Here’s the second of two GF book club posts about Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. You can read the first chapter for free online and check out the first book club post about it. Then proceed — spoilers under the cut!
The votes came in and we decided to read Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color, and it’s the first novel by this British-Malaysian author. Come for the dragons and stay for the social justice, or vice versa! You can read the first chapter for free online. Spoilers under the cut!
Attention constant readers! It’s time to choose our next book!
Here are three candidates, two fiction novels and one research paper:
will be published 6 October 2015; 368 pages
I’ve pre-ordered this final book in the Ancillaryverse trilogy and will be eager to talk about it with other geek feminists starting, probably, on October 7th. Protagonist Breq used to be a starship, connected instantly to multiple bodies, and hasn’t quite gotten used to being singly embodied. I think the first book in the trilogy, Ancillary Justice, integrated fist-punching-related adventure with flashbacks and thinky conversations and interstellar intrigue and music really well. It’s about power and institutions, about the lived difference between true mutual aid and imperialism, and about how to be loyal to imperfect institutions and imperfect people. And explosions.
Ancillary Sword, the middle book, shifted settings to concentrate on one spaceship near one station orbiting one planet, helping us compare societies that are functional, dysfunctional, and broken. Leckie compares othering, oppression, and possibilities for resistance across urban and plantation settings. And I utterly bawled at one character’s soliloquy on the way to her doom, and at tiny hopeful steps of mutual understanding and community empowerment. Also, again, explosions.
The Ancillaryverse is scifi that argues with other scifi; you can see the Radchaai as Borg (ancillaries), or as Federation (per the “root beer” and Eddington/Maquis critiques from Deep Space Nine), and you can see Justice of Toren as literally the ship who sang (see the comments in Leckie’s post here, around the novels’ feminist lineage). I’m looking forward to seeing more of Leckie’s conversation with other speculative fiction, to more critiques, and more explosions.
published 1991; about 31 pages
Sociologist, psychologist, and technology researcher Turkle authored this paper with constructionist education researcher Papert, and reading it gave me new language for thinking about me as a programmer:
Here we address sources of exclusion determined not by rules that keep women out, but by ways of thinking that make them reluctant to join in. Our central thesis is that equal access to even the most basic elements of computation requires an epistemological pluralism, accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking….
“Hard thinking” has been used to define logical thinking. And logical thinking has been given a privileged status that can be challenged only by developing a respectful understanding of other styles where logic is seen as a powerful instrument of thought but not as the “law of thought.” In this view, “logic is on tap, not on top.”….
The negotiational and contextual element, which we call bricolage….
Our culture tends to equate soft with feminine and feminine with unscientific and undisciplined. Why use a term, soft, that may begin the discussion of difference with a devaluation? Because to refuse the word would be to accept the devaluation. Soft is a good word for a flexible and nonhierarchical style, open to the experience of a close connection with the object of study. Using it goes along with insisting on negotiation, relationship, and attachment as cognitive virtues….
I appreciated the case studies of programmers and their approaches and frustrations, the frameworks analyzed and suggested (e.g., relational and environmental), and the connections to other feminist researchers such as Carol Gilligan. If you feel like your approach to engineering makes you countercultural, you might like this piece too. Here’s a plain HTML version of the paper, and here’s a PDF of the paper as originally typeset and footnoted.
published 1 September 2015; 384 pages
Author Zen Cho’s speculative and historical fiction foregrounds the perspective of women of color, specifically the Malaysian diaspora; she has non-US-centric views on diversity which I find both disorienting and refreshing to read! You can read the first chapter of her first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, for free online. It’s a fast-moving period fantasy with a bunch of women and people of color. The blurb:
Zacharias Wythe, England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, is contending with attempts to depose him, rumours that he murdered his predecessor, and an alarming decline in England’s magical stocks. But his troubles are multiplied when he encounters runaway orphan Prunella Gentleman, who has just stumbled upon English magic’s greatest discovery in centuries.
I’d love to discuss themes in this feminist Malaysian-British author’s work with other geek feminists. In her postcolonial historical romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, her short story collection Spirits Abroad, and in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho depicts adventurous, mercenary, or blasé women who use, disregard, or otherwise play with expectations of femininity. She illustrates how both mundane and magical institutions use gatekeeping to prop up their own status hierarchies, and how that affects people trying to make their way in. Intersectionality, diaspora and immigration, the culture of British education, and queer relationships also appear in Cho’s stories over and over.
if you read The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo then you might be forewarned of the kind of genre switchup Cho is doing — I definitely see Prunella Gentleman prefigured in Jade Yeo. I particularly like that, in Sorcerer to the Crown, Cho writes in a genre that often has kind of a slow tempo, and moves the speed up so there are more exciting plot developments per page, and adds more Wodehouse-y shenanigans and off-the-rails conversations, without ever sliding into unbelievable-silly-farce-romp or territory. And there’s a spoiler I badly want to talk about with other people of color!
Something else altogether
You tell me! Let’s try to wrap up voting by Wednesday October 7th.
Apologies for getting this up late; I’ve been travelling back from WisCon (where I also praised Trade Me at length!).
So as you saw in my April post announcing Courtney Milan’s contemporary romance novel Trade Me as a GF book club topic, I love this book for multiple reasons. From here on out I’ll be indulging in spoilers, so, more after the jump!
Hello! I’m helping relaunch the Geek Feminism Book Club, with a bit of a tweak in the interests of getting us going again swiftly (details at end). The book is Trade Me, a new contemporary romance novel by Courtney Milan, and we’ll talk about it in a comment thread here on May 28th.
In January, I snarfled up Trade Me. It stars a Chinese-American woman studying computer science at UC Berkeley. It’s about class and classism, deconstructing the Prince Charming/billionaire trope in romantic fiction, a product launch, Bay Area tech, ally fails, how to deal with cops, authenticity and adaptation, safety and freedom, trust, parents, and work. And one of the main secondary characters is trans, and all the physicality in the relationship is super consensual, and there is a kind-of reference to Cake Wrecks, and (maybe only I see it) to Randall Munroe’s “What If?” blog. I link it thematically to Jo Walton’s The Just City, Ellen Ullman’s The Bug, and the good parts of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. It’s pretty great, and you can read the first chapter for free at Milan’s site. (ROT13’d content warnings that are spoilers: qvfbeqrerq rngvat naq gur arne-qrngu bs n cnerag.)
Overall, Milan’s work is funny and loving and moving and smart. I like how she sets up and calls back to other books within series, I love that The Heiress Effect included an Indian guy, and I’m happy that she depicts queer characters and characters with disabilities. As a woman of color (“half-Chinese” in her words) she’s also especially aware of the importance of writing fictional representations of women of color in STEM, and of fixing broken standards that lead to unequal representation.
And she’s not just a geek, but a geek of my persuasion — specifically, an open source software maker. She wrote and wants people to reuse a chunk of GPL’d software to autogenerate links to a particular book at multiple online bookstores. Also she used to use Gentoo Linux. Of course she gives her readers permission to strip DRM from their copies of her books. Basically I would not be surprised if there is super flirty pair programming or a double entendre in a bash script in a future Milan book.
So this is the book for the next book club; usually we vote on what book to discuss next, but in the interests of getting momentum going again, I figured I’d choose this one by fiat and we’ll vote on the next one. Trade Me costs about USD$5 via any of several ebook retailers, and may be available via your local library‘s ebook lending program as well. Read it sometime in the next month and then come back here and we’ll talk about it!
- Diversity != Inclusion: Expanding the “diversity in tech” conversation | Tiffany Mikell at Medium (26 December): “Diversity in tech conversations have become stagnant and narrow. Missing in these conversations is the relevance of culturally specific learning, methods of curating inclusive work spaces, practical ways to navigate the psychological toll of being an under-represented person, and attention to the value of supporting economic ecosystems that financially and structurally support POC communities.”
- Why You Have To Fix Governance To Improve Hospitality | Cogito, Ergo Sumana (21 December): “if you want a hospitable community, it’s not enough to set up a code of conduct; a CoC can’t substitute for culture. Assuming you’re working with a pre-existing condition, you have to assess the existing power structures and see where you have leverage, so you can articulate and advocate new worldviews, and maybe even move to amend the rules of the game.”
- Turning girls of color into robot-obsessed techies | Fortune (21 December): “In three years, Black Girls Code has grown from a pilot with a dozen students to an organization with chapters in seven U.S. cities, and one in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Robot Expo sold-out before Black Girls Code could do any outreach to schools. In Berkeley recently, nearly 200 girls rotated through classes that were a big contrast to their usual school curriculum. They learned about building a circuit with Play-Doh to make an LED light up, snapped together machines made of Legos that could be hooked up to motors, and assembled robots that could wheel across the floor on their own steam.”
- Lupita Nyong’o: Star Wars Finally Gets It Right | Black Girl Nerds (24 December): “We have yet to see a Black woman depicted in a major role within the Star Wars universe. This will in fact be a monumental moment for both fans of Nyong’o and the Star Wars franchise itself. I am giddy with excitement that I can finally see a woman of my ilk kick ass in a big budget sci-fi film. This is a colossal point in history for all black girl nerds.”
- Is Being a Jerk Necessary for Originality? | Springer Link (6 December): “We aimed to investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness and innovation process such as idea generation, promotion, and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships. Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical. In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”
- The story of Grace Hopper (aka Amazing Grace) | Stanley Colors (9 December): [comic] see also a previous SMBC comic.
- No true conference organizers | ashley williams at Medium (22 December): “there are no true conference organizers. Just conference organizers doing better and worse jobs at making conferences safe. Instead of appealing to purity, let’s stay constructive and keep iterating on our efforts. Design is not opposed to iteration, rather, it is a very important element of every iterative step. The dichotomies and post-rationalization Jared demonstrates in his blog post render his opinion unfalsifiable and, as a result, premptively end any further critical conversation about how to make conferences safe. That’s the last thing we want.”
- Deep Lab Book | Studio for Creative Inquiry (23 December): “Deep Lab is a congress of cyberfeminist researchers, organized by STUDIO Fellow Addie Wagenknecht to examine how the themes of privacy, security, surveillance, anonymity, and large-scale data aggregation are problematized in the arts, culture and society.”
- [potentially not safe for work content] An Oral History of the First Cyberfeminists | Motherboard (11 December): “Over twenty years later, in the many feminist conversations happening online, groups like VNS Matrix and their compatriots in the Cyberfeminist trenches are not frequently cited. They should be. Their spirit of joyful subversion is more relevant, more cannily timely, more totally necessary today than it has ever been.”
- [warning for harassment and violence towards women] Why Are We Kicking Up Such a Fuss About The Interview? | In These Times (24 December): “Yet here we are, with the new and supremely newsworthy face of terrorism, The Interview’s cancellation. And it mirrors, in exact detail, what women have been going through all year. It’s international terrorism, whereas other cases were domestic, but if that makes a significant difference, no one told Oklahoma City. It’s a case of nations opposing each other, rather than one privileged group within a nation opposing and punishing a less privileged one”
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