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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

You’re Excited About…

Toothpick Hogwarts! — Amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * *
Liar

Liar
Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic or Madness

Magic or Madness
Justine Larbalestier
Razorbill, 2005

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

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

 


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