Review | The Calculating Stars By Mary Robinette Kowal (Or, Why Bree Loves Mary)

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Mary Robinette Kowal may be an actual goddess. Her ability to convey complicated emotional dynamics in an engaging and entertaining way is pretty much unparalleled.

Want to find out how she spoke to my soul this year? Watch the video below. I don’t cry, but I thought about it.

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Book Review: The Point by John Dixon

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of The Point by John Dixon, Probably the first in a new series? I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cover Description: “What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone—until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line.

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker—she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb—and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

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A #WorldCon76 Call To Action – #DiversityIs4Me

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If I don’t speak truth I can’t seek truth. — Ursula K. Le Guin, The Eye of Huron 

So much about the world these days leaves me feeling impotent. It seems like terrible things happen in a fire and windstorm that no amount of compassion can put out. For me, it can feel like a physical ache. It hurts in my heart and I feel it in my shortened, rage-filled breath. And yet, I often feel like this anger mounts and mounts and would burst in any other vessel. A firework locked in a safe, no place to let the pressure out.

When all of the #WorldCon76 controversy started and then came to a head, I felt so low.

To WorldCon’s credit, they’ve brought on a fantastic programmer in Mary Robinette Kowal to help fix the programming issues. But, still. Things like this shouldn’t happen.

But the truth is, not doing something is going to do the same thing that safe might do to a firework–pull out all the oxygen so the fire dies. That’s unacceptable.

The only thing to do is fight. And I need your help.

I can’t actually slap people (something, something pacifism), and I don’t know how effective writing my congressperson will be at effecting broader social change.

BUT

If there’s one thing I can trust to get a change started, it’s the internet.

(after all, if the internet can make rickrolling someone and the tide pod challenge a thing, we can also use those powers for good.)

What I need from you.

I’m still planning some outings for WorldCon and for those of you who show up, please make the effort to find me so I can feature you and your favorite underrated author on Instagram, but …

I want everyone to be able to work together for positive, community-wide change.

So, email me.

I’ll be posting video clips and text snippets from you. Email me some text or a video clip of you (30 seconds-1 minute) about your favorite authors. Include the authors you love who are persons of color, neuro-atypical, queer or who have a disability.

I want you and I to shout their names to the internet. Together.

Feel free to do your own posts using #diversityis4me

Message me on twitter or reach out to me at Bree.LowTea@gmail.com.

Keep an eye out for tweets, youtube videos, and instagram posts all about this topic over the next few weeks.

Let’s fight.

 

Should’ve Voted NOLA

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WorldCon Shirt

By Jacob P. Torres

@WORLDCON2018 is currently the largest dumpster fire on my twitter feed. This is impressive because I know and follow more than a few people who are heavily invested in national security and/or state department, and over the weekend the Trumpster Fire in Chief threatened war on a country we out-GDP 31 times over because he was having a moody day.

That the behaviour of the organizing  members of WorldCon has been reprehensible is both shockingly obvious and by this point also expressed significantly better than I can manage at the moment by people all over the internet. Read Mary Robinette Kowal or Bogi Takács or JY Yang or John Scalzi. Scalzi also has a great piece on his blog from 2013 about what a goddamn harassment policy should look like and how not to be a bucket of failure in that regard. Brianne also wrote about this and I agree with every word she said.

Over the weekend we’ve seen three big problems emerge like someone has been summoning Lovecraftian horrors.

  1. A dress code sent to some but not all award finalists and award presenters.
  2. Shockingly re-writing the bio of a prominent member of the SFF community that wreaks of transphobia.
  3. The lack of new voices, specifically new voices that are younger, or who represent sexual, gender, or national minorities.

All of these problems are equally bad. All of them stem from discrimination. And it’s frustrating to find yet another community that fails to be as inclusive and as welcoming as we thought it was.

We look to science fiction– we look to speculative fiction– to show us some of the best of humanity. It’s born out of a desire to see a better, more inclusive tomorrow. In 2018, it’s certainly disappointing, but no longer shocking, to see the worst of us reflected in towering, rage-filled voices in the communities we have sought belonging in.

It is another reminder that we can do better. That we always must do better. And better isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. We have to work at it, fight for, clamor for it in numbers and voices that are impossible to ignore. And we have so, so far to go. I wasn’t going to be able to attend this year’s WorldCon because of scheduling conflicts, but it wasn’t until this weekend that this wasn’t something that upset me. I’m not going to rant about the big three problems, but I did have a couple sentences about the Dress Code nonsense.

The Unforgivable Shit About Dress Codes.

Some events, some places require dress codes. It’s an unfortunate reality for many, especially genderqueer or genderfluid. Because dress codes are inherently sexist. They’re almost always harsher on women than they are on men. Failure to meet dress codes is often used to excuse deplorable behaviour. Dress codes at award ceremonies are also prejudiced against people who may struggle financially. Today, Dress Codes mostly cater to people who want the sexist and classist institutions we are forced to work and live in to continue. They‘re more toxic today because the communities dress codes discriminate against have voices, and organization, and we ignore them still.

Bree and I both volunteer for another organization that has to have a dress code. It’s always a long and thorough discussion on setting that policy and making certain that it’s as inclusive as possible. That’s something that WorldCon appears to have failed profoundly at.

What Should I Do?

Well you should’ve voted for NOLA. When your options are silicon valley, known bastion of sexist nonsense or the place that has Mardi Gras, chose fucking wisely. N.K Jemison, Nielsen Haydens, JY Yang, Mary Robinette Kowal, and John Scalzi are all, as of this posting withdrawing from the panels at WorldCon76. If I was going to WorldCon to hear legends in the field, I’d have zero incentive to do so now.

I’ve struggled with this post to find something different to say than what has already been expressed by other, better people. But I realized it doesn’t fucking matter if I have something new to add. Nonsense like this, hurtful, spiteful nonsense like this, should always be called out. In the light of day, this kind of hate can’t live forever. Let’s not give it shadows to hide.

What we can all do is let your voices be heard. Go to @WorldCon2018 and tell them they’re being a dumpster fire. Then tell them you’re not going. There is plenty to do in San Jose, California that doesn’t involve helping these shitbags be a success. Get online and start tweeting about books you love from new, exciting voices, and make certain that you never shut up about them.

And finally go HERE, right the fuck now, and volunteer for World Con 77 in Dublin next year.

I really, really hope that anyone working on WorldCon 77 are watching Mary Robinette Kowal’s twitter feed today, she’s going on an epic rant about how to actually empanel a diverse, inclusive, and excellent set of programming. Let’s make certain that the planning group is full of people clamoring to be heard and guaranteeing that the inclusivity that’s present in actually nominating our Hugo Nominees is present in the planning of the events to celebrate them and the excellent work they’ve done.

And next time, unless if you’re given the option between NOLA and anywhere else, you know the right choice to make.

A Big Fucking Hugo Sigh

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Well, I know it makes me naive and ignores a lot of fandom’s history, but damn if I don’t want it to be a haven. Science fiction and fantasy espouses some of what is best in humanity, and so I always hope that the people who love it will continue to espouse acceptance, love, and hope as well.

And so I made the best of the puppies.

And I forgave people who were internet jerks.

And people just keep giving me more and more strife.

Probably you’ve heard by now that there’s another dumpster fire in science fiction fandom. I wish this were less surprising.

TL;DR – Nothing that has come to light is great. I’m going to work to make it better. Here’s a plan, albeit limited by time, space and assistance.

https://giphy.com/embed/1wXeLxuTVBZe0Ht7Zu

I turned off my phone to sleep, and I woke up to news that the WorldCon 76 team had:

  1. Changed a person’s gender neutral pronoun bio to using the wrong pronouns
  2. Not put new Hugo finalists, largely persons of color and younger authors onto panels
  3. Sent dress codes to some individuals but not others “asking” that they dress professionally

Because, hey, it’s 2018 and why not?

I get it.

Conference running is really tough. Like on a scale of 1-10, probably an 8 or 9. I know; I’ve helped host thousands of people for academic events. Even in a place where you’re not coordinating dozens of panels and participants on top of booths, celebrities, vendors, and guests, you’re doing a lot of work.

But that doesn’t excuse shitty behavior

https://giphy.com/embed/wYyTHMm50f4Dm

So, let’s talk about this.

Shitty thing #1 – Screwing with bios and using personal pictures on programming

Well, this is easily one of the things that makes me the most mad. Program creators requested bios and photos from authors and other hugo-nominees and panel participants. +1 for having people explain themselves. Except they didn’t.

Bios were edited, including switching someone’s gender pronouns.

People’s professional pictures were skipped and personal facebook pictures (listed on private accounts) were used instead.

I cannot even fathom why this was considered ok.

Guess what, if you ask for a bio, as long as it isn’t wildly unprofessional or lewd, you should stick with that bio. In particular, you should NEVER change someone’s own pronouns. If someone tells you their pronouns, you accept those pronouns and move on. You aren’t the arbiter of pronouns and I promise you don’t know someone’s gender better than that person knows their own.

Using someone’s personal photos rather than a supplied professional one is a weird and invasive combination of ignoring privacy and not presenting your organization professionally. Just…What?

Shitty Thing #2 – Dress Codes

Rather than going on and on about this. I’ll just say, sending dress codes to some but not others isn’t ok. Hugo award nominees have enough on their plates, if a sparkly unicorn dress is their preference, it’s their damn night. Do what you will. I don’t care if someone is a man in a kilt, a woman in a miniskirt, or someone in a gender non-conforming outfit you don’t think is “pulling it off.” The nature of dress codes, in particular those espousing professionalism are both sexist and classist. I’m not here for that and I’m not here for it not being universally applied.

For a much more intricate look at the relationship between sexism and dress codes, here’s a fantastic piece by Everyday Feminism.

And this series of tweets shows a lot more at stake than who wears what type of heels.

 

Shitty Thing #3 – Not Including Members On Panels Because They Aren’t “Popular” or “Well-Known” Enough

https://giphy.com/embed/96jP5ZSpYxtwQ

Hugo nominees, in particular many of the younger nominees and those who have diverse backgrounds weren’t put on panels. Some of them have been receiving emails saying that they aren’t well-known enough to be placed on them.

This is ridiculous on two fronts:

1- Hugo nominees are definitionally well-known. To be nominated, you MUST have a not inconsequential presence and respect within science fiction and fantasy. PLUS, in theory at least, over the last five or so months, people have been reading those works and watching those movies and looking at that fan art. They have been a highlight in the community.

2- There is no way to make our fandom last without incorporating new voices. New voices are important to science fiction and fantasy. Without them, there will be no growth, and, frankly, growth is exactly what SFF needs.

At the very least, I’m glad I’m not living in a world limited to Heinlein and LeGuin. I want innovation and new perspectives, because this genre set needs that to maintain its lifeblood. And I want SFF to be around for a long, long time.

Fine, Bree, But What Are You Doing About It?

Right now, I’m talking to folks about setting up some outtings in San Jose. I understand this isn’t the same as at-con participation, but at the very least we can be a community that accepts one another. I’ll be working to get us accessible transit and will announce any outing plans soon, both here and on YouTube.

I’m bringing a fuck ton of pronoun stickers. I want to normalize inclusivity. The only way to do that is to make people realize that their world doesn’t have the rigid limits they think ought to be there and to call folks out on their incivility. If you show up at WorldCon, hunt me down. You can have a pronoun sticker for your badge.

I’ll be wandering with my Instagram stories going on throughout WorldCon. I want to talk to people about their favorite works, especially those that are debuts, new to you authors, #ownvoices, and that feature intersectionality. I’ll be posting frequently throughout the week.

Other things. Right now I’m open to suggestions. I want to help build community in places where community should be. Let me know your thoughts about what events or other activities you think should take place. Tweet me, comment, plaster my insta and YouTube with suggestions. Let’s make it happen.

 

 

Featured image photo credit: Facepalm Glax by Mattia Basaglia © 2017-2018 CC BY-SA

Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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Dread Nation

Cover Description: “Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

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Book Review: Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of Alex White’s, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

Cover Description: “Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she got something real–the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction.

Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world–until she witnesses Mother murder a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah has only one lead: the killer also hunts Boots.

On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler’s ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.

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