The Wiscon Chronicles: Carnival of Feminist SF vol 3.
Aqueduct Press, 2009, 250pp
A challenge for this review is to try to convey what this book covers for those who have never been to a Wiscon convention. Will it mean anything to them?
So – my questions to myself about this book are:
What worked well?
How did this enhance my understanding of the Wiscon I went to?
What does this reflection add?
What new concepts have I gained?
How would this work for someone who had never been? Someone who had missed this one?
Who is the target audience and does it reach them?
First, some necessary background – Wiscon is a feminist science-fiction convention held annually over the Memorial Day weekend at Madison, Wisconsin. It has a multi-track program that ranges over books, TV, film, manga, academic papers, political discourse, fan fic, vidding, gaming, costuming and more. Most program items are in the form of panels.
From the outside it can appear to be scarily monolithic, with an accepted mode of thinking. From the inside, it is a broad church with many different views and thoughts, some of which are exhilarating, some of which are obvious and some of which are batshit crazy. Which is which of course, depends on who’s looking.
The purpose of the Chronicles is to “represent a cross-section of the diverse conversations happening at Wiscon and beyond”(viii) because “What happens at Wiscon doesn’t stay at Wiscon”.
While this representation speaks most clearly to those who were there, it is not exclusive – those who weren’t there are also invited into the conversation.
The most useful concept I picked up was “bracketing” – that of accepting and setting to one side the unacceptable part of something, so as not to reject the good part. All too often in the past I have rejected the whole of something rather than accept it in part!
What worked well for me is that several panels were reported in detail (caveat: from notes not recordings) with a series of responses and reflections. It was particularly good to read the transcript of and reactions to the “Elves and Dwarves: The Racism inherent in Fantasy” panel. I attended this panel and felt uncomfortable at the conflicts expressed. Afterwards, I rationalised it as “one of those panels that didn’t quite work properly” and put it aside. Reading the transcript, I found that a couple of years more experience enabled me to understand some of the dilemmas the panellists were exploring from their different viewpoints and to understand where the conflict came from. Reading Sigrid Ellis, John Kim and Bridget Collins’ responses has shown me that this conflict provoked Sigrid’s clear and valuable “Request to Authors of Traditional Fantasy Novels”, John Kim’s broader understanding of this topic within the fantasy field and his wonderfully creative “what if…?” suggestions for other types of delineation and Bridget Collins’ request of “Where do we go from here?”
On the sheer fun side, there was the panel report of “Let’s build a world”. I wasn’t sure how intelligible this would be given that I hadn’t been there, but it ended up being laugh-out loud funny. I was reminded of one point during a Tiptree auction, when the whole process stopped for laughter. Ellen Klages told us to remember this moment the following week when we were back in our normal lives and someone said “Feminist science-fiction convention? Sounds worthy but dull to me!” Of course, I can’t remember what we were laughing at at that point.
Something that didn’t work as well for me was the account of the Robot Collective uprising. This wasn’t something I was involved in – I saw it happen during the Tiptree Auction and my main reaction was “huh?” Reading the account didn’t really explain it any further. However, while this event made no sense to me, I can accept that for others it may have been a key part of their Wiscon. Bracketing in action you see.
Given that I’ve been steeped in Wiscon for about 8 years now, it is hard to imagine just what this would look like from the outside. I think some of the accounts are complete enough to be intelligible to any sf fan who is interested in thinking more deeply about what they read, whether or not they describe themselves as politically motivated. Other articles would be very hard to follow. I hope the plethora of commentaries would show that we are not all indoctrinated into one viewpoint.
The main target audience is going to be Wiscon attendees and sympathisers. I doubt anyone who wasn’t already thinking about attending a Wiscon would read this. It isn’t a proselytising work, but nor is it a secret handbook only for the initiates.
I found this engaging and readable – it brought my experiences back to life and enabled me to reflect on them a little more.
A history of mathematical discovery, considered from the point of view of individual subject areas.
Not just a good overview of the history of mathematics, but a good overview of the whole subject.
In this book, Stewart has chosen not to follow an historical timeline. Instead he picks the significant topics of mathematical study and traces their development through time. I was somewhat amused by the fact that in the introduction Stewart emphasises that this is not the history of mathematics, just a history so naturally the cover copy says ‘The story of mathematics…’ (my italics)!
What was nice for me personally about this book is that it covers pretty much all of the topics that my degree covered – although it was also a timely reminder of how much I have forgotten! By the end of this I was determined to pick up some of my old textbooks and work through them again.
One warning though, some of the discussions are quite detailed, including examples, so it is pretty tough going if your mathematics is rusty (I certainly found it difficult to follow in places), so don’t expect an easy read.
Overall if you want a good overview of the subject, from number theory to chaos theory, covering calculus, geometry, algebra, analysis, complex analysis and functional analysis on the way, this is highly recommended.
Aud Torvingen travels with her friend Dornan from Atlanta to Seattle to investigate why the agent who is supposed to be looking after her financial interests is not making the money from her properties that she expects. She is also going to meet up with her mother, Norwegian Ambassador to the Court of St. James and newly married. When Aud starts to investigate what is happening to her properties she discovers a film production in trouble and an injured stunt woman who catches her attention.
A very good, slow-burner of a thriller, with something to say about obsession and control. Spoilers follow.
After the death of her twin, Mor runs away from her power-hungry mother and ends up getting back in contact with her absentee father. She discovers a shared love with her father of science fiction and fantasy, but the purse strings are held by her father’s spinster sisters and so Mor is sent away to boarding school. There she discovers that she lacks the privileged background of her classmates and has to struggle to find her place, while at the same time fighting to resist magical attacks from her estranged mother.
An interesting novel, which seemed to get ‘love it or hate it’ reviews on its release. I kind of understand why. It’s a subtle book and has some interesting ideas but a week or so after finishing it I’m still scratching my head a little bit, trying to decide what I think of it. Spoilers ahead.( Read the rest of this entry » )
Bold if you've read (all of) them, italicise if you've started but not finished (inc some but not all of a series) and strikethrough if you hated them.
The Culture Novels, Iain M Banks (starting 1987) - cheating slightly as I haven't yet read the new one - Banks not someone I generally read in hardback
The Hyperion Cantos, Dan Simmons (starting 1989) - I'm assuming this is just referring to the first two, rather than the disappointing Endymion books
Grass, Sherri S Tepper (1989) - liked, didn't love
The Aleutian Trilogy, Gwyneth Jones (starting 1991) - forget the Bold as Love stuff - this is the best series Jones has written (although the final volume is a little disappointing)
The Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson (starting 1992) - agreed.
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson (1992) - agreed.
The Flower Cities sequence, Kathleen Ann Goonan (starting 1994) - the later books don't quite have the impact of the first but still good reads
Fairyland, Paul McAuley (1996) - didn't hate it, but didn't love it either
Diaspora, Greg Egan (1997) - again, didn't hate it, but it's not Egan's best; I still think he is one of sf's greatest short story writers but has yet to write a novel that worked completely.
Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds (2000) - it was okay, but he's greatly improved since
The Arabesks, Jon Courtenay Grimwood (starting 2000) - agreed.
Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang (2002) - agreed.
Evolution, Stephen Baxter (2003) - I'm really behind with Baxter's stuff but this one just doesn't really appeal.
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson (2003) - didn't really leave a lasting impression.
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004) - this was okay, but not as clever as many people seemed to think it was. I enjoyed Ghostwritten more.
Air, Geoff Ryman (2004) - agreed.
River of Gods, Ian McDonald (2004) - agreed.
Accelerando, Charles Stross (2005) - I've probably read almost all of this in the original short story form (but not, Mr Previn, necessarily in the right order!) Of all the stuff Stross has written this is probably what I've liked least.
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (2005) - I'm a fan of Wilson and I liked this one, but I'm a bit bemused why it has been put above all his other novels, many of which are equally as good, some of which are better.
Nothing directly about the book itself but it made me think about how tropes in sf go in and out of fashion. When was the last time you read a book that feature psi-powers as a major part of the story? I'm struggling to think of anything I've read in recent years. The last thing I can think of which features psionics as a major part of the story was the television show Babylon 5, which is a few years ago now.
Originally this was part of the master plan to put the spare carpet down in the bedroom, but we quickly realised that actually there was no way we were ever going to find space to put the books temporarily while we did this so.
So change of plan.
Instead we have now put the new rug down in the book room, on the grounds that no matter what we did it still gets rucked up all the time in the living room. The living will, sometime in the future, get a proper carpet of its very own!
So we have now put all the books back in their correct places on the bookshelf (including the books that had been read but not filed) and had a damn good purge while we were there. This time we were fairly ruthless: we got rid of books by authors that we like some of their stuff but were keeping weaker novels by them just 'cos it was them. For example, I've got rid of the more techno-thriller-esque Paul McAuley novels. I admire McAuley a great deal as a pure sf writer but books like Whole Wide World just leave me cold. We have also got rid of books that we felt we aught to have a copy of but aren't really ever going to re-read.
I haven't counted exactly how many books we are getting rid of but looking at the piles 300-400 would be about the mark I guess. Some will go to one or other family member and most of the childrens' books will go to the school pennski reads at, the rest to charity shops (I know if I was really good I would put lists up and see if anyone wants them, but honestly, that would take a lot of time I'm not going to have in the next few weeks and will also mean lots of books taking up space we don't really have. Sorry.)
We've also rearranged the shelves to leave us with more room to put trade paperbacks and hardbacks away. This may not seem very exciting to you, but to us this is a major step forward!
ETA: Of course, spending eight or nine hours moving around large numbers of books by holding as many as you can between thumb and adjoining finger is a very good way hurting the tendons...
Non-work wise, I finished Devil May Cry 3 on the PS2 yesterday, which was fun overall but even on easy mode had some horrendous, temper inducing sections!
Also yesterday I finished George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows which was as always hugely enjoyable. I couldn't help but snigger a little at the author's note at the end which said that the next book, A Dance of Dragons (or something along those lines) would be out the next year. This note was written in 2005 and the last publication date I saw for the book was spring next year.
Also much enjoyed was Soundings, Gary K. Wolfe's collection of reviews and Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland, which I mentioned a few days ago.
We've been watching Studio 60 from the Sunset Strip, the already cancelled Aaron Sorkin show. Overall I have been very much enjoying it, Matthew Perry particularly is surprisingly good, but I can understand a little why it was a flop. For a start off the bits of the comedy show we see are just not that funny. Harriet, the woman who is the lead in the comedy show is as dull as dishwater. Nothing against her performance, but Amanda Peet seems far to young to be convincing as a studio president. But the biggest problem I have about the show is this: the 'show within the show' is supposed to be a topical comedy programme, but the whole 'show outside the show' is given the same serious treatment (bordering on portentousness) of The West Wing, which seems to be over egging the pudding, frankly.
Still, I'm am enjoying it in spite of my reservations.
Oh yes, and we've just come back from seeing Harry Potter V, which actually does a good job of slimming a hugely over-written book down to something that is both manageable and quite entertaining. Mind you, it didn't escape our notice that the small children sitting behind us were getting rather audibly bored...
My excuse is that I've had the lurgi and not had the energy for very much else. Getting through the working day and rehearsals are about all I feel up to right now.
On the books side, I finally finished Vellum last week and I'm still not sure what to make of it. It is the sort of book that you either have to read slowly and carefully to get every nuance or just let the language wash over you. I went for the second option and I think I enjoyed it. But after that I need a nice run of fairly easy books!
Okay, perhaps not quite as easy as Jim Butcher's Storm Front, the first of the Dresden books. I'd been enjoying the TV series in a sort of 'switch off brain and relax, predict-alonga-plot' way but the book is fairly formulaic stuff. I'll probably gradually read the others but only when I don't have to pay full price.
Much more fun was Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt, third in the series that began with The Curse of Chalion. Thoughtful, exciting and with likeable characters. I'm always a bit of a sucker for fantasies with a hint of the political thriller about them.
But as always I seem to find myself outside of popular opinion with this one. For example, I liked China Mieville's The Scar rather better than the first and third books in the series and was less than enthralled by Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love but thoroughly enjoyed the follow-up. I seem to be the only person who thinks that Paul McAuley's tribute to Gene Wolfe, the Confluence trilogy was the best thing he has written, while I found the Clarke Award winning Fairyland stodgy. With the Lois McMaster Bujold series I enjoyed the first book, thought the third was excellent, but was really uninspired by the second. So guess which one won the Hugo...?
In 2006 I split up my 'books read' spreadsheet into three, rather than two as I had before. The categories and numbers:
Graphic Novels, Cartoon Books, Manga (i.e. 'quick' reads): 61
SF Story magazines (F&SF, Interzone, Asimov's): 40
As usual, the good, the bad and the disappointing.
( The Good )
( The Bad )
( The Disappointing )
2. The out-of-town shopping centre in Newbury has been expanding recently. And today I found out that one of the new stores is actually a Borders. With a coffee shop. Don't know what the selection will be like but probably better than the in-town Waterstones.
3. I had a quick look at an IT job site today and reassured myself that if I did decide to move on from my current job next year then there are jobs out there I can do. It probably won't come to that, but it is nice to know that the options are there if I need them.
4. All the books I can get on LibraryThing are now on there, somewhere around 4500. So that excludes the sixty-odd SBNs they couldn't find and the books that don't have SBNs.
URL is http://www.librarything.com/catalog.
Enjoy. Or possibly laugh at our bad taste...
A Thread of Grace - Mary Doria Russell
Fascinating, sad and moving. A bit of history I had no knowledge of. Manages to be tragical and yet oddly uplifting at the same time. Mary Doria Russell's best book so far.
9Tail Fox - Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
A bit disappointed by this one. Underneath the posthumous fantasy trappings is a rather ordinary thriller. After Pashazade and its sequels and Stamping Butterflies this felt like a step backwards.
The Tears of the Salamander - Peter Dickinson.
Young adult fantasy that starts rather slowly but builds into a fascinating little tale. Especially good in that the hero reasons his way out of his situation, rather than relying on violence (although violence does ensue) or adult intercession.
Ring - Koji Suzuki.
An oddity this. The film Ringu is bleak and spooky (I found the film more scary when I thought about it after watching it rather than during) but this, the book it is based on, is a potboiler. It is an entertaining page-turner but it isn't particularly scary. Interesting that the film has a female lead character whereas the book has a rather ineffectual (and not terribly likeable) male lead. Interesting, but I can't see me rushing to buy the follow up.