Monday, December 11, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017: pt.4: Sofia Samatar

The Pleasures of 2017
by Sofia Samatar

I devoured This Young Monster by Charlie Fox—a dazzling collection of personal essays on monsters, the monstrous, art, and culture. It’s the perfect companion to the horror show of today’s America, and also to Stranger Things, which I watched with the avid passion of a teenage Winona Ryder fan, since that’s what I actually am. 

In poetry, I loved the questing spirit of Anna Moschovakis’s They and We Will Get into Trouble for This, the way black-body radiation meets the radiant black body in Samiya Bashir’s Field Theories, and Bhanu Kapil’s urgent, delirious, vagabond writing in Ban en Banlieue and its companion chapbook, entre-Ban.

Further pleasures: 

Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter, a philosophical investigation of grief, time, and the practice of art. 

Danielle Dutton’s magical biography, Margaret the First

Lynne Tillman’s mischievous, erudite, and delightfully weird The Complete Madame Realism

M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, which I’d never read before—a hallucinatory series, like King Arthur but with space travel and spleen. 

Kathryn Davis’s Labrador, which I’ve probably read 15 times—it’s still one of the best fantasies ever written.  

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien (he was a really good translator!). 

And finally, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, an absolute treasure. I love it when the hyena tears her face off. 


Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria, winner of the William L. Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She is also a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist and the recipient of the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her latest novel, The Winged Histories, was published by Small Beer Press in 2016.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017: part 3: Nancy Jane Moore

Pleasures for 2017
by Nancy Jane Moore

I just read – on the same afternoon I bought it – Mary Beard’s Women and Power: a Manifesto, two essays on women’s public voice and power. This short but powerful book demonstrates how classical ideas underlie our current cultural ideas about the place of women. Beard begins with the scene in the Odyssey where Telemachus tells his mother Penelope to shut up because women don’t speak in public. She goes on to bring other classical icons – Medusa, Athena – into a discussion of women and power and how such things are perceived.

Right after I read it, I found Julie Phillips’s delightful take on the book in Four Columns. Her review adds depth to the experience, so I recommend reading it together with the book. Here’s a teaser: “The willingness to expose that clumsy, artificial join—to be a public intellectual without glossing over the awkwardness of being female—is what distinguishes the outspoken British academic Mary Beard.”

Given that I am working on both fiction and nonfiction that deal with women and power, these thoughts are of vital importance to me right now. Given that women speaking out about abusive men is the hot topic in the U.S. right now, the subject of how women speak and how they take power are crucial to our society as well. This book provides important insights that will expand the discussion in fruitful ways.

Hidden Figures was a major highlight for me this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and the book is a stunning tour de force. Yes, of course it was a Hollywood feel-good movie, but in the first place, it made me feel really good. And in the second place, how many Hollywood feel-good movies have you ever seen about mathematicians, much less women mathematicians, much less African American women mathematicians? It was fun to cheer.

Margot Lee Shetterly’s book on the subject is much better than the movie (which, of course, altered the facts to fit into Hollywood ideas of storytelling). It was researched in detail – she was able to interview some of the women who worked in the space program – and beautifully written. This was history I didn’t know, even though I grew up with the space program (literally – the Johnson Space Center is about five miles from my childhood home). I’m sorry I didn’t know it as a kid, but I’m thrilled to know it now.

Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is a more sobering look at the racist history of the United States. This detailed book explains the laws – not just the practices – that segregated our cities after the Civil War. Federal law and policy required separate public housing and prohibited use of federally insured home loans in segregated neighborhoods. I knew a lot about housing policy and discrimination, but this book uncovered stuff even I was not aware of. Everyone needs to read this book and understand just how racist – legally racist – our history has been. Until we make this right, we will not solve this country’s racial divide.

One of my responses to the electoral debacle in the U.S. was to read some work on political activism. I highly recommend This Is An Uprising, by Paul and Mark Engler. This history of successful resistance actions worldwide – all of them non-violent – provides us with an understanding of what will be effective.

Among other sources, the Englers’ book draws on the research of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, whose heavily researched Why Civil Resistance Works provides the data to back up the value of nonviolent civil resistance. Nonviolent activism in the 20th and 21st centuries has been significantly more successful than violent action and, in general, has had very positive outcomes when at least five percent of the population gets involved in some way. Understanding the value of this has given me something to fall back on when I look at the daily disasters out of Washington, D.C.

Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, is a very valuable book on how to deal with climate change. This book lists one hundred things, in order of effectiveness, we can do right now to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere. One of my favorite parts of the book is that the number six and seven items taken together would be number one. Those two items are educate girls and provide family planning to women.

Much of the fiction that has most moved me this year came in the form of novellas. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series, as the first two books – Binti and Binti: Home – were imaginative science fiction building on cultural histories new to me. Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange was also delightful, a creative fantasy built on some real San Francisco history.

Among the novels I read, Jessica Reisman’s Substrate Phantoms was particularly satisfying because of its imaginative aspects. I love science fiction that incorporates highly creative speculation into the mix.

But the universe, or rather the Solar System’s little corner of it, provided my best experience of the year: The Eclipse of the Sun. We took back roads to eastern Oregon so we could see the full eclipse, and it was worth the effort. Even when you know that the sun will be right back, there is something wonderfully disconcerting about seeing it disappear.

We watched it on a hillside in Brogan, Oregon, where the local community organization had set things up at the volunteer fire department. There were maybe fifty people there, including several with telescopes. Just about the right size for us.

I recommend getting out in nature when you can in these troubled times. We also went to Pinnacles National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore this year. Cell service is nonexistent at Pinnacles and scant at Point Reyes, so we came back from both trips to the shock of how many horrible things can happen in a few days, but for those days we were blissfully out of touch.

Nancy Jane Moore’s science fiction novel The Weave came out from Aqueduct in 2015. Her most recent story is “Chatauqua” in the Book View Café anthology, Nevertheless, She Persisted. At present she is working on a book on self defense from a feminist perspective and a novel inspired by her desire to have the adventures when reading The Three Musketeers

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017: pt.2: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Awesome Books of Joy & Love
by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I’m not going to even pretend to be unbiased here. I am glad these books exist, and you should be too. It’s been a trashfire of a year and some books make the world better. These are some of them.

Luminescent Threads, edited by Alex Pierce & Mimi Mondal, is a joyous tribute to Octavia E. Butler featuring letters and essays about race and identity, by some of today’s most exciting writers including K. Tempest Bradford, Joyce Chng & Steven Barnes.

The wonderful, smart, and cynical Liz Bourke has a book out! Sleeping with Monsters is a collection of Liz’s critical work on SF books and culture from her fantastic regular column.

If romance is your escapism drug of choice, but even enjoying something fluffy and fun in the current political climate feels a bit wrong, check out Rogue Desire and Rogue Affair. These romance anthologies are a direct response to 2017 and the Trump administration by presenting a variety of love stories in a time of protest and Presidential anxiety. Read about grass roots politics, hackers, whistleblowers, policy wonks and whether or not it’s possible to flirt while debating if punching Nazis is OK.

I backed Some Girls by Nelly Thomas and Sarah Dunk on Facebook. This brilliant picture book features vivid art and the important message that girls don’t have to buy into other people’s expectations of their gender.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a SFF author and the co-host of popular feminist podcasts Galactic Suburbia and Verity! Check out her recently-published short story “How To Survive an Epic Journey” at Uncanny Magazine, and her superhero novella Girl Reporter, which will be released on 19 December.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017: pt.1: Sarah Tolmie

Pleasures 2017
by Sarah Tolmie

2017 was, for me, The Year of Harry Potter. Not so much because of the 20th anniversary hoopla but rather because I taught the series for the first time. Like every English department in the world, seemingly, battling declining enrollments, my institution just rolled out a first-year Harry Potter course. I taught it this fall. It was the only course I have ever taught in which all the students had actually read all the books before term even began, and which stayed at capacity, with all the students sticking it out to the bitter end. I assure you that this does not happen in my Middle English classes. Anyway, Harry Potter made for a great class: discussions were lively, and I taught a surprising amount of theology and some Latin and semiotics. It was cool. So thank you J.K Rowling, and I will even forgive you for The Cursed Child.

On a related-but-diametrically-opposed note, I read Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, volume 1. It was characteristically atmospheric and pacey, though it felt thin to me: I think the whole three-volume idea is a cop out. If we must have a prequel, can’t it just be one big fat book? The one element that felt a bit forced to me was the monstrous League of St Alexander, in which his British libertarian flag was flying a bit high. Child informers! Political correctness in schools! I appreciate that Authority takes many forms, but it came off as waspish and inauthentic. This is a shame, as I admire his whole project and it remains a pleasure to read this kind of imaginative fiction written by an atheist.

I read a great book of poems by Pam Mordecai called Subversive Sonnets. Absolutely fabulous and a great bang for your buck, as each numbered sonnet is actually a suite of a couple of them, so you get tons of them and some great storytelling. Living proof that the form is as gripping as ever; what she does with them is as powerful as Seamus Heaney. A super book. Read it if you read poetry.

I have to do a plug for Year’s Best Weird Fiction vol 4, edited by Helen Marshall and published by Undertow. I have a story in it, so I got a free copy, and read everything in it. Very, very interesting. And all exquisitely written. As a poet, I really appreciate this. Lyrical writing seems to be a thread connecting weird writers. I still don’t feel like I have a complete grip on the weird genre, but this collection is that strange thing: diverse and consistent. I recommend all of them, but perhaps Katie Knoll’s “Red” especially.

In between bouts of editing, as usual, I watched a lot of trash on Netflix. Little stood out except Marvel’s The Punisher, which I thought was by far the strongest of their recent outings. A slightly different set of clichés than usual (for me, anyway, as I don't watch much military stuff) and the lead guy is reassuringly ugly. The Dutch movie Admiraal was great historical fiction about a really important man (De Ruyter) and a critical period in Europe (the Anglo-Dutch wars). Best naval sequences ever. I watched Besson’s Valerian movie and thought it was ghastly, but it was nonetheless amusing that he had the whole cast of Avatar tucked in a box at the centre of his film, which was a very French thing to do. Gotham continues to look excellent and broody and be utterly silly. I continue to admire Robin Taylor as Penguin; he’s doing a great job in a very traditional sissy role.

That’s it from me for this year. Keep reading and writing, Aqueductians! Best wishes for 2018!

Aqueduct Press has published three of Sarah Tolmie's marvelous books: The Stone Boatmen in 2014, NoFood in 2014, and most recently Two Travelers in 2016. One story from it, “The Dancer On The Stairs,” appears in Year’s Best Weird Fiction 2016. Sarah is also a poet; McGill-Queen’s UP published her sonnet collection Trio in 2015, and a new volume called The Art of Dying will be out in spring 2018. Her agent is Martha Millard of Sterling Lord Literistic, and her author site is

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017

Our annual series of posts on reading, viewing, and listening is about to begin. Once again I've solicited pieces from a bevy of writers and critics to tell us what they particularly enjoyed reading, viewing, and listening to in the last year. This year's edition will include posts by Andrea Hairston, Eleanor Arnason, Sofia Samatar, Cheryl Morgan, Nisi Shawl, Sarah Tolmie, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and others. I'll be adding links below as I upload each new contribution, to provide a list for convenient reference. I hope you'll enjoy reading these as much as I do, and perhaps even find them helpful for slow-thinking our way through these difficult, painful times.

Part 1: Sarah Tolmie
Part 2: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Part 3: Nancy Jane Moore
Part 4: Sofia Samatar

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 7, 3

The new issue of the Cascadia Subduction Zone is out. This issue features an essay by L. Timmel Duchamp on living amid the many unevenly experienced apocalypses of the early 21st century, poetry by Rose Lemberg and Sonya Taaffe,  a Grandmother Magma column on Mildred Clingerman by Nancy Kress, a half-dozen book reviews, and art work by Karen McElroy. You can purchase an electronic edition for $3, or a print issue for $5, or subscribe, at

Volume 7, 3
Until the Next Time
  by   L. Timmel Duchamp

The Repository
   by Rose Lemberg

Dis Genite et Geniture Deos
Cosmopolitan Bias
   by Sonya Taaffe

Grandmother Magma
Mildred Clingerman: Imperfect Subversive
in a Peter Pan Collar
   by Nancy Kress

Book Reviews
Bodies of Summer, by Martin Felipe Castagnet, translated by Frances Riddle
   reviewed by Maria Velazquez

The River Bank, by Kij Johnson
  reviewed by Lynette James

Re-visioning Medusa: From Monster to
Divine Wisdom
, edited by Glenys Livingstone, Trista Hendren, and Pat Daly
  reviewed by Phoebe Salzman-Cohen

Time’s Oldest Daughter, by Susan W. Lyons
   reviewed by LaShawn M. Wanak

Mormama, by Kit Reed
   reviewed by Arley Sorg

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
   reviewed by Tansy Rayner Robert

Featured Artist
Karen McElroy

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Rosanne Rabinowitz's Helen's Story

I'm pleased to announce the release of Helen's Story, a novella by Rosanne Rabinowitz, as Volume 58 in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series.

Contrary to rumors of her death, Helen Vaughan is alive and well and living in Shoreditch, East London, stirring up the art world with a series of erotically-charged landscapes depicting the strange events of her youth. Brought up by a man who regarded her as loathsome, shuffled between boarding schools and foster homes, young Helen only found pleasure in visits from a secret companion. She made one other close friend, a girl called Rachel who disappeared in full daylight. After that, Helen was left with her companion.

As she remembers her friend, Helen lays on each stroke of paint as if it can bring Rachel back or take her to where Rachel went. She paints to summon her companion once again, and show everyone what really lurks beyond the vanishing point.

Some readers might have met Helen in Arthur Machen's classic novella The Great God Pan. Now Helen gets to tell her side of the story. Originally published in the UK by PS Publishing and nominated for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for outstanding achievement in literature of the "dark fantastic," Helen's Story gives a voice to one of the genre's most enigmatic antagonists.

Helen's Story is available in both print and e-book editions. You can read a sample from the novella here, and purchase it from Aqueduct Press ( 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kristi Carter's Cosmovore

I'm pleased to announce the release of Cosmovore, a narrative collection of poetry by Kristi Carter. Cosmovore is the fifty-seventh volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series.

Nothing escapes, not even light.
Mother, monstrosity, woman. Cosmovore.

In this narrative collection of poems, the voice of the void reels and keens over meditations on consumption, the body, and the world. From the edges of the Milky Way to the confines of an eggshell, nowhere is safe from her hunger. In the tinny echoes of a much-hated musical triangle, explore the questions she faces about womanhood, motherhood, society, and a goat as she tries to reconcile those around her with her own identity.

Read a sample from the work here. Purchase the work in print ($12) or e-book editions ($5.95) from Aqueduct, or elsewhere

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 7, 2

The new issue of the CSZ is out. It includes an essay by Victoria Garcia on Maggie Nelson's The Art of Cruelty, a report by Arrate Hidalgo on the Space is the Place conference held in Tel Aviv in April, and a memorial for Ama Patterson; poetry by Gwynne Garfinkle and Bruce Lader, a Grandmother Magma by John Kessel on Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia, and reviews of several recent titles. This issue's featured artist is Milan Djurasovic.

The issue is available in pdf format for $3, and in print for $5; a print subscription is $16, an electronic subscription $10, here:

In Memoriam: Ama Patterson (1960-2017)

The “Space is the Place” Conference: A Report
  by  Arrate Hidalgo

A Lovely Stroll Through the Violence Museum: Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty
  by  Victoria Elisabeth Garcia

50 Foot
   by Gwynne Garfinkle

Nike Apteros
Where are the Angels of Exiles
   by Bruce Lader

Grandmother Magma
Lavinia, by by Ursula K. Le Guin
   by John Kessel

Book Reviews
Sleeping with Monsters, by Liz Bourke
   reviewed by Erin Roberts

Feral, by by James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson
  reviewed by Arley Sorg

Wicked Wonders, by Ellen Klages
  reviewed by Joanne Rixon

When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
   reviewed by Lynette James

About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First Century America, by Carol Sanger
   reviewed by Nancy Jane Moore

Featured Artist
Milan Djurasovic

Monday, June 26, 2017

Liz Bourke's Sleeping with Monsters

I'm pleased to announce the release of Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Liz Bourke, in both print and e-book editions, from Aqueduct Press. It's available now from Aqueduct Press.

Anyone familiar with Liz Bourke's work knows she isn't shy about sharing her opinion. In columns and reviews for science fiction and fantasy website and elsewhere, she's taken a critical eye to fantasy and SF, from books to movies, television to videogames, old to new. This volume presents a selection of the best of her articles. Bourke's subjects range from the nature of epic fantasy— is it a naturally conservative sort of literature?—to the effect of Mass Effect's decision to allow players to play as a female hero, and from discussions of little-known writers to some of the most popular works in the field. A provocative, immensely readable collection of essays about the science fiction and fantasy field, from the perspective of a feminist and a historian, Sleeping With Monsters is an entertaining addition to any reader's shelves.

"A majority of the pieces in this collection come from Sleeps With Monsters, and ultimately, its purpose is more similar to Sleeps With Monsters than not: to be a little loud and angry. To celebrate the work of women in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) field. To offer a snapshot, a limited glimpse, of what I think is best, most fun, most interesting."—from the author's Foreword

"[Bourke] consistently raises questions about the sort of content in books that for a long time was invisible to many reviewers or considered not worth examining. Uncovering the complex morass of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, religious bigotry, and homo- and transphobia that often underlies many of our received assumptions about narrative is right in her wheelhouse. ...[She] talks to us as if we're in conversation. What a pleasure it is to read pithy reviews of often-overlooked work I already admire, as well as to discover books I need to read."—from the Introduction by Kate Elliott

This strong collection is culled from Bourke's similarly titled blog as well as other online sources, and features eight original selections. Bourke's critiques of fantasy and science fiction—most running fewer than 1,000 words—demonstrate both her critical acumen and her appreciation of the genre. Nearly all of the works she discusses are by present-day female writers, and though she purports to bring "an explicitly feminist perspective" to her reviews, she mostly applies the classic critical yardsticks of plot, character development, and authorial voice. Bourke has read widely, especially among multi-book sagas, and her familiarity with so many modern writers' oeuvres gives gravity to her appraisals of the limitations of a literary canon for science fiction and fantasy. She observes that depictions of queer womanhood in contemporary fantasy and science fiction are often disappointingly "titillating or tragic." Her critical standards are high—she doesn't flinch at pointing out weaknesses in favorite books by popular writers—but not inflexible, as is implicit in her observation that "an interesting failure can prove far more entertaining than a novel that's technically successful but has no heart." This collection is sure to provoke debate among genre fans, and also to drive them to the books under Bourke's scrutiny.  —Publishers Weekly, June 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

Karen Heuler's In Search of Lost Time

I'm pleased to announce the release of In Search of Lost Time, a novella by Karen Heuler published as a volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series in both small trade paperback and e-book editions. (You may recall that Karen's story "The Apartments," published in an earlier volume of the Conversation Pieces series, Other Places, is a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards.) You can purchase both of these volumes from Aqueduct Press now.

After beginning chemo for a rare cancer, Hildy discovers an extraordinary talent—the ability to see and take other people’s time. She also discovers there’s an underground market for quality time. After all, who has enough time? The dying, especially, want to get more of it, but giving it to them means taking it from someone else. How moral is she? How will she juggle the black marketers’ strong-arm tactics and her own quandaries about stealing something so precious and vital that it can never be replaced?

Nisi Shawl writes, in her review for The Seattle Review of Books, "Author Karen Heuler's heroine Hildy discovers that chemo infusions targeting malignant lesions on her "tempora"— an imaginary area of the brain — allow her to see, manipulate, and ultimately steal other people's time. Her superpowers neither free nor cure Hildy, though. Instead, she struggles to integrate them into a humane and principled philosophy while fending off the self-interested alliances of warring would-be time-mongers. She girds herself for battle in red-heeled boots, silk head scarves, and penciled-on eyebrows, but kindness and self-reflection prove to be her most kickass weapons."   (Read the whole review)

In Rich Horton's review for Locus, he writes: "It's a curious story, leaving the reader with more questions than answers about what’s really going on, to say nothing of the morality of the process (not that it isn’t questioned). Hildy herself is an interesting character, recovering not just from cancer but from the death of her married lover, and the people she encounters are likewise a bit off-center. I was intrigued throughout..."

 A Conversation with Karen Heuler about In Search of Lost Time

Q: Why is there never enough time?

It’s a little bit like riding a good car on bad tires. You think everything’s fine until you start skidding out of control going down an icy hill. Time, in this case, is the tires. There’s nothing to grip, so there’s no way of negotiating how fast it goes. When I think about time at this point in life, I can only think in small leguments. When I was young, the road was longer. And I’m spending all my time steering. This is called an extended metaphor, and the problem with extended metaphors is that I never know when to stop. Or how. Like that car.
Q. What would life be like if we could sample other people’s memories?

I’d love to do that. There are a lot of people in the world that I find unfathomable. If I could see the bits and pieces that formed them, I could see what makes them tick. That might explain why they chose to do evil while I chose to do good.

Q. Really? How good are you?

 I give to many charities. Small amounts, yes, but I’m not rich. I live-trap mice and release them. I used to release them too close to home, and they’d actually beat me back to the kitchen. There was one night when I caught the same mouse four times. Then I was told that it was best to take them at least two miles away. I do that now. And I give them a little packed lunch to take with them.
Q. Is this book a comedy or a tragedy?

That really depends on the reviews. I will cheerfully acknowledge whatever they want me to acknowledge.

Q. Will this be made into an action-adventure movie?

There are a lot of women in it. There are no explosions. There would be limited opportunity for CGI. So, no.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

WisCon 41: a sketchy report, with randomly placed photos

Aqueduct's editors and business manager

So Aqueduct went to WisCon again this year. Kath drove one car loaded with books, Tom and I another, and Arrate flew in, across the Atlantic, and we re-uned joyfully in Madison. Kath and Arrate arrived in time for the reception and reading at Room of One’s Own on Thursday evening, but Tom and I, having caught a few bad breaks, arrived later than planned, making it to Room only as things were winding down. 
Aqueduct in the Dealers Room

I spent the con as I usually do—talking with friends and acquaintances, attending panels and readings, making periodic appearances at Aqueduct’s table. I also participated in a panel and gave a reading. But one of the first things I did after the Dealers Room officially opened was to make a beeline for Dreamhaven’s table, where I hoped to find the first volume of Samuel R Delany’s journals, recently released in a handsome hard-bound edition by Wesleyan University Press. And yes, they had it! It’s a book of considerable heft, which is both good and bad. Good for obvious reasons, bad because it means I can’t read it in the bathtub. (Of course, if I had a tray to span the width of the tub, as I once did, and a book holder to go with it…)
Mary Anne Mohanraj, reading

On Friday afternoon I attended two panels. The first, Embracing Socialism, was offered by Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ian K. Hagemann, and Julia Schroeder (M). Julia said she only started thinking of herself as socialist during the 2008 election when Obama was frequently labeled a socialist by the right. (Which raises an interesting point about the work labels can sometimes do, don’t you think?) Ian identified himself as a longtime activist. His “socialism,” he said, was a result of years of watching Star Trek. Mary Anne noted that though she’d been an activist for years, she had not considered herself a socialist. But when she ran for the library board (which she did in the wake the 2016 general election), she was required to define her position on a range of issues, and soon she realized that economic issues are central to public library policies and politics.

Ian said that when talking about socialism, we need to remember what socialism actually is. Highways are socialized. (If they weren’t, everyone using them would constantly be having to paying tolls.) Parks are socialized. (Which made me think of how scarce public parks were when I lived in New Orleans, compared with the life-enhancing abundance of them in Seattle.) Police are socialized—“though badly.” (Which made me think of the constant scandal that is the Chicago Police Department—and then of how the notion that the police are there to “protect and serve” entire communities was new to me when I first encountered it in my high school civics class, since no one in my family ever called on the police for help because in their view, the only actually helpful things police ever did was to direct traffic during power outages and civil emergencies, or after a heavily attended event let out.) But we don’t have socialized health and human services (which is why most people living in the US are one serious illness away from bankruptcy). The Public school system is socialized—the “reason,” perhaps, that current Secretary of Education appears to be doing her utmost to destroy it. We need, Ian said, to articulate what is good about the socialized services we do have and then see where the argument breaks down for socialized health and social services.
An Aqueduct reading

Mary Anne noted that some cities have lovely libraries while others do not. Implementation of public library services is extremely variable—as with public schools and state colleges. She cited Roland Barthes on why the right is so much better at attractively mis-naming policies etc than is the left. And then she said “I think we have to talk about Bernie Sanders. He moved the Overton Window. (And Occupy Wall Street prepared us for Sanders, paving the way for ‘changing the conversation.’)” She suggested that this was the most valuable aspect of Sanders’ campaign. Ian then observed that the in the US the 1950s were “a cauldron for social and political change” because of the high income and capital gains taxes then in effect. People in the 1950s generally accepted the notion that costs and benefits of essential services are shared and collective, not individual. 
Nancy Jane Moore, reading

At which point, Julia asked the panelists to define neoliberalism. Ian said that he defined it as evil (eliciting gleeful responses from the audience). Audience members then offered some help, culminating in Dan Dexter’s assertion that neoliberalism rests on the total acceptance of capitalism’s ruling every sphere of life with mitigation of its worst effects “where possible,” such that some people can have clean water, decent health care, education, etc., while many, obviously cannot. An audience member recommended Gangs in America, which is about corporations. Another recommended the documentary The Healing of America by T.R. Reid. Another audience member, discussing Reid’s work, said that it considered three forms of socialized healthcare currently in existence—the single-payer model; the affordable healthcare model; and the taking-profitability-out-of-healthcare model. I’ll skip over most of the rest of the discussion, except for four comments particularly struck me: (1) from an audience member: Bernie put a face on democratic socialism—we need to define socialism as democratic socialism rather than totalitarian socialism; (2) Ian: Most people don’t know people who are hungry unless they’re one of them; to win the socialist argument, people need to understand statistics, since they have no other way to see what the facts and problems actually are; and (3) from an audience member: The left doesn’t do an abridged version of leftist values and politics; we need to develop abridged versions, reframed for popular consumption; and finally: someone noted that it should be pointed out, when discussing the merits of capitalism vs socialism, that capitalism has been proven to be a dismal, potentially catastrophic failure for serving human needs in the twenty-first century.
Lesley Hall, reading

Immediately after “Embracing Socialism,” I attended 10,000 Feminisms, 10,000 Feminist SFs. This panel was moderated by Julia Day, with Jackie Gross (aka LadyJax) and Lauren Lacey as panelists. This panel was of particular interest me as a publisher of feminist sf. From the beginning, I’ve been aware of the looseness of the term and the broad spectrum of works that can be so classified—and that was at a time (2004) when a lot of people believed feminist sf was over, years before we began to see certain sectors of the mainstream claiming feminism for their own purposes. Rather than discussing this aspect of the subject, though, the panelists focused on recommending a rich array of different kinds of feminist sf works. Julia began by asking the panelists to talk about both the best and the worst titles of feminist sf they’d encountered. Lauren’s reply focused on a work she particularly disliked, viz Sheri Tepper’s Beauty. Feminist sf needs to ask, she said, what stories do we keep? Which do we remake? What do we throw out? Beauty reinscribes the power roles as traditionally told without attemption to reinvigorate the fairy tale. Jackie Gross recalled Daughters of the Coral Dawn as a poorly written work by an author, Katherine V. Forrest, who wrote a work she loved: “Dreams and Swords.” I was delighted that Jackie spoke often about the importance of the small press for feminist sf in the 70s and 80s, mentioning Naiad Press, Daughters, Crossing Press’s anthologies (to which I myself contributed a couple of stories), Firebrand Books—and since I was seated in the audience, under no pressure at all to remember, I mentally added several more to the list; and Jackie also spoke often, throughout the panel, about the importance, pre-internet, of feminist bookstores in making small-press feminist sf accessible (summoning up memories of my visits to feminist bookstores in cities I was merely passing through, each time snatching up books that would otherwise simply be known to me later by reputation, so hard would they soon be to find).

The panelists also discussed feminist narratives that are neither utopian nor dystopian, and Jackie observed that the entry point for each reader is crucial. She suggested that the dystopias we have now tend to use the dystopian form as a background to clichéd narratives rather than as an examination of the structures and conditions themselves. She also commented on the difference between reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the time it first appeared (1983) and now. In a recent re-reading, she said, she asked what happened had to the people of color who aren’t there. Jackie also talked about finding feminist sf in unexpected places, for instances in a Steve Barnes work in which a guy on the run encounters Motherland. When an audience member asked about new feminist sf, the panel launched into a series of book (and publisher) recs. My last note on the panel is a remark that Jackie spoke a great deal about the need to go outside the mainstream press to find the feminist narratives we need. Everyone who reads this blog will not be surprised to read that to that I uttered a silent Amen.
Therese Pieczynski, reading

My panel notes from then on became a great deal sparser, until finally I stopped taking them at all. The panel “Fandom and Fascism,” featuring Alexis Lothian, Julia Schroeder, and Megan Condis (M) met in a room with too few chairs to accommodate everyone attending. Megan began by noting that when Trump started to interact with (and retweet) gamergaters, she was shocked into realizing that it is necessary to pay attention to questions about what right-wingers are getting out of associating with gamers, who have largely been non-respectable. She said she then came to see that Trump et al are using gamergaters as a means of shedding their old-fashioned images and dressing up racism, sexism etc as cool and hip. Alexis: There’s no laying a claim that gamers are an “oppressed minority” (as some have liked to see themselves)—the language of social justice is being appropriated and adapted to their purposes. “Fascism has always had a fandom,” she noted, and cited the example of Britain in the 1930s. And: The pleasures to be found in fascism [in cosplay etc) are often enjoyed by people who identify themselves as anti-fascist.  Julia: The word “Nazi” is no longer taken seriously in the media. (After which followed a discussion of some of the many ways “nazi” gets slung around, diluting its power as a designation.) Megan: The (HBO/HULU) Handmaid’s Tale is both horrifying and banal. The villains look like ordinary Americans. Julia: The humanization of the other [I think she meant of villains in narratives] is taken to the extreme—we have to make the bad guys real persons—but certain levels of evil shouldn’t be empathized with. Alexis: We need to look at who it is who gets humanized by fandom. [Which concurs with my thought, about how the usual stereotyped “others” so often figure as one-dimensional “bad guys” in the mainstream, and how it’s only when the villain is a straight white male do most narratives bother to humanize them.] An audience member, Wendy Rose, asked: “Is it a trend that oppressors are given understanding and sympathy rather than intolerance?” My notes on Alexis’s response here are not quite legible, except for this “…as if oppressions are all equivalent and work the same way.” Julia: The media take the attitude that every opinion is valuable and acceptable. You can see this in the Harry Potter and Star Wars fandoms: niceness at all costs. Ocala Wings from the audience: We have a fandom of patriotism and a fandom of Trump—the media has been publishing his every tweet. From the audience: What does it mean for fandom that its narratives/characters are so protean that fans who are alt-right see one thing while fans who are leftist see something entirely different? Alexis: She’s struck by the desire to detach Nazis and other fascist iconography from Nazism and fascism—generating meaning shifts—and the desire to separate iconography from politics and its history. “Fandom,” she suggested, “has the capacity for erotic engagement with fucked-up things.” My last note goes to an audience member’s comment: The alt-right treats power structures as interchangeable.

Kiini Ibura Salaam, reading, with Andrea Hairston

Those were the panels I attended on Friday. I attended several more on Saturday and Sunday, but took few notes. The “Sort of” panel, moderated by Susan Ramirez with Lee Blauerstein, W.L. Bolm, Nicole Fadellin, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and Nisi Shawl offered much to think about; Kiini’s “Identity is a created box with boundaries that people kill to preserve” and Nisi’s “Becoming/being “sort of” comes from the outside” demanded to be quoted in my notes. “Borders, Boundaries, and Liminal Spaces” with Julia Starkey moderating, featuring Julia Rios, Isabel Schecter, and Anna-Marie McLemore [subbing for Amal El-Mohtar], and the Speculative Fiction in Translation panel with Rachel Cordasco, Sue Burke, and our own Arrate, at which Rachel provided an amazing list of work in translation published in the last year—and which sent me to Small Beer Press’s table to purchase a new Angelica Gorodischer title in translation. During the “Border, Boundaries, and Liminal Spaces” panel, Julia Starkey clued us in on Amal’s experience traveling from Toronto to the US to be a GoH at this very WisCon—of being detained on Canadian soil by the US Border Patrol, a degrading experience, that she said Amal had noted would have been a great deal worse had her skin been as dark, say, as her brother’s. Oh, I almost forgot! On Saturday evening, I attended a jam-packed panel that attracted too many attendees to fit into the room—titled “The Myth of the Career,” discussing the doom of the gig economy, featuring Richard Dutcher, B.C. Holmes, Victor Raymond, Jessie Sarber, and moderator Rachel Kronick. This panel evoked heavy, intense audience participation and could easily have gone on for hours. It could have been subtitled “Neoliberalism bites.” 
An Aqueduct reading
Eleanor Arnason, reading

And finally, the readings: Aqueduct’s two official readings, as another offered by more Aqueductistas. On Saturday afternoon  Kiini Ibura Salaam, Andrea Hairston, Pan Morigan, and Sheree Renee Thomas gave beautiful, powerful readings.

Andrea Hairston, reading
Andrea Hairston, Pan Morigan, & Sheree Renee Thomas
And on Sunday, two Aqueduct readings took place back-to-back, with Cynthia Ward, Beth Plutchak, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and myself featured in the first session and Eleanor Arnason, Lesley Hall, Nancy Jane Moore, and Therese Pieczynski in the second. A good time, I promise you, was had by all. 
Beth Plutchak
Cynthia Ward, reading

I could report much, much more, but this post already feels far too long. Please do also check out Aqueductista Claire Light’s  At the World’s Preeminent Feminist Speculative Fiction Convention. Because, yes, everyone’s WisCon is different. 

L. Timmel Duchamp, talking