In this dark fantasy short story collection, I am sharing my water movement stories: stories that focus on active women, moving, swimming, engaging water in all its states, from ice to vapor, surviving in complexity. Disability meets non-realist embodiment.
Ice Bar, Petra Kuppers, Spuyten Duyvil Press, NYC, April 2018, ISBN 978-1-944682-93-4 190 pages $16.00 www.spuytenduyvil.net/ice-bar.html contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
A reading from Ice Bar is a good lead-in for discussions about disability, LGBTQ experiences and the future; pain, myths and the body; climate change, access, and non-realist embodied and enminded difference in science fiction, fantasy, horror and literary work. It would pair well with other uses of creative writing in social justice activism, for instance the Octavia’s Brood or The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked anthologies.
Praise for Ice Bar by Petra Kuppers:
In nineteen wildly imaginative and gemlike tales of reinvention and reclamation, Ice Bar offers us a world resembling our own, uncannily, but with both terrifying and reassuring differences. Kuppers is a writer of rare gifts, one who transports herself and her reader into visionary, complicated, but also utterly plausible places. With her empathy, combined with a piercing insight, we encounter through this work a world refusing to be set aside. Ice Bar’s tales, like the best myths, both chill us and warm us as they expose our as-yet unexamined psyches, and reinventing our time, place, and positions in it. This book’s insights are offered up by a rare talent, a serious and generous intelligence. These are the stories we have been waiting to read, by the writer we’ve long needed.
Laura Kasischke, author of The Raising and Space, in Chains, and recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Petra Kuppers’ Ice Bar is a lush and startling collection which often defies clean genre categories, blending apocalyptic futurism, fantasy, myth, steampunk, magical realism, and more. Kuppers’ poetic prose moves viscerally quick with its rich description and surreal details that leave you balancing on the edge of reality and something, somewhere else—a dream, a hallucination, a false memory. Importantly, the worlds of Kuppers’ stories are worlds with not only mermaids, ghosts and other non-human beings, but also worlds full of disabled people, queer people, and people of color whose narratives are not about their disability, sexuality, gender, or race alone. The politics of the texts are clear, yet unobtrusive, integrated into not merely content, but also the aesthetics of the collection. Take the plunge and escape into the ever-shifting worlds of Ice Bar.
Sami Schalk, author of Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction
The stories in Petra Kuppers’ Ice Bar are a fascinating blend of post-apocalyptic science fiction and psychedelically nightmarish fantasy, written in her signature poetic prose, and featuring a cast of queer, vulnerable, beautiful characters. Kuppers has that rare talent of being able to combine sometimes grittily realist stories and setting with surreal motifs weaving dreamily through fabulist and magical details. And even rarer, of addressing important, social and political themes without ever skimping on the quality and sheer delight of the writing.
Djibril al-Ayad, Editor, The Future Fire: Social-Political Speculative Fiction
Each story in Ice Bar unsettles the reader as Kuppers’ writing seamlessly slides between the familiarity of the present into strange apocalyptic visions and hidden dream worlds. Woven throughout the collection are the grounding touchstones of adaptation and interdependence, community, and raw human connection. Ice Bar elegantly expresses Kuppers’ dedication to creating art that entertains while thoughtfully fostering inclusivity and social justice.
Kathryn Allan, co-editor, Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction
In Petra Kuppers’ marvelously inventive collection of short stories, we journey from a post-apocalyptic world of fire and ice to a world where graveyard lichen from abandoned mental hospitals is smoked, calling back the dreams and nightmares of dead inmates. Past and present, human and animal, swim and swirl together here. Kuppers’ stories are grounded in disability culture, and they send down wild roots and sprout branches which twist and curl.
Anne Finger, author of Call me Ahab
Interview! Find out more about Ice Bar and its genesis.
Q: The book is divided into three sections, Steam, Crystals, and Wave. Why did you divide it this way, and how did you choose which stories would appear in which section?
A: Steam, Crystals and Waves are all potential forms of water, and that felt to me like a beautiful way to organize my stories (if a bit nebulous, too). Crystals are mainly short stories, sharp little things. They rely on a particular feature: the memory crystal, a moment frozen in time and glittering, reflecting backward and forward. The steam stories set up pressure: the asylum as a pressure site, the party place as an edge space, the pressures of failing infrastructures, the emergence of new support structures. And the wave stories take to the seas, and encounter strange dragons and other creatures, like trolls, dolphins, sharks and really nebulous Cthulhu-like things. (interviewed by Deborah Kalb)
And another interview, on The Future Fire:
TFF: You are a professor of Performance Art and part of a performance and dance collective. Movement seems to be something very important in your life. How did it start?
Petra Kuppers: I think the fact that my love of movement has lasted into adulthood has to do with being a disabled woman of size who loves to move and be in her body! If everybody around you tells you, “this is not for you,” it’s quite easy to go all contrary and make that something the center of your life. That’s certainly the case with me. I remember being in my late teens in Germany, in hospital, waking up from one of my knee operations. The doctor told me “I am sorry, but you won’t dance again.” Maybe that doctor was doing me a weird kind of favor, offering me a challenge I could not resist. I continued to dance, explored Contact Improvisation, Butoh, Laban Creative Movement, and many somatic modalities. These days, I dance in a different form: five-minute dances, little engagements with specific environments, which then lead to dances with words. I often free-write after movement, and these little site-specific movement/writing nuggets become the seed of a story. That’s the way most Ice Bar stories were born. Site-specificity is still central to most of the stories: sitting on a wheelchair ramp in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by the Rio Grande in New Mexico, or on a barrier island in Georgia. (interviewed, with many intriguing and surprising questions, by Valeria Vitale)
Interview about my writing process, for Dunes Review:
You’ve published non-fiction books, short story collections, poetry…a little bit of everything! How is it different moving from one type of writing to another? Do you ever have ideas that you think will suit one type, but transform into another?
Yes, I really enjoy moving between the forms, and I often explore the same topics in multiple genres. In the last two years, Stephanie Heit and I have been leading a performance series called the Asylum Project – disability culture work that takes place in or near mental health institutions, at border crossings, with asylum in all its forms and associations. So in response to the experiences we’ve set up, I’ve been writing poems, short stories and academic essays at sites like Traverse City’s State Hospital, Eloise State Hospital in Wayne County, the Dutch coastal asylum Duin en Boosch, Vincent Van Gogh’s stay in and paintings of an asylum garden in Southern France. Each creative form – lyric essay, the rhythmic patterns of poetry – allowed for new ways thinking through stigma, experience, and sensation. The resulting materials have been published in the New Zealand Weird Fiction journal Capricious, the US literary journal Sycamore Review, and poetry journals like White Stag – I really like that very different audiences can get involved with the material.
Book review in PANK magazine:
“Kuppers suggests a pattern that the rest of the collection builds upon: the current models of networking, infrastructure, and power dynamics are failing us, and possible solutions only lie in unexpected—often unassuming—places. The state of our current cultural moment requires us to imagine alternative worlds that privilege dynamic, hybrid, and intersectional bodies and minds, that promote a sharing of experience instead of hierarchies. It’s no wonder that so many of the stories in Ice Bar take place underground or underwater; these alternative possibilities are not available to us at surface level. Ice Bar’s speculative stories refuse singularity or continuity, offering instead a range of possibilities for rebuilding, reevaluating, and restructuring our world.” (Sarah Nance)
Book Review in Strange Horizons:
“I have highlighted the queer and disability aspects, but I would also like to mention the detailed discussion of pain, and the complicated intertwining of pleasure and pain in many characters’ lives. This is also a theme that is quite unexplored in SFF, and when it appears, it does seem to happen concurrently with queer narratives—but here the disability aspect was just as much, if not more salient, and these all interacted. In the above-mentioned “Ice Bar,” the machinery of the bar feeds on the clientele to maintain a cold environment, against the searing heat resulting from climate change outside—this feeding is both painful and pleasurable, and the protagonist embraces it voluntarily. In “Rocket Launch,” meanwhile, the protagonist explores her complicated feelings about BDSM and how she enjoys the physical sensations of pain and restriction, even though they remind her of her father beating her when she was a child. In a very short space of just four pages, and all in the context of her searching for a downed spacecraft, we get to find out about the protagonist’s partner passing away, and her injuries—acquired both voluntarily and involuntarily. All this brings to mind classic SF stories, by Bradbury and others, about the melancholy of spaceflight and how it affects people.” (Bogi Takács)
Book Review in the Ann Arbor Library Public Blog (Patti Smith)
November 2017 news: One story in the collection, Fjord Dreams, has been nominated for a Pushcart by Dunes Review. Another story, The Wheelchair Ramp, has been nominated for The Best of the Net Anthology by Anomaly.
August 2017 news: Spuyten Duvil is publishing the Ice Bar short story collection in Spring 2018! I will post more information and publicity as it becomes available.
In November 2016, Future Fire published one of my water women stories, with amazing illustrations by Miranda Jean. The Road Under the Bay. Future Fire. A Journal of Sociopolitical and Speculative Cyber-Fiction. The editor, Djibril al-Ayad, advertises the story in this way: “a luscious prose-poem of earth&water&architectural memory.” YES!
Check out the first one in the series, Playa Song, a sci-fi-y eco story published in Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction, a great collection that addresses themes close to my heart.