Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Niall Harrison's poll on recent sf novels by women

I thought I'd better remind everyone that Niall Harrison is taking sf readers' lists for a poll he's doing on "the best sf novels by women" of the decade, and the deadline is Dec. 5.

I'm not at home, so I don't have visual access to my bookshelves. So I may be omitting something I really love. Also, I made the decision not to list two titles by the same author, so that I could list ten different women writers. But here's what I've come up with, myself:

Gwyneth Jones, Life
Andrea Hairston, Mindscape
Ursula K. Le Guin, Lavinia
Nalo Hopkinson, The Salt Roads
Carol Emshwiller, The Mount
Tricia Sullivan, Double Vision
Molly Gloss, Wildlife
Rebecca Ore, Time's Child
Nnedi Okorafor, The Shadow Speaker
Kathleen Ann Goonan, In War Times

Some powerful stuff, no?

Patience rewarded

A howling wind battered the cabin again last night, making the windows rattle. Perhaps because of that, I passed one of those bizarre nights when I kept waking up from heavy dreams only to discover that a mere 20 or 25 minutes had elapsed since the last time I'd removed my sleep mask to look at my watch. The wind finally died sometime after five, I think, though I still kept waking up about every forty-five minutes or so. I wasn't surprised to see the beach littered with bits of diverse kinds of seaweed as the tide went out this afternoon. About a 25-foot strip of water nearest the shore was brown with sand that had been churned up in the storm, also, and though the wind wasn't bad, the water was still a bit choppy. And yet I saw lots of waterfowl, though I'll admit it took me a long time to spot them. It's a curious thing how that can work. It was only when I'd walked south about halfway to Point Hudson, pressing against the wind, that I spotted the first the grebes-- through my binoculars rather than my naked eyes. But of course, once I knew where they were, I could see them without the binoculars (though not, of course, well enough to identify them as western grebes). Next I noticed, further out, a line of horned puffins. Beyond them I saw more waterfowl, but too distant for me to make out clearly, even through my binoculars. But I wasn't done yet! On my return walk north along the beach I saw hooded mergansers, buffleheads, a whole lot more grebes, and, finally, Pacific Loons. Were all these birds in those very waters all along? Probably. But they were all getting tossed about on the waves and it was easy to miss them without the assistance of binoculars. Curiously, some of them were preening. Patience, of course, is a primary necessity for birding.

When I left the beach and was walking back up the hill, creeping as quietly as I could because I hoped to spy on the smaller birds that graze in those berry bushes, a young woman jogger passed me. She was listening to music over her earphones and looked at me as though I were nuts. (I was standing stockstill, peering up the cliff face, trying to be utterly motionless and silent.) I had to give up on the little birds, then, but when I reached the top of the hill I almost immediately saw two hawks (rough-legged, I think) and, as I began crossing the meadow toward my cabin, a bald eagle.

Oh, and I had an insight just as I was leaving the beach. What more could I ask for?

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Search of the Subjunctive Mood

For about a year now I've been sporadically musing on the steampunk fad that has lately gripped our field. This morning, likely because of the coincidence of my line-editing my novella "A Question of Grammar" last night and reading Christina Milletti's essay in Fiction's Present this morning, some of my thoughts about steampunk’s attractions have jelled. As often happens when I read interesting essays and articles, my thoughts at a certain point took off on a tangent to Milletti's argument. This intellectual practice of mine is perhaps not fair to the authors of the articles and essays I read, but I long ago made the decision to allow my thoughts to go where they will, rather than rein in my imagination in an effort to appreciate and evaluate the argument on offer. (I am, after all, an apostate academic. I left that fold almost thirty years ago, and never feel the slightest guilt for not reading work by academics as it is supposed to be read.) The fact is, my thoughts are always, at best, scattered and diffuse, open to the connections that interest me most.

Christina Milletti, writing about Gertrude Stein's and Christine Brooke-Rose's different uses of language to "jam the theoretical machinery itself...suspending its pretension to the production of a truth and of a meaning that are excessively univocal" (and here Milletti is herself borrowing from Luce Irigaray, writing in another context), declares:
In other words, since alternative systems of power cannot be enacted in the face of ever more opaque political discourse--as Bush "revealingly" noted in 2004, for instance, "We stand for things"-- the only plausible response is to prevent a continued pretension to consensus.
The insistence on lockstep consensus started with 9/11, of course. I'm sure most USians recall the bizarre totality of this consensus in 2002 and 2003 especially, when it was still a radical departure from “normal.” Although some "dissent" can now be spoken and even, occasionally, heard in the public sphere, it strikes me that the nature of that lockstep consensus has shifted rather than disappeared. (And let’s face it, we've become accustomed to it in ways that would surprise our pre-9/11 selves.) Still, lockstep consensus was not unknown to us before 9/11. I recall it prevailing through the 1950s and early 1960s. And after the end of the Vietnam war, it routinely came to be summoned (however briefly) whenever the US started a new war or mounted a one- or two-day military strike on a third-world target. I will note that lockstep consensus arose even when the war was opposed in advance. A huge opposition made itself felt before the first US-Iraq war in 1991 (aka "the Gulf War"), when on the very day the attack began 90% of the public professed to be opposed to it. The morning after the US military began flying “sorties,” however, the media woke to unanimous support, and though people were being arrested all over the country for performing civil disobedience in opposition to the war, the only picture presented by the media was that of total, unanimous support and most polls showed inverted attitudes toward the war (i.e., 90% for and 10% opposed). (IIRC, that was the war in which the government explicitly began to put journalists in bed with the military. Such that, for instance, US journalists at the scene reported the triumphal success of Patriot Missiles in protecting Israel and Kuwait from scud missiles, when in fact an objective study later revealed that they were an utter failure and simply served propagandistic ends the media were thrilled to enable.)

Now the US is in an ongoing state of what the Bush administration announced as perpetual war and which the Obama administration is doing its best to maintain and even expand. We've been told that this permanent state of war may well last for a hundred years. (Some of us figure that if it does, after a few decades the US won't be around to continue waging it.) One of the permanent wars the US has been fighting carries the military tag of "Operation Enduring Freedom." (It's the current POTUS's favorite war, perhaps because everyone who knows anything about it says it cannot be “won.”) The "enduring" in that tag covers a lot of territory. On the front lines of enduring are the Afghanis, who are the primary target of robo-warplanes and the deep-pocket funding of savage warlords and opium exporters who have endless amounts of cash and weaponry for making the lives of everyone in their territory a bitter, living hell. The US soldier and veteran and the US tax-payer-- i.e., the poor and middle classes, who continue to lose the few public services they ever enjoyed, not the billionaires who actually determine and profit from US policy-- are also required to endure. And finally there's the entire world, which has to endure not only this nihilistic distraction from all that needs to be done as it sinks into ever more dire straits, but also the warping of the very concept of "freedom," which obviously means something to US policymakers vastly different from what it used to mean to everyone else.

"Words mean what I say they mean, Alice." And who doubts that US policymakers aren't, collectively, Humpty Dumpty?

Fatalism and the belief that the way it is now is the only way it can be has been gradually seeping into the cultural fabric of the US for a long time. After 9/11 that fatalism and belief combined with lockstep consensus to utterly destroy our political system. The few USians who don't see the doom of the planet and the eventual destruction of all public services in the US as inevitable are stymied by the lock doom and gloom has on the public sphere-- and on elected officials who ignore what all but a lunatic minority of the public want. The current iteration of capitalism, which is now threatening to end access to higher education for all but a handful of people and wreck social security for the aged and cast the unemployed into the bottomless pit of the hopeless, has wrecked our economy and promises to destroy a tolerable standard of living for all but the affluent if something isn't done to reform the system and clean up the correction riddling our financial institutions and government. We all know that. And we all know that if Congress wanted to save the day, it has the resources to do so (since although poverty is steeply on the rise, so is wealth for the richest one percent). But our elected officials either believe that such change can't be accomplished or else are so financially invested in the corruption themselves that they want the public to believe it can't be accomplished. And so we're told that the financial system is in great shape. (After all, the billionaires are enjoying record profits and personal incomes. The crash of 2008 apparently was a blessing in disguise!) I could go on and on, of course. (Guantanamo? And our own Pinochet? Don't get me started.) I will only note that in 2008, most of the people who voted Obama into office believed at that particular moment that change was possible and would come about if he won. That reform of the financial system has not come (even as the scandals continue to mount), that enduring is still perpetual, that the billionaires are still calling the tune, that Obama’s administration chose to lie about the reality of BP’s damage to the environment and the people of Louisiana, are all reasons that many people who for a moment in 2008 broke out of the imperative mood and were thinking subjunctively have sunk back into fatalism.

The short of it is: in its conduct and understanding of public life, the dominant thinking in the US is currently stuck in the imperative rather than the declarative or even subjunctive mood.

All of the above is pretty obvious, I know. What is less obvious is the effect the "enduring" mindset (i.e., the thinking that insists that enduring is all there is now-- and all there can be to look forward to) is having on US fiction-- and particularly on the field of fiction we call science fiction and fantasy as it is presently constituted as we go into the second decade of the twenty-first century. (Please note, I'm talking here about f/sf in the US only.) Most striking, to me, is that we've been seeing a lot of dystopias and a lot of stories looking back or set in the past. (Sometimes, as in Julian Comstock, the story combines dystopia with looking back.) Some of the stories set in the past are escapist fluff, of course, but escapist fluff is nothing new, and I don't think we have particularly more of it now than we have had in the past. Certain settings and tropes, of course, have a higher potential for being cozy than others. (Traditional space opera is, in a sense, the sf genre's equivalent to the country-house murder mystery, just as vampire and werewolf stories are the fantasy genre's equivalent to it.) Not all of the stories looking back are cozy or escapist. That cozy versions of the past are proliferating now simply reflects that in 2010, constructions of the past are where it's at. So just what is this powerful impetus for writing about the past all about?

What it is at least partially about, I think, is the desperate desire to break out of the endurance and fatalism of the present. If the present, as many people in the US now seem to feel it is, is the only way it can be, then to imagine change one has to look into the past. (Looking into the future for change requires believing that the present isn't what has to be.) [If I were at home where I could access my library, I’d probably now cite Joanna Russ’s article about sf and the subjunctive.] Seeing and imagining the possibilities for change involves creating trajectories that are logically subjunctive (rather than imperative) in mood; such trajectories can be seen to have begun as spores or rhizomes (i.e., possibilities) in the past, as being pregnant in the present, and as having generated effects in the future. If, however, your view of the present is totally blocked, you are going to have a hard time looking for possibilities in the present that aren't of the doomed, fatalistic sort. Which means to imagine meaningful change you need to go back into the past, to "find" (or invent) the germs of something different, the seeds of alternatives, that have the potential for creating alternative trajectories through the present into the future.

Of course not all sf stories set in the past end up doing any more than simply revalidating the predominating view of the present. (Sometimes that sense of the imperative mood-- of thinking "this is what must be," no matter how different the past might be--is simply too overwhelming for the writer to escape.) But I do think for many writing steampunk or other kinds of stories set in the past, the past is the only imaginative space remaining that has escaped the lockstep consensus of enduring. The hope, I imagine, is that if you change the past, maybe we won't be forced, imaginatively, to go on enduring in the new present much less in the future that that altered past is creating.

So no. Steampunk is not just a fad. For some writers, it's a way of breaking out of the fatalism our culture has become steeped in.

Holding onto my hat-- with difficulty

It's been gray all day. We're in the midst of a windstorm, with occasional spatters of raindrops spitting at the windows. Walking to the building with wifi just now I kept feeling as though I were about to be swept off my feet. It's not as bad as the wind we had the other night, but it is, nevertheless, a perfect day for staying indoors and watching the sea froth and foam from a distance and comfortably behind glass. Never fear, though, early this afternoon, I kept the faith! I had to physically hold my hat to my head all the way down to the beach (even though the hand I used to hold my hat to my head was holding a walking stick at the same time. What a ludicrous picture that must have made!) And once I hit the beach, I had to take the damned hat off and squash it tight against the top of my walking stick so that I could use my sticks on the beach.

It was wild down there! The wind was blowing from the south-southwest, so it was to my back and my right side as I struck out for Point Wilson. The only bird life I spotted was three seagulls who were having a rough time of it, their feathers, as they stood in the fast-moving, foaming surf, actually ruffling in the wind. Twice I had to scamper up the beach to avoid a wave the wind was pushing up past the high water mark. (And the tide, at the time, was going out!) Given the strength of the wind, I decided to take the trail through the sandy scrub up to the road and walk back that way, since the wind is usually stronger on the beach. Have to say I didn't notice a difference! In fact, every time a gust came along, I had to struggle to keep the wind from pushing me sideways. I'd hoped to find the words for the last paragraph of the story I'm finishing as I walked, but I was too busy holding on to my hat and keeping my balance for playing around with words. Still, I'm glad I went. It was all very stirring and excellent for morale.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fiction's intersections, with puffins

As I was making coffee this morning, I saw a doe and her family grazing in the meadow my cabin faces (which now has an enormous crop of mushrooms of a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes). I've been waiting for them to appear and assume that the snow was the reason I hadn't seen them earlier.

I've been reading Fiction's Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation, ed. by R.M. Berry and Jeffrey R. Di Leo. Although its specific focus is the genre known as "innovative fiction," the essays in the book demand that the reader conceptualize "fiction's present"--i.e., "the intersection of everything that has been and everything that it will become"-- in terms of both its past and its future. And not only conceptualize it, but take an active role in determining what it is. Critics' constructions of fiction's present, as the editors point out in their introduction, are narrowly conceived, ignoring most fiction and recognizing only a tiny portion of the fiction that is published and read. As a remedy to that narrowness, the editors urge "writers and critics to exercise leadership" in challenging the dominant version of "fiction's present." They are of course addressing the readership of the book (which I suspect might be entirely made up of writers and critics) and are most interested in the exclusion of innovative fiction from "fiction's present." But I can't help reading this call as broader, particularly in light of the concluding words of the editors' introduction:
The present and dominant appear synonymous only to the dominant. If our current valuing of diverse voices and perspectives is to produce a present, then it must show itself to be the present meaning of postmodernism's account of voice and modernism's account of point of view. In this way, our freedom from their history is achieved. Although prior to inhabiting a present no one knows what will produce one, the testimony of psychoanalysis is that repressing the past leads only to compulsion. For the twenty-first century to liberate a new episode in the history of fiction, writers and critics will need to locate points of contact between the formal conditions of reading and writing and the demands of a multicultural globally organized technologically complex, and economically constrained world. To demand that fiction accommodate itself to this history without acknowledging the historical specificity of fiction itself is to erase it. The present cannot be the past's denial. It is the absence of any need for denial. From such openness, the future is born.
I suspect I'll be writing more about this over the next few days. I'm not sure if it's only "the dominant" to whom the present and the dominant appear to be synonymous. There are, after all, so many different kinds of marginality...

In the meantime, I can't help but report on some birding I did yesterday with Tom, who drove up to take me to lunch and then shopping for the week's groceries. Downtown in Port Townsend, at Point Hudson, we watched a few harlequin ducks swimming and dabbling near the shore, and a killdeer. The highlight of the day, though, was watching a crowd of horned puffins in Admiralty Inlet swimming and diving, with several hooded mergansers and western grebes clustered nearby. (The fishing, we conjecture, must have been very good in that spot.) I was also delighted to see a Northern Flicker (a woodpecker with highly visible orange markings) perching near the top of a fir tree near my cabin. There was no wind to speak of, and the sun shone down upon us, and so the day felt positively balmy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Duct tape, not ducks

Yesterday the temperature began to rise and the snow started to melt. It was pretty blustery still on the beach yesterday afternoon, though considerably milder than it had been. Using my binoculars, I searched for duck life (which has been scarce around here lately) on the water, and was finally rewarded with a glimpse of three Western grebes, who (as grebes often do) were spending more time under the surface than above it.

Given the impressive rise in temperature, it wasn't surprising that wind pounded the cabin for most of the night. More than once I found myself wondering what I'd do if the wind shattered a window. Sometime between three-thirty and four-thirty the wind finally calmed. And then I slept fairly well. Not that there isn't still wind today, but there's nothing threatening about it.

Today, all but a few patches of soiled and grungy snow have gone. In fact, I saw some tiny mushrooms springing up on the meadow my cabin faces-- as well as a small flower, unscathed from having spent a couple of days at the bottom of a snow drift. (See photo.) And this afternoon I walked along the north stretch of  beach, to the point, and loved every second of it, even the walk back against the wind. Lines that I need to write came into my head without my willing them or even thinking much about the story I need them for.

The only birds I saw were gulls, but I came across a couple of jelly fish that had washed up-- one of them astonishingly large. I took several photos of it; in one of them I included the tip of my boot beside the edge of the jellysfish, to give a sense of scale.

I also got to watch someone surfing with a sail, a beautiful, impressive sight. I'd no idea that sail surfers could achieve speeds faster than skiers towed by speed boats can. I was also amused to see that among the bits of debris that had washed up was something that had been fixed with duct tape. The duct tape had survived the stormy sea, but the wood it was attaching its mysterious tube to had broken. I've no idea what that tube is, but the duct tape certainly did do the job it was employed to do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Inside-- work; outside-- cold, ice, and a low, gray sky

 Monday night was very cold, with a wind that scoured the snow and compressed it, leaving grass blades poking up through the snow, succeeded by yesterday's sunny brilliance with one of those dark blue seas that glitter with sunlight. My walk on the beach was exhilarating. Most of the snow was gone from the sand and rocks. Shore birds-- killdeer, I think-- ran before me, occasionally pausing and pecking at the sand-- until finally about five of them took off and flew off together.

Today the sea is a gray blue with a greenish tinge, but the sky is gray (though  an orange tinge lit up the southern horizon until about noon). When I first got up this morning, snow flurries were whirling about, but I'm happy to report that didn't last much past nine or nine-thirty. But it now looks as though it might snow again. And it certainly feels colder than it did yesterday.

I'm feeling as though I'm getting somewhere with my work. Although I chose the stories for the collection I'm putting together by unthought-out instinct (months and months ago), yesterday I grasped the particular difference putting these particular stories together makes to how I understand them. (Whether that difference will be seen in others' readings remains, of course, to be soon.)  Just as I selected the stories for Love's Body, Dancing in Time on a thematic basis, so I did with these. (My new collection's title gives it away : "Never at Home.")  I hadn't been sure about one of those stories-- what it's relation could be to the others-- but suddenly, this morning, I grasped it. I'd all along been curious why I'd felt it had to be included (since there were others I could have used in its place, and it didn't at surface level seem thematically related), but now it's become clear to me. And since that story is one of the collection's previously unpublished stories (new fiction in the volume will total about 45,000 words) and since I'm still working on a major rewrite of it, that understanding will probably make a difference to the final version of the story (which I hope to have by the end of the week).

I don't expect work on the collection will take all three of my weeks here-- I'm hoping to be able to get back to the novel. If all goes well, I should be able to use about half my time here for the novel.

Here's something that's occurred to me as I work on this collection. Collections of short fiction come in about four flavors. Collections of the short fiction of dead or very mature authors usually come as either "complete works of" or "best of" volumes. Collections of still-working writers, though, tend to be, on the one hand, basically what hasn't been collected to date, or the best of what hasn't been collected to date [not necessarily designated as "best," however], or on the other hand, stories in some sense thematically related. I believe without question that such contexts make a difference to one's reading of the individual stories. But I wonder if such contexts make a difference to how collections are reviewed, and if readers have a preference for one context over another. Just thinking about the collections on my bookshelves at home, I can't help but notice that collections by working writers tend to assemble whatever the editor thinks that writer's best short fiction is (or else everything they've written but haven't previously collected)-- that thematically selected collections are relatively rare. One reason, I suppose, might be that most writers prefer to put out collections at frequent enough intervals that they don't accumulate a body of stories they can make selections from. Reviewers sometimes draw out such thematic relations in their reviews of collections, but it's often the case that certain writers are obsessed with one or two themes that they write about over and over again, often from different angles.    

Anent the photos: the cabin in the snow is the one I'm staying in, and was taken Monday. The bird perched in the berry bush is the bird I saw on Monday-- probably a spotted towhee. The picture of the shorebird is a killdeer, I'm guessing, that I saw yesterday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

...to have written a book that is read, satisfies us. We assume that all thought is already long ago set down in books,---all imaginations in poems; and what we say, we only throw in as confirmatory of this supposed complete body of literature. A very shallow assumption. Say rather, all literature is yet to be written. Poetry has scarce chanted its first song. The perpetual admonition of nature to us, is, "The world is new, untried. Do not believe the past. I give you the universe a virgin today."--- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Literary Ethics"

Winter Wonderland, with Earthquake

As I did last year at this time, I'm enjoying an artist's residency with Centrum, at Fort Worden in Port Townsend. But this year there are some differences. I'm in a cabin, instead of an apartment. And this morning, my first day here, I woke to snow. And so the world is all white and gray, and the few remaining flowers are mostly hidden under a thick carpet of white. And it's incredibly quiet. The cabin I'm in this time has electric wall heaters in each room, so there isn't even the sound of the fan that comes with central heating, just the hum of my desktop computer.  

Because it's my first day, I knew that I couldn't afford to adopt a less than vigorous or disciplined attitude toward my daily routine, so I vowed to go for the daily walk regardless of the weather. Since it was still snowing at 11:30, I decided that the earlier I went out, the better. My walking sticks served me well, and my spanking new hiking boots. (Lucky thing I'd replaced the ones I'd been using since 1985, since they would have given me little traction and left me with wet feet.) But I chose the wrong coat. Wearing layers under my rain parka would have been more advisable than my wool jacket (which buttons to a V-neck, with the result that a layer of snow accumulated over the sweaters I was wearing under the jacket). When I got to the path taking a shortcut down the hill, I paused along the way to look at a very unhappy bird emitting truly pathetic sounds. That side of the hill is covered with a thicket of bush that still has a scattering a berries. My guess is that the bird was a spotted towhee. Cold and pathetic or not, the bird got visibly pissed off at me for standing there staring at it (and snapping a photo or two of it). It fluttered from one branch to another, and then puffed out its feathers and bent low to make its tail feathers stick up in a kind of fan. I got the message and moved on. (Maybe if I'd had some seeds to offer it, it mightn't have been so eager to see me go.)

When I got to the bottom of the hill, the wind hit in me in a bitter blast that made my face sting. (This would've been nothing to me back when I lived in Illinois. I wouldn't have considered it bitter until the air got cold enough to make the snot in my nose solid. In fact, my nose was running like crazy while I was down on the beach.) The wind was howling out of the north, which meant that as I approached the beach, the snow was blowing into my face. No one was on the beach. I saw no footsteps in the snow other than my own. The only birds I saw on the water were sea gulls. It was at this point, surveying the beach and realizing how much snow was accumulating on my sweaters and how hard it would be to make headway against the snow-laden wind, that I decided to go back. Namby-pamby of me, but it probably won't be snowing tomorrow and if it is I'll be better prepared in wearing a rain parka.

About an hour ago I wet out again after I'd done a bit more work, in search of Centrum's wifi network. The snow was lighter, the fog lifted from the water. Walking, I listened to the sound my boots made as I crunched through the snow--all fluffy and airy on top, with a layer of ice at the bottom. I could hear, too, to the sound of the surf, which carried very clearly through the cold, sound-damped air. First stop was the Centrum office, to pick up the key to the deserted building that offers wifi, as well as the password. While I was talking to a staff member, the earth rumbled and shook-- very slightly, for a very short period of time. But enough to make us stop talking and look at each other. No heavy machinery or large vehicles were operating anywhere in sight. So, we concluded, it must be an earthquake. A small one. No big deal. (The best kind, actually, to have.)

I live in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. And Centrum lies within that zone. I'm feeling a trifle Emersonian today, so I'm going to take that as a excellent harbinger for my work.

I had some pix to upload-- of my cabin, in the snow, of the spotted towhee in the snow-flecked thicket, of the beach covered in snow. But the internet connection seems to be too slow to handle it, at least for today.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chan Davis gets attention in the leftstream blogosphere & NASA announces exciting news

It's Monday! And I feel as though I've finally kicked the bug that's been plaguing me for so long. And so here are a few hot links:

--In his weekly column for TruthDig.com, Chris Hedges draws on the life and work of Chandler Davis to discuss The Origin of America's Intellectual Vacuum. He begins by quoting Chan:

"You must welcome dissent; you must welcome serious, systematic, proselytizing dissent-not only the playful, the fitful, or the eclectic; you must value it enough, not merely to refrain from expelling it yourselves, but to refuse to have it torn from you by outsiders," he wrote in his 1959 essay "...From an Exile." "You must welcome dissent not in a whisper when alone, but publicly so potential dissenters can hear you. What potential dissenters see now is that you accept an academic world from which we are excluded for our thoughts. This is a manifest signpost over all your arches, telling them: Think at your peril. You must not let it stand. You must (defying outside power; gritting your teeth as we grit ours) take us back."

Though Hedges doesn't mention it, the essay is among those reprinted in Aqueduct Press's It Walks in Beauty: Selected Prose of Chander Davis, edited by Josh Lukin.

ETA-- The Truthout version of Hedge's column, unlike the version I linked to above, has a photo of Chan. You can find it here.

--And speaking of It Walks in Beauty, piper_of_dawn blogs about the book here. "This is an absolutely brilliant, stunningly moving book, by probably one of the most underrated science-fiction writers I have had the good luck to chance upon," begins the post.

-- And then there's NASA's exciting news: "Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighborhood. The 30-year-old black hole provides a unique opportunity to watch this type of object develop from infancy." The black hole, the astrophysicists think, is likely a remnant of a supernova only 50 million light years from Earth that was discovered in 1979-- although NASA's press release says that "another intriguing possibility is that a young, rapidly spinning neutron star with a powerful wind of high energy particles could be responsible for the X-ray emission. This would make the object in SN 1979C the youngest and brightest example of such a "pulsar wind nebula" and the youngest known neutron star. The Crab pulsar, the best-known example of a bright pulsar wind nebula, is about 950 years old." Both possibilities excite my sense of wonder, but I suspect that because science ficiton has made the whole idea of black holes so very familiar, it's harder to grok a "pulsar wind nebula."

The Carl Brandon Society's nifty fundraiser

I thought I'd better mention it, in case you all haven't heard: the Carl Brandon Society is holding a drawing giving away five e-book readers (2 Barnes & Noble Nooks, 2 Kobo Readers (with wifi), and an Alex eReader by Spring Design) that will include a selection of fiction by writers of color.

Here's a list of the fiction they'll be giving away:

Short Fiction

  • Judgment of Swords and Souls by Saladin Ahmed
  • Elan Vital by K. Tempest Bradford
  • The Executioner by Jenn Brissett
  • The Flinchfield Dance by Mary Burroughs (A Butler Scholar*)
  • The Abyss Gazes Also By Christopher Caldwell (A Butler Scholar*)
  • A – The Teachings by Chesya Burke
  • Chocolate Park by Chesya Burke
  • He Who Takes Away the Pain by Chesya Burke
  • The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang – 2008 Hugo and Nebula award winner
  • Non-Zero Probabilities by N. K. Jemisin – 2010 Hugo and Nebula nominee
  • And Their Lips Rang with the Sun by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Emeritas by Caren Gussoff (A Butler Scholar*)
  • Lena’s Gift by Shweta Narayan (A Butler Scholar*)
  • Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (A Butler Scholar*)
  • Teaching a Pink Elephant to Ski by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  • Sex Degrees of Separation by Terence Taylor


  • Beyond Duality by Moondancer Drake


  • King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court by Maurice Broaddus (Angry Robot)
  • Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Agate Bolden)
  • The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Agate Bolden)
  • Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord (Small Beer Press)

Anthologies and Collections

  • A Mosque Among the Stars, ed. Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, Ahmed A. Khan (ZC Books)
  • Being Full of Light Insubstantial by Linda Addison – Winner of the 2007 Bram Stoker Award (Space and Time)
  • Tides From The New Worlds by Tobias S Buckell (Wyrm Publishing)
  • Slightly Behind and to the Left: Four Stories and Three Drabbles by Claire Light (Aqueduct Press)
  • The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar (Papaveria Press)
  • Paper Cities, An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, ed. Ekaterina Sedia – Winner of the 2009 World Fantasy Award (Senses Five Press)
  • Filter House by Nisi Shawl – Winner of the 2008 James Tiptree Jr. Award (Aqueduct Press)


  • Apex Magazine November 2010 (Issue 18 – The Arab/Muslim Issue), ed. Catherynne M. Valente
  • Sybil’s Garage no. 7, ed. Matthew Kressel
Tickets are $1 each; you can purchase as many as you like until November 22 (i.e., a week from today). As you may have noticed, two fine Aqueduct collections are included.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Building Epizootic

An epizootic is the "wildlife equivalent of an epidemic." And many birds in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, it seems, are suffering from avian keratin disorder, which causes beak deformities and could be a sign that a new disease is spreading among birds, or an unknown environmental problem is damaging birds. Andre Revikin at the New York Times offers a Q&A with two biologists, Colleen Handel and Caroline Van Hemert, on the subject. And at Wired Science, Brandon Keim has a short piece-- Alaskan Bird Deformities Are Puzzling, Creepy-- that says basically the same thing, only noting that the black-capped chickadee and crows are especially affected:
About one in 16 crows and black-capped chickadees suffer from a condition called avian keratin disorder, which causes their beaks to become morbidly elongated and crossed.

Rates of the debilitating disorder are 10 times higher than usual. That’s higher than has ever been recorded in any wild-bird population, and most of this rise happened over the last decade. Dozens of other bird species are afflicted. Nobody knows why, but it’s probably not a good sign.
Unlike past outbreaks of beak-deformity epidemics caused by toxins and heavy metals contamination of the environment, which occurred in clusters, this one is widespread and affects species living in different habitats.

Birders in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest are being asked to report any sightings they might make of beak deformities.

(Links thanks to Eileen Gunn.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Intellectual Passion

If Flaubert could read the Quixote every year, why can't we do the same with "History's Two Bodies" or Natalie Zemon Davis's Holberg acceptance speech?

Friday, November 12, 2010


Writing for the Huffington Post, Ryan Grim points out that George Bush repeatedly incorporated unacknowledged passages from other people's books about his administration into his own "memoir." Grim characterizes the memoir as
a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial "decision points" of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir.

Bush, on his book tour, makes much of the fact that he largely wrote the book himself, guffawing that critics who suspected he didn't know how to read are now getting a comeuppance. Not only does Bush know how to read, it turns out, he knows how to Google, too. Or his assistant does. Bush notes in his acknowledgments that "[m]uch of the research for this book was conducted by the brilliant and tireless Peter Rough. Peter spent the past 18 months digging through archives, searching the internet[s], and sifting through reams of paper." Bush also collaborated on the book with his former speechwriter, Christopher Michel.

Many of Bush's literary misdemeanors exemplify pedestrian sloth, but others are higher crimes against the craft of memoir. In one prime instance, Bush relates a poignant meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a Tajik warlord on Karzai's Inauguration Day. It's the kind of scene that offers a glimpse of a hopeful future for the beleaguered nation. Witnessing such an exchange could color a president's outlook, could explain perhaps Bush's more optimistic outlook and give insight into his future decisions. Except Bush didn't witness it. Because he wasn't at Karzai's inauguration.
The ironies are sometimes quite delicious:
Bush appears to draw heavily from several of Bob Woodward's books and also from Robert Draper's "Dead Certain". The Bush White House called the books' accuracy into question when they were initially published.
My immediate reaction was, what can you expect from someone who was not only a C student all his life, but one who was proud of it? Many, many C students in college these days can't seem to understand what plagiarism is (even when it's explained to them). I wouldn't be surprised if George Bush really didn't know he was supposed to acknowledge his quotations. But what about his publisher, Crown? Who knows. Maybe they think that because he's a Bush and a former POTUS, the usual rules don't apply...

"The proper representative of humanity"

The Nov 2010 issue of Science Fiction Studies arrived in my mailbox this week, and it's filled with goodies. It features a special section on the work of Octavia E. Butler, edited by De Witt Douglas Kilgore and Ranu Samantrai, and a symposium on animal studies and science fiction.

In their introduction, "Memorial to Octavia E. Butler," which places great emphasis on Butler's insistence on "hybridity" as the source of hope and well-being, Kilgore and Samantrai write:
Without writers such as Butler, it is possible that sf would have ossified and remained too closely wedded to an invalidated hegemony. In her life, as in her work, Butler showed us that change comes from unexpected places: from the minority actors who challenge the certainties of the majority and from the violation of the settled boundaries that organize our understanding of the world.

The essays that follow attend to the most readily distinguishable and most disturbing feature of Butler's fiction: the human body exposed as shockingly vulnerable, undone by its availability for violation and control. Each author grapples with the implications of Butler's exploration of our embodied humanity: Why must the body be the index of change? If the body is beyond the governing reach of human consciousness, either because it is acted upon by another consciousness or, more likely, because its own desires collude in its violation, what consequence does that have for agency? And if human agency cannot be located in an autonomous will, then how should we conceive of ethics? To this prospect of a posthuman future, each author adds the centrality of the hitherto marginalized or disenfranchised human being, the queerly raced or sexed or desiring body that now takes center stage as the proper representative of humanity. The paradoxical centrality of the marginal is Butler's version of sf's double-edged sword: her highly speculative alternative worlds are in many ways not recognizable from where we stand, but their very difference makes tem a critical mirror held up to the choices and investments that have made our world.
The articles about Butler's work are:

Benjamin Robertson. "Some Matching Strangeness": Biology, Politics, and the Embrace of History in Octavia Butler's Kindred.

Adam J. Johns. Becoming Medusa: Octavia Butler's Lillith's Brood and Sociobiology.

Marina Aline Ferreira. Symbiotic Bodies and Evolutionary Tropes in the Work of Octavia Butler.

Mary M. Fink. AIDS Vampires: Reimagining Illness in Octavia Butler's Fledgling.

Reflections on Octavia E. Butler [by Vonda N. McIntyre, Sandra Y. Govan, Jeffrey Allen Tucker, Veronica Hollinger, Sweta [sic] Narayan, Marleen S. Barr, and Joan Gordon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Three Thumbs Up

Here follows a quick catch-up of reviews of Aqueduct Press books that we've had a few in print publications, not yet mentioned here.

In the new issue of Locus, Gary K. Wolfe reviews 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin. "It's as much a delight as you would expect," he writes.
[T]he most evident recurring theme is a rediscovery of one's own passion for reading, and the realization that one of the main sources of that passion is someone you can still talk to. As impressed as we are at these heartfelt tributes from names as resonant as [Pat] Murphy, [Nancy] Kress, [John] Kessel, Eileen Gunn, Karen Joy Fowler, Molly Gloss, Sarah Le Fanu, Ellen Kushner, Jo Walton, Lisa Tuttle, Patrick O'Leary, Eleanor Arnason, and others, what this book finally reminds us of, and what it finally celebrates, is our own discovery of Le Guin's fiction, and if we're lucky, our own meetings with Le Guin herself...Le Guin is one of the few writers in our field about whom it might be said that discovering her is discovering parts of ourselves, and 80! is a wonderful and convincing testimony to that.
In the Oct 2010 New York Review of Science Fiction, Mike Levy reviews Tomb of the Fathers and Mammoths of the Great Plains by Eleanor Arnason. "Because she has always been a thoughtful writer, Arnason's novels tend to have a leisurely pace, and, when it comes to shorter fiction, she tends to do her best work at novella length, as shown in the two stories I will be reviewing here." He characterizes Tomb as "an enjoyable and thoughtful piece of science fiction," and says that both Mammoths of the Great Plains and Tomb of the Fathers should be "must" purchases "for anyone interested in Arnason's work or in high-quality feminist or leftist sf."

And in the Summer 2010 SFRA Review, Sandra J. Lindow reviews Tomb of the Fathers. She concludes her review with this:
Arnason has a dry humor and a well-developed sense of the absurd. Her take on human foibles is reminiscent of Pamela Sargent's "Danny Goes to Mars" (1993). Conceptually, Tomb resembles Le Guin's "Sur" (1983) and Joan Slonczewski's The Children Star (1998). Although Tomb of the Fathers is deceptively short and mild-mannered, Arnason is a master storyteller, demonstrating craft and craft---creating engaging characters and steering her story craftily through a moral and political agenda without being too intrusive--and thought provoking enough to inspire other grand conversations.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In other words

Quite apart from the mystery of why Senator Lindsey Graham, like so many US politicians and pundits, is so intent on starting yet a third major war of conquest when they are still fighting the two that George Bush started, is the matter of his language. Yesterday, at an international "security" conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Graham declared:
"So my view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard," Graham told a panel.

"In other words, neuter that regime."
In other words? Really? So this is all about sexual potency and fertility? I can't help but recall Carol Cohn's classic article in Signs, published back in 1987, "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals." Cohn spent two years talking to "defense intellectuals" talking about nuclear war and nuclear weapons.
Feminists have often suggested that an important aspect of the arms race is phallic worship, that "missile envy" is a significant motivating force in the nuclear build-up. I have always found this an uncomfortably reductionist explanation and hoped that my research at the Center would yield a more complex analysis. But still, I was curious about the extent to which I might find a sexual subtext in the defense professionals' discourse. I was not prepared for what I found.

What she found was that it was so much more pervasive and explicit than seemed seriously possible. Cohn ended up studying the language and trying to understand how it functions. As she notes,
"Listening to the discourse of nuclear experts reveals a series of culturally grounded and culturally acceptable mechanisms that serve this purpose and that make it possible to think about the unthinkable," to work in institutions that foster the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to plan mass incinerations of millions of human beings. Language that is abstract, sanitized, full of euphemisms; language that is sexy and fun to use; paradigms whose referent is weapons; imagery that domesticates and deflates the force of mass destruction; imagery that reverses sentient and nonsentient matter, that conflates birth and death, destruction and creation---all of these are part of what makes it possible to be radically removed from the reality of what one is talking about and from the realities one is creating through the discourse.
You can read the entire piece here.

That was 1987. This is 2010, and the arms race is long in the past. The US's "Defense" budget exceeds the combined military budgets of every other state in the world. And here in 2010 Graham is equating the possession (or in the case of Iran, the remote potential for achieving possession) of nuclear capacity with sexual potency and fertility. Does that mean that the states that possesses nuclear weapons are sexually potent and fertile (possesses the phallus?) and that those that don't are sexually impotent and unable to procreate? That's what Graham's langauge is suggesting. (Not to mention that he believes it ought to be the United States Government and the United States Government alone that decides who deserves to be potent. Israel, yes. Iran, no.)

Also in Graham's statement was the assertion that "his party would support military action against Iran that would destroy its ability to fight back while allowing its people to rise up." Yeah, right. Just as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we've seen how well those "military actions" have worked out.