Tag Archives: science fiction

Book Club: What should we read next?

Attention constant readers! It’s time to choose our next book!

Here are three candidates, two fiction novels and one research paper:

Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy

will be published 6 October 2015; 368 pages

I’ve pre-ordered this final book in the Ancillaryverse trilogy and will be eager to talk about it with other geek feminists starting, probably, on October 7th. Protagonist Breq used to be a starship, connected instantly to multiple bodies, and hasn’t quite gotten used to being singly embodied. I think the first book in the trilogy, Ancillary Justice, integrated fist-punching-related adventure with flashbacks and thinky conversations and interstellar intrigue and music really well. It’s about power and institutions, about the lived difference between true mutual aid and imperialism, and about how to be loyal to imperfect institutions and imperfect people. And explosions.

Ancillary Sword, the middle book, shifted settings to concentrate on one spaceship near one station orbiting one planet, helping us compare societies that are functional, dysfunctional, and broken. Leckie compares othering, oppression, and possibilities for resistance across urban and plantation settings. And I utterly bawled at one character’s soliloquy on the way to her doom, and at tiny hopeful steps of mutual understanding and community empowerment. Also, again, explosions.

Here’s the first chapter of book three, and in case that’s not enough, here’s some fanfic based on books one and two.

The Ancillaryverse is scifi that argues with other scifi; you can see the Radchaai as Borg (ancillaries), or as Federation (per the “root beer” and Eddington/Maquis critiques from Deep Space Nine), and you can see Justice of Toren as literally the ship who sang (see the comments in Leckie’s post here, around the novels’ feminist lineage). I’m looking forward to seeing more of Leckie’s conversation with other speculative fiction, to more critiques, and more explosions.

Photo of Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle. Photo by jeanbaptisteparis, CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert, “Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete”

published 1991; about 31 pages

Sociologist, psychologist, and technology researcher Turkle authored this paper with constructionist education researcher Papert, and reading it gave me new language for thinking about me as a programmer:

Here we address sources of exclusion determined not by rules that keep women out, but by ways of thinking that make them reluctant to join in. Our central thesis is that equal access to even the most basic elements of computation requires an epistemological pluralism, accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking….

“Hard thinking” has been used to define logical thinking. And logical thinking has been given a privileged status that can be challenged only by developing a respectful understanding of other styles where logic is seen as a powerful instrument of thought but not as the “law of thought.” In this view, “logic is on tap, not on top.”….

The negotiational and contextual element, which we call bricolage….

Our culture tends to equate soft with feminine and feminine with unscientific and undisciplined. Why use a term, soft, that may begin the discussion of difference with a devaluation? Because to refuse the word would be to accept the devaluation. Soft is a good word for a flexible and nonhierarchical style, open to the experience of a close connection with the object of study. Using it goes along with insisting on negotiation, relationship, and attachment as cognitive virtues….

I appreciated the case studies of programmers and their approaches and frustrations, the frameworks analyzed and suggested (e.g., relational and environmental), and the connections to other feminist researchers such as Carol Gilligan. If you feel like your approach to engineering makes you countercultural, you might like this piece too. Here’s a plain HTML version of the paper, and here’s a PDF of the paper as originally typeset and footnoted.

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown

published 1 September 2015; 384 pages

Author Zen Cho’s speculative and historical fiction foregrounds the perspective of women of color, specifically the Malaysian diaspora; she has non-US-centric views on diversity which I find both disorienting and refreshing to read! You can read the first chapter of her first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, for free online. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color. The blurb:

Zacharias Wythe, England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, is contending with attempts to depose him, rumours that he murdered his predecessor, and an alarming decline in England’s magical stocks. But his troubles are multiplied when he encounters runaway orphan Prunella Gentleman, who has just stumbled upon English magic’s greatest discovery in centuries.

I’d love to discuss themes in this feminist Malaysian-British author’s work with other geek feminists. In her postcolonial historical romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, her short story collection Spirits Abroad, and in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho depicts adventurous, mercenary, or blasé women who use, disregard, or otherwise play with expectations of femininity. She illustrates how both mundane and magical institutions use gatekeeping to prop up their own status hierarchies, and how that affects people trying to make their way in. Intersectionality, diaspora and immigration, the culture of British education, and queer relationships also appear in Cho’s stories over and over.

if you read The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo then you might be forewarned of the kind of genre switchup Cho is doing — I definitely see Prunella Gentleman prefigured in Jade Yeo. I particularly like that, in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho writes in a genre that often has kind of a slow tempo, and moves the speed up so there are more exciting plot developments per page, and adds more Wodehouse-y shenanigans and off-the-rails conversations, without ever sliding into unbelievable-silly-farce-romp or territory. And there’s a spoiler I badly want to talk about with other people of color!

Something else altogether

You tell me! Let’s try to wrap up voting by Wednesday October 7th.


Quick Hit: “Octavia’s Brood” available for pre-order

Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of “science fiction stories from social justice movements” edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown, is available for pre-order. Originally intended to be self-published, after a successful crowdfunding campaign they decided instead to publish through AK Press, who are handling distribution.

The project is described as:

Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in an exercise of speculative fiction. Organizers and activists struggle tirelessly to create and envision another world, or many other worlds, just as science fiction does… so what better venue for organizers to explore their work than through writing original science fiction stories? Co-editors adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha offer us Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, as a way to uncover the truths buried in the fantastical – and to inject a healthy dose of the fantastical into our search for truth.

Octavia's Brood cover art: an abstract design in red and orange, showing a person in silhouette with many different symbols around them, against a black sky

The anthology consists of radical science fiction/speculative fiction/fantasy/horror/magical realism short stories written by activist-writers who are actively involved in building movements for social change. They use their experience doing community work as the muse for their fiction. The collection will also include essays about the radical potential of science fiction by people like award-winning science fiction writer Tananarive Due and award-winning journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Octavia’s Brood (to be released summer 2014) is the first book to explore deeply the connections between radical science fiction, what we call “visionary fiction,” and movements for social change through the vehicle of short stories. We believe that radical science fiction is actually better termed visionary fiction because it pulls from real life experience, inequalities and movement building to create innovative ways of understanding the world around us, paint visions of new worlds that could be, and teach us new ways of interacting with one another. Visionary fiction engages our imaginations and hearts, and guides our hands as organizers.

Many radical minds believe this field was evolved by late science fiction writer Octavia Butler, for whom this collection is named. Butler explored the intersections of identity and imagination – exploring the gray areas of race, class, gender, sexuality, militarism, inequality, oppression, resistance and most importantly, hope.

The book will include short stories from LeVar Burton, Terry Bisson, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Alixa Garcia, Autumn Brown, Bao Phi, David Walker, Dani McClain, Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Gabriel Teodros, Jelani Wilson, Kalamu ya Salaam, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, Morrigan Phillips, Tara Betts, Tunde Oluniran, Vagabond, adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, as well as an introduction by Sheree Renee Thomas.

You can pre-order now or read more on their blog or Facebook.

Scenes from a linkspam (11 November 2014)

  •  QUEERS DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION! | LIGHTSPEED (31 October): “Submissions for our Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue. Anyone who identifies as queer can submit science fiction short stories, up to 7500 words. No fantasy for this special issue, though if our Kickstarter campaign goes well we might unlock Queers Destroy Fantasy! and Queers Destroy Horror! special issues as well. We very much want to see diverse queer representation and queer themes, but we are focused on the identity of the authors and the quality of the story. Submissions open October 31, 2014 and will close at 11:59 p.m. ET on February 15, 2015”
  • Wearables Are Totally Failing the People Who Need Them Most | Wired (6 November): “As the Internet of Things becomes an actual thing, more steps are being counted, more sleep patterns are being logged, more activities are being app-ified. What isn’t appearing in the data is much common sense or ambition. Instead, developers continue flocking to a saturated market filled with hipster pet rocks, devices that gather reams of largely superficial information for young people whose health isn’t in question, or at risk.
    It’s a shame because the people who could most benefit from this technology—the old, the chronically ill, the poor—are being ignored. Indeed, companies seem more interested in helping the affluent and tech-savvy sculpt their abs and run 5Ks than navigating the labyrinthine world of the FDA, HIPAA, and the other alphabet soup bureaucracies. This may be their own undoing, as there is a very real—and potentially lucrative—potential to shake up the healthcare system and frack the $2 trillion annual cost of chronic disease.”
  • [warning for discussion and video of harassment and sexual assault] #TakeDownJulienBlanc | Storify (7 November): A timeline of the #TakeDownJulienBlanc campaign.
  • Quirell | Indie Gogo (31 October): “Quirell is a social network currently in the planning stages being developed by queer/trans collective CollectQT. Quirell differs from traditional social networks in that it aims to be a place for marginalized community members and others to escape the noise and over-saturation of traditional social networks. This project is needed because as users of social media, we are affected by the lack of privacy measures in place on current social networks, ‘real name’ policies, and the way that new features are implemented and security is handled within most social networking sites.”
  • [warning for discussion of harassment] #DudesGreetingDudes Is One Guy’s Takedown Of Catcalling | Buzzfeed (6 November): “Ever since a video of a woman getting catcalled all over New York City went viral, people on the internet have been debating between whether catcalling is really a destructive expression of misogyny or a flattering dialogue between strangers. The dialogue inspired This Week in Blackness CEO Elon James White to question why, if this behavior is so harmless, or “complimentary,” don’t men do it with other men. Thus, the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag was born, meant to shine a light on the hypocrisy of men saying that they’re just “saying hi” when they talk to women on the street.”
  • Exploiting Impostor Syndrome | this ain’t livin’ (4 November): “Just as women tend to be gaslighted, men are also very aware of impostor syndrome and how it works – even though they may not know that it has a name – and they exploit that knowledge to suppress the women around them. This is an example of how sexism snarls around people of all genders, with men taking advantage of a known phenomenon that affects women, and women thus becoming deeper ensnared in it because there’s reinforcement all around them.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Quick Hit: the July/Aug Issue of F&SF is out!

I have a short story in this month’s issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The story’s called “Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident,” and it’s my very first fiction sale.

What’s it about? Fart jokes. Version Control systems. Women being awesome. What’s not to love?

Guest-edited by C.C. Finlay, this was the first issue of F&SF to accept electronic submissions. Seven of its thirteen stories are by women. I’m honored to be in the company of quite a few other wonderful writers, including Andre Norton Award winner Alaya Dawn Johnson and Hugo winner Charlie Jane Anders.

You can snag a digital copy of your very own from Amazon, or pick up the paperback from your local library or bookstore.

Do you have a cool project you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Drupal for Women Who Just Googled It

This is a guest post from Nikki Bailey. Nikki is a queer feminist lady: barista by day, web developer and feminist bookworm by night. She’s just launched a website for crowdsourcing knowledge about science fiction/fantasy books by women, and things she enjoys while that’s not taking up all her free time include gardening, aikido and Minecraft; you can reach her on Twitter at @kwerey.

Update by Mary, May 24: the site Nikki discusses in this post is at kwerey.com: Kwery, genre fiction by women.

About a month into the new year, during the winter lull at the cafe I work for, I decided to make a website.

Well, no, that wasn’t quite how it worked. I decided I wanted to learn about programming, and when CodeAcademy didn’t really hold my attention, I figured I might have more fun making something myself. Something small but practical: I’d make a site to keep track of books I’d read. That sounded like it’d be simple but useful, and I’d probably be done in a week and I’d be able to put “knows HTML” on my CV.

That plan changed pretty quick. I asked some techy friends on Facebook: One of them recommended WordPress, and then a couple of people mentioned that Drupal was cool at the moment. It’s probably a bit more versatile as a CMS overall, someone reckoned, but it’s difficult to get into – you might want to start with something a bit more simple.

I’ve been hacking stuff into working in Linux for more or less a decade now: the words “it’s not user friendly” lost all effect on me a while back. I took a look at Drupal and found a tool someone had written for it that looked up any ISBN in an open database and populated a form with the results automatically. That was me sold then and there: I went straight to the Very Basic Tutorials page on the Drupal site and started putting together some mysterious thing called a LAMP stack…

Three weeks later I’d got pretty carried away. I moved from learning my way around Drupal to learning about CSS and HTML and version control and PHP arrays. I learned to troubleshoot. I fixed problems – I even nervously published a few patches.

I hadn’t worked this hard since final year exams, or been so excited about what I was learning. I cycled to work daydreaming about UX and faceted searches, came home and filled my Firefox bookmarks with tutorials.

Eventually, I got there. My finished project is this: an online catalogue that stores books with all kinds of metadata: reviews users have added, publication date, genre, and the kind of questions things like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign asks: there’s a field for ‘are there LGBT characters?’ and ‘is there a person of colour as a central character?’. In the end, I made it a catalogue of just books by women, because that’s an axe I’ve got to grind with the science fiction & fantasy community: hardly anyone ever recommends me books by female writers.

The site went live a few weeks ago, and last time I checked in on it, there were all kinds of cool sounding books on it I hadn’t ever heard of: I’ve made a way to find to provide myself with infinite new books to read, and put a resource out there I think could be really useful to people: I was over twenty by the time I read a book about a lesbian character that wasn’t totally depressing, and I’m pretty proud and excited about putting something out there to help marginalised people find themselves in fiction.

I always thought of the phrase ‘web development’ as referring to some kind of very structured skill, with a budget of thousands and probably more than one Gantt chart involved. That changed pretty much as soon as I started googling. Thanks to open source technology and the generosity of geeks with their secrets, it’s taken me under 2 months and £20 to put together a website that’s getting 1000~ unique visitors a day in its first few weeks of life: it’s been an act of creativity and collaboration, and it’s left me really excited about all the cool stuff the internet makes possible.

Thanks for everything, geeks of the internet. I hope this is gonna be the first of many projects you’ll see from me.

I Find Your Lack Of Linkspam Disturbing (9 May 2014)

First up, a number of linkspams about books, comics, and writing:

  • Politics Belong in Science Fiction | Foz Meadows at Huffington Post (May 2): “Science fiction both is, and always has been, a political genre. When we tell stories about a future in outer space populated entirely by white people, who constitute a global minority; when we describe societies set a hundred, three hundred, a thousand years in the future but which still lack gender equality, and whose sexual mores mimic those of the 1950s, that is no less a political decision than choosing to write diversely.”
  • Dear columnists, romance fiction is not your [slur] | Kay Mayo at The Drum (April 17) (update: warning for gendered slur, with violent implications, in the title of this piece): “I’d like to know: why is romance fiction the punching bag of the literary world? Why are romance readers the laughing-stock of feminist commentators? Why can’t people just let women read sexy things without telling us we’re doing something wrong? When writers deride romance readers for their reading choices, their argument becomes meaningless, and here’s why: not all romance books are the same. When someone insists that there is a formula for romance fiction, it’s clear that they haven’t bothered to look at any serious analyses of the genre, nor do they understand what “genre” actually means.”
  • Comics Legend Brian Michael Bendis on Sexism and Making a Nonwhite Spider-Man | Abraham Riesman at Vulture (May 2): “When you become the writer of Spider-Man, all of a sudden, every day, every week, every month, someone of color — all different races — comes up to you and tells you, “Spider-Man was my favorite and this is why,” and then I hear a version of this story: “My friends, when I was a kid, wouldn’t let me be Superman, wouldn’t let me be Batman, because of my skin color. But I could always be Spider-Man, and Spider-Man became my favorite. As a little kid, I didn’t even understand why he was my favorite, but it was because anybody could be Spider-Man under that costume, because it was head-to-toe.” That’s not why we created a Spider-Man who’s a person of color, but afterwards, I was like, “Oh man, this was subconsciously why we did it.””
  • Silence Is Not Synonymous With Uproar: A Response To John C. Wright | foz meadows (May 7): “So, author John C. Wright wrote a thing on the evils of political correctness in SFF [..] Let me show you the problem I’m having. [..] You cannot state, as your opening premise, that SFF fandom is being handicapped by silence and an unwillingness to speak out, and then support that premise by stating the exact polar opposite: that there has, in your own words, been vocal uproar.”
  • Don’t Be a Dick (Or 15 Great Sounding SFF Novels Available in 2014) | Lady Business (April 24): “Dude makes a list of 13 books that demonstrate why 2014 is going to be a banner year for fantasy novels. List contains 12 books by men and a book by a lady which has been pushed back to 2015. Okay then. I decided to fight books with books. Here’s a list of 15 SFF books by women that I’m excited to see published in 2014.”
  • The Trouble With Wonder Woman | Julia Lepetit and Andrew Bridgman at Dorkly (May 6)[Online Comic] “I’m just sick of it! They make a bunch of Batman movies, then a Green Lantern movie, and a Superman movie. Thought I’d be next – but nope – Batman again. […] I’m one of the three biggest DC heroes in history!”

And now some links from our regular linkspam:

  • Is the Internet Intrinsically Sexist? | Laurie Penny at The Debrief (May 8): “Teenage girls are a perennial target of technological concern-trolling – ‘what will this weirdscape of social sexting, selfies and outraged hashtags mean for their fragile pubescent morality?’ – but, in this instance, the concern is far from baseless.”
  • Approaching Conferences From a Different Angle | satifice (April 28): “If you say you want or encourage diversity in your CFP, but nowhere do you say that diverse applicants will receive support to attend, you don’t want poor people to attend. Now, I’m sure that some people are thinking “well, if it is a professional conference, what poor people?”, which is disingenous particularly for acdemic related conferences […] Moreover, are we really going to ignore the intersections of poverty with disability, race, gender, and other axes of oppression? If you experience just one type of oppression, your chances of being poor are higher. If you experience multiple axes of oppression, these chances only compound and increase.”
  • If it Doesn’t Exist, Build it: An Interview With Jasper Nance | Alison Dorantes-Garcia at Huffington Post (May 5): “Alison: Something that initially discouraged me from attending hackerspaces was the lack of people who I could relate to and identify with. For a while I didn’t see many women, queer identified people, people of color, or working-class people. Did you ever feel any trepidation coming into hackerspaces, and if so, how did you deal with it? What advice would you give to a new (potentially shy) person going to a hackerspace? JN: Have a project, and ask for help! Don’t go into [a hackerspace] with any expectations of what other people are doing or think of you. If you ask a lot of questions, you would be surprised how nice and helpful some people can be at hackerspaces.”
  • Ally Smells: Fear of Speaking Up | Julie Pagano (May 3): “An analogy might help here. Imagine if someone came upon your open source project, didn’t check your README or contributor guidelines, did no background research, and demanded you add a bunch of features that made no sense or have already been discussed ad nauseam. You’d be annoyed. Some people might be kind and discuss it with them. Some might gently point them at documentation. Others would tell them to RTFM (read the fucking manual). Now imagine this happens on your project every day or even multiple times a day. Over time, the RTFM response becomes more common as people run out of patience and energy.”
  • It’s Different for Girls | Heidi Roizen at Advanetures in Entrepreneurship (May 3): “It pains and somewhat embarrasses me that I am not recommending calling out bad behavior and shaming the individual or individuals responsible.  In a perfect world people would have to account for their behavior.  But as an entrepreneur who spent years in a daily battle for existence, I did not feel like I could afford the hit I’d take in exposing these incidents.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

It is a linkspam universally acknowledged (25 February 2014)

  • 7 Disney Princesses My Daughter Wishes Existed | cecilyk on babble (Feb 21, 2014): “Like so many 7-year-old girls, my daughter is utterly obsessed with Disney Princesses. […] But because I’m a feminist, I annoy my daughter by having long discussions with her about the way Disney portrays women and how she feels about it. […] she also longs for a princess that is more, well, like her. So we sat down together, and she gave me a list of what she would love to see in a Disney Princess. Take note, Disney!”
  • What I learned while editing Wikipedia | Noopur Raval on opensource.com (Jan 27, 2014): “My work with the Wikimedia Foundation and editing Wikipedia has helped me take a hard look at myself as a woman of colour from India in technology. […] The question I ask myself now everyday is whether merely enabling access through infrastructure and providing free platforms like Wikipedia can help us resolve uneven digital geographies created in the process.”
  • Software Engineering Made a Woman Outta Me | Jennifer Gilbert on Medium (Feb 18, 2014): “When I decided to learn to code, I knew I was entering a male-dominated field. But I considered that challenge far less worrisome than, say, taming the black magic of recursion. […] And yet, the day I became a software engineer, I became a woman. It was a lonely moment. My dad wasn’t even there to awkwardly hug me before yelling for my mother and excusing himself to Any Room But This One. […] The biggest tomboy alive can suddenly feel like Programmer Barbie if her surrounding context is male enough.”
  • debian women – MiniDebConf Barcelona 2014 | DebConf (2014): “On the 15th and 16th of March, Barcelona will host a Mini DebConf with both talks and social events, to which everyone in Debian is invited but the speakers in the talks are all people who identify themselves as female. We consider this important to: Encourage women who haven’t yet given their first DebConf talk; Provide role models for women who are interested in contributing; Debunk the myth that there are not enough women who can give talks in DebConf. The idea behind the conference is not to talk about women in free software, or women in debian, but rather to make discussion about Debian subjects more inclusive for women. […] We are still raising funds to cover the costs of running the conference and to offer travel sponsorship to people who cannot pay for it. Please, consider donating any amount you can, everything helps!”
  • Rubrics Like the Bechdel Test are a Start, Not an End | s.e. smith (Feb 14, 2014):
    “The obvious question you have to ask after applying it is ‘why did it pass (or fail)’? You can point to specific scenes, or lack thereof, that helped a film or other piece of media meet the standard, and you can note shortcomings of the Bechdel test; for example, if a piece of media is a solo performance by a woman, it’s going to fail, but does that mean it’s necessarily sexist? If a movie passed, does that mean it’s not sexist? Two women talking to each other about something other than a man in a piece of media don’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t contain sexist stereotypes or other problems.”
  • Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction | Aja Romano on The Daily Dot (Feb 15, 2014): “A conversation on a science-fiction forum this week revealed a section of the community that’s teeming with indignation about recent attempts to make the genre more progressive. […] But these days, the sci-fi community is an increasingly large, public place. And with the advent of instant communication across the Internet, more voices are coming to the table and speaking out”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The Curious Incident of the Novelette and the Hugo Ballot

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

Something hinky happened with the Hugo Awards Best Novelette category this year.

The committee responsible for one of Science Fiction literature’s top awards decided to contravene both the award’s rules and its precedent to disqualify Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” from consideration, without even telling her.

The Hugo Awards are basically the Oscars of Science Fiction literature. They’re awarded every year at WorldCon, and administered under the rules of the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution. WorldCon members are eligible to nominate Science Fiction or Fantasy stories that appeared for the first time during the previous year, and the five stories in each category to receive the most nominations appear on the Hugo ballot. (More on the voting process here).

Last year, Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” appeared in Audible.com’s RIP-OFF! Anthology, which was an audiobook. In February 2013, she posted the text of the story, exactly as it was turned in to Audible, on her website (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet, it is freaking awesome and you should probably have it in your life. Go ahead and read it. The rest of this post will still be here when you get back).

When all of the Hugo nominations for the novelette category were tallied up, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” came in third (see the vote breakdown on page 20 of the 2013 Hugo Awards Statistics Report).

And here’s where things get weird. The story clearly had enough nominations to make the ballot. But the award committee decided to declare the story “Ineligible as the 2012 work was an audiobook.”

Well, let’s have a look at what the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution has to say about eligibility:

Section 3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.

So far, so good–The Lady Astronaut of Mars appeared for the first time in an anthology in 2012. Let’s look at the Novelette category:

3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.

My word processor clocks The Lady Astronaut of Mars in at 8,035 words. Definitely a novelette.

The category rules don’t say the words must be published in print format, and nether do the general rules. They say the work must ‘appear for the first time’ in the year prior to the year in which it is nominated. Going by that, it’s pretty clear that audiobooks are eligible to be nominated in the story categories. In fact, the Hugo Awards website clearly says, in reference to e-book eligibility: “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.”

There are these two sections of the general rules concerned with moving works from one eligible category to another:

3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

3.2.10: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a dramatic pre sentation work into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is ne cessary, provided that the length of the work is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category boundary.


(1) The fact that they wrote one rule for moving stories and a separate rule for moving dramatic presentations rather suggests that they didn’t mean for stories to be moved into Dramatic Presentation, or vice versa; and more importantly:

(2) Audiobooks have previously been declared eligible in the story categories. When the Audible anthology METAtropolis came out in 2008, John Scalzi (who edited the anthology and had a story in it) was told that while the entire anthology was eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, the individual stories within it were eligible in the Novella category. Including his novella, “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.”

If disqualifying her pretty-obviously-eligible work wasn’t bad enough, they decided not to give her a chance to make a case for its eligibility–or even tell her at all.

Instead, they left her to find out at a party after the awards.

That’s right: they disqualified her story from consideration for one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, and left her to find out about this on awards night, in front of a room full of people.

What, were they afraid she’d make a scene?

Even if they had done the right thing and talked to her privately, that would still leave the question: what makes Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” different from John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis?”


I wonder.

I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman. I am saying that I don’t believe for one second they would have treated John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the genre’s other well-known white men this way.


Kowal has her own writeup of the incident here, including the emails she exchanged with the committee about this.

Also, based on the comments sitting in moderation, it’s time to remind folks that we have a comment policy. I specifically want to draw attention to our policy on comments that add nothing to the conversation.

A Linkspamination unto Nuggan (9 Aug 2013)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam now, ask me how (31 May 2013)

  • 6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism: “Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: because they are women.”
  • Star Trek Musings: “Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? “
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Where Did All The Strong Starfleet Women Go?: “Star Trek has always been about achieving your fullest potential no matter your race, gender, creed, or pointiness of ears. Which is why the utter lack of strong women in Star Trek Into Darkness is a slap in the face to all the outstanding female Star Trek characters we’ve met over the years.”
  • How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’: “But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.”
  • The Truth Of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem: Contemporary urban fantasies would be more interesting if they based werewolf etc. fantasies on actual diverse animal social structures rather than old myth about alpha wolves.
  • Lost to History No More: “It is now clear that without Dr. Kober’s work, Mr. Ventris could never have deciphered Linear B when he did, if ever. Yet because history is always written by the victors — and the story of Linear B has long been a British masculine triumphal narrative — the contributions of this brilliant American woman have been all but lost to time.”
  • So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman: “New technologies may present new ways of violating people’s privacy, but that doesn’t mean they’re legal.”
  • Code of conduct not enforced at the North American edition of Yet Another Perl Conference.
  • Why isn’t it hate speech if it’s about women? “We don’t often call open misogyny hate speech, but that’s what it is.”
  • California teen invents device that could charge a cell phone in 20 seconds: “Khare showed off her so-called super-capacitor last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.”
  • Words Matter: “No one’s being hurt, it’s their fault if someone is offended – after all, it’s just words, right? Sadly, that’s grossly underestimating the power of language and interaction.”
  • We Can Do Better: “I want to be apologetic and say “I don’t think most people were being consciously sexist by treating these women as less than equals” but really, I’m growing tired of “I’m sure they didn’t mean to” as an excuse. Many of us have an internalized sexism.”
  • Are you ready for Ada Lovelace Day 2013? “If you belong to a STEM-related group, why not ask the organisers to devote one meeting during the autumn to editing Wikipedia? Or offer to help put on a special Ada Lovelace Day meet-up for your edit-a-thon? If you don’t belong to any official groups, why not gather your friends together at a pub with wifi and help each other research and create new entries, or expand existing stub articles on notable women?”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.