Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A little more on the 2009 Tiptree Awards

One of the interesting things about the Tiptree Award is that its juries often provide comments about their choices. I had to rush off to my semi-annual dentist appointment this noon, so I didn't have time to post either the jury's specific comments on works published by Aqueduct or the long list.

Here's the long list:

Stephanie Shaw, “Afterbirth” (in Interfictions 2 edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, Small Beer Press 2009)

Jeremiah Tolbert, “The Godfall’s Chemsong” (Interzone 224, 2009.09-10)

Helen Keeble, “A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, as Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc” (online at Strange Horizons, 2009.06.01-08)

Sarah Schulman, The Mere Future (Arsenal Pulp Press 2009)

Cat Rambo, “Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut” (online at Strange Horizons, 2009.10.26)

Shweta Narayan, “Nira and I” (online at Strange Horizons, 2009.03.16)

Sylvia Kelso, Riversend (Juno 2009)

Claire Light, Slightly Behind and to the Left (Aqueduct Press 2009)

Alaya Dawn Johnson, “A Song to Greet the Sun” (online at Fantasy Magazine, 2009.10.26)

Xiaolu Guo, UFO in Her Eyes (Chatto & Windus 2009)

And here's the comment on Vandana Singh's Distances:
Singh has packed this novella-length work with an amazing complexity. Distances is: the story of a woman’s development as an artist in a context where science, art and religion are indistinguishable; a meditation on the uses of knowledge and the power structures they engender; and a nuanced depiction of cultural difference, loss and exile. While not as directly focused on gender as some other works on our list, we saw Distances as a work that expanded and challenged a number of inherently gendered cultural categories. Also, almost incidentally, there are some very interesting depictions of alternative sex and gender arrangements.

And finally, here's what they say about my Marq'ssan Cycle:
After reading the thousands of pages in L. Timmel Duchamp’s five-volume Marq’ssan cycle (Alanya to Alanya, Renegade, Tsunami, Blood in the Fruit, and Stretto, following decades of changes across the world in both large-scale politics and the everyday interpersonal beauties and violences of individual lives, you don’t emerge quite the same as you were when you went in.

Gender is a central focus, as we experience a very gender-segregated society largely from a female point of view and occasionally from that of a post-gender alien species. But any separation of one of the cycle’s themes must necessarily be a shallow depiction of what it is like to read these novels.

Some readers will focus most on the story of human engagement with an utterly different alien race, determined to alter the course of human politics yet determined to be something other than colonizers. Some will be most fascinated by the tale of the Free Zones, anarchist enclaves where co-operative, anti-authoritarian politics develop over decades in the US and elsewhere. These communities are not utopian but are filled with conflict and occasionally violent, yet they remain optimistic nevertheless. For other readers, the most memorable aspects of the cycle will be the near-future dystopian image of an intensely class-divided United States, with its startlingly prescient depictions of torture, imprisonment, and political violence, told with an unsettling understanding of the oppressors’ perspective and yet never without losing sympathy for the victims. And for yet more, it will be on the level of character that Duchamp’s work inspires: her many point of view characters––almost all women––whose personal and political transformations, power-laden interpersonal, frequently sexual relationships, and critical analyses of the world, drive the many intersecting narratives.
Reading this makes my inner 35-year-old weep with emotion. But then back in 1986, for me, James Tiptree Jr. was still male, and there was no place in the world for anything like the Marq'ssan Cycle. I can't begin to express how gratified I am by this recognition.

ETA: Scratch the penultimate sentence. James Tiptree was not male in 1986-- not even to me. But finishing the Marq'ssan Cycle made me more lonely than I can say, until I was finally able to put it away and half-forget about it. This morning (Thursday), thinking about all this I'm finding it very strange-- disorienting, actually-- to find myself living in a world where the Marq'ssan Cycle makes the kind of sense it now does. And yet I have the sense that my thinking was a lot harder-edged, less accommodating, back then that it is now. But how can one know? One's past life, indeed one's past self, is a foreign country.


Josh said...

Whom was Tiptree still male to in 1986?

Helen Merrick said...

Congratulations Timmi!
I am so happy to see your work recognised in this way - it is well and truly deserved.
And of course congratulations also to all on the short and long list - much wonderful reading to track down...

Timmi Duchamp said...

To me, Josh. That statement was purely-- & I see now ambiguously-- subjective. Sorry about that. I ought to edit it to make it clear.

Timmi Duchamp said...

But you know, on second thought, that just can't be right.I see that I've projected that feeling back onto that moment. For I obviously knew, when writing Alanya to Alanya, that Tiptree was Sheldon, since I've got that sly joke about it that Kay doesn't get in a scene on s'sbeyl. What a tricky, slippery thing memory is.

So okay, let's amend that. Let's just say that in early summer 1986 my brief euphoria at having finished such a huge piece of work quickly dissipated into feeling totally alone & half-convinced that I was nothing more than a crackpot who'd just spent two & a half years in a dream that was doomed to be meaningless and illegible to anyone but a handful of people.

Timmi Duchamp said...

I can't seem to stop worrying at this, as if were a loose tooth I have to keep pushing at with my tongue. (Gah. I know where that metaphor came from. Yesterday in the dental hygienist's chair, I noticed a Play Doh box, sitting on the top of her cabinet, called "Dr. Drill and Fill, including a Squeeze-out Tongue." The whole idea that such a toy had ever been brought into existence practically made me hysterical.)

One's past life may be a foreign country, but in the case of my own life in 1986, there's ample documentary evidence in my possession to go on, if I so chose. I guess if one were to write a memoir, it might not have to be entirely unreliable, were one to approach it as if one were writing about someone else rather than oneself...

Athena Andreadis said...

Given this recognition of the Marq'ssan Cycle, now may be the time to address the universal dread of the apostrophe: I read on an LJ that some people have taken to mentally replacing any apostrophe within a name in SF/F with "boing", a practice akin to disemvowelling.

The apostrophes may get overdone, like all else in SF/F, but to me this indicates that some people either have too much time on their hands and/or ignore the fact that we must have a way to designate glottal stops or other sounds not represented in English. Unless all the heroes get called Dick.

Just a thought!

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Timmi, I'm so glad they recognized the Marq'ssan Cycle. And while this recognition takes you back to the period when you first finished it, as someone who read it in the 21st Century, I can only say that it is as timely and relevant as ever.

Timmi Duchamp said...

At a convention I will not name, Athena, I found myself on a panel, the title of which ridiculed as fake & naive all sf alien names involving apostrophes. (In fact, I had the evening before read an excerpt from one of the novels of the Marq'ssan Cycle at that same convention.) I did indeed imagine the languages the Marq'ssan speak as full of a variety of sounds not represented in English. That was partly because the Marq'ssan aren't mammals, & I imagined their speech would involve a variety of sounds that mammals don't often make. During Q&As at my readings I always make the point that I can't really approximate the pronunciation of the names as they sound in my head & indeed had always vacillated in how I pronounced "Marq'ssan." (When I first started writing the books, I'd put a sort of schwa sound after the "q". Mostly now I don't.) In my unrelated novella, "A Question of Grammar," I kept repeating to myself, as I wrote, the name of the primary alien depicted, Pluummuluum, in order to remain viscerally aware of the slithering flow of the sound, which I took as emblematic of the alien's comportment and demeanor.

But in a way, the problem alien-to-English sounds pose for the reader/writer is similar to that posed by conveying highly distinctive dialects, or even just words from other (existing) languages spoken by characters. I always have to decide, when I'm doing a reading, whether to avoid reading passages with non-anglophone sentences in them. (It typically depends on how confident I am in the moment that I can carry off an approximation to French, Italian, Spanish, etc pronunciation.) The one thing it does not occur to me to do is to avoid writing non-English words, phrases, & sentences in my fiction (whether existing or invented).

Ought, though, the writer to avoid words, phrases, or sentences that indicate a difference from the language in which it has been written? My own feeling is not. That difference is part of the point, after all. I admit that when I Nicola Griffith, one of the editors of the Bending the Landscape series, asked me to remove most of the phonetic indications of Cajun speech that I had written for the story "Explanations Are Clear," I think she was right. All that was needed were occasional indications of the pronunciations. (It was hard to give up, because I'd toiled so diligently over getting it right-- to the point that Tom, who is from St. Martinville LA, said that when he read my character's mother's speech he could hear his grandmother's voice speaking.)

Timmi Duchamp said...

Thanks, Helen, Athena, & Nancy for your congratulations. Don't know why exactly this has sent me down memory lane.

Athena Andreadis said...

Even staying within mammalian speech: if I had time, I'd post a little essay about the right sound of consonants and vowels in Hellenic names, to say nothing of where the right accent falls within them. Just as representative examples, it's not Ariadne, it's Ariádhni (dh to indicate soft th as in though); not Phoebe, Fívi. Then we have the Spanish ll and ñ... and that's just two European languages.

Erasmus has much to answer for!

claire said...

Congratulations, Timmi! I'm making my way slowly through the cycle (I'm on book 2 now) but I already know this is going to influence me profoundly. (which is why I'm reading slowly.)

It's funny that this was published so long after being written, since it feels now, simultaneously, like a milestone of its own era, and a milestone of our current one.

Anonymous said...


I always thought the crackpot feeling was just what one looked for to make sure a story was worth sending off...

It's great to see Distances on the list - I finished it recently and had been reading very slowly to savor its complexity and language. Also, Sarah Schulman's The Mere Future making the Tiptree long list and Lambda finals makes me happy, after spending many months talking the book and its author up to whoever will listen... also complex (though deceptively simple, because her style is spare and snarky), beautifully written, and quite funny.

-Carrie D.

Unknown said...

Oh, hey, congratulations, Timmi! That's a thoughtful review. There's one more thing that drew me to the series: a thorough exploration of power dynamics in all sorts of interpersonal relationships - from that of lovers to that of governed/government.

And congratulations to everyone else on the list, whether I've read you or not!

Anastasia said...

I'm near the end of my re-reading of Tsunami, and once again, I'm blown away by these books. Also - your writing skills are amazing, it's impossible to put the book down, even though I've read it before, even though I "know what happens."

Timmi Duchamp said...

Thank you, Anastasia! Like most writers, I always hope my work can stand up to re-reading. It's a tremendous compliment.