June 14th, 2013
Amel El Mohtar calls for the expulsion of Theodore Bale/Vox Dale from the SFWA:
While it is my personal feeling that the hateful, harmful, dehumanizing views expressed by Beale on his blog (about women, about religious and ethnic groups to which he does not belong, about queer people) would be “good and sufficient cause” enough to not share an organisation with him, I understand that enforcing expulsion on those grounds is problematic in the absence of an expansive organization-wide Code of Conduct.
This last reads to me very much like a threat, especially coming from a white man to a black woman in a country where public lynchings are a matter of living memory.
I urge you to please represent my views to the rest of the officers and vote to expel a man who has behaved so execrably from our organization.
Note that Beale ran for SFWA president and got some fifty people to vote for him:
Folks, we have to grin and bear it in an organization where 48 people voted for an organizational president who wanted to disenfranchise half the electorate. Women’s right to vote. In my own industry. In the one that pays me to write books. 48 people who were happy to publicly endorse turning me into a non-human. How many more were sympathetic to this? How many that I don’t know about?
In my opinion these people need to be expelled as well. You can’t have an inclusive organisation if it includes people who think women shouldn’t have the right to vote, or out and out racists. The SFWA need to take a leaf out of the Australian Army’s book and get serious about ending sexism and racism in its organisation.
Categories: Racism, science fiction
June 9th, 2013
Iain M. Banks has died, of the cancer he’d revealed earlier this year he had. Though the news doesn’t come as a surprise, it’s still a shock. He was only fiftynine, far too young. It’s hard to say how much he meant to me personally. I’ve never met him, or had any contact with him, but his novels, especially his science fiction were –are– incredibly important to me.
More objectively, Banks himself was a paradigm breaker, somebody who could write both science fiction and “literary” fiction and be taken seriously with both, who kept writing both and who liberally mixed in his sf with his mainstream stories. There had been other science fiction writers who went in for more mainstream literature, not to mention an army of properly literary writers dabbling in science fiction, but I think he was to first to keep consistently writing sf and literary fiction, therefore helping open up space for science fiction to be taken serious as literature.
Not to mention of course the huge influence he has had on other writers. Entire generations of British sf writers grew up in his shadow. Many of my favourite writers owe a debt to him: Charlie Stross, Ken MacLeod, Jon Courtnay Grimwood, Liz Williams, Justina Robson, China Mieville, Richard Morgan, these are all writers in which I recognise Banks’ influence.
But there’s more. He was also a principled leftist, something he showed not only through his writing –the Culture as the ultimate communist post-scarity paradise– but also in his actions. He was vehemently opposed to the War on Iraq, to the point that he tore up his passport when the invasion started as a protest. As his obituary at the Stop the war Coalition website makes clear, he was also a supporter of the cultural boycott of Israel as a way to pressure the country into giving up its apartheid regime.
“We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash.” — Iain Banks, The Crow Road.
Categories: science fiction
June 8th, 2013
published in 2005
Scardown is Elizabeth Bear’s second novel, sequel to Hammered, continuing the adventures of Jenny Casey. Where Hammered was straight up streetlevel cyberpunk, in Scardown the perspective opens up. That opening up actually started in the last pages of Hammered and Scardown continues seamlessly. Middle books in a trilogy, as this is can often sag, neither setting up plotlines nor resolving them, but Scardown avoids this fate. Each of the books in the Hammered/Scardown/Worldwired has its own story, but together they do add up to one coherent one.
Jenny Casey is a veteran who lost her left arm and eye in a war in South Africa decades ago, replaced by fairly primitive cyborg implants. Her ability to cope and survive for so long with these implants made her an unique candidate for starship pilot training, as these pilots would need to be plugged into their spaceships. This is why she was being pursued by the Canadian government in the previous novel, Canada and China being the world’s two superpowers in 2062. The world is dying, killed by climate change and humanity’s hope lies in the stars. Which is why both superpowers are building starships, starships made possible by alien technology found on Mars.
Categories: books and books review, science fiction
June 5th, 2013
Every Wednesday, I try and showcase a female writer who is special to me for one reason or another, in an attempt to focus more attention on female sf and fantasy writers. I will limit this to writers I’ve actually read multiple books of, if only to have an excuse to link to old reviews on my booklog. This time, let’s talk about Leigh Brackett.
So I was looking through my archives to see what I’ve written about Leigh Brackett before, and I saw that each time I mentioned her I noticed that you may know her from her work writing for The Empire Strike Back. Well, can’t break tradition which is why I mentioned this again. It’s fitting that one of the best pulp science fiction authors would end up writing for the movie series whose inspiration was the sort of adventure sf Brackett wrote. Furthermore, Brackett had been an accomplished screenwriter for almost as long as she had been a science fiction writer, working on movies like The Big Sleep (1945), Rio Bravo (1959) and The Long Goodbye (1973). It’s also why her productivity as an sf writer dropped dramatically after the mid-fifties; there was better money in movies and television.
When she was writing science fiction, Leigh Brackett specialised in writing planetary romances, swashbuckling tales of derring do set on alien planets. In her case this usually Mars or Venus, back when it was still possible to think the other planets in the Solar System could be slightly different versions of Earth. Her Mars has the canals and dying civilisation, while Venus is a jungle planet full of primitive, massive reptiles. Nevertheless her worlds are not carbon copies of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Hers are much more alive, not just stage sets for transplanted western or jungle adventures: her Martians have agency.
What I like about the best of her writing is how well she can portray a mood in her stories with only a few well chosen words. In the sort of short pulp sf story she specialised there was little room for much characterisation or mood setting, so she always had to be economical, which she did very well. Her craft is also visible in her husband, Edmond Hamilton’s work. Hamilton was a true pulp dinosaur, but after he got married to Brackett in 1946, his work took a leap forward in quality…
The Secret of Sinharat:
Science fantasy is that subgenre of science fiction that has all the trappings of science fiction, –aliens, other planets, blasters and aircars — but which actually read a lot like sword and sorcery in disguise, with strapping barbarian heroes fighting degenerate warlocks using superscience of an earlier age that they barely understand. It’s very romantic, not very plausible or much concerned with realistic science. Science fiction in that grand pulp tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. And like Burroughs had his John Carter, Brackett has Eric John Stark, the outlaw with a twenty year Moonprison sentence on his head, raised by a strange non-human tribe on Mercury, (in)famous on three planets as a barbarian and renegade, but also as a man with his own code of honour.
People of the Talisman:
Science fantasy often tends towards the purple and melodramatic, but Brackett’s tone of voice here is cynical and knowing, the story told in short, clear sentences with more than a hint of hardboiled sensibility. Stark is a tarnished hero in the mold of Raymond Chandler’s worldweary detectives; you can see Humphrey Bogart playing him. Brackett describes the Mars she has invented in the same way, with a few well chosen images sketched with a minimum of words.
The Sword of Rhiannon:
What sets The Sword of Rhiannon a touch above other pulp adventure stories is both Brackett’s writing and that elegiac sense of loss that comes across through it. At the end of the story Carse returns to the Mars of his own day, leaving a still living world for one that is slowly dying. He may have saved Mars from the tyranny of the Dhuvians, but its ultimate fate is still fixed…
The Halfling and Other Stories:
It doesn’t help that the first two stories are basically the same. In both there’s the hardbitten protagonist falling for a mysterious beautiful alien girl who he knows is trouble yet can’t help himself but get involved with, who then turns out to be evil. Worse, in both stories this girl is shown to be representative of her race, their evil part of their biology. It’s a bit …uncomfortable… shall we say, but unfortunately these sort of assumptions are build into the kind of planetary romances Leigh Brackett wrote.
Categories: Feminism, science fiction
June 4th, 2013
Kameron Hurley is not amused by the ongoing sexism problems in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America or the idea that criticism of this is censorship:
So. I get it. The world used to agree with you. You used to be able to say things like, “I really like those lady writers in this industry, especially in swimsuits!” and your fellow writers, editors, agents, and other assorted colleagues would all wink and grin and agree with you, and Asimov would go around pinching women’s asses, and it was so cool!
The problems arose with the SFWA’s quarterly magazine, in the regular column written by Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick. E. Catherine Tobler has a good summing up in her open lettre to the SFWA:
It began with issue #200 of the Bulletin—all right, #199 if we want to get technical. It began with the Resnick and Malzberg Dialogues, a long-time feature of the publication. It began when two men sat down to have a dialogue about editors and writers of the female gender.
I found a dialogue that seemed more focused on how these “lady editors” and “lady writers” looked in bathing suits, and that they were “beauty pageant beautiful” or a “knock out.” I am certain no condescension was intended with the use of “lady,” but as the dialogues went on, I felt the word carried a certain tone—perhaps that was a fiction of my own making. As I listened to these two men talk about lady editors and writers they had known, I grew uneasy. Something wasn’t right.
The editorial staff (headed by a woman) vowed to improve, to seek more membership input. Issue #201 was little better—it included an article, written by another man, that told women to emulate Barbie, to “maintain our quiet dignity as a woman should.”
Issue #202 brought with it a “rebuttal” from Malzberg and Resnick, in which they used the words “censorship,” and “suppression,” and “ban.” In which they said those who complained about their article were anonymous to them, that the SFWA forum had become “the arena for difference.” Was it members who objected to “apparent sexism,” or was it a larger, darker, more hostile and threatening thing that wanted to suppress their dialogues?
In all the complaints that were voiced, there was never a call for censorship. There was never a call for suppression. There was a call for respect.
As the controversy grew, the SFWA has announced a task force to look at these problems:
In response to this and previous feedback from members about recent issues of the Bulletin, I have authorized the formation of a task force to look at the Bulletin and to determine how the publication needs to proceed from this point in order to be a valuable and useful part of the SFWA member experience.
Furthermore, the SFWA’s outgoing president, John Scalzi (of this parish) has unreservedly apologised for these problems in an open lettre to the membership:
That begins with recognizing the problem. And here is the problem: SFWA, through the last few issues of the Bulletin, has offended many of our own members.
As president of the organization, I apologize to those members.
If you want to read more, much more about all this Jim Hines has a link roundup. For those curious about the article that kicked all this off, Radish Reviews has excerpts and scans of it (scroll down).
Categories: Feminism, geekdom, science fiction
May 29th, 2013
Every Wednesday, I try and showcase a female writer who is special to me for one reason or another, in an attempt to focus more attention on female sf and fantasy writers. I will limit this to writers I’ve actually read multiple books of, if only to have an excuse to link to old reviews on my booklog. To kickstart the series, what better author to start with than Joanna Russ?
Joanna Russ after all was the first prominent feminist science fiction writer, the first to explicitely examine gender relations in her fiction and keep it up as a main theme in many of her stories. In the process she also took aim at some of science fiction’s founding myths. For example, in We Who Are About to… , where she took the old concept of a crashed space ship on an unexplored planet and the brave survivors attempting to restart civilisation there and let her heroine steadfastly refuse to take part in it.
At the same time Russ was also active in reclaiming some of the lost history of women writers, most famously in her 1983 book, How to Suppress Women’s Writing, which looked at how female authors had been written out of literary history:
“She didn’t write it. But if it’s clear she did the deed… She wrote it, bit she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.) She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!) She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear. That’s all she ever…”) She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!) She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Brontë. Her own “masculine side”.) Sje wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help…) She wrote it BUT…”
Unfortunately Russ herself suffered from some of the same neglect. Most of her science fiction work was written at the start of her career, in the late sixties and seventies. Various chronic health problems kept her from writing more and many of her books fell out of print. She kept up her non-fiction writing for longer, but the science fiction field is terrible at keeping abreast with what’s happening elsewhere. Nevertheless for those who do come across her, for those who find feminism important, she was and is an important writer, somebody widely taught in university classes on feminism and science fiction.
Of her works I’ve so far read three: Picnic on Paradise, The Female Man and We Who Are About to… . Of these three, the first is an enjoyable adventure story with an interesting heroine, the second is a stone cold classic and the last is an impressively bitter polemic.
Picnic on Paradise:
Picnic on Paradise is an old fashioned adventure sf story, with a plot a Keith Laumer or a Lloyd Biggle could’ve used, but with a far greater focus on the group dynamics between Alyx and her fellow refugees. Which makes this somewhat more interesting then if it had only focused on external conflicts. Each of the characters feels real, is recognisable without being stereotyped, which makes the interplay between them interesting.
the Female Man:
The Female Man is a tough book, but not a hard book to read. Joanna Russ is a brilliant writer and everything in here sparkles; at times you can only sit there open mouthed with awe. It’s a tough book because of the raw anger Russ has put in it.
We Who Are About to…
We Who Are About To… is arguably Joanna Russ’ most famous and controversial novel after The Female Man. That novel became famous because of its outspoken feminism, still rare in science fiction at the time; if we’re honest, still somewhat rare today. We Who Are About To… comitted a greater sin however, by attacking the optimistic, can do attitude of classic science fiction, the belief that any adversity can be overcome by man’s unique fighting spirit. It’s not just that the protagonist doesn’t win in the end; even Asimov the arch-optimist had written “Founding Father” ten years earlier, a story in which four astronauts fight but fail to terraform a planet before it kills them. No, the real problem is that she rejects the choice out of hand and choses not to fight, not even to try.
Categories: Feminism, science fiction