I will be at Readercon 23 in a few weeks. It's the one convention I attend every year, and I'm especially excited about this year because the panels are especially interesting, the guest list is awesome, and one of the guests of honor is Peter Straub, whose work I am in awe of and who is among the most delightful people to hear on panels or in interviews or readings or, really, anywhere. (Honestly, if Peter Straub were a train conductor, I'd follow him from car to car. He'd get freaked out and call the police, and I'd get arrested for being a weirdo, but it would be so worth it!) Also, we get to celebrate 50 years of Samuel Delany's work. And we give out the Shirley Jackson Awards!
Before posting my schedule, I wanted to note the Readercon Book Club selections for this year. These are panel discussions of specific books, a "classic" and a recent work of fiction and nonfiction each. This year's are:
Readercon Classic Fiction Book Club: The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Michael Cisco, Sarah Smith, John H. Stevens, Michael Swanwick (leader), Jeff VanderMeer. The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a classic of world literature, a vivid, exhilarating, and linguistically breathtaking tale of a fantastic quest. The novel is based on Yoruba folktales, but Amos Tutuola makes them uniquely his own. In a 1997 obituary for Tutuola in The Independent, Alastair Niven wrote: "Tutuola was a born story-teller, taking traditional oral material and re-imagining it inimitably. In this way he was, though very different in method and craft, the Grimm or Perrault of Nigerian story-telling, refashioning old tales in a unique way which made them speak across cultures." Now, 60 years after it was first released, The Palm-Wine Drinkard stands as the best sort of classic: one that remains a pleasure to read, but that opens up new readings with each encounter.
Readercon Recent Fiction Book Club: Who Fears Death. Andy Duncan (leader), Shira Lipkin. In her World Fantasy Award–winning first adult novel, Nnedi Okorafor continues her groundbreaking project of drawing on her own Nigerian heritage, African mythology and politics, and profoundly disturbing practices such as weaponized rape and clitorectomy to create unique speculative work. Set in a haunting and haunted world that is part far-future post-tech SF, part myth, and utterly contemporary in its central issues, Who Fears Death raises important questions about the often-sentimentalized portrayal of Africa in SF, about feminism and empowerment, about the possibilities of SF and fantasy imagined from a non-Western perspective, and even about genre distinctions—sorcery and shapeshifting coexist with computers, satellite communications, and "capture stations" to draw precious water from the air. What does Okorafor's vision state and imply about the relationship of speculative fiction to the developing world, its capacity for engaging the social and economic issues of that world, and the ways it can be shaped by non–Anglo-American settings and assumptions?
Readercon Classic Nonfiction Book Club: How to Suppress Women's Writing. Kathryn Cramer (leader), Samuel R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Gwynne Garfinkle, Andrea Hairston. First published in 1983, How to Suppress Women's Writing remains a touchstone for many people, the sort of book often passed from one reader to another with the words, "You have to read this!" Tansy Rayner Roberts wrote of it in 2010, "This is not an angry book. It is not a book that condemns men. It is a book that shows how our culture's traditional (patriarchal) way of reading and studying and archiving literature has forced limitations upon all of us, preventing us from understanding the importance of a huge percentage of the work written in our language. Men and women both have been convinced that women's writing (and indeed, art in general) is less valuable and less significant." How do we read Joanna Russ's work now, nearly 30 years after the book first appeared? Which of her ideas remain the most potent? Has it become, as critic Niall Harrison said in 2005, "a book that is most often referenced by its soundbites"? Do the soundbites do justice to the complexity of Russ's analysis?
Readercon Recent Nonfiction Book Club: Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Matthew Cheney, Andrea Hairston (leader), Robert Killheffer, Darrell Schweitzer, Vandana Singh. John Rieder seeks to show that "colonialism is a significant historical context for early science fiction," and that in many ways science fiction and modern imperialism developed together. In a review for Science Fiction Studies, David M. Higgins wrote of the "threefold trajectory of [Reider's] approach—to consider how SF 'lives and breathes' in a colonial context, to examine how it 'reflects or contributes to' this context, and to analyze ways in which it may 'enact' challenges to colonial ideology." Rieder discusses the intersections of race and class in works by Poe, Wells, Verne, London, Burroughs, Campbell, and a number of lesser-known writers. Are the connections between colonialism and science fiction that Rieder sees convincing ones? Could other factors account for the themes and tropes he identifies? How have colonialist ideologies lasted beyond science fiction's emergent years?
I am insanely excited about these panels (and only slightly terrified for the one I'm on; panels can be scary, because speaking extemporaneously about Big Subjects You Care About A Lot is perilous). It seems to me a particularly interesting group of four books to discuss together — I wish, in fact, we had time for a fifth panel, one about the other four. (Maybe we can have it in the bar after the last...) All four books are ones I find utterly fascinating. I'm using Who Fears Death in a class in the fall, so am curious to see how people discuss it (I wrote a very positive review of it when it came out, but I also know there are other views). The Palm-wine Drinkard is a book more people should know (see Geoff Wisner's great piece on it at The Weird Fiction Review). Joanna Russ is Joanna Russ, and How to Suppress Women's Writing is, well, essential. And then there's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, a fascinating historical and cultural study by John Rieder that I think deserves a lot more close attention, and implies much not only about where SF came from, but where it went.
Also, I'm doing a reading (in the New Hampshire Room! How appropriate!) Last year, I read "Walk in the Light While There is Light", and it was accepted by Failbetter soon after. This year, I'll probably be reading the first honest-to-goodness science fiction story I've written in ages and ages, provided that I get it into a tolerable enough form in time; otherwise, I'll read something else. Also, if I remember in time, I'll bring food, because everybody ought to have a snack at a 6pm reading.
Here's my full schedule, should you need it because you want to stalk me and completely creep me out:
Friday July 136:00 PM NH Reading. Matthew Cheney. Matthew Cheney reads from a new short story.
Saturday July 1410:00 AM ME Readercon Recent Nonfiction Book Club: Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Matthew Cheney, Andrea Hairston (leader), Robert Killheffer, Darrell Schweitzer, Vandana Singh. John Reider seeks to show that "colonialism is a significant historical context for early science fiction," and that in many ways science fiction and modern imperialism developed together. In a review for Science Fiction Studies, David M. Higgins wrote of the "threefold trajectory of [Reider's] approach—to consider how SF 'lives and breathes' in a colonial context, to examine how it 'reflects or contributes to' this context, and to analyze ways in which it may 'enact' challenges to colonial ideology." Reider discusses the intersections of race and class in works by Poe, Wells, Verne, London, Burroughs, Campbell, and a number of lesser-known writers. Are the connections between colonialism and science fiction that Reider sees convincing ones? Could other factors account for the themes and tropes he identifies? How have colonialist ideologies lasted beyond science fiction's emergent years?
11:00 AM G Samuel R. Delany's Golden Jubilee. Matthew Cheney, Ron Drummond (leader), L. Timmel Duchamp, Elizabeth Hand, Donald G. Keller, Jo Walton. 2012 can be seen as a milestone year in the career of Samuel R. Delany: his 70th birthday; the 50th anniversary of his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor; the 35th anniversary of his classic critical work, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw; the 24th anniversary of being GOH at Readercon 2. Few writers have contributed so much over so long to all aspects of our field—science fiction, fantasy, critical theory, comics, autobiography, editing, teaching, even a documentary film. And he's still going, with a new novel out this year! This panel will celebrate Delany’s past, present, and future contributions to the field.
Sunday July 1511:00 AM G The Shirley Jackson Awards. Nathan Ballingrud, Matthew Cheney, Michael Cisco, F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Sarah Hyman DeWitt, Elizabeth Hand, Jack Haringa, Caitlín R. Kiernan (leader), John Langan, Sarah Langan, Kelly Link, Kit Reed, Peter Straub (moderator), Paul Tremblay, Genevieve Valentine, Jeff VanderMeer, Gary K. Wolfe. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson's writing, and with permission of the author's estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2011 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.