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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 4, Issue 2 (December 2011)

This is the official newsletter for Sirens, a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. The newsletter is published once a month to the Sirens News pagemessage boardsmailing listLiveJournal, and Facebook. Certain other updates are posted on the conference’s Twitter.


Sirens
Volume 4 – Issue 2
December 2011

 

Gift Certificates
We’ve noticed that the Sirens community is very much just that: a community of people who want ways to help each other, and sometimes that help comes in the form of financial support that allows others to attend Sirens. We’re happy to be able to help make this easier logistically, and to announce that you can now purchase Sirens gift certificates.

All you need is a name and an e-mail address to give a gift certificate. Gift certificates can be purchased in any amount. When you purchase your gift certificate, we create the gift certificate in a PDF and send it, depending on your wishes, to either you or your recipient–and we know that sometimes it’s about the gift and not the giver, so gift certificates can be given anonymously.

The fine print: Gift certificates purchased between now and next October can be used only for 2012 Sirens registrations, and for Sirens Supper and Sirens Shuttle tickets for 2012 once those tickets are available. Like the registrations and tickets, the gift certificates are non-refundable, but can be transferred. Because the gift certificates are for Sirens attendance, your recipient must be 18 years old as of October 10, 2012. Please note that gift certificates purchased now are only good for Sirens in 2012 and don’t roll over to other years; they’ll expire in October.

For more information and to purchase gift certificates, please check out our gift certificate page. If you have questions, just shoot them to our registration team at (registration at sirensconference.org).

 

Programming in 2012
It’s never too early to start thinking about programming proposals. The presentations on the Sirens conference schedule are drawn from proposals generated by attendees. Since our 2012 theme is “tales retold,” we of course welcome proposals on topics related to that theme and presenters are invited to explore fantasy based on extant stories. Presenters are not limited to this theme, however, and proposals that address specific aspects of a work or series, works related by other themes, and studies of the fantasy genre across all disciplines are encouraged as well. A non-exhaustive list of sample topics includes literary analyses of novels; studies of genre history; use of fantasy works in schools and libraries for education; examination of related business and legal issues; media and fan studies; craft-based workshops in writing, art, and publishing; and overviews of how fantasy works fit into larger contexts.

The proposal deadline is May 6, 2012. In the spring, the Sirens LiveJournal hosts a series of posts on how to prepare a proposal, but in the meantime, please feel free to explore the programming section of the Sirens website and to put out feelers for co-presenters on the Sirens forums.

 

Reading List
If you’re looking for programming ideas, check out the Sirens reading list, a selection of books that retell tales, myths, and legends.

 

Sirens Review Squad
We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to Jazz and thistleingrey for being reviewers for our inaugural year of this project. With the end of the year coming up, it’s time for us to open applications to be part of the squad for 2012.

We’re seeking a small group of reader-reviewers to continue this project. Each contributor will be part of the online project from January to October 2012, and will write 4-12 book reviews of 300–600 words each. Here are the parameters:

  • Contributors’ reviews can be written in advance, and must be complete two weeks ahead of their scheduled publication so that the project coordinator can ensure that they’re lightly edited. (We expect that there might be a few typos.)
  • Contributors work together to devise a schedule; you can contribute a review when you have the time to do so, though you should expect to spread out your reviews or write them earlier in the year so that they can run at a later date. You are responsible for being aware of, and meeting, your deadlines.
  • About half of the reviews should be drawn from the Sirens reading list or Books and Breakfast reading list, and the other half selected with input from the project coordinator to ensure that there isn’t too much overlap. We’ll focus on books by guests of honor over the summer of 2012, so that is an option as well.
  • You can revamp a previously written review, but it’s nice if you put together new content. Once your review is published, we’ll ask that you give us an exclusive for one month before you re-post it.
  • Reviews need not be wholly positive, but contributors are encouraged to review books that they’d recommend rather than books they wouldn’t.
  • Books reviewed should be women-authored or feature female characters; reviewing books that analyze fantasy literature is an option as well.
  • Your words reflect your own reading experience, not the opinions or positions of Sirens.
  • We’re happy to have reviewers return from year to year, if you’ve reviewed before.

We’d love to be able to include everyone who’d like to contribute, but having a small group of contributors works best. If you’d like to be considered as a contributor, please write to (help at sirensconference.org) by December 31, 2011, with the following information:

1. The name (and pen name, if that applies) that you’d like to review under
2. Your e-mail address
3. Three books you’d like to review from the Sirens reading list, and why (a sentence or two about each is fine)
4. How you’d like to focus your non-reading list/contributor’s choice reviews (for example, would you be interested in focusing on picture books, or short stories available online, or novels written in the 1980s, or anthologies, or…)
5. If you’re familiar with any particular blogging platforms or similar software, it’s nice to know
6. A link to three book reviews you’ve written and posted online OR the text of two sample reviews that we can read, pasted in the e-mail

Thank you for your interest! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here or to write to (help at sirensconference.org).

* * *
December Review

Strange Angels
Razorbill (Penguin), 2009
Lili St. Crow

Lili St. Crow is skilled at breaking down gender stereotypes in depictions of her characters. When a girl pulls a gun on a guy, we expect a writer to have the guy call her bluff. In Strange Angels, we don’t see that. Lili shows us emotions without masculine or feminine stereotypes getting in the way. She shows us fear we can feel from both sides of the trigger, and the emotional strength it takes to pull it or not.

Initially, I was skeptical about Strange Angels. The tagline promoting the sequel, “Will Dru discover just how special she really is?,” did not give me any confidence that this was going to be anything but a YA paranormal romance with a Mary Sue. I was pleasantly surprised when Dru turned out to be exactly what she should be: the product of an upbringing in which she is motherless and accompanies her father into supernatural territory on what are most likely suicide missions.

Dru is uncouth; she says “goddamn” and belches as often as she pleases. She may be an amateur, but she doesn’t curl up in a ball when evil knocks on her door. She does something about it.

In addition to a strong female lead, Lili delivers a solid supporting male character in Graves. A cute half-Asian boy who is afraid he is becoming a werwulf. Graves offers comic relief in the presence of Dru’s serious business attitude. He plays a lot of roles throughout the story including the maybe-hopefully-boyfriend and the voice of reason for Dru, whose life is bereft of role models.

I found Graves to be the most interesting character in the book. We learn just enough about his past and everyday life to become intrigued and wonder what it was that got him to where he is (living in an abandoned part of a mall), and how his history will affect his choices now that he knows about the existence of paranormal beings.

Though, dangerous ground is tread when Dru describes Graves as a “half-breed,” and thinks it is good that Graves “hadn’t drawn the really slit-eyed card a lot of half-breeds have to play.” Maybe some racially mixed people like the shape of their thin eyes, Dru.

In the end, Lili shows us more of her skill at depicting the human condition after the shock of terrible events, and ushers in a new setting that will bring more exciting and dangerous adventures, and continue the quest for revenge and retribution to the lives of her characters. —Jazz

 


Questions? Please ask us here or write to (help at sirensconference.org).

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 4, Issue 1 (November 2011)

This is the official newsletter for Sirens, a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. The newsletter is published once a month to the Sirens News page, message boards, mailing list, LiveJournal, and Facebook. Certain other updates are posted on the conference’s Twitter.


Sirens
Volume 4 – Issue 1
November 2011

 

Sirens in 2011
Thank you again to everyone who attended Sirens in 2011. We had a fabulous weekend: thoughtful presentations and discussions, snow that came and left at just the right time, gracious guests, dedicated volunteers, and engaged attendees. We couldn’t have asked for better.

On the down side, just as we prepared to send you updates from Sirens, Photobucket changed its terms of service. We’re not so pleased about the changes (and figured that past attendees wouldn’t like to have their images used by all and sundry), so our reports from Vail will be delayed until we’ve had the chance to find a new photo host and get everything uploaded again. This affects pictures from past events as well. In the meantime, please accept our apologies, and please look for 2011 reports from Vail in December.

Auction items and supporting registrations have been mailed out. If you’re expecting books by media mail, those might still be in transit. If we recorded your presentation for you, please know that we’ll need some extra time to get those to you, and keep an eye on your e-mail in December. Presenters who plan to submit to the compendium have until November 15, 2011, to provide their papers, articles, discussion questions, and lesson plans; please refer to the compendium e-mail from the programming team for more information.

Again, our thanks to those who attended. You made the conference really special.

 

We’re moving!
During the breakfast at the end of Sirens, we spoke briefly about why Sirens came to be in Vail: it was a “hometown” event for Narrate Conferences; we wanted to serve the western part of the United States; the Rocky Mountains in October provided us with many cost savings; our parent nonprofit is exempt from sales tax in Colorado; and we were already near a world-class location for getting away from it all, so it seemed a shame not to share. To consider moving Sirens, at all, was not something we took lightly.

At the same time, we want Sirens to be able to continue for years to come, so as a one-year experiment, we’ll be in a new location. In 2012, Sirens will take place near Portland, Oregon, at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, on the Columbia River, on October 11-14. Skamania Lodge is excited to welcome us–to host our conference, to let us use their library, to have attendees rock in chairs in front of the 85-foot high fireplace in the lobby, to have us hike on their trails or relax in their hot tubs. The hotel offers a rustic but comfortable ambience, and we think that it’s a great option for us in 2012.

The nearest airport to Skamania Lodge is Portland International Airport, which is served by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Horizon Air, JetBlue, SeaPort Airlines, Southwest, Spirit Airlines, United, and U.S. Airways. If you’re arriving to Portland by Amtrak or by Greyhound, the station downtown is about 12 miles from the airport, and a quick taxi ride–or bus or light rail ride–away. You can ride the Sirens Shuttle from Portland International Airport to Skamania Lodge; we’ll have rider and ticket information ready for you next year, but we expect to be able to reduce the price of a shuttle ticket a little bit and to get you to Skamania from the airport in just under an hour.

Because we’ll be in a new location, we expect change–we just don’t yet know what or how. We’ll be moving into new space and trading one set of perks (and quirks) for another. For that reason, we’re not yet posting an exact schedule of events and activities. You can, however, expect keynotes with our guests of honor, book signing time, book discussions, and attendee-generated papers and presentations, panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and afternoon classes.

The 2012 website can be viewed here.

 

2012 Theme
In 2012, we’ll take on the theme of “tales retold.” Potential presenters are encouraged to focus on existing stories that have been imagined and re-imagined in the fantasy genre. This year’s logo was inspired by Scheherazade, who saved her own life by retelling takes she knew, and whose tale has been retold countless times.

Of course, as always, other presentations related to women as readers and creators of fantasy fiction and art, workshops for readers and writers, academic analyses, roundtable discussions, and fantasy-related afternoon classes are welcome. Please visit the programming section of the Sirens website for more information, and we’ll be looking forward to receiving your programming proposals in the spring.

 

Guests of Honor
Speaking of things we’re pleased to announce, we’re thrilled to announce two of our guests of honor for 2012. Young adult author Malinda Lo and author, editor, folklorist, and academic Kate Bernheimer will be joining us to talk about tales retold. We will announce our third guest at a later date, and we’ll be featuring the work of all three in our newsletters and on our website throughout the coming year. In the meantime, please feel free to visit the Sirens reading list to find out what tales they and others have retold.

 

Registration, Travel, and All the Rest
Registration is open on the Sirens website. Information about Skamania Lodge and travel generally is already on our website. Information about the Sirens Supper and Sirens Shuttle will be added in 2012 once we can provide scheduling and pricing.

 

Sirens Review Squad
The Secret History of Moscow
Prime Books, November 2007
Ekaterina Sedia

The Secret History of Moscow isn’t so much about Moscow as it is about the people who live there. Rather, the story is about human connections through shared history.

We meet three main characters: Galina, a woman labeled as a spinster who was formerly institutionalized for seeing and hearing things that were not there; Yakov, a detective with English roots who is keeps himself emotionally distant from his missing persons investigations; and Fyodor, a painter choosing to live on the streets who has an ingrained fear of gypsies thanks to his mother’s superstitions, and his willingness to give into them.

All three are in some way estranged from loved ones or their own emotions, and are just unhappy enough to find their way into the underground of Moscow where people who have been turned into jackdaws, and Koschey the Deathless are locals. You’ll get a bit of a crash course in Russian folklore from Secret History, but it helps to know the stories to appreciate the in-jokes.

Galina seeks her sister among the humans-turned-jackdaws; Yakov tries to solve the mystery of the jackdaws so the humans can return home; and Fyodor–well, this painter/alcoholic/pickpocket is out to save himself, and redeem himself in the eyes of a Romani girl he wronged years ago. A large cast of characters pass through the pages, and though several of them are inconsequential to the plot, they eloquently illustrate the struggles of the Russian people. Sedia’s prose is elegant, spare—using the right words and the right amount—and able to provoke the harshness of Russian winters as well as the cold, bitter feeling in one’s heart when life throws too many curve balls to handle, leaving you on the outskirts of society.

Galina is the most well-drawn character, and the one likely to interest Sirens readers the most. The book gives us many glimpses into the history her loving, passionate relationship with her younger sister. Through their experiences, Sedia poses the difficult question of what type of life is worth living, what type is worth giving up—though giving up does not mean death, and if any life is lesser than another.

The Secret History of Moscow ends in a shocking and brilliant turn of events that may at once break and warm the hearts of those who would sacrifice all they ever knew for the person they love most. —Jazz

 


Thank you for your patience and for stepping into the unknown with us in 2012! In the meantime, please feel free to contact us at (help at sirensconference.org) with questions.

See you next year!

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 12 (October 2011)

Sirens Shuttle
The Sirens Shuttle will leave Denver International Airport at 3:30 p.m. on both Wednesday, October 5, and Thursday, October 6, and return at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 9. If you’ll be riding any of these shuttles, please watch your e-mail for a final instructions e-mail coming between Wednesday and Saturday. For reference, you’ll meet the Sirens Shuttle group by 3:00 p.m. at door 515 in the baggage claim area (near carousel #6). You’re welcome to bring food onto the bus with you, but please avoid glass, and remove any trash at the end of the ride.

 

Checking In at Sirens
If you’re attending the Sirens Supper on Wednesday, October 5, we’ll meet you at the Rocky Mountain Ballroom at 7:00 p.m. with your registration bag. If you’re arriving on Thursday, October 6, registration check-in will be open from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Creekside Room on the lower level. This is a change from years past! Please stop in for a sandwich and a cookie, even if you got your registration bag on Wednesday, or for a round of “fantasy books group activity that resembles a popular trademarked game.” We’ll also set aside a corner of the room for storing luggage until the hotel’s check-in time of 4:00 p.m. Please bring your I.D. and a copy of your registration confirmation.

For everyone: Be sure to check out the schedule in the program book and to pick up a page for the Monster Women Stories. If you’d like to arrange a sort-of-impromptu discussion, feel free to use our signup space board and reserve a room when it’s not otherwise in use.

For presenters: Please check in with our shiny new programming coordinator, Cora, and provide her with a copy of any presentation files you’d like to have on hand. We’ll pre-load them onto the computers in the presentation rooms. (Frequently asked question’s answer: You have computer and projector access if you’re presenting in Rocky Mountain A or D, and no audio-visual equipment if you’re presenting in Rocky Mountain B. Still not sure? Check your schedule confirmation e-mail from August, or write to (programming at sirensconference.org.)

For volunteers: Please pick up a copy of your volunteer schedule and a volunteer button.

If you arrive later in the evening on Thursday, you can proceed directly to the Cascade Ballroom for the cheese and dessert reception and Justine Larbalestier’s keynote presentation. Then, starting Friday morning, the official Information Desk will be in the foyer outside the Rocky Mountain Ballroom on the first floor of the conference center, where most of the programming will take place.

 

Books!
Yay, books! The Bookworm of Edwards, a local independent bookstore, will be joining us again this year so that you can make your suitcase too heavy to lift into the overhead bin.

 

Volunteers Still Needed
If you’ll be attending Sirens, we could use a few extra hands! Please visit the Volunteers page and fill out the volunteer form. You’ll be invited to join a Google Group for occasional information e-mails, and scheduled to help at Sirens. We could especially use help with the open room monitor shifts. There are four available–two on Friday morning, one Saturday morning, and one on Saturday afternoon. If you’re presenting during any of those shifts and don’t mind introducing yourself (or waving out the door if you encounter an audio-visual hiccup), you’re welcome to be both presenter and volunteer. Please note that you’ll need to stay for the entirety of a shift. Our very grateful thanks in advance!

 

Monster Mash
After a weekend of intense discussion, we’ll take a break on Saturday evening for the Monster Mash. Starting at 8:00 p.m. in the Cascade Foyer and Ballroom, we’ll spin some tunes, open the dance floor, and offer you the chance to participate in our annual murder mystery, which runs until the culprit is found. You’re welcome to come and participate in street clothes or your favorite monster wear. A cash bar will be available.

Do you have a request for the music playlist? Please leave a comment on LiveJournal or send your recommendation to (help at sirensconference.org) by October 3 and we’ll pass it on to the playlist organizer.

 

Contact Us
Starting October 1, many staff members will be in transit to Sirens or on site in Vail, and it may take us a little longer to respond if you write to (help at sirensconference.org). Starting October 6, please bring questions to the Information Desk in person, as we may not be able to respond to questions sent digitally.

See you soon!

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

You’re Excited About…

Toothpick Hogwarts! — Amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * *
Liar

Liar
Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic or Madness

Magic or Madness
Justine Larbalestier
Razorbill, 2005

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

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

 


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

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 9 (July 2011)

Books and Breakfast
We’re pleased to continue our Books and Breakfast discussions again this year, featuring intriguing, influential, controversial, and genre-blurring books of monster literature. At 8:00 a.m. on Friday, October 7, and Saturday, October 8, you’re welcome to join us for informal discussions of the books listed below. You’ll need to bring your own breakfast (and the hotel will be pleased to make you a latte in the Marketplace).

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

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

 

Programming
Most of the accepted papers, presentations, panels, workshops, roundtable discussions, and afternoon classes for 2011 can now be viewed on our accepted programming page. (For a handful more, we’re waiting on confirmation that a presenter has registered, or for the presenter’s information to be formatted and published by the programming team; neither of these processes is automated.)

What a fantastic set of presentations! Our congratulations again to accepted presenters; we’re looking forward to discussing their thoughts and analyses. The next step for us is putting together a schedule grid–and, of course, coming to terms with the fact that we can’t attend all of the presentations at the same time! Presenters should keep an eye on their e-mail toward the end of July or beginning of August for information about their slots on the complete schedule.

 

Vail Cascade Resort and Spa
Why not take care of your hotel reservation now, so you don’t have to worry about it later? You can get contact information or make your reservation online via our hotel page. (Tip: The Vail Cascade’s reservation system will quote you an incorrect resort fee initially, and discount it later in the process; if it isn’t adjusted when you’ve completed your reservation, please let us know at (help at sirensconference.org.) Room rates for 2011 are $129/night for 1-2 people ($154/night for 3-4). In case you have time to stay a day or two extra, that rate is good from October 3 until October 11.

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

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

 

Travel Tips
Your Sirens registration includes registration-day afternoon tea at the Sirens information desk, a dessert reception, two lunches, and a breakfast. For those meals that are not included, there are several options at the Vail Cascade, including a quick-service coffee and fast meals shop, the hotel’s light selections and appetizers in the bar, and a fine dining restaurant. A leisurely walk or short shuttle ride away, restaurants in Lionshead and Vail Village offer everything from fine dining to a simple scoop of gelato; Blue Moose Pizza is a Sirens-tested-and-approved less expensive option, especially for a group. There’s a small grocery store in Lionshead, but for a wider variety of food, there is a Safeway about a mile away on the other side of the freeway. It’s walkable, but probably faster, easier, and safer (as you have to transit multiple freeway off-ramps in the form of roundabouts) to have the concierge get you a taxi. Of course, you can bring food with you from home, and we’ll also continue our volunteer snack program (work a shift, receive sports drink mix and a snack, like an energy bar or fruit) this year.

 

You’re Excited About…

There are some sequels coming out in July! Supernaturally, the sequel to Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White… –smilie117

…and Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer, out July 26. –Anonymous #1

House of bookshelves! House of bookshelves! – Amy

I’m excited to hear about the debut novel by Janine Spendlove, War of the Seasons, book one: The Human. http://janinespendlove.livejournal.com/ I’m going to download the digital copy, I’ll let everyone know how it is!! –Manda

It doesn’t have to be the way it is. That is what fantasy says.” Ursula K. Le Guin musing about fantasy at Book View Cafe –Anonymous #2

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

 

Sirens Review Squad
This month, in lieu of reviews, we’re going to highlight some books by 2011 guest of honor Laini Taylor. (For books by Nnedi Okorafor, visit the June 2011 newsletter; we’ll highlight Justine Larbalestier next month.)

* * *

Blackbringer (Dreamdark)

Dreamdark: Silksinger (Playaway Children)Blackbringer
Silksinger
Laini Taylor
Originally published by G.P Putnam’s Sons; reprinted by Firebird and Putnam Juvenile, 2007-2009

Blackbringer and Silksinger are both part of the Dreamdark series, and feature Magpie, a fairy and granddaughter of the West Wind. It’s her job to track down and stop demons, and she’s good at her work, but this time, if she doesn’t succeed, it will be–literally–the end of the world. In Blackbringer, Magpie will have to make her way through the world of the dead to ensure life can go on. In the second book of the series, Silksinger–well, if we told you, that would spoil the ending of the first book. Darkly whimsical and full of beautiful language, the books have been marketed toward younger readers (crossing into middle grade), but can be scary at times. These, and Laini Taylor’s other books, feature art by her husband, Jim DiBartolo.

* * *

Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times
Laini Taylor
Scholastic, 2009

Lips Touch: Three Times is a collection of three stories, each exploring the horror and beauty of supernatural romances. The first, “Goblin Fruit” (a title that should put you in mind of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”), follows Kizzy’s obsession with love as “anywhere but here,” of love that represents both fitting in and getting out. The second, “Spicy Little Curses Such as These,” set in colonial India, weaves a tale of a girl who is cursed to never speak as the price of other lives saved, but who may not be able to stay silent. The third and longest, “Hatchling,” is Esme’s tale: when she wakes up to find that one of her brown eyes has turned blue, she’ll have to unravel a scary tale to explain just who she is. Each one of the stories includes material that could be considered disturbing, and the dark sides of the romantic relationships (as well as other relationships) are key. All of the stories are lush with beautiful, memorable language.

* * *

Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2011 (cover not final)
Laini Taylor’s upcoming Daughter of Smoke and Bone…well, we don’t want to spoil you for it. Instead, here are just a few details of the book that will be out this fall. A girl with blue hair whose name is Karou, who draws amazing beings in her notebook, who wishes her way through the day, partly for convenience, partly to protect her family from discovery. By day, she’s an art student, and also, upon summons, courier of human teeth. She feels like something is not quite right, and that, despite her odd family’s devotion, that she belongs somewhere else. When she meets Akiva, a strange, powerful man who seems otherworldly, she finds out that things are more dangerous than she could have imagined, and a war between chimaera and seraphim may be her undoing. The question is: who are the monsters and who are the saviors? A flexible approach to time makes the mystery unwind in compelling fashion.

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

 


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

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 8 (June 2011)

Programming and Scholarships
Hurrah! All programming notices have been e-mailed out. If you haven’t heard about your proposal, please check your bulk mail folder, and then feel free to contact us at (programming at sirensconference.org) to have your decision re-sent. Thank you for assembling so many interesting proposals!

Congratulations to accepted presenters! We think this year’s program is going to be amazing. The programming for 2011 will be published on the accepted programming page of the Sirens website as presenters register and we format presentation summaries. This is a manual process, so whether you’ve recently registered or you’re a presenter planning to register at midnight on the presenter deadline (June 30), please give us at least a few days to add your presentation to the list. You don’t need to send any personal information (or your registration receipt) to the programming team; they’ll be informed when all presenters for a presentation have registered.

Separately, we think it’s important to remind everyone that not all presentations are accepted in any given year. At Sirens, we’ll set aside some time for you to get help with future proposals–sometimes, it’s scary to propose a presentation if you’ve never done it before, and sometimes, that great idea you have needs some extra time to gel, or a fresh set of eyes to help you focus your topic.

Also, thank you to this year’s vetting board, which gave thoughtful consideration to all of the proposals we received. It’s not as easy as one might think to wrestle with decisions about proposals, and the board members engaged in lots of discussion and spent lots of time selecting which proposals to accept.

Finally, because it’s becoming a Frequently Asked Question, we thought we’d mention that there is no application process for the 2011 scholarships. A committee is looking at all accepted abstracts from eligible presenters, and the Song and Sonnet winners will be notified by June 27, 2011.

 

We’re Excited About…

The Sirens Facebook page (formerly a group) was eligible for a username, so now we can direct you to http://www.facebook.com/SirensConference instead of a string of numbers (though the old link with numbers should redirect you). According to a recent seminar I attended, you should “like” a Facebook page about once a week to keep it in your news feed; otherwise, it falls off your most featured list. –Hallie

Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Surrender is out this month! –Anonymous George

The book list for Sirens Books and Breakfast: Monster Edition is coming soon in an attendee e-mail and a LiveJournal near you! –Amy

Booklist featured Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch last month. –Anon

Check out this periodic table of storytelling: http://computersherpa.deviantart.com/art/Periodic-Table-of-Storytelling-203548951 –Another Anon

The Mythopoeic Society recently announced their 2011 winners. –Anonymous

I’m looking forward to reading Heartless, book four of The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, out on June 28. –S

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

 

Travel Tip
We spotted the first roommate matching thread on the message boards here. Sharing a room can really help lower your cost of attendance! Rooms range in size, view, and location, and at this time, we don’t know which conference rooms we’ll have available for programming, but if you want to minimize walking, we recommend either staying near the main wing’s elevators, asking for a room near the business center (so that you can have only a short walk, or so that you can take the conference center stairs or service elevator down, if we’re downstairs again), or staying in the Terrace Wing (these rooms have an additional cost, however, and to get to the main wings of the hotel, you’ll have to take the elevator to the first floor and proceed to the main elevators to reach friends on all floors).

 

Sirens Supper
If you’ll be in Vail prior to the start of Sirens on Thursday, October 6, please feel free to join us for our staff dinner on Wednesday, October 5. (The conference shuttle is scheduled to run that day, as well as on Thursday, if you need a ride to Vail.) The western-style buffet will start at 7:00 p.m., and costs $60, which includes food, non-alcoholic drinks, and gratuity, and offerings on the buffet usually feature several entrée options such as local fish and steak; soup, salad and sides; and a variety of desserts. (We’re happy to arrange a vegetarian entrée for you as well—please ask!) You may add this option with a new registration or via the change registration link on the left side of the registration page.

 

Sirens Review Squad
This month, we’re highlighting 2011 guest of honor Nnedi Okorafor; in upcoming newsletters, we’ll highlight books by Justine Larbalestier and Laini Taylor. We think that–even if you’re planning to buy books at Sirens and take advantage of our author signing time–you’ll probably enjoy hearing the guests speak more if you’ve read something by each guest of honor before you arrive. Each guest has a website or blog and may have other material available for free online; we’re going to highlight a few of each guest’s books that you can find in your library or favorite bookstore.

As always, the Sirens Review Squad’s reviews are the reviewers’ thoughts, but we hope to spark your interest, and we look forward to discussing these books–and your thoughts–with you in October!

 

* * *
Akata Witch
Nnedi Okorafor
Viking, 2011

Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch is a mini-epic that establishes a world and cast of characters readers will want to be a part of as much as they wanted to attend Hogwarts. In the world of Akata Witch, magic users are called Leopards, while non-magical humans are called Lambs. Sunny is a free agent, a person without a pure Leopard spiritline, but who can still perform juju–a name for magic.

Akata WitchAn outcast due to her albinism and being raised in the US, Sunny makes three friends as well as fellow students in her juju studies: Orlu, a boy who can put things back together in a magical sense; Chichi, an ornery girl with a photographic memory and power beyond her level; Sasha, an African American boy who is a hothead, but also caring and more powerful than most Leopard people his age. Triumph and tragedy is woven into the pages as we learn about the pasts and personalities of these four young people. While their abilities are impressive, they are also susceptible to acts of immaturity that get them in trouble. Okorafor doesn’t fill a single page with fluff; her characters are not seen as so special that they are above punishment. When these characters put themselves and others in danger, there are consequences. The consequences may be cringeworthy, but the gravity of Leopard society shines through.

Sunny and Chichi are mighty girls who will not put up with abuse from boys and men who think girls are incapable of being talented in any arena from sports to juju. This is certainly not a fantasy novel where the fantastical elements take a back seat to romance. While there is an extremely light romantic subplot, by the end of the novel you’ll be wondering about the shape of your spirit face and the color of your juju blade rather than who is going to fall in love. Akata Witch is about discovering who you are after you realize everything you knew about yourself and your history is wrong. Sunny is an albino; in a brilliant portrayal of someone with this condition, Sunny never once thinks of herself as disabled or pities herself for her light skin. Many people tease Sunny for being a “white” girl or looking like a ghost, but Sunny is too strong to let the teasing get her down for long. Akata Witch fights against ableism–Sunny is able to see herself as shining rather than ghostly, and she doesn’t need anyone but herself to reach that conclusion.

If you are unfamiliar with culture in Nigeria, learning about the human world will be just as much an adventure as learning about the magical world. With cinematic prose, Okorafor lays out lush scenery, complex relationships between peers and their superiors, chilling creatures that’ll raise the hairs on your arms, and ritual magic both exciting and disturbing. Sunny and her classmates must face an evil that is perhaps the most sinister evil of all–a child killer. Okorafor does not spare details just because this is a novel for young readers. Descriptions of missing noses and eyeballs may haunt you, but you’ll be cheering all the more for good juju to prevail. —Jazz

* * *
Zahrah the Windseeker
Nnedi Okorafor
Houghton Mifflin, 2005 (In reprint by Graphia, 2008)

Zahrah the WindseekerLet me give you just a few interesting bits to interest you in this story. Zahrah is dada: vines grow intertwined with her dreadlocks. She’s a Windseeker: she can fly. She has to figure out how to save her best friend without getting killed inside the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.

But let me go straight on to gush about the absolutely fabulous world-building. I love Zahrah’s world. I love that plants and magic and people have to exist together–that you grow computers from seeds, that a big plant is a building. I love that the Jungle is really, truly wild and that if you’re going to enter it, it’s going to take the scary-forest trope and make it huge. I love the sense that this book is both fantasy and science fiction, that it’s a story about empowerment, that it’s about understanding yourself, and that it’s about loyalty and friendship.

The other thing that I love about this book (and The Shadow Speaker) is the exploration of the monstrous. What I mean is not so much monsters in the literal sense, though Zahrah must confront more than one, but the idea of questioning what it means when others think you’re a monster, whether or not you really are a monster, whether it’s even a bad thing to be a monster.

This seems like a good place to note that I recommend reading this post by the author on the cover designs of her books.


The Shadow Speaker
Nnedi Okorafor
Hyperion, 2007

The Shadow Speaker The Shadow Speaker, which shares a universe with Zahrah the Windseeker, expands on the themes in the earlier book. Ejii is a shadow speaker, someone who can speak to spirits and who, as her powers mature, can read the lives and motivations of others; at times she’s revered for this, and at others, treated as a monster (hey, there’s that theme again). Her Earth is disrupted by war and magic–creating a vivid and interesting world for her to navigate as she tries to catch up with Jaa, her queen (and her father’s murderer), who is on her way to a summit between the worlds.

As before, I’m drawn in by the world building. Set in West Niger in 2070, The Shadow Speaker is full of the unexpected and wholly wonderful; part of a quote from Okorafor about the book refers to “spontaneous forests, polygamy, strange insects, Nigerian 419 scammers, really really fast cars, a different kind of Sahara Desert, male beauty contests, [and] the apocalypse,” and that’s merely the beginning. Publisher’s Weekly has summarized the book as “a Muslim teen in West Africa must avert interplanetary war.” And, without spoiling anything, be prepared to fall in love with a camel named Onion.

Who Fears Death
Nnedi Okorafor
DAW, 2010

Who Fears Death?Sometimes, I come to the end of a book and do not want to talk about it. This is not because a book is bad, but because I have come to the end and I am not done reading. Or, to be clearer, I’m done reading in a physical sense, but not in the sense of making sense of what I’ve read.

Who Fears Death, even days after I’ve finished reading, is one of those books that’s difficult to distill, and I have never seen a summary that does justice to how very complex and compelling it is. If you’ve seen reviews, then you’ve seen words like genocide, female genital mutilation/circumcision/cutting (worth a websearch to get more information on use of each term, and reasons for and against each), rape, and war. Yet that’s simplifying Who Fears Death.

In a futuristic, post-apocalyptic desert, similar to today’s southern Sudan, Onyesonwu’s Okeke mother is raped by a Nuru man, making her Ewu–visibly, irrevocably different, and outcast from both the Okeke and the Nuru. Onyesonwu, whose name means “who fears death,” rebels against the restrictions of her society, and ultimately, decides to rebel against the rules of her world, destroying her father in order to save not just her loved ones, but people who have not loved her. The story, part fantasy, part science fiction, part magical realism, part many other things and Okorafor’s original style of storytelling, doesn’t shy away from brutal and graphic description, but difficult real-world themes are interwoven with the magical tale seamlessly. Onyesonwu’s story is raw, emotional, and nuanced.

It would be easy to highlight a dozen craft elements that I found impressive, such as Okorafor’s ability to make me feel like I’m right there, smelling the smells and seeing the sights Onyesonwu does, but I think my favorite is the recurring theme of transformative dying. Several times, a traumatic experience is referred to as a death, while the character lives on, changed, living a new life. I love the idea of the self being reborn throughout life, and death(s) being not endpoints, but waystations, and this theme brings an optimistic, hopeful note to otherwise tragic moments in the characters’ lives. —Hallie

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

 


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

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 7 (May 2011)

Programming Proposal Deadline
It’s important to Sirens that attendees take a part in devising the conference program through making proposals and presentations. The perspectives of readers, of writers, of scholars, of professionals, of artists, of fans–these help everyone understand the community of fantasy, and its past, present, and future.

The deadline for proposals is May 7, 2011. To get involved, check out our how-to series on LiveJournal.

General programming information: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/33408.html
What type of presentation should I propose?: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/33952.html
Putting together a paper, lecture, talk, or presentation: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/35020.html
Putting together a panel: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/35496.html
Putting together a roundtable discussion: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/36424.html
Putting together a workshop: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/36669.html
Putting together an afternoon class: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/36669.html
Free summaries!: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/38182.html#cutid1
All the posts tagged “programming”: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/tag/programming

Also, in 2011, we’ll award two scholarships for exemplary programming proposals.

Sirens will award the first scholarship, the Sonnet, for one presentation that focuses on thoughtful analysis of women in fantasy. The winning presentation must focus on fantasy works by women, on the analysis of women in fantasy works, or on topics closely related to women in fantasy. Papers (and lectures, talks, and other informative presentations), focused and analytical panels, and roundtable discussions are eligible for the Sonnet scholarship.

Sirens will award the second scholarship, the Song, for one presentation that best addresses the creation of fantasy works, particularly as it connects to women in fantasy. Workshops, afternoon classes, panels that focus on professional or artistic education, and roundtable discussions that focus on professional or artistic topics are eligible for the Song scholarship.

Get more information here on the Sirens LiveJournal.

 

We’re Excited About…
We didn’t receive any submissions this month–but we hope you’ll send some along next month!

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

 

Travel Tip
You can share a room at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa to reduce your travel costs. The rate is $129 per night for single/double occupancy, and $154 a night for triple/quad occupancy, plus tax and fees. This rate is good starting the night of October 3, 2011, and lasts until the night of October 11, 2011. You can find reservation information here. If you have trouble making your reservation, please let us know–we can help with rate glitches and online reservation problems. Write to us at (help at sirensconference.org).

 

BEA and ALA
Will you be at Book Expo America in May or the June American Library Association conference? We’d like to snap pictures or get news on community members in action. Please e-mail Hallie at (hallie at sirensconference.org).

 

Sirens Review Squad
Kit Whitfield, In Great Waters (New York: Del Rey, 2009)

Shorter review: this is a fantasy about third-culture kids and/or an alt-historical with water monsters.

In Henry’s conception of the world, to understand a word or concept is to have to submit to it, to stand uncomfortably beneath it. Henry is of mixed landsman and deepsman heritage—half Homo sapiens, half nicor or nix or grindylow: the water monsters of English, German, and Scandinavian folklore. Till his fifth year, he swam with his mother and knew only the sea. Then he was deposited upon land to be taught by a minor nobleman how to walk, to speak English, and to covet a kingship. As Henry learns (more or less), a deepswoman named Angelica changed the course of a ninth-century battle for control of Venice, with French and Byzantine participants. Her mixed-blood progeny sit on Europe’s thrones and hold the loyalty of both land and sea, but like the Habsburgs in our timeline, some of those monarchs have been weakened by inbreeding. Young Henry, hidden for reasons unknown to him, bides time till he can present himself as a strong alternative to the decrepit English throne.

Then! Right when I’d resigned myself to reading yet another tale of the fair (inevitably male) unknown who wins a crown, the narrative changed: Henry’s tight-third perspective gives way to Anne’s. Anne is the granddaughter of Edward, king of England, but her life is not the stuff of which “happily ever after” is made. Her Hungarian mother, Erzebet, acts coldly in ways often incomprehensible to Anne (yet pellucid to this adult reader); her older sister, Mary, is Anne’s pawn-peer and rival; her uncle Philip is a physically powerful imbecile with a landsman handler. Slowly, but not too slowly, Anne finds her way around and through courtiers’ secrets and family deaths. It emerges as inevitable that Anne and Henry will vie for what seem the same goals, though Anne’s land and sea are not Henry’s land and sea…. This convergence of goals is great, by the way, because it means it is not inevitable that Henry will sweep Anne off her feet; this is not that kind of story.

The Sirens conference themes for both this year and last—monsters and fairies—befit In Great Waters, for those who find such things of interest. (I do.) The monstrous aspect is clearer, with the narrative’s continual attention to otherness: Anne, blue-faced and faintly phosphorescent, finds it convenient to pretend dimwittedness at court, whereas her intellectually slower sister Mary, who looks more like the landsmen who attend her, has no impetus to develop Anne’s uncomfortable suspicions; the reader sees young Henry’s lag behind the deepsman children with whom he competes for food, then his instinctive reactions to being held within a stone tower, where the warm hearth desired by landsmen and a room’s corners induce acute, unreasoning fear. For each character in the story, multiple individuals with whom she or he must interact are other and partially incomprehensible as a result, yet—at the same time—meaningful participants in the world, not dismissed for their difference. Class privilege plays a large part therein, due to Angelica’s legacy, but it is important nonetheless that Whitfield has created a world in which landsmen and deepsmen are not in binary opposition. A spectrum of variation exists whereby everyone is “monstrous” in some way.

Fairylore entwines the narrative realizations of monstrosity as well. The “fair unknown” story-trope I mention above is ordinarily a forest-set fairy story; more subtly, the landsman/deepsman regnal blending that the story describes recalls the old story that Richard Lionheart (king of England 1157–99) claimed descent from Mélusine. That said, too much attention to fairylore, and to the medieval history and cultures that gave it rise, will not be your friend in reading this story. Suffice it to explain by analogy how the narrative slights deepsman culture in favor of landsman culture, in both characters’ tight-third narration. The backstory of the conflicts that entangle Henry, Anne, and others is probably the weakest aspect of this work, but if you can avoid scratching at the scenery, what’s on center stage is well worth the time.

Neatly focused and complete in one volume (though the final resolution cheats somewhat, I think), In Great Waters offers political uncertainty, oft-sympathetic characters, and no easy answers about identity. I recommend it! —thistleingrey

 


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

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 3, Issue 6 (April 2011)

Registration
Reminder! The $165 registration rate, which includes all conference programming and events, including the three keynote presentations by our guests of honor and a conference T-shirt available only to attendees, as well as a dessert reception, two lunches and a breakfast, is available until April 30, 2011. After that, it jumps to $180. You can register at the registration page. Airport shuttle and Sirens Supper tickets can be purchased separately.

 

Sirens Review Squad: On Hiatus
We’re skipping reviews this month to bring you even more programming!

 

Programming
The deadline for proposals is May 7, 2011. Sirens’s programming is conceived, proposed, and presented by attendees, and your contributions, discussions, hypotheses, and analyses related to women in fantasy are the heart of the conference. Please consider participating!

To get involved, check out our how-to series on LiveJournal.

General programming information: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/33408.html
What type of presentation should I propose?: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/33952.html
Putting together a paper, lecture, talk, or presentation: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/35020.html
Putting together a panel: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/35496.html
Putting together a roundtable discussion: forthcoming
Putting together a workshop: forthcoming
Putting together an afternoon class: forthcoming
Free summaries!: forthcoming
All the posts tagged “programming”: http://community.livejournal.com/sirenscon/tag/programming

Visit the latest brainstorming post here to pick up an idea or to drop one off, to encourage presentations, or just to start your own brainstorming process. At present, there is a panel seeking panelists on Indian myth and folklore and some GLBTQ ideas up for grabs, there are roundtable discussion ideas on offer for the monstrous feminine and portrayals of women in fiction, and there are musings on everything from lamias to specific fairytales to music and art. Please check it out!

If you’d like more room than a comment to sketch out ideas, particularly if you’re seeking co-presenters or want to offer yourself up as a panelist, please feel free to start a thread on the Sirens message boards. We’ve cleared out old threads to prevent confusion and to make sure your new ideas will rise to the top. Not really sure what you’d like to do? Offer yourself up as a panelist or co-presenter here.

 

And Chat!
If you’re interested in programming, please join us for our April chat. Our next chat will be held on April 16, 2011, at six p.m. Eastern (3 p.m. Pacific) and last about two hours. We’ll focus specifically on those burning programming questions, help you proofread your summary, or whatever else you might need. We hope you’ll join us at the Sirens chat. No special software is needed, but you might have to refresh the page when the chat starts.

 

We’re Excited About…

I look forward to being able to read Cindy Pon’s Fury of the Phoenix! –thistleingrey

Also, Malinda Lo’s Huntress releases April 5 :)! And I really want to recommend Chime by Franny Billingsley, which is perfect for the monster theme. It came out March 17. SO GOOD. –newsboyhat

I’m looking forward to the release of Alison Goodman’s Eona, sequel to Eon, on April 19. 😀 –smilie117

Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch is out on the 14th. –Anonymous #1

Janni Lee Simner’s Faerie Winter comes out on April 5. –Anonymous #2

Gail Carriger just announced she’ll be doing a 4 book YA series called The Finishing School set in the same world as Souless/Changeless/Blameless/Heartless/Timeless and revolves around steampunky girls finishing school on a flying dirigible…tea and assassin training from what I can tell! SO EXCITED! –Manda

Sarah Rees Brennan (http://sarahtales.livejournal.com) sold a new YA trilogy to Mallory Loehr! –Anonymous #3

There are a whole bunch of April 5 releases mentioned on the Sirens Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/sirens_con. –Hallie

The first book on the heroine’s journey (which I was describing nonstop at the last Sirens) is out. From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend by Valerie Estelle Frankel has been published. –Valerie

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

 

BEA and ALA
Will you be at Book Expo America in May or the June American Library Association conference? We’d like to snap pictures or get news on community members in action. Please e-mail Hallie at (hallie at sirensconference.org).

 


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

We’re Excited About…

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

Nnedi Okorafor is nominated for a Nebula Award! –Faye

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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