Review of ‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’ by Alyssa Wong

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Published by Nightmare (10/15). A slight departure from the usual on the Nebula nominee list, this is a horror/dark fantasy piece.

Jen is on a date with a psychopathic killer. They make conversations while she enjoys his dreams about raping and killing her. She leaves with him, but when they get to his apartment, she consumes him, feeding on the evil psychic energy he generates. She leaves the husk of his body and takes on his form, drives his car away. Later she vomits his essence into a glass storage jar and resumes her own appearance. When she gets home, her friend Aiko is making dinner. Jen continues this pattern, but becomes concerned when she develops a hunger for Aiko. Jen takes up with a woman like herself named Seo-yun, moves in with her, associates with her older, dangerous friends. She doesn’t realize that Seo-yun shares her hunger for Aiko.

This is a great set up and a complex story. It investigates the darkness Jen has inherited from her mother, the urge to consume that obsesses her. It looks at how this colors her relationship with Aiko and drives her to dark companions. She is in need of salvation, offered in this case by the pure Aiko. Is there any way she can find it?

This has a slight Asian flavor, and is solidly Millennial. Four stars.

Review of ‘‘Today I Am Paul’’ by Martin L. Shoemaker

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Another Nebula nominee. This story was published by Clarkesworld (8/15).

Medical Care Android BRKCX-01932-217JH-98662 is caretaker to Mildred, an older woman who is still living at home, but is slowly losing her memory. The Android has an emulation function that allows it to impersonate Mildred’s family members who seldom come to visit. We watch as it emulates her son Paul, her granddaughter Anna, her daughter-in-law Susan and other family and acquaintances from her past. Their interactions reveal their relationships, their personalities and their fears. After a fire in the house, Mildred is seriously injured and the real people arrive to bid her goodbye.

Another sentient AI? It’s popular. This is the most sentimental of the short story Nebula nominees. It’s highly absorbing, which means Shoemaker has a strong grasp of the medium. He reveals the relationships and the fears that drive people apart, paints pictures of old couples holding hands, of sons saying goodbye to their mothers and of old caretakers finding new beginnings.

My taste runs to dark fantasy and action-adventure, but I’ll have to give the man credit for his technique.

Four stars.

Review of ‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’ by Sam J. Miller

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This is one of the Nebula nominees. This story was published in Clarkesworld (7/15).

The pastor’s wife is looking for her son Timmy, who didn’t come home last night. She has been concerned about his rebellion, as he has appeared on Facebook with That Whore Susan. She searches Timmy’s room and finds different things that convince her that Timmy has strayed from God. She finds drugs, which she tries out. These cause hallucinations, but she soldiers through, deciding to visit That Whore Susan. Susan tells her that she and Timmy broke up six months ago, and accuses her of standing by while Timmy’s father abuses him. The wife gets a tip from a hallucination to check with Timmy’s friend Brent, where she finally locates Timmy and has to confront the facts about gayness, family and relationships.

This story is written in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone and makes gentle fun of the religious right with their fundamentalist values and how these can drive their children away. The pastor’s wife does reach enlightenment, which makes this a sweet story. However, I’m not sure it’s speculative fiction. There’s nothing here about science or fantasy, except the hallucinations.

This narrative has high diversity as it addresses gayness and the difficulties children have in coming out to conservative parents. Because of the humor, it has low drama and conflict, even when discussing things like drugs, abuse, gayness and coming out. The message is excellent and clearly stated. I gather that Miller is sure he’s addressing a liberal audience, though. I can see where this would be seriously offensive to conservative fundamentalists.

Three and a half stars.

The Puppies Hugo recommendations


FeatherPenClipArtRabid Puppies 2016: Best Short Story

Here are the Rabid Puppies’ preliminary recommendations for the Best Short Story category:

“Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer”, Megan Grey, Fireside Magazine
“Asymmetrical Warfare”, S. R. Algernon, Nature 519
“Seven Kill Tiger”, Charles Shao, There Will Be War Vol. X
“The Commuter”, Thomas Mays, Amazon Kindle Single
“If You Were an Award, My Love”, Juan Tabo and S. Harris, Vox Popoli

The list taken from Vox Popoli, where Vox Day has also posted recommendations for the other Hugo categories. If I can find these stories, I’ll review them.

Immediate comments: The list looks a little short on diversity, as only one of the authors is clearly a woman. Two look to be ethnic minorities, including Shao and Tabo.

A pound of flesh: Mark Oshiro and con harassment policies

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I should probably keep out of this argument, as I don’t go to cons much. However, there looks to be a conflict going on between con management and their employees/guests related to harassment policies that deserves a mention.

A while back I featured Megan Frank and her complaints about Lou Antonelli that led to her resignation as a volunteer from Sasquan. She went on to publish the private emails of the committee, which I thought was a form of harassment. Now Mark Oshiro has published complaints about ConQuesT 46 on his Facebook page. This appears to be the new paradigm in dealing with complaints. When the offended individuals don’t get the results they want, they go public, exacting their pound of flesh by bad-mouthing the con and its management. That’s not to say their complaints are unfounded. It’s also not to say I wouldn’t do the same thing myself. In my previous blog on this, I recommended personal self-defense rather than expecting a committee to handle things for you. Still, there are issues.

The first issue is actual offenses. In this case Oshiro has identified a lot of stuff as harassment that looks like just typically rude and overbearing people at the con, but he does have two complaints that are serious. One of these is repeated, unwanted and unsolicited physical contact from another panelist, and the other is being treated as a second-class Guest of Honor by con management. When Oshiro filed complaints in accordance with the con’s policies, it became clear over several months that the committee was paralyzed, unable to act and hoping he would forget about the whole thing. This is wrong. When there have been actual infringements, then the committee needs to get off their butts and do something.

The other issue is why there was no action on Oshiro’s complaints. For one thing, he might have overreached, expecting the committee to censure people who are only being their rude, micro-aggressive selves. I haven’t seen the complaints, of course, but no amount of policy is going to reshape people into something they’re not. On the serious complaints, the question is whether the con’s policies are actually workable. I discussed the possible consequences of zero tolerance policies a while back. Here’s an example of the boondoggle. When there’s a zero tolerance policy and the con management is at fault, what are they going to do? Ban themselves?

Harassment committees need to have policies that allow discretion and intelligent, reasonable responses. Otherwise they’re going to end up useless.

Barriers to submission

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Edward Lear
At the end of the last blog, I asked why more women and POC don’t submit to markets that will get them on the Locus Reading List. Everyone is limited by barriers and opportunity costs. Check Ursula LeGuin’s website for her rejection letter on Left Hand of Darkness, for example. Even though the editor notes that she writes well, he thinks the novel is too complex and contains “extraneous” material. For anyone out of touch, the book was groundbreaking. It features an investigation of androgyny and went on to win both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards for best novel in 1970. However, LeGuin had trouble selling it. So, what barriers do similar women and POC face when looking at the SFF market?

Likelihood of success The first big question a writer makes is whether to spend the time slaving over something that possibly no one will publish. Women often have more responsibilities than men, being the primary care givers for their children (or others), managing a household and holding down a job. They have to balance this against what they really want to do.

Economics: Reality dictates that writers can’t afford to waste time on stories that no one will publish. If women feel driven to write, they tend to avoid the risks of heavily male-dominated genres like SF and stick to fantasy, romance and young adult where they’re likely to find willing publishers and fans looking for what they write.

Education: POC may come from disadvantaged backgrounds and attend schools that don’t provide much in the way of an education on how to write anything, much less fiction. Writing workshops are expensive. Of course, some people have an innate talent and overcome lack of education regardless, but still this can have a significant effect on an individual’s willingness to try for a career as a professional writer. If there’s going to be a steep learning curve, then it’s likely a poor economic choice.

Worldview: Another barrier concerns the worldview that will be expressed in the works. Recently I featured comments by writers of color who complained about having to write in stereotypes and stick to the dominant cultural expectations for stories. One even noted that she always wrote about white characters. This works the same way for women who are writing in a male-dominated genre. Publishers and fans have expectations about characters, tropes, topics, plot, development and theme, and if the story doesn’t meet these expectations for some reason, then the writers are wasting their time. See LeGuin’s rejection slip above.

Recent changes in the market have opened the way for small publishers of online magazines and e-books, and there’s always self-publishing. These have somewhat leveled the field, opening up opportunities for both women and minorities. I especially notice an explosion of work from LGBTQ writers. This, plus the active effort of many markets to attract minority writers seems to be having an effect. The stats show more women and POC are submitting and more of their work is being published. The Nebula Award looks to be fairly diverse, however this is accomplished. Still, women and minorities have a long way to go before they have equal opportunity.

Analysis of Locus Reading List

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The Locus Reading List has already appeared here. It’s clearly one of those lists that is influential on the SFF awards nominations, and also on who wins. Chaos Horizon notes that works which appear on this list have a 92.3% likelihood of receiving a Nebula Award. Now there’s an analysis of the race/gender breakdown of the 2011-2015 Locus Reading Lists available from Natalie Luhrs.

Luhrs presents a short description of her methodology, about how she obtained the data and determined who’s who on the list. Then she presents the gender breakdown in the different categories. Overall, over 50% of the works that appear are by men, followed by 35-40% by women, then mixed gender works and other. However, she notes that women do dominate in the young adult and fantasy first-novel categories. She also notes a strong dominance of male editors in the anthology category. Numbers on gender seem to have remained about the same over the five years when data was collected.

Next Luhrs looks at figures on the racial/ethnic breakdown of the authors/editors. There was a promising increase in the number of people of color (POC) appearing on the list in this five-year period, ranging from 6.37% in 2011 to 15.61% in 2015. Of course, all categories of works during the five years were dominated by white authors as opposed to POC.

Last, Luhrs looks at the tendency of names to reoccur on the list once they first appear. She notes that the same names often appear year after year and in multiple categories. Specifically, there were 676 authors/editors on the list, and of these 255 had multiple entries. This amounted to about 70% of the works on the list. Men were much more likely to repeatedly appear than women or other gender categories, and whites were much more likely to repeatedly appear than POC. Luhrs comments that she finds these statistics troubling, especially the dominance of men in the anthology categories and the way particular individuals dominate the list with repeated appearances.

These are interesting figures to compare against Susan B. Connolly’s gender analysis of pro SF&F markets. I’ve previously featured Connolly’s analysis. She looked at the submission and publication rates for several pro magazines/anthologies and found strong differences in the number of men versus women published by each. She also found that there were notable differences in the submission rates between women, men and POC. This does something to explain the breakdown of the Locus list, but it doesn’t explain why more women and POC don’t submit their work to the kinds of markets that would get the on the list.

Why don’t they?

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