Vector 287: Best of 2017

Coming soon to BSFA members!

 

Cover Vector287_Final Small
Cover image: Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind, from ‘In the Future, They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’

 

Inside Vector 287:

An interview with Larissa Sansour by Polina Levontin and Jo Lindsay Walton, plus a review of Larissa Sansour’s work.

TV in 2017 by Molly Cobb and So Mayer.

Film in 2017 by Nick Lowe, Andrew Wallace, Dilman Dila, Cheryl Morgan, Ali Baker, Paul March-Russell, Amy C. Chambers, Lyle Skains, Gary Couzens, and Dev Agarwal. 

Ricardo Suazo reflects on SF inspired trends in fashion, and Martin McGrath takes a close look at three panels from Avengers #8.

Games and AR are covered by Erin Horáková, Susan Gray, and Jon Garrad.

With also have an extensive section on audio and podcasts in 2017 with Peter Morrison, Erin Roberts, Laura Pearlman, Victoria Hooper and Tony Jones.

And of course three Recurrent columns with Paul Kincaid, Andy Sawyer and Stephen Baxter, plus the Torque Control editorial by Jo Lindsay Walton.

This one’s a bumper issue — 80 pages! If you’re not a BSFA member yet, why not sign up now?

Friday essay: science fiction’s women problem

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We need women to participate equally in science fiction’s conversations about humanity’s future.
MsSaraKelly, CC BY-SA

Bronwyn Lovell, Flinders University

Since 1953, the Hugo Awards have been one of science fiction’s most prestigious honours – past winners include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark and Ursula Le Guin. The 2016 results were recently announced, and women and diversity were the clear winners.

However, if you saw the list of titles in contention for the awards, you’d have noticed some oddities, such as Chuck Tingle’s Space Raptor Butt Invasion and My Little Pony’s The Cutie Map. That’s because the awards – nominated and voted on by science fiction writers and readers – have been targeted by two major voting blocs: the Sad Puppies, who started their campaign in 2013, and the Rabid Puppies, who appeared the year after and have been growing stronger ever since.

The Sad Puppies wanted more traditional, mainstream popular science fiction on the ballot. The more extreme Rabid Puppies, who have ties with the Gamergate movement, were about creating chaos. So their bloc included ridiculous-sounding works: both to mock the awards and stack the ballot to prevent more diverse books being nominated.

Both groups’ gripe is with contemporary trends in science fiction toward more literary works with progressive themes. Vox Day, leader of the Rabid Puppies, complains that “publishers have been trying to pass off romance in space and left-wing diversity lectures as science fiction”. Last year’s leader of the Sad Puppies, Brad R. Torgersen, likewise complains about “soft science majors (lit and humanities degrees) using SF/F as a tool to critically examine and vivisect 21st century Western society”. The Hugos, he says, are being used as an “affirmative action award”.

A significant number of those “soft science majors” writing “left-wing diversity lectures” are, of course, women. Female authors have dominated science fiction awards of late.

This year, women (and people of colour) did very well at the awards. Ironically, the Puppies’ activities have now galvanised more progressive members of the World Science Fiction Society to use their voting rights. The best novel was The Fifth Season, a tale of a planet experiencing apocalyptic climate change, written by NK Jemisin – a black, female writer. Best novella was Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. The best short story, Cat Pictures Please, was written by Naomi Kritzer and both best editor gongs went to women.

But the ongoing saga of the Puppies and their attempts to derail the Hugos exemplifies broader conflicts within the realm of science fiction – an enormously popular, lucrative and controversial genre that has major issues with women.

Hugo award winner Nnedi Okorafor at a reading of her work.
byronv2, CC BY-NC

A male dominated genre

Continue reading “Friday essay: science fiction’s women problem”

Why science fiction set in the near future is so terrifying

Image 20170224 22983 kskule.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Westworld: how far away is this future?
©2016 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved

Amy C. Chambers, Newcastle University

This article accompanies episode 10 of The Anthill podcast on the future.


From Humans to Westworld, from Her to Ex Machina, and from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D to Black Mirror – near future science fiction in recent years has given audiences some seriously unsettling and prophetic visions of the future. According to these alternative or imagined futures, we are facing a post-human reality where humans are either rebelled against or replaced by their own creations. These stories propose a future where our lives will be transformed by science and technology, redefining what it is to be human.

The near future science fiction sub-genre imagines a future only a short time away from the period in which it is produced. Continue reading “Why science fiction set in the near future is so terrifying”

My Friend, The Bot

By Jay Owens.

I first met @botaleptic on 10th March, 2015. We were introduced by our mutual Twitter friend, Hugo.

We soon got talking:

We soon got talking

@botaleptic is a Twitter bot created by Hugo Reinert, who tweets as @metaleptic. His DNA is simple: “he” is a ruby script, running on a free app server, based on mispy’s twitter_ebooks code. Like all Twitter bots — automated ‘robot’ accounts — @botaleptic is simply an algorithm.

In this essay, I want to talk about how @botaleptic is much more than an algorithm.

Continue reading “My Friend, The Bot”

From Our Archive: On Genre Boundaries

Air by Geoff Ryman

An Extended Review of the 2005 Arthur C. Clarke Award-Winning Novel, by Andy Sawyer

RymanAirThe success of Air in the latest Clarke award is nothing less than an act of magic.

The shortlist as it stood presented a number of problems which potentially could have wrecked the credibility of the Award at this rather troubled stage of its existence. It consisted of two novels (Geoff Ryman’s Air and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) which by anyone’s standards (though see below) should be considered outstanding, and four also-rans of varying quality from excellent to enjoyable-but-forgettable which suffered from being read in the shade of Ryman and Ishiguro but which were on the face of it considerably more science-fiction-ish. “Also-rans” sounds harsh, so I must qualify that by saying that I mean no insult to Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, Alastair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice, Charles Stross’s Accelerando, and Liz Williams’ Banner of Souls by saying that they did not move and excite me in the way Air and Never Let Me Go did. Were those two not on the shortlist I would have been considerably less disappointed if one of the other four had won, if any of them had — if that makes sense. But with the short-list as it stood a decision to honour any other than Ishiguro or Ryman would have been a travesty.

Air took the award, of course, and this means that the science fiction writer, as opposed to the “mainstream” writer with something which looks like science fiction, was the success. In what follows I am, I hope, going to suggest why I feel uncomfortable writing a sentence like that, but also why it’s good for both the Clarke award and that collection of extremely different texts that we point to and call science fiction that it was Ryman who won the award. This is not to say that Air is the obvious compromise choice, a charge which is laid against just about every juried award at some time or another. I don’t know, or care, what happened in the discussions, but there’s no sense in Air that justifies this. In not giving the award to an outsider-sf text in favour of a book which must be sf because it has also won the BSFA award (as well as a number of other sf awards including the Tiptree), the jury has given first prize to a book that deserves it. As well as being central-sf, Air is also stunningly written; inventive and open, as sympathetic to the human costs of change as, without the darkness and claustrophobia of, Never Let Me Go. But why should I be presenting this as an ideological conflict as much as a simple decision between which of two books is the better?

Continue reading “From Our Archive: On Genre Boundaries”

From Our Archive: Nisi Shawl

This article first appeared in Vector 247.

Colourful Stories

Fantastic Fiction by African Descended Authors, by Nisi Shawl

Everfair coverSo rich a sea, so broad the currents … in exploring fantastic literature by African-descended authors, where do we start?

“Begin at the beginning” is standard advice for writers. “Begin where you are” is more my style. Where I am at the moment, where I’ve been most of my life, is North America. Though I know there are many other schools of African-descended writers out there, myriad fabulists swimming in gorgeous array, I’m at my best talking about those with whom I’ve had the most contact, those about whom I have something substantial to say: those who inhabit the Western Hemisphere. In the course of this essay, then, I’ll focus on “New World” writers of fantastic fiction whose ancestors came from Africa. I’ll talk about specific works by them and also touch a bit on what I see as a commonly shared theme.
Just as important as my location in the three dimensions of physical space is my location in a fourth, time. When I am is one week out from learning of the death of my friend Octavia Estelle Butler. So despite the fact that her fiction’s far better known than that of some of her colleagues, it’s to her work I’ll turn first.

Octavia, as almost anyone who knew her will tell you, was not quite a recluse, but fledglingsomeone who valued her loneliness very highly. Yet a major concern of the heroine of Fledgling, her last complete book, is building a community. Shori belongs to a sentient species known as the ‘Ina’, and must consume human blood to live. In other words, she’s a vampire–but a scientifically plausible one. At its best, the Ina/human relationship is symbiotic, and Shori, survivor of a vicious, lethal attack on her original family, instinctively seeks to reconstruct what she has lost: a feminist-oriented blending of species and sexual preferences that might be the envy of a Utopianist visionary.

Shori’s other quest, of course, is to bring to justice those who murdered her mother, her sisters, and the humans they had gathered into their extended family. The killings may have been “racially” motivated; that is, though Shori’s not human, she has been genetically altered so that her skin is as dark as most blacks, and the tactics her enemies use are those of the Klan and other racist lynchers.

While it’s these last points that will probably impress most readers as drawing on African American culture, the book’s concern with social and familial structure shares the same roots, I would argue. Historically, most New World descendents of Africans came to this hemisphere as victims of the slave trade. This means that a large percentage of the cultural artifacts that survived that trauma are non-material. And even these were difficult to retain, subject to enormous stresses under the system of chattel slavery. Language, genealogy, occupational associations: all vanished or were transformed beyond easy recognition. It seems to me that a longing for these lost inheritances underpins the frequent tendency of New World African descendents to write what’s known as “third order” stories.
Continue reading “From Our Archive: Nisi Shawl”

From Our Archive: Judith Berman on Cultural Appropriation

Bears, Bombs and Popcorn

Some considerations when mining other cultures for source materials, by Judith Berman

Bear_Daughter[The cover] painting is a made-up decoration merely done in Pacific Northwest style … meant to say to a reader “This novel is based on the mythology of the Pacific Northwest,” just as covers for other kinds of fantasy use images from Celtic, Norse, or Japanese mythologies to signal “pick me up” to the right kind of reader. ([Name withheld], p.c. Feb. 9, 2005)

In the background of the cover for my novel Bear Daughter sits an object that resembles a piece of Native American art. It looks, in fact, quite a bit like a painted wooden screen made by a Tlingit Indian artist in the early 19th century to represent the hereditary Bear crest of the Tlingit Naanyaa.aayí clan. That screen, now in the collections of the Denver Art Museum, formerly embellished the Ground Shark House in what is today Wrangell, Alaska.

Having worked for a number of years with traditional Tlingit art, I immediately recognized the resemblance of the cover image to the Naanyaa.aayí Bear screen. It also resembles, to a lesser degree, two other screens. The first of these, likely a copy of the Naanyaa.aayí screen, was made for the Killer Whale House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of Klukwan, probably in commemoration of the genealogical links between that house and Ground Shark House. The second, which the Naanyaa.aayí screen likely copied, is known only from a fragment preserved at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Upon seeing the cover, my first concern was that the background object might be another related Bear screen, one I didn’t know about. Tlingit clan heirlooms like these screens are the focus, today as formerly, of deep emotions about one’s connections to past and future generations. The right to display such heraldic designs is a hereditary prerogative often acquired–“paid for,” as it is sometimes said–through the blood of one’s ancestors. In earlier times wars were fought over misuse of crest objects. A validated Tlingit crest object, as I wrote to my publisher, is

like a national flag, a trademarked product logo, a memorial to dead relatives and ancestors, and a family heirloom with strong emotional associations, all rolled into one. There is variation across the [northwest coast] region in what these objects mean and how they are used, but the notion that they are in some fashion property and “copyrighted” is near-universal.

Some crest heirlooms remain in Native custody, like the Klukwan Bear screen. Many others, however, have found their way into museums and private collections. The means by which they have done so are frequently not pretty, and the objects have been the subject of repatriation claims and other legal actions. Given that the cover artist had likely used photographs as the source for the cover image, US copyright law, which extends to so-called “derivative” images of copyright materials, might also have been called into play. In short, using an image of genuine crest art on my book cover could have been problematic.

Continue reading “From Our Archive: Judith Berman on Cultural Appropriation”

From Our Archive: Biographical Fantastic

Framing the Unframeable

What does the fantastic bring to the storying of lives? By Gary K. Wolfe

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“Unser Leben ist kein Traum, aber es soll und wird viellicht einer werden”.
(“Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will.”)

– Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenburg), as quoted in George MacDonald’s Phantastes (1859)

“And do not rely on the fact that in your life, circumscribed, regulated, and prosaic, there are no such spectacular and terrifying things.”
– C. P. Cavafy, “Theodotus,” as quoted in Elizabeth Hand’s Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998)

When one looks at the published memoirs and autobiographical sketches written by science fiction and fantasy authors, mostly for the benefit of their fans – the sort of thing collected in Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Hell’s Cartographers (1975) or Martin Greenberg’s Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (1981) – one is initially struck by the relative thinness and lack of genuine introspection of many of the essays. Typically, such pieces read as a variety of Augustinian conversion tales, depicting a precocious childhood, often solitary and bookish, sometimes sickly, sometimes featuring battles with parents to get into the adult sections of the library, and characteristically leading toward a moment of revelation: “And then came Hugo Gernsback” (Alfred Bester) [1] “Then I saw and bought an issue of something called Amazing Stories” (Damon Knight) [2] “So science fiction entered into and began warping my life from an early age” (Brian Aldiss) [3] etc. In one of the still-comparatively rare autobiographies of SF writers, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson ends a chapter with the following cliffhanger:

Something else happened, however, in the spring of 1926, the first year I was out of high school. Something that changed my life. Hugo Gernsback launched a new pulp magazine, filled with reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs, stories he called “scientifiction.”

The magazine was Amazing Stories. [4]

Following these road-to-Damascus moments, however, these memoirs and autobiographies seldom become genuine testaments, instead amounting to not much more than narrative resumés, filled with anecdotes of encounters with fellow writers and editors and often with almost obsessively detailed accounts of sales figures and payments; one comes away with the sense that (a) science fiction writers all clearly remember the first SF story they read, and (b) they keep really good tax records.
Continue reading “From Our Archive: Biographical Fantastic”

Superhero_ines: Rebooted Comics and Trans* Identity

Manteau: Seriously? Bust? – What kind of things’ve you dialed so far? You been a giant metal spring, yet? A super-disco dancer? A boomerang? Now it’s bust because you’ve got ovaries? Every few dials, this happens, Baroness.
(Miéville & Santolouco, Dial H #3, 2012)

In this academic article, Christina Scholz explores trans* identity within comic books. Christina Scholz teaches at Graz University, and has research interests which include Weird fiction, M. John Harrison and China Miéville. You can visit Christina’s blog for links to more academic writing, fiction, and reviews (and other things!)

Abstract: Gender is a discursive and performative construct, and mass media such as comic books play a role in how it is constructed. Problems arise from discrepancies between prescriptive models of gender and individuals’ actual lived experience. Now, in the era of the reboot, comic book writers have the opportunity to change the identity politics inherent within well-known series, reaching a wide audience through iconic figures, and contributing to changing cisnormative perceptions of gender. Comic books are particularly crucially placed in this regard, since superheroes, as established metaphors of otherness, may in some sense already be ‘queer’ figures. However, although important and exciting steps have been taken toward better representation of trans* identities within superhero comics, we still have a long way to go. Drawing in particular on the theory of Judith Butler and Antke Engel, as well as lived experience, this article explores the past and present representation of trans* identities in comic books, and looks with hope toward the future.

Continue reading “Superhero_ines: Rebooted Comics and Trans* Identity”

WorldCon 75

By Jo Lindsay Walton

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It is Wednesday. I am in Helsinki. So is everybody else.

There are a few issues of Vector and FOCUS on the freebies table, courtesy of Dave Lally; but, of course, not for long.

I put in time in Messukeskus 209, the academic track. On Wednesday, Merja Polvinin introduces the Finnish Society for SFF Research (Finfar), its journal Fafnir, and the theme of the next five days. The theme is ‘estrangement.’

Elysium
Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 Elysium

Speculative fiction isn’t about other worlds, it’s about this world! In speculative fiction, we encounter real, familiar things, only made strange! There is a political value to such encounters. In the movie Elysium, we encounter something real and familiar (unjust access to healthcare), only that thing is made strange.

By making the world strange, we can unsettle the distinction between what is possible and what is not. By making the world strange, we can see the world for what it really is, including all its promise and possibility.

At least, that’s the idea. Over the five days, I am struck by how accommodating and flexible and familiar the concept of estrangement has become.

Continue reading “WorldCon 75”