Science Fiction

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.

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

Star Wars the Last Jedi, Shitty “Fans,” and Enough of this Bullshit

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By Jacob P. Torres

Buckle up I have some words. To say that I am disgusted by the amount of offensive nonsense going on in America right now is an understatement so massive it has its own gravity. And while this isn’t the forum to discuss all the many things that are keeping me up at night, this is the forum to discuss Star Wars. As was pointed out in the excellent article on SyFy by the same title, Star Wars has a White Male Fandom Problem. I’d put off making many comments about The Last Jedi or these basement-dwelling nutters because I’ve got more significant things to spend my moral outrage on, but ultimately, I was reminded recently that failing to speak out against racism, against misogyny, against intolerance, any time you see it is tacitly supporting that sentiment, especially if you’re born into a position of relative privilege that being white and male affords you. So, at the risk of having my twitter feed flooded with a bunch of sexist, racist manbabies butthurt that the movie they “love” no longer reflects the white-washed worldview that dominates their dark and empty skulls, here we go.

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Book Review: Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

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By Jacob P. Torres

Find my spoiler-free review of Killing Gravity by Corey J. White, the first novella in his Voidwitch saga and his debut work. The sequel Void Black Shadow is already out and the third novella, Static Ruin, will be coming out later this year.

Cover Description: “Mars Xi can kill you with her mind, but she’ll need more than psychic powers to save her in Killing Gravity, the thrilling science fiction space adventure debut by Corey J. White.

Before she escaped in a bloody coup, MEPHISTO transformed Mariam Xi into a deadly voidwitch. Their training left her with terrifying capabilities, a fierce sense of independence, a deficit of trust, and an experimental pet named Seven. She’s spent her life on the run, but the boogeymen from her past are catching up with her. An encounter with a bounty hunter has left her hanging helpless in a dying spaceship, dependent on the mercy of strangers.

Penned in on all sides, Mariam chases rumors to find the one who sold her out. To discover the truth and defeat her pursuers, she’ll have to stare into the abyss and find the secrets of her past, her future, and her terrifying potential.

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Book Review: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

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By Jacob P. Torres

Revenant Gun

I received an ARC of Yoon Ha Lee’s third novel, Revenant Gun in exchange for an honest review. This spoiler-free review will cover the conclusion of the Machineries of Empire trilogy. There are spoilers to the first two novels, so if you haven’t read those be sure to read them first. And be sure to check out my review of the previous books, Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem.

Cover Description: “When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he’s a seventeen-year-old cadet—but his body belongs to a man decades older. Hexarch Nirai Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general. Surely a knack for video games doesn’t qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse. The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can’t remember committing. Kujen’s friendliness can’t hide the fact that he’s a tyrant. And what’s worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself…”

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Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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By Jacob P. Torres

Ninefox Gambit

I’m re-reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire novels before I read and review my ARC of his third novel, Revenant Gun. Spoilers abound in this review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Ninefox Gambit was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula Award for best novel and won the 2017 Locus Award for best new novel.

Cover Description: “To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao—because she might be his next victim..”

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ICYMI | Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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One of our favorite things at LTB is talking about books. On occasion, we do that face-to-face. If you missed it last week, you can still watch and participate with us while we talk about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. We’re talking character development, story development, grand themes of family and community, and of course TEA! Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the book so you can join in on our discussions!

ANNOUNCEMENTS! Site Updates

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This blog has been long in need of a revamp. Doing things solo can only get you so far and I’ve been fortunate enough in life to have friends who share my love of books and who, more specifically, love science fiction and fantasy. So, the TL;DR of this post is: I have a partner now and the site is revamping! <queue applause>

Who is this new dude?

Jacob Torres and I have been friends for almost a decade. We’ve been through ups and downs and have many things in common, but one of the biggest highlights of our friendship has been our shared love of all things geeky and most things bookish. I’m so glad to welcome him. But, I’ll let him introduce himself.

Meet Jacob!

Hi, folks of the internet! Like Bree said, I’m Jacob and I have a lifelong love of all things SciFi, Fantasy, and in between. Be it Movies, TV, Games (Video and Board), or most of all books. I’m happy Bree and I have decided to start doing this together so I can have an outlet for some of the many thoughts I have on the genre. I’m also a big tea nut. Hence this new branding is a match made in heaven. You can find more about me if you need more in our refurbished “Who Are We” section. Now back to Bree!

What are we going to see now?

First and foremost, you’ll see that the name of the blog has changed. About three years ago, Jacob and I started joking that we’d have a tea and bookshop filled with cats as a retirement plan. That plan is still underway, but we decided a while ago to call it “Low Tea Books” — because who needs classy when you can just have tea, cats, and books, right? We’ve kept the name and started early with this blog.

 

 

Review | Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory is a new Tor.com novella that (according to my .pdf reader) is about 50 pages. It also happens to be great to read while you soak your feet (which may or may not be how I read it). It chronicles the mysterious and unconfirmed week of a young woman who had gone missing.

The story is told from a first person perspective. The narrator, Katya, is a young woman who deals in antiquities, artifacts from previous years that show their wear. She goes up to look at a fairly rare find, a manual typewriter and dictionary, and is waylaid on her way home by a stranger who appears to be shooting—poaching? meddling with?— deer in the forest. She almost runs into the deer, but when the stranger notices her, he kidnaps her.

The story is fun for a number of reasons. The narrator is unreliable; it’s filled with intrigue; and you find yourself just wanting to know what in the world is going on.

It’s set in a future where people are constantly in touch with one another. People live stream everything. The narrator is particularly well known for this, because the authenticity and story that goes along with the items is as valuable, if not more, than the item itself. The very idea that someone could go missing and show up on the other side of the country without anyone knowing is basically unfathomable.

This brings into question a lot of different topics, like whether you can count on an individual’s memory, how interconnected we are, whether you can really have something be valid and authentic without “proof.” Kowal takes an, at times, round about way of talking about these issues, but the overall impact is no less effective.

The story is suspenseful and entertaining. There are moments where it can be slow, but this is often a good change of pace from the more tense moments of the book. The narrator is likeable, if unbelievable.

This was a pretty perfect evening-in book. Kowal managed to make an interesting world with a captivating plot that leaves you just wanting more. Better yet, she did it all in a story you can read in a sitting.

A big thanks to Tor.com for providing me with a copy of Forest of Memories in exchange for an honest review.