Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quote of the day

Writing requires maximum ambition, maximum audacity, and programmatic disobedience.--Elena Ferrante

Friday, April 21, 2017

Black Speculative Arts Movement #BSAMfuturismo2017


I want to give a brief heads-up for an Afrofuturist event at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on Saturday, April 22 (tomorrow!). Aqueduct authors Sheree Renee Thomas, Jennifer Marie Brissett, and Kiini Ibura Salaam will all be participating. For the full schedule of the conference, check out the official website: https://www.evensi.us/black-speculative-arts-movement-bsamfuturismo2017-bronx/194016603.

At 12pm a panel titled 25 YEARS OF AFROFUTURISM & BLACK SPECULATIVE THOUGHT, will feature  Dr Reynaldo Anderson, Mark Dery, and Sheree Renée Thomas, moderated by Tiffany Barber. And after lunch, at 2 pm, Sheree Renee Thomas, Jennifer Brissett, Kiini Salaam, and Ibi Zoboi will present BLUE BLACK MAGIC WOMEN.

 I so wish I could attend. If you have a chance, it sounds like a wonderful--dare I say inspiriting-- way to spend the day.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"That factory of characters and protagonists"


I'm currently reading Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey by Elena Ferrante. I'm finding much in it interesting, even as I'm thinking that a few of its pieces hold only mild interest for me. But I know very well that some readers will find the bits I'd happily dispense with the best parts. Obviously a book with a broader variety of pieces will have wider appeal. (I know that my own taste is always far from the mainstream.) In any case, Ferrante's thinking is incisive and thought-provoking, though her orientation to Italian "difference feminism" (as she identifies it) is at an angle to my own feminism. (Which is nothing new for me. As a publisher, I try to pay respect to a wide spectrum of feminisms, some of which with I take serious issue.)

Ferrante's struggles writing consciously political fiction particularly interests me. The 2002 letter titled "Suspension of Disbelief," written to her book editors, who had solicited a short story to be published in an anthology of stories "on conflict of interest" by the publisher's Italian authors. "It depresses me," she says, "that the truth of an abuse of power [the subject of her own story] seems an effect of rhetoric." (97) Ferrante muses on her sense that such stories constitute "a rehtorically complicit nudge given to a public that is already convinced, already in agreement, and whose agreement, beyond a guarantee of success, is also one of the many safeguards against harassment, retaliation, insults, lawsuits, work restrictions, and other common misfortunes that those who express themselves in black and white against the opposing party are exposed to." (91) She writes of posing questions to herself that made her uncomfortable. Then, she says, "to get out of these self-critical convulsions I tried...to write the name of Silvio Berlusconi at the end of the story"--with the idea that doing so could bring the anti-Berloscuoni-ism of her story into the open.

Beware, though, I did not do it to say that a political story, in the current portrait of our civil society, has the duty to emerge from metaphor (literature, good or bad, is always metaphor) but, rather, to indicate that narratives that can state more directly even if through literature, the reasons for our repugnance as citizens are necessary. In other words, blunt questions of the following type should be transformed into novels: Is it true Berlusconi can be a great statesman because he is a great entrepreneur? How did we become convinced that there is a connection between the two things? Was it the great and good works of that grand entrepreneur that convinces us? What are those works? What is the meritorious work that persuaded us of his capacities as a great statesman? Maybe it's his bad television empire, created by his highly prized and highly paid employees? Hence, does one become a great statesman by being the great entrepreneur of a bad television company that has vulgarized all the other television companies and also, out of a crossover attraction, cinema, newspapers, supplements, publicity, the supporting literature, the entire Italy of TV ratings? Is it possible? If the great work of the entrepreneur Berlusconi is what we have before our eyes every evening, how could it happen that half of Italy believed that he really could, as he says, fix the nation? And besides, what Italy does this man want to fix, if he governs alongside someone who would rather dismantle Italy, in the name of a good and very pure geographical area that he has christened Padania?

It's this credulity not of citizens but of the audience that I find narratively interesting. If I were capable of writing about our Berlusconian Italy not through allegories, parables, and satires, I would like to find a plot and characters that could represent the mythology within which the symbol of Berlusconi is dangerously encysted. I say symbol because the man will disappear, his personal troubles and those of his management have their power, one way or another the political struggle will remove him from the scene, but his ascent as supreme leader within democratic institutions, the construction of his figure as a democratically elected economic-political-television duce, will remain a perfectible, repeatable model.(90-91)
Obviously, this articulation of "a dangerously encysted" symbol strikes me powerfully at this moment of US history. Clownish and perilously simple-minded as I found Dubya and his venal, villainous minions, I could not imagine him as a powerful symbol encysted with a toxic mythology spawned by the vilest desires and most self-serving, privileged ignorance that has dogged US culture and values for all the US's history. Ferrante, confronting Berlusconi, puts her finger on why our current Megalomaniac-in-Chief, regardless of which minions he chooses to keep around him, is different.

Here's more from Ferrante:
Berlusconi, for me, is the most garish expression (for now) of the traditional illusionism of politicians, of their capacity to pretend, even within the democratic institutions of which they should be the willing servants, that they are benevolent divinities on some Olympus from which they govern the fates of wretched mortals. That illusionism...unfortunately for us has been definitively welded, thanks to a bold proprietary relationship, to the fictions of what is today the most powerful means of mass communication: television, that factory of characters and protagonists, as the media call them, justly adopting the terminology of products of the imagination. And the characters, the protagonists of social-television mythology, are experienced by the audience just as characters are in novels, by suspending disbelief, accepting, that is, an agreement on the basis of which you are wiling to take as true everything you are told. (91)


She notes that this suspension of disbelief has transformed "citizens into an audience," and that it is "for now the most unprincipled exponent of the reduction of democracy to imaginary participation in an imaginary game." (92) In our personal shorthand, Tom and I have long referred to political news reports and shows as "gossip." For a brief moment after the election I actually hoped that confronted with a new set of outrages that prodded commentators to declare they wouldn't "normalize" the new regime that the news media would decide to focus on the complex consequences and implications of the Republican-controlled government's decrees and actions rather than on the melodramas of the invented "characters and protagonists" (as Ferrnate calls them) of the game as imagined by the US's dominant political culture. At almost 100 days in, the reality of the policies being rammed through without discussion (much less serious consideration) has apparently become too boring for the news media to bother with. Politics as soap opera and political reportage as gossip* is back with a vengeance. If I never read another article about which minions are in favor and which are out of favor, it will be too soon.
_______________________
*And of course, United Airlines' thuggish assault on a seated, nonviolent passenger resulting in the passenger's concussion, broken nose, and loss of two teeth has also been turned into a tidbit of gossip, rather than a broad demand for regulation of an industry that routinely abuses its customers with impunity in a variety of once unimaginable ways. If every news story must necessarily be reduced to a carefully framed drama with characters and protagonists set apart from the complexities of the large systems within which most people must negotiate, if, that is to say, everything must always be cast in mythological terms (which render hard facts both irrelevant and contestable), we're on our way to species extinction. Amitav Ghosh's The Great Derangement notes that the refusal to construct or attend to narratives that don't valorize instrumental individualism make it almost impossible to talk about global warming in any useful or meaningful way. And global warming is only one of the serious challenges besetting us.   

Friday, April 14, 2017

The 2017 Philip K. Dick Award


The 2017 Philip K. Dick Award ceremony was held tonight at Norwescon 40; Gordon Van Gelder presided. Congratulations to Claudia Casper, whose novel The Mercy Journals (published by the excellent Arsenal Pulp Press) was given the award, and also to Susan diRende, whose novella Unpronounceable (published as a volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series) was given a Special Citation. (The photo show Claudia and Susan holding the framed award and special citation respectively). The judges for this year's award were Michael Armstrong, Brenda Cough, meg Elison, Lee Konstantinou, and Ben Winters. The other nominees were Kristy Aceveo with Consider (published by Jolly Fish Press), who was present, Matt Hill with Graft (published by Angry Robot Books), who was also present, Eleanor Arnason with Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens (published by Aqueduct), and Yoss with Super Extra Grande (published by Restless Books). The authors attending each read for five minutes from their books. (Excerpts of Hwarhath Stories and Yoss were read by members of the Northwest Science Fiction Society.)

It's probably needless to say that I was quite pleased to see two of Aqueduct's books so honored.

Susan, by the way, read from Ch. 2 ("Alien Sex") in Rose's inimitable voice.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE SFWA SCIENCE FICTION BUNDLE



Cst Rambo has curated a SFWA-focused Story Bundle offering e-bundles that include Nancy Jane Moore's The Weave, which is an Aqueduct Press title. Here's Cat Rambo speaking:
The SFWA Science Fiction Bundle - Curated by Cat Rambo
I am so pleased to present the first ever SFWA-focused StoryBundle. The idea for it has been hovering in my head for a several years but it was only last year that we finally had the contacts and volunteer structure to actually enact it. Last year I asked SFWA members to send in their science fiction and fantasy works for consideration in the bundles, and the enthusiastic response to that call let me assemble this awesome bundle as well as a second one, this time with a fantasy focus, for later this year. Midway through this year, we'll open up the call for applications for the 2018 bundles.
If you're curious about other SFWA offerings, sign up for our quarterly newsletter, which features new and backlist releases from our members in the area of fiction, games, and other offerings.
One reason I've pushed this StoryBundle along is because it's a program that works well for our small press and independently published members, whose market agility allows them to make full use of the bundle. The membership voted to accept these new members in 2015 and one of the challenges was making sure SFWA served their needs. They've added immense enthusiasm and knowledge to our hive mind, and it's great to have a way that helps them promote their work while also supporting the organization's Givers Fund, which gives grants each year to encourage and promote fantasy and science fiction writing, including organizations such as the the African Speculative Fiction Society, Alpha Workshop, Clarion and Clarion West, and Launchpad.
If you're unfamiliar with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, it's over 50 years old, and has a membership of professional writers and publishing professionals from around the globe. It administers the Nebula Awards each year. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, stop by the mass autographing session on the evening of May 19, which will feature (literally) dozens of authors, including many authors on this year's ballot and SFWA's latest Grand Master, Jane Yolen. Check out the SFWA website at sfwa.org for information on genre writing, the field, and other services. – Cat Rambo
The initial titles in the SFWA Science Fiction Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
  • Saiensu Fikushon 2016 by TOBI Hirotaka, Toh Enjoe and Taiyo Fujii
  • Borrowed Tides by Paul Levinson
  • The Weave by Nancy Jane Moore
  • Truck Stop Earth by Michael A. Armstrong
  • Children of Arkadia by M. Darusha Wehm
  • Beyond the Gates by Catherine Wells
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all six of the regular titles, plus SIX more!
  • Unidentified Funny Objects by Alex Shvartsman
  • Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Strangers Among Us by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law
  • Tech Heaven by Linda Nagata
  • The Burning Eye by John F. Carr
  • The Leaves of October by Don Sakers
This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!
It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
  • Get quality reads: We've chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that's fine! You'll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there's nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you'll get the bonus books!
StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.
For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2016 James Tiptree Jr. Award

I'm late to this party-- I've just seen the announcement for the 2016 James Tiptree Jr. Award. I've taken this from the Award's website:

Congratulations to Anna-Marie McLemore, who has won the 2016 Tiptree Award for her novel When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2016).


About the Winner

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore is a fairytale about Samir, a transgender boy, and Miel, an orphan girl who grows roses from her wrists and is bullied as a result. In fact, there is a fairytale within the fairytale: the first chapter telling us the version of the story that mothers would tell children for years after — before also telling us what that story leaves out. Then the book takes us through all of it, step by step, exploring the heartache and frustration that being and loving differently generates. Beautifully, the novel never lets go of its unique magical realism framework. While the thoughts and emotions these characters share are incredibly familiar to anyone who is queer or trans or has loved someone who is trans, the imagery and particular scenarios the characters encounter are also completely bright and new.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, Anna-Marie McLemore tells us that when she was a teenager she fell in love with a transgender boy who would grow into the man she married. This is their story, reimagined as legend.

 In addition to selecting the winners, the jury chooses a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list. These notes on each work are excerpted and edited from comments by members of this year’s jury.

This year’s Honor List is:


Eleanor Arnason, Hwarhath Stories:Transgressive Tales by Aliens (Aqueduct Press, 2016) — This is a wonderful collection of stories that examine the ways that culturally, deep-rooted assumptions around gender restrict vocation and recognition of skills. Arnason tells of a culture with significantly different gender assumptions and customs that lead to a number of subtly shifted societal impacts — both positive and negative.

Mishell Baker, Borderline (Saga Press, 2016) — A fascinating whodunit with wonderful characters, Borderline spotlights diversity and intersectionality. Most of the characters in this novel are viewed as disabled by others, even by each other. But the characters’ so-called disabilities give them advantages in certain situations. Understanding this helps the characters love each other and themselves. Almost every character can be described as having attributes that are both disabilities and advantages. What builds us up can bring us down. Or put another way: our imperfections are openings to beautiful achievements.

Nino Cipri, “Opals and Clay” (Podcastle, 2016) — A beautiful love story about solidarity. With just three major characters, this story does a lot with gender, demonstrating how gendering can be something one does to control or out of love.

Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic for Small Change (Aqueduct Press, 2016) — A beautiful story of magic and love that spans two centuries and three continents, moving between times and places through a book-within-a-book structure. Its 1980s protagonists are a family who has been torn apart by an act of homophobic violence. Through a discovery of their past, they are able to reconnect and find love again. Among other things, this novel depicts an amazing range of queer characters. Importantly, the book de-colonizes these representations, making queerness not a white or American thing, but something that emerges in different shapes and structures at different times and places, particular to individuals as well as the cultures and communities that they are a part of.

Rachael K. Jones, “The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 2016) — A moving story set in a world where people live separate lives by night and day, with an opposite-sex lover by day and same-sex lover by night as the standard family structure. The theme of being trapped in one’s body and circumstances and in the customs of one’s times is dealt with well. The metaphor of a city/body that traps people in prisons of identity was very powerful. A surprising (yet well set up) twist to the story broadens its scope.

Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway (Tor Books, 2916) — This is a lovely YA novel about teenagers who return to our world, against their wishes, from magical lands that they entered through secret pathways — a magic door, an impossible stairway at the bottom of a trunk, a mirror. Their parents cannot understand their pain and misinterpret the stories their children tell and send their children to Miss West’s Home for Wayward Children. Miss West, herself a returned child, helps them deal with their separation or return to what they all think of as their real homes. This novel came to the attention of the Tiptree jury because of the reasons the children are taken from or rejected by their magical worlds. The protagonist, Nancy, is asexual, and finds an ideal world through her door. A character named Kade was born Katie, and discovers he is a boy, not a girl. He is thrown out of Fairyland as punishment for his transition. Two twin girls named Jack and Jill take up identities opposite from those their parents imposed upon them. There are beautiful lessons here about the importance of finding one’s home–that place where one can be one’s self. An emotionally engaging novel.

Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning (Tor Books, 2016) — This book will start conversations about gender, philosophy, religion, government, even war.The judges perceived contradictions within this book that may be resolved in the sequel, but these only serve to spark interest. In the future in which it is set (the twenty-fifth century of our world), gendered language is considered taboo in most circles and gender/sex-related cues are minimized and overlooked in clothing, vocation, and all other public areas of life. However, the book slowly reveals that gender stereotypes, sexism, and sexual taboos still remain strong despite the century’s supposed enlightenment and escape from such notions.

Johanna Sinisalo, The Core of the Sun (Grove Press/Black Cat, 2016) — This emotional, moving and thought-provoking novel, set in an alternate present in Finland, provides a critique of heteronormativity, eugenics, and all forms of social control, done uniquely and with humor. In this alternate present, the government values public health and social stability above all else. Sex and gender have been organized as the government sees fit, much to the detriment of women, who are bred and raised to be docile. All .drugs, including alcohol and caffeine, have long been banned. Capsaicin from hot peppers is the most recent substance to be added to the list. Our protagonist, Vera/Vanna, is a capsaicin addict. Consuming peppers provides an escape from a world that has treated her horribly. Most chapters are from Vera/Vanna’s perspective, but others relate the history, laws, fairytales, and other literature of this fictional Finland.

Nisi Shawl, Everfair (Tor Books, 2016) — In this gorgeous steampunk revisionist history of anticolonial resistance, a coalition of rebels defeat King Leopold and transform the former Belgian Congo into Everfair: a new nation whose citizens comprise Africans, European settlers, and Asian laborers. Told from many different perspectives, the story switches among the viewpoints of a dozen protagonists. This novel shows how relationships can grow over time between people of different races, classes, and religions as they build community together. Characters work through their internalized racisms and demonstrate how this is necessary for those in interracial relationships.



But Wait — There’s More!

In addition to the honor list, this year’s jury also compiled a long list of twelve other works they found worthy of attention.


All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor, 2016)
The Waterdancer’s World, L. Timmel Duchamp (Aqueduct Press, 2016)
Lily, Michael Thomas Ford (Lethe Press, 2016)
King of the Worlds, M. Thomas Gammarino (Chin Music Press, 2016)
Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism,” Porpentine Charity Heartscape (Terraform, 2016 – an online interactive story),
Cantor for Pearls, M.C.A. Hogarth (De La Torre Books, 2016)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2016)
An Accident of Stars, Foz Meadows (Angry Robot, 2016)
Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, Sheree Renée Thomas (Aqueduct Press, 2016)
Suddenly Paris, Olga & Christopher Werby (CreateSpace, 2015)
The Arrival of Missives, Aliya Whiteley (Unsung Stories, 2015)
The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood (Europa Editions 2016)


Now What?

Anna-Marie McLemore, along with authors and works on the Honor List, will be celebrated during Memorial Day weekend at WisCon 41 in Madison, Wisconsin, May 26-29, 2017. She 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 2016 judges were Jeanne Gomoll (chair), Aimee Bahng, James Fox, Roxanne Samer, and Deb Taber.


Reading for 2017 will soon begin. The panel consists of Alexis Lothian (chair), E.J. Fischer, Kazue Harada, Cheryl Morgan, and Julia Starkey.


The Tiptree Award invites everyone to recommend works for the award. Please submit recommendations via our recommendation page. Full information on all the books mentioned above will be in the Tiptree Award database before the end of March 2017.

*******************************
It's me again, just to express special pleasure that two Aqueduct Press books (and three Aqueduct Press authors) are on the Honor List, and two Aqueduct Press books are on the long list. I have to say, between the works named above and the Lambda Literary Award finalists' list, no one can say that 2016 wasn't a fruitful year for those of us hungry for sharp, challenging reading.  

The 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists

The 29th Annual Lambda Literary Award finalists have been named, and I'm thrilled to announce that Andrea Hairston's Will Do Magic for Small Change is among them. Congratulations to Andrea and all her co-finalists!

I'll post below the finalists for the science fiction/fantasy/horror category, but will link to the full slate (which is very long, given all its categories), since year after year it's been a source for me of interesting work I'll want to read but that hadn't yet come to my attention. (Among other things, this year, is a biography of Audre Lorde by Gloria Joseph.) You can find the full slate here: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/14/29th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists-announced/

And here are finalists in the sf/f/h category:



LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror
- See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/14/29th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists-announced/#sthash.6s24VfpA.dpuf
LGBTQ SF/F/Horror
LGBTQ Studies
- See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/14/29th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists-announced/#sthash.6s24VfpA.dpuf
LGBTQ SF/F/Horror
LGBTQ Studies
- See more at: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/14/29th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists-announced/#sthash.6s24VfpA.dpuf

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Christina M. Rau's Liberating the Astronauts


I'm pleased to announce the release of Christina M. Rau's Liberating the Astronauts, a collection of poetry, as the fifty-fifth volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, in both small trade paperback and e-book editions.

From the Pointer Sisters doing the Neutron Dance to David Bowman’s exclamation while traveling through the star gate near Jupiter; from stealing Joan Didion’s sadness to erasing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, this collection weaves its way through the awkward paradox of wanting freedom while fearing it. A little science, a bit of sci-fi, a little feminism, a bit of lit, in Liberating the Astronauts, we see that not fitting in gives us the freedom to stand out.

“Since the dawn of time, man has dreamed of visiting the stars and escaping 'the surly bonds of earth,'(*) and since the 1950s, space has been viewed as the final frontier to be explored by mankind. Christina M. Rau's new book is one of the most intriguing collections of poetry that investigates this instinctual call of discovery. She examines outer and inner space, with poems that tap into science as depicted through fact, fiction, and fantasy. Actual events and those of literature are used as her influences. As a true poet she explores space on multiple levels, the intricate complexities and simple realities of the cosmic bodies both personal and universal, that evoke thought and emotional response. Ms. Rau takes the reader for a ride of adventure and discovery so if you are so inclined, cut the cord and read Liberating the Astronauts.”
 ——Peter V. Dugan, author of Medusa’sOverbite and Eulogies for Dreams ________________________________
(*)The High Flight by John Magee


You can purchase copies now from Aqueduct Press

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.