1. The Martian by Andy Weir
2. Fables, Vol 18: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham
3. Fables, Vol 19: Snow White by Bill Willingham
4. Fables, Vol 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
5. Divine Scream by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
6. Less Than Hero by S.G. Browne
7. Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne
1. The Martian by Andy Weir
Note: This post involves minor spoilers.
A significant portion of Andy Weir’s The Martian centers around a lone astronaut using his wits to survive in impossible circumstances.
During a massive sandstorm and an evacuation of the mars expedition team, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a radio dish and presumed dead. But he wakes on Mars alone, still alive in a hostile environment. The only way to survive is to use scientific knowledge and engineering skills to make an uninhabitable world inhabitable for four years when the next Mars mission is set to return.
Space and travel to other planets are incredibly dangerous for human being. There are thousands of ways for a person to die, from severe cold to lack of atmosphere to the wrong oxygen/nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture in a space suit. A small error in judgment, one tiny unconsidered element of physics (like a single flawed bolt or a piece of overstretched fabric) can mean catastrophe and death. This epically fun book makes this danger brutally clear.
1. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
2. Rupetta by N.A. Sulway
3. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (audio book) by Susanna Clarke
5. Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana (chapbook) by Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco
6. House and Home (chapbook) by Jaz Sufi
7. Reflections by Jocelyn Deona De Leon
8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
9. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
10. The 2013 Rhysling Anthology, edited by by John C. Mannone
In progress at the end of the month: The Martian by Andy Weir
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
Man is an animal whose dreams come true and kill him.
— from “On the Last Afternoon”
One of my goals this year was to start reading books that have won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which is presented for stories that explore aspects of gender, primarily in SciFi and Fantasy. Since I was reading these award winners, I figured I should also read some of the work by the author after whom the award is named. James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (and had a second pen name, Raccoona Sheldon), who wrote hard science fiction for years without readers knowing she was a woman.
Tiptree is a perfect namesake for this award because so many of her own stories explore gender and sexuality in challenging and innovative ways. These stories are intelligent, sometimes challenging, and often bleak.
“The Screwfly Solution,” which is one of the best short stories I’ve read in years, involves increasing numbers of attacks by men against women. Bits of news clips, letters, and diary entries are placed alongside the main narrative of a man trying to make it home to his wife and daughter amid the mounting chaos. The ending is fatalistic and powerful, haunting.
In “The Women Men Don’t See” a journalist on a trip into Mexico takes a flight on a small plane with a mother and daughter, whom he finds unsettlingly independent and not fitting into his expectations of how women should be. I can’t say much more about the story without giving too much away, but the exploration of gender roles becomes increasingly explicit.
“With Delicate Mad Hands” is the story of a woman with a facial deformity who has lived her entire life unloved by her fellow human beings who mock and abuse her. She perseveres through an inner secret drive to leave Earth’s solar system behind her, and she achieves this one day by stealing a ship and steering it solo to the stars. There is so much more to the story than that short description, but I don’t want to say anymore. Although as dark as any other of Tiptree’s stories, this was also sweet and romantic.
Another subset of stories explore sexual behavior through alien bodies and include stories such as “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death,” “On the Last Afternoon,” and “A Momentary Taste of Being.” The alien-ness of these creatures or beings is startling and often destructive to human existence.
Other stories reflect on moral complexities of human society. “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain,” for example presents bits and pieces of Doctor Ain’s last flight told through the points of view of the people who meet him along his journey (again, this tells too little, but it really is a thrilling story). In “We Who Stole the Dream” an alien race enacts a revolt against humanity which holds them captive, breaking free from slavery and suffering, only to find that the home they are returning to is not the dream-come-true they expected.
Although I didn’t necessarily love every story, reading this brick-thick collection was a fantastic experience. Tiptree was an amazing writer, a master of the genre. Her work is a must read for any science fiction fan.
The 2013 Rhysling Anthology
Edited by John C. Mannone
The anthology, published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), comprises works nominated for the Rhysling Awards, which recognizes the best speculative poems published in the previous year. Below are the winners; I’ve included links to poems or poets, where I could find them.
Winners in the Short Poem Category:
First Place: “The Cat Star” by Terry A. Garey
Second Place: “Futurity’s Shoelaces” by Marge Simon
Winners in the Long Poem Category:
First Place: “Into Flight” by Andrew Robert Sutton
In related news, I’ve decided to join the SFPA. In a large part this was to receive copies of the various publications as they come out, because I love speculative poetry, as well as to be able to participate in future voting when the time comes.
I picked up each of these little books after being present at a reading by the authors, each of whom is a great performer with a unique and powerful voice. If you have the chance to catch them at any one of the many poetry events around the San Francisco bay area, I highly recommend you go have a listen.
House and Home
by Jaz Sufi
Hand made with a string binding, House and Home is a gift of words, expressing raw wounds of body and heart, mind and soul. The poems explore love and its failures. They address the lives of women, revealing how they are damaged, while revealing a strength that allows them to reclaim their own power. What a gorgeous little collection.
Poetry is not the ship.
Poetry is not the captain.
Life is a constant storm, and poetry
is what we make of the wreckage,
what we cling to alone in the ocean.
— from “Better a Blacksmith Than a Writer, a Carpenter Than a Poet”
Jaz Sufi is a poet, a Bay Area native, and the slammaster of the Berkeley Slam, the longest running poetry slam in California.
by Jocelyn Deona De Leon
Although only about the size of my hand, I don’t know if I can quite call Reflections mini at 62 pages.This collection is introspective and soulful, alternating between diary entries exploring and reflecting the author’s emotional space to individual poems sending messages to the world. These poems call upon the reader to ground themselves in the present moment, to look inside themselves, and to feel the world deeply.
moments flutter by like
butterfly wings slowly
floating you away from me.
i cannot catch you
because your freedom is exquisite.
it is the most explicit reminder that
the only way to love free is
to free love.
— from “Complicated Simplicity”
Jocelyn Deona de Leon writes poetry inspired by her Pilipino ancestral heritage and reflecting on experience through the eyes of love (see bio). She has toured nationally, sharing her words and energy with youth at various elementary, high school, and college campuses.
Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana
by Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco
Lucky Bastard Press, 2015
I don’t smoke, so normally I wouldn’t be interested in a book of poetry about pot. But when I saw this tiny, adorable little book, I couldn’t help but pick it up. The poems inside follow the traditional haiku 5-7-5 syllable format. Each tiny poem contains a single thought, some witty, some perceptive. A fun little read.
for Vietnam protesters:
Arrest them for pot
Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco likes words and the way they move. He is an organizer and performer at the Berkeley Poetry Slam and will represent them for the second time in the upcoming 2015 National Poetry Slam. He is a co-founder of Lucky Bastard Press.