Wednesday, November 27, 2013


For Immediate Release: Nov 26, 2013

The Speculative Literature Foundation is delighted to announce that Daniel Jose Older is the winner of the 2013 Gulliver Travel Grant.

Older's novel, "The Book of Lost Saints," weaves post-revolutionary Cuba with present-day New Jersey, tied together by unsettled ghosts drawn to the music of a culture that has evolved without them. Older will use the $800 grant to travel to Cuba to research prisons that Cuban political prisoners were held in.

The Travel Grant judges said of Older's entry, "Wonderful narrative voice: playful, engaging, quick, and written with a seriousness, humor, and a storytelling acuity not often seen."

Also shortlisted were: Akwaeke Emezi, Russell Nichols, Eden Robins, Oksana Marifioti, and Alina Rios, for their outstanding submissions, which made the selection of the eventual winner a difficult but enjoyable process.
PO Box 1693 
Dubuque, IA 52004-1693


Friday, November 22, 2013

Remember Gywneth Jones's Eve Wars?

Remember my post last month linking to a NY Times article about the problems faced by women and girls doing science? And about how the article discussed the difficulties created by US culture in particular? Browsing the SF Signal's linkpost for today, I came across a piece titled "Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters." (If you want the link, you'll have to go to the SF Signal to find it.) This lengthy rant is a farrago of assertions so confused and irrational that I finally had to give up trying to make sense of. What I did make out, though, is that the post's author, one John C. Wright thinks science fiction is (once again) being threatened, particularly by reviewers who draw a distinction between sex and gender-- on the grounds that it is obscuring the true, essential categories of "masculinity" and "femininity." I gather, also, that he sees the distinction as an attack on culture tout court (not on a culture, but on culture itself).

Here's the nub of his argument:
Anyone reading reviews or discussions of science fiction has no doubt come across the oddity that most discussions of female characters in science fiction center around whether the female character is strong or not.

As far as recollection serves, not a single discussion touches on whether the female character is feminine or not.

These discussions have an ulterior motive. Either by the deliberate intent of the reviewer, or by the deliberate intention of the mentors, trendsetters, gurus, and thought-police to whom the unwitting reviewer has innocently entrusted the formation of his opinions, the reviewer who discusses the strength of female characters is fighting his solitary duel or small sortie in the limited battlefield of science fiction literature in the large and longstanding campaign of the Culture Wars.

He is on the side, by the way, fighting against culture.

Hence, he fights in favor of barbarism, hence against beauty in art and progress in science, and, hence the intersection of these two topics which means against science fiction.
I suspect it's significant that the author's antagonism is directed at reviewers (who are, in his view, apparently only innocent dupes). Whether these reviewers are male or female or both is unknown, since we can safely assume that someone who suggests that innocent reviewers are subject to the corrupting influence of "mentors, trendsetters, gurus, and thought-police" is likely to insist that "he" is a "universal" pronoun. The very idea of a gender-neutral pronoun, of course, would be anathema to someone who believes that drawing a distinction between sex and gender is barbarous. And distinguishing between culture in general and US culture in particular is also probably anathema.  Regarding US culture as merely one of many cultures (and US culture as it currently exists as only one possibility among many) would of course make gender essentialism impossible, since the white heterosexual male of US culture could not then stand for the unmarked universal human such arguments insist he is. 

Why, you may wonder, am I granting any attention at all to such a confused mess of a post written by someone I've never heard of? I suppose it's because I see it as coming from the same place as the more laconic but equally simplistic pronouncements of more powerful speakers who keep insisting that "real girls" and "real women" have only limited capabilities for doing so science and that women/girls who excel at science must therefore not be "real women" or "real girls." What particularly interests me in this case is that it illustrates how visible and more apparent the complications of gender have become in our field than in US culture as a whole. This rant against "strong female characters" is not unusual within the field, of course. (And certainly the attack last summer on NK Jemison was by far more vicious.) But it strikes me as significant that the argument here has shifted from attacking the active presence of women in the field to attacking an acknowledgment of any degree of complexity of gender, making the very idea of gender the enemy of science fiction in particular and culture in general. It is precisely the scenario of Monique Wittig's utopia Les Guérillères.When a translation of that novel was first published in the US, the very idea of separating sex from gender was still new and strange. And so quite a few people reading it didn't understand that the war "the women" were fighting was not against men, but against gender essentialism. (Gwyneth Jones's "Eve Wars" in her Aleutian series offers another version of that war, fought by men and women on both sides of the conflict.)

Have defenders of gender essentialism actually become conscious of the distinction between sex and gender? If so, we might be entering a new phase of the struggle. Changed consciousness about gender isn't necessarily a positive thing. (See the Aleutian series for more on that.) But it is certainly something to think about, especially with reference to certain works of feminist sf.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Building Feminist Worlds reading list

The CSWS has posted a list of materials discussed on the Building Feminist Worlds panel I mentioned in my last post. You can find it at In addition to fiction, the list includes plays, films, and links to podcasts.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A few notes and thoughts on the Worlds Beyond World and Women's Stories, Women's Lives Symposia

I wanted to write at least a little about the conference I attended last weekend in Eugene, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon. The conference kicked off with a documentary film, "Agents of Change: A legacy of feminist research, teaching, and activism at the University of Oregon" by Gabriela Martinez and Sonia De La Cruz, which I'm sorry to say I missed because I was helping Kath to unload Aqueduct's books and set up our tables in the vendors' room. But I did attend about half of the sessions of the first symposium and all of the sessions of the second. I took the occasional note on some of them.

The first symposium, titled "Women's Stories, Women's Lives," was held on Thursday. The sessions were nominally organized by decades-- 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and the 2000s-- but since most of the work presented was historically conceived, in fact ranged over larger spans of times. Shelley Grosjean's presentation "Lesbian Lands in Oregon," for instance, began with the 1960s and went beyond the 1980s in tracing the history of a lesbian separatist community. It is quite a while since I've thought of feminist separatism-- probably since reading Joanna Russ's What Are We Fighting For (which devotes a chapter to it). Listening to the presentation, I realized that probably a lot of younger feminists don't realize that separatist communities often came about in the way this one seems to have done. Apparently, when a couple of women in a mixed-sex, "back to the land" group, Jeanne and Ruth, challenged the group's conservative gender roles, they were booted out--and promptly organized a group of women to form a new community. This community explicitly defined itself as seeking spiritual connection via women's physical bodies in relationship to the landscape, and published Woman Spirit Magazine (1974-1984) as a means of doing "long-distance consciousness raising." (I think she may have said that Mother Kali's bookstore in Eugene was associated with the community. I remember Mother Kali's from visits I made there in the 1980s. Just thinking about it made me long for the days when feminist bookstores were to be found all across the country.) The presentation did not attempt to gloss over the community's feminist shortcomings. The community was white-- lacking in "universal sisterhood in reality," and so "attempted to appropriate other cultures to give them sense of being universal." The presenter said that the women she talked to viewed separatism as "a hospital"-- a place for being healed. But, she says, the community discovered that women severely damaged by patriarchy could never leave separatism because they were never healed. The presenter summed up the community's ideological differences from contemporary feminism as "hugely emancipatory, hugely exclusionary."

Cheris Kramarae, a longtime women's studies scholar, who is probably best known for her statement "Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings," presented next, on the subject of Global Antiviolence. "Feminism 'dies' continually," she remarked at the beginning of her talk. (So true, so true...) She finished by noting how the issues of sexual harassment, sex trafficking, and domestic violence remain important issues. "There is still no economic aid for battered women-- only individualized solutions for social problems." Most of the money appropriated for dealing with domestic violence, she says, goes to anger management programs for men rather than foucsing on the complexity of the social problem. "There is no ancient history as in 'gone'," she concluded. "The issues of the 1960s are still with us."

The third presenter in the session was Eugene's mayor, Kitty Piercy, speaking on reproductive rights activism. I couldn't help be struck by her story of being recruited at a NARAL booth in the 1980s. (I was recruited at a NARAL house party in 1981.) She referred, amusingly, to "speculum parties" where women had the opportunity to see their own cervices. As I recall, at least some of these parties had a lot to do with Our Bodies, Ourselves developments--which had a major impact on all feminists. (Indeed, it changes many practices in the medical mainstream, not only in gynecology, but in family practice as well. Medical practice in the US has never been the same, thank the goddess.)  Piercy emphasized that she was strongly motivated by personal experience to work for reproductive rights-- and as a result became a "more public person." (More personal resonance here-- the NARAL organizers I worked with in the 1980s also attempted to get me to do public speaking, but I begged off--and instead did a lot of writing and analysis for them.) In Piercy's case, one thing led to another-- which eventually included election to public office.

Margaret Hallock, a member of the faculty in Economics at the University of Oregon, spoke next on Pay Equity and union organizing in the 1980s. She helped organize the Oregon Public Employees Union. Clerical workers, whose jobs were labeled "unskilled," joined the fight for pay equity. Many of these public employees needed food stamps to supplement their pay. (Like quite a few workers today, actually.) Eventually they came up with the idea of a "rolling strike," which was do-able in the way a general strike was not. The rolling strike was so successful that the legislature has since outlawed it. Every day the clerical workers in a different department walked off the job. (Imagine the surprise of all the people relying on the labor of clerical workers discovering how dependent they were on it...) Briefly, the gender gap in pay was closed. (Sad closing note: the gender gap in pay is back.)

Shannon Elizabeth Bell spoke about the origin of the environmental justice movement in the poorest county of North Carolina. This is a movement aimed at protecting health and economic well-being of communities (rather than focusing on protecting the Earth). It is grassroots and on-going, particularly in Appalachia vis-a-vis the coal industry. The presenter played a moving audio clip of an Appalachian woman talking about why she fights for environmental justice and the backlash she faces within her own community.

Next we broke for lunch, after which we had the pleasure of listening to Molly Gloss reading from her Tiptree-Award novel Wildlife. I'm afraid I can't find my notes for the afternoon sessions. I missed most of the first session (presumably because I was talking to someone at the time, though my memory is weirdly hazy). The second afternoon session, on the 21st century, entailed Gabriela Martinez on the University of Oregon's Diversity Project, Nichole Maher on Native American Families ( a wonderful success story of community organizing and coalition work), Susan Sygall on disability rights in the global context, and Charli Carpenter on "interest gaps between intentions and outcomes" in national security policies. Carpenter is particularly interested in the gendered norms for defining civilian immunity and the "Making Amends" campaign, based on the idea that governments need to not only not commit war crimes, but also need to assist civilians harmed by violent conflict. (I have to say-- and several members of the audience agreed with me, this latter would have been more effective without an overwrought sound track.)

Dinner break was a bit of a rush, since seating for the Ursula Le Guin reading began at 6 p.m. The reading was, as you might expect, wonderful. Ursula read from an unpublished story that only three people (I think) had previously read. I won't say any more about it, though, since Ursula swore us all to silence. (Given the hundreds of people listening, I'll be interested to see if details of the story leak out.) After the reading, Ursula did some Q&A, first with a professor and graduate student and then with the audience. A signing, which I and several other writers participated in, followed.(I was seated between Suzy McKee Charnas and Kate Wilhelm.) And then it was back to the hotel and the hotel's bar, where a good time was had by many (including me), and it felt a lot like WisCon, if you know what I mean.

Saturday's symposium was "Worlds Beyond World," and was all about feminist sf. The first panel, moderated by Roxane Samer, featured three undergraduates and one graduate student talking about class projects using the University of Oregon archives (which includes the papers of Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ). Laura Strait talked about Ursula Le Guin's correspondence with Eleanor Cameron and Cameron's run-in with Roald Dahl and her critique of the racism in his work. Strait made the point that she believes an understanding of an author's intentionality can inform literary criticism of the author's work. Grace Shunn, who admitted knowing very little about science fiction, talked about reading UKL's correspondence with Alice Sheldon. Mahkah Wu, who spoke so quickly the person writing captions gave up even trying to follow his presentation, talked about men's advantages in debates-- because men are allowed to be verbally aggressive without penalty and can talk as fast as they want and still be intelligible (especially if their voices are deep). Debate, he said, creates a hostile atmosphere toward women. He mentioned debating the proposition that "Women should not be allowed access to political institutions" (on the con side)-- though I have no memory of how this related to anything else he was saying-- about which, later, someone (I think it may have been Vonda McIntyre) wondered why the proposition hadn't been "Men should not be allowed access to political institutions" instead. He finally, after much preamble, noted that he had chosen to focus on an argument Ursula had with Darko Suvin. Amy Jones concluded the session by talking about reading documents in the archives to trace changes in language use (which is something that interests me mightily).

I was a panelist for the next two sessions, one before and one after lunch, and so I'm afraid I can't really say much about them. (I was told that a written transcript of the sessions is being prepared. When/if I hear of one, I'll let you know.) I was a bit uncertain going into these because I wasn't sure of what our audience would be. Nevertheless, the level of the discussion was in no way a sort of "feminist science fiction 101." My impression after the event is that the audience's level of comprehension was varied. The first panel focused on "Feminist Science Fiction as Political Theory." Larissa Lai moderated this beautifully, and Suzy McKee Charnas, Vonda N. McIntyre, Kate Wilhelm, and I were the panelists. I enjoyed it immensely, as I did the second panel, "Building Feminist Worlds," moderated by Margaret McBride, with panelists Molly Gloss, Andrea Hairston, Larissa Lai, and me. I think we talked more specifically about particular works on the second panel. (Though I may be wrong!) My hope is that we conveyed a sense of just how lively, diverse, and burgeoning feminist science fiction is.

The last session, moderated by Grace Dillon, included Kathryn Allan, Joan Haran, Andrea Hairston, and Alexis Lothian. Grace Dillon questioned the prevalence of frontier and pioneer metaphors in science fiction research and cited Katie King's Networking Re-enactments. "True tradition," she asserted, "is dynamic" rather than static. Joan talked about her article with Katie King in the new issue of Ada. (Which I liked to in an earlier entry on this blog.) She argued that new historiographies enable us to think about alternative futures (an idea I've gotten behind myself, particularly in my "Toward a Genealogy of Feminist Science Fiction"). She emphasized how wrong it is to assume that the present is single and unified. Alexis talked about feminist science fiction's exploration of ways of knowing, which allows us other ways of looking at the world. Andrea declared that when she sits down to write a paper, it is as "a performance monologue by Andrea the Professor." "I follow the desire for knowledge and then I write about it," she said. Kathryn Allan studies "feminist post-cyberpunk" as an independent scholar. She works on disability in science fiction and has written "Cripping the Future" using an approach to disability studies that takes the modeling of disability away from the medical estabilishment and gives it to the disabled.

In retrospect, I'm struck by how the discussions that unfolded over the last three sessions always came back to the importance of community for feminist science fiction. On one of the panels (probably "Feminist Science Fiction as Political Theory") I noted that for me, three metaphors characterize feminist science fiction. The first is the one Carol Stabile (one of the key organizers of the conference) articulated at the beginning of the Worlds Beyond World symposium: Feminist science fiction provides space for creating alternatives to "what is" (which is especially important now that most people in the US have been taught to believe that how things are is the only way they can be). Karen Joy Fowler gave me the second metaphor when she wrote to me (back in 2002, I think) that "feminist science fiction is the sea I swim in." The third metaphor is my own: feminist science fiction is a grand conversation. Each of these metaphor help us to see different aspects of feminist science fiction, all of them absolutely critical. The first explains what feminist sf does and why it matters. The second tells us about how the individual reader or writer engages in feminist science fiction within a crucial, indispensible context. (A work of feminist sf is only possible and intelligible because of the existence of feminist science fiction as a whole.) And the third metaphor makes explicit the connections the second one implies and explains how it is intelligible at all.

It was a wonderful weekend, y'all. I wish more of you could have been there.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Science Fiction as Theory Incarnate

I've just posted, on my personal website, an essay that was published in 2007 in Sci-Fi in the Mind's Eye: Reading Science through Science Fiction. It came to me, after my panels this weekend in Eugene, that it might be interesting reading for people wanting to know more about the relationship of feminist science fiction to political theory. You can download it at

Ada's Feminist Science Fiction issue

I'm just back from Eugene and the CSWS's 40th-Anniversary Celebration. And I have lots and lots of stuff I want to blog about. The first thing I want to tell you about, though, is the new issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. This is Ada's third issue, which is devoted to feminist science fiction, edited by Alexis Lothian and the Fembot Collective, has a cover by Jeanne Gomoll, and a wonderful variety of articles by Joan Haran and Katie King, Donna Haraway, Marleen Barr, and others. Do, do, do go check it out! All of the journal's content is available for free download. Because I've been just a leetle busy since the issue launched last week, I've just begun to read individual pieces, but I can already assure you that I'm finding it interesting and provocative (two adjectives with overlapping meanings for me, anyway).  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Two new e-book editions from Aqueduct Press

Aqueduct Press has released two more volumes in the Conversation Pieces series as e-books:

--Spring in Geneva, a novella by Sylvia Kelso

--The XY Conspiracy, a novella by Lori Selke

 You can order them now, DRM-free, for $5.95 at

They'll soon be available elsewhere.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Quote of the Day

Many, if not most, Americans are unaware that the Constitution contains no explicit right to vote. To be sure, such a right is implicit in the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Sixth amendments that deal with voting discrimination based on race, gender, and age. But the lack of an explicit right opens the door to the courts' ratifying the sweeping kinds of voter-restrictions and voter-suppression tactics that are becoming depressingly common.

An explicit constitutional right to vote would give traction to individual Americans who are facing these tactics, and to legal cases challenging restrictive laws. The courts have up to now said that the concern about voter fraud—largely manufactured and exaggerated—provides an opening for severe restrictions on voting by many groups of Americans. That balance would have to shift in the face of an explicit right to vote. Finally, a major national debate on this issue would alert and educate voters to the twin realities: There is no right to vote in the Constitution, and many political actors are trying to take away what should be that right from many millions of Americans.

Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., have introduced in Congress a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to vote. It has garnered little attention and no momentum. Now is the time to change that dynamic before more states decide to be Putinesque with our democracy.--Norm Ornstein, The U.S. Needs a Constitutional Right to Vote