Category: Blog (page 1 of 21)

2016 Tiptree Symposium celebrating Ursula K. Le Guin

In December I traveled to Eugene, Oregon to attend the 2016 Tiptree Symposium, a two-day academic conference on the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. I got to see some old friends, made some new ones, briefly met Le Guin herself, and heard many thoughtful panels and lectures. If that sounds like something you’re sad to have missed, you’re in luck: the University of Oregon has put videos of the presentations online.

I’m planning to rewatch several of these, starting with the incredible panel Alexis Lothian put together on “Speculative Gender and The Left Hand of Darkness,” featuring Aren Aizura, micha cárdenas, and Tuesday Smillie presenting three trans perspectives on the novel. I took five pages of notes on this panel alone, and came away feeling I hadn’t been able to jot down everything I wanted to think more about.

Since the video index page I linked above truncates the titles, here’s a full listing of the videos:

December 1, Sally Miller Gearhart Lesbian Lecture, Dr. Alexis Lothian, “Queer Longings in Straight Futures: Notes Toward a Prehistory for Lesbian Speculation

December 2, Welcome and Panel 1: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Field of Feminist Science Fiction

December 2, Panel 2: UO Prof. Edmond Chang’s Feminist SF students on The Word for World is Forest

December 2, Keynote and Q & A: Karen Joy Fowler, “Ursula Le Guin and the Larger Reality”

December 3, Panel 3: “Speculative Gender and The Left Hand of Darkness”

December 3, Panel 4: “Le Guin’s Fiction as Inspiration for Activism”

December 3, Panel 5: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ben Saunders: “New Directions in Feminist Science Fiction: A Conversation with Kelly Sue DeConnick”

December 3, Keynote: Brian Attebery, “The James Tiptree Jr. Book Club: A Mitochondrial Theory of Literature” (The text of this one was also published on Tor.com)

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.

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.

Bullet Journaling with GoodNotes 4

image

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:

image

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:

image

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.

image

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.

image

One Year With A Road Bike

image

It was a year ago this week that I bought a road bike, the 2014 Jamis Ventura Comp, and I’ve been tearing around the streets of Austin on it ever since. I’ve gone hundreds of miles, through traffic and along trails, alone and with friends. The Texas heat sometimes makes it hard to motivate myself to hop on the saddle in the summer, but once I get going I always lose myself in the thrill of the ride. My bicycle has become one of my most cherished possessions, and cycling far more than a passing fancy. Here’s my current setup:

  • Panaracer Pasela tires – very durable, with tread that lets me stay stable on gravel despite the narrow width. This is especially useful when I’m riding along the river, one of the best ways to get from my place to the East Side. Adore these.
  • Specialized Milano saddle – bought this back when I was rehabbing after my bedridden period in 2009, and still like it. This is the third bike I’ve installed it on, and expect I’ll keep riding it until it wears out.
  • Shimano Click’r platform/clipless pedals – these made a huge difference to my rides, giving me better form (I used to pedal on my arches rather than on the balls of my feet) while transferring more of the energy from my legs to the bike. I got the half platform style so I could still ride with regular shoes if I wanted, but I almost never do.
  • Bontrager rear rack – originally got this for my Trek hybrid. It took a tumble in my accident on that bike and picked up a few dings, but still works just fine.
  • Arkel Urban Commuter pannier – the newest thing here. Up until now I’ve been wearing my Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack, still my favorite bag, but in this heat I just can’t stand having the airflow around my body obstructed. I used to dump the backpack into a collapsible basket on my rear rack, but didn’t like the way it threw off the balance of the bike, nor did I feel as comfortable riding in traffic with how far out it protruded. I tried a few other pannier types, and settled on this, a laptop/shoulder bag style pannier was also The Sweethome’s favorite. It’s working well so far, but I wish Tom Bihn would make a pannier bag.
  • Delta Cycle smartphone mount – best solution I’ve found so far, in that it’s sturdy, doesn’t require me to use a special phone case, and leaves the whole screen accessible. But the two halves get misaligned easily, and the lock clip doesn’t have enough clearance on the handlebars. I don’t love it.
  • Specialized KEG with flat repair kit – most folks around here keep their flat kit in a saddle pouch, but I don’t have room for one. Since there are braze-ons for multiple cages and I don’t need more than one bottle in the city, this works well as an alternative.

Not listed: my light kit. Up until now I’ve been using the Bontrager light kit that I got in Iowa with my Trek, but I’ve been meaning to switch to something brighter, with rechargeable batteries. Just last night my rear light got lost on a ride, so it’s time to take the plunge. Tomorrow I’ll be buying my Jamis a birthday present.

WisCon 40 and the Tiptree Award

Me with my parents on the night of the the Tiptree Award ceremony. Photo by John Scalzi.

This post is long overdue, having been constantly delayed by other life stuff. But WisCon 40 was special, and I want to record some of it here. WisCon is always special to me; it was my first con and the one I still attend every year. Attending as a Tiptree winner though is a unique experience, and one I’m very grateful to have had.

IMG_7916

A warm reception at dinner

I made it to Madison on Thursday just in time to race to the hotel and change into a suit for the Tiptree Motherboard dinner at Cento. I was very nearly on time but still the last to arrive, which produced the weekend’s first moment of atypical celebration when the already assembled group applauded my arrival. I took a stunned and bashful moment, then asked them to do it again so I could snap a picture. I was sure to take time during dinner to move down that long table and introduce myself to everyone, and met many people I was to keep interacting with for the rest of the weekend.

Me and Pat Murphy, founder of the Tiptree Awards

With Pat Murphy, who founded the award in her GoH speech in 1991

The next day was the official start of the convention, with my first programming of the weekend: a reading with Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, and Anthony Ha. My co-readers shared some great stories, and everyone laughed at the funny parts of mine and seemed interested in the philosophy bits, so I think it went fairly well. After that was dinner, and then the Opening Ceremonies. As it was the occasion of WisCon’s 40th anniversary, many people spoke of what the con and its community meant to them. Then the three guests of honor, Justine Larbalestier, Sofia Samatar, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson were introduced.  To close things out I was presented with the Tiptree tiara by founding mother Pat Murphy, and crowned by Eleanor Arnason, the winner of the very first Tiptree Award.

Doing my best Space Babe impression

Doing my best Space Babe impression. This was, obviously, before I got the tiara. Photo by Jeanne Gomoll.

Saturday was my day without any programming, allowing me to simply float about and marvel over how absurdly kind everyone was to me. Cath Schaff-Stump invited me to do an interview for the Unreliable Narrators podcast, which you can listen to here for a sense of how overwhelmed by it all I was. There was a cake for me to cut featuring a mashup of the cover of my Asimov’s issue and the cover of Lizard Radio, the other Tiptree winner. There were many long and pleasant talks with friends. And, for the first time, there were my parents, who showed up that evening and took me out to a steak dinner at Rare, a fancy restaurant around the corner from the hotel. After that was the Tiptree auction, where my mother won me a first edition copy of Patternmaster. The night finished, of course, with the Floomp, perennially a WisCon high point.

Sunday was the big day. I spent the morning in my room working on my acceptance speech, then went downstairs for my first ever WisCon panels: Exposition in SF/F, and Writing Near Future SF. While I was empaneled, my aunt and uncle drove up from Chicago to join my parents and myself at the dessert banquet and subsequent ceremonies. First came the three excellent Guest of Honor speeches, including Nalo Hopkinson’s establishment of the Lemonade Award for kindness in science fiction communities. Then, when those were over, the Tiptree Award presentation. This included receiving the award, a check, a box of chocolates, a commissioned artwork based on “The New Mother,” and a serenade from audience. Some pictures:

Then it was time for me to give the speech I’d spent the morning writing. Just as with the the picture of my loss of composure in the gallery above, John Scalzi managed to snap an action shot:

This is an overwhelming honor. I owe so much gratitude to so many people for the success of “The New Mother”—readers, jurors, friends old and new— that, even if I restricted myself to just people who are in this room, I would outlast any reasonable person’s patience before I could individually thank them all with the thoroughness their generosity merits. Doing so may well be less the work of an acceptance speech and more a permanent life project. Special recognition is due, though, to my parents, Jean Stein and Michael Fischer, who traveled from Texas to be here tonight, who raised me in a house full of science fiction novels and have been the most constant supporters of my own writing. Beyond that, I’d like to briefly explain how instrumental the entire WisCon community was in enabling me to write “The New Mother.” When I attended Clarion in 2008, I had already been sitting on the idea for this story for two years, certain that the concept was strong, and equally certain I didn’t have the knowledge or skill to do it justice. During the last week of the workshop I mentioned to Nalo Hopkinson that my recent, brief visit to San Diego Comicon had given me a panic attack, and that I was unsure the whole con thing was really for me. She told me that not all cons are like that, and specifically made me promise to give WisCon a try before I made up my mind. I attended for the first time in 2009, and when I got home I sent Nalo flowers in Canada to thank her for pushing me in this direction. I’ve been coming every year since, listening to all of you and your important, challenging ideas. I could not have written “The New Mother” without access to the vibrant polyphony I encounter annually in this building. So I thank you, WisCon, both for celebrating me this weekend and for educating me over the last seven years. I hope to continue learning from you for a long time to come.

After that came hugs and laughs and, as I recall, a very great deal of tequila. My hangover the next morning was pristine, the sort of hangover where anyplace you put your body feels like littering. Fortunately it began to abate by the time I had to make my way to the airport shuttle, because I ended up sharing that ride with Pat Murphy. We were on the same outbound flight, and so I got to cap my Tiptree experience by debriefing with the woman who was there from the very start. A more perfect close I couldn’t imagine.

Nebula Awards Weekend 2016 in Pictures and Words

IMG_7822I’m finally over the cold I brought home with me from Chicago, so it’s time to put up a few pictures before it’s off to the next con. Short version: didn’t win a Nebula award, but still had a fully lovely time. Met many wonderful new people with whom I hope stay friends for years to come, wore good clothing, drank tasty drinks, and gave a speech from the alternate universe in which I did win that was well-received, especially by SFWA President Cat Rambo. The programming was excellent and the environment welcoming; I’m very grateful to the officers, administrators, and volunteers for all their fine work. Here’re some photos and the text of my AU speech.

Thank you all for the bravery and optimism you’ve shown in congregating for this kind of celebration. For so many of us to risk staying so long in the same place reveals, I think, the great value stories have in lessening our burdens. To those who claim that the time we spend in fabulation would more profitably be used marshaling resources against our adversary, I answer: what is the purpose of our fight if we cease to dream of better lives? Our parents parents parents owned the surface of this world. They named this award after what they saw when they looked up. Above them was the “Sky,” and deep inside the Sky, the “Nebula.” Even then it was something lofty and aspirational. We can still dream as well as they could, and when I retire behind the fortifications tonight, I will do so with confidence that, some day, people will look with bare eyes upon the Nebula again!

Skiffy and Fanty Show Novella Roundtable

I was recently a participant on a Skiffy and Fanty Show roundtable discussion of novellas, along with Fran Wilde, C.S.E. Cooney, Malka Older, and Mike Underwood, hosted by Julia Rios. Listen to learn the anthology from which I first discovered novellas as a distinct entity, and hear me recommend some of my favorites.

Reading 2016: March

IMG_7631

The start of April was so busy, I forgot to ever post this.

  1. Hawkeye vol. 2 by Matt Fraction and David Aja – The conclusion to their run on the title. The deaf issue was really amazing, but it had been too long since I’d read the previous volume to remember some of the identities in Kate’s branch of the story, and I just muddled forward rather than going back to review. Not having ever been a Marvel reader or knowing there was precedent, I was legit surprised when Clint Barton was deafened.
  2. Miracleman: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham – My first time reading Gaiman’s contribution to the title. He followed up the mythic grandeur of Moore’s conclusion in probably the only way that would work: by telling a series of small, human stories in a still-fresh utopia. It lets the story take a breath, builds room for new kinds of narrative consequence to form, which we perhaps see only the very beginning of in this volume. I look forward to seeing the arc completed.
  3. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Joey Comeau and Emily Horne – The Kickstarted best-of book for A Softer World, which I will miss. Every page made me want to claim the words as my own and pretend to be cleverer than I really am.
  4. Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction edited by Sheila Williams – I picked this out of my parents’ library to read after “The New Mother” was nominated for a Nebula. It has a lot of old favorites, like “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler, “Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson, and “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress. I think my favorite story here that I hadn’t read before was “Barnacle Bill the Spacer” by Lucious Shepard.
  5. The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott – I’d been looking forward to Elliott’s debut novel ever since I read her debut collection The Wilds last year, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story of artificial intelligence enhancement, in conversation with Flowers for Algernon and Camp Concentration, but with a southern gothic humor and occasional satirical edge that I found delightful. I nominated it for a Hugo award which it will certainly not win because it isn’t well-known enough within the genre. But on merits it deserves that kind of attention.