ICFA, meeting authors, and The New Mother
My friend Joan Slonczewski, who writes science fiction (her latest is The Highest Frontier), was one of the guests of honor at ICFA (International Convention of the Fantastic in the Arts) this year, and she was nice enough to take me with her for four glorious days of hearing and talking about science fiction, meeting authors, and swimming in the Orlando, Florida hotel pool. We were there for a fifth day too, but I sneaked off with Eleanor and her friend Irene, who had come with Irene’s mother, a SF editor, and we went to see the new part of Harry Potter World (Diagon Alley), drink butterbeer, run into my sister-in-law and niece, and buy candies from the fictional “skiving snackbox” for Walker’s birthday present. Joan and I explored the area around the hotel a little bit, finding a local seafood restaurant one night and going to a Thai restaurant with our friends Michael and Sandra another night.
The first author I met was the other guest of honor, James Morrow. Over the past year, I tracked down most of his published books and Eleanor and I spent a lot of time over our Christmas break reading most of them. So what did I say when I asked him to sign my copy of his newest book, Galapagos Regained? I told him my daughter had read most of his books and asked him to sign it to her. I did manage to say that The Madonna and the Starship is one of my favorites.
The second authors I met were Rachel Swirsky and Kij Johnson, who were on a panel with me about satire in science fiction. One of the audience members for our panel was Ann Leckie, whose Ancillary Justice I had just read (but haven’t managed to write about yet). I think I managed not to make too big a fool of myself in my excitement at meeting these authors, although I did tell Kij– who said she hoped she wasn’t going to spill her drink on me– that it would be an honor to be spilled on by her. I think the panel went well. In fact, I’m thinking of narrowing down the topic and writing more about how satire is used in contemporary science fiction, perhaps beginning with The Highest Frontier, since I can ask questions about authorial intention.
Next I met Stephen R. Donaldson, whose books Ron and I have read since we were in college. What did I say to this seminal figure in my own love of SF? I asked him to sign one of his first books to Ron and said that he has loved it since college. I didn’t even manage to tell him that I’ve read all the books he’s written since.
At one point, I got out of the hotel pool, put a skirt over my swimming suit, and went inside to get Daryl Gregory’s autograph. He signed a story I love, “Second Person, Present Tense” as I deserved, since I told him it wasn’t just anybody I’d get out of the pool for. He answered my question about whether the story is related to his novel Afterparty (yes, tangentially), and regarded me politely as I struggled–and failed–to be able to say anything about We Are All Completely Fine. I think I finally made a Galaxy Quest reference, muttering “those poor people.” More about Afterparty and We Are All Completely Fine in upcoming reviews, where I hope to triumph over my tendency to be tongue-tied.
At the final banquet, Joan sat at the guest of honor table and I was wandering around trying to find someone I knew. Irene’s mom, the SF editor, was nice enough to make a place for me at one of her tables, and then I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t yet read the current issue of her magazine, Asimov’s, when I ended up sitting next to the author of a novella appearing in it, Eugene Fischer. We had some conversation, including some with the editor of Clarke’s World, on my other side, and then I came home and finally read the current issues of Asimov’s and Clark’s World. So I never got the chance to embarrass myself in person with Eugene Fischer, although if I’d read his novella, The New Mother, I totally would have.
Update: The New Mother is now available online: https://medium.com/@glorioushubris/the-new-mother-9df848da415b
The New Mother is told by an interviewer who is talking to scientists and politicians about a new disease–they think it might be a virus–that results in human asexual reproduction by women. It is first called Human Asexual Reproduction Syndrome, then Human Communicable Parthogenesis, and finally the name most used is Gamete Diploidy Syndrome, or GDS. The eggs of women with GDS are not haploid (one copy of each chromosome) but diploid. It turns out that is a sexually-transmitted disease. There are stories about women catching it from husbands and boyfriends, during kidney transplants, and from blood transfusions. There’s even a story about a lesbian couple contracting it intentionally. Conservative politicians, the kind who usually take a pro-life stance, come out in favor of abortion for GDS daughters, saying there’s no “moment of fertilization.” Some oppose federal funds going to anyone who provides prenatal care for GDS women. There are those who question whether GDS offspring are actually human. One religious nut actually sterilizes four girls, the oldest 5 and the youngest 2, so that they can’t reproduce when their ovulation begins.
The logical extreme of some of our political rhetoric is shown in Tess’s article when she says “The men’s rights camp argues that the crucial difference is that GDS, left unchecked, will necessarily make the male population dwindle to zero. This side sees GDS as an existential threat that permits no peaceful coexistence. Their fear is markedly similar to Reverend Kendall’s dark vision of a feminine pestilence. Or, as Nancy Forsythe, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, explains it, ‘Feminism isn’t merely a threat to male privilege anymore. Now a woman’s right to biological self-determination is viewed as targeting not just the patriarchy, but the very existence of men.'”
The interviewer’s name is Tess, short for Intesser Mendoza, and she is pregnant by donor sperm with her partner Judy, which puts her in an interesting position in regard to those she interviews. At the end of the story, an ultrasound reveals her to be carrying a female fetus, and Tess feels that the fetus makes “a motion…she knew. A gesture she’d felt so many times.” Her fetus is probably going to be born a clone, into the brave new world whose waters Tess has been charting.
It’s an interestingly-told story with lovely satiric bits, and although I feel I should have done more homework before taking off for Florida, I do feel that it’s better to have read and not gotten the chance to embarrass myself than never to have read at all. Going from frozen Ohio to tropical Florida in March is like waking up–I became more aware of all there is to read and think about and wondered why I have been paying attention to so many other things. Perhaps sometimes what you wish you were doing is what you should be doing.
What do you wish you were doing today?