Thursday, February 26, 2015

Louise Cavalier Levesque's The Prince of the Aquamarines

I'm pleased to announce the release, in both trade paperback and e-book editions, of The Prince of the Aquamarines as the forty-fourth volume in the Conversation Pieces series. It collects a pair of fairy tales by eighteenth-century author Louise Cavalier Levesque, translated by Ruth Berman, and an essay by the translator on the tradition of early modern French fairy tales and Levesque’s contribution to that tradition.

Louise Cavelier Levesque was born in Rouen, November 23, 1703, and died in Paris, May 18, 1745. She was one of the eighteenth-century writers who continued the tradition that had begun in the decade before her birth of creating new versions of fairy tales. Her two fairy tales were reprinted in 1744 and again as part of the Cabinet des fées. A much-abridged translation of "The Invisible Prince" was included in Andrew Lang's The Yellow Fairy Book (1894), but "Le Prince des Aigues Marines" has not appeared before in English.

In "The Prince of the Aquamarines," the Prince is cursed by a Bad Fairy with the gift of the death-dealing glance. The heroine, the Princess of the Island of Night, is likewise condemned by a Fairy to live alone in the Dark Tower, until freed by a monster whose sight brings death. In "The Invisible Prince," the curse is a prophecy delivered by the priest of Plutus, the god of wealth, who announces that the young prince will undergo assorted dangers that will, however, lead in the end to good fortune. The Prince's guardian fairy gives him the stone of invisibility in the hope that it will help get him safely through the intervening dangers. Both tales are all-out adventure stories featuring princes, princesses, bad fairies, shipwrecks, magical gifts, and dark towers.

The Prince of the Aquamarines is available now from Aqueduct's site, and will soon be available elsewhere.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Three early novels by Eleanor Arnason

I'm pleased to announce that Aqueduct Press has just issued e-book editions of three, out-of-print novels by Eleanor Arnason: The Sword Smith, To the Resurrection Station, and Daughter of the Bear King. Each includes a new afterword by Eleanor.

The Sword Smith tells the tale of Limper, a master sword smith running from an oppressive boss-king who forced him to make expensive junk, and Nargri, his young dragon companion. Written in the early 1970s, and published in 1978 by Condor, The Sword Smith is an anti-epic fantasy. In a new Afterword written for this edition, Arnason describes the characters as "mostly fairly ordinary people, rather than heroes, wizards, and kings. Their problems are ordinary problems, rather than a gigantic struggle between good and evil. There is no magic. The dragons are intelligent therapod dinosaurs, and the trolls are some kind of hominid, maybe Neanderthals. In many ways, it is a science fiction story disguised as a fantasy."

 To the Resurrection Station, Arnason's second novel (written in the 1970s), was first published in 1986. On a planet far from our Earth, it begins a Gothic tale: a moldering mansion full of secrets, a disturbing master of the house, a young and innocent heroine, and the mansion's robot servant, who drives the story. A motley crew escapes to Earth (now overrun by interesting intelligent machines, except for a clearly crazy spaceport) where they land and begin exploring the ruins of New York City.

In a new Afterword written for this edition, Arnason describes Resurrection Station as about people who can't fit into social roles. "Claud can't be a traditional Native. Belinda can't be a straight young woman or a traditional heroine. Shortpaw is not an acceptable giant mutant rat. Without being especially heroic, they all refuse to give in or give up."

 Not your everyday fantasy, Daughter of the Bear King clearly arises from Second Wave Feminism. A middle-aged woman discovers that she has a role in an epic struggle between shoddiness and integrity. And her battle flows across time and universes.

On a Monday morning, Esperance Olson is suddenly transported to another world where dragons fly and wizards divulge her heritage: daughter of the ancient Bear King, she is a shape-changer with magical powers. This strange world runs on magic, and the wizards have summoned Esperance to fight a creeping and shadowy menace. Her epic journey transports her back and forth between her birth world and Minneapolis, where the magic and monsters follow, wreaking havoc.

Samples of each book are available for free download at Aqueduct's site, where the books are available in both epub and mobi formats for $7.95.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Clarion West One-Day Workshop

The deadline for a writing workshop I'll be giving in Seattle is looming. Here is the condensed version of the description:

Join the founder and publisher of Aqueduct Press, L. Timmel Duchamp, for a Clarion West One-Day Workshop: "How to Read as a Writer."  This workshop is an opportunity to learn techniques for critiquing the work of other writers, and to learn how to apply those techniques to your own work.

Students who enroll in this workshop will be asked to submit a piece of writing in advance, which will be distributed for critique by a subgroup of the class. All students’ works will be critiqued by both the instructor and several other students. Duchamp will also cover techniques for reading critically and for communicating effectively.

This six-hour intensive workshop will take place on Sunday, March 15, in Seattle's University District. It is open to anyone aged 18 or over. Tuition is $150, and class size is limited to 12 students. For more details and to register, please see the workshop page on the Clarion West site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Notes on "What Dreams Need Come: A Task List for Visionaries" Potlatch 24 panel

What Dreams need Come: A Task List for Visionaries

Glenn Glazer (mod), Janna Silverstein, Jeanne Gomoll, Dan Trefethen

Panel description (from the program guide): At the National Book Awards, Ursula K. Le Guin issued a call to auctorial arms. She warns of hard times to come, charges us to dream alternatives to the ways we live now. But is she right? Science fiction is rarely predictive, so what is it good for? I speculative fiction a tool for change, a gate to better futures, or just another obsessive technology of popular distraction? Other than amusing ourselves, what good do we really expect from dreaming new worlds?

The program guide provides URLs to a video clip of the speech and to a transcript:

As with my notes on the Women Destroy panel, these are partial and scattered notations of statements that interested me.

Janna: Editors now have to be advocates for books as different from other commodities. Publishers have a responsibility to be a standard-bearer for that.

Dan: I'm not an editor or publisher—I think she [Ursula Le Guin] was speaking for art for art's sake. In that speech, she is storming the castle. She has the credentials to do that. [Later, this is characterized as “speaking truth to power.”]

Jeanne: She was identifying science fiction to the people in the room as being a key part of any movement that seeks to change the world. She is posing the question: what kind of world are we ideally moving toward? So many people outside of the sf world do not think of science fiction in connection with revolution or change. Le Guin is pointing out its social value.

Glenn: These publishers [reference to the Big Five, and generally to the publishing people sitting in the audience Le Guin was speaking to] are driven by changes in the technology that we did not see coming. What do authors need to do to survive?

Janna: Ursula may be 6 months ahead of what's going on, but the publishers are years behind—when they should have seen it coming and prepared for it. Publishing is having a real hard time with this transition. 

Aud (Huw Evans): Le Guin talked a lot about freedom in her speech. Science fiction should be the first to embrace technological change. Readers are the gatekeepers.

Aud: Booksellers and librarians are mediators between books and readers and the books' authors.

[In the course of the discussion that followed, panelists and audience members displayed a diverse and contradictory range of notions about who or what are “gatekeepers” and how rating systems and algorithims work. Vonda mentions one of the earliest recommendation programs designed by Dave Howell and how well it worked, one with different aims to, say, Amazon’s recommendation algorithims.]

Janna: Signal to noise ratio is off-kilter with self-publishing. There's a higher proportion of noise now. But bloggers can be discriminatory filters.

Glenn: [Expresses worry about the vanishing of indie bookstore, which has been an important discriminatory filter. The sad closing of Borderlands came up during the ensuing discussion.]

Aud: There’s a difference between gatekeepers and arbiters. It's not always a good thing that gatekeepers have a diminished role.

Janna: We need something that provides a faithful reflection of readers' ratings and preferences.

Jeanne: Women Destroy SF is evidence about the myopia in the field.

Dan: WDSF was crowd-sourced, not produced by big publishing.

Janna insists that the reason it couldn't have been published by the Big Five only because it was an anthology, not because its contributors were all women. [Because anthologies don’t sell enough to be published with the print-runs all books published by them have recently come to need.]

Aud (Nisi) We need not more gatekeepers, but gate-openers.

(Aud) Readers ratings can be (and are) gamed. They can't solve the signal-to-noise ratio problem.

Aud: Le Guin is addressing two audiences-- writers (that they live with integrity and write with integrity) and publishers. I think she was trying to shove writers into greater integrity in their writing.

Aud: It's important to remember that writers are reflecting back the values of mainstream society.

Dan: I think if she were here today, she would say, “I'm talking about you people. Don't sell your soul for a mess of pottage, so to speak.”

Janna: These days, decisions have to be made more consciously than in the past (precisely because these conversations are happening). Everyone in publishing has become more conscious of how their decisions will be read.

Aud (Vicki R.) Often books are rejected because of the marketing dept. Editors might love a book and reject it because they think it won't sell.

Janna: That's the reason I left publishing.

Aud (Tom Becker) Amazon's algorithims are measuring biases & decisions people have already made; they don’t suggest departures [from what people are in the habit of reading]. Algorithims are not going to suggest paths of bold reading.

Dan: UKL says we need to know the difference between art and commerce.

Dan: Small presses are the one bright light in all this.

Janna: We as a community need to heed Ursula's clarion call.

Jeanne: One of the things Ursula does, more than telling us, is that she shows us by her own work. [Cites Tehanu, as an example of revisioning one’s own past work and ideas.]

This panel could have gone in one of several clear directions; instead, it took a scattershot approach. Because it began with an emphasis on technological change and the mainstream publishing industry's apparent cluelessness about it and its inability to do more than attempt to play catch-up, I began with the impression that the discussion would be centering on that. But when the audience entered the discussion (which, being Potlatch, was fairly early), the discussion got bogged down in generalities about the quantity of work being published and the lack of filters (authoritative or otherwise) for helping readers find what they want to read. Although both panelists and audience members made a lot of references to things Ursula said in her speech, I noticed a general avoidance of pursuing the ramifications of what the difference between art and commerce is and whether that difference will vanish (which is clearly one of the concerns UKL expresses in her speech). For all its excellent intentions, we were not collectively bold in our discussion. (I say "we" because I was present, even though I did not speak. As an indie publisher, I always feel I risk appearing self-serving in voicing my opinions on such matters.)

It occurs to me that it might be interesting to see someone unpack the sentences of that very brief speech. That wasn't, of course, the point of the panel, but such an exercise might be fruitful.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Notes on "Women Destroy Science Fiction: Not Again panel at Potlatch 24

Here are a few notes I jotted while attending the Women Destroy Science Fiction: Not Again! panel at Potlatch on Saturday afternoon:

Panelists: Kate Schaefer (mod), Eileen Gunn, Debbie Notkin

Kate notes that the iconography of the cover is pretty much the same as that of the second Women of Wonder books of 20 years ago: featuring a kick-ass babe.

Debbie loves the scope of the book but wishes that the nonfiction hadn't all been reprints of the fundraising pieces. She raises the question: What is the value of assembling all-women issues together?

I can’t help but note that this question is one that people have been raising for decades now. Are the answers different now than they were in the past. (Which may be to say: I feel as if this is yet another iteration of the constant reinvention of the wheel so familiar to experienced feminists.)

Eileen: How long will we have to keep destroying science fiction? She notes a string of authors who have destroyed science fiction (and of course the ease with which she could go on adding names to the list): Karen Joy Fowler destroyed science fiction. Pat Muprhy destroyed science fiction. Samuel R. Delany destroyed science fiction. Kelly Link destroyed science fiction. . .

Debbie: A big fear about this book-- is that no one who isn't already onboard will read these stories.

Eileen: We are the choir. And we're no longer a little isolated corner of the field.

Aud: What is it that needs to be done?

Nisi: Pardon me for pointing this out, but my essay in the book sets out some of the things that need to be done.

Kate: One of the things that needs to be done is that fiction needs to continue to be published. Print markets are limited, each market controlled by an editor, each with their own limitations. Gordon Van Gelder, to take one prominent example, has particular limitations. (I like Gordon, but I don't much care for his taste in fiction.) (And yes, I’m pleased to hear that Charles Finlay is taking over the editorship of F&SF. And as long as the stories by women have to be ten times better than those by men, we're not there yet.

Eileen: For myself, I'm wishing for liberation from all the little subgenres. Being a woman is being in one of those little boxes.

Debbie: How has the pressure against women in sf changed?  The people we are angriest at have very little power, unlike in the past. I think it's important to think about where the power is.

Aud: Would this book have had the same impact if it hadn't been packaged as "women destroy science fiction"?

Kate: No. There would have been a different impact.

Eileen: I thought on first hearing about the project that this was a marketing decision. Now that I see it, I think the book could have done well without the marketing tag. But with the marketing tag, it's political and angry—and produces a larger voice.

Debbie: “The Cold Equations” is consider a famous example of “hard science fiction.” In fact, it indulges in preposterously bad science; if it had been a woman's story, it would be characterized as "soft science fiction." Men get a pass for writing "soft science fiction."

Kate: Old science fiction isn't about the science-- the "science" was always a pretext. Old science fiction was about social and human relations.

Eileen: That’s true even of Hal Clement's work, long-considered the hardest of hard sf writers. How many people here have read Mission of Gravity? [only a few hands went up, one of them mine.] If a woman writes it, it's not really sf. If a man writes it, it is. For years and years I thought I was writing science fiction. Now people are telling me that what I write isn’t science fiction. It’s an unconscious thing they do. If I were a man, they’d accept that whatever I wrote was science fiction.

When Kate asked for last thoughts with which to end the panel, Eileen said: It's an sf writer's job to destroy science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

I'd be interested to hear what this blog's readers might have to say on the subject. My impression was that the audience contained a range of attitudes, many of them expressed in comments or questions from the audience. One older man apparently didn't see the relevance of the issue; some fired-up younger women apparently didn't realize that we'd been working on this problem for a long time already; some grumpy older women expressed pleasure in seeing young women energized and angry (because as Eileen put it, she's been angry for forty years, and it's good to be joined by younger women in that anger) and happy to see so much quality fiction by women getting recognition; and a lot of people wondered how it could be  that, as "the choir" (as Eileen put it) continues to expand so tremendously it is still being perceived as different and requiring qualification marking it as different.