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“The New Mother” in Science Fiction World

2016-09yiwen“The New Mother” was translated and published back in September by China’s (and the world’s) largest circulation science fiction magazine, Science Fiction World. In fact, given the circulation, it’s entirely possible that more people will have read this version of “The New Mother” than the one I originally wrote.

Now the contributor’s copies have made their way across the ocean to me.  Looking through it, though I can’t read the text, I notice a lot of interesting things.

  • My name, when translated into Chinese, is 尤金 费雪. I’m told this contains characters for both “gold” and “snow.”
  • There are many translation footnotes, most commonly for elements of the story dealing with acronyms and initials. All acronyms and initials are rendered in English characters in the text, then contextualized below. There is one footnote that, from context, is clearly explaining why, in English, a group with a condition called HCP might name their news magazine “The Hiccup.” More common acronyms, like DNA, are still printed in English, but not footnoted.
  • In the English version of the story, the journalistic passages that made up every other section were distinguished from the narrative passages by italics. In the Chinese version there is clearly a typeface distinction going on, but I don’t know how to characterize it. I want to say that the parts that were italicized in English are here rendered in sketchier, less blocky looking characters. I don’t know if that’s just same typeface’s equivalent of italics, or something more like a different font.
  • There’s a fantastic, manga-style illustration to open the story; a double page splash of angry people shouting across a hospital as young girls are pulled away from their mother, while in the center a religious figure with hooded eyes reads from a book while standing beneath a sign that says “KEEP QUIET.” Here’s the best scan I was able to get:

SFW Illustration

The Coode Street Podcast with Jo Walton and Me

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At WorldCon in Kansas City I got the chance to join Jo Walton on the Coode Street podcast, hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. We talked about writers that characterize different eras of science fiction, how science fiction differs rhetorically from fantasy (more detail on that here), and whether there’s a difference between the kinds of literary experimentation in the past and what is pursued today. As tends to happen, I fell a little bit into just listening to Jo be enviably clever, but I did get a chance to talk about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s modern support for genre writing, and contemporary writers who inspire me (going on for a bit about  Carmen Maria Machado and Meghan McCarron and Carola Dibbell). You can listen to the episode on the Coode Street site, on your podcast player of choice through iTunes, or via the embedded player below.

“The New Mother” included in Heiresses of Russ 2016

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I’m quite please to say that “The New Mother” has been selected for inclusion in Lethe Press’s Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, edited by A. M. Dellamonica and Steve Berman. This will be the first time my work appears in a reprint anthology. It looks to be a gorgeous book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and learn who I’m sharing the TOC with. “Heiress of Russ” is an appellation I never would have claimed for myself, but couldn’t be happier to receive. You can buy the book from Lethe’s site here.

Reading 2016: Catching Up

I did very little reading this past summer, my attention instead consumed by other responsibilities. These are the only books I managed the last few months.

  1. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton – A book I’d saved for a time when I wanted to read something I was absolutely sure I would enjoy. It’s impossible to overstate how delightful and sly this is. I’ll be, I’m certain, revisiting this novel as comfort reading in the future.
  2. Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz – I’ve been reading Wertz’s comics online off and on for years, and it was nice to revisit these earlier strips.
  3. Astro Boy vol. 10 by Osamu Tezuka – Borrowed from Ada Palmer’s library, this volume collects the story arc in which Astro Boy must fight the robot Pluto. I read this so that I can at some point return to Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto with greater appreciation.
  4. Domu: A Child’s Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo – Another book borrowed from Ada Palmer, this is one I’d been wanting to read for a long time, I think since it was reviewed on Artbomb in the early 2000s. I love Otomo’s Akira, and this book in many ways feels like an earlier experiment in creating that world. It also reminded me that there has still never been another mangaka who draws action quite like Otomo does. I’m going to be buying a copy of this for my own collection.
  5. Engine Summer by John Crowley – Crowley’s prose is pristine, and much as in The Deep, here he employs a shadowy frame narrative that maintains an undercurrent of curiosity even as a hundred pages go by without the story glancing that way. This book is lyrical and contained, pleasant but not major. Still trying to work myself up to giving Little, Big another shot.
  6. Blindsight by Peter Watts –I think I fundamentally disagree with the philosophy of mind at the core of this novel, but very much enjoyed it nonetheless. I stayed up all night reading it in one go. Watts writes excellent, cutting sentences to hold some big science fiction ideas. I have many nitpicks, but Blindsight is a novel of real ambition and menace. I admire that.
Time, I think, is like walking backwards away from something: say, from a kiss. First there is the kiss; then you step back, and the eyes fill up your vision, then the eyes are framed in the face as you step further away; the face then is part of a body, and then the body is framed in a doorway, then the doorway framed in the trees beside it. The path grows longer and the door smaller, the trees fill up your sight and the door is lost, then the path is lost in the woods and the woods lost in the hills. Yet somewhere in the center still is the kiss. That's what time is like. –from Engine Summer by John Crowley

WisCon 40 GoH Speeches

For its fortieth anniversary WisCon invited three Guests of Honor, Justine Larabalestier, Sofia Samatar, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson. Today, which happens to be James Tiptree, Jr.’s birthday, all three have published their Guest of Honor speeches online.

Justine Larabalestier gave a speech about prejudice against YA fiction as a symptom of societal prejudice against teens themselves.

Turns out it wasn’t just the SFF crowd who aren’t fans of YA. (Though I suspect that SFF folk have particularly painful memories of being a teen and being oppressed by other teens.) I heard the following a lot: “Teens are awful. Being a teen was awful. Why on Earth would you write about them?” Often accompanied by visible shuddering.

It was starting to dawn on me that the horrified reaction to my writing Young Adult had little to do with the books and a whole lot to do with lack of interest in, as well as fear and hatred of, teenagers. Much as dislike of Romance is often more about misogyny than the books themselves.

It’s a mystery to me how I failed to notice that many adults hate teens. I’d certainly been aware of it when I was a teen. But somehow I forgot.

I also realised that adults hating teen wasn’t just a personal thing it was also a societal thing. There are, in fact, laws against teenagers in many jurisdictions. There are stores and even whole malls that won’t let teens in unsupervised by adults.

Why? I wondered. Why do we hate teens so much. I mean sure some of them are arseholes but so are some adults. What’s going on?

She followed with a fascinating discussion of just how new an idea it is–less than a century old–to consider “teenagers” as their own category, and how important it is to take them seriously.

Sofia Samatar’s speech was a gorgeous, soaring defense of diverse style and voice within genre, opening by quoting a critic’s line, “Genre is much less of a pigeonhole than a pigeon,” and flying on from there.

In fantasy and science fiction we might ask—why does our longing so often look like Isaac Asimov’s longing? This is the genre of possibility! After all, many people are drawn to the worlds of fantasy and science fiction because they feel like outsiders, they feel like they don’t belong in this world. The tropes of fantasy and science fiction can be powerful vehicles for expressing the sense of dislocation experienced by those who are physically and psychologically on the outside. I myself am drawn to these genres partly due to the experience of growing up between cultures that everything around me insisted could not exist together: half of my family are Somali and Muslim and the other half are Swiss-German Mennonites from North Dakota. What does that make me? It might mean I’m from the future, it might mean I’m a citizen of an alternate universe, but either way it complicates my relationship to this world. It makes me long for ways of being I don’t see in the world around me, and that’s not John Updike’s longing, it’s not Isaac Asimov’s longing, it’s particular and I believe worthy of expression.

Nalo’s speech was structured around lines curated from her own exercise music playlist, and focused on the rhetorics of the genre fiction community. She looked at the reasons people are angry, and how they act in their anger, and the predictable responses that her analysis would cause.

Listen: If I’ve learned anything in this past little while, it’s that there are people who will warp one’s message, in violation of one’s principles. I know that soon after this speech goes public, there will be those who will either mock it, or appropriate its language for their own ends. They’re going to say that I’m modelling the very things against which I’m advocating. That kind of flipping the script has become a popular tactic. I’ve begun to take it as a measure of success, in part because said appropriation is reactionary, not originary. They envy a particular sound bite or concept, so they try to make it their own, or, failing that, to make fun of it.

I don’t know what to do about that, but I do know that snark is easy, maybe too easy. It’s easy to ridicule others, for good or for ill. It’s easy to encourage others to join your dogpile, to create an atmosphere of fear, anguish and self-doubt in your preferred victims. Yet it’s not a bad thing to urge people to question their own beliefs and behaviours. Anger and conflict have their uses. But what are we doing on the other side of the ledger? I’m hearing from far too many people who would love to be part of science fiction, but who are terrified of the bullying. So what are we doing to foster joy and welcome to this community? What are we doing to cultivate its health and vibrancy? What are we doing to create an environment in which imperfect people (as all people are) who are trying to be good people can feel encouraged and supported to take the risk of a misstep, perhaps learn from it, and come back refocussed and re-energized, eager to try again?

Following up that thought, Nalo proposed doing a specific thing: the creation of an award for kindness, given to people determined to have made positive change within science fiction communities. She calls it the Lemonade Award, and even discovered an SFnal object to inspire the trophy. I think incentivizing prosocial behavior in our field is an excellent and timely idea, and hope that her award takes off as well as the Tiptree Award–also proposed in a WisCon GoH speech–did.

“The New Mother” Places 2nd in Sturgeon Awards

Or, as I prefer to think of it, earns first place among all stories not written by Kelly Link, who won for “Game of Smash and Recovery.” Coming in second behind Kelly feels a hell of a lot like winning. It was also completely unexpected. In her opening comments at the Campbell & Sturgeon Memorial Awards Reception, Kij Johnson said that the conversation over picking a winner was always “peppery,” but that this year it was especially so. When she announced my name I was astonished. Here’s what she said:

Second Place, “The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer, Asimov’s, Apr/May 2015.

A new disease makes women able to have babies without sexual reproduction. The story, broken by a pregnant lesbian reporter with her own worries, interestingly explores a multiplicity of legal and cultural complexities that could arise in this situation, without compromising the personal angle. The story was masterfully written and exhibited some of the best craft of anything we read this year.

After the ceremony, she and several others approached me to reiterate how much they loved the story, and what a close choice it was. I spent hours drunk on the experience. Much thanks to the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and the Sturgeon Award jury. Here are some photos.

Zach Lowe’s “Welcome to Manu’s Familia”

This is one of the best articles on Manu Ginobili’s career I’ve read. Includes many gems like this:

Ginobili carried no sense of entitlement; he outworked everyone in practice, especially during scrimmages, when he played as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Toward the end of an early September 2007 pickup game involving Spurs and visiting free agents, Ginobili dove through three players to retrieve a loose ball and flung it to a teammate. That player scored, and Popovich, watching, stopped the scrimmage even though it wasn’t over.
He gathered everyone and asked them: “What does that play mean to you?” Popovich told them Ginobili wanted to win more than anyone on the floor, and that if the Spurs wished to repeat after their 2007 title, they would all need to play that hard. Popovich walked away, and everyone thought the speech was over. Suddenly, he turned: “And Manu: It’s f—ing September. Never do that again in September.”

David Robinson was my childhood hero, and the newly retired Tim Duncan is inarguably the greatest Spur ever, but Manu Ginobili is my favorite basketball player, and he’s coming back for one more year. Lowe’s piece does a great job capturing all the things that are special about him.

Bullet Journaling with GoodNotes 4

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This past year I’ve finally gotten busy enough to need a more robust system for keeping track of my tasks than my previous mess of memory, post-its, and smudged words on the back of my hand. I tried a bunch of phone apps with very little success, and eventually stumbled on Bullet Journaling. I’m not evangelical about it, but it’s worked very well for me. Physically writing out my tasks, moving them around, Xing them out; it’s kept me focused and given me a visual record of my productivity that’s unmatched by any of the software tools. Trouble is, it’s also meant carrying around a red Moleskine that I look at multiple times a day. Everything else I do lives on my devices now, constantly backed up and accessible everywhere. Being beholden to a stack of paper has been a source of constant, low-level anxiety. One moment of clumsiness with a beverage or forgetfulness on a bus and my life could become a desperate scramble.

Fortunately, that’s all over now. I’ve recently switched to an iPad Pro 9.7 for my mobile computing (about which a longer post soon), and with it begun using a phenomenal app called GoodNotes 4 that solves every problem with my old journal and then some. Paired with the Apple Pencil, using it feels just like writing on paper, and lets me quickly jot down anything I need to remember. It looks like this:

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If you’ve done any Bullet Journaling though, you know it’s not just about the lists. The primary selling point of the system is its organization, with an index for all the different sections. GoodNotes 4 takes care of that with its bookmark system. Just drop a bookmark at each new section, the bookmarks tab becomes an index:

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So that’s all the organizational features of my paper version covered. And GoodNotes 4 also syncs with iCloud, allowing me to access it from my phone if necessary and eliminating my last significant risk of data loss. On top of that, digital features like copy/paste, erase, and undo are all available, not to mention dozens of options for color and drawing style, plus the ability to add new blank pages (in any of multiple paper types) inside the journal.

All of that would have been enough to make the switch worthwhile, but it has another feature that’s incredible, and would be completely impossible with pen and ink. All of that handwriting in the images above? It’s fully searchable.

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This app lets me do text search of handwritten notes, and it works almost perfectly. It’s so good I’ve found myself fantasizing about how convenient it would’ve been to have this technology when I was an undergrad, carrying around a different composition notebook for every course. Had I to do it over again, my entire physics degree would live in GoodNotes 4. As it is, I’m happy enough just saying goodbye to the last paper journal in my life.

 

 

Austin Bat Cave’s Science Fiction Writing Camp

 

imageAustin Bat Cave is a nonprofit organization that creates free writing programs for Austin-area kids. During the academic year they work inside schools, and put on a series of writing camps during the summer. A few months ago the program director, Ali Haider, approached me about the latter. He wanted to do a summer camp for 9- to 11-year-olds on writing science fiction, and wanted me to design and teach it. The curriculum development seemed like a fun challenge, and I thought I might enjoy the novelty of teaching a much younger age group than when I was at Iowa (fun largely because I didn’t have to do it alone; three volunteers were signed up to help run the class.) So I said yes, and this summer spent a week with twelve mostly eager young writers.

It was a Monday through Friday camp in the conference room of a branch library, three hours a session, with a public reading of student work at the end. The goal of the camp was for students to produce, workshop, and revise a complete science fiction short story of ~1000 words. Day 1 was all about getting the kids used to the camp and each other, discussing what a science fiction story is, and having them choose the settings they’d be working with the rest of the week. We talked about all the different kinds of places science fiction stories could take place, watched Powers of Ten, and read Ken Liu’s “Celestial Bodies.”

Day 2 was about character and characterization, with a guest speaker from a local tech design firm to talk to the kids about the interface between life and technology. We read “Project Daffodil” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley and discussed unreliable narrators, then developed characters as a class and discussed how their natures and histories suggested possible plots.

Day 3 was full of exercises on plot and detail language. We discussed the chains of causality that link one event in a story to another, and read Beth Cato’s “Post-Apocalyptic Conversations with a Sidewalk.” Then we did an exercise recommended by Kendra Fortmeyer, in which the class collaboratively wrote a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story in Twine, splitting as the branches diverged, until every student wrote their own ending.

Days 4 and 5 were all about finishing and revising the stories the students were writing, doing peer workshops in pairs one day and then rewriting on the basis of that feedback the next. They also read “Misprint” by Vonda McIntyre and had another guest speaker, Martina Belozerco, who discussed medicine and its role in people’s lives. Thursday evening was a reading for parents and guest, some of the students’ first time reciting their own work into a microphone. And of course, when everything was finished, we had a party. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, the parents were pleased, and I got to scratch the teaching itch that’d been growing since I moved to Texas. So thanks to Austin Bat Cave for the opportunity. If you live here and have school-aged children, you should look into their programs.

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