Readercon programming schedule

Classic Nonfiction Essay Club: “Estrangement and Cognition” by Darko Suvin
Meg Elison (mod), Tom Greene, Alexander Jablokov, Marissa Lingen, Graham Sleight
Fri 1:00 PM, Salon B
Darko Suvin’s preferred edition of his essay “Estrangement and Cognition,” coining the oft-repeated statement that SF is the literature of cognitive estrangement, first appeared in 1979. (Strange Horizons later reprinted it online.) It was a decade in the making, and the world and SF both changed quite a bit from 1969 to 1979. We’ll consider “Estrangement and Cognition” in the context of SF’s New Wave, the political upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s, and the subsequent shifts in speculative genres.

17776 and All That: The Crumbling of the Jock-Nerd Divide
Susan Bigelow, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Robert Killheffer, Marissa Lingen (mod), Cecilia Tan
Fri 6:00 PM, Salon B
Jon Bois’s wild digital narrative “17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future” appeared on SB Nation, a sports news website, and aimed straight at the commonalities of sports and SF fandoms: rules and ways around the rules, glorious absurdity, tragedy alongside heroism. The jock-nerd divide has crumbled. What does that mean for nerd lit? Will cerebral SF embrace sweaty physicality? Will epic hockey games replace epic battlefields? This panel of sports-fan fans will discuss these possibilities and more.

Reading: Marissa Lingen
Sat 11:00 AM, Salon C

You Know, It Kinda Grows on You
James Patrick Kelly (mod), Marissa Lingen, Arkady Martine, Eric Schaller, David G. Shaw
Sat 3:00 PM, Salon B
Spaceships that are giant plants, humans whose brains rival supercomputers, lizards bred to function as flying flamethrowers—these are just a few science-fictional examples of how humans might manipulate their bodies and environments to support the human race’s spread throughout the universe. This panel will examine imagined technology that lives and breathes, and how human life might change and grow alongside it.

Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist
C.S.E. Cooney, Andrea Martinez Corbin, Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen (mod), Sonya Taaffe
Sun 11:00 AM, Salon 3
Lloyd Alexander, translator of Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote an existentialist epic fantasy series. As Jesse Schotter writes on Full Stop, “The end of The High King, and Taran’s choice to remain in Prydain… salvage[s] the idea of free will within the deterministic framework of the genre.” How did existentialism influence Alexander’s other work (Time Cat, the Westmark trilogy)? What are other examples of existentialist speculative fiction epics? With the present deconstruction of prophecy-driven epics, how can writers learn from Alexander’s work?

Fourth Street Fantasy schedule

You already know that I am one of the workshop leaders for this year, and if that is relevant to your life, you have signed up for it already!

In addition, I am on one panel this single-track convention, and that is:

Saturday 8:00 PM – The Role of Narratology in Adaptation

Casey Blair, Kent Davis, Seth Dickinson, Marissa Lingen, Arkady Martine (M)

All art is in conversation with other art, and nowhere is that more clear than in adaptation. Transforming works of art is a fundamentally creative process that, done well, keeps core pieces of the story familiar while also shifting the narrative focus to appeal and make sense to new audiences with different perspectives. Fanfiction and the act of retelling tales are as old as stories and equally worthy creative pursuits, giving us opportunities to center the experiences of other identities, to explore issues previous story iterations didn’t. Applying concepts of narratology as they pertain to how we transform stories so their meaning makes sense to a different audience, this panel will discuss the artistic challenges and pitfalls in adapting stories as well as why this kind of narrative iteration is culturally critical.

Looking forward to seeing so many people there!

A Sword Named Truth, by Sherwood Smith

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend of some years standing.

This book is just exactly what I needed right now, and also I will probably not be able to tell you at least half of what happened in it in a month. It is full of intrigue. It is intrigue start to finish with then more intrigue. It is probably 850 pages of intrigue in 650 pages of book. And right now that was grand, that could wash right over me like a veritable cornucopia of things that are not personal grief.

Look at all the moving parts! Planets and kingdoms! Humans and shapeshifters! Kids and people who have done the child spell! Whose brain is under which spell and who is thinking clearly? I for one am not, but watching the characters move toward this was just what I wanted in this frame of mind. Not as swashbuckly as Inda but just as political.

Books read, late May

Ben Aaronovitch, The October Man. Discussed elsewhere.

Elizabeth Bear, The Red-Stained Wings. Discussed elsewhere.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School, Chapters 18-20. Kindle. This was feeling more episodic with its waltzing and ghost stories, but it may be building to something. Boarding school tales on Mars, continued!

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Prisoner of Limnos. Kindle. I enjoy watching Lois play with tropes she enjoys, in this case heists and disguises. It’s in the Chalion universe, in the Penric series, fairly far on in the series and probably don’t start here. Is it her most outstanding work? No, but that’s a very high bar to clear, and it was good fun.

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings Vs. The Myconauts of Plutonium City, Scrolls 1-6. Kindle. This is a serialized sequel to an earlier Faust which I loved. It has the gonzo referential weirdness that I enjoyed, and it’s certainly moving along quickly enough. I will be glad to see the rest. You can tell I’m enthusiastic because I’m willing to support and read in serial form at all. (Serials are not my medium.)

Tim Flannery, Europe: A Natural History. This was light and funny and lovely, lots of weird animals of historical times, some bits of odd geology, good writing, plenty of things I wanted to read out in the long hours. Absolutely what I needed and recommended.

F.S. Flint et al, Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology. Kindle. Highly variable, and alas, the Imagists I hadn’t had much experience of were not ones I wanted to seek out later, but on a day when things were not going well in the ICU, it was something to read that did not make my life more difficult.

W.H. Hudson, A Shepherd’s Life: Impressions of the South Wiltshire Downs. Kindle. I had hoped that this would have more sheep stuff in it than it had, since I will at some point be revising a novella that is significantly ovine, but it was more an interesting study of a particular place and time, and worth having as such.

Rose MacAulay, What Not. Kindle. This is a comedic satire of the near-future, published in 1918–it’s about the world after the war. It actually still made me laugh in spots–this is the book that made me laugh in the ICU. It is cited as an influence on Brave New World and does all sorts of things with class and caste and intelligence and eugenics more and better and more sharply than BNW. Its ending is also more troubling and ambiguous, more troubled, in fact–similarly unable to see a good way out but in a way that I find more compelling and interesting than Huxley’s because it is so much more personal as well as political. I think MacAulay is joining Naomi Mitchison on the list of writers I expect to read a lot of and squirm and make faces and argue and keep reading. But the fact that most people who are taught Brave New World in school never know of this in the slightest–I feel entirely comfortable saying that’s sexism. That is sexism on a number of levels, and you can go ahead and look for yourself.

Charles Patrick Neimeyer, War in the Chesapeake: The British Campaign to Control the Bay, 1813-14. This is a war technicalities book. It is detailed about very specific bits of war. These are around my house because other people want them, and sometimes I find them very soothing. Here is who went where when. But also I find it solid on a topic that modern Americans do not understand enough, and that is: the dominant empire does not really always get that people who are not the dominant empire often have very different views of the world and of who is the greatest threat than they themselves do. “It’s the French! You should be upset by the French!” the British kept wailing, oblivious to the figure they themselves posed in the world at the time. Ponder this, hegemons.

Fitz James O’Brien, The Diamond Lens. Kindle. This is a 19th century American work of science fiction in which the main character murders a Jewish guy for his diamond to make a perfect lens so he can creep on the microscopic lady who lives in a drop of water. Which then dries up so he pines for her. There, now you don’t have to.

Carla Rahn Phillips, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century. This is an extremely nerdy book about building and supplying galleons and the taxation and requirements for them, and generally if you are doing a project on early seventeenth century Spanish ships, this is a great resource. I’m not, but it was kind of fascinating anyway, in a soothing way, since it happened to cross my path.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Walking to Aldebaran. Discussed elsewhere.

Sara Teasdale, Flame and Shadow. Kindle. Dramatic and beautiful and somewhat overwrought. Teasdale always feels so young to me, but it was just what I needed in the ICU.

R.J. Theodore, Meran’s Cataclysm. Kindle. A free short to draw the reader into a larger universe, not structured as stand-alone shorts generally are but still interesting.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games. Discussed elsewhere.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 28. Kindle. Favorites from this issue included John Chu’s “Probibilitea” and Theodora Goss’s “The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly.”

Jo Walton, Lent. Discussed elsewhere.

Walter Jon Williams, The Accidental War. Space opera, the sequel to the running Praxis books. Lots of aliens and ruling houses and starships going smash and economies going smash and all the sorts of things you would expect from this series. Don’t start here, but if you’ve been having fun, it’s more of that fun.

Brenda Wineapple, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation. Discussed elsewhere.

My father

This blog has evolved with time, as you would expect something to do in 18 years. I used to post daily, little rambly posts, few of them particularly themed. Now it’s almost all book reviews and publication news, with the occasional theorizing about craft. But this personal thing is too monumental to leave out.

Two weeks ago yesterday my beloved father had a massive brain bleed from a med he was on. Before the bleed profused we had time to talk and laugh and say “I love you” so many times. At that time there was still a lot of hope that he might recover. There was then a second, ischemic stroke in the opposite side of his brain. The two weeks since have been a haze of brilliant care and uncomfortable facilities, of waiting and hoping and gradual realizations that the Dad I have adored was never coming back to us. He died gently yesterday morning before dawn. My mother was with him. I had been able to spend all day, every day at the hospital–always the three of us, as it’s always been, but other family and dear friends supporting us as well.

I will have so much more to say about Dad–for years, for the rest of my life. I am heartbroken, shattered, agonized. I don’t know how I’m going to do this. One step at a time, one day at a time, everyone keeps telling me. Yes. I don’t think there’s another choice. Those of you who have known me for years know that the phrases I keep handing people like “Dad and I were close” do not even begin to cover it. I never had a phase, not a year of my life, not a moment, when my dad was not one of my favorite people. He always called me Sunshine but we were each other’s sunshine. I don’t even know how to say all of what’s gone. I will have to keep trying.

But a thing I am capable of fully articulating now is this: the ICU nurses at Fairview Southdale did such an astonishing, such a phenomenal job that I never had a moment of doubt that they and we were a team together, that he was getting the very best of care. And when the hospital transferred Dad up to the palliative care floor on the last day, I kept having the mad urge to run back to the ICU floor where I felt safe. Think on that: it was the place where I found out my dad was going to die. I had so many tears in that place, so many bodily indignities for the father I love. But their care for my dad and for our family still let it feel like a safe place to me. That standard of care is an amazing achievement. I have said over and over, “This is the worst week of my life,” and it is. It is. But it could have been so much worse without the ICU nurses we had.

We’re trying to put one foot in front of the other, we’re trying to figure out how this goes. We’re leaning into the care of our friends and family. But I feel like I fell into a parallel universe, and not one of the delightful ones. With the timing of the weather in our Minnesota spring, I feel like I was beaten and mugged and shoved out the door of the hospital into a world that was suddenly bafflingly warm and fully green and filled with heart-deep bruises, and I only wish that what had been taken from me was my wallet.

Oh, Dad.