In celebration of Women’s History Month, Jane Yolen, Ellen Datlow, Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Hand and N. K. Jemisin talk about being women writers, writing female characters, and the role models they look up to.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the city-state of Gujaareh, a dream-priest, his apprentice, and a spy from a rival city-state are all caught in the machinations of two kingdoms.
PROS: Powerful characters; vivid imagery; intensely interesting ideas; a totally immersive setting.
CONS: Lack of a map and some unclear geography.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy Nebula Award nominee.
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In this video to help celebrate Women’s History Month, Ellen Datlow, Elizabeth Hand, Patrica Wrede, and N.K. Jemisin (speaking about the late Octavia Butler), talk about being women writers, writing female characters, and the female role models they look up to.
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In this video, N.K. Jemisin talks about the impact and significance of Octavia E. Butler’s classic science fiction novel Dawn, the first novel of the Xenogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith’s Brood, which also is comprised of Adulthood Rites and Imago), which was first published 25 years ago.
In case you haven’t read it, here’s what it’s about:
Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.
The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.
…and here’s the video…
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Worldbuilders, a non-profit organization founded by Patrick Rothfuss, is raising money for their cause by offering a 2013 Fantasy Pin-Up Calendar. All proceeds from the sale of the calendar will go to Worldbuilders in support of Heifer International.
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Is there any subject science fiction hasn’t turned its eyes (or feelers, or antennae) to? Maybe not, but with the passage of time, habits change, mores change, worldviews change, new writers come to the fore bringing new questions, or new ways of asking old questions. There is always a flavor of the month, a subgenre favored by media or by writer’s movements now and then (cyberpunks and steampunks promptly come to mind, but we can also think of the New Weird and New Space Opera, to name just very, very few). On the other end of the spectrum, however, there are always delicate subjects, things that don’t give themselves easily to scrutiny, for a variety of reasons.
Bearing this in mind, we asked this week’s panelists…
Here’s what they said…
In a field as wide as SF, surely any mention of a taboo topic will only lead to someone appearing with a copy of a ragged pulp magazine from 1937 to declare, “Aha! You forgot this story! It’s been covered! We need never discuss this again!” But a few things come to mind.
SF in the US has long been a propaganda wing for, inexplicably, both the libertarian movement and US space program. A contradiction, to say the least, but it’s a contradiction that can be papered over by contending that both small-government classical liberalism and enormous government expenditure with military and propaganda purposes are part of the broader narrative of “Americanism.” It is quintessentially American to be a rugged individual, and to have a giant technocratic apparatus to project and extend this individualism. And there is plenty of SF in which America fragments, or collapses, or it superseded, but this is only rarely if ever depicted as a positive good for the world—despite very many people outside of the US who would be pleased if the country, or at least its political power on the world scene, went poof tomorrow. So the happy circumstance of an American implosion is one taboo that comes to mind, though the lack of SF with this theme might just be a case of writers and publishers knowing where their bread is buttered.
In Japanese SF, where the bread is buttered on the other side, the US occasionally shuffles off the scene to allow for a realistic near-future in which Japan predominates, but a lot of Japanese SF also features Japanese characters collaborating with friendly American rivals/partners. One book that approaches the happy end-of-America theme is Genocidal Organ by Project Itoh, which we just released over at Haikasoru.
Another issue not much talked about is the philosophy of science. In SF, it seems to stop with Kuhn. There’s not much discussion of Feyerabend or others of his ilk. Perhaps everything after Kuhn was nonsense, but at least we could expect to see some brickbats leveled at them then. Instead, SF seems happy to shoot spitballs at scientific non-entities like “young Earth” creationists. Kiddie stuff. SF writers and fans often prize their own rationality, but many of them are just mere rationalists.
Finally, the biggest taboo has nothing to do with content, but rather than form. The very notion that there is such a thing as good writing and bad writing, rather than just stuff some people like and others don’t, is looked at with a lot of skepticism in SF circles. It’s a taboo to valorize quality writing, or to claim that there is such a thing as a good reader, and a poor reader.
The recently-announced 2009 Nebula Award ballot includes lots of great fiction from lots of great writers and only hints at all the great work being published. So we asked this year’s nominees this question:
Here’s what they said…
[Note: Due to my poor interviewing skills, there were multiple revisions of this question ultimately intending to clarify that its intent was not to slight any of the fiction that was nominated, but rather, to name additional works that are also award-worthy. Along the way, I also left open the possibility that panelists could name work in any category. Any perceived lack of cohesion in this Mind Meld is thus entirely of my own making -- but I think you'll find plenty of great titles to seek out in addition to the one's on this year's Nebula ballot. So there.]
This week’s question is a simple one, but yielded lots of responses. We asked this week’s panelists:
Read on to see some great reading suggestions, then check out Part 2. And be sure to tell us your own favorites!
One of my favorite horror stories would have to be David J. Schow’s “Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”. It’s the quintessential zombie tale that originally appeared in Skipp and Spector’s classic Book of the Dead anthology. In a collection of great stories by Stephen King, Joe Lansdale and others, this one stands out for humor that is as black as pitch, gore that is both horrifying and hilarious and an unbelievably weird protagonist in the five-hundred pound zombie apocalypse survivor Wormboy. I guarantee anyone who loves stories set in a Romero-esque zombified universe, J.K.M.W cannot be beat. Not with a baseball bat, an axe-handle or out of control spinning helicopter blades.
My favorite recent science fiction story is “Understand“, a great thriller by Ted Chiang. It’s about a coma victim who is injected with an experimental drug after suffering extreme brain damage in a near drowning. The drug not only repairs him; it also makes him smarter. The rest of the story involves the supercritical protagonist trying to find more of the drug to increase his intellect while preparing to meet the one person on Earth who may actually be smarter than he is. It’s a great story. The supercritical Leon’s struggle to live in a world in which he is rapidly becoming smarter and smarter, is fascinating. I actually felt smarter after I’d finished reading it.