No Award Writes Books (and gives one away)

No Award is coming to a bookshelf near you! Of recent months, No Award has appeared in two books. Liz was critical to the development of them both.

Cranky Ladies of History

Late in 2013, Liz blogged about noted Cranky Lady of History Tsaritsa Sophia Alekseyvna.  First it was a Tumblr post, and when that exploded, she figured it was maybe worth preserving, and cross-posted it to her blog.

It got a tiny bit of attention on WordPress, but attracted a lot of retweets, at which point someone said (to Tansy Rayner Roberts, if memory serves), “Hey, this would make a great anthology.”

Said great anthology then came into existence.

(Despite Liz’s best efforts, nothing else she has ever posted has ever and will ever achieve this level of success.  All those Tumblr ramblings about how Lin Beifong is great, and no one wants to turn Cranky Middle-Aged Cartoon Superheroines into an anthology.  Which is frankly weird.)

Cover of Cranky Ladies of History - red silhouette people

Crowdfunding took place, pitches were submitted, and, miracle of miracles, both Liz and Stephanie had stories accepted.

Stephanie wrote about her favourite pirate and yours, Cheng Shih, Fierce Lady, Pirate, Total Ratbag. There’s not a lot of documentation out there about her, either in English or Chinese texts, so Steph did the best she could (in both English and Chinese, as a noted polyglot) and then wish fulfilled where she couldn’t.

The greatest new thing Steph learnt about Cheng Shih during research for this story was her potential linkages to the start of the Opium War, and her working relationship with Lin Zexu, who started the Opium War. Fighting the British because of opium would have been totally Cheng Shih’s jam, so it sounds legit.

Cheng Shih, like Noted Asian Lee Lin Chin, is one of Steph’s heroes, and if she were to grow up to be just like Cheng Shih, that would be acceptable.

Liz wrote about Queen Mary 1 of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, burner of Protestants and all around cranky lady.  But first, she read half a dozen biographies, one of which turned up a truly amazing anecdote.

From memory: Late in Henry VIII’s reign, when Mary was in her late twenties or early thirties, living as far from her family as she could get without actually running away to Europe, Henry-via-retainer sent her a rather shirty letter to the effect of, he had heard she was entertaining “strangers” in her home, and could she not do that?

Mary replied, effectively, “Surely the king doesn’t want me to abandon the principles of Christian hospitality?  I will continue to act as my conscience dictates, thank you.”

And apparently nothing more came of it, because those letters are published in a rare book, of which only six copies exist.  Suffice to say, Liz’s library didn’t hold it.  (David Starkey owns a copy, but somehow it seemed unlikely he’d lend it to anyone.)

What piqued Liz’s imagination was this: who were these “strangers”?  English aristocrats wouldn’t be strangers.  English peasants wouldn’t come to the king’s attention.  So … time travellers?  Aliens?  ALIEN TIME TRAVELLERS?  (The Doctor?)  Faeries?

None of these questions are answered in Liz’s story because it takes place many years earlier, in the weeks before the downfall of Anne Boleyn.  This was particularly fun because Boleyn is remembered as a light-hearted, witty lady — at least, that was how she interacted with men — whereas Mary quickly went from being a happy, gifted child to a dour young woman with an undefined chronic gynecological complaint.

You can purchase Cranky Ladies of History (please do).

Companion Piece

You might not know this, but Liz loves Doctor Who, and Steph knows that time travel is terrible and no one should do it.  Liz says:

Cover of Companion Piece - a pale brown background with a young woman clambering out of a box. This all started back at Aussiecon 4 in 2010.  Liz and future-co-editor L M Myles were in the bar, as often happens at conventions, and they got to talking about the curious lack of substantial books about Doctor Who companions.  A couple exist, but they’re more promotional than analytical, and at least one is best known for the terrible would-be sexy photos it contains. (Tumblrs that should exist: Unsexy Photoshoots Featuring Sci-Fi Actresses Who Deserve Better.)

Fast forward a couple of years, and Liz Myles had co-edited the Hugo-nominated Chicks Unravel Time, a follow-up to the Hugo-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords.  Liz contributed to Chicks Unravel Time, and publisher Lars of Mad Norwegian Press liked her work enough that when we met at ChicagoTARDIS in 2012, he was willing to give them a chance with a companion book.

Fast forward some more years, in which Liz Myles became a podcasting queen and Liz discovered that programming/chairing a convention and editing a book at the same time is a really bad idea.  And we have, at last, got a book.  An actual book that the two Lizes made, full of essays we’re proud of.  Which brings us to…

Steph wasn’t going to submit anything to this anthology. Liz enticed her in with ‘How would you like to write about the least feminist companion and say something nice about her?’ And you know what? Did Steph ever. Steph mainlined hours of Five and Six, and then wrote several thousand words about how the Doctor is terrible and men are terrible and you should all feel terrible, and misogyny is the thing that keeps Peri from embracing her innate awesomeness. Steph is living her best misandrist life, okay? You should, too.

You can purchase Companion Piece from Amazon and similar places.  (If you do, please feel free to throw a review up on Amazon, GoodReads, etc!)

Alternatively, leave a comment here, and you might be RANDOMLY SELECTED to receive a copy.  IT’S THE FIRST NO AWARD GIVEAWAY!

And if that doesn’t work, we’re also giving away two (!) signed (!) copies at Continuum — go buy yourself a membership, then turn up for the closing ceremony.  Guest of Honour Tansy Rayner Roberts is just one of several contributors attending, so it’s not just Liz and Steph writing their names in the book. (And drawing. Steph will be drawing in books)

No Award in Books: The Live Show

There will be panels about both of these books at Continuum, a speculative fiction convention, of which Liz is Chair and Steph is programmer. Continuum is held over the Queen’s Birthday weekend in Melbourne, Steph uses it to push an agenda, and because this is our blog you’ll be hearing more about it over the next two weeks.

Sunday June 7 6pm, Cranky Ladies of History, including editors Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Monday June 8, 2pm.

(PS Don’t try first programming and then chairing a con while co-editing a book.  Learn from Liz’s mistakes.  Sleep is a wonderful thing that you will one day miss.)

this thing we are doing (a manifesto)

Hey so I wanted to talk about why I am so excited about this blog!

When I was 14, I picked up Sabriel, by Garth Nix. Sabriel lived on one side of the Wall but always knew she belonged to both sides and was singled out for it in both places. Despite living in a fantasy world, with her dark hair and her dark eyes and written, as she was, by an Australian author, I knew deep in my heart that she was a mixed-race Australian girl, just like me.

Science fiction and fantasy was always my safe place, as a kid; a place where my idiosyncrasies were nothing more than that, where my brown skin and my black hair weren’t out of place. I read, almost exclusively in English, and I could always find some kid with dark hair, some girl with olive skin. I knew exactly what our future held: a whole lot of mixed kids, amorphous brown kids of varying hues, just like me, and also space ships.

Instead, the science fiction future I have found myself in is a sea of scientifically improbable white faces, and I have sadly and with deep regret left most English-language fantasy behind to its its fae and its beautiful red heads and its dragons shaped all wrong. I found myself drifting away despite my wishes: disillusioned by yet another Anglo-Celtic barely veiled Arthurian dragony thing with some barbarous coloured people and a whole lot of white people (GoT, I’m looking at you); surrounded by  humans on colonising, conquesting adventures through time and space. I started reading Chinese SF instead, but as a first generation adventurer into the world while that’s an option for me that’s not an option for all brown kids in an English-language world.

In 2011 I was on a panel at Continuum called The Dark Side of Steampunk. During it I ranted and I waved my hands and I’m pretty sure I nearly ended up in fisticuffs with other panelists over the things about which they were wrong (everything, but especially race and ethnicity) and afterwards someone I had never met, someone not white, had come up to me and, shaking, told me how happy they were that I had said every word.

Earlier that year The Wind-Up Girl was the Swancon bookclub book; at the panel discussing it, the bad bits were brushed aside so time could be spent on the good bits, and I sat there, choking on my loathing.

I have felt uncomfortable in Australian fandom for a long time. I go to cons, but I feel ill at ease, and as the years have gone by I have become more and more angry that I have to negotiate these spaces, these discussions where I am invisible, where to be of colour is to be the other, where male voices are the default, where I have educate rather than debate.

So in 2013 I chaired a Continuum. It is one of the biggest things I have ever done. I invited two non-white Guests of Honour (though in the end, only one was able to come), and everybody who came on board the committee was told in explicit words exactly what I wanted to achieve. I understand that it’s a slow process, an ongoing process. This year I was so proud of the programme we put together, its focus on putting all sorts of views forward and expanding horizons and challenging assumptions and even doing the 101 work, which I don’t mind doing. The panel simply titled “Social Justice 101” overflowed out the door and certainly was too full, but it worked and it challenged the people in my SFF community and for that I am grateful. This blog is a direct outlet of that, a direct result of that panel and the success of this con.

I kept my plans secret, for a while, aside from telling my committee. But in the programme I said it outright. My welcome was:

Our theme this year is Contraindicators. Speculative fiction and pop culture often challenges assumptions and dominant story lines, but so often it is complicit in all sorts of unpleasant things. This year Contraindicators seeks to actively challenge that, to create new and surprise endings, incorporate different themes, and to poke at assumptions and stereotypes. Contraindicators is about intersections and things that start off one way and don’t finish the way you think they will. It’s about cryptids. It’s about challenging the dominant paradigm. It’s about creating a space where people feel comfortable to talk about the things that make them feel uncomfortable in fandom, about working together to change our space into Our Shared Space.

In my opening speech I was even more explicit, talking about my experiences of racism and disillusionment within fandom, and within stories. I am sick of being quiet and polite about this! I want everyone to have to think about this, to have to challenge their own assumptions and be shaken from their privilege.

Not many of us panelists were people of colour, this year; but as the programme continues in this vein (which I hope it will; certainly it has the blessing of the next chair), and we continue to work towards a space where people can feel comfortable and as people see a community where their own faces are welcome, and reflected, I hope that this will change, and I won’t have to abandon this community and this SFF world that I do, in fact, quite enjoy.

This blog is not the only space in which I’m working towards my goals, but it’s the one that’s currently foremost in my mind, and I’m super excited to be sharing this space with Liz, one of my favourite people in fandom and real life.

As Liz mentioned, an important part of this space is that it’s primarily a not-USAmerican space; we are two Australian ladies of varied backgrounds, and this space reflects that, because my science fiction future also doesn’t involve USAmerica saving the world.

ALSO this blog is not just about me being Azn. It’s also about other things. But.

Fifteen years later that same copy of Sabriel still sits on my shelf, currently wedged between Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover. I haven’t read it in a while, but everything I ever hoped for, and everything it ever gave me, still holds true, and I will always love it for that.