Tag: Karen Meisner

Reading 2015: November

IMG_6811

As predicted, Fallout 4 dominated my media consumption time this past month. The first three books here I read in the week before the game came out, and the last two I read in the final days of the month, while traveling for Thanksgiving and far away from my console.

  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – It took until about halfway through the book for the story to cohere and reveal its stakes, but once it did I was deeply invested. I’m not sure I found the linguistic handling of gender as mind-blowing as other readers did, though I did think it very clever. This is enjoyably chewy space opera, and miles better than I expect first novels to be. My only real complaint was how many places the plot hinges on coincidence, with multiple characters just happening to pop up again despite the passage of decades and centuries. To its credit the book does at least address the issue, by having the main character ruminate on the dominant culture’s religious treatment of coincidence each time, but I found this gesture to mollify more than it excused.
  2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie – I read these last two back-to-back, as one long story, and so don’t really have opinions on them as distinct entities. It says something that I was invested enough after the first book (which I’d owned since it came out but just finally got around to reading) that I picked up and read the rest of the trilogy immediately. And I think I’m glad I waited until the series was finished, because approaching it this way was quite enjoyable. Books 2 and 3 are palpably smaller in scale than book 1; the Space Operatics feel comparatively muted. But the character work being done is in many ways superior to the first book, in no small part because the premise is already established.
  4. Superman: Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin – I last read this book back when my age was in the single digits. While it’s set in a very 70s era of the Superman mythos, and the dialog tics feel dated, there is a tremendous amount here that captures things I love about Superman. This Superman isn’t naive at all, he’s brilliant and principled, and his relationship with Lex Luthor has the resonant complexity of myth. Also, rereading it, this is clearly where I learned the word “philtrum,” (misspelled throughout as “filtrum”) which is notable because, when my parents decided to adopt a child when I was 10, Filtrum is what I suggested that he be named. (Also, on the book cover Maggin’s middle initial is punctuated with a simple period, but he often used an exclamation point instead, which I love so much, I refuse to render it any other way.)
  5. This Shape We’re In by Jonathan Lethem – This book was lent to me by Karen Meisner after I told her how much I loved stories in which the plot is dictated by the physical shape of the setting, especially if that shape is primarily linear. My example was the movie Snowpiercer; they’re at the back of the train, they want to be at the front of the train, and all of human society stands in the way: go! I love stories like that, and Karen correctly predicted I would enjoy this, in which the characters are all living in a giant organism, and slowly make their way from the rear to the head in pursuit of goals it would be spoilery to talk too much about. But this is a short piece, probably a novella, and great fun.

Recommended Short Books by Women

Yesterday I asked the internet for recommendations of short books written by women, with no criterion for what constituted “short.” Here’s what people offered. Books I’ve already read are in bold. (Recommenders are in parentheses.)

  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red. (Carmen Machado)
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. (Sarah Boden)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (Rebecca Coffey, Krystal Rios)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover. (Diana Spechler, Josh Rhome)
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner. (Amy Parker)
  • Marian Engel, Bear. (Carmen Machado)
  • Louise Erdich, Love Medicine. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Elena Ferrante, Days of Abandonment. (Amy Parker)
  • Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. (Jed Hartman)
  • Carolyn Ives Gilman, Halfway Human. (Jeanne Griggs)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Jed Hartman)
  • Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Amy Parker)
  • Rachel Ingall, Mrs. Caliban. (Carmen Machado)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (Rebecca Coffey, Amy Parker, Carmen Machado, Maureen McHugh)
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. (Amy Parker, Maureen McHugh)
  • Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley. (Jed Hartman)
  • Sesyle Joslin, The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Hitomi Kanehera, Snakes and Earrings. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy. (Valérie Savard)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Nella Larson, Quicksand. (Alea Adigwame)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Fish Soup. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Very Far From Anywhere Else. (Jed Hartman)
  • Tanith Lee, Don’t Bite the Sun. (@Rwenchette)
  • Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child. (Amy Parker, Rebecca Coffey)
  • Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Bertie MacAvoy, Tea with the Black Dragon. (Dana Huber)
  • Katherine Mansfield, At The Bay. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Katherine Mansfield, Prelude. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Patricia McKillip, Stepping from the Shadows. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart. (Stephanie Feldman)
  • Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. (Jackie Monkiewicz)
  • Katherine Faw Morris, Young God. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Toni Morrison, Sula. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation. (Josh Rhome)
  • Yoko Ogawa, Revenge. (Alexandra Geraets, Joseph Tomaras)
  • Sharon Olds, The Cold Cell. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Valérie Savard)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise. (Karen Meisner)
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ruth Sawyer, Roller Skates. (Jed Hartman)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Monica Byrne, Justin Cosner, Carmen Machado)
  • Cynthia Voigt, Dicey’s Song. (Jed Hartman)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome. (Amy Parker)
  • Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry. (Jed Hartman)
  • Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse. (Amy Parker)
  • Margarite Yourcenar, Coup d’Grace. (Maureen McHugh)

I already own a copy of the most recommended book, The Haunting of Hill House, so that’s in the stack (as are several others). I think the first new one of these I’ll add is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Thanksgiving 2014

I’ve just returned from a lovely four days in Madison with friends. We stuffed ourselves, saw two excellent movies (Nightcrawler and Attack The Block), sat around reading books, and talked late into the night. Here are some pictures.

Twenty More Books of 2014

BookMosaic3

My last book roundup only had three graphic novels in it. This bunch, though, more than doubles the number I’ve read all year. My rate has also slowed way, way down. (Though I can claim success for my New Year’s resolution of averaging at least a book per week in 2014. No way to miss that mark now.) For both of these, I blame my August move from Iowa to Texas, which sapped huge amounts of my time and attention.

  1. Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies by Dave Itzkoff – This was a gift from my friend Samantha Lange, in thanks for introducing her to Network, which she had never previously seen. It’s a fantastic retrospective of Paddy Chayefsky’s career leading up to the film, and a detailed look into the production itself. Easily recommended for other Network obsessives.
  2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – My mother had been singing Patchett’s praises to me, and so I read Run, which I liked but did not love. Friends told me, though, that I should give Bel Canto a try anyway. They were right. This is an utterly gorgeous book, in the mix for my favorite I’ve read this year. It is a deft piece of kaleidoscopic insight and tenderness, which manages to create some suspenseful, harrowing moments without ever seeming to ask for them. An incredible book.
  3. The Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune – I’d bounced off this book a few times, but now have finally made it to the end. I think it was more an act of stubbornness than anything else. I’ve enjoyed many of animated projects based on Shirow Masamune’s manga, but find the book itself cold, cursory, almost flippant. He clearly puts a very great deal of thought and attention into the functioning of his imagined future, but the stories themselves seem little more than excuses to get aspects of that future on the page. All of the elements of the famous and influential movie of the same name are in here, but almost completely lacking in the liveliness they had on the screen. I own his other GitS volumes, but it will probably be a while before I get to them.
  4. Incandescence by Greg Egan – I love Greg Egan. I love his writing, yes, but I also just love that he exists. There is every other hard science fiction writer who has ever been, and then, floating above them in a diamond firmament, is Greg Egan. What he is doing in this book is so much harder than mere hard science fiction that it’s almost a new kind of literature altogether. And while I get great intellectual excitement from that, I don’t mean it completely as a compliment. This novel is, well, hard. Difficult. The idea was to come up with a scenario where a culture inventing science would come up with relativity before Newtonian mechanics. He pulls this off, but it makes for a narrative experience that is didactic and difficult to follow. Exciting if you are excited by the beauty of physical ideas, but a lot more like doing homework than most things I approach for entertainment. In some writing on his website, Egan indicates that he expects that readers will need to keep a notebook nearby to draw some diagrams if they are to get the most out of the novel. Again, I love Greg Egan. I love that someone is writing novels that ask their readers to draw free-body diagrams. But I didn’t do it; I just followed what I could and trusted that it all hung together. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this book less than I have Egan’s others: this book insists on being appreciated on its own terms, and I didn’t want to put in the effort.
  5. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – This small novel seems to inspire cultish reverence around Iowa City, so I read it. I enjoyed it. But I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. My experience here may have been soured by overbuilt expectation.
  6. Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds by Gail Simone and Ed Benes
  7. Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student by Gail Simone and Ed Benes – I read these two Birds of Prey volumes sitting on the floor of Karen Meisner’s library during my last visit to Madison. I’ve long been wanting to read the BoP comics, and enjoyed these enough that I expect I will track down the rest of the trades sometime soon.
  8. House of Holes by Nicholson Baker – Verbally clever sex farce. The novelty, and thus the entertainment, wore off for me about 2/3 of the way through. (Suspect I would have loved it if it were a Ralph Bakshi-style cartoon, though.) I’ll give Baker another chance though, on the strength of his prose cleverness and his nonfiction writing about pacifism.
  9. The Hustler by Walter Tevis – I only have two more to go, but it’s starting to look like Walter Tevis never wrote anything that wasn’t good. This, his first novel, is excellent. The prose is rougher than in some of his later work, but in a way that fits the story, so for all I know it was intentional. I watched the Paul Newman movie after I finished the book, and thought it was good in the places where it recapitulated what Tevis wrote, and inexcusable in the places it didn’t. Loved the book, hated the movie.
  10. Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – I’m a huge fan of his previous work, Scott Pilgrim, so I was eager to read this book, though I didn’t expect it to be more of the same. Thus, I wasn’t at all disappointed. While there are a few notes of Pilgrim-esque humor (including one direct callback), Seconds is it’s own book, and a very successful one. It’s about the spirits of places, and about fucking up your life by altering your own history. It’s great.
  11. Dragon Ball vol. 1 by Akira Toriyama
  12. Dragon Ball vol. 2 by Akira Toriyama
  13. Dragon Ball vol. 3 by Akira Toriyama
  14. Dragon Ball vol. 4 by Akira Toriyama
  15. Dragon Ball vol. 5 by Akira Toriyama
  16. Dragon Ball vol. 6 by Akira Toriyama
  17. Dragon Ball vol. 7 by Akira Toriyama – Moving from Iowa to Texas was long, involved, and unpleasant. While I was doing it, I wanted something to read that would take no effort at all, just pure, mindless entertainment. These fit the purpose nicely. I might finish the series someday. I might wait to do it until I’m similarly stressed out again.
  18. The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem – I love Lem. So when I heard that the movie The Congress was based on this Lem novel, I was very excited to watch it with my parents, also Lem fans. It was terrible, a total train wreck of a film. No one should pay to see it. Read the book instead, which is a minor one of his works, but fun and short.
  19. The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware – I read this many years ago, but had forgotten much of it. It’s truly excellent, though given the universal acclaim you probably already knew that. The reread was inspired by [redacted], who identified this as her favorite novel, graphic or otherwise. Also, having recently read Essex County, I was struck by the similarity between this and Lemire’s book. Since they are both collections of work originally serialized, I’d need to know more about the timelines to even begin to guess at vectors of influence.
  20. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – I have been a fan of Ness’s writing since I read his Chaos Walking trilogy. This book, illustrated by Jim Kay and based on a concept by the late Siobhan Dowd, is gorgeous. Gorgeously written, gorgeously drawn. A heartbreaking fable of stories and loss, and clearly deserving of its multiple awards. I own a copy of Ness’s novel More Than This, and will probably read it soon.

WisCon 38

MoxieNot going to do a full con report this year, but I attended WisCon38 and had a generally lovely time. I got to see Karen, Pär, and Jeremiah, all of whom I’m going to miss terribly when I move away from Iowa City and can no longer easily visit. I roomed with Keffy Kehrli and Sunny Moraine, and also spent time with Ted Chiang, Marica Glover, Jen Volant, Meghan McCarron, David Schwartz, David Moles, Ben Rosenbaum, Will Alexander, Genevieve Valentine, Valya Lupescu, Nancy Hightower, Alice Kim, Liz Gorinsky, Richard Butner, Barb Gilly, Marco Palmieri, Greg Bechtel, and a bunch of my friends from the Clarion 2012 class.

The most notable thing for me this year was that I had my first reading at the con. Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe had to cancel their attendance at the last minute, and I got to take one of their places in at the Death-defying Feats of Moxie reading. I read the first three sections of my novella “The New Mother,” and got an enthusiastic reception. Hopefully by next WisCon it will be published.

WisCon 35

My con badge

After a year away I returned to my first and favorite SF convention, WisCon. I last attended in 2008, and had such a good experience that I sent Nalo Hopkinson flowers as thanks for having convinced me to go despite my incredulity. As good as 2008 was, this year was even better. A big part of the reason why relates to that pink thumbnail.

Day 1:

Jen Volant, sky buddy.

My WisCon began before I even got to Madison. While still in DFW airport I met up with Jen Volant, just parted from Meghan McCarron after flight delays forced them to take separate planes. Jen had been assigned the last standby seat on a direct flight to Madison, whereas Meghan had already boarded a plane to Minneapolis, where she would get a ride into Madison from Haddayr Copley-Woods and David Schwartz. Fortunately for me, though, Jen’s flight was the same as my own, and we got to sit next to each other chatting about interesting research in psychology and physics all the way to Wisconsin.

We were picked up at the airport by Karen Meisner. She took us to her (amazing!) house , and introduced us to (amazing!) Amal El-Mohtar. We chatted for a while in Karen’s library, then went to the Madison Concourse Hotel to check in to our rooms. Then it was off to the Guest of Honor reading at A Room Of One’s Own, one of the last remaning feminist bookstores in the country. The event began with the reading of Joanna Russ’s story, “When It Changed,” and then WisCon Guest of Honor Nisi Shawl read an excerpt from a story that was, I believe, published in one of this year’s WisCon publications. It involved oracular dreams about Michael Jackson, who would also be a subject of Nisi’s Guest of Honor speech on Day 4. (UPDATE: Karen points out in the comments that the story, “Pataki,” was originally published in Strange Horizons and can be read here.)

After the reading Jen went off to find Meghan, and I met up with roommates Keffy Kehrli and Liz Argall (who was to stay with us unti Liz Gorinsky arrived the next day). We ended up going out to a Japanese fusion restaurant with a group that included my former teacher Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kat Bayer, as well as a man named Alex. (Unfortunately, no one had name tags yet, and I didn’t get Alex’s last name written down. If you read this, let me know who you are!)

After dinner it was back to the hotel, where Keffy and I had a pleasant reunion with Geoff Ryman, our other former Clarion teacher who was at the con. We ended up in the bar, where Geoff bought us drinks, and I finally got to meet Rachel Swirsky and her husband Mike. Rachel is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was extremely generous with her time when I emailed her out of the blue some months ago to ask about her workshop experience. It was lovely to finally meet her, and I ended up spending a long time at a table chatting publishing with Rachel, Keffy, Liz A., Kater Cheek, and Julie Andrews. Eventually the gin that Geoff poured into me had me feeling extra social, and I introduced myself to Gwenda Bond and reintroduced myself to Annalee Newitz, whom I had met previously when she gave a lecture at Trinity University. We discussed our favorite extinct megafauna. Eventually the bar began to empty, and Keffy, Liz A., and I went up to our room and crashed.

Day 2:

Spent a long, lazy morning in the room chatting with Liz A. and Keffy. Our phantom fourth roommate, Michael Underwood, had appeared sometime during the night, but was gone again before the rest of us got up. Eventually we got up and left the room, immediately running into Cat Valente who had the room across the hall. We ended up heading to lunch at a noodle place with Cat and several of her friends, whose names I failed to write down. (Were you at that lunch? Let me know who you are!) After lunch I went to the WisCon gathering and poked through stacks of ARCs. A little while later I got a call from Rachel, who wanted to introduce me to several of her students from when she was at Iowa. I met L Savich, Ryan Leeds, An Owomoyela, Jei, Sam Larsen-Ferree, and Jai Marcade. I also met Ann Leckie, who was not one of Rachel’s Iowa City students, but seems lovely all the same.

From there I went to a panel on autism and Asperger’s syndrome in fiction. Curiously, no one on the panel was actually on the autism spectrum. Haddayr commented on this and offered to give up her panel space to any audience member on the spectrum who wanted it, but no one accepted her offer. That turned out to be for the best, as Haddayr ended up being the most insightful of the panelists. There was another panelist who was woefully uninformed about autism issues and frequently made statements that were ignorant to the point of being offensive, such as characterizing autism as a mental illness and equating Asperger’s syndrome with psychopathy. Fortunately, Ryan Leeds, who is on the spectrum, was in the audience and called her on her more outrageous pronouncements, giving a much-needed insider perspective. Rachel Swirsky also was not shy with her displeasure, for which I was grateful. It was, as Haddayr later noted, a panel where the audience was educating the panelists.

Stylin' in a piece from the McCarron Collection.

From there I met up with Liz A., Jen, and Meghan (safely arrived in Madison), and went out to another Japanese restaurant with Ben Rosenbaum, Susan Marie-Groppi, and David Moles. Liz A. and I spent most of the dinner talking with Ben about Maimonedean Judaism, and attempted a positive construction of atheist principles.  After the meal we walked around Madison until we found a FedEx store to make copies of the posters for the Genderfloomp Dance Party (about which, more later) and the We Have Always Captured the Castle reading (ditto). On the way we talked of generational shifts in feminism, SlutWalks, and things from childhood that fail to age well. On the way back I mostly talked about how I was cold and getting rained on, so Meghan, who was wearing many layers, lent me her jacket.

Back at the hotel it was time for the karaoke party. Liz A. sang “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and goaded me into finding something on the list to sing. None of my usual karaoke songs (i.e., songs that merely require speaking to a beat rather than singing) were on the list, so I ended up giving a first-time performance of “I Am The Walrus.” Ben, Amal, and David queued up “Like a G6,” but ignored the lyrics on the screen and instead performed “Roll a D6.” Meghan offered an astonishingly great rendition of “Born This Way,” complete with contextualizing editorial against theism and biological essentialism. Then I got to serve as one of several lascivious backup dancers for Liz A.’s performance of “I Touch Myself.” By that point it was pretty much equal parts karaoke and dance party, and it didn’t let up until well after midnight. When it was over I went up to the party floor and spent a while chatting with Rachel among the wreckage of the FOGcon party, but soon discovered that three hours of dancing had left my legs unable to keep me upright for extended periods of time, and so took them upstairs to bed.

Day 3:

Began my day by following Keffy down to the “Journeyman Writers’ Group” event, largely because it was being run by Vylar Kaftan, whom I wanted to meet. There was an interesting discussion of query letter verbiage, but overall I didn’t get a lot out of it. After that I spent some time in the lobby with Rachel who introduced me to Sarah Prineas, who lives in Iowa City and who let me know about the local SF writers’ group she’s involved with. While I was in the lobby I ran into Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Laurenn McCubbin, who I had been looking forward to meeting at the con, and planned a breakfast date for the next day. Then it was back upstairs for an important cosmetics appointment.

Karen Meisner: making my stuff prettier since 2009.

In response to my saying that I was not very good at it, Karen had the day before offered to paint my nails for the Genderfloomp Dance Party. I went up to my room to retrieve my cosmetics, and found Karen and Susan chatting at the 12th floor computer desk. Karen offered to do my nails right there, and produced some varnishes of her own she had brought for the purpose. We ended up doing a layer of bubblegum pink (mine) under a layer of glittery clear coat (Karen’s). It took me a while to internalize that I couldn’t use my hands normally right after my nails were painted, and Karen ended up having to redo a few of them, but eventually I figured it out. While my nails were drying I chatted with Karen and Susan about the distinctions between editorial vision and editorial bias, and as other people walked by they were drawn in by the salon atmosphere. Jen, Cat Valente, Gwenda Bond, and Theodora Goss all paused a while in the hallway to discuss fiction and cosmetics with us. Eventually my nails were dry and the next round of programming about to start, and the salon dispersed.

I went with Jen to the “…And Other Circuses” reading by Gwenda Bond, Richard Butner, Genevieve Valentine, and Christopher Rowe. Gwenda read the beginning of her circus-themed novel in progress. Richard read a story called “Backyard Everest” which was not circus themed in any way, but was great fun. Genevieve read an excerpt from Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, her novel which just sold out its first print run (I went to the dealer’s room an grabbed a copy immediately after the reading). (Side note: before the reading started I finally got to let Genevieve know that she seems to be the only other person on the planet who understands the fabulous wonderfulness of Flight of Dragons the same way I do. I agree with every letter of that link. Until I found a clean digital copy of the movie, it would have been impossible for me to justify having children.) Christopher read a circus-themed excerpt from his D&D novel, and then a non-circus-themed excerpt from another novel, the title of which (if it had one) I failed to record. After the reading I chatted with Christopher, Meghan, and Alice Kim, whom I had met 2 years ago and of whose writing I have since become a great fan.

I went to dinner with Keffy, Sunny Moraine, and Liz Fidler. We went to a pub food and beer restaurant, where the food was quite good, as was the company, but I unfortunately had to leave the meal early with a minor bout of Crohn’s issues. I went back to the hotel and read in my room for a couple of hours until they passed. When I was feeling better I headed to the Governor’s Club lounge to snack, and ended up hanging out with Kater, Nayad Monroe, Michael Thomas, Lynne Thomas, and Seanan McGuire. Seanan and I figured out that I had met her once before, when I was in elementary school and she was playing Little Red Riding Hood in the touring company of Into The Woods. This set a new life record for known delay between two meetings with the same person.

I caught the end of the always entertaining Tiptree auction with Keffy and Liz A. I got there just in time to see Geoff get held down while a Space Babe temporary tattoo was applied to his cheek. (A cheek on his face, as opposed to elsewhere, thanks to a $100 intervention by the Tiptree Motherboard.) I made a late, winning bid on an ARC of “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Then I went up and fluttered around the parties on the 6th floor for a while. I ran into Meghan, Jen, and Alice in the hallway, and as we discussed physical fitness a group began to nucleate around us. Eventually we grew too large for the hallway and bounced around floors for a while looking for free couch space. Eventually we ended up in Meghan and Jen’s room with Kater, Geoff, Gwenda, Christopher, Richard, Karen Fowler, Ted Chiang, and Barbara Gilly. We talked about primatology, and played with some of the Genderfloomp party favors, and I won a dollar bet with Ted. Eventually people began to droop, and we all retired to our rooms.

Day 4:

I slept poorly and had a few seriously disturbing dreams. But this resulted in my being awake earlier than normal, so I was able to join Jen for a light breakfast in the Governor’s club lounge. Jen let me know that reservations for next year’s convention block of hotel rooms opened that morning, so I headed down to the lobby and booked a room for 2012. Then I waited for Kelly-Sue and Laurenn.

Ten years!

This breakfast was ten years in the making. I first interacted with Kelly-Sue on the Warren Ellis Forum when I was 17 years old. She was already one of the cleverest and most well-liked people in that community when teenager-E. J. first got there, looking to impress. Laurenn I don’t think I had ever previously interacted with online, but I remember that not long after I joined the WEF, people started talking about Laurenn’s book XXXLiveNudeGirls, and I soon became a great fan of Laurenn’s artwork. Kelly-Sue got married to a man she met on the forum and had children and became a comics translator and writer, and Laurenn kept making art and became an illustrator and comics artist. I became, well, me. Finally, after a decade: coffee, tea, and scrambled eggs.

This is my "I can't believe I'm really having breakfast with Laurenn McCubbin" face.

Laurenn told me about her experiences getting an MFA, and about the visual media program she’s going back to grad school for, and told me that, based on our conversation, she thought I would do well as a grad student. Kelly-Sue congratulated me on Iowa and told me that she and her husband Matt had followed some of the younger WEFugees online over the years and that I hadn’t disappointed, which is one of those absurdly generous compliments that comes out of nowhere to knock your world slightly askew. We talked about Kelly-Sue’s career, and her children, and I got to tell her how an interview she gave while pregnant with her second child was crucial to helping me crack open the emotional core of a story I was writing. It was a delightful meeting with people I’d admired from afar for years, who turned out to be even more impressive in person. I hope I don’t have to wait ten more years for our next encounter.

After breakfast I went to the panel, “How to Respond Appropriately to Concerns About Cultural Appropriation,” and listened to Geoff, Rachel, Victor Raymond, and K. Tempest Bradford speak intelligently on the subject. Geoff had a comment I especially liked that cultural practices and artifacts are embedded in cultural context, and that severing them from their context to serve as set dressing in a story is a hallmark of poor writing. After that panel I stayed in the room for the next bit of programming, “Sibling of the Revenge of the Not Another F*cking Race Panel,” with Tempest, Amal, LaShawn Wanak, and two other people whose names I neglected to write down. (UPDATE: The other two were Candra Gill and Isabel Schechter.) This was almost all good fun, but was pretty much ruined for me by one guy who went up and made an ass of himself. His name was Ben, and he had already revealed himself as someone prone to boorish behavior at the karaoke party. He went up to ask a question, and my stomach twisted into knots at the car-crash-seen-through-a-window feeling that something bad was about to happen and I was powerless to stop it. Sure enough, he spent a few minutes with a microphone in his hand doing little other than harassing Amal. She handled him with great aplomb, but I, who frequently watch awkwardness comedies like The Office through the cracks in my fingers, had my face buried in my hands the whole time. Eventually the audience booed him and Tempest called him on spouting entitled nonsense and sent him back to his seat. After that the panel proceeded normally, but I was too keyed up to really enjoy it.

After the panel I left the hotel and went to Michelangelo’s for the “We Have Always Captured the Castle” reading with Ben, Jen, Meghan, David Moles, Amal, and Geoff. Ben read an excerpt of his novel in search of a title, in which multi-bodied humans of the far future scoff at the notion of colonizing other planets. Jen read a lyrical story of a fisherman with a magical boat. Meghan read an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, which was fantastic. (I’m just going to pause here to reiterate: Meghan McCarron is writing a novel. Get excited, tell your friends; this is a big fucking deal.) David read a story called, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Giant Robots.” Amal sang a song, recited a poem, and read a story. Geoff, being a gifted performer as well as a brilliant author, was made to go last. He read a monologue-style story about a man whose job is to collect evidence for war crimes trials in areas where rape is being used as a weapon of war. He embodied his main character, and the whole room was stone silent, and when the story ended it took us a good 15 seconds to remember to applaud. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I had to remove my glasses because watching him perform while I listened to him became a little too overwhelming. It was a deeply disturbing and powerful piece.

Between the unpleasantness at the panel and the affecting end to the reading, I ended up a bit dazed. The sequence of events evoked a surge of social anxiety, and I wandered around feeling oddly insulated from my environment. Back at the hotel, Karen Meisner found me and asked, “Are you feeling a little lost?” She gave me a huge, unprompted bolus of acceptance and reassurance, and cemented my perception of her as one of the kindest and most gracious people I’ve ever met. I headed up to my room to wait out my already ebbing funk, and commiserated with Keffy, who was also feeling shaken after an unpleasant encounter with someone possessed of a very poor understanding of how to be a trans ally. We chilled for a while, talking and reading. Then I went to have a dinner of snacks from the Governor’s lounge before heading down to listen to the Joanna Russ memorial and the Guest of Honor speeches, both of which were moving. I did not, though, stay to watch the Tiptree Award presentation, because it was time to prepare for the Genderfloomp Dance Party.

Genderfloomp:

*pout*

Meghan had told me she was planning the Genderfloomp dance party with Liz G. some months prior to the con, when we were hanging out in Austin. The mandate: “We seek to explore and expand our concepts of gender via booty-shaking.” The motto: “Fuck the binary, let’s boogie.” When she told me about the event, Meghan also mentioned that all the guys she had told responded with something like, “Sounds fun, do I have to dress up?” and preemptively assured me that I could attend even if I was unwilling to do drag. By implicitly doubting my commitment to sparklemotion, Meghan ensured that I would go absolutely overboard. I gave myself a $50 budget and spent two weeks putting an outfit together, getting lessons in fashion and cosmetics from hand-picked representatives from the San Antonio community theater crowd. I color-coordinated my accessories and bought ankle boots. I grew a beard just so I could shave it off before the dance. I was shooting for dazzling.

The dance was easily my favorite con programming. It was joyous and human and enthusiastic and exhausting. People made shadow puppets, twirled feather boas, kicked off their shoes and pasted on mustaches. There was a dance contest, which Keffy won after an epic one-on-one battle with Ben. I won Best Dressed, along with another fellow whose name, I believe, was Tom. At some point Liz A., Keffy, Amal, and I went up to the photobooth on the 6th floor and posed for floompy pictures. As the winners of Best Dancer and Best Dressed respectively, Keffy and I had to pose for a fight picture:

Cynthia Sparklepants vs. Charles Beauregard

While up in the photobooth, we stood in a circle and gave each other new names. I named Liz A., “Lionel Cho, disgraced patent attorney.” Liz A. named Keffy, “Charles Beauregard, construction worker at large.” Keffy named Amal, “Gus Wrigley, accountant to the stars.” Amal named me, “Cynthia Sparklepants, party princess.” These names have been immortalized in the WisCon 35 Photobooth Flickr stream. That silliness done, we went back to the dance party and boogied until we dropped. The crowd did eventually begin to thin out, but there was a group of post-floomp hardcore who stuck around until 5:00 am, which included myself, Anthony Ha, Karen, Ben, Liz A., Liz G., Amal, Alice, and Meghan. But even we had to, eventually, call it a night. Hopefully there will be more floomping at future WisCons. For more pictures of Genderfloomp, you can view my Picasa album, or Meghan’s Flickr album.

Day 5:

Travel day. After packing away my cosmetics and jewelry, I had a quick breakfast in the Governor’s lounge with Keffy, Mike Underwood, Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders (both of whom had cut up the dance floor something fierce the night before). Then checkout, a sprint through the airport to catch my plane, and a lot of sitting around until I found myself back in San Antonio, WisCon behind me, the Texas sun sparkling off of my fingernails.

Home.

WisCon 33

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This was my first SF convention, and was something of a test to see if I could enjoy conventions of any kind.  Last summer, while I was in San Diego for Clarion, I went to ComiCon, which managed to awaken an inner agoraphobe the existence of which I had not previously suspected.  But a week later Nalo Hopkinson made me promise to attend WisCon, assuring me I would find it a valuable experience.  Boy, was she ever right.

Day 1:

Geoff Ryman, Kat Howard, Me, and Keffy Kherli

Clarion 2008 Reunion 1: Geoff Ryman, Kat Howard, Me, and Keffy Kehrli

Kat, Keffy, and I drove to Madison from Minneapolis, in Kat’s VW Beetle.  I rode in the back, and slept part of the way, waking up in time to see our entry into the city.  We checked in to the Concourse hotel, then wandered out into downtown until we found a restaurant that wanted to fill us with post-road-trip margaritas.  Then it was back to the hotel, where we visited the Dealer Room (where I discovered that attempting to talk to Ted Chiang turned me into a stuttering fool, albiet one able to correctly identify literary influences), then wandered around until it was time for the opening ceremonies.  I managed to catch Geoff Ryman, Guest of Honor and one of our Clarion teachers, as he was coming in the door, and we monopolized his attention until the stage manager for the opening ceremonies came and asked if we wouldn’t mind terribly letting the GoH go to take part in the Con programming.  There was a skit, which was mildly entertaining but was completely overshadowed by Geoff and Ellen Klages spontaneously making out with each other.

Kat, Me, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Keffy

Clarion 2008 Reunion 2: Kat, Me, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Keffy

After the opening ceremonies, Keffy had a panel.  “TYRANNOSAURS IN F-14S!!!!” on the topic of SF that is so bad that it’s good.  The discussion focused mostly on television and movies.  The consensus opinion was that books generally don’t fall into the “so bad it’s good” category for most people because (a) books lack the audiovisual component that, when done well, can act as foils for a weak story, and (b) the time investment required to read a book is usually enough greater than the time to watch a movie that they are held to a higher standard.   After Keffy’s panel the programming of interest was over and we were off to the parties, where we met Jed Hartman and had a reunion with Mary Anne Mohanraj, another of our Clarion teachers.  We didn’t stay at the parties long, though, as we were all exhausted.

Day 2:

Keffy with Sybil's Garage #6, his first publication

Keffy with Sybil's Garage #6, his first publication

Breakfast was had at a coffee and crepes place we found called Bradbury’s, which struck us as an appropriately SFnal name.  Then Kat and I went to Ellen Klages’s Guest of Honor reading while Keffy went to another panel.  We met up again in the Dealer’s Room to find, among other things, the new issue of Sybil’s Garage, which contains Keffy’s first publication.  Then Kat went to have lunch with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, Keffy went to moderate a panel, “Keeping Up With Science,” and I went to another panel, “What’s in the Air?” with Geoff, Jed, Neil Rest, and Kristine Smith, which was about how techonlogy will be changing human society in the near-term future.  My favorite comment from that one was made by a textile preservationist named (I think) Laura who observed that a post-privacy technological society might have more in common, in terms of interpersonal relationships, with a pre-technological small town than it does with the modern day.  When that panel was over I went to a reading by, among others, Ellen Ku. and Delia.  The reading was notable as the only Con programming at which I encoutered people being assholes: a pair came in late and sat behind me, whispering loudly about how it was “happening again” and “rude to the real writers.”  As it happened, the Con program was printed before the full lineup for the reading was finalized, and the first reader wasn’t listed (though her name was on the sign outside the door).  So the natural thing to do, at least in the minds of the people behind me, was to stand up and interrupt her mid-sentence to say, “When are the writers who are actually scheduled going to be reading?”  Ellen Kushner smacked them down.

After the reading I went to “How Should Magazines and Anthologies Review Submissions?” with Mary Anne, Susan Marie Groppi (EIC of Strange Horizons, a letter from whom I have framed on the wall of my office), John Joseph Adams, Sumana Harihareshwara, Deb Taber, and Adrian Alan Simmons.  The best thing about this panel was getting to meet Susan, Sumana, and Deb, with whom I would find myself interacting more as the Con progressed.  I also learned from J. J. Adams that when F&SF takes a long time to get back to you, it is generally a good thing.  (As of this writing they’ve had a story I sent them for eight weeks.)  After the panel the group got together again for the Tiptree auction, which was one of the most entertaining events I’ve ever attended.  Highlights included a Geoff Ryman striptease act and a group recitation of a hilariously queer award from Ellen Klages’s childhood.

Day 3:

"Giant" by Ingrid Kallick

"Giant" by Ingrid Kallick -- notice the shawl made of people

Again began the day with breakfast at Bradbury’s.  Then Keffy went to “Keeping the S in SF,” and Kat and I attended “The Kids’ Books That Made Us,” after which we went to the art room to pick up a print Kat had purchased.  I ended up buying a different print by the same artist, Ingrid Kallick.  “Giant” whispered to me as I walked past it that it was actually a short story masquerading as a piece of visual art, and really needed to come home with me so I could write it.

As we were leaving the art room, Ellen Kushner invited us to lunch with her and Delia.  We tracked down Keffy and headed out to an Afghani restaurant.  On the way we ran into Mary Anne, Ben Rosenbaum, and Mary Kowal, and the group grew.  And then seemed to grow some more, until Ellen turned around and announced, “I don’t do twelve person lunches.”  The final tally ended up at nine.  From lunch Keffy went to be on “The Obligatory Workshop Panel,” and Kat and I went to hear Geoff’s Guest of Honor reading, after which was what turned out to be my favorite event at WisCon: the Strange Horizons Tea Party.

Me and Karen Meisner

Karen Meisner and me

At the Tea Party I managed to drop all of my social anxiety for perhaps the only time during the Con.  I finally met my editor on “Husbandry,” Karen Meisner, who I had been looking for all weekend.  We hit it off quite well.  I excitedly related my Con activities, and she, amused, told me that I was imbuing ubiquitous experiences with the wide-eyed wonder of a neophyte.  She also tracked down and introduced me to Meghan McCarron, who I had been wanting to meet and of whose writing I am a huge fan.  I stayed for the whole party and then some, sweating profusely and chatting incessantly.  I also met Alice Kim, Eric Vogt, and Jennifer I-Didn’t-Get-Her-Last-Name.  Sadly, the Tea Party did eventually end, and I went back to my room to clean up for the Guest of Honor speeches and Tiptree presentation.

Before we went to WisCon I decided that my friends needed to experience the joy that is a polyester robe with dragons on, so I got them each one as a gift.  We donned them before heading down to the ceremony, in preparation for the fancy dress party later than night.

Kat, Keffy, Mary Anne, and me

Kat, Keffy, Mary Anne, and me

We wandered into the big conference hall which had been set up like a dining room, and Ben Rosenbaum gestured us over to the table where Jed, Mary Anne, and Sumana were already sitting.  We listened with them to the speeches, and then to the presentation of the Tiptree award to Nisi Shawl (Patrick Ness was unable to be there to accept his; Geoff read a letter from him).  Then, this years Guests of Honor having been given there full due in accordance with WisCon tradition, the Guests of Honor for next year were announced.  They will be Nnedi Okorafor and… Mary Anne Mohanraj!  We all completely lost our shit, gawking at each other and, when she came back, hugging Mary Anne.  We trailed along behind her, taking pictures and freaking out for about the next hour, then bounced around the parties for perhaps another hour or two before heading back to the room and crashing.

Day 4:

Due to the exigencies of flight schedules and other non-WisCon committments, we got up early and left without taking part in any of the final day’s programming.  But I think we all felt that we got our money’s worth.  I pretty much can’t wait to go again next year.