Friday, June 29, 2012

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 2 No. 3

The Summer issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out!

The issue begins with a tribute to poet and theorist Adrienne Rich, who made an enormous contribution to feminism as we know it today, and includes poetry by Alex Dally MacFarlane and Kiik A.K., Graham Joyce's thoughts on Angela Carter's magnificent Nights at the Circus, a very personal essay by Abby Koenig on that expensive, tricky sfnal procedure known as IVF, reviews of new work from Samuel R. Delany, N.K. Jemison, Nancy Kress, and others, and concludes with the art of Meredith Scheff. If you aren't a subscriber, you can purchase a single issue or subscribe here. For me, personally, Thomas Foster's essay-review of Nalo Hopkinson's Report from Planet Midnight alone is worth the price of the issue.

Current Issue
Vol. 2 No. 3 — July 2012

In Memoriam: Adrienne Rich
  by L. Timmel Duchamp

Back at Day 1, Again
  by Abby Koenig
  by Kiik A.K.
wedding in the uncut hair
of the meadow
  by Kiik A.K.
Most Beautiful in Death
  by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Grandmother Magma
Nights at the Circus
by Angela Carter
  reviewed by Graham Joyce

Through the Valley
of the Nest of Spiders

by Samuel R. Delany
  reviewed by Victoria Garcia

Report from Planet Midnight
by Nalo Hopkinson
  reviewed by Thomas Foster

The Killing Moon
by N.K. Jemisin
  reviewed by Ebony Thomas

Fountain of Age
by Nancy Kress
  reviewed by Cynthia Ward

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually
Fluid Science Fiction

edited by Brit Mandelo
  reviewed by Paige Clifton-Steele

Featured Artist
Meredith Scheff

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Update on the UVA conflict

In my post Sunday, I expressed pessimism about the University of Virginia faculty's likelihood of prevailing against its governing board. I'm delighted to report that I was mistaken. Yesterday, under orders of the Governor of Virginia to "resolve" the situation that day or resign en masse, the board reinstated the university's president.

An interesting aspect of this situation that I may not have mentioned is that the president, Teresa Sullivan, began her career as an academic rather than an administrator. Although this used to be standard for university presidents, in the 21st century, it mostly isn't. Sure, mid-level administrators like deans still tend to also be faculty, but at the upper echelons, they're mostly people trained as managers. And of course that has a lot to do with the vast shift, beginning in the 1980s, in the values determining policy in higher education. All the academics of my acquaintance began revolting against business-speak when it first appeared in the 1980s, but they seem to have been helpless in preventing the imposition of the business model.

Reporting Sullivan's reinstatement, Time warns in its headline "But Colleges Face More Drama Ahead." It then presents three key issues without providing a reasonably complex context that would give a less than warped view of what is involved. These unhelpfully simplified issues are: (1) Should universities be run as businesses by CEOs or by faculty when, as the article claims "colleges need business acumen at the top to take quicker, more decisive action than is typical of academia, move more responsively to changes in the marketplace and balance budgets." (2) "One of the more contentions issues that emerged in the Sullivan saga was uncertainty over how higher education is being altered by the rise of MOOCs, or massively open online courses." The article invokes online courses at Harvard-- but fails to mention online diploma mills like Phoenix University, which is the model the key board member was eager to emulate. Nor does it mention all the statistical exposes of how poorly students are served by such places. (3) "Rising costs for students. Over the past year, state funding for higher education has declined by nearly 8%." Not just the past year, but the past two decades. No mention of why this is. And worst of all? The assumption of the article is that this is not a remediable situation. And certainly no mention that at many universities the division of the budget has shifted to insecure positions and low salaries for almost half of the faculty and the most valuable (but least valued by high-level administrators) staff members and enormous, bloated compensation for administrators, athletics programs, and public relations firms.

The Washington Post has a piece of analysis by Susan Svrgula on"the lessons" that can be drawn from "the episode." These mainly seem to be of the order of managing public (including student and faculty) opinion and perception. "Some experts think the final decision was lousy: 'It will undermine public university governance for decades to come,' said Sheldon Steinbach, a higher-education lawyer. 'Public university trustees could be viewed as gutless political appointees who would succumb to pressure when harnessed by faculty and outside influences that perhaps don’t understand the nuances of a given situation.'"

In short, mainstream news venues seem determined not to understand what was and continues to be at stake for real people vis-a-vis higher education.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Links for a Sunday afternoon

Summer officially arrived in the northern hemisphere this week, but Seattle's weather continues to be Spring-like, as though we've settled into mid-May weather for good. Which is all very pleasant, but I worry about my tomatoes and other hot-weather vegetables. (The lettuces and spinach and kales like it just fine, of course.)

I still haven't managed to write anything about WisCon for this blog. (Getting a bit late, I know...) I still hope to do that. In the meantime, here are some links.

--Versification has posted a review by Francesca Forrest of The Moment of Change. "Lemberg," she writes, "has chosen poems that represent the unruly, ungeneralizable expanse of human female experience."

--Electra at Starlady reviews Andrea Hairston's Mindscape-- and does so adopting the narrative form Andrea uses for character Lawanda Kitt's sections of the novel.
This is, in a way that I suspect many people would not want to really acknowledge, a truly American science fiction (science fantasy?) novel, and probably one of the few that I have read. Though there is a lot of Afro-futurism in here, there is also a lot of specifically American history, particularly the history of U.S.-Indian relations - born-again Sioux Ghost Dancers are central to the plot, and the final scenes take place at Wounded Knee. Furthermore, movies and a lot of Hollywood permeate the characters' lives and worldviews, as well as the fact that many of them are involved in movies as directors or actors or unwilling Extras. I liked the way that some of the characters were explicit about the fact that they didn't want to be co-opted into mainstream narratives, and probably my favorite character overall was Lawanda Kitt, a loud and proud ethnic throwback who shakes up the corrupt and rotting zone of Los Santos without fully realizing her own power, even though we only get her viewpoint in transmissions to various people. I didn't like Elleni quite so much, but by the end I understood her - indeed, one of the awesome things about this book is just how many awesome female characters there are.
--I've discovered a fantastic blog for high-quality local bird gossip: Union Bay Watch. Not only does the author, Larry, post his (and others') observations of avian life in Seattle, but he also provides spectacular photos (currently of eaglets and ongoing crow harassment of eagles, ospreys, and other larger birds) and very brief videos (for instance, of a Northern Flicker performing a mating dance). If you're at all interested in  birds, it's well worth checking out.

--A battle is under way at the University of Virginia between the board that governs the university (all of them--excepting the student representative-- the governor's political appointees who have contributed huge sums of money to political campaigns) on one side and the university's administration, faculty, and students on the other. To kick off its grand plan of turning the university into an online, for-profit diploma mill (explicitly, like Phoenix University), it fired the president of the university. I've been told of similar agendas at work on other campuses, but I've never heard of such a full-frontal assault quite like this one. The corporate-speak board members apparently conceive of themselves as enacting something known in the business world as "strategic dynamism." It's basically an embrace of instability as a way of ramming through measures of massive change before anyone has a chance of questioning much less thinking through the potential consequences of those measures. (Sort of like what happened in the US Government after the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush as POTUS.) The board has also hired the notorious Hill+Knowlton Strategies to manage public perceptions of their machinations. Although the protests at the UVA campus are tremendous (as seen by the refusal to serve of the person the board appointed as the president pro-tem), the fact that it is summer makes it seem unlikely that the protests can be sustained. I also wonder how far the main source of protest-- the faculty-- will be willing to go in the struggle. Of course it is their jobs (and their workplace) that will eventually be on the line. But since lost jobs aren't imminent, and almost all notions of personal interest tend to be located in the short-term, my hopes aren't high.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Vagina what? Yeah, vaginagate. If someone had told me that legislators in Oklahoma, Arizona, or even Texas had banned (women) representatives from using the word "vagina" when talking about legislation determined to control that anatomical organ, I wouldn't have first thought that the story was a hoax. (Yeah, you guessed it, once again I'm reporting a piece of ideologically-driven insane political behavior that sounds like something out of a dystopian sf novel.) But no. This is Michigan behavior. (You know, Michigan, where the governor is dismantling elected municipal governments and replacing them with supposedly non-governmental corporate authority whose only interest is making as big a profit as possible without respect to public interest.) Here's the story, in case you haven't already heard it:
Two female US politicians were banned from addressing the Michigan house of representatives after one used the word "vagina" and the other tried to argue for regulating vasectomies during a debate over a controversial anti-abortion bill.
The house bill, which was passed by 70 votes to 39, will introduce new rules and insurance requirements for abortion providers, make it an offence to force a woman to have an abortion, and regulate the disposal of foetal remains.
It is part of a package of proposed legislation that has been described by critics as one of the most hardline recent attempts at passing anti-abortion legislation in the US.
Lisa Brown – the Democratic state representative for West Bloomfield in Michigan – found herself gagged after house Republicans took exception to her language.
Brown, who has three children, said that the bill's proposals ran contrary to her Jewish beliefs. But it was the manner in which how she concluded her speech: on Wednesday that infuriated Republicans.
"Mr Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no,'" she said.
Her use of the word "vagina" led house Republicans to prohibit her from speaking on school employee retirement bill.
Brown then called a press conference and demanded: "If I can't say the word vagina, why are we legislating [on] vaginas?" she asked. "What language should I use?" If you think this is a fluke, think again. Another woman legislator was banned from speaking, too:
Barb Byrum, the a fellow Democratic state representative for Onondaga, also caused a disturbance on the floor of the house after Republicans refused to allow her to introduce an amendment to the bill that would ban men having vasectomies unless the procedure was needed to save their lives – a key clause of the anti-abortion bill. She was ruled out of order after protesting that she had not been allowed to speak on her proposal. "If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies," Byrum told reporters.
On Thursday, Ari Adler, a spokesman for the Republican speaker of the house, said Brown and Byrum would not be allowed to speak on the floor of the house that day because of their conduct on Wednesday. Their "comments and actions", he said, had "failed to maintain the decorum of the house of representatives".
However, both women hit back at house Republicans, accusing them of censorship and misogyny. "Both Representative Byrum and I were gavelled down without cause yesterday while voicing our opposition to the Republican's war on women here in Michigan," Brown told the Detroit Free Press. "Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office." Byrum said she had been ignored and prevented from speaking on an amendment that would hold men and women to the same reproductive standards.
This tactic of insisting that officious governmental control of deeply personal decisions and choices be applied in some way (though usually much more mildly) to men whenever it is applied to women-- a tactic we're seeing in state legislatures more and more these days-- is, in my opinion, brilliant. It demonstrates graphically just what the politics of such legislation is about. Look! they are saying. Women, like men, have an interest in reproductive freedom! If you're going to take this prerogative away from women, then you're also going to have to take it away from men. Is that what you really want?

And that linkage is just what the Republicans don't want to allow into the public sphere (much less the public record). You can tell just how desperate these people are to keep such a comparison out of people's minds. (After all, the propaganda has always been about appealing to people's emotional identification with embryos and fetuses rather than with the women who must risk their lives and human potential to gestate, bear, and raise them.) It is no surprise that banning speech that illuminates just how vicious these attacks on women are has become a desperate strategy for maintaining the momentum of the relentless Republican campaign to dehumanize women. It's a fitting irony that controlling who can talk about women's vaginas and uteri is both tactical as well as perfectly symbolic of the Republicans' campaign as a whole.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 6: Futures of Feminism and Fandom

I'm pleased to announce the release of the The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 6:  Futures of Feminism and Fandom, edited by Alexis Lothian. This volume of the WisCon Chronicles celebrates, challenges, and discusses the varied faces of WisCon 35—including the pre-con controversy surrounding an invited Guest of Honor and the revocation of that invitation, as well as the history and ethos of WisCon, memorial tributes to Joanna Russ, Steampunk, and other issues and subjects. Its contributors include a mix of writers, scholars, and fans, among whom number Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Liz Henry, N.K. Jemison, Jeanne Gomoll, Debbie Notkin, Amar El-Mohtar, Andrea Horbinksi, Eileen Gunn, and others. As with previous volumes, it does not shy away from controversy.

''We are all stories,'' Nisi Shawl says in her Guest of Honor speech included in this volume, and ''changing stories changes everything.'' What will the stories we tell ourselves about feminism, about science fiction, and about fandom change? How will--and how should--we change those stories? This volume of the WisCon Chronicles documents the conversations, the dramas, and the joys that shaped the world of feminist science fiction fandom before, during, and after WisCon 35. From founders' recollections of the excitement and conflict of the con's origins, to many different, difficult conversations about intersections of race, culture, class, and gender, to new forms of fannish engagement that changing media landscapes make more visible, the contributors explore feminism and fandom's past, present, and future.

You can purchase the volume through Aqueduct's website, here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett's New Amazonia

I recently read a 19th-century feminist utopia that Alexis Lothian brought to my attention, New Amazonia: a foretaste of the future, by Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett, a British journalist and novelist. Alexis discusses it in the first chapter of her dissertation. Although it bears some resemblance to other feminist utopias of the ear (particularly in its classist, eugenicist, ableist assumptions as well as its total erasure of race), it's different in three interesting respects:

 First-- the novel was clearly written as a white-hot response to an anti-feminist petition for denying women the suffrage-- spearheaded by best-selling novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward and signed by more than a hundred "ladies" of the literary sphere of the day (including Virginia Woolf's mother). Throughout the novel, Corbett rails against "feminine nincompoopity" and "women who are too bigoted in their own ignorance to know what is good for themselves or others," whose "name is legion." Here's a paragraph from the prologue:
Indeed, were it not that some of the perpetrators of this outrage on my sex are well-known writers and society leaders, I would doubt the authenticity of the signatures, and comfort my soul with the belief that the whole affair has been nothing but a hoax, got up by timorous and jealous male bipeds, already living in fear of the revolution in social life which looms before us at no distant date. As it is, I am able to avail myself of no such doubtful solace, and I can only feel mad, downright mad—no other word is strong enough—because I am not near enough to these traitors to their own sex to give them a viva voce specimen of my opinion of them, though I resolve mentally that they shall taste of my vengeance in the near future, if I can only devise some sure method of bringing this about.
She has a few insights that are promising, but doesn't seem to know what to do with them. "Corrupt, Degraded, Rotten to the core is British Civilisation, and yet we find women who ought to know better, actually pretending that they are perfectly contented with the existing order of things." Shortly after this, she interestingly suggests that these anti-feminist women are betraying other women out of class loyalty at the expense of the rest of their sex:
The principal signatories are in comfortable circumstances; have no great cares upon their shoulders; they plume themselves upon occupying prominent positions in society; it is to their interest to uphold the political principles of the men whose privilege it is to support them; they do not see that life need be made any brighter for them, therefore they conspire to prevent every other woman from emerging from the ditch in which she grovels.
Unfortunately, she doesn't take the insight farther.

Second-- She imagines a utopia in which men & women are equally involved in governing, public life generally, and in all the crafts and professions. This is a step beyond imagining a separatist scenario-- her utopia begins as initiated by women who organize a new government (a "colony" that isn't a colony) and find financing for it, but then allow men in without fear of their taking over.

Third-- When her narrator arrives in New Amazonia in 2472, she learns how New Amazonia came to be-- which is to say, she offers a future history, which looks back to the Victorian Age (which she regards critically) and imagines a social & geopolitical history in which New Amazonia came into existence. (Hint: there are a lot of wars, and New Amazonia in built on the ashes of Ireland.)

I was particularly entertained that at one point in the book the narrator remarks "There is a town in Kansas, called Oskaloosa, of which the Mayor and other members of the Corporation are all women. Their first term of office has been so triumphantly progressive that they have been enthusiastically re-elected, and within twelve months the place has made such wonderful strides in the trifling matters of social morality, sanitation, and prosperity, that it is the wonder of surrounding towns." She cites this as a "signal proof of feminine capacity." As you might imagine, on reading that, I just had to undertake a Google search. Sure enough, I discovered at the Kansas Historical Society site a bibliography of Jefferson County History that offers a photo captioned "First all woman city government in Kansas, Oskaloosa, 1888. (New Amazonia was published in 1889.) The women in the photo all look as though they're between 25-40 years of age. What particularly strikes me is that Corbett knew about that "all-woman" (interesting slip, no?) government, out in the middle of the North American prairie-- and that clearly that knowledge and its inspirational effect on her fueled her frustration with the anti-feminist women in English literary circles who were raising their voices to proclaim that women should be silent. (Have there always been Phyllis Schlaffleys, I wonder? Women who make a career out of denouncing other women for speaking for themselves?)

With all its flaws-- flaws I think it's well worth our while to take note of-- this is a fascinating document of the history of women's political imagination. I plan to bring it out, properly introduced by Alexis Lothian, in Aqueduct's Heirloom Books series. How, after all, can I resist such turns of phrase as "timorous and jealous male bipeds" and"feminine nincompoopity?"

Monday, June 11, 2012

WisCon Chronicles Vol. 7: call for submissions

I'm pleased to announce that Joselle Vanderhooft will be editing the next volume in the WisCon Chronicles. Here's her call for submissions:

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m editing this year’s Wiscon Chronicles, and even more thrilled to say that this volume—volume seven already!—will focus on disability issues, disability in SF/F/H, and fans with disabilities.

It was an awesome year at Wiscon for disability as far as papers and panel topics were concerned, which means that there really is plethora of ways that this volume can shape up. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

· Write-ups of disability-themed panels (some panels I’m particularly interested in seeing write ups of are Body Acceptance: From All Sides; Assistive Technology is One of My Fandoms; Body Impolitic; Disability and the Final Frontier; Feminist Perspectives on Elder Care; Intersectionalism: It’s Not the Oppression Olympics; Passing Privilege; Addiction in Fiction; Disclosing and Advocating for Your Disability; We’re in Your Classics, Harshing on your Disability Tropes; and Accessibility 201)

· The evolution of disability policies through Wiscon’s history, as experienced by con staff and con-goers

· Essays about fandom by fans with disabilities.

· Essays about inter-disability politics.

· Essays by and about PWD whose disabilities are often marginalized or ignored (for example, invisible disabilities,

· Experiencing disability at Wiscon

· Essays about disability in SF/F/H TV, film, books, and other media in general

Note: Although many people both on and not on the autism spectrum do not consider autism and Asperger’s syndrome to be disabilities, society at large often treats autism as a disability. Therefore, I am very interested in receiving essays by and about autism as it pertains to ableism and fandom.

I will also gladly consider essays, poetry, play excerpts, and short fiction (under 3,500 words, please) that deal with disability, particularly if said essays, poetry, play excerpts, and short fiction were read, presented, or workshopped at Wiscon 2012. (Note, if you presented “Theorizing Vulnerability in Feminist SF,” “The Tribe of Maiden and the Tribe of Monsters,” “Disappearing Natives: The Colonized Body is Monstrous,” or “Darwin and the Digital Body,” I am especially interested in talking with you!)

Most importantly, I truly want this book to be intersectional. Therefore, I’m especially interested in panel write ups, essays, and more written by PWD who are also of color, LGB, transgender or genderqueer, fat and fat-positive, immigrants, non-Christian, and from all marginalized identities. The default PWD isn’t white, male, straight, and cisgender, and I want this volume to reflect that fact.

Have something that isn’t disability-related that you’d like to write up or have written up? That’s great, too! I’d love to take a look at it. While this book is centered on disability, essays that focus on other topics—whether that topic is racism, postcolonialism, or just how kick-ass the Chicks Dig Comics reading was—are very much encouraged. After all, Wiscon, like almost any con, is never “about” just one topic.

Before sending your essay, please query with what you want to write at jo.vanderhooft@(remove this) For ease of sorting, please put Wiscon Chronicles 7 Query: [Your last name] in the subject. I'm asking for queries mainly to avoid, say, receiving 5 different write ups of the same panel or 5 different essays on a very similar topic.

Ultimately, submissions should range from 1,000-3,500 words.

Submission deadline is August 15.

Any questions? Shoot me an email or comment here!


- Jo Vanderhooft

Friday, June 8, 2012

A few links of interest

--Apex Magazine has an article by Tansy Rayner Roberts: Girl Meets House: Kitchen Sinks, Joanna Russ and the Female Gothic.

--Amal El-Mohtar, reflecting on the requirement of exceptionality for women characters in the 1970s Sandbaggers spy series, posts More Thoughts on Feminist Characters: Sandbaggers and Female Exceptionalism.

--Brit Mandelo reviews The Moment of Change for "These poems," she writes, "are howling, and they are whispering, and they are calmly—or madly—telling stories about what it means to be a woman, any kind of woman, any person who reaches out for the name “woman.” I appreciated the inclusivity of this text, and the concern with gathering in as many voices as possible to put them in tension and in conversation. Some of the best poems of the text—and, having heard them performed, I may be biased—are JT Stewart’s “Say My Name” and “Ceremony,” one short and one long, both poems dealing with issues of race, immigration, and self-definition Also, it goes without saying, but: they are beautiful, wrenching, astounding pieces. Which is not to say that the whole book isn’t fabulous, because it is. With enough time, I would review every single poem of the approximately 70 pieces included here." You can read the whole review here.

--Gary Trudeau distills the reality of sexual harassment and rape in the US military into 20 frames of his Doonesbury strip.