All posts by Clio

Review: Fiyah Lit Magazine #13 – Ozzie M. Gartrell

FIYAH Lit Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

Title: The Transition of  OSOOSI
Author: Ozzie M. Gartrell
Published: 2020
Publisher: Fiyah Lit Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction Issue #13

In 7,900 words Ozzie M. Gartrell’s The Transition of  OSOOSI  gives us a cyberpunk story of an audacious idea to eradicate bigotry.

Mal is a “Citizen American, a native-born U.S. citizen with all the second-class rights thereof.” (p. 44)  He’s also a visionary who in the process of following that vision alienates everyone important to him.  Seeking entry into the world of the elite Anansi  community, Mal pitches an idea so provocative he is questioned about how far he’s willing to go to make it happen.

None of us should be shocked at the treatment Citizen Americans receive at the hands of True Citizens.  But it is shocking, and heart breaking.  The transphobic treatment of Mal’s twin Mar in a favorite restaurant, the casual racism of being pulled over by a True Citizen cop, is all too common.  This is what it is to be black in America.

With shades of William Gibson‘s  cyberpunk classic Sprawl Trilogy, the best of current hacktivist culture, and a nod to West African mythology, Gatrell places themselves on the path to an interesting career of bold writing.

Downloading empathy into every True Citizen using stolen tech is a truly courageous idea.  How else do we make changes to systemic bigotry?

Writing: Life Gets in the Way

It’s all a bit much right now.  I know you know.  Everything is in constant flux as though 2020 is the biggest, twistiest roller coaster morphing at every turn into something worse.  Nothing fits any more and all we can do is try to hang on and not fall off.

It’s not easy for me to admit my reading and writing have fallen into an abyss of 2020 proportions.  Rectifying it feels Sisyphean.  But every once in a while, something happens which drives me to the keyboard, ’cause I gotta share it.

From what I’m reading,  ConZealand was an epic cluster of celebrating old white male authors both living and dead.  A gross old white man who fancies himself a bestselling author couldn’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce the names of Hugo award finalists, and turned the ceremony into a “let’s talk about me” nightmare.  SF/F twitter is pretty lit up about this.

It’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, to hear about this year after year after year.  I left fandom once because of the gatekeeping, but I’m back now, and since I don’t give a fuck anymore about what the keepers think they’re doing I’m going to do my thing.   This latest fiasco made me decide to work harder on getting my writing jam on and to lift up the really excellent work I consume.

The pain I see from those given such utter disrespect at the Hugos sent me running to FIYAH Literary Magazine screaming, “Take my money!”

FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

Partway through issue #13 and … FIYAH, I’m glad I met you.

Feminism: Something Like a Rant

One of my favorite male writers posted on Twitter recently about learning how his behavior towards women has made them extremely uncomfortable.  He was completely chagrined.  His apology and promise to do better seemed heartfelt.  I only know this author through his books and his presence on Twitter.  It does not come as a surprise that he was unaware of what his behavior towards women really was.

He shared a post he’d written on his blog about owning his mistakes.  This post is not about that.

This post is about what someone said in the comments:

but it’s outright demoralizing for newbie writers who come to a convention to try to network, and they see that the male pros are bro-ing it up as colleagues, and they’re talking to the pretty women (who then have to fend off unwanted advances) … but the women they see as plain are entirely shut out of conversations.

Story.  of.  My. Life.

Shit like this brings me to my knees.  Someone’s saying the thing I’ve been struggling to explain for years.  I have been ghosted, over looked, looked over, looked through, gaslighted, etc. because as Kameron Hurley said, “My body isn’t coded correctly.”

I can’t tell you how many people, especially men, have told me my experience is “not that bad,” or “didn’t happen.”

I’m done with all that.  This behavior has taught me to keep to myself and not seek advice or attention.  Those who chose to treat us like that can just suck eggs right about now.

Once at a holiday party, a male co-worker sat next to me and we had an interesting talk about something.  We talked until he got a better offer from a pretty, vivacious woman across the room.  He would have denied that’s what happened, but I knew.

Another time, a friend and I had just finished dinner.  She was thin and pretty with long curly hair.  A drunk Asian man walked right past me to talk to her.  When he wobbled off, I asked if she knew what had just happened.  She didn’t see it and thought I was being too hard on myself.

No.  There was a time when I once thought there was something wrong with me to be treated that way.  For decades, I fought for recognition as someone who existed and took up space in her own right.  It was exhausting, and led to some really embarrassing and truly terrible events.  I berated myself for being so sensitive and crying over “every little thing.”

Guess what?  Those things weren’t little and they hurt like hell.  My heart was so battered and bruised I couldn’t see it wasn’t my fault.  I was doing nothing to be treated that way.  Nothing.

So men, take a look at your actions around women.  Do you drink a lot and then flirt mercilessly, thinking her many replies of “no” and “go away” are  a game?  Stop that.

Do you stand in the hall at conventions having an interesting conversation with a woman who is less attractive, and then abandon her the second a prettier woman walks past?  Knock it off.

Do you stand at the bar with your male compatriots yucking it up, refusing to acknowledge the woman standing there wanting to ask for you advice about a writing problem or to tell you how much she loves your work?  Seriously, knock that shit off.

Do you hit it off with someone and she doesn’t return your calls?  Ask yourself why.  She’s not the bitch, you probably are.

There are so many other stories to tell about this.  A lifetime of stories.  Doesn’t matter to me if you believe them or not.  My lived experience trumps your expectation of a skewed truth.

Bitter, resentful, angry, desperate, etc.  I’ve been called them all, and more.  So what?  Maybe you could look at your own behavior and think about what might have made me, or a woman of your acquaintance feel that way.

The lowest setting on the privilege scale is cishet white male.   Maybe the reason no one’s telling you about your behavior is because she’s scared to.   A lot of men don’t handle it well and they lash out.

There are moments of agonizing pain because, damn it, that scar just got opened for the 700th time, and someone should pay for the pain they’re causing.  Society trains women to be docile and submissive and then wonders why we’re angry.  Dude, have you met you?

There was a time I didn’t want to identify as feminist because they just seemed so strident.  Then I started reading and listening and learned feminism is about equality.  It’s about my right to exist in my own space and not be hassled by some man who thinks he can, and should.

On a group trip to Canada, I was insulted over my weight.  Aghast, I walked away.  Next morning at breakfast, the very same man walked up behind my chair and put his hands on me.  It took both my friend and I to convince him he needed to leave.  I had no room to maneuver or I would have gotten up and left.  He put his hands on me and he thought it was okay.  Not only that, when I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t.

This is not anomalous behavior.   It happens every day.  Probably to someone you know.  Men, before you get yourself twisted up over some man putting his hands on a woman friend of yours without permission, take a good long hard look at yourself.  Do you walk up next to/behind a woman you vaguely know and touch her?  You may think it’s just an innocent, friendly gesture and you’ll probably never know she flinched when you did it.  We’ve been trained not to let you see us flinch.  But we do.  If you have ever put your hand in the small of her back and she is not a very good friend you have just committed assault.

She knows she’ll get laughed at for even complaining or asking you politely not to do that.  She knows you probably won’t understand because you’re a good guy and you treat women with the utmost respect.  No, you don’t.  You don’t.  And you need to look at your interactions before you pass judgement on women who refuse to be in your presence, or to get close enough for you to touch.

A writer friend completely objectified a woman to me based on her author picture.  The red-headed lass was to his liking.  Sat there, looked right at me as we’d been talking about feminism in speculative fiction and objectified her.  The pain ripped right through me, both because it was obvious he didn’t hear what he was doing, and because he’d just made me feel small and unworthy because I wasn’t a red-headed lass.  I got over the small and unworthy part fast because fuck him.  He’s not the first to look right through me and compliment another, prettier woman.  He probably won’t be the last.

If you don’t know whether you do this, ask your friends.  Especially ask your women friends.  Be prepared for some hard truth.  And then be prepared to do the work to do better.

Don’t treat women like that.  Don’t do it.  We’re not a glass of your favorite whiskey to be sipped at.  We’re not your favorite cigar bought and paid for.  We are people.  We are your mothers, sisters, aunties, daughters, wives, writing partners, and comrades in arms.

Do not make the mistake of thinking we like how you treat us.  And do not make the mistake of thinking that our silence makes your behavior okay.  Knock that shit off and evolve.  To truly be the man you think you are takes honesty and work.  Do that and see how much better all your friendships are.  Do the work.

Review: Cinderella Liberator

Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit

Title: Cinderella Liberator
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-608465965
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Publisher Blurb:  Rebecca Solnit reimagines a classic fairytale with a fresh, feminist Cinderella and new plot twists that will inspire young readers to change the world.

Fairytales made no sense to me.  Even as I tried to fit myself into what society believed girls should want, which included some fairytale version of finding a husband and having children, it didn’t make sense.  And I didn’t understand why.

I mean, why should Cinderella want to go to the ball so much, and why would she want to marry a prince?  Did that really mean happily ever after?  What if she – what if I – wanted something different?

The appeal of being rescued is certainly be understandable, especially when growing up in a dysfunctional, unpredictable environment.  When your whole life feels hopeless, rescue seems like the best chance.  When one wants to be rescued from misery, there is no understanding about agency.  So, in some ways, Cinderella’s traditional gambit of marrying the prince and leaving behind her wicked steps makes a tremendous amount of sense.  If only there was another way ….

Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator begins with the familiar story.   But when the lizards become stagecoach women for Cinderella’s carriage, one sits up and takes notice.   And when Cinderella asks if the lizards want to be human, the reader understands this isn’t the same Cinderella of childhood.

At its base as a political structure, feminism is about the right to make choices based upon personal agency.  Women get to choose what they want to do, or should be allowed to, anyway.  Solnit takes that one step further.  Not only does Cinderella get to choose, but so do the animals who help her get to the ball.  The entire cast gets a makeover.

This more equitable story in which Cinderella opens a cake store and become friends with the prince who wants to work on a farm is one everyone should read.  Especially those with small children entering the world of make-believe and fairy tales.

Solnit’s version is more hopeful and happier, giving children (and adults) space to learn about equality and choice.  It certainly gave me happiness and hope.

Review: Berkeley: The Student Revolt

Berkeley: The Student Revolt by Hal Draper

Title: Berkeley:  The Student Revolt
Author: Hal Draper
Published: 2020 (Haymarket Books edition)
ISBN-13:  978-1-642591255
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Publisher Blurb: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

Brimming with lessons still relevant for today’s activists, Berkeley: The Student Revolt is a classic of on-the-ground historical reportage.

Ron Anastasi and Mike Rossman carrying “Free Speech” banner from Sproul Hall to demonstration outside Regents’ meeting November 20, 1964.

There’s something about this period of history which fascinates me deeply.  I can’t go to Berkeley or San Francisco without being aware of the history I walk through.  Reading Hal Draper’s Berkeley:  The Student Revolt written in 1965, is on the ground “I was there” reporting.

Draper brings together all the minute by minute details to explain how the Free Speech Movement exploded on campus one day in September, 1964.  Although, as most historians will tell you and Draper certainly does, things don’t happen overnight because there are mitigating factors.  The history leading to the Free Speech Movement is rich and dense, filled with many factors.

Draper writes of the peaceful student protests demanding to be able to express their opinions, political or otherwise, on campus.  To be able to raise money and recruit volunteers for off campus events.  Many had spent the previous summer in the Deep South working for civil rights.

To have their own rights stunted in the face of an unpopular war (Vietnam) and the treatment of African-Americans caused deep anger and resentment.  In the face of a dictatorial Chancellor who had been hired based on his research about labor movements which should have made him sympathetic but didn’t, student unrest grew.

Draper was there, amongst the students as a library employee, his knowledge of the inner workings makes this an excellent resource in the body of work still evolving about dissent, protests in the face of bureaucrats who use might makes right to get their rules obeyed.

Over the fifty years since, this very scenario has played out more times than I like to remember.  In 2019 during a deadly global pandemic, government leaders are using the same playbook to shut down the rights of us all to be healthy and safe.

Confusing, contradictory, obfuscatory dictums fly through the media.  Responses to any common sense calls for reasonable actions on the part of leaders are met with ridicule and often threatened violence.

What amazed me as I read was how very young these students were, how mature and deeply committed they were to their cause.  They understood it was about something larger than themselves.  Mario Savio’s thoughtful speeches give an insight I hadn’t much thought about because I have reaped the benefit of their protests.

At the same time, I was saddened to understand that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Change is always met with resistance, those in power backed by those with greater power and money will always clamp down.  Their actions invariably lead to some sort of police action.

Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement opened the door for peaceful protests and thoughtful discussions about the First Amendment and its role on college campuses.  A discussion which continues now, and is especially important as an ill-informed citizenry continues to misunderstand the power of the First Amendment and try to use it in support of their *-ist rhetoric.

But I have hope because things have changed, the citizenry is allowed to express themselves.  Students are allowed free and open discussion of unsavory topics.  And the discussion about what First Amendment rights mean continues unabated.  Without the student protests and strike at Berkeley, none of this would be possible.

 

Review: Things That Can and Cannot be Said

Things that Can and Cannot Be Said

Title: Things That Can and Cannot be Said
Author: Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
Published: 2016
ISBN-13:  978-1-60846-717-4
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Publisher Blurb:
In this rich dialogue on surveillance, empire, and power, Roy and Cusack describe meeting NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden in Moscow.

In late 2014, Arundhati Roy, John Cusack, and Daniel Ellsberg travelled to Moscow to meet with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The result was a series of essays and dialogues in which Roy and Cusack reflect on their conversations with Snowden.

In these provocative and penetrating discussions, Roy and Cusack discuss the nature of the state, empire, and surveillance in an era of perpetual war, the meaning of flags and patriotism, the role of foundations and NGOs in limiting dissent, and the ways in which capital but not people can freely cross borders.

I’m not sure about the point of this slender book.  It’s 100 pages of large font transcriptions of conversations between Cusack and Roy, recollections of an “UnSummit” facilitated by Cusack featuring Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg in Moscow.

What I’d hoped for was a deeper discussion of the effects of Ellsberg’s and Snowden’s espionage.  What led them to the conclusion there was no other way than to be whistleblowers?  I wanted to know more.  I was hoping for something more unfiltered .

Do I know the world’s governments aren’t what they want us to think they are?  Of course I do.  Do I think corporate governance of charities and NGOs is a bad thing?  I don’t know enough to make an informed opinion.  But if what Arundhati Roy thinks is what we’re all supposed to think, we are indeed doomed.

It is the utter hopelessness of Cusack and Roy of any government, any people doing good in the world which got to me.  This paranoid, pseudo-intellectual view of the world, especially from a white man of privilege, is what brings out the despair.  If this is what they think is important, and it gets published, what chance do the rest of us just trying to get through our day have?

It is utterly maddening that an opportunity for two of the most famous whistleblowers to meet was so censored.  For readers to not be privy to any of the conversation beyond niceties is hardly better than fanning the flames of a global game of Chicken Little.

The security concerns addressed in Things That Can and Cannot be Said are serious, but there’s no real substance in discussing them.  I chose not to be scared simply because two activists who have the resources to walk freely through the streets or sit in cafes and talk tell me I should be.

 

Review: Small Days and Nights

Title:  Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Published: 2019
ISBN-13:  9781324005230
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publisher’s Blurb:  A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters caught in a moment of transformation, set against the vivid backdrop of modern India.

The protagonist, Grace Marisola, gets dropped into unforeseen circumstances.  Understandably, it’s hard to know what to do when recalled from the US to oversee the cremation of her mother, and finding out the family secret is an older sister with Down’s Syndrome who has been institutionalized Grace’s entire life.

But even under those circumstances, plans arise and actions take place.  The book suffers from not knowing what it wants because Grace  doesn’t know what she wants.  Is it divorcing the husband she left behind in the US?  Remaking family connections?  Taking care of her sister for the rest of her life?

Things happen to Grace, she doesn’t happen to them.  There’s no core to her.  Small Days and Nights suffers from a sort of malaise.  There’s nothing wrong with the book, exactly.  Neither is there something right.

I often overthink my reviews as I try to pin down what I want to write about.  Lots of books offer plenty of opportunities to dig in and do the analysis I love.  Doshi’s book wasn’t one of them.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t write about how her language often captivated me.  For instance,  “Mornings at the beach can arrive like a whore, in a jangly too tight dress at the end of a long and sleepless night.”  Or,  “The heat of summer is behind us but the days still feel bedraggled and worn.

The beauty in that language and those images make promises the book doesn’t live up to.