Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nebula Award nominations

SFWA has just announced nominations for the 2013 Nebular Awards, and I have to say that you'd never guess from this slate that work by women is as under-reviewed as it actually is. I wonder what this says about the venues that consistently grant a third or less space to reviewing work by women? Apart from that, it's a strong, interesting list--and notes, as you've already probably heard, that Samuel R. Delany, at last, will be given the Damon Knight Grand Master Award.

Here's the list:
Best Novel
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)
Best Novella
‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Tor.com 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (lawrencemschoen.com, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)
Best Novelette
‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)
 Best Short Story
‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)

Damon Knight Grand Master Award: 
Samuel R. Delany
Special Guest: Frank M. Robinson

About the Nebula Awards
The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1, and close on March 30.  More information is available from http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/how-to-vote/.
About the Nebula Awards Weekend
The 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 15-18th, 2014, in San Jose at the San Jose Marriott. The Awards Ceremony will be hosted by Toastmaster Ellen Klages. Borderland Books will host the mass autograph session from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16th at the San Jose Marriott. This autograph session is open to the public and books by the authors in attendance will be available for purchase. Attending memberships, and more information about the Nebula Awards Weekend, are available at http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/. Membership rates increase on March 1. The Weekend is open to non-SFWA members.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

John and Mary's Insect Army

John Scalzi's post Join the Insect Army! has had me chuckling all day. If you haven't already read it, I urge you to do so now. He and Mary Robinette Kowal have delightfully turned an old white dinosaur's insult on its head, with the help of Ursula Vernon's marvelous image of Cockroach Rosie the Riveter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2013 James Tiptree Jr. Award

Exciting news! 

The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council (www.tiptree.org) is pleased to announce the winner of the 2013 Tiptree Award: N.A. Sulway for her novel Rupetta (Tartarus Press 2013).
The James Tiptree Jr. Award is presented annually to a work or works of science fiction or fantasy that explores and expands gender roles. The award seeks out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. It is intended to reward those writers who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society. N.A. Sulway’s imaginative and highly original novel tells the story of Rupetta, an artificial intelligence created 400 years ago from cloth, leather, and metal, brought to life by the touch of her creator’s hand on her clockwork heart. Although Rupetta is a constructed being, she is not a robot. Her consciousness is neither digital nor mechanical. Nor is she an android, a creature that is, etymologically, male. (The word is not gyndroid). Rupetta’s power does not come from her brain, but from her heart. Sulway has placed her construct not in the future, but the past, and made her female, created with traditionally feminine technology: sewing and weaving. Rupetta is a woman, made by a woman in the image of a woman, and the world changes to accommodate her existence. A deft blend of fantasy, science fiction, romance, and even gothic horror, this beautifully written story challenges the reader’s expectations about gender and of a gendering society. It examines power and what makes an object of power, relationships and love, sexuality and identity, and how culture is shaped and history is made. Rupetta was published by British independent publisher Tartarus Press in a limited hardback edition and a more widely available e-book version. Both are available for purchase from Tartarus’s website (http://freepages.pavilion.net/tartarus/rupetta.htm). Nike Sulway lives and writes in Queensland, Australia. Her novel The Bone Flute won the Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Best Emerging Author in 2000. Since 2007, she has been the co-director of Olvar Wood Writers Retreat, and one of the editors of Perilous Adventures, a literary magazine. Honor List
* Eleanor Arnason, Big Mama Stories (Aqueduct Press 2013) — Big Mamas are galaxy-sized women, powerful beings who can stroll around space and travel through time by sheer force of character. They are feminist, sensible, and adventurous. They come in all kinds of colors, and they survive by their wits, sometimes aided and abetted by Big Poppas. In these five stories, Arnason offers a new mythos, laced with both humor and wisdom.

* Aliette de Bodard, "Heaven Under Earth" (Electric Velocipede #24, Summer 2012,http://www.electricvelocipede.com/2012/08/heaven-under-earth-by-aliette-de-bodard) In a world with few biological women, some men have been medically altered to carry children and live as wives. When a new wife who was born a woman in a household, her presence causes Liang Pao, an altered man, to scrutinize his reasons for wanting to keep the status quo and to re-examine his own sexuality and feelings towards family, culture, status, and gender.
    * Nicola Griffith, Hild (Farrar Straus & Giroux 2013) — This stunningly beautiful historical novel describes what life might have been like for a woman whose mother has arranged for her to be "the light of the world": the real-life St. Hilda of Whitby. In a rollicking good read, the reader is drawn into action and adventure as Hild becomes a king's seer, a warrior, and a vessel through which the dynamics of power and gender in war-ravaged 7th-century Britain can be explored.
     * Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine 2013) — Set in a somewhat dystopic matriarchal future Brazil, this lavish, provocative YA novel centers on June Costa, a rebellious teenage artist. She and her best friend Gil become entwined with Enki, the Summer King, who is elected to a position of celebrity and social eminence for one year before he becomes a ritual sacrifice. This book grapples with the nature of love, social and political conscience, creative rebellion and personal awakening, and an exploration of sexuality remarkable for its treatment of bisexuality and multiple relationships.
     * Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (Orbit 2013) — This political revenge story draws the reader into a fraught and ruthlessly colonizing military galactic empire. The protagonist is a human being whose consciousness began as a spaceship inhabiting dozens of bodies and vessels. Now stranded in one body, she bides her time and plots against the leader of the culture she once unquestioningly served. The story examines the brutality of occupation as well as exploring questions of gender and embodiment within a cultural framework that does not recognize gender, only class. 
     * Bennett Madison, September Girls (HarperTeen 2013) — In this young adult fantasy, a young man named Sam spends a summer in a beach town where he encounters numerous Girls with mysterious pasts that even they have a hard time recalling. Exploring the myth of mermaids and gods of the deep through an examination of gendered power dynamics, Sam learns how to become a man in ways that differ from the models he's been supplied with by his somewhat clueless father, abrasive older brother, and American culture in general.
  * Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs (St. Martin’s 2013) — A modern-day retelling of the myth of Orpheus, this is the story of two teenagers who grew up closer than sisters despite their parents' drug-fueled rock-star baggage. The girls' relationship is tested when the mysterious Jack moves to town, along with strange and disturbing otherworldly interest in his musical talent. The lyrical beauty of the writing and the way the story's concerns support the value of all of the girls' relationships (not just the romantic ones) make this contemporary myth surprising and affecting. 
     * Janelle Monae, Electric Lady (Bad Boy Records 2013) — Janelle Monae’s latest album is a musical work of science fiction, the latest installment in the conceptually rich world of Cindi Mayweather, a prototype android. A cross-medium Afrofuturist fable, loosely inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, Electric Lady has dramatic scope, powered by magnetic waves of sound and rhythm.
    * Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (Harper 2013) — This debut novel combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology in an immigrant tale, the story of two supernatural creatures in 1899 New York. Ahmad is a jinni, a “man” made of fire. Chava is a golem, a “woman” fashioned of clay. A golem is traditionally male. By making Chava a female figure, Wecker expands this well-trod fantasy element. Although she is a powerful and supernatural being, Chava discovers that in 19th-century New York, her choices and freedoms are limited by the gender of the body she inhabits.
 * S. M. Wheeler, Sea Change (Tor 2013) — This debut novel tells a dark, fairytale-like story of a young girl and her best friend, Octavius, who is an eloquent, intelligent kraken. When Octavius is captured, Lilly sets out to rescue him, bargaining with a greedy circus master, a witch, and a pair of gay bandits. She is transformed by her quest, giving up everything she has known, including her gender, to save her friend.

The Tiptree Award winner and authors on the Honor List will be celebrated during Memorial Day weekend at WisCon (www.wiscon.info) in Madison, Wisconsin. N.A. Sulway 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 2013 jurors were Ellen Klages (chair), Christopher Barzak, Jayna Brown, Nene Ormes, and Gretchen Treu.

Reading for 2014 will soon begin. The jury panel consists of Darrah Chavey (chair), Elizabeth Bear, Amy Thomson, Joan Haran, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

As always, the Tiptree Award invites everyone to recommend works for the award. Please submit recommendations via the Tiptree Award website at www.tiptree.org, where you can also read more about the award, about works it has honored, and about past winners.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Guest Post: Mathematics and Narratives, Take Two

Mathematics and Narratives, Take Two
by Neal Koblitz

The title of your recent posting "Mathematics' need for narratives" resonated with me. I am a research mathematician, and when I write a paper, usually jointly with my collaborator Alfred Menezes, we decide whether it deserves a place on our website (anotherlook.ca) by asking ourselves if it truly "tells a story." In our case the "story" is typically an analysis of mathematical proofs of security of computer protocols that reveals a dark underside --- an overlooked flaw in the proof, a misleading interpretation of the result, reliance on a model that is woefully inadequate for the intended application, a hypothesis to the theorem that is so strong as to render the argument essentially circular.  In our critiques of the paradigm of "provable security" (which in my opinion is an oxymoron), we depict scenarios in which the promised mathematical guarantees lose their validity, if possible with humorous references to popular culture and current events. One of our papers, jointly written with Ann Hibner Koblitz, raises some technical issues involving the math while presenting a historical narrative that draws on research in the social construction of science and technology; the subtitle of this paper is "the serpentine course of a paradigm shift." In this paper we introduce the term "narrative inversion" to refer to narratives of mathematical certainty behind which one finds a reality that is full of doubt and contingency.

However, when I read the introduction and perused the table of contents of Circles Disturbed... by Barry Mazur et al, I saw that the contributors' definition of mathematics and of the narratives that guide mathematicians' thinking is narrow and insular. To them, mathematics means pure theory.  They seem uninterested in the stories that arise from applied branches of mathematics or from misguided and self-serving attempts to apply mathematics to social and economic questions.  If anyone needs to be convinced that the mathematical enterprise encompasses a lot more than pure theory --- and can provide many dramatic narratives about topics other than theorem-proving --- it should suffice to point out that the largest employer of math PhDs in the world is the U.S. National Security Agency.

Moreover, in Circles Disturbed... mathematics is identified with the Eurocentric tradition starting in ancient Greece.  This is not the version of the history of mathematics that I present to my students when I teach a course every year on the subject.  Rather, I expect my students to know about the ancient Chinese and Indian traditions, as well as the criticisms of Eurocentric history of mathematics that have been made by Martin Bernal in the controversial book Black Athena (1987) and by ethnomathematics researchers such as Marcia Ascher.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of mathematical narratives in the broad sense in which I would define the term:

(1) Cathy O'Neil (a former PhD student of Barry Mazur, ironically) has a forthcoming book with the clever title Weapons of Math Destruction.  She was a "quant" during the days of the economic meltdown, and writes entertainingly about the misuse of mathematical models on Wall Street and elsewhere. Her blog address is mathbabe.org.

In 2000 David Li, a quant with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, developed a mathematical formula that purportedly predicted the likelihood that a set of companies would successively default on their debts.  His model was based on an optimistic narrative of economic progress under capitalism --- a narrative that ignored the stories of repeated boom/bust that should have been clear to anyone who studies history --- and was based on data of the most recent years of relative prosperity.  His formula was used on Wall Street to give a mathematical justification for sharply increasing investments in newly-created exotic financial instruments such as mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations.  The failure of Li's mathematical model was a factor in the 2008 economic collapse.

(2) John Ewing (president of Math for America and former executive director of the American Math Society) wrote an article in the AMS Notices titled "Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data" exposing the scam of value-added modeling, a much-hyped pseudo-mathematical approach to evaluating teachers.

(3) The late William Thurston (winner of a Fields Medal, often called the mathematical world's Nobel Prize) led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful battle to get the AMS to do something about mathematicians' excessive reliance on military and NSA funding.  Thurston was part of a long tradition of mathematicians who rejected the dominant narrative in the profession, which maintained that the profession was at the service of whomever had power and money --- wealthy patrons in medieval and early modern times, the U.S. Department of Defense in our day. (As the prominent computer scientist Phil Rogaway put it, most researchers have never seen a funding source they didn't like.)  Other famous mathematicians of the last century who advocated an alternative humanistic vision included the British pacifist G. H. Hardy (who lauded his field number theory as "gentle and clean" because in his day it was pursued only for aesthetic reasons and had no applications) and Norbert Weiner (see S. J. Heims' 1982 joint biography John von Neumann and Norbert Weiner: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death, which contrasts the outlook of Weiner with that of the militarist von Neumann, another leading mathematician of the same time period).

(4) In the 1980s Serge Lang led a successful fight to keep right-wing political scientist Samuel Huntington from being elected to the U.S. National Academy of Science.  (I described this battle in an article in the Mathematical Intelligencer titled "A Tale of Three Equations: Or the Emperor Has No Clothes.")  A small example of Huntington's misuse of quantitative methodology was that he favorably cited a statistical study purporting to show that South Africa (this was during the apartheid period) had a population with a high "satisfaction index." How could Huntington (who, according to wikipedia, was a "valued adviser" to the apartheid regime, advising them to increase the repressive power of the state) seriously expect anyone to believe that?  He, like most capitalist economists and political scientists, was using a narrative of economic progress that attached huge importance to numbers such as gross domestic product per capita, number of telephones per capita (which was one of the ingredients in the "satisfaction index"), and so on --- while ignoring the fundamental issue of how those resources were distributed.  In the case of South Africa, it was certainly true that the whites owned a lot of telephones.

The introduction to Circles Disturbed... says that mathematicians are "delighted" to see the ways that mathematicians have been portrayed in recent works of literature and popular culture.  Undoubtedly many are, but I have a less sanguine view of the direction of popular imagery of science and mathematics.  I believe there is far more superstition, ignorance, and anti-scientific bias among Americans now than there was when I was growing up a half-century ago.  If one compares the portrayals of mathematicians in recent popular works with those of earlier decades, the picture is not one of constant upward progress.  Compare, for example, the 1980 movie It's My Turn (in which Jill Clayburgh plays a mathematician) or the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver (about the high school math teacher Jaime Escalante) --- the latter movie was cited by several of my students as what inspired them to want to become math teachers --- with the more recent movie A Beautiful Mind (2001) and the play Proof (2000, film in 2005), in which all the mathematicians are schizophrenic. The view of the mathematical profession that emerges from the latter portrayals is pretty dismal.  Both works suggest that there is an inevitable connection between mathematical creativity and mental illness. In A Beautiful Mind some of the scenes of John Nash's schizophrenia (e.g., when he almost drowns their baby) are horrific, and the depiction of nerd behavior in the Princeton math department also reinforces some of the worst stereotypes about mathematicians.  From the standpoint of mathematicians who want to improve the popular image of the profession and convince young people that it's a rewarding profession to go into, these portrayals are not helpful.

Or take the 1999 novel Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson.  I am embarrassed to say that this book was highly recommended to me by a mathematical colleague whom I much respected, and so I read it.  The book's portrayal of the great mathematician Alan Turing is full of juvenile and homophobic humor, with the author inventing an imaginary affair with a gay Nazi during World War II (as if to try to justify the later persecution of Turing by the British government that led to his death).  That the novel is full of racism (against Asians and New Guineans) and misogyny did not prevent it from becoming a best-seller among mathematicians and computer scientists.

The mathematical world -- like the world outside -- is full of struggles and full of narratives, but judging by its introduction and table of contents, the book Circles Disturbed... doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mathematics' need for narrative

I had lunch today at a (relatively) new local bookstore, Ada's (and yes, that's in Lovelace) just a couple of doors down from the place at which I often meet Eileen Gunn for writing dates. I can recommend the food. But more to the point, because the audience for the books they sell is strictly geeky, their selection is unusual. (One entire room is devoted to computer programming.) Happily, my browsing unearthed a big fat Princeton University Press hardcover with the title of Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative. With one look at the table of contents, I knew there was no way I was going to allow that book to languish on the shelf, bereft of my most personal attention, even if an electronic edition would likely be more reasonably priced and take no space on my own bookshelves. The book isn't a monograph, but a collection of articles, edited by Apostolos Doxiadis (a writer) and Barry Mazur (a mathematician). Tom, looking over my shoulder, spotted the name of a geometer in the ToC. ("Just wanted to be sure that geometry got some representation in this book.") The cover image, appropriately enough, is of Archimedes wielding a compass while a Roman soldier has grabbed him by the left arm and has raised his sword, ready to plunge it into the geometer.

Here's the description of the book on the publisher's page:

Circles Disturbed brings together important thinkers in mathematics, history, and philosophy to explore the relationship between mathematics and narrative. The book's title recalls the last words of the great Greek mathematician Archimedes before he was slain by a Roman soldier--"Don't disturb my circles"--words that seem to refer to two radically different concerns: that of the practical person living in the concrete world of reality, and that of the theoretician lost in a world of abstraction. Stories and theorems are, in a sense, the natural languages of these two worlds--stories representing the way we act and interact, and theorems giving us pure thought, distilled from the hustle and bustle of reality. Yet, though the voices of stories and theorems seem totally different, they share profound connections and similarities.

A book unlike any other, Circles Disturbed delves into topics such as the way in which historical and biographical narratives shape our understanding of mathematics and mathematicians, the development of "myths of origins" in mathematics, the structure and importance of mathematical dreams, the role of storytelling in the formation of mathematical intuitions, the ways mathematics helps us organize the way we think about narrative structure, and much more.

"Circles Disturbed offers a range of possibilities for how narrative can function in mathematics and how narratives themselves show signs of a mathematical structure. An intelligent, exploratory collection of writings by a distinguished group of contributors."--Theodore Porter, University of California, Los Angeles
"This collection is a pioneering effort to trace the hidden connections between mathematics and narrative. It succeeds magnificently, and represents a very significant contribution that will appeal to the professional mathematician as well as the general educated reader. The articles are written by top authorities in their fields."--Doron Zeilberger, Rutgers University

The publisher is offering a pdf of the introduction: here. http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9764.pdf.

And here's the Table of Contents:

Introduction vii
Chapter 1: From Voyagers to Martyrs: Toward a Storied History of Mathematics 1
Chapter 2 Structure of Crystal, Bucket of Dust 52
Chapter 3: Deductive Narrative and the Epistemological Function of Belief in Mathematics: On Bombelli and Imaginary Numbers 79
Chapater 4: Hilbert on Theology and Its Discontents: The Origin Myth of Modern Mathematics 105
Chapter 5: Do Androids Prove Theorems in Their Sleep? 130
Chapter 6: Visions, Dreams, and Mathematics 183
Chapter 7: Vividness in Mathematics and Narrative 211
Chapter 8: Mathematics and Narrative: Why Are Stories and Proofs Interesting? 232
Chapter 9: Narrative and the Rationality of Mathematical Practice 244
Chapter 10: A Streetcar Named (among Other Things) Proof: From Storytelling to Geometry, via Poetry and Rhetoric 281
Chapter 11: Mathematics and Narrative: An Aristotelian Perspective 389
By G .E .R . LLOYD
Chapter 12: Adventures of the Diagonal: Non-Euclidean Mathematics and Narrative 407
Chapter 13: Formal Models in Narrative Analysis 447
Chapter 14: Mathematics and Narrative: A Narratological Perspective 481
Chapter 15: Tales of Contingency, Contingencies of Telling: Toward an Algorithm of Narrative Subjectivity 508

Anyway, I suspect some readers of this blog will find this as promising and interesting as I do.