The James Tiptree Jr. Book Club; or, A Mitochondrial Theory of Literature

The following essay was delivered as a keynote speech at the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Symposium’s Celebration of Ursula K. Le Guin, held in Eugene, Oregon on December 2nd and 3rd.

It will probably take my whole talk just to explain my title. I’m going to talk about mitochondria, but not yet. First, it’s book clubs. A few months ago I was listening to the Lightspeed Magazine podcast and heard a story called “The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club,” by Nike Sulway (Lightspeed Magazine, October 2015). I had read and greatly enjoyed Sulway’s Tiptree-Award-winning novel Rupetta, and I was intrigued by the story title, a direct reference to The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), which is one of my ten favorite Karen Joy Fowler books. As I started listening to the story, I could immediately see how it was interacting with Fowler’s work, not just in the title but also in the opening paragraph. It starts:

Ten years ago, Clara had attended a creative writing workshop run by Karen Joy Fowler, and what Karen Joy told her was: We are living in a science fictional world. During the workshop, Karen Joy also kept saying, I am going to talk about endings, but not yet. But Karen Joy never did get around to talking about endings, and Clara left the workshop still feeling as if she was suspended within it, waiting for the second shoe to drop.

Which is absolutely Karen and undoubtedly deliberate. But Sulway’s story takes a number of unexpected turns that link it not only to Fowler—and indirectly, through the title, to Jane Austen—but also to James Tiptree, Jr. Clara and the rest of her book club, it seems, are not human, though they have names, houses, gardens, and book clubs, but rhinoceroses. They are the last rhinoceroses, living out a gradual extinction. The cause of that extinction is never named, but it is clearly us, since the real world exists as a distorted backdrop in the story. Human poaching and human indifference have already killed off Western black rhinos in real history and are on their way to doing in the other subspecies. The humor in Sulway’s story is inextricably entwined with anger and deep sadness, and that is also absolutely Karen Joy Fowler, for instance, in a story called “What I Didn’t See” (Sci-Fiction 2002).

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A Taste of Honey Holiday Giving Sweepstakes!

A Taste of Honey, available now from Tor.com Publishing, is a new novella in the world of Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. N. K. Jemisin calls the book “a love story as painful as it is beautiful and complex.”

In the spirit of holiday giving, we want to send you not one but two copies—one for you to keep, and one for you to bestow upon a friend or loved one*!

Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind gay romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

* You don’t actually have to give the second copy away. You can do whatever you like with it. We’re only making a suggestion.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 12:00 PM Eastern Time (ET) on December 10th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on December 14th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Neil Gaiman Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

The Worldbuilders charity passed a very big stretch goal for 2016 (one million dollars!), so today Neil Gaiman read a poem chosen for him by the charity: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Surrounded by candles, a flickering fire, and wearing the coat of a murdered prince of Stormhold, Gaiman is here to make the changing seasons more atmospheric for fans everywhere.

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This Week in the Arrowverse: Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Villains

Apart from a few references to what happened last week, the Dominators are well and gone from the Arrowverse, their influence only really apparent in a sweet moment Arrow (where Thea Queen continues to be the linchpin holding Oliver’s dual lives together). We’ve got other villains to attend to, and a Legion to assemble! But not without a couple of very special holiday moments. Unless you’re a time traveler, in which case no presents for you.

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Oscar-Winner Paul Haggis to Direct Film Adaptation of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker

Paul Haggis will write and direct a film adaptation of Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2010 Printz Award-winning post-apocalyptic YA novel Ship Breaker. The novel, set after the melting of the polar ice caps, contemplates a world in which many major cities are underwater and follows a young boy named Nailer who tries to help a girl named Nita escape a blackmail plot. Haggis’ film will be the first in a planned film trilogy.

Haggis is interested in exploring themes of climate change in an “oblique” way. “I liked the idea that you could take that idea [of a post-apocalyptic world ignorant of the 21st century] and explore hopes and fears through that… climate change is a concern of mine, and taking on a film that is not just a narrative about that is attractive.”

Haggis won an Oscars for writing Million Dollar Baby in 2004 and for directing Crash in 2005.

[via Hollywood Reporter]

Holy Rewatch Batman! “The Wail of the Siren”

“The Wail of the Siren”
Written by Stanley Ralph Ross
Directed by george waGGner
Season 3, Episode 3
Production code 1708
Original air dates: September 28, 1967

The Bat-signal: The Siren has ensorcelled Gordon in his office with her mastery of the tone two octaves above high C. She has Gordon call Batman and tell him to go to a particular place—Gordon himself suggests Barbara’s apartment.

When he does so, Dick expresses confusion as to why he would want them to go there, never mind the fact that Gordon met the two of them at Barbara’s apartment just last week. Our heroes slide down the poles and head out in the Batmobile to Barbara’s building, parking in the underground garage.

[Batgirl — where do you come from, where do you go?]

Series: Holy Rewatch Batman!

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Robot Christmas

Where other robotics researchers are giving us driverless cars, the University of Toronto has gone in a more creative direction: neural karaoke! In a new article at The Guardian, humanity is warned of a introduced to a project to teach computer programs to create music and dance. First the neural network was trained on 100 hours of online music. Once it had successfully created melody and programmed a stick figure to execute rudimentary dance steps, the computer was shown a series of images to allow the program to mach them with suitable lyrics. Finally, the computer was given Christmassy images, and produced a perfectly competent Christmas carol.

Click through to listen to your future robot overlords singing.

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Brandon Sanderson Has Completed the First Draft of Oathbringer, Book 3 of The Stormlight Archive

Great news for fans of epic fantasy: Brandon Sanderson has completed the first draft of Oathbringer, the forthcoming third volume in his Stormlight Archive series, keeping the novel on track for a fall 2017 release.

The author revealed the big news late last night:

Oathbringer has a few more draft revision cycles to go through before it’s ready for the printer. Sanderson often goes into detail on how the drafts come together over on the Stormlight_Archive subreddit. Here’s his latest update, for the curious!

Dreadnought Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of April Daniels’s Dreadnought, available January 24th from Diversion Books!

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 1:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on December 9th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on December 13th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Mad World Revisited: Donnie Darko Turns 15

Donnie Darko, the film, is now almost as old as its titular leading character. While the years hang very heavily on his shoulders, they’re sitting very lightly on the movie. Rereleased this week to mark its 15th anniversary, Donnie Darko is a haunting puzzle box of a film that rewards repeated viewings. Especially now, as we sit in a liminal space that’s very similar to the one which surrounds the Darko family. They are trapped in the run-up to an election, a period where nothing quite happens. We’re trapped in the aftermath of one, in the closing weeks of a year that has been difficult in almost every way imaginable. Donnie’s disbelief at his world and his bone-numbing fatigue in the face of how hard everything is has always been familiar, but it’s rarely felt more relevant than it does now.

[“Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion…”]

Light and Darkness in The New York Times’ Profiles on Astrophysicist Sara Seager

The New York Times has a long, in-depth profile of Sara Seager. Seager, an astrophysicist and MIT professor, and has become one of the leaders in exo-planet research, and proponent of the “starshade” project, which currently seems like our best bet at finding Earth-like exoplanets, and maybe even extraterrestrial life.

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The Trouble With Yetis: Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Welcome to Freaky Fridays: War on Christmas edition! From now until Santa has murdered all the naughty children and Krampus is doing a jig in their guts, we’ll be talking about the weird old paperback novels that put the “ow” in snowman.

Normally, I don’t start these columns talking about the cover art, but look at that guy. Just look at him. What you’re seeing is the online dating profile used by the Abominable Snowman when he’s looking for a mate. First, he thoughtfully tells us his age (“thousands of years”) so that we understand he’s a sugar daddy looking for a sugar baby, then he makes sure we know his interests (likes to stalk the earth; is a foodie) ensuring his dietary preferences are front and center because, as we all know, most sugar babies are body conscious and wouldn’t be comfortable feasting at all, let alone on the flesh of humans, since they’re mostly vegan.

OKCupid says men’s profile photos are most effective when they look away from the camera and don’t smile. Yeti’s on it. You should be doing something interesting, preferably with your pet. Yeti is hiking, and he’s his own pet: done. eHarmony advises that your profile photo be flattering, genuine, and accurate. Check, check, and check again. He’s even listed his full name (Norman Bogner) under his username (Snowman). Okay, Yeti is ready to fire his proton torpedoes into your thermal exhaust port, so what’s stopping this hairy snowman? Turns out: everything. YETI IS TERRIBLE AT DATING.

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