Chatter's blog

Word of the Worlds April 2017

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The Women Writers of Science Fiction

The 2017 Hugo Awards finalists were just announced earlier this month. The nominees are up for one of scifi’s more prestigious awards, despite an unfortunate taint in recent years by misogynists and bigots seeking to manipulate the ballots. This year at least, the changes to the nomination procedure have had a dampening effect on those efforts. I’m not going to get into the (supposed) reasoning behind those group's misguided attempts, or how and why everything they stand for is wrong. Instead, I will point out the recurrence of one of the great trends that drives them crazy: the increasing recognition of women scifi/fantasy authors. This year, four of the six Hugo finalists for Best Novel are women: Charlie Jane Anders, Becky Chambers, N.K. Jemisin, and Ada Palmer. You’ll see the same kind of representation as you move down the ballots: four of six for Best Novella, five of six for Best Novelette. And the same thing is happening over in the Nebula Awards, whose finalists were announced in late February.     

It’s not just nominations either--women are winning the awards. Last year, N.K. Jemisin and Naomi Novik won Best Novel at the Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards respectively. Nnedi Okorafor took home Best Novella at both. And the Hugo for Best Short Story went to Naomi Kritzer while Alyssa Wong took the Nebula.

Word of the Worlds March 2017

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March 2017

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2016 was "surreal." For 2017, my money is on "dystopia." Shortly after the inauguration, 1984, that classic high-school-assigned-reading story of dystopia, rocketed to the top of bestseller lists nationwide. And for good reason. It's a great book with a lot of unsettlingly prescient aspects: newspeak, Big Brother, doublethink, and more. President Trump’s prolific lies, his refusal to concede even when confronted by evidence, and the spin attempt to explain those lies away as “alternative facts” fit neatly into Orwell’s dire, dour tale. (On a tangent, Ursula K. LeGuin most excellently and definitively clarified the difference between “alternative facts” and the fabrications of science fiction in a letter to The Oregonian. This was in response to a boneheaded reader’s attempt to lump Spicer, Bannon, and Trump in with legendary scifi writers like Arthur C. Clarke and LeGuin herself.)

As many have pointed out, 1984 really only gets some of it right, and there are many other books whose vision of doom and gloom have proven just as--if not more--accurate. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World presents a more American version of the totalitarian state where dominion is achieved and maintained through entertainment, distraction, and consumerism. And recently Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale came roaring back into relevancy not because of a TV show in the works but because of, among other things, an Oklahoma lawmaker’s comments to the effect that women were “hosts” for their babies. 

Word of the Worlds February 2017

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February 2017

Welcome to DIESEL's brand new experiment: Word of the Worlds: A Science Fiction Newsletter. Long have we touted the merits of this genre rich in imagination and wonder, unique in its ability to obliquely hold up a damning mirror to society. Under a pervading sense of moving into our own dark, dystopic times, we thought it would be a good idea to do what booksellers do and talk about the books we love. We promise not to be too political, but neither will we retreat into pure escapism.

There are many opinions about what should be categorized as science fiction, and you'll find our definition to be fairly broad. We'll sometimes include not just fantasy, but horror, the supernatural, and the magical in here. Some of the titles we choose to talk about may be only peripherally related to conventional science fiction by the thinnest of threads. We reserve the right to be excited about some off-the-wall stuff!


If you're interested in receiving this newsletter in your email, please click here to sign up.

Book Reviews
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The fiction you’re not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.

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I've been hearing & reading a recurring sentiment since the election: I can't read fiction right now. That I hear it most commonly from those I consider "serious readers" (those who don't read fiction strictly for entertainment or diversion), is cause for concern -- as I understand both the importance they place on reading and the mournful loss they're experiencing at not being able to do so.

I have a suggestion. It will sound so pithy that some of you will stop reading. But here goes: try poetry.

Let me stop you at the first all-too-common, immediate objection: "But I don't know how to read poetry." Nonsense. You're not dead. If you're this far into this post, you're obviously still breathing: that's all it takes. The rest is negotiable. 

Some poems are meant to be read quickly, the ideas seemingly less important than their expression. I'm not going to tell you whose or which these are. Because like anything worth reading, poems beg to be read askew (I like that word): at different paces, in many places, and in enclosed (for a moment, like a photo) by as many frames as there are minds. The poem will tell you when to breathe -- but here's a secret, you can tell the poem, "No ... not just yet ... not here." The poet might object, but the poem won't suffer for it. It's really okay.

Some poems are stuffed with ideas. They're in a rage about something, even if you don't know quite what. You're not even sure if they do. The good ones are talking their way into a problem; beware the ones with solutions you immediately agree with. The ones that too quickly talk themselves out of trouble are usually not to be trusted. They're either a huckster or a friend -- though possibly both. Poets like C.D. Wright, my obsession this year, don't want to be your friend -- and the aces up their sleeves are clearly from another deck. They want you inhabiting the ideas. With or without them, they'll nudge you further along, in search of the last reference, until you're alone with it. From there, you're on your own. But only until the next page -- really, trust me, it's okay.

But why poetry at all, you might be wondering? There's political theory! There's philosophy! There's work to be done, Brad!

Because from time to time, you need to eat.

East Bay Booksellers in the News!

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When we made our big announcement about East Bay Booksellers, we had an idea it'd make a bit of news. We never would've imagined that two weeks after the big reveal, it'd be mentioned in the New York Times

The press continues to be great, but the best part about all this so far: your response! You crowded in, pie and apple cider in hand, for the informational meeting after our Customer Appreciation Party in Oakland; you listened; and you keep telling us, "I'm in." 

East Bay Booksellers still has a ways to go before it reaches $200,000 in pledged loans, but every day makes us all the more confident that you're as excited about this as we are! 

In addition to a short email answering some Frequently Asked Questions, here's a short word from Brad talking about the project:

Your enthusiasm means everything to the success of what we have cooking in Oakland, and can help us find eyeballs and ears of people we otherwise might not on our own. Please consider sign up for EBB's Mailing list ... following them on Twitter ... liking them on Facebook ... or simply share news of what we're up to on all your social platforms (even face-to-face!). In short: keep in touch

New Vision, Same Values

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There's been lots happening in DIESEL-land lately. We're always buzzing about this time of year, in preparation for the holidays -- the shelves burgeoning with beautiful books. That's unchanged, but . . . well, let's face it, it's been a, let's call it "weird," year. We've lost musical legends. Political heroes. What's more, though the social and political landscape is always changing, the abruptness of it all this year has left many of us reeling. We won't just remember 2016 as weird or tough -- we'll be dealing with its consequences for a while. In short, we believe we need more than ever stable cultural institutions like independent bookstores that honor and guard free expression. 

So when we announce, as many of you may have already heard -- either from us or from your newspaper -- our intentions (with your help!) to change the ownership of our Oakland location to one of its present managers, Brad Johnson, as well as its name, to East Bay Booksellers, we do so in a celebratory way. In an unexpected twist to an unpredictable year: we think this may very well be the best possible time to make such a change. We love that the vision Brad is casting -- which the entire DIESEL family has had a hand in molding -- has been a ray of hopeful, exciting light to so many already! 

DIESEL has never been opposed to experiments. We keep our management structure as horizontal as possible, and have been built from the beginning on the idea that mutual respect for one another, for the store, and for the community is what sustains the good times and gets us through the bad. East Bay Booksellers will be built around the same core value. Brad is a talker -- oh, is he ever! And his commitment to conversation is a downright passion. "Conversation changes everything -- which is why so many forces seem intent on getting in its way -- and it is the engine by which mutual respect becomes mutual regard and care."

We also think he's got a good head on his shoulders for business!

New Vision, Same Values

Body: 

There's been lots happening in DIESEL-land lately. We're always buzzing about this time of year, in preparation for the holidays -- the shelfs burgeoning with beautiful books. That's unchanged, but . . . well, let's face it, it's been a, let's call it "weird," year. We've lost musical legends. Political heroes. What's more, though the social and political landscape is always changing, the abruptness of it all this year has left many of us reeling. We won't just remember 2016 as weird or tough -- we'll be dealing with its consequences for a while. In short, we believe we need more than ever stable cultural institutions like independent bookstores that honor and guard free expression. 

So when we announce, as many of you may have already heard -- either from us or from your newspaper -- our intentions (with your help!) to change the ownership of our Oakland location to one of its present managers, Brad Johnson, as well as its name, to East Bay Booksellers, we do so in a celebratory way. In unexpected twist to an unpredictable year: we think this may very well be the best possible time to make such a change. We love that the vision Brad is casting -- which the entire DIESEL family has had a hand in molding -- has been a ray of hopeful, exciting light to so many already! 

DIESEL has never been opposed to experiments. We keep our management structure as horizontal as possible, and have been built from the beginning on the idea that mutual respect for one another, for the store, and for the community is what sustains the good times and gets us through the bad. East Bay Booksellers will be built around the same core value. Brad is a talker -- oh, is he ever! And his commitment to conversation is a downright passion. "Conversation changes everything -- which is why there so many forces seem intent in getting its way -- and it is the engine by which mutual respect becomes mutual regard and care."

We also think he's got a good head on his shoulder for business!

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