Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, pt. 24: Fiona Lehn

Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014
by Fiona Lehn



            Looking for stories to fill your dark days of hibernation this winter? If you like space adventure, feminist science fiction, and/or space opera, I have two words for you: Ancillary Justice. Ann Leckie’s award-winning debut novel has been mentioned earlier in this 2014 blog so I will leave it at that.
            Next on my list is Floating Worlds. It’s hard to believe that this epic novel by Cecelia Holland is nearly forty years old. This is a space adventure, a study of anarchy, and ultimately the story of heroine Paula Mendoza, who works to negotiate peace between the middle planets and gas planets before their war destroys everything she knows. This science fictional work by a well-known American historical novelist has been compared to the works of Arthur C. Clarke and 2014 National Book Award winner Ursula K. LeGuin.
            Speaking of historical novels, Alan Smale has a new alternate history novel, the first in a trilogy, coming out in March of 2015. It’s called Clash of Eagles and tells the story of a Roman leader, sent to find gold in the new world, only to find an intelligent and complex native civilization already there.
            I also recommend the Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison’s fantasy novel about an unschooled young half-goblin who is suddenly crowned ruler of a troubled country. Addison weaves depth of character and intriguing plot into a narrative that I found to be quietly compelling.

            Spirit: The Princess of Bois Dormant, by Gwyneth Jones, is a space adventure fantasy novel of a more desperate nature. It tells the tale of Bibi, who is forced from her position as a junior officer to become a concubine, and things get worse from there. She ultimately seeks vengeance on those who betrayed her. A harrowing heroine’s journey, exquisitely written, by one of England’s greatest contemporary science fiction and fantasy writers.


This year I binged on bunches of science fiction television series. I’m a bit of a junkie, I must admit, and have enjoyed seeing many strong female characters playing major roles, and political issues addressed in creative and intelligent ways, including:  
          Continuum (a time-travel cop show, with main character Kiera going back in time to try to stop corporations—one of which is called Sonmanto—from destroying the future);

       Defiance (a space adventure, with believable aliens living with humans in post-apocalyptic St. Louis);
      Sleepy Hollow (a humorous and thrilling supernatural, pre-apocalyptic cop show, with main characters Ichabod Crane—awakened 250 years after falling in battle during the American Revolution—and Sheriff’s Lieutenant Abbie Mills. Together they try to stop the imminent arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
          The Blacklist (an espionage thriller in which FBI rookie Liz Keen must work with a government fugitive to put away criminals no one else can catch).


            Right now I’m listening to Judy Collins and have to say, some music never loses its relevance for me. Her renditions of “Goodge Street” and “Suzanne” remain two of my all-time favourites.
            This year, I really got into Muse. In a time when most rock bands are studio concoctions that fail in a live venue, Muse is the real deal. Intelligent music and lyrics, great production—this is one of the best bands making music today.
            Finally, Barbra Streisand released a new album this year called Partners, in which she duets with some of the top male vocalists in the business. Is it her best work? Probably not. But I wanted to mention this milestone album because her career and artistry have blazed a trail for countless women in music and film to follow and widen and pave over. Streisand’s achievements, like her iconic voice, have influenced the artistic world for decades, and will resonate for decades more.

Happy viewing, reading, listening, and ambling along the aqueduct, and all the best in 2015!
Fiona Lehn

 Fiona Lehn made her first professional sale of fiction in 2008 when “The Assignment of Runner ETI” won third place in the Writers of the Future contest. From 1993 to 2006, she co-produced several CDs of her original songs and performed across the U.S. From 2007 to 2011, Lehn served on the editorial collective of Room, Canada's oldest feminist literary magazine. Though Fiona grew up in Stockton, CA and is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, she lives now in Vancouver, BC as a Canadian citizen. Aqueduct Press published her novella The Last Letter as a volume in its Conversation Pieces series in 2011.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 5, 1

We're not yet done with the 2014 Pleasures series, which will resume shortly. But the January 2015 issue of the CSZ is out (early!), so I'm eager to announce it. This issue marks the beginning of our fifth year of publication. In case you've forgotten or don't know, all but the last two issues are available for free download from the CSZ's archives. The new issue is available as a pdf for $3, or a print copy (in the US only) for $5. Subscriptions are $10 for the pdf edition and $16 (in the US only) for the print edition.

 Here's the new issue's table of contents:

   by Nisi Shawl

Song of Steel
Midnight Snack
   by Mary Alexandra Agner

Scatter and Return
   by Rose Lemberg

   by Sonya Taaffe

Grandmother Magma
Peerless Steerswoman: Rosemary Kirstein
   by Kate Elliott

Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brissett
   reviewed by La Shawn M. Wanak

Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, by Danielle Keats Citron
   reviewed by Nancy Jane Moore

The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
  reviewed by Victoria Elisabeth Garcia

Made for You, by Melissa Marr
  reviewed by Aaliyah Hudson and Nisi Shawl

Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
  reviewed by Kristin King

Featured Artist
Tahlia Day

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, pt. 23: Katrinka Moore

The Pleasures of 2014
by Katrinka Moore

Elements of wildness run through what I’ve been reading, and through the events I’ve had the chance to see and hear over the past year.

Early in the winter I went to The Drawing Center in New York to see an exhibit of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts written on envelopes. It was very moving to view the actual artifacts, and I felt that the handwritten poems on cut and torn pieces of paper diminished the boundary between the poet’s inner intensity and the reader standing on the outside.

Sometimes Dickinson filled the available space with words. For example, she wrote “In this short Life that only lasts an hour” on the triangular flap of an envelope, making each line shorter down to the single word at the bottom. (The final — or anyway, the printed — version of the poem is two long lines.) On the other hand, she wrote a draft for “A not admitting of the wound” on only half the available space, an opened-out envelope. And “Glass was the Street – in Tinsel Peril” she fit in two columns on a torn envelope.

Whatever her purpose in using these paper fragments for writing drafts of some poems — thrift, convenience, design — she saved them. I liked these “scraps” so much I cut out odd-shaped pieces of paper to give to participants in a visual poetry workshop I taught later in the year. Some people filled up the space, others wrote around the edges. Each poet approached the space differently.

The envelope manuscripts are reproduced in The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, edited by Jan Bervin and Marta Werner. You can see some of them here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/246738 and scroll down]

Viewing the exhibit led me to begin an informal study of Dickinson’s work, starting with Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. I find Vendler very helpful, from her deconstruction of individual poems to placing each one in the framework of the poet’s work and life.

But mostly I read contemporary poetry this year. Caroline Beasley-Baker’s For Lack of Diamond Years (Pelekinesis, 2013) has more than one kind of wildness. There’s family in “pre-school/the eyes & ears”:
i spent my first 4 years in a beer joint in downtown
Kansas City on the edge of hillbilly and honky tonk —

my aunt lola sitting on my father’s knee — my mother
                                      from off the top of the juke box:

And then there’s the outside, as in “nativity/early spring in 3 colors”:
hectare — punchdrunk
— i’m stunned in nascent
ground greening in-sync
— ur-pleasures
dark — replete.

me rinsed/
tricked out/clean —

Gooseberry Blond
dyed Snow Pink.
Beasley-Baker is also a visual artist and once did graduate work in myth and folklore. Reading her book is like swirling around in colorful, mythic landscapes. http://www.cbeasley-baker.com

Sarah Stern mixes erotica and family in But Today is Different (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014; http://sarahstern.me). She writes about her mother in “After the Stroke”:

I bring her memoirs to read.
She likes them.
She tells me I lost my ass.
I reach back
and there it is

smaller, true, but still there.
I love my ass and tits.
Always have—thighs another matter,
now that I’m older
I’m liking them.

They’ve been there for me.
I feel her slipping away….

And then there’s the wild love of — maybe everything — in this part of “Tongue/Fire/Eclipse/Groove”:
I knew then at 3 a.m.
Out on the terrace 23 degrees
I shouted it at the moon
An iota of nothingness in my winter coat
And my son’s basketball sneakers,
I looked up, the stars shining
With a light that pierced/changed me
My voice echoed over the park and Henry Hudson
I was standing in the night air
Shouting for all time
I love you to no one—to you.

George Held writes about the seasons in Culling (Poets Wear Prada, 2014), but with the sadness of extinction and climate change hanging over. In “Natural Quiet” he writes about the loss of silence:

I’ve known natural quiet only once, In the core of the Swedish forest, where Lost alongside a lake one moonless night, Too rapt for fright, I heard cicadas chirr, Hooves thump, mink drink, fish splash, although the roar Of blood deafened me, and dark sealed my sight.

Molly Bashaw is a poet and musician who grew up on small family farms. The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It (The Word Works, 2014) is a mythical version of her childhood. Here is the ending of “There Were No Mirrors in That Farmhouse”:

                                 It must have been
because we had been separating stones
from pebbles from stones so deeply gone
they could not touch the plow, stones
from boulders for our wall, that the hay bale
we threw down from the loft, held together
by two short pieces of twine,
seemed weightless and full of light.
The whole field still moving inside it.

I also read and viewed lots of wild poetry and art online. Here are a couple of pieces from MungBeing, a journal that has everything — art, music, all kinds of writing.

Elizabeth Poreba begins with an epigraph by Thomas Berry in “The Invention of Photosynthesis”:
“…when living forms had consumed the conditions of their own survival…photosynthesis was invented…” --Thomas Berry. The Dream of the Earth
You’d think we’d have taken the hint to fade
back to cosmic dust, but we were still cells,
single, not sensitive to rebuff. The oxygen was gone,
but we still had hydrogen and sun,
so someone, some optimist, some
entrepreneur of air, got an idea,
and made sugar out of carbon. The invention
caught on, and we’ve made a fortune.

A classic tale: When handed a lemon...
don’t crave Coke. Work with what you’ve got.

And Holly Anderson’s mixed media “Botanical (Spring Collage)” is worth a closer look online: http://www.mungbeing.com/issue_55.html?page=25#4093.

~ ~ ~ In the summer my husband and I went to the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York, a days-long event with a wide range of musicians rooted in Americana but taking their own ways — Carolina Chocolate Drops, Elephant Revival, Barleys Jacks, The Steel Wheels, Gangstagrass (yes, bluegrass hip-hop). What a scene — families living in tents and trailers for the duration, everyone bringing chairs to set up on the lawn. Then there’s the Dance Tent, a stage and a wooden floor for the audience, fairly close quarters — nothing like listening to Rhiannon Giddens & company while dancing with friendly people of all ages, kids and dogs running around.

Late in the summer I read Gary Snyder’s A Place in Space, a book of essays published in the mid-1990s but with pieces going back to the 1970s. As always, Snyder writes beautifully about existing in nature, but I was disheartened by the environmental problems he detailed that have only worsened, with no progress made at all.

Here’s Snyder on wildness and language:
Wildness can be said to be the essential nature of nature. As reflected in consciousness, it can be seen as a kind of open awareness — full of imagination but also the source of alert survival intelligence. The workings of the human mind at its very richest reflect this self-organizing wildness. So language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back.
As it turned out, Snyder’s essay “Writers and the War Against Nature” helped inspire Meredith Monk’s performance piece On Behalf of Nature, which was the culminating wild event I saw at the end of the year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Snyder imagines the role of the artist as a “spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song.” That pretty much describes On Behalf of Nature. Monk and her co-performers dance and sing, and both their wordless songs and their simple movements are haunting, calling up knowledge and feelings so ancient they mix not only animal and human but wind, water, fire. Monk is a shaman. I hope we are listening.

Katrinka Moore’s epic poem Numa was published by Aqueduct Press in 2014. She is the author of two previous poetry collections, Thief and This is Not a Story. She lives in New York.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Pleasures, of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, pt. 22: Catherine Krahe

The Pleasures of 2014
by Catherine Krahe

Hello! I'm happy to share some of the books I've read in 2014.

Any time I'm asked for recommendations, I mention Courtney Milan, who's been mentioned already this series. I read a lot of romance these days and Milan is reshaping the genre. She subverts and expands the genre while still being part of it, which is no small feat. Her latest series, The Duchess War, The Governess Affair, The Heiress Effect, The Countess Conspiracy, and The Suffragette Scandal, deals with matters of identity-- who you are, what you do, what you have done, what you will do, and declaring ownership of all these things.

I'm getting too formal and not making these books sound as awesome as they are. And they are awesome. Yes, there are nobles here and there, but there's also alternate Victorian science, a women's newspaper with an Ask a Man column, neat explanations of privilege, poor people, rape explained not as something stolen from the woman but as an assault, a woman pretending to be stupid, annoying, and perfectly innocent (people pretending to be stupid: it is a trope I adore), and a sassy bowler-wearing suffragette with a box full of exclamation points you can use.

Plus Milan has written some really good sex scenes.

Changing audiences completely, Stephanie Kuehn's Charm and Strange was one of the weirdest reading experiences I had this year. I'm not sure what to tell you to encourage you to read it and find your genre expectations completely blown away. Dare I say it's the best new werewolf novel I've read in a while? Because it kind of is.

Also YA is Above by Leah Bobet. It's a contemporary fantasy set in Toronto and blew me away with its craft and intersectionality. Unlike a lot of YA, which uses the snappy first-person narrator as a default, this book could not exist with a different narrator. Matthew's experience of the world shapes how the reader experiences the semi-magical community he lives in and the terrifying surface world. The aspect I loved most, besides the intersectionality, was that Matthew sees a different set of races from the typical white American experience. He still sees race, but he places importance on a completely different set of characteristics. The book doesn't wobble, isn't clumsy or halfhearted, and through it all, I knew I could trust Bobet with what she's doing. Trust makes a huge difference in a book like this.

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor was competence porn in a magical multispecies kingdom. I might have to reread it just for the way the dialogue is put together. Like Bobet's Matthew, who explains the world by what details he sees and doesn't see, Maia the titular Emperor demonstrates how his world isn't the typical white American world (besides, you know, goblins and emperors). Addison uses archaic and nonverbal language as secondary channels rather than flavor or humor, and oh how I loved discovering them.

Speaking of a magical kingdom, Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is a strong and well-tangled debut from one of my CW11 classmates. Issues of disability, agency, intersectionality, and responsibility abound, whether it's details like what language is spoken at home-- and in what context at home-- or that one of the two viewpoint characters is mute. After spending a chapter in her head, I was always surprised to find that the other character could speak aloud. Otherbound doesn't make anything easy, not romance, not guilt, not magic, not daily life for a kid who lives more in another world than our own. The ending isn't easy, either, but honest; it strikes to the heart of the entire book with a single perfect sentence.

An alumna of Clarion West, Catherine Krahe's fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Nature Futures, and Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse.  She recently received a Master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Iowa and plans to save the world by telling stories and planting trees. She is on the staff of Alpha, the science fiction, fantasy, and horror workshop for young writers.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, pt. 21: Eleanor Arnason

Pleasures 2014
by Eleanor Arnason

As I have mentioned before, I am having trouble reading fiction these days. My core reading for most of my life has been science fiction and fantasy, and I don’t find it as interesting as I used to. Either it has lost sense of wonder or I have.

I recover my sense of wonder by reading books on dinosaurs. The most recent one is Flying Dinosaurs by John Pickrell. Pickrell is a science journalist, and his book is a competent overview of recent discoveries, with some neat paintings of feathered dinosaurs as they might have looked. I love paleontological art.

This new take on dinosaurs is partly due to reexaminations of dinosaurs that emphasize their bird-like traits and to remarkably detailed fossils from China, which show us that a number of dinosaur species had feathers. Some of them—for example Microraptor – apparently flew or at least glided.

It’s now generally accepted that birds are descended from theropod dinosaurs, the group to which T. Rex belongs. In fact, scientists now speak of avian and non-avian dinosaurs. The avian dinosaurs are the ones singing in our trees. The non-avian dinosaurs are the ones that are extinct.

I also find pterosaurs wonderful. They filled the skies in the era of dinosaurs, but they were not dinosaurs, and none of their lineage has survived into the present The largest of them are so huge that it’s hard to imagine how they flew, but they must have. (Quetzalcoatlus had an estimated wingspan of 36 feet, and weight estimates range from 150 to 450 pounds.) Mark Witton’s book Pterosaurs is a bit too specialized for my liking, but I bought it and intend to keep it. He has interesting ideas of how pterosaurs walked on the ground and how they took off.

So giant non-dinosaurs soared in the Cretaceous skies, and feathered proto-birds stalked over the ground. It’s even possible that T. Rex had feathers or some fuzz. There were actual flying dinosaurs and real early birds, such as Confuciusornis, as well. Pretty neat, and not at all like the Cretaceous era of my youth. Best of all, dinosaurs are still around and highly successful. Every time I remember that, my heart grows lighter.

The other thing that gives me back my sense of wonder is anime. I am currently watching Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese TV series from 2002-2004, which is set circa 2030, in a corrupt future Japan populated with robots, androids, cyborgs and un-augmented humans. The heroes are a government police force made up mostly of cyborgs, though there are also robots and one un-augmented man. They are more or less super-cops, led by a woman – usually called the Major – whose body is entirely artificial. Like Raymond Chandler’s private eye, they are the honest characters in a crooked world. (Don’t think Japan by itself is corrupt. As far as we can tell, every human society is crooked.) The series is partly about corruption, but mostly – I think – about what it means to be human.

The ghost of the title seems to be what we would call a soul. Do the cyborgs have souls? Do the robots? For that matter, in what sense do the crooked politicians and corporate leaders have souls?

The show is violent, and you can see the depiction of the Major as sexist. She has one heck of a build and is usually falling out of her far-too-skimpy costume. But her artificial body is extremely, inhumanly powerful. She doesn’t fear men. Nor does she want to attract or placate them. Most of time, she seems tough and a bit cold, the kind of person who is armored in her own self-confidence.

The series also has tachikomas, bright blue robots with high-pitched, girlish voices and guns. They are adorable, and they also appear to be gaining self-awareness, as they try to puzzle out human behavior and their own existence.

So that is what makes me happy these days: dinosaurs, pterosaurs, Section Nine (which is the major’s team) and tachikomas.

Maybe I am made happy by new ways of seeing and thinking. Our vision of dinosaurs and pterosaurs and birds has changed and is continuing to change. Ghost is the Shell gives us a new world, though not a nice one, and a new way to think about humanness.

In our current world, which seems locked into a dark and terrible future, new ways of seeing are important.

 Eleanor Arnason has written several novels and many short stories. Her fourth novel, A Woman of the Iron People (2001), won the James Tiptree Jr. award for gender-bending science fiction and the Mythopoeic Society Award for adult fantasy. Her fifth novel, Ring of Swords (1995), won a Minnesota Book Award. Aqueduct Press published her collection Big Mama Stories in 2013, her Lydia Duluth adventure, Tomb of the Fathers, in 2010, and her collection, Ordinary People, in 2005. Aqueduct will be releasing e-book editions of The Sword Smith, To the Resurrection Station, and Daughter of the Clan Bear in 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014, pt. 20: Kristin King

Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2014
by Kristin King

This year went by like a whirlwind, or a hurricane, and it brought some outstanding books, movies, and songs with it. Here is a small sampling.  

The Theory of Everything

The film The Theory of Everything chronicles Stephen Hawking’s life and his relationship with his first wife, Jane. I loved it. Drop everything and watch it, but first, be warned: some of Stephen Hawking’s family members were unhappy with the way it depicted private family matters. It comes from one particular point of view, that of his first wife Jane, and the limited constraints of a film make it necessary to omit material and modify facts. So take it with a grain of salt. 

I first saw Stephen Hawking in the 1980s, when he gave a world tour. He was already using a wheelchair and speaking with a robotic voice, but even so, his personality and passion shone through it. In fact, any time I hear that same voice, part of me thinks it’s him. 

So when somebody said it might be sad, I knew it would also be full of hope, because it was the story of how he came to be the man who filled me with such awe. And it was. As his body deteriorated, he came up with some of his most brilliant theories. 

This movie was also a beautiful love story between Hawking and his wife, who were married for thirty years and bore several wonderful children. It didn’t whitewash the troubles, though: it showed how difficult it was to maintain their marriage under the circumstances they faced, and it showed their arguments and infidelity, which ultimately ended in divorce. 

I have to give a shout-out to the actor, Edie Redmayne, who played Hawking so well I had to keep reminding myself he was an actor. He played all the changes in Hawking’s body from the time he took his first fall to the time he was nearly immobilized, and everything in between, and I was convinced. 

All in all, it was simply amazing. 


The novel Maplecroft by Cherie Priest is a fresh take on the Lizzie Borden story. Lizzie Borden was a Victorian woman convicted by nursery-rhyme (but not the courts) of having killed her parents gruesomely with an axe. It’s one of the longest murder investigations in history: people are still finding new evidence and re-evaluating the old. Did she do it, and if so, why? 

Well, because they were possessed by demons, of course. Or something like demons -- unfathomable Lovecraftian monsters, or X-Files style aliens, or an infection gone awry. Whatever they are, they’re awfully hard to kill. And somebody has to clean up the mess afterward. 

This Lizzie Borden is an expert at both. 

My review of this suspenseful and delicious book will appear in the The Cascadia Subduction Zone in January 2015.

Midnight Robber

I read Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber about a decade ago and loved it, and now I’m fortunate enough to reread it with a fresh mind. It’s just as dazzling, or more so, mixing Carribean culture and dialect with far-future technology, taking me to a world I’d never expected to see, and from there, through the “half-way tree” to yet another world. I’ve just barely arrived and met an alien inhabitant, so expert and knowledgeable about his world, and then been surprised to find that the humans in the world view him as a “primitive native.” I’m sure more wonderful surprises await as I follow the coming-of-age journey of Tan Tan, a girl destined to become the Robber Queen.


Daniel Orozco’s short story collection Orientation takes the world apart and puts it back together, broken, so we can see it more clearly.  It shows me the human heart in all its sweetness and sorrow and sheer absurdity. My favorite story, also named “Orientation,” is a cathartic and hilarious take on the desk job. You know all the dysfunction you see all day, every day, in every office? The unspoken rules, interpersonal conflicts, and mental illness? Well, the office in this story has a worker who will tell you everything, with sage advice that just might keep you from being let go.  

If you ever end up in that office, be careful. Don’t out the serial killer, stay out of the custodian’s closet (you have no business there), and there is no need for you to use the shredder. Never answer the phone. You can use it for emergencies, but only if you ask the supervisor first.  And feel free to ask questions, but if you ask too many, you may be let go. 

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer is the second book in the Enola Holmes Mysteries series. Enola, Sherlock Holmes’ sister, might be as brilliant as her brother, but like other upper-class girls of the time, she’s also expected to stay out of public sight and then get married. So of course she runs away, sets up her own detective agency, and starts solving the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy woman. And since Sherlock feels the need to “save” her, of course she has to outwit him. This book is fun, fun, fun.

Let It Go

When the movie Frozen first came out, and for months afterward, I couldn’t go to the park without hearing girls sing “Let It Go.” No less than four girls sang it at our school’s spring art festival. And I still can’t stop myself from singing and dancing with my daughter whenever somebody put it on the stereo. The melody is catchy, the dance moves are cathartic, and overall, it speaks to deep, deep issues for girls and women. 

“Let It Go” is sung by Elsa, a girl with power she’s supposed to hide. Here’s a taste:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door…

It is perfect for those times we have strong feelings and need to shake away the cultural pressure to suppress them. (As in, all the time.) 

Doctor Who Series 8

This year’s series of Doctor Who was disturbing and scary. It blew my mind. The show featured a new incarnation of the Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, so unpredictable that he even frightened himself. Watching him play the Doctor was like drinking four shots of single-malt Scotch for the first time in my life and then taking six months to figure out what it felt like. 

Usually in Doctor Who, the companions ease us into to the new Doctor. But Clara Oswald was shocked and unbalanced herself. And she had her own journey to make, growing in power and wisdom but also grappling with addiction and compulsive lying. As someone who has always identified with both the Doctor and the companion, I found this hard to watch at first. 

Fortunately, I’ve drunk enough single-malt Scotch to realize a good thing when I see it, and I’ve watched enough episodes of Doctor Who enjoy the complex overtones of Peter Capaldi’s performance. One of my favorite episodes was “Kill the Moon,” in which the Doctor strands three women to decide whether or not to blow up the moon for the benefit of humanity. I liked it because it alluded to two previous episodes, “Waters of Mars” and “The Beast Below,” in which the Doctor was faced with similar moral dilemmas and made the wrong choice. Another favorite was “Flatline,” in which Clara took on the Doctor’s role, magic wand of power, and name. She was the Doctor for a day. It was brilliant, and perhaps it took us one step closer to having the Doctor be female, for once. 


The Verity! podcast helped me cope with my Doctor Who angst. Every Wednesday, a rotating cast of six women from all over the world dissects and debates and laughs over anything and everything having to do with Doctor Who. It always makes my day.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

So there’s a comedy duo Hilly Hindi and Holly Hindi, who write, direct, edit, and produce fabulous parodies of hit movies for a young-adult audience. Did you know that? I did not know that. But then I saw the YouTube video “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.” It’s a parody of Doctor Who, featuring a huge cast of cosplaying singers and dancers, set to the Time Warp song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  

Can’t find it? It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right. 

 Kristin King (http://kristinking.wordpress.com)  is a writer, parent, and activist who lives in Seattle. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Calyx, The Pushcart Prize XXII (1998), and other places. Two of her stories appeared in an Aqueduct Press anthology, Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries Lost, Suppressed, or Misplaced in Time. A selection of her short fiction has been collected in Misfits from the Beehive State.

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening, pt. 19: Nisi Shawl

A Year of Comfort and Discomfort
by Nisi Shawl


More this year than ever, much of my work involves reading.  In addition to the book reviews I write and edit for The Seattle Times and The Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’m putting together two anthologies.  Simultaneously.  One is composed of reprints: “The Year’s Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy.”  But “Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany” is meant to include mostly original prose, and reading those submissions has at times been…unpleasant.  So I’ve taken frequent refuge in rereading books I know from past encounters will afford me great, if sometimes guilty, pleasure.  Comfort reads.

My first retreat into familiar literary waters was a couple of weeks spent rereading Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books.  This is, I think, my fourth go round with them.  If you know the delights of dallying with this parfit gentil knight, you know how like a good soak and loofah-scrub my self-indulgence was.  My mind positively glowed.   I then succumbed to Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, ably assisted by Jo Walton’s Tor.com essays on their strengths and weaknesses (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/03/how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-romance is a good introduction to these).

Next I went through my shelfful of Dorothy Dunnett’s Dolly mysteries--not to everyone’s taste, I know.  Then I seized on Austen--but limited myself to three of her six complete novels: Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.  Mansfield Park has long been my favorite Austen, despite other Jane-ites’ disdain for the do-nothingness of its heroine, Fanny.

My last retrospective consisted of four of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels: The Headmistress, Pomfret Tower, The Brandons, and Before Lunch.  Set in Victorian author Anthony Trollope’s fictional countryside, these early 20th century chronicles of the vanished mundanities of Britain’s rural upper class fascinate me.  The characters’ niggling worries about the order of precedence observed on entering their dining rooms, their proclivities for baths, their absurd vanities of dress and ridiculous (to me) concerns about the very slightest increments of upward mobility vouchsafed by maidservants and butchers, all distract me quite effectively from my own very different problems.

Of course books are like rivers, and you can never enter the same one twice.  Along with the deep and genuine comfort these rereads afforded me, I partook of at least attempted professional analysis.  Why did I like Mansfield Park best?  How did Sayers convey the physical sensations of being drawn unwillingly into love?  Which minutiae of the daily life of English gentry held the most interest for me, and which the least?

You’ll likely have noticed all of the above-mentioned authors are female.  And white.  These factors figure into my critiques of the racial and gender politics of my mental comfort food, as I compare my former lack of dismay over the calypso club antics of Dunnett’s hero Johnson Johnson with my current annoyance at his arrogant and privileged behavior.  Or my earlier acceptance of Thirkell’s “spoiled” heroine Elsa Belton’s climactic self-effacement before her fiancé’s assumption of superiority, and the unease it now raises in me.

There are a few lumps in the gravy, a couple of springs poking against the upholstery of  the literary (not literal) couch on which I’ve reclined.

My last recommendation is a new story by a black man which didn’t comfort me at all, but which I found so excellent in every way that I offered to stand by the phone to field calls of distress from readers I pointed it out to.  “The Devil in America,” by Kai Ashante Wilson, depicts this country’s legacy of racial violence both supernaturally and supernally.  It was published at Tor.com on April 2.  Its author attempts something I’ve never had the courage to try.  In my opinion he succeeds, and he deserves to win All The Awards.  Every.  Single. One.

Nisi Shawl is the author of  Filter House, which won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, Something More and More, her WisCon GoH collection, and, with Cynthia Ward, the co-author of the celebrated Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, and the editor of The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity, all of which are published by Aqueduct Press. Last year Aqueduct Press published Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler, which Nisi co-edited with Rebecca Holden. She reviews science fiction for the Seattle Times, is a member of the Clarion West board, teaches writing workshops at Centrum in Port Townsend, WA., and is the reviews editor of The Cascadia Subduction Zone