Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Better Watch Those Radical Thoughts, Folks

If you thought the Patriot Act was bad, just consider how much worse it could get with the “Patriot Act Lite,” which would give the government the right to crack down on thought. It’s called “The Violent Radicalisation and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act,” and it’s already passed in the US House of Representatives with a 400-6 vote (kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?). The Senate version was written by Joe Lieberman and Jane Harmon and is being pushed by Susan Collins. William Fisher in an article for the Inter Press Service,
Civil Libertarians Warn of ‘Patriot Act Lite,’

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), say the measure could herald a new government crackdown on dissident activity and infiltration of universities under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The CCR’s Kamau Franklin, a Racial Justice Fellow, told IPS, ‘This measure looks benign enough, but we should be concerned about where it will lead. It may well result in recommendations for new laws that criminalise radical thought and peaceful dissent, posing as academic study.’

Franklin added, ‘Crimes such as conspiracy or incitement to violence are already covered by both state and federal statute. There is no need for additional criminal laws.’

He speculated that Congress ‘may want to get this measure passed and signed into law to head off peaceful demonstrations’ at the upcoming Republican and Democratic Party conventions. ‘And no Congressperson of either political party wants to vote against this bill and get labeled as being soft on terrorism.’

Harman’s bill would convene a 10-member national commission to study ‘violent radicalisation’ (defined as ‘the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically-based violence to advance political, religious, or social change’) and ‘homegrown terrorism’ (defined as ‘the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States […] to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives’).

Although the politicians are claiming the bill is “benign,”

the bill’s purpose goes beyond academic inquiry. In a Nov. 7 press release, Harman said, ‘the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalised individuals turn violent.’

According to the Centre for Constitutional Rights, the commission ‘will focus in on passing additional federal criminal penalties that are sweeping and inclusive in criminalising dissent and protest work more surveillance on thought rather than on actions. Further, this bi-partisan attempt can set the ground for an even more acquiescent Congress to presidential power, never wanting to look weak on terrorism.’

The commission would be tasked with compiling information about what leads up to violent radicalisation, and how to prevent or combat it with the intent to issue a final report with recommendations for both preventative and countermeasures.

If the bill isn’t about policing thought itself, it’s a mystery why it’s being proposed, since

critics point out that the bill would duplicate work already being done in and out of government.

For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) already has a domestic terrorism unit; the U.S. intelligence community monitors the homegrown terrorists and overseas networks that might be reaching out to U.S. residents; and many universities and think-tanks are already specialising in studying the subject.

So naturally,

groups like the CCR are wondering what exactly is meant by ‘an extremist belief system’.

‘The term is left undefined and open to many interpretations — socialism, anarchism, communism, nationalism, liberalism, etc. — that would serve to undermine expressions that don’t fit within the allowable areas of debate. A direct action led by any group that blocks traffic can be looked upon as being coercive,’ CCR says.

The bill says the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalisation, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the U.S. by providing access to ‘broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to U.S. citizens.’

Gah. So what is it that happens to people after they're sworn into federal office? Do you suppose that on election to Congress every new freshman (excepting he or she who refuse and then gets locked out of The Clubhouse) undergoes a secret initiation ceremony that includes a lobotomy? Or are they immediately replaced with Stepford Senators and Stepford Representatives? Sounds bizarre, but it would explain their absolutely brainless acquiescence to the sacking and looting of the citizenry and the destruction of the constitution that they've supposedly taken an oath to uphold.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blood in the Fruit

Copies of the fourth volume of the Marq’ssan Cycle, Blood in the Fruit, which will be released on January 1, have arrived at Aqueduct. As we usually do with books not in the Conversation Pieces series, we’ll be offering them for sale on our site at a one-time special price of $15 until the release date.

Blood in the Fruit opens in October 2086. After ten years’ absence, the Marq’ssan Fleet returns to Earth to determine whether humans should be quarantined, and a young alien, unprepared for the shock of human culture, becomes a dangerous loose cannon taking violent, unilateral action. In the Free Zone, a flood of renegades led by Elizabeth Weatherall establish a fortress; even Hazel Bell, Weatherall’s lover, doesn’t know what they’re up to. In the US, when the government responds to increasing dissent and civil disorder by ratcheting up its repressive tactics, brave and dedicated human rights activists like Celia Espin join forces with the Free Zones in a global challenge that threatens to undermine governments around the world. Blood in the Fruit offers a grand, sweeping story through the eyes of four individuals with markedly contrasting perspectives and experience.

So far there’ve been two reviews. Don D’Ammassa, who writes for the Science Fiction Chronicle, says “The novel - the series for that matter - is a distillation of political and ethical philosophy, a commentary on the importance and frailty of human rights, a feminist dystopia, and something of an adventure story, although most of the real conflict tends to be on the intellectual rather than physical level. This is the kind of novel which probably won't appeal to a mass audience, in part because it steps outside the usual genre rules. For those willing to invest the time to actually think about what they're reading and work out the implications, it's a treasure house.” The second reviewer (for Publishers Weekly) obviously doesn’t fall into the category of “those willing to invest the time to actually think about what they’re reading and work out the implications,” for the second review declares that my writing “exudes man-hating.” In my experience, people call someone a “man-hater” because she’s a lesbian or a feminist or both. Certainly this novel has lots of lesbian relationships and lots of feminism… You know, I’m suddenly picturing myself as an evil lunatic growing fifty feet tall, brandishing a long curved blade dripping blood, laughing maniacally. (Gee. I’ve really got to work on that laugh.)

In any case, judge for yourself. You can download the
first two chapters
from Aqueduct's site.

The Middle Class vs Martial Law

Since Musharraf declared martial law in Pakistan, we've been treated to striking images of soldiers hauling off lawyers dressed in suits to jail for speaking truth to power. The ever-intrepid Medea Benjamin is now on the scene and reporting on "flash demonstrations" being held in the streets of Karachi by lawyers, dentists, and other people who've never been in any way politically active in their lives. She begins:

Let me introduce you to a flash demonstration, Karachi-style. Since the police have been rounding up and jailing people protesting General Musarraf’s imposition of martial law on November 3, one of the new tactics is a “flash mob.” Today, people gathered along the waterfront at the McDonalds (yes, they hate gathering at McDonalds, but it’s a good landmark with a parking lot). The group was small–about 25 people–but they were men and women, young and old. Some women even brought their children. They were well-dressed, well-educated, English-speaking professionals. Most had never participated in a protest before martial law was declared, but they were quickly becoming seasoned activists.

Her report is titled This Revolution Will Not Be Televised (because Musharraf has shut down all of Pakistan's television stations in his effort to control both information and political expression). Reading it, I was struck by how the tactics these new activists are adopting are pretty much the tactics used by a typical civil disobedience affinity group. (How that made me smile with pleasure!) Anyway, the story she tells offers up one of those wonderful experiences that make activists joyfully "soldier on." I don't know if anyone who hasn't done direct action will feel the elation the people in the story (as well as myself, reading it) felt, but I'm happier than I can say to see the fight against the forces of oppression represented as more than a hopeless struggle doomed to failure.

Thank you, Medea Benjamin, for your uplifting report!

Human Cloning in the Media

This just in: Human Cloning in the Media by Joan Haran, Jenny Kitzinger, Maureen McNeil, and Kate O'Riodan, is hot off the press. This book provides an intensive exploration of recent popular representations of human cloning and genomics and the complex concerns evoked by these, and is a timely contribution to current debates about the public communication of science and a challenging investigation of what is at stake, culturally and politically, in those debates.

This book examines the making of human cloning as an imaginary practice and scientific fact. It explores the controversies surrounding both ‘therapeutic cloning’ for stem cell research and ‘reproductive’ cloning. The authors analyse the cultural production of cloning, how practices and representations play out in the global arena, and its transformation from science fiction to science practice. Case studies are used to illustrate key fore grounded issues:

  • the image of the scientist, scientific expertise and institutions
  • the governance of science
  • the representation of women’s bodies as the subjects and objects of biotechnology
  • the constitution of publics, both as objects of media debate, and as their intended audience.

Drawing together the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, with insights from media and cultural studies, this book offers a timely contribution to debates about the public communication of science and the status of scientific truth. This book will be a valuable companion to students on undergraduate courses in media studies, science communication, cultural studies, science and technology studies and sociology.

For more information about this exciting new book, including a table of contents, or to order a copy, go here. It will likely appeal to anyone interested in the relationship between science fiction and science.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gender and Women in Science and Engineering Technology

On Thursday, Nov. 29, two of this blog's members will be participating in a conference hosted by the Open University and the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET [Science and Engineering Technology], "Moving Gender and SET Research Forward: New Approaches and Practices." Gwyneth Jones will be giving a keynote address about shadowing a scientist and will read from her novel, Life. Joan Haran will also be present, representing a team that recently worked on the representation of women in Science Engineering and Technology in the UK media.

The conference will be held at Horwood House, Little Horwood, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK17 0PH. Registration is still open, according to the conference's
. I'd certainly want to attend if I lived in the UK!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Less Dystopia in Australia

On Saturday we Australians tossed out our right-wing government, and its lickspittle Bush Lackey, Prime Minister John Howard.

Before I go on, a few explanations. In Australia, Liberal means Tory. Labor means Centrist-Left Wing. The Democrats are a small party in-between. The Greens are the Greens, and have a small but significant presence in the Senate. Family First (whose family?) are the Christian right. We are very lucky. They only have one Senator...

Liberal Howard had spent 11 years in power systematically dismantling any source of dissent, unleashing the right-raving demagogues, starving the education system, creating scare campaigns against Islam and refugees, and what proved to be his downfall--trying to push the well-entrenched workplace and employee system, where rights were guaranteed, to a more US-Style open slather for employers. Bush adored him. He adored Bush. Australia has troops in Iraq. They will not be there much longer.

Howard was old-school Australia, white, Anglo, and 68. His challenger, Labor leader Kevin Rudd is 50, white, with a working wife, Therese Rein, whom he refers to as his life partner. He speaks Mandarin and has a Chinese son-in-law. Rudd picked a female deputy, Julia Gillard, a lawyer. She had the unenviable task yesterday of sitting for 5 hours in plain view on National TV, making intelligent comments, and not killing the odious right-wing Senator Nick Minchin, who commented for the Liberals. She is now the first female deputy Prime Minister in Australian history.

I have seen both Rudd and Gillard in the flesh, and while he tends to blandness and motherhood statements, she is rather more interesting. No husband, no kids, tough and clever. My hostess for the election party last night once had Gillard as an articled clerk. She says: 'If any woman is likely to be the first female PM of Australia, it's Julia.'

Now in the Australian system, which is closer to the English than the US, the Prime Minister is elected with his parliament, and he represents a seat, Bennelong. Howard was being challenged for his seat by Maxine McKew, a former ABC (national) journalist. No husband, no kids, tough and charismatic. She had a tough task ahead of her, but now she is only the second person to unseat a sitting Prime Minister. The last time this happened was decades ago, when a PM, surprise, also tried messing with workers' rights. Also voted out was Mal Brough, a Minister who had presided over an outrageous assault on Indigenous Australians' rights.

The election had its daft moments, as when a Family First candidate proved to have lewd photos of himself on You Tube. His response was classic: "That is not my penis!" Er, it was. Then two days out from the election the husbands of two female Liberal parliamentarians were caught red-handed leafletting a document purporting to come from Islamic Jihad and urging Muslims to vote Labor. In English, of course. The Arabic they did include was misspelt. All they succeeded in doing was annoying just about every Muslim in Australia. Even the right-wingers.

Rudd came from the state of Queensland, where the biggest swing was towards him. Local boy makes good. Conversely the second biggest swing against Howard was his home state, New South Wales, where the locals were clearly sick of him.

In a press conference today, Rudd immediately announced his intention to ratify Kyoto and rebuild the education system. I remain in doubt as to his policies, but clearly the nation wanted change, even if it was for a man who resembles Tintin.

And we also get former rockstar Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil) as Arts & Environment Minister. And 5 Greens in the Senate. Labor will need their support to get legislation through, probably also that of a new Senator who romped in on an anti-Gaming Industry platform. More greenery, less government reliance on gambling revenue. Things are going to be interestingly different.

Yrs, feeling a little more hopeful

Lucy Sussex

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

CFP: Gender & Sexuality in SF

The new issue of Science Fiction Studies lists the following call for papers:

Special Issue of SFS on Gender and Sexuality. Past special issues of SFS have focused on women writers and on queer theory, but this issue proposes to take a broader approach to gender and sexuality, focusing on a full spectrum of related topics: femininity/masculinity in sf, sf and sex/gender change, sf pornography, techno-fetishism, alien sex, multiple genders/sexualities, sexual subcultures in sf, sf and censorship, sex work(ers) in sf, slash/flash writing, and more. We welcome submissions from a range of disciplinary perspectives. The deadline for 500-word abstracts is May 1, 2008; please send them to Rob Latham [] and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. [].

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This weekend I'll be in Portland attending Orycon. I'll be reading on Friday evening at 6:30 in the Salem Room (from Blood in the Fruit) and will be on two panels Saturday: "Building Near Historic Worlds" at 11 in Salon A and "The Economics of Publishing: How Do Economics Control What Publishers Buy?" in the Portland Room at 3 p.m.

If you're attending, please feel free to say hello. Everyone says I'm nicer in person than I am in print.

Por Vida Press

Here's some exciting news: a new small press with a broadly feminist orientation has announced itself. Por Vida Press describes itself as

a nonprofit press devoted to furthering the creative works of writers and artists. We embrace and support feminism and the values of equality for all; we are anti-racist, anti-heterosexist, anti-classist, pro-choice, pro-tolerance, and pro-free speech.

Por Vida Press also recognizes the plural and complex nature of feminisms and encourages the exploration of this complexity within fictional and nonfiction works.


You can find the guidelines at their site.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two announcements

First: the broken link on Aqueduct's order form is fixed. Our apologies to all who've been inconvenienced (and no doubt frustrated) by it. Please try again now.

Second: we've just received word that our printer, Thomson-Shore, has shipped the fourth book of the Marq'ssan Cycle, Blood in the Fruit. That means that we'll have copies of it in hand next week for sale to those select few who are dying to get their hands on it. We'll be offering it on Aqueduct's site for $15 until January 1, the official release date (after which it will be available through the booksellers who carry our books). I'll have more to say about the book when it arrives here. We'll be posting the first two chapters on Aqueduct's site soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Brief Conversation with Jeff VanderMeer

I first became acquainted with Jeff VanderMeer when he bought my story, "Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Woman" for Leviathan 2. Not long after that, he brought me into the (now defunct) Fantastic Metropolis editorial collective, which had its own email list and could at times be lively and far-ranging in its discussions. In our conversation below he characterizes himself as optimistic. I would add another adjective to that: enthusiastic. Enthusiasm and optimism work powerfully together and are of inestimable importance for getting things done. Many people have ideas for projects, ideas for stories. But Jeff is someone who follows through on his ideas, and that makes him an exciting person to know.

Timmi: The subtext of a piece of fiction exerts enormous influence over how a story is read, regardless of the reader’s (im)perception of the subtext or the author’s awareness of the subtext’s presence in the story. When faced with sophisticated analyses of their stories, many writers angrily deny the presence of a subtext, claiming that because they didn’t deliberately put it in the story, it’s not there and must thus the invention of the critics who say that it is. Similarly, many readers resent critics who engage with the story’s subtext, claiming that by doing so they wreck everyone else’s pleasure in the story. When I deliver critiques in workshops, I almost always point out the subtext in the stories I critique because I think the subtext is too important to be left out of any discussion of what a story is trying to do and whether it is effective in what it is trying to do. Beginning writers are almost always surprised (and sometimes unpleasantly so) when I do this. In peer workshops (like Sycamore Hill and Rio Hondo), though, quite a few of the writers are fully aware of their stories’ subtext. I’m wondering, Jeff, what your take on subtext is, generally, as well as in your understanding of your own work. Do you avoid thinking about subtext at the time of composition? When, if at all, do you become aware of its presence in the stories you write? And what—if anything—should we be teaching beginning writers about not only the role of subtext in their stories, but also how it is produced and its possible technical uses for the conscious writer? And finally, in your opinion, is it possible for a writer to be too conscious of what they’re doing?

Jeff: I hadn't thought about it this way, in terms of teaching beginning writers about subtext. I think this is because I tend to want to help them with the story at the level at which it fails, and usually it fails at a much more basic level than the subtext. However, having thought about your question, it will probably change the way I teach in future, even though I don't believe a writer's awareness or lack of awareness of subtext makes much difference in their writing. If there's a more specific subset of the context--say, something clichéd about the gender relations in a story, or underdeveloped; for example, a male writer who has allowed all of the female characters to populate the story as caricatures or typesthen I would of course talk to them about that, as a flaw in the story. But it's interesting to think of talking to them generally about subtext, to see if making them aware of it is useful.

Inasmuch as subtext is related to theme, I don't think about it much when writing. I learned a long time ago that theme and image come to me naturally, almost subconsciously, and that what I need to do as a writer is nurture this aspect of myself by doing the most mundane things: taking care of my physical and mental health, not get too stressed, etc. Then it's effortless.

In another way, I do monitor the subtext. After I write the rough draft, then I go back and I ask myself what I was trying to do with the text--what do I want to emphasize, bring to the front, de-emphasize, etc. And during this phase, I will try to look at the subtextas an outsider. I will try to look at it from someone else's point of view. What would a woman think of the character dynamics? For example—and knowing that this is a gross generalization. Ten different women might view the same female character in vastly different ways. But the point is to look at the story from another perspective of some kind. What is the subtext of the story? Is the subtext as complete as the surface of the text? Why or why not? Are there places where the subtext has broken the surface and needs to be subsumed?

As for a writer possibly being too conscious of the subtext, this comes into play with what I'd call political correctness. At a certain level, a writer is a complex bundle of prejudices and lack of prejudice, and if you try to go too far against your own nature, you tend to steal the power of your work. Sometimes, as in the case of someone like Philip K. Dick, you just have to take the bad with the good, because they're so inextricably bound together: a chemical, not a physical, reaction.

Timmi: Has quitting your day job and going the literary freelance route impacted your writing life? Is it better for your writing, or worse, or just different? Could you talk, please, about how you came to take such a major decision?

Jeff: My day job workplace situation had devolved over my last year there. It was becoming more corporate. I felt many of the personalities I had to deal with were dysfunctional. A few I felt were borderline sociopathicor, perhaps, situationally made to seem sociopathic by the contortions of the corporation. In other words, the unnatural and illogical demands of the corporation were beginning to warp personalitiesmy own included. Eventually, it was less painful to not be in that place than to be there. The result is a different kind of stress. I have less financial security and knowing I only have X-months of income at any one time can freeze me up, although since my wife Ann has a day job, I have some safety net, even though I have to pay my half of the bills. (I'm being open about this because I think writers need to think about and understand the psychological trade offs.)

For a long time, I thought I needed the day job, that I needed that financial certainty to write. But the fact is, I don't. I am much more of a loner than I was forced to be with an office job, and I am generally less stressed and more productive now. I have written more short fiction and more creative nonfiction in the past year than ever before. I enjoy the work. I find that I no longer am cranky in the mornings, because I can write. All those missed opportunities to write in the mornings when I had the day job. I would gladly live a life of poverty if necessary to continue to have mornings to write. At a certain point, especially as you get older, you realize the trade-offs. You realize that if you're not careful the regret will outweigh the joy. And I can honestly say now that this is not the case for me.

Timmi: Are you conscious of gender issues while you are in the process of depicting male characters?

Jeff: I am always conscious of gender issues when revising. I am wary of being conscious of them while writing the rough draft. I want my subconscious to control the process, even if I don't like the person I see in the text. Beginning writers are always told a lie, a convenient lie, a lie to protect them. This lie is that you are not your manuscript. To some extent this is true, in that many writers are much shittier human beings than the ideal expressed in their fiction. But you really are your manuscript, and you have to accept at the rough draft stage that how you view the world is going to be in your manuscript, should be in your manuscript, or, really, what is it we're reading you for? Why should we care?

This is all by way of saying, I then go back and look through the entrails. I ask myself if I'm working with stereotype, and if so, what does simply playing against stereotype do to the story? Also, if it's a first person narrator, what do the gender issues as set out in the story tell us about that narrator? And did I do it deliberately or is it a mistake? The point isn't to make it politically correct, but I do think a male writer writing about both male and female characters should be testing those characters to make sure they are as fully-realized and original and unique unto themselves and each other as is necessary for the good of the story. I don't know if enough writers do this kind of testing.

Timmi: What are you working on now?

Jeff: Honestly, this will sound strange, but I'm working on how I view the world and what I think the future of the world is. I'm essentially an optimistic person but see the future of the world we live in as somewhat bleak. For this reason, I am reevaluating what kind of fiction I want to write and who I want my audience to be and what the value of fiction is in a world that might have collapsed in another hundred years. Art should exist for its own sake, for the pleasure of the writer as well as the reader, so the questions don't really have to be answered, but I think I will begin to tackle some of this in my fiction anyway. Baby steps at least. "The Memories of Others" is a new story I'm working on that deals with this issue. Another story that's mostly just for fun is "The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod," which is for an anthology of Jack Vance stories. In addition, I am working on a failed-consumer-state novel called "Borne" and the next Ambergris novel, "Finch," among several other things. I am having fun being various.

Timmi: Thanks, Jeff. This was fun. Let's do it again soon!

For more about Jeff and his work, visit his blog, Ecstatic Days.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stuff to Check Out

***Naomi Klein, whose book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism offers incisive observations on the use of torture as “a silent partner in the global free-market crusade,” has an essay online at the Nation discussing the exciting shift in the political landscape of Latin America. As she notes, it takes a generation to recover from “shock” tactics (something we in the US need to bear in mind). Most exciting and promising is her description of how Latin American leftists have been building defenses against “the shocks that worked in the pastthe coups, the foreign shock therapists, the US-trained torturers, as well as the debt shocks and currency collapses. Latin America’s mass movements, which have powered the wave of election victories for left-wing candidates, are learning how to build shock absorbers into their organizing models.” Among the interesting examples she offers: “In Argentina, it is clearest in the movement of ‘recovered companies,’ 200 bankrupt businesses that have been resuscitated by their workers, who have turned them into democratically run cooperatives. For the cooperatives, there is no fear of facing an economic shock of investors leaving, because the investors have already left.”

So I wonder what will happen when a year or so from now “the lease on the largest and most important US military base in Latin America will run out. The base is in Manta, Ecuador, and Rafael Correa, the country’s leftist president, has pronounced that he will renew the lease ‘on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami–an Ecuadorean base. If there is no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.’” The whole point of being an empire, of course, is being able to dispense with reciprocity…

***Locus Online reports that Cat Rambo and Jeff VanderMeer have a joint collection, The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories out from.Two Free Lancer Press.

***In the new issue of The Lambda Book Report, Judith Redding reviews Kelley Eskridge’s Dangerous Space and concludes:”Eskridge is different: her writing has teeth. First they flash a bright smile at you, but later they bite, and they chomp down hard.”

***Racheline Maltese has posted a thoughtful review of Sue Lange’s We, Robots. She characterizes it as “a slim volume that manages to be both a hilarious critique of hyper-consumerist and protect-the-children-from-all-dangers-real-or-perceived-at-all-costs-always culture and a pointed meditation on the uses of pain, physical and emotional, in the formation of character, personality and ambition.” She notes that “the story, narrated by Avey is a staccato prose of robot precision and strange digressions that often gives the book the feel of a Google search run amok. This is funny and delightful and gives the book a strange mechanical rhythm that makes is both a quick read and the perfect backdrop for some truly surprising ways of thinking about our world.” And she concludes “Lange gives us a quiet and sad look at the world of institutionalized timidity we are heading towards with or without robots, intertwined with a hilarious send-up of just how we’re getting there.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Marie Peterman Moore, Journalist, 1923-2007

By Nancy Jane Moore

My mother, Marie Peterman Moore, died October 23. It was a little sudden, but not really unexpected; she had emphysema and her health had been steadily declining. She would have turned 84 November 1.

There are many things I could tell you about my mother: her skill as a journalist, her uncompromising liberal politics, her support of me as a single woman (she never once asked about husbands or grandchildren), her green thumb, her famous temper.

But while I was down in Texas with my sister Katrinka Moore, helping my father deal with things and attending my mother's memorial service, I had several insights into her life. I'd like to share those with you.

My father, John Moore, is a storyteller. He also spent most of his life as a journalist, and has always told us the story of how he met my mother: He was just out of the Air Corps in 1945, interviewing for a job at the San Angelo Standard Times, where my mother was already working, and he saw her across the room. "That's the woman I'm going to marry," he said, and spent the next couple of years convincing her of the fact.

But he told another story from those days before they were married when we were sitting around the house last week. Mother covered city hall for the Standard Times and Daddy covered the courthouse. Apparently the city police chief did something that Daddy found to be a problem, and he went over to city hall to "straighten him out."

And Mother read Daddy the riot act for stepping on her turf. She was furious. Later she told him that one reason she got so angry was that she was worried about men coming back from the war and taking away her job.

It was, for those of you who remember or have studied the 1950s, a reasonable fear. The independence that women developed during the war years -- Mother was the first woman editor of the Texas Tech University newspaper and had gone to work on the Standard Times in 1943 right out of college -- came under vicious attack after the war.

Daddy told another story about a time when they were both looking for a job and interviewed with a newspaper in Tulsa. The editor wanted to hire my father and then told Mother he had an opening in the women's department. She told him to go to hell (very famous temper), and my father told the editor thanks for his time and they left.

Later, though, my mother did end up working in the women's department of a paper.

I always knew my mother had a temper. I was never completely comfortable with her anger, especially not when I saw it coming out in myself. Often she seemed to get angry about things she was powerless to change; to this day, I tend to associate anger with powerlessness.

But those stories from my father put my mother's anger in perspective. She had something to be angry about. She was smart, educated, and good at her profession, and so many people kept trying to force her back into the traditional sphere of women.

I recall an incident from childhood, when Mother told me why she didn't particularly like the wives of some of the men that my father knew well. "They look down on me because I work," she said. And from that day on I tended to look down on women who didn't have their own careers.

At Mother's memorial service, three women who knew her spoke. Delia Stephens, a lawyer, talked about my mother's commitment to her work, telling a story about how she once jumped out of the swimming pool and rushed off to a fire scene (this was in the years when my parents ran a group of community newspapers) to take pictures, still in her bathing suit. Dianne Robin, a geologist who became friends with my parents through local political activities, talked about how strong my mother was in fighting government corruption and standing for liberal causes. And my dear friend Susan Norwood -- an artist and aesthetician, and like me a happily independent single woman -- talked of what a role model Mother had been for our generation.

I knew all those things about my mother, of course, but I don't think I'd realized before how many other people knew them. She was a role model, and not just for me and my sister, but for all the others who knew her.

I tend to think the cigarettes that eventually killed her were tied up with her feminism and her anger. Smoking was one of the things she could do to telegraph the fact that she wasn't a lady in the old-fashioned sense, that she was independent and could follow her own career. I wish she had stopped smoking much earlier than she did -- it took the serious onset of emphysema to get her to finally quit -- but I think I understand why smoking was so important to her. It wasn't just physical addiction or enjoyment; it was part of her self definition.

I have some bad habits that I don't want to give up either, for the same reason.

I worried a lot that my mother wasn't happy. I know she got pleasure from putting a newspaper together on deadline, growing beautiful hibiscus, swimming laps, talking politics, reading mysteries, but I always wanted something more for her. What, I'm not completely sure. But some of it is tied up with all those good reasons why she was angry, all those people who stood in the way of her and the work she loved, all those people who paid her less because she was a woman, all those people who patted her on the head.

It never occurred to me that I couldn't go to law school and do most of what I wanted in the world, because my mother and other women like her had set the example. I have run into barriers, of course, but they are not as extreme as the ones my mother faced. I suspect this is why much of the anger of 1970s feminism didn't resonate with me: I saw that as the anger of my mother's generation.

But really, she was one of the pioneers.

I miss her very much.

(The Houston Chronicle ran a fine obituary about my mother, written by someone who knew both my parents from their days on the Houston papers. Along with the memorial service, this was one of the things that has comforted me.)

Annotated Reading List for a Chapter on Feminist Sf #4 and final

The Power Of Time: Josephine Saxton

I wanted to read Queen Of The States, but could I find it? I could not. My loft ate it, along with Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite & Lisa Vonarberg’s Silent City. This collection comes under New Wave sf, but there’s more New Woman, sixties style, than women’s lib. Josephine Saxton was someone I used to meet at sf affairs in the eighties, kind to a newcomer & always beautifully elegant, like her writing. She should be better known. Notable stories: “Love From Beyond The Dawn Of Time,” subversive Lovecraft sex-demon in a totalitarian far future. “The Power Of Time”, the wish-fulfillment-sf title story with a great last line (really I have never had any power. If I had, I’d have made everything go very differently. . .); and the one I liked best, “Living Wild”: where the heroine thinks the world has ended, and goes to live naked in a cave, on the winter moors, with a friendly lion that she rides.

Not Before Sundown: Johanna Sinisalo

A sex-and-horror lifestyle story, very readable and stylish, blink and it’s gone. Cryptic, rather worrying subtext equates male homosexual desire with the Beast of the Apocalypse. Trolls (sexy beasts), called up by Gaia from the Finnish forests, in response to the human threat to the planet, draw patriarchy to its nemesis, one worthless lover at a time.

Parable Of The Talents; Bloodchild: Octavia Butler

I’d never read the Talents series, I stopped at Xenogenesis. Couldn’t get hold of Parable of the Sower, I’d spent a mad number of rainy summer hours buried in this heap of books, & my family had declared me missing, so I made do with episode 2. A different, nineties take on the savage death-throes of patriarchy. Butler sees no need to imagine a nightmarish satirical future, well removed from middle class experience (as in The Handmaid’s Tale, or Walk To The End Of The World). Everything is ready right now. Outside the shrinking bubble of affluence there are many millions of women being treated as chattel slaves, stripped of all human rights, kept as prisoners, and the figures are going up, not down. . . Nasty, grim streetwise reality, awash with guns, pacifists go to the wall, kill or be killed is the only law. Women, girls, pretty boys, are specially vulnerable, but no one’s safe. Me not too happy about the New Religion with Female Messiah strand. Manifest Destiny as the palliative for unrest and the hope for the future, hm, is that a new and better idea? I prefer Matapoisett. Party hard, garden hard.

Bloodchild: Butler’s rare short fictions, powerful sketches for the novels, spanning a lot of years. The title story, a Xenogenesis out-take about “male” pregnancy (or possibly about bot flies), left me feeling maybe ANY human relationship involves a grisly invasion of the self.

Octavia Butler is an extraordinary case. A very private person, compromise not in her vocabulary; a great loss. A Black US woman with a powerful literary & educational presence, a certified “genius”, and an writer who may be read as feminist-sf: what a combination! Yet her material is unremittingly harsh towards women’s chances of finding a solution. Sense of destiny, spiritual illumination, sure, but scarcely a glimmer of actual hope. Rather like Doris Lessing (the Nobel laureate) in this respect. Major works, minor key, little comfort. Difficult to sort out the personal message of a powerful writer from the “message” she delivers about her times.


That’s all folks. Please note, these are not considered reviews, they’re edited and clarified from tactless off the cuff remarks, scribbled at the reader’s elbow. PS: some critical studies:

Daughters of Earth, ed. Justine Larbalastier.

What a great idea for a format! (collection of sf stories by women, each with accompanying critical essay, stories chosen by the essayists). I esp. enjoyed revisiting Pat Murphy’s “Rachel In Love”, and reading Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See” for the first time, which lead me to the annals of an interesting controversy. Is it sf? I don’t know. I can’t really envisage reading this story without realising it’s a commentary on “The Women Men Don’t See”

Utopian And Science Fiction By Women: Jane Donawerth & Carol Kolmerton

Very useful historical background and academic overview.

Women Of Other Worlds: Helen Merrick and Tess Williams.

Ditto, but definitely not a dry academic text (which Donawerth and Kolmerton tends towards). Especially rich in vintage writer interviews (long one with Suzy Charnas) and fandom history.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Aliens of the Heart by Carolyn Ives Gilman

The second book of the two I picked up on Friday from our Bellingham printer is Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Aliens of the Heart (Conversation Pieces #19). It contains four stories of the US heartland: “The Lost Road,” “Frost Painting,” “Okanoggan Falls,” and “The Conservator.” “The Conservator” is original to the volume; “Frost Painting” first appeared in Bending the Landscape: Fantasy (ed. Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel), and “The Lost Road” ad “Okanoggan Falls” first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I think they read rather differently together (which is, to my mind, one of the pleasures that single-author collections have to offer).

"The Lost Road" begins:

It was a dry year. Come June, the corn that should have been knee-high was stunted and papery in the fields; the pasture grass rustled, stiff as broom straw, in the constant wind. The topsoil had turned powdery, and you could see it blowing off the fields in clouds, making the sunsets red.

To Betty Lindstrom it seemed like her whole world was drying up and blowing away. She and Wayne had had to lease out the last 40 acres that spring to a man from the next county who was farming nearly all the land in their township. He’d taken out the fences and cut down the beech-tree windbreaks Betty’s father had planted in the ’30s, and now plowed fields came right up to the edge of the farmhouse yard on every side.

Betty Lindstrom leaves Wayne at the gas station in the derelict town of “Lost Road” as she buys toilet paper, bananas, and milk at the corner store and picks up the mail.

As she started the car, Betty had a strange, reckless idea. What if she just turned east instead of west and drove off out of town? What if she just left Wayne at the gas station and didn’t come back? But deep down she knew she didn’t really want to get away from Wayne. He was a part of her, like arthritis. No point complaining.

They left town about 4:20, driving west. The sun glared into the windshield from a cloudless sky. Red-winged blackbirds flew up from the unmowed ditches as the car passed. Down the roadside, telephone poles marched in an endless procession. Every few miles they passed the remains of old driveways that used to lead to farmhouses. Every year the land was getting emptier. They said farming was a business now, not a way of life.

Betty drives west, but alone with the prairie and the wind, though everything looks familiar, she can’t seem to find the way home through a landscape that memories and visions have saturated with the strangeness of history.

In “Frost Painting,” art critic Galena Pittman falls in love with Thea, an artist attracted to working in ephemeral media, such as frost. When Thea leaves, drawn to the colony of humans seeking mysterious aliens who might or might not exist, Galena pursues her, determined to reclaim her. The work Thea now lives for, she discovers, is far from the her critical understanding of art:

The vegetation on north slopes, south slopes, and valley floor was a pattern of green, teal, and umber. It was as if someone had taken a giant brush and painted the land to form an abstract of overlapping tints. “Isn’t that natural?” Galena said.

“Of course not. This was one of the first landscape paintings the colony did. Here, let me drive so you can watch.”

A little reluctantly, Galena got out and went to the passenger side. Thea said, “Unfocus your eyes just a little,” then started the car slowly forward.

At first Galena saw a complex patchwork of sunny streaks. Then, as her perspective changed, a dark, spear‑shaped wedge began to push its way into the foliage colors. As it touched each band of color, that area went suddenly dark, drab, and uniform. It had almost reached the opposite side when a cascade of rust, sienna, and lemon erupted from the spear tip and turned the landscape bright again.

The car stopped. Galena blinked out at the view, which had been transformed by traveling 300 feet along the road. “How did they do that?” she asked. “By painting the back side of every leaf?”

“I don’t know,” Thea said. “It looks different at every time of day, and every type of weather.”

Galena shook her head. “Landscape painting. I see what you mean. Not painting the landscape, but painting the landscape. How many people did it take?”

“I don’t know,” Thea said again.

As they continued on, Galena looked on every prospect around her with new attention, to find more trompes l’oeil hidden in the leaves.

They arrived at the Flens down a rocky path. At first, it looked like a range of rampart cliffs, formed into organ‑pipe pillars of a thousand dimensions. A swarm of people was at work on the cliff face, some on scaffolding anchored into the rock, some swinging on ropes. Though she tried from several angles, Galena could not tell what the sculpture was going to be.

When she asked, Thea laughed. “The sculpture is not in the rock,” she said. “The medium we are working in is wind. At sunset, the mountain above us cools faster than the valley, and a wind rushes down the slope. The Flens will catch it in a thousand fissures, and part it, till it forms a shape. We will know we have gotten it right when the rock pipes sing. It’s almost done; we are tuning it now.”

“You are making an organ from the mountain,” Galena said, struck by the strangeness of the concept.

“An organ only the wind can play,” Thea answered.

In “Okanoggan Falls” (which Carolyn wrote about in a post here last summer), Susan Abernathy undertakes to humanize Captain Groton, the alien occupation officer charged with removing the residents of Okanoggan Falls, Wisconsin, so that the aliens can mine its silica.

There was a snap as the stem on Captain Groton’s glass broke in two. The wine slopped onto his hand as he tried to catch the pieces. “Pardon me,” he mumbled. “Your vessel is brittle.”

“Never mind the glass,” Susan said, taking it and handing the pieces to Tom. “Did you cut yourself?”

“No, of course—” he stopped in mid-denial, staring at his hand. A thin line of blood bisected the palm.

"Here, I’ll take care of that,” she said. Taking him by the arm, she led him to the bathroom. It was not until she had dabbed the blood off with a tissue that she realized he was not recoiling at her touch as he had before. Inwardly, she smiled at small victories. But when she brought out a bottle of spray disinfectant, he did recoil, demanding suspiciously, “What is it?”

“Disinfectant,” she said. “To prevent infection. It’s alcohol-based.”

“Oh,” he said. “I thought it might be water.”

She spritzed his hand lightly, then applied a bandage. He was looking curiously around. “What is this place?”

It’s a bathroom,” she said. “We use it to—well, clean ourselves, and groom, and so forth. This is the toilet.” She raised the lid, and he drew back, obviously repulsed. She had to laugh. “It’s really very clean. I swear.”

“It has water in it,” he said with disgust.

"But the water’s not dirty, not now.”

“Water is always dirty,” he said. “It teems with bacteria. It transmits a thousand diseases, yet you humans touch it without any caution. You allow your children to play in it. You drink it, even. I suppose you have gotten used to it, living on this world where it contaminates everything. It even falls from the sky. It is impossible to get away from it. You have no choice but to soak in it.”

Struck by the startling image of water as filth, Susan said, “Occupying our world must be very unpleasant for you. What is your planet like?”

"It is very dry,” he said. “Miles and miles of hot, clean sand, like your Sahara. But your population does not live in the habitable spots, so we cannot either.”

“You must drink water sometimes. Your metabolisms are not that different from ours, or you would not be able to eat our food.”

“The trace amounts in foods are enough for us. We do not excrete it like you do.”

“So that’s why you don’t have bathrooms,” she said.

He paused, clearly puzzled. Then it dawned on him what she had left out of her explanation. “You use this room for excretory functions?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s supposed to be private.”

“But you excrete fluids in public all the time,” he said. “From your noses, your mouths, your skin. How can you keep it private?”

For a moment the vision of humans as oozing bags of bacteria left her unable to answer. Then she said, “That’s why we come here, to clean it all off.”

He looked around. “But there is no facility for cleaning.”

“Sure there is.” She turned on the shower. “See?”

he reacted with horror, so she quickly shut it off. She explained, “You see, we think of water as clean. We bathe in it. How do you bathe?”

“Sand,” he said. “Tubs of dry, heated sand. It is heavenly.”

“It must be.” She could picture it: soft, white sand. Like what lay under the Okanoggan limestone. She looked at him in dawning realization. “Is that why you want…?”

“I cannot say anything about that,” he said. “Please do not ask me.”

Which was all the answer she needed.

In the final story, “The Conservator,” the Conservator attends to a very special document and discovers that the relationship between map and landscape is more complicated than she had thought.

The lights came on, creating a cocoon of artificial brightness under the darkened dome. The two assistant archivists held open the double doors, and the maintenance men maneuvered through with an enormous muslin-wrapped roll on their shoulders. Obeying the Archivist’s precise instructions, they brought it to the center of the room and laid it on the dropcloth. The assistants knelt down to untie the fabric laces that secured the covering.

The Conservator drew close as they began to unroll the document. It had been described to her, but it was more compelling in reality. Her mind sharpened with a cold rush of vitality. She was in the presence of the thing to which she was most devoted: the authentic artifact, the tangible object on whose surface the past was written in cypher.

It was a map of the great river, source to mouth, drawn in uncanny detail. And yet, as it unrolled before her, the Conservator could see it was no ordinary map. Six feet wide and thirty long, it was a layered creation, many-leaved as fillo dough. She drew on latex gloves and knelt to finger its edge. Not only were there layers, but they were of different materials, bonded securely together. The bottom layer was a milky-white cured hide, soft and supple. Then there was a sheet of thin, pliable birchbark taken from the inner layer of the tree, once colored a pinkish beige but now browned with time. Then a layer of parchment followed by one of laid paper—the hand-crafted kind that still showed the ladderlike pattern of the screen on which it was made. Next was a layer of higher-quality wove paper, and one of the sized linen once used for architectural drawings. The topmost layer was a brittle, yellowed paper, disintegrating in snowflake bits that already littered the dropcloth.

“It’s ironic that the most recent layer is in the worst shape,” the Archivist said. She sounded tragic, not ironic.

“Not unusual, though,” the Conservator said. It was wood-pulp paper, a mass manufacturing process introduced in the 1880s that resulted in such a high acid content that the material literally self-destructed. In all the archives of the country, the recent paper was eating itself away even when stored in perfect conditions. Inherent vice, conservators called it. Most of the printed history of the twentieth century would be gone before another hundred years passed. It was inscribed on an evanescent surface.

Copies of Aliens of the Heart can be purchased for $9 from Aqueduct Press. Subscribers to the Conversation Pieces series will be happy to know that their copies of Aliens of the Heart and Of Love and Other Monsters went out in this morning’s mail.

(Re)Reading Feminist SF: An Annotated Book List, Part III

The Godmothers: Sandi Hall

I count this one a missed opportunity. Written by a New Zealander, living in Canada, early eighties. The central narrative is low-key urban thriller: women’s liberation and community activism, the people going head to head with a wicked developer, plus a strand about a lesbian in danger of losing her teaching job, through machinations of a nasty piece
of work, also lesbian but in the closet. Then there’s the rich media folk in the far future, then there’s a mediaeval girl about to be burned as a witch, then there’s the quasi-religious Godmothers, who are on another plane and I couldn’t figure out what they were for. I liked the urban thriller strand —a gritty, normalised version of the Wanderground scenario, with real people, tragedy and a touch of psychic powers. Couldn’t get on with the overtly sfnal elements. Like Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson’s sciffy bits, amateurish and clunky. Shame.

Despatches From The Frontiers Of The Female Mind: eds Sarah Lefanu and Jen Green

My, this takes me back. I did readings from this book, at gigs for the Women’s Press. I'm sure I never read from my own bizarre offering, I’d have cleared the room. Whose idea was that title, eh? Lesbian separatists whose only interest in sf is the opportunity to do away with men. Feminine, not to say girly sf; polemic sf; surreal sf; sf written by feminists (the excellent Mary Gentle makes this distinction about her own writing in the intro). A stellar collection of names, including a grim morality tale from a certain Racoona Sheldon; a brave outpouring of madness and painful longing, a respectful and very decent review in the New York Times by Jewelle Gomez, which is worth reading for itself.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman: Naomi Mitchison

In many ways my top favourite. Hard to believe this novel is over forty years old. Mitchison, upper-caste maverick, has no fear, no howls of Tiptree anguish; no pleas for equal rights, she just takes them. Writes about women doing science, a feminised science that has become the mainstream, NOT a soft option or an inferior version. A xenozoologist (think I’ve got that right) recounts her career, her students, her expeditions to various planets, her adventures, her pregnancies (two of them very bizarre indeed), her lovers, her children, her friends the lab animals. One of the best vintage science fictions, still fresh and compelling. Seek it out.

Woman On The Edge Of Time: Marge Piercy

With The Left Hand Of Darkness & The Handmaid’s Tale, the “feminist sf” novel the general public has heard of. Stands up well. The Utopians of Matapoisett remind me of Early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles, with their touching conviction that they’re going to get it right this time, they have the magic code for a truly humane civilisation. A likely story. And yes, they are flimsy, but now I can see that they’re identified in the text as Connie’s daydreams, made of the stuff of her life, her stifled anger, her longings. Utopias have a right to be flimsy, in fact the flimsier the better. They are hope for the present, not streetmaps of the future. The more solidly they’re constructed the more these New Jerusalems, ideal societies, start to sound like totalitarian states.

Dreamsnake: Vonda McIntyre

Post Global ThermoNuclear War with added aliens and normative polyamory. Hugo and Nebula. A wander-story, feelgood with bumpy bits to make it convincing, gentle in pace, in which Snake, altered-venom physician with a painful work-related arthritis condition, leads us through a melted and healed over scar-tissue US landscape. Criticised as too gentle at the time, mainly due to characterisation of male lead. Compare and contrast with McIntyre’s visceral recent short story, Little Faces”, where the “male leads” are treated very differently!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Of Love and Other Monsters

Yesterday I took a chunk of the day off to drive up to Bellingham with Kath (Aqueduct’s managing editor), where we picked up a run of new books from Applied Digital Imaging, the people who print the volumes in our Conversation Pieces series. As we waited for a dolly to be fetched, Kath asked me if I wanted a tour of Applied Digital (which she, of course, had enjoyed taking prior to our doing business with them). No, I said, baldly revealing my lack of properly geeky interest in the technology that makes Aqueduct possible. “Not even the Big Machine they have in the back, the one that” “Yeah, I know it’s really cool,” I interrupted, “but not today.”

After a tasty lunch in Bellingham, we gave ourselves the treat of taking Chuckanut Drive (delaying our return to the interstate) and savored the remains of the fall foliage. On one side of the road lay Puget Sound, on the other, Chuckanut Mountain, and in my mind, memories. The sun didn’t burn through the clouds until we were nearly home. But that didn’t matter. It was the perfect fall day.

The first of the two books we picked up is Vandana Singh’s Of Love and Other Monsters. Let me offer you a taste of the first few paragraphs:

When I think about him I remember a wave I watched near a beach once, a big, beautiful, smooth wave, perfectly rounded, like molten glass. It came into a narrow channel from the open sea, muscular and purposeful, hardly breaking into surf. I thought it would climb all the way up the end of the channel, wash over me, and carry on, unbroken, till it crossed the entire Deccan peninsula. But it met the sand, rolled over it, little traceries of white disturbing its smooth, translucent aspect. Touched my toes, broke up into little tongues of froth, and dissipated. So I like to think of him—Sankaran, I mean—like a wave that came out of the ocean for a while to fulfill some purpose (whatever that was). Then he was lost to me.

Physicists have a name for that kind of wave. It is very unusual, and it is called a soliton, or solitary wave.

When, as a young man, I met Sankaran for the first time, I thought he was the one I had been searching for all my conscious life. But as the poet Faiz says, there are more sorrows in the world than love. As soon as I had settled into a certain youthful complacency, the world and its attendant sorrows got in the way.

The study of minds, soliton-like or otherwise, is my particular passion. Mind-weaving is the one extraordinary ability I have that makes me different from other people. I like to go into a gaggle of housewives bargaining over turnips or a crowd at a cricket match. I drift about, trying to determine what kind of entity the crowd has the potential to become. I take the embryological possibility of the meta-mind, make a joining here, a parting there; I wave my baton like the conductor of an orchestra and sense a structure, a form, coalesce in the interactions of these knots of persons. The meta-mind I construct has a vague unity of purpose, a jumble of contradictory notions, and even a primitive self-awareness.

Which is why I am so disturbed by solitons. They walk into a meta-mind as though nothing were there, and they walk out, unaffected. They give nothing, nor do they take away.

Such was Sankaran-with-stars-in-his-eyes, Sankaran the astronomer. This is not his story, howeverhis is just one thread in the tapestry, one voice in the telling. This is my story, and it begins when I was (so I am told) seventeen years old.

At age seventeen, Arun, the narrator of Of Love and Other Monsters, emerges from a fire, his memories and identity vanished with the flames. He finds a refuge and home with Janani and soon discovers his unique ability to sense and manipulate the minds of others around him. Intimately connected yet isolated by this insight, he inhabits a dangerous place outside conventional boundaries: man/woman, mind/body. When someone who shares his ability, Rahul Moghe, arrives on his doorstep, he senses a power beyond any he has known. Janani warns of the grave danger posed by Rahul and sends Arun on his journey, fleeing the one person who may have answers to the mystery of his past.

Arun weaves his story as he weaves minds. I love the richness of his sense of life, even as he struggles to discover who he is and what his place in the world might be, could be, should be.

If you’d like to read the rest of Vandana’s story, you can purchase her shiny new book now from Aqueduct for $9.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Male Bees (and Ants) in the Movies: A Rant

By Nancy Jane Moore

Bee Movie is a new animated film out starring (the voice of) Jerry Seinfeld as a worker bee who gets to know a human woman (there's a hint of romance in the reviews I've read) and decides to sue humans for stealing honey from bees.

I don't get it. All worker bees are female -- sterile females (only queens are fertile). The only males in a beehive are drones and their only significant purpose is to have sex with a queen. And their DNA is all from the queen -- they're made from unfertilized eggs. So why is the bee star of Bee Movie male -- not just the actor (I've got no problem with male actors playing female roles and vice versa), but the character? Apparently he's not a drone, at least according to the official website for the movie.

I had the same problem with the animated ant movie of a couple of years ago. As I assume everyone who ever took grade school science knows, bees and ants aren't like humans when it comes to gender and reproduction. So why all the "male" worker bees and ants in the movies?

Why has no one ever mentioned this in a review? Doesn't this bother anybody but me? Surely it annoys the science teachers and entomologists. It's bound to confuse children.

I don't have any real trouble with the plot -- a bee who talks to a human (there's a hint of romance) and sues people for stealing honey. Fantasy is fine. But there's no reason why the anthropomorphized bee can't be female. It doesn't screw with the plot one bit.

Besides, misrepresenting the way bees work takes all the fun out of the fact that bees are different from you and me.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sometimes, just sometimes, reason prevails

PUBLICATION OF REPORT: SCIENTIFIC DEVELOPMENTS RELATING TO THE ABORTION ACT 1967 by the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee: full text of the press release can be found here. However, whether these conclusions will get embodied in legislative change remains to be seen.

A piece of self-promotion: Historical evidence on the Abortion Act 1967: Evidence submitted to the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the Abortion Act 1967 by Lesley A. Hall of the Wellcome Library is now available as a downloadable pdf from the History and Policy site news page.

Feminism is not your expectation.

Feminism is for atheists. Feminism is for Jews, both ethnic and religious. Feminism is for Muslims. Feminism is for pagans. Feminism is for Baha'i feminists. Feminism is for Mormons. Feminism is for Unitarian Universalists. Feminism is for Quakers and Buddhist-Quakers. Feminism is for the anti-religious, and for the anti-atheistic too. Feminism is for evangelicals.

Feminism is for black people. Feminism is for white people. Feminism is for Boricuas. Feminism is for chicanas. Feminism is for desi people. Feminism is for Asian people. Feminism is for people with a mixed race identity.

Feminism is not the top 3 blogs on your blogroll.

Feminism is for men. Feminism is for women. Feminism is even for white men.

Feminism is for environmental activists. Feminism is for animal rights activists, and those who prioritize people. Feminism is for anti-racists, but we certainly have our racist moments. Feminism is for the transsexual and genderfluid, but we also have our moments of gender essentialism and transphobic screeds.

Feminism is for trans men, even when they halt transition. Feminism is for trans women. Feminism is for cissexuals. Feminism is for people whose gender identity formation is ambiguous.

Feminism is a constellation.

Feminism is for mothers. Feminism is for the childfree. Feminism is for mothers who stay at home with their children, and mothers who work outside the home, and those who homeschool. Feminism is for fathers: gay, straight, partnered, and unparterned. Feminism is for fathers of boys and girls. Feminism is for stay at home dads.

Feminism is for heterosexual couples raising children, gay parents raising children, polyamorous people raising children, single parents raising children, and people who prefer to help raise the children of friends and family.

Feminism is for lesbians. Feminism is for gay men. Feminism is for bisexuals. Feminism is for people who like to look at men. Feminism is for asexuals. Feminism is for polyamorous women and polyamorous men. Feminism is for the monogamous. Feminism is for those creating unusual families.

Feminism is not just Shulamith Firestone and Andrea Dworkin. Feminism is not just Bell Hooks and Angela Davis. Feminism is not just "do-me feminism." It is not just "choice feminism." It is not just suffragettes, third wave, or second wave.

Feminism is for psychiatrists. Feminism is for the anti-psychiatry. Feminism is for people with PTSD, cyclothymia, narcissistic personality disorder.

Feminism is for the fat, the thin, and those with eating disorders. It is for real women, with and without curves.

Feminism is for people who I admire, people who piss me off, and people who I admire who piss me off.

Feminism is about safe spaces, or constructing safe spaces for groups that aren't always centered in feminist discourse, or feeling frustrated with the pitfalls of constructing safe spaces, or criticizing the implementation of safe spaces.

Feminism is for those who adopt or foster, and those who use IVF, and those who've given birth to many children. Feminism is for the married, the divorced, the unmarried, the several times divorced (and happily remarried), those who are in interracial marriages, those who are in cross-generational relationships, those whose hard-won joyful marriages anger many Americans, and those who are unfairly barred from marriage.

Feminism is for the disabled and the abled and the parents of the disabled, and again feminism has its problematic moments.

Feminism has many definitions. Sometimes, it has none.

Feminism is for people who are pro-sex, and people who believe that pornography is irredeemable, and for sex workers. Feminism is for people who believe that values must sometimes be compromised from necessity, and those who believe that actions must be consistent with beliefs.

Feminism is for people who live at the intersection of many axes of oppression.

Feminism is for Americans in New York, California, North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas. It's for people in Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Syria (by way of Iraq), India both group and singly, South Africa, and people who are pan-Africans -- and that is only a sampling of blogs and not of activists on the ground.

Feminism is for people who practice BDSM, and people who think BDSM is oppressive, but probably not for many Goreans.

Feminism is for those who believe in litmus tests, and those who eschew them.

Feminism is for Republicans. Feminism is for fiscal conservatives. Feminism is for libertarians. Feminism is for anarchists and Marxists. Feminism is for Democrats. Feminism is for people in the Green party and people who think all American alternatives are far too conservative and people who are looking at American politics from the outside.

Sometimes, feminism is made of straw. Sometimes, someone really made the arguments that are often used as straw.

Feminism is for those who believe in reproductive rights -- whether that means focusing on birth rape, on making sure that women of color have real choices, believing abortion is a moral good, disapproving of abortion but approving of choice, struggling for a principled feminist pro-life stance, educating people about masturbation, attacking domestic violence, or building up childcare options.

Feminism is not represented by this list, any more than it's represented by any other single perspective on the whole.

Feminism is academic, or emotional. It is filled with rants and careful logical arguments.

Feminism is for lawyers (lots and lots of lawyers), writers (lots and lots of them too), scientists, engineers, recording artists, professors, students, quite a few sex workers, stay at home parents, veterans, ballerinas, and veterans who are also ballerinas. Feminists live on government assistance. They are poor, and middle class, and the kind of people who know the difference between OKOP and NOKOP.

Feminism is not about reaffirming every part of your identity, or of mine. Feminism is not about burning these things away, either. Privilege exists within discourses of feminism, but that does not invalidate the privileged or the underprivileged's claim to feminism.

Feminism is not what I believe. Feminism is not what you believe. Feminism is Feminisms, many and varied.