mother of invention hardback cover

Mother of Invention Essays on Gender, AI, Androids, Allegory, and the Other

Next month the fabulous Mother of Invention anthology comes out and I highly encourage you to pre-order this fabulousness if you did not get in on the Kickstarter. It features stories about gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics by Nisi Shawl, John Chu, Seanan McGuire, Soumya Sundar Mukherjee, EC Myers & many more. Editors Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts did a fantastic job with it (I know cuz I’ve read my contributor copy already :D ).

mother of invention anthology coverAs a companion to the antho Rivqa and Tansy asked me to write a non-fiction essay around the same themes as the fiction, and I immediately knew I wanted to write about androids and race. It helped that Janelle Monae dropped Dirty Computer in the middle of the editing process, allowing me to go deeper into her contributions to androidified fiction. I also got to namecheck Chesya Burke and talk more in-depth about her work, which is always a treat.

Mine is not the only companion essay. Katherine Cross wrote about The Gender in the Machine and Aliette de Bodard wrote about AI as the Other, AI as Family. Both essays are fantastic and have me thinking more about what I might want to say about AI in future projects. (And by that I mean far future because I’m gonna be in Egypt for the next long while…) Same with the stories in the anthology. They all have me considering aspects of AI I had not before.

Bottom line: read the essays and pre-order the book!

Shared or Stolen: An Examination of Cultural Appropriation by Shannon Wright

A Place For Commentary on Cultural Appropriation

Today NPR published my piece on why “Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible.” I was inspired to write this article by a recent NYTimes op-ed on the matter that floored me with how the writer misunderstood the topic, conflated it with other issues, and in general did not take into consideration or seem to know about any of the many articles and posts and books that already exist talking about cultural appropriation. It’s frustrating because that often seems to be the case. That’s why my piece has so many links to so many other essays as well as to resources.

It’s been a while since I submitted a piece to NPR, and so I didn’t know that they no longer have comments (I did do a little cheer when I saw). However, some folks are super not okay with not being able to scroll to the bottom and tell me how wrong I am! And thus my Twitter mentions, the Inbox on the Writing the Other account, and comments on unrelated posts here are full of folks offering me their thoughts.

Since this is the case, I thought a post giving folks the opportunity to scratch that itch was in order. Ta da! However, since this is my blog, I have rules, and you’ll have to be bound by them.

First time commenters are always moderated.

If you’ve never participated in discussion here, then your comment will not appear below automatically. It goes into a queue, and an admin has to rescue it from the queue. Since many folks who will rush here to argue with me do not often do so in good faith and/or can’t resist wallowing in racism or misogyny as they type, I will not be looking at the mod queue, someone else will. They will let your comment out if it doesn’t have those issues. If it does, they’ll delete it and I won’t see your words.

Side Note: Someone is moderating the email address my contact form goes to as well, so I won’t see anything deemed to be mired in bigotry there, either.

Before you argue with me about cultural appropriation, read all the links.

I put a ton of links in that piece for a reason. Cultural appropriation is a complex topic that can’t be 100% covered in one 1000 word essay. So I gave all readers the opportunity to delve deeper into it via other great essays. Click every link in that piece and read what’s behind it and click all the links in those pieces as well. Only then should you come here to ask questions or make objections.

“But I don’t have time to read all that!” you might say. “I have a life to lead!” Okay. But if you don’t have time to read up on the subject you don’t have time to argue with me about it. Go do something, anything, else.

Don’t argue with me on points I haven’t made.

If you see something in those links that you want to fight about, fight about it with the person who wrote the article. The person who made that point. Not with me. I’m not the avatar of all people who have written about cultural appropriation ever. Don’t expect me to answer for them.

If you can follow these guidelines, you can submit a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!

P.S. Sorry for the disjointed nature of the comment responses below. My theme doesn’t support threading as of yet, but I’m trying to fix that now.


Top Image: “Shared or Stolen: An Examination of Cultural Appropriation” by Shannon Wright. Find more of her work on her website, twitter, and instagram.

 

Martha Jones in the TARDIS saying This is me getting out

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Doctor Who is once again bringing in a woman of color as a companion. I haven’t watched the show regularly since Clara came on board, so I’m not as up with what’s going on. But author Na’amen Gobert Tilahun tweeted a link to a post on io9 with the headline “Doctor Who teaser shows new companion is cool with dying for the Doctor, and she might.” which… well, read this whole thread for thoughts similar to mine about all that.

Given these developments, I thought it would be a good time to post this essay online for all to read. It appeared in Chicks Dig Time Lords, a book you should read if you love Doctor Who.

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues

When you’re a fan of Doctor Who, there are two discussions you’re bound to have with other fans, no matter what the setting: “Who is your favorite Doctor?” and “Who is your favorite companion?” Most people don’t make assumptions about my choice in the first category (Nine, by the way), but almost always assume that my choice for the second is Martha Jones. They assume this because I’m a Black woman. I find that annoying for reasons you may well imagine. The main one being that Martha is my favorite, but not just because she’s Black.

When the announcement came that Freema Agyeman would be the next companion, I was happy that there would be another companion who was also a person of color. Unlike some fans, I do count Mickey as a companion and I also count Chang Lee from the (admittedly horrible) American Doctor Who movie. But Freema would be the first on-screen “main” companion of color.

This kind of thing means a lot to me, but it didn’t mean that I’d automatically like the character or even prefer her over others. It remained to be seen if Martha Jones was made of awesome or just another stereotype.

The answer turned out to be a complex mix of both, with much of the blame lying with the show’s creators and writers, and much of the success attributable to the actress.

Made of Awesome…

The writers did many things right in introducing Martha. The character was impressive in her very first episode, but it was a bit of dialogue in the second that sealed the deal for me. In “The Shakespeare Code,” Martha steps out of the TARDIS and into the past. The Doctor is going on about similarities between Elizabethan London and her own when Martha asks a question that I’m sure many black fans had in the back of their mind:

Martha: Am I all right? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?

The Doctor (look of utter bewilderment on his face): Why would they do that?

Martha: Not exactly white,‘case you haven’t noticed.

The Doctor: I’m not even human. Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.

Though the Doctor blows off the question, I believe my first reaction to that line was thank you. If I was traveling in the past, that would have been one of my chief concerns, too.

This is indicative of everything that made me love Martha from the beginning. When her hospital gets transferred to the moon in “Smith and Jones,” Martha doesn’t panic, logically deduces that the windows can be opened, and, when asked by the Doctor who she thinks is responsible for transporting the hospital, she immediately answers: extra-terrestrials. This was a very pointed way for the show’s creators to indicate that Martha was a companion worthy of the Doctor[1]

Another thing I liked about Martha was her willingness to stand up to the Doctor and tell him off when it was clear he needed it. Badly. At the end of “Gridlock,” she forces him to stop being oblique about himself. As things began to go south in “The Sound of Drums,” she refuses to simply follow his orders and puts her concern for her family over his priorities. In “The Sontaran Stratagem,” she won’t let him make her feel guilty for being part of UNIT operations that involve guns (as if there are any other kind).

I love that even before Martha met the Doctor, she was already clever and competent and doing something with her life. She didn’t need him to help her escape from a mediocre existence, she didn’t need him to blossom into an extraordinary person. That she did grow due to their travels is a bonus, but because she came from a solid foundation, she was better able to walk away from the Doctor when she needed to. The scene where Martha left the TARDIS was the perfect end to that season, especially given all the crap she had to endure while inside it.

moving image of Martha Jones leaving the TARDIS

Just Another Stereotype…

Though Martha is a great character, there were several choices the show’s creators made that diminished my enjoyment of the episodes where she appeared. Some have to do with her interactions with the Doctor, but most have to do with some troubling attitudes toward race and the introduction of a heinous stereotype.

Within the show’s continuity, Martha meets the Doctor a short while after Rose was accidentally sucked into an alternate dimension and trapped there. The Doctor is still mourning Rose, which is natural, and he constantly reminds Martha that she is not as good as Rose, which is a punk move. I often bemoan the fact that the Doctor is a huge jerk, despite being the hero of the show[2]. In Series Three, this quality is often on display when he interacts with Martha.

He screams at her (“Utopia”), treats her like second best (“The Shakespeare Code”), hides important information from her (“The Sound of Drums”), lies to her (“Gridlock”) and strings her along as regards how long she can travel with him (“The Lazarus Experiment”). This can be explained away by the whole Jerk thing–it’s part of canon, after all, that the Doctor can be nasty and mean just as easily as he is heroic and kind–but what cannot be explained away is why he treats her so differently than almost every female companion he’s come across since his ninth incarnation.

Though it can be infuriating and infantilizing, the Doctor tends to treat his female companions as damsels in distress. Rose gained some agency by the end, but there was only one time[3] in her tenure on the show when the Doctor blithely disregarded her safety and well-being in favor of whatever dangers were going on around them or other people. Donna, abrasive as she is, still gets the damsel treatment, though she often chafes against it. Astrid (“Voyage of the Damned”) definitely fits into the damsel profile.

Martha gets to play a different stereotype: that of the Mammy.

In her July 2, 2007 post in the LiveJournal community lifeonmartha, blogger Mikki Kendall laid out many of the problematic racial and sexist elements that cropped up during Series Three. She noted that the damsel stereotype is more often applied to white, female characters and that, “Damsels are always desirable, no matter how much ass they kick (or don’t) and nothing they do makes them unworthy of love or protection.” However, black women on television are often only given three choices: Mammy, Jezebel or Sapphire (a “nagging shrew constantly emasculating a weak black man,” as defined in the post). Martha flirts or pines after a couple of men, including the Doctor, but she isn’t wantonly sexual, so she doesn’t fit Jezebel. But she most certainly fits the Mammy stereotype, which is also closely associated with the Strong Black Woman stereotype. Kendall laid it out perfectly by saying: “[Martha] is supposed to be willing to sacrifice everything to protect the ones that can actually do some good.”

The first, and probably most annoying, example of this is in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood,” wherein Martha literally works as a maid for the Doctor who is disguised as a human in 1913 England. What I find most interesting about this episode is that it’s based on a Doctor Who novel, Human Nature, which was originally written with the seventh Doctor and a white companion. In the novel, the companion poses as the Doctor’s niece. Obviously, in the adaptation to television, this detail needed to be changed. But the nature of that change is troubling, especially for a black, female viewer such as myself.

From an in-series perspective, one wonders why the TARDIS chose an era which necessitated Martha having to play the part of a maid surrounded by people who would most certainly be horribly prejudiced toward her. Or why the Doctor didn’t offer it some guidance for eras of history perhaps best left alone. Imagine if they’d ended up in the American South just before the Civil War. From an outside perspective, one wonders why the show’s creators didn’t see this as a real problem. Of course, the disparity between Martha’s situation in 1913 and what she can achieve and be in 2007 is acknowledged within the script. That doesn’t absolve the creators of a sketchy thought process, though. I wish that they had waited to produce this episode with a different companion. Beyond this aspect, it’s one of the best in the series[4]

We again see Martha playing Mammy in “Blink,” where it’s revealed that she has to work in a shop in order to support the Doctor while he, supposedly, works on getting them home. The burden of being the care-taker falls on her again. Why the Doctor can’t also get a job is never explained. Nor why a highly educated person such as Martha would end up in a shop, a career path often held up in the Whoniverse as being highly undesirable and something to escape from (“Rose,” “World War Three,” “The Parting of the Ways”). It may be that Martha couldn’t get anything else due to her race or gender. If so, we have another instance of the creators putting Martha in a setting where she’s not allowed the same level of respect and autonomy, for no good reason. Then in “The Sound of Drums,” Martha is the one who has to brave being caught by the police to get food for the Doctor and Jack while they’re on the run. I also have to wonder if the Doctor would have asked Rose to wander the world, spreading the gospel about him, as he did Martha (“The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”).

It’s a troubling trend, both seen within the context of the show and from without. This is the kind of thing that people of color often fear when one of us is included on mainstream television–there’s a community called deadbrowalking on LiveJournal for a reason[5]. For all that is awesome about Martha Jones, my enjoyment of her tenure on Doctor Who was marred by the subtle current of racism and sexism that runs throughout.

I know from watching episodes of Doctor Who Confidential that the producers and directors are very impressed with Freema and call her a great leading lady for her ability to exude and give energy to everyone around her. She infuses Martha with this energy, plus confidence and intelligence. Though obviously the character was written with this intention, the wrong actress or the wrong attitude could have ruined it all. She wasn’t given the greatest material to work with, but she always appeared to approach episodes with an eye toward squeezing the best out of them. In the Confidential episode “Alter Ego” (companion to “Human Nature”), Freema talks about how the script touches on issues of racism and how great it is to play a character that overall doesn’t have limitations due to race or gender.

In many ways, she’s right. In another time, Freema would have been given the part of a maid as a matter of course instead of an ironic, if problematic, twist. Her recognition of this lends weight to her performance, not just in this pair of episodes but all of them.

The elements of Martha’s character, both positive and negative, could so easily have slipped into triteness. The unrequited love thread throughout Series Three annoyed me to the point of distraction in nearly every episode. A lesser actress would have allowed that aspect to overwhelm everything else about the character–who doesn’t love a love story? But Martha is more than just a woman in love with a man who doesn’t love back. Freema worked hard to bring out all the other, deeper things that make Martha who she is.

Forever Fangirl…

This is why, despite all of the issues I have with the show and the creators, I still love Martha. Hell, I still love Doctor Who. After all that, many might quite rightly ask: why? The troubling race stuff doesn’t begin or end with Martha. I’m not even an old school legacy fan–the first episode of Doctor Who I ever watched was “Rose.” So, why?

There’s no easy answer.

The very basic one is that I just love the show. I love it down to the bottom of my toes. The SF geek in me loves all the cool aliens and different cultures and new planets and fantastic ideas. And the running. The running is awesome. I still love adventure stories, and stories about good people triumphing over the badness in the universe.

Doctor Who is a complex show, especially when compared to most television. Even when it’s being an adventure or good vs. evil and all that, the core of the story isn’t necessarily simple or straightforward. The Doctor is a flawed, damaged, brilliant, dangerous alien. He’s also the hero. How can any show with such a character at the center of it be simple or straightforward?

Yes, the show’s creators make thoughtless mistakes and probably don’t understand why many of the issues I raised are problematic. They aren’t completely clueless, though. And they are trying–note the number of interracial couples on Doctor Who and Torchwood ((I do realize this is a contentious issue on its own. Even allowing that Martha and Mickey wound up married, somehow, many fans of color often wondered if the show creators knew that people of color sometimes dated and even married each other.)). There does appear to be an effort to show the future as multiracial, and to give characters of color a range of personalities from hero/heroine to villain/villainess and the many, many shades in between.

I love the universe that Doctor Who often shows me. I love the other companions–Rose and Mickey and Jack and Donna–and I even love the Doctor. Whatever the faults of the show’s creators, they obviously love Martha, too. And it helps that Freema is a great actress that breathed life into her. Good acting is often able to make up for defects in writing and execution.

So I keep watching. And hoping.

Hoping that the writers do away with both the damsel and the Mammy stereotype. Hoping that they will stop underutilizing Martha so criminally. Hoping that they will, by some miracle, begin to Get It.

Because, yes, Martha Jones is my favorite companion. She’s clever and brilliant and brave and amazing. She’s less needy and more independent than Rose and more faceted and less abrasive than Donna. I want to see her treated better by all involved. She deserves to be only awesome and more than just another stereotype.

Footnotes

  1. Compare her to Donna in “The Runaway Bride” (who was always away on vacation when major alien events happened and was therefore ignorant–or just in denial–of them), and Gwen in the Torchwood episode “Everything Changes” (who knows about the incidents but denies that any of them were real).[]
  2. See my essay “The Lonely God is a Jerk” at Fantasy Magazine[]
  3. “The Girl in the Fireplace” where the Doctor essentially abandons Rose in the future in order to save Reinette, which makes no sense given the history of the characters.[]
  4. It’s worth noting here that several years after I wrote this essay I ended up having a conversation with the episode’s writer, Paul Cornell on the blog. It was very illuminating and adds to an understanding of where he was coming from and how his intention didn’t match up with the outcome.[]
  5. Might not be there, anymore.[]
My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

Awards Season Is Upon Us #1: My Eligibility

Hugo Award voting opened not long ago, and the Nebula nominations are out. Awards season is in full swing! And that means it’s time (long past time, actually) for me to mention that I generated some award-eligible content last year. And I’ll be honest: I would indeed appreciate you considering me when you fill out your ballots[1].

My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

I didn’t publish any fiction last year (damn novel taking up all my energy), so all my eligible works are in other categories.

Best Related Work: io9 Newsstand

“Works of literary criticism” fit in this category, and my io9 column fits that label. Every week I posted links to short fiction (stories, novelettes, novellas) that I loved and wanted everyone to read. I hope I also shined a light on stories and authors the io9 audience wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Best Fancast: JEMcast

Just in case you think Jem and the Holograms was not a genre show, I will remind you that it was about a woman who changed her appearance via hologram-generating earrings controlled by an AI that was magically able to connect to government computers via wireless Internet, which did not exist in 1985, when the show happens. And that’s not even getting into the time travel.

Every week on the JEMcast we analyze (and sometimes make fun of) an episode of the show. We also provide commentary on Jem-related stuff, such as the movie we’ve already all forgotten exists. I love our little show and I’m very proud of the episodes we produced last year and continue to produce this year.

Links to some of my favorite episodes:

Best Fancast: The Tempest Challenge

Fancast includes vlogs, and thus my challenge videos are also eligible. I didn’t produce that many last year, though, so I’m putting more effort into boosting the signal for JEMcast. However, I will not stop anyone from nominating the videos as well.

Some of my best:

Best Fan Writer: K Tempest Bradford

Writing from my blog is what counts toward this–well, the blog and social media posts and such, perhaps? I’m not the most prolific blogger these days. Though when I do write I tend to drop a bunch of stuff at once then go back to social media.

Here is the link to all my 2015 posts and here are a few I’m particularly proud of from last year:

And that’s it. As I said, I hope you will consider me when making your nominations. In my next post I’ll list the stories and other stuff I loved from last year that I think you should also consider.

 

Footnotes

  1. Do I need to put a disclaimer here saying NO SLATES, OH GOD, NO SLATES? I doubt it. Just in case: No slates, y’all. Nominate stuff you love and vote for what you think is best.[]
Me and Razorhurst

In Which I Engage In Multiple Multimedia Projects

Keen eyes on social media may have noticed that I quietly began a new vlog called The Tempest Challenge in which I recommend books to read if you’re interested in taking up my reading challenge. The first two episodes are up and subsequent ones go live on Saturdays.

I created a landing page here on the site with info on the challenge, including the official hashtag for recommending books: #KTBookChallenge. Once I get a few more episodes going I’ll probably create a Tumblr for the vids and reblogs of book recs.

I don’t mind telling you that Alethea Kontis is to blame for all of this. She has an ongoing web series where she rants about fairy tales (because she writes amazing books that weave fairy tales together). And, since I’ve been hanging out with her for the past six weeks, she’s had me on as her special guest a few times. Here’s the latest one:

And my favorite one in which I sing the first song to ever be banned from the radio:

And the one where I try to mimic Wagnerian opera…

And a playlist of them all:

As you can see, we had a fabulous time. And it inspired me! Thus my own vids.

Depending on how things go, I may start another web series in which I rant about TV shows or something. But first I need to get the hang of editing and possibly find some better software for Windows. (iMovie is the only thing I miss about having a Mac.)

Video is not the only form of media I’m indulging in lately. As I pointed out the other day, I was also on the radio. And after that I was interviewed by the esteemed Minister Faust for his podcast–I’ll drop the link once it’s live–and after that I lucked into being in the first episode of the JEMcast! That was a lot of fun to do and I shall return as a guest host any time they ask. Because I never get tired of talking about Jem.

I suspect there are more things coming up in the near future. In the meantime, if you want me to be on your podcast or radio show or whathaveyou, please use the handy contact links on the sidebar :)

Ivory Bangle lady

More Hidden Black History

Today NPR Books/Code Switch posted my second Black History Month reading list, Uncovering Hidden Black History. The idea was inspired by the neverending argument in fandom about whether having Blacks or other people of color in a movie or book set in The Past (fantastic or real) is historically accurate. We go round and round with this every few months it seems. If it’s not Tangled or Frozen it’s Game of Thrones or Agent Carter or a game or books or whatever.

The bottom line always is: POC didn’t exist here, here, or here. Or, if they did, there were only 3 of them and they were slaves.

The answer to this always is: No, no, OMG no.

The evidence for that is often easy to find, so I went looking for it. I found quite a bit, and I’m not a historian like Mikki Kendall or steeped in this stuff like Malisha/MedievalPOC who regularly drop this knowledge on unsuspecting heads. They helped me with my research in a big way–thank you!

I found so much material that some of it had to be cut for length, so I’m posting the cut bits here.

Black People In European Royalty

 

queen charlotte

Even though England’s Queen Elizabeth I tried to expel all “Negroes and black a moors” from her country at the turn of the 17th century, people of African descent managed to find their way into all strata of society during the Renaissance and beyond. That includes ruling families. Alessandro de Medici, called il moro/The Moor during his day, was the son of Lorenzo II de Medici and an African woman. He ruled Florence for seven years before being assassinated by a cousin (not all that unusual for a Medici).

Over in the British Isles, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (wife of Mad King George of Revolutionary War fame) may hold the distinction of being England’s first black queen. At least the first depicted with what contemporaries referred to as “Negroid features” in her official portraits. These paintings may have had a political purpose as well, since the first artist to depict the queen was vocally anti-slavery.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In the Tudor Court

john blanke

Europe’s Middle Ages aren’t nearly as monochrome as our cultural imagination envisions them, as art from the time attests. A great resource for images from the period is the MedievalPOC blog, where I first learned about trumpeter John Blanke. He regularly performed for Henrys VII and VIII and was immortalized in the Westminster Tournament Roll, a 60 foot long tapestry from the 1500s. Blanke was not the sole “blacke” person found at court–there were other Moorish employees as well as guests–nor were Moorish musicians and other artists restricted to the British Isles.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In Roman Briton

Ivory Bangle lady

The Sir Morien of Arthurian Legend I mention in the NPR piece wasn’t even the first African to travel to Briton. The remains of a woman from fourth century Roman York unearthed in 1901 shows that blacks were not just present, but also members of the elite class. The “Ivory Bangle Lady” as she’s been termed was a woman of North African descent who was buried with objects that point to wealth and high social standing.

Even during this time period she was not unique. Reading University archaeologist Hella Eckhardt told The Guardian that the population mix in fourth century York is close to that of contemporary Britain. “[T]he Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.”

This diversity is a natural side effect of the Roman empire’s vastness and is reflected not only in Britain, but throughout Europe, North Africa, and Mesopotamia.

Further Reading and Research

Black Women at the Dawn of the Feminist Movement

Anna Julia Cooper

In 1892 Anna Julia Cooper published a collection of essays called A Voice From The South, which might be considered the first work in the genre of My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or it Will Be Bullshit. In it, Cooper “criticizes black men for securing higher education for themselves through the ministry, while erecting roadblocks to deny women access to those same opportunities, and denounces the elitism and provinciality of the white women’s movement.” Some fights have to be fought and fought and fought again, even within progressive movements.

That collection plus several other essays, papers, and letters is available in one volume: The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, edited by Charles Lemert and  Esme Bhan.

If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, I suggest you spend some time going through the #HistoricalPOC hashtag on Tumblr and Twitter where people are sharing bits of history and historical figures. Not all of them are obscure, but you won’t have to scroll long before you come up on something or someone you didn’t know about.

Do you subscribe to magazines?

stack of magazines

My io9 weekly fiction roundup continues apace. I decided that at the beginning of every month I would remind people that magazines need subscribers, and subscribing is awesome. Go, team! In searching for all the subscription links I took note of all the ways one can subscribe to the many and various SF zines. Where just a few years ago I complained about the lack of choices, now there are many. This makes me happy.

Side Note: Strange Horizons, what is up! There’s no way to subscribe in eBook format. The people are clamoring :)

I note that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are still not as helpful as they could be with subscriptions. Looks like many small press mags are in their systems, just not as subscribable entities. And certainly not with the fancy layout that the glossy magazines get (not that this is needed).

All this leads me to wonder how many people do subscribe to these zines, why, and what their experience is like. I’m just curious. We’ve moved into a time where tons of people can get content digitally, easily, for not too much money. How do lit mags fit into the stream of information coming at you?

And if you don’t subscribe to the magazines you read online: why?

Story Art – Highlights from July’s short fiction illustrations

My first month doing a weekly short fiction roundup at io9 is over and I’m really glad to be back in the groove of reading consistently. As I read more and more I’m newly struck by how many magazines are commissioning original art for stories and how wonderful that art is on the whole. I thought it would be nice to call out the pieces I liked best at the end of each month.

Here are my favorite story arts for July:

Richie Pope illustration for Sleepwalking Now And Then

Richie Pope’s illustration for “Sleepwalking Now And Then” by Richard Bowes.

Pope does a lot of work for Tor.com and has many other great pieces on display at his website.

Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Clarkesworld’s July cover art comes from Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Urmanov is a German artist who does a lot of amazing SFF illustration. See his other works at Art Station.

Rebecca Huston Grooming

Rebecca Huston’s “Grooming” for “Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale” by C. S. E. Cooney

I couldn’t find a gallery of Huston’s art but did find out she inks tattoos for a living. Can you see getting a picture like that over your whole back?

Wesley Allsbrook illustration for A Short History of the Twentieth Century

Wesley Allsbrook’s illustration for “A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Another frequent Tor.com artist, Allsbrook has a really striking style that gives me the feeling that all the people and objects in his works are threads held together by a very tenuous connection to each other and will fly apart at any second. Check out his gallery.

Selfies With Books and other things I do for my job

In addition to my weekly short fiction recs over at io9 I have some summer reading recs over at xoJane, too. There I did novels and short story collections/anthologies so everyone is covered. And I took selfies with a lot of books. This is becoming a theme in my life: selfies with products.

Selfies with books

The other day I stopped in a hipster electronics store to take a selfie with some headphones since the pair I owned were stolen from me a while back. The poor guy working in the store was really confused because I walked in, asked after some headphones onthe wall, took a bunch of pictures of myself wearing them, then left. As I was going out the door he was all “Uh, can I help you…?”

“Nope!” I said cheerfully as I sailed away. I’m sure he thought I was loopy. But whatever, this is New York City. He should be used to much stranger stuff than this.

Other than headphones and books, what other products should I give the selfie treatment? I don’t look good in hats. Despite the overwhelming number of beads in my house I don’t wear jewelry much. Any suggestions?

My Faves: Time Travel Fiction and Media

Fans of NPR’s Weekend Edition may have caught a familiar voice when listening to the segment on time travel fiction. I had a great time talking to Petra Mayer about time travel, a topic near and dear to my heart. Yes, I am still writing a novel with time traveling twins (same world as my story in Diverse Energies). Now that all of NPR knows about it I guess I should finally finish.

In the mean time you can enjoy my best-loved time travel books, stories, and other media!

“It’s All True” by John Kessel (contained in his collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories)

I mentioned this during the time travel panel at ReaderCon. In this story, a future society has invented time travel and they use it to go to parallel worlds, travel back in time, get famous people from the past, then bring them forward in time back to their own timeline. Thus avoiding changing their future. I swear this makes sense. The story centers around one guy’s attempt to convince Orson Wells to come to the future.

the freedom maze and kindred

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman and Kindred by Octavia Butler

I mention these two together because they share a basic premise (but are very different in sensibility as well as plot). In both, a person from modern times is thrown back into the era of American slavery, ends up with people who are her ancestors, and has to live as a slave for some portion of time. In Kindred the person is a grown woman who is pulled backward in time multiple times. In The Freedom Maze the person is a young girl who is actually white, but because she’s very tan is mistaken for a mulatto. She stays in the past for weeks and it’s unclear whether she’ll ever get back home. Both novels explore modern perspectives on the past in interesting ways.

Past Tense” and “Trials and Tribble-ationsStar Trek: Deep Space Nine

Some people will try to tell you that the best Star Trek episode about time travel is “The City on the Edge of Forever”. I don’t mind telling you that those people are wrong. As with so many things Star Trek, DS9 has the best episodes using this story vehicle. My ultimate favorite is, of course, the tribble one where the crew of DS9 travel back to the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” and have to blend in with the original Enterprise crew. It’s awesome on so many levels from how seamlessly the effects crew blended the footage from TOS with the new footage to moments like this:

However, “Past Tense” has stayed with me all these years for a different reason. DS9 was often very social justice oriented, and this episode was chock full of it. For once, when Star Trek people ended up in the past on Earth it was not in the 20th century. Instead, they land in 2024 (still in San Francisco, though) in a dystopian America that is sadly not that hard to imagine. People who are poor, sick, or just undesirable are cordoned off into ghettos. And not just ghettos in the urban sense, but actual ghettos with walls and fences and an inability to get out where people have to fight over food rations and only get a place to sleep if the local gangs think you’re okay. It’s terrifying and not that far off the mark. This episode aired about 20 years ago. 2024 is 10 years from now. Think Star Trek will prove prescient?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

This series didn’t get a chance to flourish fully and it ends on what could be a cliffhanger or what could seem like a satisfying end given that we sort of know what happens after. The second season dragged in the middle for sure, but overall this is one of the best entries in the Terminator franchise, right up there with T2 and way better than T3 or what weird one with Christian Bale.

The main characters in SCC don’t do much time traveling themselves. What I loved about the time travel elements is that the war between Skynet and the humans takes place not only in the future but across both the relative past, the future, and the present. Several people and Terminator models are sent back in time at different points for specific and long term missions. And each time a person or group of people are sent back, it changes the future. So that woman you knew in the resistance and see again on the street might not be the exact person you knew, but a version of them.

And even when they strike a blow against Skynet, be it by destroying tech that will lead to it or getting rid of a Terminator come to kill someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean Skynet won’t still rise, it’ll just rise at a different date. All these elements are key to the plot, and kudos to the show for making all of this relatively straightforward and understandable. It’s not just some jumbled timey-wimey mess.

I am always looking for more time travel fiction to add to my to-read pile. Rec me some in the comments, if you would!