Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Update on WisCon Chronicles 9

Mary Anne Mohanraj has informed me that she's now 

"reading the submissions for Aqueduct Press's WisCon Chronicles 9 (essays, fiction, poetry, etc., centered around the themes of intersections and alliances -- you need not attend WisCon to submit). Although the deadline has formally closed, I will likely still be looking for some individual pieces to fill out the anthology. If you're interested in submitting still, please send me a query at mohanraj@mamohanraj.com, with a brief description of what you'd be sending; I'll let you know by the end of the week whether I'd like to see it.

"I am open to topical material (such as those responding to various recent controversies in our field) as well as pieces on other subjects."

Monday, November 3, 2014

Three cheers for Arrate!



Arrate Hidalgo Sanchez, who has been Aqueduct Press's intern since March, has finished her internship. We Aqueductistas might have been feeling sad about saying good-bye to her, but the good news is that she's joining Aqueduct as an associate editor. Over the course of her internship, Arrate has demonstrated a great talent for editing. And she is thoughtful and meticulous. Our submissions have been rising sharply, and (as probably a few of you know very well, who've been waiting for me to get to your book) I've been struggling to keep up with them. Each book takes a lot of time, and I have only so much to give (if I'm to have a life at all, that is). And so I'm deliriously happy to have Arrate's help with the front-line editing. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 4, No. 4



The Fall issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out! This is one of our special focus issues, this time on Women and the Gaming World, brought to us by guest editor Diana Sherman. In addition to the special focus, the issue also brings us Marc Laidlaw's "The Legend of Kit Read" for our Grandmother Magma column and "The Old Testacles," a short story by Anna Tambour.

Here is the table of contents:




 Vol. 4 No. 4 — October 2014

Special Focus on Women and the Gaming Worldand the Gaming World
Essays
Asking the Right Questions in Games
   by Fred Zeleny

The Women of Dragon Age
   by Marie Brennan

The Othering of Women in Gaming
    by L. Wagner

Grandmother Magma
The Legend of Kit Reed
   by Marc Laidlaw

Reviews
Chicks Dig Gaming, edited by Jennifer Brozek,
Robert Smith?, and Lars Pearson
   reviewed by Victoria Elisabeth Garcia

Mass Effect Trilogy, by BioWare
   reviewed by Rachel Blackman

Long Live the Queen, by Hanako Games
  reviewed by Linsey Duncan

Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency
   reviewed by Arinn Dembo

Story
The Old Testacles
   by Anna Tambour

Featured Artist
Realm Lovejoy
The digital version of the issue can be purchased for $3, the print version for $5, here

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sexual Harssment and Public Space



I've understood for a long time-- sometimes it seems like forever-- that many (though obviously not all) instances of sexual harassment invoke, often unconsciously, the binary formula that has its roots in patriarchal social organization, viz., the notion that public space is for men's business and play and that "decent," "respectable" women will stay secluded in the private spaces unless adequately shielded by a man's protection. As a graduate student in history, medieval and early modern Florence provided a perfect model for understanding this. The prostitute was the prototype for women who lived and worked in public space: a sexualized commodity, available to anyone. A woman without male protection must necessarily expect to be insulted if not assaulted.

Later, in the mid-1990s, I read Catherine Gallagher’s inteteresting Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace 1670-1820, and my understanding of the connection developed considerably. I’d long been familiar with the anecdotes about the woman who delivered lectures on the law at the University of Bologna from behind a screen to conceal her identity and thus protect her identity, and knew that very few women in the late medieval and early modern world dared to publish their work under their own names. (Marie de France, Christine de Pizan, Artemesia Gentilleschi, and Margaret Cavendish, brilliant exceptions to the rule, stand out as outliers in their audacity and even pride in doing so.) But I didn’t entirely get it until I read Gallagher’s book. Gallagher’s book looks at the development of authorial personae in fiction by women writers in England, dating roughly from Aphra Behn to Maria Edgeworth. Both male and female authors, she suggests, “in quite dissimilar social and economic conditions and across a range of discourses, portrayed themselves as dispossessed, in debt, and on the brink of disembodiment…. [A]uthors of both sexes called attention to their existence in and through their commodification and their inseparability from it. The rhetoric of female authorship differs, in this regard, from that of authorship in general by exaggerating and sexualizing the common theme….As authors, they imply, they themselves are effects of exchange. They do not present their texts as places where they have stored themselves, nor do they portray their authorship as an originary act of creation….Indeed, these authors commonly figured their labor as the accumulation of credit rather than the production of property.” Aphra Behn and her open, public success as a woman writing marked the beginning, really, of Anglophone women publicly claiming authorship (which in her case included writing plays that were publicly performed). And how did Behn fashion that public authorial persona? Gallagher examines how she audaciously used “the metaphor of the author as prostitute to create distinctions between the obliging playwright and the withholding private person, the woman’s body and her self, the stage and real life.” Behn did this as a way in to a role previously reserved for men, allowing the many writing women who followed to fashion other (“feminine”) means for becoming public—ie.,writing—subjects.      

It's been about two decades since I was informed by an sf editor editing one of my essays that the "sexual double standard" is "dead." Really? One of the social premises underlying many instances of sexual harassment is that any woman venturing into public space is subject to sexualization. That is why, of course, women who dare to speak in public space so often become targets for elaborately vicious rape threats. Or slut shaming. Or "doxxing."  Remember the English proverb, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion"? Women daring to negotiate public spaces (which include, of course, the workplace) are effectively in the position of Caesar’s wife. It's an impossible position for anyone claiming full public subjectivity, of course, since merely pointing out her possession of a vagina can suffice to stain her public integrity and the value of anything she says or does or even her right to speak. Can anyone deny that in our culture all it takes to call a woman's integrity and creditability into question is exposing the fact that she has a vagina is not a cis-male?

I've heard it suggested that sexual harassment has become such a hot issue (an issue that I will remind you was forced into premature retirement by the smearing of Anita Hill during the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee hearings for vetting the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court) because young women have been raised to expect to be treated respectfully and so aren't willing to put up with what women have always had to put up with. I don't think it's so simple. I think that the difference for the second decade of the twenty-first century lies in the stunning, important fact that women are increasingly claiming a place in public space and are consequently transforming public discourse in ways that challenge male entitlement to a serious degree. What else is at issue when evaluations of women’s professional work can be (and often are) smeared by social complaints, which seldom have any place in evaluations of men’s professional work? When the new chief of Microsoft publicly tells women attending a women in tech conference that women shouldn’t be so brassy as to ask for raises? When revealing the gender of the authors of scientific and academic papers results in markedly disadvantaging those identified as women? The implication is that women are in public space on sufferance, as special cases, being given privileges that can be revoked for any one of a number of arbitrary reasons, usually amounting to not in some ways being above rubies.

I've been very clear for some time (since starting the WisCon Chronicles, in fact) that WisCon has been developing into an interesting public space concerned, above all, with issues of access (especially, but not, with regard to gender). When I first attended in the mid-1990s, it felt to me like a semi-private space—a little pocket universe one could visit as a refuge from everyday life. Now I see it as a mix of public and private space, where small, brief private spaces thread and intersect the public. It's still, for me, its own unique space, a place of warmth and generosity, but it has become, as well, a vibrant public space where things happen that reverberate and generate and engender and transform, sometimes in ways that entail discomfort. (Change is like that, no?)  In short, I’ve come to see it as a laboratory for change rather than a clubhouse: for me, the very ideal of a feminist space. Above all, it's a place where women are encouraged to claim public space. And that's why the issue of sexual harassment is such a serious one for WisCon. If we (meaning all of us in this culture we live in) are to learn to accept and value women's contributions as easily and fully as we do men's, the double standard, which rests on the assumption that visibility in public space strips a woman of her respectability, has got to go. And that means, of course, that most sexual harassment that occurs in public space must be recognized as an instrument intended to instruct women that they can exist in public space only as sexualized objects, never as speaking subjects. 

ETA: After posting this, I read about the latest threat leveled in the Anita-Sarkeesian silencing campaign. Sarkeesian is scheduled to speak at Utah State University. Staff members there received a threat of a massacre if Sarkeesian is allowed to speak. Sarkeesian, the threat writer claims, "poses 'everything wrong with the feminist woman' and that is why she is being targeted. “She is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU.” It's all about expelling Sarkeesian from public space, and fantasizing her reduction to an inarticulate, whimpering markedly female body. What is wrong with "the feminist woman"? She speaks in public. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Killing of Darrien Hunt


by Mark Rich


Darrien Hunt, a young man in his early twenties, fell to police bullets in mid-September, in Saratoga Springs, Utah. Thanks to the unusual costume he sported, which included a mock Japanese sword, he stood out, that day. Being non-white in a community that considers itself ninety-percent white, he likely stood out from the crowd on most days. Hunt, wearing earbuds and perhaps oblivious to his immediate surroundings, seems to have been engaging in imaginary role-playing, enjoying fantastic adventures elsewhere than on the quotidian plane his feet touched. Called to the scene by someone suspicious of this behavior, two police officers arrived. They had an interaction with Hunt. A photograph has surfaced showing him standing near, and between, the officers, smiling.

At some point Hunt found reason to flee the officers, offering them his back, which they hit in six places with bullets. Assuming the officers were not superb marksmen, one can only imagine how many shots they fired, and how many reached the restaurant toward which Hunt had been headed.

Tim Taylor, deputy chief attorney for Utah County, has made a few interesting statements about the above. The Guardian quotes him as saying he knew of "no indication that race played any role." Since Taylor said this before any formal interviews with the two police officers commenced, we would expect him, naturally, to know of "no indication." How could he, officially?

The sword, which had been purchased at an oriental gift shop and given to Hunt as a present, "was not a toy," according to Taylor—again as quoted by the Guardian. "It is a steel-type sword with a sharpened point and what looks like a sharpened edge," Taylor said.

Yet if a sword is not a "real" sword, and is being used in play, what is it but a play sword? And what line can we draw between a play sword and a toy one? Is not a toy an object that enables play? Even a plastic katana could be described as a "steel-type sword with a sharpened point and what looks like a sharpened edge."

Utah has laws permitting the open carrying of weapons. It has never seen fit to enact laws permitting the open carrying of toys.

*

I have my reasons for continuing to think about this story. While I no longer write for the toy-collector market, I continue to wear some "toy authority" dust on my shoulders, and continue to receive occasional questions concerning playthings. I continue to buy, collect, and sometimes sell old toys, moreover. This being a busy time of year for auctions and flea markets, it happened by pure coincidence that I had been putting restorative oil on the wooden stock of a venerable Daisy toy gun the day before reading about Darrien Hunt.

The Daisy line featured most prominently its BB guns, for which Daisy eschewed "steel-type" material, preferring steel. Tim Taylor might say, "They are not toys." Yet I happen to know that Daisy, Markham, and other BB-gun makers considered themselves part of the American toy manufacturing industry. They exhibited at the American Toy Fair, and sold their products in dime stores and toy departments.

While I grew up not thinking of myself as "non-white," various incidents brought it home to me that others regard me as such. Although some judge my non-whiteness to have resulted from American Indian blood, I am instead half-Japanese. I have not a single toy katana in the house. All the same, around the time Hunt received bullets in his back, I was a non-white male holding a toy weapon, albeit in private. I had bought the toy at an auction, however, and so have had the experience of being a non-white with a toy weapon in my hands in public.

This matters not a whit. Or it matters intensely. When reading about Hunt I learned about John Crawford III, who in August went shopping in an Ohio Walmart—a dreadful store to patronize, for many reasons. Another shopper had removed a BB gun from its packaging, which Crawford picked off a shelf and carried around—which might seem an odd thing to do, were it not for the fact that people tend to carry around items they are thinking of buying. While not wearing earbuds, Crawford was absorbed in a telephone conversation, and so perhaps not entirely in tune with his surroundings. As in the Hunt killing, Crawford, non-white, was turned away from his assailant when he received a bullet from a police weapon. He had already stated to a different officer that the gun that he dropped was "not real."

Two states. Two non-white men who had committed no crimes. Two toy weapons. Four police officers involved in incidents in which state-of-art, state-approved sidearms were used in killing innocents from behind. In Crawford's case, at least one officer must have had the knowledge sink in that he had been called to the scene because someone had a toy.

*

Preserving the peace presumably reigns high among the goals for law-enforcement officers. One would think that "peace officers," as they sometimes have been called, should encourage play and creativity in all its forms: for play and creativity help build society, and give it an abiding strength. Unfortunately these days we accept the phrase "militarized police" with barely a lifted eyebrow, a fact that suggests that those who do act as "peace officers" are being edged out of the law-enforcement field.

For can one be a "militarized peace officer"? Yet do we need to ask this question, when even the words "militarized police" ring with contradiction? Police: "an organized civil force for maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, and enforcing the laws." This definition comes from the source nearest to hand, the Harper & Brothers American College Dictionary of 1948. Note that the definition indicates the police are a civil force. In common understanding, civil authority stands apart from military authority.

*

One may well ask who besides the police officers are at fault in the killing of these young men.

In the case of Crawford, the giant retailers who have encouraged "open carry" within their retail spaces cannot stand aloof from culpability. These retailers created the social environment in which a person might carry a toy weapon openly, within the toy department or outside it, and be mistaken for one who carries a weapon. Yet if the giant retailers share culpability, within their spheres of influence, then surely the states who embrace "open carry" must, likewise. They have made "open carry" an element within the social fabric by law, and so have created the environment in which anyone who carries a toy weapon openly may be mistaken for one who carries a weapon.

Yet another element plays into these killings, however. Tim Taylor's seeing "no indication" that race played any role in the Hunt killing seems, in itself, an indicator: for he issued, from his position of authority, a denial about the matter. It would have been more accurate for him to have stated his ignorance about the matter, since the investigation into the killing had yet to begin.

*

Above and beyond questions of culpability may be questions about the absence of a needed civil force in the places where these events occurred. The Guardian reported that the officers who shot Darrien Hunt in the back were "placed on paid administrative leave." This seems the action of an organized force that is akin to a fraternal society or brotherhood, not of a civil force. The "chief," Tim Taylor, said moreover that although protocol called for interviewing officers, internally within the department, within two to three days after a shooting, in this case the officers were being scheduled for interviews more than a week after the killing. This gives the further appearance of a fraternal society which protects its own before it protects greater society.

If these appearances have any relation to the facts, then this organized force in Saratoga Springs is not a civil one. If it lacks that civil aspect, it cannot be called "police." If all municipal law-enforcement organizations were like the Saratoga Springs force, and if all other chiefs were like Tim Taylor, we would need to state that we live in a state that goes unpoliced, literally. For we would have no law-enforcement organizations that would fit the definition of police.

We must remember that Socrates created not the single most ideal society possible, in Plato's Republic, but rather the particular ideal society that arises out of certain arguments and a certain logical process. Yet at its core it contains within it the concept of the guardian; and this guardian, one might hope, would hold a place in other ideal societies, developed out of other arguments and other logical processes. The Socratic guardian embodies the notion of Courage, a term that embraces a complex portion of the human soul—perhaps the most complex of all. Within the nature of this Courage exists the concept that death is to be preferred to the uncourageous act. To be the embodiment of Courage, as the Socratic guardian is, means that one accepts this notion, nourishes it among one's core understandings, and allows it to guide, alongside Wisdom, one's actions.

Socrates seems to have held himself to a guardian's standards, to judge from his own death. Does this matter? I believe it does: for it would surprise me should it turn out that any of the police officers involved in these killings had any training to help them understand the responsibilities they take on in becoming guardians of society. Using firearms of any kind around a gas station—which we know from news reports was nearby, in the Hunt killing—seems unwise, in the extreme. Using firearms around a family restaurant, equally, for different reasons. What wisdom then exists, we might ask, in shooting a fleeing man in the back? That very act served as a stereotypical symbol for cowardice, in old cinema. Yet what wisdom, we must insist on asking even more strongly, exists in a "police" department's statement that its officers fired their guns because the young man brandished his sword at them? Are we to understand that two of its officers—highly valued ones, who are worth paying even when not working—faced a toy sword and felt threatened?

That statement, about Hunt's brandishing his toy at them, would seem to have been a fabrication, since Hunt fell to six bullets administered from behind. Apparently these valued officers saw this extravagantly dressed young man running away, with his toy sword, and only then used their non-toys. The costumed one who was fleeing them had committed no crime. So he must have been offering a threat. Yet he successfully threatened the officers only by turning his back. Such fearfully tiny souls, these officers must have had, to have lost their courage at the sight of a fleeing man!

We can understand, now, the department's need to build up these insignificant souls, to make them seem larger and more heroic, by saying that it took the sight of a brandished sword to transform them from officers of the peace into its destroyers. Were they defending society? No: for according to Tim Taylor they were defending themselves against that toy. Then, by firing their expensive, overpowered, and, sadly, state-sanctioned weapons, they showed us exactly what they thought of our society.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Real Mothers"

Last summer, Cruising the Disciplines: A Symposium on Samuel R. Delany, edited by Kenneth R. James, appeared as an issue of Annals of Scholarship. This volume was meant to be a proceedings of a symposium on Delany's work held in Buffalo about a decade ago now. I gave a paper at the symposium, which I expanded for the volume, titled "Real Mothers, a Faggot Uncle, and the Name of the Father: Samuel R. Delany's Feminist Revisions of the Story of SF." Since this paper hasn't appeared elsewhere, I've posted it on my website for those interested in reading it. At the heart of the paper is Delany's famous allusion to Jeanne Gomoll's "Open Letter to Joanna Russ" during an interview published in SF Eye in the 1990s.

You can find "Real Mothers..." at  http://ltimmelduchamp.com/Narratives%20of%20sf.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ursula Le Guin to receive the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

I've just received this press release:
In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.
For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction. Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.
“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”
Neal Gaiman will present the award on November 19, 2014, at the National Book Awards ceremony.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lisa M. Bradley's The Haunted Girl


I'm pleased to announce the release of Lisa M. Bradley's The Haunted Girl, as volume 41 in Aqueduct's Conversation pieces series. The volume includes twenty-one poems and five stories. The supernatural, the animal, and the deadly often find each other in Bradley's landscapes, tame or wild. Vampires, either restless or filled with ennui; shape-shifters and skin-walkers; demigoddesses of evil and lust; haunted girls and dying fairies—the characters in this collection inhabit worlds of danger, decay, and, sometimes, rebirth. Often rooted in issues of family, ritual, and belonging, the poems and short stories in The Haunted Girl display Bradley's loving mastery of language, which grants us myriad moments of impish wit and startling beauty.

The cover of The Haunted Girl features Jenny Andersen's "Texts for a Lost Tribe, #3."

The Haunted Girl is available now through Aqueduct's website in both print and e-book editions. It will be available elsewhere shortly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Karen Joy Fowler's The Science of Herself

Have you read Karen Joy Fowler's The Science of Herself, a new volume in PM Press's Outspoken Authors series? The publication date is 2013, but I only recently read it. This series, if you don't know of it, includes, among other slim volumes the size of Conversation Pieces, Nalo Hopkinson's Report from Planet Midnight and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wild Girls. The Science of Herself contains a brand new story, "The Science of Herself," two reprinted stories (the searing "The Pelican Bar" and "The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man"), "More Exuberant Than Is Strictly Tasteful," a characteristically snappy interview conducted by Terry Bisson, and "The Motherhood Statement," an essay combining fire and irony.

By the time I finished reading the second page of "The Science of Herself," which opens the volume, I'd fallen hard for it. The seaside village of Lyme Regis in the first decades of the nineteenth century? How could any voracious reader not think first of Anne Elliot watching Captain Wentworth as he fails to catch Louisa Musgrove when she willfully throws herself off the stairs, in Jane Austen's last novel, Persuasion? Fowler takes Anne Elliot's visit to Lyme Regis as her point of departure, leading to imagining Austen herself walking that beach and not seeing (yes, yes , not seeing) a young girl who was often to be found on that beach. "Strangely deressed, lower class, odd in affect, and desperately poor, she was not really the kind of girl who wanders into an Austen novel." (2) But then Fowler quickly goes on to note that Austen's visit to Lyme Regis had actually been made to see this girl's father, Richard Anning, a cabinetmaker. The connection between the unnoticed young girl and Jane Austen, though virtually invisible to the casual eye, is actual.

Anning, besides being a cabinetmaker, was also a fossil hunter; more interestingly, his daughter Mary proved to be not only a more redoubtable fossil hunter than he, the person who recovered the first complete ichthysaurus ever to be found, but also a sharp paleontologist whose contributions to the field were only belatedly awarded public acknowledgment when the British Royal Society named her on their list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. "The Science of Herself" tells a story about Mary Anning's life that "wouldn't have made sense [in Austen's novel] with her bits of gothic history, her lightning, her science, her creatures. She wouldn't make sense in any story until the story changed." (25)

 I've long been interested in the problem-- one that Fowler has been mining for some time-- of stories that don't fit "the story" that is the template for how stories are told. It's a problem faced by writers wishing to write stories that don't fit the limits or language or assumptions of the current conventions, and a problem for readers longing for such stories and virtually unable to find them anywhere (and so often resort to ingenious methods for reading what is there slant). That template is, fortunately, always shifting. "The Science of Herself" is as much an exploration of how the stories that could be told about Mary during her lifetime were constrained and limited--how her life overflowed those constraints. The form Fowler uses to tell the story is what? It's prose, certainly. But is it fiction or nonfiction?

I'm particularly interested in the question of the form Fowler uses to tell Mary Anning's story because I've been sporadically working on a story about Emilie, the Marquise du Chatelet, for years now, struggling against the form it seems determined to take. The only form in which I seem able to cast the story of Emilie bears no resemblance to the forms in which stories about historical women are usually told. And I've been fighting that form because it resembles the form taken by "The Science of Herself," aware as I am that many readers would reject it as not really fiction (much less science fiction). I don't want to write an essay about Emilie. I want to imagine and explore aspects of her life as a woman of science in the same way in which I imagine and explore aspects of the lives of the characters I invent. In this sense, "The Science of Herself" is not an essay. Or is it? I'm thrilled that Fowler put this story out there, defying the demands that the writer choose one or the other. I think it will embolden me to finish the story. And I will say, for myself, that I'm increasingly uncertain about whether any clear distinctions can be drawn in every case between fiction and nonfiction. Obviously, some fictions are clearly, unequivocally fictional. But as someone trained in history, I've long been aware that because history is composed of narratives, it must always partake of the uncertainties (and distortions) of representation and won't ever be certain. Though based on "facts," imagination is the glue that makes those facts meaningful. In the end, we come down to story, and what stories can be told under this or that set of circumstances.

"The Science of Herself" plus "The Pelican Bar" alone would make this a bold book for a volume so slim, but "The Motherhood Statement" pushes it into the red zone. The book's second entry, "The Motherhood Statement," takes as its point of departure "The Motherhood Statement" in the Turkey City Lexicon (which Fowler describes as "a primer for science fiction workshops." "Motherhood" in this statement, like "apple pie," exemplifies "conventional social and humanistic pieties." Fowler, as anyone familiar with her work knows, is all about challenging comfortable conventions and "pieties."In principle, she's in agreement with the statement. But.
It's the specifics that give me pause. Apple pie, okay, fine, whatever. But motherhood? Nothing, absolutely nothing, appears to me more contested in our political and social and private lives than motherhood. Any woman who has ever had children can tell you it is no picnic of affirmation. Any woman who has not had children can tell you that that, too, is a controversial place to be. Neither is much admired. (28)

Fowler reminds us of something most science fiction (particularly that written by men) has not, until very recently, taken note of: "Motherhood is a concept that changes from culture to culture and over time. Sometimes it's set in opposition to mothering--motherhood, in this schematic, is the sacred duty of women, an artificial construct which underlies the whole system of patriarchy."(28)

Of course tarring "motherhood" with the brush of conventional social pieties has been a longstanding woman-bashing tradition for fiction written by US men in the twentieth century. It was a part of a concerted (highly successful) program for ejecting fiction by women from the upper echelons of literature in the US.* Fowler doesn't go into that, though, but focuses more closely on attitudes toward women vis-a-vis childraising, before paying tribute to the explorations made by feminist sf in the 1970s and then concluding with attending to the ferocious, on-going twenty-first-century attack on women's reproductive rights and how the free exercise of such rights has become a story many people and venues approach (if at all) with timidity at best and repulsion and censorship at worst. "I can remember no other time in which the attacks on women's freedom have been so widespread, so sustained, and so successful," Fowler writes. "Or half so scary... An argument that begins by positing women valuable only as mothers will end by suggesting that, even as mothers, women are not valuable at all." (32-33)  

Fowler ends the essay by returning to "The Motherhood Statement": "The easy assumption that motherhood constitutes some easy assumption is neither accurate nor serving us well. " (34)

She has a lot of good lines in her interview, but I'll offer you one here: "I believe that the learning in workshops happens to the critiquer not the critiqued." (72) Now go read this sharp little book yourself, if you haven't already.
_______________
*See, for instance, Paul Lauter, "Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon: A Case Study from the Twenties" (Feminist Studies 9,3 Fall 1983).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Year's Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy

Aqueduct Press is proud to announce The Year's Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy, our new anthology series dedicated to presenting readers with collections of remarkable feminist speculative fiction.  The first volume of the series will reprint stories published in 2014.  Editor Nisi Shawl will be assisted in selecting its content by four volunteer readers, each covering one of the year's quarters: Nancy Jane Moore, Keffy Kehrli, K. Tempest Bradford, and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz.  Author, editor, publisher, and critic L. Timmel Duchamp will provide a summary of the year's activity in the feminist SF arena.  YIFFSFF: 2014 is scheduled to appear in late May 2015.

We intend to assemble anthologies representing the qualities that make feminist SF so amazing, thought-provoking, challenging, and deeply satisfying.  At this time we're limiting ourselves to works published in English.  If you'd like to suggest a piece of short fiction to be considered for inclusion in the 2014 volume,, please use the form we've linked to on the Aqueduct Press home page.

Contact Nisi Shawl (reviews[AT]thecsz[DOT]com) with other questions or concerns about this anthology. Please put YIFFSFF 2014 in the subject line.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

CFS for a Diverse Weird Western anthology

I've just received this from Cynthia Ward:

Open Call for Submissions (OPENS 12/1/2014)

Here are the guidelines for a Diverse Weird Western anthology (title to be announced), to be published by WolfSinger Publications (http://wolfsingerpubs.com/) and edited by Cynthia Ward (http://www.cynthiaward.com). Ah, the "Western frontier"! I learned all about it as a child. I learned it was full of brave white American pioneer men killing the native inhabitants, who didn't realize the land they'd occupied for millennia belonged to the newcomers. I learned it was full of heroic white American gunmen shooting each other in high noon standoffs or over cattle. Those few characters who didn't fit the above templates were generally helpless Mexican peasants; treacherous Mexican bandits; or the occasional rancher's wife, school marm, or prostitute. Omitted from the history lessons and the movies and TV shows were--the whole wide world. For this anthology, we’re looking for stories about everyone else. We're looking for stories which reflect the complex historical realities and diversities of the North American "Western frontier."

We're looking for stories about marginalized and under-represented groups.

The Nitty Gritty:

-- Payment is $5/story plus a share of royalties.
--We are opening for submissions on December 1, 2014, with a deadline of December 31, 2014. --Submissions sent outside this window will be returned unread. DO NOT SUBMIT AT THIS TIME.
--We're looking for Diverse Weird Western fiction of between 500 words and 10,000 words (we're somewhat flexible, but the anthology will be 85,000 words max, so don't go significantly longer than 10,000 words).
--Original fiction and reprints are both acceptable. Let us know if your submission is a reprint and from where. Be SURE you have the rights to reprint – we won’t chase down permissions.

Full guidelines and submission instructions can be found at: http://wolfsingerpubs.com/WeirdWesternGuidelines.html.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sarah Tolmie's NoFood

I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct Press's release of NoFood, a suite of original short fictions by Sarah Tolmie, who you may recall is the author of The Stone Boatmen, which Aqueduct released earlier this year. In NoFood's vision of the messy near future, food is the language of love. For top chef Hardy Arar, his whole life is food. What is he to do when technology eliminates the need for it? TGB (total gastric bypass) is a giant leap forward for humans longing to transcend their flesh. It has fulfilled the desire of the rich to escape illness, boring sustenance routines, and disgusting bodily processes. But like all technological change, TGB unleashes a cascade of effects, social, political, and economic, effects drastically changing the lives of the characters in NoFood. For what is lost with the elimination of the drive to eat?

 “He was gracious to the end, Harwicke Arar. He was satisfied. He was still in possession of his nose; he was still in possession of his principles; he was still in possession of his own digestive tract. He had cooked the best food in the world, real and imaginary, and found someone to eat it.”—from “Cakes and Ale”

NoFood is available in print and e-book editions from Aqueduct's website now, and will soon be available elsewhere. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

WisCon Chronicles 9: Intersections and Alliances

Call for Materials

Aqueduct Press is seeking submissions that engage with WisCon 38 (2014) and its programming.  (You need not have attended WisCon in order to submit a piece for this anthology.)  We are especially interested in material on the themes of intersections and alliances (although we will consider other responses to the convention). 

We find ourselves considering what it means to live at the intersections of various identities, some of them more privileged than others.  We ask how we can function as good allies to each other in often challenging situations.  We’re living through an intense time of social change, and a variety of questions arise as we have these often difficult conversations about feminism, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and more.  Among them are questions about what leads to positive social change and how best to effect such change in our communities. 

We may be in conflict with one another about optimal tactics, yet we share the same goals for positive social progress and a healthy, safe, and welcoming community.  In conversation with each other, we hope this volume will help elucidate some of these difficult but necessary questions.  Passion is welcome, and nuance, even more so.

This will be a mixed-genre volume:  essays, short fiction, poetry, art, comics, are all welcome.  Preferred word length is variable, but ideally 1000 – 5000 words for prose.  We offer contributor’s copies and a nominal payment.  We are also looking for cover artwork, for which we can offer $100.

Submission deadline is October 15, 2014.  E-mail submissions to mohanraj@mamohanraj.com, with the subject line WISCON SUB:  [title].  You may submit up to 3 items.  You may submit in multiple genres if desired.

Mary Anne Mohanraj, Editor

ETA: Mary Anne has extended the deadline by two weeks.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Post-Readercon

Readercon this year, for me, anyway, had a bit of the feel of WisCon (except, of course, for the Dealers Room, which had no Aqueduct press table and essentially no Aqueduct Press titles anywhere, unless one counts the satchel of her books Guest of Honor Andrea Hairston schlepped around to sell to attendees who were interested in buying her books). Several of the panels would have fit comfortably into WisCon programming, and of course many of the people who are often to be found at WisCon were present at Readercon. Also? More than once I found myself torn between two panels--an experience I've hitherto suffered only at WisCon. I had an enjoyable--and mighty stimulating--weekend. My only complaint was that the hotel absolutely insisted that the music in the bar be loud enough to be heard all over the first floor (and too loud to permit conversation with drinks after about 8 o'clock in the evening).

I thought I'd mention a few of the panels that particularly interested me. At the top of my list was a panel on Saturday morning titled "When the Other Is You," featuring Samuel R. Delany, Chesya Burke, Sabrina Vourvoulias (M), Peter Dubé, Mikki Kendall, and Vandana Singh. (ETA: a video of this can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QPvyCcNsAmk.) The panel pretty much took its lead from the panel description: "Being part of an underrepresented group and trying to write our experience into our work can be tricky. We might have internalized some prejudice about ourselves, we might not have the craft to get our meaning across perfectly, and even if we depict our own experience totally accurately (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie observed in her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story"), we do so while struggling against the expectation that our experience is or isn't "representative" or "authentic." How do we navigate the pitfalls and responsibilities of being perceived as spokespeople? What potentially pernicious dynamics allow us that dubious privilege in the first place? Which works make us cringe with their representations of us, and which make us sigh with relief and recognition?"

Toward the beginning of the discussion Vourvoulias raised the question of whether the conversation was inflected by generational differences. Delany offered a dramatic example of cultural amnesia-- how the issues of contraception and abortion tragically impacted the lives of women he knew pre-Roe v. Wade, resulting in many, many deaths that young people today never imagine could be the result of destraoying access to abortion. 

The issue that received the most attention was that of "authenticity." One aspect of this is that the authenticity of the voices of those positioned outside mainstream culture is often judged by the expectations of mainstream readers (and editors). At the same time, the mainstream reader is often oblivious to emphasis, nuance, and multiple meanings. Kendall noted that we seldom hear the stories of the people who resist oppression in small ways: "The stories that get heard are the low and the high." I found myself thinking that this is partly because the ordinary person of color is largely invisible in mainstream culture (except when they're depicted in relation to white people), and partly because small everyday acts of resistance are considered too boring and undramatic to be depicted in fiction, unless the consequences are dramatic. 

Most of my notes for this panel are paraphrases or quotations from panelists, sans elaboration:

Vourvoulias: Does diversity just mean "be nice to everyone?" The bottom line is that respect for the other is essential for the health of the genre.

Kendall: We don't have a single language: the question becomes, "whose language?" (This was said in the context of discussing Black English and diverse forms of colloquial English, regional and ethnic, and their representations in fiction.)

 Dubé: Language is the single most important lens; translation is the creation of new meaning. More meanings is good, fewer meanings is bad. (Someone else on the panel, I can't remember whom, observed that when a member of a marginalized group speaks to the mainstream, they are always translating.)

Vourvoulias: There's a political weight to Spanglish, or other languages. There are levels and levels of nuance.

Singh: When I'm writing or reading about non-mainstream (in the US) cultures, emphasis matters.

Vourvoulias: Language itself is hierarchical; certain voices aren't heard.

Vourvoulias: Who listens to the victims of the genocide of Guatemala? We re-victimize epople by giving them less agency than the government that repressed them when there stoy is told by others who are heard, not by themselves, as though they can't be trusted to tell their own stories.

Delany: only one review of his most recent novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, got that the novel doesn't engage in exceptionalism for his poor, black, gay characters: the world of his novel makes black gay men unexceptionable and offers them an environment in which they can thrive-- as themselves, and not transformed into characters who aren't poor, black, and gay.

Dubé: Alterity gives you an outsider's view--which is valuable. As a gay man, he's distressed by the marriage/assimilation emphasis.

To tell the truth, I wanted this panel to go on for another hour at least. Or to have been about one or two of the various issues that the panelists discussed, to allow greater depth. But all in all, it offered me a lot to think about.


Another panel of interest sometimes overlapped "When You Are the Other" in the issues it addressed, viz., "East, West and Everything Between: A Roundtable on Latin@ Speculative Fiction," featuring Sabrina Vourvoulias (M), Daniel Jose Older, Matthew Goodwin, Carlos Hernandez, and Julia Rios. Vourvoulias asked the panel to begin by addressing the challenges facing Latin Speculative fiction. (ETA: Scott Edelman has posted a YouTube video of this one, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBOJsqktspU.)

 Vourvoulias: Why is it so invisible? Is it because Latinos don't read?

Hernandez: The pressures of assimilation are enormous. Assimilating leads to camouflage.


 Older: Gatekeepers-- i.e., booksellers, editors: Latino writers have to get through bottlenecks controlled by Anglos; our stories can be threatening to Anglos.

Rios: Dialect & Spanglish can be threatening.


Older: Nalo Hopkinson's use of Caribbean vernacular was a revelation to me. We translate ourselves-- trying to water down our voice and narratives to please white gatekeepers.

Hernandez: Cites Junot Diaz's observation that sf/f readers will negotiate 200 pages in elvish without complaint, but will freak out at the presence of two Spanish words in a novel. He suggests there's a double standard about real-world difference, which makes its presence political. (Spanish can't be neutral in the way that English or Elvish can.)

Vourvoulias: Accent becomes a signifier in fiction.

Goodwin: When we start thinking about the category [Latin sf/f], it makes us think about past work as well. The screenplay of Blade Runner was written by a Mexican-American. The Chicano character he placed in the film [who wasn't in the Dick original] enriched it. We need to uncover the long presence of Latinos in spec fic.

Older: Latin presence in "urban fantasy"usually involves a white person having sex with a Chicano werewolf etc. But what about the urban fantasy stories Latinos have always created? The ghost stories and zombies-- that were long found in our oral tales. The crude mechanisms of publishing-- of power, money, and race, excludes those stories.


Vourvoulias: There are regional differences. There are agrarian latinos-- there's a long history of them in California. The urban latino is the story that has become a trope. We don't often see agrarian latinos in sf/f.


Rios: A lot of white America is listening to Fox News and are terrified of the "flood" across the border.

Vourvoulias: As Americans, we're invested in the exception. Junot Diaz is our exception. It's the Latino quotient for the century.

Older: We have to beware of the one-and-only model of success, in which breaking out means breaking away from your community-- and getting out. How do we conceive of diversity? We need to have an analysis of power, and leadership from those who are successful.

Vourvoulias:  We need to be mentoring young writers-- or someone who's more emergent than you are.

The panel concluded with remarks on packaging, teaching, and reaching young Latinos some exposure to Latino spec fic.


I stayed, after this panel, for the next one: Readercon Classic Fiction Bookclub: Memoirs of a Space Woman with Amal El-Mohtar, Lila Garrott (M), Sonya Taaffe. I didn't take many notes for this one, at least partly because of my familiarity with the book. I thought the panel did an excellent job of giving the audience (most of whom hadn't read the book) an idea of its richness and interest. Certainly as I was listening I had the thought that this was one of those books that came out before its time, which was heavily in the throes of essentialism of every sort (though particularly, of course, gender essentialism, Simone de Beauvoir notwithstanding). Here's the program description: "Naomi Mitchison's 1962 exploration of a life lived nearly entirely in space has deep humanist themes. Mary's specialty in alien communication leads to a life and profession of embracing the Other, literally realized in her accidental pregnancy via a Martian. We'll discuss criticisms of the book's heteronormativity and biological determinism as well as the themes of Mary's immersion in alien
cultures." 


El-Mohtar: She initiated this panel because she got angry that Mitchison was not a name on the lists of authors considered canonical.

 Taaffe: The protagonist, Mary, doesn't gender her career roles (contrary to what you might expect from the title's "Space Woman"). The narrative uses casual-sounding words to convey huge amounts of information about the society and culture Mary comes from. 


El-Mohtar: The society that produces these characters is incredibly flexible and elastic in its attitudes, giving us a fascinating window on a society that somehow, over the course of centuries, developed into such a livable place.

 Garrott: This is an egalitarian, non-homophobic utopia-- written in 1962.

Taaffe: It has almost no sexual social stigmas-- except for the taboo against intergenerational sex, which they are especially conscious of as the result of the time dilaltion of space travel.


El-Mohtar: This book is about space travel and exploration without colonization-- something we almost never see in sf.


Garrott: The book is episodic, without a plot; the protagonist is passive.

El-Mohtar: But how much of that is due to the book's being in the form of her memoirs?


Garrott: But memoirs are usually artfully crafted.

Taafffe: The book just stops. At the end, you turn the page, expecting the text to continue, and there's an ad for Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind.

El-Mohtar: But the episodes gain in complexity as the book goes on. The trajectory is almost fractal.

Garrott: You get the feeling that the utopia is a result of people just finally growing up.

Taaffe: You can't tell how far into the future this is.

 A member of the audience brings up the point that in the book, humans can no longer eat animals because they can and do communicate with them.

Taaffe: In this future world, space travel solved the problems of vegetarianism-- introducing new fruits and vegetables to humans.

Garrott: This is mostly a comfort read, even though she has a lot of stuff that most people would find horrific and terrifying; but Mary isn't bothered by any of it.

Taaffe: There are mostly heterosexual relationships in the novel. But all the children Mary has are by choice. Mary worries lest she might be becoming monogamous.


The panelists discussed some of the details of Mitchison's remarkable life. (For more, I urge those interested to check out Lesley Hall's Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of Her Life and Work, which is the fifteenth volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, and is available in both print & digital editions.)


I want to mention just two other panels. One is the last panel I popped into-- I managed to catch only the last 20 minutes, alas (because I was delayed by a conversation I didn't care to abandon), a panel on unreliable narrators. Eileen Gunn commented that all narrators are unreliable, and that in her experience, all people are unreliable narrators. "As you get older," she said, "you realize you need to have your smart hat on when people tell you their stories." Dora Goss, reflecting on the prevalence on unreliability of narrators, said: "It's a magical trick we pull, making any narrators reliable."


The other panel I wanted to mention was one of my own-- simply because it's on YouTube and has some interesting discussion (which I moderated): Empathy, Identity, and Stories:
Matthew Kressel, L. Timmel Duchamp (moderator), Julia Rios, Andrea Hairston, and Walt Williams appeared on the panel "Empathy, Identification, and Stories." Here's the description from the program book: "At a panel at Arisia 2013, Andrea Hairston said, 'I can only tell you a story if you're a human who can hear a story and imagine what it's like to be someone who isn't you.' Tannanarive Due added that access to stories matters: some children, for instance, can easily find books about characters like themselves, while others have to read books from outside a position of identification. Culture creates structures of identification and empathy; or, to put it another way, ways of feeling from within and ways of feeling from without. How do stories create structures of feeling, and how can writers and readers both benefit from awareness of these structures?" The link to the video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY0SqMjb8Js 

This round-up only scratches the surface, of course. I don't have enough time to go into greater detail, alas. But certainly it made me, as Eileen would have, "put on my smart hat."

ETA: A video of Mikki Kendall's excellent interview of Andrea Hairston is now available, here: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JkuyG2Q_XQ8.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Readercon

I'll be attending Readercon this weekend in Burlington, Mass., along with numerous other Aqueductistas, including one of this year's Guests of Honor, Andrea Hairston. It's a safe bet that with so many Aqueductistas present, there'll be a plenitude of stimulation and challenge on tap. My own programming is:



Friday July 11 11:00 AM    F    Empathy, Identification, and Stories . L. Timmel Duchamp (moderator), Andrea Hairston, Matthew Kressel, Julia Rios, Walt Williams. At a panel at Arisia 2013, Andrea Hairston said, "I can only tell you a story if you're a human who can hear a story and imagine what it's like to be someone who isn't you." Tannanarive Due added that access to stories matters: some children, for instance, can easily find books about characters like themselves, while others have to read books from outside a position of identification. Culture creates structures of identification and empathy; or, to put it another way, ways of feeling from within and ways of feeling from without. How do stories create structures of feeling, and how can writers and readers both benefit from awareness of these structures?



Friday July 11 12:30 PM    ENV    L. Timmel Duchamp reads from a novel in progress

Saturday, July 12 1:00 PM    G    Audience-centric Narratives . Judith Berman, L. Timmel Duchamp (leader), Chris Gerwel, Ken Houghton, James Patrick Kelly. Several subgenres of speculative fiction, such as horror, satire, and slipstream, focus on creating a particular feeling or experience within the reader, rather than on the more typical plot-driver of a protagonist's inner or outer conflicts. The failure mode of this sort of writing is manipulation and didacticism. What makes an audience-centric story successful, from the author's point of view and the reader's?

Aqueduct won't be in the Dealers Room, and I haven't scheduled an autograph session, but I'll be available for conversation and book-signing throughout. See you there!