Review of “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim


This short story is a finalist for the 2017 Nebula and the 2018 Hugo Awards. It was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Zee has a silver key in her back that the maker uses to wind her up every day. She has a strong mainspring and so a lot of energy. She lives in Closet City with her Papa, who never has any turns left over for adventure because he works so hard to help Granny and Gramps. When the carnival comes to town, Zee meets a carny boy named Vale. On her 200th day, she gets adult limbs and new paint on her face, and soon afterward Granny and Gramps wind down for the last time and are recycled. Since her Papa has only himself to take care of now, she leaves with Vale on carnival train 9 to make a life for herself as a carny. The two of them build a child they name Mattan, but the boy has a weak mainspring. Vale refuses to accept the child’s disability, so Zee takes Mattan back to her Papa in Closet City. Can she find a way to support her special needs child?

Good points: This is a very creative idea. I’m visualizing a toymaker somewhere with a whole village of windup dolls and model trains. The story, of course, takes us into the life of the dolls, limited as it is by the number of turns their mainsprings will hold. It has an inspiring message, as Zee gives up her dreams to care for her disabled child.

Not so good points: The world building here is limited, and I don’t end up with much of an idea of what the setting looks like. I gather there are carnivals on at least nine trains, houses for the dolls and recycling centers. Because of the limited background, the characters also tend to be flat. Mattan, especially has little personality because of his disability. Winding down is fairly matter-of-fact, and there’s not much investigation of the emotional issues behind the characters’ actions. True, these are dolls, but I’d like to understand their motivations, regardless.

Three and a half stars.

Escalation of the SFF culture war?

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55327_girl-writing_mdThe second uncomfortable issue that solidified over the last week is the perception that the gender/race/worldview war within the SFF community is getting nastier. This despite calls for a stronger community and initiative for the We Are ALL SF con. Nobody seems ready to let this go.

A little while back, I reviewed what I saw as the origins of the Hugo debacle of last summer. Here’s the core of the issue again:
•The SFWA Bulletin publishes various covers and articles that could be considered sexist.
•Resnick and Malzberg respond to criticism of their editorial by calling their complainants “liberal fascists,” and grousing about censorship.
•Resnick and Malzberg are fired as columnists.
•Women bloggers start to get hate mail.
•The bulletin editor resigns.
•N.K. Jemisin complains about Vox Day’s conservative views and the 10% of members who voted for him for SFWA president in her Guest of Honor speech at the 2013 Continuum in Australia.
•Day responds by calling her a “savage,” which gets him expelled from the SFWA.
•Conservative authors mount a slate for the 2014 Hugo Awards.
•Vox Day spearheads a largely successful effort to sabotage the Hugo Awards in 2015.

That brings us up to now. Looking at this rundown, I can gather that at least 10% of the SFWA membership holds a conservative worldview strong enough to vote for Vox Day for president. There’s been a lot of focus on Day, who is acting as spokesman for the conservative faction. I agree that his extremism makes him an attractive target for harassment; however, everyone seems to be skimming over problems like Jemison’s dissing of the 10% of conservative SFWA membership at Continuum. This 10% is likely just the tip of the conservative iceberg, too—it’s likely half the SFF community holds at least some conservative views.

This is not to attack Jemison. As an African American woman, she certainly has a right to hold a progressive viewpoint. However, it is likely this speech inflamed the ideological split within the SF community. This is also not to support juvenile assessments of the attributes of “lady editors” as published by Resnick and Malzberg. We all need to be professional here.

So why do I think the war is getting nastier? It took a while for my Nebula reading to settle in. I mentioned in my review that Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory contained suggestions I found offensive. One of these was that all women are two-faced. Another was a subtle attack on white men. In light of this, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy also contained what I think is an attack on male privilege. This one is even more subtle, as Leckie uses only female pronouns. Still, she gave out enough clues that I suspect who’s what. These novels are both high up in consideration for the Nebula nominations. I don’t know that this is constructive—it feels like more sexism. Everyone needs to remember that conservatives are part of the diversity package and they’re not going to go away any time soon.

Before everyone checks in to assume I’m a conservative, my worldview tends toward liberal progressive. However, I do look at the issues and think cooperation is better as a way to deal with diversity than fighting it out.

Typical female viewpoint, eh?

The 2013 SFWA sexism scandal

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In case some of the reading audience is unfamiliar with this, I’m thinking I should explain. This is likely one of the issues that laid the foundation for the 2015 Hugo debacle. You can read a full timeline of the upheaval here, faithfully recorded by S. L. Huang, mathematician and SF writer. The fuss started in January with issue #200 of the SFWA Bulletin. It featured a cover painting of Red Sonja with a skimpy costume and pumped up attributes. Nothing new. Most people either a) failed to notice or b) rolled their eyes. However, there was a column inside written by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about “lady editors” which discussed their physical attributes. This was not well-received.

In April, Bulletin #201 featured an article espousing Barbie as a role model. Again, this was not well-received. In May, Bulletin #202 featured Resnick and Malzberg’s response to criticism of their January editorial. They called the complainants “liberal fascists,” and groused about censorship. Then everybody piled on. Language became immoderate.

Then president John Scalzi tried to put out the fire. He apologized and took responsibility. Resnick and Malzberg were fired as columnists. As the controversy continued, women bloggers started to get hate mail. The bulletin editor resigned.

Author N.K. Jemisin mentioned the controversy in the Guest of Honor speech at the convention Continuum in Australia. She discussed Vox Day’s conservative views and his failed bid for the SFWA presidential position. Day responded by calling her a “savage,” which got him expelled from the SFWA. Later in the year, forums and list-serv threads were publicized with sexist comments about women writers and editors from well-known male SF writers. By February 2014 a new editor was hired for the Bulletin, and apologies began to circulate.

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