Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Human Dignity and the Law of the Land

Rabbi Marcus Rubenstein is the rabbi of Temple Sinai, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue about half an hour from where I live. We came to each other's attention when he organized the first Never Again Is Now action in our area--which I unfortunately found out about too late to attend. He has been hosting a series of iyyunim (roughly translatable as, lecture and discussion on topics of Judaic interest) at his synagogue, which fortunately for me one need not be a congregation member to attend. Monday's iyyun was Talmud Berakhot 19b through 20a, in which the rabbis discuss situations where strict adherence to certain commandments might conflict with showing respect for the dignity of other people. I missed it; the traffic on Route 6 was terrible, giving me ample opportunity to observe the texting habits of my fellow drivers. But after the iyyun, R. Marcus posted some thoughts on Facebook prompted by his own presentation. And I was with him until his last paragraph, when he attempted to derive its practical application by trying to draw conclusions about how DHS or ICE agents should act in their efforts to enforce, not divine law, but the all-too-human law of who may cross borders and abide within them.

This did not sit well with me. But rather than fire off a glib response, as Facebook's interface encourages people to do, to the detriment of their relationships and thoughts, I decided to sit with that discomfort for the day and see if anything came to mind that would account for it.

This is where I arrived in my thoughts: The rabbanim were not giving guidance to agents of state power, but to a dispersed, minority people scattered through the Sassanian and Byzantine Empires and beyond. And their words live inasmuch as they have meaning to persons--Jews, yes, but any who can read and understand their words, and apply them with intelligence--persons who are striving to act ethically. Not those who are enforcing the laws of earthly power, but those who are trying to do what is right by others. (Yes, my operating definition of "ethics" here borrows heavily from Emmanuel Levinas.) That is not to say that Jews, or any other would-be ethical actor, is under no obligation to the laws of the state in which they live. As the rabbanim dictate, dina de-malkhuta dina, that is, the laws of the land are binding upon the ethical subject inasmuch as they do not conflict directly with Torah. How, then, could adherence to the law of the land in this country come into conflict with human dignity? Consider the case of Scott Warren, against whom the Federal government brought felony charges for leaving water in places where immigrants could find it in the desert, and against whom they could still elect to attempt a retrial. If someone is presented with an opportunity to protect the dignity of an immigrant by offering food, water, or shelter, should they shy away from that ethical obligation, for fear of transgressing dina de-malkhuta, the law of the land?

Referring back to Berakhot, then, and Rabbi Marcus's iyyun, how might the conclusion reached by the rabbanim apply, that human dignity takes precedence over positive ("thou shalt") commandments and rabbinical ones (those derived by the rabbanim in the course of building series of "fences around the Torah"), but not over negative ("thou shalt not") commandments? Dina de-malkhuta is a rabbinical commandment, an adaptation to the loss of temporal power by Jewish communal institutions under Roman and Persian rule, and an injunction that no individual Jew should jeopardize the security of the community as a whole by claiming that the superiority of divine law gives license for all forms of rebellion. It is not absolute and for all time: Had it been, the Bar Kokhba rebellion would have been heretical, but Mar Samuel, the rabbi on whose authority it is given, was born more than forty years after that rebellion's defeat. As a rabbinical commandment, dina de-malkhuta is of a lower order than the defense of human dignity. Fear of breaking the law is no excuse for failure to come to the aid of immigrants, but rather, pusillanimity and moral cowardice.

So what does this have to do, then, with DHS or ICE? Rabbi Marcus may be more sanguine than I about the possibility that there remain, within those organizations, people still capable of behaving as ethical subjects. I find any such hope doubtful on its face. At this point, the actions of those agencies do not only transgress against human dignity, but also against certain basic, negative commandments that should be known to all: "Thou shalt not kill," "thou shalt not steal," and these more than suffice for critique of its actions. Ethical behavior within these organizations would require consistent and organized defiance of orders that not only transgress basic moral law, but also international treaty obligations. An employee of DHS or ICE, if they are not to risk being cast out from humankind as an agent of depravity, would have to take specific actions by which they would risk their job, or quit the filthy job entirely.

Longtime readers are probably perplexed that an atheist of known communistic sympathies is engaging in such Talmudic analysis, but as I already wrote six years ago when my worldview started to shift, "the main tasks of the moment are neither political nor economic, but ethical or moral." When one speculates on what the agents of a state ought to do--or, if one has given up hope that they might do otherwise than they are doing, how to frustrate their intent--one is engaged in political reasoning, and in that domain my training, the conceptual and analytic tools which I have most readily to hand, can be grouped under the broad heading of "Marxism." When one is discussing what persons ought to do, not necessarily with an eye toward the transformation of power relations but simply to demonstrate respect for others, one is engaged in ethical reasoning, and there, the earliest training I was given, the vocabulary to which I default, and the dialectical methods through which I attempt to navigate my way through contradictions, these all remain Jewish.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Thoughts on Surveillance and Narcissism

If you have been reading my fiction, you know that surveillance often figures into it. I would count it as having a central or plot-determining role in more than half of the stories I have published to date, a good 11 out of 17, in fact. More than the mere fact of surveillance, though, each such story poses the implicit question of why the characters would invite surveillance into their lives? I do not claim that the answers implied by the stories are all good, that is, convincing answers. The advantage, though, of writing fiction rather than non-fiction is that a single can offer or suggest multiple answers to any one question: If you don't like the first answer I seem to have given, try your best to uncover another through interpretation!

There are many situations, though, where the potential answers are so obvious, so trite, that the questions they pose are not interesting enough to support a story, but none the less they occur in life, with depressing frequency. Consider, for example, the matter of texting while driving. As of now, in the United States at least, it seems as though the only ways for someone engaging in the practice to be caught are direct observation by a police officer, or to have it uncovered through an insurance investigation subsequent to a resulting accident. With such sporadic enforcement, it appears to have become as rampant a practice as speeding, and far more dangerous. Today, I observed, through my rear view mirror, someone in the car immediately behind me with his iPhone propped against the top of his steering wheel for a distance of more than four miles, including at speeds approaching 60 miles an hour.

Technologically, it would not be much of a challenge for the phones, with existing capabilities and installed apps, to begin telling on us. GPS can tell whether the vehicle is in motion or not. If the car is at all internet enabled, as a growing number are, then it's just a matter of a few nested IF statements determining whether the phone is at a distance and in a direction from the car's own receiver or transmitter corresponding to active use by the driver, at a time that the car is in motion. All one needs is for that possibility condition to trigger an automatic notification to someone. This is so easy, that one need not be overly paranoid to suspect that it already exists, awaiting only the legal or market conditions for it to be activated.

What would those legal and market conditions be? It is easy to anticipate China imposing it as a requirement on all smartphone providers in a top-down manner. The media outcry calling for it is already in place. In the U.S. it seems more likely that it would come about through a combined rollout of varied approaches. A luxury surveillance item marketed to the parents of driving teenagers first--that already exists. Then a requirement imposed on commercial drivers by their employers, or on drivers with a history of violations as a condition of retaining their licenses. Then insurance companies start offering discounts to every customer who downloads their proprietary snitch apps. Then the undiscounted cost of insurance is allowed by state insurance commissioners to rise so high that it becomes prohibitively expensive for most people not to download the snitch apps. After all, if you don't install it, then clearly you must have something to hide. It might never attain 100% penetration, but 90% is good enough for most practical purposes.

And then, since the same "sniffing" technology could be used, e.g. to identify every cell phone within a certain radius of a police body camera and oriented in such a way as to suggest that the phone might be used to record the actions of the officer wearing that camera, and install a little virus that temporarily makes it impossible to record or livestream video. Of course, I could just be imaginatively paranoid, as near-future science fiction writers so often are.

"But, Joseph! You just gave away a potential story idea! Don't waste it on a blog post!" I am getting bored with writing that sort of story, however. Everyone recognizes someone they know in it, but never recognizes themselves. The characters are so foolish, so implausible, right?

I am not convinced of that. What the characters in the baroque surveillance regimes I have postulated in various stories have in common with the people who balance their cell phones on their steering wheels within our present, mundane surveillance regime is psychological narcissism, the inability to imagine that their own actions could be wrong or that they could be responsible for any harms to others that result from them. The obverse of the common unwisdom, "if you haven't done anything wrong you have nothing to hide," is not that the people who say that believe they have never done anything wrong, but that they are unable to recognize the wrongness of their own wrongdoing.

One can certainly tell stories about characters like that. I have. I do not think, though, that I need to tell many more. To tell such stories in a fiction register might even be a distraction from the non-fictional damage being done, not by characters, but by living caricatures.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Meta-Anthology 2018

Repeating myself from last year, with slight modifications: I make no pretense to this representing the best short stories of the year 2018. First of all, because they are not of that year, having all first appeared in 2017. But also, since I could not possibly keep up with all short fiction publications of interest, I have culled them from four key anthologies, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American series, in its Short Story, Mystery Story, and Science Fiction and Fantasy instances, and the Pushcart Prize. Despite the names of those anthologies, it represents not the best of the best, but a selection of what was deemed "best" by others that I found nonetheless to be worth reading. This version of the meta-anthology, my sixth, comes the latest of any, due to my having completed an interstate move. Why do I keep doing it? I find that it brings or renews good authors to my attention, and also brings or renews to my attention strong publications, the sorts of venues in which I might be honored to have my own work appear. Was 2017 a good year for short fiction? Let me answer a question with a question: Was it a good year for anything?

Charlie Jane Anders, "Don't Press Charges and I Won't Sue," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in Boston Review: Global Dystopias.

Anders is not the most politically insightful of contemporary speculative fiction writers, but what she brings to her work far more reliably than most is style.

Michael Bracken, "Smoked," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. First published in Noir at the Salad Bar: Culinary Tales with a Bite.

I can't resist barbecue, or shoot-'em-ups.

Yoon Choi, "The Art of Losing," from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in New England Review, vol. 38, no. 2.

Love and care can survive the loss of memory and mind, just barely. Somehow, a pair of Korean immigrant grandparents call to mind my own first-generation Jewish-American ones.

Gwendolyn Clare, "Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2017.

I suspect this transcends the author's intention, but this story is a perfect illustration of Walter Benjamin's dictum that "There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism."

Olabajo Dada, "The Bar Beach Show" from 2019 Pushcart Prize XLIII. First appeared in The Southamption Review.

Military cynicism mastered the politics of the spectacle long before practitioners of mass politics recognized it as a thing in the world.

Samuel R. Delany, "The Hermit of Houston," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2017.

This was my favorite science fiction story to appear in 2017, and it holds up. Not because it was perfectly realized--it wasn't--but because it was one of the few that I read that was not averse to the risk of failure.

Alicia Elliott, "Unearth" from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in Grain vol. 44.3.

I was in tears by the end of my reading, and glad in this case that the word "American" is used, by the series editor, in a sense that includes anglophone Canada.

Jaymee Goh, "The Last Cheng Beng Gift," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in Lightspeed.

Some day human beings will outgrow the need for stories about parents needing, and failing, to unlearn a proprietary attitude toward their adult children. Until that day, this was one of the more imaginative examples of such a story that I have seen.

Jacob Guajardo, "What Got into Us," from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in Passages North no. 38.

A well-imagined scenario that any queer boy can relate to, strong characterization, and precise control of language that allows the writer to do test the limits of English with past, present, and future tenses.

Maria Dahvana Headley, "The Orange Tree," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in The Weight of Words.

With more brilliant sentences in its few pages than in many of the rest of the stories published in that year, this sexual, intertextual piece immerses the reader in Mediterranean brine and the juice of bitter oranges.

Cristina Henríquez, "Everything Is Far from Here," from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in The New Yorker, July 24, 2017.

I somehow don't remember having read this earlier, even though I am a New Yorker subscriber. A horrifying story that is both weakened and made more horrifying by the knowledge that its horrors are already being outstripped by reality. Read it before it is made so far out of date that its horrors seem quaint.

Micah Dean Hicks, "Church of Birds," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in Kenyon Review March/April 2017.

The greatest curse is a malformed wish.

J. M. Holmes, "What's Wrong with You? What's Wrong with Me?" from 2019 Pushcart Prize XLIII. First appeared in The Paris Review.

A story that left me smelling the funk of weed smoke and testosterone-charged man sweat.

Victor LaValle, "Spectral Evidence," from 2019 Pushcart Prize XLIII. First appeared in Ploughshares.

This felt to me like the way Raymond Carver would tell a ghost story if he ever allowed himself to tell a ghost story, which he did not, so that leaves space for LaValle to do his thing.

David Naimon, "Acceptance Speech," from 2019 Pushcart Prize XLIII. First appeared in Boulevard.

Human consciousness as the fever-dream of a rampant microbiome trying to think itself out of existence.

Alan Orloff, "Rule Number One," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. First appeared in Snowbound.

I thought I saw the end coming, and then I saw the end coming, and then I didn't.

Lettie Prell, "Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel Probabilities," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in Clarkesworld Issue 124.

To be frank, when it comes to science fiction stories about alternate legal systems that appeared in 2017, I prefer my own "Menistaria...", which appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Lackington's. But that had been rejected by Clarkesworld years before, and CW has a larger audience than Lackington's. What I do like about this story are the things that it shares with my own: The willingness to imagine that things could be better, and recognition of the moral stunting of those who cannot imagine things being other than they are.

Karen Russell, "The Tornado Auction," from 2019 Pushcart Prize XLIII. First appeared in Zoetrope: All Story.

Sometimes the bravest thing to do is the least destructive.

Amy Silverberg, "Suburbia!" from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in The Southern Review, vol. 53, no. 2.

You can never go home again because why on earth would you want to? A good example of fiction as literalized metaphor.

Curtis Sittenfeld, "The Prairie Wife," from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in The New Yorker, February 13 & 20, 2017.

This one I remember consciously deciding not to read when it was first published. The confessed Twitter addiction of both the author and the main character interacted poorly with my own; often when I am reading The New Yorker, I am logged into Twitter, and reading about a Twitter-obsessed character while being on Twitter seemed a bit too--as the main character in Silverberg's story would say--"meta". The presence of this story on the list shows how arbitrary this list really is. My reception of a story varies in part depending on the medium in which I am trying to read it. I am least receptive to fiction when it is on a screen, and stories that work in a fat volume may turn me off on a three-column page.

Turning to the story itself: It has some manipulative tricks, like not stating the gender of the main character's spouse until more than midway through. Though anyone who ends up surprised at that reveal, only reveals themselves, as a clueless hetero. Nonetheless, I am glad of its all-too-relatable depiction of having-kids-in-one's-forties, of getting nostalgic for the erotic abandon of one's teenage self, and its frank descriptions of vigorous scromping. A more ambiguous story might have ended up more cynical, perhaps too much so for The New Yorker, so perhaps I ought to write that more ambiguous story.

Rivers Solomon, "Whose Heart I Long to Stop with the Click of a Revolver," from The Best American Short Stories 2018. First published in Emrys Journal vol. 34.

A story that aims high, higher, more ambitious, than most stories published today, so that even if it does not quite hit its target, one savors the miss, the kickback, the smell of powder.

Cadwell Turnbull, "Loneliness Is in Your Blood," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. First appeared in Nightmare Magazine issue 52.

The first literary treatment I have seen of a soucouyant (I know there are more, but this is the first that I've read), which more than makes up for the single-sentence opening paragraph.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2018 Nebula Ballot

Novel

My vote goes to: Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller. A sexy and urbane thriller set in the aftermath of climate catastrophe, which deftly handles multiple viewpoints, including technologically mediated shared human-animal consciousnesses. I would say that it was the best novel that I read of any genre that was published in 2018, but I fear that, because my reading list over the last year has been lighter than usual on contemporary fiction, that might seem like faint praise. Let me say then that it is arguably one of the best novels of this decade.

Novella

The Black God's Drums by Phenderson Djèlí Clark wins my vote through having the most original setting of this year's nominees.

"Novelette"

I will never not put this category name in scare quotes, as this term that as far as I can tell is current only among science fiction and fantasy fandoms too often ends up encompassing two disparate literary phenomena: long-ish short stories, sometimes overly long; and brief novellas, sometimes too brief to be fully realized. I have read and enjoyed pieces that fit the boundaries of this category, but none of this year's nominees have won my vote. (To be fair, for some of them it was only because interlibrary loan has been too slow for me to receive and read them before the deadline for ballot submission.) Abstention / no preference.

Short Story

Phenderson Djèlí Clark wins my vote again, this time with a story that tests the limits of fantasy at the levels of concept, narrative, and stylistics, "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington." While I am disappointed at the entirely anglophone nature of the nominee list in a year when a number of brilliant stories in translation found their way into science fiction and fantasy publications, this story is head and shoulders above almost anything else the genre brought us in 2018.

Abstention / No Preference for the Bradbury Award (dramatic presentation--my media consumption habits are dominated by print), Norton (YA; as it is--too much of what was nominated for the "adult" Nebulas reads like YA for my taste); or Game Writing (also not my bag). I would be tempted to vote for Black Panther for the Bradbury, as I did actually see it in the theater, but to do so without having yet seen Sorry to Bother You seems unfair to the latter.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Introducing: Just Outside the Eruv

In our return to New York State my family ended up living in one of the towns adjacent to the village of Kiryas Yoel. When I share this information with fellow New Yorkers and fellow Jews it triggers nods of recognition, and often furious warnings and denunciations, but it means little to anyone else, so let me explain. Kiryas Yoel was founded in the 1970s by the Satmar Hasidic Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum, as a place where his followers could live in a more rural setting yet still be surrounded by fellow members of their sect. Though the Satmar Hasidim are the largest such group today, they are much less well-known, to either non-Hasidic Jews or to non-Jews, than Chabad-Lubavitch, so explaining who they are I might as well contrast them to Chabad. Whereas Chabad aggressively proselytizes their variety of orthodoxy to other Jews, the Satmarim grew after the Holocaust through a more restrained method of ingathering, in which they welcomed other ultra-orthodox Jews who had lost their religious and community leaders. This is not to say that there was never any chicanery: In Israel, there were some scandals provoked by the Satmarim adopting the children of impoverished Yemeni Jews from state-run orphanages. But for the most part, they focus their outreach most on those who are adult and already ideologically proximate to them. Whereas Chabad is Zionist--supporting the State of Israel, participating in its elections, and accepting its material support--the Satmarim are known for being anti-Zionist. Though it would be a mistake to presume that such opposition to Zionism as a political movement is motivated by humanitarian concern for the indigenous Palestinians. Rather, they regard Zionism as being a sin against the Jewish religion, arguments for which Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum was known for publishing in lengthy tracts in the postwar period. Whereas Chabad will speak English, Hebrew, any language needed to proselytize, the Satmarim promoted the use of Yiddish as a means of asserting and promoting Jewish religiosity and identity--and in an effort to keep the loshen ha-kodesh of the Torah and Talmud pure of the muck of commerce and statecraft. And while Chabad-Lubavitch has become infamous for a growing messianic cult around their late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, the Satmarim keep the veneration of their rebbes within the traditionally Judaic bounds of a cult of personality. Thus, for example, while there have been disputes over rabbinical succession in the forty years since Yoel Teitelbaum's death, to the best of my knowledge no fraction of the Satmarim have ever entertained the thought that he might return from the dead and reveal himself as the Messiah.

"Just Outside the Eruv" will be my name and tag for an occasional series of posts to this blog about experiences I have living in such close proximity to these fellow Jews, interacting with them, or with others in the area when the interactions are inflected by their presence. ("Eruv" is a Talmudic term referring to the boundaries of an area which, on the Sabbath, an orthodox Jew can treat as an extension of his or her house. To live within Kiryas Yoel is to live within an Eruv. I am just outside the Eruv--close enough that some of the more prosperous members of the Satmar community can own or rent houses and walk the short distance to services on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, but far enough that they cannot carry their keys with them.) This is the first entry in that series.

Today, my son and I paid our first visit to the Monroe Bakery. While it is not within Kiryas Yoel, it is Hasidic-owned, shomer shabbos, and has a good reputation for the quality of its challah and other baked goods. I entered the bakery a bit nervous.

Today was my first full day back home after a week-long trip to Florida, in which I briefly visited the bedside of my grandfather before his death, and comforted my mother and other relatives after it. My grandfather would have had no love and little sympathy for the Satmarim. His beliefs were no less atheistic and strongly held than my own, though not sharing the Marxist integument that holds my world view together. My grandfather was someone who through his life demonstrated that one could be ethical, upright, and consistent without any belief in a creator, though the ethics on which he acted were, too often, patriarchal and chauvinistic. His mother, whom he loved even to the point of cutting off all contact with his elder sister for what he regarded as her inadequate filial piety, was on the other hand the only one of my great-grandparents on the Jewish side of my family who adhered to any measure of orthodoxy. Thus I never met her, because she treated the day of my mother's marriage to my father as the day of her death. Given this background, it is not surprising that my grandfather had a greater impact on the beliefs of his descendants than his mother did, and so all the relatives present to remember him were about as secular as I am, and it showed in their attitudes toward my Satmar neighbors.

The attitudes of secular American Jews to the ultra-Orthodox (collectively referred to as haredim--all hasidim are haredi but not all haredim are hasidic) resemble the attitudes of elite, assimilated German Jews to the Ostjuden before the war, or of more Americanized cohorts to fresh-off-the-boat newcomers in generations past. Thus I had spent all week being the recipient of unsolicited warnings--"they're horrible people;" "they hate anyone who isn't one of them;" "they're the rudest people around, even worse than Israelis;" "greedy bastards;" "they stink;" and of course "they'll destroy the public schools around you once they get a chance."

Even if I know that these statements range from slanderously false to only partly true, having this be a recurrent coda for the week prior meant that I was on guard as I entered the bakery. I will report that the bakery smells like a bakery--delicious. The price on the chocolate babka was a bit high, but based on the smell it emitted as I cut slices for each of the kids, it is probably worth it. The challah we are saving for tonight's dinner, so I don't yet know if it is good, but the price is reasonable. The service could have been a bit nicer, but the conversation with the clerk changed tenor slightly when I took one of the three Yiddish newspapers in stock--from Der Blat, Di Tsaytung, and Der Yid, this time I decided to try Der Yid.

"You're interested in Jewish newspapers?"

"Ikh kon leyenen af yidish. I'm Jewish and I'm trying to keep my Yiddish up so I can translate things."

"That's good!"

Then I meandered into some apologetic, grammatically dubious statement in Yiddish downplaying my Jewishness, and he replied with a rabbinical saying in Hebrew that I did not recognize at first. Then he gave an English translation summing it up as, from God's standpoint, all his children are on the same level. And I thought that was a pretty decent thing to say, and not at all reflective of "hating anyone who isn't one of them."

So I left the bakery feeling pretty well disposed toward the Satmarim... until the drive home. From the bakery, the quickest way home takes me through the fringes of Kiryas Yoel. And on a Friday afternoon, drivers around there get a little frantic. After all, one must arrive home and turn off the ignition of the car before sunset, preferably well before sunset. So the driver behind me seemed a bit hurried. Let me be frank: He was riding up my ass. And then, as I approached a crosswalk where a teenage boy--still beardless--waited to cross, and where State law and basic decency dictated that I should stop to allow him to cross and finish his walk home before sunset, I did in fact stop--and the driver behind me honked, directly at me and implicitly at the pedestrian.

It left me wondering, which was the greater respect to the Sabbath? To rush home frantically honking one's horn at anyone who gets in the way? Or to yield to others in deference to their eagerness to perform a mitzvah in which one does not believe? Another way to ask this question might be: Who was the better Jew, the great-grandmother who never met or spoke to me, or the grandfather who loved me always, through all our differences?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

O Maine, addio

In the last week, I ended my seven-year sojourn in the State of Maine, a period that had, until now, been coterminous with my literary career. After several years of unemployment and underemployment, my spouse was offered a good position in her field at an institution in Poughkeepsie. This also opened the possibility of living much closer to her parents, that is, two of the beloved grandparents of my two children. (The third beloved grandparent, my mother, is in Florida, a state I avoid as much as possible.) Since my spouse's field is librarianship, I still need to find work in order to make the finances of this move work, but I have some prospects, and so, overall, it seemed worth the risk. Maine has inspired many, but not all, of my stories, and the corner of New York State in which we find ourselves has inspirations of its own. For example: right now, over my laptop screen I can look through the kitchen window, over the deck of the rental house in which we are living, and see the height of land known as Storm King. So I think we made the right choice.

In the chaos of the move, however, I lost track of publication schedules, and thus overlooked that the book Geek Out: Queer Pop Lit, Art & Ideas, ed. Sage Kalmus, is now available as an ebook or a paperback. In this book one can find my short story "O terra, addio" (quotation marks are part of the title, as it is an allusion to Verdi's Aïda). Much of the story takes place at Lincoln Center in the City, a place I will be able to visit more often now than I did during my Maine exile. I encourage you to order the book. I will, as soon as we are done unpacking our existing library.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

2018 Nebula Nominations

My literary income this year was good enough (mostly from translations) to justify rejoining SFWA, which means I can nominate things for the Nebula award. But I have not read quite as much contemporary science fiction and fantasy this year as in some recent years, and with my upcoming move I do not have much time for catch up reading, so my nomination slate is full in only one category, Short Story. Here we go:

Novel

  1. Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
  2. The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
  3. The Emissary by Yoko Tawada: I should note that this one, I am not 100% sure whether to classify it as a novel or a novella. It is 138 densely packed pages long.

Novella: None (unless I'm wrong about the Tawada)

Novelette

  1. "Widdam" by Vandana Singh
  2. "The Department of Happiness and Reimbursement" by Karen E. Bender

Short Story

  1. "Walking" by Der Nister: The only entry in which I have a hand, albeit as translator rather than author
  2. "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" by Phenderson Djèli Clark
  3. "Domestic Violence" by Madeline Ashby
  4. "A Night Out at a Nice Place" by Nick Mamatas
  5. "Hainted" by Ashley Blooms