Thursday, June 30, 2011

At Sycamore Hill 2011

I'm in North Carolina this week, attending the Sycamore Hill Writers Conference, in the mountains at the Wildacres retreat. We are only eleven this year, which means I'm not having to wake up at six (or earlier!) every morning to get my critiques prepared in time. Internet access is thinner than the last time I attended (in 2009), so I'm feeling a bit more out of touch than in previous years. But that's fine. As with writing retreats, isolation only contributes to the intensity and tightness of focus on our shared professional, technical interests.

Veronica Schanoes is again my roommate this year. She works mostly in the classroom, while I mostly work the small desk in our room. Last night while I was working in our room she came in to refill her fountain pen, which prompted me to remark, since I was in the middle of writing a critique of a story set in 1943, of how there was a reason the character used only pencil and fountain pen to write, which prompted Veronica to recall her mother talking about how wonderful the invention of the ballpoint pen was, and in turn sent me into a reverie about when in school I was required to acquire a fountain pen and learn to use it, wells in our desks in grade school for holding ink bottles, and the importance of buying washable ink because accidents were inevitable. I promise you, I didn't feel in the least nostalgic.

We had extreme, wild thunderstorms on Tuesday. Looking out the windows in our classroom building at around 3:30, I watched hailstones bouncing down the stairs down to our building. I was sure, given the volume of rain that pounded us, that the ground would be soggy and covered with puddles the following day. No such thing. All of the water was easily absorbed. (And of course the air was as humid as it had been before the storm.)

We left the retreat compound last night to go out for dinner. (Meals here are more about talking than anything: the less attention one pays to the food, the better. I will only say there's a good reason we have a budget for the "snack food" that we munch in the classroom.)  More later, with more pictures. But I have to dash now, to finish preparing the next critique.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Feminist tv

Thanks to the F-Word, I've just discovered a wonderful feminist site offering a range of videos-- some of them videos of discussions, videos about women artists, videos of lectures, and of course, vids as well. The site is, and describes itself as
"Connecting Feminist Content and Communities."

Pre-release special for Never at Home by L. Timmel Duchamp

Though I launched it at WisCon, the official release date of my new collection, Never at Home, is August 1. This collection includes stories previously published in the acclaimed Paraspheres and Bending the Landscape anthology series and in Asimov’s SF, as well as one hundred pages of previously unpublished work, all of them emotionally intense explorations of the difficulties of belonging:

"Explanations Are Clear"
"The Tears of Niobe"
"The Nones of Quintilis, Somewhere on the Southwest Slope of Monte Albano"
"A Question of Grammar"
"The World and Alice"
"Sadness Ineffable, Desire Ineluctable"
And I Must Baffle at the Hint"

All of these are pretty intense (and chewy) stories, except for the last one, which may be one of the most frivolous stories I've ever written. (Well, after "Lord Enoch's Revels," which has got to be the most frivolous (though not, I suppose, exactly light-hearted) story I've ever written.)

I've been getting some positive feedback from people who bought the book at WisCon. Here are the blurbs:

"L. Timmel Duchamp sees the world from an angle inclined at about 25 degrees to the rest of us.  Her stories make you feel odd, as if the ground shifted in mid-step and your foot has come down somewhere you weren’t expecting.  In this collection she explores in many ways the theme of belonging.  They are some of her best stories: unfailingly original, emotionally intense, and suffused with intelligence.  I am in awe of this book."-- Carolyn Ives Gilman, author of Halfway Human

"L. Timmel Duchamp has become a major voice as an editor, publisher, and critic.  Her new collection NEVER AT HOME confirms her importance as a writer as well.  The stories within are strange and heady, original and surprising.  In them, the Duchamp heroine often finds herself pulled into some fascinating new world.  The Duchamp reader is in the same position, though much happier to be there.   Highly recommended."-- Karen Joy Fowler, author of What I Didn't See and Other Stories

"L. Timmel Duchamp's stories are intense, tricky, heartfelt, and most of all, interesting; they take on big themes in a clear way, but also at the same time swirl with complications, moments of poetry, life itself."-- Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars trilogy

“A new collection from L. Timmel Duchamp is cause for celebration. Duchamp’s short fiction is compassionate, sharp-eyed, intelligent, and often ingeniously structured. These stories take us places we haven’t been before. Never at Home once again showcases a unique, essential voice.”-- Jeff VanderMeer, author of Finch

Until August 1, you can purchase Never at Home for $15 here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Aqueductista News

--Eleanor Arnason's novella "The Mammoths of the Great Plains" is a finalist for both the Sturgeon and the Sidewise awards.

--Temporary Culture has announced the forthcoming publication of Wendy Walker's My Man & Other Critical Fictions, in October 2011.

--The Irish Times has an article by Danny O'Brien on Liz Henry's internet detective work, which revealed that two supposed lesbian bloggers (one of them, as everyone by now already knows, posing as a Syrian named Amina) as sock-puppets. According to O'Brien, neither of the hoaxsters knew the other was also a fraud, and actually flirted with each other online. O'Brien notes that Liz's knack for detecting internet frauds is, rather than being cynical, "to pay more attention to what these fictional constructs were saying, not less." In short, "If “Amina” had been listened to more carefully, as a human rather than just an exciting story; if her readers were listening to others in the region, and able to compare those experiences, the gaps in her story would have become more readily apparent far more quickly." (Link thanks to Josh Lukin)

--The Blue and White has published a speech Chan Davis made at Kansas State University on 28 April 2011. (This link is also thanks to Josh Lukin.) His speech discusses Malthusian issues:

I am not conceding that the authorities are sometimes wrong, I am insisting and reemphasizing that the authorities are sometimes wrong. This is not a reservation to my message; it is a part of my message. Where you think a specific detail in a forecast is doubtful, pick away at it and see what you can learn. The forecast consists of the details.

But please, please, do not use the uncertainties as an excuse for looking away from the future. This is the world we’re talking about, the real world. The denialists would have you pretend we can not wrestle with the world’s dilemma, but they do not have any other world than this. Do not kid yourselves.

The forecast is that the world will not produce enough food for seven billion people, and that the world population will be nine billion by 2050. So billions of people will live without food? I do not believe it. Or everyone will go on a very local diet? That will not work so well either. Seems the predictions do not jibe!

We hear these incompatible predictions every day, from the wise heads and politicians. How come most of them do not point out the incompatibility? Why are they shy about drawing conclusions from the contradiction? I sympathize with them. If politicians were frank about it, it would sound as if they thought that people need to be got rid of, and that is not going to be welcome to their constituents.

Some prophets of doom like Garrett Hardin do indeed say that shortages are inevitable. Garrett Hardin calls on the haves to harden their hearts (a pun on his name, maybe?) and refuse to share with the have-nots. He would let those who are without food go ever hungrier until they are no longer able to disturb us with their wails. I am asking you to face reality, but not to harden your hearts. I am more on the side of the Passover invocation, “Let all those who are hungry come and eat.” Maybe the doom-criers will class me with the soft-hearted. All right, let them. Soft-hearted? I can live with that.

But I refuse to close my eyes to our plight. You remember forty years ago a study of the world economy by Dennis Meadows and his team argued that the limits to growth would be reached in about forty years. The standard joke is that if you tell a politician to act because the end is coming in forty years, he will put you off and tell you to come back in thirty-nine years. I’m saying that in 2011– the time is up. We can not survive without food, and there is not enough food, there is not going to be enough food.

The population will decrease.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 2011 Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards

The 2011 Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards were announced last weekend in Stockholm:

Long Form Winner
A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin (Small Beer Press). Original publication in French (1976­-2005).

Long Form Honorable Mention
The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive Press). Original publication in Czech as Zlatý Věk (2001).

Short Form Winner
“Elegy for a Young Elk”, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi (Subterranean Online, Spring 2010). Original publication in Finnish (Portti, 2007).
Special Award

Short Form Honorable Mention
“Wagtail”, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho (Usva International 2010, ed. Anne Leinonen). Original publication in Finnish as “Västäräkki” (Usva (The Mist), 2008).

Special Award
In addition to the standard awards, the Board of ARESFFT presented a special award to British author and translator Brian Stableford in recognition of the excellence of his translation work.

Each winning author and translator will receives a cash prize of US$350 (As both author and translator Mr. Rajaniemi gets $700).

Mr. Gauvin and M. Châteaureynaud were unable to be in Stockholm, but both sent words of thanks:

Edward Gauvin: “My deepest thanks to all the readers and editors who believed in these stories along the way, especially the folks at Small Beer. To Susan Harris and Paul and Sylviane Underwood. To Georges-Olivier, for writing them, and for his encouragement and support. And to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards, who have honored us with this inaugural edition of a prize with a terrific future ahead of it.”

Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud: “Many thanks to my mother, to Small Beer Press, and to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards. Sometimes, it is as much in an insightful review as in a translation — in this case, in a language I’ve a few glimmers of, having studied English at the Sorbonne — that one has the feeling of having been understood. I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit in Edward Gauvin, miraculously capable of comprehending and conveying what I’ve tried to express in these tales.”

Hannu Rajaniemi was present to accept the award. We will get some words from him soon, but he’s being interviewed by Charles Stross on stage right now.

The jury's comments on the winners can be found here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

More Andrea Hairston!

Two new things to check out:

Rick Kleffel reviews Redwood and Wildfire.

And Jen Gunnels serves up an hour-and-a-half talk with Andrea in the June issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction (which arrived in my mailbox this afternoon). This is the most extensive interview of Andrea that I've seen, full of fascinating stuff, including the little tidbit about how Andrea
got into Harvard Law School, and I told them thy weren't giving me enough money. I'm not going. Thinking, okay, that will work. They wrote back and said, okay, we'll give you more money. Then I decided I didn't really want to be a lawyer--I had even sent them a play as an example of my writing. Obviously, I wanted to do something else.

So, I worked for a year as a math textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin using the skills I had. That was a very bizarre experience. It was 1974, and while I was there, I started a theater company...

Another bit that I especially loved is this part:

You know, my mother's project, I think, were her two children, and she did us really well. I don't have children, but I really want to be able to be in the world the way I learned from my family, and she encouraged that. She used to take us to the museum and to the theater. She didn't have a lot of money, but she wanted us to have this raw view to encourage everything. You couldn't just read the encyclopedia. My brother used to read the encyclopedia, and he kind of memorized it. He could tell you about everything he had read. My mother said that's no good unless you go outside and see if what was written in the book is actually correct, or true, or you agree with it. I remember her talking to him and watching. He was completely stunned. I thought he knew everything, because he was my big brother. So we would have to go and check on everything that he had read in the encyclopedia. He became a newspaper editor so you can see where that came from.

If you don't subscribe, do try to get hold of a copy. The interview is well worth the trouble of doing so.

ETA Mind you, though, the interviewer never mentions Andrea's novels or that she's a professor at Smith, which I found a bit odd. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"This Secret War"

At Slant Magazine, Mirian Bale interviews B. Ruby Rich on Lynn Herman Leeson's new film, !Women Art Revolution (link thanks to the Mumpsimus). In her introduction, she writes:
In Lynn Hershman Leeson's !Women Art Revolution, stalwart feminist film critic B. Ruby Rich says, "A lot of us who survived those fights, bloodied but relatively unscarred, are kind of like the old CIA and KGB agents that get together for reunions. Who else knows what we've been fighting over? Who else is interested in these issues that have really been consigned to a sort of historic scrap pile that people really don't seem that interested in anymore?" The subject of that hit documentary is its subtitle, A Secret History. At the opening of the film in NYC, I had a chance to speak with Rich so that she could unearth that buried past even further and explain why understanding that moment is particularly relevant now.

Here's a snippet, giving a sense of the scene of the early-mid 1970s:

BRR: ...there was a spirit of what I would call the post-war movement in American culture, after Vietnam and before all of the Reagan wars that then followed. That was a moment when the United States was the most demilitarized that it has probably ever been, and there was a kind of flourishing of culture. So there was an intoxication. And I think the fact that there was a women's movement empowered women in all of these different zones. Some women crossed over, you could say through the journals, Chrysalis on the West Coast and Heresies on the East Coast. And people were writing about feminist film, people were writing about women's art, and it was assumed to be implicitly feminist because, in order to make it, they were coming up against these very masculinist codes and structures and traditions within those worlds of film and of art. For example, in the early 1970s, the first women's film festivals were mounted, and even there, there was a split between the women cinephiles, we were excited that there had ever been women directors in the world, and going into archives and making international connections and discoveries….

MB: So the early women's film festivals were less contemporary and more historic?

BRR: Yeah. For me, one of the ways that I came into that kind of feminist scene was being part of collective in Chicago in the early '70s that organized a women's film festival. And Laura Mulvey was part of that because her then husband Peter Woolen was teaching in Chicago. She was a faculty wife, she hadn't yet written anything. This was 1972/1973, and she had written one article on an artist called Alan Jones and she was beginning work on her famous "Visual Pleasure" piece, but she hadn't written it yet! And she was in Chicago, and she and I were working on this film festival together. And that's when she told me about this new young woman filmmaker we should try to find named Chantal Akerman. She also knew that Yvonne Rainer had just started making films. And this was very exciting—this was brand new information because there were so few women filmmakers. When you say, "it wasn't contemporary," it could not have been contemporary because there weren't enough women making films. And the women that were still around, who we invited, were mostly older women who had fought like hell to make their films and who are now mostly not remembered.

And this, particularly, interests me:

BRR: ...people used to talk then about what a woman's aesthetic or a feminist aesthetic could be if women could make film and videos. And they never foresaw films made by women being distributed in movie theaters like they are now, like Lynn's film is now, or someone like Miranda July. This was a one-time event at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and it was phenomenal. For years afterwards I met women who said it changed their lives: women who had left their marriages, women who had decided to go back to school, women who changed their profession. It had a profound effect at that moment on a certain generation of women in Chicago. In a way that nothing could have that effect now, because there are so many choices in options and traditions and sensibilities.

MB: There's a lot of power in imagination, in that act of imagining what could be. So, jumping forward, now that we're past that moment, do you see same kind of energy being focused somewhere, or even being capable of being harnessed like that? Because even though there is a Miranda July and other films made by women, there's still a long way to go.

BRR: There is a very long way to go. I think it's hard now, because even though many spaces have been opened up, and it seems to a lot of people as if it's a level playing field, the numbers indicate that it obviously is not. You just have to go around to galleries and museums and film festivals and see what the numbers are. You see that it's not as changed as people would think.

And I think a lot of the problem is that there isn't a movement, we're assumed to be in what's considered a post-movement moment. Just as people talk about being in a post-race moment, which also isn't true, this isn't true. I think that what's difficult is that—once again—it comes down to the individual. And women feel that they succeed on their own, and that it's their own fault if they don't succeed. And that's a terrible situation—and that's the old situation.

MB: So we're sort of right back where we were?

BRR: Right back, in terms of attitude. Not right back in terms of options. I think there are, in fact, a lot more options, but not to the extent of any kind of equity. And the drawback is that it's very, very hard if not impossible for women to make common cause. If you look at the media, they always talk about the difference between this generation and that generation. Yet, when I talk to young women it doesn't seem that way. I think that there's a greater recognition of differences than a commonality.

MB: It's been remarkable to see at the opening night of this film at IFC, in the audience, a collection of various women artists and filmmakers who were all part of this movement in different ways, and they all seem to know each other! Even though they're working in different disciplines. And you have a really interesting quote in this film about how when women who were part of this movement get together it's like a meeting of the…

BRR: Oh, like the KGB and the CIA?

MB: Right. That who else is going to know about this secret war that's been fought. Do you find that that's true here, at these screenings?

BRR: Oh yeah, sure. I find that true even when I go to film festivals, with critics who had different points of view, with different filmmakers. At least we know who each other are. There's a certain history that's kept alive by that.

Slant Magazine also has a review of the film by Laren Wissot, here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Aqueductista News

--Rick Kleffel, at The Agony Column, hosts a podcast with Andrea Hairston talking about Redwood and Wildfire.

another podcast at The Agony Column, Terry Bisson moderates a panel discussion with Andrea Hairston, Pan Morigan, and Howard V. Hendrix held on May 9, 2011 in San Francisco.

--Matt Cheney reviews Gwyneth Jones's The Universe of Things for the Summer 2011 issue of Rain Taxi (print only). It begins:
The Universe of Things collects fifteen short stories published between 1985 and 2009, and one of the most remarkable qualities of the colelction is the consistency of Gwyneth Jones's style over that time. With only a few exceptions, the stories, regardless of their point of view, are narrated in an objective, almost affectless tone, the sort of tone that attracts such adjectives as cold, hard, clear, emotionless.

The stories are not emotionless, though; readers' connections to them will depend very much on how well they respond to Jones's style, but the characters often face emotionally wrought situations. In "Grandmother's Footsteps," a woman perceives the house she is renovating to be haunted and a threat to herself and her family. It is a tale of ghosts and madness and maybe something in between, a cousin to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and James Tiptree Jr.s "Your Faces O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light"-- but different from those masterpieces because the narrator's perception of the madness-haunting is restrained, almost reasonable, more like a scientist weighing observations than a person in the midst of deeply disturbing phenomena.

Which may, of course, be part of the point: Life is shell shocking.

Faren Miller reviews Andrea Hairston's Redwood and Wildfire for the June 2011 issue of Locus (print only). Her review concludes:

Hairston gives us an intimate view of lives at the nadir, and takes her time crafting an escape to the North and to a city (Chicago) which proves to be no paradise, since even with the best intentions errant humanity can find new ways to fall.

But the book ultimately breaks free from the conventions of social tragedy and the limits of history to immerse its characters in a rich stew of early 20th-century entertainments (Vaudeville! travelling circuses!), where Americans work alongside exotic immigrants, and humdrum existence can suddenly become surreal. There's room here for humor as well as patter, stage magic and true wonders, sex, sensuality and love, invention and revelations-- all driven by the spirit of raw potential that marked urban American in changing times, and the astounding resilience of the human heart.

Storyteller Linda Goodman reviews Anne Sheldon's The Bone Spindle for Tales from the Tapestry. She concludes:

The bone spindle is an instrument capable of bringing both danger and comfort. This is a book that should be kept by your bedside, for those nights when sleep will not come; when you need assurance that even in the darkest hours, beauty can eclipse the pain.
The June 2011 issue of Locus puts the spotlight on Rachel Swirsky, with four Qs & As

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Alchemists of Kush

Sweating miles on the elliptical, I started reading Minister Faust’s The Alchemists of Kush with my IPod pumping Xavier Naidoo’s Alles Kann Besser Werden—Everything Can Get Better. I read the whole novel that way. It is quite a visionary mix of righteous, hip hop-inflected, speculative adventure. Apocalyptic devastation is already upon us—don’t need to wait for the future to bring us that. In The Alchemists of Kush, Minister Faust weaves together the stories of two Sudanese boys, "separated by seven thousand years and connected by immortal truth." After their fathers are murdered in brutal civil war, the two boys struggle toward adulthood in exile, refugees from their own spirits. Minister Faust defines adulthood/manhood as the Brothers working through devastation and stepping up to turn us all into Gold. In a break-open-your-mind plot, his “hip hop” is power to the people rhyme, coming in the nick of time, offering a way out of no way. Old school and new school, talking in every tongue, Minister Faust writes a fight the empire/define your humanity/dance your spirit/conjure your world/ hip hop epic. All that and a laugh out loud page turner too!

I enjoyed Minister Faust’s first book, The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor-Pad. The humor in his second book, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, missed my funny bone. But The Alchemists of Kush makes me want to gush. In the currently small community of speculative writers of color, a scary question comes up: can we afford to say the truth about one another? In The Alchemists of Kush, Minister Faust risks telling stories that threaten the empire-builders, that encourage us all to become agents of action. Such a novel demands a truthful response. I’ve been thinking we need prayers for right now. Advertizing jingles and gangsta rhymes split our souls, jangle our spirits a thousand times a day. Minister Faust is a technician of the scared, getting the geometry, the dance of our humanity into his words. Buy The Alchemists of Kush for yourself and a friend. Read it and then give it away. Give it away a lot.

If the book hits the Kindle Top 100 on launch day--June 15, 2011, Minister Faust will donate the first $500 of sales to the South Sudan Development Foundation's efforts to ship thousands of books (including the 300 he donated) to the Dr. John Garang Memorial University in South Sudan, which currently has no library.

Friday, June 10, 2011

WisCon Panel 106: The Future's Here, It's Just Not Evenly Distributed

By Nancy Jane Moore

Unlike Josh, I cannot participate in a panel and take good notes about it, so this will not be a detailed post. But our discussion of the uneven distribution of the future went to some interesting places and included a great deal of thoughtful audience participation.

The other panelists were Lisa Freitag, Katherine Mankiller, and Neil Rest. Our appointed moderator was not able to come to WisCon, which I discovered a few hours before the panel, so, being your classic responsible middle-aged woman, I jumped in and took charge to make sure we had some structure.

The program book described the panel as follows:
Many SF books presuppose dramatic technologically-led transformation for the human race. But even in a high-tech society, not everyone can or will adopt technology at the same rate. Will developing countries leapfrog the industrialized world and go right to the newer technologies, as several countries did with cell phones? What will happen to the late adopters when the singularity comes?
As worded, the subject looked to be confined to a discussion of high tech, and in making a fast outline of possible discussion topics, I came up with thoughts about the growing gap between those who know how to write programs and apps, and those who only know how to use them, as well as some thoughts on other aspects of the future besides technology that look very unequal (health care, access to water, and so forth).

Almost from the beginning, the general consensus of both the panel and the audience was that when it comes to high tech, the future isn't all that unevenly distributed. Both Neil and Katherine, who have experience in computer tech, contended that as more items are developed and prices drop, usable tech is becoming more and more widely available worldwide. And it isn't just use of high tech that's expanding; the ability to create for it -- to program, to write apps, to design new tech more functional for various places -- is also becoming more available worldwide.

The audience -- which included many people who knew a lot about the subject -- agreed. In general, we concluded that access to technology was not a large problem and was likely to resolve itself.

But -- and it's a big but -- that doesn't mean the future in general will be evenly distributed. Technology can't solve all problems, Lisa said. (She actually said this in a sharper manner, but alas, I wasn't taking notes and don't have her quote.) She's a doctor, and very aware of the unequal distribution of health care.

It's great if you have an app for your phone that tells you where you can find clean water, but what if the nearest source of clean water is hundreds of miles away? Sure, we can develop tech gadgets that help with food production, but they can't fix the problems caused by too much or too little rain. And even if we can use the latest tech to figure out appropriate distribution patterns for food and medicine, companies driven by a profit-centered bottom line aren't going to ship them to places where people can't pay for them.

As one audience member pointed out, social media has been very useful for the people who live in the Marshall Islands, who have used it to alert the rest of the world that rising oceans are going to take their homes. But while technology makes their plight more visible, it can't stop the ocean level from rising.

We veered into medical tourism: Rich Americans going for treatments they can't get at home; poorer Americans going for treatments they can't afford at home because they are cheaper in places like India or Mexico or Thailand; both sets of people using resources that are then not available to the people who live in those countries. We talked a lot about the water problem and the food problem. We discussed infrastructure problems -- another area where the rich are insulated from the struggles of everyone else.

And we concluded that even if everyone has access to a smartphone, the future is still going to be unevenly distributed.

We didn't get to the singularity -- we were too interested in the very real inequalities that aren't fixed by high tech.

This particular panel was marked by a very high level of audience participation -- I'd estimate that 75-80 percent of the audience had something to contribute. Everyone's participation was thoughtful and well-presented -- nobody talked just to hear themselves. I think the high level of audience participation made this a particularly good event and one of the high points of WisCon for me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The WisConChronicles, Vol. 5: now available!

I'm happy to report that Aqueduct Press is now selling The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity, edited by Nisi Shawl, through its website. This volume, which focuses on WisCon 34, was in such great demand that we ran out of these at WisCon. Here's a brief summary of its contents:

Racial Identity and Writing
A Dozen Writers and Thinkers Reflect – Six-part Series edited by Eileen Gunn

WisCon GoH Speeches by
Mary Anne Mohanraj & Nnedi Okorafor

Speeches and Excerpts from Tiptree Award Winners
Greer Gilman & Fumi Yoshinaga (acceptance speech by Mari Kotani)

Essays by
Maurice Broaddus, Tanya C. DePass, Amal El-Mohtar, Jaymee Goh, MJ Hardman, Jane Irwin, Nancy Jane Moore, Kate Nepveu, Vandana Singh, & Heidi Waterhouse and Jess Adams

Short Fiction & Poetry by
Terry Bisson, Jane Irwin, Amal El-Mohtar

Panel Transcripts & Notes
Neesha Meminger and Ibi Zoboi, Zola Mumford, Maria Velazquez, & LaShawn M. Wanak

Nisi begins her introduction thus: "Some time in January of 2011 I wrote to a friend: 'I feel like I am floating in an alternate universe of silver goggles and artificial wombs and look there's Emily Dickinson smoking a cigar.' I was deep inside the process of editing The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity, surrounded by all those elements and more-- a delightful place."

Nisi also writes this in her introduction: "I'll offer you only one superlative: M.J. Hardman's minim opus, "The Russ Categories," has got to be the hardest-won essay in this book. For years MJ has taught a course on applying the lessons of  Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing to the accomplishments of other suppressed groups. With colleague Anita Taylor she has been making of it an interactive online learning experience. I asked her to contribute a condensed version. Right before her deadline she had what's technically known as a"bilateral pulmonary embolic shower." Hundreds of blood clots formed in her lungs. One is enough to kill a person. MJ apologized from her hospital bed for missing her deadline. A few weeks later, when still a "shut-in" tied to an oxygen tank, she submitted her essay. It is provocative, sweeping, humorous, magnificent. It may well be the book's heart."

Interested? You can purchase the book here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Conceptualising Feminist Sf (in response to Timmi's post on Sunday 5th June

Greetings, Aqueducters. This is in response to Timmi's concerns about my contribution to the Woman's Hour item called "Is the sf genre still predominately male?" I said I wished I had used a male pseudonym for my overtly feminist sf, and though it would never have happened, I meant what I said. It is far, far safer for a significant male writer to express feminist views (cf China Mieville, avowed and respected feminist; Geoff Ryman, avowed and respected feminist). And books by a significant male writer expressing feminist views would reach a much, much wider public. I wish I could have managed that trick for White Queen, North Wind, and Phoenix Café. Of course, I’d have had to resign myself to having no public life as a card-carrying feminist in the genre community, but as sf people may have noticed, I don’t mind staying out of the public gaze.

Thereafter, I could have written the Bold As Love books as Gwyneth Jones, and been well under the woeful-extremism detecting radar. Spirit, in its real world form, would have been a problem, because of the use I made of the Aleutian Trilogy. I think “Hey, I had a cool idea! I’m using the same universe as the secretive author of those feminist books!” might have been the downfall of my masquerade. But of course, in the imaginary world where I wrote the Aleutian books using a pseudonym, I wouldn’t have referenced them... Mary Gentle, long ago, coined the idea (maybe other people have expressed the same position, I don’t know) that she was a feminist writing science fiction, rather than a writer of feminist science fiction. This is what I think about everything I’ve written since Life. Which was and is, as I have always maintained, my farewell to the investigative, active work of feminist science fiction. I haven’t stopped being a feminist, I haven’t stopped writing like a feminist, but the Battle of the Sexes is no longer my exclusive topic.

And it’s a shame if all sf books that feature a few female characters, having female lifes, are labelled feminist, & therefore marked as unreadable by large swathes of the general sf reading public. I have been worried about being part of that effect.

I'm in an awkward position in relation to the debate about the parlous state of "female sf writers" in the UK (where the situation really is bad, by the way. According to Torque Control, which I take to be reliable, only Trisha Sullivan and Justina Robson currently have mainstream publishing contracts). The trouble is, I believe that the “problem” the fans are are worrying over is largely of their own making. We get what we celebrate, says Dean Kamon (inventor and science populariser). I don't know much about the man, but that sounds right. UKSF fandom has not celebrated female writers. Sf’s highly active fanbase says “it’s the publishers” but I don’t believe that. I’m sure genre publishers and editors have an agenda, and they probably favour traditional male-ordered sf, but they’re not fanatics. They follow the money. If the sf community had been getting excited about women writers, if sf novels by women had been anticipated, talked about, discussed, on an enthusiastic scale, the wider sf reading public would have taken notice, the publishers would have been seeing interesting sales figures and they’d have reacted positively.

It hasn’t happened. Back in 1990 I wrote an article saying it hasn’t happened. Women in sf are nowhere near achieving the wide recognition we might have hoped for, given the quality of our work. Twenty years on, things are worse, not better.

Last week I talked to the Guardian podcast too. I’d been uncomfortable with some of the things Farah was saying on Woman’s Hour, but felt I just couldn’t contradict her. So I knew I was tripping around in a minefield: I had a prepared statement ready... which they might edit as they thought fit, but at least I’d know I tried. Nice Guardian lady wasn’t having any, she wanted my spontaneous responses, off the cuff. My cuff doesn’t respond very well to that approach.

That was pretty useless, I thought, as I put the phone down. Hopefully they’ll spike it and go ask someone else. But at least I didn’t collude in a cover-up.

I'm afraid this is far too long, sorry everybody. I promise I won't do it again.

Monday, June 6, 2011

WisCon 35 Panel 102: The Self-Reflective Revolutionary

Just as with Panel 65, I wish I had a more thorough account than I do; and, just as with Panel 65, I was not as unhappy with it as B.C. Holmes, which I again fear might mean I set the bar too low. I think B.C. is right about a lot, including her implication that the voice of one of the panelists tended on a couple of occasions to dominate and others weren't sure how to frame disagreements with her. It seemed to me that two of the panelists, Paul Bietila and myself, were kind of tentative on accounta we'd never been on a con panel before; and that another, Timmi Duchamp, was not at the top of her game 'cause she hadn't slept the previous night and had just thrown a lot of energy into moderating the "What Democracy Looks Like" panel. And the room was really dimly lit. The moderator came prepared to approach the topic from various angles; indeed, all of us had prepared, with some lively email discussion in the ten days before the con; nonetheless, as B.C. notes, there were a number of long pauses and thematic jumps where one might have hoped ideas would be pursued more thoroughly. Nu, here's what I remember and can reconstruct.

Moderator Ian K. Hagemann introduced the topic. He explained that he is a revolutionary because it will take a revolution to create a world that works for everyone. He's seen stuff that he regards as political work being dismissed as "personal," including the work he does on redefining masculinity. And he's been struck by biographies of revolutionaries that show people being criticized because of some areas where they're not sufficiently self-reflective. R. Elena Tabchnick said that without inner work, outer work is actually destructive. Paul Bietila said that the perils he faces as an educator include both complicity with the oppressive demands of the educational institution and the temptation to set oneself up as The Expert conveying The Truth to students. L. Timmel Duchamp said, "All my life I've had a problem with authority" and, citing her Marqu'ssan Cycle, said that self-reflection is necessary for her characters to avoid doing terrible things. You can't just decide not to think about it when your partner has joined a death squad: the consequences will come back to haunt you. And reacting is not the same as reflecting— we may think that reactive decisions based on the progressive values we formed long ago guarantee that we'll do the right thing, and they don't. I acknowledged Paul's concern about bringing a didactic approach to teaching or a philosophy that alienates the students, but expressed concern that when I taught unreflectively, I fell into the opposite trap, becoming a liberal in the sense of someone too open-minded to take his own side in an argument, or taking the Jon Stewart both-sides-are-too-strident position, or just ventriloquizing the dominant discourse when I could have argued for the perspective I believe without being intolerant or inflexible.

Elena talked about being a Benedictine monk and listening, in accord with that order's Rule. The order's promises include Obedience, which is etymologically connected to listening. And you try to figure out how to deal with the most damaging and scary Other who is going to come into your personal space. How do you see the torturer who is breaking your leg as a fellow human? How do you receive that person as yourself and as your greatest beloved? And you learn that the scariest person is yourself. And you go through terror, grief, and anguish–fortunately, monasticism is a practice: you don't have to be good at it–you use your relationships and your service to others as a practice for the mirror, and you remember Ananda's caution to the Buddha. HH the Dalai Lama is an ordinary man who has to deal with his anger at the Chinese every day. And thank God it's a process, 'cause you keep falling down. But a sense of unity among everybody is a real possibility. The Sufis say "The vessel breaks and all is one." You acknowledge your fear and pain, and the sum of the calm of the whole is increased. Especially when you're out there doing the work of helping.

Sue, in the audience, was critical of the religious basis of this perspective, arguing that Christianity, with its concept of Original Sin, promoted the counterproductive practice of continually flagellating oneself. Elena, unhappy with that characterization of religion, said she was sorry Sue had been wounded in that way and that she herself didn't believe in sin: to be a positive growing thing takes a lot of introspection, with honesty but also with love, which you need to avoid that self-punitive approach.

Ian raised the issue of flawed revolutionaries: King, Malcolm, Gandhi. How do you balance your evaluations of how people live in the world? In thinking about the revolutionary leaders one might be attempting to emulate and in dealings with oneself. I said a lot of what bothered me in the discussion of revolutionaries' lives was the way some people used their flaws as a basis for being dismissive of them—the "How can people admire Pete Seeger after the way he treated his family?" perspective, which I think is constricting [A few hours later, I had a conversation with Dan Dexter, in which he pointed out that Gandhi posed the biggest dilemma: MLK was not going around advocating philandering as part of the freedom movement, but Gandhi saw his treatment of his family as part of his revolutionary praxis]. Paul said we can't just rely on individual leaders. And people get upset not so much about leaders' failings as about hypocrisy.

An audience member asked, isn't the goal of revolution to have the freedom to cultivate the inner self? The Arab Spring used community as a force for revolution—don't the inner reflections come afterward? Another pointed out that indeed the Arab revolutions were not about leaders. Timmi said that the "leadership" thing may not be the right model and indeed may militate in favor of Thatcherite individualism. Elena pointed out that leadership was not the right model for the Civil Rights Movement either: the canonization of Dr. King was very much a post-hoc mischaracterization of a collective achievement. Ian noted that another black revolutionary had specifically pointed that out, saying "You put Martin Luther King alone in Selma, you get a very different story." I appealed to Timmi for help reconstructing the Russ line about models, peers, and a context; she couldn't remember it [some sujet qui sait you turned out to be, Duchamp!]; I suggested that it might offer a way, using the concept of "models" for us to address the achievements of the past without falling into the belief that we need leaders.

Ian asked, what is a revolution? Timmi said it is itself a process; Ian said that it's a state-change in experienced reality that was not predictable on the "before" side; I said that I didn't know what a revolution was, but you could tell that there'd been one because there was a change in the thinkable. The Reagan Revolution has created a situation in which there's unlimited money for killing foreigners and none for helping our country's people: even disaster relief is beyond some people's ability to comprehend—vide people asking "Why did they blame Bush for a hurricane?" On a happier side, we're in a place with gay liberation that was unthinkable forty years ago. Paul said that some kinds of revolution—look at working people being able to take over the government, the means of production—did create an opening-up space for people being able to think differently. "I never thought I'd be inspired to take action in Wisconsin by people in the Middle East!"

Returning to the issue of hypocritical icons, Ian, channeling Oscar Wilde, said hypocrisy was a bit of a red herring: avowing standards that you end up flouting beats being completely amoral. But how do I know what I'm doing right? I'd want to do a praxis test. Elena said history offers us a lot of those: we need to look at what level of change has occurred and what level of self-investigation accompanied it, and we'd see that reflectiveness was a sine qua non of effective change. Carolyn, a historian in the audience, said that she thought the people who actually brought about revolutions were very egotistical. Are we asking about how to negotiate that fact with the self-doubt and self-reflection that keeps us from falling into traps? I agreed that sometimes you need a Chomskyan ego to keep up the fight. An audience member said, Listen to others. I offered a thought on how listening to others is inevitable, and how realizing that can help us understand "peers" in that Joanna Russ formulation: I opened my Chandler Davis book and read a passage from Gramsci: "[W]e must conceive of individual man as a series of active relationships, a process, in which his individuality is not the only element to be considered, though it is of the greatest importance… [We may address the centrality of the individual’s self-consciousness] provided that the individual is always conceived not as isolated, but one full of the possibilities offered to him by other men and by nature." Another audience member said maybe the problem is not a lack of self-reflection and self-criticism but a lack of self-confidence and solidarity: arrogant revolutionaries aren't the problem—it's that we're so damn beaten down. Ian cited Nader's point that you have to have a line in the sand.

An audience member cited voudun as a religion that teaches radical agency. Elena said spiritual practices yield compassion and a need to alleviate the suffering of others. Paul pointed out that in Egypt we've seen the religious working with the secular at coalition-building. Carolyn returned to the contrast between contemplative self-examination and the requirements of revolution: it's actually the flinty and unyielding people who create the revolution. Paul said that at this stage a good revolutionary is someone who can listen to others. Timmi asked how we can characterize the revolutionaries' vision. Elena acknowledged that the thoughtful and the less thoughtful have changed political structures, but the former'd effected better outcomes. Picking up on that, an audience member asked, does the egomaniacal flinty revolutionary carry the seeds of another revolution by blocking out the spaces for other, non-charismatic individuals or modes of revolutionary change? Another spoke of how much recent revolutions, and our understanding of political change, had been helped by change in the way we get news and see the world.

An audience member quoted Margaret Mead on how a small group of committed people change the world and suggested that still happens in our time, when change has changed and communication has changed. Another said we've omitted to mention moral judgment and bad revolutions. Even with introspection, some people come up with the wrong answer. Timmi characterized that problem as being on autopilot, or succumbing to groupthink. Audience member said, but Eichmann turns out to have really thought about these things: we see him, when Himmler or one of his colleagues questions the killing of children, reflecting on it and coming up with an argument for its moral necessity. An audience member said, inchoate emotions get rationalized in something that resembles a reflective process. Ian said he's learned that anger is a response to a violation: if there's no violation, there's something else going on there. Wrapping up, Ian quoted The Revolutionist's Handbook: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

A couple of people after the panel told me that I'd taken meticulous notes, listened attentively, and made sure, when responding to others, to ask whether my paraphrase of my interlocutor's point was accurate before offering my perspective. "Panels work best when people are attentive and responsive to their co-panelists' statements" was advice I'd gotten from Ray Davis.

The Russ sentence turns out to be: "Without models, it's hard to work; without a context, difficult to evaluate; without peers, nearly impossible to speak."

ETA: King. Malcolm. Gandhi. Seeger. Chomsky. Gramsci. Gautama Buddha. HH the Dalai Lama. Shaw. Is it possible that Joanna Russ was the only female radical mentioned by name at this panel, or did someone say "Ella Baker" and I forgot?