Displaying items by tag: feministSF

Pippi to Ripley: The Female Figure in Fantasy and Science Fiction

May 4-5, 2013, Ithaca College

Keynote speaker: Tamora Pierce

We welcome paper proposals on all aspects of female representation within an imaginative context, including but not limited to:

- A discussion of the child-heroines in folktales from multiple cultures.

- The evolution of characters such as Buffy (The Vampire Slayer), Cat Woman, and Red Sonja as they are presented in television, film, graphic novels/comics, or literature.

- The female characters in video games such as Tomb Raider, Metroid, and Mass Effect.

- The female characters featured in Shonen and Shojo manga as well as other images of female characters in anime films and television.

- Robot , cyborg, and psychically enhanced girls and women.

- Female heroes and villains in comic books and graphic novels.

- YA heroines in the works of Madeleine L'Engle, Tamora Pierce, and Suzanne Collins.

- The depiction of goddesses, Amazons, and other fierce female entities from western and non-western traditions.

Please send a 300-500 word abstract by February 1, 2013, to Katharine Kittredge, Ithaca College, Department of English, kkittredge[at]ithaca[dot]edu

Pippi to Ripley is intended to foster intellectual engagement between the college community and local students, teachers, writers, readers and artists; and to provide an affordable venue for undergraduates, graduate students and professors to present their work. Towards these ends, the

presenter’s registration fee is $35; all other participants are invited to attend for free. Direct questions to Katharine Kittredge, kkittredge[at]ithaca[dot]edu.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 16:31

Reflections on WisCon

Before I get any further into this piece, let me state this clearly: If I met you at WisCon and chatted and connected with you, or shook your hand and said, “it has been great to meet you,” or had a meal with you, or invited you to email me or connect on Twitter… thank you. This post is not reflective of my feelings towards the many individuals who I am truly pleased and honoured to have met. I hope that if we connected, you can still trust that my interest and excitement in getting to know you – even if it was only for a twenty minute hallway conversation – was sincere. I always aim to present myself honestly, so my pleasure in meeting you was not performance. I hope that we can continue to get to know one another in our new varied relationships even if we disagree about the WisCon experience.


I will not be returning to WisCon next year. I might go back in the future, after sufficient time has passed and I have gathered other experiences and established myself further in the broader SF community. I have left my first WisCon with a mixed bag of feelings … and great trepidation in expressing those that are not positive. Since WisCon is a community that promotes honest discussion from all of its members – no matter how marginal they might be – I am going ahead with this post. It has been a long time since I was this nervous about publicly airing my thoughts on a topic (seriously, I feel like I did when I was criticizing grad school for the first time!).

I’m nervous because I feel that the expectation from the WisCon community is to love WisCon. But I just didn’t. It’s hard to articulate exactly what I experienced, so the closest I can come to it (and what I tried expressing to others when they asked), is that I felt welcomed but not invited. I think that many people coming into a new community for the first time feel like they are on the edges of it, and that is certainly how I felt for the whole con. Whereas I have always felt like there is a place for me in other con or SF-centric communities, I didn’t get that sense at WisCon. It’s entirely possible that this is my own social anxiety speaking or I’m being too quick to judge, nevertheless, my sense of “outsiderness” didn’t dissipate.

I don’t know, I’m having an incredibly hard time writing about my WisCon experience. Part of it is that I don’t want to offend or hurt the people that I met and connected with – it was individuals who made my trip to Madison worth it – but I just didn’t mesh with the larger community. There are several experiences that deeply upset me during WisCon, where I witnessed members being silenced, marginalized, or simply ignored. I can’t write about those incidents, however, without having to speak for others, and I don’t have their permission to do so. What made WisCon so frustrating for me is that the community-line is equality and accessibility for all (at least that’s the message I heard), so when I saw incidents where that ethic failed, it was, in many ways, more egregious.

I suspect that some people will want to respond to me: “Well, all communities have their problems. You should have spoken up. Volunteer to make WisCon better for next year!” But the issues I have with the con cannot be solved by my volunteering or lone voice. Hell, I can’t even openly write about the problems that I have with the con! No one has the power to fix the ways people are (un)intentionally dismissive to others who they read as different (even when they promote inclusiveness). I can’t re-adjust established personalities or restructure larger modes of community identity.

Ultimately, I don’t think I fit in at WisCon. At least, not in the way that I want to and not right now. What I’m looking to get out of a con is not what WisCon is offering at the present moment. And that’s fine. It doesn’t have to. A con can’t be all things to all people. I guess that I’m sad that WisCon is not the place for me – and I am startled by the depth of that sadness. I wanted to step into a place where I instantly felt like I belonged. I’ve been searching for community for so long, that to feel uninvited – uncared for and unchallenged – at a feminist SF convention is heartbreaking.

I don’t feel good about having to write this post and it is incomplete and terribly vague. I might write more about my WisCon experience at a later date, but it is also likely that I will leave this half-articulated statement as it is. Despite the obvious shortcomings of this reflection piece, I’m still going to publish it, because I want all the awesome people I met at WisCon to know that my dissatisfaction is not with them or anything that they did. There were positives to my time at the con: I discovered a few new writers and had good conversations (and reconnected) with some cool and intelligent people. Those individuals made my trip worth it. I don’t regret attending WisCon, but I am incredibly disappointed that I don’t want to go back.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Sometimes, good things take time and you never know what the future holds. That pretty much sums up my experience with M.J. Locke’s Up Against It (2011). Not taking time now, I want state right away that Locke’s book is not a slow book – in fact, the reader is immediately thrown into the distant future world of the asteroid colony Phocaea. Locke’s world-building is detailed, but not overwhelming, as she manages to balance the unknown with the familiar. Up Against It is hard SF – and it is marketed as such – but it also contains many elements of the lesser appreciated and read (in the popular genre market) feminist SF. The central character, Jane Navio, is a strong, three-dimensional figure; she isn’t perfect, but she tries to do right by herself and by the community she serves. From the novel’s outset, there is a dance between the old and the new, what should be kept and what can be lost. A most fitting theme for both science fiction as a genre and for the place of the writer and critic within it.

I probably would never have read Up Against It if I had not met Locke herself at the last WorldCon in Reno, where she kindly gave me a signed copy. You see, I didn’t know that M. J. Locke existed. I only knew of Laura J. Mixon, writer of such great feminist SF books like Glass Houses (1992), Proxies (1998), and Burning the Ice (2002). Proxies was one of the four texts that analyzed in my dissertation and I was presenting on it at WorldCon where Laura surprised me by attending my talk (a new PhD’s worst/best nightmare scenario). I was apprehensive at having her there at first – since I was critically reading her use of gender and race – but her presence in the room was distinctly positive, leading to one of the best discussions I’ve had about the representation of race in SF at any con. When she told me that she had a new book out, I was excited. I truly enjoyed Laura’s earlier work and wanted to get my hands on this latest novel (as it had been nine years since the Burning the Ice). Laura kindly gifted me a hard cover copy and I promised to read it right away (I didn’t, but I’ll come back to that).

When I read the promo line on the cover, George R. R. Martin proclaiming, “Fans of hard SF will eat this up and shout for more,” my first reaction, in all honesty, was one of disappointment. After a few unfortunate encounters with hard SF that was overly masculine and pedantic, I don’t normally read the subgenre and even avoid it. I like SF that questions and challenges the “whys” and “ifs” of technology, not the SF that describes worm holes and lasers in mind-numbing accurate detail. Putting aside my prejudice – this was a book by the writer of Proxies after all! – I began reading and by the time I was done the first twenty-pages, I recognized the feminist SF writer that I admired from her earlier works. Laura J. Mixon wasn’t entirely transformed into this strange new hard SF writer, M. J. Locke, she was presenting herself differently. I am totally fine with that choice.

On her website, Feral Sapient, Locke writes about her decision to change her byline and the effect it had on some of her long-time readers (read the essay, “Hidden Bouquet”). She worried that readers would feel that: “by choosing a gender-neutral byline, I prioritized my own success [as a writer] over my commitment to my fellow women in SFF and science.” She then goes on to say that: “We face a headwind, we women in technology and science. I tried to meet it head-on, on my first go-round. I got knocked back on my heels. Hard. This time I decided to try a different tack. Quite literally, I’m tacking against that headwind. It’s a gamble. We’ll have to see.” As a fan of the work of Laura J. Mixon, I was a bit sad to see her distance herself from that byline. But as a fellow feminist and human being who has also faced challenging times and reinvented myself, I can empathize with Locke and, in fact, applaud her for defining herself as she sees fit. She dared to step away from the comfort of the familiar and make herself anew in an uncertain future.

And this is very much the journey that plays out in Up Against It. I am not comparing the writer with the character, as those kinds of assessments are misleading and inaccurate, but I cannot help but read the same kinds of human stresses and gambles being played out in the novel. This is the feminist heart of Up Against It. Yes, there are impressive nanotechnologies, asteroid mines, space scooters, and AIs, but those technological elements do not rule the narrative. Instead, it is the struggles of the people within this future society that capture the reader’s attention. When Jane Navio faces the ethical dilemma of how to deal with an emergent life form – the feral sapient – I too wondered, “What would I do? What do I value as life?” Locke provides no easy answers or solutions, but offers us ways in which we can cope with life-alter(nat)ing change. We can, like Jane, return to our communities and redefine our place within them, or we can, like the feral sapient, emerge brand new and unfettered by what has gone before.

I realize that, for a book review, I haven’t really talked that much about the actual book. Well, it’s because I’m still thinking over the narrative and working out its successes and frustrations. I read Up Against It over 8 long months. I was slow, not because I found the book lacking in anyway, but because its very existence came into my awareness during my own transformative moment of leaving academia and becoming an independent scholar. When I went to WorldCon last year, I was scared. I felt like an outsider. And suddenly, I connected with one of the writers whose novels helped me get through some of my darkest times. Accepting M. J. Locke meant accepting that everything that had come before is indeed passed and gone. That people change. That I change. Science fiction is about the present world and where it may lead us. Up Against It reminds the reader, “This too shall pass.” Yes, it’s a gamble. We’ll have to see.

[Update! M.J. Locke responds with "Writers Write" (via her blog, Feral Sapient)]

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

It has almost been a year since I launched Academic Editing Canada (AEC) and nearly year and half since I finished my PhD and bid farewell to academia. In the time that has passed, I have slowly progressed through all the various emotions that attend any large transition. When I set out on my own last year, I had two major goals for myself: (1) heal physically and emotionally from the stress of grad school and (2) establish a business that provides me with steady part-time work so that I can continue pursuing my independent SF research in earnest. Despite working diligently towards these goals, it nevertheless has come as a shock that I have succeeded in reaching them.

I still have a way to go on the health front, but day-by-day I am learning how to better balance work and body demands. I am more acutely aware of the connection between stress and my chronic pain – when I’m anxious and binge working, I am not well. Being a sole proprietor definitely helps me control my working hours, but I am still unlearning many of the bad work habits I developed while in grad school. On the business front, I have established myself in the marketplace and developed several excellent long-term client relationships.

All of this progress is great, but I am most proud of the independent academic projects that I am undertaking. I am actually a real, live, breathing Independent Scholar – and I am having a bit of a hard time accepting that fact. It just seems too surreal and ridiculous to be true. I was unwell all of last week, so I had lots of time to reflect on the past year and on all the gains (and missteps) that I have made. When I left grad school, I felt worthless and foolish. Even though it was my decision to leave academia, there was always this little voice in my head telling me that I was a quitter, that I simply wasn’t good enough to make it into tenure-track. The voice goaded me constantly: “Where are your publications? Where are all the grants? You have done nothing. You failed as an academic and that is why you left.” Over and over again, the word failure plagued me, daring me to give up on the alternative career aspirations I had for myself.

I didn’t give up or take an easier, safer path. With the encouragement of my partner Andrew (who is an exemplar of self-directed learning and achievement), I took the risk on working for myself while expanding my scholarly experience. The biggest turning point for me, mentally, in transitioning from graduate student/academic to entrepreneur/independent scholar happened last August at WorldCon. I presented a paper in the con’s academic track and it was an awesome experience. Not only did one of my dissertation subjects, SF writer Laura J. Mixon, attend my talk (on her work, Proxies), I also had the chance to explore interest in my current project, an edited essay collection [working title] Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction. Since the feedback I received at WorldCon was overwhelmingly positive, I jumped right into writing up a CFP for the book and receiving submissions. Now, I am eagerly waiting to read essays from 12 amazing SF and disability researchers from across the globe!

In addition to working on the essay collection, I am also taking the financial hit and attending (and presenting at) several conferences and conventions this year: ICFA, WisCon, WorldCon, and WFC. Admittedly, going to these events is fun, but I am also aware of the power of networking in person. While I already connect with other people in the SF community (both fan and academic) on-line, meeting individuals in person is immensely more effective and fulfilling. Again, I will be using these cons to test out my latest research interests, but I am also viewing this year as my public coming out as an Independent Scholar. I wish that I had access to the same funding bodies as institutionally-affiliated scholars do, but that is the only aspect where I feel that I am at a disadvantage.

Being an independent scholar is incredibly liberating. I always felt weighed down by the politics of the university and the backroom whispers of who’s (not) getting funding or who’s (not) getting tenure. Feeling like I was being constantly judged – and worrying that I wasn’t meeting the bar of academic success – held me back from pursuing what I wanted to do. Not because I was worried about derision from my peers or mentoring faculty for choosing to study an unpopular subject, but because the constant worry and stress of “measuring up” literally made me sick. Maybe it’s because of my class background or that my personal beliefs of equality and fairness are simply at odds with the current institutional system of higher education, but academia is not the environment to which I am suited.

I am excited about the upcoming year and the scholarly work that I am undertaking. I already have another book-length project in mind once I complete work on the essay collection. Being on my own has given me a level of intellectual and professional confidence that I never had as a struggling grad student. Throughout the last years of my PhD, several respectable people told me: “You know, Kathryn, you can succeed in academia if you want to. You have the skills.” I *do* have the necessary skills, but I lack the desire to compete for a tenure-track job. I think that my lack of hunger for tenure, combined with my deep and thorough academic burnout, was read by some of my peers as inadequacy. This past year has proved that I am anything but inadequate. I want everyone to know that they too have the same options for success outside of academia. There is no shame is leaving the ivory tower – and being on the outside doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing research.

Calling oneself an “independent scholar” is laughable to many people still entrenched in the university system. I know because I used to make fun of the concept myself – for individuals who only know scholarship within the walls of academe, the thought of it legitimately existing outside is both absurd and threatening. Of course, with experience, I’ve changed my tune and proudly call myself an independent scholar, even including the title on my business card. I want everyone I meet to know the kind of work I do and deem important. Sure, I probably won’t save any lives writing about feminist SF or disability in Star Trek, but, on my own terms, I am helping further conversations that I believe are important in establishing a more inclusive society.

I will be writing more about my life as an independent scholar because (1) not a lot of people write/discuss what it means to be one and (2) it is a natural extension of my advocacy for higher education change. I have been doing some research into organizations that support independent scholarship (through networking, grant applications, etc.) and I will post about those resources soon. If you also identify as an independent scholar – or are considering being one – and want to connect (for support, networking, etc.) please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly.


Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

After several recent conversations with the science fiction uninitiated, I thought it would be a good idea to delve into my dissertation again and share an edited except – this time, I want to address the question: “what is feminist SF and how is it different from the ‘regular’ SF?” The following discussion has been taken from the "Introduction" to Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF (2010).

Feminist SF – from the feminist utopias of the 1970s to the feminist dystopias of the 1980s – has a long-established relationship of pushing corporeal-technological relationships beyond “man uses machine” into territories wherein technology is both socially productive and regulating. The body is often a site of critical engagement with established feminist SF writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Marge Piercy, Pat Cadigan, and James Triptree Jr., (as well as in my own research, which focuses on the latest generation of feminist SF writers, such as Larissa Lai, Nalo Hopkinson, Tricia Sullivan, and Laura Mixon).

In their introduction to Reload, Austin and Booth explain that “Women’s science fiction came into its own in the 1960s and 1970s. Science fiction was a form in which women writers could tease out the implications of second-wave feminism, with a particular focus on manipulating cultural structures and hierarchies” (4). Feminist SF became an identifiable subgenre that afforded women writers the space to explore not only ideas of second-wave feminism, but also to imagine new concepts of gendered and racialized identity. Referring to the wave of feminist science fiction (which was often utopian) of the 1970s, Jenny Wolmark contends that:

Despite their ambiguous and sometimes embattled position within a genre that still appears to have a preponderance of white male authors and readers, these narratives have not only been able to make significant inroads into the dominant representations of gender, but they have also stretched the limits and definitions of the genre. (“Postmodern Romances” 231)

Indeed, the contribution of women writers from James Triptree Jr. (who challenged gendered identity in the 1960s and 1970s male-dominated world of SF) through Ursula Le Guin and Monique Wittig (writing the feminist utopias of the 1970s) to Octavia Butler and Marge Piercy (bringing feminist SF into the SF mainstream throughout the 1980s and 1990s) have left an indelible mark on SF for both writers and readers.

In all its evocations, feminist SF opened up a space for those who may have felt previously excluded from the hard SF of the “foundational fathers” such as Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne. Wolmark also points out that feminist SF continued to evolve from its original inception: “A shift in emphasis, however, can be discerned in feminist SF written from the 1980s on, as it confronts the questions of gendered subjectivity more explicitly within the context of the masculinist hegemony of technology” (“Postmodern Romances” 232). By focusing on issues of technology, feminist SF began to pose difficult questions about what it means “to be human” and sketch out the cultural limitations of gendered bodies. For example, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (published in 1976) presents a scathing commentary on the forced medicalization of racialized women without sustained attention to the role of technology. Two decades later, however, her novel, He, She, and It (1991), specifically investigates issues of technologized embodiment and gender through the figure of a cyborg.

In much feminist SF, the primary site of boundary-crossing is gender, with technology being the prime motivator. Wolmark goes on to argue that “feminist science fiction crosses the boundaries of both gender and genre in two ways: firstly, by drawing on the narrative fantasies of popular romance fiction to offer fantasies of female pleasure and power, and secondly by using the ‘hard science’ metaphor of the cyborg to redefine definitions of female subjectivity” (230). While many feminist SF novels do not contain literal cyborgs – the half-machine, half-flesh beings immortalized in the Terminator and RoboCop movies – they do bring to life a reworking of the cliché through other alternative embodiments, such as clones, virtual reality avatars, and proxy-bodies. By introducing new forms of embodiment beyond the female cyborg, feminist SF (and, in particular, feminist post-cyberpunk) addresses the notions of female pleasure and power and the ways in which they diverge, corporeally and psychically, from traditional masculine oriented SF.

Booth and Flanagan underscore the centrality of gender in feminist SF, noting that “feminist science fiction, like feminist theory, pays special attention to the cultural construction of gender, the gendering of the Cartesian divide between mind and body, the maintenance of social and sexual hierarchies under patriarchy, and multiple challenges to notions of unified, stable subjectivity” (3). Feminist SF is not merely a rejection of patriarchal hierarchies, but a deep exploration of how those gendered power constructions have influenced our cultural and personal conceptions of corporeality and identity. Baccolini notes that feminist SF writers over the past forty years have contributed to the questioning of

masculinist discourses of traditional science fiction. Their novels have contributed to the breakdown of certainties and universalist assumptions about gendered identities: Themes such as the representation of women and their bodies, reproduction and sexuality, and language and its relation to identity, have all been tackled, explored, and reappropriated by these writers in dialectical engagement with tradition. (16)

In addition to Baccolini’s observations of feminist SF’s contributions, Wolmark contends that it “explores the possibilities for alternative and non-hierarchal definitions of gender and identity within which the difference of aliens and others can be accommodated rather than repressed” (Aliens and Others 2). Perhaps out of all the various facets of feminist SF, its ability to delve into and articulate the experiences of aliens and human others is paramount in its revisioning of what it means to be gendered and to embody difference.

Speaking of the alien, feminist SF does approach often terrifying others with a critical eye towards our own human constructions of gendered and racial difference. Booth and Flanagan propose that:

Science fiction has long used the figure of the alien to invoke anxieties about cultural differences such as man/woman, white/black, upper class/lower class; however, much science fiction invokes these anxieties precisely to bolster these differences, rather than break them down. Women’s science fiction, in contrast, uses the figure of the alien to expose the ways in which racial and gendered boundaries are constructed and the ways in which those boundaries maintain hierarchies of domination and power (indeed to expose the very anxiety over boundary collapse itself as xenophobic and sexist). (6)

The alien in feminist SF, then, is not simply they-who-are-not-us, but a reflection of what-we-are and what-we-could-be. Octavia Butler is perhaps most well known for her innovative explorations of the alien in her Lilith’s Brood and Seed to Harvest trilogies. In Butler’s narratives, she displaces the human with the alien, allowing neither the privilege of claiming moral or ontological superiority. By incorporating such a postcolonial approach, feminist SF makes scathing cultural commentary on our own unspoken definitions of who gets defined as human. Not to be left out of commenting on any aspect of feminist SF, Wolmark addresses the potential for feminist SF to make acute postcolonial critiques: “There is also a spatial dimension to the indeterminate futures that are imagined in feminist SF, for such futures are at once multiple and collective, global and inescapably postcolonial” (“Time and Identity” 169). Alongside an inherent concern with gendered bodies, the feminist SF of today challenges the reader to consider the current and future fates of racialized others and those whose bodies alternatively marked by class, disability, and sexual otherness.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Mothering Monsters: Technology, Reproduction, and the Maternal Body in
Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber

Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002) and Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000) explore the ways that reproductive technologies have the capacity to reshape human being in unexpected and frightening ways. Drawing on corporeal feminism (of Margrit Shildrick and Elizabeth Grosz, most notably), I interrogate the ways in which Lai and Hopkinson explore issues of monstrosity, maternity, and reproduction in posthuman worlds. Cloning meets reincarnation in Salt Fish Girl, as Lai traces the journey of durian-odoured Miranda from adolescence to motherhood. I examine the ways reproductive technologies, like cloning, intersect with environmental pollution and hybrid diseases to create a threatening maternal body that has no need for men. Lai reflects that “now we step out of moist earth, out of DNA new and old, an imprint of what has gone before, but also a variation. [...] By our strangeness we write our bodies into the future” (SFG, 259). Miranda’s struggles with corporeal indeterminacy and “seepage” are reflected, I argue, in Midnight Robber’s Tan-Tan. Like Lai, Hopkinson exposes the particular vulnerability and monstrosity inherent in maternity as Tan-Tan struggles with self-actualization and non-normative embodiment. Straddling the worlds of technology (Toussaint) and unadulterated nature (New Half-Way Tree), Tan-Tan becomes a contested site of the posthuman mother – her child is directly connected to the Grande Anansi Nanotech Interface: “[His] little bodystring will sing to Nanny tune, doux-doux. [He] will be a weave in she flesh” (MR, 328). Reading these two texts as exemplars of feminist post-cyberpunk SF, I ultimately propose that Lai and Hopkinson situate the monstrous maternal body as both vulnerable and technologically adaptable. Salt Fish Girl and Midnight Robber articulate the dangers inherent in adopting any new technology, but remain optimistic that the maternal body will continue to replicate on its own terms and in unforeseen ways.


Proposed Bibliography

Anatol, Giselle Liza. “Maternal Discourses in Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber.” African  American Review. 40.1 (Spring 2006). 1-14. Print.

Barr, Marleen, Ed. Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in  Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Lanham: Rowman and  Littlefield Publishers, 2000.  13-34. Print.

- - - . “’We’re at the start of a new ball game and that’s why we’re all real nervous’: Or, Cloning – Technological Cognition Reflects Estrangement from Women.” Learning From Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia. Ed. Patrick Parrinder. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. 193-207. Print.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Cyberteratologies: Female Monsters Negotiate the Other’s Participation in Humanity’s Far Future.” Envisioning the Future: Science Fiction and the Next Millennium. Ed. Marleen Barr. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003. 146-172. Print.

Doane, Mary Ann. “Technophilia: Technology, Representation, and the Feminine.” Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs and Cyberspace. Ed. Jenny Wolmark. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. 20-33. Print.

Graham, Elaine. Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens, and Others in Popular Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1999. Print.

Hopkinson, Nalo. Midnight Robber. New York: Warner Books, 2000. Print.

Lai, Larissa. Salt Fish Girl. Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2008. Print.

Lee, Tara. “Mutant Bodies in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl: Challenging the Alliance Between Science and Capital.” West Coast Line 38.2 (Fall 2004): 1-11. Print.

Morris, Robyn. “’What Does it Mean to be Human?’: Racing Monsters, Clones and Replicants.” Foundation (Summer 2004): 81-96. Print.

Rogan, Alcena Madeline Davis. “Tananarive Due and Nalo Hopkinson Revisit the Reproduction of Mothering.” Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2008. 75-99. Print.

Shildrick, Margrit. Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self London: SAGE Publications, 2002. Print.

Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. Print.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

As a way to follow up my earlier post, “On the Margins, Cyberpunk Lives!” I want to write a series of posts that highlight the recent/current novels that I read as recuperating cyberpunk (and feminist) tropes. For the first in this series, I will turn to one of the texts that I studied for my doctoral thesis: Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000). For this particular post, I have borrowed some bits from my thesis, while adding new critical comments and examples. I have been careful to avoid spoilers – and this is not a book review per se – so if what I write about the novel intrigues you, I highly recommend reading it for yourself. So, without further preamble, let’s proceed:

Nalo Hopkinson’s literary oeuvre to date crosses the genres of SF, fantasy, and horror. Hopkinson has written the multiple award-winning Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), Skin Folk (2001), The Salt Roads (2003), and The New Moon's Arms (2007). She is also an editor of the excellent literary collections, Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000), Mojo: Conjure Stories (2003) and So Long Been Dreaming (2004). Of all her works, Midnight Robber is the novel that most fully embodies the feminist post-cyberpunk sensibility that I believe is alive and well today. At first glance, the casual reader may question the categorization of Midnight Robber as an inheritor of cyberpunk SF, as a good half of the novel (or more) is set in the landscape of New Half-Way Tree, a wild place more reminiscent of Tolkien than Sterling. However, when I first read Midnight Robber, William Gibson’s iconic Neuromancer (1984) was still fresh in my mind. Hopkinson’s depiction of an all black-world (in fact, an all black consortium of worlds, established and protected by the Marryshow Corporation) echoed, to me, a new and improved version of the cliché filled Rastafarian Babylon of Gibson’s universe. While the Jamaican Rastafarians in Neuromancer are characterized as poor, marginalized hacker outlaws, the black society in Midnight Robber is fully technological, organized, moneyed, and in control.

Midnight Robber’s internal narrative of the alien world New Half-Way Tree, which appears to recall earlier feminist utopias and fantasy motifs, amplifies the surrounding section of the story that takes place on the fully-wired Toussaint. Through the voice of an AI (Granny Nanny) and the world of Toussaint, Hopkinson provides a pronounced cyberpunk exploration of technology, artificial intelligence, and human ingenuity. Through nanomites in their blood streams, people in Midnight Robber literally embody the technology that both protects and restrains them. Everyone on Toussaint (and in the other worlds controlled by the Marryshow Corporation) is connected to Granny Nanny and continuously monitored for their health and safety (as such, privacy becomes the most sought after commodity). I read the disjuncture between Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree as Hopkinson’s reimagining of the way in which conventional cyberpunk fragments space. Similar to traditional cyberpunk, where the unaltered body is forced to exist in “meatspace,” Hopkinson uses New Half-Way Tree as a site where the altered posthuman returns to the human (people are forced to survive using only their physical bodies as they are no longer connected to Granny Nanny). Throughout the text, Hopkinson is ultimately concerned with the impact of technology – in particular those that transform human labour practices such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and nano-technology – in daily life.

The key element, in my assessment, that distinguishes Midnight Robber as a feminist post-cyberpunk text is Hopkinson’s attention to issues of race and colonization in terms of the reproduction of bodies and subjectivities in technologically (dis)located spaces (whether in cyberspace or across a transdimensional veil). In addition to addressing the relationship between technology and the body, Hopkinson goes further in wondering what those future bodies may look like and how they will be treated. Through the character of Tan-Tan, Hopkinson exposes the reader to the best and worst of Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree. Straddling the worlds of technology (Toussaint) and unadulterated nature (New Half-Way Tree), Tan-Tan becomes a contested site of the posthuman. In a genre traditionally inhabited by mostly white bodies, Midnight Robber rejects normative images of racialized others and proposes new diasporic communities of belonging. Hopkinson plays with the image of the cyberspace cowboy, exchanging the lone white male hacker of Gibson’s cyberpunk for a black female child displaced in the wilds of an alien planet. Like the cyberspace cowboy, however, this young girl becomes a physical node between technology and humanity. People of colour are not on the side-lines of the narrative, nor are they fetishized (like the Voudon figures throughout Gibson’s Sprawl series), in Hopkinson’s narrative. Instead, Hopkinson creates three-dimensional characters that both contradict and support one another – there are no easy stereotypes to fall back on Midnight Robber.

Like the cyberpunk (and feminist) writers that came before, Hopkinson boldly explores the depths of societal attachment to technology and the ways in which technology continues to redefine human society and its interaction with the natural world. As a feminist post-cyberpunk novel, Midnight Robber exemplifies the search for a balance between the technological and the natural, the corporation and the private citizen, the automated and the human. Cyberpunk is not dead here; it just lives in different bodies.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Thursday, 08 September 2011 20:58

On the Margins, Cyberpunk lives!

I know that genre categorization pieces can be annoying, but I think that the argument about cyberpunk and its (dis)continued existence as an identifiable SF subgenre reflects feminist fandom concern around “gender in genre.” Time and again, I come across people, mostly male writers, reducing cyberpunk to a specific aesthetic that passed out of fashion with the rest of the 1990s. At the most recent WorldCon in Reno this past August, I attended a panel where one of the panelists repeatedly declared that cyberpunk = noir. This simple reduction does not categorize the cyberpunk subgenre adequately in any context. By relying on one aesthetic element to define cyberpunk, the genre is robbed of its rich and engaging thematic components: the relationship between technology and the body, the globalization of the marketplace, and the DIY attitude to urban survival, to name a few. By putting aesthetic at the forefront (as exemplified by a handful of mostly straight, white North American male writers), the past and continuing contributions of women and people of colour to cyberpunk are either elided or denigrated as passé. While the original progenitors of cyberpunk are done with the genre, there are a good many writers – particularly women, people of colour, and non-Western world writers – still addressing and regenerating core cyberpunk themes.

In the iconic preface to the Mirrorshades Anthology, Bruce Sterling ventured that cyberpunk captures the moment in time where the institutions in power are losing their control over technology and that the cyberpunks were the first generation to live in a “truly science-fictional world” (344). While Sterling may have overstated the radical elements of cyberpunk, he was right in suggesting that cyberpunk creatively tapped into the cultural moment when the world was becoming “wired” – through advanced telecommunications networks, globalization, and international corporate conglomerates – for the first time. For fans of the subgenre, cyberpunk navigates cyberspace (and other advanced technologies that impact the body and spatial relationships to embodiment) with a postmodern aesthetic (non-linear and multiple narratives, fractured constructions of time and space) that embraces a punk, anarchist, DIY attitude towards technology and power. By tapping into the anxieties over the pace of technological change, cyberpunk combined the technophilia of conventional SF with a sense of postmodern global malaise and a growing concern over what constitutes identity (as a citizen and as a human being).

While it seems that the majority of voices in fandom lean towards the “cyberpunk is dead” angle, there is also the popular position that cyberpunk has not disappeared, but has merely been transmuted into further generations of the subgenre and dispersed among SF as yet another trope. I argue that both the aesthetic and thematic elements of cyberpunk, along with some of its material aspects – in terms of fashion, music, and drugs – while no longer depicted in mainstream SF, continue to exist in rave and hacker subcultures in the US, in former Eastern block countries and developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia [Japan is a notable exception here, as its cyberpunk movement grew up alongside the American one and still continues on today – this is a whole topic for another discussion]. For example, buzz has building around a young aspiring SF writer from Ghana, Jonathan Dotse, who has unabashedly seized cyberpunk as his SF subgenre of choice. While cyberpunk-like anxieties about the body, technology, capitalism, and power may not be at the forefront of the North American cultural imagination right now, people living in non-Western countries currently experiencing wide-spread internet access and increased pressures to compete – or just survive – in the global marketplace are feeling the same dislocations and challenges to their national and personal identities.

In addition to non-Western writers taking up the themes and aesthetics of cyberpunk in their work, feminist SF writers in North America and the UK have been playing with and re-writing cyberpunk narratives. Since the 1970s, feminist SF has posed difficult questions about what it means “to be human” and sketched out the cultural limitations of gendered bodies. In today’s feminist SF, there is a deepened focus on racialized characters (and writers), as the body’s relationship to technology continues to be a central concern. Women have taken centre stage in writing and representing themselves in (post-)cyberpunk. Novels like Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, Tricia Sullivan’s Maul, and Laura J. Mixon’s Proxies emerge out of and extend the subgenres of both feminist SF and cyberpunk. The new cyberpunk-inspired narratives advance progressive political projects – such as inclusive human rights for all regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and class. Specifically, issues of race and gender are at the forefront, as writers turn a critical eye to the role of technology in evolving our relationships to our racialized and gendered bodies.

As feminist SF developed into the 1980s and the 1990s, more and more of its writers began incorporating substantial technological themes and tropes from cyberpunk, developing into what I like to call “feminist post-cyberpunk.” I do believe that both subgenres contribute to this latest generation of SF, as it explores the relationship between technology and the body in a globalized world. Perhaps one of the reasons that the term feminist post-cyberpunk SF has not been coined by anyone else (aside from it being unfashionably long), is that cyberpunk is often critiqued as deeply heteronormative, masculine, and seemingly incompatible with feminism. Several academic SF critics, most notably Jenny Wolmark and Nicola Nixon, have pointed out the hesitancy of cyberpunk’s progenitors to acknowledge the contributions of women and early feminist SF to the development of the subgenre. Apparently, an acknowledgement of feminist SF might take away some of the acclaimed “cyberspace cowboy” bravado and supposed radicalness of cyberpunk. In most discussions of cyberpunk, Pat Cadigan is the only woman mentioned, despite a number of other women, such as Misha and Marge Piercy, writing in the subgenre. In current conversations about (post-)cyberpunk, the same absence of women still persists.

Given the general unpopularity of feminist politics – in both fandom and society at large – it is not really a surprise that few novels are marketed as both feminist and cyberpunk (Tricia Sullivan’s Maul is one of the few books I’ve seen openly marketed as “feminist cyberpunk”). Other non-Western writers, regardless of gender, take a risk in branding themselves as cyberpunk practitioners: in a subgenre decried dead and buried by many, they might inadvertently find their novels dismissed as imitative and “quaint,” rather than as progressive political and cultural reflections of current reality. Just once would I like to enter into a discussion about cyberpunk and hear about the variety of writers – feminist and otherwise – working within the subgenre today (and not only those who did twenty plus years ago). The argument that cyberpunk is merely an aesthetic or an out-dated trope keeps the subgenre closed in and protected for a select group of people (who are generally straight, white, and male). The refusal to acknowledge the continuation of cyberpunk past the time of its original writers is a way of excluding those people who have been and are overlooked in SF. On the margins, amongst feminists, and in the areas of the world undergoing their own technological revolutions, cyberpunk is alive and well.

[Do to time and mental energy constraints, I have only mentioned a few current writers who are still working within the realm of cyberpunk today, but there are certainly many more out there (especially in languages that I cannot personally read). Please leave recommendations in the comments!]

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Thursday, 01 September 2011 16:36

My Personal SF/F Collection

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked by a number of people for book recommendations. Seeing as that I studied feminist post-cyberpunk and tend to enjoy texts that deal with issues related to technology and the (raced, dis/abled, gendered, sexed) body, most of the books I own reflect those themes. I should note that even though I love reading, I am not a bibliophile in the least. For someone with a literature PhD, I am definitely an aberration from the norm. There is only *one* bookcase in my house! I lend out/give away my books once I am done reading them - of all the books I have ever owned, I have retained less than 5%. Part of the reason for my relatively low-book ownership is that I have a family history of hoarding and I intend not to go down that road. Additionally, I have always believed that books should be read and shared. It has never made sense to me to hold on to books just for the sake of looking at them. I also use the public library since I can’t afford to a buy everything I want to read. The books that I own and hold on to, then, are the stories that I truly love or find engaging in some lasting way.

The below list contains my SF/F-related titles only (I’ll leave my other favourite non-SF books for a future post). If you see a book on the list that you want to learn more about, leave a comment and I’ll write up a review!


SF/F Books on my shelf that I’ve read (and recommend):

Feed. M. T. Anderson

Weaving the Web. Tim Berners-Lee (2000)

Kindred. Octavia Butler (1979)

Lilith’s Brood series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, & Imago). Octavia Butler (1987/2000)

Seed to Harvest series (Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, & Patternmaster). Octavia Butler (1976/2007)

Synners. Pat Cadigan (1991)

Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep. Philip K. Dick (1968)

The House of the Scorpion. Nancy Farmer (2002)

Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture. Eds. Mary Flanagan & Austin Booth (2002)

Burning Chrome. William Gibson (1986)

Count Zero. William Gibson (1986)

Neuromancer. William Gibson (1984)

Mona Lisa Overdrive. William Gibson (1988)

Virtual Light. William Gibson (1994)

The Haraway Reader. Donna Haraway (2004)

Skin Folk. Nalo Hopkinson (2001)

Brown Girl in the Ring. Nalo Hopkinson (1998)

Midnight Robber. Nalo Hopkinson (2000)

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial SF & F. Eds. Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan (2004)

Beggars in Spain. Nancy Kress (1993)

Salt Fish Girl. Larissa Lai (2002)

When Fox is a Thousand. Larissa Lai (2004)

A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

The Dispossessed. Ursual Le Guin (1974)

Earthsea series (The Wizard of Earthsea, The Farthest Shore, The Tombs of Atuan, Tales from Earthsea, & The Other Wind).Ursual Le Guin (1968-2001)

The Left Hand of Darkness. Ursula Le Guin (1969)

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Eds. James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel (2007)

Storming the Reality Studio. Ed. Larry McCaffery (1991)

Red Spider, White Web. Misha (1990)

47. Walter Mosley (2005)

Woman on the Edge of Time. Marge Piercy (1976)

He, She And It. Marge Piercy (1991)

Glass Houses. Laura J. Mixon (1992)

Proxies. Laura J. Mixon (1998)

The Female Man. Joanna Russ (1975

WWW series (Wake, Watch, Wonder). Robert J. Sawyer (2009-2011)

Snow Crash. Neal Stephenson (1992)

Dreaming in Smoke. Tricia Sullivan (1998)

Maul. Tricia Sullivan (2003)

Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. Priscilla Wald (2008)

Uglies. Scott Westerfeld (2006)


SF/F Books on my shelf that I still need to read:

The Wind Up Girl. Pablo Bacigalupi (2009)

Nova. Samuel Delany (1968)

Spook Country. William Gibson (2007)

The New Moon’s Arms. Nalo Hopkinson (2007)

Up Against It. M.J. Locke (2011) *currently reading*

Fractions (The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal). Ken Macleod (1995/2008)

The City & The City. China Mieville (2009)

Running with the Pack. Ed. Ekatrina Sedia (2010)

Far Horizons. Ed. Robert Silverberg (2005)

Revolution World. Katy Stauber (2011)

Mechanique. Genevieve Valentine (2011)

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

I wasn’t intending to write this post for another few weeks, but after a recent frustrating email exchange, I realized that I needed to write something about the still inexplicable presence of sexism and misogyny right now. I want to note some of the explicit and implicit incidents of sexism that I have experienced and observed in academia and fandom over the past few years.

During my time as a graduate student, I had to the deal with a certain amount of sexism that I imagine most other women in academia or similar professional institutions encounter. Generally, the sexism I encountered came from my male peers and not faculty (although there were certainly a few incidents at that level – and I have heard countless horror stories from female faculty about their own experiences with sexism). I think only once – *once* – did a male colleague openly admire my intellectual capability. I don’t think that I present myself as a blathering fool, but I can recall many times when a male peer looked at me like I was completely stupid.

So I came to expect disinterest and disregard from most men when it came to talking about my work with feminist SF (and also with posthumanism, corporeal feminism … really challenging and cool stuff!). I thought that once I got the PhD, maybe I would get some more respect – after all, we all experienced the same thesis writing process and we all passed the same tests with the same expectations – but no, not much has changed. The result is that I am hesitant to talk about my research or I down play its intellectual rigor, which is an unfortunate habit that I am trying to break (I have a supportive feminist man as my life-partner, who is always telling me to speak proudly of my accomplishments).

Just recently, at WorldCon, a man in the audience at my paper presentation challenged me on my academic standing. After I introduced myself, noting that I earned my PhD through studying feminist post-cyberpunk SF and am now an independent academic, he immediately began asking me what university level position I had attained (by listing the various tenure track positions as if I was unaware of them). I explained again that my academic career was degree terminal. The sexist nature of his query was commented on by a wonderful woman (an aerospace engineer – awesome!) that was also at the talk – we ended up noting the various incidents of casual sexism we witnessed during many panels at the con (from male panelists speaking over female panelists to outward deflections of relevant feminist issues). It seems that whenever feminist politics break into traditionally male-dominated communities, there is also a debate about whether or not the issues being raised are valid. Discussion is derailed quickly, as the status quo is eager to move on to other less upsetting topics.

In my position as a SF researcher and capital “F” Feminist, I’m noticing the same tired old responses being bandied about by those who are unwilling to recognize inequality and their implicit support of it. When I mentioned the previous and continuing contribution of feminist SF writers to the (post)cyberpunk genre at one panel, only one of the four panelists directly responded to what I had said. The more general response was to give personal anecdotes about encounters with female writers and edge the conversation towards more neutral ground. I am entirely annoyed by hearing the old line: “I know one woman [writer, editor, publisher, etc], so there is no gender imbalance [in SF publishing, fandom, academia, etc].”

I imagine that most people reading this post are the choir: you don’t need the sermon, you’re already preaching it. To any readers who don’t believe that there is significant gender imbalance in academia, fandom, or society at large: you are wrong. Feminists are not writing and speaking about gender and sexism because we are seeking a second opinion or validation. We are stating the existence of a problem and looking for ways to fix it. I feel that the gains made by first- and second-generation feminists are being undone – all while we are being told to sit down and relax. I definitely will be writing more about feminist issues (which for me intersect with anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-ablist rhetoric) in the future. I do believe that North American culture is at a cross-roads: as financial crises and war create a fearful public, the instinct for too many is turn back to conservative values and politics. If the feminist movement is to survive, we need to make sure that we don't stay quiet about the incidents of sexism -- both casual and egregious -- that we encounter.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
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