Thursday, March 31, 2011

"The Other Sci-Fi"

The focus of the new issue of The American Book Review (Volume 32, Number 2: January/February 2011) is "The Other Sci-Fi," and its editor is Uppinder Mehan. Here's the ToC for the Focus section:

Uppinder Mehan’s “Introduction to Focus: The Other Sci-Fi”

Anil Menon reviews Dexter Palmer’s The Dream of Perpetual Motion (St. Martin’s Press)

Rimi B. Chatterjee reviews Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape (Picador India)

Satwik Dasgupta reviews Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (Zubaan Books)

Steven Barnes reviews Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (DAW)

The introduction name-checks a few other authors besides those reviewed in the issue:
Nalo Hopkinson, Archie Weller, Tobias Buckell, Andrea Hairston, Celu Amberstone, Anuradha Marwah, Sheree R. Thomas, Vandana Singh, Steven Barnes, Nnedi Okorafor, Karin Lowachee are just a few of the writers who have started to explore possible futures, experiment with generic conventions, expand the boundaries of "acceptable" literature produced by the subjects of colonial processes. In the Focus of this issue of ABR, a number of these writers have come together to comment on each other's work.

Not really "a number of," more "a few," of these writers make it into the ToC, as you can see above. Unfortunately, Mehan uses the rest of the space in his essay to talk about the very works and reviewers covered in the issue, rather than about, for instance, "the boundaries of 'acceptable' literature produced by the subjects of colonial processes." Which is our loss, since many of us are eager to read more on a sparsley addressed subject. In any case, do check out the issue, if you can.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Tiptree Jury

This just in:

Nisi Shawl says: "I am a 2011 Tiptree Award juror.  Lynne Thomas is the jury panel chair.  Karen Meisner, James Nicoll, and Tansy Rayner Roberts are my other co-jurors.  Nominate winners at"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The delicious "Duchess of Newcastle"

Back in 2006, Aqueduct Press published Absolute Uncertainty, a collection of short fiction by Lucy Sussex, as volume 12 in the Conversation Pieces series. The opening story, "The Duchess of Newcastle," which Locus characterized as "a delicious original," is now available as a podcast from Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction. You can listen to it here, or download it from iTunes.

Also? You can still purchase Absolute Uncertainty here, from Aqueduct Press.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Red and Wild on the road!

Pan Morigan and I have hit the road with my new novel, Redwood and Wildfire and her new CD, Wild Blue!
Or really, we took to the skies on a jumbo jet to do the old fashioned, bring-it-to-the-people, live-artist-thing!
We flew down to the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) last week…a glorious conference in Orlando, Florida home of the MOUSE with great people, great conversations, meaty panels, and moving readings.
ICFA’s focus this year was the fantastic ridiculous. I was guest scholar, receiving a lifetime achievement award for my scholarly writing on SF&F. My guest scholar talk for a lively crowd of four hundred academics, writers, graduate students, fans, and critics was on satire. I used playwright Tess Onwueme and the collective performative power of Igbo women in pre-colonial Nigeria as a frame to discuss District Nine. Pre-colonial Igbo women “sat on men” if they were greedy, foolish, or a danger to the community. With the grand style of griot praise singers, the women sang and danced, hounding men with parodies day and night if they refused to listen to reason. This was “women’s war” or ogu ndem in Igbo. The paper will be published next year in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
The other guests of honor at ICFA were Connie Willis and Terry Bisson. We three were a fierce, funny crew, clowns dancing with danger, crossing the line, sharing vulnerable humanity—definitely not absurdists despairing about the meaningless of pathetic human existence. We did a panel together on the ridiculous. Andie Duncan moderated. He brought a wind-up stuffed raccoon who played jazz harmonica—just to keep us on our toes. Connie declared that we (human beings) were all imperfect “fools” and comedy allows us to appreciate our flawed human nature. I agreed. Comic writers offer up sacred fools, who trip and stumble through life, but get up again, thrilled to be alive, thrilled to make the meaning we desire, thrilled to share the stumbling and the meaning with others.
Besides panels and papers, ICFA offered many inspiring readings—Nisi Shawl read from her Belgian Congo steampunk novel-in-progress and stunned us by riffing on history that might have been. Eileen Gunn had us laughing and groaning at Twitter sex. Terry Bisson had meat on the brain! Nalo Hopkinson’s characters were dressing their spirits and tight rope walking on the gender divide.
Pan and I did a performance/reading of Redwood and Wildfire with songs from her Al Wild Blue. The audience went wild with applause. People were moved and ran right out and bought the book! I'm not kidding.
Orlando was a revelation. The salt water pool was divine. The palm trees swayed in gentle breezes—a perfect seventy five degrees. Ibises soared above lazy alligators. March is paradise in Florida. Massachusetts welcomed us home with a wintry mix. So, I finally get the Florida thing! The heady exchanges and intense discussions were so much easier to absorb having shed my boots and fleece jackets.
Talking to several younger women graduate student/professor/scholars from Iowa was one of the high points of the weekend. Despite (too) much evidence to the contrary, many of their students hold fast to the view that we have indeed reached the promised land! WOMEN don’t need feminism any more since they/we are all equal now! Sexism was back then, OLD HISTORY, it’s definitely not here and now. We’re all “the guys” now—someone said in support of the “we’re all equal now.” All of us being “the guys” is not progress! Maybe if we were all “the chicks,” I could get with it! This is such an old, exasperating refrain, it’s enough to drive you to screaming and cussing. Each generation, so much energy goes into fighting the same battles (or almost the same battles)! The persistence of the old regime is magical.
To quote Paul Éluard, the French surrealist poet:
“There is another world, and it is in this one.”
We need potent magic to make the invisible visible.
So what was hopeful was the young women scholars’ fierce commitment to do just that. They insist on feminism. They refuse the ideological fantasy that we’ve arrived at that promised land. These young women are forging ahead—prophetic scholars, speaking the words we need to hear, asking the questions that clear away the bullshit, chanting the future I’d like to see, and inviting everyone to make it up as we go along!
Hitting the road and hearing their voices is quite a treat.
Glad to have Redwood and Wildfire and Wild Blue to offer them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gender Imbalance in sf reviewing: the cold, hard numbers

Following the examples of VIDA, Niall Harrison does the gender balance numbers for science fiction on the Strange Horizons blog, with The SF Count. "The good news." he writes, "is that we're not more imbalanced than the mainstream venues; that bad news is that we're not really any less imbalanced, either."

Sort of makes it clear why it's a major occasion for Aqueduct Press when any of its books gets reviewed. The red and blue pie charts are absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2010 James Tiptree Jr. Award

he 2010 James Tiptree Jr. Award has been announced:

The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council is pleased to announce that the 2010 Tiptree Award is being given to Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic (Canongate, 2010).

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
impressed with its power and its grace. Tiptree juror Jessa Crispin explains that the beginning of the book “does not scream science fiction or fantasy. It starts quietly, with a meditation on the author’s aging mother, and the invisibility of the older woman…. But things shift wholly in the second act, with a surreal little tale of three old ladies, newly moneyed, who check into an Eastern European health spa. There’s another revolution in the third act, where what looks like a scholarly examination of the Russian fairy tale hag erupts into a rallying cry for mistreated and invisible women everywhere.”

Crispin notes that the fairy tale figure Baba Yaga is the witch, the hag, the inappropriate wild woman, the marginalized and the despised. She represents inappropriateness, wilderness, and confusion. “She’s appropriate material for Ugresic, who was forced into exile from Croatia for her political beliefs. The jurors feel Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a splendid representation of this type of woman, so cut out of today’s culture.”


The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list for the rest of the year. This year’s Honor List is:

The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum (Orbit 2010) — noted for a deliciously complicated plot that challenges 21st century Earth attitudes toward transfolk. One juror noted that this book came closest among the honor list to meeting her Tiptree ideal by including a character that not only embodies a challenge to prescribed roles, but also creates a crack in or addition to the structure that carries forward to future generations.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit 2010) — set in a matriarchal society where the privilege and expectations between the sexes are reversed, while the gender roles are different but recognizable (and believable).

“Diana Comet and the Disappearing Lover” by Sandra McDonald (published as “Diana Comet,” Strange Horizons, March 2 & March 9, 2009) — a (true) love story, in which the author does something simple but radical with the identity issues at play.
“Drag Queen Astronaut” by Sandra McDonald (Crossed Genres issue 24, November 2010) — a wonderful exploration (and ultimately an affirmation) of a gender presentation that tends to be ignored or ridiculed.

The Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct Press 2009) — an academic look at the history of early feminism in science fiction, science fiction criticism, and fandom that provides a valuable documentation of our beginnings

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW 2010) —A strong female lead character breaks out of restrictive gender roles to change her life, perhaps changing history as a result. A well-written perspective on prejudice and discrimination and the lessons needed to overcome their bonds on our identities and imaginations.

Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring (DAW 2009) — an unusual perspective in a main character —a feminized man who makes much of his living as an escort/high-class sex worker who sees ghosts when he is not expecting — or expected — to be able to do so. An excellent read.

The Colony by Jillian Weise (Soft Skull Press 2010) — Takes on the idea that pervades our culture that women have to be perfect in order to have sex with men. One juror notes: “I’ve never read a book that made a woman with one leg so sexually normal.” Smart and well written with subtle gender politics.

In addition to the honor list, this year’s jury also compiled the following long list of other works they found worthy of attention:

* Beth Bernobich, Passion Play (Tor 2010)
* Stevie Carroll, “The Monitors” (Echoes of Possibilities, edited by Aleksandr Volnov, Noble Romance Publishing 2010)
* Roxane Gay, “Things I Know About Fairy Tales” (Necessary Fiction, May 13, 2009)
* Frances Hardinge, Gullstruck Island (MacMillan 2009)
* Julia Holmes, Meeks (Small Beer Press 2010)
* Malinda Lo, Ash (Little, Brown 2009)
* Alissa Nutting, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (Starcherone Books 2010)
* Helen Oyeyemi, White Is for Witching (Doubleday 2009)
* Rachel Swirsky, “Eros, Philia, Agape” (, March 3, 2009)

This year’s jurors were Penny Hill (chair), Euan Bear, Jessa Crispin, Alice Sola Kim, and Lawrence Schimel.

An Interview with Suzy McKee Charnas

I'm pleased to reprint here Paige Clifton-Steele's interview with Suzy McKee Charnas, which appears in the current issue of the Aqueduct Gazette.

 An Interview with Suzy McKee Charnas
by Paige Clifton-Steele

Suzy McKee Charnas’ Dorothea Dreams, first published in 1987, which is as intricate and ethical a work as her better-known Holdfast Trilogy, has been brought back to print under Aqueduct’s new Heirloom imprint. Set against the backdrop of invisibilized urban struggles over race and inequality and the isolated drama of Land Art, Dorothea Dreams is a drama that links people of many peripheries—people at the edges of populated space and the edges of public American consciousness—together in a graceful ghost story. Aqueduct goes into depth with Suzy about her writing, her characters, and her art. 

Aqueduct: Dorothea Dreams takes for its narrators two women whose position in society is precarious, counterposing the different kinds of exclusion and the different degrees to which the women (Dorothea the white elder and Bianca the Latina child) have the power to choose that position, and binds them by the common thread of male violence. What else connects these two characters, if anything?

Suzy: Ambition, however repressed or disguised; a degree of self-chosen invisibility; quick wits and flexibility in the face of exigency; strong willfulness; daring and intelligence. And probably a lot of other things that aren’t that clear to me.

Aqueduct: Dorothea Dreams takes up ideas of possession and escape to transform them into concepts that increasingly resemble one another. Dorothea herself is a woman artist whose life is possessed by the towering figures of the literal ghost who haunts her and her obsessive desert artwork. Both have a hold on her that she escapes by the end of the book, and yet both “escapes” are partial. There can be no total severance of Dorothea and her art, Dorothea and her ghost.

Suzy: Well, she escapes from the art because Roberto’s damage of it releases her—perfection is no longer possible, acceptance of the imperfect occurs, and with acceptance comes forward motion, instead of the stasis of the perfect.

As for the ghost, Dorothea takes it into and makes it part of herself—again, acceptance, not of the course of action urged on her by the ghost but of the fact that she has been that person in that situation making that choice, but that she is now a more advanced version of that person, making instead a braver choice, to mix in with chaotic and dangerous events instead of avoiding them, and take her chances with the consequences.

Aqueduct: Likewise, the character of Bianca cannot escape from the neighborhood she comes from. It’s striking that Bianca’s escape from her neighborhood becomes an intrusion on Dorothea’s escape from the New York art world, and that these events happen against the background of a history of shifting borders in the American West. Is “escape” a total fantasy in a world in which every piece of land is someone’s neighborhood, or can it be recast as a new way of negotiating neighborhood? Is our very idea of “escape” a politically charged one?

Suzy: The physical frontier in this country did in fact represent possibilities of escape from class boundaries and, often, lifelong poverty for both Spanish and Caucasian settlers, but usually at the expense of others (the Indians, imported slaves from Africa or exploited labor from China and Ireland). Add the fact that for many settlers of the west the constantly moving frontier provided a literal escape from established systems on the eastern coast, and you have a wildly fractionated and heavily charged palimpsest of “escape” facts, metaphors, and, of course, frustrations (“wherever you go, there you are”).

Aqueduct: Carolyn Ives Gilman, in Narrative Power, draws out some of the dangers of the tropes of novelistic narrative—its emphasis on the personal over the communal, the simple over the complex, conflict over consensus-building. In its very structure, Dorothea Dreams seems to argue (or at least entertain the possibility) that it’s possible to have it all: that the human interest story and the current events story can coexist. Can you talk about your attitude to storytelling? Is there any friction between the integrity of the characters you create and their suitability to illustrate the conflicts and connections that they do? Or is the unity of the political and the personal a perfect one in the storytelling? If the focus on a few characters necessarily reduces a giant story, how do you as author ensure an illuminating rather than reductive simplification?

Suzy: Look, you don’t ensure anything in this enterprise. People tend to look at finished work and read into it a great deal more pre-planning and control than actually existed in the process of envisioning and then executing. For me as an author, at any rate, I may choose a character to “stand” for an element of the story (Roberto as angry teenaged male belonging to a particular group of people with a long history and a particular vulnerability to exploitation by a stronger, richer group). But once he opens his mouth and speaks, Roberto comes to life for me. He doesn’t “take over,” as some authors will say of characters whom they wish to exalt in the eyes of others, but every word that he speaks (and dialog goes onto the page as dictation) asserts a kind of autonomy for him as he develops his own inner life.

This is true for all the characters who move beyond spear-carrier status to that of principal or comprimario part in the opera that develops from their interplay. I provide a rough framework within which they write their story. Sometimes I see something irresistible, and I reach in and tweak things to go a certain way, on the road to what I am beginning to discern as an appropriate ending for this story (or at least a stopping place). If the characters go along with it, if they fall in with the new pattern without resistance, that’s the way we go. If they drop dead on the page, I regroup and find another way, maybe to the same conclusion, maybe not.

Once they’ve spoken and made choices for themselves, they acquire an internal consistency of their own that stands, for them, in the place that what we think of as “integrity” or “coherence” stands for a real human being. The author who tries to force that integrity into a pre-determined pattern or direction risks killing a story dead. 

Characters develop their own personalities and politics. As an author, you mess with them at your peril.

Aqueduct: Where does this internal consistency come from? 

Suzy: I think it comes from the wisdom that the author’s unconscious has gathered from living in the world. Without that, it’s plastic toy soldiers and of no real interest to me as either writer or reader.

I write to discover what I know/think/feel about some things: my characters teach me this. My job is to accept what they open to me, and explore and develop it by making room for the characters to be what they are.

Aqueduct: One of the novel’s particular strengths seems to be its insistence on the reality of unseen connections, such as between Revolutionary France and (then) contemporary US, or between communities made disparate by gulfs of space and wealth. The ghost story at the heart of the book makes, at some level, these connections concrete and present to the intuition. What else would be lost if this book were not a ghost story? What is gained by its being one?

Suzy: Part of what would be lost is simply my own understanding of the way the world works and how history exists and persists. I take a very long view, both backward and forward (one of my best courses in college was in geology: let that stuff in, and your mind is blown permanently into dimensions of time that the dominant American culture in particular is terrified of and rejects, which I take to be one reason that my work isn’t of “best-seller” quality).

A ghost story, in the sense that you see it in Dorothea, is actually a story of the persistent influences of the past, and of our attitudes toward and relationships to the fact that there has been a past and will be a future in which we ourselves will become part of the past. There is also, in my mind, a powerful connection between the influences of the past and the arts of the present, because I am of the opinion that we do in fact reincarnate many times, and in some lifetimes we draw on our past experiences to deepen and enrich the art that we bring to the present. 

Without the ghost, that deep past full of anxious echoes wouldn’t exist to ground the story in the larger flow of time that I believe we all inhabit, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

I also believe that our connections to the past, both personal and cultural, are vital and full of power. Without the ghost in this story, Dorothea would be adrift, as so many modern people are (or feel) adrift and unattached, careening toward unimaginable futures without direction or any feeling of agency.

Without the ghost to react to and against, Dorothea would not fully understand the power and depth of her choices in the present.

Aqueduct: Ghosts traditionally appear as reminders of tragedy not properly resolved—while resolution is the function of the memorial. Dorothea Dreams grapples with tragedy: whether it is tragedies we as a society choose not to memorialize (the encroachment into communities of color) or those we choose to memorialize, whose enormity resists our understanding (the French Revolutionary slaughterbench), we have traffic with ghosts, perhaps, because there are some tragedies that we cannot make memorial for. Can you talk about the function of memory and tragedy in your book? How is the ghost related to Dorothea’s art? How is Dorothea’s art related to the/her past?

Suzy: The ghost brings with him a small, frightened perception of one of the great tragedies (and adventures) of history: the Revolution in France of 1789 and the decades of reaction that followed that series of events. He tried to withhold himself from the great flood of emotions and events that those decades embodied in Europe. He withdrew, and circumscribed himself, making himself small and frightened, and a ready tool of administrative control.

Dorothea has also withdrawn, trying to find her own artistic authenticity as opposed to her commercial identity.

Her contact with the chaotic energy of the Cantu family and its circumstances opens a window for her to make a different choice, and she does: she rejects the ghost’s self-protective contraction into self and system, and chooses instead to openly defend the exploited and to give her creativity up to the world to enjoy and learn from—to expand back into and re-engage with the world, both through concrete action to protect the Cantu kids from the wrath of the law and through opening her artwork to the gaze of the art world. 

What she remembers is that once, in another life, she made the opposite choice. That is what the ghost brings: that awareness.

What she chooses is to honor memory, and then move on, into new, riskier, more challenging territory.

Aqueduct: There’s an interesting moment near the end where Dorothea’s daughter accuses her of an essentially maternal weakness. (“Today, she suggested point blank that I see in Roberto something of my younger son in his more wayward, draft-dodging days.”) How do you see the significance of Dorothea’s role as a mother, especially with regard to death and sentimentality as her old friend and lover advances toward death? Does it speak to any generational split between women that you were seeing at the time?

Suzy: There was and is a generational divide among women about what a woman is and should be, and Dorothea has recoiled from this so far, devoting herself to something she’s seen as gender-neutral—her art. Her daughter, an active feminist of the time, has challenged Dorothea to go beyond this minimal position, to claim her rightful place as someone who challenges masculine power simply by being the powerful creative person she is.

Dorothea, strengthened by taking action in the matter of the Cantus, steps up to the plate, and can now move forward into her daughter’s more activist world of feminist resistance. Time, of course, has altered this dynamic drastically. In our debased and deeply reactionary present, Dorothea’s daughter’s children, should she have them, would be showing their female autonomy by fellating their male schoolmates in the hallways in order to be “popular” among their peers and putting up YouTube clips of themselves in poses and activities perfectly appropriate to the Playboy “bunnies” of the past as a way of demonstrating how ”free” they are. 

And, as a matter of course, objecting strenuously to the term “feminist” to describe themselves. 

It should be understood, by now, that what we do, we do for ourselves and our own peers; our female posterity will do “their own thing,” and it’s very likely to be their grandmothers’ “thing” and a direct repudiation of all that we hoped and fought for, for them.

Aqueduct: Ricky Maulders, Dorothea’s dying friend, is something of a reverse Orpheus. He steps briefly away from his own death in order to retrieve Dorothea from a life lived in the artificial absence of death that her privileged seclusion has become. Is he successful?

Suzy: I think probably yes. The power of death and dying is great, and I think we underestimate it out of fear. Ricky brings the world to Dorothea in a different way than Robert and Blanca bring it, but because he doesn’t reject the inevitability of his own impending death what he brings is very effective. There is nothing in this world that can’t be turned to positive effect, if the will to do this is strong enough. He brings her his courage, and she finds the strength in herself to recognize her own and begin to use it. Love doesn’t just give: it also accepts gifts.

Aqueduct: What is the relationship of the land to the politics of the book? What draws you to the desert New Mexico setting?

Suzy: The land is the place where the politics plays itself out, but when the politics are done and gone, the land will still be here and will recreate itself as a functioning part of the ecology of the future. We make the land part of our politics, but this is only a dream of the feverish human consciousness, a fantasy of dramatic meaning.

For me, the power of the setting is its age, its endurance through past time and into future time, and its impassive presence upon which we perform our ridiculous little dances of pride and possessiveness. I love the evident age of this landscape, with no luxuriant green disguise: just the bones of the planet, right out in the open, scoured and devoured by wind and water. 

It puts us in our place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Remember Barbara Bush's rationale, at the start of the Iraq War, for suppressing news and photos of dead service members? Opposition to thinking about harsh realities has always been with us, but there's more institutional enforcement of it than there used to be.

Via Nick, an article about the increasing strictures imposed by corporate publishing:
Peck’s argument is that editing has been corrupted by the new commercial mandates of publishing – or, at least, is more prone to a precautionary principle that dictates that if there are any reasons why a reader might not like something in a book, say an unsympathetic character, then there is a case for demanding the author get rid of [it].
One promising novelist's work is rejected by an editor insisting that "No one wants to read about a child dying."

Via Balloon Juice, a much scarier story about how a protectionist approach to people's thoughts can be used: "Iowa Woman Jailed for Thinking about an Abortion." "The nurse then summoned a doctor, who questioned her further about her thoughts on ending the pregnancy. Next thing Taylor knew, she was being arrested . . . ". The linked article discusses a couple of similar attacks on pregnant women's freedom, including a Florida woman who was forcibly hospitalized upon questioning her obstetrician's judgment.

Keep your beautiful mind pure.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lambda Literary Awards finalists

I thought y'all would be interested in the SF/Fantasy/Horror finalists for this year's Lambda Awards:


Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, by Sandra McDonald  Lethe Press [Review]
Disturbed by Her Song, by Tanith Lee  Lethe Press [Interview]
Flowers of Edo, by Nene Adams  Black Car Publishing
Wilde Stories 2010: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, edited by Steve Berman Lethe Press
Wolfsbane Winter, by Jane Fletcher  Bold Strokes Books

Also of interest is one of the finalists in the Lesbian Debut Fiction category:
Alcestis, by Katharine Beutner  Soho Press [Review]

Reading the linked review made me want to read the book.

Links for a Friday

--Anent the New York Times's coverage of the gang rape in Cleveland, Texas, which a couple of us posted about a few days ago, an update is in order. Not only did the New York Times article blame the victim, but it also excluded race issues from its report. In her post at Colorlines, The Gang Rape of a Latina 6th Grader, and a Horrific Community Response, Akiba Solomon does a superb job of discussing the rape, community reaction to it, and reactions to the reactions to the reactions-- without ignoring race issues. (Link thanks to Suzie at Echidne of the Snakes, who also posts at length on the complications of the situation omitted from the Times' article.)

--A bill sponsored by the Republicans, expected to pass easily in the US House of Representatives, will instruct the IRS to police how abortions are paid for:
To ensure that taxpayers complied with the law, IRS agents would have to investigate whether certain terminated pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. And one tax expert says that the measure could even lead to questions on tax forms: Have you had an abortion? Did you keep your receipt?

In testimony to a House taxation subcommittee on Wednesday, Thomas Barthold, the chief of staff of the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee, confirmed that one consequence of the Republicans' "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would be to turn IRS agents into abortion cops—that is, during an audit, they'd have to detemine, from evidence provided by the taxpayer, whether any tax benefit had been inappropriately used to pay for an abortion.


[D]uring Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) highlighted the IRS enforcement issue, which has until now flown under the radar. He asked:

Would a woman have to certify that the Health Savings Account funds she spent on birth control pills or for a doctor's visit weren't used to pay for an abortion? If a woman were audited, would IRS agents be at her house demanding court documents or affidavits proving that her pregnancy was the result of rape or incest?

Barthold replied that the taxpayer would have to prove that she had complied with all applicable abortion laws. Under standard audit procedure, a woman would have to provide evidence to corroborate facts about abortions, rapes, and cases of incest, says Marcus Owens, an accountant and former longtime IRS official. If a taxpayer received a deduction or tax credit for abortion costs related to a case of rape or incest, or because her life was endangered, then "on audit [she] would have to demonstrate or prove, ideally by contemporaneous written documentation, that it was incest, or rape, or [her] life was in danger," Owens says. "It would be fairly intrusive for the woman."

Not everyone has "contemporaneous written documentation" that a pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. And, as Owens notes, adults sometimes pay for abortions for their children. If H.R. 3 becomes law, parents could face IRS questions about whether they spent pre-tax money from health savings accounts on abortions for their kids. "It would seem there would have to be a question about that [in an audit] and maybe even a question on the tax return," Owens says.

Read the whole Huffington Post article here (including several updates).

--Justin Snider's interview of Finland's Minister of Education, Henna Virkunnen, appears in the Huffington Post as Keys to Finnish Educational Success: Intensive Teacher-Training, Union Collaboration. In Finland, see, people want to be teachers, but only "the top students are offered the chance to become teachers." The interview explores why that is, and offers some sense of why Finland's educational system is so successful. It makes me want to cry, as I consider how privatization is destroying what is left of the US's existing educational system. I figure I may as well be reading about a fictional utopia. (And god, how I'd like to rub a few governors' noses in it.)

--Chris Rohman reviews Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire for the Valley Advocate. A snippet:
Hairston's work, on stage and page alike, insistently searches for signs that humans can overcome their divisions and oppressions, both external and self-inflicted. This book's geographical, emotional and spiritual journeys, spanning the early years of the 20th century, are odysseys of self-discovery and healing from wounds of the body and soul. The novel mirrors the eclectic, cross-cultural composition of the Chrysalis company and Hairston's own background—a multiracial poet-playwright-actor-musician-scholar who draws nourishment from diverse traditions.

--At Val Grimm's Portal, Jaymee Goh reviews Gwyneth Jones's The Universe of Things. The lengthy reviews begins thus:

The Universe of Things is a difficult anthology to review, since it is populated by some very difficult writing, and I don’t mean the language is hard to understand. By this, I mean that the stories are very challenging, and not straightforward at all. Gwyneth Jones’ writing is unsettling, which can be interpreted as a sign of her skill as a writer.

--And finally, don't forget to get a good look at tomorrow's "supermoon" (weather permitting). The moon will be both full and closer to the Earth than it has been for 18 years. This is from

In a statement released Friday, noted NASA scientist Jim Garvin explains the mechanics behind the moon's phases and the causes of the supermoon. Garvin is the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"'Supermoon' is a situation when the moon is slightly closer to Earth in its orbit than on average, and this effect is most noticeable when it occurs at the same time as a full moon," Garvin wrote in the NASA statement. "So, the moon may seem bigger although the difference in its distance from Earth is only a few percent at such times." [Photos: Our Changing Moon]

The full moon of March will occur next Saturday on March 19, when the moon will be about 221,567 miles (356,577 kilometers) away from Earth. The average distance between the Earth and the moon is about 238.000 miles (382.900 km).

"It is called a supermoon because this is a very noticeable alignment that at first glance would seem to have an effect," Garvin explained. "The 'super' in supermoon is really just the appearance of being closer, but unless we were measuring the Earth-Moon distance by laser rangefinders (as we do to track the LRO [Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter] spacecraft in low lunar orbit and to watch the Earth-Moon distance over years), there is really no difference."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wanted: professional sock puppets

Speaking of social media: Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain's Revealed: US Spy Operation That Manipulates Social Media appears in today's Guardian. Here's the deal:
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with the US Central Command (Centcom) to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities at once.

The contract stipulates each persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 controllers must be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet.

Centcom's contract requires the provision of one "virtual private server" in the United States and eight appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world. It calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability".

Once developed the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with a host of co-ordinated blogposts, tweets, retweets, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command.

Will sock puppeteering replace phone sales as the new job for the desperate? A science fiction writer would like to know.

At any rate, please do read this piece and then Phoebe Connolly's How Social Media Is Science Fiction. I'd be very interested to hear what you'all think.

A lot of interesting mistakes

Phoebe Connolly's "How Social Media Is Science Fiction" reports on a recent panel discussion, conducted by Annalee Newitz, which included such sf luminaries as Maureen F. McHugh, Bruce Sterling, Charlie Anders. After noting that Matt Thompson posts "a spectrum that starts with collective intelligence, goes through social media and ends with AI," Connolly writes that Maureen McHugh interestingly
reminded the crowd of Robert Heinlein's definition of three levels of science fiction -- at the first level, we're inventors in the basement, at the second level we extrapolate an infrastructure and at the third level, we're positing changes in people's behaviors as a result of this changed world.

McHugh said we're well into the second level of abstraction in how we think about social media, but we're not yet into the third. Consider multitasking -- in general, we're still bad at it, as an MIT study recently demonstrated. "And we're freaked out. But Socrates was freaked out about literacy!" McHugh noted, and the result of literacy was a written record of history. The benefits we're going to gain from offloading part of our social interaction onto the net remain to be seen.
The discussion also talked about the apparently paradoxical shift away from allowing individuals to adopt multiple identities and keeping their Real Life identity private.
It's not just the conversation that we struggle to control online, it's our very avatars. "Part of being social animals is we construct identities," said [Matt] Thompson. Increasingly, our online avatars demand that our identities merge into one--we are asked to log-on to services using an existing Twitter or Facebook account, we're discouraged from interacting anonymously, be it on Craigslist or a discussion forum. This is a change from the fears about ourselves that we expressed in science fiction of say, the 1960s. Doris Lessing, to pick one example, took up this fear in The Golden Notebook. The novel's protagonist, Anna Wulf struggles with possessing multiple social identities.
Connolly's report ends with: "McHugh captured it best: "I think we're making a lot of interesting mistakes." You can read the entire geeky report here.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Is the news getting you down? Then what you need is this podcast, in which Doug Lain engages Andrea Hairston in discussing performance art, literary and film criticism, shamans, histories of what might have been, the background for writing Redwood and Wildfire, and much, much more.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Rape-Friendly Reporting"

(As Catherine Crockett has observed, the linked conversations contain "triggery as hell" descriptions).

Supplementing Timmi's account below: here's a Mother Jones column that was an early heads-up on the article; here's a Liz Henry post with some ideas about how to support the girl; here's a piece at The Rumpus that unpacks the topic of rape culture [ETA: Ambling reader Matt Cheney contributes to the discussion and offers more links].

Mean, nasty narrative politics

On February 25, 2011, the New York Times published an editorial titled The War on Women, warning readers that Republicans in Congress are waging a harsh, legislative war against women and urging President Obama to oppose their agenda. Two days ago, on International Women's Day, the same newspaper, which many people consider the most responsible daily newspaper in the US, published an article, Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town, depicting the gang-rape of an eleven year-old-girl by 18 young men and teenaged boys. The gang-rape was exposed by the circulation of a "lurid cellphone video" at the victim's middle school. (Just think about that.) The article's chief concern was not the crime, however, but the question of how the child's "alleged" rapists "could have been drawn into such an act" and how having participated in a gang-rape will be harmful to the perpetrators:
“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

The article goes on to characterize the eleven-year old as dressing "older than her age" and asking "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking"-- implying that the girl and her mother are to blame for bringing harm to the suspects who were somehow "drawn in" to committing the assault. "The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next," the article asserts. It ends with a quote from Stacey Gatlin, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Independent School District: "“I really wish that this could end in a better light.”

Could someone explain to me why a newspaper that prides itself on being the model of professional journalism was unable to do better than this? What the hell does "dressing older than her age" have to do with a terrible, prolonged assault against an eleven year-old? This is an old, indeed ancient narrative that should have been retired to the misogyny farm a long, long time ago. The New York Times clearly think this old, viciously misogynistic narrative has great explanatory power for its readers, or it wouldn't have provided such hearsay "information" (in an article that is fairly sparse with information).

The irony of publishing such an article on International Women's Day and not long after warning that the GOP is waging war against women is bitter indeed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Aqueductista News

--Vandana Singh has joined the ranks of Strange Horizons columnists. She is debuting this week with Diffractions: Soil, Water, and Pure Air.

--Alan DeNiro writes about Kristin Livdahl's A Brood of Foxes on his blog, and Gwenda Bond affirms his opinion on her blog:
One of the best things I've read lately is Kristin Livdahl's novella from Aqueduct Press's Conversation Pieces series, A Brood of Foxes. Her husband Alan may be biased, but I agree with everything he has to say in his post about it: "There are a lot of gestures in the fantasy field lately toward having an imaginary world mimic contemporary concerns–but in A Brood of Foxes, the shape of the narrative changes to reflect the very human cost of these concerns. There are no quick fixes or any lame “journey of the hero(ine)” knock-offs while paying lip service to some kind of transgressive ideal. No boss battles!" It is gorgeous and strange and lives up to the series' title.
-- Fred Cleaver reviews 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin for the Denver Post. He concludes:
Some of the tributes provide insights into the great writers paying tribute, such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Nancy Kress. It's a book of personal messages for someone I only know through her writing, but it's a joy to read these tributes from those who also know her as a friend and teacher.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New E-books from Aqueduct Press

I'm in Sunnyvale this weekend, for Potlatch, but Tom's still in Seattle and today uploaded new e-book editions to Aqueduct's site. I'm very pleased to announce that among these is a masterpiece from the 1990s, Gwyneth Jones's Aleutian Trilogy:

White Queen

  Winner of the 1991 James Tiptree Jr. Award
  Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee
As White Queen opens, mysterious humanoids arrive on Earth in 2038; apparently telepathic hermaphrodites, they are called Aleutians. The relationship between aliens and humans becomes a metaphor for the relationship between men and women. Johnny Guglioli, exiled as a "petrovirus" victim from the United States, befriends journalist Braemar Wilson and the "woman" Clavel. From Clavel's behaviors, they deduce the insidious invasion, but cannot unriddle what the aliens want. Are they superbeings, candidly offering assistance to a world shaken up by geological and political catastrophes?

North Wind

  BSFA nominee
  Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee
In North Wind, set a hundred years later, the story continues, featuring a quest by both aliens and humans to find the last flowering of human technology. Bella, a crippled Aleutian, and "her" human caretaker, Sydney Carton, share an unusual relationship in a world riven by gender war. Men want to violently eradicate the Aleutians and human collaborators, while the women desire a return to power through a more nurturing society. The aleutian' proposal to level the Himalayas generates violent anti-alien sentiment. While sheltering Bella, Sydney seeks the instantaneous travel device that the legendary Johnnay Guglioli used to reach the Aleutian's starship.

Phoenix Café

Phoenix Café concludes the tale of the Aleutian invasion in a hip, dark, violent novel. Another hundred years on, the Aleutians prepare to leave both Earth and a humanity transformed in strange and sometimes unpleasant ways by two hundred years of alien exploitation. The Aleutians have the space drive. But what has humanity gained or lost, and who will pick up the pieces? This is a novel of politics, economics, sexual identity, and the fate of humanity.

We've added several other new e-book editions to our list, as well: Nicola Griffith's With Her Body, Andrea Hairston's Carl Brandon Parallax Award-winning Mindscape, Gwyneth Jones's The Universe of Things, and L. Timmel Duchamp's The Red Rose Rages (Bleeding).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Feed Your Brain!

Just had to pass this on: is having a "Foucault sale." Yes, you heard me. When I saw that, I peered suspiciously at the screen, wondering if I'd had too much wine with dinner. I had to investigate, of course. So here's the deal:  Powells is selling, for a limited time, eleven titles by Foucault at a 30% discount. (For a list of the titles, go here.) Interestingly, they've put at the top of their Foucault sale page a large apple chewed nearly to its core, along with the invitation to "Feed Your Brain."

It's a charming idea. Perhaps next they ought to have a Simone de Beauvoir sale. Or a Virginia Woolf sale. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The lifespan of "groovy" was, you know, exceedingly short

Just a few minutes ago hail was hurtling down out of the sky and bouncing all over the place. I heard it first, and then when I looked out the window, I heard my grandmother's voice in my head, saying "Look at that! It's hailing fit to beat the band!"-- at the moment I realized it was hail, not rain pummeling every surface in sight. And then it occurred to me that although I know what the expression "fit to beat the band" means, I don't have a clue where it came from. It's just one of those mysterious idioms people use. Other expressions from that generation my grandparents frequently used was "a hill of beans, "living daylights," and "all the tea in China." (I'm sure more will come to me, if I think longer about it.) A lot of these expressions are still with us, since certain idioms and piece of slang continue to appeal to succeeding generations. (Like "cool," for instance.)

Which then led me to think about the inverse, and how irritated I felt just a few days ago, reading a scene in a novel (published in 2010) depicting someone using the expression "Duh" (in its current, not its former, sense) in 1973. I can assure you, no one said "duh" in 1973. The author probably had not yet been born in 1973. And I could easily believe the book's editors hadn't been, either. Come to think of it, "Life on Mars" (both the British and the US series) were loaded with similar kinds of anachronisms. (But of course the makers of both of those shows could cover themselves by noting that they weren't depicting life in 1973 New York or London, only dreams or fantasies about it, and even claim, if they wanted to, that anachronisms were deliberate.)   

Yikes! I'm supposed to be working, not daydreaming about the mysteries of slang.