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Sirens at Home: Heroes Books

Heroes

In 2019, Sirens examined heroes in all their forms, but especially what it means to be a hero when you have multiple marginalized identities—and we did so with Guests of Honor Mishell Baker, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Rebecca Roanhorse, Suzanne Scott, and for the first time, a Sirens Studio Guest of Honor, Roshani Chokshi. As we interrogated what it means to be a hero, and explicitly rejected the traditional, hypermasculine notions of heroism, we discovered a pantheon of more revolutionary, but no less valuable, BIPOC, LGBTQIAP+, disabled and neurodivergent, and other heroes worthy of discussion and celebration.

In 2019, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this new definition of hero. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means for anyone to be a hero, but especially those who haven’t been privileged as such in the past. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

A Pale Light in the Black “Commander Rosa Martín Rivas pasted another smile onto her face as she wove through the crowds and headed for her ship at the far end of the hangar. She and the rest of the members of Zuma’s Ghost had weathered the post-Games interviews with as much grace as a losing team could, answering question after question about how it felt to come within three points of beating Commander Carmichael’s SEAL team without ever breaking expression. That wasn’t entirely true. Jenks had slipped once, muttering a curse and giving the reporter a flat look.”

2. A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

A Song Below Water “It feels redundant to be at the pool on a rainy Saturday, even though it’s spring, and even though it’s Portland, but maybe I’m just more of a California snob than I want to be. Back home I went to the beach on more than one cloudy day. I’d stand on the cold sand, burrowing my toes beneath the surface as though there’d be some warmth there, and I’d listen. Just like I’m doing now.”

3. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Aru Shah and the End of Time “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them. For as long as she could remember, Aru had lived in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. And she knew full well that the lamp at the end of the Hall of the Gods was not to be touched.”

4. Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline “It was midmorning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats. At the time I had more money than sense, and so I had been languishing at the Leishman Psychiatric Center in Silver Lake for just over six months. The Center had a rigid routine, and there was a perverse comfort in knowing what misery of boredom to expect and when.”

5. Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones

Every River Runs to Salt “I keep an ocean in a jar on my nightstand and a handful of coffee beans in my pocket. My roommate Imani once held the Pacific Ocean hostage in our living room, but that was before she died and I followed her down to the Under-Ath to fix the mess she left.”

6. Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Star Daughter “Sometimes keeping secrets was the hardest thing in the world. Sheetal Mistry decided to make a break for it. Right past the mirrored walls that reflected one another until the swanky banquet hall expanded into infinity—a horribly overcrowded infinity made of noisy kids, successful aunties and uncles, and gossiping grandparents. Everyone watching, everyone talking and laughing.”

7. The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Bloodprint Seven. Eight. Six. Arian traced the numbers in the sand. She was crouched behind a dusty ridge, surveying the land ahead. The wide, flat plains extended in every direction, broken in places by sparse shrubs, the faintest traces of greenery and life. She passed her field glasses to the coal-skinned woman perched to her right. ‘Do you see it?’”

8. The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame “The muezzin’s call pierces the thinning night air, extracting Fatima from dreams of fire and blood. Her eyes open to the darkness, and for a moment, she is caught in the dark space between sleep and wakefulness. This space is filled with beautiful snarling faces, fear as vast as the night sky, and grief only just realized.”

9. The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

The Light at the Bottom of the World “Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.”

10. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning “The monster has been here. I can smell him.”

For more information about our 2019 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2019 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Magic Worker Books

Magic Workers

In 2017, Sirens examined those who work magic—witches, sorceresses, enchantresses, and more—with Guests of Honor Zoraida Córdova, N.K. Jemisin, and Victoria Schwab (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Leigh Bardugo represented magic workers). While the foundation of our 2017 theme was witches—and how, even in the wholly new worlds of speculative spaces, the word “witch” is still a slur—we sought all examples of magic-working in fantasy literature by women, nonbinary, and trans folks, and focused on how magic in speculative spaces is so often an analog for power.

In 2017, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this wide variety of magic workers. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about magic and power, especially across axes of oppression. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic “Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”

2. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost “The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing. Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, ‘Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.’ But I was seven and asked too many questions.”

3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows “Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache. He was supposed to be making his rounds at the Hoede house, but for the last fifteen minutes, he’d been hovering around the southeast wall of the gardens, trying to think of something clever and romantic to say to Anya.”

4. Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon “Our town has a witch. She fed her eye to the devil. She eats roadkill, and she casts spells with the bones. That’s the kind of bull the dumb kids at school say. Witches ain’t real. She’s just an old loony. But…they also say she eats pets.”

5. Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Möira Fowley-Doyle

Spellbook of the Lost and Found “Daylight is only just touching the tips of the trees when the bonfire goes out. I am leaning against a bale of hay upon which someone I don’t know is sleeping.”

6. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

7. The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast “The first time I saw a redwood, I had a brand-new feeling—like discovering a color you’ve never seen before, or smelling snow for the first time if you were raised in a world without cold. Mom and I were driving up Highway 101 in a mostly good mood. We’d called Dad from the airport, and he hadn’t sounded tragic, even though I knew he missed me. And I’d seen a dozen rainbow flags between San Francisco and this stretch of wildness. Every single one felt like a welcome sign.”

8. The Memory Trees by Kali Wallace

The Memory Trees “Beyond the window, the morning was bright and glittering, the sky a breathless blue, and the hotels on Miami Beach jutted like broken teeth across the water, but all Sorrow could see was the orchard. There were trees whispering behind the walls of the office, and she almost believed if she turned—if she was quick—she would glimpse their sturdy thick trunks and rustling dead leaves from the corner of her eye.”

9. The Queer Witch Comics Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

The Queer Witch Comics Anthology “We banished darkness outside the walls.
Inside our walls, the people followed Așa and worshipped light.
‘Where there is light, there is growth.’
‘Where there is light, there is truth.’
As future Așa, I was eager to learn.
Especially from her.”

10. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

We Ride Upon Sticks “Two minutes into the second half, Masco’s #19 took an indirect shot on our goal. For a moment we lost sight of the ball in the scrum of players huddled in front of the net, the air blurry with sticks as if a hundred defenders were trying to clear it and a hundred others were trying to score. Considering how the first half went down, there really wasn’t any reason for those of us on offense to keep watching, our defense porous as a broken window. True, our opponents, the Masconomet Chieftains, hadn’t officially put it in the net, but it was a foregone conclusion, the ball already as good as in, another Masco goal adorning the scoreboard. Girl Cory turned and started the humiliating trek back to midfield. A few of us began to follow.”

For more information about our 2017 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2017 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Lovers Books

Lovers

In 2016, Sirens examined lovers and the idea that whom you choose to love—or not love—changes you and helps you change the world, with Guests of Honor Renée Ahdieh, Laurie J. Marks, and Kiini Ibura Salaam (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Anna-Marie McLemore represented lovers). We looked at representation of romantic and erotic ideas in speculative spaces, across different sexualities, including the notion of taking those things on your terms, which sometimes means not taking them at all.

In 2016, we suggested a number of books that portrayed romantic and sexual relationships. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to be, or not be, a lover, in a variety of different ways. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient Sené. Pregnant Sené. Sené of the tired skin. Sené whose face held a million wrinkles, each one etched deeply as if carved over the course of forty years. Sené whose blood was only twenty-four years young.”

2. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand “Mehr woke up to a soft voice calling her name. Without thought, she reached a hand beneath her pillow and closed her fingers carefully around the hilt of her dagger. She could feel the smoothness of the large opal embedded in the hilt, and its familiar weight beneath her fingertips calmed her. She sat up and pushed back the layer of gauze surrounding her divan.”

3. Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Empire of Wild “Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for nearly a year—ever since that terrible night they’d had their first serious argument and he’d mysteriously vanished. Her Métis family has lived in their tightly knit rural community for generations, but no one keeps the old ways … until they have to. That moment has arrived for Joan.”

4. Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

Fire Logic “In the border regions of northern Shaftal, the peaks of the mountains loom over hardscrabble farmholds. The farmers there build with stone and grow in stone, and they might even be made of stone themselves, they are so sturdy in the face of the long, bitter winter that comes howling down at them from the mountains.”

5. Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope

Song of Blood and Stone “In the beginning, there was silence. The melody of life and breath and heartbeats and change lay locked in a noiseless hush. No green shoots worked their way out of rocky soil. The parched earth was sterile, yearning for change.”

6. The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh

The Beautiful “New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. I remember the moment I first heard someone say this. The old man meant to frighten me. He said there was a time when coffins sprang from the ground following a heavy rain, the dead flooding the city streets. He claimed to know of a Créole woman on Rue Dauphine who could commune with spirits from the afterlife.”

7. The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

The Four Profound Weaves “I sat alone in my old goatskin tent. Waiting, like I had for the last forty years, for Aunt Benesret to come back. Waiting to inherit her loom and her craft, the mastery of the Four Profound Weaves. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been sitting like this, and it was dark in the tent; I no longer knew day from night.”

8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

9. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War “When Red wins, she stands alone. Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.”

10. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was Ours “As far as he knew, she had come from the water. But even about that, he couldn’t be sure. It didn’t matter how many nights they’d met on the untilled land between their houses; the last farm didn’t rotate its crops, and stripped the soil until nothing but wild grasses would grow. It didn’t matter how many stories he and Miel had told each other when they could not sleep, him passing on his mother’s fables of moon bears that aided lost travelers, Miel making up tales about his moon lamps falling in love with stars. Sam didn’t know any more than anyone else about where she’d come from before he found her in the brush field. She seemed to have been made of water one minute and the next, became a girl.”

For more information about our 2016 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2016 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Rebel Books

Rebel

In 2015, Sirens examined rebels and revolutionaries, and what it takes to stand against oppressors, with Guests of Honor Rae Carson, Kate Elliott, and Yoon Ha Lee (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Kameron Hurley represented rebels). We cast a wide net in our definition of rebels and revolutionaries, seeking not just traditional fantasy uprisings, but more revolutionary notions of rebellion as well.

In 2015, we suggested a number of books that portrayed this wide variety of rebels and revolutionaries. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to rebel or revolt, especially for those with marginalized identities. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen “The thing always appeared in the hour between sunset and full dark. When the light began to wane in the afternoon, casting shadows of gray and violet across the stable yard below the tower where he worked, Reza would give himself over to shuddering waves of anxiety and anticipation.”

2. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars Sarcasm is armour, Saffron thought, and imagined she was donning a suit of it, plate by gleaming, snark-laden plate. ‘Nice undies,’ leered Jared Blake, lifting her skirt with a ruler. No, not a ruler—it was a metal file, one of the heavy ones they were meant to be using on their metalworking projects. He grinned at her, unrepentant, and poked the file upwards. The cold iron rasped against her thigh. ‘Are you shaved?’

‘Fuck off, Jared,’ Saffron shot back. ‘I’d rather have sex with an octopus.’”

3. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts “Aster removed two scalpels from her med-kit to soak in a solution of disinfectant. Her fingers trembled from the cold, and the tools slipped from her grasp, plopping ungracefully into the sanitizer. In ten minutes’ time, she’d be amputating a child’s gangrenous foot. This shaking and carrying on would not do.”

4. Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine “‘Excuse me?’
‘Pardon me?’
‘I’m so very sorry!’
‘She’s not there?’
‘No, and she’s got 10 seconds to walk through that door before I read the damned thing myself. 10…9…8…’”

5. Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

Conservation of Shadows “It is not true that the dead cannot be folded. Square becomes kite becomes swan; history becomes rumor becomes song. Even the act of remembrance creases the truth. What the paper-folding diagrams fail to mention is that each fold enacts itself upon the secret marrow of your ethics, the axioms of your thoughts. Whether this is the most important thing the diagrams fail to mention is a matter of opinion.”

6. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Court of Fives “We four sisters are sitting in the courtyard at dusk in what passes for peace in our house. Well‐brought‐up girls do not fidget nor fume nor ever betray the least impatience or boredom. But it is so hard to sit still when all I can think about is how I am going to sneak out of the house tomorrow to do the thing my father would never, ever give me permission to do.”

7. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution “‘Persistence.’ It was the answer to a question posed to science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson in an interview about what he thought a writer required most in order to succeed in the profession. I read that interview when I was seventeen, hungrily scouring the shelves of the local B. Dalton bookseller for advice on how to be a writer.”

8. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns “Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom. The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed. Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs. I have been praying—no, begging—that King Alejandro de Vega, my future husband, will be ugly and old and fat.”

9. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water “There was a brief lull in the general chatter when the bandit walked into the coffeehouse. This was not because of the knife at his hip or his dusty attire, suggestive of a life spent in the jungle. It was not the first time Weng Wah Coffeehouse had seen a bandit and it would not be the last.”

10. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

We Set the Dark on Fire “Daniela Vargas woke at the first whisper of footsteps coming up the road. By the time the sound of shattering glass in the courtyard alerted the campus to the presence of intruders, she was dressed and ready. For what? She wasn’t sure. After a childhood of heavy-footed military police in close pursuit, she knew better than to mistake the luxury of her surroundings for safety.”

For more information about our 2015 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2015 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Hauntings Books

Hauntings

In 2014, Sirens examined hauntings and what it means to be haunted, with Guests of Honor Kendare Blake, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Andrea Hairston (and in our 2018 reunion year, Guest of Honor Violet Kupersmith represented hauntings). We interrogated the history of hauntings books—and the vital impact that women played in the popularization of the ghost story and the importance of hauntings stories, originally sold as pulp fiction, to gender studies.

In 2014, we suggested a number of books that portrayed hauntings. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to be haunted, especially as a woman or nonbinary person. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

A Dash of Trouble “Leo sprinted to the hallway bathroom, slammed the door, and locked herself in, just in time. An angry knock followed, ‘Hey, hurry up in there!’ Leo let out a cackle to match her Halloween witch costume. Marisol, Leo’s sixteen-year-old sister, banged on the door. She could huff all she wanted; Leo had no plans of letting her in.”

2. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood “The grease-slicked hair is a dead giveaway—no pun intended. So is the loose and faded leather coat, though not as much that as the sideburns. And the way he keeps nodding and flicking his Zippo open and closed in rhythm with his head. He belongs in a chorus line of dancing Jets and Sharks. Then again, I have an eye for these things. I know what to look for, because I’ve seen just about every variety of spook and specter you can imagine.”

3. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys “Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life. But breaking into the church was definitely crossing the moral-ambiguity line. Still, if he was going to finally prove he was a brujo, he had to perform the rite in front of Lady Death.”

4. Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrations by Rovina Cai

Elatsoe “Ellie bought the life-sized plastic skull at a garage sale (the goth neighbors were moving to Salem, and they could not fit an entire Halloween warehouse into their black van). After bringing the purchase home, she dug through her box of craft supplies and glued a pair of googly eyes in its shallow eye sockets. ‘I got you a new friend, Kirby!’ Ellie said. ‘Here, boy! C’mon!’ Kirby already fetched tennis balls and puppy toys. Sure, anything looked astonishing when it zipped across the room in the mouth of an invisible dog, but a floating googly skull would be extra special.”

5. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic “The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy. Their chauffeurs, rather than waiting outside the Tuñóns’ house in vain, had systematized the nights. They would head off to eat tacos at a street stand or even visit a maid who worked in one of the nearby homes, a courtship as delicate as a Victorian melodrama. Some of the chauffeurs would cluster together, sharing cigarettes and stories. A couple took naps. After all, they knew full well that no one was going to abandon that party until after one a.m.”

6. Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston

Redwood and Wildfire “‘I can’t keep running.’ Christmas moonbeams snuck through a break in the live oak trees, and Redwood Phipps planted her eleven-year-old self in the cold silvery light. Long legs and all, she was bone tired. Big brother George, her teary cousins, and wild-eyed grownups were leapfrogging through grandmother oaks, much wider than they were tall and so tangled up in one another, could have been a square mile of one tree. A maze of moss-covered boughs going every which way at once tripped up any fool aiming for speed. Redwood pressed her feet into the muck and felt fat ole roots holding down the ground.”

7. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing “I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate innards from muscle, organs from cavities. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today’s my birthday.”

8. Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road “There’s this vocabulary word—‘linear.’ It means things that happen in a straight line, like highways and essays about what you did on your summer vacation. It means A comes before B, and B comes before C, all the way to the end of the alphabet, end of the road…end of the line. That’s linear. The living are real fond of linear. The dead…not so much.”

9. Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement

Texas Gothic “The goat was in the tree again. I hadn’t even known goats could climb trees. I had been livestock-sitting for three days before I’d figured out how the darned things kept getting out of their pen. Then one day I’d glanced out an upstairs window and seen Taco and Gordita, the ringleaders of the herd, trip-trip-tripping onto one of the low branches extending over the fence that separated their enclosure from the yard around Aunt Hyacinth’s century-old farmhouse.”

10. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel “The only photograph I have of my father doesn’t show his face. He and his two brothers stand with their backs to the camera before their father’s grave on a sunny day in April 1973. My grandfather was killed when a building collapsed during the bombings that December, and the incense on top of his tomb—just visible over my uncle’s right shoulder—is almost all burned down. All three of the brothers are wearing their traditional silk jackets and trousers, but the trousers are white and don’t show up well because of the brightness of the sun and the pale marble of the cemetery all around them. It tricks my eyes whenever I look at it—for a moment I always think they are floating.”

For more information about our 2014 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2014 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Tales Retold Books

Tales Retold

In 2012, Sirens examined tales retold, with Guests of Honor Kate Bernheimer, Nalo Hopkinson, and Malinda Lo (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Guadalupe Garcia McCall represented tales retold). We interrogated retellings of myths, legends, and fairy tales from around the world, including their successes and failures in bringing greater insight and understanding to our own world.

In 2012, we suggested a number of books that retold a variety of tales. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about what it means to retell, reinterpret, and reclaim a tale as your own. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash “Aisling’s mother died at midsummer. She had fallen sick so suddenly that some of the villagers wondered if the fairies had come and taken her, for she was still young and beautiful. She was buried three days later beneath the hawthorn tree behind the house, just as twilight was darkening the sky.”

2. Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.”

3. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread “Harriet Lee’s gingerbread is not comfort food. There’s no nostalgia baked into it, no hearkening back to innocent indulgences and jolly times at nursery. It is not humble, nor is it dusty in the crumb.”

4. Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

Midnight Robber “Oho. Like it starting, oui? Don’t be frightened, sweetness; is for the best. I go be with you the whole time. Trust me and let me distract you little bit with one anasi story.”

5. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me “Despite its heft, this collection is a tiny hall of mirrors in the world’s giant house of fairy tales. Fairy tales comprise thousands of stories written by thousands of writers over hundreds of years. A volume published in the mid-twentieth century that purported to catalog every type of folktale in existence had more than twenty-five hundred entries; since then, countless new stories have joyously entered the world via new translations, folkloric research, and artists working in a multitude of forms.”

6. Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Never Look Back “If it’s a Saturday, then two things are true. First, trains heading uptown will forever be late, no matter what. Deadass. It’s as if the MTA decides anyone going past 125th Street must not be worth the trouble. So what if you thought the train you got on downtown was an express 5? It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s a local. No, wait, scratch that. Right now the train you’ve been chilling on for the past half hour has decided to not even enter the Boogie Down. Who cares if you have things to do?”

7. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Summer of the Mariposas “Juanita reacted first. Being fourteen and only second oldest, she didn’t usually take charge. But when she felt the corpse floating beside her, she started pulling Pita out of the water as if she were a sopping Raggedy Ann doll.”

8. The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill

The Girl and the Goddess “In This Story

There is a girl who is stubborn

And strong-willed and who makes

Mistakes enough to fill an ocean.”

9. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (now Daniel Lavery)

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror “Daughters are as good a thing as any to populate a kingdom with—if you’ve got them on hand. They don’t cost much more than their own upkeep, which you’re on the hook for regardless, so it’s not a bad strategy to put them to use as quickly as possible.”

10. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods “When I was little I used to read before I slept at night. And I read by the light of a lamp clipped to my headboard. Stark white and bright, against the darkness of my room. I dreaded turning it off. What if I reached out…just past the edge of the bed and something waiting there, grabbed me and pulled me down, into the dark.”

For more information about our 2012 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2012 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Monster Books

Monster

In 2011, Sirens examined monsters and their meaning in speculative literature, with Guests of Honor Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Alaya Dawn Johnson represented monsters). We deconstructed the monsters and the monstrous feminine, discussing how frequently society deems both femininity and a refusal to conform to feminine “ideals” monstrous.

In 2011, we suggested a number of books that included feminine monsters. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about monstrousness and how society uses that construct to oppress marginalized identities. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Liar “I was born with a light covering of fur. After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies. My father is a liar and so am I. But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.”

2. Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress: Awakening “It took three years to find a name. Another two years to find the person. And now I’m here.”

3. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls “Everyone knows about the island of Sawkill Rock: The silly old legends of its healing waters, which are impossible to altogether dismiss when one considers the people of Sawkill themselves—their hard white teeth and supple limbs. The brazen, easy way they walk and shop and love. Their flagrant indifference toward life beyond the Rock, and their deft handling of even the bleakest tragedy: Oh, what a shame that was, they say, and bow their shining heads for a moment before gliding on, untroubled.”

4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer “On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red.”

5. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni “The Golem’s life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was 1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York. The Golem’s master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.”

6. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead “She’d never gone this deep. Gyre wriggled her armored body another centimeter into the crevice, then eased her bag of gear after her. The plating on the back of her calf scraped over the stone, and she winced at the noise. Nobody had warned her that the opening to the lower cave system was so small—or empty. To be fair, she hadn’t gotten a lot of warning or preparation. She’d been too eager to get below the surface to question if there should have been more than the limited orientation she’d received.”

7. The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife Say it. The beginning and end at once. I’m facedown in a truck bed, getting ready to be dead. I think about praying, but I’ve never been any good at asking for help. I try to sing. There aren’t any songs for this. All I have is a line I read in a library book. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

8. Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints Seven. That’s what we’re starting with. I woke with the dream late on a Thursday night, sometime in July. It’s a good one, as far as sevens go. The angel joker for the zero, plus seven of spades, that’s seven, clean as the air you breathe. Well, cleaner, if you breathing in Harlem.

9. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death “My life fell apart when I was sixteen. Papa died. He had such a strong heart, yet he died. Was it the heat and smoke from his blacksmithing shop? It’s true that nothing could take him from his work, his art. He loved to make the metal bend, to obey him. But his work only seemed to strengthen him; he was so happy in his shop. So what was it that killed him? To this day I can’t be sure. I hope it had nothing to do with me or what I did back then.”

10. Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls “Something. Way out in the white-dark. Between the trees, moving where the thickets swarm. You can see it from the roof, the way the brush bends around it as it rustles to the ocean.”

For more information about our 2011 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2011 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Faery Books

Faery

In 2010, Sirens examined faeries, with Guests of Honor Holly Black, Marie Brennan, and Terri Windling (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Ellen Kushner represented faeries). We analyzed traditional and new texts, and the myriad, often villainous roles that faery literature permits those who are not cisgender men, not to mention the pantheon of personality traits that faeries display, from the Seelie Court to the Unseelie and around the world.

In 2010, we suggested a number of books that included faeries in their many guises. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about faeries, from brownies to queens to kitsunes. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels. To judge by the scuffles, it was larger than a rat and smaller than a horse. On nights when hard rain beat the mountainside high above, and filled Caverna’s vast labyrinth of tunnels with the music of ticks and trickles and drips, the intruding creature sang to itself, perhaps thinking that nobody could hear.”

2. All of Us with Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil

All of Us with Wings “Pallas sat sidesaddle on the kitchen counter, velvet ankle boots resting daintily in the deep porcelain sink. Pressing her nose against the dark kitchen window, she glared at the hulking cyclops creeping steadily toward Eris Gardens, its single working headlight illuminating the carriage house and steep gravel drive.”

3. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens “My parlor smelled of linseed oil and spike lavender, and a dab of lead tin yellow glistened on my canvas. I had nearly perfected the color of Gadfly’s silk jacket.”

4. Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep “Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world-skies—day dancing into dusk, dusk swirling into night, night into day again—cavorted the bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre. In that ceiling, at least, human and gentry and goblin all intermingled together, like they had in olden days before the doors between worlds were barred and the boundaries set.”

5. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Midnight Never Come “Fitful drafts of chill air blew in through the cruciform windows of the Bell Tower, and the fire did little to combat them. The chamber was ill-lit, just wan sunlight filtering in from the alcoves and flickering light from the hearth, giving a dreary, despairing cast to the stone walls and meagre furnishings. A cheerless place—but the Tower of London was not a place intended for cheer.”

6. Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster

Returning My Sister’s Face “Buddha teaches that this existence is one of suffering. And of all the Middle Kingdom, my people, the Clan of Bótù, bear the greatest burden of suffering. We are fodder for all—tiger and owl, fox and man—and only those with fleet limbs, strong hearts, and good fortune survive.”

7. The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer “I’ve memorized their every accusation: Murderess. She did it. She was crouched over her mother’s body, covered in blood.

8. The Faery Reel co-edited by Terri Windling

The Faery Reel “Where do faeries come from? Folklorists, philosophers, historians, mystics and others have debated this question for centuries. No one really knows how faeries originated—unless it’s the faeries themselves, and they’re not telling. What we do know is that tales of the faeries can be found on every continent around the globe, and that belief in the existence of the ‘Hidden People’ is surprisingly widespread today.”

9. Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner

Thomas the Rhymer “I’m not a teller of tales, not like the Rhymer. My voice isn’t smooth, nor my tongue quick. I know a few tunes, everyone does, but nothing like his: from me you’ll never hear songs of gentle maidens fording seven rivers for their false lover so bittersweet as to make the hardest old soldiers weep; nor yet merry ones of rich misers tricked out of their gold, with the twist of a word and a jest so neatly turned that the meanest old uncle that ever pinched a dowry still laughs without offense.”

10. Tithe by Holly Black

Tithe “Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was—see if she would swallow a butt whole.”

For more information about our 2010 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2010 archive page.

Sirens at Home: Warrior Books

Warrior

In 2009, our inaugural year, Sirens examined warriors, with Guests of Honor Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Sherwood Smith (and in our 2013 reunion year, Guest of Honor Robin LaFevers represented warriors). We delved deep on what it means to be to a warrior, especially as that construct intersects with gender and gender expression.

In 2009, we suggested a number of books that considered gender and warrior archetypes. For Sirens at Home, though, we want to feature 10 books that we think have something to say about warriors, not to mention gender and other axes of oppression. Here are those books, as well as their opening words—and we’ve included links to those works at Bookshop in the titles. Bookshop supports both Sirens and independent bookstores, so if you’re looking to purchase any of these titles, they’re a great option!

1. A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A Blade So Black “Alice couldn’t cry. She couldn’t scream. All she could do was run.”

2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone “Pick me. It’s all I can do not to scream. I dig my nails into the marula oak of my staff and squeeze to keep from fidgeting. Beads of sweat drop down my back, but I can’t tell if it’s from dawn’s early heat or from my heart slamming against my chest. Moon after moon I’ve been passed over. Today can’t be the same.”

3. Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel/Court Duel “I hope any of my descendants reading this know exactly what the Covenant and the Code of War are, but there is always the chance that my story has been copied by the scribes and taken to another land that will consider Remalna distant and its customs strange.”

4. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph “I did not arrive at the convent of the Saint Mortain some green stripling. By the time I was sent there, my death count numbered three, and I had had two lovers besides. Even so, there were some things they were able to teach me: Sister Serafina, the art of poison; Sister Thomine, how to wield a blade; and Sister Arnette, where best to strike with it, laying out all the vulnerable points on a man’s body like an astronomer charting the stars.”

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation “The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me. I guess it should have been obvious to everyone right then that I wasn’t going to have a normal life.”

6. First Test by Tamora Pierce

First Test “Alanna the Lioness, the King’s Champion, could hardly contain her glee. Baron Piers of Mindelan had written to say that his daughter wished to be a page.”

7. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling “In these dungeons, the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind. One that had so far proven correct, as Oll’s maps tended to do.”

8. The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger’s Daughter “Empress Yui wrestles with her broken zither. She’d rather deal with the tiger again. Or the demons. Or her uncle. Anything short of going north, anything short of war. But a snapped string? One cannot reason with a snapped string, nor can one chop it in half and be rid of the problem.”

9. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame “People lived because she killed. And if that meant braving the Arz where even the sun was afraid to glimpse, then so be it.”

10. We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

We Rule the Night “Revna didn’t realize the war had come to them. Not until the factory stopped.”

For more information about our 2009 conference, including the programming presented that year, please see our 2009 archive page.

Sirens at Home: We’ve tracked thousands of fantasy books by women, nonbinary, and trans authors for our Sirens bookstore. This is what we found

Once upon a time, we realized that Sirens attendees were looking for a different kind of bookstore. A bookstore that didn’t just stock commercial bestsellers or the same list of ten fantasy “classics” written by dead white cisgender men, but one that highlighted the luminous literature of our conference: the women, nonbinary, and trans authors publishing brilliant books in the fantasy and speculative space. Books written by and featuring people of all races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, ages, and bodies. These would be the books found in prime placement on tables, face-out at eye level on bookshelves, or enthusiastically recommended in a book talk. Books in which our voraciously well-read community could discover something new, something surprising, something personal.

Sirens Bookstre 2018 Sirens Bookstre 2018

Those who have attended our conference know our bookstore is a once-a-year pop-up that takes a few folks on our bookstore team a year to exhaustively research and our entire on-site conference staff a half day to lovingly unpack and arrange. Each year since 2012, it has grown in size, to over two thousand titles lining the shelves and tables in our community room, where conference attendees can browse and purchase as many books as they desire. And because we cannot gather safely in person in 2020, we’re offering a unique look behind the scenes as part of Sirens at Home: a peek into our data for bookstore sourcing for the past five years.

Why tracking this is important

Each year, in order to accurately and broadly stock our pop-up bookstore with books by women, nonbinary, and trans authors, we spend countless hours prowling through catalogs, new book lists, publisher websites, social media, and bookstores. We attempt to track and identify authors who identify as LGBTQIAP+ and authors who identify as BIPOC to ensure that our lists are inclusive as possible. We showcase some of this work in our annual suggested reading list and reading challenge, our monthly new release book lists, as well as specially curated lists by affinity or identity, like our list of 150 queer speculative works, 50 brilliant speculative works by Black authors, and 50 Latinx authors and books to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month.

We’ve prided ourselves on knowing exactly what is being published in this space, and when, and by whom. Over the years, we’ve realized that our efforts are singular; we don’t see anyone else tracking this kind of data so we’ve had to do it ourselves. The data presented below begins with 2016, the first year we had meaningful complete data to draw conclusions from.

We know that not many women, nonbinary, and trans authors—particularly those who also identify as LGBTQIAP+ or BIPOC—get major publisher support or wide distribution in sales channels. We know that even major publishing houses have modest margins and depend on their backlist in order to be able to acquire and publish new voices. In the age of Amazon, we know how challenging retail environments are even in pre-pandemic times, and how many bookstores rely on those bestsellers and classics to keep the lights on. But that is exactly why we are especially scouring the catalogs of small independent presses and looking to international markets, and that is also exactly why the Sirens bookstore exists. For a few days each year, we make real our kind of bookstore—one that is queer, diverse, intersectional, and fiercely inclusive.

What this data is

We know any data project is imperfect. At its core, we are basing this project off of the thousands of books published in 2016-2020 that we’ve tracked and researched, for consideration to stock in our Sirens bookstore. In the data we’re about to present, we have chosen only to highlight 1,600 of those books that fulfill the following criteria, and thus are:

  • What Sirens defines as speculative literature. We know that the lines that delineate genre categories are thin and arbitrary. We are a conference on gender in fantasy literature, and while that includes second-world fantasy, horror, dystopia, contemporary and urban fantasy, fabulism, space opera, and paranormal romance, we cannot claim to comprehensively include science fiction even though we stock it—and we fully know some of the books in these subgenres are listed as such.
  • Books that may not be categorized as fantasy or science fiction, but befits this definition. This includes titles that might be shelved as literary fiction, mystery, thriller, magical realism, and others.
  • Published in or translated to English, particularly by or through an American publisher. Though we do track books published in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, if an American edition exists, that is the year and publisher it is listed under.
  • Novels, novellas, graphic novels, or collections of poetry or short stories. Novels, novellas, and graphic novels may have two or more contributors to a single narrative; poetry or short fiction collections only have one contributor.
  • Newly published standalone works or the first book in a series. Because our Sirens bookstore prioritizes discovery, we rarely stock sequels, movie novelizations, or reissues. Occasionally we will stock a special edition or sequel (usually by our guests of honor).
  • Intended for an adult, young adult, or middle grade audience. We do not yet include chapter books, picture books, or other formats or age groups, though we know that books for even younger readers have even more potential for fantasy and speculative elements.
  • Published by third-party publishers, which includes traditional presses including Big Five publishers and independent publishers of various size, but not self-published works. We have specifically looked at small independent publishers leading the way, since we know many of the works we source are not often acquired or supported by major presses; at the same time, we cannot keep track of all self-published works in this space.
  • Our best attempt to track authors who identify as LGBTQIAP+, BIPOC, or both. Our disclaimers and reasoning are explained in their respective sections below, and while it will be stated many times, our numbers reflect only authors who publicly identify as such.

What this data isn’t

As comprehensive as we aspire our data to be, and as many identities and experiences as we aim to uplift at Sirens, some aspects are nearly impossible for our small volunteer team to track and verify. Our survey of 1,600 books does not span:

  • Books written by cisgender men as the sole author(s). All books in this dataset are speculative fiction and have at least one female, nonbinary, or trans collaborator, since we know some books—particularly comic books or serial novels—have teams of writers. We cannot comment on the state of speculative fiction publishing as a whole.
  • The breadth of comics publishing, though we often did include first collected volumes of superhero comics like Wonder Woman or Shuri (but not individual issues).
  • Books that have been released eBook or eAudio only—we’re a pop-up bookstore so we’ve only tracked books that have a print version available.
  • Disability and neurodivergence. Though we so deeply admire authors who have publicly discussed their disability or neurodivergence—and even become outspoken advocates—we know many choose not to disclose their condition for reasons personal to them.
  • Religion. While we track some of this information if we are able to find it, such as authors who publicly identify as Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, we don’t have enough comprehensive data. While there is much to unpack about fantasy and allegory, religion, too, is deeply personal for each author and individual.
  • Body diversity. We value all body types and sizes at Sirens, and more so in speculative literature where we are not limited to the homogenous standards of beauty presented in our day-to-day lives. But this data, too, is difficult to track in a significant way.

Though not reflected below, our bookstore also stocks: anthologies; select nonfiction as it relates to feminism, gender, intersectionality; and literary criticism and scholarly work on speculative fiction that befits our educational mission.

What we tracked

If we held Sirens in-person this year, we would have stocked over 2,000 individual titles, with over 1,000 of these from this dataset of 1,600. The question of whether we got better at tracking is certainly up for debate, but it looks like the years 2019 and 2020 we significantly increased our number of books tracked—or very likely, expanded our definition of speculative fiction. We noticed that fewer books were being published this year, from 440 in 2019 to 368 in 2020 (likely from COVID-19-related publishing delays).

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors by Year

Out of the books in this data set, these were the rough categories we’ve imposed for our own bookstore research, sourcing, and organizing:

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors Fantasy vs. SF

Nearly all books in the “Both” category were short story collections by a single author that spanned both fantasy and science fiction.

For our own sorting, we separated out Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade categories. The two others require a bit more explanation:

  • Graphic: This includes graphic novels or comics, but doesn’t include middle grade books with spot illustrations. It also includes all age groups.
  • Short: This includes short fiction collections and novellas. It also can either be for young adults or adults, though most of these books are adult.

We told you it wasn’t perfect!

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors Fantasy by Category

But because we’re Sirens, what we really wanted to see was how many of those books were written by an author with a publicly verified LGBTQIAP+ and/or BIPOC identity:

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors LGBTQIAP+ and/or BIPOC Authors

We also took a look at the 1,000+ books from this data set of 1,600 books that we would have stocked in this year’s Sirens bookstore—and it turns out that, of those 1,000+ books, 48% (almost half!) would have been by at least one creator who identifies as LGBTQIAP+, BIPOC, or both. That translates to nearly 500 books out of this data set alone!

By publisher

As stated above, we have intentionally looked beyond major publishers to also include smaller independent presses and works published in English from non-U.S. markets. How have those numbers compared to the works published by the Big Five publishing houses here in the United States? The Big Five publishers are: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster and their in-house imprints under their respective umbrellas (Tor at Macmillan, Del Rey at Penguin Random House, for instance). These imprints under their parent companies have in-house marketing, publicity, and sales teams.

Publishers out of the Big Five range from small to midsized and even large in some other spheres of publishing. Educational giants such as Scholastic and entertainment companies like Disney have trade divisions as well as their own marketing, publicity, and sales teams, as do midsized publishers like Abrams and Workman. Some publishers like BOOM! Studios, Candlewick, and Chronicle are distributed by one of the Big Five, which means that they share a sales team but may have their own marketing and publicity teams. Smaller independent presses are distributed by yet other channels. The list of non-Big Five Publishers is truly exhaustive, but we’d like to give a shout-out to: Aqueduct Press, Small Beer Press, Sourcebooks, and Tachyon Publications—all presses whose books we stock often in our bookstore, as well as UK presses like Angry Robot and Titan.

Note: Because the data reflects the years 2016-2020, we have included Harlequin in HarperCollins’s numbers as it was acquired in 2014, but Disney Hyperion would remain separate from Hachette until 2020.

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors by Publisher

Though Penguin Random House is the largest publisher and has absorbed many speculative fiction imprints of yore, Macmillan has a larger percentage of titles we track perhaps because of their robust publishing programs from Tor, Tor.com, and various young reader imprints—and do recall, we are particularly tracking new voices in gender and speculative fiction, not series. A portion of HarperCollins’s numbers are YA—particularly fantasy—which dropped off significantly from 2019 to 2020.

The books we stock in the Sirens bookstore follows this breakdown closely, with a few percentage points in favor of Macmillan and Non-Big Five publishers, but not enough to be statistically significant. Curious to see which imprints and presses have the most books in our bookstore?

Top Presses and Imprints in the Sirens Bookstore

Note: We know a lot of children’s and young reader imprints are doing great work, but due to the consolidated nature of children’s publishing, individual imprints at Big Five houses share the same marketing, publicity, and sales teams. The number of young adult and middle grade books we ended up stocking were relative to the publisher’s size.

LGBTQIAP+ authors

Sirens is first and foremost a conference about gender in speculative literature, and one of our goals is to uplift authors who identify as queer, which encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and other identities (LGBTQIAP+) on a wide spectrum. We acknowledge that our numbers reflected here only include authors who are publicly out, either in an official biography, in a public interview, or on social media.

We are unable to provide a further breakdown of LGBTQIAP+ authors by category because these labels are rightfully fluid and may include multiple identities, and people often simply use “queer” to self-identify publicly. Please note that these books reflect number of standalone or first-in-series books by queer authors in this time period.

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors LGBTQIAP+ Authors by Year

Although the trend is encouraging, it must be observed that only 18.1% of new books by women, nonbinary, and trans authors in the speculative space in the past five years have at least one LGBTQIAP+ creator. Again, with a grain of salt that our tracking has gotten better each year since 2016, the percentage has risen as well, to 2020 being 22.0%.

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors LGBTQIAP+ Authors: Publishers vs. Sirens Bookstore

BIPOC authors

At Sirens, we acknowledge the lasting and deep-seated traumas of colonialism. Our data reflecting authors who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) is even less perfect, as is our attempt to break down the category of People of Color. Like with our authors who identify as LGBTQIAP+, our numbers reflected here only include authors who have publicly identified as BIPOC, either in an official biography, in a public interview, or on social media.

We have separated our data for BIPOC into the following categories, again fully acknowledging they are deeply imperfect: Black, Indigenous, Latinx, East Asian/Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander, South Asian/Middle Eastern, and Multiracial which contains more than one of the above categories. If authors identified as one of these categories and white, they were counted in that category. We also fully recognize that Latinx, as a colonialist construct, is a complicated identifier meant to include the communities of Mexico, Central America, and South America, but also includes white women of European descent. We have listed Afro-Latinx folk under Multiracial.

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors BIPOC Authors by Year

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors BIPOC Authors Breakdown

2020 marked a significant increase of around 9% of the previous years, 2016-2019, with an average of still only 21.9% of published titles in our criteria being authored by BIPOC. Current U.S. Census data [source] shows that only 60.1% of Americans identify as white, non-Hispanic, whereas we have included our Hispanic-identifying folks under Latinx. It is interesting to see that the categories of East/Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander and South Asian/Middle Eastern have a combined percentage of around 10%, despite being only 6% of the U.S. population. All other groups are underrepresented, especially published authors identifying as Indigenous and Multiracial.

New Books by Women, Nonbinary, and Trans Authors BIPOC Authors: Publishers vs. Sirens Bookstore

Conclusions

Over the past five years, we have observed—truly, with our imperfect data—that publishers of speculative fiction have indeed published more LGBTQIAP+ and BIPOC new voices, even if the increases are slight and a small piece of the overall publishing landscape befitting our criteria. These are our takeaways:

  • The increase has primarily been 2019 to 2020, with a 5% jump for LGBTQIAP+ voices and a 9% jump for BIPOC voices. There are many possible explanations for this, with 2020 being a singular year in several respects: the COVID-19 pandemic, social movements supporting Black Lives Matter and transgender individuals, and one of the most fraught election years in U.S. history. We can deduce—loosely—that while fewer books were published from 2019 to 2020, a greater percentage of the books that were published were authored by LGBTQIAP+ and BIPOC voices. This is a trend worth noting, but at Sirens, we lament that it took this extraordinary set of circumstances to see these increases.
  • Given that our LGBTQIAP+ and BIPOC data is publicly verified by authors, we also acknowledge that, in the 2020 literary landscape, more authors may have felt more comfortable publicly acknowledging and discussing these aspects of their identities, when they may not have previously.
  • Even with these percentages, it is significant to note that out of all the new books we tracked by women, nonbinary, and trans authors from 2016-2020, two thirds of them—around 65%—were being written by cisgender, heterosexual white women. Only in 2020 has that percentage come down to 55%.
  • Big Five publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—are slightly below LGBTQIAP+ and BIPOC percentages than non-Big Five publishers, around 4.1% and 3.5% respectively. We can’t say this is statistically significant, but we can say…
  • In the Sirens bookstore, we do our best to provide a larger selection of books relating to gender in speculative fiction by marginalized creators. Out of the 1,600 books we tracked in this dataset, we would have stocked over 1,000 of them in this year’s Sirens bookstore—and of those 1,000 titles, 25.0% would have been by LGBTQIAP+ authors, and 30.9% would have been by BIPOC authors. Given that some creators of course identify as both LGBTQIAP+ and BIPOC, 48% of those 1,000 works that we would have stocked—or nearly 500 titles—would have been by creators who identify as LGBTQIAP+, BIPOC, or both. (And as a reminder, our bookstore would have stocked over 2,000 titles in total this year!)

Sirens is a conference on gender in fantasy literature, presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc., a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. If you appreciated this analysis or support our mission of discussing and celebrating gender diversity in speculative spaces, and you are able, please consider making a monetary donation here.

Sirens at Home is holding a virtual Books and Tea on Saturday, October 24 at 4:00 p.m. Mountain Time (6:00 p.m. Eastern Time) with some of our bookstore staff, who will share books they love and books they’re excited to read. Please learn more about Sirens at Home here, and register to receive your event links via Zoom.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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2017
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2016
December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March

2015
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2014
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, March, February, January

2013
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2012
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2011
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2010
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2009
December, November, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January
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