Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Feminist Futures: Women of Wonder

Dossier: Sargent, Pamela (ed). Women of Wonder [Vintage, 1975]

Filetype: Book

Executive Summary: Pamela Sargent's Women of Wonder anthologies were the first anthologies of science fiction written solely by women. First published in 1975, that is a shocking fact - though one that even in retrospect shouldn't be terribly surprising.

The twelve stories and one poem of Women of Wonder are each written by women and are focused on female characters. The original publication of the stories are from 1948 to 1973. Most, though not quite all, are by authors who I at least recognized by name before reading this anthology, even if I had not read much (or any) of their work. The two I had not heard of were Sonya Dorman and Katherine MacLean, though I was only aware of Judith Merril as an editor and not a writer.

How familiar readers are with the twelve writers of Women of Wonder likely depends on how well and broadly read they are with the overall field of science fiction. For many, Vonda McIntyre may only be known as the writer of one Star Wars novel (The Crystal Star) and five Star Trek novels. Other readers will know McIntyre from her three Hugo Awards and one Nebula Award.

Pamela Sargent put together a powerful lineup of writers (and stories), some of which have become absolute giants of the field. Anne McCaffrey. Ursula K. Le Guin. Joanna Russ. Marion Zimmer Bradley (more on her later). 

Feminist Future: The feminism of this anthology might not be that the stories are inherently feminist in nature. Rather, every story is focused on a female lead and is written by a woman. That's the core of what makes Women of Wonder a feminist anthology. There simply wasn't an anthology like this before Pamela Sargent put together Women of Wonder.

Legacy: Pamela Sargent has put together an anthology including a Nebula Award winner, a Hugo Award finalist, and a Nebula Award finalist. Judith Merril's "That Only a Mother" is an oft anthologized story often considered one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time.

Women of Wonder still influences today. In 2014, Cristina Jurado published Spanish Women of Wonder, the first Spanish language speculative fiction anthology focused on female writers. It was translated into English in 2016. 

The legacy of Women of Wonder is about breaking a barrier, making a statement, and delivering an excellent science fiction anthology that has stood the test of time as an important and vital anthology of feminist science fiction and science fiction written by women. It is a landmark anthology, but I do wonder what the lasting impact was. Sargent documented the existence and power of women in science fiction. To paraphrase Kameron Hurley, women have always written. They have always been a part of science fiction and they have always written some of the best stories of all time. 

But as time passes, so many of those voices have been forgotten. We rightly remember Le Guin and McCaffrey and Russ, but are people still talking about Carol Emswiller and Kate Wilhelm? I hope so, but if they are, they're doing so in spaces that I don't see. 

Women of Wonder is rightly a legendary science fiction anthology, but it might be time for someone to put together the new new women of wonder - under a different name but with the same goal of highlighting those women whose voices have been unjustly ignored over the last twenty to thirty years.

The success of Women of Wonder immediately led to the publication of More Women of Wonder in 1976 and The New Women of Wonder in 1978. Two subsequent volumes followed nearly twenty years later in 1996. 

In Retrospect: Most of the stories anthologized in Women of Wonder still hold up as stories that might be published today. Despite the well regarded status of "That Only a Mother" as an all time great, I don't think it would reasonably be published today. "That Only a Mother" is Merril's first published story and it lives on the gut punch of the twist at the end. It's an overall effective story, but also presents as a touch simplistic. 

I don't think I've read a story quite like Vonda McIntyre's "Of Mist, Grass, and Sand" before. If I didn't know it was later expanded (with other stories) to be a part of the Hugo and Nebula Award winning novel Dreamsnake, I would still think this story felt more like a first chapter (or, rather, a second chapter). The specific story McIntyre told was complete, but there was clearly far more to this tale than was contained in the story.

"The Ship Who Sang" is one of the science fiction stories that is coded into my genre DNA. I've read the story, the novel it was expanded into, and have encountered the Brainships in Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer series. It's always been a part of my science fiction, as far as I'm concerned. "The Ship Who Sang" very much holds up today, but I do think there is a conversation to be had about how McCaffrey treats disability in this story and its implications. That conversation would require a much larger forum than this dossier review affords. "The Ship Who Sang" reads differently today, where children who are physically disabled are placed into metal containers and trained to be a living intelligence controlling a ship but knowing no other life. If the technology exists for that, what other technology exists and what is the implication of that technology? How does that play today?

Speaking of things that make me uncomfortable, "The Wind People" is the first story of Marion Zimemr Bradley's that I've read since her daughter came forward in 2014 that Bradley sexually abused her and other children, not to mention that Bradley had permitted (and perhaps facilitated) her husband's sexual abuse of children. If not for its inclusion in Women of Wonder, I likely never would have read this (or anything else by Bradley). It's uncomfortable (the story). There is a doctor (Helen), a mother, who decides to stay on an uninhabited planet with her newborn son because she knows that space travel would kill her boy. There is a moment midway through the story that Robin is sexually aroused and starts kissing on his mother. She rejects him and runs, but there's another very confusing moment at the very end of the story where Helen is either hallucinating or seeing the titular Wind People, one of whom may or may not have fathered Robin - but her vision of that Wind Person turns into Robin and back again - causing Helen to wonder if there was some sort of incest involved. It's weird, confusing, and deeply unsettling on its face, but knowing more about Bradley it's almost impossible to not read more into that story. Bradley was a giant in the field of science fiction and fantasy, but knowledge of her deeply evil actions have put all of her accomplishments and work under a shadow. This may have been an important story at the time, but its legacy now is yet another work of hers touching on incest and sexual assault of a minor. 

There's no effective way to transition off of that discussion of Marion Zimmer Bradley, so let's just briefly talk about Kate Wilhelm's "Baby, You Were Great". A finalist for the Nebula Award, this one was fairly depressing. The woman here is central, but the story is built using two men who have together created and broadcast a VR experience (of sorts, think television, but you can feel the real and honest emotions of the actors) of one woman's life. They selected her because her emotional responses come through so strongly that they manufacture more and more events to get bigger and stronger emotions. Naturally, when she suggests that she wants to get out, they blackmail her. 

"Baby, You Were Great" feels eerily prescient in today's Hollywood following #MeToo and #TimesUp, but I think some of it is also just the same as it ever was. This is what an industry was built on.

The way we read and respond to the stories of Women of Wonder has changed over the years. We're less forgiving of otherwise powerful stories featuring sexual assault. Sexual assault is jarring and upsetting and if that's the point, the assault in "False Dawn" hits its mark. Jarring might just be what Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was aiming for, but that attack shows the age of the story. I'm not sure if it would be written in the same way today. 

We see some of the ways well regarded stories might clunk around the edges, though they might have been groundbreaking fifty years ago. 

As a whole, Women of Wonder remains an excellent anthology that holds up very well today. It reminds us of authors we may have forgotten about, haven't thought about in a while, or perhaps just never heard of. 


For its time: 5/5
Read today: 4/5.
Wollstonecraft Meter: 9/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

6 Books with Seth Dickinson

Seth Dickinson's short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov's, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others. He is an instructor at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers, winner of the 2011 Dell Magazines Award, and a lapsed student of social neuroscience. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Traitor Baru Cormorant was his debut novel. You can find him on Twitter as @SethJDickinson. 

Today he shares his 6 books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading? 

Before bed I'm verrrrrrry slowly working my way through The Power Broker, which is the story of Robert Moses, the man who built modern New York. He began as an idealistic reformer, but constant obstructions drove him to seek power by any means, until that desire consumed him! It's extremely on brand. (He was a really bad person).

I'm also reading Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw, which is about a doctor whose practice treats the supernatural population of London, and Eternity by Greg Bear, which is the sequel to a childhood favorite book about the discovery of an asteroid whose interior goes on forever.

I just finished Jade City by Fonda Lee, Ship of Fools/Unto Leviathan by Richard Paul Russo, and The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about? 

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the last in the Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. All that's left is his downfall and execution! If you enjoy epic fantasy you should read these books; they are beautiful, intricate thrillers about a common man tasked by the King to find a way out of his (the King's) marriage.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read? 

I do a lot of re-reading, so the itch usually gets scratched pretty fast. I recently went on a World War III kick — Red Storm Rising, Fire Lance, Team Yankee, Red Army, Eon, and Ghost Fleet.

I think I would like to reread Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a YA novel about a young British spy imprisoned in Nazi-occupied France. After four years or so I'm probably ready to endure the pain.

Oh! And I want to do a reread of the viral 9mother9horse9eyes...thing, the 'flesh interfaces' meta-fuckery story that some genius improvised on the Internet in 2016.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively? 

Guns, Germs, and Steel. When I read it in high school I thought it was the smartest thing ever written. Now it's pretty obviously reductionist. (I'm not, like, clever for figuring this out, there's a bot on the history reddit whose only job is to post disclaimers about GG&S.)

I used to think Pale Fire was a clever postmodern novel with a 'true' story hidden behind the one we're given. Now I know that Zembla is real and John Shade failed its people.

God, I can never remember enough books.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

The novelization of Star Wars Episode III by Matthew Stover, no, hang on, I'm serious here. The movie best kind of a clunker, with long dull walk-and-talks and some really anodyne action scenes breaking up the genuinely good stuff. But the book is a pulp-art masterpiece; it hits all the same beats, uses all the same characters, and yet it really sings. It's got this vitality to it. It's brutal, it's funny, it's mythic. How'd he do that? I want to figure that out. I haven't, but I want to.

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome? 

The Monster Baru Cormorant is the story of Agonist — Baru Cormorant as one of the secret rulers behind the Imperial Throne. She has the power to overthrow the empire that colonized her home. But what did getting that power cost her? She betrayed so many people — knowing that's possible, that level of deceit, can she ever bring herself to trust anyone again? Can she think of herself as worthy of love, or happiness? Is she going to be alone forever? Can you be alone forever?

Fiction is full of these characters who scheme and manipulate. If you're not a sociopath (Baru's not) I think that would be really depressing, really lonely...I wanted to write a character who ran face-first into that wall. You can't just go on being cruel to yourself, being alone, utterly devoted to your purpose. You've got to have something for yourself.

Anyway: Baru is one of the secret rulers of the world, war is looming, she's been given a quest to find the secret of immortality, her brain damage is making her hallucinate, and she's afraid her whole life has been manipulated by the man who made her. And, as ever, she's deep within an empire she secretly wants to overthrow and destroy. She has a lot on her plate. And she can't even see the whole plate! Because she has hemineglect. Poor woman.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. 

Frankenstein at 200: It's Alive

When I think of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, I tend to think of them as a single, longer film that adapts the whole of Mary Shelley's source novel, although the two films were produced with some four years between them. And as indelible and enduring and influential as these films are, I have to wonder what kind of film we might have had if Colin Clive had not been crippled by alcoholism. This is selfish, certainly, to be handed a masterpiece and ask, "but what if...?"

Make no mistake: these two films are masterpieces. Masterpieces of horror, masterpieces of cinema. And they are masterpieces fitted together by a jigsaw of damaged human beings who continued the tradition, nearly 100 years on, of the outsider's love song that is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. And, believe it or not, here we are nearly 100 years later, looking back at these films. As I write this, the first film will soon be 88 years old. When I looked at the novel, I discussed some of the ways in which we are still wrestling with the themes that animated Shelley's 1818 work. When it comes to the films, though, the actual documents have less on the surface to do with ongoing human struggles of privilege, responsibility, accountability, and monstrosity, but many of those topics still roil under the surface of these films. What elevates the movies, in my mind, are the performances of Boris Karloff and Colin Clive under James Whale's direction.

Ernest Thesiger (L) and James Whale (R)
First, a quick look at the technical aspects of James Whale's direction. For an easy comparison, watch Tod Browning's Dracula and then Frankenstein. Browning's shots are almost all locked down, and treat the material like a stage play. This was common in the silent era, but directors began to innovate past it with moving cameras and using tracking shots to move through scenes in depth. But the advent of sound film set all that back again, due to the need to hide microphones in the scenes. You'd think from watching Dracula that directors might have still been limited in those ways, but Frankenstein gives the lie to that. There are gorgeous, subtle tracking shots, like the one that follows Henry Frankenstein and Fritz out of the graveyard shadows to the fresh earth they are going to dig up for body-harvesting purposes. And there are numerous extreme tracking shots. Some help convey the urgency of hunting for the creature in the Frankenstein home, shots that go through walls and from one room to the next to the next in single, unbroken takes. Another is the agonizingly long tracking shot that follows Maria's father at he carries her drowned body through the town as it prepares for a wedding feast and celebration.

Then, there are the performances. For all of the talk of "monster" and "creature," Boris Karloff does nothing but humanize the role he inhabits. There are the big moments, like when he reaches for the sun the first time he sees it — craving light in a metaphorical and literal sense — and the small, almost imperceptible moments, like when he pets Maria's small hand, marveling quietly at its perfection, in contrast to his own scarred hands. As lovely and engrossing as I find Karloff's performance in Frankenstein, it is in Bride of Frankenstein that he is permitted something not seen in any of the other Frankenstein films (Son of.., Ghost of..., House of...): he speaks. Karloff's wordlessness helps carry scenes like the famous moment in which he comes upon a hermit's hut in the forest, and two lonely souls find solace in each other's company (again, notice Whale's direction here in the slow dissolve out of the scene), but his joy at being able to begin making himself understood helps fully realize this character. Abnormal brain or no, this is a living being that simply wants to enjoy the company of others and not be tormented because of his appearance and the fears of others. I so connected with Karloff's performance in these moments that I wrote a song about it.

Boris Karloff and Colin Clive
 A decade before I did that, though, I wrote a different song inspired by Colin Clive's performance. There is a deep sadness in Clive's performance that has always struck me as conveying the weight of all that was lost in the gap between his ideas and their reality. The quest to stave off death, prolong life, and cure disease is certainly a noble one, although the introductions to both Frankenstein and Bride couch the doctor's obsession in terms of attempting to play God. I tend to think of this spoken moral more as a way to appease the censors of the time than the actual thrust of these films, but that could just be me. I find Clive's portrayal of Henry Frankenstein to be a deeply empathetic one, and the filmmakers have eliminated so much of what I find distasteful in the character of Victor Frankenstein from Shelley's novel. In the film, the doctor does not turn his back on his creation because of a shocking appearance, nor does he abdicate any responsibility toward it in favor of simply returning home to his former, aristocratic pursuits. Clive's Frankenstein agonizes over what to do with his creation, whether or not it can be taught, or helped, or made to understand. Yet his efforts are undercut by man's inhumanity to the other...first and notably by Fritz tormenting the creation with lit torches. Colin Clive's Frankenstein recognizes what Whale tells us implicitly in a lovely sequence of shots at the end of the first film, with Frankenstein and his creation looking at each other through the spinning mechanism of the windmill. Reflections of one another. Their fates bound together.

Clive's quiet intensity exists only in the first film, however. By 1935, the actor's alcoholism had purportedly advanced to such an extreme state that it isn't any wonder he spends most of The Bride of Frankenstein propped up in bed. He died less than two years later, at only the age of 37. As a result of Clive (and his character) being sidelined, much of the heavy lifting in the movie falls on the very odd shoulders of Doctor Pretorius, played by Ernest Thesiger. Pretorius is a deeply strange character, who I admit has grown on me, but it took a minute. What has not grown on me is the shriekingly hysterical performance of Una O'Connor. She was a longtime friend of James Whale, so I appreciate him giving her the work, but almost the first ten minutes of Bride revolve around her shrieking from one person to another about this and that. I'm reminded of the line in Ed Wood when Ed's financiers ask why he gave Tor Johnson all the lines, and Ed replies, "Lugosi's dead and Vampira won't talk. I had to give the lines to somebody." I cannot help but wonder what that film might have been with a more-active Frankenstein, but then, who knows? Maybe we would not have gotten the charming introduction featuring Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley herself, explaining that the story continued past the burning windmill. Who can say?

My favorite picture of Elsa Lanchester
One thing I must point out, however, is that the credits for Frankenstein read, in part, "Based on the novel by Mrs. Percy B. Shelley." This is abhorrent, even for 1931. To Whale's credit, as my wife pointed out, in Dr. Waldman's anatomy class at the university, which is shown near the beginning of the film, the students are both men and women, which had to be a conscious choice, and possibly one that somebody fought for. I can think of a number of other films with similar scenes (some of which I've reviewed for this site), and this is one of very few I can think of that features a co-ed science class.

In the end, I confess I enjoy the Universal Frankenstein movies, even those that came much later, and after a few other actors donned the flat head and neck bolts. I find Bela Lugosi very fun to watch as Ygor in both Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein, and enjoy spotting the same three or four actors cropping up in different roles throughout the series. But it's the first two films that created, cemented, and deserve the legacy of the Frankenstein tale. While shaving off some of the thematic elements that I think make the book resonate even today, they nevertheless provide a relatively faithful adaptation that succeeds on its own substantial merits.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Feminist Futures: An Introduction

Perhaps bolstered by the success of Hulu's television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's seminal 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale and perhaps because of the rising tide of anger, fear, and apprehension over and about what path to the future we seem to be on, there is a renewed groundswell of feminist science fiction in popular culture today.

We may be living in a new golden age of feminist science fiction (and of science fiction in general), but it is important to note and remember that feminist science fiction has never gone away. It has been an integral part of science fiction from the very beginning. The nature and the place of the conversation it has engendered and facilitated may have shifted depending on the era, but it has always been here.

Feminist science fiction has never gone away, but we have a damnable habit of forgetting those who have come before, especially those voices that were not among those few writers we still talk about decades later as if they were the only voices that mattered.

First and Second Wave Feminist Science Fiction

In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry on feminism, writers Helen Merrick and Lisa Tuttle point out that beginning in the late 1970's critics have considered "feminist sf within a longer history stretching back to Nineteenth-century Utopian works that arose as part of the movement for women's rights. Unlike the utopias of male writers, these fictions always question the sexual status quo and foreground the position of women"

This stretches the history of feminist science fiction back to novels such as A Few Hours in a Far-Off Age (Henrietta Dugdale, 1883) and A Week in the Future (Catherine Helen Spence (1889), as well as the somewhat more remembered Herland from Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was serialized in The Forerunner magazine in 1915 (and republished in novel form in 1979). There are many other examples, but Merrick and Tuttle note that "this utopian tradition in women's writing had been mostly forgotten in subsequent decades until its rediscovery by feminist scholars in the 1970's".

Those early utopian feminist novels are considered part of the first wave of feminist science fiction. Like those early feminist utopias, the second wave of feminist science fiction also looked to question the "sexual status quo and foreground the position of women", but these later writers did so in ways that were far less optimistic and often far grimmer. The writers of the second wave often looked at issues and problems they saw in their present and pushed the ideas out as far as they could go to see what that might look like. The second wave of feminist science fiction was larger, louder, and left an indelible mark on the genre itself.

In her essay "An Open Letter to Joanna Russ" (originally published in Aurora, Issue 25), Jeanne Gomoll notes that
"It was not one or two or a mere scattering of women, after all, who participated in women’s renaissance in science fiction. It was a great BUNCH of women: too many to discourage or ignore individually, too good to pretend to be flukes. In fact, their work was so pervasive, so obvious, so influential, and they won so many of the major awards that their work demands to be considered centrally as one looks back on the 70’s and early 80’s. They broadened the scope of SF extrapolation from mere technology to include social and personal themes as well. Their work and their (our) concerns are of central importance to any remembered history or critique.”
It is worth noting here that Aurora (originally titled Janus) was only the second feminist science fiction fanzine to be published (26 issues published between 1975-1990), the first being the very short lived fanzine The Witch and the Chameleon by Amanda Bankier (5 issues published between 1974-1976).

Some of the authors debuting during that second wave of feminist science fiction are giants and legends of the field, though even some of those may be better known simply by name and reputation than active and current reading of the works. There may be none bigger and more important than Ursula K. Le Guin. Her novels The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are right considered classics and masterworks. We won't list out the award recognition for every author in this introduction, but Le Guin is in a class by herself, having won 7 Hugo Awards (most recently in 2018), 6 Nebula Awards (not counting the one she declined in protest), 3 World Fantasy Awards, a staggering 22 Locus Awards, a National Book Award, and she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. We won't count the number of nominations Le Guin has received.

Ursula K. Le Guin is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to major feminist writers from the 1970's. In some ways Joanna Russ may be best known now for her literary criticism and for her nonfiction work How to Suppress Women's Writing. Of course, The Female Man is a title that nearly
every serious reader of science fiction has heard of, whether or not they have read it. Likewise, James Tiptree, Jr (Alice Sheldon) is another writer remembered more by name than by work (and for having the Tiptree Award named after her), though her story "The Women Men Don't See" is counted among the legendary works of science fiction.

This, of course, raises the question: remembered and read by whom? Readers today focused on the new and shiny and who are engaged in the impossible task of keeping up on the field likely are not reading the major writers of the 1970's and even beyond. After all, that is more than forty years in the past. How many important writers or films or songs from forty years ago have truly remained embedded in the public consciousness? Those paying attention to the history of the genre will know the writers who remained important and they will know those who did and who should have remained in the public conversation. Names like Margaret Atwood, Sheri S. Tepper, Octavia E. Butler, Suzy McKee Charnas, Vonda McIntyre, Pamela Sargent, Eleanor Arnason, Suzette Haden Elgin, Marge Piercy, Angela Carter, Carol Emswhiller, Katherine V. Forrest, Donna J. Young, Jayge Carr, Joan Slonczewski, and Joan Vinge.

Many of those names (and an equal number not mentioned here) may be familiar to readers. That Vonda McIntyre is not often discussed in the fanzines and spaces we frequent does not mean that her novels Dreamsnake or Superliminal have been forgotten or that they are not read. Dreamsnake is, after all, a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Award. While not quite rare, that is still a distinction only twenty three other novels can make.

We asked "remembered and read by whom?" and it is a nearly impossible question. There is no true metric to know that a reader of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice is not also a reader of Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time or that a reader of Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars is not also a reader actively working through the four novels of The Holdfast Chronicles from Suzy McKee Charnas. We recognize that when a list of major feminist science fiction writers is put together, there are certain names that frequently are mentioned and when the label feminist is dropped so are most of those writers.

These writers provide both a direct and indirect line of influence to so many important science fiction writers of today, feminist or otherwise.

Feminist Science Fiction Today

If the past of feminist writing is grounded in ways in which the future looks towards bleakness, what about the present of feminist futuristic and speculative writing? What are the futures we imagine for ourselves now that we’ve seen the ways in which the world has and, more importantly, has not advanced? In what ways has this shifted—do strides in one area override the lack of movement, the struggles, in another? Are the futures we imagine too bleak? Or are they not bleak enough? Not angry enough?

The feminist writers of now are imagining futures at once both bleak and filled with light. These futures seem to say: don’t imagine that it can’t get better, but do know that it probably won’t.

Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer imagines a future as constricting and smothering as the present, all while floating an undercurrent of hope---will love get us through? Can we fight what’s being crushed upon us? How do we do that? The album Dirty Computer ends on a rallying cry, the film that goes along with it ends on a note of devastation. This duality reflects the future of feminist sci-fi writing, which seems to balance every ray of hope with one of acceptance that the world rarely gets better.

In Lidia Yuknavitch’s Book of Joan—the future is bleak but hope can be found in a Joan of Arc like
reimagining that hinges on the power of voices and words as well as the horror of reproductive control being manipulated by those with power. This can be seen as an update of Handmaid’s Tale---for a world in which reproductive rights and people’s control of their bodies and gender identities are still heavily contested.

In Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, the plantation era is reimagined in space in the story of Aster who works to uncover the mysteries of the ship they are on as well as the trauma and history of their own past. The novel not only talks about race in compelling ways, but also questions gender binaries and the rigidness of the male versus female dynamic. This is a novel that is not only filled with beautifully examined queerness, but also forces us to contend with the powers of language as both agent of freedom and agent of oppression.

Other writers such as Carmen Maria Machado, Nnedi Okorafor, NK Jemisin, and more, struggle with many of the same questions. Their works imagine a future that could be brighter, but requires fight and strength and hope in order to get there. These futures are also not only the predominately white and straight feminisms of the earlier era. They are futures in which all sexualities, gender identities, and races are being represented. Even if the writing itself paints a bleak future, the hope can be found in the voices whose stories are finally getting the chance to speak these futures.

Feminist Futures

In her essay "For a Genealogy of Feminist SF: Reflections on Women, Feminism, and Science Fiction, 1818-1960", L. Timmel Duchamp argues for feminist science fiction as part of a grand conversation within (and beyond) the genre.
"It is my constant sense of our feminist-sf present as a grand conversation that enables me to trace its existence into the past and from there see its trajectory extending into our future. A genealogy for feminist sf would not constitute a chart depicting direct lineages but would offer us an ever shifting, fluid mosaic."
We envision Feminist Futures to be a small part of that grand conversation. With this project we aim to explore just a tiny fraction of the monumental feminist science fiction that has been written. We have a particular focus in discussing some of the major feminist science fiction works of the 1970's and the 1980's as part of that second wave of feminist science fiction.

Through dossier reviews and essays, we will look at the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ and James Tiptree and Sally Miller Gearheart and Pamela Sargent and Suzy McKee Charnas and more. We expect to also touch on some of the more modern writers such as Nicola Griffith, Ann Leckie, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Kameron Hurley. We'll explore novels and anthologies and short stories. We'll have personal reflections and a look into the experience of attending Wiscon, the feminist science fiction convention.

We have so much planned, and even if we're able to hit the mark and write about everything we would like to, we're still going to miss so much. We are limited by the time it takes to put all this together, by just being unfamiliar with some major writers who we will then just miss. We know that Feminist Futures is only going to scratch the bare surface of feminist science fiction. We know that we're going to get some stuff wrong and we'll do our best to correct those mistakes. We also recognize that it is nearly impossible for a reader in 2018 to read a work from 1972, 1982, or even 1992 with the same cultural context with which it was written and by which it would have been understood by its contemporary readers. We are limited by the context of our own experiences and our own histories. We are ready for the challenge.

The exciting thing about Feminist Futures is the opportunity it has given us to visit and revisit some of these raw classics of the genre and push us to read more and wider than we might otherwise have done when focused on the new shiny. The ramifications for what we cover and talk about on Nerds of a Feather may well stretch far beyond the bounds of Feminist Futures.

The Dossier Reviews for Feminist Futures will have the following subheadings to focus our commentary.
File Type: Whether the work is a book, film, game, etc

Executive Summary: Plot summary

Feminist Future: How the work blends feminism with science fiction or fantasy.

Hope for the Future: Regardless of whether the work initially presents a feminist hellscape, does it also offer any sort of hope for a better world after? If so, how?

Legacy: The importance of the work in question

In Retrospect: An editorial commentary on how good / not good the work is from the vantage point of 2018.
Through the dossier reviews and essays, we look to engage with that grand conversation surrounding feminist science fiction and reflect on how some of those masterworks and seminal works of feminist science fiction are remembered today and how they are might be read by a modern reader.
"We felt as though we had become involved in a conversation - which was probably due to the texts themselves tending to be distinctly reflexive and dialogical and constantly demanding of their readers immediate reflections on what it means to be a woman in the world as it is and how different the world could become, depending on what women might do or become." - L. Timmel Duchamp
Welcome to Feminist Futures.

Beginning October 29, 2018, Feminist Futures will run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Thanksgiving and possibly into December.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

Friday, October 26, 2018

Microreview [Book]: Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein

A collection of varied stories that continue the story and the themes of Frankenstein to great effect.

Joining Vance in his celebration of Frankenstein at 200 this month, I'm looking today at a timely volume from Abaddon books, which explores the mythology two centuries on through a new set of stories edited by David Thomas Moore. Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein is a collection of five long novelettes and/or short novellas exploring the legacy of Victor Frankenstein and his creation through a series of shared universe stories, dealing with other creators in other situations, all of which circle the same themes of life, death, autonomy and monstrosity that the original text evokes so effectively.

For me, Creatures draws on some foundational English Literature experiences, as Frankenstein basically bookended my secondary school career. I didn't read the novel itself until my final year, as part of a term paper on Gothic fiction which pretty much my late teen aesthetic (Rebecca-from-Jane-Eyre meets a less experimental version of The Rules of Attraction, I guess), but I have stronger memories of performing parts of a dramatised version in first year. At the time, I was tall, awkward, and had just moved back to the UK from Australia with a deeply uncool hybrid accent. I'd also just started getting periods, and I have strong impressions of trying to work with classmates on this strange, tragic story while feeling crampy and sticky and wrong, as if my entire body was about to give itself away and condemn me to eternal embarrassment on top of all its other betrayals. That I associate this feeling -- which I assume was happening just as much during Maths and Science and History and all the other highlights of the English Year 7 curriculum -- with Frankenstein specifically is, I think, an indicator of how resonant the myth is even when filtered through age-appropriate dramatisations. I've never quite gotten over the tragedy of the creature, perhaps because at the time I encountered it, the feeling of wrongness felt all too real.

The stories in this volume proceed in chronological order, from the mid 19th century to a contemporary tale, and I believe that all five also feature the original creature somewhere in the story, although only in Tade Thompson's "Kaseem's Way" does he get to speak to the audience directly. The story alternates between the first person, epistolary narrative of the creature and the perspective of Kaseem, a Black boy from London who ends up becoming the ward of a scientist named Gull. Twelve years after meeting Gull, Kaseem is now deep into illegal scientific practices alongside Radha, another young scientist, when Gull's discovery of Victor Frankenstein's original notes leads to a replication of that experiment, drawing the attention of the creature and the authorities down on the pair. By placing Frankenstein's work into the hands of two young people of colour in 19th century London, Thompson's opening story immediately sets the myth in a more diverse context, playing on the power structures inherent in both the science fiction conceit and the real-world societies of the time to great effect. Neither Kaseem nor the creature ultimately come out well in this story, but the end has a fitting amount of rage to see them both off in style.

"The New Woman", by Rose Biggin, is a decadent, queer, female-driven story set in the last days of the 19th century, in a "bohemian assemblage" centred around Mrs Stella Moore. Into this company of artists has been brought a medical student, Christine Sparks, who has been experimenting on embalming corpses in formaldehyde, and her description of her work captures the imagination of another artist, Fran, who has been "sculpting" with dead creatures (think taxidermy, but with more glitter). It quickly transpires that Christine and Fran already know each other quite well, and that the next stage in their relationship will be a joint project to create a work of living art out of a corpse. Their creation, Eve, ends up being realised and impacting their relationship in ways that neither predicted. Of all the "creatures" in this volume, Eve ends up being the most well realised, and her journey from "living artwork" to a fully realised person, cognisant of the limitations of her state, is compelling and tragic. Unfortunately, that tragedy also ends up punishing its queer characters in favour of heteronormativity, which I can't quite forgive it for.

Of all the tales here, I felt Paul Meloy's "Reculver" had the least to bring in a speculative sense, although it deals interestingly with disability and wartime experience, drawing parallels between the myths that built up around those who fought, and the parallel mythology of those who, for whatever reason, didn't. Of all the stories, it leans most heavily on the motif of the outsider: its teenage protagonist, who had polio as a child and has been left with a bad leg, feels he does not fit in to his small seaside town, but it's not clear who among the remainder of the cast does. The protagonist's obsession with childhood crush Ann Bennett and the man she begins a relationship with, Geoffrey Dodd, forms a large part of the plot, as does the reaction of Ann's "shellshocked", violent father. Told in an almost slipstream style, with lots of odd dream sequences and narrative skips, the direct appearance of the Frankenstein myth in "Reculver" ends up feeling more minor than any of the other stories, and it was less successful with me as a result, although as a standalone it would still be a strong experience.

Emma Newman brings what, on the surface, feels like a classic Ashes to Ashes style period police procedural in "Made Monstrous", with a detective and his assistant dealing with a series of "mysterious" corpse thefts whose basic purpose won't come as a supririse to a reader coming to this story as part of a Frankenstein collection. However, as the title indicates, this is a story that plays particularly heavily on the "who is the monster" element of Frankenstein and there's an interesting subversion of Victor's original intent in how the mystery plays out. Detective McGregor is a compelling lead in all of this, and I have to note that this is the second time, after Carlos Moreno of After Atlas, that Newman has made me root strongly for a gruff male detective who represents the system but has also been deeply, irreversibly wounded by it. WPC Hannerty, despite a deeply unpromising introduction through McGregor's casual chauvinist lens, ends up being a great addition too, and the relationship between the two leads is one of the best parts of the story. Emma Newman's involvement in this collection was a major factor in my picking it up and I was far from disappointed with her contribution here.

And then there's "Love Thee Better", by Kaaron Warren. This story, frankly, terrified the hell out of me. Protagonist Nina, and her partner Declan, are gifted paid berths on a mysterious medically-inclined cruise ship run by her father's family friend, after an accident leaves accident at the building site he works on which ends up completely removing his arm. It quickly becomes clear that the main passengers are either waiting for limb donations or want to be donors; this is only the tip of the weird iceberg and there's very little hope of Declan or Nina getting out untouched. Worse, there's a sense of claustrophobia and fatalism among all of the passengers, Nina included - while there are hints that not everybody is on board with the captain's agenda, nobody does anything to stop themselves from falling prey to it. I find stories which feature utter complacency in the face of horror far more terrifying than reading a story where people are struggling against their fate, and the timelessness and lack of escape that the cruise setting brings only makes this worse. Of course, this is a Frankenstein story, so limb transplants are not the whole story, and the way the introduction of artificial life takes place here is just part of the tense, relentless escalation. I think this was an excellent story, but I felt sick for about an hour after finishing it, so there's no way I'm going back to check.

Put together, this is a very strong collection: what the stories as a whole lack in inter-relatedness and consistency, they make up for in terms of the sheer breadth of the Frankenstein experience that they cover between them. There's no simple moralities here, no clear answer to questions about scientific progress, life and death, revenge and forgiveness, or the condition of otherness which the original story deals with so successfully. Equally, with the possible exception of "Kaseem's Way", these are all stories that I think would work even for readers unfamiliar with the original: each stands alone, narratively speaking, and these are universal themes. Whether or not you're a fan of Shelley's 200-year-old masterpiece, Creatures is a worthy, varied anthology.

The Math

"Kaseem's Way" by Tade Thompson: 8/10 - smart and socially aware, with a strong sense of continuity from the original novel.

"The New Woman" by Rose Biggin: 7/10 - lush, unsettling queer aesthetic let down by the ending.

"Reculver" by Paul Meloy: 6/10 - effective as an exploration of otherness and belonging, not so much as a work of speculative fiction

"Made Monstrous" by Emma Newman: 8/10 - feels straightforward on the surface but has powerful hidden depths

"Love Thee Better" by Kaaron Warren: 7/10 - creepy as hell, which I guess is a good thing here?

Average: 7.2/10.

Bonus: +0.8 covers a wide range of thematic areas without detracting from the coherent whole.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.

POSTED BY: Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Reference: Moore, David Thomas (ed)Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein [Abaddon Books, 2018]

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero: Halloween ComicFest Edition

This Saturday marks the return of Halloween ComicFest!  Participating stores will be giving out free comics and typically have other fun activities that are delightfully bewitching. In addition to the comics, stores will also have some exclusive collectibles for sale.

The item on the top of my list is the Funko Pop! of Star-Lord.  This look is based on the Guardians of the Galaxy comic from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.  In addition to the Pop!, stores will have limited numbers of exclusive Deadpool merchandise, including a lovely version of the Merc with the Mouth dressed in a lovely pink dress.  Check out all of the exclusives here.  In keeping with my annual tradition here at Nerds of a Feather, my top five comics are the following.  In no particular order.

Johnny Boo and the Spooky Tree - Written and illustrated by James Kochalka, Johnny Boo stories are a favorite in my house. The series features a ghost named Johnny Boo and his pet ghost Squiggle. The two interact with a colorful cast of characters and this book is the first chapter in an upcoming spooky story that I hope involves the Ice Cream Monster. I preordered three bundles of this book to pass out to trick-or-treaters and it already has rave reviews from my children.

Goosebumps: Monsters at Midnight - Based in the monstrous world created by R.L. Stine, this comic is penned by Jenny Lambert and illustrated by Chris Fenoglio.  One of the highlights each Halloween season is reading spooky stories and Goosebumps is synonymous with age appropriate horror. This full-size comic features a pair of children who find themselves in an upside down world after exploring a local library. It appears to feature Slappy the Dummy and that is more than enough reason to pick this title up.

Ms. Marvel #1 - If you haven't checked out this series from G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona now is the perfect time to get the debut issue for free! This story introduces some much needed diversity into the world of mainstream comics and Kamala Khan is a welcome change to the typical superhero. Find out why it is exciting to have Marvel's first Muslim character with her own book!

Jughead: The Hunger - Geared towards older readers, this spooky book is set in the Riverdale universe. It has been oddly satisfying to watch Archie re-brand itself as Riverdale geared towards teenagers. While I have not gone down that rabbit hole, I am very intrigued to read a book featuring Jughead as a werewolf and Betty as a werewolf hunter. From talking to friends who have enjoyed this reboot it sounds like this title doesn't take itself too seriously and has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.

Over the Garden Wall and Into the Unknown - It has been delightful to see this quirky cartoon get an extended life in the form of a comic book. While the brothers Wirt and Greg have returned home from The Unknown, someone else has accompanied them on their journey.  Now they need to find a way to get their friend back to the Unknown.  Flipping the script and allowing for a stranger to interact in our world should be an interesting twist that is recommended to readers of all ages.

Check out the entire library of comics that might be given away at your local comic book store by clicking here.  Make sure you keep in mind that some stores may not have all of the titles and some may give away more comics than others. The idea is to have fun and pick up at least one free book. It wouldn't hurt to pick something else out as well as the stores purchase all of the books that we get to enjoy for this event for free.  Happy Halloween!

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Microreview [Book]: Static Ruin by Corey J. White

Not Exactly Planet Smashing

Mars Xi is a "void-damned space witch", meaning she's super telekinetic and knows how to use that. In this third entry of the Voidwitch Saga novellas, Mars is searching for someone who can help her save a child weapon and finds that the only person who can help her is the last person she wants to deal with: her father.

It's rare that I pick up a series anywhere but the beginning but, whoops, I stepped in it this time. The bad news is that this story assumes you've read the previous ones, which is fair. It doesn't do much explaining about where some of these characters come from and only the barest amount needed to connect them to Mars. It also alludes to some pretty rad things that Mars does in the previous books that aren't topped here.

The good news is that I did find this to be a fun read, even without 100% of the backstory. Mars has a lot of built up anger from her past as a child born and raised to be a weapon, and this story takes her all the way back to where she came from. The complicated relationship Mars has with her family is front and center, with a minor detour at the end for some planet-owning entrepreneur nightmares. It got me invested in the well-being of Mars' cat-thing Ocho, maybe moreso than the well-being of Mars herself. It's probably more satisfying as a (possible) final chapter in the Voidwitch Saga, but it's fine without the backstory.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +2 if you've read the previous books, it's probably a good conclusion.

Penalties: -1 seems like it didn't exactly top the exploits of the previous books, which this story made me want to go back and read them.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 (an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: White, Corey J. Static Ruin [Tor, 2018]

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Frankenstein at 200: Society Be Damned

Maybe a decade ago, I worked on the script for a TV movie about Frankenstein's monster that never made it out of development, for a studio that will not be named. The exec we were working with, the director and I, got nervous about how much latitude they might have if they took on the project, being unsure of exactly what intellectual property Universal owns when it comes to Frankenstein. So they asked me to make it *not* Frankenstein's monster. Same story, but just...not Frankenstein's monster. Somebody else's monster, maybe?

This was a challenge. I don't know exactly what Universal owns and doesn't own either, but certainly Mary Shelley's book has long since entered the public domain and filmmakers have experimented widely with adapting and re-working the story. Take, for instance, the long but partial list of film and stage adaptations over at Wikipedia. But I was given the task of subbing out Victor Frankenstein and his creation for...anything different.

Here's the thing about that: Mary Shelley's vision has become so utterly foundational in our shared sense of the fantastic that I didn't see a path forward except by looking back further than 1818, the year Shelley published her novel. How could I conjure a mythology that didn't set an audience on the defensive immediately with thoughts of, "They're just ripping off Frankenstein"? So I went backward, and looked at the idea of a golem made from mud or clay, and either an alchemist or rabbi having created it. These legends predate Shelley by sometimes hundreds of years, but the themes of many of these stories run in close parallel to those Shelley explored in Frankenstein.

It was not a perfect solution, and the movie never got made. If I ever revisit that project, though, you can bet I'm switching dude back to Frankenstein's monster, because I didn't fall in love with science fiction and horror because of Kabbalistic stories of mud men. I fell in love with those genres because of Mary Shelley's creation.

I cannot know what Mary Shelley was thinking or feeling when she wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, but my aim here is not to present a scholarly, comparative lit exploration of her book, now celebrating its 200th birthday. But this seemed like a great opportunity to revisit the book, which I hadn't read in a decade and a half, and celebrate what about it still speaks to me today.

* * *
If we think about Frankenstein as a classic tragedy, then clearly Victor Frankenstein is the tragic hero, but what would be his tragic flaw? The facile answer is "attempting to play God," but I don't think the text fully supports that. It's not his playing God that dooms him and his family, it's his abdication of responsibility. After he forges his creature from unknown materials, he has lots of opportunities to head off the tragic outcome that ultimately befalls him, but he always chooses a different way. So it might be abdication, a refusal to take responsibility for his actions, or it could simply be idleness. As the privileged son of a wealthy syndic, Victor Frankenstein never knew want or need, and simply did things as his whim took him. He went to university just because. He made a creature from cast-off bits and gave it life just because. He went back home and married his cousin just because. I am perhaps being uncharitable, but the point is that nothing much seemed of great import to Victor except his current idea of how to pass the time. This is a criticism, I feel, that Mary Shelley would have had with all of those who, like Victor, made up the upper strata of society at the end of the 18th century. And, possibly, with her husband Percy Shelley, upon whom she probably based much of Victor's personality and circumstances.

I am reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald's final assessment of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, where narrator Nick Carraway says of them:
I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
By the time 19-year-old Mary Shelley attended the fabled summer getaway on Lake Geneva with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron — in the bizarre, inexplicably hostile summer of 1816 that had many across the globe fearing the end of the world — in which she came up with the idea for Frankenstein, she had already given birth twice. Her and Percy's first child had died after being born premature, and after the birth, Percy had left Mary and run off with another woman for a brief affair. I have to wonder how much Percy Shelley's abdication of responsibility toward his and Mary's sick child informed Victor's abdication of responsibility toward his "offspring." I have to believe it did influence Mary's depiction of, if not Shelley, those situated like him. How could it not?

In my reading, I see the creature as a sympathetic figure, and an innocent. His crimes — and he racks up a pretty healthy string of murders — are the culmination of a long, brutal lesson taught him over and over again by the human beings he encounters. I'm ascribing my own feelings regarding the creature to Mary Shelley's design, and I fully realize that my interpretation may not match her intent. But there are a couple of events that take place during the creature's long sojourn in the outbuilding behind the De Lacey cabin that I find fascinating. The first is the story of how De Lacey (the blind old man) and his two children came to live in that desolate cabin, and the other is the related story of Safie, Felix De Lacey's fiancee, who arrives unexpectedly.

As I discussed in the previous post, in Shelley's original construction, the creature hides away for months in this outbuilding, and learns not only language by watching the De Lacey family, but also history and poetry, including Milton's Paradise Lost, from which the book's epigraph comes ("Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?"). The creature believes the De Laceys to be the most gentle and admirable of all people — and truth be told, they may well be, which makes what Felix De Lacey does later doubly horrifying — and his opinion is reinforced when the reader learns the story of Safie, Felix's fiancee, which also reveals why the De Laceys live in such dire material circumstances.

The De Laceys, late of wealthy Parisian society, were acquainted with a certain Turkish merchant who was arrested, it is implied, wrongly. Out of an abundance of character and virtue, the De Laceys conspire to release the Turk from prison and secret him to safety. This is admirable stuff (the Creature is listening)! The Turk is so grateful, he promises his daughter Safie to Felix for a bride (and they love each other, so this is all a win-win). But the duplicitous Turk is lying, and actually intends to take Safie away with him after the De Laceys spring him from the hoosegow. Again, the Creature is listening. Self-sacrifice is met with duplicity. But eventually, after the De Laceys effect the Turkish merchant's escape from prison and safe passage from Paris, and after Safie is denied her return to Felix...after the De Laceys are found out and banished from France to a remote hovel in Germany, after all that, Safie shows up to be with her true love, Felix. So...true love wins? In the face of society? Maybe?

Here we leave the parameters of the De Lacey story and get into Safie's personal story. Here Mary Shelley does something that had to be uncommon in fiction from 1818, in that she gives a female character agency. Safie discovered her father's plans for her, and discourses at some length about the decision that she made not to return to her Turkish origins, which would have severely proscribed the type of life and agency she might possibly realize. It was hard for me, as a modern reader, to separate Safie's feelings about female agency from those of Mary Shelley. In Safie's story, we get possibly the clearest and most concise argument for women's equality to be found in the book. Though Safie's criticisms are couched in terms of religion ("the Arabs won't let women"), it's no stretch to see that the lives of European women in Shelley's time were almost as narrowly defined. If Mary Shelley stakes out a position on women's equality, in the tradition of her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, in Frankenstein it is through the micro-drama of Safie. It may or may not be stretching things to say that the Creature, when presented with the idea of fully human women being treated as "lesser than," saw in the struggle for women's equality the passion of his own heart.

This leads us to the sad resolution of the Creature's time as a silent observer of the De Lacey home. He has closely watched a family that treats the elderly/women/foreigners with dignity and respect. They are, no doubt, aberrant, as they might be in some circles today, but in the most admirable of ways. Yet, when he, with his monstrous appearance and proportion, presents himself to them, he is literally beaten, driven from the house, and the house is found so contaminated by his presence that the inhabitants never return.

So in the end, what is Mary Shelley saying about humankind? Nothing good, it would seem. Not only are those who are illegitimately lauded for their basic human competence (Victor Frankenstein) incapable of taking responsibility for their own foul-ups, but the most generous and magnanimous of people (the De Laceys) will violently reject those who are different from themselves. Regardless of circumstance, the status quo demands adherence. And people like the "Creature," or others who are similarly misunderstood, stand little chance of acceptance, regardless of the content of their character.

It is hard to argue with Mary Shelley, even today, that the comfortable, born-well-off individual can not simply do whatever he wants without consequence. Perhaps it is this enduring dynamic that makes the murderous Creature so relateable. Despite the characters in the book speaking in such hyperbolic praise of individuals who fundamentally reject taking responsibility for their own actions, there is, it seems, an implied subtext that resonates to this day — 200 years later — suggesting that those on the outside of this privilege, looking in, are forever playing a rigged game.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, Emmy-winning producer, writer of two songs about Frankenstein, and author of at least one unproduced script inspired by it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Microreview [book]: The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A novel of manners where the pursuit of wealth and privilege will drive people to true darkness.

When I read Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey some eight years ago, the elevator pitch of "Jane Austen with magic" would have had me run (not walk) from the novel if I didn't trust Kowal's writing from her short fiction. Despite my background in English literature, the concept wasn't a selling point. Kowal's novel was excellent and I've since read and enjoyed a number of novels that live in the intersection of manners and the supernatural. Gail Carriger very much comes to mind, for one.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's two previous novels have each been very different from each other, and if you throw in her 2017 novella Prime Meridian, there is no common theme to her fiction except that she has set her fiction in Mexico City. Having previous written an urban fantasy novel based around nostalgia and music and her own take on a vampire novel, Moreno-Garcia takes on a novel of manners and yes, it has magic.

According to jacket copy and other descriptions I have read, The Beautiful Ones is inspired by the belle epoque.  Since I had never heard of the belle epoque and I had to look it up to at all have the glimmer of a clue, the way that I would describe it is to say that The Beautiful Ones feels very proper and very French, which happens to fit in very well with the "belle epoque" inspiration.

The core of The Beautiful Ones is the inadvertent love story between Hector Auvray, a stage magician who happens to have a bit of telekenesis, and Nina Beaulieu, a somewhat uncultured heiress who also just happens to have a touch of the telekenesis. Hector is noticeably older than Nina, but she is smitten and he agrees to woo her in part because he realized her aunt is his one true love who left him and married another man when he was off making his fortune.

This is a story of society, of being proper, genteel, of being respectable, and of having a family name that matters. There is magic, but it more helps provide shading and flavor to the novel. It shows how Hector and Nina are different from their families and society and how alike they are to each other.

I know this is an aspect of these novels of manners, but Hector's reticence in sharing any bit of his inner thoughts or emotions is really damned frustrating. He's so proper and reserved. Early in the novel this is because he's not truly romantically pursuing Nina, but there's an inevitability to that relationship and despite the hurdles, we just want them to actually get to properly falling in love and settling their problems.

The Beautiful Ones is a lovely novel. There is a gentleness that is wrapped around true steel and nastiness. Wealth and position are more important than love, but the pursuit of those pretty things will drive people to true darkness. Silvia Moreno-Garcia gets all of that, and wraps it in the proper trappings of a novel of manners.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 because Moreno-Garcia so perfectly nails the Austen-esque feel of the era while writing a novel that is just a smooth to a modern reader.

Penalties: -1 for the frustration of Hector's reticence.

Nerd Co-efficient: 8/10 "well worth your time and attention."  See more about our scoring system here.

Reference: Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. The Beautiful Ones [Thomas Dunne Books, 2017]

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, October 19, 2018

6 Books with Sabrina Vourvoulias

SABRINA VOURVOULIAS is an award-winning Latina news editor, writer and digital storyteller. Her news stories have been published at The Guardian US,,, NBC10/Telemundo62, Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia Magazine, and City and State PA, among others. Her journalism has garnered Edward R. Murrow, José Martí, Keystone, Pen & Pencil Club, and New York Press Association awards. Her short fiction has been published by, Strange Horizons and Uncanny, GUD, and Crossed Genres magazines, as well as in multiple anthologies, including the upcoming Kaiju Rising II, Sweet and Sugar Tooth, and Sunspot Jungle.

Today she shares her 6 books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading? 

Confession: I haven't read Lovecraft before, but after reading and loving the Victor LaValle and Ruthanna Emrys novellas that recast and subverted Lovecraft stories, I decided to bite the bullet. My daughter had a copy of The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft (edited by S. T. Joshi) on hand, so I started. Another confession: Even biting the bullet, I don't know how far I'll get.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about? 

Exile by Lisa Bradley. I've long admired Lisa's poetry and short stories — hers is a distinctive and sharp Latinx voice and I just can't get enough of it — so I'm really looking forward to her novel. I'm also looking forward to Teresa Frohock's Where Oblivion Lives, the next installment in her Los Nefilim series set in 1930s Spain. I'm a sucker for historical dark fantasy with magical or paranormal resistance at its heart, and Frohock does that uniquely and excellently.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read? 

Kiini Ibura Salaam is one of the finest stylists in speculative fiction and her book of stories, When the World Wounds, is quite spectacular. I'm really haunted by two of the stories in the book, "Because of the Bone Man" and "Hemmie's Calenture," and think I might need to reread them as a master class in how art can confront our deepest societal wounds.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively? 

When I watched the first season of the TV version of American Gods I found I actually couldn't remember much of the novel, which I had read when it was first published. But I did remember I had liked it, so I went back to reread it. I was less enamored the second time around. I realized that the characters were far more compelling and engaging on screen than on the page, and the most memorable moments (Vulcan's gun-toting and gun-loving "Make America Great Again" town, for example) were TV moments, not book moments. Plus, I don't know what "America" Neil Gaiman was touring when he wrote the book, but there is no American U.S. — much less the Americas — without Latinxs in it. Maybe I was a more forgiving reader back when I first encountered the book, but I don't have time for that sort of exclusionary worldbuilding these days.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing? 

No one book, but I started reading poetry young, and poetry from Spanish Golden Age Epics to Warsan Shire continues to be the deepest influence on my work. Cadence is everything, even in prose, and I write out loud...

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome? 

My latest book is the new edition of my novel, Ink, from Rosarium Publishing. A near-future immigration dystopia originally released in 2012, Ink opens when a National Identity bill becomes law in the US, marking immigrants and children of immigrants with biometric tattoos and tracking chips. The novel explores how ordinary folks, both "inked" and not-inked, sidestep and resist the ensuing, and escalating, repression. Ultimately, the novel celebrates the power of resilience, ingenuity and community. In the years since it was first published, my imagined dystopia has become increasingly relevant, and I'm really grateful to Rosarium for its commitment to reissuing it at this exact moment — when anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx rhetoric has reached fever pitch. Rereleases aren't usually money-makers for small presses (or even large presses), so I think the reissue is a act of resistance in and of itself. And what a lovely act of resistance it is! This edition of Ink is beautifully laid out, has a gorgeous new cover by South African artist Vincent Sammy, and includes a thoughtful new introduction by renowned Latina writer, Kathleen Alcalá. Author and physicist Vandana Singh has called this both "a page-turner" and "a book for our times" — so how much more awesome can you get?

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.