Friday, December 15, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017, pt. 11: Brit Mandelo

The Pleasures of Reading,  Viewing, and Listening in 2017
by Brit Mandelo

As we’d all likely agree, this has been a difficult year politically and personally. I’ve found myself focusing half of my attention on “feel-good” media and the other half on “work” media, the texts I’m consuming for specifically critical purposes—like the books I’ve reviewed for throughout 2017.

Of those, a handful stand out when I scroll through the list of reviews published under my byline in the past twelve months. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is the most recent, a lyrical magic-realist departure from the author’s sprawling and recently-completed Raven Cycle. I was also struck by several others, in retrospect, ranging in scope from young adult novels to small-press short story collections to novellas. Autonomous by Annalee Newitz chews on complex issues of embodiment, gender, and ownership while In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan tackles the portal fantasy genre with a nontypical queer male protagonist. Telling the Map by Christopher Rowe took me to near-future versions of my own home state, Kentucky, over a series of handsome short stories. Both Amatka by Karin Tidbeck and Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan are short and immensely thought-provoking works of high yield, unnerving fiction that left strong impressions with me artistically and personally. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention The Black Tides of Heaven & The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang, a pair of stylistically quite different novellas set in a lush and handsomely realized second world that also feature queer and nonbinary protagonists. 

When it comes to the media I consumed without the express intention of a critical approach, though, genre diversifies. Richard Siken’s two collections of poetry, War of the Foxes and Crush, utterly devastated me. Siken’s approach to a particular kind of desperate and seeking queer male being is almost too much to handle but also, sometimes, fits like a glove. I actually just finished Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl last week, so it’s fresh in my mind, but it was an interestingly explicit take on the tropes of trans YA narratives from the perspective of a girl living in the Appalachian South. I also finally—I know, this will come as a surprise to a lot of people—read The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I did it in two sittings and spent the entire process making quiet sounds of distress, but damn, what a book.

The two new albums that I’ve spent the latter half of the year listening to on repeat are Tyler, The Creator’s Scum Fuck Flower Boy and Brand New’s Science Fiction. As you might imagine, music is a site of debate for me in terms of creator versus art versus my own ethics. I’ve had to do a lot of self-examination about Brand New and the band’s role in my life, as well as the room I need to give for other humans to grow and change over time, to make up for even abysmally cruel actions in their past. It’s no coincidence that both of these albums approach a flawed and queer masculinity that understands itself in terms of fracture and growth; it’s also worth thinking about how that narrative might force me to reflect on my own flaws. It’s something I’m working on.

I didn’t watch much television, though I did binge watch Boku no Hero Academia and rewatch Yuri on Ice. Sometimes I just need something that feels good, y’know? Thor: Ragnarok also gave me a big gay thrill, and I finally watched What We Do In the Shadows as well and adored it. Baby Driver spoke to my love of meta, visual narrative, and cars. I hope I’ll get around to more visual media in 2018, but we’ll see.

Overall, it’s been a rough one, but I’m hoping in 2018 we’ll all keep moving toward the progress in our world that I see in the fiction and media I’ve been consuming. Kudos to us for surviving, and let’s try again.


Brit Mandelo  is a writer, critic, and editor. They have published two books, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2012) and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling (in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series). Brit has been a nominee for various awards in the past, including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work has been published in magazines such as Clarkesworld,, Stone Telling, Apex, and Ideomancer.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening, pt. 10: Jennifer Marie Brissett

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017
by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Between teaching and writing I somehow managed to absorb many novels, mostly through audiobooks again. Here are a few that I completed—

The Accidental Alchemist and The Elusive Elixir By Gigi Pandian

The Peter Rabbit Collection By Beatrix Potter (Narrated by Emma Messenger)

Metro 2033 and Metro 2035 By Dimitry Glukhovsky

The Girl with All the Gifts By M. R. Carey

Enigma Tales: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine By Una McCormack

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

Basil of Baker Street: The Great Mouse Detective By Eve Titus – a fun children’s book parody of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Man Who Fell to Earth By Walter Tevis

The Left Hand of Darkness By Ursula K. Le Guin (Narrated by George Guidall) – I’ve read this book several times and yet hearing it read to me like this was a special pleasure.

The Alienist By Caleb Carr

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger By Stephen King

Roadside Picnic By Arkady Strrugatsky – the novel that the Russian science fiction film Stalker is based on

The Scar By China Mieville – I listened to this last year and still enjoyed re-listening to this again. I think this is my second favorite Mieville novel, my first being The City & the City.


Jennifer Marie Brissett is a Jamaican-British American writer living in New York who has been a software engineer, web designer, and independent bookseller. Her short fiction has appeared in The Future Fire, Morpheus Tales, Warrior Wisewoman 2, and other places. Aqueduct Press published her first novel, Elsyium, in 2014; it received a Special Citation for the Philip K. Dick Award and was a finalist for Locus's Best First Novel award.  Check out her website at

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017, pt. 9: Cheryl Morgan

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening 2017
by Cheryl Morgan

This year I have the enormous honor of being on the jury for the Tiptree Award. I’m getting lots of great reading done, but I have promised my fellow jurors that I won’t review any of the recommended works publicly, and I don’t have time to read any other fiction, so this year’s post will be a bit thin in that regard.

To make up for the lack of fiction I’m going to talk a lot more about nonfiction. I tend not to read such books cover-to-cover, but dip in and out of them when I can, or when I need to for research, so I can’t say that I have read all of each of these, but I do own them and have been reading.

Top of the list (which I did read cover-to-cover) has to be The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor. As well as being fascinating from a general history point of view, it has provided me with some great ideas for my 2018 LGBT History Month talk. Were Amazons real? Certainly. Were they lesbians? Oh, things were much more complicatedly queer than that.

Of course I also went to see Wonder Woman, and I loved the Amazons in that film. I confess to getting a bit bored after the action moved away from Paradise Island. However, the BluRay disc has some fabulous extras in which Patty Jenkins and her team talk about how the film was made. Some of the material is very feminist, and much of it is subtly critical of the child currently occupying the White House. I certainly didn’t expect something put together by Hollywood feminists to start using terms like “gender identity” and “non-binary.” I have not been to see Justice League.

Back with the reading, I was delighted to go to an event featuring Indian journalist, Angela Saini, talking about her new book, Inferior. This is all about how men doing science have managed to get an awful lot wrong when they look at women, and how new research is starting to fight back against this. Still on the science, the inimitable Cordelia Fine has a new book out. Testosterone Rex is all about the wrong-headed ideas that people have about sex hormones, and the unconscious bias that this causes. Fine is brilliantly incisive and funny; you can’t ask for much more.

If political journalism is more of your thing you might try Attack of the 50ft. Women in which Catherine Mayer attempts to set out how women can change the world for the better. She’s one of the founders of the UK Women’s Equality Party and has a lot of great policy ideas. Non-UK readers may not be familiar with the phenomenon that is Mary Beard but, in our typically eccentric British manner, one of our favorite feminists is a grey-haired lady famous primarily for studying Roman history. Beard has a string of successful history books and documentaries to her name, but has recently put out a little book called Women & Power: A Manifesto. It is full of Classical allusions, so of course I love it, even if Mary is wrong about Amazons.

Some more traditional Classical history is provided by Catherine Nixey in The Darkening Age. This book is all about the violent, ruthless and intolerant behavior of early Christian zealots. The statistic that leaps out at me is that only 1% of Roman literature has survived be to be studied. Vast amounts of it were destroyed, or let perish, because it was deemed un-Christian.

Moving forward through a thousand years, the UK’s leading authority on the history of paganism, Ronald Hutton, has produced The Witch, subtitled “A history of fear from ancient times to the present.” Hutton is very smart and I’m looking forward to spending more time with this one.

China Miéville’s fiction output has slowed of late, but has written a new book. October is a history of the Russian revolution that has received some excellent reviews. I caught up with China when he came to Bristol on tour. Apparently the Russian book took him two years to write, but he does have a new novel in progress and hopes to be getting back to fiction soon.

Also working on a new novel is M. John Harrison, but in the meantime he has a new collection out called You Should Come With Me Now. The various bits I heard him read are fabulous, but I confess that I’m holding out for something longer. He has promised me fish people.

The UK publishing industry has suddenly got a taste for books by trans people. Not the sort of history I write, of course. They are still very much looking for personal testimony. To My Trans Sisters, edited by Charlie Craggs, is just the sort of thing they want. It is a collection of letters from trans women (many of them well known, at least to us) to the rest of the community. The multi-talented C.N. Lester has managed to sneak something more sophisticated under the radar with Trans Like Me, which seeks to debunk many of the media myths about trans folk.

While Wonder Woman might have been a bit disappointing, I absolutely loved Thor: Ragnarok. I love it even more now that I have had all of the Maori in-jokes explained to me. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie was magnificent.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was mostly about father-son relationships, but it did manage to do some good development work on the sisterly rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Karen Gillan turns in an excellent performance.

I enjoyed Rogue One and Spiderman: Homecoming, but it is possible that my favorite film of the year is Moana. It is certainly one I’m likely to watch again when I need something light and comforting.

TV is just full of great science fiction at the moment. I loved season 2 of Supergirl. For it while it looked like the studio had decided that season 3 needed to ramp up the romance-based soap opera and tone down the superhero stuff, presumably because they think, “that’s what women want.” However, a recent episode has introduced the Legion of Superheroes, and the Crisis on Earth-X cross-over event that includes episodes of Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow is just brilliant. Nazi punching and hot lesbian sex; what’s not to like?

Agents of SHIELD season 4 was also brilliant, and possibly even more politically subversive than Supergirl. I’m looking forward to season 5, and of course to Black Panther and Infinity War.

I devoured American Gods very rapidly but then ran into busy times and am still working my way through season 2 of both Sense8 and The Expanse. Part of the delay is due to the unexpected fabulousness of Star Trek: Discovery. It is still very silly in the manner of traditional Star Trek, and I am one of those unconvinced by the redesigned Klingons, but the stories kept me rushing to watch each time a new episode dropped.

The TV event of the year here has been Blue Planet 2. While the BBC’s political coverage might have descended into a morass of far-right propaganda, their natural history unit continues to pump out brilliant, and strongly environmentalist, TV. Blue Planet 2 is what large-screen TV was made for.

I’ve fallen woefully behind on some of my favorite podcasts, but that’s in part because there is so much good stuff out there these days. I was delighted to see Tea and Jeopardy win a Hugo. Another local (to me) production is the strongly feminist Breaking the Glass Slipper. It is specifically intended to raise the profile of women writers of speculative fiction, and one of the presenters is Exeter-based author Lucy Hounsom.

I have also been listening to history podcasts. I particularly recommend The Art Detective from TV Historian Janina Ramirez. The basic format is that she finds someone famous and asks them to choose a painting to talk about. Many of the guests are academics, but the episode featuring Neil Gaiman discussing “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” is a classic (if only for Janina geeking out over who she is talking to). Philip Pullman and Tony Robinson have also featured.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to present a paper at an academic conference in Bologna. The conference venue, in an old castle atop a mountain, was spectacular enough, but on my way home I stopped off in Rome. If you get a chance to visit that city, do it. You’ll probably need two weeks to do it justice, and I only had two days. I probably walked a marathon. The food is great too. I so want to go back.

One of the best things that has happened in the UK this year is the rise to prominence of women’s cricket. I was lucky enough to be in Brighton to watch my local team, Western Storm, become league champions for the first time. The highlight of the season, however, was the World Cup which England won after a magnificent final against India. The star of the show was the Storm’s best bowler, Anya Shrubsole, who almost single-handedly wrested back control of a game that India should have won easily. Anya is a local girl from Bath and we are all very proud of her.

Cheryl Morgan  blogs, reviews and podcasts regularly at Cheryl’s Mewsings . Cheryl co-presents the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio . In 2015 she was honoured to give a lecture on “Exploring Gender Fluidity through Science Fiction and Fantasy” at Liverpool University, available online here. Her work has appeared in Letters to Tiptree, The WisCon Chronicles, and elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Plesures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017, pt. 8: Eleanor Arnason

A Difficult Year
by Eleanor Arnason

This has been a really difficult year. I should have coped by reading and writing, as I have done in the past. Instead, I have paid way too much attention to the crazy and horrible news that comes out of Washington. What have I enjoyed? The two Marvel movies I saw this year were both sequels. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was not as good as the first Guardians movie, and I guess I don’t have much to say about it. It’s light. It’s funny. It’s very much a space opera.

Thor 3 (Ragnarok) can be talked about. I didn’t especially like it, but I had seen posts arguing that it is a movie that challenges racism and imperialism – and also a movie that treats Maori themes.

One reviewer says:

“I will freely admit that I am tired of seeing powerful white men wielding power they do not deserve and earned through violence. That narrative is played out, yet it is the crux of the Marvel cinematic universe. In Thor: Ragnorak, this trope is challenged by Hela — the first-born of Odin and sister of Thor and Loki — when she returns from exile to reclaim her spot atop the throne, and calls out Asgard’s ill-gained riches and powers in the process. As Hela points out in one particularly stunning scene, the spectacular gold of the Asgardian Palace was bought through brutal conquest and war. Before becoming ostensibly “peaceful,” Odin used his own daughter as his executioner, mercilessly taking lives to achieve his place in the kingdom. Then he stashed the murdered bodies in an underground vault, never to be spoken of again.

“If that sounds familiar, perhaps you know the history of colonialism, including in the United States, where we tout our exceptionalism while ignoring the violence it was built upon. All of which makes the film’s ending — Asgard and Hela are completely destroyed by the fire-demon Surtur, the lies of perceived superiority left in ashes — particularly satisfying.”

The above quote is from

For an analysis of Thor 3 as a Maori movie, check

For Thor 3 as an anti-imperialist movie, check

What do I think of these analyses? I don’t know. They remind me of myself in the 1960s, desperately looking for revolutionary messages in Hollywood movies. There is a lot of ambiguity in Thor 3, material that can be read in different ways. This is typical of Hollywood popular movies. They send messages that can make all kinds of different people happy. But the director of Thor 3 is a New Zealander and identifies as Maori, so the anti-imperialist, anti-racist political subtexts may be there. And if those subtexts really are there, then Thor 3 becomes a far more interesting movie.

I keep wondering about the appeal of the Marvel movies. Maybe, in this dark era, people need movies that are goofy and funny and where the good guys win. Yes, there is darkness in these movies, but it’s a manageable darkness, and the good guys do win – or at least hold their own and keep fighting. A message for our time: don’t give up.

A movie that did give me pleasure was a French animation: The Triplets of Belleville. It’s funny and charming. The protagonists are four old ladies: a grandmother fiercely determined to rescue her grandson and the Triplets of Belleville, a trio of very odd elderly women, who used to be a singing group in the 20s or 30s. Not a new movie, but well worth seeing.

As far as books go, I enjoyed Beth Plutchak’s collection of short stories, Liminal Spaces [forthcoming from Aqueduct Press in early 2018]. Like The Triplets of Belleville, Plutchak’s fiction is very much about women and their struggles. I have to admit – as much as I love Marvel superhero movies – I like art about women even more.

 Eleanor Arnason has written several novels and many short stories. Her fourth novel, A Woman of the Iron People (2001), won the James Tiptree Jr. award for gender-bending science fiction and the Mythopoeic Society Award for adult fantasy. Her fifth novel, Ring of Swords (1995), won a Minnesota Book Award. Aqueduct Press published her collection Big Mama Stories in 2013, her Lydia Duluth adventure, Tomb of the Fathers, in 2010, and her collection, Ordinary People, in 2005. In 2016 Aqueduct released  e-book editions of The Sword Smith, To the Resurrection Station, and Daughter of the Clan Bear. In 2017, Aqueduct published a collection of her Hwarhath stories, Hwarhath Stories, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and was named to the James Tiptree Award's Honor List. Next year, Aqueduct will bring out a new edition of Eleanor's Ring of Swords, with an introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin, as the fifth volume in its Heirloom Books series.

The Pleasures of Reading, Listening, and Viewing in 2017: pt 7: Susan W. Lyons

 Pleasures 2017
by Susan W. Lyons 

When Timmi asked me to write about the pleasures of reading, viewing, and listening in 2017, my immediate thought was that, in this strange time, these are the very acts that release us, if only momentarily, from the nastiness and venality of today’s politics.

Yes, it’s a strange time. In fact, it’s a strange spacetime in a stranger universe (or multiverse, if you’re into that sort of thing). Fortunately, Robert B. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber offer friendly guidance for those of us who like our physics without all that messy mathiness. The Quantum Moment (W.W. Norton and Company, 2014) does not explain Trumpery, but it does suggest that a queasy uncertainty about what constitutes normality is—well—normal, given the realization that foundational classical physics does not account for the discovery that energy comes in packets (quanta). The “Newtonian Moment” suggests a world ruled by “causality, consistency, and continuity” (21), but the “Quantum Moment” is “murkier and more unsettled” (25). If you’ve ever wondered why reality seems so fractured or why wicked Walter White from Breaking Bad chooses “Heisenberg” as his nom de guerre, this is the book for you.

Nastiness and venality happen to be the fictional subjects of the Australian television series Rake (Essential Media and Entertainment, ABC1, 2010). If I tell you that the hero of the series is a Sydney barrister by the name of Cleaver Greene who enthusiastically defends some of greediest and guiltiest clients available, you’ll wonder, “Why bother? If I want greed and guilt all I have to do is read the paper or plug into my news podcast.” But I’ll add that Greene is also an idealist and a romantic with one of the wittiest and most eloquent voices since Sir John Falstaff. Brilliantly played by Richard Roxburgh, Greene manages to slink his way through the roughest trials inside and outside the courtroom with a cynical smile and just the right bon mot. The juiciest villains, naturally, are not Greene’s clients but the judges and politicians who determine their prosecution and fates: the ones who play outsized power games, presciently as it happens, since the series first aired in 2010.

2017 seems to be a year we read, view, and listen through a dystopian filter, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl (Nightshade Books, 2010) shows us just how dark and dirty that filter can be, particularly in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and what it means to be “natural” or “human” in a Thailand set two hundred years in the future, where American genetic-engineering companies use calories as currency. Ecocritics will find this book, winner of the 2010 Nebula award, brilliant. I admire the world-building without wanting to venture further into its forbidding speculations.

Instead, I am indulging my passion for Margaret Atwood’s worlds, where genetic engineering and corporate greed are as dismaying and dystopian as Bacigalupi’s, but where energetic and sprightly characters prevail in even the most daunting circumstances. As I’m writing this, having not quite finished The Heart Goes Last (Doubleday, 2015), I’m hoping Charmaine and Stan—with the help of a crop of Green Men, a troupe of Elvises, and a Marilyn who is the love slave of a blue knitted teddy bear—will eventually reunite after their separate exits from the for-profit prison called Positron Project in the Town of Consilience in a place somewhere in Rustbelt, U.S.A.

And then there’s Atwood’s graphic novel Angel Catbird (Dark Horse Comics, 2016), the illustrator of which has the wonderfully improbable name of Johnnie Christmas. Angel Catbird is cosponsored by the Canadian Conservancy’s initiative to Keep Cats Safe and Save Birds’ Lives. Trust me: in this story about another world of genetic engineering gone awry, keeping your cats inside the house is the best way to prevent them from becoming mutants.

And finally, there are the hysterically funny and sometimes just plain hysterical doings of Jimmy, Amanda, Glenn, and the rest of the characters of the MaddAddams trilogy (McClelland and Stewart: Oryx and Crake, 2003; The Year of the Flood, 2009; MaddAddams, 2013). In this dark world of genetically-engineered hybrids (ChickieNobs, anyone?) and postapocalyptic ecological disaster, the future may well rest with the gentle post-human Crakers, who turn blue when they’re in heat and travel in herds.

As to the pleasures of listening in 2017, you can hear Pamela Bedore speak more about the perils of environmental dystopias in Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature (Great Courses, 2017). In this series of lectures ranging from Utopia to The Walking Dead, you’ll also find provocative and entertaining insights into the speculative worlds of Atwood, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Suzanne Collins. Bedore, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, publishes extensively on popular culture, rhetoric, and genre fiction.

Speaking of The Walking Dead, I hear there are more near-future Congressional discussions about “reproductive rights” and “protecting the homeland.”

I think I’ll reread The Handmaid’s Tale.

Susan W. Lyons worked at the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut for over twenty years teaching courses in writing and literature and, later, directing Academic Services, where she coordinated curriculum, scheduling, and academic support in writing, literature, history, math, chemistry, biology, and physics. She lives in East Lyme, Connecticut. Aqueduct published her debut novel, Time's Oldest Daughter, earlier this year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017: pt.6: Liz Bourke

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017
by Liz Bourke

This will be a short list. It's been a long year, and this December is being a strange month. But L. Timmel Duchamp has graciously invited me to commend some items for your attention, and so I will:

 - J.Y. Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fate

- Cynthia Ward, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess

- Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide

- Ann Leckie, Provenance

- Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: Home

- Erin Bow, The Scorpion Rules

- Helen S. Wright, A Matter of Oaths

- Elizabeth Bear, The Steles of the Sky

- K. Arsenault Rivera, The Tiger's Daughter

- Fonda Lee, Jade City

- Foz Meadows, A Tyranny of Queens

- Martha Wells, All Systems Red

- Fran Wilde, Horizon

- A. Merc Rustad, So You Want To Be A Robot

- Jared Shurin and Mahvesh Murad, editors, The Djinn Falls in Love

- Max Gladstone, Ruin of Angels

- Ursula Vernon, Clockwork Boys

- Star Trek: Discovery

- Wynona Earp season one

- Killjoys season one and season two

These are the fictions that gave me joy this year, that lifted me up and kept me going when I felt low. Some of them gave me hope. Some of them argued deeply for the power of kindness. Some of them showed people with the determination to keep caring, even as the world crumbles. All of them gave me something ineffably, indescribably powerful: the feeling that the world, or at least one's life, can be different -- can be better, at least incrementally -- if we don't give up.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who has opinions about science fiction and fantasy a lot. She holds a PhD in Classics from Trinity College Dublin, which means she also has a lot of opinions about history. Her reviews and nonfiction have appeared in Locus, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, and Vector, and online at, Strange Horizons, and Ideomancer. Earlier this year, Aqueduct Press published her collection of reviews and essays, Sleeping with Monsters.