The first boxes of Andrea Hairston's new novel arrived here today! Hallelujah! The cover is drop-dead gorgeous, if I do say so myself.
Redwood and Wildfire is a novel of what might have been. At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville, which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This “dreaming in public” becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and “native” born into Americans. Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a “city of the future.” Gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors, they struggle to call up the wondrous world they imagine, not just on stage and screen, but on city streets, in front parlours, in wounded hearts. The power of hoodoo is the power of the community that believes in its capacities to heal and determine the course of today and tomorrow. Living in a system stacked against them, Redwood and Aidan’s power and talent are torment and joy. Their search for a place to be who they want to be is an exhilarating, painful, magical adventure. Blues singers, filmmakers, haints, healers.
Redwood and Wildfire has been reviewed by Carol Cooper for The Village Voice. "Redwood and Wildfire," Cooper writes, "works as an allegory for all paradigm-shifting artistic innovation, even though it mostly reads as the love story of two people who struggle to invoke the free, interracial paradise that already exists in their hearts."
Advance praise comes from Nisi Shawl, Nancy Kress, and Pearl Cleage:
“Redwood and Wildfire moved me, excited me, involved me deeply in the lives of people I wanted so actively to follow and learn more about. Andrea Hairston’s lush prose perfectly suits the story she tells here of dreamers who travel far on the strength of their dreams: across continents, back and forth through time, and at one point literally out of this world. Drawing on inheritances rooted in lands of myth, Aidan and Sequoia gift one another with a love as generous as freedom as they struggle alongside other, equally interesting characters to manifest the deep abundance that is rightfully theirs. This book is an affirmation of the power of joy to transform the world, and reading it will make you sing like a bird while wishing for wings with which to fly.”—Nisi Shawl, author of Filter House
“Redwood and Wildfire is richly epic, moving from Georgia swamps to Chicago theaters, giving us conjure women and actors and haints and businessmen, acts of horrific cruelty and of wild courage. But it is also an intimate love story of two people groping toward each other when no one else in the entire world thinks they should be together. Told in a fresh voice, Redwood and Aidan's story will move you in ways you don't expect, even as it offers glimpses of that magical world lying behind this one.”— Nancy Kress, author of Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Probability Moon
"Andrea Hairston's writing has the capacity to take you places you had no idea you even wanted to go until she drops you down where you least expected and invites you to make yourself at home. Redwood and Wildfire carries us along on an amazing journey of struggle and spirit, love and loss, its wisdom ultimately coming from Hairston's extraordinary ability to illuminate the mysterious power that only comes with surrender to the things we know, but can't always see. For her long time admirers, this is the book we've been waiting for her to write. For those just discovering her work, welcome to a brand new world. Andrea Hairston has been waiting for you."
—Pearl Cleage, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day and Baby Brother's Blues
Aqueduct will be offering a discount on Redwood and Wildfire on all purchases made through our site through March 15.
In That Iraq Feeling, Paul Krugman reflects on the "virtual blackout" of US news media coverage of the on-going direct action in Madison, Wisconsin, including the rallying of more than 150,000 people on Saturday-- supported by tens of thousands of solidarity rallies across the US:
What that makes me think of is January-February 2003, when anyone watching cable news would have believed that only a few kooks were opposed to the imminent invasion of Iraq. It was quite spooky, realizing that hundreds of thousands of people could march through New York, and by tacit agreement be ignored by news networks whose headquarters were just a few blocks away.
And it’s even more spooky to see it happening all over again.
Krugman's post resonated, a bit, with Gary Younge's piece for the Guardian, Wisconsin Is Making the Battle Lines Clear in America's Hidden Class War, which suggests that the direct action is a result of reality having overthrown the dominance of perception for many people in the US. I first heard that the Reagan White House had an "Office of Perception Management" while reading the Tower Commission's book of Iran-Contra documents in the late 1980s. (As I recall, Oliver North's gang of thugs was heavily involved.) In the 25 years since then, perception management has become more extensive and effective than probably even those guys ever dreamed it could. (In the mid-80s, Fox News, obviously, couldn't have been even a glimmer in Oliver North's eye.) When 20 years later Donald Rumsfeld announced that the Bush administration wasn't bound by reality and facts, he was simply making the brazen assertion of the supremacy of perception management for legitimizing whatever he wanted to make happen.
Here's Younge on some of a few of the gaps between reality and perception that allow the Tea Party to get its way:
Polls last year showed that in the US 61% think the country spends too much on foreign aid. This makes sense once you understand that the average American is under the illusion that 25% of the federal budget goes on foreign aid (the real figure is 1%).
Similarly, a Mori poll in Britain in 2002 revealed that more than a third of the country thought there were too many immigrants. Little wonder. The mean estimate was that immigrants comprise 23% of the country; the actual number was about 4%.
Broadly speaking, these inconsistencies do not reflect malice or wilful ignorance but people's attempts to make sense of the world they experience through the distorting filters of media representation, popular prejudice and national myths. "The way we see things is affected by what we know and what we believe," wrote John Berger in Ways of Seeing. "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."
When it comes to class, Americans have long seen themselves as potentially rich and perpetually middling. A Pew survey in 2008 revealed that 91% believe they are either middle class, upper-middle class or lower-middle class. Relatively few claim to be working class or upper class, intimating more of a cultural aspiration than an economic relationship. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll in 2005 showed that while only 2% of Americans described themselves as "rich", 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would "ever be rich".
But trends and ongoing events are forcing a reappraisal of that self-image. Social mobility has stalled; wages have been stagnant for a generation. It is in this light that the growing resistance to events in Wisconsin must be understood. The hardline Republican governor, Scott Walker, has pledged to remove collective bargaining rights from public sector unions and cut local government workers' health benefits and pension entitlements.
As the prospect of becoming rich diminishes, many are simply trying not to become poor. Inequality of income and wealth has been more readily accepted in the US because equality of opportunity has long been assumed. The absence of the latter raises serious questions about the existence of the former. This tension brought thousands to the streets in all 50 states to support the Wisconsin unions last weekend.
Of course we feminists have been aware of the gap between reality and perception for all our lives. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle. Ya know?
Returning home a few hours ago from a trip to DC, I caught up on my emailing duties and then, ever the optimist, opened the latest issue of PMLA in case there was something not boring therein. After a quick perusal of the ToC and a more thorough read of the letters pages, I decided that the book ads in the back were most likely to be not boring. In between the letters and the ads, however, in tiny print, there was an alphabetical list of recently-deceased literature professors that began with the name of the wonderful Rane Ramon Arroyo. It seems that Rane Arroyo died at fifty-five last May, of a cerebral hemorrhage.
The Chicagoan gay Latino poet Rane Arroyo appears in my author bio as the young prof who asked me "Are you a gay student?" A newly-hired Assistant Professor at YSU in 1994, he gave me indispensable advice on grads school and gentle critiques of my tyro essays in Exquisite Corpse, commenting accurately on my dismissal of Wordsworth as anti-science, "It's more complicated than that." He was, I believe, the first out gay instructor the YSU English department had hired; and there was much "How will the students react to this guy?" hand-wringing among his colleagues. The students, including the brothers of the frat he and his partner lived beside, had no problem with this guy; some of the faculty were less liberal. After a few years as a very popular teacher at YSU, he found work at Toledo, where he taught until his death at fifty-five.
There are many great lines in Arroyo's poetry, such as "You are given refuge in Utah where everyone is blonde by law/and interbreeding" (from "Rudy") or "Most attempts at globality/Turn consciousness into commerce" (from Portable Famine). I remember seeing him perform some of his poems in 1993: he read pieces that would be collected in The Singing Shark and The Roswell Poems, about the only media images of young Puerto Rican men he saw on tv as a child (singing Sharks), about Latino superheroism, about "men in white shirts taught not/to weep except through the armpits." His most vivacious performance was of "Juan Angel," a monologue by a character type whose analogues I would later recognize in Paris Is Burning and some of Chip Delany's essays. Published by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review, "Juan Angel" concerns a young single man, born to Puerto Rican "immigrants," who photographs himself in drag and lives on dreams of stardom: "I dream big, but no matter how big I/dream I'm smaller than life, smaller." From Juan I first learned that "it was Puerto Rican drag queens and/Black drag queens that started/the Stonewall riots." I can still hear Rane, after having performed the wild mood swings in the last section of the poem, wrapping it up with a beatific "I'm Juan Angel" followed by a tentative and unconfident "Hello, hello?"
"Joy is power. Real power." comes from a response Rane made to a fan letter on his facebook page about a month before he died.
[ETA fuzzy video footage of the end of an Arroyo talk in Brockport. "Dance! Live! Then write."]
The release date for Andrea Hairston's new novel, Redwood and Wildfire is fast approaching. We're expecting a shipment of books to arrive here in Seattle soon; when they do, we'll be offering the novel through our website. Rest assured, I'll make the announcement here. In the meantime, though, the first review of the book has been published, in the Village Voice's online edition. It's by Carol Cooper, and though short, includes an excellent description of what the book is about. The review begins:
For some time now there's been hope that fresh directions in fantastic or speculative literature might come from black diasporic writers—that the world's next Tolkien or Heinlein might be brown or beige. With her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, Andrea Hairston edges up alongside Minister Faust and Nnedi Okorafor to become a serious contender for that role.
I suppose you've all heard by now about the Indiana deputy attorney general who urged Scott Walker to use "live ammunition" against Wisconsin protestors. The Chicago Tribunenow reports that the guy has been fired:
The Indiana attorney general's office says a deputy attorney general "is no longer employed" by the state after Mother Jones magazine reported that he had used his Twitter account to urge police to use live ammunition against Wisconsin protesters.
The magazine reported Wednesday that Jeffrey Cox had responded "Use live ammunition" to a posting on its Twitter account reporting that riot police might sweep protesters out of the Wisconsin capitol, where they have been demonstrating against labor legislation.
The Indiana attorney general's office says in a statement that while it respects employees' free speech rights, public servants are held to a "higher standard" and should "strive for civility."
The Associated Press called Indianapolis phone listings under Cox's name seeking comment, but could not locate him.
Remember the indignation of the far right-wing pundits and politicians at being called on the violence of their rhetoric following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and numerous other people in her vicinity? That was only last month, right? So I have to ask: was this guy serious, or did he imagine he was making an amusing rhetorical gesture? Or perhaps he was merely sharing a fantasy in public?
In the US, the official attitude toward police violence openly excuses every and all injuries (including deaths) inflicted by officers on not only violent suspects, but also nonviolent suspects and bystanders. (Including on people whose homes are "mistakenly" invaded by heavily armed swat teams who think nothing of shooting up the place.) Are people who collectively engage in direct action-- "protestors"-- considered suspects? Probably. It doesn't matter that nonviolent direct action is a longstanding feature of democracy and is often inspired by the desire to see justice done, often serves the highest civic goals it's possible to have. The official culture of this country has no respect for ordinary citizens without political clout or billions in off-shore loot.
Because of the amount of bloodshed being visited on "protestors" in the Middle East right now--and the amount of attention that bloodsed has been getting from the US media--the question about what Cox was doing or saying in his egregious "exercise of free speech" is one we ought to be thinking hard about.
What, to be more pointed, is the relationship between advice-- or a joke, if it was one-- about shooting protesters on the one hand and a head of state's ordering military office to bomb and strafe his own capitol city where that state's citizens are rising up against a repressive dictator on the other hand?
Not, of course, that violence necessarily ends "protest." Au contraire. Qaddafi may be showing himself willing to strafe and bomb his own country (adding new meaning to the word "bloodbath," but members of his government continue to desert him and large parts of Libya have gone over to the dissidets. Here's Juan Cole's description in a post titled 30% of Libya in Hands of Youth Movement:
If we begin at the eastern border of Libya with Egypt this morning and move west, we find the country is now divided in two, with the east largely in the hands of dissidents and the West still under the thumb of Qaddafi’s security forces. The border with Egypt is in the hands of the Youth Movement, and the Egyptian government at the Bedouin village of Sallum (pop. 14,000) is allowing the border to remain open, permitting supplies and medicine to flow into the eastern cities. This Egyptian policy is tacit support for the revolt.
Then Tobruk is in dissident hands, with what soldiers there are having joined the revolt and now directing traffic and keeping order for the new, civic leadership. Tobruk, a city of 300,000 (about 5% of Libya’s population), is the last major stop in the east on the way to the Egyptian border.
Aljazeera Arabic is showing footage of the Libyan military command in the district of al-Jabal al-Akhdar declaring its allegiance to the protest movement. This Arabic news article confirms that report and gives further details.
Does this news mean that the capital of the district, al-Bayda, has fallen to the Youth Movement? On Tuesday, wire services were reporting that al-Bayda (pop. 200,000) was still in the hands of Qaddafi loyalists, despite fierce fighting between protesters and foreign mercenaries in Qaddafi’s employ. An eyewitness said that the mercenaries had committed a massacre in which 26 were killed in al-Bayda.
(Update: Aljazeera Arabic is reporting at noon Wednesday that al-Bayda and Dirna are now outside the control of Qaddafi forces and that the east of the country is pretty uniformly in rebellion.
Benghazi to the west of al-Bayda has a population of about 700,000, and it has been in the hands of the protesters for several days.
As far as I can tell, the political insanity in Libya (and in Wisconsin and other places in the US) is all on the part of the rulers rather than the revolting ruled.
It may be snowing today, here in Seattle, but I saw a clump of yellow crocus on Sunday, and as far as local waterfowl go, it's spring. These days I hardly recognize the (male) ducks that are wearing "nuptial plumage." (The duck in the picture to the left, for instance, is a green-winged teal with nuptial plumage.) I've noticed that some of them are beginning to spend time out of the water, waddling about in the weeds, and hunkering down on logs and low-hanging branches. On Sunday, a showy mallard climbed up onto the shore, walked straight toward me, stopped a foot short of me and paused for about half a minute to look around before continuing on his way. And when I saw a pie-billed grebe carrying a piece of water weed in his bill, I looked around for the female he was likely trying to impress. (Didn't see her, though. But since grebes are accomplished divers, she might well have been busy below.) Every visit to the Union Bay Fill, lately, has been more than usually fascinating.
I'm most curious right now about the behavior of the area's Great Blue Heron. Last week we saw several of them, roosting high in the branches of a tree not far from the resident eagles' nest. I was surprised, not only because I'd never seen more than two blue herons at the same time in the same place before, but also because I thought only two lived in the vicinity. And then on Sunday, eight blue herons came flying in over the lake, swooping low over the cove; one of them headed straight for the blue heron half-hidden in the reeds, fishing, that I'd been watching. And then both of them rose into the air and joined the others. All of them then found perches to occupy in the same two trees I'd see them in just a few days before. I'm so used to thinking of them as solitary (especially in comparison with most other waterfowl) that it seems strange and wonderful to see them hanging out in a crowd. Will they be nesting in those trees? Considering what enemies the eagles are of great blue herons-- probably the single biggest threats to their eggs and hatchlings-- it would seem to be an extraordinary choice for nesting.
It is hard to keep track of all the democracy surges currently underway. Libya, even. Who would've thunk it? Always interesting, of course, to see the difference in the way the US media covers surges, depending on their location and geopolitical significance. Madison is particularly on mind, though. The mainstream media's inflation of the Tea Party's showing offers a classic example of how far from "balanced" their coverage is. But today, I find myself dwelling on two pieces of information about Governor Scott Walker's so-called Budget Repair Bill that the mainstream media have determinedly ignored or played down-- information that underscores what Walker's shenanigans are really about.
The first piece of information, which ought to be mentioned every time the media mention the "Budget Repair Bill," is that Walker himself created the budget "imbalance." Here's a post at Talking Points Memo (made last week):
This broadside comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau -- the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office -- concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.
"Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond he control," says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future -- a public interest think tank. "He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes."
"The state of Wisconsin has not reached the point at which austerity measures are needed," Norman adds.
In a Wednesday op-ed, the Capitol Times of Madison picked up on this theme.
In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state's budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million. To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.
You can read the fiscal bureaus report here (PDF). It holds that "more than half" of the new shortfall comes from three of Walker's initiatives:
$25 million for an economic development fund for job creation, which still holds $73 million because of anemic job growth.
$48 million for private health savings accounts -- a perennial Republican favorite.
$67 million for a tax incentive plan that benefits employers, but at levels too low to spur hiring.
In essence, public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda. "The provisions in his bill do two things simultaneously," Norman says. "They remove bargaining rights, and having accomplished that, make changes in the benefit packages." That's how Walker's plan saves money. And when it's all said and done, these workers will have lost their bargaining rights going forward in perpetuity.
Second, there's the fire-sale provision in the bill that is likely there to benefit Scott Walker's chief benefactors, the infamous Koch brothers. Here is Ed at ginandtacos.com:
The lion's share of attention regarding Scott Walker's legislative proposal has been paid to the effort to revoke Wisconsin public employees' collective bargaining rights, but the 144-page bill (more reliable link here) is a far more exhaustive and inclusive list of the fundamentals of Republican politics in the 21st Century. Not many people have the time to plow through the whole bill but those who do will be rewarded with plenty of gems like this:
16.896 Sale or contractual operation of stateâˆ’owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any stateâˆ’owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).
If this isn't the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don't know what is. It's like a highlight reel of all of the high-flying slam dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term "public interest" as "whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is."
And if that's not enough to make your blood boil, consider this: the state of Michigan is choosing to "balance" its budget by shutting down half of the schools in Detroit--and increasing class sizes to 60 students. No, that's not a typo. SIXTY STUDENTS. Just imagine that. All of this crap is coming at a time when the rich have never been richer, when the financial industry has taken billions in hand-outs from the federal government and lavished it on its executives to reward them for their corruption and incompetence. Reminds me of an argument I had with one of my Louisiana relatives about ten years ago. He argued, if you can believe it, against any form of public education. No child "deserves" an education, he said. Well, I guess that's what the folks in Michigan are thinking, too.
Charles Coleman Finlay had a story up on Futurismic last year in which not only abortion, but miscarriage, is a crime: "Your Life Sentence."
And damned if some nutty state representative in Georgia hasn't introduced a bill requiring investigation of all miscarriages. This law not only out-and-out prohibits abortion as "prenatal murder," it intends for authorities to make absolutely certain that any miscarriages occurred through no fault of the woman in question. I'm sure any indication that the woman had been drinking or smoked any dope would be enough to charge her with a crime, and it doesn't take any imagination at all to figure out just how far this would go. (Skip your vitamins? Exercise too vigorous? Engage in too much sex while pregnant?)
I found this proposed law so unbelievable when I read the post about it on Daily Kos that I actually read the damn bill itself just to be sure. I note as an insight into this man's mind that the bill only uses the term miscarriage once and puts it in quote marks. The actual words he uses are "spontaneous fetal death."
The law is reprehensible on abortion rights; just stopping right there it's completely extreme and blatantly unconstitutional. And it's not likely to pass; it's just red meat rhetoric. It's not even the most unusual; the proposal in South Dakota that would allow justifiable homicide as a defense to killing a doctor who performs abortion probably takes the cake for that.
But less extreme bills are passing every day. There's an ongoing assault on women by the people Vonda N. McIntyre calls the "Compulsory Pregnancy" brigade. That term really nails it, because given that they're also opposed to contraception and sex education, compulsory pregnancy for any woman who has sex is exactly what they have in mind.
This battle ought to be over. But a look at the Congressional Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood demonstrates just how bad the situation is.
I saw a note from Charlie Finlay on Facebook in which he observed that a lot of US publications rejected his story because they found it "unrealistic." Oh, I wish it were.
Join a conversation on Maureen McHugh’s evocative and powerful short story “Useless Things” at the James Tiptree Award website from March 1 to March 31. Moderated by Karen Joy Fowler, this discussion marks the start of the Tiptree Award Book Club, a forum for conversations about the works honored by the Award and the issues they raise. If you are interested in gender issues, the apocalypse, and the intersection of the two, you won’t want to miss this. “Useless Things” can be found in Eclipse 3, edited by Jonathan Strahan, and in the 27th edition of Gardner Dozois’ World’s Best Science Fiction.
I wish I weren't so busy. This sounds as if it'll be fun and interesting. And "Useless Things" is an excellent story.
“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, WI, and member of VoteVets.org. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the Governor is about to cross.” --Zach at Blogging Blue, Feb. 14, 2011
(Notes about how I selected my reading are available on those pages.)
For Alas, a Blog, and Ambling Along the Aqueduct, I thought I'd do a shorter, aggregate post, pointing out what I consider to be the highlights.
This year, all of the short stories I really swooned over were available online. I love that because it makes it easier to share them with other people. Many of the other works I loved were also online.
"On the Banks of the River Lex" by N. K. Jemisin - Jemisin's stories about all-powerful beings are shockingly evocative, occupying an archetypical role and also becoming fascinating characters. It was lovely to see her bring this talent into a post-apocalyptic story about Death and gods coping in a world without people.
"Ponies" by Kij Johnson - Visceral. My stomach knotted as I began to read and stayed knotted. I'd synopsize, but I think the story says what it has to say in exactly the amount of time it takes to say it. Highly recommended for feminist readers.
"Hwang's Billion Brilliant Daughters" by Alice Sola Kim - In brief, scattered flashes, a narrator tells the story of a time traveling man who visits his descendents through many generations. Beautiful, fun fragments of science fiction futures, combined with interesting characterization and thoughts about time.
"The History within Us" by Matt Kressel - Stunning, emotionally resonant far-future apocaclypse, in which the alien setting enhances the story's questions about genocide, humanity, and memory.
"The Isthmus Variation" by Kris Millering - Eerie, chilling mystery about a destroyed theater troupe, evoking a strong mood. Subtly built, intelligent, evocative.
"The Ghosts of New York" by Jennifer Pelland - Ponders grief and memory in the wake of 9/11 with a historical slant.
"Surrogates" by Cat Rambo - A future in which people can interact with robotic substitutes for their loved ones. A touching portrayal of a relationship disintegrating, of alienation growing between people, of joy that's disappearing and must be seized. Particularly recommended for feminist readers.
"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn - Sympathetic characters in a meaningful situation, elucidating an ambiguous world that is simultaneously more oppressive than ours and more free. Particularly recommended for readers interested in radical politics.
"Standard Loneliness Package" by Charles Yu - Fresh, intelligent, and insightful interpretation of science fictional tropes, combined with excellent character work and skillful control of prose. Particularly recommended for readers with a mainstream literary aesthetic.
"Flying in the Face of God" by Nina Allen - The standout in this category: Nina Allen's affecting story of alienation, a beautiful and intelligent examination of what it means to be left behind. The story is masterful; it's told from the perspective of a woman who is making a documentary about the biological reprogramming her best friend, Rachel, is undergoing so that she can embark on a no-return mission into space.
"The History of Poly-V" by Jon Ingold - A beautiful story of memory, nostalgia, and the narrative construction of self-consciousness, tied together with intelligent hints of meta-fiction.
"Plague Birds" by Jason Sanford - A far-future in which genetic engineering has merged human and animal DNA. AIs enforce the rules of civilization. This story shares the features of Sanford's other work: vivid, strange imagery underpinned by a well-structured plot.
"Stone Wall Truth" by Caroline Yoachim - The loss of high technology has left people with limited understanding in control of powerful artifacts such as the wall—when convicts are flayed and pinned to the wall, the shadows of their guilt ooze out of their chests, allowing them to be sewn up again without sin. Another vivid, surreal story, underpinned by a strong plot—although I found the resolution of this one less satisfying than Sanford's.
"The Life-Cycle of Software Objects" by Ted Chiang - When a company develops AI with malleable intelligence, intending them to be pets, they're unprepared for the consequences of releasing learning, sentient beings that are dependent on hardware that can out-evolve them and customers who are easily bored. Ambitious, detailed, pitch perfect in its integration of technical details in a way that supports the character, stories and ideas.
"Alone" by Robert Reed - Eerie and epic in all sorts of good ways, the kind of really neat far-future SF that draws you into an entirely unknown world and seems to be much longer than it actually is—in that it provides a plethora of things to think about.
Young Adult Novels
SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi - Immediately visceral. SHIPBREAKER follows the story of Nails, a boy living in subsistence-level poverty by working a dangerous job at a ship salvage yard. When he and a friend find a possible way off of the beach and out of poverty, they must defend their opportunity from the tough men who work the heavy salvage crew, ill-intentioned corporations, and Nails' abusive father. Bacigalupi's world is desperate, convincing, and immersive, and inhabited by smartly rendered characters. Particularly recommended for readers with radical politics.
HEREVILLE by Barry Deutsch - - A graphic novel detailing the adventures of Mirka, a ten-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl who lives in a Yiddish-speaking, Hassidic enclave, and who wants to get a sword and fight monsters. The graphic novel is free and fun and sometimes silly with occasional breaks into emotional depth and the explorations of Mirka's family. Disclosure: I know the author and was involved in helping to edit early drafts of the book. I still think it's genuinely amazing, though.
THE BONESHAKER by Kate Milford - Circa 1910, set in Arcane, a crossroads town with a ghost town from an earlier era beside it. When a strange medicine show comes to town, a mechanically inclined young girl tries to investigate their strange remedies and even stranger machines. Knockout novel with a series of chilling, well-sustained reveals. Situated in American mythology, but written with a unique voice that makes it surprising and compelling. Particularly recommended for feminist readers.
THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and BROKEN KINGDOMS by N. K. Jemisin - Jemisin's writing is lovely, and this is particularly clear from her novels which are a fascinating take on epic fantasy, written with a post-colonial aesthetic.
THE DERVISH HOUSE by Ian McDonald - The DaVinci code told through Islam. Follows a number of very interesting characters and explores a rich setting with affection. Interesting material about historical artifacts, some mythological.
STORIES OF IBIS by Hiroshi Yamamoto - A frame story about the interaction of AIs and humans in the far future ties together seven previously published short stories about the evolution of artificial intelligence. Some of the shorts tend toward sentimentality. But I liked the effect that all the pieces created together, as well as the unexpected handling of the relationship between the AIs and humans.
HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu - A time machine repairman has spent the past decade trying to avoid living by keeping himself in a perpetual now. The novel skillfully taps the metaphorical wealth of science fiction tropes, and in particular the way they've seeped into the popular cultural imagination. Particularly recommended for readers with a mainstream literary aesthetic.
Update: A previous version of this list included Atwood's THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD as a recommended novel. Niall Harrison kindly pointed out to me that FLOOD was published in 2009. I shuffle my feet in embarrassment.
Hey, I'm making the 1000th post on Ambling along the Aqueduct. Where's my prize?
The post is basically a link roundup, or maybe the first of several link roundsup, if other blog contributors post their own, about The Vida Statistics, which have generated a discussion in the press and blogosphere more or less analogous to conversations that the SFF world went through a couple of years ago. And a couple of years before that, usw. Turns out that the mundanes are even worse at publishing and reviewing literature by women than F&SF. Comments from bitchmedia, Women and Hollywood, Slate, more Slate, etlTNR, Jezebel, Hairpin, Percival Everett, and Bookslut, where they're having a dialogue. Somehow the "but the women don't submit enough: what can we do?" argument reminds me of a stanza from a Fred Small song: Well, she talked to the manager when we were through She says "There're some things you could do To make it easier for folks in wheelchairs." He says "Oh, it's not necessary. Handicapped never come here anyway."
A great good friend of Aqueduct Press, Paige Clifton-Steele, has organized a feminist science fiction book club that meets in Seattle once a month. Here's the latest from Paige on what they're up to:
The Feminist Science Fiction Book Club exists to promote the fiction of women and transpeople with a particular focus on explicitly feminist works--and that's taking for granted that feminist means queer, anti-racist,anti-cissexist, anti-imperialist, and anti ableism, and some other antis I'm probably forgetting too. Not everybody's at the same level. We're interested in reading a variety of works, because it pushes the conversation and because it's fun.
Our first 2 books were Slow River by Nicola Griffith and "The Heat Death of the Universe" by Pamela Zoline. Next month our book is Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring.
We meet the second Tuesday of every month in Pilot Books, on 219 Broadway E, Seattle WA. That location is up a flight of stairs with no option of an elevator. For March, that's the 8th. Come meet the people who are also reading this stuff. Or check us out on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_183478185000016 (I'm pretty sure you have to be logged in)
Nisi Shawl has just sent me a pdf of a flyer about this year's Clarion West. For anyone who doesn't know, Clarion West is an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy, held annually in Seattle, Washington, USA. The upcoming session (June 19 to July 29) will be taught by Paul Park, Nancy Kress, Margo Lanagan, Minister Faust, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Charles Stross.
I find it striking that all of the instructors in the photos the CW site provides are smiling. You'd swear we were a merry, happy bunch of people! (Well, almost. One of the smiles seems perhaps ambivalent, and thus not quite what one would call "merry," exactly...)
CW says: Applications must be received by March 1, 2011. The application fee will be reduced for applications made on or before February 10. And it's recommended that after February 24, applicants send their materials via email to ensure that they arrive on time.
--Pan Morrigan's "Roadmap" gives the details of Andrea Hairston's tour promoting Redwood and Wildfire, her brilliant new novel, which Aqueduct Press will be releasing on February 28. The tour dates include include both textual readings and Chrysalis Theatre productions performing scenes and songs from the novel. I expect this will be exciting, stimulating entertainment.
Theologian and public intellectual Adam Kostko, who's had many thousands of online conversations about theory, two weeks ago acknowledged the validity of a criticism of his book, Awkwardness: "Yes, exploring this supposedly universal human trait exclusively through the false universal of the white male was problematic — I had never thought about it in those terms, but once you put it in those terms, it’s an obvious blind spot." Nobody'd pointed that problem out to him before.
The government has removed police and all security from the streets and neighbourhoods are policing themselves. Young people have formed neighbourhood watches and are guarding their areas. They're having fun, inventing barricades and passwords, checking IDs and ushering you through with a theatrical flourish.
Gwyneth Jones has written notes on the stories collected in Universe of Things, which Aqueduct Press published last month.
Storynotes for Universe of Things
by Gwyneth Jones
In The Forest Of The Queen: The Monsec American Monument is a real place. The forest in the story is a real place, and cropped for firewood by the commune, just as described. We drove into it, we left our car at a meeting of green, smoothly mown, thickly tree-bordered tracks; just as described. We walked into the trees, and were walking over ground that was hopping with tiny dark-skinned frogs. Never seen so many little frogs. We got a little lost, and that felt a little strange: we found ourselves again, and there was (but this was at a different forest margin) an old French forester who said “You can go in, but you may not come out”. Back in the car, for a while it was touch and go: so many crossing trails, and surely far more trees than we’d passed on the way in. We knew we’d escaped when we reached the cottage converted into a bat refuge, but I wondered if maybe everything had changed; if this was really the same world as we’d left. The rest is fiction.
I’ve sought these liminal, uncertain experiences all my life. The most developed example I’ve written up as fiction is a novel called Kairos. It’s that Arthur Machen feeling, it’s what the term numinous actually means, and you should ask my brother David about it.
Total Internal Reflection. An early try out for the tech-and-drug mediated Grail idea.
Red Sonja And Lessingham In Dreamland. It’s about Red Sonja, ie Brigitte Nielson (a favourite movie). It’s about Lessingham, as in the heroic Renaissance Fantasies of Eric Rucker Eddison (who shared private tutors with Arthur Ransome as a boy, but I’m sure you knew that). Someone once told me that Eddison fans in the US found it “very offensive/” I'm truly sorry they feel that way, I meant no harm, I'm an Eddision fan, I even admire Mistress of Mistresses, which some might say proves my dedication. When my son was a little boy he was very, very keen on the Ballantine cover of The Worm Ouroboros and insisted I read it to him. I warned him, but he persisted, so I did. Didn't miss a word. Red Sonja is mainly supposed to be funny, with a sneak-out ending that finally refuses to condemn the dubious escapism fans, but I think its popularity rests on the fact that it is, inevitably, also mildly porny. Probably the most anthologised Gwyneth Jones story.
The Universe Of Things This one used to be called "The Mechanic", which may have been a better title. My poor mechanic gets into a panic, imagining he's a helpless component in a pumping, squirting, squishy Great Big Machine. When he stops frightening himself and calms down, he "hears" the alien's car say "Thank you." I take that to be a fleeting, genuine insight into how it feels to be submerged, encompassed by the living world, like an Aleutian: without being terrified. The key is kind-ness (as in that Oxfam tag, be humankind); even in our world held to be the root of all altruism. Ah, well. The city is Liverpool, by the way. Don’t know if I mentioned that in the narrative.
Blue Clay Blues. A Johnny Guglioli story. At the time of writing White Queen, I worked up a future USA that didn’t seem remotely likely, just for the hell of it, and in response to the Cyberpunk-Eighties version of near-future Europe. I knew I didn’t know anything like enough about the US to work up a likely future, so I didn’t try. Ironically, apparently, it stands up. I wrote this story because I wanted to use the lines “Is that a gun in your pocket?” “No, it’s a spare diaper.”
Grazing The Long Acre Somehow this got into one of Steve Jones’s horror anthologies. I don’t know how, pure kindness to Gwyneth on Steve’s part, most likely. This is not a horror story, this is a Polish story. It is not a mundane story either: it is obviously and very Polishly a story about an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Czestochowa in fact. I wondered what that tricky concept The Immaculate Conception would look like, to a part-Jewish American girl who was trying to be Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not, and this is the result. The working girls on the E75 are real, or they were. "Grazing" has been translated into Polish, and published in Nowa Fantastyka, and I’m pleased about that.
Collision. I signed up to write a story for Geoff Ryman’s anthology When It Changed. The main attraction was that I would be shadowing a scientist, the way I shadowed Dr Jane Davies for Life, the way I’ve sneaked myself into a few real world scientific/academic conferences, over the years. It turned out that I couldn’t visit my scientist, who had promised to let me see a real (medical) particle accelerator roaring in its cage, as the trip would be too expensive. Then it turned out that Geoff, which through lack of paying attention I hadn’t known, was not just using a title that happened to sound the same, he was actually referencing the iconic Joanna Russ, seventies-feminism ur-text “When It Changed,” and saying his Scientific Revolutions anthology was inspired by that story. Geoff, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. The other contributors are free to do what they like: me, I'm going to have to write something about a feminist/post-gendered Utopia under threat from the Return Of The Sex-Role Dinosaur Police. And time was running out. So “Collision” was a bit of a scrambled egg, but in the end I sort of liked the result. Plus I loved “meeting” Dr Kai Hock (Dr Fortune) digitally. He’s a star. Also loved finding out about wake fields & all that from his online powerpoints.
One Of Sandy’s Dreams Sandy Brize is a character from Kairos.
Gravegoods The first properly scifi story I ever wrote (and the last, until "The Fulcrum" and the rest of the Buonarotti set); the first I ever got published, and the ur-form of the means of faster than light travel later to be known as a Buonarotti Transit. I took it to my second UK Milford week, in 1986. The delightful alien planet is Madeira.
La Cenerentola Won the BSFA short story award, in 1999 I think it was, which was a very pleasant surprise. A love song to the summers of the nineties, when I travelled (on a less well-heeled scale) very much the way Thea and Suze and Bobbi travel, around the sunbaked Mediterranean. Isn’t it interesting to look back, and see a world where the danger of having everything seemed like a real threat. The night at L’Ecureuil, with the flamenco guitar, and the mayor with her little shoes, is taken from life. Also the hangover.
Grandmother’s Footsteps. This was written for an anthology about haunted houses, but the haunted house seems almost incidental now. I believe I was writing at the time of a grim chemical pollution discovery in the UK (Was it Lindane? That wood treating stuff?). The horrible revelation that your child is doomed to a short life in pain, because you painted the barn with something you didn’t know was deadly... and this segues, naturally, if you’re writing a horror story, into the awful suspicion that everything, every greedy thoughtless thing your civilisation ever did to the world, everything that made you prosperous, is going to turn around and savage your babies. That's when you start being haunted by yourself. An existential yuppie nightmare.
The Earlier Crossing This was a dream, I dreamed it, word for word. So to speak. I was working with the Continuing Education Department at our local University (late lamented, it’s been axed), encouraging ordinary folk to do some creative writing, the result was to be a book, and everybody involved had to pitch something in.
The Eastern Succession Now where is this set? I think it’s set on the slopes of Mount Bromo, circa 1978, although there’s no active volcano on the summit above “Temple Pass” in the story. I recognise the town; I remember staying in that town, in a wooden-walled room, the pillows and sheets on the bed crusted with embroidery, that left patterns on my ears. It’s central Java anyway, and Bu Awan is Mount Merapi, but the bas-reliefs as described are in a temple near Solo. Endang was the name of someone we met, a dance student, she was a girl, but in Javanese boy/girl names aren’t exclusive. When I first drafted Divine Endurance, while living in Singapore, I went on to write several “Derveet and the gang” stories. DE the novel is as stylised as Javanese dance-drama. The emotions are real and intense, everything else is stage: same as European style ballet, in fact. I wanted that effect but I thought I'd also like to have the characters in their street clothes, and find out what really happened to the men and boys. I wasn't satisfied with the "Derveet" stories and discarded most of them. I thought this was more successful, and I took it along to my first UK Milford. Another one, much altered and with Endang brought in as a character, finally became the novel called Flowerdust.
On Mount Bromo I met, and became short-term dear friends with, fully adult human beings, men and women, the top of whose heads barely came to my collarbone, and I’m 162cm. I think of those “hobbits” on Flores, and I think they didn’t entirely die out.
The Thief The Princess And The Cartesian Circle. From the collection Seven Tales And A Fable, published by Steve Pasechnik (of the late lamented Edgewood Press) in 1996. My fractured fairytales (though they were often taken out of the box, revised and some of them published separately over the years between), date back to my undergraduate days at Sussex University. The Thief is not a personal favourite. I prefer “The Snow Apples,” an early try-out for a character who would become Cho, the “innocent, perfect and incorruptible” metagenetic gynoid. Or “Laiken Langstrand”, if only because the lanky blue-eyed blond friend who inspired it is dead now. But it’s possibly the most interesting and most hard-hitting. I was working with fairytales, bringing them into collision with the real world, seeing what interesting fractures might develop, and I’m a long time admirer of I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Hannah Gordon (alternate title of another of the stories). In the real world, a young woman who believes she’s a magic princess, suffering under an evil enchantment, probably has mental health problems. The passage where Jennifer experiences a psychiatric hospital as a wild wood, and a corrupt, sexually abusive doctor as a “woodcutter” her “magic” may easily destroy, is closely related to Gordon’s description of how the psychotic yet beloved world of “Yr” interpenetrates the real, in her schizophrenic protagonist’s perception. "Sectioned" is UK shorthand for being compulsorily committed to a psychiatric institution. The Descartes part is not fiction, and I'd hesitate to call it philosophy: that’s me, at nineteen, wrestling with an angel.
Identifying The Object. A Johnny and Braemar story, narrated by a somewhat holier than thou observer. This story is a mash-up. I had never been to West Africa when I wrote it. The incident at the heart, the supposed alien craft splash-down site, actually happened in Madeira, it was one of those liminal experiences. Of course what we found was the spoor of a flash flood. It was flood water that had created the huge, weird, circular depression paved in red clay, flood water that had brought down the trees all around. But for a moment or two, well, we were on the brink... The original African connection was a terrific dubious escapism romance called The Golden Centipede, by Louise Gerard (1910). When I finally reached West Africa in 1995 (expedition to climb Mt Cameroon) I was stunned to find it was exactly the place Gerard describes. I thought she’d made it all up. The white lilies that grow in the river mud! The flowery natural “gardens,” up in the highlands! The weird peaks! Bit short on wildlife these days, but you can’t have everything. I was trying to work out something about colonialism, and how does it happen? How do the gold empires vanish? In this story Braemar and Johnny, natives of the planet about to be colonised, themselves about to become inferior beings, decide (she decides) to go down (pre-emptively) fighting. If it was as simple as that, I would sign up myself. But Anna thinks it is not.
Last night the forces of the uprising managed, valiantly, to hold onto Tahrir Square against the deadly, vicious attacks of Mubarak's thugs. Today, though, numerous news venues are reporting that dozens of journalists, as well as human rights workers and bloggers, have been detained, beaten, carjacked, hunted down, and otherwise intimidated by the Mubarak government. Security personnel in the Hilton hotel have systematically removed photographers' equipment. Mubarak's thugs have dismantled satellite dishes and destroyed equipment at the television studios of non-State Egyptian stations. Perhaps of all, the live feeds from Tahrir Square have ceased. As the New York Times's Nick Kristof tweeted earlier today, "Govt is trying to round up journalists. I worry about what it is they're planning that they don't want us to see."
The article at the Committee to Protect Journalist site observes:
"This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "The systematic and sustained attacks documented by CPJ leave no doubt that a government-orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news is well under way. With this turn of events, Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world's worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba.
"We hold President Mubarak personally responsible for this unprecedented action," said Simon, "and call on the Egyptian government to reverse course immediately."
Government officials, pro-government journalists, and commentators loyal to Mubarak have for the past two days been engaged in a systematic campaign to present foreigners, and particularly foreign journalists, as spies. CPJ has documented at least seven instances on state-owned television or on private stations owned by businessmen loyal to Mubarak in which individuals described elaborate foreign plots to destabilize Egypt that centered on foreign provocateurs, including journalists. In several instances, they were described as "Israeli spies." In one instance, a woman whose face was obscured "confessed" to having been trained by "Americans and Israelis." She went on to say that the alleged training took place in Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.
I'd like to recommend Professor Juan Cole's blog, which has been running a series of posts providing background and analysis as the uprising continues. It is particularly instructive to read his Why Egypt 2011 Is Not Iran 1979, in which he spells out the immense, particular differences between Iran in 1979 and Egypt in 2011.
Out of my window I saw the crowd marching across 15 May flyover. It's odd: the pro-Mubarak lot are so much more regimented – and so much less civil: the noise pollution, the rude gestures at the street, the sticks, the attitude – and at the same time the perfectly scripted banners, the "stewards" marshalling and directing them.
By midday they had started to attack Tahrir Square; the attacks are continuing as I write now. I'm getting regular updates from the square from my son, nieces, sister and other friends in the thick of it. The people who on Tuesday night were listening to music and debating modes of government are now putting their bodies on the line. It's all they have. The pro-Mubarak lot, of course, have sticks and stones, and swords and chains and dogs and trucks and … the military stand by and do nothing.
So who are these people? In support of the president, they throw Molotov bottles and plant pots from the tops of buildings onto the heads of women and children. To establish stability and order, they break heads with rocks and legs with bicycle chains. To have their say in the debate they slash faces with knives. Who are they? Well, every time one of them is captured his ID says he's a member of the security forces. And his young captors simply hand him to the military who are standing by.
So, the regime once again displays its banality; unable to come up with any move that is decent or innovative, it resorts to its usual mix of brutality and lies. On Tuesday night President Mubarak came on TV and patronised the rest of the country by claiming that Egyptians were in the grip of fear, and pretended that his regime which has been de-developing the country and stealing the bread from people's mouths is now suddenly equipped to "respond to the demands of our young people". He reminded the people of his (now ancient) history as an air force pilot and added a tearjerker about being an old man who wanted die in his country.
And the next morning, not 12 hours after the president's emotional appeal, the regime turned loose its thugs on the street. The same tactics that have been used against protesters over the last five years, the same tactics in force at the last elections to scare voters off the streets, appeared and with redoubled viciousness. This is the regime that is going to listen to the people and use the coming months to put in reforms. Sure.
I've been holding my breath for days, waiting to see which way the Egyptian army was going to jump. I think at least some of the army are still on the fence, even now. Since most journalists are being physically intimidated and successfully chased from Tahrir Square, the odds don't look good.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is compiling a list of journalists who have been attacked today in Egypt. The breadth of these attacks is gobsmacking. Read it here.