News

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Financial Hardships

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through January, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for those with financial hardships. In past weeks, we discussed our scholarships for people of color and those submitting exemplary programming proposals; next week, we will address our hope that we’ll be able to provide scholarships for librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Attending Sirens requires money.

Everyone knows this. Whether or not you’ve attended Sirens, at some point you’ve probably saved your pennies to go somewhere.

And Sirens knows this.

We want Sirens to be available to as many people as possible—and a critical part of that is making the Sirens registration price as low as possible. So each year, we price the Sirens registrations below the cost of providing the food, program book, and other benefits that come with those registrations. And each year, to cover the difference, we ask for additional support from those who can afford to do more.

This budget structure works for us only because the Sirens community is magnificent. Each year, amazing individuals offer additional support—whether that’s an extra $5 or $500 or a handcrafted auction item—to help Sirens continue to suppress its registration prices so that more people can afford to attend.

But those donations also do something more. Because sometimes, a lower registration price isn’t enough.

Most of us have been there. Most of us have yearned for an opportunity that we wanted, and maybe we needed, but that we couldn’t afford to take. Most of us, at some point in time or another, have depended on the kindness of strangers.

So each year, the Sirens community raises funds to provide Sirens registrations and round-trip shuttle tickets to those with financial hardships. Assuming that we reach our fundraising goals, we will provide three of these scholarships in 2020. Everyone is welcome to apply; we ask only that you state that you have a financial hardship. We will select recipients randomly from among the applicants.

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $325—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymous), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, our Sirens team and our community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend Sirens and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are, of course, not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: s.e. smith

As we raise funds for our annual scholarships, Sirens is featuring posts by past scholarship winners. We hope that these posts will help potential donors see the impact of these scholarships and how they work to make Sirens’s conversations and community more vibrant, more diverse, and more inclusive. This week, our guest post is by s.e. smith, a past recipient of a Sirens scholarship for an exemplary programming proposal. Last week, Jennifer Shimada shared her thoughts about receiving a Sirens scholarship for a person of color. Later this month, we’ll feature posts by other past recipients. These perspectives were first published in
2017.

Proposing programming for Sirens is always a delight and a challenge.

It’s delightful because this is a convention where attendees are ready for—and expect—programming that transcends the ordinary. Sirens attendees aren’t looking for 101-level content and generic material that they could encounter anywhere, rewarmed versions of prior work, or presenters who talk down to them. They’re looking for innovative, thoughtful programming that is also provocative and demanding. Sirens is a conference that allows and encourages presenters to explore their limits.

That means thinking deeply about what we want to communicate when we propose programming, and assembling presenters who will do the topic justice, and perhaps bring a few surprises as well. For someone who relishes opportunities to dig more deeply and present people with fresh angles on even the most tired of subjects, this is very much my jam, both at the dais or in the audience. Whether I’m watching guests of honor in conversation with each other or attending a workshop, I know that I do so in a space that is created by attendees for each other, and that makes it a rich, intimate environment for exploring complex and sometimes fraught topics.

It’s a challenge for these reasons as well, of course, especially with such a slate of fantastic programming each year. The sight of people agonizing over program books as they compare notes with friends is ubiquitous at Sirens; I’ve walked past many a cluster of people complaining that there’s “too much” and it’s simply impossible to choose between two or three equally fascinating things happening at the same time—and I have done my fair share of complaining about this situation myself.

Being honored with a scholarship for submitting an exemplary programming proposal was, under these circumstances, a particularly meaningful recognition. Developing programming proposals that entice attendees is difficult enough; creating programming that speaks to the spirit of Sirens and stands out to both the programming vetting board and the scholarship board is no mean feat.

Being recognized with a scholarship feels like an expression of belonging and value to the Sirens community.

When I received the news that my panel proposal had been accepted for a scholarship, it came coincidentally at a fairly terrible personal time. On top of a series of expensive and dreadful things happening to me in quick succession, I was having a lot of self-doubt and internal questions about the future of my career and the kinds of contributions I could make to communities like Sirens. That email happened to land in my inbox on a particularly unpleasant day, and it was incredibly affirming. That’s a feeling everyone should have on a regular basis; receiving a scholarship wasn’t just about the money, but about the recognition.

But it is, bluntly, also about the money. Conferences, and Sirens is no exception, can be costly to attend, and an unfortunate result of this is that their attendance can be limited to those most able to afford it, which means missing out on many lovely people and tremendously valuable perspectives. It means missing out on professional development and building community with like-minded people: the people I see becoming fast friends in the buffet line, being thoughtful and accommodating to make sure others are included, asking meaningful questions at panels and paper presentations, and roping newbies into groups going to dinner or headed for the hot tub. My people.

The efforts to make Sirens inclusive and affordable are only possible through the generosity of donors and the volunteers who put in thousands of hours of work each year to make this conference happen. I’m honored to have received a programming scholarship, but I’m also honored to be a donor, to continue paying that feeling forward to others. The Sirens community comes from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and donating isn’t always possible for everyone, nor should anyone feel awkward or bad for not being able to make a donation. I believe, though, that the contributions of those of us who are able to do so are a powerful way to uplift Sirens—and make it, distinctively, a community, the only conference I make a priority to attend every year, the conference that has me refreshing the programming page on a regular basis for the year’s announcements, the conference I am always harping on friends to attend, not simply a few days I spend in a hotel every year. That Sirens feeling, from opening plenary to closing auction, is one I long to bottle up and distill against those dark nights of the soul.


s.e. smith is a Northern California–based writer and journalist who has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vice, Teen Vogue, Rewire, Esquire, The Guardian, Pacific Standard, and many other fine publications, in addition to several anthologies, including The Feminist Utopia Project and (Don’t) Call Me Crazy. smith’s work focuses on an intersectional social justice-based approach to exploring social issues, with a particular interest not just in diversity and representation, but in those acting as creators, editors, and gatekeepers of media and pop culture.


Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymous), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, our Sirens team and our community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend Sirens and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are, of course, not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

Gillian Chisom: Lost Girls and Open Doors: On Susan Pevensie and the Complex Legacy of the Portal Fantasy

At Sirens, attendees examine fantasy and other speculative literature through an intersectional feminist lens—and celebrate the remarkable work of women and nonbinary people in this space. And each year, Sirens attendees present dozens of hours of programming related to gender and fantasy literature. Those presenters include readers, authors, scholars, librarians, educators, and publishing professionals—and the range of perspectives they offer and topics they address are equally broad, from reader-driven literary analyses to academic research, classroom lesson plans to craft workshops.

This year, Sirens is offering an essay series to both showcase the brilliance of our community and give those considering attending a look at the sorts of topics, perspectives, and work that they are likely to encounter at Sirens. These essays may be adaptations from previous Sirens presentations, the foundation for future Sirens presentations, or something else altogether. We invite you to take a few moments to read these works—and perhaps engage with gender and fantasy literature in a way you haven’t before.

Today, we welcome an essay from Gillian Chisom!

Lost Girls and Open Doors:
On Susan Pevensie and the Complex Legacy of the Portal Fantasy

By Gillian Chisom

“Each of us has a private Austen,” Karen Joy Fowler wrote in her novel The Jane Austen Book Club. Fowler’s evocative opening line captures something of the complicated afterlife of an author whose books have become many things to many people: the idea of a private Austen suggests not only the ways in which any author’s stories can become a repository for the hopes and fears of a particular reader, but also the speculation about the woman herself that Austen’s own somewhat enigmatic personal life inspires in Fowler’s characters. “Private,” a word with deep roots in traditional ideas about femininity, evokes the related concept of (feminine) secrets: those that Austen herself kept, those that her characters keep or fail to, those that her modern readers keep from themselves and each other. At the same time, the private Austens that Fowler’s book club members cherish become sources both of individual strength and of connection with the group: while none of the characters in The Jane Austen Book Club read exactly the same Austen, they are still able to bring their private versions into the space that they share, with transformative results.

For those of us who grew up reading fantasy literature, especially those of us who grew up reading fantasy literature as girls, I would propose my own version: each of us has a private Susan Pevensie.

While by no means universal, the experience of reading C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia as a child or young adult and feeling distressed or even betrayed by Susan’s fate is one that many of us share. In The Last Battle, we are told that Susan has stopped believing in Narnia, dismissing it as a game she played with her siblings as children, and has shifted her interest to “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” While this brief explanation for Susan’s estrangement from Narnia allows for many possible interpretations, it seems clear enough that Susan falls from grace because she embraces the “wrong” version of adult femininity, though Lewis leaves us with few ideas of what the right version would look like. Given Lewis’s explicitly Christian worldview, one obvious interpretation is that Susan has lost her faith sometime between the end of Prince Caspian and the beginning of The Last Battle: in Narnia, in Aslan, perhaps even in her own memories. As a Christian child and young adult, that was certainly my own interpretation, though I found it difficult to believe that Susan actually forgot about Narnia: it made more sense to me that she simply convinced herself that it hadn’t been real as a means of self-protection. After all, not only had she and her siblings had to return to the real world after growing to adulthood in Narnia, but at the end of their second visit Aslan had told her that she would not be able to return, ever. It made sense to me that her grief might manifest in denial as an attempt to cope with the painful reality of losing an entire world, an entire life, that she and her siblings had claimed for themselves, even though I still believed that her response was misguided.

Other readers of Narnia have offered their own interpretations of Susan’s turn to “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” Most famously, J.K. Rowling commented on Susan’s fate in an interview from 2005: “She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a problem with that.” Rowling’s comment implies that Lewis’s problem was an inability to see sex and religious devotion as anything other than contradictory, which seems plausible enough. The “nylons and lipstick” line certainly implies sex or at least sexuality, which in Lewis’s world are indistinguishable from adult femininity itself. Indeed, Lewis’s depictions of female characters, taken as a whole, imply that he could only understand adult women as either highly sexualized (and therefore frivolous at best and evil at worst), or sexless and therefore safe; in other words, the virgin/ whore dichotomy is alive and well in Narnia.

However, Susan’s characterization elsewhere in the series implies that she was in danger of losing faith even before she discovered lipstick.

In Prince Caspian, Susan spends much of the book refusing to believe that Lucy has seen Aslan, and has to be reprimanded by the Lion-god himself for “listening to fears.” The 2008 film interprets Susan’s attitude as caution borne of the fear of being yanked back to England again, an interpretation that adds some of the emotional realism that the book lacks. In The Horse and His Boy, which takes place during the adult Pevensies’ reign in Narnia, another character describes Susan as “more like an ordinary grown-up lady” in contrast to Lucy, who goes to war with her brothers while Susan stays home. In Prince Caspian, likewise, we learn that Susan excels at archery but is too gentle to fully enjoy competition.

Susan’s characterization up until The Last Battle suggests that the version of her who grew up in Narnia embraced a more traditional, and therefore acceptable, version of femininity. However, Lewis’s descriptions of the adult Susan also imply that even this purer version of female adulthood is virtuous only up to a point. Susan’s distaste for battle, in particular, contrasts unfavorably with “the Valiant” Lucy’s willingness to go to war for Narnia (even though Lucy’s gender relegates her to a role on the sidelines, healing the wounded); after all, no one wants to be “an ordinary grown-up lady.” Perhaps recognizing this, the 2008 film reinterpreted Susan as a warrior queen, a depiction that in one sense gave her more power, but in another simply reinforced Lewis’s negative attitude towards the idea of a woman choosing not to participate in war.

Susan’s ambivalence towards Narnia upon the Pevensies’ return in Prince Caspian also highlights a larger problem with traditional portal fantasy as a genre: its inability to grapple with the trauma that would likely result to the child protagonists of these stories from the experience of moving between worlds. However, a new generation of fantasy novelists has taken up these problems in their own versions of the portal fantasy, which come to the trope with an awareness of its inherent problems.

Laura Weymouth’s The Light Between Worlds responds directly to Lewis’s work, telling the story of two sisters, Evelyn and Philippa, who travelled from London to a magical land called The Woodlands as children during the Blitz and spent several years there. Evelyn, the younger sister, has sunk into an increasingly deep depression since their return; the book explores in painful detail how the loss of a magical world might affect the mental health of a child who had come to feel at home there. At the beginning of the book, the sisters have had a falling out, and Philippa is in college in the U.S., attempting to build a separate life for herself. When Evelyn disappears, Philippa returns to England to look for her, a task that forces her to reckon with their shared past.

Philippa eventually discovers that Evelyn has indeed found a door back to the Woodlands; in one sense, the story has a happy ending, as Evelyn is able to return to the world where she feels she belongs. However, Evelyn’s return comes at the price of permanent separation from her sister and the rest of their family. While Philippa accepts this separation as the only way forward for both of them, she also recognizes the loss: “My sister stands before me now, rooted in the soil of another world, and she’s always been more than I thought. She’s always been Evelyn of the Woodlands, whose heart called its way home. But I am plain Philippa Hapwell, and my heart belongs to no particular country. It belongs instead to all the people I’ve loved. A good part of it lies here and if I leave it behind, I will never be whole again. I’d be even less, though, if I stayed. More of me rests in the world to which I was born, and it’s time for me, too, to find my way home.” (P. 349)

Weymouth’s book explores the emotional and mental cost of having lived in two worlds, both for the sister who leaves for the magical land and for the sister who stays. The Light Between Worlds makes explicit what was only ever implicit in The Chronicles of Narnia: that choosing one world over another will always come with loss, and that that loss is even more painful when one does not have a choice. Weymouth’s counterpart to Aslan, a stag named Cervus, tells the Hapwell siblings that he will not call them back to the Woodlands, but at the end of the novel reveals that Evelyn has always had the choice to return if she chose, while Evelyn herself confesses that she only waited so long in the hope that she could adjust to being back for her family’s sake (p. 347).

In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan tells the Pevensie siblings that “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a queen or king,” but the promise seems hollow when all of the Pevensies are eventually barred from returning; one can understand why Susan might have wanted to forget Narnia.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands also interrogates the portal fantasy, through the story of a thirteen-year-old named Elliot who’s recruited by a school on the other side of a wall in rural England that separates our world from the magical Borderlands. Brennan and Elliot are both self-aware about the tropes they’re interrogating, with poignant and often hilarious results. Elliot, for instance, is an avowed pacifist who works hard to propose diplomatic solutions to conflicts with various magical creatures, often meeting resistance from the militaristic Borderlands leaders. Brennan’s implied critique of the centrality of war to much of traditional fantasy literature, especially war fought by protagonists who are often children or teens, is incisive and refreshing. In Other Lands also grapples with the theme of choosing one world over the other, and the attendant loss: throughout the book, Elliot wrestles with the decision of whether to return to the Borderlands for good. When he does decide to go back for the last time, he confronts his neglectful father: “Do you know something else? If you’d loved me, I would have stayed,” said Elliot. “If you loved me, I would never have gone.” (P. 340)

Elliot’s confrontation with his father lays bare what traditional portal fantasies like Lewis’s often only hint at: that children would not need to go to magical worlds unless they were missing something in their own. Elliot’s choice to return to the Borderlands does not come without pain, but his only other option is stay in a place where he is unloved and unwanted. The portal world, while often becoming a source of loss in itself, can also function as compensation for children who have already experienced loss in their own world. While masquerading as simple escapism, portal fantasies have always at their core been stories about lost or neglected children looking for a way home. Weymouth and Brennan both highlight this theme by writing protagonists who are older and more self-aware then those of traditional portal fantasies, who understand the weight of their choices and the unfairness of having to make them in the first place.

In the end, Susan Pevensie does not only lose Narnia: in the final chapter of The Last Battle, we discover that the three other Pevensie siblings and their parents have all died in a train crash, and are now in the better, truer version of Narnia, Aslan’s country. What remains unspoken but implied at the end of the book is that Susan remains alive somewhere in the mundane world, alone, as a direct consequence of her choice not to accompany her siblings on their final mission.

My Susan Pevensie is a girl who lost her faith in Aslan but gained faith in herself, faith that allowed her to choose her own survival despite the loss that accompanied that choice.

As I have faced my own painful choices, most poignantly the choice to let go of my Christian identity in pursuit of healing and wholeness, Susan’s story has felt like the perfect metaphor for my own losses. As a child and young adult, I blamed Susan for her loss of faith; now, I blame C.S. Lewis for his failure to imagine a world where she never had to choose.

If the bittersweet heart of the portal fantasy is the loss that comes with choosing between worlds, then I find myself wondering: is it possible for us to imagine a world where our protagonists do not have to choose? In one sense, growing up inevitably involves making choices that come with loss; however, the choices that characters like Susan Pevensie must make in traditional portal fantasies often feel contrived, the product of a rigged system in which an all-powerful authority makes the rules. While books like The Light Between Worlds and In Other Lands acknowledge the pain and trauma of those losses, they still begin from the premise that it cannot be possible to live in both worlds. What would it look like, to tell a story where a girl like Susan Pevensie could move between worlds without sacrificing her full selfhood? What would it mean for us to imagine a version of the portal fantasy where the protagonists are able to find their way home and also remain whole? As portal fantasy continues to evolve, I hope that the next generation of writers will continue to find transformative answers to these questions.

 


Gillian Chisom

Gillian Chisom is a recovering academic and writer. A lifelong fantasy reader, over the last several years she has wrestled with the genre’s flaws and possibilities and become committed to writing fantastical stories which center queer voices. She was a Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult and Genre Fiction in 2013, and her work has appeared in The Toast, Global Comment, and Specs Journal. In her spare time, she likes to make her own clothes.

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Exemplary Programming Proposals

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations and community. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through January, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals. Last week, we discussed our scholarships for people of color; future weeks will address scholarships for those with financial hardships, and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens’s programming might be different than anything you’ve seen before.

While many conferences select which topics are worthy of presentation, and which individuals are worthy of presenting those topics, Sirens takes a wholly different approach. We invite everyone attending Sirens to propose programming.

Let us say that again: We invite everyone attending Sirens—regardless of vocation, regardless of age, regardless of past Sirens attendance—to propose programming.

Each year, dozens of individuals—from readers to scholars to librarians to authors—propose the lectures, papers, panels, workshops, roundtables, and afternoon classes that become the programming at Sirens. And each year, an independent vetting board, a diverse group of tremendous individuals who know and love Sirens, review those proposals for thoughtfulness and relevance, and then select which to include on that year’s programming schedule.

This process can be intimidating, especially for those new to Sirens: It takes a lot of courage to put your thoughts and analysis out there, first to a review board and then at Sirens itself.

But each year, dozens of individuals, some of them Sirens veterans and some of them first-time attendees, screw their courage to the proverbial sticking place and propose programming—and, in doing so, make Sirens smarter, more thoughtful, and just plain better.

And so, each year, we award scholarships to those who submit exemplary programming proposals. A scholarship review committee examines the accepted proposals of those who ask to be considered and selects three proposals to receive a scholarship. Each scholarship includes both a registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. There’s no separate application; presenters can opt in for consideration during the programming proposal submissions process later this year.

While a thousand conversations happen at Sirens every year, the true vanguard of those discussions are the brave and brilliant individuals who share their wisdom and expertise as part of our programming.

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $325—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

 

Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymous), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, our Sirens team and our community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend Sirens and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are, of course, not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth

I was fully prepared to dislike Gideon the Ninth.

Because everyone loved Gideon the Ninth.

It’s not so much that I’m contrarian by nature—though I’m sure the patriarchy thinks I am—but that I have a list of speculative works as long as my arm that everyone loved and I really did not. Books that I quit at page 50. Books that I threw across the room at page 300. Books that I put down and forgot to ever pick up again. Books that I finished under duress. Books that I finished so that, in all seriousness, I could hate them properly. I will not name names.

But everyone loved these books.

I did not.

Everyone loved Gideon the Ninth.

I was fully prepared to not.

But will wonders never cease: I, too, loved Gideon the Ninth.


All the books I love have two things in common, regardless of genre or category or author or publication date: an unflinching defiance and a blazing ambition. These books that I love are rarely—but only rarely—perfect. Instead, these books often trip over the sheer force of their defiance or their ambition. And that is why I love them: I am far more interested in cataclysmic, rage-filled defiance and formidable, shoot-for-the-moon ambition than I am in perfection.

Which is to say that, if you’re trying to understand what I loved about Gideon the Ninth, you have to understand that I love White Is for Witching more than Gingerbread, and Who Fears Death more than Lagoon, and American Hippo more than Magic for Liars, and The Stars Are Legion even though I like neither space opera nor body horror, and Food of the Gods despite that it’s gore-strewn chaos, and Conservation of Shadows more than just about anything. My literary love is defiance and ambition, so much so that a messy book born of too much of either is far, far preferable to a perfect book born of less.

And while Gideon the Ninth is a number of things—including, yes, a story of lesbian necromancers in space—its heart is author Tamsyn Muir’s unrelenting defiance and ambition.


Somewhere in space, in some year, there are nine houses, eight beholden to the First, all adept at necromancy, all weird as fuck in a raw, all-id sort of way that reads as both endlessly fascinating and wholly authentic. People are weird, man, and consistent with basically everything ever, royalty-equivalent necromancers are weirder than most.

Gideon Nav is a foot-soldier in the Ninth House who really, really, really wants to leave the Ninth House’s planet and go far, far away and fight in a war she doesn’t really understand and maybe someday not be indentured to anyone, let alone to super-creepy Harrowhark the Ninth, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Gideon and Harrow loathe each other, for reasons that it takes a whole book to explain, and as the book opens, Gideon is attempting to escape and Harrow wants her to stay and do her a favor. A challenge is issued and accepted. Neither Gideon nor Harrow plays fair—Gideon is tremendous with a two-handed sword, Harrow is perhaps best in the galaxy at necromancy, neither has many qualms or morals—but Harrow offered the rules, and though she and Gideon are relatively evenly matched, she tricks Gideon into acting as her cavalier primary for some weird-ass competition that the Emperor is throwing for the other eight Houses.

Shades of The Hunger Games abound, but Gideon the Ninth turns on distrust, cleverness, and gothic-style mystery more than desperation-fed, almost accidental revolution. Eight necromancers and their cavaliers primary—presumptively, each House’s intelligence and strength—are abandoned in an unknown building full of dangerous riddles and a single rule. Each necromancer is unfailingly ambitious, though each plays the game quite differently. Each cavalier primary is seemingly unfailingly loyal, except Gideon, who would frankly rather stab Harrow in the back with her teensy-weensy cavalier sword than help her solve riddles.

The heart of Gideon the Ninth is not lesbians nor necromancers nor space, but the fully realized relationship between necromancer and cavalier primary—a bond presumed closer than love, closer than blood—that Muir creates not once, but eight unique times. The generations of tradition that underlie these relationships, and the weight afforded to any breach of those protocols, are tangible. Much is made of the fact that Gideon was not trained as the Ninth House’s cavalier primary, but rather takes over from some wholly inept dude and learns a new fighting style. Much is made of the fact that Gideon rejects more traditional secondary weapons in favor of the close-range knuckle knife. More is made of the fact that, in Gideon’s first challenge as the Ninth House’s cavalier primary, her opponent disarms her and she retaliates by punching him. He goes down, gasping for breath, and a shocked spectator notes that he won the challenge, but Gideon won the battle, specifically by not following the rules.

And in that sort of exchange—which happens over and over and over again as Gideon or Harrow or both defy the rules, defy expectations, pursue their own desires, and ultimately reshape their own necromancer-cavalier primary relationship in a way that involves a leviathan sacrifice, but continues to subvert generations of history—demonstrates both Muir’s defiance and her ambition. Gideon the Ninth is not a revolution book (though the Locked Tomb series may well be), and yet it is: Because everything that Gideon or Harrow does, everything that Gideon or Harrow says, everything that Gideon or Harrow is—Harrow’s refusal to care about others, Gideon’s hilarious-yet-fully-felt insults, Gideon’s biceps, Harrow’s blood magic, Gideon’s sunglasses, Harrow’s face paint—is a defiant, ambitious revolution for the reader.

Rude, unlikeable, self-absorbed, brilliant, powerful women always are.


If you’re reading closely, you’ll be wondering right about now if Gideon the Ninth is a messy sort of book. It is. The world-building isn’t quite fully realized: I think it is in Muir’s head, but it didn’t quite make it on the page. The plot, particularly plot points surrounding the geography of the giant, gothic building they inhabit, is sometimes muddled. Going on twenty important characters, even if fully individual and fascinating, are too many people to keep track of, so you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when Muir starts killing them off. The necromancy magic is incomprehensible, though what matters for following the story is logic, not any real understanding of how the necromancers do what they do. It is, indeed, messy.

But if, like me, you’re less concerned with tidiness than you are with female characters who are defiantly unfettered by the rules that are meant to bind them, and Muir’s tremendous ambition in putting that on a page, you’ll love Gideon the Ninth, too.


Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and ten years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Jennifer Shimada

As we raise funds for our annual scholarships, Sirens is featuring posts by past scholarship winners. We hope that these posts will help potential donors see the impact of these scholarships and how they work to make Sirens’s conversations and community more vibrant, more diverse, and more inclusive. This week, our guest post is by Jennifer Shimada, a past recipient of a Sirens scholarship for people of color. Later this month, we’ll feature posts by other past recipients. These perspectives were first published in 2017.

Sirens was designed for me. I knew that as soon as I heard about it in its very first year. A small conference centered specifically on women, on fantasy, and on literature, with a mixture of scholarly discussion and enthusiastic, nerdy fun? Nothing had ever sounded so much like me in my life. Plus, the three guests of honor that year–Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Sherwood Smith–had all been incredibly formative for me as a reader, and I couldn’t believe I might have a chance to meet them in person. But I was a broke college student then, and while my parents agreed to gift me the flight from their frequent flyer credits, I couldn’t figure out how to get the time off class or the rest of the money I needed for the hotel and registration.

While I didn’t end up attending Sirens in 2009, I eagerly read recaps from attendees to live vicariously through their experiences. I continued to keep an eye on Sirens over the next six years, wishing I could attend and discuss themes like faeries or tales retold and meet other favorite authors who came as guests of honor or presenters. But year after year, money and time and life kept me from being able to go.

In 2015, I found out that the theme for Sirens was rebels and revolutionaries and started champing at the bit to attend. By this time, I had a full-time job with available vacation time, and could technically afford to go. But I’d never been to a literary conference or fan convention before, and I wouldn’t know anyone there. As a shy introvert who budgets carefully, I wasn’t sure if I could make the leap to spend that much money on something new and therefore scary.

Then I found out that for the first time, the Sirens community had donated money towards three scholarships specifically for people of color. And once again, it felt like Sirens was designed for me.

Only this time, it wasn’t just that Sirens was designed to include me, a woman who reads fantasy literature, but also that it was designed to include me, a woman of color who reads fantasy literature.

I applied for the scholarship and received it, I earned enough airline credit for a free flight, I found a stranger online who was willing to be my roommate…and I ran out of excuses not to attend.

Once I got to Sirens, I found that the community was, just as the scholarship indicated, eager to welcome and listen to a woman of color who wasn’t even a scholar or author or publishing professional. The conversations, both formal and informal, discussed not only white, able-bodied, cishet women, but women of many intersecting, often marginalized identities. Though no community is perfectly inclusive and equitable, the people who attend Sirens are generally willing to listen, to learn, and to work to change both themselves and Sirens for the better.

I live in a world that often tells women of color like me that we don’t belong, that our voices don’t matter. But the Sirens community reached out through that scholarship to tell me that they thought my voice was important. And now, as a proud member of the Sirens community myself, I’m asking my fellow Sirens: please donate towards Sirens scholarships. By giving even just a few dollars, we tell people of color, presenters, those with financial hardships, and professionals that we see them, that their voices matter, and that we want them to join our community. Sirens is designed for them, too.


Jennifer Shimada is a fantasy reader, tea drinker, world traveler, and academic librarian. She is originally from California, earned a BA in history in Texas, taught 5th grade in Oklahoma, and currently works at a graduate school of education in New York. Along the way, Jennifer earned a MLIS from San Jose State University.


 

Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymous), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, our Sirens team and our community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend Sirens and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are, of course, not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: People of Color

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations and community. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through January, but this week, we wanted to highlight the importance of our scholarships for people of color. Future weeks will address scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. We specifically designed Sirens to be an interdisciplinary conference where a reader’s interpretation of a book is just as important as an author’s intent in writing it, where a scholar can learn from a librarian, and where a teacher and a bookseller can collaborate on a course curriculum for learning through fantasy literature.

But also critical to those conversations are diversity and inclusiveness. Are people of all genders, all
gender expressions, all sexualities, all races, all religions, all national origins, all abilities, all ages, all body types, and a number of other identities welcome not only at Sirens, but in those conversations? Are they able to both speak and be heard? Are their voices critical to not only their own Sirens experience, but to everyone’s Sirens experience?

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

Over our decade of presenting Sirens, we have learned that, while some voices are readily welcomed and readily heard, other voices—such as those of people of color—are too often lost in the crowd or are silenced entirely.

Too often, conferences—even in our speculative spaces where authors can and do write impossible worlds full of magic and wonder—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, the voices at these conferences—guests of honor, presenters, conference staff, volunteers—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, conferences make a broad commitment to diversity, but don’t follow through to make that commitment real. It can be exceptionally difficult for people of color to enter, participate, and be heard in those spaces, let alone play a vital and visible role in them.

One actionable way for our community to increase inclusiveness at Sirens is to provide scholarships to help people of color attend. This year, we are seeking funds to provide three people of color with both a Sirens registration and a round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket. Once funded, we will accept applications for these scholarships beginning in February. To apply, you need only be a person of color who wishes to attend Sirens—and if you are, we hope that you’ll apply! We will select recipients randomly from among the applicants.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. But the value of those conversations—and the value of the community born of those conversations—is built on the diversity of voices that participate in those conversations.

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $325—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

 

Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymous), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, our Sirens team and our community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend Sirens and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are, of course, not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

New Fantasy Books: November through January

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of November 2019 through January 2020 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!
 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. As part of that mission, we specifically craft Sirens to include and amplify the many brilliant voices of our attendees. Our greatest hope is that these voices will represent both different perspectives—reader, scholar, educator, librarian, author—and individuals of different genders, sexualities, races, religions, and abilities.

Each year, we invite the Sirens community to help make attendance possible for a number of individuals. As in past years, these scholarships will support people of color; those submitting exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals. These perspectives are critical to our conversations, and these individuals sometimes find it difficult to attend without additional support.

We are asking for your help! We want to provide twelve Sirens scholarships this year. To do so, we need to raise $3,900. That amount will provide a Sirens registration and a round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket to each recipient.

We know that, just like in previous years, our community can make Sirens possible for others.

 

Donate Now

You can donate any amount to these scholarships, and if you choose to donate—no matter the amount—we will feature you, under your chosen name (or anonymously), on our website and in our program book. More importantly, the Sirens team and community will be grateful for your commitment both to those who might not otherwise be able to attend, and to the inclusiveness of our community.

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Amount (in $USD):
Individual or Organization Name for Donation Credit:
If you leave this field blank, we will credit you as “Anonymous.”

Thank you for your support!

What kinds of scholarships will be available?

Scholarships will cover both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket for each recipient. We’re hoping to receive enough funds to cover the following proposed scholarships, designed to serve a multitude of potential attendees. But in the event that we don’t, we will fund scholarships in the following order:

  • People of Color
    People of color live in a world that often tells them that they don’t belong or that their voices don’t matter, particularly in speculative fiction. One way to support including people of color at Sirens and amplifying their voices is to provide scholarships specifically for them. Sirens hopes to provide three Sirens registrations and round-trip Sirens Shuttle tickets in order to help people of color attend Sirens. These scholarships will be awarded to applicants by random selection.

  • Programming Presenters
    Every voice at Sirens is vital to the vibrancy, diversity, and inclusiveness of our conversations, and we always appreciate the skill, talent, and expertise that our accepted programming presenters have volunteered to share with our community. This year, Sirens hopes to award three people who submit exemplary programming proposals with a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket. (Selected presentations with co-presenters who have opted in for scholarship eligibility may share the funds across selected presenters.) These are merit-based scholarships, based on presentation summaries and abstracts only, and will be selected by a committee. Please note that if you’ve received a programming scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year (though your co-presenters may be).

  • Financial Hardship
    People sometimes say that money makes the world go ’round; we’d like to counter with the idea that generosity makes the world go ’round. Not all individuals who wish to attend Sirens can afford to do so, and you can help make Sirens a possibility for those who can’t. Sirens would like to award three recipients with a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket, in the hopes that this will enable them to attend Sirens in the fall. These scholarships will be awarded to qualified applicants by random selection. Please note that if you’ve received a financial hardship scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year.

  • Professionals
    Librarians, educators, and publishing professionals provide exceptional services to book-loving communities—and are, especially at the beginning of their careers or when working for underserved populations, often paid poorly for their efforts. Therefore, we would like to raise funds to provide a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket to one librarian, one educator, and one publishing professional (including agents and booksellers). Their work—and their voices—are critically important to our conversations. These scholarships will be awarded to qualified applicants by random selection. Please note that if you’ve received a professionals scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year.

 

Why doesn’t Sirens fund the scholarships?

Sirens endeavors to keep the cost of Sirens as low as possible for everyone. Each year, we raise thousands of dollars in donations, auction proceeds, and other fundraising to cover the cost of presenting Sirens itself—costs that include not only overhead items like audiovisual equipment and insurance, but also a portion of individual attendee costs like food and registration t-shirts.

We could simply raise our registration prices. But instead, we suppress our registration prices—and then ask those who are able to pay more to donate, to purchase auction items, and to fund scholarships. We hope that, if you can, you’ll help us raise these funds!

 

Tax Treatment

As Sirens operates under the auspices of Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, all donations are eligible for tax deduction within the United States. Sirens staff are not eligible for scholarships. Any leftover or unclaimed funds will be considered donations to Sirens. If you have any questions or concerns, please write Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

Sabrina

By Amy Tenbrink

Sabrina Chin
Sabrina Chin, January 17, 1981 – October 25, 2019

Grief is a slippery emotion, full of overwhelming despair and false hope and occasional, fleeting comfort. It is finding, a hundred times an hour, another devastating low, as I remember one more thing that she and I will never do again. It is thinking that she’s still there, just out of reach, if only I can listen hard enough or look quickly enough. It is knowing how happy she was, as we opened our eleventh year of Sirens, just before she passed quietly in her sleep, surrounded by the community built of her warmth and care.

Sabrina Chin—or often Sabs, if you knew her well—was many, many things to me: A fifteen-year friend. A never-forgotten birthday wish. Shared pizza and sushi and dumplings. Sopping-wet, mildew-smelling Splash Mountain rides. A tentative hike down the too-steep Wall Street trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. A Thanksgiving dinner companion. Space-heater hugs. The best of Hufflepuffs to balance my ambition-first Slytherin. A never-wavering Winnie-the-Pooh to my frenetic Piglet. A rare joy.

And while she was all of that and more to me, I also want to remember her for everyone who basked in her Sirens work every year. Because Sabs has always been the primary caretaker of this community that means so much to all of us.

Sirens is a conference that prides itself on warmth and welcome, whether you’re a ten-year veteran or a nervous first-time attendee—and at Sirens, that warmth and welcome was Sabs. She was a text after you registered, telling you how glad she was that you were able to make it that year. The reassuring reply behind the customer service email address. An understanding exception when you missed a deadline, but wanted to make sure there was space for you at the conference. The first hug as you got off the bus. A smile at the information desk. A flurry of details that almost magically materialized into never forgetting anything about anyone. The person always making sure that everyone was included and everyone was comfortable and everyone had everything they needed to be happy.

Impossibly, even her death was an act of caretaking: By passing at Sirens, she gave us all the gift of being together so we could mourn as a community. The meals she ordered for the staff kept appearing, even as days passed—and even though the cartons with her name on them always brought on a new flood of tears. Her spreadsheets kept Sirens on track when we needed to make on-the-fly changes. Even the murder mystery clues were already out, saving us one more worry. Without her thoughtfulness and organization—her caretaking—I don’t know how Sirens would have persevered this year. Certainly, without them, we wouldn’t have had the space necessary to mourn our friend. The idea that her care made mourning her passing somehow kinder and gentler is so very, very Sabs.

Everyone in the Sirens community will miss her. Some of you were her friends, for a decade or more. Some of you never spoke to her, but felt her presence in every caring thing that the Sirens community does. If you’ve ever felt welcomed at Sirens—and I very much hope that you have—that welcome was Sabs. If you ever felt included or comforted or seen at Sirens, that was Sabs. Her hard work, her organization, her details, her care, her love, so much of it behind the scenes, but all of it so readily apparent in the Sirens community.

As we move forward without her—such an impossible thing—I hope that we all remember how caring she was. I hope that her legacy is that we all find a way to be a bit more like her. More birthday texts. More shared pizza and sushi and dumplings. More patience and grace and forgiveness. Since she’s left a Sabs-sized hole in each of our hearts, we’re going to need all the warmth, love, and care that we can muster to patch them all back together.

Sabs, you were the best of all of us. We have every reason to know how much you loved us. I hope you knew how very much we love you.

Art by Manda Lewis

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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