Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shulamith Firestone, 1945-2012

Shulamith Firestone, author of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, died Tuesday. This is a book that sits on a shelf in my library near Simone de Beavoir's Second Sex and Joanna Russ's What Are We Fighting For? It burst upon the world in 1970, when Firestone was only 25 years old, a radical tour de force that helped shape the lineaments of Marge Piercy's alternative Mattopisett society-- "democratic, anarchist, communist, environmentalist, feminist, non-racist," in Tom Moylan's words in Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination-- and informed feminist imaginings of the positive, liberatory possibilities of new reproductive technologies. As Firestone concluded at the end of her impassioned argument, what she called "cybernetic socialism" "would abolish economic classes, and all forms of labor exploitation, by granting people a livelihood based only on material needs." She envisaged an end to sexual monogamy and the embracing of polymorphous perversity, and a family unit "meant to serve immediate needs rather than pass on power and privilege." Her call for such a revolution-- which specified women's sharing of reproductive roles with men and children-- came in for a torrent of criticism from many feminists (particularly from essentialists). Her analysis of sexual politics (now "gender politics") was both crunchy (she bites into a lot of Marx, Engels, and Freud) and visionary. It blows my mind that she was 25 when she published it.

The Women's History site offers a concise description of Firestone's activism:
Shulamith Firestone helped create several radical feminist groups. With Jo Freeman she started The Westside Group, an early consciousness-raising group in Chicago. In 1967, Firestone was one of the founding members of New York Radical Women. When NYRW split into factions amid disagreement about what direction the group should take, she launched Redstockings with Ellen Willis.

The members of Redstockings rejected the existing political left. They accused other feminist groups of still being part of a society that oppressed women. Redstockings drew attention when its members disrupted a 1970 abortion hearing in New York City at which the scheduled speakers were a dozen men and a nun. Redstockings later held its own hearing, allowing women to testify about abortion.
Kind of makes you cringe, doesn't it, reading about that hearing on abortion. We're now back to talking about contraception-- only with men only, not even nuns allowed to talk.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chris Barzak posts about Varo, Carrington, and Tanning

If you have any interest in the fascinating work of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Dorothea Tanning, you'll probably want to catch Christopher Barzak's posts on their work. One of the posts has a wonderful You Tube clip of Leonora Carrington chatting about her teenaged self and the debutante experience interspersed with a marvelous vid of her story "The Debutante" (in which the protagonist helps a hyena attend in her place, in drag, her coming out ball). Chris also talks a little about writing the stories in Birds and Birthdays.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Joanna Russ Issue of the CSZ

I'm pleased to announce that the Cascadia Subduction Zone has just published a special issue on Joanna Russ. "This issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is supplemental, published without regard for our usual schedule and distributed free of charge to subscribers. For the editors, it’s an exceptionally special issue we began planning shortly after Joanna Russ’s death last year. When I think about Joanna Russ’s relationship to feminism and feminist science fiction in general and to the work the CSZ aims to nurture and provoke in particular, Christine de Pizan’s brilliant conceit of the City of Ladies comes to my mind. The medieval thinker constructed her “City” of every powerful, accomplished woman she knew of. Russ’s work, always powerful and challenging, is more than a brick in the wall of our city, though; it is a substantial element of its foundation. Foundations are tricky things, especially in the seismic times in which we live. They are invisible to those paying only casual attention to the buildings they support.
But for the inhabitants of any building, the foundation matters tremendously." (Quotation from my introductory essay)
Non-subscribers can purchase an electronic version for $4 or both the print & electronic version for $5 here

Current Issue
Vol. 2 Supplement
August 2012 

Outsider, Creative Contrarian,
Lesbian and Feminist Theorist
    by L. Timmel Duchamp

   by Farah Mendlesohn

Feminist Futures Out of Time: Reading Joanna Russ’s
What Are We Fighting For?
    by Alexis Lothian

Alienation and “the Other”
in the Short Fiction of Joanna Russ
    by Brit Mandelo

On Joanna Russ
    edited by Farah Mendlesohn
    reviewed by Candra K. Gill

Heiresses of Russ 2011:
The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction

    edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and Steve Berman
    reviewed by Cynthia Ward

Featured Artist
Monte Rogers

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Funny uncles

Sunday I told an old friend my family's multi-generational saga of rape and incest.  Most of it, anyway.  Into her silence at the end I asked, "Aren't all families like that?"

"No," she replied.  "No, they're not."  But I think our science fiction family might be.  At least a little.

The incident that my assertion above will bring immediately to mind for you depends on when you're reading this.  At the time I'm writing it, that's most likely the sexual harassment a congoer underwent at Readercon.  It wasn't the first incident of its kind.  It won't be the last.

I met the Readercon offender when he served as MC for the Carl Brandon Society Awards ceremony at Arisia in 2011.  I'm not shocked that he's someone I know.  That's how this sort of thing works.

The encounters that affront me are more often racial or cultural in nature than sexual.  And the people that hurt me, that stun me with their ignorance and blithe insensitivity, their privileged cluelessness, are my friends, my role models, my elders.  My tribe.

Here are two names.


Gene Wolfe was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame this past March.  I was asked to contribute an essay to the event's program book.  I'm very proud of  "Cookies and Kindness," which describes how sweet Wolfe was to me when we first met.  He was a GOH at 1983's World Fantasy Convention, and I was a total n00b whom he rescued from utter dejection.   But I left out of the essay our last meeting, a Locus Awards Weekend panel featuring him and Greg Bear speaking at length about the nonexistence of racial profiling.  That panel I came within inches of walking out of, because both these men whom I love and respect were so wrong I couldn't bear to hear what they chose to say on a topic of which they lacked any personal experience.  Honestly, if I'd been just a little closer to the aisle....And why, you may ask, didn't I stand up and speak out if I couldn't sit calmly and listen, or manage somehow to slip away?

Really, I really do love these men.  It's so hard to tell anyone you admire they're queefing like a douchebag.  I guess I'm doing it now.  Hi, Greg.  Hi, Gene.

I understand why the Readercon ConCom made the error that they made.  They were wrong; I'm so glad they've admitted that.  Let me repeat: it was a mistake not to apply the standing sexual harassment policy to René Walling just because he was who he was.  And I get how that mistake happened.

My mother had three brothers.  They're all dead.  She has one sister.  I know she felt it her sacred duty to keep the remaining family together when, at the age of 11, she lost her own mother to rheumatic heart disease.  I understand why she felt she had to forgive her sister's rapist, their last surviving brother.  Who grew up to rape his oldest daughter before she left grade school.  My mother wasn't about to abandon him, though.  And I understand why she doesn't understand that the now-adult raped daughter won't speak with my mother or return her calls.  I understand that lack of comprehension, and I understand that lack of forgiveness.

 The hurts I've endured from racism and inappropriate cultural appropriation and the like are nonphysical, so perhaps they're not as horrific as those endured by members of our genre family suffering sexual predation.  I'm not the target in the cases I'm talking about, either.  There are a whole host of dissimilarities.  But here's what the two classes of offense share: they're committed by the opposite of strangers.

Would it help if I named more names?  The next one could be yours.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Will there be any stars in our crowns?

"Because We Are All So Royal" is my contribution to Aqueduct Press's WisCon Chronicles 2; it's about making crowns at the Carl Brandon Society's annual party.  This year CBS co-founder MJ Hardman and her husband Dimas Bautista bought the tinsel and flowers and plastic fruit and giant moths and toy motorcycles partygoers used to construct crowns.  Health issues (cancer, embolisms) have kept them at home for the last two years, but they support the event and commissioned the creation of a crown because they love being part of the creativity.

Here's what I came up with for them.  To a circular base of fluttering white hearts I added a silver purse begemmed with multi-colored plastic, a golden candelabra, and a huge honkin hibiscus.  Someone took photos of me wearing this crown, but I can't find them at the moment.  Still, you get the idea, right?  All the elements I used here are symbolic of something I wish for MJ and Dimas to have.  I'll mail the crown tomorrow and hope they get what I want to send.

Occult wisdom says you get back what you put out.  So helping others externally concretize their inherent noblesse makes MJ and Dimas true royalty. The kind without armies.  The kind we love.  The kind we can become.

Here's MJ at WisCon 33, ready to work it.

Here's Dimas with Margie Peterson at WisCon 33, enjoying their handiwork.

I wrote a picture book called "The Secret Princess" about how to do what MJ and Dimas have done.  It starts out this way:

Once there was a secret princess: Princess Herminutia.  She was a secret princess because nobody knew about her royal status.  Her mama and daddy called her Minnie and made her take out the garbage.
With the assistance of a wise costumer, her neighbor Mizz Cherry, the secret princess constructs crowns for all her family and finally receives the respect she deserves.  She gets what she gives.  What I want for us all.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Looking at looking

Late Wednesday SFSignal published short essays by me and some other writers on viewpoint in genre.  Timmi joined an online discussion of what we'd said, adding:

"I've--more times than I can count--written a second version of a story in first (if the first version was in third) or in third (if the first version was in first)--when unsure of which would best serve the story. It's an illuminating exercise in any case. And sometimes the second version really is the correct one (and brings out different sorts of details that collectively change the reader's affect)."

She rewrites entire stories to make sure she's using the correct viewpoint?  That is some mondo literary muscle.  That is the authorial equivalent of hauling pianos around with your teeth--but much more useful.

 I wish one of those SFSignal essays had been by Timmi.  I bet she would have revealed more surprises and amazements.  And I wish I'd said more in my essay about the choice of narrator, not just about styles of narration.

The story I'm revising today took me twice as long to write as I'd scheduled for it in my calendar.  Midway through the notes I kept during the writing process I recorded serious doubts about my protagonist.  "What does Trill do?" I asked myself.  "What can she do?"  And on another line, "Is this really Dola's story?"

I get into a haze when I write sometimes.  Too much sawdust in the air--I can't see what I've done.  If it's the deadline, though, I turn in what I've got.  The editors read what is actually there on the page--not the lumber of words and phrases I cut and sanded away or discarded before the glue set.  In this case they pronounced what I'd given them whole, a complete instrument.  A story.  One in need of some polish, but all there.

In the discussion after my pov essay got posted I declared that my choice of Trill as the story's pov character had worked because Dola was unconscious for the rape scene, whereas Trill was able to witness and describe it.

But if I'd written the story from Dola's perspective, maybe that scene would have arrived on the page another way?  Or maybe that plot point would have been reached without it?

I'm going to leave this particular piano where it is.  But future ones could get pulled around.  By my teeth, if that's what it takes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fluid identities

First the brag: I recently edited an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin for The Cascadia Subduction Zone, and afterwards she told me I was "not only a good editor but a nice one."  (Thank you, Ursula!)  Next the confession:  As a zine's "poetry editrix" I once responded to a letter from a rejected submitter by peeing on it and mailing it back.  25 years passed between these two exchanges--years during which I got a lot of experience on both sides of the editing equation.  So now I look at where I've ended up and where I started out and I feel qualified to wonder:

Do editors have mighty powers?  Do they ever use these powers for ill?  Or only for good?

 The Fem-SF list serve, on which feminist science fiction authors discuss topics of concern, once considered banning editors.  The idea was that participants would feel freer to talk about their work and careers, maybe snark about turnaround times, compare pay rates.  Editors were classified as bosses, and Fem-SF was going to be configured as a boss-free environment.

Then Nalo Hopkinson protested that she edited as well as wrote.  Turned out there were others like that.  Turns out I'm one of them.  Timmi's another.  In this day of independent small presses and multiple simultaneous career tracks, the editors-as-bosses model of publishing's hierarchy is really rather dated.

Editors who write--or writers who edit--want to do both things best.  Also, we think we know what "best" means.  Our mighty powers range from Fresh Pair of Eyes through Chicago Manual of Style to Flush Bank Account.  Our origin stories are particularly helpful for us to keep in mind when it comes to understanding what our contributors are trying to accomplish and making sure they do so.

We worry.  We're careful.  We're busy but concerned.  We don't see ourselves as villains.  We don't actually intend to do ill, and we're always as diplomatic as possible--peeing on correspondence aside.

Understand this, though: we're sweet because honey is a better lubricant than gall.  Or urine.

Another episode in the interval between my editorialistic nadir and zenith: I attended Clarion West in 1992.  There I was introduced to the Milford method of critiquing.  One of the key points I learned about this method: start out telling the writer what they did right because that shows them you know what you're talking about.  This technique doesn't just make them feel good, it makes clear your bona fides.  It gives your subsequent remarks credibility.  Credibility you as an editor will need, since you yourself can't change the text.  You can't.  It's not yours; it's the author's, and only the author can change it.  So if you want to see something revised, get out your plastic bear full of golden bee vomit and squeeze.

I guarantee you'll be happier thinking back on having done that than if you apply another liquid.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Endarkening us all

Conversation about all things Aqueductian is this blog's remit, and for the next week or so its founder has left it in my hands, desiring me to "enlighten and entertain" you.  If my posts aren't entertaining you probably won't bother reading them.  But I would rather endarken than enlighten.
Some time shortly after the turn of the millenium, sitting in a Capitol Hill cafe with my friend and co-author Cindy Ward, I listened to Timmi Duchamp tell us how she was going to start a publishing house.  She was really serious about this idea; she'd gotten advice on buying ISBNs and everything.  My initial response--which I kept to myself--was a mixture of skepticism and provisional resentment.  I hoped she knew how much work she'd be taking on.  I didn't see why her pet project would ever have anything to do with me and my writing.  And I certainly didn't expect she would change the face of publishing--least of all that face's racial profile.

There are four books that could be called mine.  All come from Aqueduct.  Next year I'll be able to claim a fifth.  Same publisher.  So I was wrong to think Timmi's project would have no impact on my career.  And deliciously wrong in my other conclusion as well.

Aqueduct's stated mission is to provide challenging feminist science fiction to the demanding reader.  Nothing explicit in there about race or ethnicity.  But when it comes to authors, racial representation within the catalog departs from the unmarked state, which is whiteness.  I love, love, love that the press does this--and without marking that departure.  Don't believe me?  Check out this list of authors.  I count eight who aren't white--there may be more.  Eight of 50.  That's 16%--a smaller percentage than in US demographics, but it feels huge to me.  Huge in a good way.  An endarkening way.

Author An Owomoyela noted that her linguistics studies taught her that:
"gender" is just a word for "kind."
We were talking at the time about the intersection of race and gender in her story "Of Men and Wolves" and also in the excellent Cat Rambo's "Clockwork Fairies."  Talking about a certain kind of kind really doesn't keep you from talking about another kind of kind.  In fact, it can make The Grand Conversation easier to engage in.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Heads up!

Nisi Shawl will be enlightening and keeping you amused while I'm traveling. If I'm slow to respond to email, it may be because I'm under conditions of limited connectivity. (We shall see.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Statement by Readercon's ConCom

In the wake of the mass resignation of Readercon's Board, Readercon's ConCom has issued a statement vis-a-vis the Readercon Board's handling of the sexual harassment issue, overriding the Board's decision by permanently banning Rene Walling from attending. The ConCom also apologizes to Genevieve Valentine and Kate Kligman and notes:
by damaging the convention's reputation as a safe haven where harassment is aggressively discouraged and appropriately dealt with when it happens, we have upset many people who care about the convention and undermined our efforts to make the convention more inclusive and diverse. Women, members of minority groups, and younger people are often especially vulnerable to harassment, and many have been understandably put off by the perception that harassment is tolerated at our convention; we cannot claim to be welcoming them while creating an environment in which they feel unsafe.

We offer our heartfelt apology to everyone in our community who trusted us and has been hurt by our breach of trust; to everyone who once felt safe at Readercon and no longer does; to those who have linked Readercon's reputation with their own and now feel tarnished by association, especially our past guests of honor and anyone who has officially or informally promoted the convention; and to those who love Readercon and are heartbroken to see its leaders acting contrary to the convention's best interests.
The statement also promises to take future specified actions to address the general problem of sexual harassment. If Readercon implements all the steps they are proposing, that con will be a trail-blazer in the way WisCon has come to be. 

New e-books from Aqueduct Press

We've just released e-book editions for four volumes in our Conversation Pieces series:

Vol. 5: Rosaleen Love's The Traveling Tide ($5.95)

Vol. 15: Lesley A. Hall's Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of Her Life and Work ($5.95)

Vol. 24: Sylvia Kelso's Three Observations and a Dialogue: Round and About Science Fiction ($5.95)

Vol. 34: Christopher Barzak's Birds and Birthdays ($5.95)

You can order them now at

Friday, August 3, 2012

Christopher Barzak's Birds and Birthdays

I'm pleased to announce the release of Christopher Barzak's Birds and Birthdays, the thirty-fourth volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. 

Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning: three of the most interesting painters to flourish in male-dominated Surrealism. This is Christopher Barzak’s tribute to them, three stories and an essay that enter into a humane surrealism which turns away from the unconscious and toward magic.

Sometimes the stories themselves seem to be paintings. Sometimes painter and writer may be characters, regarding each other through a painful otherness, talking in shared secrets. Barzak’s stories are huge with the spacious strangeness of worlds where there is always more room for a woman to escape her tormenters, or outgrow an older self. Here we find a bird-maker and a star-catcher whose shared history spills over into the birds and the stars themselves; a girl who outgrows her clothes, her house, and finally her town—and leaves to find her body a new home; a landlord, whose marriage, motherhood, separation, sexual exploration, and excursions into self-portraiture all take place within a single apartment building.

In “Remembering the body: Reconstructing the Female in Surrealism,” Barzak comments on the images that inspired these stories and discusses his own position as a writer among painters--and gender politics within the Surrealist movement.

 Here's a passage from "The Creation of Birds," the tale that engages with the paintings of Remedios Varo:
The Bird Woman hasn’t been able to make birds for a long time. Nearly four months have passed without one new bird. The birds in the next room were the last to receive the required teaspoon of moon and starlight needed to give them life. The stars and moons, a lot of them have been disappearing. It’s because of the Star Catcher—he’s been out there again, in the night sky, taking them down, so many of them, as if they were mere ornaments or lanterns. Without them, the Bird Woman won’t be able to complete even this sparrow, small and slight as it is. There isn’t enough available light to make it live. Why do I try, she wonders.  Habit, she thinks. Wishful thinking, she decides.

She tries not to attribute anything to hope.

A swan strolls into the workshop, sidling up beside the Bird Woman’s leg, attempting to view the parchment, but its neck isn’t long enough to stretch that high. “Shoo,” the Bird Woman scolds it. “Back with the others, silly swan. We’ll be leaving soon for the market.”
She strokes the top of its head before it turns to leave the room. Her fingers come away damp, sticky with ivory.
You can purchase Birds and Birthdays here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lesley Wheeler's The Receptionist and Other Tales

I'm pleased to announce that Aqueduct has just released The Receptionist and Other Tales, a new Conversation Pieces volume featuring narrative poetry by Lesley Wheeler. I'll let Ursula Le Guin's and Gwyneth Jones's descriptions speak for the volume:

Gwyneth Jones, author of Spirit and The Universe of Things writes: Lesley "Wheeler's The Receptionist is a delight: a stirring narrative of fantasy and derring-do, set in the ivy-clad towers and poky offices of modern academia, in which the warrior princess of an ancient line returns to the fray at last and summons ancient powers to defend the right, all told in technically assured terza rima cantos, full of ingenious rhythms. The forces of evil are all too recognizable, the bad guys satisfyingly bad and the good guys not too goody-goody. The infusion of classic children’s fantasy, and other bedtime folklore sources, is wonderful too. In the bonus package of shorter poems, “Zombie Thanksgiving” (T.S. Eliot's “The Waste Land” retold) is stunning, an absolute tour de force."

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Lavinia and Cheek by Jowl, writes: "How much Modernism deprives us of when it declared both the fantastic in fiction and the narrative in poetry unrespectable, and what a pleasure it is now to see the exiled witches and the forbidden rhymes return. Where can an evil Dean meet his doom more fitly than in terza rima? Lesley Wheeler’s brief novel of misbehaviour in academia, subtle and funny, rashly inventive and perfectly realistic, uses all the forgotten powers of metaphor and poetry to make the mundane luminous."

Edna, the heroine of "The Receptionist," is a mother and the receptionist for an academic department. The morning after hearing a Voice telling her The first revolution: simply to refuse, going through her email inbox, "Edna thought to check her spam."

 There it was, from "Gnomic Utterance." Subject
line: Solve for X. My destiny approaches,
she thought, and chuckled like a cracked crock-pot.

 You can purchase it now, here.