Month: June 2018

Book Recommendations

philipa asked for some book recommendations, so here are a few!

Science fiction magazines: I love Interzone and have received sample packs of Analog and Asimov’s. In case it’s not obvious, I am partial to science fiction over (many, perhaps most subgenres of) fantasy.


Short story collections: Other Household Toxins (literary flash fiction by one of the masters of the form, Chris Allen) and Tales from the Realm (a dark fiction “Best of” collection from Aphotic Realm):


Nonfiction (on Clarissa‘s recommendation):


And, finally, plenty of sci-fi and dark/weird fiction that I have yet to read, but am optimistic. I hadn’t read Octavia Butler’s classic Kindred before, which is a shame, but there you have it. Claire North is one of my favorite writers (her book The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is among my all-time faves) and I’m looking forward to what she’s got in store this time with 84K. Passing for Human is hilarious as cutting satire. Stay Crazy won a top British award. All Systems Red is part 1 of a series. The Unyielding is a body horror novella that drew me in based on its premise.


Finally, I am forbidden (by me) from buying new books until I’ve read the books above. The exceptions are the new books by Becky Chambers and John Scalzi, both of whom I love. So these have been preordered:


Happy reading! And please leave us your own recommendations in the comments.

An Incomplete List of Recent Grumpiness Triggers

  1. I have to write an evaluation letter for someone’s promotion. The person’s record is incomplete and also just not that great. This makes me very grumpy, because I don’t want to write a bad letter, yet it’s not at all easy to write a good one in this case.
  2. The student on the project I received funds for last year really wants to move to a project I received funds for this year. So I have a year of money spent with very little to show for it. That, too, makes me grumpy. I will have to bring in a postdoc.
  3. I have to submit an annual project report on the project where we have little to show for. (See 2).
  4. So far two new grants in, and maybe a third this year. It will be a good time to go on sabbatical in academic 2019-20. I have been doing and redoing calculations for covering self and students and postdocs and travel and summers and also 35% of academic-year salary that I won’t get during the sabbatical year and also external funds to possibly travel to the UK for a few months in Spring 2020.
  5. I spend far too much time on literary Twitter. Far too much. Even after reducing it significantly, it’s still too much.
  6. I feel I should be a good literary citizen, so I committed to reviewing several short-story collections, and now it just adds to my stress. How stupid am I? Very stupid.
  7. In related news, I read far too much short fiction. Seriously. Short fiction is like a double espresso shot to a novel’s or novella’s 20 oz (Stabucks’ venti) filter coffee. Too much short fiction per day (and yes, I read several stories every day, and that’s not even counting the days when I read microficton for my editorial gig) makes me jittery. I literally go to a novel for a gentler, longer-term fix that I can metabolize before my mind blows up.
  8. I think I need to buy a heavy bag. Or a rowing machine. Or both.
  9. There is a book chapter, a review paper, a complete paper remaining after a student left, and a paper that I have to write from scratch but all the data is here, all of which should be done by the end of the summer. And I am bored out of my wits with all of them. I honestly don’t want to work on any of them.
  10. Science, where is the science in all this? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
  11. There are no fewer than four short fiction pieces and two nonfiction pieces that I want to write and would write if only the rest of the world would go away for maybe two weeks and I could somehow purge my mind of all the things I need to do ASAP (see 1 and 3). I think this would be one of the so-called writers’ retreats. I could probably afford one, but they sound so…never mind. I’m never gonna do one.
  12. I have always been introverted, in that I need time to myself and being alone makes me happy. But with my family as large as it is, and it being summer, it’s extremely hard to have any alone time at home. At work, there’s noise all fuckin’ summer in the classroom right next to me even though I’ve asked several times that they please not put the noisy summer-program people there as plenty of similar classrooms are empty all summer long. Anyone else having dreams of being on a deserted island for just a little bit with no one wanting story comments/paper drafts/juice and chips/cooked meals? No? Just me?
  13. Writing all this down makes it sound nutty. And mostly self-inflicted.
  14. Which reminds me of  “Brain on Fire,” a new Netflix movie I just saw, even though the movie isn’t about overwork or stress. It’s not a great movie, but it’s based on a compelling true story and is done decently enough.

Netflix Movies to Delight

Lust Stories (IMDB; Netflix) (Indian drama/comedy) — four shorts depicting relationships in the modern Indian society; superb all around (storylines, directing, acting)

Matkub (IMDB; Netflix) (Israeli comedy) — two low-level crooks survive an explosion and decide to turn their lives around; really funny with a lot of heart

The Man in the Wall (IMDB; Netflix) (Israeli drama) — a young woman’s husband doesn’t come home after walking the dog; excellent acting and camera work

I Am Not an Easy Man (IMDB; Netflix) (French comedy) —  a modern world, where a pair of queens is worth more than a pair of kings; attention to detail makes this movie a powerful social satire

Set It Up (IMDB; Netflix) (American rom-com) — yes, it’s a rom-com, but it’s truly delightful

Big Eyes (IMDB; Netflix) (American biopic) —  the interesting life story of painter Margaret Keane; directed by Tim Burton, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz


Yep, that’s me! As old as the hills.

I will celebrate by…

…having a party for Smurf, whose 7th birthday is on Monday. The morning involved getting coffee, getting cupcakes with blue frosting and superhero plastic rings, and telling Smurf every 2.3 minutes how much time is left until his party (which is at 1 pm).

I treated myself to…

…Lose It app premium ($3.33/mo).

I received congrats from…

…parents, plus a friend whom I’ve known since elementary school and who never misses my birthday. He kindly congratulated me on turning 28.

Two days ago I found out a colleague who’s about my age has  leukemia. That puts things into perspective, for a few days at least.

It’s sunny outside, I’m caffeinated, everyone is alive and kicking, and now I’m divisible by both 5 and 9. Not too shabby.

Eternal Scientific Youth

Academic blogosphere, I have a ponderable issue for you.

We all know there are academics, age 70 or 80 or more, who seem to be as passionate about their work as ever, getting grants, running huge labs, showing no sign of slowing down.

When I started on the tenure track, I thought that would be me; I thought I would never retire. I don’t think that any more. Assuming I stay healthy for the next few decades, I believe I will retire not too long after 65 (so 20+ years to go), and when I retire I won’t look back.

I started a lengthy post on why I feel how I feel, but I got bored and ran out of steam (telling, innit). Instead, here’s a concise bullet-point list of some of the reasons (reasons other than personality) which might explain why Prof. Silverback keeps chugging along while others run out of steam.

Peppy octogenarian Prof. Silverback:

  • Relatively smooth career trajectory with ample funding + early and consistent recognition + family run by someone else so most energy reliably devoted to science. Silverback never had his heart broken by his job and never fell out of love with it.

Low-enthusiasm middle-aged likes of me (or maybe just me):

  • Lots of energy dispensed daily on emotional and mental labor for family.  After 20 years, the reserves of peppiness are significantly depleted.
  • In the fields with few women, constant energy seepage owing to background bias that acts as head wind: forever being incompetent until proven otherwise, which necessitates constantly having to prove to every new colleague everywhere, no matter how young and wet behind the ears the colleague is, that we’re actually experts in something and not just a fat decoration or someone’s significant other or a diversity token.
  • For men and women in STEM at research schools today, the hustle never stops. As we get more senior, we’re supposed to maintain or exceed tenure-track research momentum, while also taking on more professional service and service to the institution. Becoming an admin or dropping research to do more teaching+service are considered failure or treason, and often mean research-career suicide, even though they are likely perfectly legitimate ways to fulfill a natural need for a change in our jobs. [Clarissa has a couple of interesting posts (here and here) on the issue from the standpoint of a research-active humanities faculty at an undergraduate institution — i.e., where raising grants not necessary.] STEM faculty at research schools are trapped in perpetual tenure-trackdom, but with ever more non-research obligations. Even without the additions, it might be hard to maintain motivation to do the same job the same way for decades. Does your 100th paper really excite you just as much as your 1st or even your 10th? How about your 200th or 500th paper? Now, how do you feel about your 100th grant proposal vs your 1st or even your 10th? I personally need a lot of variety and change, but I know there are others who contentedly work on a niche area for decades. Maybe the latter is key to staying motivated?
  • Less support all around (staff, state support, intramural funds) than was common even just 20 years ago; loss of time and energy on doing and filing all sorts of paperwork that (travel reservations and reimbursements, grant budgeting)

What say you, blogosphere? What am I missing? What are the reasons behind some people’s boundless interest in their science well into old age? If we can identify it, maybe be can bottle it and sell it.

Existing Only in Relation to Someone Else

Disclaimer: Another post in which I might come across as an a$$hole, but it’s not on purpose.

The following is probably no news to anyone who spends time on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). However, I’m only on (literary) Twitter (absolutely no Facebook or anything else) and am relatively new at it. Anyway, there’s this profile trend that’s honestly incomprehensible to me:

Random woman on Twitter: I am a wife, mother, daughter, friend…

Much less common, but far from absent:

Random man on Twitter: I am a husband, dad,…

I will never understand this impetus to identify yourself by what you are to other people, and especially people who have such a broad range of ages and relationships. I mean, if I were to take this to the extreme, I could totally write the following, if it weren’t for profile character limits:

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, hopefully future mother-in-law, hopefully future grandma, next-door neighbor, niece, cousin, second cousin once removed, neighbor two doors down, neighbor from the next block over, coworker, PhD advisor, former PhD advisor, former PhD advisee, blogger, reviewer of grants, most hated weekend shopper on account of taking forever to clear the register, loyal customer at employee-owned-and-operated gas stations, Amazon Prime haver, bitch who ruined someone’s college GPA, inspiring professor who sparked interest in science in someone else, filler of innumerable forms for children’s summer camps…

Seriously, though. First, women are the only ones who seem to list they are daughters and friends, even though I am pretty sure men are sons and friends just as often.

Second, being a wife or a daughter or a friend has never been a part of my identity, or at the very least not something I felt the world needed to be told. I mean, seriously. Why is being a daughter noteworthy, unless you were perhaps not a daughter at birth? Or being a friend — unless you are a terrible human being, you will have some friends. Or being a wife — maybe to some women, perhaps many women, this is an achievement, but it was never on the achievement list for me. I definitely wasn’t a little girl who dreamed of getting married; I just never thought about it until I was an adult who dated and would ask myself Would I marry this guy? only to find that the answer was no, until I met someone to whom I could say yes. Honestly, saying I’m someone’s wife (even though I am and my DH is great) makes me feel like I’m living in the 1930s. DH can say I’m his wife. I will say DH is my husband. I will absolutely not identify myself as DH’s wife. I will also not say that I am my parents’ daughter—it’s infantilizing and infuriating. Fuck that patriarchal noise.

But I am my kids’ mom and I cherish that identity; it affected me profoundly, changed everything about my world, and expanded my capacity for love in ways I could not have imagined before I had kids. Other than being a mom, being a teacher is probably the only other designation based on my relationship to other people that I could put out there as identifying. But these would go with and after scientist. And if I felt cocky, writer of short fiction would be in the mix.

So there you have it:

Xykademiqz: Academic scientist and teacher. Mom. Writer of short fiction.

And now I kind of want to remove mom because it’s too personal. And, if I am being honest, too softening. Compare how much less threatening the above is than the version below:

Xykademiqz: Academic scientist and teacher. Writer of short fiction.

Sometimes I want to be nonthreatening (like when I meet my friends’ small children). But sometimes — most to the time, actually — I want to instill terror in the hearts of my enemies. In the hearts of everyone, really.

I hate how women internalize misogyny, especially women like me, who are not stereotypically femme in their pursuits or appearance. It’s such an endless, exhausting struggle between how we see ourselves — strong, smart, competent — and how the rest of the world wants to see us and wants us to see ourselves — giving, soft, squishable.

Recently Enjoyed Bits of Culture


I can’t really drink red wine any more (too many brands give me migraines) so I have embraced my future as a wimpy drinker, focusing on sweet cocktails and white wine. Riesling is my favorite white, and I was really happy to find out that Pacific Rim Riesling (I tried the dry variety) is excellent yet inexpensive. Highly recommended! There’s a cool dragon pic on the inside wall.


I recently read Scalzi’s Head On, a sequel to Lock In. I liked Head On quite a bit better than Lock InLock In introduced the world, but the actual thriller part was flat; in Head On, the thriller was well done and engaging. The whole series deals with a very realistic near-future world that is best understood by first reading the phenomenal (and free!) prequel novella Unlocked.

I have just finished Binti: Home, a second of three Binti novellas by Nnedi Okorafor. I love Okorafor’s writing. She writes sci-fi and fantasy, but with characters originating from Africa, which is refreshing, engaging, and just overall very cool. Another favorite of mine written by her is The Book of Phoenix. Okorafor builds vivid worlds in clean, seamless prose. In how engrossing, enjoyable, and evocative–yet clear and unassuming–her writing is, I would put Nnedi Okorafor along with Becky Chambers, Ann Leckie, and Claire North among my all-time favorites of any genre.

Short fiction


The Things that We Will Never Say by Vanessa Fogg

The Ones Who Chose the Rain by George Edwards Murray

What is Eve? by Will McCintosh

Lepidoptera by Christopher Stanley

Animal Control by S.E. Casey

Causality Dilemma by Sheldon Lee Compton

I generally read and enjoy everything produced by A. Merc Rustad, Sara Saab, and John Wiswell, among others.


Literary Fiction

If you want the year’s creme de la creme in literary flash fiction, go check out Wigleaf Top 50.

Here are some that made a strong impression on me:

Crocodile Wife by Kathryn McMahon

Muddy Love by Eric T. Johnson

Alien Abdoption by Neil Clark

The Other Kind of Mermaids by Christopher James

Berta by Chelsea Voulgares

The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan

Some of my favorite short-form literary fiction writers are Kathryn McMahon, Jennifer Fliss, Cathy Ulrich, and K.C. Mead-Brewer, among others.




In part, I am an 11-year-old boy inside. He enjoys everything superhero and action.

Solo was great, very well acted, with a compelling plot and exciting action that doesn’t get in the way of the story. Go enjoy it without a qualm in the world: how Solo and Chubakka meet, how they come by The Millenium Falcon, etc. Don’t listen to the haters, the movie is great. Alden Ehrenreich is great as young Solo, a rascal in the making, but still not fully hardened by life so his soft gooey middle is visible.

Infinity Wars was enjoyable, but I preferred The Black Panther.

Deadpool 2 was fabulous. So much heart behind such a torrent of profanity. Great story, really funny, many pop-culture references.

In part, I am also a grown-a$$ woman (i.e., my a$$ has grown and I really hope it won’t grow any more). That part of me liked:

The Quiet Place


I love Emily Blunt (Can this woman get an Oscar for something already? She’s great in everything) and Charlize Theron. I want to be their friend.


On Netflix, movies that could have sucked but instead ended up charming and delighting me:

Sleeping with Other People

Drinking Buddies

What Happened to Monday


On Amazon Prime

Logan Lucky (good heist story, plus combines my loves Channing Tatum and Adam Driver; now free to watch with Prime)

Colossal (I loved this movie)

Begin Again (Is Mark Ruffalo ever bad in anything? No. Never.)



Stuff I recently Shazammed

Lydia by Highly Suspect (unfortunately, the video is a bit disturbing, but the song is awesome)

Bad Bad News by Leon Bridges

Severed by The Decemberists

S&M by Rihanna (an oldie but goodie)

Please share a bit about what you’ve read or seen or hears recently that really touched you.