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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 10 (September 2017)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS 2017 RELOCATION

By now, many of you already know that because of the Hotel Talisa’s renovation delays, this year’s conference is moving to the nearby Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Dates for Sirens Studio (October 24–25) and the conference (October 26–29) will remain the same, as will the programming schedule. Due to credit card security protocols, all attendees must make a new hotel reservation. For full information including reservation instructions, please visit our relocation page.

Thank you all so much, in advance, for your patience and assistance as we tackle all the tasks necessary to move Sirens. Our staff is working hard to ensure that Sirens will be the same brilliant conference for the same brilliant community that it would have been if we’d planned to hold it in the Park Hyatt all along. Thank you, too, for your understanding and support!

 

UPCOMING INSTRUCTION EMAILS

In the weeks leading up to Sirens, we’ll be sending important instruction emails to this year’s registered attendees regarding updated menus, meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio and Sirens, and finding the Sirens Supper. Presenters will also receive detailed instructions—so keep your eye on that inbox!

If you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and you have not yet provided us with your flight information, please write to us at (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll track your progress toward Sirens and make sure that you haven’t run into any delays along the way.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

In the final post in our 2017 inclusivity series, Justina Ireland explains the history behind the term “intersectionality” and what makes Sirens stand out from other conferences: “Attending Sirens is like having a good meal after years of living off of crumbs. Your identity will be respected and embraced, your opinion valued, and you will learn so much it will feel like a weekend of machine gun epiphanies, each one more amazing than the last.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

VOLUNTEERING

We always need great volunteers to help at Sirens! Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities, but most volunteer shifts are during programming and allow you to attend presentations. If you’re planning to stick to a room for the whole morning or afternoon, and don’t mind flagging down help if any problems arise, we, our presenters, and our community thank you immensely.

For more details, please visit our volunteer page. If you’re a returning volunteer, you don’t need to fill out the form—just follow the directions in the email sent through the Google Group.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

When the Moon Was Ours

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink debates whether books have to have plots in her review this month, of Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours, but found it “transcendent. McLemore took the best parts of fairy tales and the best of who we, as people, might be, and with her stunning craft, put it all on the page.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

Are you done, or almost done the 2017 Reading Challenge? Faye is… not as close as she would like. But she found Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1 “demanding and intellectually challenging… incredible, myth-making, myth-breaking stuff.” Read her full thoughts on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Mermaid's Daughter

Friend of Sirens Jae Young Kim read Ann Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter, a modern-day retelling of The Little Mermaid set in at a musical conservatory, whose main character is an opera student. “Love and music are central to this retelling…it’s clever and fitting.” Read her full review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Sirens Review Squad: The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Jae Young Kim on Ann Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter.

Ann Claycomb’s debut novel, The Mermaid’s Daughter, is a modern-day retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” mixed in with a healthy dose of opera and composition. Kathleen, an opera student at a conservatory, learns that the stabbing pain in her feet and the phantom sensation of her tongue being cut out are not signs of mental illness, but the consequences of a long and dark curse made generations ago. Kathleen is left with two choices—kill herself or kill her lover, Harry.

I love fairy tales. They’re old stories, some coming from oral traditions going as far back as a thousand years, changing over time with every retelling. Each omission, addition and embellishment reflects the teller’s perspective. So when we read a fairy tale retelling, we know, more or less, what the plot will be. It’s the little tweaks in the retelling that make the read worthwhile.

“The Little Mermaid” is one of my favorite fairy tales. Although I was a kid when the Disney animated version came out, I had read Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale before watching the movie, which could not be more different from each other. Disney’s version is a musical with cartoon animal sidekicks, an evil witch that turns into a giant monster, and a happy ending complete with a wedding between the mermaid and prince. Andersen’s tale is dark and bloody, with cut tongues and phantom knives stabbing the mermaid’s feet—and no happy ending. I love both of them, but I was disappointed with Disney’s: it felt too clean and safe, and was totally at odds with the Andersen’s original.

Claycomb does not go the cartoon route with The Mermaid’s Daughter. She does not shy away from the stabbing pains, the cutting of the tongue, and the gruesome trade made by the mermaid. Told in three acts through four viewpoints (Kathleen, Harry, Robin (Kathleen’s father), and the sea witches), the novel is bleak in tone and possibly even darker than Andersen’s fairy tale. Claycomb uses the first act to establish Kathleen’s life, beginning with Kathleen and Harry’s relationship, a great queer take on the usual heterosexual pairings in traditional fairy tales. She also focuses attention on the father-daughter relationship between Robin and Kathleen, and it’s clear that they love each other deeply. Since the novel has a modern-day setting, some time does have to be spent working through disbelief in magic and mermaids. I admit to being impatient that Kathleen didn’t realize the truth of her heritage earlier, but I did have the advantage of knowing she was a mermaid. The sea witches do provide a touch of fantasy as well as the stories of Kathleen’s ancestors, but it may feel dry for those wanting a book that jumps straight into the fantastical elements.

Kathleen also has the beautiful voice of Andersen’s mermaid, making music and opera an integral part of this mermaid’s story. I am a fan of opera and have sung in choirs all my life, so reading about the various singers and the roles and songs they perform was loads of fun. Robin is a famous composer and I loved reading about his composition process, even though I don’t know a thing about songwriting.

The build-up to the reveal of Kathleen’s mermaid secret is long but necessary. Love and music are central to this retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” Once Kathleen learns of her mermaid curse, third act flies by as Robin and Harry help Kathleen resolve it. I won’t spoil the ending but I think it’s clever and fitting for a fairy tale retelling. The book also includes a bonus short story connecting Hans Christian Andersen to Kathleen’s ancestor. It provides some context for final act and is a welcome addition.

I recommend Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter and look forward to reading her next book.

 


 
Jae Young Kim is a born-and-bred New Yorker and a lifelong fan of fairy tales, fantasy and science fiction. She is a non-profit attorney by day and writes when she can, not always by night. The only thing that keeps her up until dawn is a good book.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 9 (August 2017)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: VICTORIA SCHWAB

We’re interviewing each of our Sirens 2017 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits this year’s theme of women who work magic.

Victoria Schwab

This month, we interviewed Victoria Schwab about writing to conquer fear, how much she owes to J. K. Rowling, all manners of monsters, ambitious characters, and being ambitious herself: “When I sit down to construct my characters, I first ask myself what they fear, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to get it. Thus, their ambition is one of the pillars of their design. And one of my own pillars, too.”

Our feature on Victoria also includes a review of A Darker Shade of Magic by B R Sanders, as well as a list of books recommended by Victoria herself centered on badass ladies and their power.

 

SCHEDULE & PROGRAMMING SUPPORT

The conference schedule for 2017 is up! Click here to see how many of your favorite things we scheduled across from your other favorite things!

There’s still time to sponsor our programming sessions; the cost is $35 per presentation. Thank you again for all your support!

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

In our latest community post, Kate Larking shares with us her experience at Sirens versus the other literary conferences she attends: “One thing that unites us at Sirens is that we love developed, complex voices in speculative fiction. We embrace worlds that are different from our own and seek out the experiences of those who live within them.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

MENUS

Registered attendees, please check your inboxes for the full menus for this year’s conference. (You can also view our menus on our Conference and Sirens Supper pages.) If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org) by September 8—after which, we’ll assume you can eat from our standard menus.

 

REGISTRATION TRANSFERS

Although Sirens is officially sold out for 2017, we have several attendees looking to sell their registrations (and sometimes other Sirens tickets as well). If you’re looking to sell yours and you’d like a signal boost, please tweet at us (@sirens_con) or feel free to post information on our Facebook. Please keep an eye on our Twitter for any announcements.

 

9 SIRENS SHUTTLE TICKETS REMAINING

Sirens offers a $95 round-trip shuttle from Denver International Airport to Vail, significantly cheaper than commercial shuttles which can cost upwards of $200. We encourage you to buy your shuttle ticket soon, even if you don’t have flights yet—there are only 9 spots left before our shuttle is sold out!

 

HOTEL RESERVATIONS

We are close to filling our block at the Hotel Talisa for the third and final time. If you have not yet made your hotel reservation, please do so as soon as possible. We have only four rooms left on the main nights of Sirens, and on September 22, the hotel will release all remaining rooms. Any reservations made after that date will not receive the Sirens discount. For more instructions on how to make your reservation, please visit our Hotel page.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Practical Magic

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Alice Hoffman’s modern classic Practical Magic this month, which she admired for its focus on “a bunch of women…all doing the best they can. Sometimes solutions are magic, sometimes they’re determination, sometimes they’re taking your fears in hand and charging forward.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

An Inheritance of Ashes

This August, Faye read Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes for her Reading Challenge pick! She found it “a quiet book…full of surprises, and not shiny at all, in the best way possible.” Find out what that means by checking out her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

The Guns Above

Longtime Siren Casey Blair read Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above, which she loved for its complex world-building, amazing female characters, and masterful tone: “If you love wit and self-awareness in your fantasy to go with your airships, I highly recommend checking this one out.” Read her full review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links


Fabulous, Free Reads!

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Sirens Review Squad: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Guns Above

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Casey Blair on Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above.

The Guns Above, released just this spring, is the first in the Signal Airship series by Robyn Bennis. It’s a flintlock military fantasy following the adventures of a nation’s first female airship captain and all her associated challenges—including dealing with the dandy assigned to spy on her.

Captain Josette Dupre’s strength is sheer competence in her career as an airman, though she doesn’t relate to people well. The foppish Lord Bernat can read people exceedingly well, but otherwise does not understand the realities of the world at all. The contrast between their perceptions is fantastic.

Spoiler: the whole book is fantastic.

Actual spoiler: Although Josette and Bernie are both point-of-view characters, there is not a romance between them. Which I loved. I was initially worried the book would go down that path due to the chapters with alternating perspectives; what Bennis does instead is develop an unlikely friendship between the two of them—and it’s delightful. The characters are complicated, and so is how they relate to one another. Even if a romance develops later in the series, I’m glad Bennis didn’t tack that on, because the friendship strengthened the core of this book. And because of the two main characters’ respective strengths, when there is emotional labor to be done, it’s not assumed that the lead female character will do it. That’s something I really appreciated.

Bennis is also great at using point-of-view to highlight power imbalances and structural nonsense with humor that avoids punching down. The target of the joke is never the person being oppressed, unless the narrative is actively presenting that joke as A Problem rather than supporting it.

All that said, what drew me to The Guns Above in the first place was the promise of amazing women (yes, there’s more than one!) participating in explosive airship battles, which it absolutely delivers. The book also delves into strategy, on both small and large scales—in terms of the military battles as well as the political ones—and it’s clear Bennis knows what she’s talking about. While reading, I knew I was in good hands, able to relax and enjoy military airship shenanigans without nitpicking the world-building and questioning whether the physics held up. That’s a rare feeling for me, and that alone is enough to keep me seeking out Bennis’s next book.

But what makes The Guns Above truly special is the tone. Many books pay lip service to war being terrible, but either those effects never actually touch the characters or else the books wallow in their awfulness. Bennis strikes a balance in between: the awfulness is there. It’s present. It affects the characters. They acknowledge that, and still they keep moving. And there is still space for naps and meals, games and flirting and laughter, and worrying about money and family members while still getting the job done. This book struck me as one of the most fundamentally human approaches to war I’ve ever read.

I mentioned jokes earlier, but really, I was not at all expecting the high quantity of humor. It’s the constant thread that ties all the pieces together and makes everything work. Bennis is brilliant at shifting from wry humor to poignancy or absolutely scathing critique in the space of a line, and more often than not, she accomplishes all that simultaneously. Even when a situation is dire, and both the readers and characters recognize how dire, the book’s tone still trends towards fun rather than overwhelming.

I’m a sucker for daring women adventuring, but it’s really the heart of The Guns Above that pulled me in and has me eagerly anticipating the sequel, happily planned for publication next year. If you love wit and self-awareness in your fantasy to go with your airships, I highly recommend checking this one out.

 


 
Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens, and her weekly serial fantasy novel Tea Princess Chronicles is available online for free. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 5 (August 2016)

In this issue:

 

INVERNESS HOTEL
In 2016, Sirens’s hotel is again the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center, a Destination Hotels resort in south Denver. Everything Sirens will take place at the Inverness, from our pre-conference Sirens Studio and Sirens Supper to our programming, to our Ball of Enchantment, and to our Sunday breakfast and auction. For Sirens, the Inverness is where you want to be.

We strongly recommend making your reservations at the Inverness Hotel as soon as possible, both so that you have the best shot at reserving a room in our block and so, if you miss our block, you’ll have the best chance to get a room off the waitlist. If you are running into issues with availability making reservations online, please call the hotel at (303) 799-5800, and if you still have trouble making a reservation, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org). Check out our latest hotel post for pictures, amenities, discounted rate information, and tips on finding a roommate.

 

TICKETS
Tickets for the Sirens Shuttle and Sirens Studio are still available. The Sirens Shuttle offers discounted group transportation to and from Denver International Airport, for you and any friends or family who’d like a ride too. The Sirens Studio, features two days of workshop intensives (for readers, writers, and professionals), discussion, networking opportunities, and flexible time for you to use however you wish. If you’d like to join us for some—or all—of these, tickers can be added to a registration until registration closes on September 17. Tickets for these events are unlikely to be available at the door.

 

BRING A FRIEND!
If you’ve already registered for Sirens, check your inboxes! Last week, we sent a promotional code to all registered attendees that entitles the user to a $10 discount. It can be used only once, and your friend needs to register between now and September 17, 2016. We can’t wait to meet them!

 

SUPPORT SIRENS
At Sirens, we’re committed to keeping the cost of attendance as low as possible for all attendees. Because of that commitment, we run an unusual budget structure: the costs of presenting Sirens far exceed our registration revenue. Each year, exceptionally kind individuals, many of them on our staff, cover approximately half that gap through thousands of dollars in donations, necessary to make a space that discusses and celebrates the remarkable women of fantasy literature real.

And you can help. Please click the links for more information:

Narrate Conferences, Inc., the presenting organization behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Therefore, all donations to Sirens are eligible for tax deduction in accordance with U.S. law.

 

ATTENDING AUTHORS
If you are a published author attending Sirens, please let us know. We’d like to make sure we have your books available in our bookstore—and if you’d like, a place for you in our author signing time. Please send an email to Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

GUEST OF HONOR INTERVIEWS
We’re interviewing our Sirens 2016 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, to the role of women in fantasy literature as befits our 2016 focus on lovers and the role of love, intimacy, and sex. We can’t wait for you to meet them this October!

From our interview with Kiini Ibura Salaam on what makes a Kiini heroine: “I love people who live boldly. I think we all have parts of us that want to be free. Those are the characters that fascinate me most as well—characters who have impact, who have strong identities, who are pushing against the forces that would control them.”
 
 
 
 

From our interview with Renée Ahdieh on heroes and villains in her novels: “I tend to enjoy writing in spaces of moral grey. The world in which we live is really not as black and white as we’d like to believe it to be… Every choice—every experience—has risk and reward. And those risks/rewards are never as clear-cut as we wish they were.”

 
 
 

Our interview with our third 2016 Guest of Honor, Laurie J. Marks is coming next month, so stay tuned!

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST
Each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. For 2016, we’ve kicked Books and Breakfast off early—so all of you have time to choose a couple books and read! This year, we’ve also launched a program to get these books into your hands prior to Sirens.

For extra motivation, we’re giving away copies of each Books and Breakfast book—two each month! Congratulations to @strixbrevis on Twitter for winning July’s Giveaway. Check out how you can win Joplin’s Ghost and There Once Lived a Girl… in our post here.

 

AMY’s BOOK CLUB

Star-Touched Queen

Sirens co-founder Hallie Tibbetts subs for Amy this month in Amy’s Book Club! Check out her review of Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen, on the blog and Goodreads, which she found to be a “lyrical story that incorporates Hindu myth into a romantic, lush read.”

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

BoySnowBird

Read along with Faye as she completes the 2016 Sirens Reading Challenge! This month she read Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, which she loved for how it delved into the implications of racial passing if not for gender. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Sorcerer to the Crown

Kayla Shifrin discusses and critiques revolution, political symbols and YA heroines in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince. Check out her full review over on the blog.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Sirens Review Squad: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

TheSummerPrince

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Kayla Shifrin on Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince. 

The Teenager’s Closed Pyramid: A Review of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince

Any review of The Summer Prince would be incomplete without dwelling, in detail, on the grand city of Palmares Tres. A soaring glass pyramid, divided into tiers that re-enforce class divisions, crawling with technologies that alternately soothe and spy on its citizens – Palmares Tres is life breathed into glass, and the reader sees and hears every inch of the city as the protagonist June passes through it. Her friend and lover, the doomed Summer King Enki, can literally feel the heartbeat of their city in every cell of his nanotech-enhanced body. Still, there’s a flaw in the gorgeous world of Palmares Tres. It’s not the pyramid, it’s not the technology, and it’s not the stubborn, driven, occasionally bratty June – not exactly. The problem is that the world of The Summer Prince is a teenager’s world. I don’t mean “the story is centered on a teenager”; I mean that the narrative itself conforms to a teenager’s understanding, desire, and political perspective. There’s a subtle but important difference in YA fiction between writing a teenage protagonist and writing a teenage world.

June, like many YA heroines and all good teenagers, has figured out that her civilization is founded on complete and utter bullshit. She loves her city, but the entire pyramid is rife with lies and inequality. The adults who run it are various combinations of cruel, stupid, and cynical. Traditions and taboos are enforced out of hatred and fear – especially fear of young people, change, and anything associated with either. All societies devour their children, but Palmares Tres does so literally: the teenage Summer King is sacrificed every few years in order to maintain the dominance of a corrupt matriarchy. At the end of the story, the brilliant, transcendent Enki engineers his sacrifice so that June can be named the new Queen of Palmares Tres. Once enthroned, June rewrites the law so that no Summer King will ever have to die again.

Our new queen June proves herself to be obnoxious, judgmental, self-righteous, loving, devoted, passionate, and ambitious. She’s consumed by the desire to do the right thing but frequently makes tactical mistakes, mostly when she fails to understand other people’s feelings and motivations. In other words, she’s a perfectly realistic teenager. But teenagers, generally speaking, don’t make very good political leaders. Their diagnosis of social problems is absolutely correct – “this is all total bullshit” – but their prescribed treatment – “I should run the world” – is not a cure. An enlightened despot is still a despot. June may be sympathetic toward the people of the slums at the bottom of the pyramid, but it’s hard to imagine how a privileged eighteen-year girl could single-handedly fix an entrenched economic disaster zone. Even if she tried, it’s hard to imagine that the despised council of Aunties – who still hold significant political power in the city – wouldn’t just assassinate her as soon as they had the chance.

But The Summer Prince is content to end with June ascending the throne. Revolutions, as we discussed at the last Sirens conference, aren’t easy. They aren’t easy in real life and they shouldn’t be easy in fiction. Removing a bad leader from power and replacing him/her with a good one is a start, but it doesn’t remove the entrenched inequalities that fed the system in the first place. At best, it’s a symbolic move, and symbols can’t fix societies. They can only provide focus and direction.

June is tricked into becoming queen, but the decision to remain queen – and therefore become a symbol – is entirely her own. As “the best artist in Palmares Tres”, her canvas is frequently her own body, or images of herself. Her collaborative projects with Enki culminate in her queenship, where she’s fully transformed into the living embodiment of the movement toward youth and growth and political change. Enki has a very uneasy relationship with self-as-symbol, but June blithely accepts her new role. She grieves over her dead friend, of course, but never appears to doubt she’ll transcend their social order even after Enki was crushed beneath it.

Maybe The Summer Prince, for all its focus on inequality, isn’t really opposed to the concept. Maybe hierarchies are only a problem – from June’s point of view – if the wrong symbol sits on top. The mean and bitter old lady, instead of the totally reasonable teenage girl. Maybe June’s revolution fails because it’s not really meant to succeed.

But I wanted a revolution. I wanted June’s teenage perspective to open up, dilating into the larger, messier world of adulthood. I wanted her to realize the old queen was more than just a symbol of authoritarianism and stagnation – she was a person, with thoughts and intentions. I wanted June to notice that sometimes leaders have to compromise if they plan to keep their heads. More than anything, I wanted June to grow up.

Maturity doesn’t necessarily mean cynicism or amorality. Stories don’t always have to descend into grimdark, where leadership is always diabolical or stupid and getting worse. But a coming of age story – like a revolution – is a journey. It doesn’t end in the same small place where it began, but opens up into a strange, uncertain world. All the glorious imagery of Palmares Tres, the ambiguity of its perspectives – from the heights of the ballroom looking down through a glass floor into the mists of the slum, from the slum gazing up at the unreachable, glamorous palace above – all of this would have benefited and been enriched by a more complex, maturing, evolving ending.

 

Kayla Shifrin lives in Brooklyn with her husband, a very large pile of books, and two cats who are possibly demons. She writes sometimes and reads constantly, and would read in her sleep if that were a thing, and hopes someday that will be a thing.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 8, Issue 3 (June 2016)

In this issue:

 

PROGRAMMING
Thank you to everyone who proposed programming last month! The vetting board has been busy reviewing those proposals and determining which to select for presentation at Sirens in 2016. Decisions will be emailed to presenters by June 13, and presenters must be registered by July 9. Decisions on scholarships will be emailed at about the same time proposal decisions are sent. We can’t wait to share this year’s programming with you.

 

SCHOLARSHIPS! AND A DEADLINE!
Thanks to the generosity of the Sirens community, we were able to fund eight scholarships for 2016. Three have been provided to Con or Bust, which helps people of color attend events, to be allocated in accordance with their policies. Another three will be provided for exemplary programming proposals, as determined by our scholarship committee. The final two scholarships are designated as financial hardships scholarships, open to anyone. A short application, at https://www.sirensconference.org/attend/scholarships.php, is required, and due by June 15. Recipients will be chosen randomly.

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST
For 2016, we’re kicking off our Books and Breakfast program early! Each year, Sirens selects a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books on our theme—and invites attendees to bring their breakfast during the conference and have an informal conversation about those books. We’ll hope you’ll read a book or two and join us!

Friday, October 21

About a Girl by Sarah McCarry
Pantomime by Laura Lam
Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Saturday, October 22

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Project Unicorn, Vol. 1 by Sarah Diemer and Jennifer Diemer
Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

This year, for extra motivation, we’re giving copies of each Books and Breakfast book, two each month starting this month. Check out how you can win About a Girl and Song of Blood and Stone in our post here.

 

COMING SOON
Keep an eye on social media and your inbox! We’ve got a number of announcements coming your way as soon as final details are in place, and we know you’ll want to know who’s on the Sirens Studio faculty, which proposals are on the programming schedule, and most importantly, what’s for lunch. Some of these emails may request a response at your earliest convenience.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES
In mid-May, Sirens had to move our website to a new hosting provider. Our tech team did a great job, and we hope that the change means fewer connectivity issues. If you emailed us, or were expecting an email, in May and didn’t receive a notice or response, please check your bulk email (you might be finding messages from us in bulk, especially if you use Gmail, and we’re finding messages from you in our bulk folders too), and please don’t hesitate to contact us again if you think your message might have gone astray.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

TheGildaStories

What is Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink reading this month? Check out her review of Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories on the blog and on Goodreads, which was written in 1991 and “features a protagonist that is black, a lesbian, and a vampire. It depicts slavery. It addresses racism and homophobia. It is unrepentantly feminist.”

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Bone Gap

This month Faye Bi reads Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap in an effort to complete the 2016 Reading Challenge, which she found full of “stunning ruminations on the burden of beauty, consent and redemption.” Will you Read Along with her? Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Vermilion

Our Sirens Review Squad is back! Sharon K. Goetz puts in her two cents on Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion, which she praised for its premise and setting—“Steampunk-era San Francisco (“weird Western”) with an embrace of the city’s Chinese traditions.” Read the review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Testimonials:

 


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Sirens Review Squad: Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Vermilion

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Sharon K. Goetz on Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion

Long before I was asked to review a book in this venue, Molly Tanzer’s Vermilion caught my interest. Its cover uses neutral browns, greys, greens, and blues to depict a figure swinging a medical-style bag while crossing windy grassland. Like the almost garish brush-strokes of the title, the figure’s goggle lenses are picked out in bright cinnabar tones. The synopsis is good, too, since I don’t usually twig to cover art: “Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp Elouise ‘Lou’ Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that.” Steampunk-era San Francisco (“weird Western”) with an embrace of the city’s Chinese traditions? Yes, please.

The unitary Lou whom we see on the cover comes apart once the narrative begins. Lou, who dresses male both for work and for reasons that Lou doesn’t quite examine, has been contracted to exorcise the spirit of an unpleasant Army lieutenant’s dead wife. Naturally, the lieutenant has lied about how long ago his wife died and by which means; Lou’s pragmatic concern is to avoid being overpowered by the spirit. The exorcism’s physical and psychological depletion sets an agreeable tone of an alt-San Francisco with better texture than some, and with the intriguing inclusion of sentient bears and sea-lions. Lou’s mother, a herbalist, soon steps forward despite estrangement to ask Lou to investigate rumors of a ghostly railroad and the disappearance of young Chinese men: “I am inclined to believe something more earthly is stealing away the sons of the Middle Kingdom, but I do not know what it might be” (p. 45). Between the earthly and unearthly stands Lou, whose sympathy and righteousness are engaged as she learns what little may be learned about the case in San Francisco.

In Part Two, Lou carries her investigation by train to Cheyenne; she shares tobacco with a bear, then is picked up unexpectedly by a polite, ruthless person named Shai. Having the wit to offer guest-right to the bear is the last clever, thoughtful, or even selfishly savvy thing Lou does for most of Part Two. You will have readerly expectations different from mine, whoever you are, and you may enjoy how the narrative overtakes any given character’s subjectivity for the sake of crafting a whiz-bang adventure featuring treachery, a gender range wider than binary, and an immortal with unusual employees. Many other reviewers have (e.g., NPR)! To be clear, I love those things, too, and gender in particular is handled with a care and vibrancy that would be belied by any reviewer’s attempt to match specific characters with labels.

Two things detract somewhat from my enjoyment of Vermilion as a whole. For me, it’s all right that Lou’s various partial memberships—neither comfortably female nor male, neither white nor yellow, neither fully in the earthly world nor out of it—come with certain shorthand tags. A narrative needs to make a story of recognizable things or risk bogging down. Thus, the invocation of the common topos of the ungrateful daughter and misunderstanding mother is acceptable; that Lou manages the odd feat of passing as Chinese to every single non-Chinese character, including one who I’d thought would know better, yet also passing as white till choosing to out herself two ways at the brothel, is acceptable. (In real life, double-passing is rare to non-existent.) What I hadn’t expected is for Part One’s worldbuilding mode to come with careful characterization and Part Two’s action mode to flatten it, at times sacrificing character to plot. To put it another way, Lou of Part One is proactive; Lou of Part Two is much more reactive. Part One does its job too well, in a way!

The aspect of the book’s final chapters which cements my sense of flattened characters is extremely spoilery, so I can’t describe it in detail. It involves bears, and it involves them in a peculiarly typed way that evokes stereotypical descriptions of Native Americans. Since no Native characters appear here in what is otherwise a strongly built US Western setting, it would be encouraging to learn more about them in Lou’s world, to see more of the bears and sea-lions, and to journey again with Lou, should Tanzer decide to continue Lou’s adventures.

 

Sharon K. Goetz works for a print-and-digital project that creates critical editions. Too fond of textuality for her own good, she has also written software manuals and completed a PhD investigating medieval English chronicles amidst their manuscript contexts. As time permits, she reads widely and plays computer games.

 

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