Category: Blog (page 1 of 22)

Interview at Conflict of Interest

There’s a new, long interview with me up at Conflict of Interest, a magazine covering the visual art and literary communities in Austin, Texas. Rebecca Marino talked with me about “The New Mother,” writing process, influences, translation, and gave me room to ramble about lots of other things. This interview is, I think, the first time I’ve publicly articulated what my priorities would be were we faced with the spread of a condition like GDS.

I personally think our sexual dimorphism is nothing more than a happenstance of evolution, not invested with any kind of fundamental ethical importance. There are many in the story who believe that GDS heralds the extinction of men, and while the validity of that fear is left up to the reader, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing for people in the story to worry about. If GDS were to occur in the real world, I would have sentimental and aesthetic reasons to want preserve the human male phenotype if possible but not at the expense of individual human rights, which are ethically charged in a way that supersedes aesthetics and sentimentality. I’d rather see my own morphology disappear into history than persist via the subjugation of other people.

Update on My Social Media Presence (Absence)

I mentioned back in August that I was drastically reducing my social media usage. Three months later I’m still largely disengaged from these systems. Here’s the current rundown of where I can and can’t be found.

  • Facebook: ❌ I’m disenchanted with the site politically on a few different axes, and enjoy having back the amount of my time it used to consume, so I’m still mostly off Facebook and don’t plan on going back any time soon. I do still log in for some purposes, such as interacting with event pages or getting a specific message I’ve been clued to expect. But aside from that, if it’s only on Facebook, I probably haven’t seen it. Right now my profile exists as a repository for my social graph and receptacle for automated notifications about updates to my website.
  • Twitter: ❌ Speaking of sites with which I am politically disenchanted, hey, Twitter exists too. I still log in to this one a bit more often than Facebook, though for (a) engaging with people about recent publications, or (b) talking about NBA basketball. Mostly the basketball bit. So unless it related to something I’ve recently published or the San Antonio Spurs, you can assume that I didn’t see what happened on Twitter either. Automated tweets about updates to this website are still active.
  • Instagram: ✅ I’m aware that they’re owned by Facebook, for whom I have profound ideological skepticism, but pictures of my friends’ pets are too crucial to abandon. This is where I’m currently most active.
  • LinkedIn: ✅ I like that LinkedIn has a monetization model that isn’t exclusively selling my attention to advertisers/propaganda agencies, so when I got off Facebook I set up a LinkedIn account. I have no real idea what I want to do with this, if anything, but if we know each other I’ll be happy to connect with you on there. It’d be nice for my social graph to exist in more than one place.
  • Tumblr: ❌ I mirror this site to Tumblr, but never look at it. If you like Tumblr though, you can follow this content there.
  • Snapchat: 🤷 My significant other uses this a lot, so I’ve started actually opening it sporadically. I have almost no connections, and I don’t really know what to do with it, especially now that Instagram has ripped off all of its functionality. But I have an account here I look at sometimes.

How to contact me if our social media presences do not overlap: send me a text or an email. If you don’t already have my contact information, you can reach me via email through my contact page.

States of Decay by Ben Mauk

While growing up in Texas meant that fanciful notions of 19th century cowboys acculturated into my head too young for me to recall any sources, I do remember my introduction to the 20th century Atomic West. It was from Tom Lehrer’s 1953 tune, “The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be,” unmistakably satirical even to a child’s ears, wherein he sings: Along the trail you’ll find me lopin’ / Where the spaces are wide open / In the land of the old A.E.C. (yee-ha!) / Where the scenery’s attractive / And the air is radioactive / Oh, the wild west is where I wanna be. I had to ask my father to explain the acronym for the Atomic Energy Commission.

From prospectors to the Manhattan Project to artifacts of Cold War industry, the American West has existed in my mind as a kind of mottled antique, retro-futuristic in those places where it isn’t simply retro. So it was with great interest that I read Ben Mauk’s new longform piece in Harper’s, “States of Decay: A Journey through America’s nuclear heartland.” Ben has visited the wellsprings of the Atomic Age, explored disused mines, talked to the people still inhabiting its ghost towns and superfund sites. It’s a fascinating read, full of resentment, nostalgia, and unhealthy doses of radiation.

Back outside, Lucas held his Geiger counter up to his face. This was apparently a favorite pastime of rad heads, but even Lucas seemed startled by the figure: around fifty times background, the result of the radon progeny that had caught on condensation in his beard. “Wow,” he mused, taking a selfie with the counter against his mouth.

“You might want to think about shaving,” Jennifer said.

“States of Decay” by Ben Mauk at Harper’s Magazine.

"Okay," said Ceasar. "I'll get along with you, Ezekial." And you could hear his gentle, generous nature in his voice. You could hear it, actually, even when he said, "Ima fuck you up!" Gentleness sometimes expresses itself with the violence of pain or fear and so looks like aggression. Sometimes cruelty has a very charming smile. –Mary Gaitskill, "Lost Cat: A Memoir"

Social Media Presence — August 2017

After flirting with the idea for a while, I’ve finally deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my mobile devices and logged out of the sites on my computer. I’m not deactivating my accounts or anything; I might return to them at some point. But I’d grown unhappy with how much of my time and attention social media was consuming. While I regret that I’m undoubtedly going to miss some event invitations and meaningful news from distant friends, I’m already feeling happier and more productive after just a couple of weeks. Some auto-posting systems, like blog posts getting shared to Twitter, remain in place, but the only social media service I’m still actively using is Instagram. So, for the time being, if you want to get in touch with me the best ways are by email or text. If you don’t have those and are trying to establish contact, please use the contact page on this site.

My WisCon 41 Schedule

I’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin from May 26-29th for WisCon. Here’s what I’ll be doing.

Friday, 9:00 am – 12:00 am, Caucus: Critique Session. I’m running one of the workshop sessions this year, and very excited to do so. This is one you’d’ve had to apply for in advance. If it sounds like something cool and you missed your chance, look for it next year. There are general fiction workshops every year, plus special topic sessions on things like genderqueer writing and romance in SF.

Friday, 7:30-8:30 pm, Capitol/Wisconson: Opening Ceremonies. Pat Schmatz and myself, last year’s Tiptree winners, will be there to crown this year’s winner, Anna Marie McLemore.

Saturday, 10:00-11:15 am, room 605: Judging the Tiptree. Current Tiptree jurors discuss the process of judging and selecting Tiptree award winners. Other panelists are Jeanne Gomoll, Aimee Bahng, Kazue Harada, Alexis Lothian, Roxanne Samer, and Julia Starkey.

Sunday, 10:00 am – 11:15 am, Michelangelos: Burning Up on Re-entry (reading).  I’ll be reading some of my fiction, along with Jed Hartman, Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and David J. Schwartz. This’ll be in the back of the Michelangelos coffee shop around the corner from the con hotel, where I’ve attended many WisCon readings over the years but never before done one.

Judging the Tiptree Award

This was made public a little while ago, at the same time the new winner and honorees for work published last year were announced (congratulations to them all, especially Anna-Marie McLemore!), but I’ve been remiss in mentioning here that I’m on the panel of judges for the 2017 James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award. The panel often includes a past winner of the award, and I’m thrilled to fill that role this year. Serving with me are Cheryl Morgan, Julia Starkey, Kazue Harada, and our chair Alexis Lothian.

As a consequence, I won’t be tracking my fiction reading online at all this year, since it will mostly be for award consideration. Also, if you follow me on social media, you will see me posting about the award with some regularity. That’s because the judges need people’s help making sure we see all the excellent work that gets published this year. The Tiptree Award has an open recommendations system, so any new (i.e. published in 2017) science fiction or fantasy that you think explores or expands notions of gender is eligible, and can be nominated just by typing the details into a simple web form. You submit it, we’ll see it.

Nominate works for the 2017 Tiptree Award here.

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.