Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Conversation about 2312

If you've read Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, which has gotten probably more attention than any other book published in our genre last year, I'm confident you'll be interested to read Vandana Singh's post reporting on her own reading of the book. I reviewed 2312 myself, for Strange Horizons. I knew at the time I turned it in that my review was in no way comprehensive, particularly that there were thorny difficulties that I thought of as resulting from the main characters' extraordinary privilege. In my private conversations with Vandana since then (which in turn prompted me to reflect further), it struck me that I'd been presuming that the characters' assumptions of privilege had been meant to be read critically, with irony. Ironic readings, I was compelled to acknowledge, are explicitly generous readings in which the reader adds a layer of interpretation that may or may not be explicitly invited by the text and that in any case a multitude of readers will not automatically lavish on the text. I believed the choice of Swan for the main character, and the critical depiction of her thinking, attitudes, and behavior, itself elicited an ironic reading. (Probably because I myself am in the habit of serving up horribly flawed main characters I expect readers to read against.) Arguably, I simply found the text I wanted to find.

But Vandana's reading resonates powerfully for me beyond her focus on the novel's main characters precisely because the book's structure and style would have allowed the emergence of other voices and perspectives. I also agree with her statement
The baldly stated notion that that humans are “meant to inscribe ourselves into the universe” is not that different from the kind of ideology that justified the British plunder of India, or the French and Dutch mangling of Africa — manifest destiny on a solar system scale.
This notion of human's inscribing themselves into the universe is not a new idea (or assumption) for Robinson. Some of his characters in the Mars Trilogy, for examples, believe this fervently. I've come to wonder if Robinson himself believe it-- or whether, again, its an idea he's implicitly critiquing.

After reading Vandana's post, you'll also want to check out Niall Harrison's post here: This conversation, I'm sure, will (and needs to) continue.

SLF Older Writers Grant

The Speculative Literature Foundation reports that The Older Writers Grant deadline is fast approaching: get your applications in by March 31! The Older Writers Grant ($750) is awarded annually to a writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. There is no entry fee. More information can be found at:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reading for a Sunday

When I publish a book, I can never be confident about any predictions I might hazard for its reception and sales. It's all guess work. Naturally I recognized, only a few chapters into my first of several reads of the ms, that Deb Taber's Necessary Ill was playing with fire. And by the time I'd finished that first read, I characterized it, in my own mind, as what used to be called "dangerous" fiction (which is how most of my own short fiction was characterized in the 90s). "Dangerous fiction," in case the term is new to you, raises uncomfortable questions about moral issues and assumptions (in the broadest sense of "moral") and makes it difficult to answer those questions in any comfortable way. Since Deb's reading on Tuesday, Library Journal has published a starred review of the novel, John Scalzi has featured the book on his blog, Whatever, and Paul di Filippo has reviewed the book at Locus Online. (Earlier, Liz Bourke reviewed the book for Killing and Ethics: Deb Taber’s Necessary Ill.) Here's the conclusion to Library Journal's review:
Taber's debut novel presents an all-too-credible dystopic future world and, in Jin, a complex character whose mind approaches the world and its priorities in a very different way. The characterization of truly genderless individuals—not androgynes or hermaphrodites—and the portrayal of an approach to the world that is both ruthless and compassionate make this an excellent candidate for book discussion groups and provide strong evidence for the availability of significant genre literature. Highly recommended.
Some of the comments at Whatever were, shall we say, precipitate, given that their authors hadn't yet read the book themselves.  I'll leave you to check out the other links yourself.

A few more links of interest:

--John H. Stevens makes a compelling argument for the vitality of short fiction: Signs of Life in Recent Short Fantastika from Elizabeth Hand, Kiiri Ibura Salaam, and Karin Tidbeck.

--At the Mumpsimus, Matt Cheney reports on a discussion of the 2013 VIDA count at the AWP: VIDA at AWP.

--Maria Tatar takes up the issue Elizabeth Hand recently addressed in the Boston Review, for the New Yorker: Sleeping Beauties vs. Gonzo Girls.Tatar, though, sees the gritty protagonists Hand examines as tricksters.
The female trickster has a long and distinguished lineage. For centuries, these heroines made use of veiled speech and disguise as they prowled around the margins of their worlds. There is Scheherazade, who rescues herself through storytelling, using the civilizing energy of narrative to end King Shahryar’s serial marriages and slayings. Then, there’s the younger and meeker Gretel, who sees her “moment in history,” as Anne Sexton tells it, and shoves the cannibalistic witch into the oven. In the end, she and Hansel are able to return home on the back of a duck, thanks to the poetry in her spells. Like the mythical Hermes, the two children become liars and thieves who traffic in enchantments.
--At the Nation, Michelle Dean takes up the cultural politics (and economics) of crowdsource funding: 'Veronica Mars', Amanda Palmer, 'The Atlantic' and the Depressing Economics of Cultural Production: Oh My!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Deb Taber event in Seattle

Tomorrow evening at 7 p.m., Deb Taber will be reading from and signing Necessary Ill at Seattle's University Bookstore ( 4326 University Way, N.E. – Seattle, Washington 98105). Necessary Ill has received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Liz Bourke, reviewing the novel for, writes:

“At its heart, Necessary Ill concerns itself with character and situation; with the social experience of marked vs. unmarked bodies, and the ethics of preservation of life. Is it better to kill many in order that the species might survive? Is it right to permit the human race to drive itself to extinction, if by one's actions one can prevent it? Is it ever possible to act ethically in taking choices away from other people? Necessary Ill doesn't answer the questions it raises, or at least not all of them. But it asks them thoughtfully, and with an eye for character that makes for an enjoyable read.” (You can read her entire review here.)

I'll be there myself, of course.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tis the season...

...for mating displays among ducks. Ducks are always so interesting at this time of year-- in their gorgeous nuptial plumage, in their behavior, even in their apparent inflation in body size. Yesterday when we were out doing the rounds of the Union Bay Fill, the Southwest Pond offered us the most interesting scene, where turtles were basking in the sun, some of them piled atop one another, two great blue herons were perching on different dead tree limbs positioned on the diagonal, one of them staring intently down into the water below, the other preening itself, and most ostentatiously, several male mallards continually reared up out of the water flapping their wings (sometimes it seemed more at one another than for the delectation of the females), occasionally taking flight in order to make showy landings in the water a few yards away. Meanwhile, the blue herons ignored them totally, and the lone pied-billed grebe quietly swam into a far corner of the pond where it spent more time under water than on the surface.

The mallards' performances was the most striking thing we saw. (No, the ducks at the right aren't mallards. I think they're probably American Wigeons.) But probably the most peculiar was seeing two crows fishing on the lake. They fished the way eagles and osprey do--flying over, then circling and swooping in and ascending with fish in their bills. After they'd caught some prey, the crows flew up to the upper branches of a tree on the bank, presumably to dine in style.

In my backyard, in the meantime, the robins have been singing their heads off and the northern flicker and stellar's jay have been making a racket. I feel quite sure they all think winter's a thing of the past.

In short, it feels as though spring is almost here in Seattle, even if my hellebore plants are at their peak. Daffodils and crocus are in evidence, & going onto Daylight Savings Time, while difficult for those routinely short of sleep, confirms that sense.

25th Lambda Literary Awards finalists

In case you haven't heard, the Lambda Literary Foundation has announced the finalists for this year's Lambda Literary Awards. I'm posting the part of the list of finalists of most interest for f/sf readers, but the entire list is always interesting; you can find it here. It includes, for instance, in its "Transgender Fiction" category Roz Kaveney's  Dialectic of the Flesh (A Midsummer Night’s Press).

LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror

1.      Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction, Brit Mandelo, Lethe Press

2.      Chocolatiers of the High Winds: A Gay Steampunk Romance, H.B. Kurtzwilde, Clasp Editions; An Imprint of Circlet Press

3.      Green Thumb, Tom Cardamone, Lethe Press

4.      Heiresses of Russ 2012: the Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, Connie Wilkins and Steve Berman, Lethe Press

5.      In the Now, Kelly Sinclair, Blue Feather Books

6.      Night Shadows: Queer Horror, Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann, eds., Bold Strokes Books
7.      The Survivors, Sean Eads, Lethe Press

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sheree Thomas judging speculative fiction contest

Heads up! This notice just arrived in my mailbox:

Ragazine.CC is offering a $1,000.00 prize for the best piece of speculative fiction completed by a person of color in 2013. We will begin accepting electronic (e-mail) entries dated on or after March 20, 2013, and on or before June 20th. The winner will be announced in September; the prize includes publication in Ragazine.CC. Second and third place selections also will be published in the same or subsequent issues of Ragazine.CC.

The final judge for the contest is Sheree Renée Thomas, a well-known fiction writer and editor of the Dark Matter series and author of Shotgun Lullabies (a CP volume).

Editor Joe Weil writes: "I conceived of the contest as a way to bring attention to both an under-served genre of writing (serious, artistic speculative fiction) and an under-served population of writers weilgardenrelated to that genre: speculative writers of color. Many contests are far broader, but this is meant  to highlight  a type of writing and writers who may not be at all that well known to our readers and who deserve recognition."

You can find the contest rules here: (Note, there is an entry fee.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2012 Tiptree Awards

The James Tiptree Awards have just been announced, and Wow! Aqueduct has another winner! Joyous congratulations to Aqueductistas Kiini Ibura Salaam (co-winner) and Lesley Wheeler (Honor List)! But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the complete skinny:

The Tiptree Award for 2012 goes to two books. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam.

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl probably couldn’t have been written without its multifaceted consideration of gender roles and its extraordinary management of an unreliable narrator who doesn’t even trust herself. For India Morgan Phelps (aka Imp), the act of telling the story parallels the act of choosing a path or an identity as she makes her way through a maze of false memories and blurred realities. Using myth, art, and mental illness, this beautifully written novel explores the boundaries between reality and fantasy, sanity and insanity, and art and dream.  It’s complex in its plot, metaphor, and style as well as in its thinking about one’s role as a woman and a daughter. In its characters, lesbian, straight, and transgender, old and young, this novel also recognizes the complexity of human beings.

 In Ancient, Ancient, Kiini Ibura Salaam’s startling stories combine science fiction, fantasy, and mythology in a sensuous exploration of what it means to live while struggling to define self and other. Salaam’s language is poetic and sensuous — a unique and original voice. The stories are ambitious and challenging, demonstrating excellent range in both storytelling style and imagery, from the mundane to the fully fantastical. Salaam is particularly interested in agency in oppressive social realities and explores how oppression works on our gendered bodies.

In addition to selecting the winner, the jury chooses 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:

 §     Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts (Tor 2012) — A rip-roaring tale with imaginative worldbuilding, convincing exploration of gender, power, and possibility, and an intriguing juxtaposition of procreative energy, wizardly magic, and necromancy. The first book in the Eternal Sky trilogy.

 §       Roz Kaveney, Rituals (Plus One Press 2012) — Tremendous fun while dealing with serious issues around power, gender, class, economics.  Genre-savvy while subverting conventions and tropes. This is the first book in Rhapsody of Blood, a four-part series.

 §       M.J. Locke, Up Against It (Tor 2011) — On an asteroid world, characters struggle with the social implications of altered biology. The control and betrayal of innocent AI’s are particularly fascinating.

 §       Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (Orbit 2012) — A rare and honest effort to examine gender multiplicity in pure hard-SF terms. This vision of freedom from gender assignment could help revise the standard hard-SF future in much the same way that Robinson’s Mars trilogy revised the portrayal of Mars in science fiction.
§         Karin Tidbeck, Jagannath (Cheeky Frawg Books, 2012) — A beautifully written collection of short stories using Norse myth; the ones that involve gender identities present figures not easily forgotten, from the Aunts to the Great Mother to the characters mooning over an airship and a steam engine.

 §       Ankaret Wells, Firebrand (Epicon Press 2012) — Set in the steampunk era, this fun read shows women dealing with the restrictions of society on their way to gaining political and economic power and considers how definitions of “proper” behavior worked across cultural, class, and species’ boundaries.

 §        Lesley Wheeler, “The Receptionist” (in The Receptionist and Other Tales, Aqueduct Press 2012) — An overt exploration of gender and power in narrative poetry with splendidly drawn characters and pitch-perfect language.

The Tiptree Award winners will be honored during Memorial Day weekend at WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin. Each winner will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.  

Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2012 jurors were Joan Gordon (chair), Andrea Hairston, Lesley Hall, Karen Lord, and Gary K. Wolfe.

I lifted the above whole from the Tiptree website. Congratulations, of course, to both winners and everyone on the Honor List (and also, of course, to the jury). And happy reading to all of us!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reading for a Monday

This week's column at Strange Horizons, by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Woman's Work and Woman of Color at Work, grapples with the trickiness of certain aspects of identity issues for women in general and women of color in particular. She notes

In the chapter on aesthetics, Joanna Russ writes:
The re-evaluation and rediscovery of minority art (including the cultural minority of women) is often conceived as a matter of remedying injustice and exclusiveness through doing justice to individual artists by allowing their work into the canon, which will thereby be more complete, but fundamentally unchanged.
I have sometimes been told that the reason my work is accepted or published is because I am a woman of color. I stand out because I am from a third-world country and the field wants to be diverse and inclusive. If there were small boxes to fill in, I would fill in a lot of them.

I remember feeling quite taken aback the first time I heard this spoken out by someone whom I had thought of as a friend. My response at that time was to say that anything that got me published was certainly a plus.

For a while, I became even more critical of my own work, feeling that nothing I wrote was really good enough or worthy enough. It was only later, in looking back, that I recognized that criticism for what it was.

As a non-native English speaker, I find these remarks echoed in subtler ways: a) when people praise me for my command of the language and my ability to express myself well in English and b) when people tell me that as a non-native English speaker I miss the nuances of the language (the implication being that the work will never really measure up).
This is how complex it becomes when we speak of the work of women and the work of women who come from outside of the US or the UK. If the work of women is pressed into the margins, how much more pressed into the margins are the works of women of color? How much more pressed into the margins are the works of women who do not come from within the native English-speaking hegemony?

You'll want to read the whole piece, of course.