Monday, 31 July 2017

Recommend: queer short stories

This time for our series on reader recommendations, where we shamelessly use you to add to our reading lists, we’d like to hear your suggestions of queer/LGBTQIA+ short stories that can be found online. To be clear, we want to hear about all the letters (and more) in that abbreviation, not just lesbian and gay stories, so hit us up with all the intersectional diversity you can think of. As always, to prime the pump we’ve asked a few editors, authors and other friends for their ideas. Read and enjoy, and then please tell us some of your favorites in the comments!

Rachel Linn (author page)

Full disclosure: “Something that Needs Nothing” (New Yorker 2006) isn't really speculative or fantasy fiction, though Miranda July’s way of seeing and describing the ‘real’ world often transforms it into an alternate reality.  Her writing feels like a more surreal version of The Catcher in the Rye, one in which you’re even less sure if the narrator’s perceptions are unreliable or if the world itself is.  I was intrigued the first time I read the story, but even more so after talking to a football player who was assigned it as a reading for a college class and chose to analyze it for his final paper.  He said he "related to the narrator's voice", which, coming from someone so different from myself, reinforced my impression of the story’s bizarre accessibility.  When the narrator says, "We were always getting away with something, which implied that someone was always watching us, which meant that we were not alone in this world," I think most of us know what she means.

Also, I should note that this story is explicit and—like much of July’s writing and performance art—plays with offensiveness (and therefore might not be everyone’s cup of tea).

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse)

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine 2013). What I like about the story with respect to queerness is the lack of detail about identity until the very end and, even then, it can be interpreted several ways. The writer uses first person so, if one realises the writer is a woman, there's a tendency to assume the narrator also is—but their gender identity isn't revealed until the narrator calls themself “the paleontologist’s fiancée with her half-planned wedding.” Likewise, the paleontologist love in question isn't definitively called a man until the very end and that only serves to show that the narrator and, presumably the love, recognise that identity for sure. So, with the the narrator saying that their love is called “a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not,” there is still an ocean of possibilities over gender and identity. There is room for questions—the most important possibly being why does the reader see it like that?

Claudie Arseneault (author page)

When asked for recommendations, choosing what to promote and fan over is often the hardest part of the task. Today I’ve picked two very different stories both featuring aromantic protagonists which I’ve discovered since the start of the year.

The first, “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed A Party And Saved The World” by Ada Hoffman (Unlikely Story 2014) is a near-future science fiction in which social media status heavily influences your place in the world. Emma is a Relator—she might not want to date, but she has over 2000 friends, and she’s ready to use those relationships to help her World Saver best friend. I love the way this piece defies the aromantic loner trope, the fullness of its characters, and how evocative those social media titles are. It’s a fun and free YA story that really stayed with me.

The second is “Nkásht íí” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons 2014), a brilliant short story steeped in Lipan Apache ghost lore. Friends of misfortune, Josie and Annie investigate a man’s car crash after he insists a malevolent spirit drowned his baby girl. Annie’s grandma has often warned her against restless ghosts. Haunting, tense and beautiful, “Nkásht íí” focuses on the unbreakable bond between two women, simultaneously providing horrified shivers and the warm glow of solid friendship. Easily one of my favourite reads this year.

If you ever feel the need for more free aromantic fiction available online, you can always check Penny Stirling’s great list. Happy reading!

Rachel Verkade (story; poem)

I first read Tim Pratt's story "Life in Stone" (Escape Pod 2006) in his excellent collection Hart & Boot. It seemed at first a fairly typical story that borrowed much of its premise from the ancient Slavic tales of Koschei the Deathless; a sorcerer has made himself immortal by placing his soul in an inanimate object and hiding it away. The trouble is that now, after many millennia of life, the sorcerer wants to die, and can no longer remember where his soul is hidden. So he hires a skilled but aging mercenary/assassin to find his soul and end his life.

What made the story stand out for me first was the setting—a bizarre future America where magic is rampant, and the characters are as likely to drive their SUV down to the local Italian eatery for supper as they are to fight their way through a den of lake monsters. And the other was the fact that the assassin and the sorcerer are lovers.

What unfolds is a story about aging, the loss of physical and mental capacities, about memory and the nature of the soul… and about love. About how sometimes what your lover wants may seem unfathomable, and sometimes the kindest thing to do is also the most painful. About two aging men working towards a single goal, each for their own reasons, and how one begins to question those reasons even as he commits acts of horrible violence to reach his end. It's also, of course, a very sad story… but also a very poignant one, and, in its own way, very hopeful. There aren't many older queer badass assassins in fantasy literature, and Pratt's Mr. Zealand makes an amazing impression in only ten pages.

Trace Yulie (author page)

K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” (Uncanny, 2017) is written from a trans perspective, by a trans author, and it isn’t a sweet story of acceptance or an inspiring story about transition struggle; I say this because these seem like themes some readers are more comfortable with. There is of course a space for affirming fiction, and sometimes queer stories just aren’t for non-queer folks, you know? But Szpara’s stories are not on those themes. Oh no, no, no. They are raw and vulnerable, and the narratives situate the reader firmly in the trans viewpoint in a way that I find at times deeply unsettling. And that’s good (at least for this privileged reader). If one goal of fiction is to create situations where the reader identifies and empathizes with the people depicted in the story, they should feel unsettled by the horror of finding oneself in the wrong body, or a changing body. The character’s experience is viscerally, vividly described. The character feels intimately embodied; the stories are about being trans in the body. The reader can’t look away or bounce off that perspective, as it isn’t sidelined into a token side character or pushed into the background. On the surface, “Small Changes” is a vampire story, but the transformative turn from human to vampire resists easy metaphor or resolution. It’s a heavy, dark analogue for the harsh complexities of sex, desire and a intense something-else that defies simple explication. The story was hard for me to read. But I don’t think the story was meant to be comfortable, and I’m glad I didn’t look away. I also recommend Szpara’s “Nothing is Pixels Here” (Lightspeed [QDSF], 2015), an older publication about a different kind of embodied terror, but no less complex and painful. I make no assumptions that these stories are written for a cis audience, but as a cis person I came away with a measure of empathy I didn’t know I lacked before reading them.

Please tell us about more great online queer stories in the comments!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Shubbak: Imagined Futures

A couple weeks ago I spent an evening in the Barbican watching the only part of the Shubbak Film Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture that I made it to this year—a program of five short films titled “Imagined Futures.” These were not all science fiction, by any means, although at least two of them explicitly position themselves within the genre. I’m not going to try to review the films or the collective here, but give a few thoughts and reactions—if you can catch any of this series for yourself, you should surely do so.

Mare Nostrum is a Syrian/French production directed by Anas Khalaf and Rana Kazkaz, which in 13 minutes shows us a Syrian father apparently being irrationally cruel and abusive to his young daughter. The father’s own anguish at his daughter’s fear and suffering makes it clear that there is more going on, and the story ends on a heartbreaking—if all-too-familar—dénouement.

An animated short film from Lebanon directed by Chadi Aoun, Silence lasts only 15 minutes and is a beautiful/terrible dystopia where silence is obligatory (and brutally enforced by military agents), and rebels dance supernaturally to a music that seems to result from their choreography. Very nicely animated, tear-provoking film.

Selma, a joint Algerian/French production directed by Batoul Benazzou, is at 35 minutes the longest in this anthology, and rather than futuristic is about a girl worrying about her future after graduating school. Another longish piece, the 21-minute Lebanese parable Submarine, directed by Mounia Akl, is about the only woman who refuses to abandon her town when the garbage crisis gets apocalyptically out of control.

The shortest film of the evening was the 10-minute, Palestine/Denmark co-production Nation Estate, directed by and starring Larissa Sansour (who also joined us for a Q&A in the theater after the films), a squeaky clean dystopia in which the entire Palestinian people are housed in a single huge tower block. Their lives are luxurious, well-fed, with plenty of space for everyone and every resource and comfort they could want. The protagonist even has an olive tree in her living quarters, and instant, classic Palestinian food in preserved containers in her kitchen. The pseudo-utopian setting is so convincing that—Sansour tells us—a German critic went so far as to delightedly proclaim that this would be a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict! A spine-chilling, and more subtle science fiction offering than most of those shown here. Other than a couple of fascinating/infuriating anecdotes, the Q&A was brief and rather shallow (the questioners’ fault, not Sansour’s), but the collection of shorts made for some nice contrasts, and none of the films were duds.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Recommend: Superheroine

For this month’s recommendation post we’d like to hear from you all about your favourite superheroines. They can be costumed comic characters, spandex-clad muscular movie heroes (or villains), or superpowered characters or people of any stripe—if they’re superheroines in your book, tell us about them and why. To prime the pump, we’ve asked a handful of authors and other friends to tell us their favorites. Read and enjoy—and then please tell us yours in the comments!

Priya Sridhar (author blog, story)

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is always a fun read, a project by Faith Erin Hicks that is currently on hiatus. Superhero Girl spends her days fighting crime, giving loose change to homeless people, and babysitting kids that have temporal powers. She also lives under her brother Kevin's shadow. Kevin has a huge superhero fanbase and merchandise collection. For the most part she has to be the ordinary kid sister who happens to have superpowers. Thus she gets little to no respect. But she keeps trying, and to keep herself from resenting her brother. The art has a loose, fun style that lends to large panels. I can get lost in SHG's story, her struggles which combine mundane resentment and fantastic adventures.

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Like Spiderman and Daredevil, Storme DeLarverie patrolled the streets of New York. But Storme, nicknamed “guardian of the lesbians,” was a real life hero who played a pivotal role in North American queer history. Described as a “gay superhero... tall, androgynous and armed” in her New York Times obituary, Storme walked the streets of downtown Manhattan well into her 80’s, always protecting her “baby girls” from any “ugliness.” She was present at Stonewall in 1969 and by her own admission and many reports, threw the first punch and inspired others to rebel against police persecution. As well as her work for the LGBTQ community, as a musician and drag king she organized and performed at benefits for abused women and children and is quoted as saying that she did so because “Somebody has to care… If people didn’t care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south… I wouldn’t be here.” A biracial butch lesbian whose credo was caring and fierce protective love—she's very easily my favourite superheroine.

Check out Storme’s obituary and a short film on her life and career in the Jewel Box Revue.

Su J Sokol (website; Goodreads)

My recommendation for a superheroine is from the novella Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. One of the main characters of the story is Hau Ngai who is also Houy’i—the immortal archer of Chinese mythology who is married to Chang’y, the goddess of the moon. In this retelling of the ancient legend, the archer Houyi is interpreted as female.

Though technically an immortal rather than a superheroine, the setting of the story in modern-day Hong Kong, along with the almost cyberpunk feel to the aesthetic, gives the character of Houyi a distinctly super-heroic feel:
Houyi stands on the first letter of HSBC, ancient myth-feet resting on logo black on red, under which throbs a mad rush of numbers and commerce and machines: trades riding cellular waves and fiber optic, fortunes made and shattered in minutes. She does not shade her eyes.
As a feminist who grew up reading superhero comics, my heart thrilled to this description of Hau Ngai/Houyi. I could almost see her cape as it caught in the winds of flight.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF bio)

C.B. Lee's Not Your Sidekick is set in a quasi-dystopian 22nd-century America where the line between hero and villain is often blurred. Jessica Tran, a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese girl, is a superhero precisely because she struggles to figure out what her superpowers are, or if she even has any, growing up in a family of superheroes, in a town full of people with special powers! While working as an intern for the town supervillains' lab, Jessica comes into her own as she embraces her identity. The book’s title references the #notyourasiansidekick movement and this novel does an excellent job of challenging stereotypes and redressing imbalances in representation via Jessica's character. As Jessica plays to her strengths, her story shows that being empowered is not just for the realm of stereotypical superheroes.

Now tell us about some more superheroines in the comments, please!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Interview with Joyce Chng, author of Starfang

We’re delighted to welcome back to TFF an old friend Joyce Chng (we published her story “Lotus” in We See a Different Frontier, the hauntingly beautiful “The Lessons of the Moon” in Accessing the Future, a poem “Lessons of the Sun” in TFF-X, and a mini-sequel to “Lotus” here as part of our ten year celebration). Her latest novel, Starfang: Rise of the Clan is now out from Fox Spirit Books, and Joyce joins us to talk about this book and her other work.

Joyce Chng is Singaporean. She writes science fiction, YA and things in between. She can be found at @jolantru and A Wolf's Tale.
Is a clan captain going to sacrifice everything for her clan? Tasked by her parents to kill Yeung Leung, powerful rival clan leader of the Amber Eyes, Captain Francesca Min Yue sets out across the galaxy to hunt her prey, only to be thrown into a web of political intrigue spreading across the stars. Is Yeung Leung collaborating with the reptilian shishini and playing a bigger game with the galaxy as a price? Is Francesca’s clan at stake? Welcome to Starfang: Rise of the Clan, where merchants and starship captains are also wolves.

TFF: In one line, can you tell us what Starfang is about?

Joyce Chng: Starfang is about werewolves in space, clan wars, and a female captain’s loyalty to her pack and clan. It is also a space opera with alien races and starship battles.

TFF: I thought most mashups of scifi and fantasy tropes had been done, but Werewolves in Space may be a new one on me. Where did the inspiration for Starfang come from?

JC: The inspiration for Starfang came from watching cargo ships. I like taking my daughters to this jetty and small beach. It faces out into a small channel whereby large cargo ships ply through.

One day it just struck me: why don’t I just write a space opera… with ships and werewolves? I have always liked the idea of space ports and stations. Plus the fact that Singapore has always been a port city. Imagine the type of stories that arise from this.

TFF: Do you already know where the rest of the Starfang series will go, or are you still making it up as you go? Any sneak previews for us?

JC: The other two books have been written!

Sneak preview from the second book: captain goes on a hunt for her hunted enemy:
The arrival of a Clan warship was normally a joyous occasion, as a tour of duty would take months up to a year. Its return would be followed with feasting and hunting. But for Starfang, there was no joy, no feasting. The warship was in mourning, the loss of an important member of the pack still keenly felt. An emptiness echoed on the bridge. Starfang was now in hunting mode, a predator on the trail of an elusive prey. Even a refit and refuel above Noah’s Ark would mean a delay. I itched to move on, to continue the hunt, the kill.

Francesca, illustrated by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein
TFF: Your previous trilogy, the Jan Xu series, was also a werewolf-themed story (and your blog is named A Wolf’s Tale!)—what is so important or attractive about wolves, for you?

JC: I love wolves. I love that pack and loyalty to family are part of wolf social structure.

TFF: Clan, pack and family seems to be crucial to this book and many of your other stories. Can you tell us more about the relationship between the individual and community in your work?

JC: I feel that the individual is part of their community, part of an intricate web that ties them together. What the individual does bears consequence to their family and community. In my other stories, I also explore the depth of family, both blood and found. My first YA web story Oysters, Pearls & Magic explores the important of family and how it ties the protagonist, first to her blood kin and then to her found family. Ultimately, she still returns to where she was born. The same goes for her daughter in Path of Kindness where, after years of wandering, she returns to her mother in the village.

In Starfang and in the Jan Xu series, clan, pack and family are part of the story, part of the protagonist’s identity. Captain Francesca’s ties to her family and her pack are deep and thick, sometimes even stronger than galactic politics.

TFF: The first two Starfang novels were originally serialized on your blog, before being polished and edited up for print publication. How does this change the way you sell or market the novel now?

JC: In a way, it doesn’t really change how I sell or market the novel. Serialization is one of the ways authors and writers can use to reach their audiences. For people who read my work and follow me on social media, they get to read the stories as they are written and uploaded on my Wattpad and Patreon.

TFF: What are you working on next? What can your fans look forward to?

JC: A couple of short stories, and a sword fantasy series.

TFF: And what about supporters of your Patreon—what bonus materials are they getting access to these days?

JC: They get poems and new stories that have been not published before in sff venues. Likewise, they get to read installments from an ongoing space opera I am writing. The space opera is inspired by Admiral Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim explorer who visited Southeast Asia in the fifteenth century.

Thanks so much for joining us, Joyce! Best of luck with Starfang (Amzn) and the rest of the novels.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Recommend: women in noir/crime

Noir is a genre of fiction too often plagued with sexist stereotypes. If you are tired of plots where women characters are either manipulative femmes fatales or naive girls in need of protection, and you would like to read a good crime story without rolling your eyes every other page… maybe this month’s recommendations can be of some help! TFF authors, editors and reviewers have shared quite different examples: from more traditional noir to contamination with other genres; from novels to comics; from the darkest stories for adult readers to humorous YA series. Feel free to join us in compiling this list, adding in the comments all the noir stories with women and/or by women that you have read and enjoyed! Mainstream or obscure, we want them all!


Petra Kuppers (website)

My choice of noir is Gail Simone’s graphic novel with illustrators Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter, Clean Room: Immaculate Conception (DC Comics, 2016). It’s got all the ingredients of a good noir: a besieged and heart-wounded hero (journalist Chloe Pierce), a scintillating set of beautifully realized locations (scenes are set in Germany, Norway, various points in the US), and an equally wounded and enigmatic femme fatale (Astrid Mueller, head of a cult-like organization). Members of Astrid’s organization visit the clean room, where they face their fears. They might end up killing themselves, as Chloe’s fiancee did, or, later in the story, a Hollywood action hero. Add to that mix intriguing monsters, skin gore, torture and self-mutilation, lots of nudity and sex, and more twists and turns than one can shake a stick at. The psychological tension runs high and makes this a brilliant read, with two powerful women leads, one black, one white, none of whom need rescuing, although both have an intriguing bunch of henchpeople (including a group in Chloe’s camp that reminds me of Mulder’s nerds in the X Files). Queer narratives complicate the story, releasing us from scenarios where there is only ever one ‘other.’

Valeria Vitale (TFF, blog)

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith is a story that shows all the landmarks of the noir genre: a hardened former police officer, a corrupt aristocracy that flirts with criminal organisations, shady middlemen that love money too much, a fascinating client that are bound to bring troubles, and a city, Atlanta, that is, as in many noir, a crucial component of the plot. At the same time, Griffith’s novel eludes easy categorizations and keeps surprising the reader, choosing unexpected turns, changing pace and focus. What makes this story so interesting to me is not (only) that most of the main characters are women, but that this scenario is not treated as something exceptional: the novel unravels smoothly without anyone being disconcerted by the fact that, yes, women can be dark and dangerous too and, yes, they also make very good detectives.

The Blue Place portrays a number of relationships between women that are beautifully diverse and complex, and feed the plot without falling into stereotypes or being used as simple triggers: flirt and courtship, romantic involvement, friendship, solidarity, family bonds. They all feel real and profoundly human and make this story exceptionally engaging.

Cait Coker (TFF)

Jacqueline Carey's novels Santa Olivia (2009) and Saints Astray (2011) are unlikely to be read as noir, but I would argue that they are closer to that genre than to conventional dystopia, as noir is characterized through its ethical ambiguity and fatalism, and dystopia through omnipresent degradation. In Carey's world, there is a valid escape to be had from the shitty not-too-distant future southwest US, where a queer Hispanic teen named Loup is torn between revenge for her dead brother and escaping to a better life for herself and her girlfriend Pilar. The outer world, including Mexico and Europe, has rebounded after a devastating pandemic in a way that the isolationist US has not. Loup's and Pilar's journey evolves beyond a quest for survival to one of discovery of this outside world, from tourist beaches to fashion and pop music.

Their saga concludes with their search for social justice for their home, still under martial law, and for equal rights for genetically modified humans, both of which are impeded by the complex oligarchy of the US government and military, as in this case being born, for Loup, is a crime of itself.

Jessica Campbell (web page)

Robin Stevens’s ongoing book series Murder Most Unladylike is one of those things that’s tailor-made for those of us who like the aesthetics of classic English fiction but also like progressive politics (see also Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). The books, intended for children and teens but very readable for adults, feature Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, budding detectives at a girls’ boarding school in 1930s England. Daisy comes from the British gentry, while Hazel is from Hong Kong; they become friends and form their own detective society. The mysteries are interesting, and they frequently evoke the likes of Agatha Christie with titles like Arsenic for Tea and settings like a manor house and the Orient Express. Hazel’s first-person narration subtly invites readers into her experience as an Asian girl in a very Caucasian society. Then there’s her experience as a smart but quiet person who has to learn to assert herself with the brash Daisy. These are good things for kids to read about, and Stevens’s prose is never didactic. I was encouraged to read these books by a friend and her middle-school-aged son – and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint which of them encouraged them more strongly!

Please let us know in the comments your favorite women in noir and crime—you'll be adding to my reading list!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

New Issue: 2017.41

“We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay.”

—Lynda Barry

Issue 2017.41

 [ Issue 2017.41; Cover art © 2017 Eric Asaris ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Novelettes
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Monday, 22 May 2017

Recommend: Feminist SF with POC protagonists

For this month’s recommend feature we’d like to hear from all our readers your favorite examples of a perhaps rare beast, the feminist science fiction/fantasy story with protagonist or protagonists of color. We’ll be inclusive about all these terms, most of all we want to hear from you. Give us some titles to add to our reading lists! To prime the pump, as always, we’ve asked a handful of TFF authors, editors and other friends to give us a few suggestions on this theme.

Chinelo Onwualu (website, twitter)

One of my complaints with genre fiction is that simply having a protagonist of colour doesn't necessarily make a work anti-racist, nor does having a female main character mean the work is feminist. This is especially true if the character simply perpetuates the same sexist, racist and imperialist tropes as a white male would. A good example of this is Grace Jones’ warrior woman character in the film Conan the Destroyer.

So when I discovered feminist fiction that featured men and women who looked like me, I was thrilled. I think the first was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness whose scientist protagonist, Genly Ai, is a black man. The book so thoroughly interrogates gender that it was the template of my own world building for a long time. Octavia Butler’s character of Anyawu in Wild Seed also questioned some of the underlying power imbalances of heterosexual relationships and may have fundamentally messed up my view of superpowers. It also helped that the character was from my ethnic group.

More recently, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms—the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—was one of the first books I'd ever read that depicted black feminine strength without ever having the central character, Oree Shoth, pick up a weapon. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is another nuanced feminist work, with its two characters of colour working to navigate identity, emotion and history to come together in the most satisfying way. And Betsy James’ Roadsouls has what I feel is one of the best rendered feminist romances I've ever come across.

Writing feminist fiction is tricky, and there's not as much out there with PoC as there should be. You can find more stories about goblins and vampires than black people! So I'd love to get more recommendations. What else is out there?

Joyce Chng (A Wolf’s Tale, twitter)

Ah, feminist SF story with POC protags.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi!

This novel is underrated and deserves to be signal boosted to the max, because 1) it's good, 2) it has a kickass POC protag and 3) it’s space opera, one of my favorite things in the world. The main character is Alana Quick, a black lesbian who got stowed away on the cargo ship Tangled Axon. It is also LGBT! To me, it is excellent feminist SF, because it's so hard to see women with actual agency and feminism is intersectional.

So, there you go. My feminist SF story with POC protags. Go, run, read Ascension.



S.J. Sabri (story)

This is a novel that stays with you. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven weaves the threads of its plot between our present day and the shattered ruin of civilization after the Georgia Flu has wiped out all but a remnant of the peoples of earth. A number of plot-lines slowly converge; all linked by the only two copies of a superb but unpublished graphic novel, also titled Station Eleven. There is Miranda, the creator of that graphic novel; Kirsten, probably the main character, (though this novel is really an ensemble piece) who is an actor in the Travelling Symphony; Jeevan Chaudhary, the paramedic who will have to become a doctor; not to mention the disturbing, deadly figure of the Prophet. The enslavement of the Prophet’s followers and his reduction of women to property force the Symphony to intervene, whatever the consequences.

The Symphony’s motto, ‘Survival is insufficient’, comes from Star Trek: Voyager. This touring troupe of musicians and Shakespearian actors is all that connects a few tiny surviving communities with each other and with the lost past. This is art as a heroic act, the candle in the dark. Mandel lets us feel the precarious, vivid enchantment of those theatrical performances:
‘Kirsten as Titania, a crown of flowers on her close-cropped hair, the jagged scar on cheekbone half-erased by candlelight. The audience is silent. Sayid, circling her in a tuxedo that Kirsten found in a dead man’s closet… ’
This novel takes the strength and capacity of women for granted just as it takes a multicultural future for granted, a future where Kirsten and others like her fight to preserve what is essential to civilization when the cities have all been snuffed out.

Vanessa Fogg (blog, twitter)

Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty is a soaring and ambitious work, “epic” in every sense—portraying the rise and fall of empires, a dizzyingly large cast, plot turns and betrayals, astonishing battle scenes. The plot draws on history and legends surrounding the founding of China’s Han Dynasty, but Liu adds his own twists and ornamentations and sets the action in the imaginary archipelago world of Dara.

The story of a new empire’s rise is also the story of the rise of women. This isn’t clear at first; like the cunning strategists of his novels, Liu plays a long game. Some criticized The Grace of Kings for the fact that its strong, intelligent women characters are often sidelined in favor of the stories of male generals, kings, and fighters.

But toward the end of The Grace of Kings, Gin Mazoti, a brilliant woman general, makes her appearance to lead an emperor’s army. In the second novel, women begin to take center stage. The patriarchal world of Dara is under threat from forces both external and within, and needs people of all talent—male and female, rich and poor. Women scientists, engineers, strategists, soldiers, and queens work with each other as well as with men to save their world. One of the greatest treats of this novel is seeing that teamwork: women working together, supporting one another, and loving one another. The Dandelion Dynasty is about revolutions fought both on the battlefield and in the mind and heart. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment.

Over to you, dear readers! What are the best feminist SFF stories/novels with POC protag(s) that we should be reading?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Accessing the Future reviewed in BMJ

Our 2015 anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction, Accessing the Future guest edited by Kathryn Allan, has received a fabulous, in-depth, lengthy and positive review in an imprint of the British Medical Journal. (The journal Medical Humanities has been running since 2000, and the fourth issue of 2016 was themed “Science Fiction and Medical Humanities.”)

This review, by Hannah Tweed (University of Glasgow), is behind BMJ’s paywall, but the first couple of paragraphs are available at the link:

http://mh.bmj.com/content/42/4/e36

(Full citation: Medical Humanities 42.4 (December 2016): Science Fiction and Medical Humanities. Pp. e36-e37.)

Dr Tweed summarizes the goals of the anthology in some detail, including the fact that the volume is not just about accessibility, but endeavors to be accessible as far as possible. She then discusses most of the stories individually, drawing out themes including intersectionality and disability, access, autonomy, invisible disability and communication. This is a scholarly review from a critical studies and English literature tutor who I think really gets what we were going for, so it’s great to see it in such an august venue! (If you get the chance to read the whole thing—try logging onto wifi in your local university library if they subscribe—do, it’s worth it.)

Friday, 28 April 2017

Recommend: Kick-ass women from history

For this week's "Recommend" post we’re asking you to tell us your favorite kick-ass women from history. Understand that brief however you like (there’s a range of interpretations below), and tell us about these figures—why they’re “kick-ass,” why they mean something to you, a story from their lives… inspire us. To get us going, we asked a few authors, editors and other friends of TFF for their suggestions:

Maria Grech Ganado (profile; interview)

A German abbess of a Benedictine monastery, medieval mystic, philosopher, writer, poet, hagiographer, scientific natural historian. And, before the term was invented, a feminist. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) established for herself a female identity never recorded before in her exclusively patriarchal historical context—the Church.

Preaching was forbidden women, but Pope Eugene III requested she travel widely to preach the visionary theology she wrote 3 volumes of, was consulted by both religious and social personages, invented a new language, composed the first musical morality play, Ordo Virtutum. Her liturgical chants still enchant many, including me, and her natural medicine influenced that of the New Movement.

Woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman’—Hildegard’s writing exalts woman and God’s creation of beauty, recommends beer to give her nuns rosy cheeks. She refers openly to the joys of sex, scorning concepts of woman’s ‘uncleanness’. She challenged authority, obviously male, and got her way. I suspect her insistence that she was an unlearned member of the weaker sex was tactical rather than humble, crucial at the time to ensure her power. A woman after my own heart.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF)

Sometimes when life, neoliberalism and/or bigotry brings me down, I like to remind myself of my kick-ass female ancestors to help me feel stronger. As with all family trees, some ancestors are more colourful than others, and I have to say I'm pretty proud to have the blood of Granuaile, the Pirate Queen of Connacht, Ireland, running through my veins. Born around 1530, legend has it that as a child she cut off all her hair to disguise herself as a boy so she could join her father on a trading mission. He had refused to take her as at that time it was considered bad luck to have women on board ships. This is the source of her name Gráinne Mhaol (or bald Gráinne), anglicised as Granuaile.

Salic Law forbade women to become leaders, however this did not deter Granuaile from becoming chieftain of the O’Malley clan, leading an army of 200 men and being captain of a fleet of ships. Famous for leading an army against the English, by 1593, she had a catalogue of treasonous activities levelled against her by the English Court. This didn’t stop her from travelling to Greenwich Palace to negotiate successfully with Queen Elizabeth I for the release of her two sons and half-brother.

For me, Granuaile personifies tearing down limitations imposed by gender and societal expectations, and her memory inspires me never to take no for an answer.

Djibril al-Ayad (TFF)

My candidate for kick-ass woman from history is, Malahayati (sometimes also known in Indonesian as Keumalahayati), the late sixteenth-century Sumatran admiral and stateswoman under the Sultan of Aceh. After graduating from Islamic and then military schools, and a successful career as a naval commander leading to her appointment as first admiral of the growing Aceh navy, the historical record recounts several major naval victories under her command, including over the Dutch colonial and piratical expeditions in 1599 and 1601, but it is telling that as well as a formidable commander, she was trusted with international diplomacy and financial negotiation as well, including a trade agreement with Elizabeth I of England (who joined the Dutch in choosing to treaty rather than attempt war against the well-defended Aceh Sultanate). Legend also has it that Malahayati, herself the widow of a naval commander, in the 1580s had recruited a force of between 1,000 and 2,000 war widows to serve in her navy, driven by vengeance against the Portuguese conquerors of Malacca, on the reasoning that these widows would be a highly motivated military force. So maybe I cheated, there are actually 2,000 kick-ass women from history in my story!

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Hide Hyodo photograph, [ca. 1935].
City of Richmond Archives and
Richmond Retired Teachers Association,
photograph # 2014 6 5.
One of my favourite kickass women from history, Hide Hyodo Shimizu, was born in Vancouver—the same town I was!—in 1908, just one year after white-Canadians targeted Japanese-Canadians in violent race riots, and throughout her lifetime she battled oppression and prejudice. At eighteen she became the first Japanese-Canadian to hold a teacher’s certificate. In her twenties she was part of a Japanese-Canadian delegation that petitioned the Canadian government for voting rights, which they were denied. Three years later, the start of World War II increased government-sanctioned oppression to even more shameful levels, including forcing Japanese-Canadians to register with the police and the Canadian government’s theft of Japanese-Canadian citizens’ homes and belongings. After the majority of Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from their homes along the BC coast, Hide continued to work as a public school teacher but dedicated her weekends and evenings to providing an education to the children imprisoned in the internment camp in Hastings Park, Vancouver—all while unpaid, preparing for her own imprisonment, and working around a restrictive curfew. Later, when she and the majority of Japanese-Canadians had been further removed to internment camps in Interior BC, she traveled from camp to camp planning primary school curriculum and training highschool students to teach the younger children. After the war, still prohibited from returning home to coastal BC, Hide settled in Ontario and continued to be a dynamic activist and educator. In the 1980’s and 90’s she was honoured in many ways, including being awarded the Order of Canada, but I think she’d be most pleased by the multiple scholarships named for her. To explore and learn more about Hide and Nikkei history, the website nikkeistories.com is an awesome resource.

Your turn! Please give us your recommendations of kick-ass women from history in the comments.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Lori Selke's Earworm of the Month

Our friend and erstwhile guest editor Lori Selke has a new column/newsletter, the “Earworm of the Month Club,” based on a similar column Lori used to write for SF Weekly, but now written with complete editorial freedom and more space to rant. You can subscribe to the Earworm of the Month Club by going to Tinyletter and entering your email. It'll be sent to you once a month (at most), and your address won't be used for any other purpose.


If you’d like to support Lori or thank her for these posts, you can tip her the price of a cup of coffee (or anything else) at ko-fi.com/lselke.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Recommend: Optimistic SF

This time, we're asking for recommendations of optimistic science fiction. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below. First, a few ideas from editors, authors, reviewers and other friends:

Tracie Welser (author page)

A common enough complaint about science fiction is that much of recent writing in the genre is dystopian or deeply pessimistic. Gone are the golden age stories about exploration and hope, to which I say "good riddance," as much of the sense of wonder and speculation of those years drew heavily on imperialist themes and angles of approach to "others." It seems inevitable that trends such as social suppression of dissent, growing divide between economic classes, environmental degradation and rapidly changes in technology produce distinctly dark responses from science fiction writers. Lauren Buekes' Moxieland comes to mind. In the early aughts, this complaint seemed louder than usual (just search for "positive science fiction" to take a peek at posts from Time and others decrying the grimness of SFF books and film). There were even suggestions that negative stories stifle scientific innovation, rather than inspire.

I, for one, think dystopian narratives while not inherently hopeful are backdrops for hope, where solidarity and struggle are elevated. The popularity of dystopia themes in young adult fiction (ie, Hunger Games) is not so surprising, as the sub-genre is inclined to take risks and whack fascism firmly on the nose, a sensibility enjoyed by young readers and adults alike. Similarly, seemingly hopeless stories, of shattered civilization and economic despair (Oryx and Crake, The Wind-up Girl) offers some kernels of resistance and revolution. Attempts at overtly positive science fiction in the recent past are harder to come by.

Two that come to mind are METAtropolis edited by John Scalzi. A series of shared world stories by different authors, the collection posits some realistic (read: gritty) futurism but with hopeful notes about urban community. The second is the anthology Hieroglyph, which includes the notable, playful story by Charlie Jane Anders titled "The Day it All Ended." The history of the Hieroglyph Project itself is fairly interesting, a deliberate effort to create and publish more positive visions of science fictional future.

Maureen Kincaid Speller (Paper Knife)

The world is not an optimistic place right now; it’s been a long time since science fiction felt optimistic, to the point where the issues explored over the last twenty or thirty years in fiction have become commonplace in daily life. In common with many, I fear for the future and often find it hard to read sf these days because the brain can only stand so much dystopia. It was a genuine pleasure, then, to read Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station recently and to feel that perhaps not all has been lost. Tidhar’s fiction doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions but there is the promise nonetheless that life will continue, and not necessarily a bad life either. The people (and I use this term in the broadest sense) who gather around the Central Station to sell food, tend bar, collect books, solve problems, look out for one another, fall in love, practise their religions, aren’t so far removed from the people I know. It is both encouraging and comforting to know that at least one writer believes in the persistence of ordinary daily life, no matter what.

Don Riggs (faculty page; alumnus page)

When I was in the 8th grade, I first learned about the Big Bang theory—the actual theory, not the television sitcom. The ultimate implication of the universe starting off with a bang and an unceasing expansion is entropy, which is the tapering off of the energy of the universe until the Heat Death of the Universe happens. I was thoroughly depressed by this, and so, when our next theory was presented, the Oscillating Universe, where the universe expands as far as it goes until it then is sucked back into another primordial point of all matter, which will again explode in another Big Bang, I decided that was the theory I wished to embrace. “Utriusque Cosmi,” a short story by Robert Charles Wilson (in Neil Clarke’s Galactic Empires, 2017), combines the story of a sixteen-year- old girl living in a trailer with her meth-addict mother and her abusive boyfriend, with that of that girl’s future self, “raptured up” to the Fleet of the intelligences of creatures saved from dying worlds, itself pursued by the Invisible Enemy, which ultimately turns out to be a group of Elder Beings that in turn “rapture up” the Fleet and thus survive the next collapse of the universe.

Stephanie Saulter (author page)

It’s a shame that science fiction isn’t a more generally optimistic genre. Too often we extrapolate possible futures so dire and hopeless the message seems to be that humanity is aboard a rocketship to all-but-inescapable doom, or at best unalleviated misery. I can’t think of too many writers who buck this grim trend, but among the few is the late and greatly lamented Iain M. Banks, whose Culture novels are the ultimate vision of a far-future, galaxy-spanning, inclusive and egalitarian polity in which humans are only one of many species and virtually omniscient AIs, instead of being the harbingers of our destruction, are committed and wryly indulgent protectors of organic life. The Culture’s liberal ethos combined with flexibility and at times ruthless pragmatism allows it to withstand assaults from without and respond to concerns from within. I’d suggest The Player of Games for a first visit.

Another exception is the grande dame of speculative fiction, Ursula Le Guin. Her SF looks at harmful gender and social constructs, the iniquities of politics and commerce, and conflicts between ideology and idealism with an eye less to endless iterations of the problem than envisioning possible solutions. The Dispossessed is an extraordinary book.

What are some other positive examples of science fiction? Please share recommendations in the comments.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

New Issue: 2017.40

“One human life is deeper than the ocean. Strange fishes and sea-monsters and mighty plants live in the rock-bed of our spirits.”

—Ben Okri

Issue 2017.40

 [ Issue 2017.40; Cover art © 2017 Carmen Moran ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi