Thursday, July 31, 2008


More than a dozen writers who've had stories published in Helix have collaborated to produce a new site called Transcriptase, which features the work they've had published in Helix as well as a summary of the Sanders controversy and commentary on the controversy.

Transcriptase hosts reprints of our stories and poems originally published at Helix. During the controversy, some of us removed our work from Helix; others left it up. There are valid reasons to make either choice, and we hope you’ll respect that we had difficult decisions to make. We offer our stories and poems at Transcriptase so that you can enjoy our work away from Helix, if you choose.

It’s difficult to summarize how we feel about the incident, since each of us feels differently. Our reactions range from disappointed to sad to angry. Some writers have chosen to add further comments to this statement.

The authors include

Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Interview With Timmi

The latest edition of Broad Universe's Broadsheet has an excellent interview with Timmi Duchamp, conducted by Cat Rambo. The rest of the issue looks pretty intriguing, too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

Generally, it is argued that monetary reward is an incentive for quality work. And I suppose generally this is sometimes true. But it is one thing to reward an artisan for quality artisanship and another thing to reward an executive for obtaining extraordinary profits for a corporation. They are different in two ways. It is clear that good artisanship is quality work. But the obtaining of extraordinary profits is only quality work if one accepts the priority of the endless accumulation of capital. It is hard to justify it on any other grounds. The second difference is the size of the reward. Increasing an artisan's income by 10 or even 25 percent for quality work is quite different from increasing an executive's income by 100 or even 1000 percent.

Is it really true that an industrial manager will only work well if he receives the kind of bonuses he can obtain in the present system? I believe it is absurd to think so. We have the clear example of many kinds of professionals (such as university professors) who are stimulated to work well not primarily by the relatively small increases in material rewards but rather by a combination of honors and increased control over their own work time. People do not usually win Nobel Prizes because they are spurred on by the endless accumulation of capital. And there are a remarkably large number of persons in our present system whose incentives are not primarily monetary. Indeed, if honor and increased control of one's work time were more generally available as rewards, would not many more people find them inherently satisfying?
---Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopistics: Or, Historical Chocies of the Twenty-first Century

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Executive Privilege and the Outrageous Karl Rove

There's to be a House Judiciary Committee on Friday, on the subject of the Bush administration's use of executive privilege.(The Bush Administration has basically claimed from Day One that they are above the law & don't have to submit to Congressional, much less public, scrutiny.) Interestingly, the online version of a Los Angeles Times article today features an embedded link to YouTube video made by Brave New Films and sponsored by, a coalition of organizations that has gathered 80,000 signatures on a petition calling on the House Judiciary Committee to hold Rove in contempt for refusing to obey its subpoena and order him jailed. The video contains clips taken from 60 Minutes and other news programs on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and C-Span.

You can watch it here.

I bet we'll be seeing more of these political videos. I can't help imagining what the early 1970s and mid-1980s would have been like, if people had been able to make videos while Watergate or Iran Contra was unfolding... The far right wing wasn't nearly so well organized back then.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Correction from Temple U

I seem to be mentioning my friend and Temple colleague Chip Delany a lot in this venue: it's thanks to him, see, that I ended up connected with this "scientifiction" thing that seems to interest y'all. So, with his permission, I want to share his response to the claims made about him here and in related posts:
"I have never said I am more oppressed (or even marginalized) than you to a graduate student--or to any one else. (Given my family and its social place in black society, that would be absurd. No, we weren't rich by any means--people don't quite get that. [My father probably never made an income comparable to an average doctor's today; though we had doctors in the family.] But socially we were at the top of an admittedly very small heap.) Since 1988 I have been bitterly aware that the most oppressed and exploited group in academia is graduate students [adjuncts are of course suffering at least as much]. Of course I made ten times as much as they did, and I knew it too. From the first year I taught at UMass in 89, I have been telling graduate students that if a tenured faculty member does not buy them dinner at least once a month, they are being actively oppressed by that faculty member. The only way I could have said that to Susan was in the most subjunctive mode ('It's just possible that . . . ') and--in the four days of Clarion--I might well not have realized that she was a graduate student and thought she was a Yale undergraduate."
(Bracketed bits are also Delany's own). This account sounds credible to me; perhaps, in that heated panel exchange, Susan's memory was erroneous.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The delights of snark

Snark often irritates me. But every now and then a moment of snark delivers ineffable delight in the midst of teeth-grinding vexation. Such a moment is especially satisfying when the snark is in response to snark I don't find in the least amusing.

The new issue of the American Book Review has a review of Stanley Fish's new book, Save the World on Your Own Time. A snarky title if I've ever heard one. Jeffrey R. Di Leo first very properly reviews the book on its own, rather narrow terms. Having done that, he lets in the world. And finally, he offers his appropriate judicious conclusion that although Save the World on Your Own Time contains "many entertaining provocations from one of academe's most outspoken members," following the book's imperatives "may worsen rather than improve the problems of higher education." Yes, yes, of course, I'm thinking as I read this, my annoyance with Fish's snark not abated a jot. But then comes the review's last sentence:

If you must read this book, do it on university time, not your own.

Touche, Mr. Fish. And now I can move on from the review of your snarky title with a smile on my face and my eyebrows at peace.

Us, Elsewhere

Jeff VanderMeer, for Omnivoracious: L. Timmel Duchamp's Marq'ssan Cycle: An Epic Progressive SF Series Decades in the Making.

Stretto, the fifth and final book in L. Timmel Duchamp's stunning Marq'ssan Cycle has just been published by Aqueduct Press. Taken as a whole, the Marq'ssan Cycle is one of the most ambitious political SF series to appear in the last twenty years. The novels have received praise from the likes of Samuel Delany and Cory Doctorow, with Doctorow calling them "a refreshing read and a rare example of deft political storytelling." (There's quite a bit more to follow.)

Matt Staggs has posted Brief Interviews with Women Writers of the Fantastic #8: Kelley Eskridge

And Kelley Eskridge has posted Why are we so scared of naked people?

No Right to Due Process Here

Last month the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have a right under habeas corpus to challenge their detention in a civil court. Apparently that right is meaningless, for Agence France Presse reports that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA., has just ruled that the President of the United States may jail people arrested on US soil indefinitely, without charge. It seems that the Bush Administration's legal fiction of "enemy combatant"-- someone who is neither a soldier (and thus, when detained, a prisoner of war and thus afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions) nor a civilian (and thus considered a human being afforded standard human rights)-- trumps all. According to the 4th Circuit Court, the only right the detainees at Guantanamo have is that of challenging the designation. And if a court decides to allow them to be branded with the legal fiction, then they have no human rights, just as the Bush Administration has been claiming all along.

Legal fictions, of course, are endlessly elastic. That's the reason they're so dangerous. Just something to bear in mind.

P.S. In an article yesterday, The Toronto Star provided a link to a brief You Tube clip of the 7-hour video of an interrogation of Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was incarcerated at Guantanamo when he was 15. He was shot twice in the back and captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

modified in the guts of the living


Thomas Disch killed himself July 4. Reportedly, he'd been suffering from health issues, depression, the death of his partner of thirty years, financial straits because of the cost of his partner's final illness, and a threatened eviction from his apartment (because the lease had been in his partner's name). I have read a very odd selection of his work, not the novels or the short fiction or even the poetry, but The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars, and a peculiar and delightful fable called "The Happy Turnip," which no one else seems to remember, but which I would snatch up in an instant if someone put it out as a children's book. I have several of his novels, and have been planning to read them; I have been planning to read them, and sometimes I would pick them up and look at them and put them down again.

Because I found his LJ, you see. I found his LJ, on which he published much excellent and bitter poetry and, on one of the days I happened to check, a rant against Muslims. I decided I didn't need to read his books just then.

I decided I didn't need to read his books just then, or his LJ at all; but I didn't respond to his posts, either in his LJ or mine, and I didn't decide I'd never read his books. I still haven't made that decision. I still haven't sold them.


Maybe Disch would have killed himself anyway, but he shouldn't have had to worry about eviction in the meantime. It is unjust. It is laughable, almost, in New York City, the city with the most tenant-favorable rent laws in the entire country; laughable, with the kind of laughter that hurts.

Heterosexism: if Disch had been married to his partner, if Disch had been able to marry his partner, he would have automatically inherited all his property, including his lease. This is why marriage equality is so important.

Classism and capitalism: Regardless of marriage, regardless of income, no one should have to beggar themselves to provide medical care for themselves and their loved ones. This should be treated as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the middle class, the propertied, those employed by large corporations. No one should have to fear losing their home. This is why marriage equality is not enough.


I've loved so many things that hurt me: so many books, so many TV shows, so many stories. So many things that tell me women don't count or brown people aren't human or Jews are disgusting. I love them still. I take what I can and leave the rest, or I try to; the hurt is hard to leave behind. But I do get how reasonable people can hate what William Sanders said and still support the magazine he edits, why people of conscience were still considering submitting new work to Helix yesterday, why I'm still reading John Milton and Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats, not to mention watching rather less transcendental TV shows about ghost hunting brothers, not to mention keeping Thomas Disch on my bookshelves and planning to read his work sometime.

But. But. I am so tired, people. I am so tired of the hatefulness, the racism and sexism. I am so tired of looking in the Asimov's forums being a slap in the face because all the decent people in there can't drown out the racism and sexism spewed by S.F. Murphy and David Truesdale. I'm tired of having to forebear it.

Look, I understand why people have published with Helix in the past, especially people who were unaware of Sanders' history. But if you know and you continue to publish there, then you're continuing to support Sanders' racism. I really can't separate the personal from the political support aspects of this--I'm not sure I should, but it's an irrelevant question, because I can't. Sanders didn't separate the personal and the professional. He sent out a piece of professional correspondence with a racial/religious slur in it. Even ignoring the implications of his comments on the types of fiction he'd be willing to buy, what this says is that he expects people to accept and support his racism/religious bigotry during professional interactions. What this says to me is that supporting his business transactions is supporting his behavior as acceptable professional behavior in the sf/f field.

I won't do that. And, to be honest, I don't think other people should, either.

And also -- and this is a lot scarier to write, because it is a much bigger bridge to burn -- I do not think people of conscience should be supporting The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as long as Dave Truesdale's columns continue to be published there, either by buying the magazine or submitting stories to it. It would be another thing if he were publishing fiction or even if he were publishing nonfiction unrelated to his sexist and racist behavior on the Asimov's forums. But he's not. The same venom and prejudice displayed in his attacks on K. Tempest Bradford are displayed in his columns about science fiction, both as a literature and as a community, and clearly and demonstrably affect his reviews of books and short fiction.

[ETA 7/12 11:55pm: After I posted this on my blog, Gordon Van Gelder informed me that David Truesdale has one more column to write before the end of his contract. It doesn't sound like the contract is going to be renewed. This makes boycotting F&SF for Truesdale's presence irrelevant, although the general issues for sf/f described by N.K. Jemisin, among others, are still pressing.

I'm wondering if it makes sense to request that genre editors in general shift to identity-masked submissions, at least for slush; it's customary for scientific papers, and I think editors at Strange Horizons have said it's their standard practice. {eta to eta: I've been corrected on both points; Strange Horizons doesn't do anonymous submission sorting, and the practice is not universal among science journals.} I don't think it will be as simple for fiction as it is for orchestra auditions, since gender and racial bias affect the judgment of content as well as technique; but it might be a place to start.]


I'm afraid to post this, honestly. I'm afraid people I respect will think I'm being rigid and inhumane for suggesting a boycott; I'm afraid people I respect will think I'm inethical and uncaring--that friends will think I'm not giving enough weight to their oppressions--for not feeling able to support a boycott for all cases of bigotry.

I don't think it's an easy call, or a simple call. I'm not planning to shun people who disagree with me on this, or argue against them or their work. But I am asking them, publicly and plainly, to reconsider what they're doing and whether their actions are contributing to the kind of community and literature they want sf/f to be.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Turtle at Work

With the novel I'm currently working on, I seem to be more conscious than I usually am of my writing process. I suppose this is because I was away from the ms for a year and a half and can see clearly how it has been evolving since I began working on it a couple of weeks ago. The image of the turtle's shell seems to sum it up.

Unlike a snake, a turtle doesn't shed its skin (including the outer layer of its shell) all at once, but continuously sloughs off bits of it, which are replaced with new scales or scutes. Some of its dead skin hangs around for a long time, as plates and knobs that protect the parts of its body not covered by the shell. The skeletal structure of the turtle, of course, remains the same. But the shell itself, with all its plates and scales, keeps changing as new bits grow and an accumulation of dead bits get rubbed off.

And so it's been with my novel ms. About a year ago, I took note of a relevant piece of new science that had just been made public, and now I've incorporated it into the story-- altering a couple of scenes, adding a couple of new scenes-- in the process not solving my protagonist's problem but both sharpening it and inadvertently making the antagonist's ethical position blatantly clear where before it had been in the gray zone. And so already, as the ms has grown larger, it's subtly altered, making the conflict more focused. Which makes me feel optimistic about how the novel is going. Of course that won't last. There are always moments of clarity in the novel-writing process, moments that soon get swallowed up in the chaos of the story's growth. On the downside, I feel farther from the denouement than when I began. (Though that could be an illusion.)

Think of a turtle, sitting on a log, basking in the sun. It looks lazy, yes? But all the time, it's working on that shell. Remember that. It's what I'm doing when I'm staring at the wall.

This image has a breaking point, of course. The turtle, unlike the snail, can't simply walk away from its shell. The shell is the turtle, as much as our bodies are us. A writer's in big trouble when her novel becomes indistinguishable from her body. (I worried for a while that that might be true for me and the Marq'ssan Cycle.) It happens, of course. But not often.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Imagination and collaborative fiction-writing

So late this afternoon Kate Schaefer of the Clarion West Write-a-thon sennt out an email announcing that Michael Swanwick has started a round-robin story on the Write-a-thon forum. I decided to check it out and saw that Michael contributed one sentence, Ruth Nestvold another--and Eileen Gunn a whole slew of sentences. Because Eileen dragged Richard Nixon's name into it, I couldn't resist making a contribution myself. When I visited the site after dinner, I found that Eileen had continued on from where I'd left off. So of course I continued on from where she left off. But after I'd posted my new paragraphs, I discovered that someone else (who is identified only by login handle and not by name) had also posted an addition, which had been added before mine.

How disorienting! Imagination is such a powerful thing. Even though this is a barely-begun story, I'd so fully and vividly imagined the world being created through our opening sentences that I'm now feeling completely thrown out of the story (particularly since the other person's addition constitutes a sharp bifurcation from the direction I'd been imagining). I'd never realized just how thoroughly invested I get into a fictional creation, once I've put words down on the page, even for something so evanescent as a round-robin story. I simply can't overwrite the reality of the words I've already written (which, it seems, is substantially different from adapting to new directions the story might take). I've never done this before, but I'm thinking I'm not really cut out for this kind of collaborative fiction writing...

PS You might say that I have no business just now investing my imagination in anything but the novel I'm trying to finish. And you'd be right.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Quote of the Day

Thackeray resented the idea of denouement. He compared it with the residue of tea on the bottom of a cup; it's too sugary. It's obvious to the reader that it is a condensation of unresolved conflicts.

To humor himself, Thackeray wanted his footman to write the ending for him, after he was done cleaning his boots and dress.

So then it appears that denouements are based on the premise that they don't really exist.

This entire thread---this dying thread, is the road of a plot that has been abandoned.
---Victor Shklovsky, Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot

Monday, July 7, 2008

Men & Women in SF

Thanks for your comments. I was discouraged by the people who didn't think there was any problem and the guy who thought "the free market" fixes all problems; and I was discouraged by the interchange by Gordon van Gelder and Tempest. It seems to me once Gordon posted, he should have been willing to continue the conversation for a while.

But I don't pay enough attention to what happens in SFdom, and especially in SFdom on line. So I can be disturbed by something ongoing, when I suddenly notice it.

I was disturbed by the news of Thomas Disch's death. I have not been able to find a New York Times obit for him, which strikes me as puzzling. He is an important American writer.

Some of his work is truly impressive. But he was often cruel to his characters, and his vision of life was often too bleak for me.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thomas Disch (1940-2008)

I was sorry to hear today that Thomas Disch took his own life on July 4. He was the author of several very fine books, particularly Camp Concentration, On Wings of Song, and 334, and in his earlier career was often characterized as a "New Wave" writer. I read all his sf intensively in the 1980s and much enjoyed and admired it. His work was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo awards multiple times, but he won the Hugo only for his book-length essay, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of (which like most diatribes, failed to engage me). He wrote theater and opera criticism and poetry, as well as horror novels and at least one pulp novel, a 1960s formula Gothic Romance The House That Fear Built (written with John Sladek under the pseudonym Cassandra Knye) involving Nazis in a Gothic castle in Mexico.

Men and Women in SF

Would someone on "Ambling" like to look at this discussion on SFSignal, and give me his or her impression? I am discouraged that this kind of discussion is still happening 30 or 40 years after the Second Wave of Feminism emerged.

One thing that did interest me about the discussion and the associated discussion about the Eclipse 2 anthology is my sudden realization that I am rarely asked to submit to by invitation only anthologies. I really think my work is competent enough, so I should be asked occasionally.

And why did my link turn out gray rather than blue? I have never managed to do this before.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Gulliver Travel Research Grant

Here's an announcement from the Speculative Literature Foundation:

The Speculative Literature Foundation is accepting proposals for the Gulliver Travel Research Grant from July 1st 2008 until September 30th 2008.

SLF travel grants are awarded to assist writers (speculative fiction, poetry, drama, creative nonfiction) in their research. They are not currently available for academic research. We are currently offering one $600 travel grant annually, to be used to cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses.

Our travel grants will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on the basis of interest and merit. Factors considered will include:

· a writing sample in the proposed genre (up to 10 pages of poetry, 10 pages of drama, or 5000 words of fiction or creative nonfiction); please note that the writing sample must be a solo work (work completed only by the applicant).

· a bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply.

· a one-page written description of the project in question (maximum 500 words) Think about

- Where you intend to visit (be as specific as you can)

- When you intend to travel (including the completion date)

- What you will gain from field rather than desk research via a library or the internet

If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to write a brief report of their research experience (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible public dissemination on our website.

PLEASE NOTE: This grant, as with all SLF grants, is intended to help writers working with speculative literature. If you're not sure what areas that term encompasses, we recommend referencing our FAQ (question #2).

Travel Grant Application Procedures
1. Send the three items listed above to our travel grant administrators, Colin Harvey and Tiffany Jonas, as an attached .doc or .rtf file in one e-mail, to Include a brief cover letter with your name and contact info (e-mail, phone in case of emergency). If you have questions, direct them to that same address.

2. You may apply for travel to take place at any point in the following year (from October to the following October).

3. Travel may take place from any country to any country, or internally within a country; the grants are unrestricted. Funds will be disbursed in U.S. currency (but can be sent through PayPal if that is more convenient for international recipients).

4. Travel grant applications will be considered from July 1st to September 30th, annually. Applications received outside that period will be discarded unread.

5. The grant recipient will be announced by October 15th, annually. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application by that date.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Stuff of Interest

Nic Clarke reviews Lesley A. Hall's Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of the Life and Work, as well as Mitchison's f/sf novels-- Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Travel Light, and Not By Bread Alone-- at Strange Horizons. Clarke writes:

Hall's study is illuminating and very readable, a welcome guide to both the life and the books. It's perhaps unlikely that a single small press volume could be the trigger for renewed attention to Mitchison's work; but such attention, from both readers and critics, is richly deserved. Re-reading her work now, Mitchison's interest in the many possibilities of what women could become, and of how they might achieve this potential, remains compelling.

From Sue Lange, a trailer for her novella, We, Robots (Conversation Pieces #16).

You can listen to Sue talking about We, Robots on Renee's Book Talk

And Pod People has posted a review of We, Robots here.

Matt Staggs has posted interviews with Nisi Shawl, Rachel Swirsky, and L. Timmel Duchamp at Enter the Octopus.

review of Mindscape has been posted at waiting2speak. Among the reviewer's comments is this:

[Mindscape] confirms that science fiction looks very different when it takes takes seriously 1) that a hero can be female and still sexy, violent, flawed, vulnerable and triumphant 2) a female hero of color can be all of these without being junglefied or mammied 3) people of color can play roles that aren't just witty, "ethnic throwback" sidekicks or helplessly tormented victims.