NZF Writers & Readers: Charlie Jane Anders – Beautiful Fantasy

Tara Black reviews Charlie Jane Anders – Beautiful Fantasy, and below that – Elizabeth Heritage also reviews it, with lots more words! They both did beautifully!

NWF18 Charlie Jane Anders

A small but devoted crowd turned out this morning in the festival tent to hear Christchurch spec fic writer AJ Fitzwater interview Charlie Jane Anders. Anders is a transgender speculative fiction writer and organiser from the US: ‘willing to be a bad influence for a good cause’. It was very pleasing to see two women on stage each with pink hair (I may be a little biased).

Negotiating stereotypes and tropes is a topic that often comes up in conversations about spec fic, and that’s where we started. Anders talked about how the stereotype is that science fiction is masculine, and fantasy is feminine. Often a fantasy character will say to a sci fi character, “this is something you can’t possibly understand” – ‘for a man to say that to a woman just bugs the hell out of me’. In Anders’ novel All the Birds in the Sky, Laurence, the male character who is a computer scientist, ‘cries early and often’. He’s less sexist than many techy guys and ‘that made me like him more – and I really wanted to like him.’

All the Birds in the Sky follows the two central characters from when they are children. Anders said she wanted to honour that teens are often more introspective and noodly than adults. ‘I was much more articulate at the age of 13 than I am now. I talked like a college professor because my parents were college professors. 13 was the age that nearly wiped me off the face of the earth.’

Anders was learning disabled as a child: ‘I couldn’t make words on paper’. She was helped by a teaching assistant with whom she is still friends. She said if she writes disabled characters she will always take care to do so mindfully.

Anders and Fitzwater had a great rapport on stage, which always makes a difference: at one point Anders commented ‘these are the best questions ever!’ One of her questions was in relation to the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin – what do we owe Le Guin to do now?

Anders said her next novel that comes out in January 2019 is Le Guin fan-fiction, and she’s sad she’ll never get to show it to her. What we owe Le Guin to do now is to approach gender in books mindfully, and to think about the ways in which societies are not just mechanistic. Cultures are made up of more than just what’s on the surface: historical accidents, folklore, deep history.

Fitzwater asked about Anders’ short story “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue”, a terrifying dystopian tale of forced de-transition. Anders said: ‘I tweeted out a trigger warning for that story, which I don’t usually do. The story came out of just sheer terror. I wrote it around the time of the [US presidential] inauguration, and I was freaking out. You could already see the wave coming.’ It was published in the Boston Review. Anders said she wanted to get that story into a fancy literary magazine because she wanted nice, well-meaning cis-gender people to face the terror of violent transphobia and have a moment of sitting with that.

‘I wanted to grab cis people by the lapels and make them listen to my fear.’ Trans people are not ‘some monstrous creature from your id coming into your bathroom scaring your kids’. She has had feedback from readers that it has been opening some people’s minds.

Discussion turned to the theme of climate change. Anders said: ‘If you’re writing about the future and you’re not including climate change then you’re shirking your duty.’ She said you have to face up to the scale of the problem without getting defeatist.

‘Environmentalism can get a bit puritanical, like humans are just bad.’ But that isn’t helpful: you need to focus on solutions. ‘How the hell are we going to get rid of cars and bitcoin?’ She recommended that spec fic writers talk to scientists to help get it right.

The City in the Middle of the Night, the sequel to All the Birds in the Sky, comes out in January 2019.

Picture by Tara Black, words by Elizabeth Heritage

NZF Writers & Readers Festival: Science and Magic

Tara Black reviews Science and Magic – Charlie Jane Anders, Cory Doctorow, Intan Paramaditha, with Darusha Wehm as chair.

Charlie Jane Anders’s is the author of fantasy novel All the Birds in the Sky.

Cory Doctorow, co-edits online directory BoingBoing, and his most recent novel is Walkaway.

Indonesian author Intan Paramaditha is launching her first English translation of short stories, Apple and Knife, at Writers and Readers.

Darusha Wehm is the author of Beautiful RedChildren of Arkadia and the Andersson Dexter cyberpunk detective series.

NWF18 Science and Magic

NZF Writers & Readers: Outer Space Saloon Salon

Tara Black reviewed the Outer Space Saloon Salon.

Outer Space Saloon Salon featured LaQuisha St Redfern, Charlie Jane Anders, Harry Giles, Ian Tregillis, David Larsen, Courtney Sina Meredith and Chris Tse. With Mark Cubey.

NWF18 Outerspace Saloon Salon

You can see Ian Tregillis at Ian Tregillis: Robots, Faith and Free Will on Sunday, 11 March at 10.00am.

You can see Harry Giles at Harry Giles: Poetry on Sunday, 11 March at 11.30am.

You can catch Courtney Sina Meredith in Poetry International on Sunday, 11 March at 4.15pm.


NZF Writers & Readers: Science and Magic, reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Yes you have seen a graphic review of this by Tara Black! Yes we have some words too! It sounded AWESOME, right? Here is Elizabeth Heritage‘s take on it.

This session took place in the pop-up tent building created by the NZ Festival, which was bang on theme. It seemed like a magical, almost imaginary building that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be there tomorrow.

A good crowd gathered to hear Darusha Wehm chair a session on science and magic with speculative fiction writers Charlie Jane Anders, Intan Paramaditha, and Cory Doctorow. We started with a general discussion of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy and horror).

science and magic

The ever-quotable Canadian writer and activist Doctorow said he rejects the idea of science fiction as predictive literature: thinking the future is predictable is to commit the ‘venal sin of complacency’. Anders, a transgender sci-fi author and organiser from the US, commented that most of the literary fiction she reads nowadays in set in the past. ‘It’s so hard to write about the time we’re living in now. By the time your book is published, we will have descended several more notches into hell.’

Paramaditha is a horror writer and academic from Indonesia who brought a very welcome new perspective to the discussion. She thinks of speculative fiction as an umbrella term for ‘all stories that depart from consensus reality’. Paramaditha said she didn’t really grow up with the same sci fi as the rest of the panellists. ‘Sci fi bloomed in wealthier countries – we were busy with our own issues. Thinking about invasions from outer space isn’t as important as thinking about the more local invasion of colonialism.’

Wehm asked about speculative fiction as a way of writing about fear. Anders said: ‘Inherent in the concept of escapism is that you’re escaping from something.’ Stories can help you face the scariest things in our reality with enough gauze to make it palatable. And as a trans woman living in Trump’s USA, there is plenty to be afraid of.

Paramaditha commented that speculative fiction can show what we as a society are afraid of. She used the film Alien as an example – it explores ‘the fear of women and feminine power; the fear of blood and of women’s bodies’. It’s important for us to confront this fear, and particularly for women to question the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women: ‘We are perhaps not so different from the bad, monstrous women.’ Anders commented that Alien is scary because we don’t understand it, and nowadays we’re conditioned to think that we can understand everything.

I was particularly struck by what Paramaditha said about magic and colonialism. She said there is a dichotomy between science, in the realm of knowledge, and magic, in the realm of ignorance – but that this is a colonialist discourse. For example, in the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia, the Dutch called what they did science, but called what the Indonesian people did magic.

‘I see magic as something subversive, beyond comprehension. I want to disrupt the binary between civilised and uncivilised. Magic subverts reality – but reality is never completely rational.’ Paramaditha pointed out that we preserve the desire for magic in our popular culture – she used the examples of A Trip to the Moon, an early film by Georges Méliès, and the film Hugo that references it. ‘There are some forms of magic that are acceptable and desirable.’

Wehm asked about the writing process itself as a form of magic. Doctorow said: ‘When you start writing it’s like doing a puppet show for yourself, but when you put enough detail in the simulator, things you didn’t explicitly put in the box start coming out of the box.’ Anders said that the great joy of writing, for her, is when the characters surpass your original concept of them and surprise you. ‘The best kind of magic is when characters change during the story because of what happened to them.’

This was a excellent session very ably chaired by Wehm, and you could tell when it ended that the audience could happily have listened to another hour. I managed to get my copy of All the Birds in the Sky signed by Anders before I had to dash off, leaving the tent of science and magic behind. Onwards!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

You can still see Cory Doctorow on Sunday 11 March at 2.45pm, at his solo session Cory Doctorow: Surveilling Utopia.


Writers & Readers Festival: Women Changing the World

Drawn by, and copyright of Tara Black

Featuring New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh, broadcaster Kim Hill, novelist Charlotte Wood, fantasy champion Charlie Jane Anders, poet and memoirist Patricia Lockwood, poet and games maker Harry Giles, free-range celebrity cook Annabel Langbein, poets Anahera Gildea and Maraea Rakuraku, poets Jenny Bornholdt, Louise Wallace and Tayi Tibble, activist and author Marianne Elliott, and playwright, novelist and memoirist Renée, introduced by Performer, broadcaster and author Michèle A’Court. NWF18 Women changing the world(1)NWF18 Women changing the world 2(1)

Go to the Writers & Readers Festival! Three days of scintillating conversation live on stage: Be There!