Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: Closing out the Year

For me, this has been a year of doing a lot of reading to help me think--which, in a sense, is a return to an earlier practice, one I pretty much gave up when I started Aqueduct Press. I suppose I thought of this loss of mental discipline as unavoidable, at least for the first few years of Aqueduct's existence. Dropping a habit of discipline, though, has the downside of making it tough to do casually what was previously habitual. I wonder now whether that might not be the reason I began to feel out-of-synch with the world, despite my spending hours in online activity, plugged into social media, the blogosphere, and the 24/7 news cycle. I assumed it was the effect of aging. 

And then, in late 2016, like many people I knew, I felt massively confused; the political events of 2016 clobbered me into a momentary mental/psychic standstill. Appalled by this standstill, I vowed to return to the kind of interior life I felt I'd lost, an interior life that I knew requiring sustained slow-reading and slow-thinking. To reclaim that interior space, I withdrew from most of my online activity and struggled to establish a new set of habits. It took a protracted effort and the determination to reallocate my attention. My spending three months a year writing in seclusion in Port Townsend has been enormously helpful in doing that.

2018, perhaps as a result of this personal reorientation, perhaps for other reasons, has been a year of clarification. I'm currently drafting an essay about some of the reading that has helped clarify my thinking, so I don't really want to say much more about that here. Instead, to close out the year, I'd like to quote from a Walter Benjamin essay that I've recently reread, "Theses on the Philosophy of History." Benjamin drafted this essay in the spring of 1940, shortly before his death. It's a piece full of glittering gems of thought as quotable, I think, as many of Nietzsche's aphorisms. I'll quote only the eighth thesis (translated by Harry Zohn). Although our moment is not that of Europe in 1940, the challenge Benjamin issues in this thesis has mostly yet to be met. (And what a different world we would be living in, I think, if it had been met.)
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "state of emergency" in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are "still" possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge--unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

I don't think that thinking of our current situation as an instance of "Fascism" is helpful. But examples abound of people wondering at how what we are experiencing now (and fearing to experience in the near future) is "still" possible--and, perhaps more to the point, that all these new "populist" regimes are derailing the "progress" and "competence" assumed to drive history. Sad to say, this attitude informs the most popular strains of feminism, and it unfortunately dominates the loudest voices in the Democratic party. Resistance doesn't lie in rolling back time and getting the Progress Train back on track. It means going someplace new, somewhere we've never before been. Given all we've learned about the climate-change juggernaut this year, it's our only hope.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 24: Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez

The Pleasures of 2018
by Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez

What a year 2018 has been. Since people around me online and in meat-space started doing reviews of this year’s events, reads, playlists, and so on, I’ve been struggling to come up with a coherent bird’s eye view of what 2018 has been to me. Just too much has been happening. Among other things, I co-organized Spain’s first ever feminist science fiction festival, which we have called AnsibleFest and --in view of what a lovely, energizing, inspiring day and a half it was-- will have a second edition in 2019. This, plus the fact that I’m a Tiptree Award juror this year, means I have had very little time to read aside from all of the things I can’t talk about!

Still, I managed to sneak in a few cheeky non-Tiptree reads throughout the last twelve months, including all of the Basque-language science fiction by women I have been able to find (not much). For those who do not know, I come from a region known as the Basque Country, geographically divided between France and Spain but whose both sides share a cultural and linguistic heritage, which, being non Indo-European, has immediately turned me into a Really Cool Person in the eyes of all the US linguists I have ever met.

Mayi Pelot is regarded as the woman pioneer of Basque science fiction. Two sf books by her exist, both published in the eighties: Biharko oroitzapenak (“Tomorrow’s memories”), a collection of short stories, and Teleamarauna (“The tele-spider web”), a novella. The press (Maiatz, cofounded by Luzien Etxezaharreta and renowned lesbian author Itxaro Borda with the goal of promoting work by authors from the north –“French”—side of the Basque Country), was kind enough to send me copies of both titles, and we read the first of them at the inaugural meeting of a feminist-queer sf reading club in Basque I started coordinating in Zarautz, a coastal town near San Sebastian, earlier this year. We were all amazed at Pelot’s ingenious use of Basque, which she only learned later in life, in the way she created neologisms and science fictional terminology. While the short stories, set in the future, reflect the geopolitics of the eighties –including a communist Islamic utopia in the Iberian Peninsula except for the Basque region, divided from the south by a post-atomic wasteland and blocked on the north by a wall protecting it from a carcinogenic sea-- they also include acute, at times really funny observations of Basque culture and its interactions with futuristic tropes.

Since then there seems to have been a general absence of women sf writers in Basque, save for a few short stories –though I’m still wearing my Russ glasses and refusing to accept this as true-- but this year saw the publication of two! new titles: Bihotzean daramagun mundua (“The world we carry in our hearts”), by Maite Darceles, and Izadia by Garazi Albizua, who also ran a creative writing workshop at AnsibleFest. Both are dystopias and, though their proposals may not be to the standards of more “mature” markets such as the USA, they fill me with hope for the future of sf in the region. After all, Samuel Delany made Babel-17’s distant-future, space-travelling protagonist Rydra Wong a Basque-speaker. One doesn’t need much more validation than that.

Aside from that, I allowed myself some non-fiction in Spanish, including El Entusiasmo, (“The Enthusiasm”, or perhaps “The Excitement”), by philosopher Remedios Zafra (a deep look into the eyes of young, precariously situated workers in the contemporary professional fields of culture, art, and academia), and No existe sexo sin racialización (“There is no sex without racialization”), a collective publication of texts and images produced in a series of workshops run and attended by queer POC in which they confronted Eurocentric and colonial notions of queerness.

Finally, I wanted to mention two texts I received as gifts: one was Amos Tutuola’s classic The Palm-Wine Drinkard, which I had had on my wish list for so long and finally my incredibly talented friend Peter gifted to me (watch out for his forthcoming poetry collection). Another is a stunning little zine which was generously posted to me by the woman running the blog Reading Africa. It’s a small anthology of poetry by women from Niger, which includes fragments such as this:

The book of honey crumbles
In a cemetery of epileptic organs
I unveil myself

A rhythmic flame
The Hymn
Of offered poems

 (From "The Vagina of Destiny" by Mallai Lélèl)

That is about as much as I can talk about in terms of my year’s reading without getting into queer Spanish zines and twitter threads on the resurgence of Spanish fascism.

 In terms of Watching, I have actually consumed impressive amounts of trash on Netflix, which has been really good for my mental health and a great background noise while I knit. However, I’ll ignore guilty pleasures and problematic faves and actually say that one of the things I’ve enjoyed most regularly this year has been browsing for material on butoh around the internet. There are actually quite a few (old) documentaries in English about butoh on Youtube, as well as plenty of recordings of performances. I’ll go ahead and just highlight this really short video with thoughts by Akeno Ashikawa, taken from Richard Moore’s 1991 documentary Butoh – Piercing the mask. Then again, I’m still really ignorant about this art, but the process of learning about it has been one of the most satisfying things in my life lately.

Not so much Watching as Seeing, I also wanted to mention the work of two Spanish artists I’ve had the pleasure to get to know this year during my residency at BilbaoArte Foundation: Raquel Meyers and Cristina Ramírez. Raquel Meyers uses obsolete technology such as Commodore 64 and Teletext to create dreamy/nightmarish/brutalist imagery in a process she describes as “expanded typing.” This takes the form of videos, images, performances and, lately, woodcarving and even embroidery.

Cristina Ramírez has recently focused her drawings and sculptures on the representation of the landscape in cosmic horror, detaching what we know as the natural world from any moral or anthropocentric interpretations. Both are incredibly talented artists who have taught me a lot. and I’m hoping will continue to do so in the coming years.

 It’s very difficult for me to make a meaningful selection of music I’ve listened to and enjoyed over a specific period of time. These days I’m annoyed at the Youtube algorithm, which always makes me click on the same things, but still – music is ever-present in my life (as I assume is the case for many of us), and this list I’m including below is just whatever I can remember off the top of my head right now. First off, go and listen to Daniel Caesar’s heartbreaking 2017 album, Freudian, right now, please. Secondly, Janelle Monáe’s album and emotion picture Dirty Computer have by themselves blessed 2018 enough to tip the scales against the apocalyptic timeline of doom we seem to be dealing with.

Speaking of which, I have been exploring early doom metal and blasting Dopethrone by Electric Wizard whenever I need to walk around Bilbao at night. For more contemporary takes on the genre, I urge you to enjoy Corrupted’s Garten der Unbewusstheit (2011), delicate and brutal in equal measure.

I can’t mention Christine and the Queens without mentioning also her music videos, which make my little queer heart beat faster every time. Her MJ-inspired choreographies make me very jealous, as do the dancers in all Jungle music video choreographies, which are always perfect. The London-based neo-soul band Jungle thankfully dropped a new album this year, which they have called For Ever and has been a welcome change from having to play their debut album in loop since 2014.

I suppose I should mention that I have been obsessively playing The Roots’ Tiny Desk Concert for months. Overall, I recommend NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts wholeheartedly. Some of my all-time favourite performances are H.E.R., Anderson .Paak, Natalia Lafourcade, Tank and the Bangas, and Tyler, the Creator.

I am truly hoping for more time and peace of mind in 2019, just so that I can catch up with the dozens of reading piles waiting for me on the other side of the bumpy, demanding, heart-rending, fascinating year 2018 has been. And, most of all, I hope 2019 leaves us all enough time to find peace in art and in one another. We certainly need to stop and take deep breaths every now and then, and I think doing it together is the best way to do it.

Among other things,  Arrate Hidalgo is Associate Editor at Aqueduct Press. She is also an English to Spanish translator, an founder and organizer of a feminist sf con, and an amateur singer. Visit her website at

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 23: Kate Boyes

Weaving a Parachute
by Kate Boyes

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.”-- William Stafford

I started almost every day of 2018 by reading articles on the Salon, Vox, ProPublica, Robert Reich, and Politico websites, a morning ritual I began quite a few years ago. I did this before sipping my first cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot). Before starting a fire in the wood stove. Before washing up, making the bed, or jotting down ideas for my writing project du jour. Staying informed about political, social, racial, and environmental issues to keep my activism effective was not onerous in the early years of my morning news scan. Since the U.S. 2016 elections, however, the continuing weaponization of issues and the ever-accelerating pace in which they are used by those in power to inflict damage have made my ritual a painful act of desperation.

Until this year. I realized one day, early on, that I had begun to feel a perverse pleasure in the ritual. This is due, I believe, to my new survival strategy: I imagine the current state of affairs as an absurd version of Macbeth (one that is, unfortunately, far too long and has no intermission). In this version, the people causing harm through the misuse of their wealth and power—including a crudely drawn and seriously off-kilter cartoon leader—are huddled on top of the hill that is their last stronghold, bellowing out that they “will not be afraid of death or bane till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane!” I enjoy reading about all the trees, big and small, that are inching their way up that steep slope, coming closer and closer….

Some days, before I could read articles, I was stopped cold by headlines that struck too close, too hard, and broke my heart. The day Ursula K. Le Guin died. The day Kate Wilhelm died. The day Harlan Ellison died (for all his, well, Harlan Ellison-ness, he encouraged my fave writer, Octavia E. Butler, in her career, and I am forever grateful to him for that).

So much is broken. So much that is broken cannot be fixed. But perhaps, as Stafford suggests, it can be used. I don’t keep lists of what I’ve read, watched, or listened to, but Hoopla, Netflix, and Apple do (that’s a bit spooky). Looking over those lists, it’s clear that a significant amount of my reading, viewing, and listening this year focused on going back to what brought me pleasure in the past so I could fashion something whole, something life-saving, to make it through this difficult period.

To honor the writers we’ve lost, I read again: The Lathe of Heaven, "The Wild Girls," and "Late in the Day" by Ursula; Storyteller by Kate; and" I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" (a phrase that describes many years of my life) by Harlan. I re-read Octavia E. Butler’s Blood Child and Unexpected Stories, and Karen Joy Fowler’s "The Science of Herself" and "What I Didn’t See" (the story that gave the collection its title still gives me nightmares). I went back through Sisters of the Revolution, taking comfort from stories in which destruction and loss provide the building blocks to create something positive. Then I moved on to books new to me: Elysium (Wow!) by Jennifer Marie Brissett, and Will Do Magic for Small Change (which made my head explode time after time in the best way possible) by Andrea Hairston. Reading these books, both old and new, was pure pleasure.

There were many other books on my list—about minimalism, sustainable buildings and landscapes, life in the Victorian era, etc.—including an inordinate number of cookbooks (cookbooks are my romance novels; two I particularly enjoyed were Macarons, by Cecile Cannone, and The Artful Baker, by Cenk Sonmezsoy). I mention these because I realized I’ve been drawn more to books with pictures over the past few years. Perhaps after spending hours reading and writing about difficult issues, images give me a chance to take a breath. Or perhaps having pictures in books reminds me of my childhood, and that is another method I’m using to return to the past to gather strength to meet the future. I’m not sure, but I share the observation on the off chance that I’m not the only one experiencing this change.

In terms of viewing, this was the year of A Quiet Place, one of the best films I’ve seen, in any genre, for a long time, and one in which loss holds the key to survival. The year of A Wrinkle in Time: I came for the story, of course, but stayed for the special FX. The year of Black Panther: Warrior women—need I say more?

I was surprised by how much zoning out I did on Netflix, watching shows I would categorize as guilty pleasures (Note: if you download your entire Netflix viewing history for the year and show it to someone, they will never look at you in the same way again; resist the impulse; trust me on this). Battlestar Galactica, for example. Yes, I watched the entire series for the umpteenth time (thanks, Starbuck, I needed that). But there were films that spoke to me on a deeper level, too. The Girl with All the Gifts (I came late to this party) had an interaction I would like to share with those misusers of wealth and power huddled on their hill: When a “normal” human bemoans the loss of the world, the girl responds (and I paraphrase) “the world will go on—just not your world.” Eye in the Sky (with Alan Rickman’s last on-screen performance) exposes the absurdity of our many undeclared wars around the world: Even if we stay above the fray—watching our drones while sitting in front of computer screens in clean and tidy digital combat centers—our destructive foreign policies will still dirty our hands.

Speaking of guilty pleasures, I’ve been listening to “Exoplanetary,” a free scifi audio series. It’s a treat I save for those times when my eyes are so tired they can’t focus on whatever I’m trying to read or write. Turns out (according to this series) families will still be dysfunctional several centuries in the future. “Exo” reminds me of those times when, as a child, I joined my family in the living room to listen to radio shows—and I hasten to add that I’m not talking about pre-television days: TV was available, but it was forbidden in our house for religious reasons (radio = good/TV = bad; yeah, that never made sense to me, either). There was a special warmth during those gatherings with members of my family, many of whom are lost or broken now. More strands to weave into my parachute.

I’ve spent much of the past two years in a state of freefall, flailing about, grasping . . . nothing. This was the year my plummet slowed a bumpy but manageable glide. I don’t know if I’ll make it to solid ground safely. Many of us won’t: those who, due to draconian policies, die in foreign or domestic “wars,” who starve to death in a land of plenty, who freeze in their homes or on the streets, who are forced to suffer needless pain for lack of medical care. I hope you make it down okay. If you see me gliding by, book in hand, please wave.

Kate Boyes’ debut novel, Trapped in the R.A.W., will be published by Aqueduct Press in 2019. She is the author of a biography of Paul McCartney, and her nature essays have been published in many anthologies, including two volumes of the American Nature Writing series. Kate lives on the Oregon coast and falls asleep every night to the sound of the surf.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 22: Cheryl Morgan

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening 2018
by Cheryl Morgan

I should start this year with viewing, because I have just returned from Austria, a country I have never visited before. I had been asked to give a keynote speech at a conference on science fiction worldbuilding at the University of Graz, and took the opportunity to see Vienna on my way. I loved both cities. Vienna is a riot of baroque architecture, museums, art gallerie,s and seemingly limitless supplies of cake. Graz, while much smaller, has Alpine cuteness and patches of medieval charm among the imposing imperial grandeur. It also has the biggest collection of medieval arms and armor in the world: enough to equip an army of 5,000 men.

My talk was on using Earthly examples as ways of thinking about how sex and gender might be different in alien species. Once we start to look at the creatures that share this planet with us, we quickly realize that heterosexual, cisgender nuclear families are anything but “natural.” My research for this involved reading two great books: Evolution’s Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden; and Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson.

There are two other nonfiction books I have read that relate to science fiction. Gods and Robots by Adrienne Mayor is an exploration of themes of artificial beings in the ancient world. Fans of Ray Harryhausen will remember the brass man, Talos, who is defeated by Jason and Argonauts. This is by no means the only example of artificial beings in ancient myth. There are even plausible stories of actual ancient automata. The ancient world also has several stories of people having sex with animated statues. These days sex robots are a reality. In Turned On, IT journalist Kate Devlin has produced a comprehensive survey of the field, from leading edge technology to the latest legal controversies. Inevitably she also covers science fiction: from Blade Runner to Westworld and beyond.

On now to fiction, of which there has been plenty as usual. Some of the highlights of my year, and apparently of many other people’s as well, have been Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente; The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley; Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse; Borne by Jeff VanderMeer; and Blackfish City by Sam Miller.

My local cohort in the South West of England continues to go from strength to strength. Emma Newman produced Before Mars, a fine continuation to the loose series begun with Planetfall, while Gareth L. Powell embarked on a fascinating new space opera series with Embers of War. This year I also read two debut science fiction novels by local woman writers. Everything About You is a cyberpunk thriller from Heather Child that postulates smartphones so capable that they can psychologically manipulate their owners. The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett is a character-driven novel that uses science fiction tropes to create the environment the author needs for her story.

Talking of debuts, I have been impressed by three new fantasy novels. Half-Witch by John Schoffstall takes some of the odder ideas about witches from European folklore, assumes they are all true, and runs with it. Even more off the wall is Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield in which a Hellmouth erupts in medieval France and the Queen of Hell comes forth with an army of demons that she offers to put at the service of the French king in return for land. I can’t resist a novel where a major plot point turns on a church court having to decide whether zombies have souls. Finally there is The Black God’s Drums, a wonderful steampunk novella by P. Djèlí Clark.

Novellas continue to set the market alight. My love for Murderbot is undying, and I am so pleased for Martha Wells whose career I have followed since The Death of the Necromancer. Other notable reads in this category include Time Was by Ian McDonald; In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard; and The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang.

Due to an essay acceptance for a book on Celtic influences in fantasy, I have been re-reading Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad books, specifically The Silver Branch and The Copper Crown. While my historian brain knows that much of the supposed Celticness in which the books are grounded was made up or misinterpreted by earlier scholars, my Welsh heart still thrills to the idea of a star-spanning Celtic civilization.

Finally, in fiction it would be remiss of me not to mention the one book that I published this year. The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet E McKenna has been an amazing commercial success for Wizard’s Tower, and has by now probably outsold all of the other books I have published combined. As the publisher I am obviously biased, but Charles de Lint agrees with me about how wonderful the book is. Juliet totally deserves this success, and I’m delighted for her.

I haven’t read much in the way of graphic novels this year, but I have enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson’s foray into the Sandman universe with House of Whispers. I also highly recommend Conspiracy of Ravens from Leah Moore, John Reppion, and Sally Jane Thompson, which is perhaps best described as steampunk Sailor Moon set in an English girls’ school.

I was deeply unhappy with Marvel because Janet van Dyne did not feature in the movie version of their Avengers team. Of course the current wearer of the Wasp suit in Ant-Man and The Wasp is Janet’s daughter, Hope. However, the film did give us a guest appearance by Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet. If you have seen the film you will probably have noted Janet’s ability to be effortlessly glamorous and fashionable in any place at any time, even in the Quantum Realm. I’m convinced this is a secret mutant superpower that she has.

The latest Avengers movie, Infinity War, is perhaps most notable for the sheer audacity of Marvel in pulling such a stunt. Comics readers will know that being dead is usually a very temporary state for superheroes, especially if, like T’Challa, your next movie has already been announced. That didn’t stop people’s jaws dropping at the end of the film. And of course there has been endless speculation ever since as to how our heroes will get out of this mess. The replication of a comics crossover series as interlinked Hollywood movies is an amazing achievement.

My favorite film of the year is, of course, Black Panther. I was a huge fan of the Don McGregor run with the character back in the 1970s and I’m delighted to see T’Challa get a film of his own. The facts that the film is black-made and black-centered, and that it has so many great women characters, are very welcome bonuses.

In television Supergirl continues to impress. It is probably the most on-point political drama being broadcast at the moment. The presence of Nicole Maines, a trans actress, as the trans superhero character, Nia Null (aka Dreamer) is a very welcome bonus at a time when the US government is doing so much to roll back trans rights.

The highlight of my TV year, however, has been the new She-Ra. I’m too old to have watched the original series as a child, but I did catch it when it appeared on Netflix. Noelle Stevenson’s reboot is orders of magnitude better. I loved it so much I binged the entire season in a day. I’m amused that Swiftwind, despite his limited appearances, has all of the best lines. Though if he does achieve his ambition to liberate all of the horses in Bright Moon there may be a few feminist discussions about leadership of the herd.

As far as music goes, I was blown away by Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. As soon as I was able to get hold of the clean version I played the whole thing on my radio show. I was lucky enough to catch one of the Dresden Dolls gigs in London in October. And if harder-edged rock is more your thing, I recommend the British duo, REWS. Shauna lives in Bristol and I was delighted to get her on the radio. She and Collette are clearly destined to be big stars.

In podcasts the Galactic Suburbia crew have begun a read-through of Joanna Russ’s legendary How to Suppress Women’s Writing. If feminist ranting is your thing (and it is very much mine) this is perfect listening material. A very different feminist experience is provided by my friend Tamsin Clarke whose Naked Podcast does exactly what it says. Tamsin interviews women in the nude. All sorts of interesting conversations result.

Sharp-eyed readers will have spotted some notable omissions from the fiction lists. Yes, once again I have been too busy to read everything I want to. Hopefully I will have a bit of time over the holidays to catch up. The books I am itching to read are The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera; European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss; and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. So I had better stop writing and get on with reading.

Cheryl Morgan blogs, reviews and podcasts regularly at Cheryl’s Mewsings and Salon Futura. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press. Cheryl co-presents the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio . She also lectures regularly on topics of queer history, including a 2018 talk(audio and slides) at Cambridge University on the evidence for transgender people in ancient Mesopotamia.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 21: Kristin King

Pleasures 2018
 By Kristin King

 Let’s be honest: this world is all messed up and backwards and inside out. My favorite works this year challenged my perceptions of the universe and especially of human society. By way of explanation, I’ll throw you directly into the pages of my first recommended work, The Gloria Anzaldua Reader ed. AnaLouise Keating:

“Transformations occur in this in-between place, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling.” (p. 243)

Next let’s move on to Doctor Who because you know me, I’m all about him. Er, I mean. . . her? They?

Pronoun Troubles: Doctor Who?

This season of Doctor Who, with Jodie Whittaker taking over as “the madman in a box”, has been a delight. At home our family is wrestling with pronouns. To be fair, “they” is the most descriptive pronoun for a character who has had at least twelve bodies, especially since some episodes feature several of them at once. But habits die slowly.

This season took risks that many previous show-runners would not have dared or even wanted to take, above and beyond making the Doctor a woman. Half the Tardis crew was female/trans/nonbinary and half was people of color. All were richly drawn, by a diverse group writers and directors who clearly did their homework. Also, the show went to historical times and places it’s never dared to go before: Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, or the border of Pakistan and India at the time of the Partition. It neither made light of nor sugarcoated these terrible times.

The Doctor, meanwhile, stayed consistent with their character. Confident, mercurial, curious, questioning, authoritative, and full of schemes. But she wasn’t overconfident, didn’t flanut her authority, and I honestly did struggle with this. One of the aspects of the show I enjoy is the dance of power between the Doctor and the villain. But this Doctor was simply forthright. “I’m not going to let you do that.” Whenever she spoke those words she meant them, and she was right. As always, I’ve enjoyed the Verity podcast ( for their reactions and their insights into the show. The latest episode discusses whether or not this Doctor had a character arc, or a strong character, with much friendly disagreement especially over whether lack of angst represents lack of character. I personally think she hid her feelings to a much greater extent than the four male Doctors who immediately preceded her. The Verities are also quick to point out the similarities between this season and Classic Who, comparing her especially to Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison. I agree.

Sorry to Bother You by Boots Riley

I don’t want to give spoilers, but if you can only watch one movie next year, this is the one. There’s a surprise behind (almost) every door. Well-earned comedy. Speaks truths we spend a good deal of energy hiding. Fits into at least seven different genres at once. Takes reality, makes it strange, heightens the realism through unreality, turns the unreality into comedy. It’s delicious: call in the cavalry.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I don’t know how to explain why I was constantly on the edge of my seat wondering whether a librarian, a trainee, a detective, and a police officer will make it to the Natural History on time to get a book.

Some writing advice by Samuel Delany

I came across the anthology Clarion, ed. Robin Scott Wilson, 1971. It’s got a lot of great stories, interesting stories, and, um, “products of their time,” but what sticks out is this writing advice. After decades of reading about writing, this one is new. Thank you, Samuel Delany.

"The young painter who has set about learning to paint 'realistically' is often surprised that the eye must do the learning . . . Examine your reaction when you are excited; as well, when you are bored. . . Look closely at what individualizes people; explore those moments when you are vividly aware of a personality. Explore the others when you cannot fathom a given person's actions at all. . . . [I]t will always be a paradox to the young artist of whatever medium that the only element of the imagination that can be consciously and conscientiously trained is the ability to observe what is."

Romeo And/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North

North is quite clear on the ultimate, deep heart of this sacrosanct Work by Famous and Revered Playwright William Shakespeare: angsty teens desperate to get laid. It’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type book, and you can either wander down the standard narrative or take a different side path based on all the other choices these teens had available to them. The standard narrative provides ample opportunities to explore the flowery language or, alternately, the plain-truth version. Oh, also, there’s no way to get through it without repeatedly changing genders. A note about the sex scene: it’s a Mad Libs version. Nothing in this book goes past PG13 and as such, I’d recommend it to any schoolkid forced to contend with our Important Works of Western Literature.

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling

Half the fun of this book was reading the inventive stories, and the other half was looking in the back to see which trope the stories demolished. I do have a bit of a gripe, though: if I recall correctly, the tropes in the back were listed by trope and not by story, so I got a few “spoilers” on other stories I hadn’t yet finished. Especially memorable were “Lazzrus” by Nisi Shawl and “Can you tell me how to get to Paprika Place?” by Michael R. Underwood.

Passing for Human: Benaroya Chronicles by Jody Scott

I’m so sorry Jody Scott is no longer with us, selfishly, because I wish I could read more of her books. The alien main character, a dolphin who can put on a human body like we put on clothes, and picks Brenda Starr and Emma Peel to blend in, simply cannot grasp our human concept of mortality. This book first came out in 1977 and was freshly released in 2015.

Revisionary and Unbound by Jim C. Hines

You already know I like Doctor Who. I like stories about libraries and librarians. So how could I possibly resist a series in which the main character can pull any item that fits, out of the pages of a book? These books are sequels to Libriomancer. It’s worth mentioning that our hero gets into a relationship involving a complicated and problematic situation of consent. Hines handles that issue admirably.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

In the late 1980s I read a lot of dystopias and post-apocalyptic fiction, meant to warn humanity against trouble to come. Now that such trouble is here, it’s helpful to have a book that starts with our dystopia and imagines a route to a more hopeful future. The main strategy of the people wishing to build a better society is to literally walk away from messed-up places, be it a capitalist city or a commune that’s suddenly gone authoritarian, and to build afresh. As somebody who has had to metaphorically walk away from three organizations, I can see the appeal! You can’t do it forever, though. Eventually, people have to put down roots and make a stand somewhere. It’s clear to me that Doctorow thoroughly researched the frustrations, and successes, of leftist organizing.

Kiki Strike series by Kirsten Miller

I found this YA book series on the shelves at Powell’s Books, drawn in by the title, and I’m glad I did. Our narrator finds herself mixed up in espionage in the underground tunnels of Manhattan (the “Shadow City”), following a charismatic but dishonest Kiki Strike.

Kristin King ( 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.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 20: Lesley Hall

The Pleasures of Reading 2018
by Lesley Hall

Thinking about this, I realized that 2018 was a year in which I returned to a form of reading that I find extremely pleasurable but which I had not indulged in for some years, that is, library and archival research. While over the past few years I have given a number of papers and written and published a few articles and chapters, these were all using materials I had already gathered over the years and did not involve going out to collect new material.

This hiatus on the research front was partly due to life events, but also to finding myself falling down the time- and energy-consuming rabbit-hole that was writing The Comfortable Courtesan, initially as a daily blog-serial (which gave me a certain insight into the processes of Victorian novelists writing for serial publication!).

The main narrative, the Memoirs of Clorinda Cathcart, for some several years a Lady of the Town and subsequently elevated to Aristocratic Rank, came to a natural close and has now been self-published in ebook and POD formats in 12 volumes under the imprint of Sleepy Wombatt Press, details available at However, the world and the characters have now generated a number of pendant narratives which may also be published in due course. [/end of plug]

I was kickstarted into resuming more active historical research by an approach to contribute a chapter on the response to a late nineteenth century obscenity trial to an edited collection of essays. While I had written something about this case before, the digitization of newspapers now makes it possible to make a much more extensive analysis of press reportage and response than would ever have been feasible in the days of the British Library Newspaper Collection at Colindale, of unlamented memory.

By Chesdovi - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

Preliminary searches revealed that the case was reported rather more widely than I would have anticipated, if not in any great detail, in the mainstream national and local press. However, while I was able to accomplish this in the comfort of my own home at my own computer, I guessed, correctly, that there would be more discussion in niche publications of the contemporary radical fringe of secularists, freethinkers, anarchists, socialists and birth control advocates, which have mostly not yet been included in digitization projects, so off I went to the British Library and the University of London Library at Senate House. These days, unlike in days gone by, with some exceptions it is possible to take photographs for later perusal, which is a great boon.

I also made trips to look at legal records, which turned out to be frustratingly meagre, in the London Metropolitan Archives and at The National Archives. An unforeseen and agreeable byproduct of this process was the very frequent bumping into friends and acquaintances in these palaces of knowledge.

This was all really immensely pleasurable, with a lot of ‘Aha’ moments.

I also had the very fortunate opportunity, while I was in the USA in the early summer, between Wiscon and another conference, to spend a week at Indiana University in the Kinsey Institute archives taking up a project I had done a very preliminary scoping exercise for some years ago.

Because of the sensitivity of so much of the material accrued by Kinsey and his team it is not permitted to take photographs, so I was obliged to take notes, which I did extremely copiously. Lots of exciting discoveries, but alas, so much very rich material that I didn’t get to the end of what I wanted to consult by the time I had to leave, so I think another visit must be planned. The staff there are wonderful, it is an amazing collection: it is just a pity that it is somewhat of an arduous pilgrimage to get there (even if you’re not starting from London, I think?).

So my really top reading experiences of 2018 were old newspapers and other people’s letters!

Lesley Hall was born in the seaside resort and channel port of Folkestone, Kent, and now lives in north London. She recently retired from a career as an archivist of over 40 years. She has published several books and numerous articles on issues of gender and sexuality in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, and is currently researching British interwar progressive movements and individuals. She has also published a volume in the Aqueduct Press Conversation Pieces series, Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of her life and work (2007).She has been reading science fiction and fantasy since childhood and cannot remember a time when she was not a feminist. Her reviews have appeared in Strange Horizons, Vector, and Foundation, and she has been a judge for the Tiptree and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. She has had short stories published in The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women (1996) and The Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women (1995). Visit Lesley's website.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 19: Alisa Alering

Surprised by Happiness
by Alisa Alering

I’m writing this post almost entirely so I can tell as many people as possible about a book I read this year that took me completely by surprise and turned out to be my favorite.

It is Happiness, by the Scottish-Sierra Leonean writer Aminatta Forna. Like many writers and others who spend their days hunched over a keyboard, I have problems with my back. As therapy, I carry a heavy kettlebell up and down the floor of an empty warehouse, hoping to coax my muscles into equilibrium. Because the insides of empty warehouses aren’t spectacularly scenic, I listen to podcasts while I do this, particularly the Guardian Books podcast*. Which is how I found out about Happiness — a book I had never heard of by an author equally unknown to me.

Forna was a guest on the May 1 episode, where she talked about writing the reverse of the ‘Western guy goes to third-world country and observes it from his POV” novel. Then she read an early passage, in which (one of) the main characters(s), a psychiatrist from Sierra Leone who specializes in PTSD affecting civilians in war zones, arrives in London and goes out to dinner in a restaurant alone. Not really an action-packed scene. But when she stopped, my instant reaction was: “I’d read more of that.” This was a point-of-view I wanted to stay with, wanted to know more of what it saw.

So what’s it about? Urban foxes and migrants. Trauma and grief. Compassion and loneliness and unlikely friendships. Cities at night and in the early morning. The plot is driven by a few fairly transparent MacGuffins, which I was more than willing to forgive. Plot isn’t what this book is about, and yet it remained page-turning and consistently interesting. With all my experience of the hundreds (thousands?) of books I’ve read (and the few I’ve written) I couldn’t predict what was coming next, or where it was heading—but I wanted to find out.

In other reading, on a whim this year I decided to read all of the books on the Booker Longlist, whether or not I’m excited about them individually. A sort of arbitrary goal to help shift me from entrenched habits and broaden my horizons. I started with the book I was most intrigued by, Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (in which I learned that the plural of ‘octopus’ is not ‘octopi’ but ‘octopodes') and have since made my way through:

• Belinda Bauers - Snap (glad to see a crime novel on the list, sorry it was this one)

• Rachel Kushner - The Mars Room 

• Michael Ondaatje – Warlight (what you’d expect from Ondaatje, a solid story packed with nostalgia)

• Richard Powers - The Overstory 

I just finished Sally Rooney’s highly-praised Normal People, which I wasn’t expecting to like but am really enjoying. All the talk of how ‘millennial’ it was put me off. But it’s not millennial. It’s human and real and funny and awful, and so well observed.

Next up: Sophie Mackintosh’s (so far) extremely odd The Water Cure.

Honorable mention to Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, which is my audiobook guilty pleasure. I thought I was so over all things Holmes with all of the recent adaptations and wouldn’t be able to face another for ten years at least, but these are so well-done, so well-narrated, so bright and lively and just plain fun, that I look forward to the housework and the exercise that comes with audiobook time.
*This podcast has turned me on to so many excellent books to add to my to-read list: Maria Dahvana Headley’s modern Beowulf retelling, The Mere Wife, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, and of course, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription.

 Alisa Alering was born in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania where she ran around barefoot and talked to the trees. Her short fiction has appeared in Mythic Delirium, Time Travel Tales, Clockwork Phoenix 4, Flash Fiction Online, and other places. She is a graduate of Clarion West (2011) and winner of Writers of the Future (2013).  Her "The Night Farmers’ Museum" was chosen by judge Robert Coover as runner-up for the 2014 Italo Calvino Prize. Her story "Madeleine Usher Usher" appeared in Aqueduct's Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries across the Known Multiverse. | @alering

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 18: Carrie Devall

Pleasures of 2018
 by Carrie Devall

I should be able to say I read a lot of good books this year by people whose names you'll know, because I bought them with every intent to read them this year. Of course, they ended up in nice stacks with books I bought in 2017. A New Year's resolution to get through the stack without distraction might be in order.

Instead, I spent most of my free time either catching up with the news or studying Finnish somewhat obsessively. I've been running a conversation/study group, watching the very random TV shows and videos available for free here in the U.S. (Au Pair reality shows, soap operas, WWII and wildlife documentaries), and reading books for Finnish toddlers. 

Though of course I would love to read my favorite Finnish novels in the original, it would be nice to be able to at least read Anku Ankka (Donald Duck) comics without having to look up every other word. Currently, I am able to read books along the lines of Richard Scarry classics and news headlines better than Google Translate, but that's not saying much.

I did manage to do some other reading, especially in the beginning of the year, mostly getting to fiction from 2016 and  2017. Early on, I used one of the President holidays to enjoy Sam J. Miller's The Art of Starving in one or two long sittings. The style was strong and fresh, and the core of the book rang true, especially in centering the power and control issues involved in eating disorders. I bought Blackfish City, but have not gotten to it because hardbacks are not great for standing-room- only commutes. My girlfriend liked it, though.

I also finally got to Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz, and found it engaging and slightly reminiscent of several of Melissa Scott's novels. Sometimes a geeky swashbuckling gene pirates type of story really hits that spot.

I also enjoyed Malinda Lo's A Line In the Dark, both for the dark teen drama and murder mystery.

2018 was a good year for diverse movies and TV, from Black Panther onward (which other people have covered adequately all year.) Apparently a Time's Up study of the 350 top-grossing films released worldwide from January 2014 to December 2017 just found that films with female leads earned better global grosses than the much more prevalent films with male leads. Also, films that passed the Bechdel test also earned higher. Who would have guessed, huh.

I like to learn about how movies were made as much as watch them, and root for new writers and directors to manage to keep working against all the odds. One of the highlights of trolling through the crowded fishbowls full of podcasts this year was finding "Don't @ Me," a podcast hosted by Justin Simien, the creator of Dear White People, through public radio station KCRW. I found this while looking to see what writer/director Cheryl Dunye had been doing lately, as I've done from time to time since she wrote, directed, and acted in Watermelon Woman. The meaty, funny interview of her hooked me in, but the podcast has continued to bring a variety of great TV and film 'creatives' as guests. The discussions are engaging and frank, and cover how the guests got their start, the background for their films/shows, what's next, and lots of dirt about the business. A short list includes Lena Waithe (The Chi, Master of None), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Zazie Beets (Atlanta, Deadpool 2), and Ava DuVernay (Selma, Wrinkle in Time, Queen Sugar).

Along similar lines, I love to listen to people really delve into their reading and reception of a movie or book that has a lot of layers. The discussion of the movie Sorry to Bother You on episode 323 of the "Geek's Guide to the Galaxy" podcast, with Evan Narcisse, Tananarive Due, and Craig Laurance Gidney stood out in this respect. I had been wanting to see this movie since the trailer came out, and stalked reviews, but conflicts kept coming up when I thought I might go. Their discussion was a nice stopgap while stuck doing boring tasks.

I also discovered the debut movie of writer/director Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior, from 2014, just in time to see it before her latest, the adaptation of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. She also acted in Appropriate Behavior, and it's a blast back to the style of autobiographical independent films like Go Fish (but better). It showed great promise, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how gripping the film of Cameron Post was despite the horrible setting (a residential conversion 'therapy school'). I more recently read the novel, to see what was different and how it ended. It made me appreciate the movie that much more for how it used the physicality and visual subtext capability of film to deepen the conflict and irony.

I skimmed a lot of nonfiction about climate change and related topics. In searching for books, I randomly picked an older biography, On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, by William Souder. I don't know how this stacks up against other biographies of Carson, but it was interesting in terms of its focus on her writing style, how she developed her books (particularly The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring), and how she navigated the publishing industry to try to make a living as a writer. The machinations of the chemical and other industries to turn the media against Silent Spring were amazingly disorganized and amateurish compared to today. The story of how she fought back, even as she fought the cancer that killed her, was a reminder that having solid research and shocking people with the bare facts is no longer enough.

A random documentary I enjoyed on DVD, from the library, was Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, from director Catherine Bainbridge in 2017. The music is great, from Link Wray, Slash, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others.

Last but not least, speaking of great music, my teenaged niece graced me with a visit this summer, tagging along with my parents. I was terrified of boring her to death (even though she is a good sport), but I managed to get some of the scarce tickets for West Side Story as revamped by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. My niece was taking a day off from her summer internship at a theater, and is a big fan of Rent and Hamilton. I was worried that West Side Story would be too dated for her. I also wondered how it played in 2018. However, the new choreography of Maija Garcia and the diverse casting brought it out of the dusty past, and Bernstein worked his magic to score Auntie a few points. Not being able to get "I Feel Pretty" out of my head is a small price to pay.

Carrie Devall writes from Minneapolis, MN, where it rains a lot thanks to global warming.

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 17: Cynthia Ward

2018 in Review: Wonder Women and Others
by Cynthia Ward

It's been the craziest year of my life, but I did fit in a few movies and books:

"I Was Up in the Air and She Taught Me a Lesson All Right" (Film)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - For Joe and me, Coen Brothers films are hit or miss by a wide margin, and their darkly humorous, cinematically stunning new collection of six Old West vignettes proved a miss: the theme of "life sucks and then you die" in the first three stories (one of which will enrage many disabled viewers) turned viewing to drudgery, and we quit (but Matthew X. Gomez finished watching the movie and reviewed it at Pulp Consumption [spoiler alert]).

Black Panther - I enjoyed Don MacGregor and Rick Buckler's comics about the Marvel superhero Black Panther in the '70s, and I'm glad to say the 2018 Marvel movie Black Panther is mythic and heroics-packed and wise, and one of the best films I've ever seen.

The Blockers - Given how raunchy it was, it's difficult to believe JetBlue was playing an edited version (butt beer bongs, anyone?), but this comedy is amusing and astute in an American Pie 1 kind of way, plus fairly feminist; we plan to see the unedited version.

Deadpool - It sounded like it was right in my wheelhouse (snarky, violent, antiheroic superheroics), but I didn't last 10 minutes with this movie, which makes Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange look like ageless masterpieces--a hit, why?

The LEGO Batman Movie - If you can't be yourself, be Batman, or at least LEGO Batman, in this rare (unique?) example of a self-parodying pop-lit movie that is simultaneously respectful of its subject, instead of torturously cynical (cf. the 1979 movie Moonraker, which put a friend and me off the entire James Bond franchise for decades).

Love, Simon - Excellent...yet....I know high school can be a time of spectacular interpersonal fuckups for students of all sexual orientations (cf. American Pie 1), but as this dim-witted het girl contemplated the queer grandkids watching this film, I grasped why a lot of LGBTQIAP+ readers  viewers get tired of miserable events & experiences being routinely visited on LGBTQIAP+ characters.

Mamma Mia - This musical based on the songs of ABBA was just as shallow and wonderful as the other 3 times I've seen it, and very popular on neighboring seat-back screens.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again - Adding a bit of depth and darkness, but lacking a bit for the near-absence of the Meryl Streep incarnation of Donna, this sequel is still a banquet of gourmet comfort food - and, since I want you to be happy, here's the "Waterloo" dance scene from the movie:

Ocean's Eight - It would be lovely if gender-flipping a film franchise automatically led to great movies starring women, but I found this team caper flick centered on Sandra Bullock to be unengaging, and barely remember a thing two months afterward (but I haven't seen the previous run centered on George Clooney, or the original film centered on Frank Sinatra; maybe familiarity with previous incarnations would've helped).

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi - I find the sequels built around Rey of Jakku (played by Daisy Ridley) far better than other Star Wars movies released since the first two (1977's Star Wars and 1980's The Empire Strikes Back), though The Last Jedi feels like two movies interwoven--and a bittersweet experience it was to watch, too, because Carrie Fisher died during production of The Last Jedi, and back in 1977, her character, Princess Leia Organa, was the first woman I ever saw demonstrate agency in a movie.

Wonder Woman - Mostly successful, and I enjoyed seeing a female society (Paradise Island) presented as whole...kind of (one child, one family, no suggestion of sex or romance)--however, I wish Hollywood would stop thinking they need to throw in a clothes shopping scene or equivalent to "please" female viewers (dear studio execs: Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs and Conan creator Robert E. Howard didn't inflict nonsense like this on women characters, and both died many, many decades ago).

A Wrinkle in Time - I wanted to like you, honest, I did--an epic mess of the sort which suggests a lot of studio meddling ("Sure, that quiet, quirky little YA novel's sold well for decades, but we'll make it better by turning it into yet another loud, stupid, big-budget action flick!").

Swords and Murderbots and Blasters, Oh, My (Books and Magazines)

Graphic Novels:

Dates II: An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction Stories edited by Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra - A low-key, delightfully diverting collection of YA-friendly comics and illustrated stories (not all romantic, despite the title), with characters who span the ages, the continents, and the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum; I particularly like "The Ibex Tattoo," writer/artist Gwen C. Katz's wonderful story of storytelling and friendship among the ancient Scythians, and plan to read Among the Red Stars, her historical YA novel about the Night Witches (the female Russian pilots of World War II).

Prez: Volume 1: Corndog-in-Chief by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell - While reading it, I would've sworn this trenchantly parodic graphic novel was written during and after the 2016 election, but the comic-book issues collected in this volume were originally released in 2015; scarily predictive satire.

Princeless: Raven: The Pirate Princess: Book One: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew by Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins, and Ted Brandt - A young woman defrauded of her piratical inheritance puts together a motley crew, amidst a certain amount of metafictional humor, in-jokes, and cameos; probably a YA graphic novel, but this work from 2016 is also suitable for adult and middle-grade readers.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill - On re-read, this 2016 YA/MG graphic novel (which is also suitable for adults) remains as charming, imaginative, and LGBTQIAP-friendly as ever, and has proven a smash with the grandkids.

Anthologies and Magazines:

AfroSFv3 edited by Ivor W. Hartmann - As of this writing, I haven't gotten far in the latest volume of the anthology series collecting science fiction by African authors, but so far the stories are excellent (review to come in The Cascadia Subduction Zone).

Black Cat Mystery Magazine Issues #1-2 - The first issue relies rather heavily on short sharp shocks, but #2 brings longer and deeper stories; current indications are, this rather dark and edgy new suspense magazine from Wildside Press will give the venerable mystery magazines Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen a run for their money.

Broadswords and Blasters: Pulp Magazine with Modern Sensibilities Issue #3 - The pulp herein is so modern (and sometimes so dark) that fans of the original adventure pulps may decide some stories aren't pulp at all; but, however you define pulp, my favorite contribution is Karen Heslop's cyberpunk'd zombie-gaming tale, "Testing Limits," which took me places I didn't expect.

Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine Issue #9 - This pulp spec-fic magazine delivers the action-packed goods as it spans cultures and universes, from a star-faring circus on the brink of dissolution ("Cirque des Etoiles" by Bo Balder), to a thief whose Stormbringer-esque accursed blades go beyond soul-sucking to sarcastic commentary and cutting banter ("All That Glitters" by Paul Lucas).

The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Volume 1 - As with other pulp forms, the sword and sorcery genre is considerably more diverse in its interests, characters, and settings than the popular stereotype suggests, and two of the best stories in this strong volume (drawn from the long-running S&S magazine) are Dariel R.A. Quiogue’s "Lord of the Brass Host," wherein a wandering barbarian matches wits with an alt.Three Kingdoms prince, and P. Djeli Clark’s "Shattering the Spear," wherein an alt.African warrior in enemy territory meets an unexpected destiny.

Occult Detective Quarterly Presents: An Anthology of New Supernatural Fiction, edited by John Linwood Grant and Dave Brzeski - Fiction about investigators of supernatural doings is a field that stretches over more territory than you'd expect, if you're familiar only with The Dresden Files or Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and while this exceptional anthology doesn't span the entire possible range (which, as Grant's introduction points out, is potentially gargantuan), it does romp divertingly from Wodhousean humor to comic-bookish supergroup heroics--and, as a welcome bonus, it includes an informative overview of the occult detective genre from its 19th Century origins to the 1990s, "Fighters of Fear," written by Mike Ashley and annotated by Dave Brzeski.

Science Fiction Trails #12 - This issue marks the welcome revival of the pulp-oriented and sometimes steampunk-tinged Weird Western magazine; my favorite in this issue is probably Sam Knight's "Going to Hell on the Noon Train," wherein time travel may engender the titular diabolical realm.

Weirdbook #37 - The pulp-Weird revival magazine grows ever stranger and stronger; probably my favorite story in the issue is Dale W. Glaser's "The Maiden Voyage of the Ariona," which twists a steampunkish undersea steam locomotive along an unexpectedly dark and eerie track.

Novels and a Novella:

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells - An android contends with self-awareness and a patchy, troubling memory, in one of the best novellas I've ever read.

Chercher La Femme by L. Timmel Duchamp - A thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing exploration of the nature of the self, set against a trio of backdrops: an Earthly socialist utopia (or maybe dystopia), a starship recovering from mutiny, and a distant alien planet, for whose inhabitants the barriers of our minds--and our wills--may prove woefully inadequate.

Finders: Firstborn, Lastborn Book 1 by Melissa Scott - As I ripped through Ms. Scott's terrific new novel (2018), set in a far future where the sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, I initially thought the label of "space opera" had been mistakenly applied, given the narrative's focus on a bisexual space-salvager throuple; but Finders does climax on a grandly operatic scale.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin - In the days between buying the eBook and re-reading the text, the author passed away, and so there never will be a chance to tell her that her brilliant tale of genderfuck is also a riveting human-against-nature adventure novel.

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt - The latest Academy novel brings starship pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins and her crew and passengers into several interesting first contacts with alien races, yet both otherworlders and Earthlings ultimately feel so middle-class-TwenCen-Anglo-American that this novel, set a few centuries in the future, fails to achieve a high level of credibility.

Snake Pit: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery by C.A. Jaymes - I got no closer to the original L.A. punk rock scene than a concert by X in the unlikely locale of tony Santa Barbara, so I cannot speak to how closely this novel reflects its time and place, but this historical (!) romantic suspense novel kept me turning the pages.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss - This literary alternate-history mash-up offers adventure, a murder mystery, and a metafictional examination of the role of the scientist's daughter in Victorian and earlier works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell (a pseudonym for Beth Bernobich) - I enjoyed this reimagining of Holmes and Watson as queer African-American women in a near-future USA still reeling from a second Civil War, and I discuss this science fiction thriller in more depth in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Last read when I was a teen in the '70s, the classic YA SF novel has aged very strangely, by my perceptions - parts still resonate completely with the teen and child in me, and parts make the grizzled atheist in me wonder why the author thought her book ecumenically spiritual, instead of Christian (and, if you only know the 2018 movie adaption, don't avoid the book on that basis).


Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era by Karen Bowman - This book is less a history of fashion than a look at recent centuries of British clothes, and a rather jumpy one, at that, but it's an interesting introduction to the subject of English garb.

Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen - A snarkily amusing overview of past quackishness, this book makes you simultaneously glad you live in the present, and wary of today's exuberantly touted new treatments and substances, because false claims and "cures" always flourish around genuine benefits (radiation can indeed banish cancer...but drinking water infused with radon just lands you prematurely--yet gratefully--in a lead-lined coffin).

Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy - I found this collection of reviews and critical pieces by the historian and queer feminist critic Liz Bourke not only sharp and thought-provoking, but a compelling page-turner.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore - Entertainingly answers the question "Was the creator of DC Comics' greatest female superhero a male feminist, polyamory practitioner, bondage advocate, and inventor of the lie detector test?"

Cynthia Ward has published stories in Analog, Asimov's, Nightmare, Weird Tales, and other magazines and anthologies. For WolfSinger Publications, she edited the diversity-themed anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West Volumes 1-2. With fellow Aqueductista Nisi Shawl, Cynthia coauthored Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. Aqueduct Press has released the first two novellas in her Bloody-Thirsty Agent series, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess (shortlisted for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award) and The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum.