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Breaking Out of Capitalist Realism

Science fiction and fantasy are uniquely positioned to give readers (whether deliberately or accidentally) a vision of possible alternative futures; an imagination of what could be, good, bad, or more complex. But inevitably those stories are also a reflection of the now: writers in conversation with what’s around them, growing ideas in the substrate around our rooted feet. If we as writers want to envisage, to create, an anti-capitalist, socially just future, how do we get there from here, and just how limited are we by where we are now?

Reading recent SF/F, it has seemed to me that while there are plenty of extrapolations from our present into future dystopias, and a fair few stories about mutual aid carve-outs within a current-or-future dystopia, there’s less in the way of true alternatives, compared to the writings of people like Le Guin or Delany in the ’70s and ’80s. If SF/F is a reflection of the now, how do we imagine a different future? If SF/F is an imagination of the future, should we let it be constrained by the now? Is it even possible to escape where we are right now, and what does that mean for the futures we are able to imagine?1

The political philosopher Mark Fisher, in 2009, called this the impact of Capitalist Realism—the way in which modern (post-Soviet Union) capitalism has created a narrative that there is no alternative, that capitalism is the only “reality,” the unchallengeable basis of our existence. Fisher referred to “a pervasive atmosphere” which makes its way into art and literature, then permeates our thoughts and imaginations, obliging us to operate within capitalist imperatives and structures.

Writers are, of course, free to choose what they want to write—but is that choice (is any choice) wholly free? What’s the distinction between the futures we choose to imagine, and the futures we are able to imagine? The choice to write extrapolations of what we see around us, or something wholly different, can be constrained in practice by the difficulty of stepping outside our conceptual boundaries.

It seems we’re better at envisaging (certain forms of) social change—societies in which you don’t get grief for being queer, where people’s gender is malleable and no one’s business but their own, where disabilities are a normal part of human existence and acceptance is in-built, where racism isn’t a source of prejudice and damage…It’s just that a lot of those worlds are underpinned by a form of capitalism; and even, that trying to write our way into social change runs head-on into the capitalist challenge of “but, really…can we afford it?” (Perhaps we can’t afford not to. Perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask.)

Some writers take the option of writing their way around late-stage patriarchal capitalism, rather than writing it out altogether: imagining themselves into the edges, trying to find ways to escape within it. They create a world of small-scale mutual support networks existing within an oppressive larger system, rather than reimagining that larger system wholesale. It totally makes sense: it feels far more doable. It’s easier to imagine the mini queer commune, or even a string of them, supporting us to make our way through the hellscape; it’s easier to write our band of rag-tag misfits scrabbling on the edges of society. And it’s wish-fulfilment: it feels good to write and it feels good to read, because many of us don’t have that sort of support in person. For many queer folks, for example, our queer community—our wonderful, important, supportive queer community—lives in our phones. That’s valuable, and it’s a hell of a lot better than not having it at all, but the community in your phone can’t share childcare or cooking or the general physical burden of living. For that you need in person; and we’ve all had, right, the Queer Commune Millionaire Fantasy? Absent winning the lottery, we can write it, instead.

From this angle, it begins to feel like a reflection of desperation and learned helplessness; except that “learned helplessness” in the literature conjures up visions of dogs who don’t know the floor’s no longer electrified. Our floor’s still electrified. We’ve tried to convince politicians to act against climate change, and—well, I won’t say “nothing’s changed,” but it’s not changing fast enough, and it’s bloody easy to fall into despair. If nothing works, why bother? If there’s no escape from where we are now, how can you imagine one? Alternatives are a pipe dream.

Which is precisely Fisher’s point: that’s the lie capitalism tells us, that there is no alternative. It even co-opts anti-capitalism in its own support: no longer targeting the end of capitalism, but trying to mitigate it. (As above: rag-tag bands of misfits providing mutual aid and surviving around the edges of a dysfunctional system.) Food banks get people fed, which is straight up a Good Thing; but they don’t solve structural poverty, and running them takes up time and energy during which people aren’t trying to imagine a system where food banks aren’t considered “just how things are,” in a Western country with more than enough money to feed its people.

If you’ve just stifled a groan at reading “just how things are,” I’m with you. It’s a critique that most activists of a socialist, anarchist, or anti-capitalist bent are familiar with, in that or its other form, the claim that “human nature” prevents any realisation of an alternative future which doesn’t revolve around endless growth, individualism, and the profit motive. This almost invariably translates as “this feels weird TO ME”—or to the assumption that “human nature” = “what humans in my current society are like.” People will claim with utter conviction that people just aren’t like that, even when there is both historical and current evidence that at least some people have, in fact, been like that. Humans co-operate, humans are kind, the state of brute nature is a (racist) myth. Further, sometimes it’s not even about how real humans behave, but about how people think, incorrectly, they behave—as Rebecca Solnit points out in her book about disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell. (Spoilers: Solnit found that most people in a disaster are kind and generous to one another. Except the rich, who are not.)

How, then, do writers get away from that? Can writers get away from that? At some point obviously I have to quote Le Guin: “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.” So, whether or not we can entirely escape the sea we’re swimming in, we can sure as hell try.

Write what the hell you like, obviously. No one’s obliged to do anything in particular with their writing or their reading; it’s a big old genre and there’s room for all of us. But. If it feels too hard—too scary, too depressing—to propel ourselves into a truly alternative future, why is that? And can we resist that pressure to shrug and give up, accept that this is as good as it gets, if we want to?

The mini-commune on the edges of society, that feels like it might be within range, maybe, if you got really lucky. It’s a good dream: it’s a dream, but it’s imaginable. The bigger dreams are far more beautiful and thus far more dangerous. What happens if we step into that fear? How can we as writers escape our programming? Because I refuse to believe that we can’t. How do we balance the rejection of destructive capitalism with the reality of the structural factors making it very difficult to break out? Shouldn’t SF/F be showing the way here? Did we all convince ourselves too hard that utopia-means-no-place, that this can’t be done? I mean; it can’t, no, there’s no perfect world. But. There’s better.

Authors do manage, have managed this, to more or less successful extent.2

Le Guin in The Dispossessed carefully imagined what an alternative might look like and how it might interact with something more like present day society; the trade-offs are fully realised and highlighted. In a different vein, I love the patchwork nature of her far future Always Coming Home, the endeavour to reimagine everything, including myths and stories and coming-of-age narratives. And that it’s written in a way that challenges traditional Western narratives (although we should remember that Indigenous critics challenged Le Guin’s co-opting of Indigenous narratives and beliefs).

Becky Chambers in the Monk And Robot series is clearly trying to envisage an alternative society; one of the things I love about Psalm For The Wild-Built is how the differently realised society is the underlying fabric to a story that’s about finding one’s own way and what one wants; the society is set up for that to be available, and set up to be both sustainable and sustaining for individuals, but you still have to work at it.

Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless series is arguably dystopic in that it’s a post-crash society, making its way around the skeletal remnants of our former society, after some level of ecological collapse. The main driver of the society in Bannerless is the control over having children—you have to earn the right to have and raise a child—and that strong focus on living sustainably with the land and deliberately limiting human numbers in order to do so. And, again, the trade-offs and costs are examined. Maybe that needs to be part of any successful alternative envisaging; the acknowledgement that we can’t have it all. Marge Piercy talks about similar trade-offs in the future society in Woman on The Edge of Time. In Bannerless it’s clear that this is not the only approach that exists; it’s just one fairly small society. (In a similar area to where it’s suggested the Kesh in Le Guin’s Always Coming Home live. Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing is also set in California with a fairly small sustainable society in conflict with a dystopian one; it has a somewhat clunkier feel than Bannerless or Always Coming Home.)

I like Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway for looking at how we might get there from here; and also thinking about the possibility of mainstream society (or those who run mainstream society) hitting back. It shares an approach with Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future in that it doesn’t skip over the interim; it shows us some ideas about how we might get there from here. Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-Built Garden, which uses some similar tech ideas to Walkaway, does jump past that process but does sketch in the backstory that established its more sustainable watersheds community. Humans have begun to be successful in rescuing the planet, but it’s a provisional success and the watersheds exist in some tension (albeit not the open conflict of The Fifth Sacred Thing) with other systems and structures. Perhaps, again, those limitations are part of why it feels more achievable, more touchable from where we are right now, than some other alternative visions.

Writers, then, can do it. Can readers accept it? What about that acquired internal belief system that tells us that human nature just isn’t like that? Reading Always Coming Home, or Psalm for the Wild-Built, even I have to do a certain amount of squashing my own inner cynic, and I’m way along the optimistic end of the scale. (Anarres, interestingly, had its own cynics built-in; beautifully not-capitalist realism.) Kim Stanley Robinson tries to map from here to there in The Ministry for the Future, but that, whilst a sterling effort, is absolutely about manipulating capitalist structures into doing something that doesn’t totally suck. Arguably, the fact that it is depressing and deeply pragmatic—albeit with gleams of hope showing through—may make it more convincing to cynics.

“But people aren’t like that”—people react to their settings and to the expectations around them. The complaint of “but human nature” reveals a real misunderstanding about how actual humans behave. (Projection? I couldn’t possibly comment.) Are some people shit-heads? Sure. But not as many as is fondly imagined.

So how do we as readers challenge/escape our programming? Here’s a good starting rule: if you find yourself thinking “but surely…” about human beings, you’re probably wrong. Back to that Le Guin quote: we are all limited by our surroundings, and we are all told what we should treat as the basis, the bedrock. Let’s not. Let’s move the ground. Let’s believe six impossible things before breakfast. (Maybe choose your impossible things carefully.) And in any case, and this is not a new point: if you’re willing to read about dragons, spaceships, magic, and FTL travel, then you should think hard before criticising the “realism” of imaginary communities based on how you imagine the world “must” be. Look around you. People are doing things differently, in small ways; they are breaking out of capitalist structures, even if only for a little while. Individualism is not the only way, and indeed hasn’t been the only way for many different human cultures.

Let’s look at what Becky Chambers or Ruthanna Emrys are writing for something to aim at; at Kim Stanley Robinson’s efforts to imagine the steps away from here that might begin to take us there; let’s take the attitude-to-others of hopepunk and the structural changes implied by solarpunk. Let’s consider the trade-offs that Carrie Vaughn’s books look at, and if we don’t like those, find another way to manage the sustainability and carrying-capacity problems that Vaughn’s societies identify. Let’s write a new Always Coming Home, taking Le Guin’s work further into a future that’s rooted here and now, and bridging the gap between now and then. Let’s keep imagining what we could be, if we let go of those voices telling us this is it, this is all we get.

 

 

1  A note about cultural specificity: what it is, exactly, that surrounds you, and what you’re in conversation with, will vary between cultures, backgrounds, and sub-cultures; but the larger problem of awareness-of-the-sea-you’re-swimming-in remains, even if those seas may differ between different people.

2 Obviously I’ve missed people. I do my best, but a couple of hundred books a year isn’t enough to keep up with the conversation. I am extremely open to suggestions of things to read. I did ask some people for recommendations while writing this essay, and got fewer than I’d hoped for.

 

The Fat Body Problem

“I do play all the characters, when I write them, one after another. If they actually had to film me, the only one I could play would be Samwell Tarly or Hot Pie.” — George R. R. Martin

 

“It was funny, she thought, that people treated her flesh like a public resource, a reservoir for all their insecurities and emotional dysfunction, when it was she who had their insides at her fingertips.” ― Gretchen Felker-Martin, Manhunt

 

Has there ever been a richer time to be fat? We live in a time when there is mainstream discourse about body neutrality and fat acceptance. We’re not at the point where it’s widely accepted or adopted, but at least it’s talked about. I was a fat child during the Obesity Epidemic years; it is a major improvement to not always be referred to as a disease. This discourse is shifted, little by little, by visible fat public figures like Lizzo and Jonah Hill glorying in their bodies or simply declining to speak about it with press and strangers. It’s reshaped, little by little, by the inclusion of diverse body types in previously narrow passages like the cover of Sports Illustrated and in major fashion shows. Now is a glorious time to be fat.

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror have been narrow passages for fat bodies, too. I have a copy of an anthology most people have never seen: 1983’s The Science Fiction Weight-Loss Book,  coedited by Isaac Asimov and a young George R. R. Martin. It’s a fascinating mix of work from that time: a diet-crazed Asimov writes in his introduction that he himself struggled in the “battle of the bulge” and looks forward to a time when science might solve this problem: the fat body problem. There are shorts within from Orson Scott Card and Robert Silverberg about self-loathing and food deprivation that encourage the reader to sympathy for the authors, if not everyone who struggles with the endless hunger of self-denial and suffering in the name of thinness. Other stories, like Jack Vance’s “Abercrombie Station,” put a toe into the pool of warm water that will one day be the acceptance and even celebration of fat bodies. But the collection closes with Stephen King’s 1978 short “Quitter’s Inc,” in which cigarette smoking and weight gain are equivocated and both punished through literal torture. 1983 was a harder time to glorify obesity.

The quote up top from GRRM encapsulates the problem perfectly: Martin is fat, like a lot of creators and fans in our communities. He literally writes these characters and these roles; he created Samwell Tarly and Jon Snow for his series, A Song of Ice and Fire. But he cannot imagine a body like his cast in the physical role of hero. He sees himself as Samwell, who (it must be said) is a fabulous character. Samwell studies and uncovers; he helps turn the great wheel of the story. He says clever things, overcomes family trauma, and he fucks right there on the page, showing us his “fat pink mast” and then putting it to work. Martin can do it; but I don’t think he knows he can do it in the spotlight. We are in the golden age for the Samwell Tarlys of the speculative fiction world.

This might be news to Martin, who came up in the wake of writers like Asimov and Herbert and Moorcock, all of whom wrote fat characters as slovenly, avaricious, cruel, stupid, slow, and sexless. This might still look like too narrow a gate for him to pass through. But a lot of other writers have been dynamiting the door to open it up to ADA standards and beyond. Ooh baby baby, it’s a wide world. It has to be; so many cool fat characters are pushing through.

The first time I read a description of Archie, the fat French con woman in Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, I thought I’d died and gone to my personal heaven where everyone but me is a tailor. She’s fat on the page, but also quick in of hammer-swinging action. She works her way into disguises that allow her to express gender fluidly. She’s charming and picks pockets and hits absolutely zero of the stereotypes associated with fatness in fiction. Gailey knows what fat people are actually like, and they write a splendid example of what’s possible.

The quote above from Gretchen Felker-Martin is drawn from the kind of example that a fat author can imbue into a fat character. In her novel, Manhunt, Indira is a fat brown fertility doctor who wields incredible intelligence and power, while also being subject to the cruelty and projection of thin white people. The way that Felker-Martin shows us Indira as aware of her own sexuality (explicitly, exquisitely, expositioned with her thighs on either side of someone’s face) as well as aware of how other people deposit their insecurity into the image of her body is nothing less than masterful. Felker-Martin is a decadent, gutsy writer, and never better than when she’s cradling the decadent gut of one of her fat characters.

Not everyone is into that vibe, and I get it. Every golden age comes at the expense of a lot of iron and soot that came before. Some readers just want a character who happens to be fat. Derry, the main character of A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell is simply fat. She isn’t punished or hated for it, and it’s not part of what happens to her amid the magic and disappearances of this lovely, haunting debut novel. Hollowell writes the kind of incandescent power-flexing that many of us fat kids dreamt of: not a bench press but a beauty press, far from the body and evoking the delicacy of night-blooming flowers.

Brawler Adoulla from Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is similarly incidental. Ahmed writes violent action and emotional intimacy with the same kind of breathless devotion; he’s like a boxer who sags in his opponent’s arms after victory, weeping for the brotherhood of their mingled blood. Adoulla’s body is aging and softening; he endures the projected opinions of men and boys upon it. But the power remains in his body, his arms, his armor. He is unaffected by his fatness, and he moves with the same grace and grim determination as ever. Ahmed does not run from the body, but sags and snaps with it. He is weeping, he is weeping, but the fighter still remains.

Nalo Hopkinson’s Gilla, the girl from the story “The Smile on the Face” in the collection Falling in Love with Hominids, carries a body that is more than just incidental. Hopkinson puts Gilla at the cruel intersection of race, color, fatness, and desirability and then turns loose the rush hour traffic of adolescence on that intersection. The result is a girl degraded and derided for her body, and those who don’t harm her physically both blab and believe rumors about her that are powered by her body and its unruly differences. Gilla gets one of the best revenge arcs I have seen, becoming a literal fire-spitting dragon when a girl’s invective is simply not enough.

Books where fat bodies bear stigma and suffer the stock insults of the petty terrorists who never have anything new to say certainly have their place. But I’m most heartened when fat protagonists get to do their thing and live a life that is authentically fat. Marianne Kirby’s Dust Bowl zombie duology, Feral Seasons, features a teenage hero pitted against the walking dead and conspiracy, but also the realest struggle of a fat girl in a tough situation: chub rub.

Like Martin, I grew up reading those authors who make the fat body a problem: a portal for horror, an anachronism for science to solve, or a reason a person can’t be a knight. Like Felker-Martin, I’m determined that the body I live in should be a part of the worlds that I experience and create. Like every author on this list, I’m putting my whole fat self on the page, in the worlds that I want to see, in the struggles I know to be real by the ache between my thighs, in the heroics and beauties I know we can achieve because I see and feel them every day.

Fat kids today will grow up with fat vampire slayer Guillermo de la Cruz and fat superhero Faith. They’ll go on adventures with Cora from Beneath the Sugar Sky and come home with Nina from Six of CrowsThey’ll write their own stories, seeing themselves as the hero and the love interest and the conman and the cinnamon roll. Maybe they’ll never see a thin actor don a fat suit to play a character that a fat actor should have portrayed. They’ll see their work adapted into movies and television and when someone asks them who they might actually play on screen, they’ll shrug and say they could play anyone.

Because in that future, the fat body is not a problem.

Book Club

Your mother is dying

What do you read to her?

 

During the pandemic, she started an online book club

For her school-aged grandchildren

Now they’re lounging in the cool, dark house

But she’s too tired to run the meeting

That’s become your job

Pick a book

 

Thousands to choose from

No one you know has more books than your mother

Literally hundreds of feet of crammed shelves

No one you know reads more carefully than your mother

Delving deep into the choices behind each word

Pick a book

 

She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But the grandkids adore it

And no one takes more joy than your mother

From watching children thrill to new discoveries

You remember that road trip

Rained out, holed up in the motel

She read The Hobbit out loud every night

Doing the Gollum voice with a wicked grin

So scary, warm, and cozy all at once

 

She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But you remember finding her old

Ray Bradbury books, yellowed and crumbling

Broken-spined and ancient even in 1979

You’d never read anything

So fresh and new

Two Christmases later she gave you that huge anthology

Of Bradbury’s short stories

You’d never owned a book so thick

And full of everything

 

She says she doesn’t love fantasy

And she probably never read more than five of the

Five hundred comic books you wrote during her lifetime

But she loved your essay about playing D&D as a kid

Almost as much as she loved

The short story you wrote when you were sixteen

About a mother baking bread

As she watched her boy climb a tree in the back yard

Approaching the sky

Growing up and away

 

She says she doesn’t love fantasy

But you saw her eyes shine

Forty years ago when you stood in the kitchen

Talking about Dandelion Wine and she remembered

The thrill of new sneakers

 

In the living room

The grandchildren curl into couches and chairs

Around her electric hospice bed

She listens intensely, eyes closed

Smiling as you read aloud

 

Douglas blitzing through summer

On his Royal Crown Cream-Sponge

Para Litefoot tennis shoes

 

Douglas in the woods

Stalked by the glorious monster of awareness

Suddenly conscious of being alive

 

Douglas in the cupola at daybreak, gazing out over Green Town

A young god rousing this tiny world from bed

Commanding the sun to rise

 

The kids audibly exhale when you close the book

Like child actors in a ’40s movie

You think of Douglas letting out a low whistle of astonishment

“It’s just the regular world

But it reads like fantasy,” they say

 

Your mother beams and glows

Eyes still closed

Basking in her grandchildren’s wonder

 

A year later you finally finish rereading the book

And you sob

Because after the pages you read to your mother

It’s all death and decline

The Ravine

The despair of the Happiness Machine

Old Mrs. Bentley burning her things

Great-Grandma dying, gently and freely

(That’s the fantasy)

Douglas realizing someday he, too, will die

 

You wanted to protect your mother

Raise her into the cupola

So she could gaze out over Green Town

And summon summer’s first sunrise

Forever and again

 

But look at all those books in her house

So many voices grappling with the hardest questions anyone can ask

She read so closely

Parsing every word

She said she didn’t love fantasy

But she was just critiquing escape

She wanted something real

Even in this book

Even if she didn’t remember the specifics

She knew the summer would end

 

Still, you’re glad you stopped reading where you did

Maybe you did it for her

Maybe for the kids

Maybe for yourself

And why not?

Why not give us all that moment before the inevitable?

That’s real, too

(Eyes closed, listening with every fiber, beaming as the children exhale)

 

Douglas astonished

So thrilled to know he was alive

The Uncanny Valley

This was a rough month for the Thomases.

After quite a few careful visits with friends and loved ones, Michael’s luck finally ran out, and he came down with COVID. Thanks to vaccines, boosters, and medicine, it was a mild case, and he managed not to pass it to Lynne & Caitlin. It did mean that Lynne had to solo parent Caitlin for about two weeks, though. Towards the end of that period, Caitlin began to have some medical issues that we suspected might be her kidneys acting up again. We brought her in for tests just two days after Michael left isolation. The results were not good, and poor Caitlin was hospitalized for a week. As we write this, we are home again, but waiting to go back in two weeks for surgery to address another round of kidney stones.

 

We are extremely fortunate to be part of such a wonderful community. All of the love and support we received while in the hospital meant a great deal to us. Thank you, Space Unicorns. Your kindness is bigger than galaxies.

 

There is some better news in the universe! As all of you most certainly know, we’ve been running the Uncanny Magazine Year 9: To Fifty … and Beyond! Kickstarter! It will be over when you read this, but we achieved funding for Year 9, and reached many of our stretch goals, which included the DOUBLE-SIZED MILESTONE ISSUE 50! Thank you, Space Unicorns!

This issue is the final issue of Uncanny Magazine Year 8. With the ongoing pandemic and other global issues, it was another tremendously challenging year for everyone. We want to thank our phenomenal staff and every generous member of the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps who made all of this possible. We hope you enjoyed all of the gorgeous stories, poems, essays, interviews, podcasts, and art. This issue contains the bonus novella for Year 8, and we think you will greatly enjoy it along with everything else in the issue. YOU ARE THE VERY BEST, YOU MAGNIFICENT SPACE UNICORNS!!

We have some wonderful news, Space Unicorns!

As you know, our current Assistant Editor Monte Lin will become the new Managing Editor starting with Uncanny Magazine #50 (January/February 2023). We’ve finally found somebody to take over his old duties! Starting with Uncanny Magazine #49 (November/December 2022), the new Assistant Editor will be…

Tania Chen!!!

Tania brings a lot of enthusiasm to the position. We can’t wait to start working with them!

Tania’s Bio:

Tania Chen is a Chinese-Mexican queer writer. Their work has been published in Unfettered Hexes by Neon Hemlock, Strange HorizonsPleiades Magazine, and Baffling. They are a first reader for Nightmare Magazine and a graduate of the Clarion West Novella Bootcamp workshop of January/Feb 2021. They can be found on twitter @archistratego.

It was a phenomenal pool of applicants. Thank you to everyone who applied!

Uncanny Magazine Year 9 will be fantastic, Space Unicorns. Though many changes are happening, we will continue to have the BEST STAFF in the universe.

Stupendous news, Space Unicorns! “Confessions of a Spaceport AI” by Mary Soon Lee won the SFPA 2022 Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem!

Congratulations to Mary Soon Lee and to all of the finalists!

Fabulous news, Space Unicorns! “That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell is the Best Novelette Locus Award winner, and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker is the Best Short Story Locus Award winner! Congratulations to Sarah, John, and to all of the winners and finalists!

Once again, congratulations to the other five Uncanny Magazine stories that were finalists: “Mulberry and Owl” by Aliette de Bodard for Best Novelette, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde for Best Novelette, “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark for Best Short Story, “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte for Best Short Story, and “The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente for Best Short Story.

You can find the list of all of the winners and finalists here!

Excellent award news, Space Unicorns!

The World Fantasy Award finalists have been announced! “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker are finalists for the Best Short Fiction World Fantasy Award! Also, Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are finalists for the Special Award–Non-Professional World Fantasy Award for their Uncanny Magazine work! We are thrilled and honored! Congratulations to all of the finalists!

Magnificent news! Congratulations to Caroline M. Yoachim and Sarah Pinsker! “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker are both finalists for the 2022 Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction!

From their website:

The Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction (or Eugie Award) celebrates the best in innovative fiction. This annual award is presented at Dragon Con, the nation’s largest fan-run convention. Starting with the 2020, we will add a video presentation of the award online, along with a reading of a section of each finalist.

The Eugie Award honors stories that are irreplaceable, that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. We will be looking for stories that are beautiful, thoughtful, and passionate, and change us and the field. The recipient is a story that is unique and will become essential to speculative fiction readers.

Along with that news, The Uncanny Thomases planned on attending Chicon 8: The 80th World Science Fiction Convention from September 1-5, 2022! We are sure it went well!

And now the contents of Uncanny Magazine Issue 48! The phenomenal cover is Hunter by Sija Hong. Our new fiction includes Natalia Theodoridou’s tale of wonder and sacrifice “The Prince of Salt and the Ocean’s Bargain,” DaVaun Sanders’s story of love and perseverance “Our Love Against Us,” Rati Mehrotra’s tale of cats, magic, and monsters “Girl, Cat, Wolf, Moon,” Beth Cato’s yarn of time travel and family “The 207th Time I Went Back to March 9, 1980,” Lavie Tidhar’s exploration of duty and relationships “The Portal Keeper,” Andrea Chapela’s (translated from Spanish by Emma Törzs) look at the future and hard choices “As One Listens to the Rain,” Tansy Rayner Roberts’s delightful fairy tale romp “Towered,” and finally Miyuki Jane Pinckard’s gothic novella of love and hauntings “Radcliffe Hall.”

Our provocative and compelling essays this month include “Book Club” by Greg Pak, “Breaking Out of Capitalist Realism” by Juliet Kemp, “Everything Is on Fire Except My Deadlines” by Premee Mohamed, and “Too Dystopian for Whom? A Continental Nigerian Writer’s Perspective” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. Our gorgeous and evocative poetry includes “On the Plantation of Daughters” by Lalini Shanela Ranaraja, “Identity” by Marissa Lingen, “The Construct’s Co-Emergence” by Linda D. Addison, and “Palingenesia” by Simbo, Olumide Manuel . Finally, Caroline M. Yoachim interviews Rati Mehrotra and Miyuki Jane Pinckard about their stories.

The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 48A features “Our Love Against Us” by DaVaun Sanders, as read by Matt Peters, “On the Plantation of Daughters” by Lalini Shanela Ranaraja, as read by Erika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing DaVaun Sanders. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 48B features “The Portal Keeper” by Lavie Tidhar, as read by Erika Ensign, “Palingenesia” by Simbo, Olumide Manuel , as read by Matt Peters, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Lavie Tidhar.

As always, we are deeply grateful for your support of Uncanny Magazine. Shine on, Space Unicorns!

She Is Sword, and She Is Sorcery: Womanhood in The Witcher and The Wheel of Time

The Fantasy genre has long been stereotyped as one dominated by men—a genre of farm boy heroes and barbarian king power fantasies. And however false this impression is when it comes to the vast landscapes of the written word, filmic adaptations remain broadly focused on what can be loosely termed “boy stories” such as Legend of the Seeker (2008-10 based on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth) and The Shannara Chronicles (2016-18 based on Terry Brooks’s series of the same name).

Yet at the same time, both series adaptations of The Witcher and The Wheel of Time have very much zeroed in on womanhood as one of their core themes. It isn’t that women are alien to their source texts, but through the careful arrangement of scenes, foregrounding of back story, shifting points of view, and pruning of plots, both adaptations have teased out and made more prominent previously more obfuscated threads. Female characters have been brought to the forefront of the narrative and been given space to make the story their own on a structural and thematic level.

This is arguably unsurprising given the substantial female fanbase of HBO’s Game of Thrones and the very common criticism of its ostensibly medieval approach to gender1. HBO’s Game of Thrones has concluded, after all, and who would take the iron throne as the next wildly popular Fantasy adaptation remains deeply unclear. I’d argue the sheer prominence of sexual violence in Game of Thrones and the cultural discourse surrounding it has made this a default lens to understand any challenger. I still remember tweets in the wake of The Witcher’s season one drop praising how it manages to serve up a gritty fantasy world without actual gratuitous depicted rape.

And there have been challengers aplenty, of course, including the sprawling historical dramas based on actual medieval queens from the BBC. Which is all to say, it isn’t just that The Witcher or The Wheel of Time is interested in gender so much as women and their experiences specifically. Made within a few years of each other and in the wake of that once ubiquitous Game of Thrones, the two series make for a fascinating comparison as they each take wildly divergent approaches in defining womanhood within their worlds.

The Witcher’s titular Geralt is a monstrous hunter in the world of men, an outcast only tolerated because of his abilities to kill other monsters. The opening episode plucks Geralt’s plot from one of the more ancillary short stories, a dark retelling of Snow White where she is marked for death because of the circumstances of her birth. Some combination of that fateful comet, rapist huntsmen, and superstitious sorcerers has refashioned the princess Renfri into a monster.

There is a distinct fleshiness to the way womanhood is depicted and defined in The Witcher. The braided storylines intentionally juxtapose temporally disconnected events to create meaning. Sex and violence, fear and hope, birth and massacre are all intercut. Geralt and Triss’s gory fight with the cursed princess of a Striga to remake her as human is woven together with the rebirth of Yennifer as conventionally beautiful through violent, womb-destroying magical surgery. It invites you to see those connections between the different visceral manifestations of monstrousness: Geralt is a monster who kills monsters, but he also cares for them; Renfri, Yennifer, and the Striga are all regarded as monstrous in some way because of the circumstances of their birth. The question asked by Renfri in the first episode of what makes a monster and what makes a princess threads its way through the seasons. Princesses, queens, and sorceresses are all in their own way types of monsters.

That very womb-centric biological womanhood echoes through each of the episodes as motifs of monstrous births, bloodlines, and wombs recur. Strength is won through violence inflicted or endured. There is a visceral brutality to it all.

In the episode “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials,” Yennifer talks to a dead infant, a princess whose life she failed to save. Echoing her previous unsuccessful suicide attempt, she reasons that perhaps the princess has cheated life and fate by dying, refusing to become just a “vessel.” Yennifer realises the truth of what Queen Kalis had previously told her in the episode, that she’s just a womb, “a fleshy contraption for squeezing out heirs.”

But for all her disgust at the idea of being an empty vessel, Yennifer fully accepts this as truth. Her ambitions have brought her nothing but emptiness and from there, she decides that birthing a child would cure her of her loneliness. As a parent, she reasons, she would become the most important person in the world to a baby and that would finally be enough.

This motif of empty vessels and wombs returns in the next episode as Yennifer seeks to harness the power of the djinn to make herself fertile again. She inscribes on her lower torso an amphora—the djinn was imprisoned within one—but at the same time, the shape of it is undeniably the same as a womb and we are shown again the image of her fleshy rebirth and her own womb, freshly torn from her body, skewered over a fire.

These connections of flesh and blood and womb are what Queen Calanthe invokes as justification for denying the Law of Surprise, declaring that she would “bow to no law made by men who never bore a child.” She may refuse to be a vessel whose contents can be bargained away by men, but destiny has intervened. Her daughter has fallen in love with the very man who fate says she belongs to and Calanthe is forced to bless this marriage.

These motifs all return again in The Witcher’s second season as the elf Francesca Findabair is introduced and her greatest desire, as revealed to a darkly reimagined Baba Yaga, is to bear an elf of “pure blood” to rebuild their race. She spends much of the season nursing her fateful pregnancy. When this all ends in tragedy and massacre, she pins her hopes on Cirilla of Cintra, a princess whose recurring importance again lies in her birth and blood.

Though hereditary monarchy is the norm of the setting in The Witcher and it has no shortage of incidental kings, women seem uniquely defined by—burdened with—bloodlines in the series. Cirilla is descended from the Lioness of Cintra and that blood-claim to the throne is her defining plot. Yennifer is herself part elf, apparently the source of her natural aptitude for magic. Fringilla is the niece of a powerful member of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, and of course, Francesca dedicates herself to birthing a pure elven messiah.

In stark contrast to this deeply bioessentialist thesis of women being lonely, empty wombs, The Wheel of Time focuses on women as social beings and their constructed roles in a world of men. Rather than empty vessels or creatures driven by passion and biology, The Wheel of Time’s women form the backbone of its society. Instead, it is the male characters who struggle with isolation and longing for parenthood.

The Wheel of Time establishes womanhood as a core thread in its tapestry opening in its first episode on a triptych of scenes about the role of women in its fantastical world. Moiraine’s lays out in voiceover how arrogant men broke the world at the beginning of time. Her recollection of a mythic past echoes that of Galadriel’s much parodied and iconic opening narration in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, but instead of casting herself as an immortal spectator, it is now the job of Moiraine and her sisters to fix that broken world. This is her quest. She dons a striking blue dress almost architectural in its structure; the scene evokes a ritual girding for battle, though it is evidently not one fought steel against steel.

This scene is followed by the red-clad Liandrin astride a horse hunting a man for his use of magic. As she captures him, she stays that his touch pollutes what should remain wholly in the purview of women.

And finally, we have Egwene coming of age and being inducted by Nynaeve into Two Rivers’ circle of women. Her hair is braided, the strands are themselves a symbol of that solidarity the women promise her: that to be a woman is to be always alone and never alone, that she would always have her sisters. She is cast into the river where she must learn to trust the waters. The flow of the river mirrors how the flow of magic is visualised. It is a defining moment for her and a motif the series returns to repeatedly.

Opening on these three scenes, the adaptation shifts the perspective and focus of the series onto the women from the novel’s Rand-centric first book. The infamously sprawling Wheel of Time pentadecalogy was never wholly Rand’s story, but the adaptation leans into this, trusting that the streaming audience no longer needs a humble, unassuming farm boy as their introduction into the world. Instead, it is Egwene’s coming of age and ambitions that form the throughline in the Two Rivers scenes. When they leave, Egwene is no longer just tagging along with the three fate-touched young men that Moiraine has decided too important to let wander about unattended; along with Nynaeve, she is named as one of the potential Ta’veren. Moiraine herself is no longer an unapproachable, infallible enigma out of a “gleeman’s tale,” instead her narration invites us to see this as her own quest. We are privy to her machinations and her vulnerabilities. Her backstory romance with Siuan, the current Amyrlin Seat, is also brought to the fore.

Women are made here through their connections forged with other women. They are defined socially through those bonds rather than biologically through their plumbing or their capacity for childbirth. They take upon themselves the grand task of fixing the messes left by men, but the plots concern not wombs or bloodlines but the social fabric of the world: the grand tapestry woven upon the wheel of time itself—a foundational myth anchored in the opening sequence of the series.

The Wheel of Time’s mythic framework inverts Christianity’s original sin and places instead the act of hubris that breaks the world upon the shoulders of men. It is the reason why men cannot do magic without eventually falling to madness and why the Aes Sedai are entirely composed of women. This is a gender essentialism rooted in a mythic ancient history rather than biology. Wombs, bloodlines, and childbirth play little role in this conception of a sacred feminine. Neither series actively carves out space for trans women to exist, but it is far easier to imagine one in this socio-mythic paradigm than in the fleshy womb-centric world of The Witcher. Magic is spoken of in sacred, quasi-religious terms and we are told repeatedly that women of this world have many different words for what Nynaeve calls “listening to the wind.”

The novels offer further intriguing details of this alternate paradigm of gender, where men are often dismissed as prone to gossip and we have both the Lion Throne of Andor and the Amyrlin Seat as powerful political positions held by women. It is by no means a matriarchal setting, something the adaptation emphasises with Liandrin telling Nynaeve that though women hold the One Power, men still control much of the world and that they are rarely kind to “little girls who show a spark of being greater than they are.” The Children of the Light are also made more formidable than their literary counterparts, having upon them necklaces made of rings from the Aes Sedai they have managed to burn at the stake. In the books, the witch hunters are primarily a threat only to peasant women without magic who are marginalised within their own communities rather than the formidable Aes Sedai themselves.

With that sacral edge to their magic, the Aes Sedai occupy a role not unlike that of medieval bishops, advising the powerful whilst owing their allegiance only to the Amyrlin Seat. That careful balance of advice and influence plays out as Moiraine passes through Fal Dara, where its ruler is deeply wary of her, despite his sister having studied with the Aes Sedai. The Witcher also casts its mages in that role of advisor at court, with the Brotherhood of Sorcerers bickering over power and positions. But Yennifer scorns this apparent duty to advise monarchs, declaring the task as nothing more than babysitting rapists and murderers.

Despite these deep philosophical divergences to their approach to writing women, both The Witcher and The Wheel of Time feature formidable warriors who are also mothers. The plot corners them and forces them to fight and bleed and sacrifice, leaving their children behind. Both Calanthe and Tigraine are clear reactions to—and inversions, even—of the virginal shield maiden trope, whose martial prowess comes from a denial of sexuality.

Queen Calanthe in particular exemplifies those contrasts, as a tyrant queen of great appetites and ruthless ambition. She leads armies, births children, and sees no contradiction in the idea that she should be able to effortlessly do both. The shape of her armour avoids all the terrible “boob plate” clichés, but still strangely takes pains to make her silhouette seem smaller than the men who fight alongside her, putting her in spaulders instead of large, wide pauldrons. Much like Calanthe, Tigraine Mantear dies in a last stand against those who would hurt her child. She only appears in one scene, but it is made memorable by the fact that she enters labour as in the snow whilst facing off against her opponents. It is a breathtaking fight, capturing a sense of breathless desperation as Tigraine pushes her body to the limit.

Whilst childbirth and sexuality are no longer framed as opposed to the physicality of combat, both series do make storylines of their female characters choosing between magic and children. Yennifer trades her womb for beauty and power. She returns to her old school full of regret and bitterness, telling students that “The ability to create life, real life, they [the Brotherhood of Sorcerers] take that from you.” Egwene begins the series choosing between becoming the village wisdom under the tutelage of Nynaeve and becoming a wife and mother. Unlike in The Witcher, the choice is not framed as biological. It is not a literal pulsing womb that she needs to sacrifice and her discontentment with the idea of a simple settled family life is ultimately a social one. She loves Rand but wants more than the role of wife and mother.

The promise of sisterhood as symbolised through braided hair returns at the end of the season as Nynaeve and Egwene save each other during the final fight at Fal Dara, the city that has never fallen. Nynaeve utters again the lines, “To be a woman is to be always alone and never alone. Feel your braid and know that we all stood before you.” Their friendship is far closer here than it is in the novels, both reenforcing the adaptation’s themes of a socially defined womanhood and laying the foundations for a dramatic reversal when their paths diverge and disagreement ferments between them2.

But where Nynaeve and Egwene end the season closer than ever before, the young men of the Two Rivers have utterly isolated themselves. They started their journey teasing each other over drinks and by the end, they are each utterly alone. Rand survives the Eye of the World but asks Moiraine to tell everyone he has ever loved that he is dead. Perrin Aybara struggles with his own capacity for violence, that regardless of his intentions, each time he picks up a weapon, someone he loves gets hurt. Matrim Cauthon is desperate not to repeat the mistakes of his irresponsible parents, but the call of the dice is too strong and his own cowardice too great. He finally abandons his friends.

None of this is to say that The Wheel of Time paints a portrait of women as wholly virtuous or that their support of each other is uncomplicated or unconditional. There are machinations aplenty within the ranks of the Aes Sedai and Moiraine herself has many enemies. The price Moiraine pays for the great work of steering fate itself is not one paid in flesh and blood but a social one. She has her lover Siuan exile her as cover for her task and later, she is cut off from her bond with her faithful warder, Lan. Again, there is a similarity of plot to The Witcher, in that both she and Yennifer are cut off from their magic, but instead of desiring again that raw power, it is the loss of that connection to another human that she mourns.

This all begs the question of why if the producers were so interested in exploring themes of womanhood, they didn’t just adapt something that didn’t need this teasing out and rearrangement. Why is there seemingly a desire to craft stories about women out of stories that were just less interested in their lot to begin with? Why not work with clay that is more suited to that purpose?

Both series are products of the “streaming wars”, where the various platforms try to expand their userbases by creating content that target specific audiences that would sign up for that series alone—a strategy clearly evident in Netflix’s nostalgia-focused shopping sprees, as well as their high-profile resuscitation of tv series with large, loyal fanbases. Perhaps there is ultimately a reluctance to move too far away from that popular preconception of the Fantasy genre’s superficial masculinity. That we are circling again the tired truism in children’s entertainment that girls will engage in media about boys but not vice versa.

We can probably do better.

 

1 It is, of course, worth noting that Game of Thrones’ claim to “historical accuracy” is a hardly uncontested. I highly recommend The Public Medievalist on the subject: Game of Thrones Archives—The Public Medievalist.

2 Assuming, of course, the plot of the books remains more or less intact.

In Defense of the To Be Read Pile

The best improvement we made to our house was the addition of built-in wooden floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Not only do they make me feel like I’m sitting in my own miniature library, but it’s a library overflowing with books and authors I (mostly) love.

Sure, we could have put that money toward a new roof or fixing the driveway or renovating the old bathroom, but then I wouldn’t have such an awesome background for Zoom meetings. I purr every time someone compliments me on the rows of books spread out behind me. Those bright, broad bookshelves are like a peacock’s tail, and my ego swells whenever I get the chance to show them off.

And then someone asks the dreaded question: “Have you read them all?”

I imagine in this infinite universe there are people who have read all their books. I’m not one of them. But I can honestly answer that I’ve read most of the books on those shelves.

The reason I can say that is because the bulk of my To Be Read pile is on a completely different set of bookshelves in the bedroom.

And stacked on the bedside table.

And scattered around my kid’s room, since I keep meaning to read some of their MG and YA stuff.

And queued up on the various e-book apps on my phone…

Perhaps a better question to ask would be, “Am I ever going to read them all?”

That’s a hard no. There are simply too many books and too few years in the human lifespan. To make matters worse, authors keep writing more books I want to read. It’s like they’re deliberately feeding the addiction. And like a sucker, I keep going back for another hit, buying more and more books from these cruel enablers.

This leads to a dangerous question: When do I cross the line from avid reader to hoarder?

I have a house full of books. I’ve admitted I’ll never read them all, yet I keep buying more. How is that in any way sane or rational?

At least I’m not alone in my irrational obsession. It’s been more than a century since Japan coined the word “tsundoku,” a punny term for letting books pile up unread. English has “bibliomania,” first used in 1809 in a poem by John Ferriar to describe a similar “book disease” and popularized in 19th century writings about obsessive book collectors.

Happily, neither of those terms appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the standard for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM-V does, however, include an entry for Hoarding Disorder. The diagnostic criteria include:

 

“…possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use.”

“…clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

 

In other words, simply owning more books than you can ever hope to read doesn’t mean you need a referral to a book shrink. As long as your books aren’t destroying your relationships and rendering your home unlivable, you’re probably not a hoarder.

Which is a huge relief to me. I’ve got enough to manage with my diabetes and my depression. I don’t think I could handle another disorder right now.

But what about all those unread books? Is it time to Marie Kondo those suckers? (In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo suggests, that books you bought but haven’t read, and books you started but never finished, should be discarded. “[I]f you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.”)

This approach might work for some people, and that’s great. I’m not here for Kondo-bashing. But I disagree with the implication that a book’s sole value and purpose is to be read.

For one thing, books are cool!1 A full bookshelf is a gorgeous thing. Remember those compliments I keep getting on Zoom for my book-heavy background? Nobody on the other end of those calls can actually read the titles behind me. Nor do they wait to admire them until they know how many I’ve read. They’re simply appreciating the beauty of those colorful spines arranged on their wooden shelves.

There are people who buy and show books purely for decoration, with no intention of ever reading them. There’s nothing wrong with that. Books are awesome, and far more tasteful than certain other decorating choices.

Occasionally, folks online come across someone who (gasp) physically cuts up books to make them fit more neatly on their display shelves. Oh, the howling and outrage that erupt. It’s like they discovered Mr. Rogers was a serial killer.

I may get pushback for this, but a physical book is not an inherently sacred object. Millions of books are pulped each year. Personally, I’d rather see books recycled as art and decoration than trashed or sent to the landfill.2

But I suspect most of us reading this piece love books not just for their looks, but for what’s inside. For these people—myself included—having more books than we can read isn’t a problem. It’s a necessity! Because books aren’t one-size-fits-all. They aren’t even one-size-fits-one.

I’ve spent the past few years working through grief and the mess COVID has made of the world. For a while, I simply didn’t have the brainpower to enjoy novel-length work. I found myself turning to other parts of my shelves, like old Peanuts collections and graphic novels and anthologies of short, humorous nonfiction. As I slowly got my groove back, I transitioned into reading some of those middle grade books, which tended to be shorter and often more fun—exactly what I needed.

Having more books means more options, which means you’re more likely to find the right book at the right time.

These days, I think my brain is mostly working again3, but that means I can appreciate a broader menu, not that I’m going to want the exact same thing every day. Tonight I might feel like diving into the poetic genius of Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays in Dancing at the Edge of the World. Then I might reread something fun and fast-paced, like Greg van Eekhout’s Voyage of the Dogs. From there, maybe I’m in the space to appreciate the intensity of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.

The point is, if you want a varied and balanced diet, you’ve got to keep the pantry well stocked.

And then we have the political power of book collecting. Consider that attempts to ban books in the United States hit a 20-year-high in 2021, according to the ALA.4 Most of the targeted books were by and/or about LGBTQIA+ people and people of color.

It’s not always active, explicit censorship, either. A 2020 study of diversity in publishing found that most of the industry is set up to cater to white, middle-class readers, and “minority ethnic [and] working-class audiences are undervalued.” This inequity affects acquisition, promotion, and sales.5

Buying books is great.6 Buying books and supporting marginalized authors and pushing back against inequity and flipping off the school boards and politicians who want to ban books? That’s exponentially greater, even if you don’t get around to reading every single one.

Though I recommend you prioritize those books. As Levar Burton said, “Read the books they don’t want you to—that’s where the good stuff is!”

Read them and share them with friends! All those books you’ve gathered give you a sliver of librarian power. One of the most rewarding feelings is putting a new book into a friend’s hand and knowing it’s going to blow their mind, or even change their life.

Reading is an amazing and transformative act. It’s true we may never read all the books we’ve collected over the years, but we’ll read some of them. And we’ll never read the books we don’t collect (or borrow).

But books are beautiful, powerful, sexy things whether you read them or not. So let go of the guilt over buying yet another stack of books from your local bookstore, and give yourself permission to simply enjoy them.

 

1 For certain values of cool.

2 Unless we’re talking about old autographed first editions or something like that. Then we’re gonna have words.

3 My children might disagree.

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/04/books/banned-books-libraries.html

5 https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Rethinking_diversity_in-publishing_WEB.pdf

6 So is requesting and checking out books from your local library, for that matter!

 

The Pregnant Body Problem

“They forced you to have kids?” the man asked.

“One of them surprised me,” she said. “It made me pregnant, then told me about it. Said it was giving me what I wanted but would never come out and ask for.”

“Was it?”

“Yes.” She shook her head from side to side. “Oh, yes. But if I had the strength not to ask, it should have had the strength to let me alone.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites

 

The pregnant body in speculative fiction is almost as fraught and as vulnerable a thing as it is in real life. Pioneers of genre like Butler have dilated the question of choice and implanted her stories right in the uterine wall of genre. Others have offered halfheartedly explained deaths in childbirth that often remove women and birthing people from these stories to create magical orphans. Science fiction has supplied alien interbreeding, external uterus technology, sexless humans getting their babies through the mail, and the possibility of human parthenogenesis.

Octavia Butler wrote around this question best, because she understood that it cannot be written clear through. She was not afraid to confront the ambivalence of the desire to reproduce, the innate violence in the human soul, or the seeming inevitability of this fight.

The question of choice, the one posed by the Butler quote above, is central to the issue of pregnancy: the body must give birth and the body might not choose to be pregnant, to stay pregnant, or to die in the process of partition. This conundrum presents itself in life and in fiction with that vulnerability front and center: consider the fragile humanity of Zan, the only person who can enter the world-ship meant to save humanity in The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. Zan represents the position of all women in the Legion: they must do what their civilization demands of them, giving birth to not only babies but biomechanical parts and machines, to food, and ultimately to worlds. Hurley’s requirement for birthing is not by choice; it is by necessity. Hurley sums it up: “Control of fecundity is something every woman wants, and each believes is her birthright. The worlds have other ideas, and it eventually led to their destruction.”

Humanity lives eternally in that struggle for control, and yet necessity is not commonly defended as the reason that anyone with a uterus must give birth. Instead, the requirement is often described as a dimension of punishment: those who have sex must be made to give birth. It is couched as a right to life above all else: those who have been conceived must live. It is through this unnecessary enforced misery and unsupported early life for the uninvited that people who can give birth are oppressed for that very wonder their body can perform. This tension between the rights of the individual to decide whether to give birth and the right of their society to use birth as a punishment has been a spare part in American politics: sometimes a tent pole, sometimes a wedge, sometimes a third rail. The right to choose is a Leatherman’s multitool: always in a politician’s pocket, ready to cut or unscrew lives as needed to make a point.

Pregnancy is a uniquely vulnerable condition for the human body. Being pregnant is dangerous, giving birth is dangerous, and being perceived as a body who can get pregnant is dangerous.

Fiction writers use this same tool, and sometimes open the eyes of the reader. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale bears reasonable criticism for rehashing the suffering of women of color as the imagined oppression of white women, and for breezing past the wholesale genocide of queers. However, it has put the issue of whether people who can give birth belong to themselves or to the society they live in right into the American living room again. This horror has echoed in the work of authors like Leni Zumas, whose novel Red Clocks examines the fates of five individual women who live in a future where both abortion and in vitro fertilization have been outlawed. Authors today can draw inspiration from James Tiptree Jr., Lois McMaster Bujold, and Joanna Russ on the subject about what a woman is and what a woman is for. They can apply it to pregnancy, to womanhood itself, to what it means to be human. And they do.

Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber looks carefully at the connection between the inherent violence of birth and the complicated relationship between men and women—that is to say people who can impregnate and people who can carry children. Hopkinson’s vision of the anxiety and isolation of maternity is eye-opening, placing the dynamic in the context of a diasporic household but returning to near-universal human emotions concerning sexual violence and incest, as well as childbearing and parenting.

Vulnerability can be set aside, as in short stories like “Babies Come from Earth” by Louis Evans, where human colonists must request and wait for their offspring, which are conveniently manufactured elsewhere. It can be destroyed entirely to save humanity from having to answer the question, as in Children of Men by P.D. James. It can be outsourced to people who have no choice economically than to carry and birth the children of others, as in Joanne Ramos’s The Farm. It can be displaced from humanity as in cyborg pregnancy represented in dramatic presentations including Blade Runner 2049 and Battlestar Galactica (2004), both of which pose the question of whether a being shaped like a human, capable of sentience and human feeling, which gives birth to young like itself and rears them as humans do is indeed a human. Pregnancy can be projected on to male-identified bodies, as in Alien Nation (1989) or Enemy Mine (1985). Neither the removal of expected gender roles nor the denial of humanity saves anyone from what pregnancy is and remains: a danger to the individual, an assertion of self-determination, and the right to privacy in one’s own body.

The body that can get pregnant might disrupt the expectation of monogamy. In our lives, this is evidenced by confusion or obfuscation over paternity. In fiction, the idea has been explored by authors like Bina Shah in Before She Sleeps, a novel about women required to take multiple husbands to increase population numbers. Or this same body might become property of the state through the state’s own blunders; Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male takes on the gender disparity caused by China’s one-child policy and the resulting surfeit of men who must choose either to never marry, or else to marry second or third behind more important husbands—and fathers. In my own novel, The Book of Etta, a body that can successfully birth children becomes the most valuable thing in the world, attracting hives of lovers and protectors based on that power—but it doesn’t set them free.

No body that can carry a child and give birth is free. Until the right to privacy is secured, codified, enshrined, and acknowledged by every government around the world, no body is free. No body is safe. These stories and novels and movies and television shows show us what it means to be human while that freedom is still in short supply. They always have.

We tell this story over and over, because the fight is inevitable. This fight will never end. The right to choose must be vigilantly defended, until babies come from appliances or off-world cabbage patches; until we are not birthed by bodies into bodies. While the body lives, it belongs only to itself. The pregnant body is simultaneously the most valuable and the most vulnerable one in our society. The pregnant body has the absolute inalienable right to own and to defend itself, within and without.

Each of these stories, coming from different writers and different times reminds us why that is true. When we do not read them and heed their warning, reality will take their place.

The Uncanny Valley

As we write this, our daughter, Caitlin, is ill. We don’t know the severity of today’s illness. It might pass in hours, or be the first sign of a near-future hospitalization. Caitlin’s Aicardi syndrome creates a ton of medical issues. Caregiving her is often challenging, and sometimes terrifying. And yet, she has a great life. Caitlin has favorite shows and books. She travels to conventions and wrestling shows. Caitlin often tells us she is happy, and loves us and her friends.

How do we manage this life and create Uncanny at the same time? Some days, we’re not even sure. It is often very difficult. We push through, though. We truly believe that Uncanny is important; that it brings beauty and solace and catharsis and many things to many people. Stories and art are as necessary as food and oxygen for life.

There is a wonderful essay in this issue by Gay Haldeman that parallels many of our experiences. We simply couldn’t make any of this happen without the support of the SF/F community. Right now, many of our friends and readers are tweeting support to us as we see if Caitlin can keep her seizure meds down. This means a great deal. That love fuels us through not only taking care of Caitlin, but also making this very issue of Uncanny. Thank you, Space Unicorns.

In not unrelated news, Lynne and Michael are PLOTTING with the rest of Team Uncanny, as it is that time of the year. We will be running an Uncanny Magazine Year 9 Kickstarter starting REALLY SOON! Keep watching our Twitter and Facebook feeds and our newsletter for more information!

This is one of those hard news/good news posts, Space Unicorns.

The hard news is that after four years, Managing and Poetry Editor Chimedum Ohaegbu has decided to move on from her Uncanny editorial duties at the end of 2022. We can’t overstate how important Chimie has been to Uncanny. She started with us as an intern in 2018, became an Assistant Editor later that year, took over as Managing Editor in late 2019, and became Poetry Editor in 2020. She made everything look slick and professional, always had a strong voice in the poetry, stepped up to every challenge, and has been exemplary in every way. We really can’t say enough great things about Chimie and what she did to make Uncanny what it is today. We know that Chimie is going to do more fabulous things in the future. We wish her so much joy in the next step of her journey.

Chimie will be staying through Uncanny Magazine #49 (November/December 2022) to make sure we have a seamless editorial transition.

And now for the good news, Space Unicorns!

Starting with Uncanny Magazine #50 (January/February 2023), the new Managing Editor will be…

Monte Lin!!!!

Monte is the current Uncanny Magazine Assistant Editor, and started with us in 2021. He has done a phenomenal job, and we expect more tremendous things from him. He is working closely with Chimie, so we know this will be a fabulous transition. Monte is a rising superstar writer and editor, and it is such a joy to work with him. We are very excited about this!

Monte’s bio:

While being rained on adjacent to Portland, Oregon, Monte Lin edits and plays tabletop roleplaying games and writes short stories. Clarion West got him to write about dying universes, edible sins, dreaming mountains, and singularities made of anxieties. An Ignyte award finalist for his nonfiction in Strange Horizons, he also has fiction in Cossmass InfinitiesCast of WondersFlame Tree Press, and other publications. He can be found tweeting Doctor Who news, Asian American diaspora discourse, and his board game losses at @Monte_Lin.

Monte’s thoughtfulness and experience makes us believe he will be a great Uncanny Magazine Managing Editor. MONTE WILL BE AMAZING!!!

Uncanny Magazine Year 9 will be fantastic, Space Unicorns. Though many changes are happening, we will continue to have the BEST STAFF in the universe.

Fabulous news, Space Unicorns! “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker won the Best Short Story Nebula Award!!! Congratulations to Sarah and to all of the finalists!

Once again, congratulations to the other four Uncanny Magazine stories that were finalists: “The Giants of the Violet Sea” by Eugenia Triantafyllou for Best Novella, “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim for Best Novelette, “That Story Isn’t the Story ” by John Wiswell for Best Novelette, and “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte for Best Short Story.

Congratulations to all of the Nebula Award winners and finalists!

Wonderful news, Space Unicorns! “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark and “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte are Sturgeon Memorial Award finalists! Congratulations to P. Djèlí Clark, José Pablo Iriarte, and all of the finalists!

From the press release:

The Sturgeon Award was established in 1987 by James Gunn, Founding Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, and the heirs of Theodore Sturgeon. The winner will be announced later this summer, and will be presented with their award and a cash prize as a guest of honor at our first annual Sturgeon Symposium this fall (9/29/22 – 9/30/22).

Stupendous news, Space Unicorns! “Mulberry and Owl” by Aliette de Bodard is a Best Novelette Locus Award finalist, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde is a Best Novelette Locus Award finalist, “That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell is a Best Novelette Locus Award finalist, “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist, “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist, “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist,  and “The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente is a Best Short Story Locus Award finalist! Congratulations to everyone!!! Plus, Uncanny Magazine is a Best Magazine Locus Award finalist, and Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas are a Best Editor Locus Award finalist!

We are so honored!

A huge congratulations to all of the phenomenal finalists!

From the Locus website:

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top ten finalists in each category of the 2022 Locus Awards. These results are from the February 1 to April 15 voting, done by readers on an open public ballot. Congratulations to all!

The Locus Awards winners will be announced June 25, 2022, during the virtual Locus Awards Weekend. Connie Willis will MC the awards ceremony. Additional weekend events include author readings, panels with leading authors, and all memberships come with a 2022 Locus Awards t-shirt. Buy your ticket today!

Amazing news, Space Unicorns! Two Uncanny Magazine stories, a poem, and two essays are 2022 Ignyte Award finalists! “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a finalist for a Best Novelette Ignyte Award, “If the Martians Have Magic” by P. Djèlí Clark is a finalist for a Best Short Story Ignyte Award, “POST MASSACRE PSYCHE EVALUATION” by Abu Bakr Sadiq is a finalist for a Best in Speculative Poetry Ignyte Award, “The Necessity of Slavery Stories” by Troy L. Wiggins is a finalist for a Best in Creative Nonfiction Ignyte Award, and “What You Might Have Missed” by Arley Sorg is a finalist for a Best in Creative Nonfiction Ignyte Award! Congratulations to everyone!!!

Plus, congratulations to Uncanny Magazine Assistant Editor Monte Lin! Monte’s essay “Where Will You Place us When We Are Dead?” is a finalist for a Best in Creative Nonfiction Ignyte Award!

It is a fabulous ballot! Congratulations to all of the finalists!

From the Ignyte Award website:

The short list is derived from 15 BIPOC+ voters made up of FIYAHCON Staff and previous award winners, of varying genders, sexualities, cultures, disabilities, and locations throughout the world. They are referred to as the Ignyte Awards Committee. The Committee was not limited to selections authored or otherwise created by BIPOC. Public voting on the shortlist does not permit write-in nominations. Each year, we ask winners to be part of the subsequent year’s committee to ensure fresh perspectives and to help prevent repeated nominations of the same popular authors as recognized in many other genre awards. 

This year’s ceremony will be live broadcast on September 17th and will be hosted by Brent Lambert.

This from the Chicon Worldcon Twitter:

“Online voting is now open for the 2022 Hugo Awards, the Lodestar Award for best Young Adult Book, and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer! Chicon 8 members, please check your inboxes for how to access the online voter’s packet and for instructions on how to vote. All ballots must be received by 11 August 2022, 11:59 pm PDT (UTC-7).   Any questions about this process can be sent to [email protected]. Happy voting!”

As you may remember, SIX Uncanny Magazine stories are finalists for the prestigious Hugo Award! “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a finalist for Best Novelette, “That Story Isn’t the Story ” by John Wiswell is a finalist for Best Novelette, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde is a finalist for Best Novelette, “The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente is a finalist for Best Short Story, “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte is a finalist for Best Short Story, and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker is a finalist for Best Short Story!  Plus, Uncanny Magazine (Publishers/Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, Poetry/Managing Editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson, and Podcast Producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky) is a finalist for Best Semiprozine!

You can find eBooks of all six stories and a special 2021 Highlights edition of Uncanny Magazine in the Hugo Award Packet!

Along with that news, The Uncanny Thomases are planning on attending Chicon 8: The 80th World Science Fiction Convention from September 1-5, 2022! Lynne will be on programming, and many other Uncanny staff members and authors will be there! Please feel free to come up and say hi!

And now the contents of Uncanny Magazine Issue 47! The phenomenal cover is The Wizard of Light by Kirbi Fagan. Our new fiction includes Marie Brennan’s mythic road trip “Fate, Hope, Friendship, Foe,” AnaMaria Curtis’s tale of food and magic “Family Cooking,” Juliet Kemp’s exploration of  space and grief “At the Lighthouse Out by the Othersea,” K.S. Walker’s brief look at magic, parenthood, and destiny “Blessed Are the Healers,” John Chu’s story of superpowers, weightlifting, and love “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You,” Radha Kai Zan’s tale of sacrifice, power, and belief “To Hunger, As with Perfect Faith,” and Jordan Taylor’s exploration of magic and identity “Bramblewilde.”

Our reprint is “The Hurt Pattern” by Tochi Onyebuchi, which originally appeared in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution in 2020.

Our provocative and compelling essays this month include “Finding My Way Back to Solitary Fandom” by Keidra Chaney, “Wonderful Things I’ve Seen in Science Fiction Fandom” by Gay Haldeman, “In Defense of the To Be Read Pile” by Jim C. Hines, and “She Is Sword, and She Is Sorcery: Womanhood in The Witcher and The Wheel of Time” by Jeannette Ng. Our gorgeous and evocative poetry includesQuiet and Fragile Try on the Same Romper” by Brandon O’Brien, “Tuesday, Late Commute” by Sarah Grey, “Sibylline” by Sonya Taaffe, and “Mirrors” by Millie Ho. Finally, Caroline M. Yoachim interviews AnaMaria Curtis and Jordan Taylor about their stories.

The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 47A features “Fate, Hope, Friendship, Foe” by Marie Brennan, as read by Erika Ensign, “Tuesday, Late Commute” by Sarah Grey, as read by Matt Peters, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing Marie Brennan. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 47B features “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” by John Chu, as read by Matt Peters, “Mirrors” by Millie Ho, as read by Erika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing John Chu.

As always, we are deeply grateful for your support of Uncanny Magazine. Shine on, Space Unicorns!

The Suffering Body Problem

As a millennial, what was I to do when I got COVID but announce it on the internet?

I was miserably ill with the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus. I ran the typical fever, had the characteristic fatigue and the long cough. I had not been so sick in decades. I felt the sapping of my energy—physical and mental—so keenly that I legitimately worried about my ability to rise from the bathtub once I got down into it. I languished. I had no doubt in my mind that if I had caught this strain of this deadly plague without the benefit of having been vaccinated that the infection would have threatened my life.

Naturally I told the internet. I could see no one—my partner and I quarantined absolutely the second we realized what we probably had. I had been largely locked in my house for a year and a half already, and I had gotten infected the moment I’d broken that lockdown. I was lonesome for company, craving the extrovert’s perfect drug, and frustrated as an artist who lives to eavesdrop and people watch. All I had was the internet. I told the story of my symptoms and my discomfort, my misery, and my gratitude that it was not worse.

Unexpectedly, friends in the SF/F community reached out to share not just solidarity but real advice. When I worried in the open about long COVID and my (still ongoing but much diminished) parosmia, I got a DM from S.B. Divya, a talented author and early COVID sufferer. Divya has been open about her infection and its long-term consequences, but I hadn’t read the story yet. She reached out and explained how it had been for her, offering her sympathy and an opportunity to talk. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

My friend and fellow genre writer Effie Seiberg also wrote fearlessly about her experience with myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which is an autoimmune disorder that has been triggered for some people following COVID or other viral infection. Seiberg has been generous in this conversation, enduring the projections of people who live in fear of living as she does, advocating for herself and people like her while also recommending that folks do everything they can to avoid catching COVID.

Thus armed with the compassionate nonfiction of my friends, I returned to my endless unrefreshing COVID sleeps and tried to force my brain to read fiction. I gave up on trying to get it to make fiction in the early days, but I was lucky enough that I could keep reading.

I wanted to read about disease and suffering, but the great COVID novels are still slouching toward New York, ready for their time to come around. I thought of old and new favorites: of Stephen King’s plague opus The Stand with its 1970s style reliance on institutions and the American-do spirit that sees town hall democracy standing watch against demonic powers and small-town politics alike. In all its hundreds of thousands of words, The Stand has the room it needs to describe a respiratory illness turned deadly, featuring first-person suffering of breathlessness, mucus production, and the delirium of fever between the boiling of a brain and the comprehension that evil walks the world in cowboy boots.

I turned back to Scalzi’s Lock In because we were all locked in, weren’t we? Not like the people in his novel who suffer from Haden’s syndrome and cope with their comatose consciousness by walking around in AI-integrated robotic transport bodies. Scalzi shows us the body in the sickbed, needing care but nearly forgotten, even by its owner, for the crime of becoming moveless. However, as COVID dragged me through a third week of breathless exhaustion, I would have said an enthusiastic goodbye to my suffering body and yes to such a device.

Plague and zombie novels are as common as table salt. More difficult to find were the stories told from inside the suffering body. Even inside the fog of desperation, I could not help but think like a writer—why is it so hard to tell people how it feels? Is it that suffering is too universal, to repetitive, too inane to be compelling? I searched for proof that that wasn’t the case, and I found it.

I returned to Nicola Griffith’s 1992 debut novel Ammonite, winner of the Lambda and Otherwise awards that year, for her particular view of suffering. Marghe, Griffith’s linguist and explorer, intentionally allows herself to get infected with an alien virus in order the comprehend it and become one with the people who suffer from it. Marghe’s decision leads her to deeper understanding of gender, as this is a sex-linked plague, and to a trance state that allows her to adjust the conditions necessary for conception on a world without men. Ammonite makes suffering into something useful, something meaningful, rather than just a difficulty to be endured.

I took Sarah Gailey’s advice about meeting what I needed in a short story and read “Tongtong’s Summer” by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu). I followed a girl who cared for her aging grandfather as he recovered from surgery, reading the careful and caring way Xia describes the suffering of the body as it is compounded by age and eased by the love of those close to us. I delighted in Rachael K. Jones’ “Six Fictions About Unicorns,” especially the way she juxtaposes the everyday expense and suffering of a disease like diabetes with the wonders that a magically gifted animal can and cannot perform. Scrolling in the middle of a sleepless, delirious night, I stumbled across a letter by novelist Frances Burney to her sister about her experience undergoing a mastectomy—a process that by 1811 could be completed successfully and leave her to tell the tale, but was as yet administered without the benefit of anesthesia. I found “Desire” by Kiini Ibura Salaam, an indulgently beautiful story that mixes the heavily erotic and sensual with suffering, where the god of disease pursues even as we enjoy the prime use of our bodies. I felt that in my bones—the endless forest fire of desire never surrendering, even when sickness seems it will never abate.

Since S.B. Divya had been my tour guide as I began my descent into COVID’s dank basement, I riffled through her published works and found “Microbiota and the Masses: a Love Story,” a prescient 2017 story about what we are willing to brave the risk of infection for, how we regard the thrill of exposure to both love and disease. Divya is that rare kind of writer whose prose is delicate and accurate, who doesn’t flinch from the reality that a character trades a night on the toilet for an evening of heady romance; a quality I find admirable beyond words. Someone reminded me of Nisi Shawl’s “The Things I Miss the Most,” from Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and I howled at the sense of loss and suffering only increased by a dubious cure that does not consider the whole person who has gained something valuable from how they have learned to live. C.L. Clark writes excruciatingly about the suffering that is essential and inescapable in what the body must do, what it must be made to do in “You Perfect, Broken Thing.” I read John Wiswell’s “We Are Not Phoenixes” about how the tone and focus of suffering changes when we accept that there is only one way out, and it is coming soon enough. There is no need for platitudes or pyrotechnics when suffering is at its final end.

Rivers Solomon’s searing novel Sorrowland dives right into the suffering of the pregnant body, the world-rending agony of birth and then the recovery from birth, before proceeding into the specific suffering of a body as it changes. Solomon’s Vern must feel her body changing in ways that are unexpected and inexplicable, largely in isolation, in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to live with an illness without a name, without research or support or a celebrity spokesperson. Sorrowland and all of Solomon’s work are uniquely fluent in the language of loneliness and how it is often the largest dimension of any suffering the body may feel.

Searching for hope, I found My Real Children, and elegant and complicated novel by Jo Walton. The main character Patricia (Pat/Trish, depending on the timeline) is suffering from anaplastic thyroid cancer caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons, and a kind of confusion that presents as dementia but may just be the effect of living two lives at once. A talented prose writer, Walton makes suffering new and individual each time it occurs, dragging the reader through Pat/Trish’s mental anguish over the life lived and not lived, while also dwelling deeply in the body as it suffers the indignity and exhaustion of prolonged pain. It is a masterwork of fiction that show us what it means to live, and how life is always a sacrifice to itself. Walton sanctifies the personal and the political pain of living. My Real Children is a perfect sickbed read.

To be a body is to suffer. Suffering is as profound as any other individual experience, and as inane as any universal one. The suffering body is not one at rest, as anybody who has had COVID will tell you. There isn’t enough sleep in the world to make a brain feel rested when it cannot get enough breath. There isn’t a story that can be read in that bed that will make the suffering stop, any more than having a unicorn will solve all a girl’s problems. But given the choice between suffering with a sympathetic story or without one, I will always choose to open that humble SF/F magazine, pick up a book, or let the podcast reader tell me a good one. When it comes to suffering, there isn’t a cure. But there is always a comfort.

The Uncanny Valley

It’s a wet and cold spring as we write this in Central Illinois. We are falling asleep most nights to the rumble of our sump pumps, which hopefully will keep our house from sinking. These are anxious times, but overall the Thomases remain well. Caitlin has dodged hospitalizations for a full year (*knocks on wood*), Lynne continues to adore her day job as the Head of Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Michael and Hugo the Cat have many adventures around the house, much to the bemusement of Lynne and Caitlin.

We’re slowly making plans for the year. All of us hope to see more of all of you at conventions. Things are scary, but we muddle through the best we can.
We couldn’t do it without you, Space Unicorns. You are a fabulous and kind community. In a world with so much toxicity and tragedy, you work so hard to make things better through your words and actions. You are amazing—the absolute best. Thank you, you shining and wonderful Space Unicorns.

PHENOMENAL news, Space Unicorns! SIX Uncanny Magazine stories are finalists for the prestigious Hugo Award! “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a finalist for Best Novelette, “That Story Isn’t the Story ” by John Wiswell is a finalist for Best Novelette, “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde is a finalist for Best Novelette, “The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente is a finalist for Best Short Story, “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte is a finalist for Best Short Story, and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker is a finalist for Best Short Story! Congratulations to everybody!

Even more wonderful news! Uncanny Magazine (Publishers/Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, Poetry/Managing Editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson, and Podcast Producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky) is once again a finalist for Best Semiprozine!

Finally, former Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson is a finalist for Best Related Work for Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism! Congratulations, Elsa!

It is an amazing list of Hugo Award finalists, many of whom are Uncanny authors and friends. CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYBODY!!! Thank you to everyone who nominated these works, and to the hard-working Chicon 8 staff. We are honored, ecstatic, and overwhelmed.

From the Chicon 8 Press Release:

The Hugo Awards are the premier award in the science fiction genre, honoring science fiction literature and media as well as the genre’s fans. The Hugo Awards were first presented at the 1953 World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia (Philcon II), and they have continued to honor science fiction and fantasy notables for more than 60 years.

Only Chicon 8 members will be able to vote on the final ballot and choose the winners for the 2022 Awards. If you are not already a member, please go to our website https://chicon.org/home/membership-rates/ to register as at least a Supporting member in order to participate in the Hugo Awards. The 2022 Hugo Awards, the Lodestar Award, and the Astounding Award will be presented on Sunday evening, September 4, 2022, at a highlighted formal ceremony at Chicon 8.

More information about the Hugo Awards is available at: https://chicon.org/home/whats-happening/hugo-awards/

Questions about the Hugo Awards process should be directed to [email protected].

The 80th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon 8, will take place in Chicago, Illinois, USA from September 1–5, 2022. For more information about the convention, including current membership rates, visit http://chicon.org. All media releases are available at http://chicon.org/home/about-worldcon/press-and-media/. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @chicagoworldcon.

Outstanding news, Space Unicorns! FIVE Uncanny Magazine stories are finalists for the prestigious Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America! “The Giants of the Violet Sea” by Eugenia Triantafyllou is a finalist for Best Novella, “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a finalist for Best Novelette, “That Story Isn’t the Story ” by John Wiswell is a finalist for Best Novelette, “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker is a finalist for Best Short Story, and “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte is a finalist for Best Short Story!

Congratulations to Eugenia, Caroline, John, Sarah, and José!

It is an amazing list of finalists, many of whom are Uncanny authors and friends. Congratulations to everyone!

From The SFWA website:

The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on Saturday, May 21, 2022, that will stream live as part of the 2022 Nebula Conference Online. Winners in each category will be determined by the vote of Full, Active, Associate, and Senior members of SFWA.

More great news, Space Unicorns! Five Uncanny Magazine poems are nominees for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award for speculative poetry! L. X. Beckett’s “What The Time Travellers Stole,” Mary Soon Lee’s “Confessions of a Spaceport AI,” and Abu Bakr Sadiq’s “POST MASSACRE PSYCHE EVALUATION” are all nominees for Best Short Poem. Theodora Goss’s “Medusa Gets a Haircut” and Avi Silver’s “The Captain Flies” are nominees for Best Long Poem. Congratulations to L.X., Mary, Abu, Theodora, Avi, and all of the Rhysling Award nominees!

Even more fabulous news, Space Unicorns! The 2022 Aurora Awards finalists have been announced, and “Eighteen Days of Barbareek” by Rati Mehrotra is a finalist for the Best Short Story Aurora Award! Congratulations to Rati and to all of the phenomenal finalists!

From the Aurora Awards website:

This ballot is for works originally done in 2021 by Canadians. The Aurora Awards are nominated by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. The top five nominated works were selected. Additional works were included where there was a tie for fifth place. An online awards ceremony will be held on August 13th, 2022 hosted by When Words Collide (www.whenwordscollide.org ). NOTE: Links have been provided to the works to help you get more information about them.

And now the contents of Uncanny Magazine Issue 46! The phenomenal cover is Wall of Roses by Elaine Ho. Our new fiction includes C.L. Clark’s saucy tale of a lighthouse and the sea “Your Eyes, My Beacon: Being an Account of Several Misadventures and How I Found My Way Home,” Fonda Lee’s satirical look at a new circle of Hell “The Eternal Cocktail Party of the Damned,” Haralambi Markov’s exploration of love and duty in the far future “Bones Are Stones for Building,” Eugenia Triantafyllou’s flash story of community “This Village,” John Wiswell’s examination of a very important person “The Coward Who Stole God’s Name,” Maurice Broaddus and Rianna Butcher’s tale of family, magic, and self-empowerment “Spirit Folks,” and S.B. Divya’s surprising retelling and expansion of a familiar tale “Two Hands, Wrapped in Gold.” Our reprint is “The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute” by Aliette de Bodard, which originally appeared in Silk & Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology in 2020.

Our provocative and compelling essays this month include “The Boy Who Cried Historical Accuracy” by Francesca Tacchi, “From Panic to Process: What Taking Criticism Actually Means” by Marissa Lingen, “Gracias, Orlando: A Genre Film and a Queer Body Awakening” by Héctor González, “No Astra without Aspera” by Tessa Fisher, and Nonfiction Editor Meg Elison’s editorial. Our gorgeous and evocative poetry includes “Timeless Pie” by Beth Cato, “In Stock Images of the Future, Everything is White” by Terese Mason Pierre, “Spirituals” by Anjali Patel, and “Wormhole” by Abu Bakr Sadiq. Finally, Caroline M. Yoachim interviews Haralambi Markov and S.B. Divya about their stories.

The Uncanny Magazine Podcast #46A features “Your Eyes, My Beacon: Being an Account of Several Misadventures and How I Found My Way Home” by C.L. Clark, as read by Erika Ensign, “In Stock Images of the Future, Everything is White” by Terese Mason Pierre, as read by Matt Peters, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing C.L. Clark. The Uncanny Magazine Podcast #46B features “The Coward Who Stole God’s Name” by John Wiswell, as read by Matt Peters, “Spirituals” by Anjali Patel, as read by Erika Ensign, and Lynne M. Thomas interviewing John Wiswell.

As always, we are deeply grateful for your support of Uncanny Magazine. Shine on, Space Unicorns!

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