Archive for June 2011

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 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 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: –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 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.


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