Of Shoes -- And Ships -- And Sealing Wax (5/18/2016)

Linkety Links may need a real title.

Here's another roundup of links from Jonathan McCalmont, all of which are worth reading, but I'm picking a bit at the end.  Jonathan asks whether there's space for a "critical hinterland" (to borrow from Nina Allan's piece that kicked off the discussion around the Clarke Award: "conversation and debate among readers and critics: what constitutes science fiction, what are the issues currently at stake, what is ‘best’"). He concludes that there's not - the divide between authors and fans has come down, and while thoughtful criticism may exist, it's not driving the conversation.  I don't have enough perspective on anything other than the current state of SFF online discussion to see what's different or lament a lost golden age, but this feels right.

I'll note also that Paul McAuley (a former Clarke Award judge) responded to Nina Allan by drawing a bit of a line around SF, as opposed to literary fiction, and the relative merits of each.  As someone who hasn't thought much about what Science Fiction is (and even less about Literary Fiction), this is an interesting post.  It does feel like a familiar discussion, though, that must have been hashed out and retreaded in various forms and with different proof texts many times.  I hope that the distinctions and relative merits of Science Fiction as opposed to literature are not "the issues currently at stake".

I like this piece by Vajra on two different books that imagine an Aztec empire.  The rhetoric leads the reader to the obvious questions about who is centered in a story, and use of non-english language (dare I say that it suggests conversation about the issues at stake?), while also baldly stating truths like "the purpose is not to posit a plausible alternate history of the spread of religion in the western hemisphere but to evoke a frisson of horror at the alien beliefs of brown people, a well that SF has returned to many times."  I'll leave you with the conclusion

I appreciate what Hogan's doing in particular because I look for books like this: SF that isn't about the "representation" of non-Anglo cultures (both books could be said to do this, which is why it fails as a metric) but rather about the inclusion of non-Anglo writers into the field and about giving them room to create their own kind of work, differently centred, differently made. That kind of work matters to me as a reader and as a new writer myself: it gives me hope and encouragement whenever I can see it as an ongoing tradition that's been there in SF since Kylas Chunder Dutt, as an alternative canon that's closer (in spirit, if not in geography) to home.

Speaking of SF by non-Anglo creators, here's a short film called Pumzi via Nnedi Okorafor (@nnedi)

Moving from media "differently centered, differently made" to its reception.  This review of Stranger in Olondria from Bookslut points out that Jevick (the stranger) knows Olondria through books, and of course he and many others take pleasure in being transported by their reading, and romanticize the places we are transported to.  "It makes me wonder if his passion for Olondria isn't a direct result of his love for reading." (And what, I wondered, is Middle-Earth to me?) Meanwhile NPR is looking at how to avoid othering -  "I mostly listen". Debbie Reese wrote about the different meanings a story about a Native boy who wants another name has in different communities.

If I read it as a Native kid whose community, friends, and family engage in banter about naming and give each other nicknames, cool. It is delightful.
And if I imagine it being read by a reader who likes and respects Native peoples, I can see why they would like it, too. For that reader, though...  The move to possible names that celebrate "something cool that I've done"? I know the not-liking-your-name theme resonates, but do they also like it because it fits within mainstream "knowledge" of how Native people are named?

(And of course our annual reminder that in the venues that review SFF, it's mostly white men reviewing white men)

Here's an older piece by John H. Stevens unearthed during the demise of SF Signal, attempting to rehabilitate "willing suspension of disbelief" as an active engagement with the text.

Adam Roberts discovers Leprosy Colony Money, asks why it hasn't been used in a story, and also whether you'd eat some, or let your child.  I wouldn't want any around my toddler, irrational though that may be.

Highlights of a conversation between N K Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor and Ibi Zoboi.  Masquerades, Initiation, the publishing industry and what is afrofuturism anyway?

A lot of this has been wondering what's important to talk about when we talk about SFF, and who's even doing the talking and setting the agenda.  I'll close with two more links.  The premise of Your Booklist Will Be Graded is that Science Fiction and Fantasy in this day and age (and every day and age) are written by and about many people who are not white men, and if you're going to make a promotional post recommending a series of books, your list should acknowledge that.

Meanwhile, A Dead Djinn in Cairo is a new short story out right now by Phenderson Djèlí Clark.  It's urban fantasy at the turn of the last century that throws a double-handful of magical traditions into steampunk trappings on the streets of Cairo.  I am still debating whether I'm more delighted by the protagonist, the in-your-face nature of the intrusion of magic into daily life (complaining about how difficult it is to identify Djinn from their passport because they all use similar names!), or the way it resolutely rejects centering men and imperial europe.  All are wonderful, as is the city of cairo, the threat of the ghuls, and the eventual resolution.