Review: Lightspeed Magazine’s special “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue

I’m calling this a book review because this special issue is about the length of a book.  The whole thing stemmed from yet another high-profile case of rampant sexism in the sci-fi community this year, in which a bunch of whiny men complained that “women are destroying science fiction.”  Well, this naturally caused some backlash, not to mention many people pointing out that a whole bunch of the best sci-fi and fantasy coming out right now is by women.

Examples?  Lois McMaster Bujold and her big stack of Hugo awards and best-sellers.  Elizabeth Moon.  Connie Willis.  Anne McCaffrey.  Ursula LeGuin.  J.K. Rowling, who was told boys wouldn’t buy books written by a woman.  Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice winning both the Hugo (fan-voted) and Nebula (peer-voted) awards this year.   I could go on and on.

But I don’t have to, because the lovely people at Lightspeed magazine did it for me.  They decided to push back against the ill-informed haters and create a special issue written and edited entirely by women.  And they called it the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue, which is just really cool.

Let’s just say it’s a resounding success.  They received over 1000 submissions.  The issue contains fiction – both new and reprints, non-fiction, interviews, articles, you name it.  All of it is high-quality and it was so well-received that they are now making a Women Destroy Fantasy and Women Destroy Horror.  Women are writing in every genre, and they are writing good stuff.

As to the special issue itself?  All good stories.  The intro alone is highly entertaining.  A few of the stories I didn’t particularly care for, but that’s normal in an anthology-type book or magazine.  I especially loved the variety in the issue, though.  The stories ranged from hard sci-fi to the whimsical and fantastic.  The reprints included some very well known short stories.  There was also a great collection of personal essays, some interviews, and even podcasts if you listen from the website link or get the ebook version.

I quite enjoyed the flash fiction section, since that’s not normally a story length I read much of, so it was new and enjoyable.  The reprints were some fairly famous classics, which got me to finally read the fabulous “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon).  Who, as you can tell from that last sentence, had to write as a man in order to get published back in the ’60s and ’70s.

My least favorite was probably Each to Each by Seanan McGuire – not because it was a bad story, but because it’s one of those things where stories/movies/TV that deal with your profession (the Navy, in this case) have to be spot-on or they rub you the wrong way.  Just ask any medical professional who has tried to suffer through watching ER.  The story was good, and creative, but from a standpoint of women serving in the Navy I found it pretty unrealistic.

The novel excerpt from Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold got me hooked, and so it has now been added to my “to be read sometime soon” list, hopefully to be reviewed here at some point.  Her fantastic huntress character definitely made me want more.

The interviews section is tremendously special.  It was enlightening to read some of the stories from women who were pioneers in the genre – what they dealt with, what has changed, and what (sadly) hasn’t changed much since they started writing and interacting with fandom.  The personal essays were a great mix of experiences, some sad, some empowering, all quite powerful.

I always like stories that make me think, or look at something from a new perspective.  Two of the best stories from that aspect were “Like Daughter” by Tanarive Due, and “Walking Awake” by N.K. Jemison.   Without giving too much away, “Like Daughter” explores an aspect of cloning I had never thought about before, and  “Walking Awake” is a darkly disturbing cautionary tale one a scientific advancement terrible people could abuse.

I found “The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced” by Sarah Pinsker to be utterly charming.  “Cuts Both Ways” by Heather Clitheroe contained the coolest bit of new technology.  “In the Image of Man” by Gabriella Stalker is a very interesting perspective on where American culture might be headed.  “A Word Shaped Like Bones” by Kris Millering was probably my favorite story, and you’ll just have to read that one – any attempt I make at describing it would probably ruin it.

Overall, this is one I can highly recommend – you may not enjoy every bit of it, but I think you will find within this special issue something new, something that will make you think, and definitely quite a few things you like.

 

 

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This Year’s Flame Challenge Winners for “What is Color?”

I have really, really badly neglected the blog lately.  I am very sorry to anyone who actually looks forward to reading this on a regular basis for that neglect.  My lame excuse is some incredibly crappy personal stuff and much craziness at work… which all means I haven’t found much awesome stuff to share here lately, or had the energy to write about what I have found!

I hope you’ll bear with me and keep reading here, though, and I promise some good things are coming this week.  Those good things will be in the form of a new STEM female role model post, a book review, and today’s topic: the latest Flame Challenge winners.

If you missed my first post about Alan Alda’s flame challenge you can read it here, but in a nutshell he started this great annual competition a few years ago to explain a specific concept in terms an eleven-year-old can easily understand.

The entries in written and video categories are vetted by scientists and judged by actual 11-year-olds.  The challenges are questions that on the surface seem easy, and you think to yourself, “Oh, everyone knows what that is.”  But when you try to actually explain them using words in any kind of coherent manner, they are hard.

Previous years’ challenges included What is a flame?  What is color? and What is time?

This year, the question was What is Color?  The winners this year, both amazing women who work in STEM fields, are science communicator Melanie Golob for the written category, and physicist Dianna Cowern in the video category.  Here are the winning explanations:

Winning “What is a Color” entry by Melanie Golob

And now I’m totally hooked watching Dianna Cowern’s other awesome science videos.  You should check out the rest of her down-to-earth, quirky, and highly accurate science videos at her Physics Girl channel on YouTube.

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The nasty backlash against Tropes vs. Women’s Anita Sarkeesian illustrates just. how. bad. it still is out there for women

This is not the first time a woman has gotten some nasty threats for daring to point out sexism on the internet.  But it’s the first time the police have taken the threats against Anita Sarkeesian so seriously.  She ran a new series of “Tropes vs. Women” on website Feminist Frequency and got death and rape threats for doing it.  Let me repeat that.  She pointed out some of the (glaringly obvious) rampant sexism in some popular video games and then many, many disgusting, horrible excuses for human beings then made death threats.  And they made terribly explicit rape threats, and then even more threats against her family.  Lots of these threats.  To the point where even the police, who usually shrugged off such threats and told her there was nothing they could do, told her to leave her home.  Because some of these lower-than-the-stuff-pond-scum-won’t-even-feed-off slimy losers posted her address and other personal info and made seriously detailed and horrific threats.

Just read about it here if you want more details.  I’m too angry to type any more about it.

And if this doesn’t make you angry, you need to check yourself.  Think about whether you would a) want your daughter/wife/mother/female friend exposed to something like this, and b) if you would want any male you are remotely associated with in your life, let alone related to or responsible for raising, to be the kind of person who would post such things.  This is not what human beings do.  This is what sick, twisted, low-life creatures do.  And it happens all the time.

Bravo to Anita for having the bravery to point out sexism, and I pray she is safe today and that they find a way to catch these offenders.

Also, her videos are really good.  Watch them all at Feminist Frequency or the first part of “Women as Background Decoration” below.

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Hugo Award Winners

If you’re looking for something new to read/watch/listen to/look at, I recommend checking out the newly-released list of Hugo award winners just announced at this year’s WorldCon, Loncon 3:

2014 Hugo Award Winners
Best Novel: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
Best Novella: “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
Best Novelette: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com /Tor.com, 09-2013)
Best Short Story: “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
Best Related Work: “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
Best Graphic Story: “Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Best Editor – Short Form: Ellen Datlow
Best Editor – Long Form: Ginjer Buchanan
Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon
Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
Best Fanzine: A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher
Best Fancast: SF Signal Podcast Patrick Hester
Best Fan Writer: Kameron Hurley
Best Fan Artist: Sarah Webb
The John W. Campbell Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award): Sofia Samatar

I would like to point out that seven out of seventeen awards went to women this year.   I see that as continued proof that, despite what a few obnoxious grumpy old men whined about recently on the internet, women are not destroying science fiction.  Except, you know, when we want to ;)

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Two Wins for Women Today

First, the Lego “research institute” set is so awesome, it sold out in three days.  I’m glad I ordered mine the second they came out, because my daughter is completely enthralled.  We’re stretching it out and building one of the sets each night as a treat after dinner.  Toy manufacturers just got a very clear message that there is huge demand for better toys for girls.  I’ll bet the pink and purple “Lego Friends” sets made to sell on the “pink aisle” didn’t sell out in three days!

The set is marked “10 and up” but like most toys, it’s probably over-estimated to keep them safe from lawsuits.  I would say a much younger kid could build this alone.  There are a lot of the absurdly tiny Lego pieces in the set, so it’s actually a good activity for a parent and a four-year-old to build together.  I read the directions and act as coach/director, and she uses her better-sized little fingers to put the tiny pieces together.  

Second, if you didn’t see it in the news, a woman won the Fields Medal today for the first time in history.  The Fields Medal is awarded every four years, and only to mathematicians under 40.  Today it was announced that this year Stanford’s Maryam Mirzakhani won.  From what I understand, for mathematicians it’s sort of like winning the Nobel Prize and the Olympics rolled into one. 

So, yeah… it’s a great day, ladies!

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Longing for LonCon3

Clearly I need to figure out some way to either 1) make way more money or 2) get paid to go to cons.  Because I would pretty much give my right arm to be one of the people headed to LonCon3 right now.  London is this year’s location for the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), home of the Hugo awards, a global collection of amazing geeks, and much mischief and fun.  Alas, a trip to London was not in the budget by a long shot.  

We did still get to go to the North American Sci-Fi con in Detroit DetCon1) so I can’t complain.  Much.  But I will be following the events in London with much jealousy and longing!  Someday… someday, Gadget, I will make it to one of the overseas WorldCons.

Can’t wait to see who the Hugo winners are this year – and who wins the bid for 2016, since there is some fierce competition between Kansas City and Beijing, the first-ever bid for a location in China.  Fun as Beijing would be, I’m hoping for Kansas City – that one is a do-able distance- and budget-wise and could be combined with visiting family in the area.  The site for 2015 has already been decided (Sasquan, in Spokane).  Not sure I’ll be able to get time off for that one, but certainly will try.  Otherwise our one con next year will probably be LosCon.

Are you going to London?  What are you looking forward to most at LonCon3?

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New Stephen Hawking Movie!

I don’t care if it’s overly dramatized.  I can’t wait to see this movie.  I adore Stephen Hawking.  I love his books, and I love that he hasn’t just beaten the odds in his life, he has smashed them to itty bitty smithereens.

He is one of those rare people who is not only brilliant, but also able to bring his ideas to the masses.  He has been quite the controversial figure in the last few decades, though, so I’m also interested in how they treat all that in the movie as well.

Watch the trailer.  Try not to cry.

As to other Stephen Hawking-related things, I highly recommend:

For teens and adults: A Brief History of Time (The classic!  There’s also a movie, but the book is better)

For kids: George’s Secret Key to the Universe

And for adults and kids around 10 and older, the Masters of Science Fiction TV series where Hawking does the intro is really fun.  It consists of six episodes made from some classic, well-known and loved, science fiction short stories.

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Origami robots build themselves and walk away

OrbitalElements:

I heard about this on NPR today, too. Way cool. Sorry for the short post tonight, more tomorrow. Enjoy the ridiculously awesome origami robots.

Originally posted on Gigaom:

Origami is a complex art, but when it comes to robots, it could actually make things simpler. A team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering created paper robots that, when heated, fold from a flat form into complex shapes that can walk and turn.

The robots are made from paper, plastic and electronic components. Networks of circuits deliver heat created by a battery to the areas of the robot that need to fold. The plastic, which was made to transform into a preset shape when exposed to temperatures higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, then begins its transformation. The robots created at Harvard took about four minutes to turn into their final 3D shape.

An origami robot transforming from flat to 3D. Photo courtesy of Seth Kroll, Wyss Institute.

An origami robot transforming from flat to 3D. Photo courtesy of Seth Kroll, Wyss Institute.

Origami robots are more than a totally rad party trick (people do origami at parties, right?). They fall into a…

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The Spectacular Feat of Accomplishing Rendezvous With a Comet

This did make a bunch of headlines today, but I want to highlight just how phenomenally cool and under-appreciated this event is.  For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has made rendezvous with a comet.  It’s actually a lot of firsts/bests in one, in the rendezvous department – farthest object away, first rendezvous with a comet, I could go on and on.  Ok, I am going to go on and on here.  There’s going to be a bit of gushing, because this is really, incredibly exciting.

This required some serious planning, and some overwhelmingly complex orbital mechanics.  The European Space Agency pulled of an amazing feat here, and they deserve major kudos.  Rosetta has been on its way from Earth to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Chury for short) for ten and a half years.  It launched when I was a senior in college, and now it has, after a very long and complex journey, arrived.

In order to get out to Chury, Rosetta made multiple maneuvers over the last decade.  It flew past the Earth several times, gave Mars a pass, and in an elegant and carefully planned dance, traveled billions of miles to intercept a body that’s on its own 6.5 year orbit around the sun.  The complexity involved in this whole endeavor is mind-blowing.  It makes the orbital mechanics for the Apollo missions look like child’s play.   The journey looked like this:

And they’re not even done!  For their next trick, the ESA will have Rosetta continue to orbit, and launch the Philae Lander – oh no, folks, rendezvous is not enough, studying the comet up close and collecting data isn’t enough, they are also going to put a lander on the comet.  Philae has all kinds of sensors, but also can drill and take samples.

These guys do not think small.  They are going big, and I will be waiting with breath held and fingers crossed when Philae goes to land.  That event is currently scheduled for 11 November, once a good landing site has been selected.

And if all my rambling doesn’t get you excited about this mission, this video should:

I expect Rosetta to continue with its pioneering firsts.  I can’t wait for the pictures and data and other new discoveries to start hitting the news in the days to come.  If you’d like to know more, there are some really great resources at the ESA Rosetta page, and this Guardian article is also quite good.

Did I mention I’m excited about this?

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Female Superheroes Drawn With Actual Clothes On

I just discovered the art of Mike Lunsford, who, among other things, has drawn a bunch of female superheroes that are — gasp — fully clothed.  As in no cleavage, no butt cheeks hanging out, no metal bikinis or corsets.  As an added bonus are in positions that can be achieved without breaking one’s spine.  And guess what?  They still look totally gorgeous, even by America’s really weird standards.  I’m really loving this art.  

The only downside I see is that the outfits still don’t really look like clothes that would be terribly practical for fighting in, with the possible exception of Wonder Woman’s much more functional-looking upper body armor.

Here’s the link, and below is my favorite, his rendering of Supergirl without her usual cheerleader skirt.  

What do you think, improvement or messing with the originals?  What could make these even better in terms of both being practical and empowering the girls who read these comics?

Super Girl looking much more anatomically correct than she usually does.

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