Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 Hugo Nominations

With the Hugo nominating deadlines just around the corner, I'm sharing my ballot (incomplete in plenty of areas), though while I hope you'll consider the various fancasts and related works I'm nominating, I'd otherwise recommend the Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom, Abigail Nussbaum's nominations, and ForestOfGlory's short fiction recommendations at LadyBusiness, since they're all more useful than mine, especially if you're looking for excellent short fiction to read.

Best Novel -
Underground Railroad, Everfair.

I have 2 Best Novel nominations.  Underground Railroad is fantastic, deserves to win any awards it's eligible for, and while it's marketed as a mainstream novel, is also very comfortably a genre novel.  Don't believe the nonsense that "the speculative element is the literalized Underground Railroad".  This book takes various approaches that White America has attempted towards African Americans (genocide, scientific exploitation, etc), and imagines their implementation on grand scales, solidly in the tradition of many science fiction novels.  Everfair is ambitious, made me cry in places, and does an excellent job of differentiating between the narrative perspective and the various sensibilities of characters in the novel.  I'd recommend this review from Strange Horizons as well as Abigail Nussbaum's quick review which notes some of the weaknesses of the scattershot approach the novel takes to covering its grand scale.

The next-best 2016 books I read were Obelisk Gate, Wall of Storms, and Ninefox Gambit.  I don't want to nominate book 2 of a series which I didn't think was as good as book 1 (which describes both Obelisk Gate and Wall of Storms), and I think Ninefox Gambit is a good Space Opera, but that was the extent of my reaction to it, and again I don't want to nominate "a good Space Opera".  I bounced hard off the narrative voice in All the Birds in the Sky, but if you're engaged by the first few chapters, I've heard good things.  I wish I'd made it to Cixin Liu's Death's End, Indra Das's The Devourers, The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar, and Lavie Tidhar's Central Station, but I didn't.  (If you're looking for good novels, I'd also recommend checking out the Shadow Clarke Award discussions and reviews)

Best Novella -
Ballad of Black Tom, The Taste of Honey, Bethany.

I didn't read many novellas this year, but Victor LaValle's response to Lovecraft's Horror at Red Hook, Kai Ashante Wilson's heartbreaking The Taste of Honey (jeebus, I'm gonna read everything by Wilson ever), and Adam Roberts' Bethany were all excellent.

I didn't read any memorable Novelettes last year, sorry.

Best Short Story
(Again, go see ForestOfGlory's recommendations, and Abigail Nussbaum's, and check the Hugo Awards eligibility spreadsheet)
One Way Out (Ethan Robinson), Can't Beat Em (Nalo Hopkinson), Congruence (Jehanzeb Dar), The Banshee Behind Beamon's Bakery (Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali)

I really liked Ethan's self-published blog post, reviewed Congruence as part of my review of Islamicates vol 1 at Strange Horizons, and the other two just keep sticking in my head.  All worth a read.

Best Related Work -
#BlackSpecFic: the Fireside Fiction Report, Speculative Blackness, Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Octavia E Butler, Food and Horror, Dragonlance Reread

The #BlackSpecFic report from Fireside is an essential read and look at how our short story ecosystem is failing black authors.  Andre Carrington's Speculative Blackness was incredibly thought-provoking, and Gerry Canavan's book about Octavia E Butler gave great insight into both the author and her works.  I really enjoyed OJ Cade's Food and Horror series at BookSmugglers - whenever it dropped, I set aside time to read each post, and I'm waiting for a good opportunity to reread and savor the whole series.  I also quite liked Mahvesh & Jared's Dragonlance reread, which threaded the needle of both celebrating why this was such a beloved and essential series while also acknowledging it's weaknesses.

I'm nominating Clippng's Splendor and Misery for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, because it's a really fascinating album with a good story about space travel, but otherwise I have no opinions on dramatic presentations, editors, artists or graphic novels.  Sorry.
Edit - I'm nominating Olalekan Jeyifous based on Cecily Kane's recommendation, because my goodness those cityscapes :)

Best Semiprozine -
Strange Horizons.
Yes, I'm a Strange Horizons fanboy who enjoys their reviews too much.  They're pointed at my (fascinated by academia, without being well-read or formally trained), sorry.

Best Fanzine -
Nerds of a Feather, Lady Business
I'm of the opinion that a fanzine should be a group effort, and these are the two group efforts I really enjoy.

Best Fancast -
Cabbages & Kings, Fangirl Happy Hour, Storyological, Flash Forward, Midnight in Karachi.
I overanalyzed fancast a while ago.

Best Fan Writer -
Abigail Nussbaum, Megan AM, Vajra Chandresekara, Charles Payseur
Again, I'm pretty sure I overanalyzed these a while back.
Edit: Filling this out with O. Westin of @Microsff

It seems odd to me that Jennifer Brissett is eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, but I do not understand Hugo eligibility rules.  I dare you to check out her bibliography & tell me she's not deserving of an award.

I'm mostly not nominating in Best Series because a) I haven't been following many eligible series, and b) I think that Best Series is a silly category that may track the market but is really hard to participate in beyond nominating your favorite series if you're already following one.  But Kate Elliott's Court of Fives series is in the same world as her Crossroads trilogy and ongoing Black Wolves series, so I'm nominating it because I've loved many of those.  And because this is one of many examples of why the series category is dumb.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

There was a moment near the end of reading Tressie McMillan Cottom's Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges In The New Economy where I had to stop and adjust my thinking.  I went into this book expecting to learn, but I also went in looking for good guys and bad guys.  It's easy enough to find bad guys in the for-profit infrastructure, and Lower Ed has stories (and data! The stories in this book carefully illustrate real data!) of aggressive marketing techniques, and references the financialization of the for-profit industry, so I'd been able to find villains, but Lower Ed wasn't leaving me with the sense of righteous vindication I'd hoped for.  Most of the people working for for-profit colleges profiled in Lower Ed are well-intentioned, and the students in Lower Ed are not simply low-information attendees who've been bilked by a system.  I cried at some of the stories, but Lower Ed rigorously insists that the students at for-profit colleges are making reasonable decisions while constrained by their circumstances (the intersections of race, class and gender are thoroughly explored throughout this book).  I'd fallen into a trap that Tressie points out in the book - my narrative of for-profit colleges was that "for-profit colleges designed and executed the biggest con (on a few million people) seen in quite some time."  It took me a while to come to the conclusion spelled out in the epilogue that this narrative takes agency away from the very real people who attend for-profit colleges, which prepared me for the story actually spelled out at the end of Lower Ed.

What's wonderful about Lower Ed is that almost immediately after realizing that the narrative I was expecting had some problems, the book began drawing out the connections between inequality, lack of employer development, and the fetishization of credentials and higher education degrees that trapped many of the millions of people who attended for-profit colleges.  At a structural level, the data in Lower Ed led me to a specific set of questions, then answered them, directing me to another set of questions, and finally to the account spelled out at the end of the book, that a whole series of economic, political, and ideological factors led to increasing inequality, "especially for women, minorities, and minority women".  That in the past we have responded to massive shifts in labor and economic prospects with political and social solutions, but in this case we have instead abdicated any responsibility to the market, which filled in gaps with for-profit colleges.  The colleges here are "more complicated than big, evil con artists.  They are an indicator of social and economic inequalities, and at the same time, are perpetuators of those inequalities."  To the extent that there are bad actors in this story, our collective inability to grapple with widening inequality and its predictable consequences and traditional colleges unwilling to adapt to students who need different educational support are implicated as much as the for-profit colleges that developed aggressive marketing techniques to enroll increasing numbers of students in an attempt to meet the insatiable demands of shareholders.

I storified a bunch of my early reactions to Lower Ed, which you can check here, or embedded at the bottom of this post.  If you're considering Lower Ed, I'd highly recommend it.  Three great strengths of the book are how well it situates the story of for-profit colleges in the broader events of the last decades - this is not a story told in the abstract, but embedded in our recent history.  Secondly, the analytic framework needed to follow along is clearly spelled out, as when the theory of credentialism is defined in order to illuminate "the arguably counterintuitive decisions people make."  Finally, the data and theories in Lower Ed are illustrated with the stories of individuals, sometimes heartbreaking but always illuminating, and (to borrow from Roxane Gay's blurb) "In Lower Ed, McMillan Cottom is at her very best - rigorous, incisive, empathetic, and witty".  It's impossible to read Lower Ed without remembering that for-profit colleges are attended by real people - the book is at it's best when humanizing the "poor and minority students disproportionately enrolled in for-profit colleges", and the choices that they have found themselves presented with in a time of widening inequality, reduced support from employers, increased emphasis on higher education credentials, and a lack of any coherent political or social response to these trends.

This not-a-review isn't particularly coherent, unlike Lower Ed, which is always carefully written at the level of sentences, chapters, and through the entire book.  If you're considering Lower Ed, or if you're at all interested in education, inequality, or the intersections of race, class and gender please go and read it.  I think I'm writing this as a reminder to myself (and any other potential readers), that if, like me, you approach the book wondering "why do people go to 'those' schools", you should be aware that the question is "so clunky, so laden with embedded assumptions, anxieties, and projections".  There are simple stories to be told about for-profit colleges and the students that attend them, and politicians can get themselves elected by offering solutions to those stories, while Wall Street executives keep making money.  But there's also a more nuanced story, one with more complicated solutions (though solutions that we all can, and probably must, participate in!), and understanding that story is a lot more likely to help the people trapped in the social, economic, and political trends spelled out in Lower Ed.  I'm incredibly grateful to Tressie McMillan Cottom for this book, the reminder that a simple story is more likely to serve someone's agenda than actually solve problems, and the reminder that the sometimes abstract numbers cited when making public policy represent real people and real stories.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Hugo nominations - a rough cut

Here's my first draft of Hugo nominations, at least the ones I care about (read - the fan stuff, because as far as I'm concerned the saving grace of the Hugos is getting to cheer on the people who've made me a better reader).  I haven't yet gone through & reviewed the linkposts I did intermittently this year, the 25 or so links I have saved for future linkposts, or really looked at the Hugo Nom spreadsheet of Doom or Wiki (though I'll try to add some things to them soon, pending move and life and whatnot), so I reserve the right to change these.  I am, however, going to try to stick to 5, in the spirit of how Hugos actually work.

(This is technically also an award eligibility post, since I am nominating myself for the thing* I am eligible for)

Fancast -
Storyological is the best genre podcast out there.  The short story discussions are excellent, Chris and E. G. have great banter while staying close the the topic & getting in and out quickly.  I love it.

Fangirl Happy Hour is appointment listening for me, and I think Renay & Ana have hit their stride this year.  Their chemistry is great, I'm often surprised by the topics they come up with, and I am always delighted by the discussions.  Whether talking about a movie I half-remember, a comic I'm only vaguely aware of, or engaging with a book or story I've read (yes, these are my favorite segments, but I'm glad that they're sprinkled among many others, because I've learned to love and examine what I love by listening to Renay & Ana love and examine what they love), I genuinely enjoy their discussions.  The fangirls are enthusiastic about what they enjoy, honest and thoughtful in their criticism, and willing to examine their own biases.  I aspire to do half as well.

Flash Forward has been a little bit uneven this year as Rose Eveleth got herself a real job making other really good podcasts, but also it's an excellent podcast that shows why she got a real job making really good podcasts.  The imagined futures each episode are delightful & thought-provoking, and Rose always finds guests and angles that I wouldn't have expected to examine further implications.

Cabbages & Kings.  I'm pretty proud of my podcast this year, even if I didn't get out as many episodes as I'd hoped (sorry!).  I'd recommend the Clarke Award discussions, and my interview with Jenn Brissett, in which you can hear her explaining her book to me & me saying "oohhh ... now I get it!" right in the midst of the interview, because I'm a fan, not a professional.  What're your favorites?

Midnight in Karachi - Mahvesh remains the best author interviewer I've listened to.  Her discussion with Indra Das was excellent, if you need a place to start.  (Also, listen to Mahvesh be excited about interviewing Margaret freaking Atwood!) (Hugo neepery - as this is affiliated with tordotcom, it may not be eligible as a "fan" thing.  I think it should qualify, and I'm nominating it.  The judges can correct me if they'd like) (Further neepery - I'm *pretty sure* that the plain meaning** of fancast precludes fiction podcasts.  The community has seemed to agree in the past.  But last year a fiction podcast made the five finalists.  So maybe Podcastle & whatnot should be included and fancast can become a weird second best-editor-short-fiction category, since I'm sure the fiction podcasts would swamp anything else I've mentioned)

A few notes - I have a tendency to look at recommendation lists as white as this with a jaundiced eye, and wonder what wonders the recommender simply ignores.   I'm aware of at least three genres of fancasts that I'm more or less unaware of.  There are a bunch of blerd podcasts - I've enjoyed Nerds of Prey when I listened.  In general, these tend to be a bit longer & heavier on the "friends hanging out" dynamic than *I* like, which is why I don't stick with them.  Your mileage may vary, and I'd suggest trying them.  I don't watch youtube book review people (BookTubers, I think they call themselves), because really if you're watching TV it should be science experiments with kids, DS9 or Gilmore Girls, amirite?  I'm aware of Claire Rousseau and SFF180 because they are also on Twitter, you could start there.  I also don't really do TV recap/discussion shows, so no Down and Safe, no Game of Thrones or Westworld fan theories, no Star Trek discussions for me.  Again, if that's your cup of tea, I am a bad recommender.

Fan Writer -
Vajra Chandrasekara remains excellent.  Here are reviews of Binti & Ballad of Black Tom.

Abigail Nussbaum is also excellent (I'll *read* reviews of TV shows, just not listen).  Here's her reviews of the Clarke shortlist.

Megan of CouchToMoon is my favorite writer out there now, and definitely in the "fan" category.  Her reviews are biting where she's critical, thoughtful where warranted, and she's very good at picking out what she does like.  Plus, she's inspiring me to read much farther afield than I would have otherwise.  (And yes, that's exactly why I invited her on the podcast)

Charles Payseur does excellent and copious short fiction reviews (again, why I invited him to contribute to Cabbages & Kings), and is another who I think sits firmly & deservedly in the "Fan" category

OJ Cade - I'm recommending her based on the Food & Horror series (about which more below).  This may change, but that series was excellent, and I'd be delighted to nominate her on its strength alone.

Fanzine -
LadyBusiness is the best blog going right now.  They've got a strong group of contributors, regular installments that I appreciate, and individual essays and series that pop up & generally delight me.

Nerds of a Feather is also good, and seems to fall well within the "fan zine" intended meaning.

SF In Translation from Rachel Cordasco popped up this year, and I'm finding it really useful as I try to stretch my reading.  There's an essay from Linda Holmes that I think about frequently about what you build and how that can be seen in who and what come out of it.  A host of regular contributors to SFSignal have gone on to other great things, and this is one that I've been particularly pleased to see grow.

I dunno, what else? (I object to File770 for various reasons that have been litigated plenty on Twitter, but otherwise I'm open to suggestions)

Best Related Work -
Speculative Blackness took my understanding of what Science Fiction is, how black authors and artists fit within it, and turned it at a sharp angle in a really helpful way.  Plus, it demonstrated really useful reading techniques that I'm still trying to incorporate into my own thoughts.  I need to reread this and follow up both on the art professor Carrington recommended and the reading methods he encourages.

Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Octavia E Butler.  Gerry Canavan's book is excellent. It's readable, and follows Butler's biography and bibliography, along with insights from the copious journals, rough drafts, and revisions newly available at the Huntington Library.  Nuanced without ever feeling voyeuristic, this made me re-evaluate my picture of Butler and her works, as well as inspiring me to read those I haven't encountered yet.

Food and Horror: This sequence at Book Smugglers by OJ Cade was amazing.  Thorough and thoughtful, Cade has inspired me to want to read horror, and to bring a clearer understanding of the impact of the stories.

Nothing Beside Remains - Jonathon McCalmont's history of the New Weird is really interesting even as I'm mostly oblivious to what the New Weird is/was.  I'd particularly recommend the conclusion, and his ideas about what it means to identify literary movements either in hindsight or as they coalesce.

I'm undecided beyond that.  Maybe Kate Elliott's "Writing Women Characters into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas" or Sarah Gailey's series at tordotcom, or Jared & Mahvesh's reread of Dragonlance? Help me out here people - there must be something better!

I'm still hopelessly at sea for fiction.  "One Way Out", the blog entry is going in my short story ballot.  Ballad of Black Tom, A Taste of Honey, and Bethany will probably all be on my novella ballot.  (briefly on Bethany - it's Adam Roberts writing about traveling back to the time of Christ.  If you're familiar with Adam Roberts, that will tell you whether you'll enjoy this immensely as I did.  If you've not read him yet, I can personally vouch for Jack Glass, and have heard only good things about The Thing Itself).  I liked Obelisk Gate and Wall of Storms.  Neither quite as much as their predecessors, but both of those were on my ballot last year, and these probably will be this year, and I'd guess Everfair will join them.  I didn't read all that many 2016 novels.  Here's my reading log so far if you're so inclined.

Strange Horizons will be on my semiprozine ballot.

I'll leave graphic novels, movies, and TV shows to other people.  I'd nominate series if any of the series that I'm following were long enough, but until then, I'll ignore the category because that's far too much effort to invest for Hugo nomination purposes. I also reserve the right to change everything up there as I'm reminded of or pointed to other good works.  Leave me a note in the comments, or stop by the Cabbages & Kings Imzy page to discuss further!

*I am technically eligible in fanzine because I have text - namely the transcripts, and as a fan writer because I wrote words about SFF in the last year, but whatever nominations I get'll be in fancast. Last year I did not make the longlist of nominated podcasts, a result I don't expect to change, but that's mostly beside the point.

**Section 3.3.13 of the constitution which I can only find here as an ugly PDF says "and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation." and 3.3.7 & 3.3.8 specify Dramatic Presentation as "Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects" which I think should exclude fiction podcasts, except Tales to Terrify was a finalist, so what do I know?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Best Fancast

I've been reminded that in 2 weeks, Kansas City hosts WorldCon, an annual Science Fiction/Fantasy convention where (among other things), the Hugo awards will be handed out.  During WorldCon, the WSFSBM (World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting) will happen, and among other things, the group will decide whether or not to retain the Best Fancast category for the Hugo awards.  (This is small potatoes compared to other business, but I care a little bit about podcasts because I listen to them a lot and make one).

tl;dr - There are a lot of good fancasts worth of being recognized.  I'm not sure the award text, admins, or community are well suited to doing that, but that's par for the course with the Hugos.

I've had a little rant about Best Fancast building for a while, so I'm just going to spit it out here rather than clogging Twitter timelines.  I have a bit of a dog in the fight, since I host a podcast (apologies for the summer hiatus) that is eligible for Best Fancast, but I think the odds of being nominated are pretty slim, and I'll be happy with Cabbages & Kings with or without a Hugo nod.

So - on its surface I think that Best Fancast is a remarkably excellent and forward-looking award.  We're possibly in the midst of a podcast boom, and there are still niches being carved out specifically oriented around speculative fiction: there's the old guard - some SFF-focused friends sitting and chatting (last year's winners Galactic Suburbia, The Cooode St Podcast, and Fangirl Happy Hour, among others), the person or people interviewing guests (often authors on book tour, but we'll try not to hold that against them) (Skiffy & Fanty, Cooking the Books, and Tea & Jeopardy come to mind, along with Midnight in Karachi, which to my mind is the best of the bunch) (Cabbages & Kings kind of fits here), there are comics-adjacent friends chatting, and a whole slew of blerd podcasts that often touch on SFF stuff (shout out to Nerds of Prey, though I admit that in general these are too rambly for my tastes).  There are some difficult to categorize podcasts finding their own way (Flash Forward pod is the best, but also Imaginary Worlds, a part of the Panoply network), and I don't even know about Booktube, the various show recap/discussion podcasts, behemoths like The Incomparable network, and I'm sure many others.  It's a good time for fan podcasts, broadly defined.

But ... (of course there's a but, actually a few).

Here's the text of the amendment:

3.3.14: Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has released four (4) or more episodes, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation.

The fan community has generally assumed that "does not qualify as a dramatic presentation" means no fiction podcasts (no Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, or Uncanny, to name a few magazines that are often up for Hugos in one way or another).  This means that many of the podcasts that people love to listen to (the above, plus things like Black Tapes, Limetown, Escape Pod, or Glittership) are out.  Which kinda makes sense in terms of not awarding the same thing many times, but doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of how people think about podcasts.  Lots of podcast fans listen to fiction podcasts.  Many listen only to fiction podcasts.  And then they can't nominate their favorite podcasts, which is dumb.  Especially since this year's nominees include Tales to Terrify, which seems to be a fiction podcast.  Maybe next year Lightspeed, Clarkesworld and Uncanny can duke it out here, too.  Or maybe the admins just made a mistake?

Then there's the "non-professional", which I think was an attempt to make sure that Geeks Guide to the Galaxy didn't win everything (have you listened? their production values are not professional), but then ends up (maybe? probably? no way to ask the admins) excluding Writing Excuses, Rocket Talk (which is often interested in fandom writ large), and one of my favorites Midnight in Karachi.  It's not clear to me that there are professional podcasts with an unfair advantage in the Hugos that need excluding.  It's pretty clear that there are some which seem to be pretty fannish that seem to be excluded.

So the award text isn't great.  And I'm not sure it's being administered well.  Then there's the actual people nominating for hugos.  Even setting aside the current puppy debacle, it's not clear that the big exciting picture I painted of new podcasts and genres popping up is being seen by the folks who nominate for hugos.  I try to keep my ear out for good new podcasts, and while I see a lot of interest in various fiction podcasts that appear, I don't see a lot of nonfiction/discussion podcasts being mentioned.  Or YouTube channels being cheered.  It's not clear to me that the community that's voting for their favorite blogs & best novels/short stories has enough overlap with podcast listeners to meaningfully award this category.  It's dumb when because of their voting community Locus puts up "best of" award nominees that look like men write SF, women write fantasy, and Joe Abercrombie writes YA.  If the Hugo voting group isn't interested enough in the variety of speculative fiction podcasts out there to come up with a good list of nominees, then maybe the award isn't well served by the fans.  The Parsecs exist, after all. (Though I know very little about them)

Every objection there (that the category is not well-defined to meet the actual way people are consuming media these days, that the administration doesn't seem clear, and that the voting community might not know enough to hand out a representative award) could almost certainly be applied to just about every other Hugo Award category, of course.

So in two weeks, the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting will vote (among other things), on whether to keep best Fancast.  I honestly don't much care which way they vote, and I'm not sure which way I'd vote if I were there.  A feature of the Hugos is that the award categories are such that they can be endlessly argued.  Might as well keep around one more to argue about, I guess? Or maybe this should be the hill to die on where fans valiantly take a stand and say an award's not worth handing out if we can't do it pretty well?  (Though I think YA is the category that keeps ending up on that hill, and I think the gendered aspects of that market explain that pretty damn well).

Rachel Acks will probably be liveblogging.  Galen Charlton may be tweeting again.  I'll be paying attention.  Yay impending WSFSBM!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fans, criticism, hugos

I was reading Miss Rumphius to Tadpole tonight, and because of Ann Leckie’s recent blog post, I started thinking about the omniscient narrator - the young niece relating her great-aunt’s story who appears at the very beginning and end of the book.  Because of Kate Schapira, I wondered about planting Lupines everywhere. Is this a native species? What’s the impact of an extra five bushels of seeds in a localized area?

I started engaging with SFF books and blogs on Twitter a few years ago, and a watershed moment was tweeting & blogging Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.  I wrote a bit about Marigolds, and how the ending seemed a bit pat and happy. And Leonicka pointed out how uncommon it is to find sex workers with agency and happiness in fiction.  And other people taught me about the Tragic Queer trope, and how comforting it is not to read that.

For the last couple years, I've not only had the pleasure of reading amazing stories (short and long), but also reading and listening to the voices of authors and fans engaging with the stories I love.  A list is by necessity incomplete, but it is Kate Elliott who makes me asks where the groups of women are, and Renay and the editors of Lady Business who make me ask why the story I'm reading is important, and which stories are being ignored to tell this one.  Troy Wiggins & Daniel José Older have made me ask myself why dialect or a turn of phrase makes me uncomfortable, rather than blaming the author. A whole series of posts have me wondering what Science Fiction is and how it differs from Fantasy and how things all fit together.

And the thing is that each story is it’s own thing.  I can reread it (and I love rereading, which we’ll discuss another time), but I can’t read an amalgam of Black Wolves and City of Roses (nor, I think, would I want to).  But all the criticism accretes. It’s in the air and having imbibed it I take it with me to every new story.  (Even if I want to put it aside, so as to avoid being punched in the face when I come across something like Dark Orbit that forgets empathy for its blind characters by the end).

Once a year, a bunch of the people I talk to about science fiction and fantasy get together as part of a larger group and we talk about the best of last year.  And that gets published as The Hugo Awards (first finalists, then winner).  The finalists are announced at noon on Tuesday.  And I have a lot of negative feelings.  

But once a year I have an excuse to celebrate and thank the people who have contributed to the joy and meaning I've taken from every story I've read recently.  I look to the Nebulas and Kitschies for interesting fiction nominations (and maybe the Clarke Awards which’ll be announced Wednesday!), but the Hugos are my chance to talk about fan writing and criticism and podcasts.

To that end, some writing, writers, and podcasters I bring to your attention:

Vajra again, on Binti.


John Clute on The Buried Giant and Maureen Speller in Cabbages & Kings (they both talked about the narrator at least glancingly, reminding me of Ann Leckie's post above) (yes, I'm sneaking in references to my own podcast)

Kip again, on prose style.

I don't like everything about Adam Whitehead’s History of Epic Fantasy blog series, but I like that he made it & made me want to quibble with some of it.

I think that BookSmugglers publish a lot of fascinating stuff - I’d particularly recommend Octavia Cade’s series and the now completed tour through the Newberry’s

Abigail Nussbaum is excellent.  Batman V Superman is just one example of why

I really like the editors of LadyBusiness.  I'll particularly mention the Xena rewatch and Jodie’s short fiction discussions.  I often disagree with her overall assessments of the story, but always find what she has to say really interesting.

Speaking of short fiction, I cannot recommend Storyological, which dissects 2 short stories/week in a reasonable timeframe, highly enough.

And speaking of joyful romps through past media, Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have been rereading the Dragonlance chronicles.  (I think they’re also going to bring us stories of Djinn sometime in the future)

And since I have begun talking about podcasts, let me unleash the floodgates: Mahvesh is the best author interviewer out there, The Coode Street podcast has blind spots big enough to drive a truck through but also strong perspectives and a deep knowledge of the history of the genre.  Rocket Talk ranges from random hanging out with friends to some of the best SFF/Industry discussion out there, with a few odd trips along the way. (Did I just link to both of Justin's episodes with Kate Elliott? Of course I did.  She's a brilliant podcast guest.)  Emma Newman’s blend of fiction and author interview on Tea & Jeopardy is delightful, and the ladies of Fangirl Happy Hour have strong perspectives, many interests, and nearly always leave me smiling in delight.  For movie and comics fans, the ladies of Nerds of Preycast are also worth a listen.  I will never be unhappy to hear the jingle of the Three Hoarsemen in my earbuds.

I would especially mention Flash Forward Pod.  Rose Eveleth is making something special. She’s thinking deeply and bringing an amazing set of perspectives for a podcast hosted by a single person.  Every two weeks, she blends a fictional future with very relevant real-world stories to connect how we are living now to the world we are creating for ourselves out somewhere in the future.

Kate Schapira does something similar with her #climateanxieties blog.

And Ebony Elizabeth Thomas thinks about children’s literature and the world we are making for our children with each and every story we tell.

Leslie Light is out there searching for and reviewing the fiction she wants to see written and spotlighted. Charles Payseur does yeoman’s work reviewing all the short fiction fit to pixelize.  Nerds-Feather (where he contributes) called him the definition of a fan writer, and I couldn’t agree more.  Meanwhile @MicroSFF is off writing even more short fiction (though sadly I don’t think this is one of the venues Charles reviews)

The hugo finalists will be out soon.  A few years ago, it was exciting to see my interests converging with the larger nominating group.  This year, I don’t expect that.  And frankly, as my interests move around, I’m not sure there will ever be such a convergence again.  I’m finding myself increasingly aware that there are important differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy, and curious about the genre I didn’t read as much.  I just finished Speculative Blackness, and I find myself wanting more long-form criticism (a relief - I was worried Twitter had broken me forever).  Hopefully this list a year from now will have more books (Ebony Thomas has one coming, I believe!), names like Paul Kincaid, Edward Said, and Samuel Delany, who I’ve always *meant* to read but never gotten around to.  The Rhetorics of Fantasy is on my to-read, but that list of SF critics I’ve heard of is suspiciously devoid of women.  I get to discover them!

I want to be better, this year, about thanking and praising these writers as and when I meet them.  I’m also going to put as many of them as I can on my nominating ballot next year.  And most of them won’t appear in the list of 5 finalists. Which is fine.  They will, each and every one of them, inform everything I’m reading going forward.  For that, I’m deeply grateful. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reading #SpeculativeBlackness - Prologue

I'm reading Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction by Professor andré carrington PhD, and want to jot down some thoughts after the preface.  (It seems *really* interesting, if you're up for academic texts)

First, prof carrington seems not primarily interested in how "race" is written about in genre.  (I was expecting, for instance, some talk about how monsters & aliens are often standins for "The Other", which is often "black people" or more broadly people of color).  Instead, the book seems like it's going to deal with how race-the-social-construct is portrayed and also constructed in "speculative fiction" texts considered broadly.  (Most of the "texts" look like they're going to be comics/fanzines/TV shows, and rather than trying to define "speculative fiction", the book seems to take an "I know it when I see it & when I see how people interact with it" approach).  These texts are primarily pop culture, and race is a social construct that is to some extent always being renegotiated, so it *looks like* we're going to be looking both at how black culture comes into SFF, but also how SFF reflects/constructs black culture.  (And it seems this'll be in part contrasted with how SFF interacted with gender & the feminist movement in the 60's and after.)

There are two key ideas that jumped out at me (beyond that this is an exchange between texts and consumers who live in a society that's constructing & defining ideas of "race") - notions of Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, and The Whiteness of SFF vs. Speculative Blackness.

Readings - paranoid reading is (essentially, maybe?) reading to find your agenda.  The Sad Puppies pointing to award lists of books and authors who aren't white guys & asserting it's *because* they aren't white guys, and there's a cultural movement to praise not-white-guys.  (My example, not the author's).  Or I have a tendency when reading especially older SFF books to ask "who's not represented?  Why aren't they here?", sometimes at the expense of focusing on what the story is trying to do.

Reparative reading is not necessarily in contrast to paranoid reading. Instead, it's a reading that acknowledges that entrenched power structures mean some stories and storytellers are overrepresented in SFF (*all* of the Farmboys With Destiny told by white men), and seeks to find other stories and storytellers who have been erased or marginalized by patriarchy, white supremacy, eurocentrism, etc. and present a collection of stories and storytellers that repairs the damage done by these power structures in order to present a more diverse (more complete?) picture of the field (if one that does not necessarily map to the demographics of how many books/stories were printed in a given period).  I like the idea of reparative reading a lot.  It appeals to me, and I think I find it a more comforting idea than "making up your own canon" which I've seen thrown around a few times.  I want to sit with it & poke at it & see where it takes me.

Prof carrington (I'm capitalizing as he does in his Twitter bio, fwiw) also talks about The Whiteness of SFF and Speculative Blackness.  I think I'm more clear on the second than the first, so I'll start there.
Speculative blackness basically acknowledges that there are some areas of popular culture (Jazz and other musical trends where I'm woefully ignorant so won't try to say more) where black culture can be more easily seen and defined.  (There's a bit about seeing black culture appropriated, and also culture as either resistance or capitulation and how this is a false binary, but I didn't connect as much with that).  Rather than trying to find blackness in SFF, Speculative Blackness centers black culture, and sees the ways it manifests in speculative texts.  So Afrofuturism which was expressed in visual arts, Sun Ra's performances, and also speculative fiction can be talked about first as the movement and then fit into SFF so it's not a marginal part of SFF but an extension of blackness (centering the black cultural movement rather than SFF).  Afrofuturism, Surrealism, presentation of The Other, and Horror are all movements where black cultural production also appears in SFF.

I think that the Whiteness of SFF connects to reparative reading.  The notion that SFF has been dominated by white storytellers & stories, and so trying to look for blackness in that sea of white would inevitably see it as somehow opposing/subverting/being overwhelmed and set up false dichotomies, rather than seeing speculative blackness as an extension of other black aesthetic movements.

I'm probably missing a lot.  I'm certainly really looking forward to this book, though a bit disappointed that there'll be more non-books in it than I'd first thought, since I don't know much about comics or music.  Still, that means I've got a chance to learn!

I'll be doing a combination of tweets @kingcabbagecast using the #SpeculativeBlackness hashtag and posts like this when my thoughts are too much for a tweetstorm.  If you're reading, feel free to add a comment or tweet me!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Grace of Kings

I read Grace of Kings, Ken Liu's phenomenal debut novel over the last couple weeks and really enjoyed it!  It's a book that does a lot of very interesting things with style.  It's set in a far-eastern setting but deliberately avoids easy analogs to China and elsewhere.  It's a big, complicated, wonderful book.  You should go read it.  If you're an author, you should probably figure out how it works.  If we don't look back in 5-10 years and comment on Grace of Kings' influence on the genre, I'm going to be very disappointed.

I'm not going to attempt to write a review of Grace of Kings.  I don't think I've got the skill to write such a review, and I think there's too much to dig into for a single review anyway.  If you'd like a general review, Justin Landon wrote one for Tor.Com.  Kate Elliott (at A Dribble of Ink) and The Book Smugglers both have good posts that focus on gender in the Grace of Kings.  Down at the bottom, I'm including a link to all the tweets I wrote along the way.

In lieu of a review, here are some observations/questions that Grace of Kings prompted that I'd love to dig into.