NYT Review: THE POWER by Naomi Alderman

If you blinked at the title, well, I’ve been doing that for about a week. I wrote a review for the New York Times. It’s my first time doing so. Many thanks to Bo Bolander for securing me a print copy in actual New York!


My name is in the New York Times. I reviewed an interesting book by talking about Ottawa and bilingualism. It hardly seems real, but it is, as they say, right there in black and white.

Here’s an excerpt:

THERE IS A MONUMENT in Ottawa’s Minto Park dedicated to the memory of women killed by men. As with most monuments in Canada’s capital, its inscription is bilingual, and meaning exists in a tense tangle between translations. In French, it says à la mémoire de toutes les femmes qui ont subi jusqu’à la mort la violence des hommes. In English, it reads to honor and to grieve all women abused and murdered by men. It’s difficult to say, at a glance, whether one is a translation of the other, or whether they are simply two statements, separate but related, written in stone, shedding different lights on the women they commemorate.

This has everything to do with Naomi Alderman’s fourth novel, “The Power.”

I could have written a lot more, had not word-count been an issue. There’s so much to talk about here. I’ve been asked about whether it addresses trans issues at all; it doesn’t. I kept wondering if it would, but so far as I recall the only things to trouble a cis discourse (ciscourse?) are an acknowledgement of chromosomal variation and a statement that not all people with XX chromosomes have the power while a very small percentage of people with XY chromosomes do. Abigail Nussbaum has a longer review of the book on Strange Horizons, in which she adds the following, with which I agree:

It is, at this point, worth pointing out that one of the ways in which The Power fails to fully explore this premise is in its near-total silence on the subject of race. It’s never suggested, for example, that the new gender dynamics of the post-Power world are informed by preexisting racial tensions, though we would surely expect them to be. Neither do Tunde, a black African, or Allie, a biracial American, have very much to say about the role of race in their lives either pre- or post-Power. By the same token, though the book imagines that the lines along which the Power is distributed are not clear-cut—there are small numbers of women who don’t manifest the Power, and men who do—the existence of transgender and intersex people is completely ignored, as is homosexuality. These are all axes of power and oppression that play into Alderman’s central topic, and it’s unfortunate that they weren’t discussed.

Her whole review is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that my first assignment for the NYT was reviewing such a chewy and thought-provoking book. Many thanks to everyone who’s read and shared the review; you make it harder and harder to forget that this is a real thing that happened.

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Upcoming October Appearances: Can*Con, Surrey International Writers’ Conference


It’s all gone a bit autumn at last, and part of me breathes easier for it, even as deadlines and imminent travel loom on the horizon. Here’s a sketch of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing for the latter half of October.

Can*Con, October 13-15

I’m a Special Guest at Ottawa’s own convention! Here’s my schedule.


11:00-11:50 – Collaborative Creating
Amal El-Mohtar, Jack Briglio, Ursula Pflug, Robin Riopelle, Hayden Trenholm, Leah Bobet (M)

Writing can often feel like an isolated activity, but once you start connecting with other creators, collaborating on a project can be an eye-opening and liberating experience. From pairing with another writer to produce a poem or short story, to the potential chaos of a TV writers’ room, what are the benefits and pitfalls to working with other writers? How can you make sure the process works for you and your collaborators?

14:00-14:50 – They’re More Like Guidelines: Rules of Magic
Amal El-Mohtar, James Alan Gardner, Kari Sperring, Gregory A. Wilson, Violette Malan (M)

One of the most obvious ways fantasy worlds differ from reality is the inclusion of magic. Must magic obey rules? Does the creation of an effective and convincing fantastic world require a firmly-conceived magic system? What rules of magic work best for an audience and for the creation of a compelling plot? Our masters of the arcane lore will tackle these questions.

18:00-18:50 – Queer Comics
Amal El-Mohtar, Bob D’Errico, Caro Frechette, Sean Moreland, Derek Newman-Stille (M)

Queer comics have had a complex history, beginning with Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” and the subsequent Comics Code Authority trying to reduce the “threat” to young people’s heterosexuality. Since that time, queer comics have survived and thrived in a variety of forms, leading to current comics that explore sexuality and gender identity, like The Wicked and the DivineBitch PlanetRat Queens and others. The titles keep going and going, and it’s time for some out-of-the-panel thinking.


11:00-11:50 – You Should’ve Read This in 2017
Amal El-Mohtar, Jonathan Crowe, Su J. Sokol, Peter Halasz (M)

Our expert readers discuss the cutting-edge novels and short fiction in science fiction, fantasy, horror and romance that you absolutely should have read. Bring your Goodreads app or a REALLY big notebook.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 19-22

I’m super excited about this — it’ll be my first time at SiWC and my first visit to British Columbia in 15 years. I’m also looking forward to visiting Portland and Seattle a bit afterwards too.

Here’s my schedule:


10:00 – 11:15 – Writing from Sensory Input

Amal’s first collection of fiction and poetry was written to the taste, scent and sight of twenty-eight different kinds of honey. While this workshop unfortunately can’t reproduce that situation, we’ll explore how spontaneous writing from the senses can interact fruitfully with other elements of the fiction-writing toolkit, with exercises drawn from touching, smelling, and tasting interesting things.

*Attendees with allergies: please note that there will be honey and pine branches in the room.*

2:15 – 3:30 PM – Worldbuilding

Amal El-MohtarMary C. MooreDongWon SongGreg Van EekhoutMary Robinette Kowal (M)

How do you bring an imaginary world to life? How do you layer the strange and fantastic on the real world in a believable way? Join our panel for a look at building cohesive, immersive worlds for characters to inhabit.


3:45 – 5:00 PM  – Poetry as a Tool for Writing Fiction

Poetry and prose are often understood as opposites, to the point where poetry turning up in fiction is seen as intrusive, while narrative poetry is often dismissed as incapable of seriousness. In this workshop we’ll approach poetry and prose as related modes with different emphases, and explore how drawing on poetry can help unlock or overcome problems in our fiction writing.

7:15 PM – Keynote speech

After that, I expect to be in Portland, OR from October 23-24 or thereabouts, and in Seattle for a day or two afterwards, before heading back up to Vancouver and flying back to Ottawa. I’ve never been to either Portland or Seattle, so if you’re local to those places and have recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

And that’s me away.



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NPR Reviews: AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon and THE RULES OF MAGIC by Alice Hoffman

So many amazing books have come out these last two months, and it’s been my privilege to read and discuss them. Here are another two.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

When I finished An Unkindness of Ghosts and put it down, I almost immediately picked it up again to re-read from the beginning, to admire how early certain seeds were sown, how thoroughly integrated were its plantation roots into space-faring soil. This book is not an allegory for life on plantations: it’s a transposition, and through it an interrogation, an investigation, of the falsehoods and broken memories of a nightmare past. It drags up pervasive stereotypes of happy mammies and consenting love between slaver and enslaved and vivisects them, the dextrous voices of characters like Aint Melusine and Giselle deployed like scalpels to part the inflamed skin of bad history.


The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Owens women have always had grey eyes, a spark of magic, and bad luck in love. Legend has it that their ancestor, Maria Owens, abandoned by her lover and accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials, cursed her bloodline to prevent her daughters suffering as she did. But Maria’s journal also urges her descendants to “fall in love whenever you can,” and the contradiction between curse and command is at the heart of Francis, Jet, and Vincent’s lives. Coming of age on the Upper East Side with fashionable parents suspicious of the extraordinary, they explore and develop their powers together in secret — all the while resisting, and failing to resist, falling in love, with catastrophic consequences.

Other than those, I read Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Brooke Bolander’s forthcoming novella The Only Harmless Great Thing, and am halfway through Fran Wilde’s Horizon, the conclusion to her Bone Universe trilogy. I hope to fit Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka and Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels in by the weekend, Can*Con and two weeks of upcoming travel notwithstanding! More on which later.

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Last Days

It’s 33 degrees Celsius outside, and depending on how long I’ve been sitting in cool conditioned air, it feels like a strange gift. I step out into the grassy amphitheatre with stone seats outside my building and the sun feels like a warm palm on my skin, like a hand cupping my chin, like a friend smiling on your threshold with one foot out the door.

It’s autumn, but it’s hotter than it’s been for much of the summer. Everything feels like the last of something, even as it’s also lasting — isn’t that a fascinating bit of language– longer than it perhaps should.

I want to lean into that language and feel where it bends and joins. The last — to last. I’m thinking of endings and beginnings a lot right now.

Kit Reed died yesterday, and I’m stunned by how much that’s affected me. I did not know her well. I had the pleasure of her company at dinner last year at World Fantasy in Columbus. She was deeply beloved by many people whom I deeply love. She was 85 years old. I offer my condolences to the family, friends, and community mourning her loss and celebrating her life. She was so kind to me, and I wanted, as I so often want with older women who’ve beaten a path down and made mine easier to walk, to live up to her and know her better.

To know her better, now, through the reminiscences people are offering, the anecdotes, feels like watching a tapestry unfurl on a long wall. It feels like a last breath of summer in autumn. There is a poem I haven’t written (not about Kit — I wouldn’t presume), of which the first line is “If dying were like autumn,” and I turn it over in my head as I read others’ words: her son Mack’s tribute was the first I read, saying that she didn’t want any kind of memorial service, and that she didn’t tell anyone she was ill. She died as she wanted to, and is it strange that it gladdens me so much, that she had power over that?

I don’t know what I’m writing except that I want to mark this, that a woman lived, that she lived a long, amazing life, that she was fierce and sharp and funny and beloved, that she wrote, that she was read, that she was respected, that she faced death as she chose to, and that I feel privileged to have brushed my life against hers, however fleetingly, over food and wine and fire.

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NPR Reviews: SHADOWHOUSE FALL by Daniel José Older + AUTONOMOUS by Annalee Newitz

More reviews! So many reviews!

First, my review of Daniel José Older’s Shadowhouse Fall:

Everything I loved about Shadowshaper is found in Shadowhouse Fall, but sharper and fiercer, pushed harder and farther. The love and loyalty Sierra and her friends feel for each other is all the more affecting for being forged in fire: They walk through metal detectors into school every morning, endure and resist casual assaults on their personhood and bodies in relentless routine. As with Shadowshaper, the parts I loved best were the characters, the exuberance of these people’s voices, the intimacy and honesty of their interactions. I loved seeing more of Sierra’s relationship with her best friend Bennie, more of Izzy and Tee’s romance, more of Juan and Pulpo’s devotion to each other. All of these relationships are complex and full of friction, and the sparks they give off illuminate important facets of the story.

Next, my review of Annalee Newitz’ Autonomous:

I rarely dog-ear the books I read for review, trusting myself to remember their most notable aspects. I dog-eared enough of Autonomous‘ pages to almost double its thickness, such was the granularity of things I wanted to highlight, praise, and discuss. From startling insights to delicately turned prose to whole passages of unbearably tender musings on the intimate desires of artificial intelligence, there’s much more than I can feasibly talk about here. But here’s some highlights.


More soon, because I don’t know if you noticed but roughly a million billion incredible books came out in September! Ones that I’ve not yet read but am deeply excited to devour: Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels, Fran Wilde’s Horizon, River Solomon’s River of Ghosts, and I’m super keen to read Malka Older’s Infomocracy so I can dive into Null States in turn!

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NPR Review: THE RIVER BANK by Kij Johnson

My review of Kij Johnson’s The River Bank, delightfully illustrated by Kathleen Jennings, is up at NPR Books! Here’s a taste:

The River Bank is set a year after the events of The Wind in the Willows, and takes up its familiar, much-beloved characters in their natural summertime habitats and occupations: Mole and Rat go boating, Badger keeps the Weasels and Stoats in line, and all are beleaguered by their periodically reformed friend Toad of Toad Hall. But two new people have arrived at the River Bank, taking up residence in Sunflower Cottage, a Miss Mole and a Miss Rabbit. While most of the River Bank’s denizens welcome the new arrivals, Mr. Mole regards them with grumpy suspicion. In particular, he shuns Miss Mole completely, and seems to have some previous acquaintance with her of which he refuses to speak. But when Toad — innocently encouraged by Miss Rabbit — conceives a new, disastrous passion for motorcycles, all manner of incident, consequence, shambles and shenanigans ensue, forcing the Moles to put aside their differences — and similarities — in order to help.

I read this book and wrote this review mostly while by a river bank myself, watching the season shift like mist on the water. It left me with picnic ambitions and a warm sense of peace and longing tangling together like light through the summer’s last leaves. I hope you enjoy it.

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The September issue of Lightspeed magazine contains, among many other fine things, a column in which I review Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and Catherynne M. Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues. These books make a beautiful double bill, and reading them back to back was intensely gratifying; they’re very much two sides of a coin where women’s anger is concerned, and I love them for it.

Here’s a couple of quick sips from the column.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

After her mother’s death, Mary Jekyll faces down the reality of her sudden poverty: Orphaned, she is mistress of an empty house she can’t sell, without any income or the means to obtain one. But in the course of sorting her mother’s papers, Mary finds a strange account: Her mother had been making regular payments over the course her life to someone named Hyde. Recalling a hundred-pound reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Mr. Hyde, murderer-at-large, Mary enlists Sherlock Holmes’ help in unravelling the mystery—one that leads her to the daughters of other unscrupulous, scientifically minded men. Together they set about solving the Whitechapel murders—and room by room, Mary’s empty house fills up.

The Refrigerator Monologues

Paige Embry is dead, but alive in Deadtown—an underworld mirror of New York City. She’s the president of the Hell Hath Club, a group of women who meet once a week in the Lethe Café to talk about their lives, to show themselves as more than their deaths. There, listening to gargoyle bands and drinking from empty glasses, Valente’s analogues of Gwen Stacy, Jean Grey, Harley Quinn, Mera, Karen Page, and Alexandra DeWitt tell familiar superhero stories slanted, from the perspective of the women who supported them, endured them, or invented the source of their super powers. It’s a passionate collection of anger, humour, and tenderness, told in a smooth, whip-cracking voice that’s equal parts wry stand-up and heart-breaking soliloquy.


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Storyological “Pocket” Interview

Some people make art of the interview process. Chris Kammerud and EG Cosh are two such people.

I first became aware of the Storyological podcast when Chris and EG discussed my story “Pockets” in their sixth episode. I listened out of curiosity, wanting to hear what they’d thought of my work, but was quickly hooked by their adorable dynamic, their laughter, the beautiful meshing of kind thoughtful insights and charming delivery. Their whole podcast is them discussing two stories they’ve recently read and loved, and it’s bite-sized perfection. (They also discussed “Seasons of Glass and Iron” earlier this year.)

I love being introduced to stories I haven’t heard of through their chat, and love hearing their thoughts on stories which I’m familiar. But recently they’ve started adding pocket interviews with authors to their schedule, and I was honoured and delighted to be invited — and made into a sword-wielding fairy!


(My only quibble about the above portrait is not getting to see all of the no doubt SUPER AMAZING BOOTS I am wearing. Alas. I shall imagine them.)

Chris interviewed me at Wiscon earlier this year, at a moment when I was thoroughly worn out with Guest-of-Honour-ing and also frantic with worry over having (briefly!) lost my phone. Within seconds of being in his company, though, I felt relaxed and drawn into a benevolent sort of spell. The result is the most intimate and, to my mind and memory, enchanted interview I’ve had yet. From musings on growing up in Lebanon to the importance of friendship to wondering about axe murder, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting our conversation.

You can listen to the interview or read a transcript of it here. And here is a tiny taste:

STORYO: Your writing, either prose or poetry, feels very exacting and detailed. How important is sensation to you, in your life and stories?

AMAL: It’s very important. I’m a bit synesthetic so I’ve always associated some senses with other things.

There used to be an orchard near where I lived when I was growing up, and you could go into the orchard and pick apples and then come out and pay for what you picked. But they also sold preserves and stuff like that. And my sister and I called their preserves ‘Apple Sunshine’ because they were just so, so beautiful and this jar was absolutely like a jar of golden afternoon light. And I remember what it tasted like, but what stays in my memory the most is just the sight of it. That association between the way it looked and the fact that we called it light and that when we spread it on toast we felt like we were eating light, you know? That sort of thing.


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Middle, Holding Flowers: Homecoming with Hugo

Before anything else, I need to talk about my family.

It was the last night of Worldcon. I’d retreated from the dead dog party in search of sleep. In order to travel home from Helsinki, I needed to wake up at 4:00 AM to get to the airport by 5:00 AM for a 7:00 AM flight. My itinerary would take me from Helsinki to Stockholm to Frankfurt to Ottawa, and I’d be arriving during rush hour.

I said all this to my family, FaceTiming with them around midnight on the last day of Worldcon, staring down the three hours of sleep I expected to have. “I can just take the bus home,” I said, reasonably. “It’ll take me 20 minutes. You don’t have to drive all the way to the airport in rush hour to pick me up.”

“OK,” said my mother, equally reasonably.

24 hours after that conversation, this happened.

They’d beaten rush hour and lain in wait. They’d made banners. My sister came up with “HuGO, Girl!” They got the Moonfruits to come and play music as they sang “Happy Hugo to You” with improvised harmonies. The commotion attracted the attention of a journalist who happened to be there, and suddenly I was being sort of interviewed, with this article in the Ottawa Citizen as the result.

Family Greeting

The Citizen’s caption to this photo describes me, parenthetically, as “Middle, Holding Flowers” — and it feels like poetry, the only poetry accurate to how I’ve felt these past several days, weeks, months. In the middle of such heart-deep joy, and love, holding flowers — arms full, hair wet, unable to speak. There aren’t enough thanks in the world for how I felt in that moment.

There followed a whirlwind of media attention: a Q&A with Megan Gillis at the Citizen, for which she sent me a fancy photographer who took utterly lovely photos, one of which was printed on the freaking front page.

Citizen Front Page

And later that day I had a radio interview with Alan Neal on All in a Day, which was absolutely delightful fun, as always.

I’m doing this backwards. Maybe that’s the only way to do it. I haven’t talked about Worldcon itself, the panels I was on, the wonder and joy of the Hugo ceremony as woman after woman won. I haven’t even written up how incredible May was — from the Nebulas to Wiscon, from surprise win to the enormity of delivering a Guest of Honour speech to hundreds of people and hearing them sing and cry with me — and winning the Hugo happened after I felt I’d already reached the apex of all possible joy, after a wonderful conference in Uppsala, beautiful time spent with dear friends in Stockholm, crossing the Baltic in their company, and going on Helsinki adventures, in addition to a genuinely beautiful con experience. It’s enough to make a body wonder how to be worthy of it.

I feel a powerful need to anchor all this joy to words, to write up every day of this month’s first two weeks. I doubt I’ll be able to achieve that level of granularity that used to characterize Livejournal posts about conventions, where I took great pains to name-check every person I met whose conversation I treasured. It’s an embarrassment of riches, absolutely, to feel that there are too many now to itemize.

But I do want to try, at least, to get the shape of it down. Bear with me, please, as I float in gratitude and try not to ecstatically drown.

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NPR Review: THE STONE SKY by N. K. Jemisin

I’m still in the process of assembling something like All the News of All the Things that have happened over the first two weeks of this month, and fully intend for those to go up starting Monday — but this morning, all I want is to flail incoherently over this series of books that I love.

9780316229241_custom-77d15112b6bcc7291659fc1be8b38abdd983025a-s400-c85I am used to fantasy and science fiction — in novels, in films, in comic books — setting up apocalypse as threat, cataclysmic change as something to be prevented at all cost. Villains are, by and large, those who want to change the world, while heroes are the ones who preserve the status quo, who keep it intact. The unquestionable premise of this kind of setup is that the world is precious and worth saving.

The Stone Sky rejects this out of hand. If the Broken Earth trilogy as a whole shows a world where cataclysm and upheaval is the norm, The Stone Sky interrogates what right worlds built on oppression and genocide have to exist.

The difficulty of reviewing the third book in a trilogy is that you need to make it intelligible to people who haven’t read any of the previous instalments while also finding room to say what’s amazing about the book while also placing it in the context of a completed whole. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the kind of deep delving I want to do with this series, with this volume, with the character of Essun, with the world she inhabits, with the description of the Thniess, with climate change, with unsustainability. There is so much.

These books are magnificent, so I hope you’ll read them, and then come talk to me about them.

In other Jemisin news, it looks like The Fifth Season is being developed for television and her next series will “mess with the Lovecraft legacy.” I’m so delighted to see her going from strength to strength.

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