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Archive for August 2011

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 11 (September 2011)

PLEASE HELP US OUT! A number of you have been finding important e-mails from Sirens in your bulk folder rather than in your inboxes. Please check your bulk mail, unmark the items as bulk, and help us retrain e-mail providers. Thank you in advance!

 

Registration and Shuttle Ticket Deadline
Registration for Sirens, including registration for the Sirens Shuttle and Sirens Supper, ends on September 7, and all payments are due no later than September 17, even if this means you have fewer than the usual 30 days to complete your payment. Any registrations or tickets that are still unpaid on September 17 will be canceled. We will only have a handful of first-come, first-served on-site registrations available–and as we can’t hold them for any particular potential attendee, we strongly recommend registering in advance!

 

Hotel Reservation Deadline
All reservations for the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa must be made no later than September 15, 2011, and on that date, you must confirm your reservation by paying for one night of your stay. (If you use a credit card to make your reservation, the Vail Cascade will automatically charge your card at that time.) You may not cancel your reservation after September 15 without a penalty. Please note the dates! Room rates for 2011 are $129/night for 1-2 people ($154/night for 3-4). In case you have time to stay a day or two extra, that rate is good from October 3 until October 11.

Need a roommate or three to help reduce your costs? Check out the hotel section of the Sirens forums. You may also post an ad on the Sirens Facebook. We know of multiple people who are looking for roommates as of this week, so please don’t be shy if you haven’t posted something yet–you’re not the only one looking!

 

Sirens Shuttle
The Sirens shuttle will leave Denver International Airport (airport code: DEN) at 3:30 p.m. on both Wednesday, October 5 and Thursday, October 6, and returning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 9. If you’ll be riding any of these shuttles, please watch your e-mail–especially your bulk folder!–about a week in advance for final instructions, including the meetup point. If you have not provided us with your flight information, please log in to your reservation and do so as soon as possible. We set up flight alerts to keep track of riders in the air!

 

We’re Excited About: Checking In at Sirens
We’ll focus a section of next month’s newsletter on picking up your registration at Sirens, but in the meantime, we wanted to spread the word that the information desk, registration, and badge pick-up for Sirens will be in a different location this year. Starting at 2:00 p.m., we’ll be open in the Creekside Room on the lower level of the Vail Cascade. To get to the Creekside Room, take the stairs down from the hotel’s front desk, or take the elevator from the lobby (near the restrooms and concierge). While we won’t be able to spill out into the library this year, we’ll have access to the patio and pool area, just steps from Gore Creek. This is the one space in the Vail Cascade that we think is a bit harder to find, but the hotel front desk assures us that they’ll be ready to point you in the right direction.

Between 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. in the Creekside Room, we’ll be happy to provide you with your badge and registration materials, collect digital versions of presentation materials from presenters, verify your volunteer shifts, feed you afternoon tea, provide you with space to chat/read/play games, and offer you Sirens 2011 merchandise. We’ll also set aside a corner of the room for storing luggage until the hotel’s check-in time of 4:00 p.m.

Once the Thursday Sirens Shuttle arrives, and attendees have had a chance to grab a snack and pick up registrations, we’ll close down and set up a temporary information desk outside of the Cascade Ballroom, where we’ll hold a cheese and dessert reception followed by Justine Larbalestier’s keynote presentation. If you arrive later that evening, you can proceed directly to the Cascade Ballroom. Then, starting Friday morning, the official Information Desk will be in the foyer outside the Rocky Mountain Ballroom on the first floor of the conference center, where most of the programming will take place.

 

Support
If you can’t make it this year, please consider purchasing a supporting registration. This support helps us present Sirens this year and offer Sirens in future years, and you’ll receive a 2011 program book following the conference. Supporting registrations cost $50; $35 of each supporting registration is a donation to Sirens, and because our parent organization, Narrate Conferences, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, that amount is eligible for tax deduction in the United States. (The other $15 covers a program book for the donor and our mailing costs.)

 

Volunteer
If you’ll be attending Sirens, we could use a few extra hands! Please visit the Volunteers page and fill out the volunteer form. You’ll be invited to join a Google Group for occasional information e-mails, and scheduled to help at Sirens.

Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities. If you’re a presenter who feels confident in managing the room while presenting, you may volunteer to monitor the shift that overlaps your presentation. Most volunteer shifts are low-key, and nearly all of them are within waving distance of the Information Desk should you encounter a problem and need help.

 

Books and Breakfast
As a reminder, at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, you’re welcome to join us for informal discussions of the books listed below. You’ll need to bring your own breakfast (and the hotel will be pleased to make you a latte and a bagel in the Marketplace).
Friday: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves, In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer, and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Saturday: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

A frequently asked question: Do I have to have read one of these books to attend Books and Breakfast? The short answer is no; you’re welcome to join a group just to listen and to have some breakfast companions. We think, however, that Books and Breakfast is more enjoyable if you’ve read one of the books being discussed!

 

Afternoon Teas–and Autographs!
On Friday and Saturday of Sirens, we’ll have a break in the schedule for you to have a cup of tea and, we hope, interesting conversations with each other, with authors, and our local-to-Vail independent bookstore, The Bookworm of Edwards. It’s a great time to browse for new things to read and to get books signed by attending authors.

If you’re an attending author and would like to have your books on hand to be signed at Sirens, please let us know by e-mailing your author name and your books to (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll pass your information on to The Bookworm of Edwards.

 

Monster Mash
After a weekend of intense discussion, we’ll take a break on Saturday evening for the Monster Mash. Starting at 8 p.m. in the Cascade Foyer and Ballroom, we’ll spin some tunes, open the dance floor, and offer you the chance to participate in our annual murder mystery, which runs until the culprit is found. You’re welcome to come and participate in street clothes or your favorite monster wear. A cash bar will be available.

Do you have a request for the music playlist? Please send it to (help at sirensconference.org) and we’ll pass it on to the playlist organizer.

 

Sirens Review Squad
Forever (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 3)
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2011

Forever is Maggie Stiefvater’s final installment in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. As always, Stiefvater offers complex characters. Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole are the perfect quartet for epitomizing the teenage condition. They come from pasts of abuse and neglect, and all of them embody a different reaction to that treatment. Sam and Grace find comfort in each other, mutual respect, and the courage to face demons they chose to ignore in the past. Sam and Grace have a cool relationship, while Isabel and Cole meet with a dangerous passion. They don’t like to let people in, which makes them hard to love, but able to understand each other on levels no one else can. Unfortunately, the Isabel and Cole dynamic falls a bit short at the end when Stiefvater chooses to leave loose ends a little too loose in order for the story to feel complete.

Stiefvater tackles the subject of mental illness with Shelby, a girl with a history of torturing animals and the murder of a teenage girl (performed while Shelby is a wolf). The treatment of a girl with mental illness is not the most sensitive. Rather than Shelby being portrayed as character the audience should sympathize with, she is a clear villain in the story. It is really only through Sam’s occasional defense of her, and his own meditation on how he was manipulated by his father, that we see Shelby is a victim. That’s not to say this excuses her behavior–it doesn’t–but the audience shouldn’t be told to dislike Shelby just because she is ill.

The treatment of Shelby seems odd when the overarching theme of Forever is redemption. The adult and teenage characters navigate their ways through unresolved personal demons and selfishness to build authentic human connections and put aside anger in order to forgive one another. Isabel stands out as the character with the most development. She spent three books as an ice queen, but proves herself at the climax of the novel by putting herself in the line of fire for the wolves.

Relationships aren’t the only thing is this book, of course. Forever is a soft sci-fi novel. These werewolves transform into wolves in cold seasons when the temperature is low enough. That means months of being away from human contact without any way to explain yourself. It’s a point of contention throughout the entire series, and seeing the characters deal with it is endearing and fascinating. Cole’s drive to find a cure for lycanthropy is addictive to read. If you’re a werewolf fan, you’ll find the Wolves of Mercy falls a fresh approach to the myth.

The most noticeable problem with Forever is that nothing actually seems like it is going to last forever. In the final chapters, the relationships feel ephemeral and uncertain. I feel the fault lies in the title, and not the text. Stiefvater’s text does what it sets out to do–it rounds out plots and character arcs established in the first two books, portrays multi-faceted characters, and, most importantly I feel, is a love story about people who treat each other as equals. That’s a rare find. I recommend the series as a whole, but know that Forever doesn’t quite have the oomph to be a satisfying ending. —Jazz


Have questions? Please ask them here or write to (help at sirensconference.org).

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 10 (August 2011)

Registration and Shuttle Ticket Deadline
Registration for Sirens, including registration for the Sirens Shuttle and Sirens Supper, ends on September 7, and all payments are due no later than September 17, even if this means you have fewer than the usual 30 days to complete your payment. Any registrations or tickets that are still unpaid on September 17 will be canceled. We will only have a handful of first-come, first-served on-site registrations available–and as we can’t hold them for any particular potential attendee, we strongly recommend registering in advance!

 

Sirens Supper
Speaking of the Sirens Supper, our annual pre-conference staff dinner, there are only about six tickets remaining. If you’d like one, we suggest you get one before they’re gone! Tickets are $60, and this year, the menu is a new variation on Colorado cuisine. Selections include: vegetarian chili with tri-color tortilla strips, sour cream, pepper-jack cheese, and green onions; butter lettuce salad with chili-dusted jicama, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and creamy chipotle dressing; black bean salad with chopped Romaine lettuce, grilled corn, pickled jalapeno, radishes, and tomato-lime vinaigrette; lime-cilantro rice; a selection of make-your-own tacos, including achiote-braised pork, smoky jalapeno-orange chicken, refried beans, and sides; chile rellenos, with cheddar-jack cheese and toasted almond crema; lemon margarita cake; and cinnamon churros.

 

Programming and Conference Schedule
Accepted papers, presentations, panels, workshops, roundtable discussions, and afternoon classes for 2011 can be viewed on our accepted programming page. As every year, we’ll have a hard time choosing which presentations to attend, and that’s a testament to the dedication and thoughtfulness of the presenters. Here are just a handful of presentation titles and summaries; you can visit the website to read more.

Monstrous Women and Female Monsters in Anime and Manga (Panel)
Manga and anime feature a wide variety of monsters, from the morally ambiguous homunculi of Fullmetal Alchemist to the bizarre demon-weapons of Soul Eater to the charming creatures of Fruits Basket. Sometimes the monster is female, and sometimes the monster-slayer is–and, as in Claymore, sometimes the line between them blurs. This panel will discuss the monstrous female and the “monster girl” in anime and manga.

It’s Cool to Be Queer–Especially If You’re Not Human (Roundtable Discussion)
Vampires and other supernatural creatures are often portrayed with far more flexible sexual tastes than their human counterparts. Does this make such characters more exotic and exciting? Or does it simply emphasize their status as abominations? Join us as we examine the correlation between monstrosity and sexual fluidity, and analyze the feminist implications of the lesbian monster and her simultaneous role as both villain and romantic heroine.

The Birdcage: The Gender Politics of Publishing in L.E.L.’s “The Fairy of the Fountains” (Paper)
Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s “The Fairy of the Fountains” was first published incongruously in the fourth edition The Fisher’s Drawing-Room Scrap-Book. Previous editions of the annual had contained only short poems that echoed accompanying engravings and systematically reinforced hegemonic ideals of feminine beauty. “The Fairy of the Fountains,” however, is over six hundred lines long and echoes no image. The independent poem, sans image, acts as subversive rejection of the publishing restrictions imposed on nineteenth-century female poets.

Presenters were e-mailed a day and time notice on Monday; please save this e-mail for reference.

 

Books and Breakfast
At 8:00 a.m. on Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, you’re welcome to join us for informal discussions of the books listed below. You’ll need to bring your own breakfast (and the hotel will be pleased to make you a latte and a bagel in the Marketplace).

Friday: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves, In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, Nightshade by Andrea Cremer, and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Saturday: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

 

Vail Cascade Resort and Spa
Don’t forget to secure your room reservation at the Vail Cascade. (Tip: The Vail Cascade’s reservation system will quote you an incorrect resort fee initially, and discount it later in the process; if it isn’t adjusted when you’ve completed your reservation, please let us know at (help at sirensconference.org.) Room rates for 2011 are $129/night for 1-2 people ($154/night for 3-4). In case you have time to stay a day or two extra, that rate is good from October 3 until October 11.

All reservations must be made no later than September 15, 2011, and on that date, you must confirm your reservation by paying for one night of your stay. (If you use a credit card to make your reservation, the Vail Cascade will automatically charge your card at that time.) You may not cancel your reservation after September 15 without a penalty.

Need a roommate or three to help reduce your costs? Check out the hotel section of the Sirens message boards, where at least one other person is looking for a roommate (or three).

 

Con or Bust
Kate Nepveu of Con or Bust contacted us with some great news. We’d like to pass it on verbatim from her wall post on the Sirens Facebook since we couldn’t say it better:

With the kind permission of the Sirens organizers, I’d like to bring Con or Bust http://con-or-bust.livejournal.com/ to your attention, a fund that helps fans of color/non-white fans attend SFF cons and that is administered by the Carl Brandon Society, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

Unlike Sirens’ own assistance programs, Con or Bust assistance is not a scholarship, but is distributed with the sole goal of assisting as many fans of color/non-white fans as possible. It will be taking requests for assistance for October–December SFF cons, including Sirens, from August 15 through 25.

For information on requesting assistance, see http://con-or-bust.livejournal.com/87208.html; to donate money, transferred memberships, or other assistance, please see http://con-or-bust.livejournal.com/29389.html. Please spread the word!

 

Afternoon Teas–and Autographs!
On Friday and Saturday of Sirens, we’ll have a break in the schedule for you to have a cup of tea and, we hope, interesting conversations with each other, with authors, and our local-to-Vail independent bookstore, The Bookworm of Edwards. It’s a great time to browse for new things to read and to get books signed by attending authors.

If you’re an attending author and would like to have your books on hand to be signed at Sirens, please let us know by e-mailing your author name and your books to (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll pass your information on to The Bookworm of Edwards.

 

You’re Excited About…

Toothpick Hogwarts! — Amy

Not really a good exciting thing, but a story of a fantasy story banning, via Terri Windling. –Hallie

Starred review and new cover for DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE! –Anon #2

“…this is from the Library’s (where I work) blog: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Also, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller newest Liaden book, Ghost Ship, was just published. It answers some long-standing questions about Theo, her “complicated” problem, and the clan’s big move. Then, it poses more and ends on a cliffhanger. Dragon Ship is coming next!”–Kristen

The Gray Wolf Throne, the third book in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, is due out on August 30. –Sabrina

Patrick Ness talks about finishing a work by Siobhan Dowd here. –Simon

Thought I’d share this interview with Nnedi Okorafor! Others probably knew this, but it was news to me: Who Fears Death is going to be a movie! There’s a link to the released concept art in this interview — it looks so cool! 😀 –Katie

Have neat fantasy-related news to share? E-mail it to (hallie at sirensconference.org), and it will be passed on for inclusion in a future newsletter.

 

* * *
Liar

Liar
Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2009

Reviewing Liar is hard to do without giving things away. Justine Larbalestier introduces a narrator, who might be named Micah Wilkins, and Micah might be telling you the truth, but you can never be sure.

Liar begins with news of the murder of Micah’s classmate and after-hours boyfriend Zach, and spirals out from that point to become part mystery, part coming of age, and part science fiction. Micah’s voice is fluid, brash, and wholly that of a complicated teenage girl. Everyone at Micah’s school knows she is a liar, and when they find out Micah was dating Zach in secret (while he dated their classmate Sarah publicly) rumors that Micah was responsible for Zach’s death begin. Micah wants you to believe she is innocent of his death, though as you learn about her history, you find she is anything but an innocent. Whether you choose to believe her or not, Micah ultimately weaves a compelling story of how she became the way she is.

Larbalestier succeeds with adult characters where many YA authors fail. Micah’s parents play a large role in the story, and though their roles are at times sinister, they are rounder than many YA parents whose only purpose is to thwart their child’s love life or be a source of angst and nothing else. Liar’s entire cast is an example of how an ensemble can avoid feeling flat; Micah is the only POV character, but Larbalestier puts her in emotionally and physically dangerous situations that allow the supporting characters to shine in lights you won’t see coming.

Liar brings up the question of what is true and what is false, and if we can ever know the difference. How do you tell the truth from a lie when you’re unsure of the details? Liar warns that no one can ever know someone else completely. There is no such thing as “the truth.” How can there be when everyone has a different interpretation of people and events? Just as there is such a thing as “a lie,” Liar shows there is such a thing as “a truth.” Micah tells truths and lies, but at a certain point in the story I stopped caring what was which because, like with any fiction I read, the story and character development were more important than whether or not I was reading a true story. I’ve met many people whom were angered by Micah’s lies when she revealed what she lied about. While I felt fooled, I also respected a character who knew how to use her words to pull one over on me. Even if everything Micah says is a lie, Larbalestier’s writing has such verisimilitude that the events always feel plausible.

But plausibility doesn’t mean you won’t have moment of shock with your jaw on the floor. When I read the final words of Liar, electric guitars played in my head. It’s appropriate because Micah is definitely someone who live her life turned up to 11 with the dial broken off. Or so she seems. —Jazz

***
Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century

Justine Larbalestier, ed., Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (Middlebury, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2006)

“Feminism is as much a way of reading as it is a way of writing,” asserts Larbalestier (p. xvi) in a short introduction; Daughters of Earth thus encompasses many modes of feminism without being carefully representative of any preconceived spectrum. The volume consists of paired stories and analytical essays. The essayists have chosen the stories about which they’ve written, yielding a strong historical overview of SFnal short stories that nevertheless, as Larbalestier acknowledges, omits the prose fiction of Suzy McKee Charnas, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ. The list of contents, together with short explanations of choice by each essayist, is available at Larbalestier’s website. DoE‘s stories span 1927 to 2002, and about half, mostly the earlier ones, were new to me.

Were this review a formal, scholarly one (as the volume under consideration is technically a scholarly undertaking), at this point I would write one or two long, condensed sentences for each of the stories and critical essays, and finish by indicating my sense of the volume’s contribution to the field. It seems to me impossible to structure a responsible review of DoE in that way, however, for several reasons: the diversity of the stories chosen, the lack of diversity of the stories chosen, the difficulty of choosing amongst stories written to explore a wide range of possibilities. The contributors’ comments at Larbalestier’s site (linked above) give a more fleshed-out overview in that mode than a wordcount-capped review’s quick summary can manage, largely because DoE is not a survey. An attempt to sum up the volume would be dangerously superficial: we move from the earliest stories’ distant adventuring to depictions of household distension and, finally, to unusual small-scale journeys–but SF written by women during the twentieth century was not confined to these themes, after all.

DoE holds much that should appeal to a variety of readers. Its most compelling essays–those by L. Timmel Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, and Josh Lukin–include literary analysis yet move beyond it to much-needed contextualization. The collection is marred by insufficient production values, however. Though one Betty Waterhouse is thanked for copy-editing (p. xi), DoE is riddled with punctuation errors near inline quotations. On p. 178 this is compounded by a placeholder parenthetical citation never completed: “(Tiptree, 000)”. It is strange, too, that we still cannot spell Samuel R. Delany’s surname–it’s given as “Delaney” on p. 209, e.g., one line away from the correct form–despite the many years during which he has contributed to SF and to gender studies. Aside from distracting errors of this kind, I welcome DoE as a valuable contribution to literary and gender-conscious criticism of SF texts produced during the twentieth century. Hopefully, future volumes of SF texts-and-criticism will be able to reflect a stronger intersectional sense of the field. —thistleingrey

***
The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Early Classics of Science Fiction)The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction
Justine Larbalestier
Wesleyan University Press, 2002

The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction might not sound like it has anything to do with fantasy, but I’d argue that it does, whether that’s because of the public perception that fans of either science fiction or fantasy always like both genres (and all of the gray areas of overlap and between), because many of the same tensions and themes have been present in fantasy (if, perhaps, veiled, or used as a reason to classify as story as science fiction despite fantastic elements), or because the idea of a “battle of the sexes” is very much present in fantasy stories being published today (often in young adult fiction).

What was originally Justine Larbalestier’s PhD thesis grew into The Battle of the Sexes, which analyzes science fiction from the mid-1920s onward, particularly those stories that address gender, sexuality, and the (usually binary only) perceptions thereof, on levels ranging from themes shared among many stories to word-level analysis of who gets to act and who is acted upon.

I am not familiar with all of the stories examined in The Battle of the Sexes, but I’ve found that I haven’t needed to be; for those texts I do know, such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, I’ve been given additional perspective. Just a few of the fascinating ideas explored include the economy of (compulsory) heterosexuality in science fiction, women’s position in SF periodicals and fan activities, body and gender status, and women as token love interests in SF. There are many other topics for readers and writers to chew on as well. Appendices, notes, and an extensive bibliography make this a valuable volume for those interested in taking apart power imbalances related to gender, sex, and sexuality in science fiction–and, in my mind, in fantasy as well.

Magic or Madness

Magic or Madness
Justine Larbalestier
Razorbill, 2005

Justine Larbalestier has written several young adult fantasy books; Magic or Madness is the first in a trilogy about an Australian girl who struggles with magic as someone that may or may not be real, and as something that may or may harm her. Reason grows up in the bush with her mother, fearing her strange and dangerous grandmother; as a teenager, Reason is sent to live with her grandmother, and has to untangle whose stories are true, her mother’s or her grandmother’s. At the same time, unbelievable doors open, leading Reason across the world in pursuit of her identity, her power, and her reality. In this first book of the series, it’s easy to feel the keen longing of growing up while pulled in many different directions. While I’m awfully fond of Justine Larbalestier’s other young adult offerings, including the zany fun of How to Ditch Your Fairy, I really connect with Magic or Madness‘s Reason and her need to reconcile her identity within her family. —Hallie

* * *
For more about Justine Larbalestier and her writing, please visit her website and blog. Visit the Sirens reading list for links to more books by Sirens guests of honor, as well as other fantasy books by and about women.

 


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