My LJ, Let Me Show You It
1. This LJ is a mirror for my main journal. I don't plan to make any LJ-only posts anymore and probably won't make many f-locked posts. So if you'd rather read my journal through your feedreader, you won't miss out on anything here.
2. My friend policy is simple: if you want to friend me, you may do so without asking. I enjoy new friends. I friend many people back, but not all. If that's cool with you, yay! If we've actually met in person or otherwise "know" each other, please introduce yourself on this post. This will help me filter you on my reading lists and also help me remember who you are when your LJ handle comes up again later.
That's all! Enjoy.
Here’s one of the great circular conundrums of our time:
We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t the default white, able-bodied cis male in speculative literature.
I, a speculative fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/ LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.
I’ve seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. They point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That’s what happens when we try!
There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don’t try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn’t get it exactly, 100% right. It’s that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.
Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren’t helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it’s hard to tackle that first issue without also addressing the second. Luckily, I have the solution.
Next summer I’m teaching at the Writing the Other workshop/retreat alongside Nisi Shawl, Cynthia Ward, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Tomorrow, registration for this workshop opens up. If you are the type of author who has been held back from addressing the issue of representation in SF by fear that you’ll get it wrong, this workshop will give you tools to help you get it right. There’s no guarantee that you will always, 100% get it right if you attend this workshop. I am confident that at the end of it you won’t be 100% ruled by fear.
Registration opens tomorrow, October 13th, at 12pm Eastern. The workshop fee is $500 and includes meals but does not include accommodations. Click over to the Eventbrite page to see all the details.
How many of you will I see there?
A couple of weeks ago I saw an amazing exhibition of works by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum. Anatsui takes found materials like metal and wood — considered trash by most — and turns them into amazingly flowy pieces of art that evoke cloth and drapery and alien landscapes. The intricacy of the works and the amount of time he clearly puts into them brings to mind intricate beadwork and quilt-making. Thinking about the time involved in connecting all those old tin can lids or aluminum bottle caps or metal strips from liquor bottles together by hand almost overwhelms me, but then I remember how I feel when I’m stringing beads together or working on an art project that requires tedious repetition. In the moment I’m not really thinking about that, I’m more focused on the end result. Working on projects as big as Anatsui’s would require getting into a meditative state in order to not drive yourself nuts, but it’s not hard to imagine doing so.
The way the exhibition is set up, the pieces get more and more flowy as you go along. In the last room I found my favorite piece: Peak. I immediately saw this as a post-apocalyptic or alien landscape and spent a good amount of time trying to imagine how it would look from eye-level. A bunch of the pictures I took were from as close to that perspective as I could get.
I also took this video in an effort to get a sense of how it would be on the inside of this sculpture and also how it would look to someone approaching it at eye-level.
A recent conversation with N. K. Jemisin made me realize that I have not been vocal enough about my love for musician Zoe Keating even though I’ve been a big fan for over four years. She’s one of my go-to artists when I need writing music that sets a mood or fades into the background just enough to let me work but not enough that I don’t actively enjoy it. Other than just loving the sound, I also geekily enjoy how Zeating makes music. It’s very techie.
The first time I heard Zeating’s music was on the RadioLab podcast titled The Quantum Cello, and that’s how I think of her stuff: quantum music. Using MIDI recording tools and a laptop, Zeating overlaps repeating phrases to create multilayered music all from the same instrument. It’s hard to grasp how awesome this is when listening to a recording because it’s easy to create layered music in a studio. Keating does it live. She records each phrase as she plays it, then the laptop repeats it back (controlled with a petal) while she plays and records another bit. The layers build and build into ever more complex interactions. Watching this happen in real time is more amazing than I can recount.
The other thing I love about Zeating’s music is the wide variation of sound she gets out of a cello. There are several tracks where, if I didn’t know better, I would swear a piano or a whistle or a flute was involved.
The only sadness with being a Zoe fan is that she doesn’t produce new albums all the time. Her last one, Into the Trees, came out in 2010. Before that she put out two EPs in 2004 and 2005. I can’t very well complain since she’s a label-less indie artist and thus can’t just spend all of her time composing new stuff for me (uh, I mean, for all her fans…). I am pleased to see her music getting attention all over the place. I started hearing it as interstitial music between news segments on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered a few years ago. The Elementary staff and producers love her stuff, too, and so her tracks are all over that show.
You can buy her EPs and album from her website or on iTunes. I suggest buying them all, but if you start with One Cello x 16: Natoma you’ll get a good feel for her overall style. If you listen to the EPs and album in order you’ll note that her music gets more and more complex as she goes on. It makes me excited for what she’ll produce next.
New post over on the tech blog that will be of interest to you writer types:
“As I was in the process of moving from one house to another… someone broke into the passenger side window of my car and grabbed the backpack containing several notebooks I’d filled, since early 2001, with handwritten stories and poems. The backpack also contained a couple of journals, two screenplays, my passport, and two half-read books. The hardest losses were the stories and poems in the notebooks. I had been looking forward, in particular, to reviewing and fine-tuning hundreds of pages of, for me, uncharacteristically long and unguarded poetry that had been written during a series of very quiet nights spent in the Sahara Desert in late 2002.
“…I spent a lot of time and effort in the following weeks scouring my part of town, looking through trash cans and alleyways, offering no-questions-asked rewards, doing anything I could think of to find what was irreplaceable for me and probably completely useless to whoever had stolen it. Finally, I let most of it go…”
The specific thing that made me recall that story was testing Evernote’s Page Capture feature. … The idea of scanning a paper journal to a digital file isn’t exactly new. But with smartphones being so wide-spread and the cameras in them getting better and better, I wonder if it’s now just convenient enough that writers would spend a couple of minutes every day adding their journals to Evernote and if that would end up being an effective backup system?
Yesterday I spent more time than is strictly necessary reading blog posts by Vox Day and some other people of his caliber. I started my journey at Vox’s response to N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum GoH speech and ended up in some serious weeds once I got to a giant manifesto about how John Scalzi is the soul of racism against whites. No, I’m not linking. I read it so you don’t have to and TRUST ME you do not have to. I’ve also read many responses to Vox’s post, including this one from Amal calling for him to be booted from SFWA. Amen to that.
In several posts and status updates I came across variants of this sentiment: don’t dismiss Vox Day as just some troll. I feel like this isn’t getting said enough. Not because there needs to be more vehement objection to his very existence (there is plenty), but because I think a lot of people have a tendency to consider him extreme and way far out of the mainstream and maybe even purposefully jerking us around not because he believes what he says but because he gets joy from making us all angry. Old Theo probably does enjoy making everyone angry. He also means everything he says. That is important to realize. He’s not a parody, he is serious, that is really the way he thinks. And there are plenty of other people who think just like him. Not only the pathetic commentors on his blog. There are tons of people with his same attitude in the world.
I know why so many people look at him and want to just dismiss it as whiney baby attention grabbing bullshit. There are likely many people who, like me, are pretty selective about the people they allow in their lives or selective about the circles they socialize in or spend more time on friendships that are mainly digital due to distance. I spend most of my time with awesome people. So when I run across someone who says something super misogynist or blatantly racist I’m often taken aback for a few seconds because: really? People like you still exist? Somebody honestly thinks it’s okay to say something like that to me? Or to her? Or him? Why, yes.
Mind you, I’m used to people saying or doing bigoted things out of ignorance or blindness or unexamined privilege. That’s different. That is understandable if not forgivable. But people who just outright call a black person a savage by virtue of them being black? Who does that?
The image of the type of person who does that is often the southern redneck with a KKK hood in the closet. That person surely exists. They are not the only type of person who would unashamedly say that sort of thing. That’s the reality. You and I may not encounter a person like this every day or every month or year or for many years. They still exist. And pretending they’re just some dismissible hillbilly does not, in fact, make them go away or make them less dangerous to our culture.
Make no mistake, the Theodore Beale/Vox Days of the world are depressingly common.
Instead of being OMG Shocked! by it, acknowledge it and make a determination of what you’re going to do about it. I don’t mean going after the dude with torches and pitchforks. he probably would enjoy that too much. You can go after his ideas, though. Drag them into the light and expose them for the vile entities they are. You can provide counterpoint, a less hateful view, and support for the types of people he seeks to put down and belittle. Make it clear where you stand and who you stand with. Demand the best of yourself and your community.
And realize that by doing so you are not making this all about him but all about the people you do want in your community or your life or your inner circle.
Yesterday at Book Expo America I attended a panel titled “E-Books From Libraries: Good For Authors?” because I’m writing a piece for a magazine on the state of eBook library lending. What I learned is that the reason things are going so poorly in the world of eBooks and libraries is because publishers, agents, and people who claim to be representing the best interests of authors are super ignorant and will probably destroy everything if allowed to continue making decisions. Since I can see no pixel-stained techno peasant uprising on the horizon, I think we’re all in for a bad time.
The panelists were as follows: Ginger Clark, Literary Agent (Moderator); Carolyn Reidy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Simon & Schuster; Jack Perry, Owner 38enso Inc.; Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA); Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive; Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild. I’m going to point out from the start that both Ms. Sullivan of the ALA and Mr. Potash of Overdrive both had really great things to say on the panel and are both very smart about this issue. This is not surprising since they both understand the issue from the side of the libraries. Mr. Perry didn’t say too much at the panel. And Mr. Aiken arrived late, and by doing so saved us from having to listen to him be aggressively wrong for too long. That leads us to: Ms. Reidy.
Early in the panel the moderator asked her to talk about Simon & Schuster’s strategy around eBooks for libraries. This is part of what she said:
Publishers didn’t resist coming up with programs because they didn’t think it was good for their business. … They’re protecting not only their business but every author’s, too. We’re the representative of the author in this transaction. Why would we ever want to do anything to destroy that? Publishers have always thought that having an author’s work in a library is a good thing.
What changes with digital is that you can sit at home and if you have a library card you can order any book, you never have to go anywhere. And if you could get every book you wanted free, why would you ever buy another one? That’s the question we had about it in our first meeting. … That is the danger. You could literally undermine the market for every author and for [the publishers]. … Obviously, there is some discovery through libraries. There’s also some ability for people who people who aren’t ever going to buy books to read them and be a part of the conversation. We’ve always believed that the cultural contribution of libraries is important.
But this frictionless ability for people to download books does make a sea change difference.
There is a lot to argue with in this statement, but what struck me is that last line: “frictionless ability.” That right there is an indication of why S&S and possibly many other publishers will continue to have wrong thinking on this subject.
Borrowing an eBook from a library is Not Frictionless. It’s just not. In the past few years, Overdrive and a small number of other companies that actually build the lending technology have made the process a little bit easier, especially if you have a smartphone, tablet, or other iOS, Android, or BlackBerry device. However, if you have an eInk device from B&N, Sony, Kobo, etc., the process for setting things up and moving library books over is more complex than it needs to be and confuses a lot of people. I’m very tech-savvy and I don’t do it because it’s a damn hassle. Think of all the people who want to do it but don’t have access to the technology needed (it’s less expensive to buy a Nook than a computer or a tablet or to own a smartphone) or just don’t understand how to work it. Now realize that this is a major segment of the population that libraries serve.
This is Not A Frictionless Experience.
When Q&A time came I brought this up and then asked: Why are people in publishing so worried about this problem now? No one is having panels with hand-wringing about all those free paper books in the libraries.
Ginger Clark jumped in to answer that question: “Because [eBooks from libraries] can be pirated quite easily.”
Piracy was the big, scary demon in the room for a lot of this panel. But I thought that most of the speakers were thinking about it in correct ways. At one point Clark asked if “windowing” was going the way of the dinosaur. This is the practice of not selling new books to libraries for months or even years after initial release in order to increase sales. Everyone agreed that it was going away mostly because it didn’t increase sales, it increased piracy. Plus, there was a lot of talk of not making the same mistakes as the music industry.
So for Clark to say that there’s this worry about eBooks in libraries because they’re easy to pirate? Guess what: that’s all eBooks. The DRM scheme that Overdrive uses for EPUB is the same DRM that B&N uses and Kobo and Sony and Google and just about everyone else (except Apple). It’s not hard to strip that DRM (so I’m told) and it is no harder to do so if you buy the book than if you get it from the library. So what it seems that Clark and others are actually worried about is that library patrons are more likely to be evil pirates than everyone else. Leaving out that most of the time when media is put up on a torrent or file sharing service, the original was purchased by someone.
I will also point out that NetGalley, a service that provides free eBook ARCs (advanced reader copies), uses the same DRM. And yet I don’t see any hand-wringing about that. Maybe because the people with access to NetGalley can supposedly be trusted? Because they’re not poor people in libraries.
This fear of library pirating also makes no sense in the face of the data brought to the table by Overdrive President Steve Potash, who said that there weren’t many (or any) complaints of library books ending up on torrent sites. This doesn’t surprise me, since Reidy kept saying how there was “no data” on which strategies for library lending would work best and Potash repeatedly said that he had plenty of data, up to 10 years worth, and yet still there was talk of no data.
After Clark got done saying ridiculous things about pirating, Reidy made an answer that showed she has not ever actually used the technology under discussion.
It may be difficult to download a file onto an eReader — although most of them are made so it’s not — but let’s just say that it is today. It could be completely different in six months the way technology goes. We’re not trying to make decisions on what to do just based on what we see in front of us today. After all, it’s taken us a while to get here and things were much clunkier even a year ago. It’s the fact that a digital file can in fact be downloaded very easily. And once somebody learns how a library system works… it will become easier for them to use.
There is a real difference between a digital file and a physical book. And the fact that you have to go to the library and pick it up ad check it out vs. hit a few buttons.
This woman has a real talent for packing in the fail, doesn’t she? Before we even get to how she completely ignored the part about access to technology, let’s address the part where she handwaves away the difficulties and is sure the ones I’m imagining won’t be there in six months.
First, it’s really not as simple as just clicking and downloading a file, particularly if you’re working with an eInk eReader. Even once you’re in the system it’s not that easy. Second, I spent a long time yesterday talking to reps from Overdrive and 3M (who also have an eBook lending platform) and Kobo, and I specifically asked about how they are working toward making the lending process easy and seamless. Every last one of them said that, yes, it’s a goal and, yes, they are working on it, but they can’t always get it done because the eReader companies have to partner with them, except the eReader companies say that the lending software people have to make it work and it’s all their fault.
The only company with a mostly easy mechanism for eInk devices is Amazon, and apparently publishers (or just S&S) don’t like how Amazon brings library patrons into Amazon’s system in order for this ease to happen, and so some books just aren’t available to the Kindle.
Has Reidy spent even the hour I did talking to Overdrive and 3M and Kobo and B&N and Sony about this? Sounds like not. Because from the answers they gave me, this problem is no where near being solved in six months because no one is really working in concert to make it happen. Including the publishers.
Third thing is that last bit about how eBooks are different because a person just has to click, whereas with physical books you have to go to the library and pick it up. What this immediately brought to mind is that the difference is difficulty. It’s okay to let people have free books if there are barriers in place to ensure they won’t take too much advantage of it. Because how dare they. When I countered with this, Reidy was all: No, that’s not what I mean! But then Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild took control and told me that I had made my point in a tone that suggested I should shut up.
He launched into some tirade about how eBooks mean that people don’t have to come to libraries anymore and then we’ll lose libraries and that will be bad for everyone and did we hear about some library in California that was getting rid of all physical books and going digital only and redesigning their library to look more like an Apple store AND ISN’T THAT JUST TERRIBLE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!? I don’t know why anyone allows the Authors Guild to represent them because this dude is all kinds of out of touch.
You can imagine the look on my face as this all went down, but what made it better is that Maureen Sullivan of the ALA spoke after him and said pointedly that my question was a fair one and also addressed some of the stuff I raised about access to technology and how librarians are often the ones called on to help patrons navigate and understand the eBook lending system. She said very many awesome things over the whole discussion and kept bringing it back to how what librarians want is to ensure that everyone has equal access to knowledge and literature at a fair price. One of the things she said in response to my question really shows how much more she (and probably librarians in general) understands the eBook landscape.
“…this is the classic example of disruptive innovation. It causes a lot of misunderstanding, it brings fears to light. … When we experience disruptive innovation, it’s much more effective to think not ‘either/or’ but ‘and’.”
Many of the people in the audience were librarians and the ones who got to ask questions also seemed concerned with the attitudes of the publishing folks about a host of things. They swarmed the Overdrive guy once it was over to thank him for standing up for libraries in a similar way to Ms. Sullivan. Overall, I would trust the two of them to look out for the real interests of authors on this issue than some of the others on that panel.
It’s so disheartening to go to an event like BEA and have supposed industry experts show you how clearly they do not understand the deeper issues surrounding eBooks or even the underlying technology. Before Carolyn Reidy makes any more decisions about eBooks and lending, she should be forced to use the system. And not just with one piece of technology, but one from every platform: eInk, iOS, Android, computer, NO computer, library computer. Before Ginger Clark talks about the ease of piracy for library eBooks I need her to talk about all the worrying she’s doing over piracy of eBooks from a major retailer and how that is different. Before Paul Aiken opens his mouth ever I need him to not do so.
Until all of these people and the others like them actually do some real work in concert with the software/hardware developers and the librarians on the eBook lending ecosystem, it’s not going to get any easier or less confusing for library patrons and it’s not going to get any better for libraries themselves. But considering the desire to keep eBook lending from being too “frictionless” lest people stop buying books forever because of Free, I suspect this problem isn’t going to get fixed. Not in six months and maybe not in six years.
- I have a recording of this panel which I will provide to anyone who wishes to listen. On this quote, I re-arranged some of what she said to make it flow better, but I did not change the context at all. Also: emphasis mine.[↩]
Over at io9 my list of best short stories from February and March is now live. Those ten stories represent my very top picks, but there are several more I hearted over the past couple of months. I listed them below.
Before we get to that, a couple of things! First, I created a Flipboard magazine recently where I intend to collect all the stories I favorite each month. It’s the same list you’ll see here, so it’s basically another way to see the same info. With a Flipboard magazine you’ll get an update every time I add a new story and won’t have to wait for the end of the month. Plus, the stories will just show up in your regular Flipboard, no need to do anything extra. To subscribe, search for “ktempest” in Flipboard. The magazine is called Fantastic Flippin’ Fiction.
I mentioned in January’s post that I was looking for a venue where I could discuss short stories in depth. Not just the ones I like, but any one worth discussing, including stories I don’t like. To that end, I’m doing some experimenting. I created a Google+ community. I intend for it to be a participatory thing, not just me. Anyone can post links to stories, start a discussion, or make recommendations. If you have a Google account, you can join.
Now, onto the picks!
- Soul Song By Frankie Seymour
I’m always down with a story about animal rights (not to mention cool, futuristic animals). Post-apocalyptic.
- Terrain by Genevieve Valentine
All the classic elements of the good Western are here, inflected with steampunk gadgetry as well as characters you would have found in the real west but aren’t usually the protagonists of the media about the time period.
- Blood Amber by Keyan Bowes
A folk tale-ish story that had me imagining how much I’d love to sail away on a magical boat that provided me with food every day. The ending doesn’t quite stick its landing. The overall story holds together, though.
- A to Z Theory by Toh EnJoe
There are so many ways to make fun of academia, and I’m sure anyone who’s had to deal with journal articles and competing theorems and dramas around such will appreciate this story. However, there’s another group of folks who will as well and i can’t say why without a spoiler. It’s twistier than it seem, trust me.
- Armistice Day by Marissa Lingen
While reading this, I kept getting the feeling that the creatures in the story were inspired by the house elves of Harry Potter. No idea if that’s true. Politics and revolution.
- The Bolt Tightener by Sarena Ulibarri
The old man told him not to skip a bolt. There’s a reason!
- Bakemono, or The Thing That Changes by A.B. Treadwell
Some interesting perspectives on assimilation and betrayal here.
- A Family for Drakes by Margaret Ronald
Though this feels like a setup for a novel starring Netta and Vigil, I have no problem with that. I’d like to see their further adventures given how well crafted their characters are in this piece. Good mix of adventure, mystery, and young girl kicking ass.
- The Rescue by Margrét Helgadóttir
I find it hard to pin down why I like this story as it’s complex, and there are several elements that engaged me on different levels. Characters dealing with solitude and duty, the devastation of discovering the world isn’t the way you’ve been taught, the struggle with self-doubt.
- Built in a Day by Anna Caro
I’m not sure I completely grokked this story entirely. I just like the way it spiraled through my brain and made me think and ponder and try to work it out.
- Eternal Return by Rodolfo Martínez
Even “minor” superpowers have their uses. Fun story of discovery that combines elements of the Groundhog’s Day theme — living a moment over and over until you get it right. From the page: “Eternal Return” was published in Spanish in Porciones individuales (February 2013, Sportula). This is its first publication in English.
- Painted Birds and Shivered Bones by Kat Howard
I’m a big proponent of the connection between the artist and the spiritual or even the magical world, and this story illuminates that connection well.
- PauseTime by Mary Soon Lee
I like that this story deals with issues you don’t often see in science fiction, like child rearing and single parenthood and how difficult it can be to raise a baby and get work done. Also the cruelty of bougie parents who value men over women. This is a story about a society that values men over women and children in a general, and it’s so harmful. Excellent commentary on our own society’s attitudes towards both.
- The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal
This story snuck up on me. I enjoy the alternate history-ness of it as well as the idea of a woman being the poster girl astronaut because the government needed to convince housewives that space travel is safe.
- My Voice is in My Sword by Kate Elliott
Another from the Shakespeare issue. There is so much excellence in this story. It’s for everyone who has ever loved the Scottish play and everyone who has ever had to put up with an insufferable jerk for no good reason and everyone who appreciates just desserts. I love the aliens, not only for their small role in the plot, but for how very alien they are.
- Early Retirement By Kris Herndon
Herndon is trying to do a lot of things with this story, and it works for the most part but doesn’t *quite* get there in the end. However, I have it on this list because, for all the reaching and falling short, the story did engage me with the main character and the setup of the world. Superheroes as corporate drones, executives pondering the nature of power and the drawbacks of such. It’s a nice blend of mundane and fantastic. (The ending I could do without.)
- Gravity by Erzebet YellowBoy
The hook for me is the relationship between the mother and daughter here, though that’s only one aspect of the story that I liked. A small group of people sent on a mission to the sun, hailed as heroes who will save an entire planet. You’d think a story of triumph, right? Nope. The way Yellowboy explores what goes on with these characters is both familiar and fresh.
- The Wanderers by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
The SFnal furniture the author plays with here is the stuff of (what could be) tired old tropes by now. Post-apocalypse, first contact, evil aliens. This story remixes those concepts in a way that’s both fun and also makes the tropes feel fresher, in a way. Punk aliens, even if they are into splatterpunk, rock.
Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.
This year’s Scholar & Feminist Conference theme is Utopia, and I’m honored to be leading a workshop about Utopia and Literature. I’m going to discuss mainly speculative fiction novels and short stories (thus the reading list below), explore how writers have handled the idea of utopia and dystopia, and discuss the ways writers can think about utopia going forward. I’m also going to get into how fiction handles utopia affects the reader and/or culture.
In preparation for this workshop I had some great conversations with other speculative fiction authors about utopia and dystopia so that I could incorporate their viewpoints into the discussion. I want to thank Justine Larbalestier, N. K. Jemisin, Rahul Kanakia, Nisi Shawl, Eileen Gunn, and Catherynne M. Valente for helping me expand and explore my own ideas about utopia by offering their own.
The ideas I will use as a jumping off point are:
- Science fiction as a genre is well suited to utopias because it “explores our world by positing another one that works a bit differently.” (Eileen Gunn)
- If utopia is an ideal, is there such a thing as an objective ideal? Can a utopia ever be a utopia for everyone? Or if you create a perfect society for one group, who then becomes dominant, does that mean the non-dominant group/s must be oppressed?
- Utopia is relative. The utopias we see in fiction may work for one set of people but are dystopian for another set.
- Many modern stories and novels are specifically dystopian in nature or are utopias that reveal themselves as dystopias. Why is this the modern mode of exploration?
- What do the types of utopias we see in fiction reveal about the authors who write them and the society or culture they come from? The ideals they include and the ones they leave out speak to their point of view and what they value and don’t.
- Is it possible to show a true utopia in fiction? One view is that fiction requires conflict, so the author must show the utopia to be flawed in some way. Another view is that the conflict doesn’t have to come from within the utopia itself but from outside. The point being not to show that the utopia is flawed, but that the outside forces are.
- Utopia as positive text. Creating a positive text, be it a positive feminist text, positive womanist, positive toward the idea that people are equal and should be created with respect — can this be a form of utopian writing? What affect does this have on the reader, on culture?
The workshop begins at 12:25pm Eastern (3/2). You can follow what people are saying on Twitter about the workshop and the conference by checking out the hashtags #sfutopialit and #sfutopia. This post will evolve and grow as the workshop goes on and afterward as I incorporate what the workshop participants have to say. I’ve invited all of the people in the workshop to liveblog and Tweet as well as bring the discussion to the comments on this post. Even if you’re not in the workshop physically, I hope my regular readers will also offer their thoughts on utopia.
Very Selective Reading List
I will add links to all of these works later on. During the workshop I expect we will generate more stories and novels to include in this list.
- Octavia Butler
- Parable of the Sower
- Parable of the Talents
- Steven R. Boyett
- Elegy Beach
- N. K. Jemisin: Takes place 20 years after Ariel. The protagonist grew up in this world where magic works and science doesn’t, and he’s excited by the world’s magic. His father remembers the world as it was. It’s a utopia for the son, not for the father.
- Elegy Beach
- Suzy McKee Charnas
- The Holdfast Chronicles (Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, The Conqueror’s Child)
- John Crowley
- “In Blue” (short story)
- Nisi Shawl: a future utopia, a socialist world. It’s hard to envision what a totally happy utopia can be. He does this, but from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get it. It’s not a perfect utopia for him but it is for everyone else.
- “In Blue” (short story)
- L. Timmel Duchamp
- The Marq’ssan Cycle (Alanya to Alanya, Renegade, Tsunami, Blood in the Fruit, Stretto)
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Kathleen Ann Goonan
- This Shared Dream
- Eileen Gunn: This book posits an attempt at creating a utopia. Here’s the blurb I wrote for it: “What if you could travel through time to fix what is wrong with the world? The world would resist, and the very act of trying would create parallel worlds with their own problems. This wondrous book, the story of a handful of people who seek to alter the twentieth century to create a better future, acknowledges the inhumanity of war and yet celebrates the joys of music, art, friendship, and family. And it reminds us that the future is made by the children of the present. I loved this book, and I heartily recommend it.”
- This Shared Dream
- N. K. Jemisin
- “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” (short story)
- Example of a relative utopia
- “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” (short story)
- Rahul Kanakia
- “Next Door” (short story)
- Written from the point of view of a character who sees the world as dystopian, but when flipped to the antagonist’s POV could be utopian.
- “Next Door” (short story)
- Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
- Always Coming Home
- “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (short story)
- Kat Meads
- From the Tiptree Award website: This is a fierce, unrepentantly experimental, somewhat raw novel about motherhood in a highly gray utopia.
- Marge Piercy
- Woman on the Edge of Time
- From the Tiptree Award website: Piercy not only creates a complex and intricate utopian vision, but tosses in a dystopia and an all too realistic real world as well. Connie Ramos is one of science fiction’s most genuine heroines. She has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into utopia. The rest of us, at the end of the book, have to be dragged out.
- Woman on the Edge of Time
- Joanna Russ
- The Two Of Them
- Nisi Shawl: Secret agents across time go to this planet that’s been settled by people who are trying to set up a religious utopia based on Islam.
- The Female Man
- “When it Changed” (short story)
- Takes place in the same world as The Female Man
- “Houston, Houston, Do You Read”
- The Two Of Them
- The Fifth Sacred Thing
- A post-apocalyptic novel depicting two societies, one a sustainable economy based on social justice, and its neighbor, a militaristic and intolerant theocracy.
- The Fifth Sacred Thing
- Catherynne M. Valente
- The Orphan’s Tales cycle (In the Night Garden, In the Cities of Coin and Spice)
- Written specifically as a positive feminist text.
- The Orphan’s Tales cycle (In the Night Garden, In the Cities of Coin and Spice)
- Connie Willis
- Even the Queen (short story)
- Diverse Energies, ed. Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti
- SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories, ed. JoSelle Vanderhooft
Earlier this month when I posted my personal Best Of list of short stories for the year, I stated that I would like to see any of those works nominated for awards. This is very true. Later on I’ll also make a post about other folks or works I think deserving of nominations, including novels and such. But this post is all about me.
Yes, it’s completely selfish, blah blah. Moving on.
I had a handful of pieces published in 2012, both fiction and non. And since it’s all the rage to mention lately, I am eligible to be nominated for the Fan Writer Hugo based on my blogging and other non-professional publications, such as this piece that went up on io9.
As far as fiction, my story “The Birth of Pegasus” in Dark Faith: Invocations is under 7,500 and eligible for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Nebula awards. My story “Uncertainty Principle” in Diverse Energies is over 8,000 words (I believe), so counts as a novelette for the Hugo and Nebula awards.
I would also love to see Chicks Unravel Time nominated for Best Related Work in the Hugos. That’s not just about me, but about all the really amazing contributors to the book and the editors who so wisely put it together.
So there you go, my award eligibility for 2012 stuff. Act on it as you will.
Yeah… so October. I realized today that the reason I’m behind on posting this list is that I just haven’t had the energy to write up a little review/summary of why I like these stories. And that continues and continues to be the case. Since we’re deep into December and I haven’t even posted November’s picks yet, I figured I would just toss the list up.
Here’s what I’ll say about them all: I liked each of these stories and loved others. If I had to pick out one that stood out, it’s Said The Princess. That one totally charmed and amused me. I think I was most surprised because Daily Science Fiction rarely publishes anything I like.
- Art of War by Nancy Kress
- One Little Room an Everywhere by K.J. Parker
- Dancing Day by Lindsey Duncan
- In the Library of Souls by Jennifer Mason-Black
- Said the Princess by Dani Atkinson
- Monster, Finder, Shifter by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
- Spindles by L.B. Gale
- The Contrary Gardener by Christopher Rowe
- The King’s Huntsman by Jennifer Mason-Black
Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.
Chicks Unravel Time comes out in just a few days! Eee! I’m very excited. This book is bound to be really special. I’ve already had a sneak peek at a couple of the essays and I will predict that Doctor Who lovers will enjoy every page.
Some related events surrounding that. First, to get the bad news out of the way: I will not be attending Chicago TARDIS this year. I know, very sad! But family obligations + lack of money = no Tempest at the con. However, there will be a panel and signing and all of that with the fabulous editors, Deborah Stanish and L. M. Myles, plus many of the contributors. So if you can get to the con, go check it out!
Good news is that I will be at two more local reading/signing events!
The first is in Massachusetts near Boston, the second right here in my hometown of NYC. Details:
On Saturday, November 17th, Annie’s Bookstop of Worcester is holding an all-day Chicks Unravel Time event. I’ll be there alongside Jennifer Pelland, another of the book’s contributors, plus Katy Shuttleworth, cover artist extraordinaire. We’ll be reading, signing books, and hosting a roundtable discussion/Q&A. The store has promised us some surprises as well, and there will be tons of Doctor Who merchandise besides the book to peruse. So please do come!
Location: 65 James Street Worcester MA 01603
Time: 11/17 1PM – 6PM (come early for the reading/signings)
Next up: NYC Doctor Who shenanigans!
The Doctor Who NY group is hosting a reading/signing/book launch event at The Churchill, a pub that appears to be very fancy. This event is going to be loads of fun since both Deborah and Liz will be in town. Then Liz goes back to Scotland and we all cry.
There will also be copies and discussion of a couple of other recently published Doctor Who books that night as well. So overall it will be a big one for NYC Doctor Who fans.
Location: 45 East 28th St (near Park Avenue), New York, NY
Time: 11/28 6:30pm
Here’s a Facebook page for the event if you’d like to RSVP there.
Can’t come to either of these events? Sadness! But you know what you can do? You can pre-order your copy of Chicks Unravel Time. Yes, you can!
I’ve been keeping track of all my favorite stories over on Delicious as well as here on the blog. Delicious is still one of the best public bookmarking tools around thanks to the tagging system, which is a little better than it was under Yahoo (finally, spaces!). Due to the way I’ve been tagging stories, I have some good data on them. Peeking in there just now revealed a few things that surprised me.
To start, if you’d asked me what my favorite online magazine is, I would have said Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld. However, a look at the numbers reveals that of the 55 stories published in 2012 that I liked, Lightspeed published most of them (14, to be exact). Clarkesworld is a close second with 11 liked stories. Then after that Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine tie at 6 with Electric Velocipede right behind them with 5. Apparently, my tastes match up with John Joseph Adams’ pretty regularly.
Here are all the magazine numbers in helpful chart format:
Some magazines have lower numbers because they don’t publish as often, but I’m a little sad for Tor.com.
I also track genre data and find that I like SF and Fantasy about evenly (27 and 24 stories, respectively) with a small smattering of horror. Very small. Of the 55 stories, 44 are by women and 14 by authors of color. Obviously there’s some overlap.
I’ll crunch these numbers again at the end of the year to see if anything shifts.I may also go a bit insane and calculate, based on number of stories published total and the number I liked if Lightspeed is still a favorite based on proportion. If a magazine publishes 12 stories a year and I like 5 vs one that pubs 50 stories a year and I like 10, the first one is obviously closer to my tastes.
Any of you out there keeping track of which magazines usually publish stuff that satisfies you in any kind of empirical way?
This month, the list is rather long. This explains my lateness in putting up this post (sort of… I’m also lazy!). I discovered a cache of new magazines this month, thus adding greatly to the number of stories I read and liked.
Several weeks ago I lamented about the fact that there weren’t many markets for long stories such as novellas and novelettes. As a result, people kept suggesting markets to me. I was reminded that Electric Velocipede takes longer stuff, and introduced to GigaNotoSaurus and The Red Penny Papers, which both take novelettes. I’ll put up a post later this week with a longer list.
As always, I welcome any discussion of these stories in the comments. let me know if you liked them or not and why an feel free to tell me I’m wrong and have bad taste! Also, consider dropping a comment where the option is available on the original stories.
- Breaking the Frame by Kat Howard
There are a million post modern, female centric takes on fairy tales out there, but I particularly like the frame (hahaha) Howard uses for this story. At first I was not down with the cliched relationship at the beginning, then I realized the author was doing that for more than just hipster irony. Highly recommended.
- Cutting by Ken Liu
Stories that require a particular kind of layout can be difficult to do well without seeming gimmicky. No surprise that this is not the case for Ken Liu. Short and amazing.
- The Last Supper by Scott Edelman
This is one of the best zombie stories I’ve ever read. I’m not that into zombies, so my view may be skewed. However, I love the POV here and how Edelman is able to bring all this tension and foster engagement with a character that should be really boring and tedious.
- muo-ka’s Child by Indrapramit Das
Touching first contact story that takes a different angle than most. Again, I really like stories where the aliens are SO very alien.
- Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance by Carrie Cuinn
I had no idea where this story was going when I started, but I loved where it ended up. Funny and touching.
- The Harpy by Laura Heron
Another story that hits many of my kinks. Kinks include dudes who leave their wives for younger women getting what they deserve. Also: women finding their crone power.
- Sexagesimal by Katharine E.K. Duckett
Duckett’s vision of the afterlife pulled me in, but the ending is what completely sold me on this story.
- The 17th Contest of Body Artistry by Alex Dally MacFarlane
Obviously, I’m a fan of stories that take some format other than a straight up narrative, so this one hits my kink in that arena. Plus, it’s just very good and once again has me thinking about aspects of my own worldbuilding. The things that can be revealed about a culture from such things as an art contest and how people react to it is many and varied. Lovity love.
- Night’s Slow Poison by Ann Leckie
A story about a boring 6 month trip through dead space on a small ship might be super boring itself in the hands of a less skilled author. Instead, Leckie nails it.
- Secrets of the Sea by Jennifer Marie Brissett
Touching story that centers on a father/son relationship. Its all blendy with the SF and fantasy, though perhaps if you ask Jenn she would say it’s all SF.
- Garlic Squash by Nicki Vardon
This one is just a lot of fun, especially for those of you tired of people falling in love with sexy vampires. They are not sexy!
- On Higher Ground by Annie Bellet
Normally, I don’t care for stories about sports or where the protagonist is super interested in a sport. But, I have to admit that the author’s descriptions of skiing were so beautiful that I almost wanted to go out and learn to ski. People who are fans of high class sports and the ridiculousness corporateness of them will like this.
- Je me souviens by Su J. Sokol
Trigger warning: rape and child abuse. This one got a little rambly in the middle, but really resonated with me in the end. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between the father and son. I also like that it can be read as speculative or not.
- Heaven Under Earth by Aliette de Bodard
The story as a whole didn’t do it for me as much as I hoped it would in the beginning and middle bits. I am very much enamored with the worldbuilding and the gender politics at play. Would love to discuss such with other folks who read this.
- The Fourth Exam by Dorothy Yarros
Political intrigue! I’m not usually a fan of that, but this pulled me in. Unfortunately, the story feels more like the backstory to a fantastic novel about a political coup and the bureaucrats caught in the middle of the struggle than a standalone. At the end I felt very much like I’d read a prologue.
Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.
Been wondering why I’m in such a funk lately, then my calendar reminded me again this morning that today is my mother’s birthday. Her name is Marjorie Bradford and she died 13 years ago now, but the pain feels pretty fresh whenever I stop to think about her (which is often).
For many years after her death I tried to write a story that encapsulated how I felt about what happened and how much I loved her, but nothing ever came out quite right.
After she died, I had tons of dreams about her, but most of them had a common theme. In them, I was often aware that I only had a little bit of time to spend with her because I understood that she was sick and still dying. In some dreams she was very sick, in others almost completely healthy. A few times in my dreams I even asked her “How much time do we have?” and she’d say “Only a little while” or “A few days” or something.
It was as if, in my dreamscape, I was able to roll back the clock a little and revive her, but not completely and for good.
In mulling over why she almost always manifested in this way in my dreams led me to finally being able to write a story about her that did all of my memories and feelings and her impact on me justice. The story is “Elan Vital” and you can read or listen to it over at Escape Pod.
I’ve never read that story in public and probably never will because any attempt to do so will end up with me curling up in a ball sobbing. I don’t even read it to myself for that same reason.
However, when the story first appeared on the podcast I saw so many people praising the reading of it, I decided to listen to just a few minutes. I ended up listening to the whole thing. Mur Lafferty, as you may know, is an extremely talented reader. She did such justice to that story I can’t praise her enough.
Happy birthday, mom. I miss you and love you and I still have that dream.
Home automation still seems a little Tomorrowland, but Ube thinks it can make some parts of that dream a reality, even for the Homer Simpsons among us.
Ube is a startup focusing on bringing the Internet of things to life inside the connected home, starting with an iPhone app and three hardware products: Smart Dimmer, Smart Outlet, and Smart Plug.
“We have been working in the connected home space and consumer electronics space for over 25 years waiting for technology to become available which could simply and inexpensively solve this problem,” said Ube co-founder Glen Burchers in an email conversation with VentureBeat.
Ube, he says, can bring a centralized, cloud-based brain and central control system to all your home’s web-connected electronics. All you need is a smartphone, “no professional custom installation required.” Better still, it’s free.
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Just a short note to say that Tecca, one of the best technology websites I’ve ever read, is shutting down this week. I’m so very sad about this, it’s hard to express. Even before I joined the Tecca team I admired the website. I loved the mix of tech news and reviews with space and science stuff and the geeky sensibility. I also liked that the site aimed itself at mainstream technology users and wanted to ensure everyone had the ability to understand how to get the most out of their gadgets and have fun. In many ways it was the perfect place for me as a reader and contributor.
The shuttering of Tecca does mean that I’m on the lookout for new freelance opportunities. I have some very promising nibbles already, but if you’re looking for a tech reviewer please don’t hesitate to reach out!