And the winner, she is ….

The world of science fiction has changed. When my father introduced me to his favorite books decades ago, there was not a female author to be found. Not long after, I discovered Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Vonda McIntyre on my own. So, women could write this stuff. Well then, that was what I was going to do someday, because I ‘d already been told my first career choice of becoming an astronaut was “not realistic.”

It wasn’t many years at all before women did go into space. As I grew into adulthood, the list of women who wrote speculative fiction grew by at least an order of magnitude. In fact, it has now increased to the point where five of the six 2019 Hugo nominees for best novel were women. Wow.

One of the presenters was artist Afua Richardson, comic book illustrator for Marvel’s World of Wakanda

Check out the list of nominees below.

It should also be noted that Artificial Condition by Martha Wells took best novella this year; If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho won best novelette; A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow won best short story and best series went to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. Yes, they are all women.

The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Winner
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
Nominee
Revenant Gun
Yoon Ha Lee
Nominee
Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers
Nominee
Space Opera
Catherynne M. Valente
Nominee
Trail of Lightning
Rebecca Roanhorse
Nominee

It’s hard to find a simple explanation for this change. One could guess it is because the world has become more welcoming to women pursuing dreams of all kinds. But that should result in something more like woman being half the nominees, not most of them.

It is true women that as a group tend to be more verbal than men.  (Yes, men tend to be more mathematical. I’ve no quarrel with statistics, only a quarrel with extending those generalizations into making assumptions about individuals, or to making assumptions about why the tendencies exist in the first place. Life is complicated.)

Anyway, today’s world of SFF writers could, in part, reflect the fact that women make up a larger percentage of the writing and the reading community in general.

Another theory is that society is more supportive of women then men who write variations of speculative fiction that shade into romance. This gives women writers (for once) a larger menu of styles and subject matter to chose from. I can see this perhaps accounting for a larger number of female SFF writers over all, but few if any of the female-authored pieces nominated for awards could be considered part of this hybrid romance genre.

Maybe it’s this simple. Most of the best SFF last year was written by women, and that’s that.

I was happy that my particular favorite, The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, won best novel. For those of you not familiar with it, it is part of collection of stories (and two novels) set in an alternate world in which women were admitted into the USA’s initial space program. Guess you can see why I’d have a fond spot in my heart for this premise.

I watched Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech from my perch in the spotlights. (I was a volunteer running the spotlight for the show.) Astronaut Dr Jeanette Epps was on stage with her and it was a one of those weird maybe-all-is-right-with-the-universe-after-all moments. I loved it!

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!,  at Feeling at home, at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Day 27. Lights Along My Path

This is our last day of rest before the final push home, and we spend it visiting and relaxing. About a year ago I helped with the landscaping here, and I’m please to see how much of it has survived a year in the Texas heat.

We enjoy a casual day filled with college football on the TV and take-out food and feeling comfortable. We leave tomorrow morning. For me, it’s too short a visit, but my own home beckons.

As far as rules of the road go, I fear I might have run out of words of wisdom. I feel myself spiraling out towards lofty observations like “always put love first” or inane comments like “don’t forget to give the pets treats.” I guess rule #27 is going to be: If you didn’t learn anything special today, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.

I do have a song for the day, however. It was introduced to me by my sweet and lovely host and I think of her when I hear it. It also is about being beckoned home, and about the things that light our way. This time around, she was one of the lights along my path.

Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane

This is another long drive, made worse by losing an hour as we enter central time. We leave early, knowing rain is in the forecast for much of our route.

What we don’t know is that the rain is coming from a wannabe hurricane that has moved up from the gulf. It won’t rain much of the day, it will pour. It starts around Odessa and continues for the rest of the day, with only short breaks in the action.

We’re talking the kind of shower that makes you feel like you are driving through a car wash; one that is so loud you can’t talk or listen to music, and is so intense that you can barely see the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of you. We change drivers often because it’s exhausting at best and downright dangerous at worst. As we near Fort Worth, we start to run into the inevitable weather-related traffic accidents, and from then on we find ourselves in stop and go traffic in a downpour until we reach our destination.

A few years ago I made a play list of songs with the word “Home” in the title. I was moving across the country at the time, leaving my home of fifteen years, and I was trying to generate enthusiasm for making a home elsewhere. It helped.

As I take my turns driving, one of the songs keeps running through my head, I think because the chorus has something to do with stopping a hurricane.

Tonight, I won’t be in my own house but I’ll be staying at the home of someone I love, and I’m looking forward to it. There will be a home-cooked meal (and probably a very good one) and fine wine and a soft bed that I haven’t had to pay to sleep in. It feels welcoming as I drive through the storm.

I don’t have a rule of the road today; the best I can do is a guideline. (Thank you Jack Sparrow.) Avoid extremely difficult days as best you can and when you can’t, do your best to see there is comfort waiting for you at the end of the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive at your own home, or that of someone who loves you.

 

Day 19. A Border Crossing

You’d think it’s be pretty easy to wake up, throw all your shit in the car, and go, but it turns out is isn’t.

I have to dismantle a 6-man canvas tent, a shade structure helpful camp mates have skewered into the ground with lag screws, and a shelving unit I assembled on site. I have countless dusty bins of what-the-hell-is-this, not to mention 3.75 unused rolls of singly ply toilet paper and more lotions than I could use in a year. Nope, I was definitely not one of those under-prepared first time burners.

It takes me about three hours to do what I allowed 30 minutes for, and that’s only because I get a fair amount of help. My noon-time good-byes are rushed and sweaty, perhaps not a fitting climax to this amazing experience, but then again, exactly what about this experience has been fitting?

Because I am leaving a day before the man burns, I am avoiding the most crowded time here (by choice) and am also avoiding the up to 12 hour exit lines others will experience two days from now.  Even then, the five mile an hour drive out is slow and long. Along the way, I distract myself by cherishing my favorite moments.

There was the deep playa at night, my happy place if ever I’ve had one. There was the humor and playfulness. The kindness that was the norm, not the exception.

How about the nearly assembled 747 blaring out Santana’s Black Magic Woman as I rode up to it at sunset? For that matter, the mix of music of all types coming at me 24/7 was surprisingly entertaining and even soothing. The soothing part is hard to explain, but ear plugs and an eye pillow remain two of the things I didn’t need to bother to bring. Burning man lulled me into a sound sleep each night, and woke me each morning.

I never visited the MOOP MAP place (MOOP being matter out of place, often referred to as trash in the default world), but it’s location pointed me home to camp each night when I was done exploring. Thank you MOOP MAP.

I spent a few early evenings over at Vines Without Borders, a camp near mine that poured wines from around the world every night, offering both a great selection of wine and of people to drink wine with. They made me glad I brought a plastic wine glass.

I know there is so much I didn’t see, and I suppose that is part of the charm. I think this place works best if you leave deciding you found the things you were supposed to, and what you missed, well, it was meant for others, or maybe for you another time. Some of the art and camps do come back year after year.

I was warned it was common to feel a rush of emotions once one’s tires first touch pavement after the exit, and when mine roll onto the asphalt, I do. To me it feels like a border crossing, leaving one reality and entering another.

As I drive through Gerlach, I slow down with the same care I showed six days ago. I don’t need a speeding ticket, so I let all the sparkly memories settle into the back of my mind as I concentrate on the road.

I realize I’ve had a crazy week, but I wasn’t in a crazy place, just a different one; one in which I got to experience joy and sorrow and wonder, sometimes all at once.

Today’s Rule of the Road: When you cross the border into another reality, cross it.

Today’s song? I must have heard this one a few times, as I rode around and as I slept.

 

Day 10. Always Bring an Onion

I once called Colorado home, but over the years I’d forgotten its breathtaking beauty. Day 10 was spent driving 350 miles from Kittredge CO to Moab Utah through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been to the Andes and the Alps, seen Mt Kilimanjaro and the Atlas mountain. All gorgeous, but our very own Colorado is right up there with them.

A camera, or at least my iPhone, hardly does it justice. Unfortunately, in the interest of efficiency, I took I70. Much of the most spectacular can’t be photographed while driving 75 mph, or at least it shouldn’t be.

As I was making the drive, I was sure today’s rule of the road was going to be a reminder to look up and enjoy the view.

I finished off the day by following the suggestion of my Airbnb hosts and veering off of I70 after the Utah border to take state highway 128. Talk about spectacular. Then I headed in Arches National Park to top off of a day of gasping out loud at what I was seeing.

My plan for the evening was to have a quiet night at my lodging, making a simple noodle thing I had in my car and getting organized for the adventures ahead. The thing about dried noodle dishes is they are so much better if you can add something fresh to them. Anything, really. But for all the supplies I have in my car, there was nothing.

This is ridiculous, I thought. I already travel with a towel (thank you Doug Adams), a pocketknife and a hand powered flashlight. Why the hell don’t I keep an onion in my car? I mean, they last forever, and one little onion would have made a huge improvement in my meal.

Then I realized, no one needs a rule of the road that says look up at all the beauty around you. We know that.

My rules of the road are meant to be an informal list of what I’ve learned from that day’s journey. So, today’s rule of the road is the silly, simple “always bring an onion.”

Is an onion that important? No. It isn’t. This day was that perfect.

Today’s song is the one I played twice as I drove. I’m willing to forget that it was used in a Citibank commercial, because it’s that good, too.

Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help

As I leave this morning, I know I’ll be driving everyday for the next five days. This will be the most demanding part of my journey. Today should have been an easy bite but yesterday I realized my departure time put me driving through Denver at the height of rush hour. I checked out a traffic map at 5 pm and found more red and burgundy than any driver wants.  But wait. I saw a clear alternate route veering off of I70 at Limon. Just what I needed. I decided to ignore all of Google Maps various suggestions and go rogue.

Given that Google has spent so much effort trying to reroute me onto slightly more efficient paths on all my previous days, I also decided I’d try this without its assistance. Like turned off. I mean, it looked pretty direct. How could I go wrong?

The day started out rainy, with the intermixed heavy showers that make any travel challenging. The mysterious highway 86 out of Limon turned out to really exist, which was good news, and to even be a decent two-lane road through wide open plains. It had almost no traffic, which was great. It also had almost no homes and absolutely no towns and went on for at least thirty miles more than I had guessed. This unexpected lack of civilization, lasting for an indeterminate length of time, came up against two problems: my increasingly full bladder and my emptying gas tank.

So I gave up and turned on Google Maps, only to discover it was sulking at not having been consulted sooner. Well, okay, maybe I projected the sulking emotion on to it, but it was now insisting it could only work offline and show me my blue dot and road outlines but not give me any street names or directions. That does sort of seem like sulking, doesn’t it?

I finally reached a small town with a gas station and as I left the rain came down harder and my phone rang. I was enjoying a conversation with my daughter when I noticed several things had happened. Denver seemed to have spilled down into this area, with congestion and construction now springing up all around me out of nowhere. A glance at my phone showed my blue dot was nowhere near where I thought I was or ought to be. How did this happen? Worse yet,  what was I going to do about it?

It’s lucky my daughter is savvy with maps, and she was able to find my route on her computer, figure out my location from intersections I saw, and direct me through the mess of traffic to where I needed to go. Let’s hear it for humans helping out other humans.

The day ended well. I’m in my fourth Airbnb of the trip, and every one has been fine. This one has a view of the canyon.

I did a little exploring before dinner, and found the one gem I wanted most: the small cabin I lived long ago, when I wrote my first science fiction story. The sight of it brought back a flood of precious memories. My time there remains one of the more special times in my life.

After a nice dinner out, I’ve retired to my room to relax with a glass of wine and to share my thoughts. Today’s rule of the road? When all else fails, it’s okay to turn to another human for help. And today’s song? One I saw performed live, thanks to the same helpful daughter. It was one of my most amazing concert experiences, and I’ve had a few of them. Cheers, and enjoy!

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

Sometimes I Fly

I’ve always wanted to be a bird. In eighth grade I took my first trip in a plane. I squirmed with joy during take-off when it was everything I had dreamt.

I was flying.

One of my most common reoccurring dreams has always been being airborne. I’m surprised to find myself aloft, then I remember. That’s right. I always knew how to do this. I just forgot I knew. Sometimes I get details of what works, like I have to hop twice on my left foot before I jump off, but those recipes for flight have never been the same twice and not one has worked the next morning.

I keep on flying in my dreams.

When I got drunk in college, it made the room spin and made me laugh but the best part was when it made me feel like I was soaring through the air. After I graduated, I talked a friend into sky diving with me and even though I was scared, I was exhilarated, too.

Once I got my first real job, it came with this new thing called discretionary income. I signed up for flying lessons. I did fake emergency landings in fields and got okayed to fly solo. Sunday mornings, I’d drive to the little airport and spend my drinking money on an hour of airplane rental instead.

And I flew.

Then I got older. I had babies. They cried at changing cabin pressure when it made their little ears fill with pain and vacationing by car was better. I dreamt about flying, but not as often. When the dreams came, I was alone, moving silently through the air over wilderness. Maybe it was because I traveled a lot for my job, through busy airports on crowded flights, in seats that kept getting smaller. Claustrophobia kicked in. I decided conference calls worked fine.

I didn’t fly often.

Time takes some things, and it gives others. I now travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. The planes are crowded, but they’ve shown me the Andes from thirty thousand feet, and the island of Madeira sparkling in the twilight of a frothy Atlantic.

These days I write. When a sentence comes out perfect, I suck in my breath knowing it’s the best it can be. The sensation feels like flying.

When I edit my work, sometimes my words reform themselves beyond the original, and the outcome makes me laugh or cheer or cry. I am flying, then, the way I’ve always known I could, the way I was meant to do. Sometimes the realization makes me cry even more.

It’s amazing. Sometimes I fly.

woman traveling alone

She’s prohibited in a few places, and frowned upon in many others. Some fear for her safety, others decide she is asking for trouble. Few cultures, if any, are totally comfortable with a woman traveling alone.

These days, she travels for her work, sometimes, and that is understandable. Other times, she is on her way to help aging parents, or to meet friends or family, and of course that makes sense. But what about the woman on a journey, a whole journey, by herself, simply for the sake of enjoying herself? At best, it seems odd to many.

Yet, she does exist, and she wants to go places.

Women have more money than in times past. They also have (on the average) more of a yen to travel. Spouses, relatives and friends may want to go, too, but when they don’t, women are opting to go alone. For many, joining a travel group provides an easier, and possibly safer, way to do this.

Now, I’ve always been someone who enjoys researching a destination and making my own plans. The internet allows for fabulous discoveries for someone willing to invest the time, and I prefer to move on my own schedule and get off the most-traveled path. But I also have always had someone, usually my husband, traveling with me, and I wonder if I am up to taking  similar trips, to a foreign country very different from my own, by myself.

I recently went to Peru, and did it with my first tour group.

There were a lot of considerations. I wasn’t traveling alone, but with my daughter, and I didn’t want the role of tour guide. I was concerned about our mutual safety, our poor grasp of Spanish, and the fairly daunting logistics of getting from Lima to Cuzco, dealing with a 12,000 elevation change, then navigating buses and trains through the Sacred Valley, and securing two of the carefully controlled tickets into Machu Picchu and then doing it all again in reverse to get home. I knew I could manage it, but it sounded more like work than fun.

So I used the internet to find a company called G Adventures, and read about their modestly priced, no-frills modular tour concept. It seemed to include them doing the hard part (clean yet cheap lodging, train tickets) and us handling our own arrival in Peru, shopping, dining and all extraneous activities. I liked the approach.

When our group of sixteen convened for the first time at a hotel in Lima, we were an eclectic mix of two mother-daughter combos, two sisters with one’s husband, a married couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, and five solos travelers. We hailed from Canada, the US, Germany and Australia.

Four of the solo people were men, and one was an independent young professional woman who impressed me with her approach. She’d always wanted to go to Peru, and finally accepted that it wasn’t a priority for anyone else she knew. So, here she was.

That’s the way to do it, I thought.

We had a great time in Peru, and the tour thing worked out quite well as this was one destination where having some help was wise. I took away more from this trip than happy memories and fine photos, however. I took away an idea.

You see, there are a lot of places in this world I want to go. Many of them do not interest my husband at all. Relatives and friends may be persuaded to go to some of these with me, but hey, I don’t think I’ve got anyone who wants to see Kyrgyzstan as bad as I do.

Guess what? G Adventures offers a trip there. They also do to Bhutan. And Cambodia. And Antarctica. And there are other companies like them. And maybe, after doing some of these, I’ll feel ready to tackle more difficult destinations on my own. And maybe not.

Either way, the world is my oyster, as long as my health and my funds hold out. You see, I came home from Peru with more than pretty scarves and coco candy. I came back with a plan; a plan of how to be a woman who travels alone.

(For more on my trip to Peru see What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you and History at its most exciting.)

Like Eating Crab

Some journeys are a juicy strawberry, sweet and easy to enjoy. (Think beach vacation at an all exclusive.) Others are more like eating vegetables of which you are not all that fond. You know that hiking like this is good for you, but you’re not having that much fun. Then there are chocolate cake travels, and glass of champagne ones. Some of the best feel more like a bowl of popcorn and a root beer on a lazy afternoon.

I like them all. I love to travel, and I do my best to embrace the types of joys my current journey has to offer. Last week, I went on what had to be an Alaskan king crab sort of trip.

That would be a journey in which one has to work to get what one is after. Long flights, language difficulties, bumpy roads or high seas can make this a kind of vacation that many would be loathe to take. But the reward is seldom seen beauty and unusual wonders, and sometimes, a sense of personal accomplishment.

My trip to Kenya was months in the planning. The journey needed multiple immunizations, 18 days worth of Malaria tablets (still taking them) and a visa. Then came a thirty-six hour journey which included three flights, two of them over eight hours long. Fourteen crying babies, two long layovers, and five bad airline meals later left me and my friends in a position to take an eight hour drive which, we learned once we arrived, was mostly over a highly-rutted, single-lane dirt road.

Crab style journeys are prone to unexpected problems, and ours had car engine trouble seven hours into this eight hour drive. We stood in the afternoon sun while our tour guide tinkered with a mysterious electrical problem and distant zebras and wildebeests looked on. Finally, one fellow traveler began an impromptu stand up yoga class. Oh, it felt so good to stretch.

Our guide finally parceled us out into other passing vans, and bit by bit we all arrived at our destination. To our surprise, it was not the budget camp we had been promised, and had researched and deemed as okay. It was a last minute substitute.

We received the least friendly welcome any of us has ever had at a place we paid to stay, then we were shown to tents lacking a single amenity (by amenity I mean a towel, lamp, table, bench or chair –these tents had nothing) and attempted to use attached bathrooms in which neither sink, shower, nor toilet worked. When I pulled down the mosquito net to go over my bed, it was filled with fist-sized holes only partly covered by assorted pieces of old duct tape. My tent mate broke into hysterical, exhausted laughter. This journey clearly was not going to come easy.

Our trusty guide was back with our broken car having his own problems and unavailable to help us. So, options being what they were, we made ourselves a round of gin and tonics and hoped for a better day tomorrow.

The days did get better, and the total experience ended up including a wealth of high points. I’ve put some of my favorite photos from the trip throughout this post.

What do you think? Was the total experience worth the initial effort? It was to me. But then again, crab legs are one of my favorite foods.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Replacing me with … and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)