Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Forkpoints: Stories of Decisions Made and Roads Not Taken by Sheila Finch


 

 I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct Press's release of Forkpoints: Stories of Decisions Made and Roads Not Taken by Sheila Finch in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase it now from Aqueduct Press at www.aqueductpress.com.  

One of our imperatives as humans is to communicate–with others, with animals, and eventually with aliens. Here, in Forkpoints, you will find stories of unlikely people–scientists and street people, athletes and musicians, the very old and the arrogant teen–meeting and connecting with others not like them at all. Another major interest of Finch’s is what Robert Frost called “the road not taken,” that haunting sense we all have from time to time that maybe there were other paths we should have explored, other doorways we should have passed through, forkpoints where our choices changed our lives forever. Science Fiction shows us many fantastic inventions that may come in the future, other worlds, other beings. But, even then, people will still be people, loving, making families, worrying about trifles, dealing with crises, making life-changing decisions as best they can.

Advance Praise

“Good reading for our hard times. These are stories of opportunities unseen, glimpsed, suddenly brought into focus—maybe to slip away, or be refused, or maybe just delayed. There’s a gentleness to them, a melancholy, that sets off the glints of new possibilities and hope. The last story gives us a child’s-eye view of the Blitz so clear and detailed—readers who loved Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight should have a look here.”
 —Suzy McKee Charnas, author of The Holdfast Chronicles and The Vampire Tapestry

“Sheila Finch is one of the treasures of modern science fiction. She’s literate, imaginative, and deeply insightful. Her contributions to the field include not only specific, awesomely good works, but her careful attention to how language shapes story structure and flow. Her short fiction works are like polished gemstones, with each facet reflecting and informing the central theme. Here is a collection of such jewels, each speaking to the profound transformative power of human understanding. We are more than our circumstances, these stories say, we have the ability to shift our perspective, to look and feel more deeply, and thereby to shift entire realities. From an elderly music teacher who could also have been an iconic physicist to an extraordinary communication across species to a time-traveler visiting his own ancestor during the World War II London bombings, each tale reaches deep into the mind of the reader, inviting us with Finch’s characteristically gentle wisdom to see the universe and ourselves in a revolutionary light.”
 —Deborah Ross, author of Collaborators and The Seven-Petaled Shield fantasy series

Reviews

Nebula Award winner Finch (Reading the Bones) delivers an impressive, career-spanning collection celebrating the power a single decision holds to change the shape of the world. Some of the 12 stories focus in on those pivotal moments; the gripping “Not This Tide” leaps between the inexplicable supernatural experiences of a girl and her father in WWII England, and the year 2035, in which the now-elderly woman is a renowned world peace activist. Others place the fateful decision in the background and chart the consequences, like the wistful “The Old Man and C,” which imagines a world where Albert Einstein followed his talent for violin instead of physics. Fans of Finch’s Xenolinguist stories will enjoy encountering the author at her lyrical best in “Sequoia Dreams,” about alien visitors who have a profound ecological message to convey, and “Czerny at Midnight,” in which a marine biologist’s autistic son communicates with an octopus through music. Though pieces like “Forkpoints” and “Where Two or Three” are weakened by plentiful hints that there are better stories happening in the background, this collection as a whole is delightfully cohesive and thought-provoking. It’s a showcase of a legend at her finest.  
  —Publishers Weekly, April 2022

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Memories of Tomorrow by Mayi Pelot


 

 

I'm pleased to announce the publication of Memories of Tomorrow by Mayi Pelot, translated from the Basque by Arrate Hidalgo,* as a volume in Aqueduct Press's Heirloom Books series. Aqueduct is releasing it in both trade paperback and e-book editions. It's available now at www.aqueductpress.com.

 Memories of Tomorrow collects a set of vibrant and enigmatic visions that emanated from one of the most creative minds of contemporary Basque literature. Often unnoticed by the established canon, Mayi Pelot has been uncovered and championed in recent years as one of the first genre authors in the language. Her publications, despite their brief span—from 1982 to 1992—undeniably laid the groundwork for future generations of Basque science fiction writers.

This collection, the first book published by Mayi Pelot, includes six stories that take place in the same galaxy but at different times. Touching on subgenres such as social speculative fiction, the techno-thriller, and space opera, Memories of Tomorrow is, in essence, a poignant political commentary on the oppressive systems that rule our world and their practices of othering, neocolonialism, gentrification, and massive exploitation of natural resources. Pelot often focuses her lens on those questioning and resisting the actions of the powerful and points to the relationship with nature and one another as a healthy, sustainable alternative to our current world structure. 

 Read a sample from the book.

 The five sci-fi shorts and one novella in this impressive collection from Pelot (1947–2016) explore the aftermath of a third world war. The flash fiction opener, “Miren,” showcases Pelot’s ability to make a visceral emotional impact in only two pages. “Row, row,” about a girl named Leyre attending a lesson on the futuristic Anti-Pollution Wall, builds on that first story in a devastating way, exploring the interconnectivity of individual trauma. The emotionally authentic “Feedback” follows a Muslim man living in 2039. The standout is novella “The Exchange,” in which an unfaithful man named Wotan pursues the mysterious being Erda, who lives beneath the planet Daleth. The tale is lush and immersive in its illustrative descriptions of other worlds and other beings, and contains the most beautiful prose of the entire collection. Hidalgo’s introduction, which provides fascinating context for Basque science fiction, lauds Pelot as an “innovator,” and these six works prove her worthy of this praise. Readers will be delighted to dive in to Pelot’s oeuvre.--Publishers Weekly

_______

*The translation was made possible by a grant from the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

We've Been Here Before by Anne Carly Abad


 

 

I'm pleased to announce the release of We've Been Here Before,  a collection of poetry by Anne Carly Abad, as a volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. It's now available in both print and e-book editions at www.aqueductpress.com.

Read a sample from the book.

In the spaces between dreams and reality, the strange and the familiar intersect. As if walking into different pockets of existence, each poem is a world of its own, but with beings who experience joy and pain the same ways we do. Suddenly, there is this undeniable sense—of being able to cross the liquid boundary between the self and the Other.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2021, part 29: Eileen Gunn


 

The Pleasures of Picture Books
by
Eileen Gunn 


 The artist Jerry Pinkney, whose work I’ve admired for more than half a century, illustrated over a hundred books, mostly large-format, beautifully printed picture-books for youngsters. Over the years, I’ve bought, for deserving children, a small stack of these very thin books, but I’ve bought none for myself. I now have a basket-ball team’s worth of grand-nieces and -nephews, so I’ve been indulging my fondness for giant Pinkney picture-books, because, after all, they’re presents for the kids, right? Until the beginning of the pandemic, I would go to the children’s section of the University of Washington Book Store and buy pretty much whatever Jerry Pinkney books they had. In isolation, I started buying the books online, at first delivering them in person, and then, due to the onset of virus variants, holding them for later delivery. They’re big, beautiful books, and of course I couldn’t resist taking a little read. What harm could that do? Eye-tracks are invisible, I thought.

 Well, reader, it was a mistake. I’ve had a hard time giving these books up. I did give my six-year-old niece Jerry Pinkney’s recent retelling of The Little Mermaid, in which the mermaid child befriends a human girl and pines not for a handsome prince.  But I had also bought, as a companion volume, Strange Animals of the Sea, a pop-up book that Mr. Pinkney did in 1987, the heyday of pop-ups. The book is no longer in print, so it’s used. (All the pop-ups work!) I am sorry to tell you that I have delayed giving my niece that book, telling myself that pop-ups are fragile, is she old enough, blah, blah, blah. Reader, wtf? Pop-ups are the most glorious kids’ books in the world, and this Pinkney pop-up book is ideal for a six-year-old. This could be the book that inspires her to become an oceanographer like her grandfather. In fifteen-twenty years, she could be the woman who saves the oceans.

 


 Okay, reader, you’ve convinced me. I must give this funny, intelligent, careful child that book. I will order another copy of Strange Animals of the Sea for myself. (PS: I have just done so.)

 

One of the hallmarks of Mr. Pinkney’s work is the way color dominates. He uses watercolor, which  you might think of as a meepish medium, all washes and seascapes. Not in Jerry Pinkney’s hands. He builds up layers of color to convey depth and texture, and to place fine details in art that can be startlingly realistic. (Moray eels! Octopuses! Huge, open-mouthed goosefish!) The most wonderful thing about watercolor, of course, is its transparency, its ability to allow light to hit the bright white paper underneath the paint and bounce back out. If the pigment is thinly laid, this can light up the colors like gemstones. In addition, watercolor has the ability, when allowed to flow at its own direction, to offer the artist serendipity and inspiration. Jerry Pinkney has worked in watercolor all his professional life: he understands it so well, and deploys it so creatively, that much of his work just fills me with awe.

 Mr. Pinkney’s métier is fine traditional portraiture of people, animals, and animal-people, in detailed settings, in pencil and watercolor. He blocks out the overall design in pencil, and uses pencil or graphite to delineate details that express character and humor. The people and animals he draws are surprisingly real individuals, because he uses live models to set up the scenes. The illustrations often include details that enhance or expand the story, and they reward the reader who spends time exploring them.

 


My favorite Jerry Pinkney work is a set of four books, The Tales of Uncle Remus, retold by the estimable Julius Lester in a conversational voice much one like he’d use telling stories to his grandchildren––say, about the time Br’er Rabbit got caught in a snare trap.

“Good morning, Br’er Bear,” he sang out, merry as Santa Claus.

Br’er Bear looked all around.

“Up here!”

Br’er Bear looked up and saw Br’er Rabbit hanging upside down. “Br’er Rabbit. How you do this morning?”

“Just fine, Br’er Bear. Couldn’t be better.”

“Don’t look like it to me. What you doing up there?”

“Making a dollar a minute,” said Br’er Rabbit.

Mr. Lester’s lively retelling releases the stories from the clutch of Disney and the condescension of dialect spelling. These tales were created by Black storytellers to amuse Black people, and the drawings reflect the lives of country people in wonderfully surrealistic ways: Farmer Rabbit and his wife milking a cow, for instance, or Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox, fully dressed, walking upright past a small scampering rabbit chased by an appropriately sized fox. Pinkney draws Br’er Rabbit and his friends as actual animals, not cartoons, and dresses them in realistic period dress, wearing vests and trousers, skirts and sweaters, kerchiefs and beat-up hats, clothing appropriate to the time and place and people the stories came from. Pinkney himself posed for photos wearing period costume, then drew illustrations from the photos. It would not be amiss to call the books profusely illustrated, with three complex full-color spreads and dozens of black and white pencil drawings in each volume. The dust jackets are wrap-around, full-color works of art: they would make wonderful murals. Ideally, this series should have been published in the same format as the picture books, instead of as a small trade hardcover. That would make a nice project for a billionaire who loves fantasy….

 


For the first half of his career, Mr. Pinkney illustrated stories that someone else was telling. Somewhere in the 1990s, though, he started telling the stories himself in his books, using few words and conveying the story almost entirely in pictures. This is very much like what he was already doing: he has often said that he saw his job as an illustrator to include adding something to the picture that wasn’t in the writing. In The Lion & the Mouse, a magnificent visual retelling of the Aesop fable about power and reciprocity, the art rules so completely that the book has dispensed with words entirely: even the dust jacket has no title or credit on the front, just on the spine. The lion, yellow and fierce, fully occupies his pages, and leafing through them is like walking in the African sun. The mouse is small and modest, but boldly seizes her share of the book, and her transition from victim to savior is accomplished without a word, just a squeak. This is a book that begs to be read out loud to a small child, and yet there are no words, just sounds. How can it be read? Just open it up: the book silently persuades you to tell the story yourself, in your own words, pointing out to your listeners all the wit in the illustrations––which, of course, is the most fun way to read books to kids. A few more of Mr. Pinkney’s books––The Grasshopper and the Ants, The Tortoise and the Hare, some of the fables––also have very little text, and detailed, hilarious illustrations. Puss in Boots has a few more words, but features the most adorable silver tabby shorthair wearing boots in all of children’s literature, and that’s a highly competitive genre niche.

 Although much of Mr. Pinckney’s work is glorious picture-books for children, he has illustrated a few classic adult novels as well. In the Seventies and Eighties, he illustrated a series of reprints of modernist literary novels for the Franklin Library, including Updike’s Rabbit, Run,  and Nabokov’s Lolita. (The drawings for Lolita are very charming Pinkney-esque pencil drawings with spot color, and perfectly SFW.) In 1991, he created ten delicate and evocative pencil-and-wash works for a new edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s masterwork Their Eyes Were Watching God.  


 

Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations have commanded attention since the very first book he illustrated, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales, published in 1964, when he was just 25. A  book for young children, this early work is design-driven, with swaths of bright color and bold detail, with the design itself carrying much of the emotional weight. He was awarded a Gold Medal at the 1964 Boston Art Directors Club, I believe for the Spider illustrations, which encouraged him to become a full-time illustrator, rather than a designer, which was potentially a far more lucrative career. His continued interest in design, as he developed his personal artistic style, means that his illustrations dominate the pages in a very sophisticated way: they are interesting on both the large scale of design and the more intimate scale of illustration. His work is readily recognizable as his, and I’ve often been surprised to find it in publications far outside children’s literature.

 Re-reading Mr. Pinkney’s work has been a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, and maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed revisiting it so much. He first came to my attention in the mid-1960s, when he was just starting to receive awards for his work. I was working part-time for my father in his Boston graphic design studio, which handled a lot of illustration then. It was a transitional time in commercial art: photography was displacing illustration, and it was getting harder for illustrators to make a living. Mr. Pinkney chose to work in traditional illustration at a time when the market for it was declining. Working in both commercial art and book illustration, he managed to make a living at it and support a growing family, and he continued to create both personal and artistic challenges for himself. He was a Black man, and he made a point of illustrating books of African tales or by African-American writers. He actively addressed Black issues and portrayed Black adults and children in much of his work, at a time when the white publishing industry considered that a very risky venture, especially in children’s books. There was a time, and it lasted into the twenty-first century, when it was a surprise to see Black characters in books telling European fairy tales. Inclusive kids’ books, like Sesame Street, featured animal characters because it was assumed (and probably a fact) that while readers were reluctant to buy kids’ books with Black protagonists, they were happy to buy books that featured talking animals. (And Mr. Pinkney, as I’ve said, can draw a very convincing community of talking animals.) Jerry Pinkney not only drew Little Red Riding Hood as a Black child, he marketed that book and many others to mainstream white audiences and became one of the most celebrated illustrators of children’s literature of the last fifty years. His most recent book, The Welcome Chair, was published in 2021, shortly before he passed away in October at the age of 81. There is a rewarding exhibit at the Normal Rockwell Museum, Jerry Pinkney: Imaginings, that offers a marvelous tour of his illustrations, including videos of Mr. Pinkney talking about his work and explaining his creative process.

 


I’m grateful to my nieces, and to their kids, for helping me stay in touch with Jerry Pinkney and his work over all these years, and to Ambling Along the Aqueduct for the chance to wallow in nostalgia and buy all these lovely books for myself.  Yes, I’ve stopped hoarding the copies I bought for the kids. At least thirty of the hundred-plus titles Mr. Pinkney illustrated are still in print, and can be ordered from bookstores. More than fifty are available used or new, and you can find them in pretty much every public library. Check ’em out.

 *

Note: The links I’ve provided above were chosen because they show off the books well and may allow you to explore the interiors. I’m not necessarily endorsing the sellers.

 


Eileen Gunn is the author of two story collections: Stable Strategies and Others (Tachyon Publications, 2004 and Hayakawa, 2007) and Questionable Practices (Small Beer Press, 2014). Her fiction has received the Nebula Award in the US and the Sense of Gender Award in Japan, and been nominated for the Hugo, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy awards and short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. award. Her non-fiction has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Locus, Paradoxa, Science Fiction Eye, the New York Review of Science Fiction, and other magazines covering science fiction, technology, and culture. She is the author of The Difference Dictionary, a guide to and analysis of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel The Difference Engine. Gunn serves on the board of directors of the Locus Foundation, which publishes the genre newsmagazine Locus, and served for 22 years on the board of directors of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. After leaving the board, Gunn has served as instructor at Clarion West. 

 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Can't Find My Way Home by Gwynne Garfinkle


 

 I'm pleased to announce the release of Can't Find My Way Home, the debut novel by Gwynne Garfinkle, in both print and e-book editions. It's available now from www.aqueductpress.com and other venues. 

Young actress Joanna Bergman has been guilt-ridden for four years. Her best friend Cynthia Foster died in a firebombing meant to protest a New York draft board near their college in 1971. Jo was supposed to accompany the charismatic Cyn on the night of the bombing but backed out at the last minute. Jo’s new life is complicated enough: she’s falling for her soap opera costar, the philandering Martin Yates, and trying to regain the sense of connection she lost when Cyn died. But then Cyn’s ghost appears, furious with Jo for bailing on her that fateful night and, worse, for going on living without her. As Jo tries to figure out what her friend’s ghost wants from her, she is hurled again and again back to the night of Cyn’s death. 

 Read a sample from the book.

 

Advance Praise

"Garfinkle catches exactly the passionate and reckless moods of the anti-Vietnam War movement among young people in those years, the deadly naiveté, delight in rebellion, and idealistic misunderstanding of where events just had to go from there…. Writing a really good ghost story is a lot harder than it looks. But Garfinkle pulls it off with élan and produces a wonderful story about lives unlived, for one reason or another, shifting perspectives, what (if anything) we owe our dead, and how we reflect each other, hold each other back, and provide the take-off for others’ sprints into maturity."
 —Suzy McKee Charnas, author of The Vampire Tapestry and The Holdfast Chronicles

"All of us have questions and regrets about things we’ve done, but Jo Bergman is literally haunted by her past. This remarkable novel kept me on tenterhooks as I watched Jo seesaw among the different lives she would have experienced had she made different decisions. Gwynne Garfinkle has nailed both the fraught nature of the 1960s and early 70s and the difficult path of a woman struggling to be her whole self despite the ghosts of her past and the challenges of her present."  — Nancy Jane Moore, author of For the Good of the Realm and The Weave

"Here is a book that took me back in the same way a ghost of her past takes Joanna back, again and again. Gwynne Garfinkle’s ghost story realistically recreates a traumatic moment in America’s past. I was more than impressed with the realism of a period that I personally lived through. Garfinkle asks the reader what would happen if you could go to a pivotal moment in your past and relive it, searching for a different outcome? Would you, could you? In the end would it make it any better? Garfinkle’s deft prose takes you on this journey with suspense and gentleness, tackling both regret and hope with equal sincerity. This book lives not only in the softer side of the horror genre, but as a work that instructs us to confront our own choices and how they irrevocably impact others. If you want a thoughtful and intriguing journey, buy this book."  —Beth Plutchak, author of Liminal Spaces

 

Reviews

"Garfinkle (People Change) delivers a fascinating, disorienting ghost story set in the 1970s. Actor Joanna Bergman has carried shame and remorse over her friend Cynthia Foster’s death since it happened four years ago. As protestors against the Vietnam War, the duo would have done anything to stop the bloodshed—but when Cynthia and Joanna plotted to blow up a New York City draft board, Joanna backed out at the last minute. Her hesitance spared her life, and Cynthia died in the explosion. Now, the war is over, and Joanna has her first stable acting gig on the daytime soap Hope Springs Eternal and is developing feelings for her costar, Martin Yates. She’s guiltily moving on with her life, until Cynthia’s angry ghost appears to her and forces Joanna to relive that fateful night, turning over alternate choices she could have made and how things might have gone differently. The tale moves swiftly between reality and the paranormal, successfully making the reader question if Cynthia’s ghost is just a projection of Jo’s psyche or something more concrete. Fans of counterculture narratives and ghost stories will want to take a look."   —Publishers Weekly, 09/13/2021

 

"I am a total sucker for explorations of mid-twentieth century women’s work lives and choices, and I don’t mind a bit if the speculative element of something takes awhile to unfold, so I was absolutely the target audience for this book. Jo’s soap opera work was not something I’d really thought about before, but Garfinkle clearly did her research into the details of that field and treats it with respect but not reverence–just the right balance. Jo’s reconsideration of what was needed, what was useful, what was right, in regards to her past activism is well-situated in the ’70s–she is close enough to our own attitudes to be engaging but not unduly contemporary, and some of the questions she grapples with are still of interest today. This one is frankly feminist and takes its time with some very worthwhile questions, and it allows its humans to be human rather than insisting on Good Guys and Bad Guys. I’m so glad I got this copy."--Marissa Lingen, Novel Gazing Redux  (read the whole review here)

 

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2021, pt. 28: Arrate Hidalgo


 

My Mother's Year in Books
by Arrate Hidalgo


This is not my year in books, but my mother’s. And it covers not only 2021, but also 2020. Why? Because these past two years have seen a radical change in my mother’s reading habits. And if there wasn’t already enough to blame on the pandemic, this is too.

Ever since I became absorbed by fantasy and science fiction in my early teens (the former came some years before the latter), and especially as I turned twenty and discovered feminist genre fiction, my mother has regularly asked me if I would ever read anything “real” again. Anything “without aliens and robots in it.” Down-to-earth fiction. I suspect that she thought, as Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out years before, that fantasy was useless, that it would teach me nothing worth keeping in my head if I was ever to get a job. It so happens that it has allowed me to find work in my own way, but that’s another story. Back then, as now, I read sff because I love it.

She didn’t. Or she thought she didn’t. Fast forward to 2020, my parents and I, fortunately healthy, confined together in the first wave of Covid that hit Spain. My mother is running out of stuff to read. My childhood room is full of it, since this is where most of my books live (as I’m moving places all the time due to the current housing market). She comes in casually, wondering what I’m up to. And she starts pointing at books and asking me about them. They’re science fiction books.

I guess, come to think of it, she had read some sff before, but since it was translated by me she probably thought it didn’t count. Ha! It does. “New mother” by Eugene Fischer and “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon, both published in my translation in book format by Spanish press Cerbero, are two excellent ways to be lured into the genre.

The first sff book I can remember giving her was Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I thought it would be a safe bet. When I picked it up I did not put it down until I finished it. And time travel in this novel was an excuse for Butler to tell a story that otherwise did away with science fictional tropes. I was right. She also was glued to it and gave it back the day after.



I normally give my mother books to read by piles, though. She goes through them at a speed I definitely did not inherit. Anyway, next came the first sff pile I gave her: anthologies of Spanish genre authors, thinking she would appreciate the variety and short format. One was Distópicas y poshumanas, a two-volume anthology of science fiction written by Spanish women covering from the 19th century to the present day. Edited by experts Teresa López Pellisa and Lola Robles (herself an Aqueductian), and published twice in two years by different presses, it features authors known to the mainstream as classics beyond speculative writing, such as Emilia Pardo Bazán and Ángeles Vicente, who wrote Zezé, the first novel written in Spanish featuring a lesbian protagonist. The rest of the pile were volumes of the Alucinadas series, which was created in 2014 by Cristina Macía and Cristina Jurado and collects contemporary science fiction by Spanish and Latin American women. Five volumes exist to date, and especially the first two marked a milestone in the visibility of women genre authors writing in Spanish. It certainly opened up an entire world to me back when the first volume was published. A lot has changed for the better in the eight years (already!) that have passed since, and it is to be celebrated that such anthologies are no longer as necessary as before.



Next came the pile of novels written by authors that were featured in those anthologies and were therefore known to her: Uno by Nieves Delgado, La moderna Atenea by Conchi Regueiro, El informe Monteverde by Lola Robles (trans. by Lawrence Schimel as Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist for Aqueduct), and Consecuencias naturales by Elia Barceló, all of which are science fiction. Uno explores Delgado’s always favored subject of artificial intelligence, intersected by gender identity; La moderna Atenea is a partially epistolary novel, representative of Regueiro’s seamless blending of costumbrist and speculative fiction; Monteverde echoes Le Guin’s anthropological vein in a linguistic science fiction story that challenges preconceptions on disability; and Consecuencias naturales is a sharp critique and total inversion of the male hero as conqueror of space.




My mother loved them all. At this point she was already coming to terms with the fact that aliens and robots were compatible with good literature. Since then she has read more Butler, Ken Liu’s selection and translation of Chinese sf titled Planetas invisibles, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, and Le Guin’s “The Wild Girls.” But the rest of my Le Guin books are in English, so I’m planning to get her a bunch more, as well as Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. Its Spanish translation, after spending many years out of print, has been recently published again– a direct result of the work done by feminist fandom collectives such as the website La nave invisible.



Speaking of out-of-print, the last book I’ve given her was Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. “Quite timely,” she commented. And how not to agree. In this Christmas-time time-travel story set in a future pandemic-ridden world, Dunworthy, the Oxford historian worried about the pupil they have sent to the Middle Ages in the middle of a new virus outbreak, comes across a flyer:

“In boldface type it said: ‘FIGHT INFLUENZA, VOTE TO SECEDE FROM THE EC.’ Underneath was a paragraph: ‘Why will you be separated from your loved ones this Christmas? Why are you forced to stay in Oxford? Why are you in danger of getting ill and dying? Because the EC allows infected foreigners to enter England, and England doesn’t have a thing to say about it. An Indian immigrant carrying a deadly virus–’ Dunworthy didn’t read the rest. He turned it over. It read, ‘A Vote for Secession is a Vote for Health. Committee for an Independent Great Britain.”

I remember perfectly well pro-Brexit party UKIP’s lies about the NHS being under pressure by refugees taking all the healthcare away from the British. The one thing Willis didn’t get right was how soon the “secession” would actually happen.

At this point I’ve stopped worrying about what to give my mother to read, whether it will be too much, too imaginative. “They’re just so imaginative” is the one thing she always says after every read. Apparently that isn’t a problem anymore.

 


 

Among other things,  Arrate Hidalgo is Associate Editor at Aqueduct Press. She is also an English to Spanish translator, an founder and organizer of a feminist sf con, and an amateur singer. Visit her website at arratehidalgo.com. Her translation of the Basque science fiction classic, Memories of Tomorrow, by Mayi Pelot, is forthcoming from Aqueduct Press in spring 2022 as a volume in Aqueduct's Heirloom Book series.

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2021, part 27: Lesley A. Hall

 

 


Pleasures of Reading, etc 2021

by Lesley A Hall

Another year when there were many things I would have liked to read, but did not find myself in the right mood for, alas.

Much of my reading was retrospective. I was delighted to see that Kennedy and Boyd are republishing Naomi Mitchison’s long unavailable wonderful work of Arthuriana, To the Chapel Perilous (1955). This led me to dig out my copy of the 1999 Green Knight paperback and re-read it: such a wonderful layered work about narrative, and the very varied strands that got woven into the Arthurian mythos, and who tells and controls the story. I was hopeful that by this time of year I would be able to announce the publication of an edited volume of essays on Mitchison from Edinburgh University Press, who is at last receiving some of the attention which is her due, but this is, like so many other projects, subject to the delays of the present circumstances.

 


Given my interest in early-to-mid-twentieth century British women’s fiction, I have been particularly grateful for the endeavors of the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press. My own particular gratitude was for the publication of previously very hard to obtain early works by Margery Sharp, a writer who, like so many of her contemporaries, had a surprising sly subversiveness. I am also pleased to see that they are putting into circulation some of the under-appreciated non-Cold Comfort Farm novels of Stella Gibbons (which I aforetimes spent a good deal of time and effort acquiring secondhand). The Bello imprint of Pan Macmillan, while not exclusively focusing on neglected women writers, has very welcomely brought back into print, at least digitally, the early works of Noel Streatfeild, before she became a prolific writer for children, which were formerly pretty much impossible to get hold of.


 

The recuperation of women’s literary traditions by the rise of feminist publishers in the 1970s is beginning to be documented: the most notable and enduring, Virago, has been receiving particular attention – Catherine Riley, The Virago Story: Assessing the Impact of a Feminist Publishing Phenomenon (2018), D-M Withers, Virago Reprints and Modern Classics: The Timely Business of Feminist Publishing (2021) and Lennie Goodings, A Bite of the Apple: Behind the Scenes at Virago Press (2020). While of interest, these somehow felt liked materials toward the full story yet to be told. There was also very much the sense of an unexplored wider ecology of feminist publishing and bookselling still awaiting historians. (I was going to mention Persephone’s handsome reprint of Amber Reeves’ 1914 A Lady and Her Husband as one of a number of women newly affronting their destinies in mid or late life narratives that I enjoyed this year, but checking up, discover I read it late in 2020.) 


 

I was also excited to encounter a couple of studies of women writers of the early 1960s who were part of the background of my coming of age: Celia Brayfield, Rebel Writers: Seven Women Who Changed Their World (2019) and Anne Wellman, Angry Young Women: six writers of the sixties (2020). There was a good deal of overlap between the two, and some writers omitted whom I might have included. Though I may be influenced there by having twice in the course of the year been a ‘living archive’ giving oral history interviews and alluding to the impression made on me by certain works read in adolescence/young womanhood, which had very much impressed upon me the importance of reliable and readily available contraception.

In other reading, in a year in which hopes and plans for archival research were once again largely thwarted, I indulged myself by taking out an annual subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, rather than just ante-ing up on such occasions as I had specific need to look something up. This has been an entire boon and I have gone swirling down several research rabbit-holes, which I hope will result, if not in polished scholarly articles, at least in an occasional entertaining blog-post or two.

 

 

Lesley Hall was born in the seaside resort and channel port of Folkestone, Kent, and now lives in north London. She recently retired from a career as an archivist of over 40 years. She has published several books and numerous articles on issues of gender and sexuality in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, and is currently researching British interwar progressive movements and individuals. She has also published a volume in the Aqueduct Press Conversation Pieces series, Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of her Life and Work (2007). She has been reading science fiction and fantasy since childhood and cannot remember a time when she was not a feminist. Her reviews have appeared in Strange Horizons, Vector, and Foundation, and she has been a judge for the Tiptree and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. She has had short stories published in The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women (1996) and The Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women (1995) and, most recently, is the author of the series The Comfortable Courtesan: being memoirs by Clorinda Cathcart and Clorinda Cathcart's Circle: https://www.clorinda.org. Visit Lesley's website.

 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2021, part 26: Cynthia Ward


 

 

2021 in Review:  The Fun Continues
by Cynthia Ward

 

It's not 2020 anymore.  So there's that.

 


New Spirit Has Arrived (Music)

 Arrival by ABBA - Unpausing their forty-year hiatus to record a new album, the dominant pop band of the Seventies delivers, with seeming effortlessness, classic ABBA with a more recent lyrical sophistication.  My favorite track, with lead vocals by Frida/Anni-Frid Lyngstad (my favorite singer of the four), is "I Still Have Faith in You" (a Grammy nominee, I've learned at press time).

 Monkey Business by the Black-Eyed Peas - Now I know what all the fuss is about with this group; excellent and wide-ranging, complex and imaginative.

 The Best of the Moody Blues - Gave this CD a whirl based on recognizing three titles; it turns out I've heard most of these songs by the proggish classic-rock group and I enjoy every one of the seventeen tracks.

 

Not That I'm a Seventies Survivor (Books)

Nonfiction:

 1973: Rock at the Crossroads by Andrew Grant Jackson - This absorbing and fairly hefty tome makes a heroic effort to cover Western popular music (not just rock) in this pivotal year, but the book is ultimately too light on discussion of African-American music, and it comes up significantly short on the subject of women singers and musicians, who, while not as numerous as the male artists, had a much bigger influence on popular music than acknowledged here (on the plus side, gay/bi/lesbian/genderbent aspects of Pop '73 get rather more coverage, including mention of the debut of the musical stage production The Rocky Horror Show, which became a far more famous movie under a longer title in 1975.)


Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison - A fascinating, feminist, though not up-to-the-minute book on the history and development of fanfiction - a subject so vast and complex, the text occasionally sags under the burden; wisely, the author invited others to contribute sections or chapters (although this shouldn't be viewed as an anthology).

 Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter by Randy Schmidt - You figure someone who died at 31 of anorexia had a few issues, but it turns out the brilliant drummer/singer had a tremendously toxic family, with bonus helpings of rotten luck.

 Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock - This memoir by the Black/Native Hawaiian trans activist and Pose scripter/director/executive producer is very candid and moving (and it provides much food for thought for those of us in cis/white/straight and other positions of privilege).

 The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock by David Weigel - This history/culture book proved a useful and entertaining overview for this neophyte, although a prog-head friend assures me it's a problematic resource, so proceed with caution.

 Underworld: How to Survive and Thrive in the American Mafia: A Self-Help Book by Roman Martín - A nonlinear overview of American gangsters in the guise of a self-improvement guide, this book is funny and vulgar as hell (and if you are struggling to define "toxic masculinity," look no further!).

 Why Karen Carpenter Matters by Karen Tongson - Not an easy book to categorize:  part biography, part memoir, part history, and part musical criticism of the gifted, ultimately enigmatic tomboy/vocalist/musician.  The author's mother was a Filipina singer often compared to Carpenter, after whom she named her daughter, a choice which affected the author's search for her identity as a young, brown, butch, lesbian immigrant/singer/musician.

  

Fiction:

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera - In this contemporary MM romance (first in a series), a Dominican-American New York cook takes his Afro-Caribbean food truck upstate to Ithaca where, with enough hustle, he can make his dreams come true...if he can just stop getting distracted by the lovely local librarian.



 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz - The characters in Adriana Herrera's novel Finding Joy were such big fans of this years-spanning, romantic, #OwnVoices MM YA novel, I had to read it; and I discovered an exceptionally wise, graceful, and riveting work.

 Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin - An enjoyable, sweet #OwnVoices romance about an opposite-attracts/mistaken-identity MF couple who belong to the Indo-Canadian Muslim community of Toronto.

 Better Than People by Roan Parrish - Like The Remaking of Corbin Wale (to which it is connected), this contemporary MM romance is lyrical, nuanced, and deeply empathic as a relationship develops between wounded artists who prefer the company of animals to that of their fellow humans (and who doesn't, these days?).

 Black Water Sister by Zen Cho - Unwillingly relocated to her parents' homeland, a closeted young American woman finds her inner (and outer) strength as she becomes increasingly entangled with Malaysian gods and gangsters and Malaysian-Chinese relatives, particularly her dead, delightful grandmother. Beautifully written, quietly impressive - a far better novel than I've made it sound.

Charm of Magpies/Magpie World series by K.J. Charles - An excellent dark, intense, erotic Victorian historical fantasy series (actually, more than one series; click here for the overall reading order).

 The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo - This novel may be described (with a fair amount of oversimplification) as a queer, POC, female-PoV, dark-fantasy retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which many name the Great American Novel; Vo's novel mostly holds its own against the inevitable comparisons. Impressive.
 

Conventionally Yours: True Colors Book 1 by Annabeth Albert - A classic enemies-to-lovers romance (in which two YouTube gaming stars must hit the road together in pursuit of a gaming championship which both young men desperately need to win - but only one can), from an author clearly conversant with and respectful of convention, fan, and nerd cultures.

 Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye - In this sweet, #OwnVoices, interracial MM YA romance, the soccer star sees no appeal in high school dating, but agrees to date the first person who asks him out at school on Monday, every Monday--and he wins the dare every week, until another boy asks him out....

 Detransition, Baby: A Novel by Torrey Peters - I've joked that the worse a book is, the easier it is to describe, and the better it is, the harder...I have almost no idea how to describe this book, other than brilliant and complex and biting without meanness or satire (although, okay, I don't like the ending, which ducks the resolution of a central issue).

 Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto - This MF crime/rom-com novel, centered on a Chinese-Indonesian family supportive enough to help the daughter/niece hide a body(!), is one of the funniest books I've ever read (although it's not a dream book-date for someone with a low tolerance of frustration, because that is what powers much of the humor).

 The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune - A very fun romantic (MM) YA novel about a neurodiverse gay teen and his closest friends in high school (another gay boy and a lesbian couple), who share their city, and perhaps more, with a superhero and supervillian.


 

 Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - To cope with her anxiety, the titular college freshman writes fan fiction set in the YA "Simon Snow" universe (think Harry Potter with vampires), while her own creator provides her with a nonstandard, believable love interest and several unexpected turns of plot.

 Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender - In this beautifully written, nuanced, and thoughtful YA novel, the titular character, a young black gay trans artist cruelly pranked with his pre-transition identity at an elite NYC school, catfishes his suspected tormentor, with complicated results for many.

 Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera - This 2021 Lambda Award finalist is not only a lovely MM romance between aid workers (an Ethiopian-born Dominican-American and an Ethiopian-born Ethiopian), but a lyrical love letter to its setting.

 For the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane Moore - This fun adventure novel blends fantasy, para-historical fiction, romance, and female musketeers in a diverse and fairly egalitarian nation; the climax and conclusion delightfully jettison certain kinds of expectations.

 The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles - The villains are a bit too much of a pushover, but otherwise this standalone Regency MM caper romance is a fun, hot page-turner.

 Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir - A far-future, queer, Gormenghastly space-palace adventure (probably influenced by anime, and definitely centered around a locked-room mystery that might have impressed Agatha Christie), this first novel cranks the typically twisted relationships of gothic fiction up to eleven (however, this not a romance, despite some claims to the contrary, and I wouldn't call the ending happy).

 The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper - This romantic YA MM novel has many things going for it (NASA Mars mission, astronauts' kids, interracial romance, #OwnVoices), but it also has some significant problems, which might have been resolved by alternating the believable but grating white lead's viewpoint with the PoV of his love interest, a young black man with a complimentary (and far less vexing) set of personality traits.

 Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar - This recent (2021) YA #OwnVoices romance novel with complex identities offers a delightful, wise spin on the popular romance trope of the pretend relationship, while also dealing with serious issues like biphobia and parental abandonment (full TW/CNs listed in the book).

 Infernal Affairs by Jordan L. Hawk - If Hellish bureaucracy and a fluffy Hellhound aren't bad enough for a beleaguered crossroads devil, the soul on offer requires him to imbue superheroic goodness in a sinfully irresistible nonbinary mortal.

 Jasmin the Unexpected: A First Love Romance (Five Friends with Chai series) - The mega-rich white American male love interest felt a little too standard-issue, but the titular Punjabi-American artist?  Jasmin very much lives up to the title.

 The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang - In this #OwnVoices interracial contemporary MF romance, an autistic math whiz with an unhappy love life decides the issue is herself and, in search of self-improvement, hires a male escort, whereupon nothing goes the way they expect; it's a sensitive and funny novel, which had me by turns hot and crying (a unique experience in my book), and the romance cliché of a perfect match in bed is believable because it is so very hard won.


 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo - This romantic YA novel, centered on a Chinese-American, lesbian high-school student waking to her desires and the Red-Scare dangers for Asian-Americans, is set in 1950s San Francisco (particularly in the vividly realized Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods); it's a work so gracefully written, historically informed, and insightfully characterized, it lingers powerfully in the memory (and won the 2021 National Book Award for Young People's Literature).

 The Longest Night by EE Ottoman - This gentle MM trans historical romance novella is a perfect comfort read for the winter holiday season.

 The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett - It's only one of the best mystery/crime/noir novels ever written (the classic movie adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart is fairly faithful).

 Mangos and Mistletoe: A Foodie Holiday Novella by Adriana Herrera - In another of Herrera's fun food-themed contemporary romances (FF in this case), a pair of Dominican-American bakers paired on a reality-TV show generate all kinds of sparks--but too many of the wrong kind may immolate their relationship almost before it can begin.

 May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor - In this contemporary YA romance novel, a pair of ex-lovers - a high school football star and his former "girlfriend" (he thought), a star cheerleader/student government president/big jerk/trans boy - vie furiously for Ivy League college acceptances and the post of Homecoming King; the plot suffers from a few unbelievable gaps in character intelligence, but the sparks and great ending redeem the lapses.

 Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee - In this sweet YA rom-com with complex representation, a self-involved Florida trans boy transplanted to Colorado maintains a successful blog of made-up "real" romances, but finds the real thing complicated and unpredictable.

 Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole - This contemporary FF romance novella of star- (or app-) crossed lovers is well written and enjoyable and, for all its New York setting, has a bit of a Ruritanian vibe.


  

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov - Centering unreliable narration lets author write Ruritanian thriller that literature professors can allow themselves to like (okay, yes, it's also brilliant).

 Performance in a Leading Role by Mad_Lori - In this intriguing AU (alternative universe) BBC Sherlock fanfic novel, Holmes and Watson are a pair of diametrically opposed (and rather washed-up) actors who are cast against type to portray a gay couple, with surprises and repercussions for their private lives.

 A Pho Love Story by Loan Le - In this new (2021) YA MF romantic comedy, a pair of near-strangers attending an Orange County high school find themselves drawn to one another despite the bitter enmity between their families, who own rival Vietnamese restaurants.

 Point of Honour:  Sarah Tolerance Book 1 by Madeleine E. Robins - As always, I enjoyed re-reading this complex hard-boiled mystery, set in an alternate-history England in which Queen Charlotte is Regent and the titular agent of inquiry is a Fallen Woman with quick wits, a fiercely independent spirit, no time for bullshit, and a penchant for swashbuckling and cross-dressing.

 Proper English by KJ Charles - I don't particularly like to fly even when I don't need to worry about COVID-19, so I wanted something utterly absorbing to read while flying back from Maine; therefore, I re-read this romantic (FF) Edwardian English mystery novel, a whodunnit which might have earned a nod from Dame Agatha Christie herself.

 A Question of Identity by VolceVoice - A sweet MM "Johnlock" fanfic spun from the recent BBS series Sherlock, this novella offers (among other strengths) an amnesiac female murder witness-or-killer whose insights are a match for Holmes's and the exploration of a character (Watson) who is learning there is more to his sexuality than he thought.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers - The third novel in her Wayfarers series provides a broader perspective on her far future by focusing on several residents of the human Exodus fleet, while offering along the way a secular funeral ritual/practice that will resonate with many nonbelievers.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston - This contemporary interracial MM romance of secret sparks between a British prince and an American president's son won me over despite my antipathy to books about royals.

 Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao - In this delightful contemporary romance, a rather geeky Chinese-American college student pursues the premise of the title to gain distance from her pushy parents and their icky pick of a rich-boy fiancé (it's marketed as YA but closer to NA or adult, given the ages of the romantic leads).


 

 The Seep by Chana Porter - In this recent (2020) literary SF novel, an alien invasion ushers in utopia, and the middle-aged lesbian trans PoV character responds with a complex, skeptical, perhaps even curmudgeonly perspective which I found extremely congenial.

 The Spare by Miranda Dubner - What is in the water, that I despise royalty but enjoyed yet another romance about a gay prince and his love interest?

 Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith - In this sweet, #OwnVoices MM YA romance, viewpoints trade and sparks fly between the stealth trans boy who's a new student at a small-town Texas high school and the cis girl cheerleading star who also has a complicated relationship with the truth (CN/TW for suicidal ideation and transphobic violence).

 Unhallowed: Rath & Rune Book 1 by Jordan L. Hawk - The insular, sinister Massachusetts town of Widdershins takes a turn for the even darker (and more tentacled) in this sexy MM page-turner, a spinoff from Hawk's Whyborne & Griffin series.

 Unkissed by 221b_hound - In this BBC Sherlock fanfic series, which springboards from the fallout of the Reichenbach Falls "death year," an allosexual Watson and asexual (and possibly autistic) Holmes face physical and emotional stress and damage to develop one of the most sensitive, nuanced, thoughtful portrayals of a loving, complicated, respectful, egalitarian romantic and sexual relationship that I've ever seen.

 The Unspoken Name: The Serpent Gates Book 1 by A.K. Larkwood - This graceful, criminally under-regarded fantasy novel is far less predictable and more nuanced (and feminist) than descriptions like "girl sacrifice rescued by wizard becomes his assistant" would suggest; even the subgenre is hard to pin down (the scale spans worlds, but the cast is small, so not epic; a romance [FF] develops, but well into the plot, so not romantic fantasy; etc).


 

 A Useful Woman (A Rosalind Thorne Mystery Book 1) by Darcie Wilde (who writes SF as Sarah Zettel) - This fine Regency mystery novel is more in the Jane Austin than the Georgette Heyer mode, with rather more attention paid to character that the mystery norm (for example, characters are distinctly and believably upset when they find the requisite body).

 What Angels Fear: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C.S. Harris - This series-starter Regency novel features a white cishet male lead who was a little too standard-issue to hold my interest, but the mystery itself was a compelling puzzler (TW/CN: homophobia, murder/rape).

 When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo - An interesting tales-within-tales fantasy novella with an Eastern historical feel, this is Book 2 of The Singing Hills Cycle (oops! must look for Book 1), but it stands alone.

 White Houses: A Novel by Amy Bloom - The ending was undeniably lyrical, but did everyone have to suffer hundreds of pages of pre- and post-relationship misery to get there?  Given the descriptions promising a romantic novel about Eleanor Roosevelt and pioneering woman journalist Lorena "Hick" Hickok, I went in with the misguided notion that the novel would feature more than a few moments of their purported four years together.

 Widdershins/Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk - The trans author turns Innsmouth upside down, inside out, and highly queer in his essential dark romantic fantasy series (which is long and should be read in order).

 You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria - A fun, steamy contemporary MF romance about a pair of Latinx (Puerto Rican and Nuyorican/Filipina) actors who meet when they're cast as romantic leads for a sexy new "ScreenFlix" series; the chapters in which they're "in character" are quite an interesting and revealing touch.



 Cynthia Ward has published stories in Analog, Asimov's, Nightmare, Weird Tales, and other magazines and anthologies. For WolfSinger Publications, she edited the diversity-themed anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West Volumes 1-2. With fellow Aqueductista Nisi Shawl, Cynthia coauthored the Locus Award winning fiction-writing guide, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. Aqueduct Press recently released the concluding novella in her Bloody-Thirsty Agent series, The Adventure of the Golden Woman.

 

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