Meh Suffragettes: Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal

The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan

Sigh. I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. But I didn’t.

Let’s back that up a bit. Of all the other books in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, I’ve loved them all. The Countess Conspiracy made me ugly-cry. There aren’t many romances that do that to me.

So I’ve been chewing over exactly why I didn’t connect with The Suffragette Scandal in the same way I did with the others.  And after a few weeks of thought and a few conversations on Twitter, I think I’ve figured it out.

The stakes weren’t high enough. Which I know sounds really weird. But I never felt really engaged with Free and the bullshit she had to deal with.

Edward Clark is one of my favorite heroes–he’s not a nice man and I loved that about him. I didn’t like a decision he made at the end, although the narrative basically gave him no other choice.

Free–well, I liked her well enough. But I don’t know. I never felt like that if the villain (who I found to be almost cartoonish) succeeded that there would be major consequences for her.  I felt like, for the time period that the book was set in, she had too many powerful male relatives for that to work. Which, I know! I know! This is a book about a suffragette! But she does have all those enlightened male relatives backing her up and that detracted from the gravity of her situation. I do wonder if this book would have worked better for me if it were earlier in the sequence as opposed to the end.

I liked Free’s willingness to stand up and speak regardless of the cost to her. I liked that she employed women and her remembrances of her aunt Freddy were just lovely and poignant. But there was just something missing.

Meoskop at Love in the Margins liked the book a lot more than I did–and while I agree with all of her assessments of the individual pieces, they just didn’t coalesce into something that really worked for me.  I may revisit the book in a few months and see how I feel about it then.

In conclusion, instead of “Huzzah! Suffragettes!” this book was a solid “Meh. Suffragettes,” for me. Meh.

The final novella in this series, “Talk Sweetly to Me” will be out August 19. I will, of course, be buying it. I’m looking forward to it for a few reasons: the heroine is a black mathematician and I’m loving Milan’s genius promotional idea of actually having an Ask A Man column over on Tumblr. Folks, that’s how you do promo.

Guest Post: Michi Trota of Uncanny

Today I’m happy to present a guest post from Michi Trota, Managing Editor for the new science fiction and fantasy magazine, Uncanny. I’ve backed their Kickstarter and I hope you’ll consider it as well.


I grew up reading/watching a lot of science fiction and fantasy. A lot. Star Trek and Doctor Who were almost always on the TV. We wore out our VHS copy of Star Wars. Twice. The first book I ever remember my mom reading to me was The Hobbit and she made sure I knew every Grimm’s Fairy Tale before I ever saw a Disney film. I enjoyed every bit of those stories, but I didn’t actually fall in love with SF/F until I was seven, when we read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” in second grade.

It wasn’t like the science fiction that I was familiar with – there were not space battles, no aliens, no transporter pads, but it was compelling, confusing and just plain broke my heart. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but that dystopian what-if future challenged a host of assumptions that I’d been taking for granted about how the world worked. That was the moment I understood that SF/F could be more than thrilling space battles and wizards weaving spells, that at its heart, SF/F is about exploring possibilities, exposing us to different perspectives, and understanding what it means to be human. That story has stayed with me for nearly thirty years.

That’s the kind of work that Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy is going to find and publish.

I couldn’t be prouder or more excited that Lynne Thomas (Chicks Dig Time Lords, Apex Magazine) and Michael Thomas (Queers Dig Time Lords, Apex Magazine) asked me to join Uncanny’s staff as managing editor. If you were to ask me what my ideal SF/F magazine would look like, Uncanny would tick all those boxes: quality fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry and art that’s experimental, elegant and evocative; space for new voices to be featured alongside familiar names; a commitment to both a diversity of creators as well as diversity in characters and settings; and a talented staff of professionals who absolutely love SF/F.

We even have a fantastic logo designed for us by Katy Shuttleworth, because what better way to recognize what Uncanny stands for than a SPACE UNICORN?

In short, a celebration of the best what the SF/F community and geek culture has to offer.

Our line up of contributors for Year One includes creators with unique voices, whose work epitomizes many of the things we love about SF/F: Charlie Jane Anders, Paul Cornell, Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Neil Gaiman, Jim C. Hines, Kameron Hurley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Scott Lynch, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. If you’re not familiar with some of these awesome creators, check out the series mini-interviews with some of our contributors featured as part of Uncanny’s Kickstarter.

Once our Kickstarter is fully-funded, Uncanny will also be accepting fiction and poetry submissions!

While Kickstarter will get things going, we have a solid plan to continue building Uncanny and making the magazine sustainable through growing our subscriber base, utilizing sponsorships and advertising, and whatever other fannish goodies we can come up with.

It’s been thrilling to watch the amount of support and enthusiasm come in for Uncanny over the last couple of weeks. Our Kickstarter is almost halfway over and we’ve raised $22,400, nearly 90% of our goal. We’re not there yet, so if Uncanny sounds like the kind of SF/F magazine you can’t wait to read, we hope you’ll support us.

Because space unicorns are awesome.

Links: 08/08/14

Links: 08/01/14

And a couple of links to videos.

What Happened After I Reported

Elise Matthesen–who I am honored to call my friend–has written the following essay about what happened after she reported harassment at WisCon 37.
Comments are moderated. The ban hammer is out.

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite — WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee. To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension. People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one. Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation: (1) act promptly, (2) gather all existing written information and reports, (3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct, (4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation; (5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and (6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way. WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate. In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

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