edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
“Am I Free to Go?,” by Kathryn Cramer, is an edgy tale about a home invasion, except it’s the cops doing the invading. When a once-rich county builds a prison to create jobs and revenues and pushes through a privatization bill that suspends civil liberties, but there aren’t any prisoners available, then it’s time to find some—“men, women and children from nowhere, incarcerated for no reason.” Of course, it’s the cops that are tasked to find them. But cops aren’t really bad; it’s just that working as a corrections officer changes a person. They come to believe that “If you’re arrested, you’re guilty.”
The story wanders, like a victim struggling to understand what happened to them with everything jumbled up in their mind. Lucidity is a goal that’s hard to attain when you realize that underneath the alleged utopia where you live lurks a disempowered and defunded failed state, operating with its own rules. Of course, if you’re an amateur hacker and can’t resist the urge to plunder government computers to “prove” what’s going on, don’t be surprised when federal prison looms in your future. Instead, it’s simplest to be nice and compliant when the cops invade your bedroom at 3 AM. Be quiet and calm and maybe, the next morning, the cops might even be willing to apologize.
A thought-provoking story. I was particularly intrigued by the author’s description of a bio-monitoring system that includes chipped prisoners, Wi-Fi fungal mats growing in the ground and trees that act as Wi-Fi antennas. George Orwell would have been proud of how much technology has advanced the possibilities of a big-brother state.
I live in New York State’s Adirondack Park, an environmentally protected area comprising about 23% of New York State. It is a wonderful place and I love living here. But there is an aspect of the Park that I find very uncomfortable. In 1973, the New York State legislature adopted into law the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan finalizing the boundaries of the Park and putting into effect many of the environmental restrictions. That same year, the legislature passed the Rockafeller Drug Laws, which was the advent of New York State’s policy of mass incarceration. Over the past forty years, many prisons have been built in the Park, and the communities where these prisons are located have tended to become economically dependent on the prison-industrial complex. In an era of severe government cutbacks, these political decisions of the past can have strange and unforeseen consequences.
“Am I Free to Go?” is essentially a monolog. In February of 2011, it began as an exercise in narrative voice when I was working with Edward Cornell, a New York theater director who now lives in the Adirondacks. He assigned me to find a monolog to work on with him. I couldn't find any I liked.
The dramatic monologs I found bore too little resemblance to the women I know in real life and seemed constricted by gender stereotypes. (If I had found the play Wit by Margaret Edson in early 2011, I probably would have stopped there.) Next, I tried reading aloud stories I had reprinted in Year’s Best volumes, but found that many of the stories I loved best worked better on the page than out loud.
And so I wrote something. Ted Cornell listened to me read all or part of it aloud many times through many drafts; his encouragement and comments brought into the form you find it now. This story is as much human rights fiction as it is science fiction. I believe that we live on the knife’s edge of a political cascade in which consequence piles on consequence, leading the United States in directions that most of use don’t want to go. What I intended is a monolog somewhat in the mode of “Swimming to Cambodia” by Spalding Grey and about an extrapolation of the here and now that I inhabit.
What happens when you wake up at 11:30 pm to find the cops in your bedroom, an occurrence become far more likely in this police state scenario, where for-profit jails are looking for more business.
Think fast. Don’t even consider using the W word — as in “do you have a warrant?” Respect authority if you want to come out of this alive.
The narrator has both technology and lawyers on her side; she belongs to the privileged class for whom this utopian society was created. But sometimes people get caught up in the backlash. There are costs. The narrator is changed by the incident; she used to think these things didn’t happen to people like her.
Very cleverly done, in a light tone of voice shading into absurdity, the sort of dystopian absurdity documented by Kafka. The narration switches between the first and second person, saying in effect – This happened to me, it could happen next to you. What are you prepared to do about it? It could be called an example of If This Goes On, except that we know this is really going on already.
Scott Bakal has done an amazing cover for my forthcoming Tor.com story, "Am I Free to Go?" And he has a detailed post on the process of compostion on his blog, complete with preliminary sketches.
Not only is this a strong piece of graphic design that is impressive in its own right, but it also is a sophisticated reference to one of the more psychologically intense moments in the story. Just wait until you read it. Then you will understand quite how good this cover illustration is!
Posted on Sunday, October 07, 2012 at 08:57 AM | Permalink
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I am helping my friend Mary Beth Coudal set up at terrific writers retreat in Westport, NY for the end of October. This is going to be a marvellous time, and I hope some of you will consider joining us. The event will be held at Skenewood, a mansion in a secluded spot overlooking Lake Champlain. Mary Beth, whose workshop I enjoyed last summer, is the primary retreat leader, and she has recruited several of us to lead individual sessions.
It's a great time of year in Westport. The food will be great. Some wonderful people are coming. We'll have yoga first thing in the morning to open us up creatively, and walks around the estate and down by the shore. I am really looking forward to this.
Here is what Mary Beth has to say about it:
The New York Times has a mothering discussion centered around the question, "Has women’s obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism?"
I read this exchange and it feels to me like it comes from a different planet than the one I have parented on. I am, in the vocabulary of this discussion, an attachment parent. I never found myself to be part of the kind of cultural hegemony implied by the NYT discussion. (Though, for a while I seemed to be the person the BBC Radio called to speak about public breast feeding.) Rather, I went about the matter of parenting my children while pursuing my career in science fiction, such as it is, without much feeling of being part of any larger movement.
The strain for me was not a tension between motherhood and career, but rather the lack of support for the idea that with a little extra help from those around me I could remain a full participant in the intellectual and cultural life around me. I would get all the way to the convention, but in the end often couldn't get the support to allow me to attend any program items except those where I was a panelist.
This experience has left me deeply disappointed in the science fiction field's brand of feminism which should have understood what my parenting choices represented, but mostly didn't. Gradually, I stopped showing up at events like World Fantasy Con and ICFA because I could no longer ignore the professional disrespect this state of affairs implied.
Yesterday, received an evaluation from the school district of one of my children who has substantial learning disabilities which contained a sentence that makes me very proud. The evaluator remarked that my son seems to have a positive sense of self “rooted in close and supportive parental relationships.” And that is what I was trying to do.
I do not demand of other people that they do nearly all of their business travel in the company of children, or that they breastfeed while giving speeches, signing books, speak on panels, like I did. But in my life there would have been a lot less conflict between motherhood and career if there had been a little more recognition of the project of combining the two.
The idea articulated in the NYT that by doing what I did I have somehow been a threat to feminism makes me want to kick their editors in a particularly sensitive spot in the ankle.
Here is the table of contents for our Year's Best SF 17, forthcoming from HarperCollins this summer:
The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three • Ken MacLeod
Dolly • Elizabeth Bear
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer • Ken Liu
Tethered • Mercurio Rivera
Wahala • Nnedi Okorafor
Laika’s Ghost • Karl Schroeder
Ragnarok • Paul Park
Six Months, Three Days • Charlie Jane Anders
And Weep Like Alexander • Neil Gaiman
The Middle of Somewhere • Judith Moffett
Mercies • Gregory Benford
The Education of Junior Number 12 • Madeline Ashby
Our Candidate • Robert Reed
Thick Water • Karen Heuler
The War Artist • Tony Ballantyne
The Master of the Aviary • Bruce Sterling
Home Sweet Bi’Ome • Pat MacEwan
For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Lonliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again • Michael Swanwick
The Ki-anna • Gwyneth Jones
Eliot Wrote • Nancy Kress
The Nearest Thing • Genevieve Valentine
The Vector Alphabet of Intersellar Travel • Yoon Ha Lee
The Ice Owl • Carolyn Ives Gilman
This was my first time exhibiting in the Boskone art show. Many people had nice things to say about my work, and at least three expressed the desire to buy prints at a lower price point than what I had in the show. And I promised to post information about how to buy my prints via my ImageKind.com store.
I had this cold earlier in January. Which became a bacterial infection involving white spots in the back of my throat and ominous chest pains. So I went to the ER and got a prescription for Zithromax which cleared it right up, and as of last Wednesday I had my energy back and went to yoga class and had a great day. Except.
Friday, I was feeling a bit achy. By Saturday night I was pledging to actually find myself a regular doctor here in the Adirondacks. Monday I went to my new doctor and was diagnosed with a sinus infection and given a new antibiotic: Augmentin.
So I need to stay in bed, and relax even if its boring. And I have fiberoptic Internet and a MacBook Pro. So I'm watching movies. Here are my recommendations so far:
The first three I bought through iTunes:
Obselidia (2010) starring Michael Piccirilli, Gaynor Howe, and Frank Hoyt Taylor: Asperger's type writing an encyclopedia of obsolete technologies learns to cherish and fetishize the present the way he does the past through the (temporary) love of a good woman and words of wisdom from a misunderstood genius. The protagonist is my kind of man, so this is my kind of film.
The Wife (1995) starring Tom Noonan, Wallace Shawn, Karen Young and Julie Haggerty: A husband and wife work as therapists together leading group therapy in their house. One evening, one of their clients shows up unexpectedly with his sexy wife who wants to know what her husband has been saying about her. Marvellously acted film in which the lowbrow slutty wife gets the better of the other three characters using the superpower of being willing to degrade herself to get what she wants. It has an epic and quite astonishing dinner scene in which almost anything can (and does) happen.
Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing (2010): Terrific film adaptation of Shaun Tan's surreal picture book which had me muttering about impossibly hostpitable dystopias.
And I also discovered the website Indieflix.com which, for a small monthly fee, seems to allow unlimited access to a large number of independent films. I have been poking around there and here is what I have found so far, all of them short:
The Professor's Daughter (2011; 17 minutes): An AI story in the mode of Ted Chiang's story "Understand." The daughter reminds me of my friend Mary Lou Jepsen.
Ghost (2011; 8 minutes): A ghost story that snaps into place very nicely at the end.
The Lost & Found Shop (2010; 9 minutes): A short fantasy about a child recovering a crucial but lost memory of her mother at Christmas.
Sunshine Bob (2010; 3 minutes): Reminds me of the day literary agent Virginia Kidd's grandson totaled Virginia's Nissan Maxima. Virginia told him, "Remember Steve: when you have a car accident, always turn off the ignition. Steve replied, "I turned off the ignition so that damned woman would shut up." The Nissan Maxima had a female voice that issued advisories to the driver. After some discussion, we arrived at what the car might have been telling Steve: "The tree is in the ignition." This film brings me back to that moment.
On New Year's Day, I bought a package of three blank journal books for the kids and I in Lake Placid. In January, I have found myself using my little book to do visual journalling and then, later, collage work. Here is a sample page spread.
I had gotten bored with using only printed prose from magazines and newspapers I was willing to cut up, and had the epiphany that we have a whole bookstore full of interesting books downstairs.
I brought a computer printer that will no longer act as a printer but still functions as a copier to the bookstore. Then I chose about six books to copy from: some drama, some fiction, and some non-fiction. The rule I set for myself was I could look at the pages for layout to make sure they had the right kind of text, but I couldn't read them in advance before trying to work with them.
I am pleased with the result and have ordered some sample art prints of six two-page spreads to see if they came out as well as I think they did. I will probably have some of these in the Boskone art show.
(Click HERE to see a larger version of the image.)
My son Peter Hartwell was one of the winners of the Champlain Area Trails first essay contest. From the Valley News:
An independent field biology study turned out to be especially fruitful for both teacher and student, as the duos joint essay won first prize in the Champlain Area Trails (CATS) Travel Writing Contest.
Every week since January of 2011, Westport ninth-grader Peter Hartwell and mentor David Thomas Train have been exploring the Champlain Area Trails along shoreline, streams, wetlands, and woods near Westport. Those explorations prompted them to enter the Champlain Area Trails Travel Writing Contest.
Hartwell attends the BOCES program in Mineville. To supplement the Mineville curriculum, Hartwell studies several subjects privately, including field biology, with Thomas Train.
“Peter and I spend time together every Wednesday after school in outdoor science explorations, and we wanted to share what we do and see,” Thomas Train explained. “He is an avid outdoors explorer, with great observation and drawing skills.”
Thomas Train is certainly no stranger to the trails of the Champlain Valley: He is the guidebook author for the ADK Guide To The Eastern Region.
“I know the CATS trails well and am excited every time a new one is developed, more open space is protected, and I have a new place to explore,” Thomas Train said.
Their jointly written essay, entitled “Wildlife, Connected In and Out of Town,” earned them the first-place prize of $500.
“CATS introduces people to the richness of the natural world in the Champlain Valley, and David and Peter's essay does the same,” contest judge Phil Brown noted.
And in the same issue of the Valley News, columnist Colin Wells congratulates Peter:
Congratulations to Peter Hartwell and David Thomas Train for winning the $500 grand prize in the recent Champlain Area Trails (CATS) Writing Contest with their essay, "Wildlife, Connected In and Out of Town." Peter, a Westport ninth-grader who attends the BOCES special ed program in Mineville, has been exploring our community's woods, streams, wetlands, and lakeshore over the past year in private biology tutorials with author and teacher Thomas Train. The essay they submitted for the CATS contest reflected that year's worth of wandering, observation, and careful record-keeping.
In the way of disclosure, I also tutor Peter a couple of times a week, in the Greek and Latin origins of common scientific terms. We focus on biology, his main interest, but take in other etymological curiosities as well. He's an outstanding student and a good friend. (Ask him what a lithotrophic halophilic cyanophotolytic isomer is, and he'll be happy to tell you, even though it doesn't exist.)
I am pleased to announce the table of contents for Year's Best Fantasy 10 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, forthcoming from Tor.com.
Dragon’s Deep · Cecelia Holland
The Green Bird · Kage Baker
Dulce Domum · Ellen Kushner
The Parable of the Shower · Leah Bobet
The Dragaman’s Bride · Andy Duncan
Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela · Saladin Ahmed
Images of Anna · Nancy Kress
Icarus Saved from the Skies · Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown · Holly Black
The Score · Alaya Dawn Johnson
Sleight of Hand · Peter S. Beagle
Bigfoot and the Bodhisattva · James Morrow
A Delicate Architecture · Catherynne M. Valente
Swell · Elizabeth Bear
The Bones of Giants · Yoon Ha Lee
The Minuteman’s Witch · Charles Coleman Finlay
Conquistador del la Noche · Carrie Vaughn
Winterborn · Liz Williams
Three Twilight Tales · Jo Walton
Power and Magic · Marly Youmans
The Avenger of Love · Jack Skillingstead
The Persistence of Souls · Sarah Zettel
An Invocation of Incuriosity · Neil Gaiman
Three Friends · Claude Lalumière
Shadow of the Valley · Fred Chappel
Technicolor · John Langan
Economancer · Carolyn Ives Gilman
This handmade wreath was made out of chicken wire and pine cones by one of my children as a 4-H project this past weekend. The Guy Fawkes mask was added this morning: the handmade wreath was a little oblong from the weight of the pinecones, and the opening in the middle seemed just right for the mask on my bedroom wall. It hangs on our front door which is right next to our bookstore, Dragon Press Bookstore, a science fiction specialty shop in Westport, New York.
I hope you are making plans to see American Studio Theatre's production of Shakespeare's incredible Much Ado About Nothing on Sunday, September 4 at 2 PM in Ballard Park in Westport, New York. This is the company founded by Carrie Treadwell and friends which has gathered in Westport every year for the last ten years for one extraordinary weekend of intense inspired concentration to rehearse and present for one performance only one the bard's classics.
Anyone who saw last year's Two Gentlemen of Verona or the magical Henry V of two years ago will every forget those shows or fail to be there this Sunday. Carrie is playing the sharp witted, unstoppable Beatrice who finally meets and makes her match. Dan Billets who gave us last years hilarious and inventive Two Gents directs, and your blogger returns as the mysterious Friar Frances. Don't miss it.
Here's my ReaderCon Schedule. I am especially looking forward to my Friday evening reading, for which I've done a lot of preparation. I will be reading from Our State of Play: Notes Toward the Liberation of Our Utopia, which is in essence stand-up tragedy.
Friday 12 noon Salon E Autographing: Kathryn Cramer, John Jospeph Adams, & David G. Hartwell.
Friday 9 PM VT Kathryn Cramer reads from Our State of Play: Notes Toward the Liberation of Our Utopia.
Saturday 12 Noon RI The Year in Short Fiction with Kathryn Cramer, Gardner Dozois, Ellen Datlow, and Paula Guran.
Saturday 1 PM Remembering Joanna Russ Kathryn Cramer, Samuel R. Delany, David G. Hartwell, (and, I hear, also Michael Dirda): In the wake of the recent death of Joanna Russ, there will be a lot of discussion of the influence of her works and her ideas. Here is a chance to hear a discussion of the woman who had those ideas and did that work, by people who knew her in person. Joanna Russ valued her friends and her friendships, and we on the panel valued her as a friend. We’ll tell stories and maybe even read some of her letters.
Sunday 1 PM Social Darwinism in SFnal Thought: In a 1978 essay, Philip E. Smith II analyzed a central ideology of Robert Heinlein’s fiction: social Darwinism, a belief in “survival of the fittest” within struggles between racial and social groups. Ideas of biological determinism and eugenics informed SF stories throughout the pulp era, from Tarzan to “The Marching Morons,” and gained complexity as genetic science revealed new wonders and mysteries. Is social Darwinism still an idea that burrows within SF subtexts? How does contemporary SF explore and exploit ideas of nature and nurture?
The Westport 3rd grade got some microscope time today. First, my son Peter told them about his microscope adventures. Then they looked at commercially prepared slides. And then the looked at samples of pond water from Black Kettle, where they had gone on a field trip, and from Ted Cornell's art farm, both of which are in Wadhams, NY. (See yesterday's post.)
I had hoped to get some shots of what the kids were seeing, but both the kids and the wiggly creatures on slides were moving too fast for us to photograph the microscope views. But here are the kids.
A few days ago, Peter, Elizabeth and I paid a visit to the artist Ted Cornell's art farm, Crooked Brook Studios. The proximate reason for our visit was to collect water samples from his wetland for Westport Central School's third graders to look at under the microscope tomorrow. Peter, who is in 8th grade, has been doing a biology independent study since January and wants to share with the 3rd graders some of the things he's learned.
It was a beautiful day at the art farm, and we had a great time. While exploring, we were accompanied by both my dog Sunshine and by Ted's photogenic black lab, Lily. Here are some of the pictures I took.
The children set out with nets and buckets, past "Rotating Installation of a Minimally Processed Found Object," toward "Floating Stone Cone."
Cornell explains his monumental sculptures like this:
Crooked Brook Studios was first known as an art farm in connection with the Adirondack Harvest Festival’s Farm Tour in 2005. Becoming an art farm encouraged talking about these sculptures as if they were bio-organic eruptions, a conceit which is encouraged by their leisurely and seasonal growth patterns. They began appearing in the wetlands below the pond, and up near the barn and then in the pond, and then up behind the barns, in an area now known unavoidably as the sculpture garden, about five years ago. They were first known as large slow jokes, and they move in the wind and sport a jaunty devil-may-care attitude. They are junk sculptures making use of previous existences. They are environmental sculptures suggesting the creation of a transcendental asylum.
From the perspective of children with buckets, there for creatures and water-fun rather than art, they are landmarks that structure the farm. Destinations. Trailmarkers.
The complete photoset is here.
In memory, my relationship with Joanna Russ takes place mostly in one room, a building on the University of Washington campus whose architect aspired to be post-Euclidean. It was a poured cement building that was hard to find your way around in, and its rooms were oddly shaped. Joanna's office was there.
I was a very damaged kid who had been broken by high school, and at the UW, I took almost exclusively math and science courses. Joanna's were the only English courses I was willing to take; they were the only English courses I took in my three years at the UW.
When she met me in about 1982, I was a tightly controlled skinny blonde with bad posture, a big vocabulary, and a flat affect. I remembered the books I'd read by the cover art, not by title and author. I'd read really a lot of science fiction, but I wasn't sure what. I knew I'd read all the Poul Anderson books on my dad's shelves. I counted them: there were 42.
I remember what she said about the first piece of fiction I turned in in her class: She said that most of my sentences began with "And then . . ." and that my sentences were all the same length.
Many of her students were scared of her, but I was fascinated. At first I would think up clever questions to ask so I could go talk to her during her office hours, and if no one else showed, I would stay for the whole two hours. Eventually, I learned that I didn't need to prepare. She was happy to talk to me for two hours whether or not I formulated something in advance.
She was on a lot of medication and so had very little short-term memory.
In 1984 or 1985, Amy Thomson had a birthday party. Joanna showed up in a really good mood and sat on the couch and began to talk and tell stories, and various of us gathered around to listen.
I remember her telling this story about someone's polydactyl Maine Coon cat with six or seven toes on each paw that climbed a screen door and then couldn't get down and was stuck there half way up the screen (gesture of hands held up like paws in the screen) and the cat said meow meow (long drawn out meows). She was amazingly on that night.
It got later and later, and the circle around Joanna got smaller and smaller, until it was just three of us: I was going to listen for as long as Joanna was going to talk. And at some point birds started to chirp, or it began to get light. Joanna looked at her watch and said, Oh my goodness, it's five thirty in the morning and went home.
She was out sick for two weeks after that -- a woman with red hair whose name I've forgotten taught her class for those weeks. Joanna's health was not good enough to allow for staying up all night at parties.
And when she came back, I did my usual thing of going to her office hours and listening to her talk about whatever she wanted to for two hours. And she told me about this great party she'd been to, in immense detail, without ever realizing that the reason she was telling me this is that at that party I had sat there and listened to her talk for 9 or 10 hours straight.
I wasn't offended that she didn't remember that I'd been there because if you dealt with Joanna much, you just didn't expect much of her short term memory because she mostly didn't have one; it was a side-effect of her anti-depressants.
Our office conversations went on for about two years. When Clarion West came around she pointed me in that direction, and especially in the direction of her editor, David Hartwell, whom I think she adored. It was fun to be with them simultaneously, because when David was around Joanna was sharp and focused and animated.
In our later conversations, we talked a lot about horror and about haunted house fiction, The Haunting of Hill House particularly. When I moved to New York City in 1985, I continued working on that concept, which I had also been corresponding with David about.
Once I was in New York, this correspondence evolved into a discussion group consisting of David, Peter Pautz, and I. Two books emerged from that discussion group, The Architecture of Fear, which I co-edited with Peter Pautz, and The Dark Descent, David's historical horror anthology. They tied for the World Fantasy Award.
I don't know what Joanna got out of our conversations, but for me they were transformative and something for which I am very grateful.
I was not in contact with her after she moved away from Seattle, and I wish I had taken some initiative there. But despite the intensity of our conversation, the relationship remained defined as teacher and student, and so I didn't feel it was my place to reach out. I wish I had.
Sleeping Dogs • Joe Haldeman
Castoff World • Kay Kenyon
Petopia • Benjamin Crowell
Futures in the Memory Market • Nina Kiriki Hoffman
A Preliminary Assessment of the Drake Equation, Being an Excerpt From the Memoirs of Star Captain Y.-T. Lee • Vernor Vinge
About It • Terry Bisson
Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra • Vandana Singh
Under the Moons of Venus • Damien Broderick
All the Love in the World • Cat Sparks
At Budokan • Alastair Reynolds
Graffiti in the Library of Babel • David Langford
Steadfast Castle • Michael Swanwick
How to Become a Mars Overlord • Catherynne M. Valente
To Hie from Far Cilenia • Karl Schroeder
The Hebras And The Demons And The Damned • Brenda Cooper
Penumbra • Gregory Benford
The Good Hand • Robert Reed
The Cassandra Project • Jack McDevitt
Jackie’s Boy • Stephen Popkes
Eight Miles • Sean McMullen
Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance (The Parke Family Scrapbook Number IV) • Paul Park
We think the book will be out from HarperCollins in May. It is available for pre-order from Amazon.
The hike was led by landscape painter Kevin Raines.
Copyright © Kathryn Cramer.