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Connie Willis: Open Channel

Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis was born December 31, 1945 in Denver CO and has lived in Colorado most of her life. She earned a BA in English and elementary education from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, in 1967, and taught elementary and junior high school from 1967-81. She wrote some during this period, making her first SF sale to Worlds of Fantasy with ‘‘The Secret of Santa Titicaca’’ (1971), and earned her first Hugo nomination for ‘‘Daisy in the Sun’’ (1979). In 1982, she received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, which enabled her to write full time. That year, Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette ‘‘Fire Watch’’ and Nebula-winning story ‘‘A Letter from the Clearys’’ appeared, the first of her many award-winning stories, which so far include 11 Hugos and seven Nebulas – more than any other SF writer – and a dozen Locus Awards.

First novel Water Witch (1982) was a collaboration with Cynthia Felice; they also wrote Light Raid (1989) and Promised Land (1997) together. First solo novel Lincoln’s Dreams (1987) won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and her second, Doomsday Book (1992), won both the Hugo and Nebula and a Locus Award. Uncharted Territory and Remake (Locus Award winner and Hugo nominee) appeared in 1994, followed by Locus Award Winner and Nebula finalist Bellwether (1996), Hugo winner and Nebula nominee To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), and Passage (2001), winner of a Locus Award and finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula. Time travel duology Blackout/All Clear (2010) won Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, and was a Campbell Memorial Award finalist. Her latest novel, Crosstalk, is a romantic comedy about telepathy.

Willis is a celebrated short fiction writer, and her award-winning works include ‘‘The Last of the Winnebagos’’ (1988, Hugo and Nebula winner), ‘‘At the Rialto’’ (1989, Nebula winner and Hugo finalist), ‘‘Even the Queen’’ (1992, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards winner), ‘‘Death on the Nile’’ (1993, Hugo Winner, Nebula and Bram Stoker Award nominee), ‘‘Close Encounter’’ (1993, Locus Award winner), ‘‘The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective’’ (1996, Hugo winner), ‘‘Newsletter’’ (1997, Locus Award winner), ‘‘The Winds of Marble Arch’’ (1999, Hugo winner and World Fantasy Award finalist), ‘‘Inside Job’’ (2005, Hugo Winner, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist), and ‘‘All Seated on the Ground’’ (2007, Hugo winner). Other notable stories include Hugo and Nebula nominees ‘‘The Sidon in the Mirror’’ (1983) and ‘‘Jack’’ (1991); Hugo finalists ‘‘Spice Pogrom’’ (1986), ‘‘Time Out’’ (1990), ‘‘Cibola’’ (1990), ‘‘In the Late Cretaceous’’ (1991), ‘‘Miracle’’ (1991), ‘‘Just Like the Ones We Used to Know’’ (2003); Nebula nominee ‘‘Schwarzschild Radius’’ (1987); and World Fantasy finalist ‘‘Chance’’ (1986). Many of her stories have been collected in Fire Watch (1985), Locus Award winning Impossible Things (1993), Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (1999), The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories (2007), and The Best of Connie Willis (2013).

Willis also edited anthologies The New Hugo Winners Volume III (1994, with Martin H. Greenberg), Nebula Awards 33 (1999), and A Woman’s Liberation: A Choice of Futures By and About Women (2001, with Sheila Williams). She is a frequent speaker and guest of honor at SF conventions, and much sought-after as a Toastmaster. Willis was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2008, and was named a SFWA Grand Master in 2011. She lives in Greeley CO with her husband Courtney (married 1967), and they have an adult daughter, Cordelia.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Crosstalk was calling to me, and for various reasons I thought it was time to write it. First, though, I have to get this onto the record: there is another Connie Willis out there. I discovered that when I was giving a speech at Colorado State University. They were introducing me and said, ‘She’s written all these books and won these awards,’ and then they said, ‘and she’s frequently a host on the radio show Coast to Coast. She claims to have lived past lives, she’s been abducted by aliens, and she’s a psychic.’ I was waving at them from the back of the room. I said, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about, but that’s not me.’ They were very disappointed because they thought I believed in telepathy. I was like, ‘No, I write science fiction. Fiction is the word. Fiction.’ I went home and looked up the other Connie Willis, and yes, she’s a co-host on Coast to Coast. It’s a late night crazy radio show where they have Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, and yes, she has past lives and she’s a psychic. She’s all these things I have spent my entire life trying to convince people I’m not, because I’m a science fiction writer and they always get confused. I’m really unhappy she’s out there.

‘‘I was trying to explain to that audience that there are lots of stories about psi powers, and I love those stories, they’re great – but they’re usually grim. Either the characters go mad because they hear all these voices, which makes a lot of sense, or they use their powers to commit crimes or gain power, or it makes them ill. I thought, ‘Nobody’s written a comedy about the funny side of telepathy, and that would be fun.’ It’s an interesting challenge for a romantic comedy, because romantic comedies are based on misunderstandings and miscommunications. If you open this channel where you really do know what people are thinking, that should eliminate that problem, so you’d have to create other barriers. I thought that would be really fun to do.”


‘‘In Crosstalk there’s a surgery that lets you sense your partner’s emotions. People are using it as a prenuptial agreement, or as a way to enhance their relationship. There’s only one real way to enhance your relationship: work on it. Live with each other. Help each other. Try to understand each other. I love writing romantic comedies, because it’s the only genre that deals with real adult relationships. Romance is a different thing – I don’t like romance, and I’ve never written romance. It’s about seducing and being seduced, wooing and being won, and the power differential is incredible, there’s no equality at all. Whereas in a romantic comedy relationship, you see through the person’s facade, you’re not fooled by it for a minute while the rest of the world is, and you demand that the person be a good person.”


‘‘You really can’t teach comedy. You can teach a number of techniques, but you can’t teach the comic temperament, or the comic way of looking at things. I know that, because I’ll tell people a story I’ve read, or a story I’ve seen in the paper, and to me I can see all the funny sides, and they’ll say, ‘That’s so tragic.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, but there’s a funny side to it.’ They just can’t see it. So there’s a temperament you have, but you have to build on it by developing skills to get it onto the page. It’s hard to have that comic temperament in this society. We’re encouraged not to be ironic at all. Comedy is such an unforgiving medium, too. If you write a serious novel, it can have really brilliant parts and pretty good parts and a few wobbly parts, but it still works as a serious novel. A comedy has to work on every page, in every line. It can’t not work, because if it doesn’t, it’s horrible. Comedy’s either really good or just awful – there’s no middle ground. That makes it harder.”


‘‘What’s next? The UFO novel is still next on my list. It was next last time, and then it got superseded by Crosstalk. I’m working on it right now, and I was plotting it in the car as we drove from Colorado to Kansas City for Worldcon. It’s something I’ve always wanted to write. There were a couple of reasons to put it on the back burner – various movies had come out that I thought might conflict with it. That’s no longer an issue, because those movies sank without a trace. When I wrote Lincoln’s Dreams, I worked on that book for five years. The focus was a great deal about Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler. Then two months later Richard Adams, the guy who wrote Watership Down, brought out a book called Traveler. Of course he was way more famous than me. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to completely sink my book.’ I’ve had that happen a couple of times, usually with short stories, and it’s easy to wait a couple of years and then write the short story… but when it’s a novel and you’re putting so much time in, you really don’t want every review to say, ‘Clearly derivative,’ even though it’s not.

‘‘I’m definitely going ahead with the UFO book, for several reasons. One, I think the whole Roswell UFO thing is insanely ridiculous, and lovely. It’s full of examples of human avarice and gullibility, and willingness to be fooled. Two, I’ve always loved road movies, where you have the mismatched group who have to travel together for some reason – a ragtag band wandering through the American landscape together. Three, I love the Southwest, and I love Westerns, and I want a book in which I can talk about Westerns, and Western moviemaking, and the Western landscape.”


‘‘What advice would I give to writers? I’d say: listen to everything everybody tells you, particularly the things that are wrong with your writing, and at the same time ignore everything else. When I took ‘Fire Watch’ to Milford to be critiqued, the first thing everybody said to me was, ‘You can’t write time travel. Time travel is dead.’ I said, ‘I wrote it. I’m writing time travel. I like time travel.’ That would have been terrible advice to listen to, obviously. I’ve based my career on time travel! They weren’t wrong, though. Time travel was totally moribund at that point, but I’d figured out something new to do with it. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t selling. I wanted to tell that story. You have to ignore the people who say you can’t write the story you want to write. You should not chase the trends. By the time you start chasing a trend, it’s over. You’ve got to figure out what you want to write, and then ignore everyone who tells you there’s no such thing.”


Nisi Shawl: A Real Magician

Denise Angela Shawl was born November 2, 1955 in Kalamazoo MI, where she grew up. (Her cousin Delores came up with the nickname ‘‘Nisi.’’) At 17 she moved to Ann Arbor, where she attended the University of Michigan. After leaving the university she worked various jobs, including as a bookseller, au pair, cook, janitor, and artist’s model (she was the model for one of Rick Lieder’s illustrations for the 1990 Arkham House edition of Bruce Sterling’s Crystal Express). She moved to Seattle in 1996. She has worked on publicity for Clarion West, and currently serves on their board. She helped found the Carl Brandon Society.

Her first published story was ‘‘I Was a Teenage Genetic Engineer’’ in Semiotext(e) SF (1989), but she began publishing steadily in the ‘90s, after attending Clarion West in 1992. Notable stories include Gaylactic Spectrum Award finalists ‘‘Shiomah’s Land’’ (2001) and ‘‘The Tawny Bitch’’ (2003); Carl Brandon Award finalists ‘‘Wallamelon’’ (2005) and ‘‘Black Betty’’ (2013); and World Fantasy Award nominated novella ‘‘Good Boy’’ (2008). Collection Filter House (2008) was also a World Fantasy finalist, and won the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award. She was guest of honor at feminist SF convention WisCon in 2011 and in conjunction with the convention, Aqueduct Press published her story and essay collection Something More and More.

Her first book was nonfiction Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction, co-written with Cynthia Ward, and she has taught many classes and workshops on that subject (and others). She edited The WisCon Chronicles 5: Writing and Racial Identity (2010) and Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars (2013), and co-edited Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler with Rebecca J. Holden (2013) and Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany with Bill Campbell (2015). She has also published numerous essays and book reviews, and has been a reviewer for The Seattle Times since 1999.

Her first novel, alternate history Everfair, appeared in September 2016.


Excerpt from the interview:

‘‘When you’re writing things from a historical viewpoint, you don’t want anachronisms. What you have to watch out for is assuming that one kind of historical viewpoint takes precedence over another. You’ll hear people say, ‘Lovecraft was a racist, but that was just his time.’ No it wasn’t. My grandfather was alive then. There is the axis of time and historicity, but there are plenty of other axes: gender, class, and so on. All those things go into an accurate portrayal of someone’s viewpoint. There’s a problem I ran into with a short story called ‘Vulcanization’, which is from the point of view of King Leopold, whom I deliberately excluded as a viewpoint character from my novel Everfair because he was such a wanker. He was a complete jerk, but I did write a short story from his point of view. It was a horror story. The anthology I wrote it for didn’t want it because I used the ‘N’ word in the second line. That’s how Leopold would have described black people! I was trying to be true to his viewpoint, and this editor couldn’t handle it. They said that because I’d written the story in close third-person, people would conflate the character using that term with the author using it – that they would think I was using the ‘N’ word. So I sold the story to Nightmare, because they were like, ‘This is what he would have said.’ The line proves that Leopold is a jerk, and it’s serving a purpose.

‘‘I got the idea for Everfair after I was forced to be on a panel at the World Fantasy Convention in 2009. There was one panel open, and it was on steampunk, and I decided to go at the last moment. Filter House, my short story collection, was up for a World Fantasy Award, and a short story from the book was nominated as well. I had two nominations, so I had to go. The convention said, ‘You can be on a panel about steampunk.’ I had not read much of any steampunk, and I didn’t like it – steampunk stunk. I stepped back and thought, ‘Why do I dislike steampunk so much?’ It had everything I loved. I love reading Victorian literature. I love that sense of a different place, milieu, different mores, and I’m somewhat kinky for hard machinery, for steam and gears. So why shouldn’t I like steampunk? I realized it was because steampunk so frequently validated colonialism and imperialism. I set about looking for examples of steampunk that didn’t do that, and didn’t find very much. This was in 2009. I had not heard of the work of Diana Pho, or any of the other people who were questioning that imperialist slant. I found two or three stories, so I said, ‘I’m going to do this, obviously.’ That was when I got up in front of a room of hundreds of people and said, ‘I’m going to write a steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo.’ Michael Swanwick rolled his eyes at me. I said, ‘I will make you beg to read it.’ So then I had to do it.

‘‘I was reading about Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s capitalist utopia in South America. It was a rubber plantation, with rubber manufacturing facilities. I thought, ‘What if someone did that with the goal of creating a socialist utopia?’ I remembered the Fabian Socialists in Britain had started the London School of Economics, so maybe they had the money, and they could have bought some of Leopold’s land in the Congo. He was only in it for the money anyway. That’s where the idea came from.

‘‘I did tons of research. Heaven knows, I could have done more. It would have been really great to visit the area. It’s hard to write about cultures that have been decimated. Millions of people died in those areas. So much of what I would have liked to portray has been lost. I’m waiting to hear from people whose ancestors are survivors of Leopold’s horror, and I’m sure they’ll tell me things I got wrong. I did have some help. One of my favorite resources was called African Reflections, basically a hardcover catalog of an exhibit at a museum. The exhibit constituted these everyday objects from the area that I was writing about, the Eastern Congo and central Africa, from the time I was writing about, or slightly advanced, from 1910 on. I was able to look at these photographs, and the essays that accompanied them were very insightful. Of course I read some of the racist, bigoted, prejudiced anthropological texts as well, and tried to skew those slightly, and take into account the bias.

‘‘I think I’ve achieved what I was trying to do – although Michael Swanwick hasn’t begged to read it yet – which is to show how people grasp for perfection, and it eludes them, but the act of grasping makes things better. That’s what I was trying to get with the story of the country itself. That’s what’s going on with the country, and that’s what’s going on with the love story – nothing will be perfect, because we’re humans, but we’ll try, and we’ll be better for it.

‘‘I conceived of the novel as a standalone, but I have been asked to write a sequel. The sequel will be very different. I have ideas for it. Because I cover so much territory in Everfair – it spans 30 years – I’m not going to do that again. Eleven viewpoint characters! What was I thinking? I can tell you what I was thinking: people need their own voices. Now I’m going to try this out with a short story. What happens next in history is the tension between petroleum and renewable energy sources. I think that’s the next battle in the global sense of things, and it’s one that Everfair would be caught up in.

‘‘My editor for Everfair is Liz Gorinsky, and she’s excellent. One of my characters, Rima, is sort of a mashup of Zora Neale Hurston and Josephine Baker. She’s from Florida, and she talks about kissing someone’s kitchen. I tried to put the phrase in context. Liz questioned it: ‘What’s a kitchen? This is part of a building. Why is someone kissing a kitchen?’ I explained what it means, and she said, ‘Oh, maybe you want to make it clearer to other readers.’ I said, ‘It’s okay with me if people are confused. I’m more excited that other people will be thrilled to see it included.’ It was more important to me in that particular instance that someone would say, ‘Oh, I know that,’ than that a few people would say, ‘What?’ It’s okay if some people are a little lost if others are deeply found.

‘‘When people asked me when I was young what I wanted to be, I’d say I wanted to be a magician. Pull rabbits out of hats? No, a real magician. I was writing early, too. I’ve memorized the first poem I wrote, which goes, ‘It’s spring / the crows are singing / and old ladies are wearing new hats.’ That was in second grade, so I was maybe seven years old. When I started actually being conscious of writing prose for a purpose was in ninth grade, when I wrote a dystopian romance novelette, science fiction set after some unspecified end of the world where people went around to different engineering sites, and were basically being reverential about bridges and highway construction, because they didn’t have those things anymore, so they were in awe of them.

‘‘I read science fiction as soon as I could read.”


Kameron Hurley: The Mission-Driven Writing Career

Most writers quit. Many aspiring writers get angry when I say discouraging things like this, but sometimes the truth is discouraging. Most writers quit because they achieve what they set out to do – publish a book, or a short story, or simply finish one – and realize they are staring at the same blank, purposeless future that they started with.

Certainly, I have also seen many quit after going to intensive writing workshops, when they realized they didn’t want to be career writers. They saw the future ahead and realized it wasn’t for them. Quitting is natural and normal, as with any other craft, career, or hobby. So is realizing one wants to be a hobbyist writer and not a career writer. Plenty of hobbyist writers are masters of their craft.

Then there are those who quit after selling their first novel, or two novels, or six. These shifts mid-career always interest me most, because I’m at the point in my own career where I understand the urge to quit, even after experiencing some success, in a way I could not have comprehended as an unpublished writer – and that has left me here, having books published and paid for, and staring ahead into a grinding future of deadlines and release dates, working toward a breakout book.

The realization that writing is an art but publishing is a business can be demoralizing. Staring into a future much like the present can give one vertigo. Self-publishing is no easier, as you will find yourself mucking about in covers and copyediting and distribution and marketing for more hours than you spend writing – and when you publish traditionally you find yourself losing a lot of control over your work timelines and visions for the book’s marketing. Once you begin publishing, you realize that the writing itself is the easiest part of the business, and you long for the days when all you did was write, when you had a passion and a purpose.

What drives you, then, when you have reached the goal of selling work, and perhaps making a little money doing it? What drives you when you have finally achieved the financial freedom afforded by your writing career?

My personal writing goal as a teen, the one that drove me through the publication of my first handful of novels, was that I wanted to make a living wage as a novelist. I wanted success represented by financial freedom. But when I finally achieved that in 2015, it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. Making a living wage as a writer one year doesn’t guarantee you’ll make a living wage the next. I thought the money itself would provide the passion to keep going, but I have a day job that pays the mortgage, and the truth was that the novel writing money went toward paying traveling expenses and student loan debt and veterinary bills. I didn’t need it to pay for health insurance and bread.

I had achieved what I set out to do as a teen, and found myself staring at that long future of punishing deadlines and hustling to earn out advances, and I found that it wasn’t enough.

So what drives me now?

I just finished reading Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which argues that some of the world’s most happy and successful people choose careers which are driven by a personal mission. These missions don’t spring full-formed from their brains at age 20 or 30. Instead, they are missions that they explore, define, and refine in the first decade or two of their careers. They come back to their missions when they feel they have achieved a significant goal or milestone, and adjust it as necessary. It is this mission, then, that drives them forward when the grind gets them down.

As human beings, we need to believe that our lives have meaning. Many find this in religion, but religion does not always satisfy the need for a personal mission. What drives us when we despair? More often than not, it is our personal mission. And if we don’t have one, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and lose focus and purpose.

I recognized this mission-formulation as part of a process I’ve undergone in my own career the last couple of years. I needed to figure out what came next after I published some books and made some money. After some soul-searching, I found that my mission is as ambitious as they come: I want to change the world.

This mission isn’t as outlandish as it may seem, as the fan mail my work has generated can be humbling. Most writers have these sorts of stories about how their work helped a fan through a tough time. I’ve had e-mails from people who found the strength to leave a relationship, to come out to their parents, to move across the country, to apply for a dream job, to create their own edgy and incomparable work, after reading mine. As a creator, an artist, a wordsmith, this is what I live for. I stick to the idea that my fiction should show people new worlds and ways of being. They should, in the words of Joanna Russ, show people how things could be ‘‘really different.’’

I take storytelling seriously because I understand that storytelling is how we make sense of the world. If we cannot imagine a thing, it’s incredibly difficult to make it a reality. My job is to help people imagine a different world. Stretching the limits of our imaginations is the only way for us to push toward the impossible. As we have seen time and again, what we once thought to be impossible can easily become probable and then practical once we unleash ourselves from the prison of our own narrow thinking, and novels can help us do that. I write novels that help us dream big. Not only about technology and how it could transform us, but about how we organize ourselves, how we perceive our sense of self, how we understand government and justice. What makes us truly human? If we pick ourselves up and put ourselves into another time and place, changing everything about our history and our environment, who would we be? Would we recognize ourselves?

There is a theory that human consciousness begins with story. It is, quite literally, how we build the world. What we dream, we create. What we imagine, we make truth. It is how we can share the same world with billions of people and thousands of other cultures and yet all see this world and our place in it so differently. Story is also how we can begin to change our own view of the world. As Ursula Le Guin said in her National Book Award speech:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.

Resistance begins in art. That is the sort of art I want to make. It’s this idea, that we can inspire change by imagining a different world – with different ideas about gender, religion, art, government, technology, personhood, war, peace, living, dying – as possible and real that drives me.

What drives your career?

Charles Stross: Future Vision

Charles David George Stross was born October 18, 1964 in Leeds, England. Stross began writing SF at age 12, and his earliest publications were articles for roleplaying game magazines in the ’70s and ’80s. He earned a bachelor’s in pharmacy in 1986, qualified as a pharmacist in 1987, then enrolled at Bradford University (1989-90) for a post-graduate conversion degree in computer science. He worked as a technical writer and programmer until 2000, when he began writing full time, mostly technology-related non-fiction at first, including book The Web Architect’s Handbook (1996). He gradually shifted his emphasis to fiction.

Stross’s first professional story sale, ‘‘The Boys’’, appeared in 1986, and he has published short fiction regularly ever since. Novelette ‘‘Lobsters’’ (2001) was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo, and was runner-up for the Sturgeon Award; novelette ‘‘Halo’’ (2002) was a Hugo and Sturgeon nominee; ‘‘Router’’ (2002) was shortlisted for a BSFA award; novelette ‘‘Nightfall’’ (2003) was a Hugo and BSFA nominee; time-travel novella ‘‘Palimpsest’’ (2009) won a Hugo. Novella Missile Gap was published in 2007. Some of his short fiction has been collected in Toast (2002) and Wireless (2009).

Stross collaborated with Cory Doctorow on several short stories, notably ‘‘Jury Service’’ (2002), sequel ‘‘Appeals Court’’ (2004) (later published together as ‘‘The Rapture of the Nerds’’), and ‘‘Flowers from Alice’’ (2003). An expanded novel version of The Rapture of the Nerds appeared in 2012 and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Lovecraftian spy thriller The Atrocity Archive (serialized 2001-02) began the Laundry series, and appeared in hardcover along with Hugo Award-winning novella ‘‘The Concrete Jungle’’ in 2004. Sequels are The Jennifer Morgue (2006), The Fuller Memorandum (2010), The Apocalypse Codex (2012), The Rhesus Chart (2014), The Annihilation Score (2015), and The Nightmare Stacks (2016), with The Delirium Brief forthcoming. He’s also written stories in the setting, including Hugo Award nominee ‘‘Overtime’’ (2009) and Hugo winner ‘‘Equoid’’ (2013).

His first SF novel was the Hugo-nominated far-future space opera Singularity Sky (2003), which led to sequel Iron Sunrise (2004). His Accelerando series of SF stories, which appeared in Asimov’s beginning with ‘‘Lobsters’’ in 2001 and ending with ‘‘Elector’’ in 2004, were adapted into a novel, Accelerando (2005), a Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist.

He began his Merchant Princes series – multiverse SF masquerading as fantasy – with The Family Trade (2004), followed by The Hidden Family (2005), The Clan Corporate (2006), The Merchant’s War (2007), The Revolution Business (2009), and The Trade of Queens (2010).They were re-edited as a ‘‘trilogy’’ of long novels and released as The Bloodline Feud, The Traders’ War, and The Revolution Trade in 2013 and 2014. The Empire Games trilogy set later in the same world is due to launch with Empire Games in 2017.

Far-future SF novel Glasshouse (2006) was a Hugo finalist and winner of the Prometheus Award. Near-future SF novel Halting State (2007) was a Hugo finalist, and was followed by sequel Rule 34 (2011). Space opera and Heinlein homage Saturn’s Children (2008) was a Hugo and Prometheus Award nominee, with sequel Neptune’s Brood (2014) a Hugo and Campbell Memorial Award finalist. He released his early, previously unpublished SF novel Scratch Monkey in 2011.

Stross lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with wife Feòrag NicBhride (married 2003).

Excerpt from the interview:

‘‘I am in the process of bringing out a trilogy over these next three years from Tor. It’s the Empire Games trilogy, which is set in The Mer­chant Princes universe. Book one, Empire Games, comes out in January 2017. Book two, Dark State, is scheduled for January 2018, and book three, Invisible Sun, is scheduled for January 2019. You can read it as a series reboot, or a different series, or as books 7-9 of the original series. I describe it to people as my big fat post-Edward Snowden surveillance state techno thriller in parallel universes. Many of the characters are fol­lowed through, but they’re 17 years older, and there are a bunch of new characters as well.

‘‘The earlier Merchant Princes trilogy ended with the President being assassinated in the White House in 2003, and nuclear weapons stolen from the US’s inactive inventory by narco-terrorists from a parallel universe. You might imagine just how paranoid the surveillance state became after that. The new book, Empire Games, opens with the introduction of a new character, and we follow her through a day in the life of America in 2020, at a trade show, with police checkpoints and drones everywhere. A national genome database, a mandatory ID card system, random check­points to do a spot check of your genes to verify you are who it says you are on your card, and any number of minor, nasty, intrusive little elements. CCTV cameras on every sidewalk of every city to try and spot intruders from parallel timelines popping into existence. Think ‘Police State USA,’ only far worse than it has been implemented today, simply because there’s a real threat and it’s gone nuclear. It makes 9/11 look like a storm in a teacup. To some extent, I was brainstorming that scenario in the first book of the trilogy, and as one of the characters remarks in book two, ‘The 21st century is a really bad time to be a paranoid schizophrenic.’ I go into this to quite a degree. There’s a lot of spy tradecraft in the Empire Games trilogy because some of the protagonists are actually spies.

‘‘There’s a huge element of snark in the new trilogy, too, because it’s about surveillance states and their failure modes. Communications are getting easier and easier, big data leaks are getting easier, and the side effect is the illusion of competence is being ripped away. We’re no longer under any illusions about government agencies or their political masters being insightful, wise, or better at what they’re doing than everybody around them. To a large extent, the NSA is to be blamed for their own woes. They militated heavily in the 1970s and ’80s to keep encryption classified as munitions and to ban end-to-end encryption from TCP/IP, the protocol the Internet runs over. If they hadn’t done that, and if they’d allowed a truly secure Internet to emerge, it would be an awful lot harder for the leaks we’ve become used to in recent years to take place. However, the NSA has two jobs. One of those jobs is to spy on everybody else, and the other is to attend to the nation’s own internal security. Those two jobs are definitely in conflict. They’ve inadvertently, in the long term, prioritized surveillance of everybody else rather than security, because it’s easier to prove that you’ve gotten inside somebody else’s computer systems and know what they’re doing, than it is to prove your own sys­tems are secure. This is true for GCHQ, which is the British Mini-Me to the NSA’s Dr. Evil. They’re part of an organization called the Five Eyes. The Five Eyes – it’s like something out of a Bond movie, except they’re real. They’re this vast, world-spanning network of intelligence agencies who spy on everybody. The NSA is basically the leading partner in it. It’s also Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and a couple of other agencies in tug. They’ve fundamentally lost sight of the security side of things, and the result is more and more leaks. It can be very difficult to secure a system that was designed to be penetrable from the start.

‘‘This series was originally meant to come out in 2015. It’s been de­layed for a couple of years, and I’m kind of aghast at the degree to which Snowden leaks, and Chelsea Manning’s leaks from the Iraq war, haven’t been reflected in long form fiction. Nobody seems to be paying much attention to those things. Science fiction doesn’t often deal with the near future very effectively. The exceptions are notable. Walter Jon Williams, with his trilogy that included Deep State and This is Not a Game, was remarkably prescient in some ways. He had the prescience to put the Arab Spring in a book 12 months before it broke out. Long form SF is a terrible medium for timely, trenchant social commentary.

‘‘What makes something work as near-future SF is that the author has to be paying attention to the background. There’s an awful lot of stories that CNN, Fox, NBC, just don’t carry – or the BBC for that matter. You have to read widely around the technological trends, and the climatological issues. At this stage, denying climate change is futile and stupid. What are the consequences? One of the things making news headlines in Europe is the refugee crisis emerging from the Syrian civil war, but we tend to forget that the Syrian civil war broke out in the wake of a virtually once-in-a-century drought, and famine, which in turn was partially a result of Turkish damming of rivers leading to Kurdistan, which in turn has to do with the Kurdish separatists in Iraq after the Iraq invasion. A lot of this stuff is interconnected, and it interacts with climate change, so you get unforeseen side effects, such as a massive refugee crisis with a civil war some years later. The Arab Spring in general happened when the price of grain in the Middle East more or less tripled, in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, because speculators who’d been investing in credit-default swaps realized they needed somewhere safe to put their money, and switched to futures of the products people need. The price of grains is a classic one for speculators. Ken MacLeod remarked that ‘history is the secret weapon of the science fiction writer.’ He’s absolutely not wrong on that. The first Merchant Princes series was about development traps, with a society that has access to modern technology but is totally unable to socially advance their own quasi-Medieval world. The Empire Games trilogy is another timeline, where they succeed in getting out of a development trap, in much the same way that South Korea went from being a very backwards place in the 1950s to being economically the equal of Japan in the mid-’90s. What makes the difference here? What are the political patterns you get that recur? If you have a republic that’s established in a revolution, you usually get a massive political crisis 20 to 30 years after the revolution, when you have a succession moment, with a change in the leadership. The original revolutionary leaders retire, or are dying of old age, and a new generation comes along. Iran very nearly had such a moment in the first decade of this century. There was a thing called the Green Revolution, and it was put down very brutally by the deep state, but for a while Iran was going to have a democratic revolution. It’s no coincidence that this was 30 years after the Iranian revolution. These revolutions have echoes. There is oscillation. 1815, the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, which was a side effect of the French revolution, led in turn to 1848, the year of revolutions all across Europe. We’ve seen events like it in 1919, and in the Arab Spring, and the collapse of the Communist bloc, but we tend to forget it.”

Eleanor Arnason: Unfolding

Eleanor Atwood Arnason was born December 28, 1942 in New York City, and during her childhood spent time in New York, Washington, Chicago, London, Paris, Afghanistan, and Minneapolis. She studied art history and English literature at Swarthmore (graduating in 1964) and did graduate work at the University of Minnesota until 1967, eventually settling in Detroit for several years before returning to Minneapolis/Saint Paul, where she has lived since. She has worked variously in offices, warehouses, a museum, and non-profits; she retired in 2009.

Her debut story ‘‘A Clear Day in the Motor City’’ appeared in 1973. Notable short fiction includes Nebula Award finalists ‘‘The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons’’ (1975), ‘‘The Dog’s Story’’ (1996), ‘‘Stellar Harvest’’ (1999), ‘‘Knapsack Poems’’ (2002), and the Potter of Bones’’ (2002); Hugo Award finalist ‘‘Stellar Harvest’’ (1999); and Sturgeon Memorial Award finalists ‘‘Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance’’ (1999) and ‘‘Mammoths of the Great Plains’’ (2010). First novel Sword Smith appeared in 1978. That novel was followed by To the Resurrection Station (1986); Daughter of the Bear King (1987); A Woman of the Iron People (1991), winner of a Mythopoeic Award and the inaugural James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award; and Ring of Swords (1993). Since Ring of Swords, Arnason has focused on short fiction, much of which is collected in Ordinary People (2005), Mammoths of the Great Plains (2010), Big Mama Stories (2013), Hidden Folk (2015), and Hwarhath Stories (2016). Her interest ranges from SF to fantasy and points beyond; she once wrote an opera about the invention of double-entry bookkeeping.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘We have a split in the 20th century between genre fiction, which tends to be about action, and fiction that’s about interpersonal relationships and psychology. At a Chicago convention decades ago, Gene Wolfe said that every time he encounters people who say the most important things happen within their heads, he wants to put them in a small boat on the ocean in the middle of the storm. This connects to my prejudices about mainstream literary fiction.

‘‘I’ve always read science fiction and fantasy and murder mysteries. I was an English major most of the way through college, and I read The Great Gatsby and Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and some of Proust in French, so I got a reasonable background in mainstream literature. But it didn’t interest me the way that science fiction did. My problem with realism is that a realistic novel about the psychological problems of middle-class people is a story which is very similar to the life I’m leading, and thus is not too interesting. Whereas the minute you throw in a dragon or global warming, it becomes very interesting. Internal thoughts become much less important, and you basically want to deal with the dragon.”


‘‘My father’s parents came from Iceland to North America, and I grew up in a house full of books on Norse mythology, the Icelandic sagas, and the novels of the great 20th-century Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness. (I have a copy of his novel Independent People inscribed to my father. Laxness misspelled my father’s name.) I have a thing about Iceland, especially the medieval lit­erature, and I have come to love Icelandic folklore. Hidden Folk, which came out early in 2015, is a collection of stories based on Icelandic folklore and literature.

‘‘Icelanders don’t have princes and princesses – Iceland was too poor for royalty, even in folktales. Instead, there are trolls, elves, ghosts, outlaws, and ministers who study the black arts. Hidden Folk is very much my own version of Icelandic tales. My elves are unpleasant upper-class types. My trolls are poor farmers and workers, barely surviving. My humans are a mixed lot: farmers and farmwives, students of the magical arts, slaves, a writer, a cop. Over the years, I wrote five Icelandic fantasies – six since the collection was published, and I’m work­ing on a seventh.”


‘‘Science fiction and fantasy have the appeal of strangeness, and of course science and technology are enormously important in science fiction. SF has been dealing with global warming consistently, while the presidential candidates have barely men­tioned it. There’s no question that it’s happening, and it’s going to be devastating. James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia theory, has said we’re going to be down to a billion people by the end of the century.

‘‘I read a lot projections of the future, and people never factor in enough. They project a population of nine billion, but they don’t factor in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – famine, war, dis­ease, and death due to climate change. All they’re doing is a projection of where we’ve been. Science fiction, when it’s good, will pick up a whole bunch of these ideas at once. There was a panel at the 2016 Minicon about writing SF in which many things are changing, rather than just one. One of the things that makes me crazy about much hard SF is, you’re in the future with unbelievable physics that nobody now can understand… but everybody has names like Brad and Charles and they’re living the way we live now. That is nuts. Charles Stross’s early novels had more things happening than I could keep track of. They were stunning.”

‘‘Writing Ring of Swords was a lot of fun – it’s the fastest I’ve ever written a novel, and the first separate hwarhath story, ‘The Hound of Merin’, was also written at about the same time as the novel. Ring of Swords was going to be the first of a trilogy, and I wrote the second volume, but it was turned down by the publisher. It’s really hard to sell the middle book of a trilogy by itself, so I put it to the side. There were problems with the sequel, and I’m not happy with the way it turned out. (I now have a contract with Aqueduct Press for a revised version of the sequel, so it will finally come out.) I was frustrated with the trilogy, and I had a lot more information about the hwarhath, so I started writing short stories. These turned out to be stories written by hwarhath authors after they en­countered humanity, not only about the hwarhath, but about them thinking about their own culture, and in some cases thinking about humanity. The hwarhath are extremely rigid in many ways, and meeting a species very much like themselves but with different rules for male and female behavior leads the brighter among them to question what is the nature of men and women, and that underlies a lot of the stories.”


‘‘I have an alien species I’ve written a few stories about, the Goxhat, which are another attempt to look at social stereotypes or maybe ideas of self. In the early part of their culture there were teams, which would be a bunch of Goxhat hatched out of the same clutch of eggs. Each team thought of itself as ‘I,’ and no individual thought of itself as an individual. They come in four sexes, and a team could be all four sexes or one sex, and it’s all ‘I.’ My story ‘Knapsack Poems’ is about the Goxhat early in their history. As their culture evolved, their sense of ‘I’ got bigger, until the whole species became ‘I.’ They know that they are different bod­ies, but they don’t have a clear sense of themselves as individuals. They’re spacefaring, and they meet other species that don’t have their sense of oneness, so the problem becomes how the Goxhat can think about other species. They meet something that isn’t part of the ‘I’ – and what do they do about a species that is millions of ‘I’s?”

Cory Doctorow:

The Privacy Wars Are About to Get a Whole Lot Worse

It used to be that server logs were just boring utility files whose most dramatic moments came when someone forgot to write a script to wipe out the old ones and so they were left to accumulate until they filled the computer’s hard-drive and crashed the server.

Then, a series of weird accidents turned server logs into the signature motif of the 21st century, a kind of eternal, ubiquitous exhaust from our daily lives, the CO2 of the Internet: invisible, seemingly innocuous, but harmful enough, in aggregate, to destroy our world.

Here’s how that happened: first, there were cookies. People running web-servers wanted a way to interact with the people who were using them: a way, for example, to remember your preferences from visit to visit, or to identify you through several screens’ worth of interactions as you filled and cashed out a virtual shopping cart.

Then, Google and a few other companies came up with a business model. When Google started, no one could figure out how the com­pany would ever repay its investors, especially as the upstart search-engine turned up its nose at the dirtiest practices of the industry, such as plastering its homepage with banner ads or, worst of all, selling the top results for common search terms.

Instead, Google and the other early ad-tech companies worked out that they could place ads on other people’s websites, and that those ads could act as a two-way conduit between web users and Google. Every page with a Google ad was able to both set and read a Google cookie with your browser (you could turn this off, but no one did), so that Google could get a pretty good picture of which websites you visited. That information, in turn, could be used to target you for ads, and the sites that placed Google ads on their pages would get a little money for each visitor. Advertisers could target different kinds of users – users who had searched for information about asbestos and lung cancer, about baby products, about wedding planning, about science fiction novels. The websites themselves became part of Google’s ‘‘inventory’’ where it could place the ads, but they also improved Google’s dossiers on web users and gave it a better story to sell to advertisers.

The idea caught the zeitgeist, and soon everyone was trying to figure out how to gather, aggregate, analyze, and resell data about us as we moved around the web.

Of course, there were privacy implications to all this. As early breaches and tentative litigation spread around the world, lawyers for Google and for the major publishers (and for publishing tools, the blogging tools that eventually became the ubiquitous ‘‘Content Management Systems’’ that have become the default way to publish material online) adopted boiler­plate legalese, those ‘‘privacy policies’’ and ‘‘terms of service’’ and ‘‘end user license agreements’’ that are referenced at the bottom of so many of the pages you see every day, as in, ‘‘By using this website, you agree to abide by its terms of service.’’

As more and more companies twigged to the power of ‘‘surveillance capitalism,’’ these agreements proliferated, as did the need for them, because before long, everything was gathering data. As the Internet everted into the physical world and colonized our phones, we started to get a taste of what this would look like in the coming years. Apps that did innocuous things like turning your phone into a flashlight, or recording voice memos, or letting your kids join the dots on public domain clip-art, would come with ‘‘permissions’’ screens that required you to let them raid your phone for all the salient facts of your life: your phone number, e-mail address, SMSes and other messages, e-mail, location – everything that could be sensed or inferred about you by a device that you carried at all times and made privy to all your most sensitive moments.

When a backlash began, the app vendors and smartphone companies had a rebuttal ready: ‘‘You agreed to let us do this. We gave you notice of our privacy practices, and you consented.’’

This ‘‘notice and consent’’ model is absurd on its face, and yet it is surprisingly legally robust. As I write this in July of 2016, US federal appellate courts have just ruled on two cases that asked whether End User Licenses that no one read and no one understands and no one takes seriously are enforceable. The cases differed a little in their answer, but in both cases, the judges said that they were enforceable at least some of the time (and that violating them can be a felony!). These rulings come down as the entirety of America has been consumed with Pokémon Go fever, only to have a few killjoys like me point out that merely by installing the game, all those millions of players have ‘‘agreed’’ to forfeit their right to sue any of Pokémon’s corporate masters should the com­panies breach all that private player data. You do, however, have 30 days to opt out of this forfeiture; if Pokémon Go still exists in your timeline and you signed up for it in the past 30 days, send an e-mail to with the subject ‘‘Arbitra­tion Opt-out Notice’’ and include in the body ‘‘a clear declaration that you are opting out of the arbitration clause in the Pokémon Go terms of service.’’

Notice and consent is an absurd legal fiction. Jonathan A. Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, a pair of communications professors from York University and the University of Connecticut, published a working paper in 2016 called ‘‘The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Net­working Services.’’ The paper details how the profs gave their students, who are studying license agreements and privacy, a chance to beta-test a new social network (this service was fictitious, but the students didn’t know that). To test the network, the students had to create accounts, and were given a chance to review the service’s terms of service and privacy policy, which prominently promised to give all the users’ personal data to the NSA, and demanded the students’ first-born children in return for access to the service. As you may have gathered from the paper’s title, none of the students noticed either fact, and almost none of them even glanced at the terms of service for more than a few seconds.

Indeed, you can’t examine the terms of service you interact with in any depth – it would take more than 24 hours a day just to figure out what rights you’ve given away that day. But as terrible as notice-and-consent is, at least it pretends that people should have some say in the destiny of the data that evanescences off of their lives as they move through time, space, and information.

The next generation of networked devices are literally incapable of participating in that fiction.

The coming Internet of Things – a terrible name that tells you that its proponents don’t yet know what it’s for, like ‘‘mobile phone’’ or ‘’3D printer’’ – will put networking capability in everything: appliances, light­bulbs, TVs, cars, medical implants, shoes, and garments. Your lightbulb doesn’t need to be able to run apps or route packets, but the tiny, com­modity controllers that allow smart lightswitches to control the lights anywhere (and thus allow devices like smart thermostats and phones to integrate with your lights and home security systems) will come with full-fledged computing capability by default, because that will be more cost-efficient that customizing a chip and system for every class of devices. The thing that has driven computers so relentlessly, making them cheaper, more powerful, and more ubiquitous, is their flexibility, their character of general-purposeness. That fact of general-purposeness is inescapable and wonderful and terrible, and it means that the R&D that’s put into making computers faster for aviation benefits the computers in your phone and your heart-monitor (and vice-versa). So every­thing’s going to have a computer.

You will ‘‘interact’’ with hundreds, then thou­sands, then tens of thousands of computers every day. The vast majority of these interactions will be glancing, momentary, and with computers that have no way of displaying terms of service, much less presenting you with a button to click to give your ‘‘consent’’ to them. Every TV in the sportsbar where you go for a drink will have cameras and mics and will capture your image and process it through facial-recognition software and capture your speech and pass it back to a server for continu­ous speech recognition (to check whether you’re giving it a voice command). Every car that drives past you will have cameras that record your like­ness and gait, that harvest the unique identifiers of your Bluetooth and other short-range radio devices, and send them to the cloud, where they’ll be merged and aggregated with other data from other sources.

In theory, if notice-and-consent was anything more than a polite fiction, none of this would hap­pen. If notice-and-consent are necessary to make data-collection legal, then without notice-and-consent, the collection is illegal.

But that’s not the realpolitik of this stuff: the reality is that when every car has more sensors than a Google Streetview car, when every TV comes with a camera to let you control it with gestures, when every medical implant collects telemetry that is collected by a ‘‘services’’ business and sold to insurers and pharma companies, the argument will go, ‘‘All this stuff is both good and necessary – you can’t hold back progress!’’

It’s true that we can’t have self-driving cars that don’t look hard at their surroundings all the time, and pay especially close attention to humans to make sure that they’re not killing them. However, there’s nothing intrinsic to self-driving cars that says that the data they gather needs to be retained or further processed. Remember that for many years, the server logs that recorded all your inter­actions with the web were flushed as a matter of course, because no one could figure out what they were good for, apart from debugging problems when they occurred.

The returns from data-acquisition have been de­clining for years. In the early years of data-driven advertising, advertisers took it on faith that better targeting justified much higher ad-rates. Over time, some of that optimism has worn off, helped along by the fact that we have become adapted to advertising, so that targeting no longer works as well as it did in the early days. Recall that soap companies once advertised by proclaiming, ‘‘You will be cleaner, 5 cents,’’ and seem to have sold a hell of a lot of soap that way. Over time, people became inured to those messages, entering into an arms race with advertisers that takes us all the way up to those Axe Body Spray ads where the right personal hygiene products will summon literal angels to the side of an unremarkable man and, despite their wings, these angels all exude decid­edly unangelic lust for our lad. The ads are always the most interesting part of old magazines, because they suggest a time when people were much more naive about the messages they believed.

But diminishing returns can be masked by more aggressive collection. If Facebook can’t figure out how to justify its ad ratecard based on the data it knows about you, it can just plot ways to find out a lot more about you and buoy up that price.

The next iteration of this is the gadgets that will spy on us from every angle, in every way, all the time. The data that these services collect will be even more toxic in its potential to harm us. Consider that today, identity thieves merge data from several breaches in order to piece together enough information to get a duplicate deed for their victims’ houses and sell those houses out from under them; that voyeurs use untargeted attacks to seize control over peoples’ laptops to capture nude photos of them and then use those to blackmail their victims to perform live sex-acts on camera; that every person who ever applied for security clearance in the USA had their data stolen by Chinese spies, who broke into the Office of Personnel Management’s servers and stole more than 20,000,000 records.

The best way to secure data is never to collect it in the first place. Data that is collected is likely to leak. Data that is collected and retained is certain to leak. A house that can be controlled by voice and gesture is a house with a camera and a microphone covering every inch of its floorplan.

The IoT will rupture notice-and-consent, but without some other legal framework to replace it, it’ll be a free-for-all that ends in catastrophe.

I’m frankly very scared of this outcome and have a hard time imagining many ways in which we can avert it, but I do have one scenario that’s plausible: class action lawsuits.

Right now, companies that breach their users’ data face virtually no liability. When Home Depot lost 53 million credit-card numbers and 56 million associated e-mail addresses, a court awarded its customers $0.34 each, along with gift certificates for credit monitoring services, whose efficacy is not borne out in the literature. But the breaches will keep on coming, and they will get worse, and entrepreneurial class-action lawyers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to clients. These no-win/no-fee lawyers represent a kind of sustained, hill-climbing iterative attack on surveillance capital­ism, trying randomly varied approaches to get courts to force the corporations they sue to absorb the full social cost of their reckless data-collection and handling.

Eventually, some lawyer is going to convince a judge that, say, 1% the victims of a deep-pocketed company’s breach will end up losing their houses to identity thieves as a result of the data that the company has leaked, and that the damages should be equal to 1% of all the property owned by a 53 million (or 500 million!) customers whom the company has wronged. It will take down a Fortune 100 company, and transfer billions from investors and insurers to lawyers and their clients.

When that day comes, there’ll be blood in the boardroom. Every major investor will want to know that the company is insured for a potential award of 500X the company’s net worth. Every re-insurer and underwriter will want to know exactly what data-collection practices they’re insuring. (Indeed, even a good scare will likely bring both circumstances to reality, even if the decision is successfully appealed).

The danger, of course, is the terms of service. If every ‘‘agreement’’ you click past or flee from includes forced arbitration – that is, a surrender of your right to sue or join a class action – then there’s no class to join the class action. There’s a reason arbitration agreements have proliferated to every corner of our lives, from Airbnb and Google Fiber to several doctors and dentists whose waiting-rooms I’ve walked out of since moving back the USA last year. I even had to agree to forced arbi­tration to drop my daughter off at a kids’ birthday party (I’m not making this up – it was in a pizza parlor with a jungle gym).

It’s a coming storm of the century, and our umbrellas are all those water-soluble $5 numbers that materialize on New York street corners every time clouds appear in the sky. Be afraid.

Spotlight on: Kelly Robson, Writer

Kelly Robson grew up in Hinton, Alberta, Canada and graduated with a degree in English from the University of Alberta. From 2008 to 2012, she wrote the wine and spirits column for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine. She and her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica, relocated from Vancouver to Toronto in 2013.

In 2015, Kelly’s first stories appeared in Clarkesworld,, and Asimov’s, and in the anthologies New Canadian Noir, In the Shadow of the Towers, and License Expired. This year, her stories appear in five ‘‘Year’s Best’’ anthologies and she is a finalist for five awards: Nebula, Sturgeon, World Fantasy, Aurora, and Sunburst.

Tell us about your multiple-award-nominated story ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ – what’s it about, and why did you write it?

‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ was a huge breakthrough in craft. In 2013 my ego was utterly crushed when I was laid off from a job I loved. We took the opportunity to move from Vancouver to Toronto, and over the next six months I forced myself to work in a new way: slowly and deliberately, while paying strict attention to crafting scenes. When ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’ was done, I had finally learned to produce work I’m proud of.

The first story seed was the image of the Champagne fountain – a massive, wasteful Baroque extravagance, and I ended up exploring the idea that the act of nurturing a child changes you. In ‘‘Waters of Versailles’’, womanizer and social climber Sylvain is forced to nurture the magical creature his fortune depends on, while supplying the French nobility with the latest status symbol: the flush toilet.

I write about parenthood a lot, which is odd because we don’t have kids and never wanted them. Because the parental urge is completely alien to me, I can explore the subject without illusion or romanticism.

What one story of yours are you most fond of, that you’d like to point our readers toward?

My first published story ‘‘The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill’’ appeared in Clarkesworld, and it’s a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The story is heavily influenced by one of my favorite James Tiptree, Jr. stories ‘‘The Only Neat Thing to Do’’, which is, like all of Tiptree, extremely dark.

Tiptree’s story creates a massive emotional impact, and I wanted to bring that kind of power to bear on the systemic failure of Canadian political and justice system to protect the most vulnerable members of our society – indigenous women.

What’s the particular appeal of SF/fantasy for you? Why write that instead of, say, mysteries or literary fiction?

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are my blood. I can’t live without them. For many years, writing in the genres I love felt beyond my reach, so I started with historical fiction and the best I could hope for was to bring a speculative sensibility to that genre.

I believe science fiction, fantasy, and horror provide a writer with the brightest, truest, and widest spectrum of colors to illustrate the mysteries, contradictions, and untapped potential of human nature.

We hear you’re working on a longer piece – a time travel novella. Can you give us any details?

Drafting this story has been like birthing a watermelon. I have a lot of work to do on it, but after nearly a whole year of pushing, it’s finally drafted.

‘‘The Last Landing of the Lucky Peach’’ is set several hundred years in the future. The world has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, is enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems, so when she’s given the opportunity to travel to 2000 BC Mesopotamia for a past-state ecological assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.

You’ve made a big splash in a short time with your stories. Any plans to write a novel?

Not in the foreseeable future. I’m having so much fun writing short fiction, and it’s incredibly rewarding. I have several concepts bubbling away, including two more Versailles novellas which, I hope, will form a satisfying story cycle.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the work you do?

I’m ridiculously pleased with my story in the ChiZine anthology Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, edited by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle. Unfortunately, the anthology is only available in Canada, where Ian Fleming’s work is now in the public domain.

Writing in the Fleming universe was nothing I’d ever considered before, but it was an absolute hoot. All the contributors – including Alyx, Charles Stross, Jeffrey Ford, Karl Schroeder, and James Alan Gardner – have said they had huge fun with their stories. Mine, ‘‘The Gladiator Lie’’, is an alternate ending to From Russia with Love, where Bond is captured by Tatiana Romanova and brought to a Siberian collective fur farm. It’s unhinged and perverse. Writing it was a demented pleasure.

Ellen Datlow has recently acquired my Gothic Horror novelette ‘‘A Human Stain’’ which is forthcoming next January at

Nancy Kress: Tomorrow’s Kin

Nancy Anne Kress (née Koningisor) was born January 20, 1948 in Buffalo NY. She received a BS degree (summa cum laude) from the State University of New York – Plattsburgh (1969), taught fourth grade from 1969-73, then returned to college for a Master’s in Education (1978) and an MA in English (1979) from SUNY – Brockport, where she went on to teach English from 1981-83. From 1984-89 she was a copywriter at a Rochester NY firm. She has also taught at various workshops, including Clarion, and for 16 years she wrote a how-to column, Fiction, for Writer’s Digest.

Her first published work was SF story ‘‘The Earth Dwellers’’ in Galaxy (1976), but her first few novels were fantasy: The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), The Golden Grove (1984), and The White Pipes (1985). She’s best known for her science fiction, especially the Beggars series, about humans who are modified to eliminate the need for sleep: Hugo and Nebula Award finalists Beggars in Spain (1993) and Beggars and Choosers (1994), and concluding volume Beggars Ride (1996). Other series include thrillers Oaths and Miracles (1996) and Stinger (1998); the Probability trilogy: Probability Moon (2000), Probability Sun (2001), and Campbell Memorial Award winner Probability Space (2002); and the Crossfire books: Crossfire (2003) and Crucible (2004). Most of her novels are standalones, including An Alien Light (1987), Brain Rose (1990), Maximum Light (1998), Nothing Human (2003), Dogs (2008), Steal Across the Sky (2009), and Flash Point (2012). She also wrote YA Yanked! (1999).

Kress is a celebrated writer of short fiction, and notable stories include Hugo and Nebula Award Winner ‘‘Beggars in Spain’’ (1991); Hugo winner ‘‘The Erdmann Nexus’’ (2008); Nebula Award winners ‘‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’’ (1985), ‘‘The Flowers of Aulit Prison’’ (1996), and Yesterday’s Kin (2015); Nebula Award winners and Hugo finalists ‘‘Fountain of Age’’ (2007) and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall (2012); and numerous other awards finalists. Her short fiction has been collected in Trinity and Other Stories (1985), The Aliens of Earth (1993), Beaker’s Dozen (1998), Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (2008), and Philip K. Dick Award finalist Fountain of Age (2012). Retrospective The Best of Nancy Kress appeared in 2015.

Her non-fiction includes writing books Beginnings, Middles & Ends (1986), Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated (1986), and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (2005). She also edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2003.

She lives in Seattle WA with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, married 2011. She has two adult sons from a prior marriage.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I started writing because I had kids. I didn’t plan on being a writer, unlike all these other people who knew they wanted to write when they were seven. I started writing when I was pregnant with my second child. I had a toddler running around, and we lived way out in the country. My then-husband took our only car to work, and he was taking an MBA, so he frequently stayed downtown to take his classes. There were no other women my age around. I was going nuts. I had a difficult pregnancy, I had a toddler running around, and I was alone most of the time. When my kids were sleeping, I started writing to have something to do that involved words with more than one syllable. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. After a year, a story sold, and after another year, a second story sold. I began to get very interested in it. I had planned on going back to being a fourth-grade teacher when my kids were old enough but I started publishing, and I never ended up going back to teaching.

‘‘I used to come up with amazing stratagems to find time to write when I had children. I had very little money, but every time I sold a story and got a couple hundred dollars, I would spend it on babysitters so I could write more stories. Finally, another woman with small kids moved to this country road, and we would trade babysitting, so we could each have time. If she had my kids, I would get a couple of hours. You fit it in wherever you can, if you’re really serious about it. Because I’m a morning person, I would get up at five, before the children, and I would write then.”


‘‘We live in the future. This really is the future. People don’t realize how much is already being done with genetic engineering. E. coli, which is one of the easiest bacteria to genetically engineer, already produces all the insulin that used to be produced much more expensively in other ways. Another genetically altered E. coli produces carpet fibers for DuPont. It produces a biodegradable plastic glass that’s in use at the Kennedy Center, that isn’t going to clog up the landfills with a lot of plastic that won’t go away. A lot of medicines are made from genetically engineered bacteria, along with food. In the United States soy, which is in everything, is genetically engineered. Canola oil, from Canada, is all genetically engineered. Much of the corn in the United States is genetically engineered. Whatever you had for breakfast, you had some genetically engineered components in there, and you will have more.

‘‘The interesting thing to me is that not one person has ever been harmed by genetically engi­neered crops. The only illness that ever resulted was when somebody inserted a nut gene into something, and someone who had a nut allergy had a reaction. But if these things are labeled properly, and tested properly, they’re not dangerous.”


‘‘The TV reporter wanted to talk to a science fiction writer because although he’d talked to many scientists, scientists don’t like to speculate negatively about what could happen. For instance, the gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 is the most interesting advancement in genetic engineering of the last decade or so, because it makes gene editing much simpler. CRISPR/Cas9, an acronym, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which means it’s a section of DNA with a certain structure, and Cas9 is the molecule that’s attached to it. That technology lets genes be cut and spliced and new genes put in more easily than previously. It makes genetic engineering more precise, much faster, and much easier. He wanted to do an article on this, as well as the CIA announcement, but when he talked to the scientists involved in it, including one at Berkeley who helped develop CRISPR/Cas9, they were leery of speculating about the consequences. Scientists have reputations and funding to protect, and can’t go out on a limb and make crazy predic­tions. I’m a science fiction writer. I can go out on all the limbs I want to, and make all the crazy predictions I want. I’ve written about genetically engineered bio weapons, in two novels and several short stories. That’s why he wanted to talk to me.

‘‘I’m turning ‘Yesterday’s Kin’, the novella that won the Nebula last year, into a trilogy. The first novel is done. The first third is the novella, and then it continues after aliens have left, and the spore cloud hits Earth. In the second book, which is also done, the United States has built a spaceship, and humans go to World. The third book, which I have to start writing next week, is about their coming back here, but there’s a time dilation, so they come back 28 years later. It has some of the same characters, and of course some new characters. My notes for book three say: ‘They return to Earth. Stuff happens. Microbes are involved.’ By the time this interview comes out I hope there will be more of it than that!”

‘‘I work out the science ahead of time because I’m not trained as a scientist, so even though I might not know all of the plot when I start writ­ing, I do know all the science. For a short story like ‘Pathways’ there will be a couple of pages of scientific notes. Then it’s a matter of turning my attention to the characters, which to me are the most important thing in fiction. I’ve talked about genetic engineering and science, but the characters are what matter. I try to make characters that are affected by and involved with the science, though I don’t usually write from the point of view of scientists themselves. I write more of characters affected by the science. It’s always good to write about the character who’s hurt the most by some­thing. That’s always a good viewpoint character because you get more conflict and emotion. Some handwaving is necessary because otherwise you’re writing a scientific monograph and you might as well go pick up your Nobel Prize.”


‘‘We can’t justify time travel, but time travel stories work. It’s a thing you have to accept. It’s a given. But don’t pile on top of the time travel a lot of other things you can’t accept. I regard a lot of time travel stories, including my own, as more fantasy than science fiction. What I wanted to do with the Anne Boleyn story in my collection, ‘And Wild For To Hold’, was to show that no matter how things change, human beings are the same. When they snatch Anne out of the past, she brings down the equivalent of a Pope and the equivalent of a King all over again, because that’s what she does. Human nature doesn’t change that much.”

David D. Levine: Everybody Loves Mars

David Daniel Levine was born February 21, 1961 in Minneapolis MN. He grew up in Milwaukee WI, attended college in St. Louis MO, and then relocated to Portland OR, where he’s lived ever since.

Levine’s first publication of genre interest was story ‘‘1992: The Worldcon that Wasn’t’’ (1996), but he began publishing regularly with ‘‘Wind from a Dying Star’’ (2001), and has produced more than 50 stories so far, including James White Award winner ‘‘Nucleon’’ (2001), Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist ‘‘The Tale of the Golden Eagle’’ (2003), Hugo Award winner ‘‘Tk’tk’tk’’ (2005), Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Titanium Mike Saves the Day’’ (2007), and Sturgeon and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Damage’’ (2015). Some of his short fiction was collected in Endeavour Award winner Space Magic (2008). Levine was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2003 and 2004. He co-edits fanzine Bento with his wife, Kate Yule, and has served as convention chair for Potlatch.

His debut novel Arabella of Mars, first in a science fantasy series set in an alternate Regency era, appeared in 2016. Mars is an ongoing interest: in 2010 he spent two weeks living in the simulated Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I’m happy in traditional publishing, though a lot of people say, ‘Oh, don’t do that to yourself, don’t saddle yourself with an agent, don’t do the traditional publishing thing – you would make so much more money and be so much happier with self-publishing.’ There’s no one offering advice on the question of traditional versus self-publishing who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. There’s nobody who can give you an unbiased opinion on which you should do. I am a traditional publishing partisan, but what I tell people is, you have to define your victory con­ditions. Your victory condition will control how you play. Do you want to make the most money? Do you want to have the most readers? Do you not care about money or readers, but want to be really well reviewed? Is having your paper book on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores something that is important to you? Is being able to control your career impor­tant to you? There are all sorts of things that will determine whether you consider yourself to be successful. I don’t think these desires are subject to conscious control. You have to look inside yourself and decide, what is really important to me? They may change over time.”


‘‘Arabella is the fourth novel I wrote, and the first novel I sold. Novel number three is a hard SF YA set on Mars – that one definitely came out of my simulated Mars experience in Utah. Just about the time I was finishing that one up, I was shopping my second novel, and looking for a new agent. The responses I was getting from agents as well as editors was, ‘Science fiction just isn’t selling.’ I was getting this from the editors of science fiction houses! So here I was with a completed hard SF manu­script, and I said, ‘I don’t need the heartbreak.’ So I set it aside. Nobody has ever seen it, and it’s never been critiqued. I have no idea if it’s any good. Then I started working on something that would be science fictional enough satisfy me, but in a more fantastical mode – something I thought would be more salable. That was Arabella, and it seems to have worked.”


‘‘My primary influence for Arabella was Patrick O’Brian, though his books are more Napoleonic than Regency. Patrick O’Brian was described as what the men were off doing during Jane Austen, and I’m more strongly influenced by O’Brian than Austen. Arabella is an O’Brian, Horatio Horn­blower kind of a thing, more than a Jane Austen thing. But you can’t escape the orbit of Jane Austen, especially after the trailblazing work of Mary Robi­nette Kowal, who has been a very helpful advisor to me. There’s a lot of information available about the Regency, especially for romance writers. There’s no end of research sources for me to get the details right, but getting the sailing tech right is much easier for me than getting the relationships and the societal mores right. I do need help on making sure that the other characters are not too 21st century in their worldviews. Science fiction readers really enjoy Patrick O’Brian. Apart from the fact that it’s well written and funny, it’s a viewpoint into a different universe. It’s painstakingly researched.”

‘‘I read an essay in a fanzine years ago called ‘The Science Fiction Archipelago’, and I’ve never been able to track it down since. It was predicated on the idea that science fiction grew out of a tradi­tion of sea stories that started in the 1700s and 1800s. Everything about the kind of default science fiction universe is based on the sea stories of the 1700s. The idea that you can travel from one planet to another in a matter of weeks or months rather than days or decades. The fact that the captain of the starship is the one who is in charge, that there is no effective communication between the captains and their bosses back home, the relationships of people within the ship, the relationships of the people on the ship to the places they arrive, the idea that each island has a single culture – a single climate, a single religion, a single language – all of these science-fiction tropes come directly from the sailing mechanics and realities of 1700. There is a literary tradition – you can actually see the connection starting with Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson, and growing through the sea stories that were popular literature in the 1800s and 1900s, leading up into the pulps of the ‘30s and the science fiction today. There is both a literary and technological connection between sea stories and science fiction stories.”


‘‘First novels can be so much better sometimes than what comes later. You put your focus on other things. I mean, look at The Time Machine. That was Wells’s first novel, and it’s still his best known and best beloved. I am still pushing myself. With Arabella book two, the thing I’m working on is an ensemble cast, because everything I’ve writ­ten so far has had very small casts, basically one protagonist, and I’m trying to give her a team. The individuals have to be people on their own, and have interactions with each other. It’s new and difficult for me. In book three, there’s gonna be a lot more politics. Literal politics as well as interpersonal politics. I’m definitely trying to keep stretching.’’

Spotlight on: Sam J. Miller, Writer

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons, and The Minnesota Review, among others. His first book, a young adult science fiction novel called The Art of Starving, will be published by HarperCollins in 2017. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, and he’s a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in New York City, and at

If you had to pick one of your stories to point our readers toward, which one would it be, and why?

HOW CAN YOU MAKE ME CHOOSE BETWEEN MY CHILDREN? OK, IF I MUST… my recent story ‘‘Things With Beards’’, in Clarkesworld, because it’s new and maybe a li’l controversial. When Peter Watts wrote ‘‘The Things’’, he got shit because he made Childs a Thing. But not only did I make MacReady and Childs BOTH Things, they’re also gay men. So I imagine someone somewhere is having an apoplectic fit over it. OR I’M NOT DOING MY JOB. All kidding aside, the fact is, when you’re not used to seeing your stories told in mainstream movies and books, because those are populated solely by straight, white, cis people, you get really good at re-constructing those stories, re-telling them, in ways that make room for you. That’s what’s so exciting about fanfic, especially in the hands of diverse and marginalized creators. We are fans, and we will lay claim to these works. Stories belong to everyone; no one controls how we fill in the blanks. If someone watches John Carpenter’s The Thing and sees MacReady has pin-ups of sexy ladies on his wall and says That dude is straight, their interpretation is no more or less valid than if I see it and say, That dude really wants people to think he’s straight.

Tell us about your work as an activist and organizer. On a related note: How does that work influence your fiction?

I work for an organization that was founded and is led by homeless people, and my job is to magnify and amplify the voices of people experiencing homelessness to fight for social change around the negative laws and polices that impact them. That means a lot of protesting the NYPD, who since the 1990s has made pushing law-abiding homeless people out of public space its prime directive, and a lot of fighting City Hall, which is in the pockets of big real estate and has no interest in creating housing for very poor people. I’ve been doing it for 12 years now, so I imagine it’s influenced my fiction in a million ways, but the two main ones are these: (1) It’s given me a ton of insight into the profound injustice that’s an inextricable part of how the world functions; how real and monstrous the consequences of gentrification are, for example – 96% of families in NYC homeless shelters are Black and/or Latino, so remember that the next time someone tries to tell you systemic racism is a thing of the past. (2) It’s given me the opportunity to meet and work closely with hundreds of incredible people, many of them in the middle of unthinkably stressful and painful situations, who are nevertheless strong and smart and funny people who still face each day with incredible dignity and resolve. This gives me hope for how the rest of us will fare, when the inevitable climate-induced Collapse reduces us all to refugees in the rubble.

Your debut novel Art of Starving is forthcoming. Tell us about it.

It’s young-adult science fiction, about a bullied small-town gay boy with an eating disorder who believes that starving himself awakens a latent ability to read minds, control the behavior of others, and possibly bend the fabric of time and space itself. So, you know, light frothy stuff. Lots of F-bombs and gay sex. I was part of the Clarion class of 2012, and instructors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare told us there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA. Inadvertently, I think I ended up testing that proposition, and, yup, there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA.

Why do you write SF instead of, say, crime novels or mimetic fiction? What’s the appeal of the speculative for you?

I write speculative fiction because that’s how the world looks to me. Life is magic. Human society is horror. The world is science fiction. We carry tiny rectangles in our pockets that can access the sum total of human knowledge! Have you ever seen an ocean? THAT SHIT IS CRAZY AMAZING. And people do things to each other – with machetes, with policy decisions, with legislative pens – that are far more frightening than anything a shoggoth or werewolf could do. To me the world is so full of wonder and horror that speculative fiction is the only literature equal to the task of reflecting it. By telling the most ridiculous lies, we as speculative fiction writers can present the primal truths of human existence in ways that other genre and non-genre lit could never begin to do.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the work you do?

Just that while we still have a long way to go, we live in exciting times as genre readers and writers. A ton of brilliant new work is coming from writers of color, queer & trans & nonbinary folks, women, folks from outside the English-speaking Western world, and more… and the public temper tantrums of people who feel threatened by these new voices should be ignored like any other temper tantrum. But we also live in horrific times, in the world at large, whether it’s police murders of civilians of color, or mass shootings, or rape culture, or any number of other atrocities. More and more, I think it’s the storyteller’s job to insert the idea of ‘‘justice’’ into a world where it is so profoundly lacking, to show people that what we yearn for, what we fight for, can come to pass. Empires will fall; our oppressors will be punished; our suffering will be redeemed. The world we actually live in is profoundly unfair and unjust and cruel, but stories can help us escape – and imagine better ones. Our privilege and our oppression will be inverted. Our good acts and our wicked ones will be returned upon us. The ending might not be happy, but it will be just.

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