Science Fiction Feed

Metafilter moves in mysterious ways

So my name has been taken in vain in a post on Metafilter. I am left wondering exactly how my objections to people using pseudonyms leads anyone to the idea that I think that "The future is all straight, white men?"

Certainly, most of the assholes on the Internet are straight white men, though that does seem to be changing. But whoever wrote that post clearly doesn't read either my blog nor my books, nor know me personally.

Cowards, cowards, cowards.

Readercon 2009 photos

I've posted our photos from Readercon 2009.

David Hartwell, Charles N. Brown, & Jeri Bishop

David G. Hartwell, Charles N. Brown, & Jeri Bishop. Update: LOCUS is reporting that Charlie died last night "peacefully in his sleep on the way home from the convention.

John Clute, Jeri Bishop, Michael Bishop, & Gary Wolfe

John Clute, Jeri Bishop, Michael Bishop, & Gary Wolfe

Kit Reed, Samuel R. Delany, & Ellen Datlow

Kit Reed, Samuel R. Delany, & Ellen Datlow

Sarah Smith (with newly broken arm), & her son Justus Perry

Sarah Smith (with newly broken arm), & her son Justus Perry

Tangent Online Relaunches. Hooray!

David Truesdale writes:

Welcome to the relaunch of Tangent Online. It's been quite awhile, hasn't it? But we're finally back, with a somewhat different look, new software fueling the enterprise, and a brand new web-hoster, Analog author Eric James Stone (whose newest story, "The Final Element," can be found in the April, 2009 issue). Eric is the person most responsible for Tangent Online even existing today. He stepped forward and offered to host the site, provided the new software, and has been more than patient with yours truly as I have learned how to use it (and which I am still learning the finer points of). Eric deserves your unqualified thanks for his selfless efforts in getting us up and running once more.

Continue reading "Tangent Online Relaunches. Hooray!" »

Bill Gibson: "Lovecraft & Me" (1981) & more

William Gibson

David and I have been pawing through our basement today looking for things to pack to take upstate. Cozied up to a Phil Dick manuscript, or some such, David found Gahan Wilson's bust of H. P. Lovecraft which was the original sculpture for the World Fantasy Award. (David bought it back at the beginning of time.) It's now packed up for its journey upstate.

I was looking through a box that was from the same general area, and saw that below the recent stuff was a layer of fanzines. In it I found Rich Coad's 1981 special Lovecraft issue of the fanzine Space Junk, containing Bill Gibson's "Lovecraft & Me." Here's a taste:

He feared ice-cream and loved fish, or was it  the other way around. I forget. It's been years. Nurses in black rubber invaded his dreams, as I recall, tickling and tweaking him . . . Or maybe that was Colin Wilson. Anyway, this guy's world abounds with "feminine landscapes," hillocks and mounts with holes in them, and, if you're unlucky enough  to find your way down one of these things, you'll find, too late, that it's full of rats, it's all damp and icky there, the very fabric of reality breaks own, down there, and it's just a burbling, bubbling chaos, where things with big feet dance to the music of madness, all burning-churning fish-nasty . . .

I think I was about fourteen when I discovered Lovecraft.

(Ellipses in the original.)

Now, back to the basement.

At the bottom of the stack of fanzines was something called Tumbrils (No. 13), "Published for the Vanguard Amateur Press Association by James Blish." Blish writes about a kerfuffle the name of which I don't even recognize, called the "WRL Controversy." His write-up contains this marvelous line:

If there is anything valuable to be learned from Charles Fort, it is that size and numbers count for very little in human relationships.

The fanzine appears to have been published not long after Hiroshima, which is mentioned elsewhere in the issue.

That terrible Jeff VanderMeer made me squirt coffee through my nose

See Evil Monkey and People for the Ethical Treatment of SF (PETSF)

Favorite part:

OW! I am not a mofo. Stop!

Evil Monkey:
Oh yes you are. I can tell.


Evil Monkey:
You ain’t declared for our organization so you must be part of either Mofos for the Utter Destruction of SF Ethics (MUDSFE) or M@therf*ckers Who Object to the Use of Hammers! (Mwouh!).

On why what people like about books is more interesting than what they don't like

A couple of weeks ago, Niall Harrison published something of a lament about review venues that are more inclined to publishing favorable reviews than unfavorable ones. He says:

We’ve been here before with regard to the insidiousness of “mostly positive” reviews, but this seemed worth pulling out as an example where the harm caused by the policy is more obvious than usual. It does a disservice both to readers who might have seen the review and now will not, and to the field of sf reviewing and criticism as a whole, for which full and honest discussion must be a priority; I hope, though I accept it is likely in vain, that Prominent SF Magazine Editor feels a mite embarrassed by their reviews policy today. That the writer in question has subsequently decided not to review at all, at this stage in their career, also makes me sad — it impoverishes the dialogue, in more ways than one — but it is understandable.

For the past 21 years, we have run The New York Review of Science Fiction on the principle that what people like about a book is more interesting than what they dislike, and we aim to publish reviews on the strengths and weaknesses of good books. This means that we publish reviews that are for the most part positive; occasionally publishing a truly negative review if the review itself offers significant illumination. 

There are all kinds of reasons one might react negatively to a book, many of them personal. One can be deaf to the virtues of a writer for several years before finally getting it. I would be quite embarrassed if I had been publishing my notes on stories I truly disliked over the years I've been doing Years' Best volumes. There are several really fine writers I really didn't get until the right story came along and things suddenly clicked into place for me.

We publish to promote the aesthetic advancement of the field and are not a buyers' guide. Some review venues that may think of themselves as buyers' guides may do things differently, which is fine. 

Vast numbers of books are published each year. Many of them do not merit much discussion or review attention, in our opinion.

Ideally, book reviews are about books, not about reviewers and their feelings. A review should accurately characterize the project of the book and how it fits into the genre. Whether the reviewer is in sympathy with the project of the book is secondary to its accurate depiction. 

The literary essay is a form  more suited for exploration of rifts between critics feelings and the books they encounter.

UPDATE: David points out to me that he wrote a NYRSF editorial on this general topic in 2004, entitled "Blooming" which is about negative reviewing as performance.

FURTHER UPDATE: James Nicoll thinks I missed the Fail Fandom subtext of Niall's post. I didn't: I did understand what Niall was trying to say, and I disagree. An essay is a more appropriate form for a critic who disagrees with the basic project of a book than a book review.

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Paul Kincaid assesses my contribution to SF

Coverpage I was reading The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction in bed this afternoon, while feeling a bit unwell and testing out my brand new, very-first bifocals. I happened upon Paul Kincaid's essay, "Fiction since 1992." As Kincaid tells the tale:

The main tide of the genre during this period [since 1992], however, was the revived interest in hard sf and space opera, perhaps spurred by the monumental retrospective anthologies edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (The Ascent of Wonder (1994), The Hard SF Renaissance (2002), The Space Opera Renaissance (2006)). (176-177)

The paragraph goes on to discuss the influence and profusion of Year's Best volumes. I think this goes into the next author bio I have to write!

Reading William Gibson's Spook Country


Last summer David bought a signed copy on William Gibson's Spook County in Seattle, and I found it this weekened on the night table on his side of the bed in our house in upstate NY. I read it on Mother's Day, half in the morning before going out to brunch with the kids, and the other half when I got home to Pleasantville, waiting for David to wake up from his nap to take me out to dinner. (He didn't wake up until I was almost finished with the book, so we're having Mother's day Dinner tonight, I think.)

By chance, the book covers a lot of the same thematic ground as my blog. Odd happenings involving piracy and Somalia, clownish espionage or pseudo-espionage, data visualization, international intrigue, privatized military and intelligence operations, etc. So there were a lot of details in the book to engage me, and for me to measure against various random facts encountered during the Bush years. And it is a very Bush Era book.

There were a certain number of intriguing ideas raised but which did not pay off. The one I most wanted to hear about was the idea of a "cold civil war" going on within the United States. Maybe he'll actually use it in a subsequent book, but in this book it was a toss-off line in a bit of good dialog.

William Gibson corrupted by the influence of Charles N. Brown

The book has lots of hip characters in settings and clothes that Gibson takes the time to describe -- but which descriptions I find I mostly didn't retain because these aspects did not cling to their character in the standard Jamesian sort of way. Rather, the clothes and settings felt more like superficial packaging on physics-style Beobachters on the way to their Bush-era date with doom.

The book is a page-turner full of good scenes and snappy dialog. But in the end, except for an ex-Blackwater spear carrier or two, no one gets hurt much. Instead, they go to Canada, where the inevitable and dangerous conflicts sort of evaporate and characters from competing sides  seem to be in process of forming a band or something, leaving them all available for use in whatever book is coming next.

I'm not sure how I feel about myself for being disappointed that none of them died. Is the ending unrealistic?

The strengths of this book are in its individual scenes, in its moments of insight, glimpses of what might have been going on beneath all the layers of deception in the first eight years of the 21st century. I'll probably read the book again, going back to savor the best scenes slowly without the expectation that they will all add up.

Wiscon program item noted without comment: "Something Is Wrong on the Internet!"

Program Item
NameSomething Is Wrong on the Internet!
Track(s)Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction)
DescriptionWhat keeps you going at 4 a.m. when there's so much fail, and only you and your fellow Internet drama addicts stand against it like stubborn superheroes? Let's talk about why Internet drama is important to us as activists and as fans, why we engage or disengage, and what it all means when ideas and personalities clash in public discussion of sf/f books, tv, fic, and culture.
LocationCapitol B
ScheduleSun 10:00 - 11:15AM
PanelistsM: Vito Excalibur, Piglet, Liz Henry, Julia Sparkymonster
UPDATE: Two accounts of the panel, one from Laura, in the audience, with several unattributed quotes about mobbing:

Hint of a fail is when a person says “There is a mob after me!”

. . . and . . .

If you never shut up about things, then you will continue to be mobbed.

And one from Liz Henry:

danny: what seems to spark a particularly bad reaction is a bunch of people's reactions being called a "mob" - it is not a mob it is a lot of individuals having their own valid reactions.

Michael Bérubé on the fate of Cultural Studies

Kathryn Cramer

A long time ago, when Cultural Studies was all the rage, I was in graduate school. And I thought Cultural Studies was neat because the rage for Cultural Studies allowed me to  talk about things like genre fiction and publishing with professors whose interests would otherwise have been too refined to  allow me to discuss such things in an Ivy League graduate school. 

The beginning of the end was when one of my advisors asked me if I was independently wealthy after I described for her my intended course of study. This took a while to sink in, but when it did, I dropped out of graduate school and got a job.

The problem with Cultural Studies when I was in graduate school was that while it allowed the pretext under which I could discuss genre literature, making claims that any particular book was better than any other book and that it was possible to tell the difference between good books and bad books seemed to be streng verboten under Cutural Studies rules.

My final term in grad school, I bumped my head on a chair while writing my final papers and got a concussion, and this brought me to my senses. So I ran away with the circus, or rather went to work as an editor of hypertext fiction for Eastgate Systems, showing up for work shortly after New Year's Day in 1994, a decision I have never regretted.

I had not thought about Cultural Studies in some time. But Michael Bérubé is an academic, and so he has watched its course. He has a long post entitled, "the university after what, now?" which I won't attempt to summarize, but is very much worth reading. But here's a sample: 

. . . I want to accentuate the negative in order to point out that over the past 25 years there has been a great deal of cultural-studies triumphalism that now seems unwarranted or embarrassing. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we heard (and I believed) that cultural studies would fan out across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, inducing them to become at once more self-interrogating and more open to public engagement. Some people even suggested, either in hope or in fear, that cultural studies would become the name for the humanities and social sciences in toto. And lest this sound grandiose, I want to insist that there was, at the time, good reason to think this way. The period of theoretical ferment that began in the late 1960s and gained traction in the 1970s seemed to have reached the boiling point: when Illinois held its “Cultural Studies Now and in the Future” conference in 1990, the program included historians, media theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and AIDS activists; and the theoretical terrain, over which cultural studies had held its earlier skirmishes with deconstruction, with psychoanalysis, with feminism, and of course with the epochal struggle of Althusserians and neo-Gramscians, had lately been enriched by the arrival of Foucauldian historicism and queer theory. It really did seem plausible that cultural studies could be the start of something big, something that would have a profound intellectual and institutional impact on the American university.

Oh God, how glad I am that I got out while the getting was good and went out and just did weird stuff that I felt like, and published a bunch of anthologies which said over and over, I can too tell the good from the bad, and here's what you ought to be reading. 

Just where would I be now if I'd played by the Cultural Studies rules?

Reading Bruce Sterling's "Black Swan"

Interzone-221-cover I just read Bruce Sterling's "Black Swan" (Interzone, Issue 221). I'd picked up the magazine intending to read Alaya Dawn Johnson's fantasy story in the issue, but when I saw the title of the Sterling story, I decided to read it first. (Johnson's an interesting new writer whom we've reprinted a couple of times before.)

BruceI was seduced by the Sterling story. Not just that it was by Chairman Bruce, but the title itself is an incredible narrative hook. I have a real fascination with unexpected catastrophic large-scale events driven by the interaction of simple principles. I am a sucker for Black Swan theory. The term "black swan" is, I gather, a coinage of Nassim Nicholas Taleb whose website is called

Blackswan The set-up os the story is pure old-school cyberpunk: a somewhat corrupt tech journalist is meeting in a cafe with a guy dressed all in black who's involved in some kind of industrial espionage. Okay. We know whose movement we're in.

But line by line, the story just gets weirder, appropriating a bunch of other sf movements: alternate history, quantum-mechanical hard sf, the power fantasy, etc.

And Sterling has packed a whole novel's worth of material in a story, on his way there. And it is bursting with moments of well-observed reality. I was going to quote a few, but I think this is a story that should be read in sequence. 

And then read again. I have a suspicion it will be different the second time through.

Mathoms from the Time Closet: The Discon 1 progress report, 1963

Nice 3 color illo on the front of the 1963 WorldCon progress report:

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 1

George Scithers was "Chairman, Parlimentarian, and Calculating Programmer."

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 2

Hotel rates? Nine bucks for a single, fourteen for a double. Membership? Two dollars. Honest.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 3

The Guest of Honor was Murray Leinster.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 4

It was David's first convention. One of the things that's great about living in the same house with him is that he keeps this kind of stuff. Here's how David remembers it:

I attended my first sf convention in 1963, Discon, having been unable to attend the Pittsburgh and Chicago conventions just prior. When I was interviewing Joe Haldeman as Guest of Honor at Confluence in Pittsburgh, I asked in the course of the discussion about his first convention, and it turned out that Joe and Gay as teenagers had attended Discon and even entered the masquerade (as Rhysling, Heinlein’s blind poet, and a lady from the Anti-Sex League in Nineteen Eighty-Four, respectively). I had just graduated college and was alone that evening, so I sat at a round table with an older gentleman for two hours and talked about myself and about sf while the masquerade and dance went on. Les Gerber, a New York fan, was dressed as Terry Carr in a sort of zoot suit. John and Joni Stopa were mostly undressed as Incubus and Succubus, for which they won first prize.

The gentleman I was talking to was Harry Warner, and when I told Paul Williams and my other fan acquaintances, they didn’t at first believe me. I was relatively new to fandom and did not know until their astonishment and disbelief that I had spent an evening with the hermit of Hagerstown, whom none of them had met. I had earlier that day been introduced to Walter Breen, so I looked up his Fanac report on the convention years later. It turned out that young Bill Gibson was in that masquerade as a priest of the beetle god. It was his first convention, too. And Mike Resnick’s

(I was born in 1962; I didn't go.)

Old NYRSF photos

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd lost most of the The New York Review of Science Fiction back-issue files because I couldn't fine them on my hard drive. Turns out they were on a different computer in the house.  I've been copying them to my computer, so I know where to find them. Looking through the files, I've found some marvelous photos.  

Here us the original 1988 NYRSF staff, minus David Hartwell, who took the photo, and contributing editor Samuel R. Delany, in whose apartment we met weekly until Chip got a good academic gig out of town.

Susan Palwick, Kathryn Cramer, Tom Weber (aka Soren DeSelby), Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Patrick Nielsen Hayden in the Hartwell kitchen in Pleasantville, NY, 1988

Susan Palwick, Kathryn Cramer, Tom Weber (aka Soren "Scraps" DeSelby), Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Patrick Nielsen Hayden in the Hartwell kitchen in Pleasantville, NY, 1988.

Delany telling a story to my then-small son Peter. Peter was quite entranced. Chip was waiting for us all to depart for ReaderCon. (Chip is great with small children.)

Samuel R. Delany tells a story to Peter Hartwell

Plus an incriminating photo from issue 88, the first issue where we ran a photo section.

David Hartwell, Michael Swanwick, James Patrick Kelly, & Tim Powers

David Hartwell, Michael Swanwick, James Patrick Kelly, & Tim Powers.

"Racism and Science Fiction" posted on the NYRSF site

At the request of a NYRSF subscriber and by permission of Samuel R. Delany, I have posted Delany's 1998 essay "Racism and Science Fiction" to The New York Review of Science Fiction site.

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What I've been reading lately

Cov0903lg-250 I've been bouncing from book to book and as is often the case with me I am reading several books. As usual, I am reading short stories, though I haven't really geared up for seriously plowing through the short fiction of 2009 yet.

Regarding fiction, I was most recently reading the March issue of F&SF: "Shadow-Below" by Robert Reed is terrific. Reed stories vary widely in technique, tone, and approach. Here's he's writing a Gene Wolfe-type story. Good stuff. "The Unstrung Zither" by Yoon Ha Lee is also really fine; I appreciate it for its mathematical/musical aesthetic logic. Getting to the ending is like reading a good proof. I've read half of Marc Laidlaw's "Quickstone" which is going well so far. In general, this seems a really strong issue of F&SF.

But mostly I've been reading non-fiction: either ordering books on impulse and then trying to remember why I bought them when they come in the mail a week later, or cooling my heels while David loots shops large used bookstores.

9780230218659 Today, I was reading Social Work: Themes, Issues, and Critical Debates (2nd edition), Robert Adams, Lena Dominelli, & Malcolm Payne, eds. I bought it for Mary Langan's essay "The Legacy of Radical Social Work," but have dipped in here and there reading individual essays.

Diffjacket Based on a comment section recommendation, I ordered Scott E. Page's The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Schools, Firms, Schools, and Societies. I've read the beginning, which was pretty good. Then he got into arguments concerning how problems that are hard from one perspective can be easy when translated into a different genre of though, and I found myself nodding, yeah, yeah, category theory and decided to put the book aside until I was willing to follow the actual mathematical and logical arguments closely, since in terms of the arguments that draw on category theory, he's preaching to the choir with me. Seems to be a good book, though not bedtime reading; I was reading it at bedtime. (He does discuss the extent to which ethnic and gender diversity are and are not what he's talking about.) Page is "a professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics." It is a rigorous book, which is good.

Bookcover The book I finished yesterday is Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz, & Gail Pursell Elliott. It is a very useful book for anyone who has experienced mobbing. The writing is very utilitarian, and while it does pull the plow, one could wish for the prose style of someone like Oliver Sacks. 

Cover The book I was reading, with some fascination, on the way back from Westport this weekend is Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason. I bought it in Lake Placid while waiting for David to finish going through the stock at With Pipe and Book. What is most interesting about the book is the point of view. Mason robbed celebrities, because they felt socially compelled to show of their jewels. He viewed the society pages as a catalog. And once he'd seen someone with what he called "serious stones" it became an idea fix: he couldn't stop thinking about the details of how he would take them. For lack of a better phrasing, Mason seems to be a man with tremendous discipline and almost no impulse control. To an extent, the jewel heists are things that happen to him rather than things he does. I'm about a third of the way through the book.

3124124AWXL._SL500_AA240_ Recently read: White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training by Judith H. Katz. I have the 2nd edition. It is a quick read, a book rooted in the 12-step movement, conceiving of racism as a disease in need of treatment. By reputation, it is the book that coined the equation "racism = prejudice plus power." In the book, it's on page 53, almost an aside, an optional addition to dictionary definitions of racism. The failings of this book's approach are discussed in Mary Langan's  essay mentioned above. It tends to cause acrimonious confrontations.

There are several books I have in hand but have not yet started: 

Update 4/15/09: I finished Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. Fun book.

Philip K. Dick Awards announced

On behalf of the administrators of the Philip K. Dick Award, David Hartwell & Gordon Van Gelder, I have updated the award's official website to reflect that EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD by Adam-Troy Castro (Eos Books) and TERMINAL MIND by David Walton  (Meadowhawk Press) have shared the Philip K. Dick Award for the 2008 award year. It was a tie. No Special Citation was awarded. For more information, see the official announcement.

(I host the award site on my Typepad account; Gordon usually posts the announcements.)

io9 commenters suggest Paolo Bacigalupi should kill himself; our field should be better than this

I am really bothered by some of the comments posted in the io9 comment section when Charlie Jane Anders  posted part of Paolo Bacigalupi's interview with EcoGreek under the title The Best Green Technology Is Population Control. Never mind the general run of comments that amounted to "Fuck you Paolo," there were multiple comments suggesting that he kill himself.

If he believes less people are the answer, fine…off yourself and save us the trouble of hearing your filth.

. . . and . . .

Yes, let's destroy every single person in the upper, all-polluting, opulent reaches of society.

Hey Paolo, you first fucker.

What is the matter with people? And where was the comment moderation? Io9 is a for-profit adverstising-driven commercial blog. Surely they can afford an experienced moderator.

I would really like to believe that our field is better than this.

(Via Paolo Bacigalupi.)

Elizabeth Bear in top form in 2008

Elizabeth Bear wearing the JWC tiara

Thinking about the short fiction in 2008, one of the writers whose work really stands out is Elizabeth Bear. In 2005, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. And in 2008, her story "Tideline" won a Hugo. Her novel forthcoming in 2009 will be the Norse fantasy By the Mountain Bound.

 She published several really superb stories in 2008. 

• "Shuggoths in Bloom," which just made this year's Hugo ballot, was published in Asimov’s. It is an extraordinary contemporary Lovecraftian story set in about 1939 off the coast of Maine, and constitutes an original reinterpretation of some elements of the Chthulhu mythos. The atmosphere of cosmic dread is particularly well established, and the New England setting spot on. (It will appear in our Year's Best Fantasy 9, forthcoming from

• Her collaboration with Sarah Monette, "Boojum" was published in the excellent original anthology of fantasy and SF pirate stories, Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It turns the premise of the anthology on its head. A tale of living spaceships and brain-thieves, this story, in the tradition of Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Sang, is one of this year's most entertaining. That one will appear in our Year's Best SF 14, forthcoming from HarperCollins.

Her stories were among 2008's high points for me.

Elizabeth Bear