Sunday, September 29, 2013

Worlds beyond World Symposium

In about a month's time, the Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon will be celebrating their 40th anniversary with two symposiums, one of them focusing on feminist science fiction. All the programming will be free and open to the public. So, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might well want to consider attending, especially when you see who will be participating. (I'm thrilled to say, the list includes several Aqueduct Press authors. including me.)

 Here's the relevant scheduling info:

Symposium 2: Sally Miller Gearhart “Worlds Beyond World” – Nov. 8-9 
In this symposium, authors and cultural critics explore feminist creative production and the roles of science fiction and utopian ideas in imagining feminist futures. Sessions include the following:

FRIDAY, 6:30-9 PM • Keynote event: “A Conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin”


• Session 1: “Feminists in the Archives,” a panel featuring Clark Honors College students working with the papers of feminist science fiction authors housed in Knight Library Special Collections and University Archives

• Session 2: “Science Fiction as Feminist Political Theory” featuring Suzy McKee Charnas, L. Timmel Duchamp, Vonda N. McIntyre, and Kate Wilhelm

• Session 3: “Building Feminist Worlds” featuring L. Timmel Duchamp, Molly Gloss, and Andrea Hairston

• Session 4: “Directions in Feminist Science Fiction Research” featuring Andrea Hairston, Joan Haran, and Alexis Lothian

Registration: Free and open to the public, but registration is required at For travel and other event information, go to and click on “40th Anniversary.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Quote of the Day

The influence of the feminist publishing movement can be seen far and wide. It's there in the enormous power of women in publishing today and in the ongoing insistence that women's voices should be taken seriously, that if literature is important – if it both shapes and reflects our lives – it should represent something beyond a narrow corner of the world. And it is there in every story where women's lives are central, in mediums well beyond the book world. For instance, Callil says, she is madly in love with the Danish TV show Borgen, which centres on a female prime minister. "Borgen is a Virago modern classic times 500," she says. "It's human life, and it's wonderful."--Kira Cochrane, Has Virago Changed the Publishing World's Attitudes towards Women?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This week at Strange Horizons

As a special feature of its fundraising drive, currently underway, Strange Horizons has posted three excellent essays I know most Aqueduct readers will find interesting:

--Recentering Science Fiction and the Fantastic: What would a non-Anglocentric understanding of science fiction and fantasy look like?, by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

--Set Truth on Stun: Reimagining an Anti-Oppressive SF/F, by Daniel José Older

--Recent Brazilian Science Fiction and Fantasy Written by Women, by M. Elizabeth Ginway

I'd also urge you to make a contribution to Strange Horizons. Many Aqueduct Press and Cascadia Subduction Zone writers publish both fiction and nonfiction with Strange Horizons. Strange Horizons reviews more of Aqueduct Press's books than any other review publication. And finally, a donation will give you a chance at winning one of many excellent books, including several recent titles from  Aqueduct Press book. Details can be found at

Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week

September 22-28 is Banned Books Week! Here's the press release of the American Library Association:

Readers from across the United States and around the world will demonstrate their support for free speech by participating in a Virtual Read-Out of banned and challenged books during Banned Books Week, Sept. 22 – 28, a time when the nation celebrates the freedom to read and the American Library Association (ALA) brings attention to the censorship of books in schools and libraries.

The Virtual Read-Out is the digital centerpiece of Banned Books Week, featuring individuals reading from their favorite banned or challenged book. Participants, libraries and bookstores will upload videos at []  for posting to the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel [ ]. Contributors are encouraged to share a reading, discuss the significance of their favorite banned book, or mention a local book challenge.

The event will serve as the backdrop for the announcement of Banned Books Week Heroes. It takes courage to stand up for intellectual freedom, and Banned Books Week sponsors will honor outstanding individuals and groups that have stood up to defend the freedom to read.

More than 1,500 videos have been submitted since the read-out began in 2011, including many by bestselling authors.  Sherman Alexie (“Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”), Laurie Halse Anderson (“Speak”), and Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”) are among those contributing new videos.  Bookstores and libraries across the country are already participating in the Virtual Read-Out. Bookmans Bookstore (Ariz.) produced the video “Bookmans Does Banned Books” and Mooresville (Ind.) Public Library produced two promotional trailers.

For the first time this year, Twitter parties will help promote the message of Banned Books Week.  A party will be held on Monday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to noon, Eastern time; a second party is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25, from noon to 2 p.m., Eastern.  Supporters are urged to tweet using the hashtag #bannedbooksweek. More information about the Twitter parties is available on the Banned Books Week website, .

Banned Books Week is sponsored by ALA, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center, and Project Censored.  The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress has endorsed Banned Books Week.

For more information on Banned Books Week, book challenges and censorship, please visit the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Banned Books website at, or

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Biologically speaking, what is an individual, pray tell?

The New York Times published a fascinating article yesterday, DNA Double Take, by Carl Zimmer, that calls into question the nearly universal belief that every cell in an individual's body contains the same DNA-- the DNA determining an individual's biological identity. This now appears to be a gross oversimplification.
[S]cientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.
“There have been whispers in the matrix about this for years, even decades, but only in a very hypothetical sense,” said Alexander Urban, a geneticist at Stanford University. Even three years ago, suggesting that there was widespread genetic variation in a single body would have been met with skepticism, he said. “You would have just run against the wall.”
But a series of recent papers by Dr. Urban and others has demonstrated that those whispers were not just hypothetical. The variation in the genomes found in a single person is too large to be ignored. “We now know it’s there,” Dr. Urban said. “Now we’re mapping this new continent.”
Dr. James R. Lupski, a leading expert on the human genome at Baylor College of Medicine, wrote in a recent review in the journal Science that the existence of multiple genomes in an individual could have a tremendous impact on the practice of medicine. “It’s changed the way I think,” he said in an interview.
Scientists are finding links from multiple genomes to certain rare diseases, and now they’re beginning to investigate genetic variations to shed light on more common disorders.
Science’s changing view is also raising questions about how forensic scientists should use DNA evidence to identify people. It’s also posing challenges for genetic counselors, who can’t assume that the genetic information from one cell can tell them about the DNA throughout a person’s body.
Carrying more than one type of DNA is called "chimerism." It was previously considered rare, since evidence for it only occasionally thrust itself into visibility. Now that sequencing the human genome has become much less expensive to do, chimerism is becoming more visible. These weren't previously unknown-- Zimmer notes that in 1953, when a woman donated a pint of blood, some of which was Type O and some Type A, it was concluded that she'd acquired some of her blood from her twin brother, while in the womb. But now, scientists have begun to search systematically for chimeras-- and are finding that chimerism is not at all rare, and in fact occurs
in a remarkably high fraction of people. In 2012, Canadian scientists performed autopsies on the brains of 59 women. They found neurons with Y chromosomes in 63 percent of them. The neurons likely developed from cells originating in their sons.
In The International Journal of Cancer in August, Eugen Dhimolea of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and colleagues reported that male cells can also infiltrate breast tissue. When they looked for Y chromosomes in samples of breast tissue, they found it in 56 percent of the women they investigated.
Besides the implications for medicine, the discovery of the prevalence of chimerism is likely to complicate forensic science. Zimmer cites a case that arose last year, in which a saliva sample and sperm sample from the same suspect in a sexual assault case didn't match because the suspect had two sequences of DNA in his body.

I see the discovery of the prevalence of chimerism as further undermining the common, even cherished conception of the genome as a master blueprint that allows everyone to be neatly pigeonholed and offers the means for tinkering with and easily controlling desirable traits once the practical issues of genetic engineering have been worked out-- and, of course, bolsters the illusions people have about the biology of sex differences. Some people, of course, will be certain that acquiring neurons with Y-chromosomes will make a significant difference to the operation of women's brains following the birth of sons. I imagine there may even be a few neuroscientists willing to squander grant money in attempt to locate and prove such a difference. But such old, cliche-ridden projects will inevitably begin to look less and less interesting. Just the other day I read an article in Science reporting that the hottest, fastest-moving research of the day is on bacterial immune systems (and to tell the truth, until I read that article I hadn't even known bacteria have immune systems!)-- and that bacterial immune systems are being used to harness features to target the destruction of specific genes in human cells. Nothing about human biology is as simple as it once seemed. And I say: Glory hallelujah!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quiet pleasures

When back in 1979 I first moved to Seattle, my number-one favorite destination in the Pacific Northwest was the Washington coast, especially the La Push area, and after that, the San Juan Islands. I've spent a lot of time in those places over the decades, but a couple of other places have been edging their way into my heart, particularly the Columbia Gorge, which straddles a good stretch of the Washington-Oregon border. The Gorge possesses a stark beauty that the many dams that have been foisted onto the river haven't begun to diminish. Its pleasures, for me, are of the quiet sort. And interestingly, as one moves away from the Columbia River (north or south, back into the Cascades), the climate quickly shifts and the land moves from scrubby chaparral to lush Pacific Northwest forest. I think I intuitively understand why such pleasures failed to draw me when I was younger, but I can't easily put that understanding into words. If I were a poet, I think I'd give it a shot. Seems like that's the sort of thing poetry can address without rendering the subject dull and labored-- which I suspect my attempt to write about it in prose would inevitably be.

When I spend time in the Columbian Gorge, I almost always visit the museum at Maryhill (which has a winery associated with it-- wineries being as thick on the ground in the Columbian Gorge as they are in Sonoma, California). During my visit the week before last, I found, in the museum's sculpture park, a sculpture of a horse that evoked, for me, a sort of Wild West Steampunk aesthetic.

Dixie Jewett's sculpture, titled Merriweather (2011), was constructed from scrap metal-- specifically welded metal, wheels, and gears. According to the placard accompanying the sculpture, the artist specializes in larger-than-lifesize horses. I generally think of Steampunk aesthetic as all shiny brass and polished wood powered by steam and lubricated by springs and gears, but the materials in Jewett's horse evoke mechanized locomotion shaped to look like a horse. Hmm. Maybe this is more an 18th- rather than 19th-Century conceit-- pre-steam rather than steampunk, when mechanized creatures in Enlightenment circles were all the rage. (I don't know that anyone other than E.T.A. Hoffman ever wrote about those.) Was such an evocation the artist's intention? Probably not. The materials she used were probably chosen for their aesthetic rather than associational qualities. But the image she has created engages my imagination, and I delight in that evocation nonetheless.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 8-- an update

I've been pretty much off-line for the last month. But now I'm back, and my first post in this long while must be an announcement:

 Farah Mendelsohn has found it necessary to withdraw, regretfully,  from the editorship of the next volume of the WisCon Chronicles. This is sad news, but the show must go on, right? And so I'm happy to say that longtime WisCon attendee Rebecca Holden, who co-edited Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler with Nisi Shawl, is stepping up to take her place. Rebecca has asked me to put out a call on her behalf to anyone who might be interested in contributing pieces in the usual forms (essays, panel notes, poetry, and fiction) or even in unusual forms. If you attended WisCon this year and have something to say about it, please query or contact her for further information on deadlines and word counts etc at rebecca (at)