Tag Archives: speculative fiction

This is what we believe

I’m putting together a teaching portfolio – whee, fun – and I’m going through whatever I can stick in there to make me look attractive. I’m including this essay I wrote for The Sociological Cinema (amazing resource) and I had forgotten most of it – and the last couple of paragraphs are still poignant for me. As I’m thinking more and more about why I write and what I really want to get out of it and why I think it’s important, I’m seeing more and more ways in which those things connect to the rest of what I do.

Writing is teaching and writing is learning. It’s a toolkit and the tools are incredibly versatile. We ignore this to our detriment.

Fiction in general – and speculative fiction in particular – is not merely escapism. It’s conceptual voyaging. It’s pushing beyond what we know into what we can grow to understand. Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.

In my course, I characterize most forms of social inequality to be based on myth – on origin stories. We’re better than these other people. This thing is bad. This is what it means to live a good life. This is what justice looks like. And when we find the worlds these myths create to be undesirable, we depend on the ability to imagine the alternatives to work toward those alternatives.

Sometimes understanding these alternatives involves spaceships and robots. Or it can. And sometimes it’s better when it does.

Long Hidden – Cover reveal and amazing ToC

click to embiggen, trust me you want to

Sofia Samatar – “Ogres of East Africa”
Thoraiya Dyer – “The Oud”
Tananarive Due – “Free Jim’s Mine”
S. Lynn – “Ffydd (Faith)”
Sunny Moraine – “Across the Seam”
Rion Amilcar Scott – “Numbers”
Meg Jayanth – “Each Part Without Mercy”
Claire Humphrey – “The Witch of Tarup”
L.S. Johnson – “Marigolds”
Robert William Iveniuk – “Diyu”
Jamey Hatley – “Collected Likenesses”
Michael Janairo – “Angela and the Scar”
Benjamin Parzybok – “The Colts”
Kima Jones – “Nine”
Christina Lynch – “The Heart and the Feather”
Troy L. Wiggins – “A Score of Roses”
Nghi Vo – “Neither Witch Nor Fairy”
David Fuller – “A Deeper Echo”
Ken Liu – “結草銜環 (Knotting Grass, Holding Ring)”
Kemba Banton – “Jooni”
Sarah Pinsker – “There Will Be One Vacant Chair”
Nnedi Okorafor – “It’s War”
Shanaé Brown – “Find Me Unafraid”
Nicolette Barischoff – “A Wedding in Hungry Days”
Lisa Bolekaja – “Medu”
Victor LaValle – “Lone Women”
Sabrina Vourvoulias – “The Dance of the White Demons”

I don’t even know how to find the words to describe how gorgeous this whole book looks like it’s going to be.

Snippet of the current short-story-in-progress

robotic-bionic-prosthetic-arm2

After the loss of a limb, some people experience bereavement. Some people are angry. Some people adjust perfectly well. Some people have a hard time working with your particular family of prosthetics. Fewer than there used to be. The majority of people are fine with you, grateful for the advances that have produced you.

But I read the testimonials and I don’t see all that many people talking about it like it’s them. Theirs, yes. But not them.

A very few people experience a curious crisis of identity. They start believing that they aren’t human anymore. They have panic attacks, nightmares. They claim that not only are you not part of them but you’re a separate mind trying to take them over. A tiny minority actually engage in what’s being called re-amputation.

Footage of a man who hacked off his new leg with a meat cleaver. It took him fifteen minutes to get it all the way off. The pain was immense until he rendered the sensory apparatus inoperative. He has permanent nerve damage. The other leg doesn’t work now. He says he doesn’t regret it. He says incomplete but real human is better than the alternative.

We See a Different Frontier – win a free copy!

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Now that We See a Different Frontier has been released – and is getting some fantastic critical response, some of which you can read about here, as well as Aliette de Bodard’s mini review here – it seems to me that it might be a good idea to give a free copy of it away to you lovely people. So enter below and in two weeks (September 18) I’ll select one person at random to receive a copy of the ebook in their choice of formats.

And of course, if you do win the book, we definitely appreciate reviews on it on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, etc. This is truly a fantastic anthology – we need to get the word out that it exists, in addition to being awesome. ToC is below.

  • Preface by Aliette de Bodard
  • Introduction by Fabio Fernandes
  • The Arrangement of Their Parts, Shweta Narayan
  • Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus, Ernest Hogan
  • Them Ships, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Old Domes, J.Y. Yang
  • A Bridge of Words, Dinesh Rao
  • The Gambiarra Effect, Fabio Fernandes *
  • Droplet, Rahul Kanakia
  • Lotus, Joyce Chng
  • Dark Continents, Lavie Tidhar
  • A Heap of Broken Images, Sunny Moraine
  • Fleet, Sandra McDonald
  • Remembering Turinam, N.A. Ratnayake
  • Vector, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
  • I Stole the D.C.’s Eyeglass, Sofia Samatar
  • Forests of the Night, Gabriel Murray
  • What Really Happened in Ficandula, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  • Critical afterword by Ekaterina Sedia

Sunday linkdump: Drive it like you stole it

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Things Occurred.

  • Antidote to all the dismaying SFWA sexist bullshit: “Doctor Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron”, by A.C. Wise.

    For this mission, they’ve chosen strictly retro-future, which means skin-tight silver, boots that come nearer to the knee than their skirts, bubble-barreled ray-guns, frosted white lipstick and, of course, big hair. CeCe the Velvet Underground Drag King called in sick with the flu, so it’s lamé all the way.

  • One of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve read this year is a flash story presented as a Twitter bug report. Read it. Trust me.
  • Stand with Turkey.

    People who are marching to the center of Istanbul are demanding their right to live freely and receive justice, protection and respect from the State. They demand to be involved in the decision-making processes about the city they live in.

    What they have received instead is excessive force and enormous amounts of tear gas shot straight into their faces. Three people lost their eyes.

  • When you’re dealing with highly abstract concepts like states and corporations, what does it mean to grapple with the material?

    We have the ability to fight them in the streets to a degree. We can still burn the buildings down, block the lanes of traffic, and cut the cables. But to do this, we must be able to see these material capillary beds. We cannot fight corporate cops that don’t exist, or boycott nation-state products that don’t need our business. There is a material reality to both states and corporations, but we can easily miss it, distracted by the allusions we have created in our minds for rhetorical simplicity.

  • I did kind of a bit of commentary for Cyborgology on the Kindle Worlds thing.

    The practical implications of this are that traditional tie-in writers might no longer be needed at all. Instead of having to pay authors advances and higher royalty rates, Kindle Worlds presents a dystopian future where media tie-ins are entirely produced by poorly compensated fandom content-serfs, where traditional writers of original fiction are simply no longer needed.

  • “Melancholic Damage.” Rhianna’s new album and racist-sexist discourses of acceptable recovery. Long but so worth it.

    In a multiracial white supremacist partriarchy like ours, resilience distributes racial privilege: “good” black women who “overcome” are granted some of the privileges of whiteness, while women who fail to overcome are racially darkened. To maintain white privilege, one has to keep optimizing one’s human capital. Those who can’t keep up will fall behind, ever closer to precarity, which is racially nonwhite. Whiteness is thus increasingly indexed to resilience, and non-whiteness to precarity. This is actually a vicious cycle — privilege makes it easier to “bounce back” from crisis.

  • Murmuration has begun and this poem is stunning.

    Edward said their thereness is just
    a shadow on the sky. Before depredating colonies
    of pests, the selfish herd moves
    with all the precision of an equation, unraveled
    by game controllers north of Tampa. Of starlings,
    bats, and drones, only drones are native to Florida.

Do like they do.

Sunday linkdump: Everything I love is on the table

image by Rob Wanenchak

There is a lot this week.

  • I wrote a thing for The Sociological Cinema on teaching with SF and the myths that underpin social inequality.

    Myths and legends are all-too-often dismissed as untrue; what this attitude fails to recognize is that the deepest, most foundational stories are persistent precisely because the best of them are vectors for the most profound elements of who we are, of how we understand ourselves to be, of where we imagine we might go. These things may be harmful, they may reproduce things that we find undesirable, but we need to understand them on their own terms before we can act.

  • “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters.” What it’s like to be a woman saying things and writing books. There is some potentially triggering stuff in here about rape (non-explicit) and general misogyny. I have no particular triggers and I found it upsetting.

    I consider throwing in the towel. The lack of respectful coverage, the slut-shaming and name-calling, all the girly book covers and not-my-titles despite high literary aspirations, has worn me down, made me question everything: my abilities, my future, my life. This is what sexism does best: it makes you feel crazy for desiring parity and hopeless about ever achieving it. A few months later, after delivering a lecture on the media-invented “mommy wars” at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, a song pops up on my iPhone as I’m walking back to my hotel room: Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” “When you ain’t got nothing,” Dylan sings, “you got nothing to lose.”

    Yes, I think. Yes.

  • “‘You’ve Lost Weight! You Look Great!’ Isn’t a Compliment.” I have felt this forever but haven’t articulated it to myself anywhere near this well, and oh my god yes yes yes

    When we think of it in that way, it’s not such a great compliment. It’s a set-up for self-consciousness and negative self-judgment of our past selves. When remarking on weight loss is offered as a compliment, the speaker clearly thinks that there’s been a noticeable and notable improvement in how the person looks. Without the normative standard of “thinner is better,” the comment would have no value as a compliment at all.

  • “Why I Will Still #uninstallmendeley.” If you use academic citation software, if you care about the state of academic publishing, if you care about justice and righteousness, read.

    If Mendeley wants to hitch their horse to the Monsanto of academic publishing they can be my guest. The service will probably be amazing. But remember that the money they gave you –all the new resources you have at your disposal– were purchased with tuition money and charitable donations that should have gone to higher education. Instead, it went to Elsevier (and Thompson Reuter, and Springer and…) so that they could find new and inventive ways of hiding research so that they could continue to charge exorbitant prices.

  • “Autofill Mythologies.” Fantastic piece on information and imagination and our experiences of difficult urban spaces.

    Lewis Lapham once argued that the imagined city, the one of our collective making, is realer than what we’re fed by maps and demographics, buildings and structures. The ideas, the symbols, ultimately carry more for us than the realities of its dwellers—the people in the neighborhoods that you see when you’re walking down the street.

  • “Needing a Bigger N+1.” This is a wonderfully biting response to a terrible essay on why critical sociology is useless and how there’s too much of it. That piece is actually not worth reading if you don’t want to; the response summarizes its major points pretty well.

    Insofar as you want to make an institutional critique of sociology… well, I pay an extraordinary (for me) fee to a disciplinary association tasked with intervening in public debates and government policy. We have strong disciplinary traditions and mythologies of activism, including Hull House and the Feminist Wire. We give a fecking ASA award. I’m not saying our house is 100% in order, but if I have to shift into your all/nothing, everyone/no one idiom, I’m going to say we’re all clear.

  • “When Facebook Stopped Being Fun.” Facebook users are growing up. This does not entirely bode well for Facebook.

    Facebook is like a nightmarishly intense, never-ending school reunion where all of the people you don’t really want to talk to get to expose their lives in self-congratulatory detail. Resentment for that is remarkably difficult to dispel.

  • “The writer’s neuroses.” All of this is so incredibly painfully true.

    What if my life work, these novels that I have tried to make as clear and articulate and passion-filled and honest and intelligent and entertaining and genre-resistant and accessible as I can manage, aren’t judged to be among the best? Well, as I will find out the news in a hotel room on my own I will probably end up crying on the edge of a bed while shoving salted cashews into my mouth and wishing I’d never ever written a vampire novel.

  • “Academia’s indentured servants.” Basically the system to which I have given ten years of my life and a great deal of my mental health is completely broken. I knew that because I’m IN IT, but still.

    To work outside of academia, even temporarily, signals you are not “serious” or “dedicated” to scholarship. It does not matter if you are simply too poor to stay: in academia, perseverance is redefined as the ability to suffer silently or to survive on family wealth. As a result, scholars adjunct in order to retain an institutional affiliation, while the institution offers them no respect in return.

  • “The entrepreneurial activism of Tim LaHaye’s theologized politics.” hey everyone Tim LaHaye is a very bad person

    Consider this: from 1995 through 2007, Tim LaHaye co-authored a series of runaway best-sellers steeped in John Birch Society ideology. During those years he sold more than 60 million copies of books that served as propaganda for a particular political agenda. The tea party movement sprang up in 2009, espousing the exact neo-Bircher ideology and agenda promoted in LaHaye’s novels. Is that just a remarkable coincidence?

But there is The National.

More fiction-themed bloggy stream-crossing

Just because once again it seems pertinent; my academic alter-ego has been blogging more over at Cyborgology about fiction and why it matters, even to people who do ostensibly non-fictional work.

Fictive writing doesn’t just allow us a deeper understanding of our past but a richer window into our present and a more vital imagining of our future. As I’ll argue extensively to anyone who has the misfortune to raise the topic with me (I am so much fun at parties), far from being merely escapism, fiction – especially speculative fiction – is a fantastically useful arena in which to do social theory, yet it’s one that most social scientists roundly ignore…Speculative fiction, among other genres, allows us to explore the full implications of our relationship with technology, of the arrangement of society, of who we are as human beings and who we might become as more-than-human creatures. It’s useful not because it’s expected to rigidly adhere to the plausible but because it’s liberated from doing exactly that: it’s free to take what-if as far as it can go.

Perhaps I don’t need to keep making this argument, given that whenever I do it seems like there’s a chorus of people who soundly agree with me. Then again, I get the sense that there’s a sizable block of older-generation sociologists who still think the internet might be kind of a passing, unimportant thing, so there you go.