Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Calendar Updates & Capricon

Hey readers, happy 2021...I'm sitting here looking at the first serious Chicago snow, and it's pretty nice.

I've spent some time cleaning up the Upcoming Events Calendar. Sadly, quite a few groups have paused or disbanded over the last year, although most of the more prolific and long-running groups have held on, and a number of new groups have started.

Capricon is coming up next week, February 4-7! You can jump right to the schedule here. I'll be chatting in a few different panels. It's a pretty good list, check it out!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

In Case You Missed It/So You Don't: OBOC Finale, Pocket Con, & A Few More

The Chicago Writers Podcast most recent episode is a discussion with Michael Zapata, author of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.

One Book, One Chicago's selection this fall is Mohsin Hamid's Exit West. The season finale—although quite a few groups will be discussing the book for a month or two after—is a discussion with Hamid, this Thursday, December 3rd, at 7pm.

Pocket Con, a one-day teen-friendly comic-con focused on artists of color, is happening (virtually) this Saturday, December 5th.

Worldcon is going to be in Chicago in 2022 (Chicon 8), and it looks like the Chicon folks are going to be well-represented at Smofcon 37.25 this weekend. Smofcon is a con for con organizers, might be of interest to folks interested in helping out at a convention, improving or starting their own.

It's a little bit away—but then again, here's hoping that lockdown winter passes faster than the regular kind—Capricon, one of Chicago's two home conventions, is also virtual this time, February 4-7. The guests of honor list looks real nice!

As always, you can also check out the Upcoming Events page for loads of book clubs and other events!

Monday, November 2, 2020

"Ring Shout" by P. Djèlí Clark

A powerful and spooky novella that's a delight to read, Ring Shout is a darkly fantastic alt-history—a community fighting literal demons in the Klu Klux Klan. Narrator Maryse Boudreaux hunts these monsters with the help of a magic sword, ethereal advisors, and two other talented Black women, and soon discovers that the dark magic under the white hoods is evolving in dangerous ways. It's a fast but fairly intricate novella, doing a really good job of fleshing out its world and characters while propelling the story forward.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"Waste Tide" by Chen Qiufan

In the first scene of Waste Tide, an environmental activist attempts a dangerous boarding of a giant ocean freighter. It's daring, acrobatically gifted, we understand the motivation—and it fails, disastrously. That kind of sets the tone for the novel, which shows a host of conflicting characters and factions being shown their own hubris by factors beyond their control.

I'd heard Chen Qiufan talk at FutureCon, and happened to run across Waste Tide at a bookstore not long after. A cyberpunk tale set in a Chinese town built around e-waste recycling, the novel follows local and foreign characters as they attempt to contain or exploit an unexpected technological mutation.

This was a fairly absorbing read; I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. The social elements were the most compelling part of the book for me—the "waste people" organizing, and the elites who profit off of their labor. The plot is somewhat diffuse, misdirecting—the first half or more of the book concern a double-edged deal with an green-washing American company that turns out to be a narrative macguffin—and characters exhibit a kind of ineffective agency. They do things, they make choices, but they're rendered largely irrelevant by larger events: more powerful factions, a massive tsunami, a kind of accidental Singularity.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ray Bradbury Experience Museum talk

Last week I got to participate in a panel on "Optimism in Dystopian Futures". It was hosted by the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum in Waukegon, and included some great folks:
  • Moderated by Dominic Loise. Recently of Open Books (and organizer/contact person for many SFF events there), Dominic is still in the Chicagoland bookscene, now at Half Price Books in Niles.
  • Marissa Lingen, SF writer who I've enjoyed hearing on panels before (notably ConFusion).  This panel used Marissa's article "The Roots of Hope" in Uncanny as a jumping-off point.
  • Keisha Howard, the Chicago-based founder of Sugar Gamers and an innovator/organizer/speaker in the gaming world.
  • Alec Nevala-Lee, an SF and non-fiction writer also in Chicagoland. Alec's book Astounding is a major work (an insightful and unflinching group biography of Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard) that has sparked a lot of conversations about the "Golden Age".
  • Jake Casella Brookins, that's me!

An interesting conversation; I think a lot of us are struggling with how to think about hopefulness that isn't wish fulfillment in near-future SF, given the realities of the present. Lots of SF writers putting optimistic stories, but often they're not particularly rosy on the surface. We also struggled to fit Bradbury into a discussion of future-facing optimism; my hot take is that 1.) Bradbury generally feels powered by nostalgia, which doesn't quite click with futurity, and 2.) he's really at his best where he's at his weirdest, which is just kind of sideways to the question.

You can check out more videos on the RBEM Youtube channel, and you may want to check out their virtual comic convention, WaukeCon, this weekend.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

City Lit Books Closing

Sad news: City Lit Books, in Logan Square, will be closing on December 1st.

I have chosen to operate this business through some pretty difficult times and barely breaking even because engaging with the community was so exciting and enjoyable every day. Now, in the time of the pandemic, we have been reduced to an order fulfillment business with precious little customer interaction. In spite of incredible community support, revenues have fallen dramatically. Supporting an order fulfillment center is simply not sustainable, financially or emotionally.

You can read the entirety of Teresa's statement on their blog.

This is personally crushing—City Lit has been my main bookstore the entire time I've lived in Chicago, and I was introduced to my wife through their Weird & Wonderful book club—and also understandable, a shoe I've feared dropping for many beloved small businesses right now. With the relocation of Uncharted Books last year, it leaves Logan Square book-store-less.

Quique Rodriguez, coordinator for Weird & Wonderful, is committed to continuing the book club, which has been meeting virtually since March.