Readercon 31 will take place online August 13-15, 2021
Guests of Honor Jeffrey Ford and Ursula Vernon will take the stage along with other authors, editors, critics, and luminaries from around the world. You will see panels on both the heart of reading and the art of writing, authors reading from their work, a variety of talks and performances, award ceremonies for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award and the Shirley Jackson Awards, and a virtual version of the convention’s Bookshop selling new and used books from a variety of small press and independent booksellers.
Dull and even miserable affect and emotion have been hallmarks of the dystopia genre since 1984 and Brave New World, with joy depicted as fleeting and pleasure considered hollow or fake. But in the real world, emotional responses to hardship vary from person to person and from culture to culture. Panelists will probe and challenge the cultural and aesthetic basis for the supposed authenticity of unmitigated bleakness in dystopia and consider other emotional tones that dystopian stories might explore.
Sunday, August 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Join me for a reading from my urban dark fantasy/horror novella, Plena Cucuy.
Cat is a young mestiza Mexican-American designer at a news organization, the only citizen in a family of mixed documentation status, and an acute observer of the city she inhabits — including its inexplicable happenings. Like an advertising placard at the train station that changes content between one glance at it and the next. Or the disappearance of her brother Edgar and other undocumented folks from one of the train station’s platforms. Or the creepy but compelling man — who might be a monster from childhood tales — she is unexpectedly pitted against. Add to that her complicated relationship with the family she lives with, the Black Boricua musician she’s falling for, and the intra-Latinx tensions of the neighborhood itself… Plena Cucuy is a dark urban fantasy/horror with teeth, music and magic.
This is the time of year when the timelines of speculative fiction writers and reviewers fill with awards eligibility posts listing stories and novels readers might consider nominating for upcoming Nebula and Hugo awards.
It can be a humbling time for those of us who are slow to write and slow to submit. Many of my colleagues in the field have four or five eligible short stories, and at least one eligible longer piece (novelette, novella or novel); I have only one. And while it is true that I’m not a fantastically prolific fiction writer even in the best years, I know my creative output took a real hit in 2017.
From chatting with and hearing the comments of other Latinx writers, I’m not the only one. The profound and recurring political threats to our local and national communities, as well as the catastrophic natural events that have impacted us, our friends and loved ones, have taken a toll. Understand — none of us are laying down or laying off, none of us are willingly muting our voices at a time when it becomes more and more urgent to speak out — but writing can feel like slogging through particularly thick and bitter molasses these days.
Still, you know what they say.
One. Story. At. A. Time.
My award nomination eligible short story this year — “Sin Embargo,” published in the anthology Latin@ Rising in January — is among my favorites. It plays across languages. It looks at tough issues of displacement and migration and politically motivated brutality, and still finds a way to speak of love, of hope, and of the radically transformative magic of interpersonal solidarity. It is a bear to read aloud because of all the bilingual homographs, and yet I insist on doing just that at public readings because … well, there is delight to be had in noting difference and similarity and the possibility of wholeheartedly embracing both.
In “Sin Embargo,” by Sabrina Vourvoulias, the psychology of immigration and asylum collides with inhuman transformation. — Kirkus Reviews
“Sin Embargo” is not, unfortunately, available to read online for those who might want to read it for nomination consideration. But the whole anthology is top-notch and well worth purchasing in print or eBook; it deserves a a much wider SFF readership than it has had so far.
Latin@ Rising includes wonderful reprint stories from writers celebrated by the SFF community (Junot Díaz, Carlos Hernández, Daniel José Older and Carmen María Machado), along with remarkable original stories by Latinx literary luminaries that are perhaps less known to SFF-only audiences, like the superb Kathleen Alcalá and Ana Castillo. It also includes the first English-language translation of a short story, “Accursed Lineage,” by Daína Chaviano, who is considered one of the three most important SFF authors writing in Spanish (Argentina’s Angélica Gorodischer and Spain’s Elia Barceló are the other two).
I honestly believe that if Latin@ Rising had been reviewed by SFF-focused review sites, or if it had gotten the attention other, more mainstream SFF anthologies have received this year, many of its stories would already be on people’s Nebula and Hugo nominating lists. I’m particularly fond of “Caridad” by Alex Hernández, “The Drain” by Alejandra Sánchez,”Room for Rent” by Richie Narvaez, and “Flying Under the Texas Radar With Paco and Los Freetails” by Ernest Hogan. (I wish there were an award somewhere for ingenious story titles because Hogan would be a repeat winner. “Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus” in the anthology We See a Different Frontier is another evocative one.)
Beyond Latin@ Rising
I read a lot of other great short stories this year and no way can I remember them all, but among those that live most vividly in my memory are:
“The Obsidian Codex“ by David Bowles (from his2017collection of short stories Chupacabra Vengeance). I think this story is longer than a short story, possibly novelette length? A further word about this collection (which contains my favorite Bowles story, “Wildcat,” originally published by Apex Magazine in 2015): Many of the stories in the collection are very dark and contain horrors beyond the commonplace … a number of them really should be under consideration for a Shirley Jackson award.
“The Corporal” by Ali Bader. All right, this short story isn’t actually eligible for nomination since it appeared (translated) in the 2016 anthology Iraq +100, but I only read it this year so, for me, it is identified with this year’s great pieces. I urge you to seek it out simply for the pleasure of reading a beautifully written fantasy with sci fi elements.
As far as 2017 novels are concerned, I haven’t yet read most of the ones that have been mentioned in the overlapping “Best of” lists are being published now. Still, I am hoping that the exceptional “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi is on lots of folks’ award-nominating lists in either the novel or YA categories. And, yes, it is good enough to deserve to be on both at once.
If I can dredge up more recommended reads from my memory banks during this nominating period, I’ll update this post. Stay tuned.
And don’t forget to nominate!
UPDATE (#1 of what I think are going to be multiple updates):
I’m headed to Readercon 28 next week and I just got my schedule.
Wednesday, July 12
Reading, etc. 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
With Max Gladstone and Yoon Ha Lee at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA (4 Pleasant St.). This event is free and open to public. Click here to get more info.
Friday, July 14
Our Dystopia – 1 p.m.
Since the election, many on the left have been calling attention to George Orwell’s 1984 as a missed warning. Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor said in a radio interview that she believes Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower is a more appropriate dystopia for our current climate. Orwell’s Animal Farm, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and other books have also warned of surreal authoritarianism. Do they map to our current world or are we projecting? What other books have warnings for us that we might heed?
I’ll be reading my short story “Sin Embargo” which was published in the anthology Latin@ Rising in early 2017.
“In ‘Sin Embargo,’ Sabrina Vourvoulias plays with translation and transformation in interesting ways.” — Publishers Weekly
Come hear me play with language(s), live and loud … 😜
Saturday, July 15
The Long Tail of the Tall Tale – 1 p.m.
Tall tales, like their fairy tale cousins, are reinvented in every culture around the world. These tales, handed down through generations, provide context for how humans relate to one another and to storytelling, as well as giving an intriguing look into cultural history. Panelists will discuss the ways tall tales and oral storytelling traditions have influenced the work of present-day speculative authors such as Andy Duncan, Andrea Hairston, Catherynne M. Valente, and Daniel José Older, and explore what helps a tall tale hit the sweet spot of both exaggerated and believable.
SF writers have often written deeply political books and stories; some stand the test of time, while others become dated very quickly. John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The New Atlantis,” to name just a few, directly addressed major issues of their day and are still relevant now—but differently. What affects how political SF ages and is read decades after its publication? What are today’s explicitly political books, and how do we expect them to resonate decades in the future?
There is a registration fee for Readercon weekend, except for Thursday programs which are free. There are day passes are available ($55 each for Friday and Saturday programs, $25 for Sunday programs). The schedule of programs is pretty spectacular, even on Sunday. The full schedule (except for individual readings) is here.
From July 7 through the 10, I’ll be in Quincy, Mass. at Readercon. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, here’s a description:
Although Readercon is modeled on “science fiction conventions,” there is no art show, no costumes, no gaming, and almost no media. Instead, Readercon features a near-total focus on the written word. In many years the list of Readercon guests rivals or surpasses that of the Worldcon in quality. Readercon is the only small convention regularly attended by such giants of imaginative literature as Gene Wolfe, Samuel R. Delany, John Crowley, Barry N. Malzberg, Kit Reed, and Jonathan Lethem. The program consists of two tracks each of panel discussions, author readings, and solo talks or discussion groups, plus kaffeeklatsches (intimate gatherings with an author) and autograph signings. The program also currently features the presentation of two major genre awards: The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award for a neglected author and the Shirley Jackson Awards for dark fantasy and psychological suspense.
This year’s Guests of Honor are Catherynne M. Valente and Tim Powers; the memorial Guest of Honor is Diana Wynne Jones. I’m slated to be on three panels, and I’ll be giving one reading. If you are at Readercon, please stop in and say hello.
When we think of the world of Harry Potter, what comes to mind first—the magic and childish delights of Hogwarts, with its cozy dormitories and feasts and flying lessons, or its numerous, creeping dystopian elements (even discounting Voldemort!), from the enslaved house elves to Umbridge to the Dementors, which are, frankly, the tools of a fascist state? Can we make an argument that HP is actually more like a dystopia than a fantasy? Even if we’re half joking, there’s still an interesting discussion here: how do these two sides of the wizarding world play off each other, and how do they compare with other dystopian YA? Maybe we need a new subgenre: Cozy Dystopia.
Friday, July 8, 3 PM:
Victoria Janssen, Ada Palmer, Andrea Phillips, Sabrina Vourvoulias, T.X. Watson.
Dystopia is popular in YA fiction for a variety of reasons, but why do authors frequently base their future dystopian society on some flimsy ideas, rather than using history to draw parallels between past atrocities and current human rights violations? Is it easier to work from one extreme idea, such as “love is now considered a disease” rather than looking at the complexities of, for example, the corruption of the U.S.S.R or the imperialism of the US? If science fiction uses the future to look at the present, is it more or less effective when using real examples from the past to look at our present through a lens of the future?
Friday, July 8, 6 PM:
Who Gets to Tell My Story?
Keffy Kehrli, Mikki Kendall (leader), Robert V. S. Redick, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Sabrina Vourvoulias.
Some calls for diverse submissions focus on the identity of the author, while others focus on the identity of the characters. What are the differences between the stories that result? Is there something problematic in a cis/het writer taking on a queer character’s story, or a white author with a protagonist who is a person of color? Does it depend on the story they are telling? Their skill telling it? Their awareness/avoidance of tropes? What responsibility do they have toward their protagonist’s community?
Saturday, July 9, 1 PM:
Sabrina Vourvoulias reads either “El Cantar de Rising Sun” scheduled for the July/August issue of Uncanny Magazine, or “Sin Embargo” which is included in Latino/a Rising (early 2017)