Review of “Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff

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This story was published by Clockwork Phoenix 5 and Mythic Delirium. It ended up with five recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List. Note: This review contains spoilers.

Malka is a Jewish girl who sits on the steps to hear a Baptist gospel choir rehearse. She meets David there, a dead African American boy who also lives in the neighborhood. Malka wants to invite David to a Sabbath meal on Friday night, so she asks her father Abe to help prepare it. Abe is non-practicing and at first he objects, but finally he relents and starts the preparations. The sticking point is the wine, as Prohibition has recently gone into effect. On a quest for kosher wine, he talks to friends in the park and a local rabbi without results. David says his father Sam can supply it, so Abe goes to his store where Sam agrees to supply the wine. Abe invites him to the meal, as well. On Friday evening, Sam arrives at the apartment with the wine. The two men drink together and trade stories about how their children were murdered. “Does she know?” asks Sam.

On the pro side, the story provides an excellent glimpse of Jewish life and concerns during the 1920s. Strong characters, good plot. There are background conversations about unions, religion, black-market business, socialism and racial tensions as Abe works through his quest for the wine. It has a big emotional impact as the two fathers talk about their lost children. This is also an inclusive story in an age where African Americans and Jews have recently been at political odds.

On the con side, this is still another story about abused children. That makes five with this theme so far that I’ve reviewed among Nebula contenders. Slightly clunky prose.

Three and a half stars.

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Review of “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar

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Since the Nebula finalist list is out, I’ll work through a few more reviews. This is a fantasy story published in The Starlit Wood and reprinted in Uncanny Magazine. It ended up with four recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Two women are bound by magic. Tabitha must wear out seven pairs of iron shoes in order to find her lost husband. Amira sits motionless atop a glass hill while suitors try to ride up and claim the golden apples that appear in her hands. On her journey, Tabitha comes across the hill, and her magic shoes allow her to climb the glass. Amira gives her an apple. Tabitha stays through the winter, wearing out her iron shoes against the magical glass, and the two women develop a relationship, exchange stories of their hardships. Can they escape the magic together, or are they forever bound?

This is a very well-done story, drawing from different fairy tales. There’s not much to the plot, as the two women only find one another and talk. However, the narration covers a lot of ground. First up is the observation about the different kinds of shoes men and women get to wear in fairy tales. Hm. Excellent point. Next, the conversation turns to men and after that, the women’s failings that led to their current loss of freedom. This makes it quite complex, as far as what it accomplishes goes. The story is also very absorbing, with excellent flow, good imagery, theme, etc.

On the con side, the story fails the Bechdel Test big time, i.e. whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s also message fiction with a troubling conclusion: that women should give up on husbands in order to find their freedom with each other. Isn’t same sex marriage subject to abuse and loss of freedom just the same as any other relationship? This has a slight misandrous feel.

Three and a half stars.

2016 Nebula Finalists

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The SFWA published the list of Nebula Award finalists on schedule this week. There was one bit of awkwardness, as Cat Rambo’s story “Red in Tooth and Cog” was initially listed in the novelette category, but turned out to be slightly below the required word count (7500 words). Rambo withdrew the story from consideration rather than upset the published short story results. Interestingly, there was a 3-way tie for 5th place in the short story category, leading to a list of 7 finalists. As expected, most of these were stories with fairly high numbers of recommendations.

For this year’s minority count, I’m slightly confused by learning that some groups are no longer considered minorities for diversity purposes. For the count below, I’m ignoring sexual orientation and Jewish heritage, for example, but including trans/non-binary and Asians. Others might feel the minority count is higher or lower. Adding things up: 16 women finalists, 7 men, 1 non-binary. This suggests that women will figure strongly among the winners again this year.

Novel (4 women, 1 man, 5 minorities)

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
Everfair, Nisi Shawl (Tor)

Novella (3 women, 3 men, 3 minorities)

Runtime, S.B. Divya (Tor.com Publishing)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Liar”, John P. Murphy (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)

Novelette (4 women, 2 men, 1 minority)

“The Long Fall Up”, William Ledbetter (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
“Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea”, Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Orangery”, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, Fran Wilde (Tor.com Publishing)
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, Alyssa Wong (Uncanny)

Short Story (5 women, 1 man, 1 nonbinary, 4 minorities)

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
“Sabbath Wine”, Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
“Things With Beards”, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)
“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door”, A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, Alyssa Wong (Tor.com)
“Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station│Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)

Sales!

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My short story “Illegal Aliens” will appear in the upcoming Refractions (vol. 5). This is a literary type journal mainly aimed at children and teens, but also great reading for kids of all ages. It’s generally available from the Golden Fleece Press website, or from online distributors. I’ll post again when publication is imminent.

More on Double Standards. Is it racism?

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In the last blog I asked why Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Sunil Patel have been treated so differently after bad behavior within the SFF community. Under her persona as a lesbian Thai writer, Sriduangkaew has been promoted in various high profile magazines despite being exposed as a notorious online bully. On the other hand, Patel has recently been blacklisted by several publications because of complaint by women via Twitter that he engages in “manipulation, gaslighting, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment). So, why the difference? Is there an issue here? I checked around on the Internet for different opinions on the matter.

Here’s one from last fall where Billy D offers a fairly standard view that the Twitter charges are vague, non-specific and unsupported by any real evidence.

Here’s an interesting opinion by Natalie Luhrs. According to Luhrs, “…if Patel were a white man, I don’t believe the people he abused would be getting nearly the same degree of support from the community.” She goes on to give examples of white men who have been accused of similar behavior without much effect. She also notes that Patel has moved to position himself strongly within the community, but he’s actually just an up and coming editor/writer without much of network that would give him real power and influence to resist the charges.

These opinions are interspersed by announcements by publishers about cutting ties with Patel because of the complaints. These include Lightspeed, Book Smugglers, Alliteration Ink, Mothership Zeta and Around the World in 80 Books Blog, who pulled an interview with Patel.

No one has brought charges of sexual harassment, but clearly Patel is out of line in a major way. Luhrs thinks his behavior would be considered standard in a white man. So, is the problem here really that Patel is a dark-shinned man-of-color? No one has uttered the word “racism” in this discussion, but Luhrs’ comments about Patel’s status in the SFF community lend to this idea. In previous blogs, I’ve noted that men-of-color clearly have lower status than women-of-color. Patel is ambitious, and he’s probably following the standard formula as outlined by John Scalzi, which is “sucking up and punching down.” However, he’s missed that fact that this only works for men with “white” privilege. The result is a serious offense.

I’m not coming out in support of Patel’s behavior. However, he’s clearly being treated differently than Sriduangkaew–or, for example, YA author Greg Andree, who was accused of similar behavior but escaped unscathed.

So, is the issue racism, or not?

A Question about Double Standards

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The Nebula nominations are closed now, so while they’re producing the list of finalists for review, I’ll talk about something else for a few days. First, a question seems to have arisen this week about whether racist Internet bullies and/or abusers should be forgiven even if it looks like they’ve reformed their ways, or whether they should be blacklisted in some way.

The pertinent issue right now is about Requires Hate, an Internet personality who spent years harassing and bullying writers under different screen names, especially young writers of color. Her different personas were eventually connected to her pen name for fiction, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Laura Mixon won a 2015 Hugo Award for an expose. Sriduangkaew, in her persona as a Thai lesbian writer, was by then a rising star published by a number of high-profile magazines and a nominee for the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I’ve had commenters on my blog assume that being exposed as a racist, homophobic bully ended Sriduangkaew’s writing career. However, it didn’t. The high-profile magazines continued to promote her stories, while she apparently continued her harassment behaviors. This issue came up last week when Apex Magazine included Sriduangkaew on a roundtable event. After complaints, editor Jason Sizemore issued an apology.

Contrast this with the recent treatment of writer Sunil Patel. After various complaints from women about “manipulation, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment), several publishers cut ties with Patel, dropping him out of scheduled publications. This happened even after he publicly apologized.

So, why the difference? Why does the community of editors (and presumably readers) ignore Sriduangkaew’s racist, homophobic transgressions and continued harassment of writers, while blacklisting Patel? Is there a double standard of some kind in work?

Review of “Runtime” by S.B. Divya

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This is a novella published by Tor. It currently has 21 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Marmeg is unlicensed, has cobbled together a set of exos and some illegal embed chips so she can work as a club security guard. The Minerva Sierra Challenge is coming up, and Marmeg dreams of winning the race so she can get real gear and trans surgery to become a beautiful asexual moot. Her Filipino mother works as a health aide and dreams of Marmeg going to school to become a nurse. Instead, Marmeg has spent the tuition money on the entry fee for the race. She spends the last of her wages to get to the site, lies about a support team and starts the race. She quickly runs into bad weather, dangerous competitors and survivalist nats who offer her an opportunity to cheat. What will she do?

As Greg Hullender has promised in recent comments, I’ve gotten a solid story right at the top of the novella recommendations. Pros: This is science fiction, as there wouldn’t be a story without the technology and the moots. It’s got pretty well defined characters, strong imagery, good human elements and a strong plot. The main theme is about honesty and values, but sub-themes about body alteration, survivalism, illegal status and the American caste system ask questions and add complexity. Cons: The prose is a little clunky. Plus, I’m suspicious of the HEA (happily ever after) ending and that Marmeg is rewarded so generously for her value choices. Given the setting, I’d expect the adults and the wealthy class would be as far into the caste system as anybody else. I’m also a little concerned that she gives up her own dreams so quickly.

Solid competitor. Four stars and a half.

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