Annihilation is Amazing, and Full of Women

Liz Bourke writes in her new column over at

Annihilation is luminous. It’s dizzying and visionary and strange, a balletic question with no certain answer, peculiar and horrifying and layered and gorgeous, and lit from within with its own artistic vision: unified, structurally and thematically, in a way that few Hollywood films ever are. It’s a film that speaks with its silences, embraces them. It layers implication, symbolic meaning, from the opening shot of a dividing and re-dividing cell—revealed by Natalie Portman’s Lena in a lecture to her students to be a tumour cell—to its asides about grief and self-destruction, and from the horrifying wonders (and bewildering horrors) of the Shimmer to the fact that the film is subtly framed as Lena’s narrative, and all things considered (“Lena is a liar,” as Anya Thorensen, played with brilliant intensity by Gina Rodriguez, says in a moment fraught with psychological horror), we can’t be entirely sure about our narrator’s reliability.


Missing Gems

JMFordJohn M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless is one of the two best Heinlein juveniles not written by Heinlein (the other being Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage.). A lean, vividly imaged coming-of-age story set on the Moon, it should be a classic of science fiction. It isn’t (or at least, not one that’s easy to track down). Ford died tragically young without having designated a literary executor. The rights to his works reverted to his blood relatives, who seem intent on erasing evidence of Ford’s writing career. While Tor has done a masterful job of keeping their John M. Ford books, The Last Hot Time and Heat of Fusion and Other Stories in print, Growing Up Weightless was published by Bantam and is out of print.

— just one of several books noted by James Davis Nicoll in his piece “Why the Hell Are These Books Out of Print?” published by Tor

L’Engle accused of witchcraft

It took 26 publisher rejections before Madeleine L’Engle could get “A Wrinkle in Time” into print in 1962. The book was an instant hit, winning the Newbery Medal the following year, but despite its wild success, L’Engle still had fierce critics — including a good number of them who disliked her book for faith reasons.

While L’Engle considered herself a devout Christian, and sprinkled the book with scriptural references, she was accused by some conservative Christians of promoting witchcraft and the occult — an accusation made later against “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
— “Publishers rejected her, Christians attacked her: The deep faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ author Madeleine L’Engle” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post

The Tiptrees

Virginia Bergin has won the 2017 Tiptree Award for her novel Who Runs the World? (Macmillan, UK, 2017). (The novel will be published in the US in November 2018 under the title The XY (Sourcebooks, 2018).

Who Runs the World? is a young adult novel that tells an intricately layered tale of intergenerational struggle and cooperation, the dehumanizing force of gender stereotypes, and the moral courage it takes to challenge cultural and political norms. Bergin invokes a premise familiar in feminist science fiction—a plague that kills nearly everyone with a Y chromosome. Without relying on biological determinism, Bergin uses this premise to develop a vividly imagined feminist society, and to grapple with that society’s changes and flaws over time.

The Honour List

In addition to selecting the winners, the jury chooses a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list. These notes on each work are excerpted and edited from comments by members of this year’s jury. This year’s Honor List is:

Charlie Jane Anders, “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue” (Boston Review, USA, 2017)
This graphic and visceral dystopia shows trans people stripped of their legal rights, abducted, and operated on in the name of “curing” their gender identities. Harrowingly portrayed through the viewpoints of both victim and perpetrator, the story describes a medicalized torture resonant with real-world histories of violent “treatment” for gender deviance that was routine only a few decades ago.

Indra Das, The Devourers (Del Rey, USA, 2016)
A fascinating, memorable novel that uses a nested narrative to thread its story through Indian history, from the 17th-century Mughal Empire to contemporary Kolkata. The structure uses multiple points of view to mirror the perspective of the book’s magical characters: a species of predatory shape-shifters who gain access to the memories of the people they consume. Inspired by mythological beings that include werewolves, djinn, and rakshasa.
April Daniels, Dreadnought and Sovereign (Diversion, USA, 2017)
The first two books of a trilogy, these novels follow Danny, a transgender teenage girl stuck living as a boy. A chance meeting with a dying superhero allows Danny to have her deepest desire granted, with the side effect that she’s now the most powerful superhero on the planet.

Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male (Harper Voyager, USA, 2017)

A novel of exquisitely deep, nuanced characterization, set in a future China where there are forty million more men than women. This book explores polyandrous marriage, non-neurotypical cognition, state-sanctioned homophobia, and the dynamics of bonding in male-only spaces..

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (Gray Wolf, USA, 2017)
A collection of short stories that explore the cultural treatment of women’s bodies, written with stunning artistry. Machado offers a multifaceted view of the insides and undersides of queer kinds of femininity that we mostly never see, brought into the light in all their darkness and brightness, sweetness and ugliness.
Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts (Akashic, USA, 2017)
A powerful novel of individual and collective survival in the face of generational trauma. On a generation ship, the Black inhabitants of the lower decks live and work under brutal conditions that recall slavery in antebellum America. The story follows lowerdecker Aster as she struggles to survive and make sense of her world.
JY Yang, “Black Tides of Heaven” and “Red Threads of Fortune” (Tor, USA, 2017)
Set in a society where children are without gender until they choose to be confirmed into a specific identity, these paired silkpunk novellas follow aristocratic twins from their identical childhoods through increasingly divergent adulthoods. The first is a bildungsroman of Akeha, the male twin, who must learn himself at a young age because he lacks any defined place within his family or culture. The second is a recovery narrative of Mokoya, the female twin, whose relatively frictionless path through life demands of her little introspection, until a traumatic event upends her sense of self, requiring she build a new understanding of her identity to navigate her grief. Both stories explore the process of struggling past expectation to achieve self-definition.

More details at /

Crit Mass Mar 7th: Adam on Stereotypes

Adam Jenkins is speaking this wednesday for Critical Mass.

“Using fan fiction to evaluate character preferences”

Stardew Valley is on of the most popular videos games in the fantasy romance/farming simulator category – a particularly small category of games, but strangely one that has considerable popularity. As part of its popularity it has spawned a great deal of fan fiction as people explore the romance options beyond what is outlined in the game. Social media is increasingly being used to evaluate the potential success (or otherwise) of genre fiction, and here is an opportunity to explore whether or not fan fiction can be similarly employed.
7pm Wednesday, March 7th at Kappys at 22 Compton St, near the market.
Doors open at 6:45

Bill McKibben on SF

Bill McKibben ( founder of has long advocated for more people to use the power of art to tackle climate change. He recently appeared on the podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.

“I wrote a piece maybe 15 years ago arguing that there had been very limited artistic response to climate change, which was odd given the scale and magnitude,” he says. “And I’m very glad to see that changing on every front.”

One group of artists who has tackled climate change is science fiction writers, with authors like Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Tobias Buckell comprising the so-called “cli-fi” movement. In particular McKibben praises Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent novel New York 2140, which depicts a future in which rising seas have transformed New York into a city of canals. “For my money the best science fiction—and in many ways the best fiction—of the last year was New York 2140,” he says. “It’s a wonderful and oddly cheerful book, I must say. I really, really enjoyed it.”

McKibbben also praises science fiction writers for addressing the dangers of emerging technologies like genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and AI.

“I’ve thought for the last 20 years that science fiction was really the only realm where people were dealing intelligently with some of these questions,” he says. “They were the only people who were having to perform the thought experiment of putting the potential power of these technologies up against the scale of human beings—of their characters—and just figuring out that human beings quickly got overwhelmed by technology at this scale.”

Listen to the complete interview with Bill McKibben in Episode 293 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Crit Mass Feb 7th: Defining Science Fiction

“These difficulties of defining SF are, in part, a function of the sheer number of SF texts that need to be brought beneath the bar of any notional inclusive definition. Where SF once upon a time constituted a small body of texts, nearly all of them novels and short stories, which most fans could be expected to have read, nowadays SF texts are impossibly legion. Scott McCracken points out that ‘Science Fiction is enormously popular. It accounts for one in ten books sold in Britain, and in the United States the number is as high as one in four’ (McCracken 1998: 102). John Clute has pointed out that the number of texts classified as SF has ballooned since the early years of the twentieth century. According to Clute, even at the height of the ‘Golden Age’ the number of separate novels published as science fiction was a few hundred a year. Nowadays, taking together science fiction and fantasy, thousands of novels are published annually. Now ‘what was once a field [has] become the Mississippi Delta’. In Clute’s opinion, if Golden Age SF could be perceived as ‘a family of books which created (and inhabited) a knowable stage (or matrix[…]”

— Adam Roberts. “Science Fiction: Second Edition.”

We’re having a look at Adam Roberts’ critical work, Science Fiction (2nd edn, 2005) at the February critical mass meeting, 7pm at Kappy’s. Roman will take us on a quick tour through key ideas in the work, starting from some well-known definitions, looking at SF and gender, SF and race, different histories of SF and revealing a surprising connection between SF and poetry!

Ursula K Le Guin, by Margaret Atwood

In all her work, Le Guin was always asking the same urgent question: what sort of world do you want to live in? Her own choice would have been gender equal, racially equal, economically fair and self-governing, but that was not on offer. It would also have contained mutually enjoyable sex and good food: there was a better chance of that.
— Margaret Atwood, writing in the guardian

New to LeGuin? Have a look the guardian’s list of her essential novels

We lost Ursula k LeGuin

I asked Ursula what she wanted to see happen to her books after she died. I’ll never forget what she said. I’ll share it with you now, as a reminder of how we are supposed to grieve her, even if we can’t read through the tears:

“I want them to be available, I want cheap paper editions of them, I want them to be continuously downloaded in forty different languages, I want them to be read, I want them to be argued about, I want people to cry over them, I want unreadable dissertations written about them, I want people to get angry with them, I want people to love them.”

— Claire L. Evans, journalist and  cofounder of Motherboard’s science fiction imprint, Terraform.
Full article on Motherboard