Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stuff of Interest

--The Weird Review has not only posted a review of The Moment of Change, but also reprinted two of its poems. Reviewer Adam Mills characterizes the anthology as "a collection of works so extensive, dense, and intense that it expands the space it is placed within and makes a territory for itself."

 --The Future Fire has posted a review of Kiini Ibura Salaam's Ancient, Ancient. Reviewer Martha Hubbard writes, "Throughout the language is stunning, like music become words. I found my own mind dazzled and my imagination stretched to keep up with the flow of images. The story that spoke most strongly to me was that of ‘Marie’, a young Creole woman who has gradually become disconnected from her Louisiana home and her family identity."

 --The AALBC has also posted a review of Ancient, Ancient. Reviewer Emanuel Carpenter is a bit uncomfortable with its fantastic and science-fictional elements-- "If you haven’t been exposed to this type of writing, which can be described as African storytelling with a touch of poetic verse, erotica, science fiction and spiritual themes, then each story may indeed have you scratching your head and asking questions. Questions like: What’s up with the moths? Was that really a part snake, part human? What’s up with all the poetry?"-- even as he likes the book (and calls it a "page-turner"): "The stories in this book are sensual, unique, and thought-provoking. In fact, it’s easy to imagine many of the stories as the basis for short films instead of a book. Many of the stories that deal with issues of sexuality, desire, and even revenge (including some not mentioned in this review) will have you wishing they were expanded into a novel."

 --Sofia Samatar has reviewed Ellen Klages's In the House of the Seven Librarians for Strange Horizons. She characterizes the physical book thus: "Since the story takes place in such a library, the illustrations are more than padding: they cast a shadow of the world we know into the enchanted realm of the rather special Carnegie Library in the tale. Even with the illustrations, however, the book is small. You could put it into the envelope of a birthday card. It feels like a gift, and it would make a good one, because the story is delightful. Like other magical small spaces—the wardrobes and rabbit holes of fantastic literature—Klages's House is bigger on the inside." -

-Wired's Recovered 1927 Metropolis Film Program Goes Behind the Scenes of a Sci-Fi Masterpiece is worth checking out: "A remarkable 32-page theater program from Metropolis’ 1927 debut has surfaced at a well-known rare book shop in London, which scanned it and shared some pages with Wired. The program was created for the premiere of Metropolis at London’s Marble Arch Pavilion, and it’s packed with firsthand anecdotes from the making of the movie, and some stunning photographs. Only three surviving copies of this program are known to exist, according to the Peter Harrington rare book shop, which has its copy on sale for 2,750 pounds ($4,244). (All 32 pages are available for viewing.) The program reveals the intriguing backstory behind the German sci-fi epic, as told from the perspective of Lang, his wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou, and several members of the cast and crew."

 --New York Magazine has posted an essay by Frank Rich on the media's reaction to actor Andy Griffith's death to mourn not Griffith's passing but his role's being "one of the last links to another, simpler time" and a repository of “values which actually transcended the deep divides which tore the nation apart during the years the show aired from 1960 to 1968.” "In reality," Rich writes, "The Andy Griffith Show didn’t transcend the deep divides of its time. It merely ignored them." Rich then examines some of the narratives of American decline now flourishing, particularly the right wing's accusations against the Obama Administration and the reintroduction of the claims for American exceptionalism by Sarah Palin in 2008:
Once Obama was elected, American exceptionalism became as Palin had defined it—a proxy for the patriotism that the new president lacked. From there, it took just a rhetorical sleight-of-hand to link Obama’s deficiency of Americanism to America’s advancing decline. The conflation was consummated by Charles Krauthammer in an influential October 2009 article for The Weekly Standard titled “Decline Is a Choice: The New Liberalism and the End of American Ascendancy.” To make his case, he leaned on an Obama quote from a press conference at a NATO conference in Strasbourg, France, that spring. In response to a question from Edward Luce, a Financial Times reporter (and himself the author of a subsequent declinist tome subtitled America in the Age of Descent), the president had answered, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In Krauthammer’s view, this was proof that Obama was endorsing American decline, for “if everyone is exceptional, no one is.”
Since then it’s been pile-on time on the right, usually with that one Obama quote brandished as the smoking gun. The president is constantly being lashed for his lack of commitment to American exceptionalism, much as he was slapped around during the 2008 campaign for not at first slavishly donning a flag lapel pin. Newt Gingrich helped lead the way with a campaign book titled A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters; he explained that he is an “American exceptionalist” because he believes in “fundamentally rebuilding the America we inherited,” as opposed to Obama, who “believes in fundamentally undermining the America we inherited.” Mitt Romney’s contribution to the genre, No Apology, is one long dirge for how America has lost its greatness in the Obama era’s bankrupt “reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism.”
“On the right, the word ‘exceptional’—or ‘exceptionalism’—lately has become a litmus test” is how the columnist Kathleen Parker accurately characterized her fellow conservatives last year when chastising Obama for not obediently saying “that word ‘exceptional’ ” during his 2011 State of the Union address and instead “studiously” avoiding “the word conservatives long to hear.” The only flaw in her argument is that no American president has ever publicly referred to “American exceptionalism” in the more than eight decades since Stalin coined it—with the sole exception of Obama. According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara—a repository of all the presidents’ public words, eagerly mined by fact-checking bloggers in response to exceptionalism fetishists like Parker—George W. Bush did at least use exceptional in office, albeit twice in reference to his torpedoed Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers.
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why Obama, branded as an outlier to the “real America” by Palin in 2008, would be held to a different standard than his predecessors by a modern GOP that is almost as lily-white as Mayberry. But declinists not normally engaged in conservative partisan politics have fallen into the American-exceptionalism trap as well by buying wholeheartedly into the right’s elevation of Stalin’s coinage from near obscurity to a jingoistic buzz term. Murray writes that the country will be on the right track “only when we are talking again about why America is exceptional and why it is so important that America remain exceptional.” Friedman and Mandelbaum second the motion: American exceptionalism “has to be earned continually” and “is now in play.” Their intention may not be to join the right in tarring Obama with America’s collapse, but in this hothouse political climate that is the practical effect.
You can read the entire essay here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Panel deportment and demeanor

It occurred to me, particularly after reading Nancy Jane Moore's comment on my Post Readercon report, that for most of us, signing up for and appearing on panels usually entails only a limited amount of reflection. Would it be correct to say that the only thing most people who sign up for particular panels are sure of is that they have (or might have) something to say about the proposed topic? And that that certainty is the only criterion they have for participation? And is it also true that most people sit down in front of an audience first and foremost with the purpose of talking on that subject and with the confidence (whether warranted or not) that the audience (if not the other panelists) will be interested in hearing them speak?

Speaking to the subject of the panel is, after all, what they as panelists are there to do. But it's not really just that simple, is it. Panelists are there to engage in a collective communication-- with fellow panelists, and with the audience (even when the audience isn't speaking). When you start to think about it, it's a difficult form of communication to describe. Unless, of course, you think of each panelist as present in isolation from all the others, relating singly to the audience. But what sort of experience would that be for the audience? Three or four or five different speakers, performing intermittently, like university lecturers taking turns addressing a class of students? That's not my idea of a panel.

Presuming that's not a correct description of what a panel is, let's ask ourselves just what the appropriate description for the kind of communication that panelists should be engaging in is. Andrea Hairston, in her second comment to the post, used the word "conversation." When I'm moderating a panel, I definitely think of the discussion as a conversation-- among panelists, and between the audience and the entire panel. The character of a panel discussion is significantly different when audience participation is allowed or encouraged early in the panel rather than late. (I've moderated both kinds of panels, and both are legitimate, since verbal participation by the audience, while usually desirable, is not always necessary for creating a worthwhile experience for all.) Since Readercon panels last for only 50 minutes (as opposed to WisCon's eighty minutes), it's not surprising that quite a few panels at Readercon don't allow the audience into the conversation until very near the end (if at all). This is always fine with me, as an audience member, if the panelists have interesting things to say and are engaging in genuine conversation (rather than holding forth to the audience without bothering to engage with one another).

Did you catch that I just used the expression "holding forth"? I'm sure that just about everyone reading this post will know what I mean. The problem with seeing one's purpose on a panel as primarily that of speaking--"sharing" insights or regurgitating something recently read that relates to the subject--is that it turns panelists into lecturers. Speaking for myself, I've often found that the thinking, reading, and note-taking I've done in preparation for a panel may often have nothing to do with what the other panelists are talking about. So what does a responsible panelist do? Wait one's turn and hold forth? Many do. But that's not my idea of participating in a discussion. Even when I'm the moderator of the panel, I try to take my cue from the other panelists--and sometimes the audience-- and am prepared, when necessary, to abandon my preparation and go with the flow. (I.e., as a moderator or leader of a panel, my priority is to foster and organize as best I can an engaged discussion, a priority above that of setting an agenda for the discussion. I do, of course, start out setting an agenda, particularly when it's a panel I've proposed myself, but I'm always prepared to abandon it when I can see its either unintelligible or uninteresting to the other panelists.)

There are some problems, though, in thinking of panel discussion as conversation. A panel discussion can actually become too casual and informal, encouraging certain types of people to blather on uninhibited in ways that in a more informal setting could easily be headed off by the speaker's interlocutors. Informality can encourage a loss of consciousness that you're demanding attention from a large group of people who have no way of using the usual gambits interlocutors can use in conversations involving less than, say, six people. Informality can also contribute to panelists ignoring the cues of the moderator. Even worse, I've seen panelists actually lose it when stopped mid-flow--completely oblivious to the fact that the tangent they've gone off on may not be of interest to anyone else in the room. When there's an audience, cutting off someone whose gone on and on and on can be fraught, even if everyone else in the room is just waiting for that person to stop.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest that people ought not to agree to be on a panel unless at least one or two of the other panelists are people they're interested in hearing talk and interested in engaging with? It might well be that mere interest in and knowledgeability about the topic are not  sufficient reasons for being on a panel. (They are obviously necessary reasons.) Perhaps all of us who participate in programming need to have the sense, going into a panel, that we're interested in hearing what the other panelists (or most of the other panelists) will have to say.

I strikes me that when serving on a panel we need to start from an attitude of respect for the panelists (and audience--which is something good writers will presumably already have, since you can't really be a good writer without presuming your readers are smart and perceptive), and a desire to hear what they're going to say, and of course the hope that the other panelists will be as interested in engaging with what you have to say as you are with what they have to say.

Does that sound utopian? I don't really think it is, since I've seen the difference these attitudes can make to panels I've been on. (The Imagining Radical Democracy panel at the last WisCon was a perfect example of that. I found it an electrifying experience. And I was not alone in that.) I feel pretty confident that much of the insensitive behavior of panelists at cons is a result of a particular panelist coming into the panel with a predetermined lack of interest in what the other panelists might have to say and regarding all the time on the panel when they're not talking as wasted, boring moments to be waited out.

WisCon-- and probably many other cons as well-- offers guidelines (and even a little course) on effective moderation of panels. Everyone considers panel behavior to be obvious. I wonder. Perhaps we ought to have a primer for prospective panelists. Not just on etiquette (though that would be a start, particularly in educating the clueless about what their relationship to the moderator ought to be), but also on purpose and attitude.    

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Post Readercon

I had a full, rich Readercon experience this last weekend. The panels I participated in were all lively and interesting (particularly the panel on How To Suppress Women's Writing, which was led by Andrea Hairston and included me and Brit Mandelo [whom we drafted from the audience] as well as intense participation by an engaged audience, most of whom had already read the book). Reading from my novel in progress (working title "Deep Story") brought me reassuring feedback (viz., that a middle-aged woman lacking superpowers or stunning beauty or personality, holding a gray job and without a heroic bone in her body, is an acceptable protagonist). And best of all, I made new acquaintances and got to hang out with various friends I never can get enough of.

And yet, of course, at the same time I was enjoying the con, I was aware of problems. Genevieve Valentine writes eloquently of two types of those problems here. (At the time I read her post, there were already 264 comments, including one by Nora Jemison offering an excellent analysis supplementing Genevieve's.) The first type of problem, which is condescending insensitive behavior by a male panelist incapable of taking a woman panelist seriously merely because she's female, occurs everywhere at sf cons, of course. (Yes, it occurs at WisCon, too. It has occurred to me at WisCon. And this last WisCon it even occurred to one of the GoHs, who was moderating and had to physically struggle with a male panelist over possession of the microphone.) This situation occurs most often when panels have only one woman on them, but can (and does) occur even when panels have only one man on them. As Genevieve notes and several of the commenters to her post attest, the almost inevitable result of having only one woman on the panel is to make her point of view and representation of interests nearly inaudible. It is also, as Vernoica Schanoes, my roommate at Readercon this year, observed to me, means that she ends up carrying the burden of making Feminism 101-sorts of points where necessary, meaning, of course, that all the interesting things she might have had to say get subordinated to the burden of providing remedial education to people who should by now know better.

When on Friday morning, as an audience member, I saw a USian man on a post-colonial fantastic literature panel turn to address Vandana Singh (probably telling himself he was educating the audience though he was actually looking at her) and mansplain the difference between Britain's colonization of the US and Britain's colonization of India, I instantly wondered if it was his position as a man speaking to a woman or of a USian speaking to an Indian that made him so confident that she knew less about her own country's experiences of colonialism than he did, even though she'd already referred to India's 5000 years of history. (Don't worry. I knew, of course, that it was both.) The presumption of authority some men carry around with them apparently surges irresistibly to the surface whenever they are in the presence of "others" who aren't white and male. It's the sort of presumption Jane Austen loved to skewer in both men and women. But see, not all of those presumptuous white males who can't take female panelists seriously treat other white males that way. And that's where the sexism comes in.   
This is a subject that is not going away. It's not a fun subject, I know. But it's one in which a wider, greater consciousness of it will reduce the problem's presence at cons significantly.

Monday, July 16, 2012


In the new issue of the American Book Review (33,3 March/April 2012), Jeffrey  R. Di Leo's editorial-- "Another One Bites the Dust"-- notes the continuing closure of university presses. "Another one" refers to The University of Missouri Press, which was founded in 1958 and has published around 2000 titles in its life time. Di Leo notes that university presses "are non-profit enterprises. Though these presses may reach a level of financial self-sufficiency in their operation, they are by and large underwritten by their host university. This is part of the investment of higher education." Indeed. The work published by university presses could, collectively, be said to constitute the bones holding many academic disciplines together, both nourishing their development and providing them with their primary frames of reference. Di Leo also insists that "one of the measures of a great university is the strength of its press. Press strength is determined by its catalogue, and its catalogue by the choices of its editors and the impact of its authors."

Sadly, many university presses have been shut down, and some of those that haven't been shut down are now trying to be run as though they were for-profit businesses, with disastrous results for scholars and the academy generally. Why is the University of Missouri Press being shut down? Because the the people who determine the university's budget have chosen to eliminate the $400,000 a year subsidy that has allowed them to publish the titles the press's editors find worthy of publication. As Di Leo notes, in the same year that the press's subsidy was eliminated, the University of Missouri chose to give its football coach a $650,000 raise. I was shocked to read in Di Leo's editorial this: "Louisiana State University, another football powerhouse, slated its university press for closure in 2009." I was shocked, because I know that press continues to exist. Somehow, it survived its budget crisis. But for how long?

All I have to do is look at my own bookshelves to see how valuable, for me, university presses have been (including numerous volumes from both University of Missouri Press and Louisiana State University press). Di Leo says that "University of Missouri administrators are said to be hashing out ways to create a new and sustainable model to operate a university press." That sentence made my heart sink. I've heard terrible things from scholar after scholar about their experiences with presses that have "created a new and sustainable model" for operation. And I've noticed that many of these no longer non-profit presses often charge exorbitant prices for the books they do publish-- including e-book editions, which are often burdened with the same price (or only slightly lower) than that of the hard-cover edition, putting them out of the reach of even someone like me.

Di Leo closes by noting that after Rice University closed its press in 1996, they re-opened an all-digital press in 2006. The all-digital press cost Rice $150,000-200,000 a year. "What they found out was that there 'are base costs that are irreducible'-- 'and that printing is only one of them.'"

Since college football is so important to the world, why bother having a college at all, I wonder? I'm just waiting for state legislators to start asking themselves that. Once they do, you can be sure there will be proposals to eliminate every department except the athletics program (and maybe the business school) of the colleges and universities that were once actually supported by state funding (but are now mainly dictated to by state legislatures, regardless of how little support they actually provide). It seems only a matter of time, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I.L. Peretz and the 53%

A couple of years ago, trying to track down an old grad school classmate online, I found that he had written a dismaying manifesto about why he’d recently become a hardcore conservative. He had realized that The Left was motivated solely by a vile irrational hatred of President Bush that by 2005 had become almost irresistibly sublime. Sure, the fact that Bush’d won the presidency illegitimately and justified war with Iraq dishonestly were initially causes for concern, but he’d turned out to be a fine leader, and conversations with Iraq war veterans had persuaded my classmate that liberating the Iraqis had been worth it. But the breaking point had been the reaction of the Left to Hurricane Katrina: how, the newly conservative professor asked, could they have gone so ‘round the bend as to blame Bush for a hurricane?

I lost a lot of sleep over that. How much does one have to ignore in order to say that about Katrina? “Heckuva job,” FEMA trailers, the very existence of disaster relief, the air guitar, disaster policy in other countries and in previous years, wow. This professor’s position is well to the right of Bush’s own: Bush and his ghostwriters in Decision Points take for granted that Katrina was dealt with very badly, for all that they blame the governor of Louisiana. But I’ve heard the same “hurricanes happen” argument elsewhere, once from a guy who did not leave the Democratic Party.

In 2004, I had a little apartment in Chestnut Hill, an affluent neighborhood in the far northwest corner of Philadelphia, more Republican than the areas to its south. Lunching on the eleven-dollar bluefish special at a nice restaurant at the top of the hill, I heard loud conversation nearby. I saw a party of five or six at a round table, most of them in late middle age or older; but there was a younger guy dominating the conversation. Looking again, I saw that he was a white man with curly dark red hair and a head, wow, a head that was a dead ringer for the type that Confederate phrenologist Josiah Nott (still a hero among white supremacists) called the “Apollo Belvedere”: it was almost completely flat in the back and inclined inward as it rose, rather than being visibly convex like the skull beneath it. Nott thought this shape indicated the highest of civilized life, but if that’s so, the highest of civilized life doesn’t communicate very well. “And who is Howard Stern?” asked the older relatives. “He’s a shock jock,” said Apollo without elaboration, as if someone who hadn’t heard of Stern could know what that meant. But what Apollo and his family all agreed on was that it was disgraceful that the 9/11 commission was quizzing Condoleezza Rice as if she, or anything she knew, could suggest that the 9/11 attacks represented a failure on the Bush Administration’s part. “People keep looking for blame, or asking for explanations,” he said, “but sometimes things like that just happen.” 

Last year, in response to the Occupy-inspired tumblr “We are the 99%,” on which people describe the desperate circumstances they live in thanks to the precipitous rise in inequality in this country, conservative propagandist Eric Erickson founded a site called “We are the 53%.” The name alludes to the fact that 47% of Americans are freeloaders, too poor to owe any federal income tax. And people living under desperate circumstances sent in pictures, talking about how their lives are hard, but they don’t complain like the 99% people: they just suck it up and take pride in what they do, without any of this nonsense about blaming Wall Street, ‘cause that’s just the way things are. Here is one liberal’s attempt to rebut a 53%er, "Open Letter to that 53% Guy." Even more striking is the one described here by E.D. Kain of Forbes:

My father came to NY from Croatia in 1971, with KNOWLEDGE in his head, LOVE in his heart & the clothes on his back. 
He built up a small construction business and put me & my 4 siblings through Catholic school and college, while my mother raised us and put home-cooked meals on the table. 
Business has been steadily declining and my family (still honestly abiding by the regulations, TAXES & fees imposed by the gov’t) now lives paycheck-to-(hopefully!) paycheck. 
We found out he has thyroid cancer — had a 10-hour operation this past summer. 
He was back to work FULL-TIME (12 hrs/day, 6 days/wk) within a month, even though the doctors told him to take it easy (he works manual labor). 
The cancer still grows. 
THAT is the American dream. 
WE are the 53%.

In 1894, the great socialist Yiddish fantasist I.L. [Yud Lamed] Peretz published “Bontshe Shvayg” — the title is not quite translatable because English lacks an active verb for “to be silent” like “shvaygn”: say, “Bontshe the Silent” or “Bontshe Stayed Silent” or “Bontshe Said Nothing.” Here is a description of how two characters see it in Sarah Schulman’s second novel, Girls, Visions, and Everything.
Isabel read it then and there while Lila watched her react. It was about a guy named Bonche who never had a good moment in his whole life. People would shit all over him and he consistently took it . . . When he died, he had to be judged in the heavenly court. The defense attorney proved that no matter how much he suffered, Bonche had never cursed God . . . Bonche won the trial and could have anything he wanted in all imagination.  That was his reward. God would give him whatever he asked for.

“What I want,” said Bonche, “is, every day, a hot roll with some fresh butter.”

Then, said Peretz, the prosecutor broke out laughing . . .

“You get it Isabel?” Lila was hysterical with enthusiasm. “In the end, the prosecutor really won. Bonche was turned into such a schmuck from never tasting anger or desire or revenge that when his moment finally came, his spirit was too dead to be able to do anything . . . “

By contrast, look at what Alfred Kazin, a revered figure in literary criticism, had to say about Bontshe in 1960:  
But in his technique of ambiguity [Isaac Bashevis] Singer speaks for our generation far more usefully than the old ritualistic praise of Jewish goodness. While Bontsha and Tevye are entirely folk images, cherished symbols of a tradition, Gimpel . . . significantly has to win back his faith . . . 
Doubtless Peretz and Sholem Aleichem liked folk images, but I look in vain for “ritualistic praise of Jewish goodness” in their stories. The 1950s U.S., as I learned from Delany’s “Midcentury,” had forgotten a lot of turn-of-the century radicalism; but it still seems bizarre to me that Kazin thought Peretz was praising Bontshe’s humility. The old Yiddish writers were not running a Sunday School.  

The late Harvey Pekar seems to have thought that one of them was. In his and Paul Buhle’s 2011 Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, he argues that Peretz is overrated:   
. . . some of his stories seem based on folk tales and are excessively sentimental [true, but what does Pekar use as an example?] I refer to such pieces as “Buntcheh the Silent” . . . When he gets to Heaven . . . He is offered everything he sees. Is he greedy? No! He only wants a roll with butter for breakfast daily. There’s irony here, but it’s overwhelmed by schmaltz.  
The Peretz of Pekar’s imagination is a 53%-er: Bontshe has suffered immeasurably, been unpaid and sick and humiliated and trampled in the gutter, but he doesn’t blame Wall Street! He is happy with simple things! In fact, it is Bontshe’s own vitiated imagination that recalls the pathos of the 53%-ers; and Peretz isn’t commending that.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a presentation called “Continuities: from World War 3 Illustrated to Occupy Comics,” hosted by Seth Tobocman and featuring artists from both journals. And the Occupy Comics creators gave an impassioned talk about how we have to create new myths and offer different narratives to people in order to fight the power and attain more social justice; and I thought of how Aqueduct Press and most radical SF has that among its goals as well. And I know that Occupy did change the discourse, and millions of Americans do regard Katrina as a failure on the part of the Bush Administration, and scores of Sunday Schools actually have taught “Bontshe Shvayg” as a story of protest. But the task of offering alternative narratives sometimes seems overwhelming in the face of mindsets that see explanations as paranoid or resentful acts ‘cause sometimes things just happen, that resist the idea of causal connections between societal events, or that sees the highest virtue in slogging along and accepting Things As They Are.
How hopeful can one be when otherwise-astute writers see a celebratory or sentimental ending in a scene where the angels hang their heads in shame and the only sound in Heaven is the laughter of the Adversary? 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I'll be attending Readercon this year (which I only very occasionally do), which falls this year on July 13-15. I seem to be scheduled for a lot of programming. I did think, when I saw how much I'd been scheduled for, of dropping a panel, but I couldn't bring myself to give up any particular one, so promising do the panel descriptions sound. In fact, there's a good deal of programming this year that I'm also keen to attend. How, I'm wondering, will I get in all the conversations I'm eager to have as well as all the alluring programming?

Several other Aqueduct authors will be attending, by the way. Here's my own schedule:

Friday, 2:00 PM   G   Evaluating Political Fiction. L. Timmel Duchamp, Alexander Jablokov (leader), Robert Killheffer, Vincent McCaffrey, Anil Menon, Ruth Sternglantz. This panel examines the intersections among story as political expression, story as entertainment, and story as art and craft. When an author takes a clear political stance within a work of fiction, how does a reader's perception of that stance–and the extent to which we find it compelling or intriguing–affect our sense of whether the work is entertaining or well-crafted? Given the diversity of opinions among readers and the ways that judgments of quality are necessarily influenced by culture and personal experience, should readers aim to achieve consensus about a political work's merits and meanings, or do we need to embrace a more pluralistic understanding of how literary works are both experienced and evaluated? What are best practices for critics, academics, and other professional readers as we navigate these tricky waters?

Friday, 3:00 PM   ME   Readercon Classic Nonfiction Book Club: How to Suppress Women's Writing. Samuel R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Gwynne Garfinkle, Andrea Hairston (leader). First published in 1983, How to Suppress Women's Writing remains a touchstone for many people, the sort of book often passed from one reader to another with the words, "You have to read this!" Tansy Rayner Roberts wrote of it in 2010, "This is not an angry book. It is not a book that condemns men. It is a book that shows how our culture's traditional (patriarchal) way of reading and studying and archiving literature has forced limitations upon all of us, preventing us from understanding the importance of a huge percentage of the work written in our language. Men and women both have been convinced that women's writing (and indeed, art in general) is less valuable and less significant." How do we read Joanna Russ's work now, nearly 30 years after the book first appeared? Which of her ideas remain the most potent? Has it become, as critic Niall Harrison said in 2005, "a book that is most often referenced by its soundbites"? Do the soundbites do justice to the complexity of Russ's analysis?

Because I'll be participating in this panel, I've been doing a re-read of the book, which I've read several times since I first read it in 1983. Needless to say, I'm doing a lot of remembering of what the book meant to me at the time, as well as the difference between my first reading and this one. The most obvious difference is that my first reading was in a single sitting-- lying on the made bed in our first New Orleans' apartment on Hampson St., avid and devouring, unwilling to stop reading until I'd read the very last word. Apart from its effect on me as a writer (I was one year from starting the Marq'ssan Cycle), it rendered some of the most terrible aspects of being a graduate student in the mid-1970s from a sharp new perspective. 

Friday, 5:30 PM   NH   Reading. L. Timmel Duchamp. L. Timmel Duchamp reads from her novel in progress.

Unfortunately for my reading, Jeff VanderMeer's reading has been scheduled at the same time. Will even one person come to mine? That's how it goes, though, at multi-track cons. There are always trade-offs.

Saturday, 11:00 AM   G   Samuel R. Delany's Golden Jubilee. Matthew Cheney, Ron Drummond (leader), L. Timmel Duchamp, Elizabeth Hand, Donald G. Keller, Jo Walton. 2012 can be seen as a milestone year in the career of Samuel R. Delany: his 70th birthday; the 50th anniversary of his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor; the 35th anniversary of his classic critical work, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw; the 24th anniversary of being GOH at Readercon 2. Few writers have contributed so much over so long to all aspects of our field—science fiction, fantasy, critical theory, comics, autobiography, editing, teaching, even a documentary film. And he's still going, with a new novel out this year! This panel will celebrate Delany’s past, present, and future contributions to the field.

Saturday,  1:00 PM   G   Why Am I Telling You This (in the First Person)? Richard Bowes, Helen Collins, L. Timmel Duchamp (leader), Caitlín R. Kiernan, Kate Nepveu. In some narratives it is clear why and how a first-person narrator is telling their story (the tale is a found document, a club story, etc.); in some narratives the reasons for the telling must be deciphered (Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun) or the revelation of the reasons forms a key part of the story itself (N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). But in some cases it seems counterproductive or otherwise quite unlikely that a narrator would be telling us the secrets they want to keep hidden, their plans for world domination, etc. What do we make of this question of narrator motivation? To what extent should we read the telling as part of the tale, a chosen act of character, versus simply an extra-textual conceit required for the story to exist? Is this different for present vs. past tense? And to the extent that authors consider these questions when choosing a narrative point of view, what are some interesting examples of how they've used the fact of the telling of a story to affect how that story is read?

Hope to see some of you-all there. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New titles in e-book formats

Aqueduct Press has just released two new e-book editions: Kiini Ibura Salaam's Ancient, Ancient and The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry edited by Rose Lemberg. They can be downloaded now from Aqueduct's site, and will be available elsewhere (Wizard's Tower, Weightless Books, and  Amazon.com) shortly.