Thursday, April 18, 2019

C2E2: The Future is Now

C2E2 2019 had some more prominent literary guests & paneling than usual, which is awesome, and I was able to attend a couple. Brief notes below; errors mine!

The Future is Now brought together SF/F authors to discuss various questions on how they create future worlds. Panelists:
  • Alison Wilgus: writer & comic artist; recently published Chronin.
  • Sue Burke: Chicago-based translator and SF author, recently of Semiosis.
  • Cory Doctorow: SF writer, journalist, and activist, recently published Radicalized.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal: Chicago-based SF writer, audiobook narrator, and puppeteer, recently published The Fated Sky & The Calculating Stars.
  • Mirah Bolender: SFF author, recently of City of Broken Magic.
  • Didn't catch the chair's name, alas.
Chair: Do you have literary heroes or events in the past that particularly affect how you create future worlds?
MRK: Yes! Cyclical nature of fashion, political issues. The issues faced by women astronauts in her fiction (set in an alternate past) are drawn from examples today.
AW: Has been working on her project so long it's like collaborating with a 12-years younger version of herself. Much more aware of queer aspects of the book, and how we've made lots of advances in queer rights but also they're under attack in a way they weren't.
CD: Super-skeptical of the whole enterprise of prediction. Tries with fiction not to project forward but to reflect back on what we're going through right now. Focused on human rights & digital technologies. When we create a terrible technology, we need to beta test it on people who can't complain, so it starts with prisoners/refugees/students before moving up to other sectors of society.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"A Memory Called Empire" by Arkady Martine

Nuanced critiques of imperialism are having a bit of a moment in science fiction and fantasy. The simplistic, moustache-twirling villain is in no danger of extinction, but an increasing amount of speculative fiction is instead taking up more complex visions of empire: as systemic, as seductive, and as power structures with which even the most rebellious protagonists are complicit. How to reform—or destroy—something as large as imperialism itself is the core question in recent SF work like Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, while novels like Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant or Addison’s The Goblin Emperor use it to reconsider the conventions of epic fantasy.

Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire takes up these questions at at personal and governmental levels. It’s a thoroughly diplomatic novel: there’s no separation between her enchanting characters and the taut political maneuvering that drive the plot. While it is a space opera—set against the background of the Teixcalaanli Empire, an expansionist interstellar power that has been at relative peace for almost a century—the novel focuses less on spaceships and aliens (both present) than it does on the bureaucratic and interpersonal intrigue that steers the empire’s course, and uses rich worldbuilding and personal detail to meditate on the effects, large and small, of cultural hegemony.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

From Dreaming to Running: Putting the Android on Screen

Last week I got to attend a very nice panel from DePaul and One Book One Chicago: three scholars discussing aspects of adaptation, with Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Scott's Blade Runner as the focus.

Paul Booth (who runs the wonderful DePaul Pop Culture Conference, among other virtues) chaired the panel. These were really engaging, fast-moving talks, with lots of visual aids, so notes below are just sketches and highlights.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:

There are, dear readers, tons of great events coming up over the next month or so, including lots of great stuff connected to One Book One Chicago (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and One Book One Northwestern (The Handmaid's Tale).

Tomorrow (3/7) is Deep Dish, Chicago's premier speculative reading night, at Volumes Books in Wicker Park! This is growing into a really exciting series, highly recommended.

Talks galore!
Events & Gatherings!
Phew! Don't forget to check the extensive list of book clubs and sundry our Upcoming Events Page.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale: Three Literary Perspectives

This week I got to attend another excellent talk hosted by One Book One Northwestern: a panel discussion on the history and ongoing importance of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The panelists:
  • Linda Bubon: co-founder of Women & Children First, the fantastic feminism-forward bookshop in Andersonville
  • Juan Martinez: fiction writer, literature & writing professor at Northwestern
  • Kasey Evans: critic, English professor at Northwestern
A very nice, insightful talk. Brief notes below:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"The City in the Middle of the Night" by Charlie Jane Anders

This was a real treat to read! I seriously could not put this down. I loved the characters, and the worldbuilding is deep, weird, and inventive. The whole novel is an adventure—something I forget that I'm always looking for, until I find such a good example. Although there's plenty of darkness—dystopia, struggles for survival, tragedy and betrayal—the work as a whole has tons of exuberance. It's a sophisticated but unpretentious take on classic science-fictional topics, and I devoured it.

The story takes place on January, a tidally-locked planet colonized by humans. In the narrow strip between perpetual day and perpetual night, humanity has adapted to the world's challenges. Our main characters meet as a revolution is brewing, travel to a rival city, make forays into the night, encounter some of January's original inhabitants, and generally have an exciting time.

No plot recaps, but possible spoilers below: