Tiptree Honor Book logo

Tiptree Honor Book logo

That’s the slogan of the fund-raising arm of the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, ie., the bakesale.

The Tiptree is a literary prize awarded annually for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. It was created in 1991 by authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler, and announced at Wiscon, the world’s premiere feminist science-fiction convention (held in Madison, Wisconsin each Memorial Day weekend). Every year, a panel of judges reads hundreds of books that explore the theme of gender in a speculative context, and compiles an honor list (some really great reads, here) as well as choosing whom to honor with the award itself.

So why am I writing about it?

I’ve recently taken over the administration of the Tiptree Bake Sale at Wiscon, and wanted to do a few things with it.

First, I wanted to increase the visibility of the award among one of my favorite non-fannish communities (ie., foodies).

Second, I wanted to kick off a series of articles that will explore the greater question that we all occasionally face:  What to bake for a Bakesale?

I’ll be doing a series of combination posts – recipes (or links to recipes) for items that would be fantastic at a bake sale, plus short reviews of former Tiptree Award/Honor books.  Hopefully, one or the other (or both!) of these things will appeal to you – and I’d love to hear your suggestions for future features, either food- or book-related!

Today, I’m going to start with a link to one of the bake sale classics:

The Dream Bar, aka Magic Bar.

Usually a layer of shortbread crust, some gooey milk-based confection layer, chocolate, coconut, maybe some nuts…  Nicole over at Baking Bites recently made a batch, and they look yummy!  I’d certainly be happy to see those cross my desk come next month.  (Cut ahead of time into nice bite-sized pieces, please – these are best cut when cold, perhaps even frozen, as they tend to be a bit gooey).

And your book for today?

1996 Tiptree Winner The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.

Russell grew up in Lombard, Illinois – right next to where I lived for almost ten years.  She is an anthropologist by training, and this expertise really informs her world-building and alien characters.

Our viewpoint character is Emilio, a Jesuit priest who is among the group of responders sent to make first contact with aliens after their signals are detected on Earth.  The book takes place in two alternating timelines simultaneously.  In one, we meet an older, traumatized Emilio who has returned from the expedition as the sole survivor, having obviously experienced something truly horrible.  In the other timeline, we follow the group as they journey to the alien planet and make first contact.  There is tremendous narrative tension, as you the reader know that somewhere along the line it all goes horribly wrong, but don’t know how or why.  Young Emilio and his companions are a really likeable bunch, and their developing friendships and relationships with each other ring really true and lifelike.

The religious elements of the book (Emilio has a crisis of faith as a result of his experiences, and this informs much of the narrative) are done really well.  There aren’t any black or white illustrations here – the characters and their beliefs are drawn realistically, wholly..  with complexity and nuance.  It is not a book you need to be religious to enjoy (I certainly am not, and I consider this one of my favorite books of all time) – but you will walk away from it with a more personal understanding of the intersection of faith and science.

This is an incredible book, and is very well written.  I often recommend it to people who think that they hate science fiction, that it’s all “rayguns and bug-eyed monsters”.  I hope that you enjoy it, as well.