A Brief Word on the Rocket Stink

As some of you will have noticed, a bit of an upset happened over the weekend over the review site, Rocket Stack Rank. As usual, File 770 is on the case.

For those who can’t be bothered to click through, the site’s owner apparently has a policy of giving an automatic one-star review to any work that uses non-binary pronouns. He also allegedly has the cheek do describe himself as a trans ally, which is an utter nonsense, and even manages to recommend stories that he thinks have good trans content. It is all very head-explody stuff.

This reminds me that when Ann Leckie’s Provenance first came out some annoying people tried to have the book removed from Amazon because they claimed that the non-binary pronouns that it uses were errors.

I’m sure you are familiar with the way these stories go now: “oh -clutch pearls- all of this non-binary stuff is so new and confusing and horrible, how will we ever be able to read if we are subjected to these awful, oppressive, bullying pronouns?!”

At which point it is necessary to remind people that this is science fiction we are talking about. Apparently inventing whole new languages for Klingons, Elves and so on is OK, but inventing new pronouns for people who have different gender systems is not. What ever happened to the “literature of ideas”, people?

Of course there are people out there who “go too far” with all of these new fangled pronoun things. Take this, for example:

Which is to say: everyone is referred to by female pronouns—unless the speaker wants to have sex with the person they are referring to, in which case the pronoun shifts to ‘he’.

Head exploded yet? Ready to write a rant about “kids today”?

Well before you do I should note that the quote above comes from a Tor.com essay by Alex Daly McFarlane. It is about a book called Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. That book was written by some guy called Samuel R. Delany, and was published in 1984.

Young people today, eh?

Update: I’m told the policy is to automatically subtract 1 star for non-binary pronouns rather than give 1 star. I can see I may have mis-understood one of the tweets in the File 770 piece. Either way though it is silly.

Dirda on Živković

Much of the time book reviewing is a very subjective activity. You like books or you don’t. Some books work for some people, but not for others. Proving literary quality is damnably difficult, which is how come the literary establishment manages to get away with looking down its collective nose at anything outside of the narrow purview of dull realist stories about middle-aged white men.

However, the literary house of cards relies heavily on status, and when a Pulitzer Prize winning literary critic happens to review the same sort of stuff you do, and comes to the same conclusion you do, that gives you every right by their rules to say you were right to praise the work in question. Of course it helps that Michael Dirda has always been something of a fan of science fiction. But is also helps that Zoran Živković really is a very good writer. Here, Dirda says so, it must be true.

Oh, and I love the covers of the new editions of Zoran’s books too.

Two Interesting Blog LitCrit Essays

As someone who spends a lot of time doing literary criticism I spend a lot of time thinking about how different readers react differently to the same book. That is, after all, important if you are writing reviews. In the last couple of days I have noticed two very interesting blog essays which impinge on this issue.

The first essay is by Dimitra Fimi, and it talks about how authors such as Tolkien and Rowling have tried (largely in vain, I suspect) to control how their work is interpreted by the reader.

Fimi contrasts the control-freakery of these writers with the more relaxed approach of other fantasy writers such as Catherine Fisher (whose work I really need to read). Part of this, of course, will be a result of personality differences between authors. However, Fimi speculates that it is also a result of differences in the amount of worldbuilding done.

Fisher’s books are intrusion fantasies, and so are set in our world. Tolkien, on the other hand, is famous for obsessive subcreation (a term he coined) of a secondary world. Rowling is somewhere in between. Her books are ostensibly set in our world, but much of the action takes place away from the mundane, making the books something like an alternate history. Fimi suggests that the more work a writer has put into subcreation, the more likely they are to want to exert control over how their creation is understood by readers.

Of course worlds are not the only thing that writers create. They also create characters, and that too can result in conflict with readers. I was immediately reminded of the way that Neil Gaiman is often accused of transphobia over A Game of You. Neil, who is wonderfully supportive of trans people, is understandably upset about this. In the paper I wrote for Finncon last year I tried to explain how a certain type of reader (trans women) were much more likely to react badly to the book than other readers. Reader perspective is important, and authors can’t possibly control how every type of reader will see their work.

Which brings me to the other essay. Lucy Allen, whose blog is mainly about mediaeval books, has been musing about why queer readings of books tend to be dismissed as fanciful even when they have as much scholarship backing them up as other interpretations of the text.

I see very much the same sort of thing in reactions to attempts to do LGBT history. There is a common assumption that queer people didn’t exist in the past, and that any history of such people must be (to use an accusation often thrown at book reviews) “reading something into the text that simply isn’t there”.

The answer, I think, is that cis-het readers are primed to not see queer people. We are brought up to not talk about such things. Unless someone is specifically tuned to the sort of clues that queer people are used to seeing, they won’t see the queer aspects of the text, and will be surprised, even shocked, to see them highlighted. That’s especially so if the reader has been primed to regard queer people as disgusting.

All of this has implications for the campaign for diversity in books. As I have probably said here before, although publishers are now very keen to have books with trans content (because we are flavor of the month), what they want is books written for cis people about trans people. They want books that cis readers will find comfortable. I’m sure the same sort of problem applies books set in non-white cultures.

The point of diversity in books is to provide books that a wide variety of different readers can relate to. That means that the books have to appeal directly to those readers.

I guess my point is that authors can’t control how their books are read, because there will always be readers who have very different life experiences to their own. The more real diversity we get in publishing, the more obvious that will become.

Reviewers Wanted

I’ve had two requests today from people who are looking for book reviewers, so I am passing them on.

First up is a new venture called Shoreline of Infinity. It is a new magazine based in Scotland. They plan to publish fiction as well, and of course they are looking for art. They appear to be paying minimal rates for fiction and art, and nothing for reviews. The magazine will be published in ebook formats, and in print, and you can pre-order issue #1 for £2.50, or the first five issues for £10.

Also I have email from SF2 Concatenation which is a very long-established webzine. They are looking to expand their list of reviewers. They do ask that you live in the UK, presumably because they need to post you books. Again there is no pay.

Neither of these publications is on the list of venues surveyed by the Strange Horizons Count, but they might be in future years. In any case, the more reviews that are written by people who are not straight cis white men the better. If you fancy trying your hand at reviewing, why not give one of these venues a try.

Magnificently Missing the Point on VIDA

The LA Review of Books has an interesting article by Katherine Angel on the subject of gender in literature. Much of it is about the whole VIDA count issue and the various excuses that publications such the the London Review of Books and New York Review of Books come up with to justify their overwhelmingly (white) male focus. Angel does a great job of skewering them, but I can’t help but feel that she missed an opportunity to follow up on some of the material at the beginning of the article.

To me one of the most interesting sections is where she is talking about the contrasting reactions received by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Rachel Cusk. I’m not very familiar with either of their work, but I understand that both have written deeply personal, autobiographical works in which they don’t come over as very nice people. The point that Angel makes is that Knausgaard has been fairly universally praised for his bravery in writing such work (despite some rather ordinary prose) whereas Cusk has been viciously attacked because of what she reveals about herself. A “brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist” was how one (female) reviewer described her.

The very obvious point here is that men and women are held to very different standards in their written work (and personal lives). Behavior that is seen as admirable in a man is seen as disgraceful in a woman. But Angel leaves this point hanging. When she goes on to talk about the VIDA count and the various vacuous excuses that publications use for avoiding gender balance, she doesn’t return to it at all, despite having the opportunity to do so.

Angel quotes the LRB as saying that women “often prefer not to write critically about other women”; and that men are “not so frightened of asserting themselves” and are “not so anxious to please.” She responds to this by noting, “I’m skeptical of this characterization of women writers as meekly afraid to criticize.” And, you know, we’d all like to think that we are smart enough, and brave enough, to do criticism on the same level as the boys. Certainly there are some very good, and very brave, women critics out there. But equally we know exactly what happens to women when they poke their heads over the parapet. If a man complains about how badly women are treated on social media he gets praised for doing so; if a woman does the same thing she gets a torrent of rape and death threats.

So is it really surprising that women are less eager to indulge in public criticism of other writers? And that when they do they tend to pull their punches a lot more than a man would? I’m all in favor of editors making a conscious decision to publish more women, as Angel suggests that they do. But I’m not sure that will solve the problem. Before women can compete on equal terms with men as literary critics, or indeed experts of any sort, we need to create a world in which women are seen to have the same right to have opinions as men do.

Relative Reviewing

Yesterday Strange Horizons posted a number of articles on the subject of “Reviewing the Other”. The lead piece is this one by Nisi Shawl. I suspect that a lot of reviewers will skim or skip it on the assumption that it doesn’t apply to them. This would be wrong.

I’m not going to address Nisi’s contention that it is a good thing to seek out books by writers from marginalized groups to review. I happen to agree with her, but whether we are correct in that assumption or not is irrelevant to the fact that what she has to say actually applies to all reviewing.

Back when I first started reviewing, I learned that I was supposed to be impersonal and objective. No one would be interested in my personal reactions to a book, what they wanted to know was whether it was any good or not, and I needed to make that assessment impartially.

The more reviewing I did, the more I came to realize that objective reviewing was a load of hogwash. That in fact my liking a particular book often meant little more than, say, my liking a particular dress because the cut and color happened to suit me.

There are standards that you can apply, of course. You can’t hang around a lot with authors without picking up an appreciation of the craft. You learn to tell who has a mastery of words, and who just dumps them on a page as quickly as possible. You learn who constructs intricate plots, and whose books meander aimlessly. You learn whose characters will tug at your heartstrings, and whose are cliches and stereotypes.

Even that, however, won’t save you from readers. If I were to quote some magnificent piece of Cat Valente prose in a review, I am pretty sure that somewhere there will be a reader who will think me an utter fucking moron for praising what he sees as a steaming shitpile of overblown, pretentious intellectual wankery, and will want to tell me so. What he’ll mean by that, of course, is that Cat’s prose isn’t to his taste, and my championing of it is such a gross insult to his ego that he is moved to violence, and least in language.

More generally, there are types of book that I like, and types that I don’t. I once mentioned that I didn’t review military SF in Emerald City because I didn’t much care for it and didn’t think it would be fair of me to do so. I got email calling me a bigot. I don’t much like romance either, though I appear to have ruffled fewer feathers over that.

When Nisi talks about reviewing books originating from cultures other than your own, she gives the following list of questions you should ask yourself:

  • What was this book trying to do?
  • Who was the book’s intended audience?
  • How did I relate to that audience?
  • How did I relate to authors/editors?

My contention is that those rules hold good no matter what book you are reviewing. The intended audience for a YA romance is very different from the audience for hard SF, is very different from the audience for historical mysteries. Which is not to say that the same person can’t enjoy all three types of book, just that they are trying to do different things and not everyone has hugely catholic tastes.

We all tend to laugh at Amazon reviews when the reviewer clearly hasn’t understood the book at all, but a supposedly objective review written by someone who clearly has no sympathy for or interest in the type of book he’s reading can be just as bad. And yes, in that category I do include male reviewers who approach books by women from the starting assumption that they won’t be any good, and are therefore looking for faults from the first page.

Nisi is quite right in saying that books by people from other cultures may be doing very clever things that we don’t notice because we lack the cultural reference frame to spot and understand them. Books by people like Karen Lord and Sofia Samatar don’t work for me in the same way that books by, say, Liz Hand or Seanan McGuire do. But, as Samuel Delany says in his companion article to Nisi’s piece, “Look, we are all ethnocentric. There’s no way we can escape it because we are all born into an ethnos from which we learn how to live.” The only major difference is that members of marginalized groups are generally forced to learn to appreciate works produced by the dominant local culture. So girls have to read books by men in school, whereas boys can often avoid books by women; and people of color in white-majority countries have to read books by white people in school, but may never see books by people from their own culture except at home.

Learning to appreciate books by, say, African women, or Chinese men, might seem a little daunting. But there are plenty of little steps we can take. We can read outside our favorite subgenres, read books by people of different genders, read books intended for readers of different age groups. The more we stretch our reading habits, the easier it becomes, and soon reading outside of our own culture doesn’t seem so challenging after all. We’ll also write better reviews as a result.

More Visibility Numbers

Over at Neth Space there’s a bit more information on the question of who gets reviewed. Neth gets sent books to review, and for the last 6 months those broke down as 70% books by men, 30% by women. For paper books, which you might suspect the publishers value more, the numbers are 75% male, 25% female. It is a useful reminder that the issue of visibility permeates every part of the industry. Kudos, therefore, to Ricky L. Brown at Amazing Stories for making a determined effort to find SF by women to read.

Bristol Women’s Literature Festival #BWLF

On Saturday I popped over to Bristol to catch part of the inaugural Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. I was dipping my toe into this, partly because Literature Festivals have a habit of not wanting any of those icky science fiction people around lowering the tone of the occasion, and partly because events that tout their feminist credentials often don’t want the likes of me around. However, I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to meet Stella Duffy, and thankfully none of my fears about the event were realized. The Festival looked to be a very successful. The panel I attended was packed out and very interesting, and the event had an inclusive atmosphere. Andrew Kelly of the Festival of Ideas, who helps promote the event, was smiling happily when I met him, which confirms that all was going well. My apologies to all the people I knew who happened to be in the Watershed bar afterwards, but I did have an important rugby match to go and watch.

The panel in question was Women’s Writing Today, featuring Bidisha in conversation with Stella Duffy, Beatrice Hitchman, Selma Dabbagh and Helen Dunmore. It was expertly moderated. Admittedly the panelists were all very polite — there wasn’t anyone constantly talking over the others in an effort to promote his book. However, having moderated many convention panels myself, I was able to admire the effortless way in which Bidisha controlled the conversation and gave everyone a chance to speak.

Discussion ranged fairly widely, but I’d like to focus mainly on the issue that Bidisha opened and closed the panel with: the VIDA Report and the continuing difficulty that women have being taken seriously in the writing business, despite the fact that we pretty much run it behind the scenes.

Helen Dunmore commented on the way in which women tend to be self-effacing, whereas men will often trumpet their success with far less reason to do so. She’s right, but it is not entirely our fault. It is a defense mechanism. Because if women do stand up and promote themselves, they immediately get jumped on for being uppity, for over-selling themselves, and of course for not being pretty enough. The way to avoid that is to play down whatever success you have had, and make out that you think you didn’t really deserve it.

Helen also commented that she felt the UK was particularly bad at kicking down anyone who had the cheek to appear to have some ambition. Given my experience of Australia, California and Finland, I suspect she’s probably right. But that’s about far more than sexism, and anyway sexism is pretty universal. Many of the magazines surveyed in the VIDA report come from North America, and one is French.

Selma Dabbagh had an interesting angle on the issue. Her day job (which she still does) is that of a human rights lawyer. She said that she found the legal profession less sexist than publishing, because in law there were clearer metrics for success. In law you get measured by what cases you win, and by which clients want your services. In theory writers are measured by success in sales and awards, but we all know that both of those things are critically dependent on how much effort your publisher puts behind your book. In our field we know that publishers put more resources behind male authors, and bookstores are more likely to stock and promote books by male authors (except in certain categories deemed more feminine) because they believe that those books are more likely to sell. I’m sure lady lawyers will now be rushing to say that its not that easy for them, but I’d like you to hold onto the idea of how subjective success in writing can be.

One of the more interesting takes I have seen on the VIDA data is this one in the New Republic, written by one of their senior editors, Ruth Franklin. New Republic is one of the magazines reported on by VIDA, so they have a stake in the debate. What Franklin did was take a selection of publishing houses and count how many books by men and by women they published. While some came close to parity, many, including what she described as “elite literary houses” published books in pretty much the same gender ratio as the reviews reported by VIDA, or worse.

The VIDA numbers, if you remember, were only for literary review magazines. They exhibit a range of female content from low to very low. VIDA doesn’t give an overall figure, but Bidisha said the accepted ceiling for women was around 22%. The figures that LadyBusiness reported for SF&F reviews were much better: at 42% female. Of course if you break down by gender you find that men are only reviewing 25% female authors, and the VIDA figures show that the literary review magazines have a low proportion of female reviewers. But the fact remains that if you want reviews of women SF&F authors then they are not too hard to find in the usual outlets for such things. You won’t find them in literary magazines, but you won’t find reviews of male SF&F writers there either.

I’ve joked before about “literary” fiction being a genre for stories about middle-aged male academics who have mid-life crises, but the real problem with “literary” as a category is the idea that “literary” means “good”. That would be fine if people really meant it, but we know all too well that certain types of fiction tend to get excluded because they are deemed “not good” by definition. And if one of the ways in which you define “good” fiction is “fiction by men, about men”, well, I’m sure you can see the positive feedback loop at work here.

So I think that perhaps one of the reasons the VIDA numbers are so bad is that they focus to closely on an area of fiction that is already tending to exclude women. If we want the numbers to get better, one very simple thing we can do is to try to judge each book on the quality of its writing, not screen whole categories of books out because they are “genre” or “not realistic” or “women’s writing”.

Of course the situation of men not wanting to read books by women is still bad. But the overall situation is not as bad as the VIDA numbers make out, provided that we stop being shy and diffident, but instead demand that our books not be excluded because they are not “literary”.

I should make one more comment about the event before I finish. There was a book room, and I headed off there after the panel because I wanted a signed copy of Bea’s book, Petite Mort. (She’s a friend, and I want to get her on Ujima sometime soon.) Stella, sadly, had to rush back to London. However, having secured a lift to the station, she dashed into the book room and quickly signed every book of hers that she could see there. She took them out of the hands of people in the queue and personalized them. And she recognized me from my Twitter avatar, so she didn’t even need to ask for a name. That’s a superb example of an author working her fan base. I was impressed.

So, congratulations to Sian Norris and her team. It was an excellent event, and one I would love to see repeated next year. Any chance of a panel on feminist SF, Sian? We’ve got Sarah Le Fanu on our doorstep, and I can probably lure Farah Mendlesohn along if you give her enough warning.

VIDA Follow-Up

I was reminded by a conversation on Facebook triggered by my earlier post today that there is a big positive feedback loop operating here. If the only books people hear being talked about are books by men, then those are the books that they will buy and review, which makes the imbalance even greater. That means that people at the top of the tree can actually have some influence. Gary and Jonathan, I’m looking at you.

VIDA-Style Numbers For Us

As with last year, the LadyBusiness blog has produced a VIDA-like analysis of reviewing in the SF&F community. The post is here. The numbers are not surprising. It is a valuable service they are providing, though doubtless depressing to actually carry out.

I’m mostly interested in the post because of the discussion of “gender blindness” because it has direct relevance to me, and to a couple of papers I am writing. I’ve seen a lot of feminists suggest that getting rid of gendered behavior would be a good thing. And indeed in The Female Man Russ’s heroines dress in a very drab, utilitarian manner and can’t understand why the manufactured women they encounter in Manland put so much effort into their appearance.

There are complex issues here to do with whether behavior is genuinely a choice, or imposed through a life-long cultural brainwashing process, so I don’t want to present anything simplistic. On the other hand, if things like race-blindness are wrong because people of different ethnicities do have different cultures, then surely gender-blindness is not a worthy goal either.

Some Thoughts for Authors

I have a lot of catch-up to do after two days away, but I’d like to start with a couple of thoughts for authors.

The first was prompted by meeting up with my friend Jon Turney in London. Jon, as you may remember, recently wrote a book called The Rough Guide to the Future, which was a finalist for the 2011 Winton Prize, given by the Royal Society. As Jon explains on his blog, the paper edition has just gone out of print, but he’s not sure what is happening with ebook rights.

Jon’s book is a special case, as it is much more than just the text. However, having been following the big fuss that John Scalzi & friends have been making over author contracts recently, it occurs to me that having a contract that allows your paper book to go out of print, but leaves the publisher holding the ebook rights, is not a healthy position to be in. Jon has a good agent, who I suspect will be able to fix this. The rest of you, please take care.

By the way, I have been intending to blog about ebook contracts, given that I have an ebook publishing company. I just haven’t had time. I will note that Mr. Scalzi was one of the people I asked for advice when drawing up the WTP standard contract.

The other thing was promoted by one of the review requests I get. Simplifying massively, it seems that there are two sorts of publicists that big publishing houses employ. The first type recognizes that there are smart people who say interesting things about books online, and have an audience, and treat those people with respect. The second type sees a world full of “book bloggers” who are dumb, childish people who need to be kept in line with a combination of transparent flattery, offers of free cool stuff, and veiled threats as to what might happen if they don’t deliver the review for which they are being paid in flattery and stuff. If your publicist is of the latter type, your book probably won’t get reviewed by me. Or indeed by anyone else with an ounce of self-respect.

Book Review – Seraphina

If you happened to be watching my Twitter feed last week you will have noticed some discussion between Aliette de Bodard, Rachel Swirsky and myself regarding Rachel Hartman’s novel, Seraphina. I managed to find some time yesterday to write some book reviews, and Seraphina was top of the list of books to address. You can see that I wrote here. You should note that my comments are necessarily spoiler-full, and what I wrote is more a critical analysis of the issues raised on Twitter than a review of the book. If you are OK with that, I think it is worth reading because I think the fact that different people can legitimately have very different reactions to a book, depending on the cultural context from which they approach it, is very important, and often overlooked, both by reviewers and by those who rant on the Internet.

In Praise of Net Galley

In this week’s Coode Street the boys talk about the burgeoning phenomenon of eARCs. Given what we know of the B Ark, I’m not sure of the terminology, but unlike Jonathan I like them a lot. You see, if you are Locus, even the dimmest publicist knows that you are important and will send you books. Also you cover a wide range of material, so there’s little chance of being sent a lot of books you don’t want.

My situation is somewhat different. I do have a small say each year in what books get on the Locus Recommended Reading List, and in the Crawford Award, but most publishers don’t send me books. The main reason for that is that I don’t want them to. I had some deeply unpleasant experiences with publicists when I was running Emerald City, and I don’t want to have to go through that again. In any case, there’s only one of me. I can’t possibly read the quantity of books I’d get sent, and have nowhere to put them.

For me, eARCs are a perfect solution. They take up no space, and with Net Galley I need only request the books I want. Mostly they seem to come in epub format, so there’s no problem wrangling them. I could probably do with better sorting and selecting facilities on their website, but the only major problem is that not all publishers use them. From Wizard’s Tower’s point of view that’s because they are absurdly expensive. It would cost me more to put a WTP book on Net Galley than I expect to make from it in a year. I suspect that if more big publishers used them they’d be able to bring the price down.

Of course I’d love to have actual paper copies of books that I really love. But as I buy most of my paper books anyway that’s not an issue. And Net Galley helps me decide which ones I want to buy.

Who Reviews What? – 2013 Edition

Ros Jackson of Warpcore SF has emailed me regarding the 2013 update of her very useful “Who Reviews What?” list. You can find it here. This year, at my request, Ros has included “anthologies” in the list of categories, which should be a big help to small presses like mine. Lists like these not only help us publishers find places where we can get our books reviewed, they also reduce the likelihood of hard-pressed reviewers being pestered to take books that they don’t want. So thanks to Ros for doing this. Also, if you are not on the list and do review books, why not contact Ros and ask to be included?

Requests for Publicity

I have been meaning for some time to post a proper review policy on this blog (which would basically say, “No, I will not review your book, don’t waste your time asking.”). The main reason I haven’t done so is that I suspect the requests I get for reviews are mainly from people who have just bought a list of addresses to spam and therefore would not read the policy before approaching me.

Pro tip: if you do buy a list of addresses, check it for duplicates. You may find that the price you paid per address is much higher than you thought. Also the people you email are much less likely to be sympathetic if they get several copies of your request.

And talking about pro tips, if you are a reputable organization in the publishing business, you really shouldn’t be sending out email to online magazines asking them to run free advertising for you when those magazines have advertising rates posted on their sites. And if you are targeting fiction magazines you should probably check that you do actually approach fiction magazines and not others. I’m not naming names because this appears to have been an action by an over-zealous intern, but interns do need to be watched.

Who Reviews What – A Guide

Ros Jackson of Warpcore SF has compiled a useful guide listing which book bloggers review which types of book. Speaking as a publisher, I find this an excellent innovation. If I have a new book I am trying to get reviews for, this would be a very good place to start. Hopefully other publishers will find it useful too.

You’ll note that I’m not on the list. That’s because I buy most of the books I review. Also I have a bookstore, which means large numbers of fine books drop into my computers on a regular basis. Much as I love books, I don’t want to have to go through the whole dealing with publishers thing again, unless I know the people concerned very well.

On the other hand, if you have a book blog and would like to be sent more targeted selections, Ros would probably be delighted to hear from you.

Some Linkage

There was no bloggery yesterday as I was in London all day. That may turn into a project of some sort, but I won’t know for a while. Now I’m catching up. Here are a few stories of interest.

Locus has launched a Kickstarter project to help digitize the vast collection of SF-related photos and ephemera that the magazine has collected over the years. Jonathan talks about it here. Please help if you can.

Yesterday Niall Harrison posted an analysis of gender breakdowns in SF&F reviewing from 2011. There are a couple of things that particularly interest me about it. Firstly I see that the number of books received by Locus in 2011 from US publishers are split roughly 50:50 between men and women, whereas books received from UK publishers included twice as many books by men than by women. Obviously there are caveats on the data, but that’s such a startling result that it has to be significant. Secondly I’m interested to know what criteria were used to select the venues for inclusion.

Via Monica Roberts I learn that a massive public outcry has forced Miss Universe Canada to change its mind and re-admit Jenna Talackova to the contest. Of course this is a classic example of how trans rights are taken much more seriously if the trans people in question are lucky enough to conform very obviously to the gender binary, but at least one trans woman is getting a chance to live her dream, and one more piece of discrimination has been swept away.

Finally a rather old post (from 2000), but one I only learned about today. It is a survey of stories from abortion clinics about the attitudes of openly anti-abortion women to whom they have provided services. Here’s a taster:

I have done several abortions on women who have regularly picketed my clinics, including a 16 year old schoolgirl who came back to picket the day after her abortion, about three years ago. During her whole stay at the clinic, we felt that she was not quite right, but there were no real warning bells. She insisted that the abortion was her idea and assured us that all was OK. She went through the procedure very smoothly and was discharged with no problems. A quite routine operation. Next morning she was with her mother and several school mates in front of the clinic with the usual anti posters and chants. It appears that she got the abortion she needed and still displayed the appropriate anti views expected of her by her parents, teachers, and peers.

That example was from Australia. There are others from the USA, Canada and The Netherlands.

Making Progress

It has been a bit quiet here today because I have been busy working on a new website for the bookstore. I’m quite pleased with what I have thus far. I also have a deadline, because Juliet’s book is due out soon and I need to be able to sell it (and not just through Amazon). More on this in a few days.

Also I’m trying to write a review of Caitlín Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl that does not suck. The better the book, the harder it is to write a review that is neither fawning nor pretentious, so I’m up against it here.