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Archive for March 2011

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 5 (March 2011)

Programming!
The annual how-to series about programming has begun at the Sirens LiveJournal. So far, we’ve covered general information about how to participate and different styles of presentation. Coming up, we’ll talk specifically about what you need to include to create a programming proposal. It’s not too early to be thinking about presenting; the deadline for proposals is May 7, 2011.

In between, we’ve hosted a brainstorming chat and several brainstorming posts for people to give away or claim ideas. You can read the series here.

If you’d like more room than a comment to sketch out ideas, particularly if you’re seeking co-presenters or want to offer yourself up as a panelist, please feel free to start a thread on the Sirens message boards. We’ve cleared out old threads to prevent confusion and to make sure your new ideas will rise to the top.

 

And Chat!
Whether you want to work on finessing that programming idea, or you want to brainstorm, or you just want to talk about what you’ve been reading, please join us for our March chat. Our next chat will be held on March 12, 2011, at noon Eastern (9 a.m. Pacific) and last about an hour. We hope you’ll join us at the Sirens chat. No special software is needed, but you might have to refresh the page when the chat starts.

 

Registration
Many of you haven’t made plans yet, but others have been scooping up registrations at the $165 rate, which includes all conference programming and events, including the three keynote presentations by our guests of honor and a conference T-shirt available only to attendees, as well as a dessert reception, two lunches and a breakfast. Airport shuttle and Sirens Supper tickets can be purchased separately.

The $165 rate is available until April 30, 2011. After that, it jumps to $180. You can register at the registration page on our website.

 

Banner Exchanges
We’re excited to be exchanging banners and buttons with a number of sites, including newsletters, archives, conferences, artists, and online stores. To see the offerings or to exchange a banner, visit the Banner Exchange page.

 

We’re Excited About…

The Bodleian has a Shelley exhibition at the moment: http://shelleysghost.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/
Included in the material online are the notebooks that Shelley used to draft Frankenstein. –Simon

Nnedi Okorafor is nominated for a Nebula Award! –Faye

And so is Holly Black, as is Shweta Narayan, who was on last year’s vetting board. –Hallie

And you can read “The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book)” by Nnedi Okorafor on Clarkesworld. –A Tipster

Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon is out at the end of March. –Anonymous

Ellen Kushner’s “The Man with the Knives” will be in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 5, ed. Jonathan Strahan this month. –K.M.

Send your preferred name, a sentence or two about the exciting news, and any important dates or links to (hallie at sirensconference.org) or leave us a comment, and we’ll feature you in next month’s newsletter. We love good news! (P.S. It’s okay to send us neat stuff as it happens in March, or that we missed in February, too. It keeps our Twitter busy.)

 


Sirens Review Squad: Ash and Ōoku (Vols. 1 and 2)
Ash
Malinda Lo
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Malinda Lo’s Ash is about being placed in undeserved, spirit crushing circumstances that you must either adapt to or find your way out of them. It’s a retelling of Cinderella, so you have a general idea of what will happen and how it will end before you begin. However, the big revision here is that the titular character falls in love with a woman. After the death of her mother, and then her father, Ash’s stepmother forces her into servitude, claiming that Ash must work in order to repay for the debts her father left behind. Ash spends years serving her family, while the Wood is her only solace. She longs to be part of Faerie, and befriends the inscrutable Sidhean who might allow her to enter his world. In her 18th year, she meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, and they begin a friendship that leads Ash on a path she never saw coming.

Lo’s otherworldly prose is reminiscent of tales collected in written form such as those by the Brothers Grimm and Perrault. The words feel as though they come from another time, but they are not outdated. Rather, their sense of old world legend is captivating. You can fall into passages describing the chill of winter and feel what a lonely season it can be. However, there is also celebration and revelry in this cold time that sets off suppressed passions.

Lesbianism in Ash’s world is not looked down upon. There are no snide comments or disdainful looks. People are in love, and though most women must find husbands, not all of them do, and that is simply the way of things. Finding a world like this is rare, perhaps even one of a kind. Lo’s portrayal of romance stands out among problematic YA romances as an example of friendship and equality in a relationship. Kaisa is not the typical YA love interest–her attractive qualities do not include a smirk, sarcastic comments that are supposed to be interpreted as flirting or a mysterious past. She is a woman with talent and compassion to offer. She allows Ash to come into her own, respecting her decisions, rather than pushing her feelings on Ash.

Ash struggles to understand her emotions through most of the novel, and her thoughts are not always clear on the page. She is a quiet woman who keeps to herself, and is slow to make friends. This makes her feel somewhat distant rather than a character you feel you know, but she is still someone with whom you can sympathize and admire.

Ash begins with the problem of old traditions vs. modern beliefs. It seemed like this problem would be a large part of the novel, but once “modern” medicine–bleeding a sick person–does its damage, the story gives way to faerie lore, and there is no need for Ash to debate what she knows to be true. Truth and falseness are prominent themes that Ash explores. My favorite scene is towards the middle of the book, in which Ash wears pageboy clothing, and sees herself as a boy “with a proud profile and dark, long-lashed eyes.” In this carefully crafted moment, Ash confuses her gender and class roles in favor of seeing herself as someone else. Someone who is not meekly following the unreasonable demands of her family. At the same time, it seems troubling that she sees herself as powerful when she is a man, but I think this is a trick. Ash is really learning that appearances do not make a person powerful because power lies in emotion and knowledge. Ash arrives at a state of being in which she can bring about her own liberation. It may not be pretty or desirable–depending on how you read her feelings for Sidhean–but it is liberation at her own hand.

When I read retellings, part of the fun is seeing what elements the author kept and which she revised. Lo loses the glass slippers, but keeps the ball: a masquerade. Lo could have given Ash a faerie glamour to disguise herself, but by having a masquerade, the Cinderella character is not the only one hiding herself from society, and deceiving others at the same time. Lo discards the fairy godmother in favor of Sidhean, who grants Ash’s wishes at a devastating price. The faeries in Ash’s world are beautiful and cruel, as any proper fae are, yet more susceptible to the range of human emotions than they would like to believe. Ash attests to the transformative power of love even when it means allowing your heart to break.

Lo does keep the evil stepmother and stepsisters, though they are not so much evil as products of their time. We see glimpses of their survival instincts when they speak of finding wealthy husbands. They are not just out for gold; they are out for their well-being. In a time and place where women are limited in their roles, the politics of courtship are powerful tools in securing a roof overhead and food on the table.

I believe I could go on for paragraphs about family and what it means when you are not related by blood, about the refreshing lack of punishment for the stepmothers and stepsisters, etc. But I’ll end here because Ash is a piece that deserves to be read by many and speak to each reader in its own way. —Jazz

***
Yoshinaga Fumi, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, vols. 1 & 2 (Hakusensha: 2005 and 2006), trans. Akemi Wegmüller (Viz: 2009)

“The inner chambers” is a translation of “Ōoku,” not a subtitle. In our timeline, seventeenth century Japan was led by a shōgun (top-rank military commander), and his wife and concubines lived sequestered within ōoku, shut away from the world’s prying eyes. In Yoshinaga’s story, a plague that kills only men has arisen: perhaps after a boy offends a bear kami, perhaps coincidentally. Eighty years later (as the first volume shows), the male population has stabilized at a low percentage, and daughters inherit. Now the shogun is a woman with an ōoku populated by attractive men. Because Mizuno Yūnoshin’s family is too poor for him to marry his sweetheart, he seizes the chance to enter ōoku service and increase the family’s prestige, although it means that he may not exit Edo Castle subsequently of his own will.

The genderflip enacted by the story is distressingly straightforward at first, including a panel depicting a man with his sleeve raised, the better to titter decorously behind it (vol. 1, p. 40). Because we begin with Mizuno’s situation, the story seems initially to be little different from the majority in that it talks primarily of men, even if they’re men who have been deprived of autonomy and relegated to the lower rungs of the social hierarchy. Then—only a minor spoiler—the current shogun, a sickly child, dies, and her adult replacement sweeps in from the hinterlands of Kii province to consolidate Tokugawa power. Her name? Yoshimune, recalling our timeline’s eighth shogun.

This is not a pleasant story or world. Among the first volume’s events is a brief attempted rape, and Mizuno reflects frequently upon the grimness of his new place. Vol. 2 moves back in time to reveal something of the first female shogun and the court established ruthlessly around her by others. Notably, in both volumes the narrative encourages the reader to identify with unsympathetic characters and, especially, to consider power lines and ramifications that might be less clear if left in their default, our-world feminine and masculine guises. One example is the shogunate’s decision to close Japan to European trade, except for a thin trickle via Nagasaki. In our timeline Tokugawa Iemitsu sought to consolidate control and expunge Catholicism; in Yoshinaga’s narrative the period of isolationism offers a cover for the power shifts that follow the plague and for a different set of atrocities enacted by the shogun’s chief advisors.

One could assert very easily that sequential art offers a more compelling medium than prose (or verse) for an alternate history of this kind. Instead of having motivations, effects, and affect spelled out explicitly, the reader may infer them in a glance from the characters’ facial expressions, body language, costume, and immediate setting, and thus gain in less space a more comprehensive sense of what matters about this alternate history.

Discussions of the Viz translation of Yoshinaga’s work have commented negatively upon Wegmüller’s use of language, which hews towards seventeenth century English in an attempt to convey the Japanese text’s archaic feel. Though some readers find the translation distracting for this reason, I admit I barely noticed, except for when Wegmüller uses words or syntax that break consistency. (I’ve read a lot of early English.) For the naysayers, I’d suggest only that no register—no set of phrases and syntax types—is completely unmarked by connotation, and that any choice the translator could have made would’ve resonated badly for some readers.

I look forward very much to reading onwards. Alongside the darkly realistic setting, both the situations and the art itself are very well drawn. This jōsei manga is expected to run to ten volumes, of which six have been published so far, five of them translated into English. —thistleingrey

 


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