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Heiresses of Russ 2015, edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman, collects some of the best "lesbian-flavoured" speculative short fiction from 2014. I've been reading these anthologies for several years now, and enjoying them for their woman-centred stories and queer imaginings.

While it's often true that there is some unevenness in a collection of short fiction, I found the stories in this year's anthology to be pretty much all of notable quality. But even in such a collection, there were some truly stand-out pieces for me, among them Ruthanna Emrys' "Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land," Ken Liu's "Knotting Grass, Holding Ring," and Susan Jane Bigelow's "Sarah's Child."

*This anthology contains 14 short stories, 10 written by women, 3 written by men and one written by a genderqueer person.

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Andrea Hairston's novel Will Do Magic for Small Change is a celebration of the power of storytelling, the connection between past, present and future, and magic - the everyday magic that comes from such acts as taking a step into the unknown, opening your heart or trusting your sense of yourself - and how these things can heal, can make something that was broken, scattered, whole again.

Hairston gives us two narratives interwoven by magic, imagination and love. The first, set in 1980s Chicago, centres on a young black girl, Cinnamon Jones, child of poverty, myth and art. Her father is in a coma, shot while trying to help two lesbians. Her brother has died of a drug overdose that may have been suicide. Her mother, a city bus driver, is increasingly unable to cope. But in her blood is the magic and mystery of her grandparents, a hoodoo woman and a medicine man. What pulls Cinnamon forward is a love of theatre, the friends she meets at an audition - Klaus and Marie - and the gift from her brother of a mysterious book that writes itself, the story of an alien wanderer come to earth.

The second narrative is the story of this Wanderer. Starting in the late 1890s, the alien is caught up in the flight of a Dahomey ahosi, or warrior woman, after her defection from the Dahomeyan women's army. The warrior, Kahinde, names the alien after her dead twin brother Taiwo, for whom she left the king's army. Joined by Kahinde's sister-in-law Samso and her infant daughter, they travel to the new world of America seeking a place where they can write new stories of their lives.

Intersections of past and present, love and fear, the deep truth of storytelling, theatre, art - the tale of the wanderer becomes the tale of Cinnamon's life and as it finds completion, the path to Cinnamon's future is woven together and unfolds before her.

A magical book, with layers of meaning I'll be contemplating for some time to come.

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The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by author and social critic Kameron Hurley on being/becoming an sff writer and being a woman in that profession, on sff and geek culture and being a woman in that culture, and on the ways that sexism and geekdom play out in the broader 'mundane' world. In her Introduction to the collection, Hurley says:

"At its heart, this collection is a guidebook for surviving not only the online world and the big media enterprises that use it as story fodder, but sexism in the wider world. It should inspire every reader, every fan, and every creator to participate in building that better future together."

The essays in this collection range widely: from the important of persistence in becoming a writer to a discussion of Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing. They are painful, inspiring, rage-honing, insightful, and even funny at times, and include the Hugo Award winning "We Have Always Fought." They are definitely worth reading.

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An interest in eugenics is one of the dirty little secrets that many otherwise progressive figures of the past share with the kind of folks they would never join forces with under other circumstances. Progressive eugenicists talk about improving the species, conservative eugenicists talk about keeping the race (usually the white race) strong and pure, and free of the taint of lesser races, "weak genes" and deviance - notably sexual deviance. Both have used poor science and questionable rhetoric to advance their cause, and relied on such strategies as immigration barriers and forced sterilisation to carry it out. As Nancy Ordover notes in American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism,

"Early eugenics proponents, drawn from the ranks of scientists, politicians, doctors, sexologists, policymakers, reactionaries, and reformers, held that through selective breeding humans could and should direct their own evolution. ... The legislation they drafted, the interventions they backed, the medical regimens they prescribed stemmed from a belief that everything from intellect to sexuality to poverty to crime was attributable to heredity."

Ordover's book is an examination of the arguments and methods of American eugenicists. Writing about the appeal of eugenics in that country, she says,

"The long-lasting appeal of eugenics has rested on its protection of the status quo, on its emphasis on individual and group "failings" over analyses of systemic culprits and on its bedrock insistence on scientific/technological remedies over fundamental social and institutional change. It has thrived in times of mainstream anxiety over genuine or perceived gains of marginalized groups, making it an attractive tool for conservatives. And so decades after litigants and activists, doctors and attorneys proved that African-American, Latino, and Native American women and girls were being singled out for coerced, eugenically informed sterilisation procedures, Norplant began to be forced it on the same communities with the full force of the judiciary and the medical establishment and with the blessing of both conservative politicians and liberal organizations. After generations of queers resisting pathologisation, exactly 25 years after the Stonewall uprising, at the time of increased visibility in the political, social, and cultural realms, The Science of Desire [1] appeared on the scene to cast us as genetically distinct from the rest of humankind. Eugenics is, once again, making a very public ascent."

In the first section of the book, Ordover traces the history, rhetoric and supposed scientific research that was a significant element of race-based eugenics propaganda and legislation. Beginning with early projects intended to keep America free from 'contamination' and 'protected' from the economic pressures of new immigrants, eugenicists sought to prove that Latin American, Asian, eastern and southern European, and North African immigration was a threat to a stable, healthy - and white - population.

"It was Charles Davenport of the American Breeders Association (and later cofounder of the American Eugenics Society) who first suggested ....[using] the Binet test to document the hereditary shortcomings of immigrants to the United States. In 1912 immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island became the first group in the country to whom the IQ tests were administered. ...[this] had a built-in class bias: only those who came steerage were subject to examination. According to his results over 80 percent of all Jewish, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, and Russian immigrants were 'feebleminded defectives'."

The 'research' was undertaken to demonstrate the supposed scientific basis for identifying immigrants, and people of colour, as well as other potential dangers to the idea of a 'superior' primarily Anglo-Saxon nation. As Ordover demonstrates, such supposedly scientific evidence was based on "... stereotyping physical and mental characteristics of outsiders and insisting on recognizable, undeniable, immutable differences between "inferior" and "superior" people. American eugenicists armed with charts, photographs, and even human skulls were there to provide the visual and mathematical support that rendered racism scientifically valid and politically viable."

Eugenicists also used such research to support legislation intended to control 'internal threats' to their ideal nation, such as the poor, the physically and developmentally disabled, the sexual outcasts, African-Americans, prostitutes, alcoholics, addicts, and convicts. Instead of looking at socio-economic reasons for the various inequities they saw, eugenicists sought all their answers in biology, heredity and population statistics. As well, the force of eugenically framed discourses was increasingly aimed at radicals and anarchists, seen primarily as coming from immigrant and other marginalised communities: "These "interlopers," along with American Blacks, were viewed as both contaminated bodies and contaminators of the body politic."

Ordover demonstrates clearly that the current rhetoric aimed at immigrants to America - framing them as intellectually deficient, violent, likely to end up on welfare, a threat to the safety of the state and the jobs of 'real' (that is, white working and middle-class Americans) - is hardly new, nor is the racist construction of American Blacks as lazy, violent, prone to criminal behaviour and lacking in 'white' virtues such as diligence, intelligence, honesty, good decision-making and perseverance. Rather, these stereotypes are the continuation of over a century of eugenicist propaganda.

In the second section of the book, Ordover looks at the ways in which the concept of biological determinism, which has been the basis for eugenicist assaults on the human rights of immigrants and people of colour, has been used both for and against the queer communities in America. She begins by discussing and critiquing research into biological or genetic 'causes' of homosexuality, from hormonal influences on the fetus during pregnancy to differences in brain structures, and noting how this research has been welcomed by segments of the queer community and their allies, as well as those who see 'sexual deviance' as something to be cured.

"The warm reception that greeted these hereditarian hypotheses ... raises two issues: what is it about causation theories that is so appealing to mainstream institutions and heterosexual America?what is it about the research that has so many in the queer community looking to it for deliverance? Mainstream media and its predominantly straight consumers look for a good story; if it holds an unspoken promise of curatives, so much the better. More than that, a focus on what causes queerness eclipses the larger question: who wants to know and why? Significant segments of the gay community, on the other hand, hold that causation theories can be honed into a strategic tool and integrated into a larger legal and political struggle. For many, there may also be personal attachment to biological explanations, a comfort in being able to tell straight family and friends that "we were born that way." The stakes are clearly different but there is a commonality here. Genetic promises have been embraced without interrogation by a community and a larger society eager to accept any quick-fix explanations (and consequent solutions) that modern science had to offer. Whether the hope was for an antidote for homosexuality or homophobia, this embrace typifies the science-as-Savior prism that has created so many determinist enterprises."

As she did in the section of the book dealing with race-focused eugenics, Ordover examines the history of the medicalisation of homosexuality and 'sexual deviance' and the impact of physicians and medical opinions on legislation and mandated treatment of 'deviants.' As it had been with immigrants and American blacks, homosexuality was seen as associated with an inherited tendency to 'degeneracy' and the goal of eugenicists was to eliminate such tendencies from the American gene pool.

"Beginning in the last decades of the 19th century, a flood of state sodomy laws were passed or amended to encompass a greater array of sexual practices. Doctors ... provided a legitimizing presence among lobbyists. There was a certain reciprocity involved as castration and like procedures were transformed from court-mandated penalty to medically endorsed treatment. Physicians saw their diagnoses legally sanctioned and thus their esteem and power consolidated. At the same time, the judicial system was able to mete out corporeal punishment while still appearing to have the best interests of the defendant/patient, the public, and the national gene pool at heart.

One of the most sweeping manifestations of this dynamic was the rash of sterilization statutes enacted by thirty states between 1907 and 1932. In almost every state that legislated sterilization, eugenics boards were convened. Essentially these were medical panels established to grant or deny doctors the right to sterilize anyone with a real or imagined physical or developmental disability. Usually these were prisoners or patients at hospitals or asylums and sometimes they were members of the public at large."

As Ordover notes, at the same time that the idea of sexual deviance as a product of heritable degeneracy was being used to establish court-mandated sterilisation of homosexuals, biological determinism was being adopted by early apologists as a defense of homosexuality.

"Lesbian and gay history is replete with champions who relied on evolutionary or biological arguments to agitate for our civil and human rights. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, for example, pursued this line in the mid 19th century. If homosexuality was recognized as inborn, he reasoned, gays could not be criminally prosecuted. Perhaps choice implied guilt, but the undeniable force of nature should not."

Unfortunately, as Ordover demonstrates, the history of homophobia suggests that focus on physical 'causes' of queerness, whether it be the search for the 'gay gene' or the idea that homosexuality (and by extension, transgender or genderfluid identities) is due to misfiring hormones or congenital abnormalities of the sexual organs, leads to more strategies on how to 'cure' sexual minorities of their 'deviance. Physical and chemical castration, sterilisation, surgical procedures on the brain, hormone 'therapy,' even fetal screening and selected abortion have been recommended, if not always carried out widely.

After examining the history of eugenist discourses and the effect these have had on legislative and other means of 'controlling' the health, purity and safety of the body politic, Ordover turns in the third section of the book to a closer exploration of the allure of the 'technological fix' - the widespread advocation of 'solutions' such as birth control and sterilisation - for eugenicists on both the right and the left. The goals, actions and politics of Margaret Sanger and her associates serve as a casebook study of the ways in which classism and racism influence the policies of the left as well as the right.

"Over the years, Sanger's work and the work of her ideological cohort refashioned eugenics rhetoric into the more palatable language of population control. Early eugenics attestations that society has a vested interest in which children were born of which women solidified in post World War II decades: the continuing investment in the techno fix as remedial to poverty in the United States and abroad, the singling out of entire regions for sterilization campaigns, and the resulting wave of reactionary legislation and welfare policies. Class bias, so central to eugenic policy (and a principal motivator for Sanger) came to the fore. This is not to say that class, in particular reliance on welfare, was a greater determinant than race, but rather that the invocation of economic rationales and the unchallenged vilification of the poor enabled eugenics to go unchecked and unnamed. Class is underscored here in an attempt to counter claims that Sanger and others were not eugenicists because they never publicly uttered racial slurs, and to highlight the vulnerability of low income women who found themselves snagged in various institutional nets (i.e., relief, Medicaid, welfare). An attack on the poor may have seemed more genteel and more viable than an openly racist attack on people of color but ultimately the same women were targeted."

Ordover goes on to document the ways in which poor black, Hispanic and indigenous women, as well as women with disabilities, were targeted by birth control advocates and by both private doctors and state laws which saw sterilisation as a way of reducing the numbers of 'irresponsible' and 'feeble-minded' women bearing children while receiving government assistance. The litany of cases of coerced sterilisation, sterilisation without consent, sterilisation without the knowledge of the victim is chilling, as is the record of forced or uninformed use of potentially dangerous hormonal contraceptives such as Depo-Provera and Norplant and the social and medical pressure in some situations to abort fetuses known to have genetic or other congenital defects. Nor has this latest thrust of eugenicist practice been limited to the United States. As Ordover notes, many foreign aid initiatives and pharmaceutical testing programs have distributed these contraceptives, from Depo-Provera to Quinacrine, to women in developing nations, often without full information on risks, and sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the women.

Ordover has delved deeply into the history of eugenicist theory and its reliance on scientific (or pseudo-scientific) research and technological solutions. In this treatise, she demonstrates the ways in which this continuing assault on the rights and bodies of peoples constructed as not only 'other' but as threats to the social, political, economic and physical health of the nation is manifest in current political, social and legislative action. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia - these are the theories underlying much of the rhetoric from both conservative and liberal camps, and as Ordover definitively shows, eugenics is a significant part of the praxis.

An important book, with much to say about the state of America (and by implication, other nations) today.

[1] The Science of Desire: The search for the gay gene and the biology of behavior, Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, 1994.

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There are times when I like reading crime fiction, particularly crime fiction featuring serial killers. Quite some years ago, I read several particularly gruesome novels of this sort - novels so gruesome, in fact, that they border on horror - by the Canadian writing consortium who call themselves Michael Slade. I rather enjoyed them at the time.

Being sick and miserable this holiday season, I decided to revisit this particular author, reading some of the older books, one that I'd read before but didn't remember well (Headhunter) and two I don't remember reading (Ripper and Primal Scream).

They did not age particularly well in some ways, though they definitely satisfied the itch I have to read such books from time to time. The structure of the books, particularly Headhunter, which was the first published, was clunky. The dialogue did not always ring true. Technically, they were at best mediocre.

I very much liked, and continue to like, the fact that these books feature Canadian protagonists, RCMP officers, and that they have a strong procedural focus.

The most difficult thing about them, however, is the way in which the author(s), in attempting to expose sexism and racism in Canadian society and in the RCMP, manage to perpetuate it in their writing. It's very unsettling to see them trying to create a central hero figure in DeClerq who is not overtly sexist or racist and whose internal commentary is intended at times to highlight issues of racism and sexism in history, society, the RCMP, its officers snd policies, and the process of policing, while at the same tine giving us other protagonists who are very much sexist and racist, and relying on tropes from the manhating lesbian feminist to the superstitious black pimp/drug dealer steeped in "voodoo" practices straight from the swamps surrounding New Orleans. Oh, there are admirable female characters and a few admirable indigenous characters when the plot demand it, but the treatment of these issues is disturbingly uneven.

Nonetheless, I plan to read some of Slade's newer novels and see what kind of growth, if any, there has been.

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Heather Rose Jones's The Mystic Marriage is a sequel to the delightful Daughter of Mystery. Margerit and Barbara are key characters, and it is wonderful to see them further developing a unique and loving relationship throughout the events of this novel. The protagonists are Antuniet Chazillen, disgraced and self-exiled alchemical student and sister of executed traitor Estevan Chazillen, and Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, a wealthy and bored widow noted for her eccentricities, among them quiet affairs with other society women.

There are mysteries to solve and plots to unravel, and with all four women working to restore Antiniet's reputation and protect the royal family of Alpennia, an engaging story of intrigue and romance unfolds.

Now looking forward to the upcoming third volume in the annals of Alpennia.

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Heather Rose Jones's delightful Daughter of Mystery, is a historical fantasy of the Ruritanian variety, taking place in a not-too-alternate Europe where the napoleonic wars (or something very like them) have taken place but where there is an extra country, Alpenna, nestled somewhere between France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria and having political and military involvements with all of them.

The fantasy element in the novel comes from the existence of the mysteries - real formal magic dependent on ritual invocation of the power of the saints. In that, it is somewhat reminiscent of the religious ritual magic practised by the Deryni in Katherine Kurtz' novels.

The novel combines a number of elements - coming-of-age, romance, political mystery. The protagonists, Margerit Sovitre and Barbara are both young women not quite of age, brought together by the will of the eccentric Baron Saveze, Margerit's godfather and Barbara's employer and bondholder.

Margerit, the daughter of a wealthy but untitled family, is just starting her dancing season, during which her family hopes she will attract the best possible match - but what Margerit most desires is to be able to study the philosophy and ritual of the mysteries. Barbara is Baron Saveze's armin - a servant of special rank, his bodyguard and a skilled duellist, the daughter of a man of noble rank who died impoverished in debtor's prison, who is at the same time his bondservant and as such a chattel and part of his estate.

When the Baron dies, he leaves the bulk of his estate to Margerit, including the bond service owed to the estate by Barbara - leaving to his wastrel nephew on;y the title and the lands that are legally attached to the Saveze name.

With her fortune dramatically increased, Margarit is now one of the most interesting single heiresses in the country. Her change in status means that she can persuade her family to allow her to occupy her new holding in the capital, where she can study at the university while seeming to circulate in high society and attract a suitable husband. Barbara, now her armin, and frustrated that the Baron had not freed her in his will as he had promised to, goes with her as bodyguard. And the Baron's nephew Estefen plots his revenge on them both.

The core of the novel is the developing relationship between Margerit and Barbara, which is a slow-moving and sweet romance with many obstacles, from the differences in their rank and the mystery of Barbara's heritage to the schemes of Estefen which draw them into a treasonous plot.

I enjoyed this novel very much, although it did move a bit slowly. The characters are very well delineated, and their romance a delight to read.

Jones has written a second Alpenna novel, The Mystic Marriage, and a third, The Mother of Souls, is due to be released later this year.

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Anyone approaching Robins in the Night by Dajo Jago with the expectations of reading a standard medieval fantasy will quickly find it necessary to revise their expectations. This is not a standard fantasy, and it's not just because the protagonist is a transwoman of colour. (But how wonderful it is to read a novel where the protagonist is a transwoman of colour.)

Robins in the Night is a post-modern, post-colonial fable that takes the Robin Hood mythos as a starting point for an examination of classism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, gender identity and the revolution of the commons. The setting is somewhat ahistorical - castles with dungeons and houses with indoor plumbing - and without strong indications of place - there's a town, a forest, another town that people are born in or visit or pass through, and an island or two which are foreign places that people come from or go to. The style, language and sensibility are very modern. And it is a lot of fun.

There are some awkward passages, some places where the narrative falters, or overreaches, but for the most part, it is a satisfying and often delightful story, told with humour and full of adventure, women with tons of agency, and the romance of two revolutionary women falling in love.

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What can you say about a paranormal romance that seamlessly blends the Tuatha de Danaan and other sidhe-folk from Irish legend, the long and bloody history of the struggle of the Irish people for independence from English imperialism, and moderns concepts of sexual politics and identity?
Tate Hallaway's [1] short novel, released on the new Tapas online reading platform [2], is all this, and it is a fast-paced, action-filled read.

One minute, part-time student and self-identified dyke Kerry O'Neill Nystrom is dashing along a wooded short cut, trying to get to an exam on time, and the next, she's in a forest in Eire and a gorgeous lady centaur is kissing her passionately. Thus begins Kerry's involvement with both the politics of Irish unification and the politics of the faerie court. Before long she discovers that she is thought to be the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy concerning a son of the O'Neills and the rising of a free Ireland - and that the sidhe who have brought her to Ireland have no idea that she's a woman. Along the way she is drawn into a bitter personal struggle between the strangely attractive Hugh O'Donnell, child of a mortal man and a faerie woman, and Puca, a shape-changing bogie, or dark fey.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Sidhe Promised, aside from the story itself, was Hallaway's handling of Kerry's sexuality. The journey to an understanding of sexual identity as something that is inherent in the person, and not the relationships they choose, is one I have travelled myself, and I thought was very well-done here.

[1] Tate Hallaway is, of course, the alter ego of Lyda Morehouse, author of the marvellous cyberpunk series AngeLink.

[2] Tapas - download the free app to read available content online, one or two sample chapters of each work are free, purchase keys to unlock more chapters if you like what you're reading:
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Invisible 2: Personal Essays about Representation in Science Fiction, edited by Jim C. Hines, is the second collection of essays about the visibility - and invisibility - of people who are not straight, white, cis, nominally Christian, able-bodied, and most likely male in speculative fiction.

I haven't read the first Invisible collection, but I am certainly going looking for it now that I've read the second.

These are essays about never finding someone like yourself in the genre that you love, or only finding yourself rarely, usually as a side-kick or bit player, or maybe a villain, but almost never a real hero. Or finding only caricatures of people like you, stereotypical images that are almost as bad as never seeing yourself at all. And some stories about what it's like to find somebody like you, a fully realised character, a hero.

As Aliette de Bodard writes in her Introduction,

The trouble with stories, of course, is that they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are shaped, too, by the culture in which they were born—and worse than that, by the dominant culture. Stories tell you what to value, and what not to value—they teach you, over and over, that some people get to be heroes and some don’t. That some behaviours like violence are acceptable and heroic; others (like mothers sacrificing themselves to the bone year after year to raise their children) aren’t even worth a mention.

And stories, in the end, shape that dominant culture. Telling the same story that we ourselves have been told, over and over, erases all the others. It tells some people—those outside the dominant cultural paradigm—that they don't deserve to have stories told about them. That people like them never get their own books or their own stories; that they are not worth writing about; which a lesson no-one should have to learn.

These essays remind us of all the people who are all too often invisible in speculative fiction, the people we need to see if we are to have stories that reflect the breadth and depth of the human condition. The people represented - and representing - in this volume include people of colour - not just the generic Latin@, Asian, Black, Indigenous groupings, but Vietnamese and Puerto Rican and Japanese and Cherokee and other members of specific cultures who want to be seen for themselves, not as part of some general non-white conglomerate.

The people writing these essays are queer, and trans, and genderfluid, and asexual, and survivors of abuse rather than victims, and think that they deserve to have their stories told so that others, especially young people growing up without any one who shares their experiences around them, will know they have a right to exist, that they are not alone.

They are Jewish, and pagan, they are immigrants, they are older women, they are disabled and non-neurotypical, they are fat, they are people with life histories and experiences that lie outside the straight cis able-bodied white male paradigm that it so often seems our understanding of humanity is based on.

Some of them are even examples of that paradigm, talking about how they have come to treasure the stories that are not about them. And it's all good reading.

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Carin Gussoff's novella Three Songs for Roxy is a delicately executed exploration of family, gender, love, identity and being an outsider, told in three parts. This is also the first piece of fiction I can remember reading that featured Rom culture, by an author of Rom heritage.

The first section, Free Bird, is the story of sisters - foster sisters but raised together from infancy - Roxane (Roxy) and Kizzy. Roxy's parents, both Rom, found/were given the infant Kizzy shortly before Roxy's birth, in circumstances that strongly suggesting that Kizzy is not human. Sensing that Kizzy's people would return for her some day, they and their extended family have stayed in the place where Kizzy was left. This section is remarkable in its portrayal of a culture which so values its children that Kizzy comes to wholly identify with her human Rom family and culture, despite any number of obvious and not-so-obvious signs that she is different. But at the same time, this traditional and family-oriented culture leaves the free-spirited Roxy feeling like an outsider as she comes to realise she is a lesbian. The climax of this section comes when the aliens do in fact return for Kizzy, only to find that she does not want to go - but Roxy does, despite her realisation that her lover Natalie, like Kizzy, is not human.

The other sections focus on the two other people present at the moment of return - Katrina survivor Scott Miller, who knows Kizzy through her job at the local mall, and Natalie.

The second section, Across the Universe, features Scott. Divorced with one child, he has fallen in love with Kizzy - only to be shocked and profoundly disturbed by the revelation that aliens have visited earth, and that the woman he was attracted to was one of them. Fearing what the aliens might do now that he knows, his response is to flee - taking with him his son Danny, who he fears may be abducted. This section contained several ambiguities, among them Scott's mental state, what happens to Danny at the end, and whether Danny is a transgender child whose sense of self is being disregarded by one of their parents, or is being misgendered by Scott. The core image for the last of these ambiguities is Scott's early job experience as a chicken sexer - young chickens being very difficult to identify by sex, with even experts getting it wrong from time to time. I've read this section twice, and I am still not certain what happened from an objective point of view - though I know what Scott thinks has happened.

The final section, Seven Wonders, features Natalie's story, from her design and training to search for and retrieve Kizzy, up to the point where she arrives at Roxy and Kizzy's home, her initial contact and courtship of Roxy, and her brief but with Steve, a drag queen and Stevie Nicks impersonator who cannot stop mourning his dead sister and move on. In helping Steve to come to terms with his loss, Natalie herself learns what love and relationship mean in human terms.

All three sections tell stories about families, about identity, about gender and sexuality. They feature characters who are outsiders because of these things. The stories are layered, sometimes ambiguous, often sad. And they are beautiful.

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Jokes and the Unconscious, a collaborative graphic novel written by performance poet Daphne Gottlieb and graphic artist Diane DiMassa (of Hothead Paisan fame) is a brilliant, sometimes savage, sometimes heartbreaking story about coming to terms with death, sexuality, and living in a horribly imperfect world filled with pain, cruelty, callousness, lack of understanding and empathy, ironic co-incidence, and sometimes love and tenderness and just enough transcendence to make it possible to keep on living.

The narrative is framed within one summer in the life of the protagonist, Sasha, during which she works as a billing clerk in the hospital where her oncologist father, now on his deathbed, formerly practiced. However, the time frame shifts through Sasha's life, telling her story, her family's story, and the story of her father's illness and death in a mostly non-linear fashion. Along the way, it also addresses misogyny, date rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, patients's rights, ablism, Holocaust survivor issues, and a host of other issues, some of which may be triggering.

It's not an easy book, especially for those who may be dealing with loss of a parent or some of the other situations dealt with, but it's honest and it's worth reading and thinking about.

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Several years ago, Alison Bechdel wrote an amazing personal narrative in graphic format called Fun Home, which addresses her own early life, her father's struggle with his repressed creativity and sexuality, his suicide, and her own coming out. The novel has received accolades and been adapted as a musical.

Now Bechdel returns to memoir, focusing this time on her relationship with her mother, in Are You My Mother? A more complex, and much less linear work, it is rich, multi-layered, and uses the graphic format to present intuitive connections between its many strands of narrative in a particularly effective manner.

The themes that Bechdel struggles with throughout the memoir - creativity, self-love, self-hate, sexuality, self realisation and awareness - are illustrated and embedded in a web of relationships, familial, romantic, analytic. Bechdel remembers her past experiences with her mother, dreams about her mother, talks about her mother in analysis, writes about her father and then her mother, relives aspects of her relationship with her mother in her relationships with lovers and therapists, and all the while, as an adult at various points in her life, talks to her mother, her lovers, her analysts, about all of these things. And woven into this is a discussion of Virginia Woolf and her experiences in resolving her family issues through writing (notably with To the Lighthouse), the theories of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, and the evolution of Adrienne Rich as a poet.

As Kate Roiphe says in her review of Are You My Mother, "There’s a lucidity to Bechdel’s work that in certain ways (economy, concision, metaphor) bears more resemblance to poetry than to the dense, wordy introspection of most prose memoirs. The book delivers lightning bolts of revelation, maps of insight and visual snapshots of family entangle­ments in a singularly beautiful style." [1]

It is a more demanding work than Fun Home, but it is a wise, insightful and rewarding work.


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Quite a few years ago, a person of my Internet acquaintance, who is known on the Net as The Plaid Adder, started writing one of the best fantasy series I have ever read. It grew to five volumes - a tight trilogy (Taken Child, Another Country and Darkness Bright), a sequel (Redemption) and a prequel (Better to Burn) - and it is in my opinion a great sadness that none of the books were ever published.

I've never really understood why my acquaintance was never able to get these published, unless it was that they were written from a deeply feminist perspective, featured mostly female protagonists, a goodly number of whom were lesbians, and provided, along with compelling stories well-written about interesting and fully realised characters, serious critiques about just about every aspect of Western culture and society, an invitation to really think seriously about things like love, good and evil, materialism and progress, religion, and other core stuff of life, and a meta-narrative about the process of creation. Plus, the core trilogy is somewhat of a genre-bender, encompassing elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, romance and political satire, and while this kind of blurring of the boundaries has recently come more into vogue, it wasn't as salable back when these books were written.

I was fortunate enough to read these books chapter by chapter as they were written, and then to acquire printed copies of the complete and edited volumes from the author - which I of course reread. Then came my increasing environmental sensitivities, which made my treasured spiro-bound print copies unreadable. But now the author is distributing the novels as ebooks to those who know where to ask for them, and I've had the absolute delight of starting to reread these books again.

The first volume I reread was Taken Child, which introduces the land of Ideire and its low-tech, telepathy and magic-reliant culture, its somewhat eccentric semi-deity Idair and her nemesis the Dark One, the women-only order of magic-using clerics known as shriia who follow Idair and serve the people of Ideire, and their enemies, the female dark users of magic who receive their power from the Dark One.

At the centre of the trilogy is Theamh ni hUlnach, a shriia - albeit a somewhat unconventional one. In Taken Child, we meet as she goes about her duties, including the training of her apprentice Aine. In the course of this, she is sought out by a woman whose child has suffered the supernatural theft of its soul. In the process of trying to save the child, Theamh uncovers a horrifying secret linked to both an old enemy and a long-lost love, and a corrupt plot that threatens the very future of Ideire.

The second volume of the trilogy, Another Country, sees Theamh and Aine following the tracks of Theamh's nemesis, Lythril, into the neighbouring, technology-reliant Cretid Nation, which is in many ways a dystopic distillation of much that is wrong with our own society, as civil war erupts at home. A deft blend of heroic quest, political thriller, biting satire, and poignant love story, Another Country is genre-bending at its best.

The final volume, Darkness Bright, sees Theamh and Aine returned to an Ideire in chaos. They join up with the resistance - both martial and magical - fighting corrupt shriia and their secular allies who have overthrown the legitimate leadership of the country. An unflinching portrayal of the horrors and sacrifices made in war and the tragedy of a country torn apart by lies and greed, Darkness Bright is also a story of courage, commitment to the good, and enduring love.

If anything in what I've written here seems interesting to you, the author can be contacted on tumblr as

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The Heritage of Hastur (pub. 1975) and its immediate sequel, Sharra's Exile (pub. 1981) are in some ways the heart of the Darkovan cycle - they mark the end of the Comyn and the sociopolitical structure of Darkover as it was and, as Regis Hastur comes into his own, the beginnings of a new Darkover (which would be penned, not by Bradley, but by her successors Adrienne Martine-Barnes and Deborah J. Ross from outlines and notes).

The Heritage of Hastur details the events surrounding Regis' coming of age, amid the unleashing of Sharra, the powerful matrix we saw before in The Winds of Darkover. It is also a key part of the ongoing conversation about the position of Darkover within the Terran Empire. In all these strands of the narrative, the one common theme is responsibility for and abuse of power. In a sense, the true heritage of Hastur - and all Comyn are called the children of Hastur - is a heritage of extreme privilege and power, and its potential for abuse, as much as it is a heritage of responsibility. As Danvan Hastur acknowledges, "In the far-back days, we were given power and privilege because we served our people, not because we ruled them. Then we began to believe we had these powers and privileges because of some innate superiority in ourselves, as if having laran made us so much better than other people that we could do exactly as we pleased."

As the novel opens, relations between Terrans and Darkovans have once more grown tense, and the key issue is the Compact - an agreement banning all long-distance weapons that holds sway throughout the six lowland Domains. The Empire has technically agreed not to allow such weapons to be taken out of the Terran Zone in Thendara, but Terran officials do not really take the agreement seriously, or enforce it rigorously, and they have allowed the sale of range weapons in Alderan territory - realising that the compact exists to protect all Darkovans from the devastating matrix weapons - like Sharra. Again, this conflict adds to the themes of responsibility, power and abuse that inform all the narrative strands of the novel.

This narrative focuses on two young men - Regis Hastur and Lewis Alton - whose circumstances and experiences are in some ways counterpointed, but in other ways parallel. Regis is the grandson of Danvan Hastur (and great-grandson of Lorill Hastur), heir to the most powerful family on Darkover, the hereditary Regents of the Crown - a vital role, as many of the Elhalyn, hereditary Kings of Darkover, have been incompetent or even mad in recent generations. But Regis doesn't want to be the de-facto ruler of Darkover, he longs for the stars. Unlike the Comyn he is destined to lead, he appears to be almost completely lacking in laran - testing indicates he has the potential, but that it has been blocked from normal development.

Lew Alton is also the heir to a powerful Domain, but unlike Regis, he has had to fight to be recognised. He is the son of Kennard Alton (last seen as a boy in Star of Danger) and Elaine Montray, who is half Terran, half Darkovan, but of the outcast Aldaran Domain, who Kennard met and fell in love with on Earth. Although Kennard married Elaine di catenas - the most formal style of marriage - the Comyn refused to acknowledge his marriage and Lew has always been treated by most as a bastard, carrying both the barbarian blood of the Terrans and the traitor's blood of the Aldarans. In order to have his son declared as his heir, Kennard was forced to prove before witnesses that Lew carried the Alton Gift of forced rapport by forcing rapport on him - an act that might have killed Lew if he did not in fact have the gift. Only in the Towers, where Lew proved to be a powerful and skilled matrix technician, has he felt truly welcome, although he has won some degree of acceptance among the Guards, where he serves as an officer and his father's second - the Altons being the hereditary commanders of the Guard.

The events of the novel do in fact begin in the Guard, where Regis is beginning his duties as a cadet, where Kennard is Commander and both Lew and Kennard's cousin and childhood friend Dyan Ardais - the Lord of that Domain - are officers, as is Regis' brother-in-law (and Lew's cousin) Gabriel Lanart-Hastur. Also in his first year as a cadet is Danilo Syrtis, son of a minor Comyn house whose older brother was paxman and sword brother to Regis' father - both of whom were killed by bandits carrying Terran weapons.

As new cadets, Regis and Danilo initially become friends, but are driven apart by the actions of Dyan. As cadet master, he has the power to make any cadet's life a living hell, and when Danilo refuses his sexual advances, Dyan uses not only his official power but also his laran to torment the young man. At the same time, Dyan attempts a gentle seduction of Regis - the difference in his approach to the two being that he sees Regis as a social equal and Danilo as a social inferior. Before too long, Danilo has rejected Regis' friendship and, driven to desperation by Dyan's action, draws a knife on Dyan and is sent home in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Kennard has asked Lew to travel to Aldaran to investigate the situation with respect to Terran weapons there, under the pretext of visiting his Lord Kermiac and his other Alderan kinfolk. When Lew, who has seen Dyan in action before, witnesses the public disgrace of Danilo and senses what was behind Danilo's reaction, goes to Kennard in protest, his father will not listen to him. Lew leaves for Aldaran, but with a heart filled with anger and disgust at the abuses of power he has witnessed. Arriving at Castle Alderan he is welcomed into the family as the grandson of Kermiac's sister Meriel. Here he meets his cousin, Kermiac's son Beltran, Kermiac's wards, Thyra, Marjorie and Rafe Scott, and the mysterious Raymon Kadarin, and is drawn into their plan to recreate the old pre-Compact matrix sciences, using the Sharra matrix. As he works with Kadarin and the others, training them to be a working circle, he and Marjorie begin to fall in love, despite the fact that Lew has determined that Marjorie is the one best suited to serve as the circle's Keeper.

Regis, having completed his first year of training, travels to visit his sister; en route, he stops at Danilo's home, where the two renew their friendship, and Regis, learning what really happened to him, swears to make it right. On his return to Thendara, despite being ill with threshold sickness, a malady that often strikes telepaths whose laran has awakened, he confronts first his grandfather and then Kennard with the knowledge of Dyan's abuse. Kennard, reading his mind and the images he carries from Danilo's mind, is shocked, but accepts Dyan's guilt. He also realises that Danilo is a catalyst telepath, a rare gift thought to be extinct, and contact with him can stimulate latent laran - and that contact with Danilo is what has woken Regis' powers.

With the promise that justice will be done, Regis returns to Syrtis with Gabriel who is to take Regis to Neskaya for laran training and then bring Danilo back to Thendara, but they discover that Danilo has been kidnapped by the Aldarans. Gabriel returns to Thendara to report the crime. Regis promises to wait for Gabriel at his seat in Edelweiss, but instead, he pauses long enough to name Gabriel and Javanne's youngest son his heir, and sets out to find Danilo.

In Alderan, Lew is horrified when he learns that Beltran has kidnapped Danilo, particularly since he himself, having guessed Danilo's gift, had speculated about asking Danilo to join their circle and use his gift to help more latent telepaths find their powers. Kermiac chastises Beltran, and when Regis arrives, assures him that both he and Danilo are guests under his roof and will come to no harm, and will be allowed to leave when the weather is better.

Lew comes to the realisation that working with Sharra is corrupting all of them, awakening lust for power and dulling their consciences, he decides that they must return Sharra to the forge folk and find another way to bring about their goals. But when Kermiac dies suddenly, Beltran imprisons Regis and Danilo, and tries to force Lew to continue working with the Sharra circle. Marjorie rescues the three captives, and they flee Aldaran Castle. Lew and Marjorie set out to bring word of the Sharra circle to Arilinn, while Regis and Danilo head toward Thendara. Lew and Marjorie are recaptured, and Lew is drugged and, now controlled by Kadarin, returns to the Sharra circle. As Sharra rages, destroying the city of Caer Donn and the Terran Spaceport there, telepaths across Darkover feel the impact, and a force is sent from Thendara to stop the fires, no matter what. Regis and Danilo meet the party, led by Kennard and Dyan, on the road, and head back with them toward Alderan.

Marjorie convinces Kadarin to let Lew recover from the drugs, and together they decide that Sharra must be stopped, even if it takes their deaths - and the deaths of everyone in the Sharra circle - to close the dimensional gateway that fuels it. As they enter the circle and prepare to attempt it, Kennard finally reaches Lew and adds his power to theirs. The gateway is sealed, but Lew is gravely wounded and Marjorie close to death; with the strength of desperation, Lew manages to teleport himself and Marjorie to Arilinn, but it is too late for Marjorie.

Despite the closing of the gateway, the Sharra matrix remains too powerful to be left on Darkover where its power could be raised again; Kennard decides to leave Darkover, taking the matrix and Lew with him, hoping that Terran medicine can heal wounds that Darkovan psi power cannot. The Terrans, now aware of just what kind of long-range weapons the Compact was made to control, promise to do their part in keeping it. Dyan accepts responsibility for his abuse of Danilo, and names him heir to Ardais as recompense. And Regis relinquishes his dream of the stars and takes his place as the Hastur heir on the Council. Hard lessons have been learned - at least for a time.

The Heritage of Hastur is the first of the Darkover novels to deal extensively with male homosexuality. It is also the novel that many readers point to as one that embodies Bradley's personal philosophy as an enabler of the sexual abuse committed by her husband, and an abuser herself. I am going to first discuss attitudes toward male homosexuality in general as presented in the novel, and then look at the instances of sexual abuse and how they are dealt with. But first, I want to summarise certain aspects of what has been revealed so far about Darkovan attitudes toward sex in general.

Sexuality on Darkover has two aspects, social, and reproductive. Social sex is by necessity non-reproductive, as it is a great disgrace to produce a child without a father to claim it. It occurs between men, between women, and between men and women. It is common in the Towers, but is also found outside of them. It is a personal matter, and is expected to take second place to the duty of proper procreation.

Reproductive sex is heavily controlled, because a child without an acknowledged father has no place in the community. Paternity is also important, especially among the nobility, because of the role that inheritance rights play in a feudal society. In Heritage of Hastur, we learn that having at least one heir, if not more, is a legal necessity for an adult male in direct line to the overlordship of a domain.

Thus men are expected to concern themselves with having heirs, and for this they need recognised relationships with women whose fidelity can not be questioned. These relationships span a wide range of options, including a highly formal style of marriage, legal concubinage, a form of common-law marriage, and the taking of mistresses. As long as the man is sure enough of the paternity of his child to acknowledge it, the mothers are not stigmatised and the children have a place in the family and in society. The higher the social status of the woman, the more likely it is that she will be married formally to a man of equal or higher status.

Women are often married young, well before the age of 20, unless they are marked for some training in a Tower, in which case their marriages may be put off for two or three years. Man may also be betrothed, or even married, at an early age. When discussing sexuality, it is important to remember that on Darkover, adulthood arrives early - around the age of 15. At this age, Darkovans take on adult responsibilities - they start work, get married, have children, begin training in Towers or in the Guards, whether they want to or not. As Regis says in speaking of the expected actions of a Comyn son: "It's all planned out for us, isn't it, Lew? Ten years old, fire-watch duty. Thirteen or fourteen, the cadet corps. Take my turn as an officer. Take a seat in Council at the proper time. Marry the right woman, if they can find one from a family that's old enough and important enough and, above all, with laran. Father a lot of sons, and a lot of daughters to marry other Comyn sons."

Nor are matters any different for women, as Lew thinks while watching Regis' sister Javanne at a party: "Javanne was dancing again. Well, let her enjoy herself. She had been married off at fifteen and had spent the last nine years doing her duty to her family."

Among the Comyn, sexuality and telepathy are strongly linked. Laran generally develops in early adolescence, and as Bradley constructs the physiology of psi, sexual and laran "energies" travel along the same "channels" in the body. As well, it is often mentioned that for telepaths, living in close contact is like "living with your skin off" - in a state of intimacy unimaginable among non-telepaths. It's also mentioned that telepathic men are often uninterested, or even impotent, with "head-blind" women. Telepathy both mimics and intensifies sexual bonding. As Lew says, in explaining why he refuses to marry at the command of the Comyn:
How could I tell Hastur, who was old enough to be my grandfather, and not even a telepath, that when I took a woman, all her thoughts and feelings were open to me and mine to her, that unless rapport was complete and sympathy almost total, it could quickly unman me? Few women could endure it. And how could I tell him about the paralyzing failures which a lack of sympathy could bring? Did he actually think I could manage to live with a woman whose only interest in me was that I might give her a laran son? I know some men in the Comyn manage it. I suppose that almost any two people with healthy bodies can give each other something in bed. But not tower-trained telepaths, accustomed to that full sharing.
With the exception of the cristoforos, whose attitudes toward sexuality, and particularly sexual expression between persons of the same sex are based on a remnant of Christian religious belief, Darkovans appear to have a relaxed attitude toward male homosexual expression - at least as long as the persons involved are either young, or if older, have done their duty to society by marrying and fathering children.
It was not considered anything so shameful to be an ombredin, a lover of men. Among boys too young for marriage, rigidly kept apart by custom from any women except their own sisters or cousins, it was considered rather more suitable to seek companionship and even love from their friends than to consort with such women as were common to all.
The Heritage of Hastur explores two instances of homosexual contact that may be characterised as abusive. The first, which occurs within the timeline of the novel, involves Danilo Syrtis, who comes to the attention of the sadistic hebephile Dyan Ardais while a cadet. While Danilo is not physically forced into sex, when he rejects Dyan's attentions, the older man responds with what essentially constitutes mental rape, by using his laran to infiltrate Danilo's mind - something telepaths are sworn not to do. There is a clear suggestion that Dyan has done this before, and that he has also had relationships with other young men, who may have been willing but were also under his authority as an officer of the Guard. Among his Comyn peers, his relations with consenting young men are not seen as problematic, but they clearly see his telepathic assault as wrong. In this context, it is important to remember that Darkovans are considered adult at 15, and capable of consent. By Darkovan standards, Dyan is guilty of abuse of power, but not of child abuse.

The second instance involves a single incident from the past, between 12-year-old Regis and Lew Alton, who is, as Bradley states in the text, "five or six years older than Regis." (It's interesting to note that reviewers have tended to cast Lew as ten or more years older than Regis.) Lew and Regis are foster-brothers, and Regis loves and worships Lew like the older brother he has never had. Lew is a telepath, Regis at twelve is just beginning to develop his laran. The two are out on the firelines together, in a situation of great stress.
And Regis had known Lew was afraid. He'd touched Lew's mind, and felt it: his fear, the pain of his burns, everything. He could feel it as if it had been in his own mind. And Lew's fear hurt so much that Regis couldn't stand it. He would have done anything to comfort Lew, to take his mind off the pain and the fear. It had been too much. Regis couldn't shut it out, couldn't stand it. But he had forgotten. Had made himself forget, till now.
Struggling with the simultaneous onset of puberty and telepathy, feeling Lew's distress and wanting to comfort him, Regis makes an effort to offer comfort that is both psychic and sexual in nature; Lew, not yet trained to control his telepathy, hurt and afraid and in need of comfort, responds in kind. Is this child abuse? Is Lew a homosexual pedophile? There is certainly no indication in the text that Lew has more than a minor interest in males as sexual partners; in fact, when he thinks of expressing his sexual desires, it is women he considers. Regis is the one who is drawn more to males than to females, who falls in love with Danilo. Regis is 12, Lew is no older than 18. The situation is, to my mind, ambiguous. Nor is it pictured as without consequence, for it is the intensity of the connection that causes Regis to block out the memory, and with it, his developing laran - until it is awakened three years later by the young man who will be his next lover.

It has become almost an article of faith in our society today that persons under some magic age - 16, 18, even 21 - are children, lacking in judgement and agency, incapable of freely consenting to sex. The problem is, that there is no sharp divide between childhood and adulthood and that not all people are alike or develop at the same rate. Even very young children are sexual beings, and it is not unnatural for age peers to engage in sex play. As children enter puberty, sexual interest increases, and many adolescents engage in sexual exploration. Consent is a situational thing. Can two 5-year-olds consent to "playing doctor"? Can a 12-year old consent to sexual exploration with a 13-year-old? A 15-year-old? A 17-year-old? A 25-year-old? The boundaries of free consent are fluid - at some point on this spectrum, the age range becomes too great, and issues of power and influence come into play, but at what point?

I think of my own personal experience. My first consensual sexual relationship occurred when I was 12, with a girl who was four years my senior. It was one of those boarding school romances - and anyone who tries to suggest that same-sex boarding schools are not full of same-sex sexual exploration doesn't know what they are talking about. Was my relationship fully consensual? As I look back, some 50 years later, my memories are of love, desire, longing, wanting to be with my lover as much as possible - to the best of my recollection, I was quite active in trying to seduce her, gain her affection. I was willing, and the only harm I took from the relationship came later, when my lover's parents pulled her out of school and put her into an institution because they discovered her same-sex desires.

This question of consent is particularly important for young people who are queer, because we may not always have age peers able to experiment in the ways we need to. Often we don't exactly know what we are or what we want, only that it is something different - and it may well be that the only people we can find who know what we want are older than we are, having gone through the stages of coming out to themselves that we are only just beginning. Regis' early experience with Lew may well read quite differently to such people, who have had to take different paths to owning their sexuality than most straight people do.

For my part, I read the narrative thread that deals with Regis' sexuality as a coming out story, with Regis and Danilo as a young gay men reaching an understanding and an acceptance of who they are and who they love. That's what made me love this book when I first read it, some 40 years ago, and that's still how it affects me.

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Samuel Delany's memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: East Village Sex and Science Fiction Writing 1960-1965, is as much an exploration of memory and the processes of representation of both memory and thought as it is traditional (or rather, non-traditional) memoir. As Jo Walton says in her review,
The first time I read The Motion of Light in Water, Delany had been one of my favourite writers for at least ten years, but in that time I had known almost nothing about him. I remember going “Wow” a lot the first time through. I was expecting an autobiography that covered 1960-1965 to talk about how he wrote the spectacular early novels, and it does, and wow. But also wow, he’s black, wow, he’s gay, wow, he’s dyslexic and most of all, wow, in writing an autobiography he’s examining the entire concept of what it’s possible to remember and retell. This isn’t a memoir like Pohl’s The Way the Future Was which is essentially a charming retelling of fascinating anecdotes. This is a memoir that questions the very possibility of memoir, a memoir that makes you feel as if you’ve been turned upside-down and the contents of your brain and your pockets have all fallen out and been rearranged in different places. It questions the concept of memory and the way we remember and rearrange and reassess, and the way we make our own lives into stories. [1]
Delany begins by talking about his father's death - an event which falls near the beginning of the chronological period covered by the memoir. It's clearly significant moment for him - but as soon as he has penned the story, he speaks of the unreliability of his memory of it, of how in a later set of biographical notes prepared for researchers writing about his work, the factual details he includes about this event are incorrect, even to the age he remembers he was and the year in which his father died.

Having made this initial point about the unreliable narrator - a theme he refers back to and riffs upon throughout the work - Delany proceeds with his story, which is that of selected incidents in the life of a young gay (although not yet identifying as such despite an awareness of homosexual desire since early adolescence) black (but just light enough to pass sometimes as white) middle-class man growing up in New York who wanted to be a scientist but became a writer, who married young because of a pregnancy from his first heterosexual experience with a gifted young poet, Marilyn Hacker (who miscarried shortly after their marriage).

Delany is frank in discussing all aspects of his life - emotional, intellectual, creative, sexual. He and Marilyn had an open marriage, in which both had other relationships with men and women, sometimes sharing lovers, and for a period of time living in a triad with a young working class man. Their friendship and shared intellectual delight in literature was ultimately not sufficient to make their marriage work for them, and the memoir ends with Delany, having turned in the manuscript of his classic novel Babel-17, leaving Marilyn in New York as he heads off to spend seven months in Europe.

There is so much packed into this narrative - not just the key elements of Delany's life and his development as one of the great writers of his time, but also social history, sociological observation, meditations on race, gender, intimacy, commitment and representation... It's a rich and valuable work.

True to his argument that memory is fluid and personal, Delany intersperses his recollections with selections from Marilyn's poems written at the time, thus declining to privilege either his memories or his chosen mode of expressing them. As he notes at one point, after a section of the memoir in which he attempts to record every detail he remembers,
But no simple, sensory narrative can master what it purports—whether it be a hitchhiking trip to Texas or the memories that remain from such a trip twenty-five years later. That age-old philosophical chestnut, the Problem of Representation (in its twin forms, the Problem of Verification and the Problem of Exhaustiveness) makes mastery as such a non-problem, with no need of haute théorie. Theodore Sturgeon’s fine insight is perhaps germane here: the best writing does not reproduce—or represent—the writer’s experience at all. Rather it creates an experience that is entirely the reader’s, forged and fashioned wholly from her or his knowledge, of her or his memories, by her or his ideology and sensibility, and demonstrably different for each—but which (according to the writer’s skill) is merely as meaningful (though not necessarily meaningful in the same way) as the writer’s, merely as vivid.
As Constant Reader is surely aware, Samuel Delany is one of the writers I have the highest regard for, and whose works I consider to have had a significant influence on my own development. Reading his thoughts about his life at the time he was writing the early works that influenced me the most was a fascinating experience. I'm thinking that once I finish my Hugo reading, I need to revisit those books.


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Lisa Diamond is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah and a self-identified feminist scientist. Her primary field of research lies in the realm of the psychological and biobehavioral processes underlying intimate relationships and their influence on emotional experience and functioning over the life course. Her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire discusses her results of some of her research in this area.

Diamond begins with an overview of current prevailing assumptions about love and desire - "that an individual’s sexual predisposition for the same sex or the other sex is an early-developing and stable trait that has a consistent effect on that person’s attractions, fantasies, and romantic feelings over the lifespan." She goes on to note that these assumptions are largely based on male experience because most research into sexuality has been conducted on men and adds that new research (including her own) conducted with women suggests that there is another dimension to sexuality in addition to such elements as identity and orientation, and that this dimension - sexual fluidity - is considerably more marked among women.
Sexual fluidity, quite simply, means situation-dependent flexibility in women’s sexual responsiveness. This flexibility makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women un- der certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orienta- tion. In other words, though women—like men—appear to be born with distinct sexual orientations, these orientations do not provide the last word on their sexual attractions and experiences. Instead, women of all orientations may experience variation in their erotic and affectional feelings as they encounter different situations, relationships, and life stages.
Looking at differences in men and women, she posits that the process by which sexual orientation is formed is different in men and women. In discussing the formation of sexual orientation in general, she argues that it arises from a combination of biological and cultural factors - that biology (genetics and other biological factors) create the predisposition for one or another orientation, but that culture plays a significant part in determining whether and how that predisposition is expressed. Introducing the role of sexual fluidity in this process, she argues that
... sexual fluidity should strengthen situationally influenced pathways to female same-sex sexuality, it should correspondingly dilute—but not completely cancel out—the overall evidence for biological contributions to female sexuality. The evidence for biological contributions to male same-sex sexuality, in contrast, should be stronger and more consistent.
It is currently accepted that the various pathways to the development of a same-sex orientation differ in their effects on males and females, and there is often lower correlation between existence of a biological marker and development of a same-sex orientation in women; further, expression of a same-sex orientation also differs in males and females.
For example, whereas many gay men recall childhoods characterized by gender-atypicality, feelings of “differentness,” and early same-sex attractions, fewer les- bian/bisexual women recall such experiences. Women also show greater variability than men in the age at which they first become aware of same-sex attractions, first experience same-sex fantasies, first consciously question their sexuality, first pursue same-sex sexual contact, and first identify as lesbian or bisexual.
Diamond is careful to distinguish sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual fluidity.
Fluidity can be thought of as an additional component of a woman’s sexuality that operates in concert with sexual orientation to influence how her attractions, fantasies, behaviors, and af- fections are experienced and expressed over the life course. Fluidity implies not that women’s desires are endlessly variable but that some women are capable of a wider variety of erotic feelings and experiences than would be predicted on the basis of their self-described sexual orientation alone.
In particular, she distinguishes between the influence of sexual fluidity on sexual behaviour and the experiences associated with a bisexual identity:
By now, it should be clear that though the concept of fluidity overlaps with the phenomenon of bisexuality (since fluidity, by definition, makes nonexclusive attractions possible), they are not the same things. Whereas bisexual- ity can be conceived as a consistent pattern of erotic responses to both sexes, manifested in clear-cut sexual attractions to men and women (albeit not necessarily to the same degrees), possessing a potential for nonexclusive attractions (or, as we have seen, finding the “idea” of same-sex contact appealing even if you currently have no same-sex desires) is clearly different.
Diamond's own research is, of course, the centerpiece of the book. She discusses in considerable detail her 10 year longitudinal study with women who identified as one of the following: lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, or "unlabled."

In general, the conclusions Diamond draws from her research suggest several distinct differences from the generally assumed theories (i.e., theories based primarily on research among male subjects) of the construction of sexual identity and the patterns of sexual behaviour. Diamond's findings suggest that sexual fluidity in women:

1. results in a greater tendency toward changes in sexual identity
2. leads to increased willingness to acknowledge the potential for future change in their attractions and relationships as they age.
3. leads to a greater prevalence of nonexclusivity - the possibility that they might experience attractions to or relationships with both sexes.
4. implies that early sexual experiences do not predict later ones.

It is important to note that Diamond is not equating the potential for change in identity with voluntary or external influences; she points out that change does not imply choice or control. She is careful to show that the findings of her research into sexual fluidity do not suggest or support any of the following interpretations:

1. that all women/people are bisexual
2. that there is no such thing as sexual orientation
3. that sexual orientation is a conscious choice
4. that sexual orientation can be changed either by personal intention or external influence such as reparative therapy

Following several initial chapters devoted to summarising her research and how her theory of sexual fluidity explains the differences between what women experience in terms of sexual identity formation and sexual behavior, and what current theories predict, Diamond goes on to explore her findings and their implications for the study of sexuality, particularly the sexuality of women, in greater depth.

I must say that as a woman who has identified as bisexual for most of her adult life, after an adolescent period of identifying as a lesbian, much of what Diamond theorises feels "right" in examining my own identity changes, attractions and sexual experiences. Whether this will be true for other women is a question to be answered by time and further research into women's sexuality.
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There is so much that is right about what Kayla Bashe is trying to do in her fantasy novella My Lady King that I wish I could give the book a better recommendation.

The good stuff: strong female heroes, prominent presence of people of colour, a society that is totally accepting of genderqueer folk (the novella refers to them as nonbinaries) and of sexual and loving relationships between people of all genders. The world Bashe creates is nothing if not wildly and wonderfully inclusive, and that is something good to see - a beginning novelist who starts out writing projects that embody the diversity we desperately need in the speculative fiction genre.

But though I have much admiration for Bashe's intentions, this novella lacks in the execution. The writing is at times awkward, even clumsy. The characters are inconsistently drawn. I never felt that either of the protagonists developed a consistent voice, and the antagonist was overblown and lacked true motivation - she seemed to exist solely to be evil.

These flaws noted, I will say that it was by no means unreadable. I enjoyed the story, and I believe the author has the ability to improve her writing - perhaps with the help of some beta readers capable of making honest and detailed critiques, and a good editor.

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This, the fourth Heiresses of Russ anthology, edited by Melissa Scott and Steve Berman, his like the previous volumes a diverse assortment of science fiction and fantasy short fiction featuring protagonists (and often other characters as well) who are lesbians. The very fact that this has become an annual anthology series is a testament to the growing number of authors - lesbian and otherwise - who choose to write about all the varieties of love, and the readers who either see themselves in these stories, or simply read them because they are interesting stories.

In such a diverse anthology, it is inevitable that some stories will have a greater impact on any given reader. For me, the stand-out stories here are:

Counting Down the Seconds, Lexy Wealleans - in a premise reminiscent of the wonderful indie film Timer, people of this future world wear devices that tell them how long it will be until they meet their true love.

Her Infinite Variety, Sacchi Green - a different take on the death of Cleopatra.

The Coffinmaker's Love, Alberto Yáñez - an interesting and deeply moving variation on the motif of Death and the maiden.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospect­ive Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer, Kenneth Schneyer - a story of love and healing told in program notes.

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Gael Baudino's Gossamer Axe is one of my favourite books, which is probably why I keep rereading it. It's hard to put into words what draws me to it over and over again, except to say that it hits all the right emotional and thematic buttons for me, with a good hard punch that generally has me crying about a dozen times.

Bare bones synopsis: two sixth century Irish lovers, both student bards, sneak out at night to listen to the elves. They are caught and taken to the land of the far, where nothing ages or changes. One of the lovers, Chairiste, uses a magic elven harp to escape, but cannot free her lover Siubd. The magic of the harp keeps her young as she tries again and again to break her lover free, but fails in the face of elven harper Orfide's superior technique, knowledge and magic. Finally, after 200 years, she discovers heavy metal, realises that this new musical form, with it's raw energy, power and passion is weapon she neds to counter Orfide's advantage, trades in her harp for a double-headed axe, forms an all-woman band, and blasts her way into the Twilight Realm to rescue her beloved.

What grabs me about it:

It's powerfully feminist and woman-centred.
It's a Celtic-themed fantasy (even though it's woefully historically inaccurate).
It's a lesbian love story with a happy ending.
It's one of the first fantasies with an unrepentant queer protagonist.
It's all about women breaking free of the control of men and owning their power - each member of the band is a woman with a misogynist past to overcome.
It's music and magic - and to me these have always gone together.
It takes on the nasty guilt and shame elements of Pauline Christianity that surround women and sexuality, and counters them with a sex-positive goddess spirituality.
It's about undying, totally unconditional love.

Sure, it has flaws, but it also has a cult following and if you are one of those who gets caught up in it, it's a part of you forever. And in recent years, it has become even dearer to me because when I read it, I hear echoes of a good friend, now departed for the Summerland, who loved this book as I do, and who lived parts of it as a woman who loved women, as a master musician, and as a woman who fought to be freely and fully herself. So now as I read it again, I raise a cup and sing for all the women who love women, and fight for their right to be proud and free, and especially for the memory of Julie Songweaver.


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