other than theorem-proving --- it should suffice to point out that the largest employer of math PhDs in the world is the U.S. National Security Agency.

Moreover, in Circles Disturbed... mathematics is identified with the Eurocentric tradition starting in ancient Greece.  This is not the version of the history of mathematics that I present to my students when I teach a course every year on the subject.  Rather, I expect my students to know about the ancient Chinese and Indian traditions, as well as the criticisms of Eurocentric history of mathematics that have been made by Martin Bernal in the controversial book Black Athena (1987) and by ethnomathematics researchers such as Marcia Ascher.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of mathematical narratives in the broad sense in which I would define the term:

(1) Cathy O'Neil (a former PhD student of Barry Mazur, ironically) has a forthcoming book with the clever title Weapons of Math Destruction.  She was a "quant" during the days of the economic meltdown, and writes entertainingly about the misuse of mathematical models on Wall Street and elsewhere. Her blog address is mathbabe.org.


In 2000 David Li, a quant with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, developed a mathematical formula that purportedly predicted the likelihood that a set of companies would successively default on their debts.  His model was based on an optimistic narrative of economic progress under capitalism --- a narrative that ignored the stories of repeated boom/bust that should have been clear to anyone who studies history --- and was based on data of the most recent years of relative prosperity.  His formula was used on Wall Street to give a mathematical justification for sharply increasing investments in newly-created exotic financial instruments such as mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations.  The failure of Li's mathematical model was a factor in the 2008 economic collapse.

(2) John Ewing (president of Math for America and former executive director of the American Math Society) wrote an article in the AMS Notices titled "Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data" exposing the scam of value-added modeling, a much-hyped pseudo-mathematical approach to evaluating teachers.

(3) The late William Thurston (winner of a Fields Medal, often called the mathematical world's Nobel Prize) led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful battle to get the AMS to do something about mathematicians' excessive reliance on military and NSA funding.  Thurston was part of a long tradition of mathematicians who rejected the dominant narrative in the profession, which maintained that the profession was at the service of whomever had power and money --- wealthy patrons in medieval and early modern times, the U.S. Department of Defense in our day. (As the prominent computer scientist Phil Rogaway put it, most researchers have never seen a funding source they didn't like.)  Other famous mathematicians of the last century who advocated an alternative humanistic vision included the British pacifist G. H. Hardy (who lauded his field number theory as "gentle and clean" because in his day it was pursued only for aesthetic reasons and had no applications) and Norbert Weiner (see S. J. Heims' 1982 joint biography John von Neumann and Norbert Weiner: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death, which contrasts the outlook of Weiner with that of the militarist von Neumann, another leading mathematician of the same time period).

(4) In the 1980s Serge Lang led a successful fight to keep right-wing political scientist Samuel Huntington from being elected to the U.S. National Academy of Science.  (I described this battle in an article in the Mathematical Intelligencer titled "A Tale of Three Equations: Or the Emperor Has No Clothes.")  A small example of Huntington's misuse of quantitative methodology was that he favorably cited a statistical study purporting to show that South Africa (this was during the apartheid period) had a population with a high "satisfaction index." How could Huntington (who, according to wikipedia, was a "valued adviser" to the apartheid regime, advising them to increase the repressive power of the state) seriously expect anyone to believe that?  He, like most capitalist economists and political scientists, was using a narrative of economic progress that attached huge importance to numbers such as gross domestic product per capita, number of telephones per capita (which was one of the ingredients in the "satisfaction index"), and so on --- while ignoring the fundamental issue of how those resources were distributed.  In the case of South Africa, it was certainly true that the whites owned a lot of telephones.

The introduction to Circles Disturbed... says that mathematicians are "delighted" to see the ways that mathematicians have been portrayed in recent works of literature and popular culture.  Undoubtedly many are, but I have a less sanguine view of the direction of popular imagery of science and mathematics.  I believe there is far more superstition, ignorance, and anti-scientific bias among Americans now than there was when I was growing up a half-century ago.  If one compares the portrayals of mathematicians in recent popular works with those of earlier decades, the picture is not one of constant upward progress.  Compare, for example, the 1980 movie It's My Turn (in which Jill Clayburgh plays a mathematician) or the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver (about the high school math teacher Jaime Escalante) --- the latter movie was cited by several of my students as what inspired them to want to become math teachers --- with the more recent movie A Beautiful Mind (2001) and the play Proof (2000, film in 2005), in which all the mathematicians are schizophrenic. The view of the mathematical profession that emerges from the latter portrayals is pretty dismal.  Both works suggest that there is an inevitable connection between mathematical creativity and mental illness. In A Beautiful Mind some of the scenes of John Nash's schizophrenia (e.g., when he almost drowns their baby) are horrific, and the depiction of nerd behavior in the Princeton math department also reinforces some of the worst stereotypes about mathematicians.  From the standpoint of mathematicians who want to improve the popular image of the profession and convince young people that it's a rewarding profession to go into, these portrayals are not helpful.

Or take the 1999 novel Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson.  I am embarrassed to say that this book was highly recommended to me by a mathematical colleague whom I much respected, and so I read it.  The book's portrayal of the great mathematician Alan Turing is full of juvenile and homophobic humor, with the author inventing an imaginary affair with a gay Nazi during World War II (as if to try to justify the later persecution of Turing by the British government that led to his death).  That the novel is full of racism (against Asians and New Guineans) and misogyny did not prevent it from becoming a best-seller among mathematicians and computer scientists.

The mathematical world -- like the world outside -- is full of struggles and full of narratives, but judging by its introduction and table of contents, the book Circles Disturbed... doesn't come close to telling the whole story.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Mathematics' need for narrative

I had lunch today at a (relatively) new local bookstore, Ada's (and yes, that's in Lovelace) just a couple of doors down from the place at which I often meet Eileen Gunn for writing dates. I can recommend the food. But more to the point, because the audience for the books they sell is strictly geeky, their selection is unusual. (One entire room is devoted to computer programming.) Happily, my browsing unearthed a big fat Princeton University Press hardcover with the title of Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative. With one look at the table of contents, I knew there was no way I was going to allow that book to languish on the shelf, bereft of my most personal attention, even if an electronic edition would likely be more reasonably priced and take no space on my own bookshelves. The book isn't a monograph, but a collection of articles, edited by Apostolos Doxiadis (a writer) and Barry Mazur (a mathematician). Tom, looking over my shoulder, spotted the name of a geometer in the ToC. ("Just wanted to be sure that geometry got some representation in this book.") The cover image, appropriately enough, is of Archimedes wielding a compass while a Roman soldier has grabbed him by the left arm and has raised his sword, ready to plunge it into the geometer.

Here's the description of the book on the publisher's page:

Circles Disturbed brings together important thinkers in mathematics, history, and philosophy to explore the relationship between mathematics and narrative. The book's title recalls the last words of the great Greek mathematician Archimedes before he was slain by a Roman soldier--"Don't disturb my circles"--words that seem to refer to two radically different concerns: that of the practical person living in the concrete world of reality, and that of the theoretician lost in a world of abstraction. Stories and theorems are, in a sense, the natural languages of these two worlds--stories representing the way we act and interact, and theorems giving us pure thought, distilled from the hustle and bustle of reality. Yet, though the voices of stories and theorems seem totally different, they share profound connections and similarities.

A book unlike any other, Circles Disturbed delves into topics such as the way in which historical and biographical narratives shape our understanding of mathematics and mathematicians, the development of "myths of origins" in mathematics, the structure and importance of mathematical dreams, the role of storytelling in the formation of mathematical intuitions, the ways mathematics helps us organize the way we think about narrative structure, and much more.


"Circles Disturbed offers a range of possibilities for how narrative can function in mathematics and how narratives themselves show signs of a mathematical structure. An intelligent, exploratory collection of writings by a distinguished group of contributors."--Theodore Porter, University of California, Los Angeles
"This collection is a pioneering effort to trace the hidden connections between mathematics and narrative. It succeeds magnificently, and represents a very significant contribution that will appeal to the professional mathematician as well as the general educated reader. The articles are written by top authorities in their fields."--Doron Zeilberger, Rutgers University

The publisher is offering a pdf of the introduction: here. http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9764.pdf.


And here's the Table of Contents:

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction vii
Chapter 1: From Voyagers to Martyrs: Toward a Storied History of Mathematics 1
By AMIR ALEXANDER
Chapter 2 Structure of Crystal, Bucket of Dust 52
By PETER GALISON
Chapter 3: Deductive Narrative and the Epistemological Function of Belief in Mathematics: On Bombelli and Imaginary Numbers 79
By FEDERICA LANAVE
Chapater 4: Hilbert on Theology and Its Discontents: The Origin Myth of Modern Mathematics 105
By COLIN MCLARTY
Chapter 5: Do Androids Prove Theorems in Their Sleep? 130
By MICHAEL HARRIS
Chapter 6: Visions, Dreams, and Mathematics 183
By BARRY MAZUR
Chapter 7: Vividness in Mathematics and Narrative 211
By TIMOTHY GOWERS
Chapter 8: Mathematics and Narrative: Why Are Stories and Proofs Interesting? 232
By BERNARD TEISSIER
Chapter 9: Narrative and the Rationality of Mathematical Practice 244
By DAVID CORFIELD
Chapter 10: A Streetcar Named (among Other Things) Proof: From Storytelling to Geometry, via Poetry and Rhetoric 281
By APOSTOLOS DOXIADIS
Chapter 11: Mathematics and Narrative: An Aristotelian Perspective 389
By G .E .R . LLOYD
Chapter 12: Adventures of the Diagonal: Non-Euclidean Mathematics and Narrative 407
By ARADY PLOTNITSKY
Chapter 13: Formal Models in Narrative Analysis 447
By DAVID HERMAN
Chapter 14: Mathematics and Narrative: A Narratological Perspective 481
By URI MARGOL N
Chapter 15: Tales of Contingency, Contingencies of Telling: Toward an Algorithm of Narrative Subjectivity 508
By JAN CHRISTOPH MEISTER

Anyway, I suspect some readers of this blog will find this as promising and interesting as I do.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 4, 1







The winter issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out. You can purchase the issue for $3 (or subscribe for $10) at http://www.thecsz.com/. The issue features the art of Kristin Kest; reviews by Victoria Garcia, Cat Rambo, Karen Burnham, Michael Ehart, and Cynthia Ward; a Grandmother Magma column by Nisi Shawl; a poem by Alicia Cole and a poem cycle by Anne Sheldon; and an essay by me, reporting on the Worlds beyond World Symposium in Eugene last November.



Vol. 4 No. 1 — January 2014
Essay
Feminist World-Building: Toward Future Memory
   by L. Timmel Duchamp
Poems
Down Seventh Street Road
   by Anne Sheldon

Coral Bleaching
   by Alicia Cole

Grandmother Magma
Walk to the End of the World, by Suzy McKee Charnas
   by Nisi Shawl

Reviews
The Waking Engine, by David Edison
   reviewed by Victoria Garcia

Dangerous Women. edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
   reviewed by Cat Rambo

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
  reviewed by Karen Burnham

The Constant Tower, by Carole McDonnell
   reviewed by Michael Ehart

The XY Conspiracy, by Lori Selke
   reviewed by Cynthia Ward

Featured Artist
Kristin Kest

Friday, January 17, 2014

Andrea Hairston reviews Africa SF

Andrea Hairston has a piece, "Dismantling the Echo Chamber," reviewing Africa SF, ed. Mark Bould, at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Here's a little taste:
Rewriting the rules that define/constitute the fantasy we call reality in order to dismantle colonial structures and transform said reality is an incredible challenge. Black to the future was/is a radical, dangerous, and daring dream—an impossibility. Science fiction and fantasy (sf&f) is a rehearsal of the impossible, an ideal realm for redefinition and reinvention. For Africans and their descendants in the diaspora, decolonizing our mind/body/spirits was/is an on-going sf&f project. Freedom is a Magic If. Indeed, for all of us, humans, non-human animals, and plant-life, recovering the past and decolonizing the future is a critical survival question in the subjunctive case. How might we coevolve, but be different, together in a (post)colonial empire hell-bent on global monoculture, the commodification of identity, and the monetization of everything? What of our past should we carry with us? What might we chose to leave behind? What new possibilities could we embrace and manifest?
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

10 Fabulous Pacific Northwest Authors of Color and the Books They've Written

In honor of its fortieth anniversary, Humanities Washington has begun posting a series of Top Ten lists, "sharing the best of the best from a variety of humanities topics from the past 40 years." Their inaugural list is from Anu Taranth, who offers a "Top Ten Pacific Northwest Authors of Color" list. The list names our own Nisi Shawl, and specifically cites Filter House. Do go and check out the whole list here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quote of the day

Considering these things, I can’t help but tell my fellow writers to write fearlessly. Our stories were never meant to speak to everyone. There are those who will read and who will embrace what we write and there are those who will read and hate us for what we write.

But write what you have to write. Write being true to what’s in your heart. Play on the page. Dance on the page. Imagine possible futures on the page. Your stories are important, not just to you. They are important to me. They are important to the generation that is yet to come. --Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Movements: A Poetics of Struggle (Part 2)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Amazonia by Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett

I'm pleased to announce the release, as the third volume in Aqueduct Press's Heirloom Books series, of a new edition of New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future, a feminist utopian novel by Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett originally published in 1889, which includes an introduction by scholar Alexis Lothian. “Corrupt, Degraded, Rotten to the core is British Civilisation, and yet we find women who ought to know better, actually pretending that they are perfectly contented with the existing order of things,” declares the narrator of New Amazonia. Raging against an antifeminist statement signed by “ladies” opposing the cause of women’s suffrage, a writer falls asleep in 1889 and wakens, in company with a hashish-smoking “masher,” in a future world run by women. New Amazonia tells the story of how this future world came to be and reveals its shiny, futuristic marvels as well as its government-administered horrors. 


“When Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett sat down in the late 1880s to imagine a world 500 years hence, she can little have imagined that her words would be pored over in another century, on another continent, in a community gathered around the kinds of imaginative engagement with gender that she was pioneering. L. Timmel Duchamp has described feminist science fiction as a "great conversation”; Corbett’s speculations about New Amazonia are part of that conversation’s prehistory, a fictional contribution to political debates with which the writer was intensively engaged. The book you are holding is a piece of utopian fiction, but it is just as much a feminist rant––entertaining, educational, and more than a little over the top.”—from the Introduction by Alexis Lothian

New Amazonia is available now through Aqueduct's site (http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/NewAmazonia.php) in trade paperback and e-book editions. While it is also available online in public domain pdf files (and printed and bound pdf files) of the original 1889 edition (sans Alexis's illuminating introduction), those pdf reproductions are not easy to read. My decision to bring the book back into print was based on a combination of my desire to draw attention to this early feminist utopia (of which I knew only its bare existence until Alexis talked to me about it) and the need for a more readable version of the text. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Jane Irwin's Clockwork Game

Jane Irwin's graphic novel, Clockwork Game, has just been released. It can be purchased in both trade paperback and pdf editions at http://www.fierystudios.com/store/. Here is Nisi Shawl's introduction to it:


Into the Canny Valley
by Nisi Shawl

The truth is right there in a word balloon on page 165.  “People believe stories, not facts,” says Johann Maelzel, one in a series of owners of “The Turk,” the figure at the center of the real-life, 85-year conspiracy depicted in Clockwork Game.  Telling The Turk’s strange story through expressive drawings and apt words, Jane Irwin makes us believe everything, from its first appearance before 18th-century Vienna’s royal court up to its blazing finale in 19th-century Philadelphia.  There’s the supposed chess-playing automaton’s match against Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon’s pragmatic skepticism when presented with The Turk in the wake of his Austrian victories, and Edgar Allan Poe’s article debunking the claim that its prowess was that of a pure machine.  The Turk rubbed elbows with Beethoven and shared an exhibit hall with P.T. Barnum’s Joice Heth, who the fledgling impresario said was the 161-year-old former nurse of President George Washington.

Clockwork Game is true.  It’s also, unlike Barnum’s showman’s patter, mostly facts.  Though not entirely.

But to paraphrase Maelzel’s lead-up sentence to the aphorism above, the story’s telling is what Jane Irwin gets right.

The Ottoman Empire had a long and glorious tradition of engineering marvels and expanding scientific knowledge.  Irwin makes this tradition concrete in the book’s opening pages with a charming sequence showing Al-Jazari’s elephant clock in operation, complete with dragon heads and drummer.  In 19th-century Philadelphia, Turkish-American doctor Yusuf bin Ibrahim provides another lens on the racially-charged lampoon its inventor created in his ostensible automaton.  Again and again Irwin challenges herself to question comfortable assumptions, looking at The Turk’s career through the eyes of those so often classified as “others”: workers, women, people of color, the physically disabled.  Again and again she enriches the telling of this fascinating tale by doing so; Clockwork Game is simultaneously funnier and more tragic than readers may expect.

In the field of human aesthetics, the “uncanny valley” is the dip in the graph of our tolerance of human simulacra.  We react with rising positivity to dolls and robots as they become more and more like us--up to a certain point.  At that point there’s a drop-off in acceptance, a sinking into revulsion.  Too lifelike, yet not alive, inhabitants of this figurative valley are uncanny in appearance.  If their similarity to us is developed further and continues to grow, the positive reaction reasserts itself and the graph line trends upward again.



Wolfgang von Kempelen, The Turk’s inventor, despised what he’d created as a fraud, “base trickery.”  Discussing one of his “serious” devices he bemoans the way audiences focus on the odd appearance of his Speaking Machine, explaining that he’d frequently begin demonstrations with its wheezing bellow and nostril-simulating tubes covered by a sheet.  He tells a sympathetic visitor that he hopes eventually to hide the apparatus inside the dummy of a young girl’s body.  I think doing this would have been a mistake; a human-looking doll that spoke would have been far too disturbing to people of that time.  The Turk was saved from inhabiting in the uncanny valley by several factors: the clockwork noises made during its operation; the standing invitation to inspect its inner workings and thus disregard its outward appearance; and its likeness to an exoticized other, which allowed the intended viewers to distance themselves from it rather than identify with it.  These dehumanizing elements kept The Turk on the valley’s far side.

What I call the canny valley--without any experiments or charts to back my theory up--is the sweet spot authors aim for between data and whimsy.   Clockwork Game sits in the canny valley’s exact center.  Here the dip represents a fall in resistance to the unfamiliar.  Beginning with sheer nonsense, what writers and artists offer becomes more captivating as it encompasses more verifiable facts--but not too many.  There is a place on this imaginary graph where, suddenly, facts take on the allure of fantasy and speculation the weight of certainty.  Clockwork Game’s dramatic framing and quick pace make it easy for the book to fulfill our innate biological hunger for narratives, and Irwin’s art—particularly her characters’ enchantingly expressive faces—fleshes out the mere names and dates that would have comprised her initial research.  And that research was both broad and deep, as can be ascertained by referring to her twelve pages of notes and four of bibliography.  It included books, videos, websites, and consultations with people knowledgeable in areas such as Turkish culture and the representation of diversity in fiction.

Composer and comedian Neil Innes once famously said, “I’ve suffered for my music.  Now it’s your turn.”  It was a joke, but other creative artists have sometimes had to strive to avoid meaning something similar—especially when they do lots research to support their projects.  They’re drawn to the far side of the canny valley, the dry and tortuously infertile terrain of facts for facts sake.  A book filled with nothing but the poorly presented results of research will beguile very few of us to spend our precious time struggling through its pages.  Resistance will be high.

Irwin’s motto might well be “I’ve been suffused with pleasure for my work’s sake.  Now it’s your turn.”  Though she carefully describes when, where, how, and why she departed from what’s known about The Turk and its many adventures, she keeps these notes out of the story’s way, confining them to Clockwork Game’s after matter, where they rightfully belong.  This leaves us free to luxuriate in the delightful greenery where the story proper grows—to speed through it or linger, to return to the canny valley as often as we like.