Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rachel Swirsky's Short Story Recommendations from 2011

This year, I read about 260 short stories and novelettes. I compiled my list using a combination of reading magazines and anthologies, querying authors about their yearly work, asking for recommendations from critics and editors, and referencing the year's best anthologies. As always, I enjoyed more stories than I'm listing here.

Some of the pieces listed as short stories may actually be novelettes. I double-checked the ones I'm voting on, but for the rest of my reading, where it wasn't immediately obvious what category the work belonged to, I guessed.


"Her Husband's Hands" by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed) - A war widow receives bad news from the front--that her husband is dead--however, they've managed to save his hands and only his hands. This is pretty much the height of metaphor-as-story. In that, it's not dissimilar from last year's "Arvies" in which Troy-Castro created a physicalized metaphor about abortion, but in my opinion, this piece does a much better job of pulling it off. It's dark, intensely written, and intimately and compassionately characterized. I was seriously awed.

"Old Habits" by Nalo Hopkinson (Eclipse 4) - Ghosts relive their deaths in a mall. The concept of ghosts reliving their deaths isn't unusual, of course, but Hopkinson brings unusual storytelling to the ensemble cast. Her characters are generously and sensitively portrayed, their stories interesting, and the plot pitch-perfect in terms of pulling the reader forward without sacrificing characterization or tone.

"Hero-Mother" by Vylar Kaftan (Giganotosaurus) - Kaftan's story of the alien physiology of sex is reminiscent of Tiptree's "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death," in the way it confronts the viscerally physical. Unlike Tiptree's story, however, "Hero-Mother" is also a story about love, sacrifice and limitation.

"Simulacrum" by Ken Liu (Lightspeed) - A father and daughter, unable to relate to each other in the real world, find their relationship (voluntarily and involuntarily) mitigated by computerized simulacra. This story is told in sharp, sweet flashes that are vivid in detail and characterization. The science fictional concept in the story provides an excellent means for Liu to explore lost connections and alienation between parent and child.

"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld) - Sometimes people manage to pull off surrealism and whimsy in a way that feels like they've discarded narrative conventions and, damn it, are just going to wander wherever they feel like it. It doesn't usually work, but sometimes it does. Cartographer fucking wasps and anarchist fucking bees.


"Three Damnations: A Fugue" by James Alan Gardner (Fantasy Magazine) - Three characters are stuck in a loop, dancing around each other, making each other miserable. Each of the characters and stories is interesting, and there's an admirable flesh on the story, giving it more depth than the (clever) idea alone. There are also some striking, unusual images.

"The Axiom of Choice" by David Goldman (New Haven Review) - This is the best reinterpretation of choose your own adventure stories I've seen so far. The story brings up philosophical and mathematical issues that provide intellectual interest, but also creates an emotionally compelling story.

"Story Kit" by Kij Johnson (Eclipse 4) - As Always, Kij Johnson has an amazing ability to tell stories, not only with an author's usual tools, but using the structure of the story itself to fascinate and move her audience. This meta-fictional story about love and loss is, in many ways, brilliant, and certainly noteable for its energy and ideas. However, I think the story doesn't quite come together--at one point, the narrator wonders whether what she's talking about is so personal that she can't even endure talking about it at one remove. It seems as if the whole story is a remove away from its subject matter, as if it's being held at arm's length. Each of the metaphorical threads in the story has its brilliance, but I didn't feel they all came together to make the story what it could have been.

"The Bricks of Gelecek" by Matt Kressel (Naked City) - One of the spirits of destruction falls in love with a human girl. Kressel creates absolutely stunning imagery in this story. It has the scope and breadth of an epic story in a way that really worked for me. Descriptions of ancient, fallen cities are gorgeous. Kressel has a talent, I think, in depicting the weight of history, even in short form. The ending faltered for me, but in some ways, the events and characters weren't my primary concern to begin with; this story is a delight in setting and cinematography.

"Valley of the Girls" by Kelly Link (Subterranean Online) - Kelly Link does her usual thing, weaving together several disparate but striking concepts. They come together here in a far-future story with unusual ideas and striking imagery. I didn't find this piece particularly emotionally involving, but it was beautiful and interesting to read.

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) - This story does a really interesting job of relaying the second-generation immigrant experience, creating discomfort and alienation through specific, suburban details. It reaches its pinnacle when the main character reads a letter left by his deceased mother. Unfortunately, the denouement doesn't sustain the emotional climax; the main character's emotions read as assumed, rather than fully realized on the page. This prevents the story from being outstanding rather than very good.

"Defenders" by Will McIntosh (Lightspeed) - McIntosh's story poses an ambiguous relationship between humans and aliens in a post-apocalyptic world. The way that the text deals with the ambiguities around power, alliances, violence, redemption, sacrifice, and yearning for connection remind me very much of the way Octavia Butler handled these themes, particularly in one of her later published stories, "Amnesty."


"Smoke City" by Christopher Barzak (Asimov's) - Beautiful, surrealist imagery, in a story that doesn't fit easily in genre categories.

"In the Gardens of the Night" by Siobhan Carroll (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) - Immersive fantasy with an interesting character and tone and genuinely well-created tension.

"Selling Home" by Tina Connolly (Bull Spec) - An emotionally evocative story in a far-future dystopia.

"Staying Behind" by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld) - An upload story from the perspective of those who stay behind that includes some striking, unusual images, such as kids bicycling in their evening dresses through the post-apocalyptic world to prom.

"Houses" by Mark Pantoja (Lightspeed) - A clever, well-structured far-future story.

"Long Enough and Just So Long" by Cat Rambo (Lightspeed) - A wistful far-future.

"Tethered" by Mercurio D. Rivera (Interzone--eligible only for the Hugo) - In a far-future story with aliens, Rivera explores the boundaries of love and physiology.

"The World Is Cruel, My Daughter" by Cory Skerry (Fantasy Magazine) - A surprisngly emotionally evocative retelling of Rapunzel.

"The Future When All's Well" by Cat Valente (Teeth) - A clever way of talking about the experience of growing up in the '8os (with Just say no! and after school specials), using vampires as a metaphor, that pulls off character and emotion as well.

"The Sandal-Bride" by Genevieve Valentine (Fantasy Magazine) - A fantasy that feels much longer than it actually is, with evocative setting details and an interesting plot.

Of Note:

"Lessons from a Clockwork Queen" by Megan Arkenberg (Fantasy Magazine)
"Needles" by Elizabeth Bear (Blood and Other Cravings)
"Sunbleached" by Nathan Ballingsrud (Teeth)
"Join" by Liz Coleman (Lightspeed)
"The Double of My Double Is Not My Double" by Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse 4)
"Younger Women" by Karen Joy Fowler (Subterranean Magazine)
"Steam Girl" by Dylan Horrocks (Steampunk!)
"History" by Ellen Kushner (Teeth)
"And Neither Have I Wings to Fly" by Carrie Laben (Bewere the Night)
"This Strange Way of Dying" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Giganotosaurus)
"How Maartje and Uppinder Terraformed Mars (Marsmen Trad.)" by Lisa Nohealani Morton (Lightspeed)
"The House That Made the Sixteen Loops of Time" by Tamsyn Muir (Fantasy Magazine)
"All That Touches the Air" by An Owomoyela (Lightspeed)
"The Fish of Lijiang" by Chen Qiufan (Clarkesworld; may or may not be eligible as it's a translation)
"Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know" by Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld)
"Woman Leaves Room" by Robert Reed (Lightspeed)
"The Landholders No Longer Carry Swords" by Patricia Russo (Giganotosaurus)
"The Panda Coin" by Jo Walton (Eclipse 4)
"All You Can Do Is Breathe" by Kaaron Warren (Blood and Other Cravings)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A word with such a sulfurous reputation

This morning I read a poignant essay on Anna Banti's Artemisia by Susan Sontag. (It is reprinted in At the Same Time, a posthumous collection edited by Sontag's son.) I suspect at least partly because Banti repeatedly addresses the protagonist of her historical novel, bringing in a few carefully circumscribed details about her own life, Sontag's essay ventures into the area of Banti's life as a scholar and writer and her vehement disavowal of feminism. While speaking specifically about Banti, Sontag takes up the phenomenon of intellectual and creative women expressing hostility to feminism more generally. This has always been an interesting issue for me, one strewn with pitfalls for the feminist faced with an apparent contradiction, and so I read this passage with great interest:

To refuse, vehemently (even scorfully) refuse, a reputation as a feminist was, of course, a common move for the most brilliant and independent women of her generation-- Woolf being the glorious exception. Think of Hannah Arendt. Or of Colette, who once declared that women who were so stupid as to want the vote deserved "the whip and the harem." (La Vagabonde, her novel-manifesto about a woman choosing her career and a single life over the love of a worthy man and emotional dependence, was translated into Italian by Banti.) Feminism has meant many things; many unnecessary things. It can be defined as a position-- about justice and dignity and liberty-- to which almost all independent women would adhere if they did not fear the retaliation that accompanies a word with such a sulfurous reputation. Or it can be defined as a position easier to disavow or quarrel with, as it was by Banti (and Arendt and Colette). That version of feminism suggests that there is a war against men, which was anathema to such women; that feminism suggests an avowal of strength-- and a denial of the difficulty and the cost for women in being strong (above all, the cost in masculine support and affection); more, it proclaims pride in being a woman, it even affirms the superiority of women-- all attitudes that felt alien to the many independent women who were proud of their accomplishments and who knew the sacrifices and the compromises they entailed.

Artemesia is full of affirmations of the pathos of female identity: women's weakness, women's dependence, women's solitariness (should they want to be anything but daughters, wives, and mothers), women's sorrows, women's grief. To be a woman is to be incarcerated, and to struggole against incarceration, and to long for it. "'If only I were not a woman,' that futile lament," Banti's Artemisia reflects. "Far better to ally herself with the sacrificed and imprisoned, participate in their veiled, momentous fate, share their feelings, their plans, their truths; secrets from which the privileged, men, were barred." But of course, Artemisia's achievement-- her genius-- banishes her from this home. (53)
Interestingly, Sontag then observes the simliarities between historical and "fantastic fiction":
Artemisia is a tragic reflection on the condition of being a woman and of defying the norms of one's sex--as opposed to the comic, triumphalist, tender fable that is Orlando. As an account of exemplary tribulations that follow from being independent, an artist, and a woman, Banti's novel is also exemplary in its depair and its defiance: the merit of Artemisia's choice is never in doubt.

Read only as a feminist novel, which Artemisia certainly is, it confirms what we know (or think we know; or want others to know). But its power as literature is also that of an encounter with what we don't know or fully understand. The feeling of strangeness is a particular effect of that branch of literature tamed by the label "historical fiction." To write well about the past is to write something like fantastic fiction. It is the strangeness of the past, rendered with piercing concreteness, that gives the effect of realism.(54-55)
Sontag writes more about the book as a historical novel, all of which I found deeply interesting. She concludes by remarking "Anna Banti did not want to lose her manuscript in the battle for Florence in early August 1944. No writer could welcome such a destiny. But there can be no doubt that what makes Artemisia a great book--and unique in Banti's work-- is this double destiny, a book lost and re-created. A book that by being posthumous, rewritten, resurrected, gained incalculably in emotional reach and moral authority."(55-56)

I have often, in the past, reminded myself of this-- to remember that first versions, however complete they might seem, are not necessarily the only or best versions of the story one wants to tell: and more particularly, of the kind of book that resulted from Banti's having lost the first completed version of her novel and, in re-creating it, had found it necessary to haunt her re-telling of Artemisia's story with the pain of that loss. Her insertion of that loss into the novel, rather than being self-indulgent, is painfully spare, resonating with the others sorts of painful losses that Banti perceived in the brilliant Artemisia Gentilleschi's life.

I've written about Anna Banti's work before on this blog, here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The 2012 Galactic Suburbia Award

Have you heard? The f/sf field now has a feminist award! It's called The Galactic Suburbia Award for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2011. The women of Galactic Suburbia, Tansy, Alex, and Alisa, have just announced the first year's winner and Honours List.

Honours List"

Carrie Goldman ad her daughter Katie, for sharing their story about how Katie was bullied at school for liking Star Wars, and opening up a massive worldwide conversation about gender binaries and gender-related bullying among very young children http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2010/11/anti-bullying-starts-in-first-grade/

Cheryl Morgan for "Female Invisibility Bingo" ( http://www.cheryl-morgan.com/?p=10805 ), associated blogging and podcasting, and basically fighting the good fight

Helen Merrick, for the "Feminism" article on the SF Encyclopedia: http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/feminism (i think its a rewrite not new)

Jim C Hines for “Jane C Hines” and associated blogging, raising awareness of feminist issues in the SF/Fantasy publishing field. - http://www.jimchines.com/2011/09/jane-c-hines/

Julia Rios, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond for episode 11 of the Outer Alliance podcast (The Writer and the Critic special episode)


L. Timmel Duchamp - for continuing to raise issues of importance on the Ambling Down the Aqueduct blog [I'm sure they mean Ambling Along the Aqueduct--td] and various Aqueduct Press projects

Michelle Lee for the blog post “A 7-year-old girl responds to DC Comics’ sexed-up reboot of Starfire” http://io9.com/5844355/a-7+year+old-girl-responds-to-dc-comics-sexed+up-reboot-of-starfire


Nicola Griffith - for the Russ Pledge, and associated blogging http://asknicola.blogspot.com/2011/06/taking-russ-pledge.html

The winner will receive a Deepings Doll (www.deepingsdolls.com) hand-painted figurine of a suffragette with a Galactic Suburbia placard.

Congratulations, Nicola!

If you have ideas for the Honours list for 2012, please email Tansy, Alex, and Alisa at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com or tweet @galacticsuburbs

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Middle-aged protagonists and ducks that aren't dead

I didn't go out yesterday but sat tight, waiting out yet another storm. I'd never seen Admiralty Inlet so white with chop before. Today, though, has been calm. And when I walked down to the beach a little after one, there was actually beach to walk on. Best of all, the waterfowl busy in the water were many and varied. I saw my first marbled murrelet, black scoters, and Pacific loons, in addition to the more usual ducks-- buffleheads, common golden-eyes, and hooded mergansers. I spent about ten minutes standing in one place, binoculars lifted to my eyes, watching a duck off by himself-- probably the same one I saw last week, also solitary-- which I eventually identified as a juvenile common golden-eye. Why did I watch him for so long? Because he was dabbling, with his head underwater, for such a long time that I began to wonder if he were dead. (I wasn't sure at that point if it was the juvenile golden-eye because all I could see was his body and some spiky black feathers sticking up.) And then, finally, as I began to think about moving on, he lifted his head out of the water. It made me happy to see he wasn't a dead duck after all. And then I found myself wondering why I've never see a dead duck in the water or on shore yet. Where do they go when they die? Do they wash up on the shore? Do their carcasses get scavegened? Or do they go someplace sheltered when they know they're dying?

It was warm enough that when I reached Point Wilson I was able to sit down on a log, take my gloves off, and jot a few thoughts in a notebook. (Until, of course, my fingers got too stiff to continue writing.) Here's what I jotted:

I've been watching the gray green waves roll in so near to the Point, right where the land curves sharply. No matter one's viewpoint, the waves seem inevitably to come in crooked even if they don't always collide at an angle with the ones rolling in a little further south. It occurs to me that so, too, my character's limits are by this point in the novel all too clearly established. The land, unlike the wind, tide, and currents, is a given. Some days the waves comming in at an angle to the the straight line of the beach and waves south of them do collide, with great turbulence--the wind, tide, and currents create a variety of possibilities. Today, though, the difference that the curve of the beach just there makes in the waves seems a thing in itself, without relation to the waves coming in along the straight line of the beach-- perhaps because the latter are barely perceptible as surf. Under these conditions, the collision between the waves coming in at different angles is below the threshold of my perception.

M. is middle-aged. And my ms is at 85,000 words. It is easy to see that her younger self would have scorned her for having gotten into the situation she's in. It's not a matter, in this story, of her being comfortable and not wanting to give up her comfort-- no one would judge her exactly "comfortable" (except by the most moralistic standards). Though certainly one could argue that she's looking for a way to make her life more comfortable. It's more a matter of her having made, for most of her life, one compromise after another, as each new crisis befell her. She began making these compromises by thinking she was being practical and doing what was sensible. But having done so time and again has put her into a state in which compromise is the preferred-- learned-- response to every demand for a decision.

This is the problem with writing middle-aged protagonists who haven't lived their lives in a constant state of self-actualization. Oh sure, a middle-aged character can undergo a conversion experience and be swept out of her inertia. And then, of course, there's the cliche of the midlife crisis. But midlife crises usually result in an attempt to turn back the clock, to shed social and personal responsibility. As someone holding on by her fingernails, that's just not an option for my character. The challenge here, for me, is to find a path that avoids her defeat but is nevertheless true to her character and is not a magical resolution. I have a very clear sense of her limits. But what I need to have now is a better sense of the possiblities within those limits. (She did, after all, start life with some solid resources. Utilizing those resources-- arguably dormant-- must suggest a horizon for the possible.) I hate it when writers suddenly gift their characters with possiblities that ignore their limits, as though when it comes to individuals in fiction, it is an act of good faith to believe in miracles. I know a lot of people insist on this as a sort of moral good. But when I read such stories, I'm left with an unpleasant taste in my mouth, as though I'd been eating saccharine.I damned sure don't want to find myself feeling that way about this novel.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The cry of an eagle is not exactly what I expected it would be

All weekend it stormed-- first rain and later powerful winds battering the cabin almost without pause. I got out on Saturday for a walk, during a pause in the rain, but not yesterday. And then this morning, when I woke, I saw the sun rise as a bright line on the horizon, behind an amazingly calm sea. And then sun flooded my cabin, annoying, actually, since for most of the morning I couldn't seem to get it out of my eyes and my back-lit screens were tough to read. As I prepared, after lunch, to go out for my walk, I laughed at the sight of the REI-style gadgets Tom brought me, which are to hiking boots what chains are to tires. I'm feeling fairly confident I'm safe from ice and snow for this week, at least. Unlike some people, I'm not eager to try out those kinds of toys.

Wow. As I typed those last words, sitting in the work room in my cabin facing an eastern window, a bald eagle flying past caught my gaze. Now I'm watching it pass and pass again, flying just above the trees. I saw it earlier, as I set out for my walk. And then I saw it again, when I walked up from the beach and was only yards from my cabin. In both cases, I pointed my camera at the sky and pushed the button, doubtful the eagle would show up (particularly since with the sun slanting sidelong into my eyes I couldn't see a thing in my viewfinder). But it did, in all four takes. What delighted me most, though, was that the eagle was producing its very strange call-- not a trumpet shriek, but a sort of bassoon-like gulping sound. A comical sound that I doubted could be coming from the eagle (until I went inside and opened a nifty app called Chirp USA and discovered that yes, indeed, that is what eagles are supposed to sound like). My surprise reminded me of the first time I heard the call of a Great Blue Heron-- an ugly hoking sound that seems crazily mismatched with the grace of its form. Its flight, I should add, is nowhere near as graceful as an eagle's-- their liftoff looks impossible, and their flight ungainly. It always seems a miracle they can stay aloft.

The daylight tides this week are too high for extensive beach walking. I'm thinking that maybe one or two days this week I might walk up into the woods behind the cabin. Likely to be pretty muddy. But also likely to have a different set of birds.

I finished reading the Ranciere, which contained an afterward by Slavov Zizek asserting that politics and economics are mutually exclusive focuses for understanding our world. Most of my time, now, is going straight to the novel. The idea of writing epigraphs with fictious sources is concentrating my mind wonderfully. I'm wondering if assigning the writing such epigraphs for one's fiction should be added to my pedagogical toolbox. They could be discarded, afterwards, the way alternative endings can be when I ask students to write at least three different endings for their stories.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Epigraphs with Fictitious Sources

All day the snow has been melting. I've been watching it from the windows of my cabin, sliding off the steeply-pitched cabin roofs neighboring my own, exposing patches of grass, creating icy slush on the park's streets. The temperature's risen, and a wind from the south is whipping the trees into a dance mostly stately, sometimes frenzied. I'm keeping my fingers crossed --again-- that the power doesn't go out. Oh, and it's also lightly raining. Again, sadly, I've forgone my walk on the beach. It's so slushy and slippery out that I'm worried about getting down the slope to the beach without mishap.

Working on the novel, which includes, of course, thinking its thinkier thoughts, continues more or less steadily. This morning it came to me that this novel wants epigraphs from fictional sources. I think I've provided such epigraphs in only one of my (unpublished) novels (The Asymptoptic Woman, which I consider a "private" novel not intended for publication). If done well (as in Andrea Hairston's Mindscape), such epigraphs can add another dimension to the novel's world and its stories. I'm sure readers of this blog will be able to think of half a dozen or a dozen examples of it done well just off the top of their heads. It's one of the devices in writers' technical toolboxes that are especially sf's own. Why this thought came to me isn't fully clear yet. But I hope that once I've got the epigraphs in place, I'll understand why it now seems so necessary.

Ranciere continues to provoke me to thought. This morning I encountered this gem: "The real must be fictionalized in order to be thought." I'm tempted to take that as an epigraph for the novel as a whole. (With all the fictious-sourced epigraphs reserved for chapters.)

Tomorrow, weather permitting, Tom will visit-- and bring the box of books and office supplies we forgot to load into the car last Sunday and take me shopping to the local food co-op (which I like very much). We will walk on the beach. And then I'll return to my low-speech state.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The magic of writing longhand

So much for my regimen. Though I made it to the wifi building, I am probably not going to get down to the beach today. Yesterday I didn't go out at all. Partially because I decided to refrain from posting in support of the strike calling attention to the perniciousness of SOPA and PIPA, and partially because I didn't feel up to facing the slipperiness on slopes and hills, notwithstanding my walking sticks. (Now if they had spikes on the ends...) Not many people are stirring in Fort Worden, today. Some workers were out putting sand on the steepest street through the park. But mostly the snow is marked by deer tracks. 

Suffice it to say that I've been drafting new material for insertion into the earliest chapters. Although I do most of my fresh writing at the keyboard, when I'm writing material to be inserted I usually write it longhand first and then type it into the file. That is what I've been doing here. I have an idea that I feel a need to write such passages longhand because it allows me to slip past a psychological barrier created (for me, at least) by the seeming solidity of hundreds of pages of printed text. Somehow, it is one thing to tweak drafted text with elaborate line-edits, but quite another to insert new (however little) stories into it. It's as if I'm playing god with an already existing world (even if it's a world I've created-- a world in which I am, in a sense, god).

And now I'm reminded of how, before we had personal computers and before we had personal computers we had "word processors," every new iteration-- whether an edit or a major revision-- of a story required substantial retyping, whether from the beginning of the ms or the beginning of a chapter. Back then, whenever I wasn't sure where the story was going, I would retype the entirety of the scene I was working on, to give me a sort of running start. It never failed. I didn't feel I could do that when I switched to a word processor. So then I'd write out some of it longhand, and continue from there.

Writing longhand has thus come to seem a sort of magic. Some writing still work that way. (Tanith Lee, for one.) All writers, pre-typewriters, worked that way (perforce)-- unless, of course, they dictated it aloud to a secretary. Which makes me wonder if writing longhand is magical only for those of us who habitually write at the keyboard.

Speaking of technology: I hope, should a forecast of freezing rain come to pass for Port Townsend, that the power in my cabin doesn't fail. I brought three candles with me (two of them votive size) and a flashlight. I have lots of tablets and pens. And I'm keeping the batteries of all my battery-powered tech charged up. None of that stuff will keep me warm, though, should an ice- or snow-laden branch of a tree takes the wrong powerline down. I once survived a winter power outage at Kath's house for three days: but then she has a woodstove (and lots and lots of oil lamps). Now that was kind of romantic. (In retrospect, anyway.)

2 Novelettes and a Short Story by Rachel Swirsky

I've been busy reading books for the Norton Award so I didn't put aside the time to do as all the other writerettes do and post a few pieces of mine that were published in the previous year.

Fields of Gold
A novelette, originally published in Johnathan Strahan's ECLIPSE 4
Out from Nightshade Press

When Dennis died, he found himself in another place. Dead people came at him with party hats and presents. Noise makers bleated. Confetti fell. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

His family was there. Celebrities were there. People Dennis had never seen before in his life were there. Dennis danced under a disco ball with Cleopatra and great-grandma Flora and some dark-haired chick and cousin Joe and Alexander the Great. When he went to the buffet table for a tiny cocktail wiener in pink sauce, Dennis saw Napoleon trying to grope his Aunt Phyllis. She smacked him in the tri-corner hat with her clutch bag.

Napoleon and Shakespeare and Cleopatra looked just like Dennis had expected them to. Henry VIII and Socrates and Jesus, too. Cleopatra wore a long linen dress with a jeweled collar, a live asp coiled around her wrist like a bracelet. Socrates sipped from a glass of hemlock. Jesus bobbed his head up and down like a windshield ornament as he ladled out the punch. Read more.

The Taste of Promises
A novelette, originally published in Jonathan Strahan's LIFE ON MARS
Out from Viking

They approached the settlement at dusk. Tiro switched the skipper to silent mode, grateful he wouldn’t have to spend another night strapped in, using just enough fuel to stay warm and breathing.

A message from Tiro’s little brother, Eo, scrolled across his visor. Are we there yet?

Tiro rolled his eyes at Eo’s impatience. Just about, he sub-vocalized, watching his suit’s internal processor translate the words into text.

Is it someplace good? asked Eo.

I think so. Be quiet and let me check it out.

It was a big settlement. Three vast domes rose above the landscape like glass hills. Semi-permanent structures clustered around them, warehouses and vehicle storage buildings constructed from frozen dirt. Light illuminated the footpaths, creating a faintly glowing labyrinth between buildings. Read more.

Diving after the Moon
Short story, originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine

When Norbu was a child, his mother Jamyang told him an old Tibetan story about an industrious but foolish troop of monkeys that lived in a forest near a well. One dusty night, a monkey elder woke thirsty. He crept away from his sleeping mate and went to the well for a drink. Inside, he saw a reflection of the moon.

“The moon has fallen into our well!” he hollered.

His ruckus woke the other monkeys. They all agreed that it would be a terrible thing to live in a moonless world. They joined hands and formed a chain to climb into the well and rescue the moon.

As the monkeys dove in, the moon’s reflection broke, leaving blank dark waters. The shamed monkeys climbed out again: shivering, wet, and empty-handed. The real moon chuckled above them, safe in the sky. Read more.

Some of my other fiction that came out in 2011 includes:

"Death and the All-Night Donut Shop" in Unstuck Magazine

"A Practical Guide to Loving the Dead" in the New Haven Review

"Extremes" in Nature Magazine

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snow, sun, and killdeer on the beach

Thinking about Day 2 of my artist's residency, I'm finding it difficult to integrate all that has so fare happened into the scope of a single day. This morning now feels like... yesterday? (Only not the yesterday that actually happened.) When I woke this morning, the quality of the silence made me suspect it might have snowed. When I went to the window and pushed back the curtains, I beheld a muffled gray and white world of snow, as monochromatic as a black and white film. While I made coffee, I spent a few minutes on the Internet via my iPad. Then I took my coffee back to my nice warm bed and settled in to read Ranciere's "The Distribution of the Sensible: Politics and Aesthetics." This gave me much to think about vis-a-vis the interests I mentioned in my post yesterday. But then I asked myself what it might have to tell me about the world and technologies of my novel. Asking this brought me a dazzling insight, one that made me realize that I want/need to insert a new element into the story from its beginning. What a challenge! I've never done that before-- tried to introduce new material and all the perturbations that might follow from it at a such an advanced point of the story. I'm daunted, but also excited. Excited about what this new element can add to the story, excited at facing a new technical challenge. (Understand, I'm not the kind of writer that works from an outline. I generally undergo my conceptual brainstorms as I go.)

Because of the first brainstrom, I was late taking my shower. While I was in it, loving all that deliciously hot water pounding my shoulders and back, I had a second breakthrough anent the novel, again thanks to Ranciere's essay. I was so excited by this point that I decided to have an early lunch of hot, hearty soup and do my walk early. Not only did I want to spend some time outdoors doing something physical, but I figured it would help me begin mulling over these new ideas the easy way-- i.e., in the back of my mind, while the rest of me busied its attention with the world around me. (It's the form of thinking I love best: it's virtually effortless!)

As if to applaud my decision, while I was down on the beach, the snow stopped falling and the sun came out, drenching the landscape (and me) with light. The wind was bitter. But the beauty of the scene ravished me. Six killdeer were hanging out at the south end of the north beach, and one of them enacted a sort of dance with me-- flying past me to settle onto beach a little ahead of me, and then flee with hysterical cries every time I caught up with it, flying in the opposite direction, only to circle around and fly ahead of me on the other side, to settle on the beach a little ahead of me, only to again, yes, circle around behind me and fly again ahead of me... and so on. Also saw a few ducks fairly close to the beach, including a solitary golden-eye (a juvenile male, I think, judging by the size and shape of his white collar) who was doing a lot of diving.

While I was walking on the beach, I found myself thinking about Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier, which I read last week, vis-a-vis Ranciere's essay. I realized that I really liked the inclusion of snippets from main character Jenny's Politics class discussing Aristotle's Politics-- but that I wished that discussion had been a bit sharper and its resonance in the novel's events consequently a bit more powerful. I know full well that though I amplified those resonances in the way that I frequently filled in things that went unspoken by the characters, things that for a reader like me have a ghostly presence (however weak) in such novels, readers who haven't already spent some time engaged in thinking critically about such things would not even have noticed them.

But then so much culture is like that now-- providing the basis for an audience inferring meanings they are always looking for while also providing a comfortable read/viewing for those who miss them entirely because they live in one of this world's many alternate realities where the basis for making such meanings does not exist.

By the time I got home, my cabin was lit up, the kitchen and front room positively peachy. But it's clouded over now, which probably means more snow. Worse, the snowmelt has re-frozen into icy patches, making walking on pavement treacherous. Have I said how glad I am to have my walking sticks with me?

Reviewing SF&F for Young People Part I: Akata Witch, All Men of Genius, Anna Dressed in Blood, Anya’s Ghost, Between Sea and Sky

This year, I’m binge reading science fiction and fantasy books that are accessible to young adult and middle grade audiences. I’ve picked about thirty to review (1). They’re books that I felt I had something to say about, not necessarily the books I loved most. They’re all good enough to be worth reading, though, or I wouldn’t bother to review (2).

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor (highly recommended)

Teenage protagonist, Sunny, discovers that she has the ability to learn magic. She makes friends with other teens who have the same abilities. They take lessons together, explore the magical world, and eventually form a coven to fight off a serial killer who is butchering children in order to fuel his own spells.

Sunny and her friends are memorable and interesting characters, each well-drawn through their traits and actions, but especially through their exceptionally written dialogue. Despite the ensemble cast, it’s never difficult to remember, crisply, who everyone is and what they want. Even the secondary characters are extremely well-rendered.

Reading about a setting that’s still unusual in American fantasy was nice, especially since Okorafor’s Nigeria seems sharply observed and non-sentimentalized. (She clearly wasn’t following the rules on how to write about Africa.) The strong imagery helps create a magic rich system that seems much more complex than what’s on the page. The world-building feels seamless and deep in a way I feel Okorafor often manages, creating a real sense that the settings exist both before and after the characters wander through. Other characters seem to be having their own adventures; we just happen to be watching this one.

The novel suffers from a rushed ending. The plot is foreshadowed for a long time, then suddenly turns up, and all of a sudden everyone’s rushing to finish things, and then the book is over in a way that feels unsatisfying. There’s no time for the danger to build, no time for complexities and reversals. The bulk of the book is about the journey of learning magic, and it’s rich and wonderful. The adventure feels tacked on. It’s not that it couldn’t have been an interesting adventure; the premises were interesting; but the structural issues caused it to pale in comparison with the beginning of the book.


Violet Adams wants to attend college so that she can create mechanical and magical wonders, but the best colleges only accept men. Assuming her brother’s identity so that she can apply, Violet sneaks into a men’s-only school, knowing that if her deception is discovered, she’ll be sent to prison.

As an educated reader would guess, a book featuring a cis-woman living as a man is going to be full of mistaken identities, farcical situations, and puzzled lovers. All Men of Genius includes all that stuff, and it’s fine. It’s often fun.

But the real joy here is the description of the mechanical and magical wonders being made at the university. They. Are. So. Cool. I enjoyed the plot and the characters, but I probably would have still read the book if it had been nothing but a list of awesome experiments the characters were doing.

Don’t get me wrong—the book is good on other stuff, too. Fun historical details. Characters you can get behind, including the main character and her brother, but most especially an unexpectedly rich secondary character, Miriam.

There are some pacing problems—it’s clear about midway that all the characters are going to get along famously once the secrets are revealed, but the adventure plotline hasn’t really begun by that point, so there’s a large chunk of text that doesn’t have much drive behind it. When the adventure clicks into high gear, it doesn’t have much time to develop, so it doesn’t feel as realistic as it might; the villain’s motivations come across as thin. And the last attempts to wring suspense from “will they or won’t they?” read like the paper tiger’s pacing the cage; not only is it clear to the reader what’s going to happen, but it feels like it must be clear to the characters, too.

Anyway, all that’s true, but the major point here is: AWESOME SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTS.

Also, a really funny sequence with a bunny.

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake (recommended)

Ghost-hunter Cas travels the country chasing ghost stories. When he finds the ghosts, he exorcises them with his magic knife. He’s never had a problem until he encounters Anna (dressed in blood), a powerful and violent ghost whose strangeness draws Cas to investigate before he kills.

I don’t know if this is the year of awesome ghosts or if ghosts are always awesome or what, but this book featured some awesome ghosts. The awesomest of all is Anna (dressed in blood) who steals the book and runs away with it. The imagery describing her is amazing, from her physical presence to the chilling murders she commits, her character is compelling, and the best part of the book is the resolution of her plotline. Cas himself is a somewhat generic protagonist, a not-so-interesting guy in an interesting situation, but some of the other characters also stand out, such as Cas’s awkward, spell-casting friend. The tightly wound plot unspools suspensefully… until the very end when some things resolve too quickly and fail to meet the “inevitable” part of “inevitable and surprising.”

One thing that I’ve discovered in this reading ‘bout is that almost all adventure novels veer off at the end this way; it seems like it’s hard to toss all those balls in the air, keep them flying, and then successfully catch them all without letting one slip.

ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol (recommended)

This graphic novel depicts the story of Anya, an unpopular and resentful high school student, who’s out walking one day when she falls into a hole—and not just any hole, but one inhabited by a skeleton, which in turn is inhabited by the ghost of a sad girl with a puff of hair like a dandelion. The ghost sneaks a piece of her skeleton into Anya’s bag so that when Anya is rescued, the ghost can follow.

The art here is fun, sometimes funny, and intuitive to follow, even for people who don’t spend much time reading graphic novels. Anya’s grumpy, awkward, angsty adolescence is easy to identify with; she’s not always likeable, but she’s hard-headed and determined and interesting. The central mystery kept me turning pages, but unfortunately, the book didn’t quite manage to execute its leap into horror, leaving the ending a bit pallid and expected.

BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY by Jacqueline Dolamore

Mermaids can turn into humans, but only if they’re willing to endure the shooting pain of each step. After her sister is kidnapped, Esmerine braves the pain and enters the harbor city in search of her. She understands little of the human culture around her, but luckily she runs into a childhood friend: a young, bookish man with bat wings, native to the sky as she is to the sea.

The plot of this novel was a little weird for me in places. For instance, some of the conceits about sirens vs mermaids seemed unnecessarily complicated. The book also draws from what I assume is the mythology about selkies, saying that if a mermaid in human form gives up her magic belt (equivalent to a seal skin?) to a man, she’s freed from the pain of walking, but loses her ability to transform back into a mermaid. The abhorrence of giving up the ability to return to one’s natural form is central to the way the plot unfolds, but it doesn’t entirely make sense—the man seems to be able to return the belt, which would seem to mean that the mermaids can zip back into the ocean, then return to the land whenever they want. Or rather, whenever they can get the men to cooperate. I can see how that would be a problem—many mermaids are kidnapped, and even if they’re not, is it really a good idea to trust the fundamentals of one’s freedom to someone else?—but it doesn’t seem like it’s an *impossible* arrangement, the way the book seems to treat it.

For me, the pleasure in this book came in its quieter moments, when the characters had time to sit and talk. There’s a long sequence in a bookstore which doesn’t entirely fit into the quest plot line (or, at any rate, seems to take a lot of the page count when it’s technically not moving the plot forward much), but it was one of my favorite parts of the novel, a kind of tactile pleasure, establishing the world the characters inhabit. Once Esmerine finds her sister, Dolamore does a delicate job of describing the awkward intimacy of their reunion as they find out they didn’t know each other nearly as well as they thought they did. I wasn’t up for the adventure on this one, but where the book is at its best, it evokes an interesting, quiet tone that feels almost like it comes from a historical novel.


(1) I’m doing my reviews in alphabetical order, but I haven’t finished reading absolutely everything I’m planning to. I may tack some on at the end, out of order.

(2) Consequently, please interpret “recommended” as “especially recommended.”


My philosophy on reviewing: I love books and I love talking about them. My goal is to support both readers and writers. It’s my hope that reviewing books and creating conversation about them is ultimately beneficial to both.

With few exceptions (and none here), I prefer to talk about books I’ve enjoyed. Please assume that if I talk about a book here, I enjoyed reading it, even if I’m criticizing the hell out of it. I’m the kind of person who could nitpick through the apocalypse and still have complaints left for the howling void.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Horned Puffins yes! Snow, no!

Today is Day One of my artist's residency at Centrum. It's been a little more than a year since I was here last. But I resumed the regimen I follow when I'm here as though I'd never stopped. Last year,  heavy snowfall and accumulation of snow marked my first day, and howling winds my second night. But this first day was marked by the absence of snow-- remarkably, since Seattle, which is south of Port Townsend, had snow when I left yesterday morning and was snowbound when Tom returned last night. But though snow has been and is forecast, I've seen nothing of it here. The sun at its low winter angle (does it rise as high as 20 degrees in the sky now?) lit up my cabin on and off all day and encouraged me to wear sunglasses when I went out for my daily walk on the beach. As for that walk-- there will probably not be as low a tide again during my stay here as we enjoyed today. I could have walked along the south beach all the way to town, if I'd wanted to. (Thought I'd better not press my luck with the tendon in my heel, even though my boots and walking sticks minimized the stress both standing and walking puts on it.) I wondered, as I caught my first glimpse of the water, whether I'd still be able to find ducks out there, since they almost never swim near the beach. Sure enough, sensing their presence came back to me (like riding a bicycle?), and I knew when to check out something I thought might be there but couldn't really distinguish from the sea at the distance, with the binoculars. What is it that my eyes pick up on? It's not a color, or a blob, but perhaps some subliminal thing that cues me that the waves are in some inarticulable way perturbed.

My heart leaped when I saw that again, this year, horned puffins were hanging out in Admiralty Bay. What is it with me about puffins? I took a lot of pleasure in watching eighteen beautiful graceful swans swimming in Lake Washington last month. But seeing puffins-- not beautiful at all, maybe even a bit comically grotesque-- gives me more of a charge. As they did last year, they swam in formation, back and forth, back and forth, giving an impression of avian discipline.

The rest of my day is less interesting to tell. I did some thought-provoking reading for part of the morning and then began reading/line-editing the ms of the novel I intend to finish before leaving here. I was a bit wary when I turned to page one of the ms. I always am, when I pick up something I haven't worked on for a long time. Often such work will read to me as though it had been written by a stranger, though this is more likely to be the case if it's been published (as though my unconscious mind never lets go until a piece of writing is beyond my power to revise). This morning I found that although I had a certain distance from the words on the page (leading me to line-edit them as though they had been written by an Aqueduct author), my mind nevertheless clicked into a certain kind of memory I'm certain all writers must have of the many layers of moments that go into any given sentence or paragraph of a text. It's almost like a body memory. That's perhaps not so off-the-wall, given that what happens as we write is a highly complicated physical process that includes but is not limited to the organ of the brain. It involves not just what our hand or hands are doing during the process, but pulse, blood pressure, breath, hormonal surges, even, perhaps, our very metabolism.

As for my "thought-provoking" reading-- at 8:30 this morning I opened one of the books I'd brought with me-- Jacques Ranciere's The Politics of Aesthetics-- and began with the translator's Preface, subtitled "The Reconfiguration of Meaning." (Yeah, I always read front and backmatter: you never know what gems you might find in the proper margins of the main text.) In his Preface, translator Gabriel Rockhill discusses a subject Ranciere has been working away at for some time. I talked about one aspect of the subject, the aspect I call the problem of intelligibility, in my WisCon 32 GoH speech. I'm also intensely interested in another aspect of the subject (which I wrote about in my essay "Old Pictures: the Discursive Instability of Feminist SF"), discursive instability. Rockhill introduces the subject by way of talking about translation in general as well as his translation of Ranciere's text in particular.

"Translation," he writes, "is not simply a form of mediation between two distinct languages. It is a relational reconfiguration of meaning via a logic of signification that is rendered possible by a socio-historical situaiton. This process can, in fact, take place within a single language, which does not however mean that understanding itself is an act of translation or that we are condemned to endlessly paraphrasing our original ideas. An alternate logic of signification can actually use the same words to mean something entirely different because it determines the very structure of meaning, the horizon of what is qualified as language, the modus operandi of words and sentences, the entire network that defines the process of signification."

It was in "Old Pictures" that I talked about how meanings and connotation of certain words and phrases can shift significantly over a period of decades. Lately I've been thinking a lot about just how radical a shift I can see in my own "logic of signification," as Rockhill (and Ranciere) puts it, from, say, the 1970s through today. It's the "horizon" Rockhill gestures to in that passage that is what each of us who write are perhaps most concerned with. Most of the time we aren't as acutely conscious of our "logic of signification" as we are of that horizon.

Over the last year I've had occasion to read numerous letters (I wrote many and many) and journals from the 1980s, and have been increasingly becoming conscious of feeling as though I need, in a sense, to translate them to the self that I am today-- and of suspecting that much that they are saying is now, crazy as this may sound, unintelligible to me. Would it be possible for me, with effort, to reacquire meanings that now elude me? More interesting for me, perhaps, is another question that's occurred to me because of this shocking gap (that person who wrote all those words, after all, was in a sense-- certainly in legal terms-- me): can any historian read documents produced even a generation or two before and ever fully, richly, understand them as they would have been understood at the time of production?

It's probably not surprising that I'm already finding some of these concerns running through my novel in progress.

Now it's time to go back to my cabin make a vegeatble soup with lots of garlic, ginger, and red pepper. I'm ravenous, and the building I'm visiting to use its wifi is frigid. (My fingers and nose are frozen!)

Recognizing Gabe

Alberto Yanez, who was my student at Clarion West last summer, has just been published by Strange Horizons. Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas is a Trans coming of age story with enormous heart. Alberto wrote it for my week at Clarion, and I just loved it and urged him to send it out as soon as possible. Strange Horizons was at the top of the list I gave him for likely venues. I'm tickled pink to see that it was, in fact, a perfect fit.

I recommend the story highly.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reflections on ASA 2011

The tenth of a series on the 2011 convention of the American Studies Association. Here's Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine.

The 2011 convention of the American Studies Association, as I experienced it, was full of tantalizingly interrelated work on such topics as oppression, disability, race, and resistance. The issue of black female agency, for example, that would be celebrated most overtly by Jean-Charles was first raised in Ahad’s Tan Confessions piece, as was the question — faced by Johnson in founding and publishing Tan Confessions — of how you can repress a thing when you have to name, read about, and discuss what you’re trying to repress (much in the mode of Delany’s Aunt Laura).* Indeed, that dialectical dilemma is part of what informs Baldwin’s concern that you’ll let your fight with the oppressor define you — that you’ll be constrained by your enmities. Such a problem appears in the binary thinking that Thomas finds in depictions of the sissy. It’s that context that highlights the significance of how, in John Charles’s words, “black authors showed that they could say other things.”**

Stringer’s remarks on the “pulp clichés that are central to Wright’s work” and how the liberal critics of the Fifties ignored those features of U.S. culture put me in mind of Baldwin’s rather intense disavowal of not only protest fiction and Popular Front literature but hard-boiled fiction. And how ironic that disavowal is, in the light of such statements as Baldwin’s
In the truly awesome attempt of the American to at once preserve his innocence and arrive at a man’s estate, that monster, the tough guy, has been created and perfected; whose masculinity is found in the most infantile and elementary externals and whose attitude toward women is the wedding of the most abysmal romanticism and the most implacable distrust
, which actually articulates the very critique of masculinity that noir fiction frequently engaged in. Moreover, Jernigan credits Another Country with using low-affect hard-boiled prose, manifesting unease with the disciplinary and judgmental, and lauding “the eternal heterogeneity of the self” — all features of Fifties noir fiction, many at odds with the uses to which the Fifties U.S. and some of its literary novelists put existentialist thought. There’s also something very noir in Tuhkanen’s account of the role fascination with the grotesque other plays in Baldwin — such fascination, as Kristeva describes it in the opening pages of Powers of Horror, is central, for example, to Highsmith’s fiction.

I asked Thomas after his panel about the history of the black sissy, particularly in black art rather than in black characters created by the likes of Kushner, and he acknowledged that it was too complicated a thing even to start discussing. Then I learned from Godfrey about the use to which Wright put the sissy and, more disappointingly, the importance in Baldwin of masculinity (and the silencing of Ida in the course of Vivaldo’s awakening) as well as more general suppression of female and feminine voices, which makes the agenda of black feminist criticism all the more urgent.

I got a lot out of the citations on the Affect panel, particularly Tongson’s, and of the documentation of activism and analysis of domination that McRuer always excels at: I think McRuer is one of those social commentators who brings a thorough understanding of history and resistance to his critique of how the powerful abuse and vitiate the ideal of “diversity.” I wasn’t sure how to take some of the more grandiose claims I heard from some of the other panelists to the effect that the Affective Turn was creating a powerful ethics and challenging the presumption of the subject and undoing human mastery – they resonated a little too much with the ASA trope of “With these radical analyses of Dickinson, we can begin to form a new intersubjectivity that resists the neoliberal imperatives of our age and, hopefully, go on to smash the state.” So it was generally refreshing to hear concrete discussion on the Black Feminist Criticism panel that located agency, offered genealogies and biographical content for scholars’ affective investments, and spelled out models of praxis such as Koritha Mitchell’s. duCille’s worry about atomization/isolation and her concern that we’d come a lot farther on paper than we have in the outside world were both necessary as a matter of keeping it real and useful inasmuch as some of the other panelists helped mitigate those anxieties. The panel managed to address representation without treating bad representations as the foundational injustice of society – in the process, like Harry Thomas, it sought to recover disenfranchised populations from the lies that circulate about them – “to correct the narrative on behalf of the most vulnerable.”

DeLoughrey, Franklin, and Martini on the Environment panel addressed a different set of midcentury erasures than the denial of black female agency. Franklin and DeLoughrey in particular raised issues of great relevance to medical and disability issues, not only in discussing the teratogenic war machine but in addressing how the scientific establishment is basically brought up to find criticisms of its hegemony unintelligible, much as the medical and bioethics establishments are selected and trained to resist the perspectives of the vulnerable and the disabled. Hence Nelson and Bliss on the Race, Health, and Justice panel were in a sense recounting the sequels to these midcentury horrors — Bliss with her disconcerting account of how the establishment refunctions liberatory language to fit its agenda of benignant imperialism, and Nelson with her indispensable history of one organization’s resistance to biological victimization. Greene’s story of neoliberal incursion into formerly public facilities also included an account of the self-reinforcing and victim-blaming nature of racist rhetoric, an issue that McRuer and Abdur-Rahman had raised. I think Nelson’s distinguishing the BPP agenda from the disability movement’s goals could be the start of a fruitful discussion: recall that she said the Party framed its goals in terms of protection rather than access. Now, we know from Katherine Henry’s Liberalism and the Culture of Security that there are pitfalls to the rhetoric of protection (heck, we know that from Sojourner Truth); but we know just as well, thanks to work in the queer and disability fields, that “access” is susceptible to the same kind of co-optation as “diversity”: Melanie Yergeau remarked on Margaret Price’s brilliant Access Panel at MLA 2012,
the aim of access, much like the whole of behavioral therapy, is to make disabled people “indistinguishable from their peers” (Alyric, 2008). We live in a world that conflates disability with undesirability. It is more convenient that we cease being disabled than it is for the world to become more inclusive of disabled people.

Reconfiguring interviewing practices, or dismantling ableist approaches to classroom management, or reinventing workplace events—these are not undertakings that happen in the name of access.
Rather, what’s happening in the name of access is this: reconfiguring disabled people, dismantling their ways of being and knowing, and reinventing them, as best we can, into normate clones.
So I wondered, what about Nancy Hirschmann’s suggestion that we frame disability issues, for example, with the rhetoric of “freedom”?

The disability panel, and my conversation after the panel with the Smithsonian’s historian of medicine, Katherine Ott, engaged with issues that had appeared in the talks of Franklin, DeLoughrey, Bliss, duCille, and Jernigan. Burch’s central question of how we apply this knowledge we’ve accumulated, and the whole panel’s concern with disseminating knowledge and spreading a liberatory perspective in hard times, echoed the worries of duCille and the interests of others on the Black Feminist Criticism panel. The attention that Burch and that one auditor gave to acquired disability resonated, of course, with the whole Environment panel as well as with the work on war and disability that scholars have done in the wake of Henri-Jacques Stiker – the issue of refugees and the topic of global disability were also themes that McRuer works hard at addressing. The complementary questions from the audience of “Where do I see people like me represented?” and “Are we too invested in the identity of the scholar and in self-disclosure?” recalled to me the whole question of what to do with the self in one’s liberatory agenda, an issue raised by Tukhanen (who invoked Bersani’s denunciation of the self) and Jernigan (in his celebration of Baldwin). My conversation with Ott, which was somewhat inspired by Nelson’s work, addressed the issue of how and whether these innovations could show up in medical education. At present, the history of medicine is generally taught in universities as a series of forgivable mistakes leading up to our glorious present day; and medical students are socialized into a mindset that can be inimical to, say, disability movement values.*** Innovations such as “Narrative Medicine” get co-opted in the sort of way Bliss and McRuer describe liberatory rhetoric being abused. But a number of scholars believe in working to change that situation, no matter how slim the odds seem to be.

Breu’s talk on the Thanatopolitics panel shared Sean Greene’s interest in Shock Doctrine politics coming home to roost. The “material turn” that Breu’s interested in did not seem to be about rocks or relations with the inanimate – indeed, I thought it might overlap with disability theory issues such as Anne Finger’s resistance to metaphor or Tobin Siebers’s New Realism of the Body. I recommended (as I often do to literary scholars interested in critiques of neoliberalism) that Breu take a look at McRuer. It also related to the abjected peoples whom DeLoughrey talks about. In general, the members and auditors of the Thanatopolitics panel did a good job of combining history, theory, literature, and an account of social justice without claiming the ability to transcend the subject (on the one hand) or reinscribing exclusionary discourses (on the other). Now, one exclusionary discourse that I’ve learned something about is what counts as legitimate for literary study: given time, I think I could have offered Kevin Floyd some suggestions as to why Delany’s novella has received so little attention in quarters where it deserves notice.

I am grateful to everyone named above for what I learned at ASA 2001.
* This dilemma is related to the point I addressed in my review of Larbalestier's Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction: "science fiction foregrounds its engagement with 'the discourses of knowledge' to a greater extent than other kinds of fiction. Science fiction stories, and discussions thereof, spell out their claims about the nature of the universe and its inhabitants: therein, principles of ethics, science, ontology, and history are presented and contested, not tacitly assumed. Hence even the most reactionary affirmation of traditional gender roles in the genre's earliest years acknowledged the idea of nontraditional gender relations, by virtue of naming what it sought to exclude: 'these texts offer the possibility . . . of being something other than a proper man or woman, and thus they problematize the notion of a true sex' (13). Misogynistic science fiction stories, and those of feminists manqués, participate energetically in their own deconstruction."
** In the classroom, I have occasionally faced the task of persuading a white reader that one could interpret a black author to be doing something other than expressing resentment over racial oppression.

*** One scholar frustratedly says, "These people arrive on campus in their Lexuses and raise their hands with Rolex watches on them and say their practices can't afford to pay for sign language interpreters when deaf patients need them" — that is, they're taught very early never to relinquish their anxiety about money.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

FOGCON: Literary, Feminist-Friendly Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco, March 30-April 1

Here's the official lowdown:

Friends of the Genre (FOGcon) is a literary-themed San Francisco Bay Area SF/F con in the tradition of Wiscon and Readercon. This year our theme is "The Body", and we've two wonderful Honored Guests, writer Nalo Hopkinson and writer and artist Shelley Jackson. We will be building community, exchanging ideas, and sharing our love for the literature of imagination. FOGcon takes place from March 30-April 1, 2012. Visit fogcon.org for more information.

I enjoyed this con when I went last year. It fulfilled my number one convention prerequisite--lots of cool people to hang out with, which consequently leads to lots of fun conversations. The concom also did a great job with their programming track--not just interesting ideas, but also really intelligently assembled panels, which again, meant fun conversations.

Plus, Nalo Hopkinson. NALO HOPKINSON.*

Check out their website.


*(If you haven't read her, go read her!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

There's still time to submit programming ideas for WisCon 36

The WisCon blog notes:

Have you been brainstorming ideas with friends, or trying to come up with the perfect panel description? You have 20 more days before the WisCon programming idea submission page closes on January 28, 2012!

Have you read something inspiring recently? Are you excited to discuss a new topic at WisCon that we've overlooked in the past? We love to receive programming ideas of all kinds! Your ideas don't need to be complete or fully formed; the programming team can work with whatever you submit. Just go to http://wiscon.piglet.org/idea and tell us what kind of programming you'd like to see at WisCon 36.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Third Issue of the Cascadia Subduction Zone now available for free download

Caught up in the madness of our 2011 Pleasures series, I forgot to post this earlier: the third issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is now available for free download, here.

Here's the issue's table of contents:

Vol. 1 No. 3 — July 2011

Feature Essay
Can Science Fiction Change the World? by Kristin King
Where Are You? by Mary Merriam
Three Lessons by Shweta Narayan

Grandmother Magma
Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison An Appreciation by Gwyneth Jones

Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block reviewed by Maria I. Velazquez
Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman reviewed by Nic Clarke
This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan reviewed by Deb Taber
Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston reviewed by Maria I. Velazquez
Up Against It by M.J. Locke reviewed by Karen Burnham
Paradise Tales by Geoff Ryman reviewed by Victoria Garcia
Blackberries and Redbones edited by Regina Spellers and Kimberly Moffitt reviewed by Tanya C. DePass
Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex reviewed by Cynthia Ward
Featured Artist
Mr Mead