Graggonspeak February 2021

Hello readers! This month’s Graggonspeak has a smattering of essential genre news and fiction recommendations. This month’s Graggonspeak is a little different than normal because I was on the tips of my toes and on the go quite a bit last month. My partner and I welcomed our daughter into the world! Delaney Gragg is happy and healthy and so is Mom. If you enjoy pictures of adorable babies as well as SFF/H geekery you can follow me on Instagram (@austingragg) where I often talk about and do many of the same things I do here for Graggonspeak.

More news than fiction and no poetry this time, due to the crazy month this has been, but there’s a lot to take in!

The stories I’ve recommended this time were all found and consumed via audio production from their respective publications. It’s not how I usually piece together this article, but it was a fun exercise and I enjoyed listening while I got all those pesky last minute cleaning and sorting and packing things done in anticipation of our little one’s arrival.

I hope you enjoy the tiny news roundup and fiction selections. Write in to chat any time at graggonspeak@gmail.com or via my favorite medium, actual mail at PO BOX 4195 Independence, MO 64051.

Genre News & Stuff

Highlights of concern, streak our tiny news roundup this time around. We’ll take a look at some book world and tv-land controversies as well as hitting other notables.

FORUMS AT BAEN BOOKS FOSTER FASCISM

Genre’s own Jason Sanford released an investigative report into activities on the Baen’s Bar forums. Sanford, an author of speculative fiction, also pens the “Genre Grapevine” — a free to read article on the happenings in the genre landscape and opportunities for writers. In his report “Baen Books Forum Being Used to Advocate for Political Violence” (published to his PatreonFeb. 15th) Sanford documents how Baen’s Bar has not only given far-right advocates of political violence a home, but has allowed their own moderators to participate.

Please read Jason’s full report here for the larger picture. But the gist is simple. Radicalized right-wingers, the fascism wrapped in a flag type, have ingrained themselves into the Baen’s Bar culture. Sanford details the clear truth that the Baen world of publishing has often been a safe and friendly place for far-right ideologues. Despite publishing authors from across the political spectrum, the far-right, gun toting, government paranoid folks are often those who are most attracted to Baen Book’s publications — golden age sf wet dreams and action adventure stories geared toward gun nuts and those stuck in times past.

The calls for violence on the forum are appalling, yet expected of the dull radical right in America. Some users threatened to dox (expose personal information) of one of the Capitol guards who defended congress during the insurrectionist’s feeble, yet devastating attack on American democracy. They stated that once his information was out in the open that the “…problem will take care of itself…” implying someone might take it upon themselves to attack and kill the public servant. Others had been calling for major planned attacks on cities because of their more liberal-leaning populations — shooting transformers with guns to knock out power, targeting water supplies, etc. Many forum users referred to what they called ACW2 (American Civil War 2) and even had a forum called “Soft Civil War & Trump’s Army.”

Unfortunately, this is all just as concerning as it is laughable. I would direct all Americans to read this piece: “I Lived Through A Stupid Coup. America Is Having One Now” by Indi Samarajiva. Though I don’t agree completely with all his takes, his is criticism of America and American culture is the kind of constructive kick in the pants this country often needs, in my humble opinion.

I’ve spent too much time on this already, but I’ll wrap it with some good news. These radical wannbe homegrown terrorists are few. While Baen’s Bar has an impressive 64k+ user base, merely a few thousand are active and even less post with any sort of frequency. See Jason’s report for the full numbers and screen shots.

UPDATE: Baen’s Bar has been closed temporarily while they “investigate” how in the world the forum they have complete and total power over was abused out in the open for extended periods of time by many of their users and some of their own moderators. [Insert eye roll, here.] Baen’s lackluster response is about as impressive or noteworthy as their gun-toting masturbation is a contribution to the greater literary cannon.

DisCon III (WorldCon) has now pulled Toni Weisskopf as a guest of honor, a good move, given the Con’s struggles with sociopolitical issues in the past.

STOKERCON GOES VIRTUAL & STOKER FINAL BALLOT ANNOUNCED

You heard right! Like most cons these days, due to the raging pandemic folks can’t seem to wear a mask about, lots of conventions are going digital. There are many cons going digital this year, in fact I can’t recall one that’s been held traditionally since the pandemic kicked off in the US (a very good thing). I mention StokerCon here specifically because of the S&T family’s close love for the horror community. You can read the full statement here. The convention will take place virtually, Thursday, May 20th through Sunday, May 23r of 2021.

The Final Ballot for the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® has been announced! There are some stellar books on the list, all worthy of your attention. Some notables for me include: Pinsker, Sarah – Two Truths and a Lie (Tor.com) for Long Fiction, Amaris, Scarlett and Stanley, Richard – Color Out of Space (SpectreVision) in Screenplay, Waggoner, Tim – Writing in the Dark (Guide Dog Books/Raw Dog Screaming Press) in Nonfiction, and Murray, Lee and Flynn, Geneve – Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (Omnium Gatherum Media) for Anthology (which includes a story from our publisher, Angela Yuriko Smith).

HUGO NOMINATIONS ARE OPEN

The Hugo Awards are open for nominations until March 19th. If you’ve never considered voting in the Hugo Awards, you should! It’s the premier fan-run award in the SFF community. The fee to participate helps fund the Con and reading through the list and making your voice heard is one of the most fun and awesome things a fan can do! You can find out more about the Hugos Awards here.

BUFFY STARS SPEAK OUT ON WHEDON'S CONDUCT

That’s right. Any of us can say “Whedon’s in the news again” and know we’re not talking about something good. The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly — writer of Toy Story and The Avengers, Joss Whedon has often been accused of sexist, racist, and asshole-ish behavior on set and off.

Charisma Carpenter spoke out about her interactions with Joss Whedon in a statement she released Feb. 10th. The accusations are startling and disturbing, but also in line with many of the other allegations against Whedon — who’s general silence and dismissal is a problem itself. This comes not long after Ray Fisher (Cyborg) on the set of Justice League, raised concerns and criticism of Whedon’s behavior.

My favorite actor from the Buffy series, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) said he was “gutted” to hear of Carpenter’s interactions with Whedon and said he felt awful for being unaware. Since Carpenter’s statement several other Buffy cast members have spoken out in support of Charisma Carpenter. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played the lead role on the show said: “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.”

More from the Guardian, here. The accusations, including how Whedon treated Carpenter while pregnant during production, are disturbing. With the amount of allegations against Whedon, one might think his employers would do more in the way of investigating these claims and then maybe think twice before giving him more work, in positions of power.

LOCUS RECOMMENDED READING LIST

The Locus Recommended Reading List is the go-to list for recapping any previous year in SFF. If I were a computer, like AM, massive and set into the the Earth, and all I wanted to do was read all the literature the petty mortal occupation of the planet had come up with before I obliterated it, I’d start with the best, right? I’d also start with the best if I was just, ya know, looking for a book, too, I guess… anyways. It’s here. Some of the titles we covered were reviewed earlier in the year here, which is awesome! Check out the list. These will be the movers and shakers — the titans of the arena this awards season.

Short Fiction

The stories which stuck with me this month were mostly published near the start of the month.

"The Failed Dianas" by Monique Laban -- CLARKESWORLD (audio) 01.01.21

My favorite of this month’s reads. Laban introduces us to a clone, Diana, about to meet her original counterpart. She’s a clone because her parents didn’t think the original
lived up to her potential, despite being an acclaimed chef. The parents alter and tweak the clones as they can, trying each time to have a better, more perfect daughter in their eyes.

The plot then spirals outward and we see the scope of this parental experiment is years in the making. We’re suddenly at a gathering of the daughters who lament to each other their relationship with their parents in a vivid tale of yearning for acceptance.

The foodie descriptions at the front end of this tale are great. This story is masterfully told and hopeful. “The Failed Dianas” is wonderful and inspiring.

This story reminds me of an 2009, maybe 2011, Asimov’s story I can’t remember the title of for the life of me. Mainly a tone thing. Like eating a great pastry and thinking about a dark roast to accompany it. Check back in the comments later, I’ll root through my shelves and find it.

"Mr. Death" by Alix E. Harrow -- APEX MAGAZINE (Audio) 02.10.21

This story took a while to “catch” for me. It opens as very typical reaper fiction and with a trope I have a hard time with: child in harms way = narrative tension for entire setup. However, I’m really glad I stuck with it.

A reaper is sent to collect the soul of a two year old boy whose heart will soon fail. Problem is, the reaper has baggage from before he was a reaper. The plot didn’t go entirely as I thought it might and was entertaining throughout.

If you’ve read a lot of reaper fiction, this story might not be fore you. But overall the story is masterfully crafted and delivers well. I was on the edge with this one until the halfway mark, but ended up falling in love.

It’s a well executed story. It’ll pull on your heart strings, hard, then gentle, then let them soothe.

"Hairy Legs and All" by Stephen Graham Jones -- NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE (audio) 02.17.21

Jones is known for his ability to deliver terror in more experimental styles. “Hairy Legs and All” is a voicy internal narrative on the horror of putting on a shoe with a spider inside it. The story falls fast to dread in a way only describable as cosmic anxiety. The small horror spins out into a large one.

The story really is the experience of irrational fears delivered with precision. This is a short read, with an excellent, and breathless (as written), narration on Nightmare‘s podcast.

The story is one we’ve all experienced, delivered in a way I think will resonate with a large audience the same way a cold reading does. Jones knows how to communicate with his audience. “Hairy Legs and All” is chilling and full of panic. If you’re looking for something spooky, give this little guy a go, he’s got eight harry legs and enough dread for all.