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All Star Trek stories are Kirk/McCoy unless otherwise stated.
All Avengers stories are Steve/Tony unless otherwise stated.

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Book Review: The Stars Seem So Far Away

Cross-posted at The Future Fire:

Margrét Helgadóttir, The Stars Seem So Far Away. Fox Spirit Books, 2015. Pp. 160. ISBN 978-1-909348-76-9. £5.00.

Margrét Helgadóttir’s debut book is a mosaic novel describing the lives of a disparate group of survivors in a future that seems to be coming closer every day. I read The Stars Seem So Far Away the same week that science reports confirmed that the East Antarctic ice sheets are melting more than previously thought, that the previous year’s worldwide weather temperatures were the hottest on record, and that the Amazon rainforests are starting to fail in soaking up carbon dioxide. Turning from news reports to a science fiction novel about climate collapse was heartening and disheartening at the same time, for Helgadóttir does not ask whether humanity will survive, but how they will do so.

Stars packs fourteen stories into a slim book; they are spare in description and action, but draw their world clearly. The overarching theme is of rescue from isolation, as each character begins his or her journey alone, mulls over the lost past, dodges threats in the present, and ultimately makes contact with another survivor. Four of the stories that fall in this vein, ‘Nora,’ ‘The Rescue,’ ‘Lost Bonds,’ and ‘A Sailor Girl Goes Ashore’ were previously published, and these introduce four of Helgadóttir’s protagonists: Nora, a woman who sails the open sea while avoiding pirates; Simak, a soldier charged with locating survivors and supplies; Bjørg, a young woman with protectors in the form of genetically-engineered polar bears, called isbos; and Aida, a formerly wealthy and protected teenage girl who becomes a refugee twice-over, first through immigration to the North and then through surviving a deadly plague. Zaki, Aida’s older brother, appears in other chapters detailing his adventures.

Some stories are so brief that they lack the build-up necessary for a truly satisfying conclusion. For instance, ‘The Women’s Island’ finds Nora and Aida travelling to an island where they never leave the shoreline as they are greeted by its three inhabitants, an old woman and her two “daughters.” Nora internally marvels that the girls appear to be well-fed and round-cheeked, but she quickly understands that these three are predators not unlike the pirates she eludes, for the true source of both the dried meat offered and the jewelry is human. Nora and Aida quickly retreat and continue their travels. A story that offers such mythic and genre possibilities and is so easily solved almost isn’t a story so much as an anecdote.

‘The End of the World’ suffers from the opposite problem, in that there is so much contained that the story can’t end satisfactorily. Simak and his team are investigating a sighting of a human bonfire when they find a pair of boys who lead them to the remains of what may be an abandoned church of some sort. The walls are decorated with images of animals—which are all but unrecognizable to Simak at first—and people, and there are numerous papers that appear to be a mixture of history and prophecies. The date “2049” is on several of these papers, but it’s unclear what relevance this date has for the characters. The story concludes with the promise that the place will be researched by scientists, and that one of the boys will go back to civilization with Simak. And—there are no further revelations about what these prophecies may indicate, the mystery of the bonfire is dropped, and neither of the boys reappear in the narrative.

The titular story, ‘The Stars Seem So Far Away,’ features Zaki meeting Roar Haugen, an aged former astronaut, who tells of his adventures in space and how the program fell apart due to lack of funding and mounting expenses. Meeting Zaki compels Roar to finally pick up and move away from the crashed airplane that has been his home for years, and they travel together to find a settlement with the last of the space explorers. In the meantime, Zaki contemplates redemption for abandoning his little sister, and they come across other survivors, both benign and not.

The concluding stories chart an abrupt shift from a focus on survival: the main characters become part of a space program to travel to human settlements on other worlds and find new opportunities there. Nora and Bjørg are conflicted about leaving behind the familiarities of home, while Simik, Aida, and Zaki are eager to go forth. This plot seems more hazily sketched in than the others—it’s unclear how the space program functions or what country or settlement runs it, or how, given the scarcity of supplies, it has enough fuel and food. In the final story, ‘Farewell,’ Zoar and the newly introduced Doctor Hege listen as Zaki reports over the radio the shuttle launch and achievement of orbit. Zoar declares that he’s done with adventures even as Hege thinks to herself that she’s not. And so the ending is really just the beginning.

The Stars Seem So Far Away is at times an awkward, freshman effort, but well worth reading, for what it lacks in polished prose it makes up for in vivid imagery. Despite the grimness of the world, it is by no means a dystopia; indeed, considering the wariness each character displays for strangers, the vast majority of people introduced are genuinely good people, and it is underlined over and over again that cooperation and collaboration are the way to survive. The few “bad” characters largely remain undeveloped ciphers, which is, I think, a weakness, but a minor one. I wish the book had been twice its length, the better to explore this world and its people, but in its brevity it manages to become something like a fable for the future, promising rewards for good deeds.

Because Saturday

So a friend of Todd's is selling off his printshop, so we're going in together to buy some type and other stuff. So this is part of the conversation we had this morning:

[comparing lists of typefaces]

Me: You're sure about this one instead of this one?

Todd: I recognize that as the proprietor of Enterprise Press you might have some resistance to a typeface called Romulus, but really.

[I think about IDIC.]

Me: Fair enough. Let's add that one then.
Cait Yatta!
Because I can't embed, here's a link.

Via The Mary Sue.

“Nerds don’t have a problem with women,” said host Larry Wilmore, “they have a problem with change.” He then asked the panelists if the whiny manbabies of the internet are racist, sexist, or just gross gatekeeping nerds, to which Amanat replied, “All of the above.” Killin’ it.
"The Great Internet Debate Over Not Reading White Men" by Saladin Ahmed

'Bestselling author' is, functionally, a job. And nearly every single one of those jobs goes to a white person (quite often a white man). When women still make only seventy five cents for every dollar that men make, and 98% of the New York Times bestseller list is composed of white authors, anyone who reads primarily white male authors is contributing, quite directly, to the economic inequalities that pervade our culture. Now, some readers — particularly those of a politically conservative or libertarian sensibility — don't give a shit about this. Indeed, they may be actively hostile to the very notion of egalitarianism. The market, in their view, is a pure meritocracy. But many other book buyers believe, as I do, that the market itself is racist and sexist in all sorts of unseen ways. Choosing to buy and read books by women and people of color is one small way to address this.

More selfishly, though, seeking out the voices of women, people of color, and LGBT folks will lead you to wonderful books you might not have found otherwise. Indeed, there are a great many wonderful books that you are likely to miss unless you are consciously choosing to privilege those voices.

This is not simply because, as one commenter on Scalzi's response to the debate put it, "humans tend to default" to what they know. It's because, despite the heroic efforts of many agents, editors, and publicists, publishing's marketing machine is a long way from treating all authors equally. It is my sincere belief that most readers don't know just how slanted the publishing industry is toward a narrow sliver of voices. Unless one deliberately seeks out fiction by marginalized writers, the vast, vast majority of books that cross one's radar via TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and, yes, the internet, are going to be by white people — and most of those white people are going to be straight men.
"Post Secrets,Young women face the dangers of the post office" by Angela Serratore

Communication of and by women has always struck fear into the hearts of men (see: novels; epistolary), but until the middle of the nineteenth century it was largely manageable—husbands and fathers, even servants, monitored a lady’s letters, and the wild fluctuations in cost of mail kept all but the wealthiest of girls and women from taking pen to paper on a regular basis. That changed with the standardization of postal prices in 1845. The cost of mailing a letter was reduced to three cents, making the mail accessible to working women, middle-class housewives, and schoolgirls with pocket money. Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two dangerous things—the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope’s 1852 invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret, but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives. ...

A Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine report on women and children in America points out to its British readers that while the fair maidens of Europe must rely upon a town businessperson to mail and receive her letters, a girl in New York has a freer hand:

"[She] has the privilege, if she chooses to exercise it, of her own private box or pigeon-hole at the post-office of the town where she resides, where she can have her letters addressed, and whither by a “Ladies Entrance” she can resort when she pleases and unlock her box from the outside, and take away her letters without observation."

It’s the lack of observation that made the New York Post Office such a source of fear—private communication is one thing, but to carry it out in a public space, away from the watchful eyes of protector figures, leaves women and girls open to assaults on their chastity, both in print and in person.

I love everything about this, I really really do. I wonder what arguments we could make about this as a precursor to women's activity on the web--private writing and reading, safe spaces, etc.

On Hope

chris vocabulary
I wrote this on Facebook, but thought I'd share here:

In one of the Nimoy remembrance threads on my wall there's a discussion about TOS and hope, and I wanted to elaborate on that a bit more. I was at a con a number of years ago and someone in the audience said something like "of course TOS was optimistic, things were easier back then," and a speaker, I think it was Don Baker, responded, "That's the thing though. This was 1966. We were in a terrible war, our political leaders were being assassinated every few years, there was nuclear tension with Russia and frankly, we were convinced that the world was going to end soon. To have Star Trek say 'no, we're going to survive, thrive, and become better' was a HUGE deal then and it is now." And I thought that was so great.

And here's the thing that separates us, then and now: In a lot of ways, the world actually IS better than it was in 1966, even if it's damn hard to believe it sometimes. The thing is, we have the technology in our hands, right now, to make the world the place we want it to be: If we decided to give homes to the homeless, to feed the hungry, to solve any number of problems, we could do so, but we don't. And it's not because people aren't trying, it's because they are shouted down by the naysayers.

Here's the thing: Hope is hard. It really is. There's a reason why, in so many myths, hope is this hidden, locked up thing. It's precious, and it cuts to the bone. To have hope, you have to find strength, and people to share it with, and it's hard. But it's possible.

Star Trek showed us hope. So now we have to do the work. That's all there is to it. It's that easy, and that hard.


RIP Leonard Nimoy

hug your shark
I am very upset. I started crying a while ago and I can't seem to stop.

I mean, I can say all the obvious things about watching Star Trek, watching the reruns of TOS and TAS as a little kid. When you're incredibly lonely and too smart for your own good, Trek was like having this whole awesome group of friends and family you could go to when your real family and friends were inadequate or nonexistent. And you grow up from that and get the real thing, eventually, but Trek is still your safety blanket. To me and to a bunch of others, losing Leonard Nimoy feels like losing a parent, or maybe worse.

ETA: Okay, I just had an epiphany about the grief so many of us feel for Leonard Nimoy today.

He was basically our Uncle Iroh. I think we all wanted, very much, to be the people he would have wanted us to be,

Book Review: Division by Lee S. Hawke

Crossposted at The Future Fire:

Lee S. Hawke, Division: A collection of science fiction fairytales. Blind Mirror Publishing, 2014. Pp. 114. ISBN 978-1-925299-01-4. $8.99.

The fairy tale is a peculiar genre: today we usually think of it as quaint, storybook fodder for small children. In fact, most of the fairy tales we know best grew out of a specific body of speculative literature that developed across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Like science fiction, the fairy tale form could be used to discuss and even mock the politics and social figures of the day. Lee S. Hawke’s collection of what he calls science fiction fairy tales,Division, is very much in the spirit of that old tradition, and each of the seven short stories in this slim volume shines and burns with too sharp observations of our contemporary world.

The first story, ‘The Soldier,’ seems too prescient by half. In the very near future, a sick man is taken by the military because he has survived a devastating illness; scientists believe that he, as a survivor, can be used to produce antibodies for a cure to it—and to other diseases. He becomes first a “soldier” in the effort to fight disease, and then a member of “the special forces,” assigned to fight off, if he can, Ebola, Malaria, and H5N1. His battlefield is the hospital, and his general is his doctor. As he combats sickness, he watches increasingly horrifying news reports of how the rest of the world is faring. Given last fall’s panic in America about Ebola, and the most recent spread of Measles at Disneyland, it is too easy to imagine the havoc wrought on civilization by illness, and the extreme measures taken by governments to stem the tides.

‘Dissimilation’ takes place against a smaller, yet in some ways equally bleak scale. Sara is a schoolgirl whose classes are taught through computer simulations, accessed by a memory jack at the back of her neck. Throughout the story she plugs in and out of the real world, such that the simulated world is rather more real to her than, well, the real one. However, a lonely child is still a lonely child, and bullies are still bullies even in cyberspace—as we should know all too well ourselves. ‘Please Connect’ also plays with the possibilities and excesses of our virtual worlds; in this world Richard and Susan meet for what at first appears to be an awkward experience of speed-dating. Their conversations reveal a future world upon which we are already vanguard, where everyone stays comfortably behind their computer screens for work and for games. It turns out the awkward dates are the prefatory meetings prior to government-sanctioned physical sex for procreation. While touching and human contact aren’t actually taboo, as they are in Gina Biggs’ science fiction webcomic Love Not Found, they are rare and discombobulating to the point of discomfort to the protagonists. It should be amusing that two people are so much more comfortable with a variety of computer screens than with each other, but it seems to be a world that is coming closer to us every day.

‘The Grey Wall’ is another story about isolation and a lonely child, this time in a suburbia that carries the dystopian echoes of both Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L’Engle. An unnamed boy explores the limited confines of his world, until he discovers the titular Grey Wall, and what lies beyond it. It treads rather close to a current trend in posthumanism writing in which artificial life is more human—and humane—than actual humans, but the conclusion is still unexpected and upsetting.

‘Beauty’ is a bit of an outlier in this collection, playing as it does on the somewhat worn trope of the futuristic beauty industry in which physical attributes can be changed instantly and easily. In this case, sex can be changed along with eyes, cheekbones, and various other attributes. I suppose this aspect is noteworthy compared to other, similar stories, but at the same time, it seems to me that not enough is done with the idea—especially given that in the contemporary, non-Anglo world sexual reassignment surgery is fairly commonplace. ‘Lemuria’ feels similarly worn with its premise of cursed viral media, but has enough new, intriguing elements to make up for it. This story remixes end-of-the-world fear with the consumption of social media and places it in the context of an alien invasion; the “Others” can locate humans through people watching videos of them on the Internet and devour them from within. The too-brief conclusion leaves it up to the reader whether the protagonist has ascended to the afterlife or only become part of a new hivemind. I wish more had been done with this aspect, which feels utterly new and offers quite a bit of food for thought.

The final story, ‘Division,’ is a story about a parent’s grief when her teenage daughter dies. The writing here is the sort we might talk about when we talk about the transcendence of genre—technically it doesn’t matter that the story takes place on a starship, it doesn’t matter that the grieving parents are two women, it doesn’t matter that the dead child was genetically engineered, because the focus of the story is on the emotions: of being separated from one you love deeply through death and from one you love deeply through grief. That the story nonetheless contains all of these things underlines how speculative fiction can confront the universal with all the intellectual dexterity of traditional “literary” fare.

If Hawke’s collection is a demonstration of the possibilities of genre, then his medium of the “science fiction fairytale” is a demonstration of the possibilities of form. Each of these stories takes something familiar and, as they say, makes it new again.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Beer Muffins

Mochi rockets
From Bradley Denton:

So, for six muffins: Preheat oven to 375F. In a big ol' bowl, mix about 1.5 cups self-rising flour, a fistful (or so) of brown sugar, a fistful (or so) of chocolate chips, and 6 to 8 ounces of Shiner Chocolate Stout. Mix to a medium-thick batter and taste, adjusting ingredients as desired. Spoon into greased muffin tins (I use cooking spray), then bake for 30-35 minutes. (These were in for 32.) Remove from muffin tins and cool on baking rack until you can't hold out any longer.


Bookmark: Fanfiction as a Feminist Pursuit

"Flipping the Script: 4 Reasons Fan Fiction Is a Feminist Pursuit" by Ally Boguhn

Although it’s often ridiculed as nerdy and those who are into it are often written off, fan fiction makes some serious progress when it comes to empowerment of marginalized people.

It allows us to call out problematic media elements of the texts we love and subvert those narratives – leaving space to reclaim the stories and characters we treasure and make them into something even better.

Now, fan fiction isn’t necessarily inherently a political act – there are plenty of entries into the genre that are problematic in many of the same ways traditional media is (or more so – Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?).

But it does also allow for some seriously wonderful exploration of feminist ideals like equality and empowerment, as well as representation in media depictions and voices. ...

1. It Helps Young Women Explore Identities and Create Communities ...

2. It Allows Us to Interrogate Texts ...

3. It Centers Diversity ...

4. It Provides a Space for Perspectives That Are Ignored by the Media ...

Fan fiction is a genre that literally anybody can create and distribute. Within fan fiction, there are infinite opportunities for marginalized people to express themselves, share their own experiences, and create a sense of community.

Some more thoughts on Agent Carter

Previously: On the Politics and Teaching of Erasure

I feel like Agent Carter's writers have been hanging on Tumblr or something because the last couple of episodes have had a fair number of POC in tiny one-off roles, and YET.

Anyhow, a lovely minor plot point this week was Angie's performance of a speech from Ibsen's A Doll's House, which has that lovely 1-2 of tying into Dollhouse the show with regards to how women are literally programmed (via the Leviathan/Red Room plot) and erased.

All the same, because of its issues and limitations, I'm still going to call it White Feminism: The Show. Which is frustrating because I do like the recurrent themes of physical and social "disability" and erasure, plus the writing is tight and the actors are great.

Cait Yatta!
Sooo PBS has a webshow that sometimes talks about fic and pop culture? Whaaaaaat?

Bonus, "How Sherlock Paved the Way to FSoG":

charles write
"Shiva and Octavia" by Sam J. Miller

I think it’s difficult for writers and readers who carry privilege, whether of class, race, gender, or sexuality, to understand just how crippling it is to look around at the books and magazines that you love, and not see yourself there. How deep the internalized wounds can go, when everyone around you from high school on up is holding up a book that looks nothing like you, and saying “THIS IS GREAT LITERATURE. THIS IS A STORY WORTH TELLING.” Every writer faces an uphill battle getting their words in print--my hero Octavia Butler said “everyone who tries to write experiences savage rejection, and it just goes on and on until finally you begin to break through”--but the savagery is compounded when you add in the external obstacles outsider writers face when their stories feature experiences and arcs that white straight middle class college-educated editors have no personal experience of ... and the staggering, sometimes crippling, internalized obstacles: the self-doubt and the self-rejection. Brilliant writer of color Lisa Bolekaja tweeted about facing the need to “work through shit just 2 feel comfortable putting sentences on paper. Somedays 1 sentence is a miracle.”

This is why queers need to destroy science fiction. It’s why women--and people of color--and writers working in languages other than English--and other marginalized communities need to destroy science fiction. We need to undermine the Straight White American Male Underpinnings of the genre.

Bookmark: "What is an @uthor?"

"What is an @uthor?" by Matthew Kirschenbaum

But there is also a new kind of archive taking shape. Today you cannot write seriously about contemporary literature without taking into account myriad channels and venues for online exchange. That in and of itself may seem uncontroversial, but I submit we have not yet fully grasped all of the ramifications. We might start by examining the extent to which social media and writers’ online presences or platforms are reinscribing the authority of authorship. The mere profusion of images of the celebrity author visually cohabitating the same embodied space as us, the abundance of first-person audio/visual documentation, the pressure on authors to self-mediate and self-promote their work through their individual online identities, and the impact of the kind of online interactions described above (those Woody Allenesque “wobbles”) have all changed the nature of authorial presence. Authorship, in short, has become a kind of media, algorithmically tractable and traceable and disseminated and distributed across the same networks and infrastructure carrying other kinds of previously differentiated cultural production.

Let me be clear: I’m not referring to “ebooks” here — that is, to literature as content or commodity. I’m referring to authorship itself as a category of cultural authority. If works and texts have become licensed properties subject to DRM and the strictures of the DMCA, and if readers have become self-enlisting data handlers by contributing ratings and other forms of reporting on sites like Goodreads (purchased by Amazon), then authors, I would argue, have become vectors for media diffusion, both in the mass proliferation of the authorial image and the power or authority channeled through their individually authenticated social media presences. Moreover, all of this also generates new kinds of authorial metrics and measures, new nodes of critical data that make pattern recognition possible amid our contemporary networks. While some scholars may shun such developments, others are embracing them, leveraging analytical tools and techniques to account for a landscape of authorship and reading that is no longer confined to simple geometries and lines of influence, and no longer served by the established critical schools.

One of the most important such vectors are the lines of interaction between literary and fan culture. The question of whether The Peripheral can be regarded as a sequel to the Blue Ant novels — a question seemingly definitively answered by Gibson, as we have seen — is emblematic here, more so than whether or not the novel has a “happy” ending. This is because sequels raise precisely the kinds of conundrums about storyworlds, continuity, and canon that often loom large in fan circles, where vast storytelling universes (Star Wars say, or the Harry Potter series) spawn hundreds or thousands of derivative works, some licensed, some not, all of whose relationship to the original franchise must be adjudicated for internal self-consistency (not unlike the genre problems of time travel fiction that Gibson, like any author who experiments with that device, must confront). Here the existence of a controlling authority over a given creative property is both a legally binding fact and the ultimate arbiter of arguments on forum threads. Even for more prosaic literary fiction, where transmedia franchises and fan fiction are unlikely to develop, I predict that the conventions and expectations from fan communities will cross over and mediate (literally) the authority of authors on a variety of critical questions.
Cross-posted at The Future Fire:

Don Riggs, Bilateral Asymmetry, Poems. Texture Press, 2014. Pp 114. ISBN 978-0-692-21272-1. $17.00.

When we discuss genre writing, poetry often gets left out, ignominiously, despite some of the great practitioners of the form: Tolkien, of course, wrote elegiac verse for and in his legendarium; the poems of Ursula K. Le Guin and Jane Yolen echo the concerns and themes of their prose works. Speculative poetry, like speculative fiction, explores possibility through form as well as content. The poems, calligrams, and illustrations in Don Riggs’s new collection Bilateral Asymmetry play with the mythic and the esoteric, inviting closer readings to deceptively short texts.

The titular poem, appearing purposefully almost-but-not-quite halfway through the book, reflects on the asymmetry of the physical and the mental. “The left side, where the heart lives, the right brain / loosely directs, taking a wait-and-see / attitude” reflects the preoccupations of art interlocked with life that make up the rest of the volume (63). Riggs draws his subject matter from personal experience and reflection, recalling memories interchangeably with books read, paintings viewed, poems pondered. In some ways this recalls the experimental style of David Markson’s novels, which seamlessly combine brief snippets of literary and historical facts with authorial commentary to produce holistic narratives.

Riggs utilizes personal drawings to evoke the sense of walking through an art gallery—indeed, the first set of five poems are titled ‘Gallery Opening.’ This is actually much more effective than twee; it emphasizes the intellectual interchange between word and image, and invites the reader—especially in the word-picture calligrams—to consider how the two forms interact with one another to create another narrative outside of the singular poem.‘Real Magic,’ which “involves metamorphosis / of one thing into a wholly other” offers itself as a kind of thesis to this way of reading, as it compares looking into a children’s book with retelling the tale of a phoenix—and then an accompanying image of a phoenix itself (105).

In another poem, ‘Uber Blumen Und Madchen, nostalgia for a lost mistranslation,’Riggs asks, “I can always translate from a text, but / how can I translate something from the past?” (85). Though part of a series of poems reflecting on Rilke as well as the act of writing poetry, the lines invite reconsideration of the other pieces that play on memory. The act of autobiographical writing is peculiarly difficult because of, as the author acknowledges, nostalgia—and that difficulty of translation. The past is always a foreign country; its language more so. The act of writing memory—or even transmuting it—is a familiar one to poets, but Riggs’ ability to make it a quasi-fantastical act transforms it in another way, making those particular poems more like miniature short stories than only vignettes. While far from expert in poetry, I do appreciate this take on the form as being distinct enough to be worth remarking on further. The poem ‘Agricultural Research Station, Beltsville, MD’ recounts a childhood visit to Riggs’s father’s workplace. He describes—and also draws—a cow with a window in it; the image is sufficiently bizarre to invite comparisons to magical realism rather than outright fantasy (or memory).

Other poems, like ‘The Elves Know’ or the five poems in ‘Dealing In Futures’ play with more standardized genre fare. ‘The Elves Know,’ with its accompanying illustration of a long-locked and lackadaisically slouching elf, automatically invokes memories of Tolkien, while the ‘Dealing in Futures’ poems play with the mystical iconography of the Tarot.‘Four of Pentacles, after a card by Boris Vallejo’ includes a playful cartoon of a buxom warrior woman which is very much at odds with the hyper-sexualized imagery of the well-known genre artist. (Vallejo’s art for a proposed Tarot with his partner Julie Bell has appeared partially in the magazine Heavy Metal.) That artistic intersection, as well as the intellectual one between the spiritual nature of the cards and the sensuality of the art on them, emphasize the exuberance of such disjunctions.

The subject matter of Bilateral Asymmetry is probably further afield of what readers of The Future Fire typically look for, and yet, as I mentioned before, genre poetry tends to be overlooked enough that seeking it out is worthwhile. This volume is a well-written, thoughtful exercise in genres, and is more “user-friendly” than other such books I’ve come across recently (I’m thinking particularly of the intellectual convolutions of Tracy K. Smith’s otherwise praiseworthy collection Life on Mars). What is perhaps a little lacking in terms of originality of subject matter is more than made up for in originality of turns of phrase. Riggs does not hit the reader over the head with his belles lettres, but lets it sink in gently. When the reader looks up from having concluded the book, there is more the sensation of having finished a lovely, thoughtful story collection than a volume of verse.
The Trickle-Down Effect of Genre Bookselling by Andrew Liptak

Paperback novels, largely denied a place in “proper” bookstores, had found their ways into consumers’ hands by going through magazine channels, which distributed books to department and grocery stores, as well as newsstands. In 1961, the first bookstore opened that sold paperback novels and bookstobookselling 1res slowly began to stock them on their shelves. Miller notes the stark differences between buyers and the stores they frequented: “The drugstores, the discount stores, and the newsstands were the outlets geared toward the growing mass of working-class readers. Bookstores, on the other hand, cultivated the “carriage trade”—a more affluent, educated group of patrons. Thus, bookshop owners did little to counter their growing reputation among the public for being intimidating figures with minimal patience for customers who were not appropriately bookish.”

While this was happening, genre paperback publishing hit its stride. David G. Hartwell noted that when he entered the science-fiction publishing industry as a young editor at Signet Books in 1971, the genre publishing field became "unknowable: the total number of books published per month was 32 in hardcover and paperback," a number that exceeded what anyone could realistically read, between the books and magazines. Throughout the 1960s, Hartwell noted, "the biggest money you could make in SF was a serial to the major could make more money serializing your story in Analog" than one could by selling the rights to a paperback publisher. By the 1970s, that point had tipped, and paperback publishers began to pay above the serialization rate that the magazines paid.

This is owed in part to the number of science-fiction paperback publishing lines out there: 12 in all. Competition between the various paperback lines increased, and science fiction authors found themselves in more demand. An author could typically expect an advance of around $5,000 (just under $30,000 in 2014 dollars) for a three-book contract with a paperback publisher, with some advances going as high as $100,000 (almost $600,000 now).

Fascinating nuggets in this article that will make one happy AND sad. For one thing, genre numbers are up right now--I think I saw at SFSignal that 350 SFF books are going to be published this month. On the other hand, we only have, what, five big genre publishers right now and a number of smaller publishers that go in and out of business seemingly at the drop of hats. Also, those advance numbers--I think right now the average-ish is something like $2-5k in today dollars, with a $30k advance if you've become a steady seller, so... yeah. Fascinating look at the history of the industry though.

On the Politics and Teaching of Erasure

To start with, there's an upset in Agent Carter fandom on the absence of POCs in 1940s NYC. Tamora Pierce stepped into it by stating that "If you mean the cast is primarily white, it’s the 40s. Which is more offensive to you: black help and blacks in service, or no blacks? I would like to see more POC, yes, but that was the time, and I’m not sure I’d like to see more POC if they’re always going to be in service" and it was one of those moments of OH GODSDAMMIT YOU TOO?! (Seriously, my love for Alanna is now muchly sullied. Anyway) So I wanted to blather on a bit.

So, first of all, the erasure of women and POC from everything is very much a narrative of our culture--in history, in writing, in art, everything. (I've promised myself that one day I'm going to write an essay called "My Invisible Labors" on every time my participation in something high-profile had been erased by TPTB.)

First off, this happens because of a straight-up devaluation of contributions, or what I sometimes like to refer to as "the magical elf narrative." This is when things happen magically, without people "doing" anything, because the people themselves are invisible. Think of it as like hotel service, right, you check into a room, it's perfectly clean and neat, you leave the place a mess, and come back later, and--everything is magically clean and net again, the bed all made up, the towels replaced, etc. You sometimes catch glimpses of hotel staff, but most of the time you don't think about it, because we don't value their labor. I tie this directly to Pierce's statement, because she is devaluing a specific kind of labor--but THE SAME THING HAPPENS ACROSS THE BOARD.

Think of the books that are "magically" ordered and shelved in libraries, of the author-less blocks of text in various circulars and so forth. (I remember once being scolded by a faculty member for not buying a book for her. I apologized and started looking in my records, then asked when she'd put in the request. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You wanted me to buy a book for you but I can't find the record of when you asked for it--usually I keep those on file for when I buy stuff." "Oh, I never told you about it, I just assumed you knew." "..." Yep, actual story, and a useful reminder that I don't actually have psychic powers.) There are an awful lot of things that are done anonymously--or rather, without acknowledgement, because the work is not valued.

Now, when it comes to the idea of POCs as only "the help"--well, 1) that is a very specific, privileged point of view and 2) easily disproven. Like, voila. That we don't see other roles for POC in film speaks more to the received knowledge of filmmakers--people "don't" want to see POC in lead roles, people "won't" find it believable--than to any kind of historicity, and this is problematic. I've written about this before, but once when I was in a fiction seminar and had given folks a chapter of my in-progress novel about a black girl in 17th century England, a ridiculous amount of time was spent--by white people--telling me that it wasn't realistic because "there weren't black people" back then...which led to me reciting population statistics in London and so forth because, well, me, and then finally the teacher just telling me that "even if it's realistic, it's not believable because it's too much," like there's this intellectual yard stick and it has some kind of quota system to it.


[And it's funny, as I'm writing this I'm participating in a discussion on Facebook on the issues of class and poverty and elite universities, with someone decrying this as kids "feeling sorry for themselves" and others (including me) arguing that social and economic isolation have very real effects on the academic performance of students, and how there are programs developing to help with this. So, you know, a nugget of hope in the world, as it happens.]

The other thing going on is, well, how all of this is still going on. TPTB still try to limit opportunities for POC and women based on the received knowledge WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT. It's a full, ugly circle of power, and privilege, and really the only way to break it is through education, new texts, and (clearly) sheer stubbornness.

Plus the other thing is--aren't these erased stories just simply more interesting? I mean, think about how everyone freaking loves Downton Abbey--because the bulk of the emphasis of the story is on the less privileged. Hell, they even dabble a bit with diversity with the gay dude, even though they basically made him Neutral Evil. But--can't we hear the stories of ALL the gays, and ALL the POC, etc. etc.?

Anyways, I'll conclude this messy ramble: I didn't get accepted into a prestigious conference, and was feeling rather bummed about it, and I talked to my dissertation chair about it. Her response was basically "lol of course not--because you're writing about women, and that group has always been invested in ignoring them as much as possible. Be patient and get the last laugh!" My chair, btw, is pretty literally a rock star for writing THE book on women's writing in history, so, yeah, she would know, wouldn't she?

Now, it should go without saying, that the rest of us should have our last laughs at the expense of those writers who keep insisting we don't exist, or that we are "too much."

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March 2015



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