Saturday, March 31, 2012

What most people don't know about e-books and public libraries

It occurred to me while reading a blog post titled "Why Aren't There More eBooks?" on an Alabama public library website (link thanks to Lynne Thomas) that library patrons aren't the only ones out of the loop about the poor selection of e-books available through public libraries (and the difficulty of browsing that selection). I strikes me that few public librarians likely have much of a clue about the situation, either. This post, presumably written by a librarian, simply listed five corporate publishers whose books were not available and blamed the publishers for the unavailability of their e-books and audiobooks. While it's possible that some of these publishers are demanding unreasonable terms for library purchase of e-book and audiobook titles, it's not at all clear to me that that's what the problem is. (Yes, I know that one corporate publisher-- Random House-- has made unreasonable demands. But I don't know that about all the rest and therefore can't assume that it's true for them, too.)

What this blog post omitted to say is that one company-- Overdrive-- basically controls all library e-book and download-audiobook traffic. Not only that, they control the catalog for each library's e-books, a catalog that I doubt no competent library cataloger would ever have designed. If there's a public library lending e-books via any other system than Overdrive, I don't know of it. As far as I know (and please do correct me if there's another system in play), Overdrive exercises a virtual monopoly over library e-book distribution and does not facilitate a particular library's patrons to make requests to their librarians for particular purchases (the way most libraries do for print books). 

While I don't know what Overdrive's terms are for the large corporate publishers, I do know that they do not offer any terms at all for independents like Aqueduct Press. The bottom line is, you'll never be able to check out an e-book edition of an Aqueduct title from a public library because Overdrive doesn't want to bother with the little guys. What library patrons want is irrelevant. What acquisitions librarians would like to purchase is irrelevant. Overdrive is calling the shots.

And while we're on the subject of public libraries, I might as well point out something that a lot of people seemed to have missed: over the last three years, Aqueduct Press's sales to public libraries have plummeted. So, though if you wanted to borrow a print copy of Andrea Hairston's Mindscape you could probably do so without difficulty, the same could not be said for Andrea's Tiptree Award-winning Redwood and Wildfire. Libraries have been seriously menaced by the cutting of public spending in the US. One of the effects of that cut is that very few books published by small presses, regardless of their critical acclaim, will be found in the future in public libraries.  The impossibility for those libraries of distributing small press e-books only compounds the problem.

All of this makes me sad. I don't run Aqueduct Press to make a profit. (Which we don't.) I run it to bring strong books to the readers who want and need them-- books that the corporate publishers don't think will bring them a profit. Public libraries are a natural site for distribution of such books.

I use the Seattle Public Library's Overdrive system a lot, by the way. (There's hardly a day that goes by that I'm not using my Overdrive Media Console app.) I consequently spend a lot of time sifting through stuff I'd never in a million years want to read, wondering why the e-books I do want to read just aren't there (or are so hard to find). Only Overdrive can answer that question, of course. They're the ones who are running that show.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sad news

I'm sorry to report the death of Adrienne Rich, the great poet, critic, and feminist theorist. She was 82, and died from the complications of rheumatoid arthritis. Her work-- all of it-- exerted a tremendous influence on my thinking, even as her poetry not only moved me emotionally, but also provoked moments of recognition and realization that changed me forever. I'll try to write a proper appreciation of her and her work in the near future.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Christine Brooke-Rose (1923-2012)

Christine Brooke-Rose died last week. Brooke-Rose was known mainly as an "experimental" writer and a critic with a particular expertise in narrative form. Two of her novels were explicitly science fictional, Xorandor (1986) and Verbivore (1990).

Here's Natalie Ferris in Christine Brooke-Rose: the great British experimentalist you've never heard of in The Guardian 23 March, 2012
A formidable voice is no longer with us. Christine Brooke-Rose, one of Britain's foremost experimental writers, has also been one of the most deplorably neglected. Yet, as her close acquaintance Roland Barthes said, it is only once the voice loses its origin that writing may begin. Was Brooke-Rose ever really with us?

Born in January 1923 in Geneva to an English father and a Swiss-American mother, Brooke-Rose was brought up in Brussels speaking English, French and German. The linguistic crosscurrents were to feature heavily in her work, fictional and critical alike, giving her a keen ear for the commonalities of utterance, and also securing her a position translating decryptions of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during the second world war. After completing a PhD in medieval French and English philology at Oxford shortly after the war, she began to write fiction in order to combat the stress induced by the near-fatal illness of her husband, the Polish poet Jerzy Peterkiewicz. Her first novel, The Languages of Love, was published alongside her scholarly study A Grammar of Metaphor, in the late 1950s. As a critic in the Empsonian line of the time, she is lively and crystalline, testing out the academic lacerations to language that would comprise her artful, prankster lyricism.

It was her own serious illness in the early 60s, however, that prompted the turn away from her first four comedies-of-manners novels, and from the literary orthodoxy of postwar Britain. Upon recovery, she claimed to have attained a different level of consciousness – "a sense of being in touch with something else" – and the solitary hours confined to her bed produced the highly wrought novel Out (1964), inspired by the nouveaux romancier Alain Robbe-Grillet (whom Brooke-Rose later translated). Following her move to a volatile Paris in 1968, to teach linguistics and literature at the Université de Paris VIII, she never again wrote a novel that didn't risk some breach of the realist contract. Lauded by Frank Kermode as the "sole practitioner" of narrative on the British side of the channel, hers was also a style denigrated as "resplendently unreadable".

Yet in all the hardball of her lipograms, jargons, and typographical play – often likened, much to her discomfort, to the work of her British compatriots Ann Quin and BS Johnson, as well as French counterparts George Perec and Philippe Sollers – her prose is also intensely funny. Her novels prod at literary pretention: Derrida is 'Cramping / HIS styl us' in Thru (1975); in Xorandor (1986), a pebble Lady Macbeth attempts to blow up the world; famous literary characters gather in Textermination (1991) to pray for their continued existence in readers' minds. Brimming with all the "affrodizzyacts" of misaligned references, deliberate malapropisms and tricksy puns, she makes us realise that the true pleasure of language is not in recognition, but in the delight of discovery. As she claimed in 2002, "I've always tried to avoid the expected word."

I second the characterization of her work as often intensely funny. If you've ever attended the MLA, you'd probably find her novel Textermination  hilarious. (I know I did.) This novel has its fictional characters praying to the Implied Reader for existence-- characters who, for the most part, are derived from a variety of classic narratives (and of course guess who's surrounding them at the convention in San Francisco that they're attending).

Her 2002 book of essays Invisible Author: Last Essays, which discusses Brooke-Rose's formal experiments with narrative, book by book, though sometimes dry, in many places moved me deeply. It begins:
Have you ever tried to do something very difficult as well as you can, over a long period, and found that nobody notices? That's what I've been doing for over thirty years.

In many ways I've been glad, because it has allowed me to do what I wanted, with very little compromise,and I've had just the amount of success needed to continue. More would have bee fatal, for I've always valued peace above all and could never have coped with real hype. But now that I have stopped, I have been wondering, why do both praise and blame often seem so irrelevant to what authors are actually doing?
The book includes, in a "Coda," a fascinating discussion of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves and an interview of Brooke-Rose by Lorna Sage.

Although her assumption in Invisible Author is that this is the last book she would ever write, in fact two more books followed that one.

Here are a few more obituaries for Brooke-Rose:

Christine Brooke-Rose obituary The Guardian, 23 March, 2012, by Stuary Jeffries
Christine Brooke-Rose (1923-2012) University of Chicago Press blog
"Christine Brooke-Rose is dead" Poetry News Review, 22 Mar 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Environmental Restoration

A marvelous environmental restoration project for the Olympic Peninsula is well underway. The Elwha dam, 100 years old, has been removed. Glines Canyon Dam will be gone within the year. An article by Lynda V. Mapes in the Seattle Times, giving a progress report on the project, is fascinating. Here's a little bit of it:
Built beginning in 1910, the Elwha Dam sat five miles from the river's mouth. Contractors in September started taking it down, as well as Glines Canyon Dam, 8 miles more upriver.

The $325 million taxpayer-funded project is intended to restore the salmon runs and ecological productivity of the Elwha and its watershed.

Once home to all five species of Pacific salmon, the river is regarded as one of the best opportunities for environmental restoration anywhere. More than 83 percent of the Elwha watershed is pristine, and permanently protected within Olympic National Park.

On March 9, at about 5 p.m., contractors removed the last of the dam from the river. On Friday, they let the river back into its natural bed, from a man-made diversion channel where it had been routed to allow workers to demolish the dam in the dry.

During dam removal, contractors moved the river back and forth between the diversion channel and its bed 10 times in all.
It fairly boggles the mind, thinking of human beings moving such a river back and forth, again and again. Turns out, the Elwha dam was "ready to topple":
Brian Krohmer, project manager on the job for Barnard Construction, said crews were lucky on the weather — and they also encountered a dam quite ready to topple.

"How do I say this without insulting the people that made it?" said Krohmer, whose office in the construction trailer is decorated with the tattered American flag that flew over Elwha Dam. "Let's just say it wouldn't have passed safety standards today."

A trip to the river Monday revealed a transformed landscape. The river races past where it used to choke at the dam. The former Lake Aldwell is a vast delta of sediment.

The river has been cutting through the sediment, creating badlands and hoodoos of sculpted, terraced fine material. The river, milky with sediment, rushes cold and fast through soft cliffs that calve into the water.

The cliff sides are gray and wrinkled as elephant skin where the dropping water levels have rippled and nudged the fine material into ridges. Or they are smooth, where entire hunks have fallen away at once.

On the flats, tiny prints of raccoon show animals already are exploring the new landscape. It's easy walking, soft as a sandy beach.

Along the river, a ghost forest offers a hint of the grandeur that was: gigantic cedar stumps, wider than a king-size bed, stud the sediment flats. They are all that remain of the 1,000-year-old trees that were logged before the gates of the dam were shut and the forest turned into a lake.

Up at Glines Canyon Dam, the drama of demolition is still unfolding.

On Monday, an operator worked a giant excavator fitted with a steel chisel bit, ramming the concrete face of the dam, chipping it down chunk by chunk. By now, contractors have chewed the dam down about 64 feet; they're about a third of the way finished.

Water poured over the broken face of Glines Canyon Dam, falling in a fury of white water into the canyon below, and throwing a double rainbow of spray. The operator worked his rig — a trackhoe excavator — from a barge bouncing on the surface of what's left of Lake Mills.

Big slugs of sediment stuck behind the dams have yet to start really hitting the river. But as excavation goes deeper, that material will start to move downstream.
Mapes takes notes of objects found in the soft mud of the newly exposed canyon-- a large wooden wagon wheel,ceramic blue insulators, and so on. The ceramic blue insulators, like the dam itself, was the leading edge of modernity one hundred years ago. Its destruction now, in another new century, signifies the hope that we can recover some of what was sacrificed to achieve that modernity.

Interestingly, the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs has an apprenticeship focused on the sedimentary impacts that will follow the dams' removal. "Students work with UW Oceanographers to examine the impacts on the coastal and marine ecosystems from removing two dams from the Elwha River, the biggest watershed on the Olympic Peninsula. The dams are scheduled to be removed during 2011 with the goal of habitat restoration. However, we do not yet understand the full range of effects that “restoration” will have. Apprentices explore the effects of the added sediment discharge in high quantities during dam removal near the mouths of rivers."  Now this is my idea of exciting science!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quote of the day

All oppressed people must be controlled. Since open force and economic coercion are practical only part of the time, ideology-- that is, internalized oppression, the voice in the head-- is brought in to fill the gap. When people discover their own power, governments tremble.--- Joanna Russ, ""Power and Helplessness in the Women's Movement"


Here's a brief follow-up to my post of the other day, Institutionalizing cruelty and ignorance, noting currents of resistance. John Scalzi has posted a physician's manifesto of outrage at the very idea of being required to use a medical procedure for strictly ideological purposes:
I do not care what your personal politics are. I think we can all agree that my right to swing my fist ends where your face begins.

I do not feel that it is reactionary or even inaccurate to describe an unwanted, non-indicated transvaginal ultrasound as “rape”. If I insert ANY object into ANY orifice without informed consent, it is rape. And coercion of any kind negates consent, informed or otherwise.
This physician (who is known to Scalzi personally but prefers to remain anonymous) advocates physician civil disobedience.  

Read the entire manifesto here. (It is short and powerful.)

Abby Zimet, at Common Dreams, notes another form of resistance:
With Virginia Republican - and avid supporter of the state's personhood and ultrasound bills - Ryan McDougle so psyched to get all up into the lady parts of his constituents, they generously obliged him by taking to his Facebook page to offer detailed reports on their menstrual cycles, IUDs and vaginal discharge. His office tried to delete them; too late.
Zimet offers a screen capture of two examples.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lambda Literary Awards finalists

The Lambdas have many award categories, so I'm only going to list the sf/f/h categories. You can find the full list (which has, as usual, lots of interesting titles, including Robert Duncan's H.D.) at the URL provided in the following press release:

24th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced

Los Angeles, CA - Finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards were announced today by the Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF) in Los Angeles.  Books from major mainstream publishers and from academic presses, from both long-established and new LGBT publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies, make up the 119 finalists for the "Lammys."  The finalists were selected from a record number of nominations.

The awards, now in their twenty-fourth year, celebrate achievement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) writing for books published in 2011. Winners will be announced at a Monday evening, June 4th ceremony in New York at the CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Avenue) with an after-party at Slate (54 West 21st Street).  

Lambda set a record in 2010 for both the number of LGBT books nominated (520) and the number of publishers participating (about 230). That record has been surpassed this year, with more than 600 titles represented from about 250 publishers.

"For three consecutive years we have broken the records for both book nominees and publishers, which is extremely heartening in a time of uncertainty for the publishing industry as a whole, and LGBT publishing, in particular," said LLF Board of Trustees Co-Chair, David McConnell.  

More than 90 booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, authors, previous Lammy winners and finalists, and other book professionals volunteered many hours of reading time, critical thinking, and invigorating shared discussion to select the finalists in 24 categories.

"The Lambda Literary Awards would not be possible without the time, energy, and intelligence of our volunteer judges who put countless hours of reading into selecting our finalists," said Lambda Executive Director, Tony Valenzuela. "Because of their hard work, this day is a celebration of our finalists, whose outstanding books extend the fabric of our literature and enrich our community.  Congratulations to these talented authors on their tremendous achievement."

Pioneer Award honorees, the master of ceremonies, and presenters will be announced the second week of April.

Tickets for the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony and after-party go on sale today.  For information visit our website.

The German, by Lee Thomas, Lethe Press
Paradise Tales: and Other Stories, by Geoff Ryman, Small Beer Press
Static, by L.A. Witt, Amber Allure/Amber Quill Press
Steam-powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, Torquere Press
Triptych, by J.M. Frey, Dragon Moon Press

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Institutionalizing cruelty and ignorance

In the US, laws that institutionalize cruelty are nothing new. Such laws not only underwrite suffering and injustice to be administered by the state, but also inure us to suffering and injustice, normalizing and justifying suffering and injustice. Lately, though, on both the federal and the state level, mostly republican law-makers have launched wave upon wave of laws or proposals for laws that institutionalize cruelty against women and the parts of their lives that distinguish them from men.

Thus, in Georgia, a bill has been proposed that would forbid doctors to remove dead fetuses from women's bodies, on the presumption that if cattle have to suffer through labor to abort dead offspring, then women should too. Therefore, the reasoning of those who have proposed this legislation goes, women carrying a dead fetus ought to wait until it is "naturally" expelled from her body. (And too bad if she dies before that happens: such deaths are, of course "natural." Which suggests it's only a matter of time before we start getting legislation requiring women to give birth out in a field, on their own...) The only purpose such a law could serve is to institutionalize cruelty and, possibly, to make it clear to women that in the state's eyes, they are not full human beings entitled to human dignity.

In several states, law-makers are quite taken with forcing women who want early abortions to undergo the painful, expensive, purely gratuitous procedure of a transvaginal probe. The point, as a recent (widely censored) Doonesbury strip points out, is to shame the woman who seeks an abortion. The governor of Pennsylvania, approving of this, advises women undergoing this to "just close their eyes."

In Texas, In order to oust Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program (40% of which is administered by Planned Parenthood), the governor is giving up a $35 million federal grant, which means that Texas's Women's Health Program will be dismantled (since the state of Texas would never dream of providing healthcare themselves to poor women). The governor's decision will likely cut off 130,000 women from basic health care they can't afford to get elsewhere.

In Arizona, it looks as though the Arizona legislature is not only going to make contraception coverage in employee insurance plans up to the employer to determine, but also make the very use of contraception a valid reason for firing an employee. Here's today's Arizona Republic:
Do you have birth control pills in your purse or a condom in your wallet?

Careful, that might get you fired.

The Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature are pushing through a bill that would make it OK for both religious and secular employers to deny health-care coverage for contraception if the employers object for moral or religious reasons.

But apparently that's not all.

HB 2625 in its current version also eliminates the following protection for employees:

"A religious employer shall not discriminate against an employee who independently chooses to obtain insurance coverage or prescriptions for contraceptives from another source."

That language was in the law, passed in Arizona in 2002, that allowed religious employers to opt out of providing contraception services to their workers. In the most recent version of HB 2625, the provision outlawing discrimination is removed.

What does that mean?

According to ACLU of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham, it means that an employer may be able to discriminate against an employee if he finds out that she (or he?) is using contraception.

Read more:

This last week, the US Senate has been in an uproar over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The Seattle P-I reports:
The pending legislation would provide money to local law enforcement, particularly for dealing with violence on Indian reservations and in rural areas. It would increase legal assistance to victims. It would extend protection to cases involving domestic violence between same-sex couples.

Republicans are uneasy with the bill, but equally uneasy about their image among American women.

They recently championed an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, that would given businesses, on grounds of moral objections, sweeping power to deny contraception coverage in health insurance to women employees.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted for the Blunt amendment, only to hear blunt criticism from Alaska women on a trip home. She shared the experience at a Senate Republican Caucus luncheon earlier this week.

Discussing the Violence Against Women Act, Sen. Blunt told the Times: “Obviously you want to be for the title.”

Longtime conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly has charged that the law has been “used to fill feminist coffers” and that its provisions promote “divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.”

Cantwell said American women are asking different questions, adding:

“They want to know how something that has been so bipartisan in the past . . . that’s usually passed with great bipartisan support, may not meet its deadline for being reauthorized.”
Other laws are additionally designed to force doctors to lie to their patients (thus institutionalizing ignorance, as well):

New Hampshire Bill Would Force Docs To Lie About Abortion, Breast Cancer Link

In New Hampshire, a Tea Party-happy House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require doctors to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer—despite the fact that it’s untrue.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeanine Notter, states that “it is scientifically undisputed that full-term pregnancy reduces a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer” and “women facing an abortion decision have a right to know that such medical data exists.” Therefore, doctors must inform pregnant women that “there is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer.”

But no link between abortion and breast cancer has been proven. The consensus in the scientific community, in fact, is that abortion does not cause breast cancer—a statement supported by the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

One reason some previous studies may have showed a link is because the more periods a woman has over a lifetime, the greater her breast cancer risk, crudely. A woman who has 5 children—thus 5 pregnancies, and 5 long stretches with no menstruation—has a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer than a similar woman who has no children. A woman who has an abortion could have a higher lifetime chance of developing breast cancer relative to a woman who has been pregnant—assuming, of course, she never has or will have children.

Full-term pregnancy does reduce a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer. Which does not mean that abortion, per se, causes it.

Someone should explain this to Notter. According to the Huffington Post, she has said in the past that she believes abortion and birth control pills cause spaces in breast duct tissue to allow for the growth of cancer cells. She also believes birth control pills can cause prostate cancer in the male offspring of women who’ve taken them.

Notter’s bill would also institute a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, and require doctors provide a series of fetal pictures taken at two-week intervals, a list of agencies that assist women during pregnancy and childbirth, material on paternal support obligations and a presentation on the possible medical side effects of abortion. Another bill that passed the N.H. house Wednesday would change the timing for judges to decide whether a minor can have an abortion without parental notification. The fates of both bills in the state Senate are uncertain.

Some states, while not ordering doctors to lie, are permitting them to do so. Oklahoma is one of those places:
In Oklahoma, Doctors can legally lie to you because of their personal beliefs. And, make no mistake, they will be lying. When I (and every other mother I know) was pregnant the one question I asked at every OB-GYN appointment was, “Is everything okay with the baby?” I can’t imagine a doctor telling me anything but the truth. I can’t imagine not being prepared for every parents’ worst nightmare.

But it seems that informing women in Oklahoma is situational.

The Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override vetoes of two highly restrictive abortion measures, one making it a law that women undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before having an abortion.

Amazing. Angry Mouse sums it up best…
In other words, if you’re a woman in Oklahoma seeking a legal medical procedure, you will first be forced to have a completely unnecessary procedure so the doctor can show and describe to you your beautiful, healthy little bundle of joy.

This is Oklahoman for “informed consent.”

But if that bundle of joy isn’t so healthy? Tough shit. The doctor doesn’t have to say a word.
At this rate maybe Oklahoma doctors can start issuing sugar pills in place of birth control pills without telling the patient.
Of course, the tactic of forbidding doctors to give their patients the information they need is not directly only against women. Pennsylvania just passed a damnable law directed at its entire population:
A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, an amendment to Title 52 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”
I can think of other recent instances of laws designed to render women and men ignorant and inflict unnecessary suffering on them, but I think these examples suffice for one post. The institutionalization of cruelty and the institutionalization of ignorance are proliferating in the US today. It'd take a full-time staff using maps with pushpins to keep track of all the insidious legislation aimed to make our lives worse. The word that comes to mind now when I think about politicians is "contempt." Their contempt for most of us, and our contempt for them. Where, I have to wonder, will this all end?

Friday, March 9, 2012

2011 Tipree Award is announced

Thrilling news! Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire has won the James Tiptree Jr. Award! Here's the low-down from the James Tiptree Jr. Award website:

Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct Press, 2011) is the winner of the 2011 James Tiptree Jr. Award.

Redwood and Wildfire was a favorite of the jurors from the moment they read it. They reported: “This vivid and emotionally satisfying novel encompasses the life of Redwood, a hoodoo woman, as she migrates from rural Georgia to Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. While Redwood’s romance with Aidan Wildfire is central to the novel, female friendship is also a major theme, without deferring to the romance. Hairston incorporates romantic love into a constellation, rather than portraying it as a solo shining star. Her characters invoke a sky where it can shine; they live and love without losing themselves in cultural expectations, prejudices and stereotypes, all within a lovingly sketched historical frame.

“Intersections of race, class, and gender encompass these characters’ entire lives. They struggle with external and internal forces around questions of gender roles, love, identity, and sexuality. This challenge drives how they move through the world and how it sees them. The characters in Redwood and Wildfire deftly negotiate freedom and integrity in a society where it’s difficult to hold true to these things.”

Honor List:

In addition to selecting the winner, the jury chose a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list for the rest of the year. This year’s Honor List is:

Libba Bray, Beauty Queens (Scholastic Press 2011) — In this atypically comedic Tiptree candidate, a cast of iconic characters trapped on a hostile island (populated by the capitalist analog of Doctor No) illuminates the limited palette of roles for women and offers the hope of more rewarding and rounded lives.

L. Timmel Duchamp, “The Nones of Quintilus” (in her collection Never at Home, Aqueduct Press 2011) — This standout story addresses the relationships between mothers and daughters and how the world looks different when you become (or intend to become) pregnant.

Kameron Hurley, God’s War (Night Shade Books 2011) — Set on a marginally habitable world divided by a common religion with diverse interpretations, this engaging work explores a militaristic matriarchal society.

Gwyneth Jones, The Universe of Things (Aqueduct Press 2011) — Running through these gorgeous stories is a fierce awareness of how gender roles and other social power imbalances are always factors in how we think, how we approach one another, how we see the world. The author questions the status quo, and then questions the questioning, so what emerges is a mature, honest, thoughtful complexity.

Alice Sola Kim, “The Other Graces” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2010) — This elegantly written short story revisits the role of mirroring in self-actualization and casts that path in a new and skiffy light as its heroine, Grace, is mentored by her older alternate selves. It also depicts racial/cultural intersections with gender roles.

Sandra McDonald, “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” (Strange Horizons,
2010.10.04) — A surreal and subversive take on human-AI relations. An older female character exploring her sexuality is a rare thing in science fiction, and it is refreshing to see it handled here with such a deft hand.

Maureen F. McHugh, “After the Apocalypse” (in her collection After the Apocalypse, Small Beer Press 2011) — This title story of an impressive collection brings to the foreground gender expectations concerning the practice of motherhood in extreme situations and then completely and matter-of-factly upends them.

Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze (Big Mouth House 2011) — A clear-hearted, magically immersive time travel story that explores powerful ideas. Thrown back through time to an antebellum plantation, a thirteen-year-old comes to understand how women’s experience is shaped by cultural expectations as they interweave with social, economic, and racial truths.

Kim Westwood, The Courier’s New Bicycle (Harper Voyager Australia 2011) — This compelling novel depicts a variety of sexually transgressive characters and looks at themes of fertility and alternate family structures through a dystopic lens.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Complete and unlimited corporate control over texts

Most of the nonfiction I've had published has been with independent venues (like NYRSF and Strange Horizons), and most of it is not academic. But I do occasionally publish pieces in academic journals or anthologies.  I've noted With some grimness that conditions for publishing academic nonfiction in such places have been steadily worsening. I know of terrible experiences my academic friends have had, some of it truly shocking. Steven Shaviro now reports an intolerable situation with Oxford University press: they are demanding of their authors total, unlimited rights over the work they publish-- including permanent legal ownership of the copyright--reducing authors' work to "work-for-hire":
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned on this blog a situation I was in: that I was unwilling to sign a contract for an essay I had written in contribution an anthology of critical essays from Oxford University Press (OUP), because the contract stipulated that the essay would be regarded as “work for hire.” This would mean that I would have absolutely no rights as the author of the work. Whereas most academic press contracts ask you to sign away certain of your rights, by transferring copyright from yourself to the press, this contract from OUP meant that I would have no rights at all — if I signed, I would be agreeing that (as Gordon Hull put it — see the comments to the previous blog entry) “copyright was never [mine] in the first place — it belonged to OUP from the start.” It is obvious that, were this to become the norm in academic publishing, then intellectual enquiry and academic freedom, as we now know them, would cease to exist. Writers would become “knowledge workers” whose output belonged to the press that published them (or to the university at which they worked, in another variant of the scenario) in the same way that code written on the job at Microsoft, Apple, or Google belongs to those companies, and not to the writers themselves.

Well, the academics who are putting together the volume to which I was supposed to be contributing graciously asked OUP on my behalf about the work for hire provision. The response they got back was that the Press wouldn’t budge on work for hire. I don’t think I have permission to actually reproduce the words of the editor from OUP, so I will paraphrase. What he basically said was that traditional publication agreements are insufficient because they only give presses “limited sets of rights.” In other words, he was openly confessing that OUP seeks complete and unlimited control over the material that they publish.

Unlimited and complete control over one's work: the very idea is enough to strike terror into any fiction writer's heart. About ten years ago, I contributed to an anthology composed of work by both fiction writers and academics. The publisher in that case did not demand "complete and unlimited control" over our work, but they did ask for what I thought were unusual and unwarranted control. The other fiction writers felt the same, but the academics were surprised--they hadn't much thought about this practice, and as academics feel so without leverage (given that publications on their CVs are prerequisites for professional survival). In the end, most of us amended the contract to preserve a reasonable degree of control over our contributions in the future. A couple of years ago, I had a less reasonable experience. The "contract" in that case was only one-way-- viz., the author agreeing to sign over all rights forever to the work. When I objected, the publisher comprised by allowing me some rights after five years. That experience made me realize that writing for academic publication may end up being too costly (and a virtual waste of my time). Of course the corporations that own these academic presses don't care about that: academic workers are cheap labor, in their minds--and apparently interchangeable. Product is product, right? One block of 5000 words can't be much different from another block, apart from those that have a brand name everyone knows...

I know that some people think the copyright battles currently underway are about preserving authors' rights: but actually, these battles are about allowing corporations wishing to own and control all cultural products in perpetuity. Sometimes these battles might indirectly benefit authors, but such benefits are never the point.

Links on coverage of authors by gender

Monday, March 5, 2012

Unruly Islands

I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct's release of Unruly Islands by Liz Henry, as a trade paperback. Unruly Islands collects 36 poems suffused with science fiction, revolution, and digital life on the edge.

Annalee Newitz, editor of i09, says of the collection: “Liz Henry's poetry is always moving, funny, and weird, regardless of whether she's flying us on a rocketship through a science fictional social revolution or telling us a wry story about being an adolescent embezzler. This collection is like a monster cyborg mashup of Walt Whitman, Joanna Russ, and the internet. Which is to say: Fuck yeah!”

Daphne Gottlieb, author of 15 Ways to Stay Alive, Why Things Burn, and Final Girl, writes: “With all the awe and shiny of Barbarella, the breathless curiosity of Robert Hayden's American Journal, and the dismal, too-real fluorescent sheen of the corner store, Liz Henry takes the world (and the otherword) and makes it ours in all of its signal and noise, its glorious classwar and cussmouth. She takes the unknowable along with the familiar and shows us how, incontrovertibly, the future is here, and the future is us.”

And Maureen Owen, author of Imaginary Income and Zombie Notes, observes, “Liz Henry's protean, phantasmagorical images slingshot us out and boomerang us back simultaneously over multiple plains in all directions. Immediate, futuristic, subliminal. An intimate, wild ride through a surrealistic mind field.”

You can purchase Unruly Islands through Aqueduct Press's website here. (I'm sorry to say we won't be able to offer e-book editions of the book because e-book formats aren't yet able to accommodate the book's stylistic characteristics, which it wouldn't be fair to either readers or authors to sacrifice.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Some Stuff of Interest

Here are a few links you might find interesting:

--Allison Flood's Gender bias in books journalism remains acute, research shows reports on Vida's compilation of statistics for 2011:
It was the year when VS Naipaul infamously declared no woman writer to be his equal, so perhaps it's not surprising that new research shows a huge skew towards male authors and reviewers in the literary establishment in 2011.

Vida, an American organisation supporting women in the literary arts, has compiled statistics on the gender split in books coverage at publications including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review, each of which showed a substantial bias towards using male reviewers and covering male authors.

At the LRB last year 16% of reviewers were women (29 out of 184) and 26% of authors reviewed (58 out of 221); at the New York Review of Books 21% of 254 reviews were by women, 17 of 92 authors reviewed were female and 13% of 152 articles were by women. Of 1,163 reviews in the TLS in 2011, 30% were by women, and of 1,314 authors reviewed, 25% were women. Granta was the only publication to have more female contributors, at 53%, but much of this was down to its women-only feminism issue.
Flood's article notes that gender bias is worse for nonfiction and quotes editors of the publications preferring to review work by males over work by women effectively blaming women for not stepping up to the plate and sententiously "hoping" that the Vida reports will "encourage women." (What this has to do with getting women's books reviewed absolutely mystifies me.) She concludes with a comment from Jennifer Weiner:
Author Jennifer Weiner, who, with Picoult, has campaigned against the continuing gender bias of book reviews towards men over the last year, felt that the best response was to let the "vital conversations" take place elsewhere. "Instead of hoping that some day the boys' club will open its doors, we can form our own clubs, define 'worthy' our own way, and celebrate the books and voices that we decide deserve celebration," she said. "In the end, it's going to take a New Girls' (and Boys') Network to counter the Old Boys' Network. Men and women committed to change are going to have to step up and speak out, (and, of course, risk being called shrill, hysterical, annoying or 'just jealous' of the attention the men receive when we do)."
I suppose that Weiner's remark may be interpreted by some as pursuing a separatist strategy, but I think, rather, she's suggesting that men and women need to join together to create new venues where women's work will be treated with respect. That may be considered a kind of separatism, but it isn't gender separatism. I rather like the idea of allowing the old male-dominated bastions of the commercial literary world dry up on the vine, myself. (Link thanks to Wendy Walker.)

Two links to posts by Amanda Marcotte:

--When we say they hate women, we mean they hate women is prompted by Rush Limbaugh's despicable attack on Sandra Fluke, but sees it as part of the ongoing war on women underway in the US today:
I'd point out that most animals fuck according to the ideal Rick Santorum model: joylessly, infrequently, and only for procreation. Most even wait until the female is ovulating, to minimize the time they spend rutting! If your objective is to not be like other animals, the best strategy is to fuck all the time and take advantage of our unique ability to enjoy sex for its own sake.

Beyond all the hatefulness, prudery, and misogyny is just the plain weirdness of all of this. Reading the right wing reaction to Sandra Fluke, you get the strong impression that they think that a single woman in her mid-20s who is sexually active is some kind of freakish outlier, as if Fluke admitted to being a mercenary with side business in running drugs to pay off law school. In reality, Fluke is as normal and American as apple pie. Being sexually active before marriage is just what people do; 93% of Americans have premarital sex before turning 30. We can safely guess there's no love here for women whose main pregnancy prevention strategy is to only have sex with women. Additionally, since no distinctions between women who use contraception in or out of marriage are being made here, women who use it to have monogamous sex with their husbands are being rolled into the "town dump" category as well, which means that basically, the utterly normal and nearly universal experience of being female is being characterized on the right as something disgusting and beyond the pale. Which is just a long, roundabout way to say they straight up hate women.
--Marcotte also has a brief post about the endless GOP primary season: It's the Race that Never Ends that made me nod my head and say, yes, it does feel as if it will never end. And then led to the reflection that the reason that no end is yet in sight is because so many whackos have the support of very, very, very, very rich patrons, who have endless amounts of money to lavish on obscenely expensive campaigns for losers eager to serve them and their interests (and no one else's).

--Kim Stanley Robinson has an essay about climate change and the utopian in his novels at arena: Remarks on Utopia in the Age of Climate Change:
While writing the Mars Trilogy, or maybe before, I began to think of science as another name for the utopian way, or what Williams called the long revolution.[i] This was partly because I was married to a scientist and watching science in action, up close, and it was partly from thinking about it. We tend to take science at its own self-evaluation, and we’re not used to thinking that utopia might already be partly here, a process that we struggle for or against. But to me the idea of science as a utopian coming-into-being has seemed both true and useful, suggestive of both further stories and action in the world.
Through the essay, he moves through fascinating territory until he arrives at a startling (but utterly plausible) conclusion:
How do we act on what we know? The time has come when we have to solve this puzzle, because the future, from where we look at it now, is different than past futures. Before we just had to keep on trying to do our best, and we would be OK. Things seemed to slowly get better, for some people in some places anyway; in any case, we would keep trying things, and probably muddle through. This is no longer the case. Now the future is a kind of attenuating peninsula; as we move out on it, one side drops off to catastrophe; the other side, nowhere near as steep, moves down into various kinds of utopian futures. In other words, we have come to a moment of utopia or catastrophe; there is no middle ground, mediocrity will no longer succeed. So utopia is no longer a nice idea, but a survival necessity.
This is a must-read essay. Do please check it out. (Link thanks to Niall Harrison.)

--Common Dreams reports on an insurance industry meeting about how uninsurable parts of the United States are becoming because of climate change. The meeting occurred just one day before the latest devastating tornados slammed the Midwest and Southeast US:
“From our industry’s perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,” said Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America. “We need a national policy related to climate and weather.”

“As a member of the global insurance industry, we have witnessed the increased impact of weather-related events on our industry and around the world,” said Mark Way, head of Swiss Re's sustainability and climate change activities in the Americas. “A warming climate will only add to this trend of increasing losses, which is why action is needed now.”

Cynthia McHale, the insurance program director at Ceres, issued a more unequivocal statement: “Our climate is changing, human activity is helping to drive the change, and the costs of these extreme weather events are going to keep ballooning unless we break through our political paralysis, and bring down emissions that are warming our planet. If we continue on this path, extreme weather is certain to cause more homes and businesses to be uninsurable in the private insurance market, leaving the costs to taxpayers or individuals.”
Resonates with Stan Robinson's essay, no?

Friday, March 2, 2012

In the House of the Seven Librarians

I'm delighted to announce that Aqueduct Press is now releasing a delicious little book by Ellen Klages, In the House of the Seven Librarians. Here's its first, enticing sentence:
Once upon a time, the Carnegie Library sat on a wooded bluff on the east side of town: red brick and fieldstone, with turrets and broad windows facing the trees. Inside, green glass-shaded lamps cast warm yellow light onto oak tables ringed with spindle-backed chairs...
This charming story recounts the tale of what happens when an old Carnegie library is closed and its seven librarians refuse to abandon it. They lock the doors, and a forest grows around them like a cloak, sheltering them from the rest of the world. But their lives are changed when a book of fairy tales is found in the Book Drop, very, very overdue and the payment accompanying it is a first-born child.

In the House of the Seven Librarians is a timeless tale for anyone who spent a childhood in the refuge of the public library, or who believes that a world full of books is a truly magical place. And as Margo Lanagan, author of Tender Morsels, has noted, “Ellen Klages writes like a dream—a dream from which you wake up laughing, and that fills the rest of the day with its strangeness and sweetness.”

Ellen's book is available in trade paperback for $9 and in e-book formats for $2.99. At the moment it's available only from Aqueduct Press, but will soon be available from other venues.