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Archive for April 2018

Guest of Honor: Violet Kupersmith

Due to a very happy personal circumstance, Zen Cho will no longer be able to attend Sirens this year. Instead, the incomparable Violet Kupersmith will join us as our hauntings guest this fall.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Violet or her work, here are some details: Violet is the author of The Frangipani Hotel, a collection of supernatural short stories about the legacy of the Vietnam War, and a forthcoming novel on ghosts and American expats in modern-day Saigon. She spent a year teaching English in the Mekong Delta with the Fulbright program and subsequently lived in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to research local folklore. She is a former resident of the MacDowell Colony and was the 2015–2016 David T.K. Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Her writing has appeared in No Tokens, The Massachusetts Review, Word Vietnam, and The New York Times Book Review.

To that, we’ll add that The Frangipani Hotel, which we’ve been enthusiastically recommending to everyone every year at Sirens, is a brilliant, incisive, subversive work. Her ghost stories are simultaneously retold Vietnamese folktales, an indictment of the Vietnam War, and an exquisite exploration of loss—of culture, of country, of family, of self. Her settings are palpable, her characters all-too-human, and her work unforgettable. We hope you’ll check it out before Sirens!

 

Book Club: The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

The City of Brass

People often ask me about my favorite type of books.

My reading volume is something of legend, not only at Sirens, but in professional circles where my bio—prompted by a public relations person who wanted to add some humanity to my list of accomplishments—has for a number of years included the number of books I read annually. Books are an easy conversation starter, right? What do you read? What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Have you read Lincoln in the Bardo or The Underground Railroad or inevitably some other borderline fantasy work by a dude? What should I read? What is your favorite type of book?

I have different answers for different people, of course. Some people struggle with the notion of fantasy generally, and then we have to talk about Game of Thrones and Westworld and how both are speculative, but only one is fantasy (and ahem, how only one is good). Some people are deep into fantasy, but read mostly white male authors, so we have to talk about Nnedi and Nora and Yoon and Guadalupe. Occasionally, people are well-versed in what I actually read, and I can discuss my deep and abiding love for fantasy-literary crossovers and high-fantasy adventure.

But if you ask me, unfettered, to tell you my favorite type of book, the answer has nothing to do with category or genre or women authors. If you ask me, unfettered, to tell you my favorite type of book, here it is: the sort of book where a woman—a powerful woman, a smart woman, a skilled woman—makes decisions.

They don’t have to be good decisions or smart decisions or immediate decisions, mind you, but she has to make decisions.

For a couple reasons, right? Partly because main characters who make decisions are more likely to be active, interesting, driven. They’re more likely to be protagonists or even antagonists, rather than simply narrators. Main characters who make decisions—good decisions, bad decisions, smart, foolish—tend to move the plot, redefine relationships, or even further the reader’s understanding of the story. Those characters, those characters whose decisions make things happen? Those characters are interesting. I want to ride with those characters.

But perhaps even more importantly, women spend so much of their lives without agency, without the power to make things happen, that it’s at best fundamentally uninteresting, and at worst, devastating, to see female characters without that agency. I want female characters who have agency, who can make decisions, whose decisions are powerful, whose decisions mean something.

Now some of you, probably many of you, don’t have this same quirk. Some of you, probably many of you, might even like heroines who are dragged, often kicking and screaming, into adventure and intrigue. Therefore, some of you, probably many of you, aren’t going to share my impatience with The City of Brass.

S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass opens in eighteenth-century Cairo, with Nahri—who despite having readily apparent magic, refuses to believe in it. (What?) She gets by on the streets by reading palms, stealing, and performing some rather miraculous healings. As part of a con, Nahri accidentally summons Dara, a djinn, and then all hell breaks loose. The dead rise from the mausoleum, Dara forces Nahri to flee from Cairo on a flying carpet, and a giant bird of unknowable power appears in the desert. How about that magic now, Nahri?

Nahri goes kicking and screaming. Despite her life on the streets in Cairo, she wants nothing to do with Dara, his magic carpet, or his impossible stories of ancient beings of fire and water. Or, for that matter, their destination: Daevabad, a magical city with mysterious ties to Nahri’s magical heritage.

Charkraborty has said that The City of Brass began as, essentially, history fanfiction. Scant references to djinn and Suleiman and myths that she researched and then wove into an entire secondary fantasy world stretching from Morocco to Ethiopia to China. In many, many ways, The City of Brass is a tour de force: breathtaking world-building, near-seamlessly dropped into actual history and geography; an extensive fantastic history, about which the reader salivates to know more; myriad distinct cultures premised on war or culture or art. This world is as impressive—and as interesting—as Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse or Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire universe; the art and culture as well-designed as Cassandra Khaw’s Food of the Gods or Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus; the secondary characters as developed and fascinating as Fonda Lee’s or Alex Marshall’s.

But where Chakraborty stumbles a bit is her point-of-view characters. Nahri spends almost all of the book kicking and screaming—about everything. Even when she and Dara have reached Daevabad, she continues to kick and scream about big things and little things, not only impingements on her freedom, but also, early and often, about how much practice it takes to learn to use her magical heritage. And because she’s so often in the dark, and kicking and screaming to stay that way, she’s not much of a decision-maker; indeed, she spends much of the book manipulated by a bunch of men. If she’d just point all that energy in a useful direction, maybe she’d claim her agency long before the end of the book. (In her defense, I suppose, her intended character arc stretches across multiple books; the fact that she stops acting like a brat at the end of The City of Brass bodes very well indeed for the next book.)

The other point-of-view character is Alizayd, a younger prince trained in war to serve in his brother’s future government. Alizayd disagrees vehemently, impoliticly, and often rudely with his father’s rule, finding numerous inconsistencies between their holy texts or tenets of law and his father’s practicalities. Alizayd tends to come off condescending and prudish, especially in contrast to his older brother—and while the prudishness didn’t bother me, his hauteur regarding his father’s regime, especially in light of his ignorance about how to actually rule, was grating. Lord save me from young men who think they know everything.

In hindsight, I think you have to consider this book as a multi-book arc: not just for plot, which is so common in fantasy, but in terms of character arcs as well. I firmly believe that both Nahri and Alizayd will start making decisions further down the line, and when they do, they’ll almost by definition become far, far more interesting. In the meantime, enjoy the dazzling show that is Chakraborty’s magical world.

Amy
 


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

 

Sirens Meet-Ups: Denver and New York City!

Each spring, we at Sirens like to break up the long year in between our conferences with some in-person meet-ups! While these casual get-togethers aren’t quite the same as the official conference in October, we’ve found that it’s a great way to connect with the Sirens community in the meantime. The following two meet-ups are hosted by Sirens staff members—Amy in Denver and Faye and Jennifer in New York, so if you live near those cities or happen to be in town, we hope you’ll join us!

We welcome all members of the Sirens community, whether you’ve attended the conference before and want to catch up, or have never attended and are curious. Bring your questions! Bring your friends! Bring your book recommendations! Whether over drinks, dinner, nibbles, or a pot of tea, books are always on the menu.

DENVER
Date: Saturday, May 5, 2018
Time: 2:00–4:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Location: La Sandia as 8419 Park Meadows Center Drive in Lone Tree, Colorado
RSVP on Facebook

NEW YORK CITY
Date: Saturday, May 19, 2018
Time: 2:00–4:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: Radiance Tea House and Books at 158 West 55th St, NY between 6th & 7th Avenue
RSVP on Facebook

Note: Participants must pay for their own food and beverages.

If you think you might join us, you can RSVP at the Facebook event pages above, to @sirens_con on Twitter, or to Jennifer at (jennifer.shimada at sirensconference.org).

Hope to see you there!

 

New Fantasy Books: April 2018

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of April 2018 fantasy book releases by and about women and genderqueer folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

 

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, feel free to leave a comment below!
 

Twelve Sirens Scholarships Funded for 2018

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable women of fantasy literature. As part of that mission, we specifically craft Sirens to include and amplify all of the brilliant voices creating those discussions. Our greatest hope is that those voices will represent both a wide array of perspectives and experiences—reader, scholar, librarians, educator, publishing professional, author—and individuals of different genders, sexualities, races, religions, and abilities. As we approach our tenth year of Sirens, we find that topics related to women in fantasy literature are as limitless as ever, and that our opportunity to learn from our community’s discussion, analysis, and debate of those topics is equally limitless.

This year, because of the tremendous generosity of the Sirens community, we raised the funds necessary to provide twelve scholarships—more than ever before! To everyone who donated, thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you again! Thank you for your financial commitment to our community. Thank you for helping make Sirens possible for certain individuals who are critical to our conversations and who sometimes find it difficult to attend without additional support. Thank you for your magnificent generosity!

Each scholarship includes both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. The twelve scholarships will be allocated as follows: three to fans of color/non-white fans, three to those submitting exemplary programming proposals, three to those with financial hardships, and three to librarians, educators, and publishing professionals (which may be anyone from an editor to an agent to a publicist to a cover designer to a bookseller).

If you need assistance, we hope you’ll consider applying for a scholarship. We designed this program specifically to help additional voices join our conference and our community—and your voice counts. Please visit our Scholarships page for more information on how to apply.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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