Three Reviews of Four Books Up at NPR

I’ve been travelling for the last month and change, but am momentarily stationary enough to mention that the following reviews have gone live at NPR Books:

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell.

 All of Rowell’s books thus far have paid some homage to geeky interests — superhero comics in Eleanor & Park, Harry Potter (ish) fanfic communities in Fangirl, Dungeons & Dragons inAttachments — but this is the first to feature an outright science fiction element in the time-blurring phone. It’s a deliciously clever device: Using the increasingly obsolete landline as an anchor, foothold or portal into the past is a great idea, especially when the past in question isn’t yet distant enough to be alien. As a metaphor for returning to a root-deep connection in the face of signal noise and distortion, it’s excellent — but ultimately, it works better as meta commentary than effective storytelling tool.

A double-review of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds and Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero.

Two remarkable graphic novels being released this week are themed around shadow-selves, legacies and second chances: 
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds is about a woman given the opportunity to magically undo past mistakes, while Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero revises a mysterious golden-age superhero called the Green Turtle by fleshing out his Asian-American origins.

Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll.

In these five graphic tales (meaning comics, not stories told in Grand Guignol fashion — although that linguistic line is definitely blurred here), Carroll’s sinuous prose and emphatic art blend seamlessly into a path through the stories she tells. If there is a key to this collection, it is the phrase, “It came from the woods. (Most strange things do),” which recurs in “His Face All Red,” the story of a man who murders his brother only to see him emerge from the woods whole, happy and unscathed. These are tales of strange things that come from or go into the woods — and what they did to people, or had done to them, along the way.

I’m so delighted I get to review comics for NPR now! Particular kudos are due to Stu West for making me pay attention to lettering (even if I’ll never share his particular antipathy towards that of Order of the Stick).

#SFWApro

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Weird Fiction Storybundle — One Day Left!

Art by Jeremy Zerfoss

Jeff VanderMeer has graciously included The Honey Month in his Weird Fiction Storybundle, a collection of works from Cheeky Frawg Books. This delights me, as it places me in the company of Michael Cisco, Karin Tidbeck, Desirina Boskovich, and Leena Krohn, not to mention Jeff himself — his latest collection of stories is available too. You can read more from Jeff about the bundle here.

It’s an excellent bargain, only good for one more day: for a minimum of $3 you get five DRM-free e-books (including mine!), and for a minimum of $12 you get eight (including Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath which is seriously freakin’ amazing and which I would pay $12 for alone! Heck I already have!)

But from where I stand as an author, it’s even more wonderful, because my royalties are 65% of The Honey Month‘s share of the bundle. So if you’ve ever wanted to support me and my work in a way that buys me groceries and takes me to the occasional con, this is a great way to do it — while also supporting a generous, adventuresome publisher and getting a really splendid collection of other people’s books. You can also adjust what percentage of your money goes to authors and what percentage goes to Storybundle.

This bundle vanishes, never again to be repeated, on Wednesday, July 24! So help yourself to it while it lasts. Alternately if you’d like the print edition of The Honey Month (which includes Oliver Hunter’s illustrations), you can still get it from Papaveria Press, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, as well as The Book Depository.

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My Readercon Schedule

My Readercon schedule, let me show you it! I can’t freakin’ believe I booked an autograph session. I’ll look forward to nattering at Gemma if no one turns up!

Thursday July 10

8:00 PM G Power Differentials in Reviewing. Kevin Clark, John Clute, Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Lila Garrott, Alex Jablokow, Gregory Wilson. The Twitter sage @FILMCRITHULK wrote in a blog post, “REVIEWS ARE FUCKING WEIRD. NO ONE REALLY TALKS ABOUT IT, BUT THERE IS SOMETHING SO INHERENTLY WRONG WITH THEM. IT’S NOT JUST THE OBVIOUS THINGS, LIKE THE FACT THEY ARE SO OFTEN FILLED WITH THE WRONG KINDS OF INFORMATION TO GIVE BEFOREHAND AND MISSING THE INSIGHTS THAT WOULD TOTALLY BE MOST HELPFUL. THE REAL PROBLEM IS THAT THEY ARE A CONVERSATION OF EVALUATION WHEN THE READER IS AT A DISTINCT DISADVANTAGE. I.E. THEY HAVEN’T SEEN THE DAMN MOVIE. THIS REQUIRES THAT THE AUTHOR HAS TO DANCE AROUND THE SUBJECT ITSELF AND THUS TURNS THE WHOLE THING INTO NOTHING MORE THAN A HOLLOW GAME OF INNUENDO.” (Capitals in the original, obviously.) So is there an unavoidable asymmetry in reviews? Do we agree with HULK that it’s a bad thing? And, if so, what should be done about it?

9:00 PM ENL Readercon Classic Fiction Bookclub: Memoirs of a Space Woman. Amal El-Mohtar, Lila Garrott (leader), Sonya Taaffe. Naomi Mitchison’s 1962 exploration of a life lived nearly entirely in space has deep humanist themes. Mary’s specialty in alien communication leads to a life and profession of embracing the Other, literally realized in her accidental pregnancy via a Martian. We’ll discuss criticisms of the book’s heteronormativity and biological determinism as well as the themes of Mary’s immersion in alien cultures.


Friday July 11

4:00 PM IN The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours. C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Caitlyn Paxson. The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours are friends, writers, performers, and musicians who’ve banded together to share their work with the world. Scattered across the globe, they do not so much travel together as spontaneously occur. Whenever two or more are gathered, you can be sure of a well-dressed apocalypse. BACT performances include music, poetry, storytelling, and theatrical readings: all original work and accompanied by the harp and banjo. Hear tell of witches, ghost-hunters, and ballads from a distant star! Marvel at sea kings, ancient cities, and much, much more!

8:00 PM IN Speculative Poetry Open Mic. Saira Ali (leader), Amal El-Mohtar. Speculative poetry covers a broad range of forms and topics. Creators and fans of speculative poetry are invited to come to this open mic and perform their favorite works. Sign up at the info desk.


Saturday July 12

10:00 AM E Autographs. Amal El-Mohtar, Gemma Files.

3:00 PM G The Booty Don’t Lie: A Cheeky Discussion of Butts in Literature. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Mikki Kendall, Julia Starkey, Vinnie Tesla, Emily Wagner. This panel is about butts. Fundamentally divisive, throughout history the humble buttocks has often found itself at the intersection of concerns about gender, sexuality, race, and truly terrible puns. This gameshow-style discussion of butts in literature and popular culture promises to be deep, probing, and entertaining in equal measure; join us in reasoning a posteriori.


Sunday July 13

10:00 AM IN From Page to Stage: Adapting Your Work for an Audience. C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, Caitlyn Paxson. Caitlyn Paxson, C.S.E. Cooney, and Amal El-Mohtar will discuss how to take your work from the page to the stage. Each will perform short examples of the art, talking about eye contact, decibel level, and body language. They’ll also provide vocal warm-ups and exercises, and tips on articulation, memorization, and breath control. Participants are encouraged to bring 1-3 paragraphs of their own writing to share aloud.

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NPR’s #BookYourTrip Summer Reading List

NPR Books has done something a little different with this year’s summer reading list; they’ve decided to organise their book recommendations by different modes of transportation.

I contributed 8 mini-reviews in their Car, Time, Hot Air Balloon, Rocket Ship, and Miscellaneous sections, as follow:

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (Car)

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson (Miscellaneous)

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Rocket Ship)

Adaptation by Malinda Lo (Rocket Ship)

Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde (Hot Air Balloon)

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Time)

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Miscellaneous)

Prospero’s Children by Jan Siegel (Miscellaneous)

These are all books I’ve genuinely loved and highly recommend. I had a brilliant time revisiting them for these write-ups, and hope you’ll find some to your taste! If you want to play along with NPR on Twitter and make your own recommendations, the relevant hashtag is #BookYourTrip.

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Women Destroy Science Fiction: Texts in Conversation

In reviewing Christie Yant’s editorial in Women Destroy Science Fiction, Ryan Holmes of Tangent Online imagines a fable in which Yant* “a bright, female scientist—a science-fiction fan—” builds a time machine in order to meet women writers of the past:

Her goal is not to alter history. She merely wishes to enlighten the ladies of the past about the amazing contributions women have achieved in both science and science fiction. She can’t bring much, so she brings the latest, the freshest examples of female authors in science-fiction. She brings the June 2014 issue of Lightspeed. She proudly pushes it into the feminine hands of great scientists and science fiction authors, women like: Margaret Cavendish (17th century philosopher and first woman to author a utopian novel, The Blazing World), Sarah Scott (18th century author of A Description of Millennium Hall), Mary Shelley (19th century author of arguably the first science fiction novel Frankenstein).

Leaving aside the bizarre confrontational smugness with which Holmes inexplicably imagines Yant his female scientist approaching these women — wishing to “enlighten” them instead of, I don’t know, delight in their company and thank them for their seminal, inspiring work — this is a beautiful conceit. I can easily imagine the awe on the faces of these exceptional women as they contemplate a time-travel device invented by a woman who, with all of time and space at her disposal, chose to visit them, to gather them all in one place, to share her work with them.

These amazing women take the periodical and rifle through imaginative and inspiring stories of women contributing to the future. Then they turn to the editorial by Christie Yant and read her opinions of how women have not succeeded in a male-dominated field of science and science-fiction.

Up until the egregious misreading of Yant’s editorial — nowhere does she claim that women “have not succeeded in a male-dominated field” — I was fine with this. But Holmes’ notion of what would occur later — that Cavendish, Scott, and Shelley would be in any way insulted by Yant’s editorial, seeing in it some kind of diminishment of their own work — is frankly repulsive. I find myself entirely incapable of reconciling it with my knowledge of the lives and works of the women he invokes.

Cavendish was constantly excusing and defending the fact that she, as a woman, dared to write. Sarah Scott’s A Description of Millenium Hall imagines a Utopic all-woman society in which women love and support each other. Mary Shelley’s most famous work was initially attributed to her husband. The very notion of Holmes imagining these women would “chastise [the female scientist] for thinking men could keep the world from recognizing greatness regardless of gender” when they fought against this constantly and wrote about how exhausting it was is absurd. It is a failure of imagination and empathy.

It is also very telling. It speaks to Holmes’ investment. It’s always interesting to see a man address a woman’s anger by telling her she doesn’t know how good she has it; it’s even more interesting to see him use dead women’s voices to do so, to use them to tell her she doesn’t know how good she has it, to imagine women disdaining and belittling each other instead of supporting and sympathizing with each other.

Initially I thought I’d like to respond by writing an irreverent fiction in which these women deride the poor reading comprehension of male reviewers who think it politic to attempt to play them against each other. On reflection, however, I decided to place Yant’s text in conversation with the works of the women Holmes names. If I’m going to use their voices and authority to make a political point, after all, it’s probably best to use their actual words. The following is a mixture of quotes from Yant’s editorial, Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies (1653) and Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655), Scott’s A Description of Millenium Hall (1762), Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and the later introduction to it (1831).

* * *

YANT: The summer of 2013 was a rough one for women in science fiction. Every
few weeks there was a new reminder that to a certain subset of the field, we’re
not welcome here.

CAVENDISH: [W]e are shut out of all power and authority, by reason we are never employed either in civil or martial affairs, our counsels are despised, and laughed at, the best of our actions are trodden down with scorn, by the over-weening conceit, men have of themselves, and through a despisement of us.

SHELLEY: When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?

YANT:  I don’t know which is worse: the men who tell us we’re doing it wrong, or the  voice within ourselves that insists that we’ll fail if we try.

CAVENDISH: Indeed, I was so afraid to dishonour my friends and family by my indiscreet actions, that I rather chose to be accounted a fool, than to be thought rude or wanton.

SHELLEY: It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print.

YANT:  We got tired. We got angry. And then we came out the other side of exhaustion and anger deeply motivated to do something.

CAVENDISH: Women’s Tongues are as sharp as two-edged Swords, and wound as much, when they are anger’d.

SCOTT: My friends always insisted when they waited on the community, that not one of the sisterhood should discontinue whatever they found her engaged in.

SHELLEY: I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.

YANT: Women of all ages from all over the world sent us their stories. Many of them had never tried to write science fiction before.

SHELLEY: Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.

YANT:  They pushed past their doubt and fear, finished their pieces and
clicked submit for the very first time just to be a part of this…My hope is that one or more of these stories will reach a reader who never realized that kind of story is science fiction, too, and will seek out more like it. And I hope that one or more will convince those writers—the fantasists, the poets…that they, too, can create science fiction stories and participate in the expansion of the field.

CAVENDISH:  Poetry, which is built upon Fancy, Women may claim as a worke belonging most properly to themselves: for I have observ’d, that their Braines work usually in a Fantasticall motion.

SHELLEY: Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

YANT:  All told, this issue is the work of 109 women.

SCOTT: God bless the Ladies!

YANT:  We took hurt and rage and turned it into something beautiful. And we did it together.

SCOTT:  I wish to make only these alterations, to change noise for real mirth, flutter for settled cheerfulness, affected wit for rational conversation.

YANT:  We need your voice—don’t let it be silenced.

* * *

It’s fascinating — in the way that colonies of bacteria are fascinating — that Holmes chooses to end his review as follows:

To summarize the effect of this editorial, imagine a crowded street party celebrating the great contributions of men and women in science fiction. Yant stands alone on the sidewalk and tries to outshout the jovial crowd by claiming foul at those who know better. Unfortunately, those who don’t, hear her rant and listen.

It’s a hilarious sort of irony. From where I’m sitting, Women Destroy Science Fiction is the party — the one that raised ten times what they requested on Kickstarter, the one full of women (myself included) succeeding in overcoming their fears and insecurities, standing tall, enjoying each other’s company and revelling in this incredible thing they’ve made. Holmes is the one standing on that sidewalk, muttering streams of incoherent nonsense at passersby while holding up a sign saying SEXISM IS OVER LADIES SHUT UP ALREADY.

But it’s to be expected, I suppose; as Mary Shelley’s mother once observed, “When any prevailing prejudice is attacked, the wise will consider, and leave the narrow-minded to rail with thoughtless vehemence at innovation.”

Rail on, dudes. Rail on.

 

*With special thanks to the commenter who called my own reading comprehension into question for assuming that Yant and the female scientist/science fiction fan were one and the same, because obviously that makes a massive difference and changes everything and I should be ashamed of myself.

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Reading Dialect in Celeste Rita Baker’s “Name Calling”

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the use and representation of dialect in fiction recently, sparked off by Daniel José Older’s response to this review of Long Hiddenwhich led to Wendy S. Delmater and Tonya Liburd of Abyss & Apex writing a post about a recent editorial decision to do with Caribbean dialect in a story, which led to Tobias Buckell writing his own response to being name-checked in their editorial.

Since then, the editors of Abyss & Apex have chosen to run two versions of the story they discussed in their editorial: “Name Calling” by Celeste Rita Baker. The first is the version with the dialect toned down; the second is the original as they received it.

There’s a wealth of things I’m interested in discussing — and have been discussing elsewhere, in private conversations, for the last several days — about the ethics of reviewing, responding to reviews, and the ways in which we write and talk about dialect, voice, and accent. But having just now read both versions of Baker’s story, I find that what I want most urgently to talk about is the experience of reading dialect, because it’s weighing on me in myriad ways.

I’ll begin with something I’ve said before: to read is to be penetrated. To read is to let someone else organize your thoughts from the inside for the duration of your reading, and for some time after you’ve finished. To read is to take words into your brain and feel the landscape of your psyche be re-arranged, be shifted and manipulated according to the author of the words you’re reading. This does not occur in a vacuum: there’s a vast network of reading and speaking and writing that’s gone into creating the psyche of the author now doing a number on yours, which is, of course, also built out of the echoes of everything you’ve read, written, and spoken.

To “Name Calling,” then.

I started by reading the first sentence of the edited story (since it’s at the top of the page), and then the first sentence of the original version. Here they are:

Ah wake up every morning at thirteen minutes before three.

Compared to

Ah wake up every mahnin at tirteen minutes before tree. 

The difference to me, as a reader, is immense. When I read the first, I hear it in my own internal voice; the “ah” for “I” hasn’t sufficiently affected the internal landscape of my mind to shift my voice out of true. “Morning” and “thirteen” and “three” — all in my voice, my accent, my dialect.

When I read the second, I hear someone else’s voice. I feel myself being shifted, inhabited, and I feel the entirety of my attention bending towards the text, the experience of the text. I feel my brain summoning instances where I heard something similar in order to clothe the unfamiliar spelling of familiar words with a sound. These are insufficient and embarrassing and full of ignorance — a memory of Cool Runnings, of Bob Marley, of Jim Carrey’s parody of “Informer.” But they’re scaffolding, these instances, and they’re quickly superseded by story, because brains are astonishing things, capable of reading words upside down and with most of their letters missing or with numbers instead of letters, and soon I’m too immersed to do anything but listen to the story I’m being told.

I decided to read the whole of the original version of the story first. And as much as I was inhabited, I was also transported. I could feel myself in a different place in a visceral, difficult way. And I saw that this was, in fact, a story about being inhabited, about being ridden by other people’s names and voices and the discomfort of that, the effect it has and the toll it takes. I thought it was brilliant of Baker to write this story in this way and offer it to an audience likely to be unfamiliar with her dialect, to convey the speaker’s discomfort through the act of reading in addition to the information conveyed through that reading.

And then I thought about code-switching, and how this discomfort I was feeling and the work that I was doing in order to read a story I’d chosen to engage with on the internet is how some people live all the time. And then my head exploded.

This is crucial. It is so crucially important to understand the dynamic at work here. When you’re a speaker of the privileged dialect of a language, you can be a tourist in other people’s discomfort. You can choose when and where you’ll be challenged on this level, the basic level of speaking and being understood. You can even dictate the terms of when and where it’s appropriate to be so challenged. You can choose when to let someone inside your head and rearrange its furniture, its architecture, its geography, and then you can choose the degree to which you want to keep any of those changes.

Going back to the edited version, I felt dismayed. I felt that I was getting a diluted experience of what I’d just had. Something that was potent, transforming and effective was now itself changed, as if by me — as if, instead of the proper relationship of author to reader, of that trust in allowing someone else into my head, I’d been the one reaching into the dialect and rearranging it to suit me.

One reading took me to an island. The other brought the island to me.

I understand the resistance to dialect, I do. But I also resent it. To me it’s a resistance that speaks of brittleness and entitlement, a valuing of stasis, like treating as default gears that have rusted over instead of working to oil them into suppleness again. And the contexts for our resistance to dialect are so variable, so inflected by race and class, as many have noted elsewhere: in academia we value immensely our knowledge of Chaucer in Middle English and roll our eyes at modern translations, we write reams of analysis on a single word in Finnegans Wake, we praise Burns as a treasure.

I want to state unequivocally that writing in one’s own dialect is valuable and often necessary, and that we should make a virtue of giving ourselves over to being challenged and changed by writing. We need to be self-aware, as readers and writers both, of the position from which we’re reading and writing, and articulate our contexts to ourselves instead of assuming them to be defaults and absolutes. We need to be aware, as editors and reviewers especially, of the power we wield in articulating our contexts to others.

We are already each the centres of our own respective universes. It’s wrong to assume as our right that we should be the centre of everyone else’s.

#SFWApro

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Review: The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

My review of Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden is now up at NPR Books. This is the novel debut of an acclaimed and award-winning writer of short fiction (M. Rickert), and I’m always fascinated to see what results from that switch in scope. I’ve never written a novel, but want to, am working on the framework of one, and figure there’s much to learn from the ways in which others stretch into a marathon after decades of sprint.

The Memory Garden is lovely. It’s a quiet book that took a little getting used to at first, like a very shy person who has much to recommend them but whom you aren’t certain how to befriend. But it left me feeling charmed, hopeful and gladdened. I hope you’ll give it a look.

#SFWApro

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Covered in Bees: Reviewing Laline Paull & Dave Goulson

My double-header review of bee books is up at NPR today; covered are Laline Paull’s debut novel The Bees and Dave Goulson’s popular science book about bumblebee conservation called A Sting in the Tale.

Here’s a snippet of the review:

Fortunate happenstance has led to me reviewing Laline Paull’s The Bees alongside Dave Goulson’s A Sting in the Tale. I am more than a little obsessed with bees, honey, watching wildlife and reading dystopias, and am therefore predisposed to find both books interesting. Together they make a splendid double-header of fiction and non-fiction: there is a precision and economy to the former and an almost lazy charm to the latter that makes them remarkably complementary. Where The Bees captures the fervor and fierceness of hive life from the perspective of one of its workers, A Sting in the Tale is very much the narrative of a friendly professor sitting in a garden, holding forth on his favourite subject while watching a bumblebee buzz by.

I enjoyed both, but Paull’s really stood out for me, and I’m a bit astonished that  it’s a debut; it’s deft and sure and wonderfully evocative, and I highly recommend it.

Goulson’s book is almost entirely responsible for my relentless babbling about bumblebees on Twitter lately. While my experience of it was mixed, I’m still really intrigued by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (for all that using its guide to ID the bees I’ve seen has proven a bit frustrating), and it was overall pretty enjoyable. I’m genuinely grateful for a book that’s made me slow down through parks to look at bees and try to tell them apart.

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May Day Miscellany: Lightspeed, Kaleidoscope, and the Auroras

So many wonderful things happening, I must separate them with numbers!

1) Two of my poems, “Lost” and “Turning the Leaves,” are nominated for an Aurora award. This is administered by the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Association. The last time I was nominated for a Canadian award was in primary school, when I very unexpectedly won a prize for a poem I scrawled on a sidewalk in chalk. (The prize was $50! I bought rollerblades with it!) I’m very happy with the nomination, and grateful to Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine for publishing — and in Lynne Thomas’ case, inspiring one of — the poems in the first place.

2) Lightspeed Magazine has released the frankly incandescent Table of Contents for its upcoming WOMEN DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION double issue. It’s actually a bit frustrating to look at those names highlighted in blue and not be able to click on them yet.

I have a story in this issue. It’s called “The Lonely Sea in the Sky” and is about the purported diamond oceans on Neptune. I’ve been trying to write it for four years and I could never have finished it without Christie Yant’s kind, patient, unrelenting hand-holding and support, as well as her repeated assurances that she really wanted this story from me and it would be OK if I just trusted her to judge its merits instead of me. I think I was basically a textbook case study in correcting the problem the issue addresses — women lacking confidence, women feeling undermined by socialization where the sciences are concerned, etc. But at my back I always hear / science-y dudebros sniggering near. She’s been an amazing editor to me and I can’t thank her enough.

I could also never have written the story without the village of wonderfully generous people who sprang up to help me with astro and quantum physics and/or reassure me that hand-waving it all is perfectly permissible and indeed encouraged. Elaine Gallagher, Stu Nathan, Neil Williamson, Stu West, Asia al-Massari, J. A. Grier, Karen Meisner, Rose Lemberg, Chris Caldwell, Alex Kelly, every single person who chimed in on Twitter to say they’d help me with physics — thank you. I feel I’ve cracked through a ceiling of SF writing and have levelled up a dump stat.

3) I also have a story forthcoming in the Kaleidoscope anthology, the Table of Contents of which has also just been announced! “The Truth About Owls” is dedicated to Tessa Kum, who first introduced me to the Scottish Owl Centre last October, and whom I miss very much. This is the story that was supposed to be about owls and ended up being partly about trauma and languages and Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon in 2006. (It’s still mostly about owls.) In April I went to the SOC three times in as many weeks, each time bringing different people, but I need to lay off for a bit since I think my enthusiasm for the place has begun weirding out the staff.

And that’s that for now. A lovely beginning to May, even if it did snow a bit in East Kilbride.

#SFWApro

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Review: Najwan Darwish’s NOTHING MORE TO LOSE

My review of Najwan Darwish’s Nothing More to Lose, masterfully translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, is live at NPR Books. This is the reined-in version of what was at first an almost incoherently effusive review, as I tried to figure out my feelings about other people’s imagined feelings while pondering the thousand injustices of the world and my inability to do anything to change them.

It’s better now. It probably didn’t need that close reading of “Fabrications” anyway.

Here’s a sample:

These poems range far and wide in subject, place, time: there are evocations of Rio de Janeiro as well as Jerusalem, Jesus and Saladin as well as contemporary politicians and friends. Musings on and examinations of identity, especially “Arab” identity, inform many of these pieces; there is an awareness, too, of history as a character and a setting, as a contested space that is both nightmare and testament. But throughout this variety Darwish’s singular, wonderful voice — a voice flexible and confident enough to be capable of celebrating and lamenting, joking and condemning, often in the same poem — unites and animates them all.

I hope you’ll give it a try; as it happens, today it appears to be 25% off directly from NYRB. I also highly recommend this review by M. Lynx Qualey over at ArabLit, which includes reflections by both Darwish and Abu-Zeid about the collection (as well as a lot of consideration given to “Fabrications,” which is, as far as I’m concerned, the core of the book).

You can also, if you fancy, hear and occasionally see video of Darwish performing his poetry in Arabic here.

#SFWApro

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