Slate Picks make a great pick

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Slate has a new feature called Slate Picks, and under the heading “Science Fiction That Can Change Our Future” they asked contributors what books they would recommend for the 2016 presidential candidates.

The list of books includes such well-known and respected authors as Margaret Atwood, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Bear, and Samuel Delaney. The list also includes an anthology that has a story by yours truly in it, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.

So if you’re looking for a gift for the presidential candidate in your life, check out Slate Picks.

Help Joe Hill help Sci-Fi & Fantasy

An intriguing string of tweets earlier this week:

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That’s right, after all these years, the “Best American …” series will finally start to showcase the best in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and you can help guest editor Joe Hill by sending him recommendations for stories via this webpage:

Cool things to do today and the week ahead

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Family fun
There’s just something magical about trains and Christmas. The sight of a Lionel engine, billowing smoke from its toy smokestack as it chugs around the tree, is heartwarming—and quite common during the first half of the 20th century. A visit to the Great Train Extravaganza will bring those memories flooding back. The annual model train showcase, presented by the Upstate Train Associates and the Hudson-Berkshire Division of the National Model Railroad Association, will feature more than 200 tables of model trains of all gauges, train sets, parts, accessories, books and railroad memorabilia. And this year, there will be a “massive” train layout made of Legos. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today (Sunday, 12/2). $7; free for kids under 12. Empire State Plaza Convention Center, Albany. 668-9892;

Kids didn’t watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the music. But its Vince Guaraldi’s stellar jazz soundtrack from the classic Christmas special that brings back yuletide memories for Baby Boomers. Guaraldi’s instrumental takes on “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Oh Christmas Tree,” and “Linus and Lucy” are quintessential holiday fare. Guaraldi’s genius will be celebrated in “It’s A Jazzy Christmas!,” a concert featuring The Peanut Gallery Jazz Trio. The group — local pianist David Gleason, Schenectady school district music teacher Mike Lawrence and drummer Pete Sweeney — will play Guaraldi’s holiday faves. 3 and 5 p.m. today (Sunday, 12/2). $10-$20; free for children under 6 (ticket is required). Kathleen McManus Picotte Recital Hall, Massry Center for The Arts, The College of St. Rose, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany. 337-4871;

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In celebration of Women’s History Month

Eleanor from Flight of Fantasy in Loudonville has written in with a wonderful essay about the role of female authors in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi in the past, present and future.

Here is Eleanor’s essay (Note: many links to author pages appear after the essay):

From the days of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, women have been writing fantasy & science fiction.

In the early half of last century it was considered advisable to have a manly name, leading to the slightly altered names of Andre Norton and CJ Cherryh, although Marion Zimmer Bradley was just lucky, as I think that was her original name.

Nowadays we have plainly female bestsellers like Lois McMaster Bujold, queen of space opera; Laurell K Hamilton, successor to Anne Rice’s throne; and Diana Wynne Jones, one of Britain’s greatest SF/F (science fiction/fantasy) writers.

Writers like Patricia McKillip, Ellen Kushner, Pamela Dean, and newcomer Holly Phillips write well-styled literary fantasy. Elizabeth Moon and Mary Gentle write military sci fi & fantasy, Pat Cadigan is one of the best-remembered cyberpunk authors, and Patricia C Wrede is the leading author of Regency-era fantasy novels.

Women dominate the vampire & werewolf subfield, including such authors as Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Tanya Huff, and Barbara Hambly. Robin McKinley is beloved for her desert kingdom Damar, Mercedes Lackey is beloved for her (different yet similarly named) kingdom of Valdemar. Fruit’s Basket, the number 1 selling shoujo manga in America, is written by Natsuki Takaya. Diane Duane and Tamora Pierce (and, of course, J K Rowling) are famous for their young adult series.

There are individual stylists like eluki bes shahar (AKA Rosemary Edghill), Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Vera Nazarian, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tanith Lee. Among others, Ursula K Le Guin, Suzette Haden Elgin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne Bishop, Octavia Butler, and Zenna Henderson have written about issues of women’s liberation, and of course the girl who disguises herself as a man to have adventures is a traditional fantasy trope, although she’s now more likely to simply run away as herself.

Women who write about gender issues such as homosexuality, intersexuals, and transsexuals include Laurie J Marks, Sarah Monette, Ursula K Le Guin, Ellen Kushner, and Marion Zimmer Bradley (again:), and to a lesser extent, Maria V Snyder and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Female authors with books coming out this month include Elizabeth Moon (Vatta’s War series), Anne Bishop (Ephemera series), Mercedes Lackey (Five Hundred Kingdoms series), Jane Lindskold (Wolf series), and talented newcomer Vicki Pettersson (The Scent of Shadows).

Eleanor’s 2007 Schedule of Recommended Releases by
Women Authors

Claimed by Shadow – Karen Chance
New Orleans Noir anthology (Barbara Hambly short
Fruit’s Basket 16 – Natsuki Takaya

All Together Dead – Charlaine Harris
Kushiel’s Scion (paperback) – Jacqueline Carey

Water Logic – Laurie J Marks
The Harlequin – Laurell K Hamilton
Sharing Knife: Legacy – Lois McMaster Bujold
The Bone Key – Sarah Monette

Ilario: Lion’s Eye – Mary Gentle
Territory – Emma Bull
Harry Potter 7

The Mirador – Sarah Monette
Fruit’s Basket 17 – Natsuki Takaya
On the Prowl anthology (Patricia Briggs and Karen
Chance short stories)

Powers – Ursula K Le Guin
Ilario: The Stone Golem – Mary Gentle
Dragonhaven – Robin McKinley

1634: The Bavarian Crisis – Virginia De Marce & Eric
An Ice Cold Grave – Charlaine Harris
Many Bloody Returns (Charlaine Harris short story)

CJ Cherryh
Lois McMaster Bujold
Laurell K Hamilton
Diana Wynne Jones
Patricia A McKillip
Ellen Kushner
Pamela Dean
Holly Phillips
Elizabeth Moon
Pat Cadigan
Patricia Briggs
Charlaine Harris
Barbara Hambly
Robin McKinley
Mercedes Lackey
Diane Duane
Tamora Pierce
eluki bes shahar
Vera Nazarian
Nalo Hopkinson
Tanith Lee
Ursula K Le Guin
Anne Bishop
Octavia E. Butler
Sarah Monette
Maria V Snyder
Jane Lindskold

Thanks for all the great recommendations, Eleanor!

In addition to the books above, I would also mention a couple of others:

Julie Philip’s “James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life Alice B. Sheldon.” This book just won (on Thursday) the 2006 NBCC Award for Biography. Here’s a write-up from NBCC’s Jennifer Reese:

SHE IS REMEMBERED, when she is remembered at all, as the eccentric woman who published marvelous, edgy science fiction stories in the 1960s and ’70s under the name James Tiptree, Jr. — a name she took off of a jam jar. And for this short, dazzling run alone, Alice B. Sheldon would merit a biography. But she was much more than just a fleeting sci-fi world sensation, as Julie Phillips makes clear in her splendid reconstruction of this brilliant and multifaceted woman’s troubled life. Sheldon played many roles in her seven decades: the dutiful daugher of a glamorous, globe-trotting mother; flirtatious socialite; army officer; CIA agent; journalist; painter; devoted wife. But it was only in middle age, after she began writing in the guise of reclusive avuncular James Tiptree, Jr., that she found, all too briefly, an outlet for her prodigious talents and energies. The sexual, artisitc and intellectual contradictions Sheldon mostly failed to accommodate in her own stormy life, Phillips captures and contains — in all their complexity — in this deeply intelligent and generous biography.

Also of note is Delmar-resident Pamela Sargent’s new release “Farseed.” The young adult novel is a sequel to 1983’s (yes, that is correct) “Earthseed,” and is the second part of a trilogy.

Booklist writes:

Sargent, Pamela. Farseed. Mar. 2007. 288p. Tor/Tom Doherty, $17.95 (9780765314277). Gr. 7–10.

In Earthseed (1983), genetically created teenagers were taught survival skills to fulfill a desperate plan to settle other worlds. Centuries pass; settlements are started on an earthlike planet, Home; and children are born. Then a small group breaks away and sets up its own society, which degenerates into a primitive existence. Meanwhile, those who stay at the original settlement are fearful, never straying far from their homes and pastures. In Farseed, Sargent explores the resurgence of the conflict between the groups that begins after 16-year-old Nuy, the daughter of the leader of the breakaway contingent, encounters strangers who are looking for her people. The interpersonal dynamics, plus the challenges of adapting to another world, give this long-awaited second book of the Seed Trilogy strong appeal. —Sally Estes

Black History Month: “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937).

This novel from the Harlem Renaissance has gained in popularity in the last 30 years or so, since Alice Walker wrote an essay called “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.”

From the Zora Neale Hurston Web site:

The epic tale of Janie Crawford, whose quest for identity takes her on a journey during which she learns what love is, experiences life’s joys and sorrows, and come home to herself in peace. Her passionate story prompted Alice Walker to say, “There is no book more important to me than this one.”

When first published in 1937, this novel about a proud, independent black woman was generally dismissed by male reviewers. Out of print for almost thirty years, but since its reissue in paperback edition by the University of Illionois Press in 1978, Their Eyes Were Watching God has become the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

With haunting sympathy and piercing immediacy, Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford’s evolving selfhood through three marriages. Light-skinned, long-haired, dreamy as a child, Janie grows up expecting better treatment than she gets until she meets Tea Cake, a younger man who engages her heart and spirit in equal measure and gives her the chance to enjoy life without being a man’s mule or adornment. Though Jaine’s story does not end happily, it does draw to a satisfying conclusion. Janie is one black woman who doesn’t have to live lost in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, instead Janie proclaims that she has done “two things everbody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

The novel also has been selected this year for the NEA’s Big Read, which libraries in the Capital Region will be taking part in. For information, go to

You may also be interested in the following events:
The Big Read
May 4 (Friday): Biographer and scholar Lucy Anne Hurston
An Afternoon With Lucy Anne Hurston – 2:00 p.m., Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (United States, 2005, 98 minutes, color, DVD) film screening followed by commentary by Lucy Anne Hurston – 7:00 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of major 20th century writer Zora Neale Hurston, is the author of the remarkable multimedia biography, “Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston” (2004), which consists of text, photographs, a CD, and various pieces of removable memorabilia.
Cosponsored by the Upper Hudson Library System as part of “The Big Read,”an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

Barbara Smith also recommends these books:

Albany Public Library
The Big Read
May 4-June 3, 2007

If you liked Their Eyes Were Watching God, you might also enjoy…..

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Lucy Hurston

*Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

*The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. DuBois

Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folktales From the Gulf State by Zora Neale Hurston
Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Beloved by Toni Morrison
*The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
*Sula by Toni Morrison

Miss Muriel and Other Stories by Ann Petry
*The Street by Ann Petry

Cane by Jean Toomer

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
*In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women by Alice Walker

*Black Boy by Richard Wright
Native Son by Richard Wright

Here’s a previous post on the Big Read.

Thanks especially to Barbara Smith, author and Albany Common Council member, for her recommendations for this post, and others. Also to Lisa Stevens, my co-worker, and Eleanor at Flights of Fantasy, for their contributions. You were all very helpful.

The previous authors and writings featured on this blog for Black History Month:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
Gwendolyn Brooks
August Wilson
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
Langston Hughes
“Cane” by Jean Toomer
“The Great Negro Plot” by Mat Johnson
“Passing” by Nella Larsen
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X”
“I Have a Dream” speech”
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
“The Known World” by Edward P. Jones
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“The Intuitionist” by Colson Whitehead
“Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Sonia Sanchez
“Black Girl in the Ring” by Nola Hopkinson
June Jordan
“Flight to Canada” by Ishmael Reed
Gloria Naylor
“Fledgling” by Octavia E. Butler
Chester Himes
“Apex Hides the Hurt” by Colson Whitehead

Black History Month: “Apex Hides the Hurt”

Colson Whitehead’s 2006 novel “Apex Hides the Hurt” once again delves into issues of race and identity through a “nomenclature consultant” hired to help rename the town of Winthrop so it can be revived for the 21st century, but who is also going through his own crisis having named a successful but shoddy product, Apex, a Band-Aid competitor that comes in a variety of shades so the bandage can “disappear” on the skin of most anyone (and it is specifically targeted across the country by ZIP code).

Listen to an audio interview here.

Click “more” to read my review of the book.

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