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Alastair Reynolds: Expanding Universe

Alastair Preston Reynolds was born March 13, 1966 in Barry, South Wales, and spent his childhood in Cornwall and Wales. He earned degrees in astronomy from the University of Newcastle in England (1988) and a PhD from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland (1991). In 1991 he moved to The Netherlands to work for the European Space Agency, where he remained (apart from a break in 1994-96 to do a postdoc at Utrecht University) until becoming a full-time writer in 2004.

Reynolds began writing SF stories and novels in his teens, selling debut ‘‘Nunivak Snowflakes’’ to Interzone (1990). Notable short fiction includes ‘‘A Spy in Europa’’ (1997), ‘‘Galactic North’’ (1999), ‘‘Great Wall of Mars’’ (2000), ‘‘Diamond Dogs’’ (2001), ‘‘Zima Blue’’ (2005), Seiun Award-winner ‘‘Weather’’ (2006), Sidewise Award-winner ‘‘The Fixation’’ (2009), Hugo Award finalists ‘‘Troika’’ (2010) and Slow Bullets (2015). Some of his short work has been collected in Zima Blue and Other Stories (2006), Galactic North (2006), Deep Navigation (2010), and Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds (2016).

His first books were set in the Revelation Space universe: Revelation Space (2000), BSFA winner Chasm City (2001), Redemption Ark (2002), novella Turquoise days (2002), Absolution Gap (2003), and The Prefect (2007). Standalone novels include Century Rain (2004), Pushing Ice (2005), House of Suns (2008), Terminal World (2010), and Revenger (2016). He co-wrote The Medusa Chronicles (2016) with Stephen Baxter, an authorized sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘‘A Meeting with Medusa’’ (1971). His Doctor Who novel Harvest of Time appeared in 2013. The Poseidon’s Children trilogy began with Blue Remembered Earth (2011) and continued with On the Steel Breeze (2013) and Poseidon’s Wake (2015). In 2009, he signed a £1 million deal with Gollancz for ten books.

Reynolds returned to Wales in 2008, and lives there with wife Josette Sanchez, whom he met in The Netherlands in 1991.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I signed a ten-book deal in 2009. It’s not been as smooth a process as it could have been. By rights I should be near the end of those ten books now, on book eight or so. I should be well into it, and I’m still only on book five at the moment. There have been a few speedbumps on the way, and a few delays. But it’s okay. It does give me that security of not im­mediately worrying about the next contract. I felt going into it that I had more or less written ten books in ten years before I started that contract, so it was more of the same, really. But life throws stuff at you that you didn’t see coming.”

*
‘‘Stephen Baxter and I are old friends. When I first started moving in science fiction circles, because I didn’t come up through fandom, I began to meet some of my peer group – people who were publishing in the maga­zines at the same time. I met Steve way back, probably about 25 years ago. We’ve been friends ever since. We don’t see each other that often – he lives at the other end of the country from me – but we do keep in touch. We like each other’s work. We were just e-mailing, talking about collaborations. I floated this idea that if ever Steve and I were to collaborate, we should do the authorised sequel to Clarke’s ‘A Meeting with Medusa’. I was half-serious. It had been at the back of my mind for a long time, that I would like to go back to that story. Steve liked the idea. At that point, we had no idea of the practicalities, legal permissions, or whether the publishers would like the idea or not. It’s not like a sequel to 2001. Unless you’re a Clarke aficionado, you probably haven’t read that story. But if you like Clarke, you probably will have read and liked it. We both felt it was worth pursuing the conversation. We had editors and agents involved, and then the Clarke estate. There was some understandable caution initially, but they did eventually agree to the idea. I don’t think there was any editorial approval. We told them what we were going to write, and we stuck to that. They didn’t want us to use the original novella. We wanted to put it in the book as a kind of giveaway for people who hadn’t read the original, but they weren’t keen on that. I think they felt it would detract from sales of The Best of Arthur C. Clarke. We had to accept that. It meant that right until the last minute, when we were writing the opening chapters of the book, we weren’t sure if we were addressing an audience who’d read the original story or not, because we weren’t sure it was going to be in the book. We had one version that sort of assumed you’d read it, and one that didn’t. We had to put the second version in. It kind of gives you a bit of an overview of what the story was about.”

*

‘‘That whole Beyond the Aquila Rift project was blessedly painless. I didn’t have time to sit and curate my own best-of collection. I don’t think writers should. You should hand that selection to a third party who can look at it with a more detached judgmental eye. Jonathan Strahan and Bill Schafer at Subterranean had a conversation about what was going to be in the book. I was involved in that conversation – I was allowed to chip in – but ulti­mately, their decision was going to be final. There were stories I liked that didn’t make the cut, stories Jonathan liked that didn’t make the cut, stories Bill liked that didn’t make the cut. There were stories that we all liked, but that didn’t make it for reasons of length, or there were some contractual hurdles to work around. You don’t want an entire book full of space opera, do you? You want a bit of variety in there as well. My most significant contribution was writing the introduction and the story notes for the collection. It was fun. I’ve done story notes for some of the other collections – you risk going over the same ground and repeating what you’ve done the last time. What I had in my favour was that I keep extensive records. For virtually every story, I have about ten iterations before I got to the final version, as well as all the notes I made for myself. I keep all that stuff. I can go back to a story that’s 15 years old, and I know the day I came up with that idea, so I could cut and paste those notes into my story comments. I used to think, ‘If it’s a good idea I won’t forget it.’ When I have the experience of going back to those notes, I think, ‘Bloody hell, that’s a good idea – I’d forgotten about it.’ So I do tend to make more extensive notes now.”

*

‘‘The ideas for the novel Revenger go back ten years, and I also have the notes to prove it. I started thinking about the setting ten years ago. I went back to it five years ago. It’s an itch that’s got to be scratched. The idea is you have these little worlds you have to break into, and you have a limited time in which to break into them, so you have a kind of heist scenario. You have an unknown amount of time to break into these planetoids, get treasure, and get out. It’s a high-risk occupation. I started to write some stories using that premise ten years ago, and I was trying to fit them into other universes, and it just wasn’t working. The other seed of Revenger came from when I really fell in love with science fiction, around the time I was 16. That’s when I was absolutely besotted with Larry Niven and the Known Space stories. I really loved them, particularly the playfulness of the world: maverick characters, colourful technologies, exotic aliens, mysteries and adventure to be had in a crowded, colourful universe. I was 15 when I read Ringworld, and it was the first book I read that was more than 200 pages long, which says something, doesn’t it? The way books have gone these days. I wanted to come up with a collection of short stories that felt like an updating of the Known Space universe. What I wanted was that sense of humans that co-exist and trade with aliens, and use their technology, so the ships are built around a bit of alien tech here, a bit of alien tech there. I started creating notes for a set of stories that were going to be in a very far future, in a sort of Dyson set of worlds around the sun, populated by human characters, but with aliens figuring in the story as well. I had the notes, but I never could find the time to make anything of them. Then a year or two ago, I was casting around for an idea for the next novel, and I thought, ‘Hang on, I’ve got that set of notes, and I’ve got that earlier stuff about little worlds – maybe there’s enough there to get going.’ Another genesis of it goes back to the Doctor Who novel, because that was significantly shorter than any book I’d written at that point: it was 110,000 or 115,000 words, by necessity. The BBC didn’t want a long Doctor Who novel, and it was longer than they wanted anyway. All my other books have been 150,000 or 180,000, sometimes over 200,000 words. I really enjoyed writing the Doctor Who novel, and in particular I enjoyed editing it, because it was manageable. I’ve got a better chance of getting close to something I could be pleased with if it’s a shorter novel. My agent liked that as well. For a few years he’d been saying I could benefit from doing something at the shorter length. My editor was keen on it as well. I myself wanted to do something punchy, fast-paced, going back to what I read when I was 16. Nova was like 200 pages long, and it’s got a whole universe, a whole future history, crammed into this miracle of a book. That’s the gold standard. I haven’t got there, but that’s what I’m aiming for. Revenger is 140,000 words, but it’s still my shortest novel to date, other than the Doctor Who novel. I’d like to keep them short from now on, but knowing me the next one will be back to 180,000 words.”

 

Kameron Hurley:

If You Want to Level Up, Get Back to the Basics

There are few things, for me, that are as equally depressing and energiz­ing as reading a really great book. Great books are why I got into this business in the first place, which is why I’m often so shocked when I hear from other professional writers that they don’t read anymore. Try ask­ing a panel of professional writers at your next convention to name five books they read this year. The silence is often worrisome.

Oh sure, I know writers who purposefully avoid reading while they’re writing a book, because it can be so humbling. Some avoid reading while writing because they don’t want someone else’s work directly influencing their own writing (pssst… it’s nearly impossible to avoid this. Our work is the sum of our lives and our stories). Of course it’s tough to make time for reading if, like me, you’re juggling a lot of writing, freelancing, and a day job, but if you’re looking to level up your skill as a writer, it’s in your best interests to read more, not less. As pros, we love to tell new writers to read a lot, but at some point we stop taking our own advice!

I’m working on my eighth novel for publication, writing about a short story a month for Patreon, and contributing to the odd anthology. You’d think that after you get a few books under your belt, you’d have some confidence in what you’re doing. To some extent, this is true: I have the confidence that I can complete a book more or less in a year. Whether or not I feel what I’ve written is a good book is another matter. It doesn’t help that every book brings with it a new set of challenges. What helps me is reading books that overcame the same narrative challenges that I’m struggling with. I also find that reading the work of others inspires me to try new and different things with character, prose, style, and overall structure that I wouldn’t have thought about on my own.

If writing novels is your chosen profession, the fastest way to obsolescence is to cease learning and leveling up your craft. As every mid-career writer knows, selling one book never guarantees a second sale. We are all only as good as our next book. Nobody wants to see a writer who can’t reinvent themselves when sales start to flag. You must always be improving. It’s the only way to stay in the game. Maybe I should qualify that, before the hate mail starts: it’s the only way I feel I can stay in the game.

To do that I need to see what other people are doing. I need to stay on top of the field. I need to read the very best. I need to read what’s selling. And what’s not. I need to read what people love. And maybe, sometimes, take a peek at what people hate.

I got into writing for the same reason many readers did – I read bad books and thought, ‘‘I can write better than that!’’ And the truth is that yes, I can write better than some writers now, but I’m not where I want to be yet. I probably never will be. To be still is to lose interest. To be still is to die. I decided early on in my career that my goal was to be among the great, and when you set a high bar for yourself like that, it means you just don’t quit.

I read a ton of books as a child and teen because I had the time. I read three books a week while living in Chicago because I had 15 hours of commuting time every week. That was an exceptional time for getting through my to-read pile. I read, and I read, and I read, and then writing consumed all my reading time, and I found that my idea of my own work’s brilliance started to become skewed. When I stopped keeping up with what other people were writing, it became difficult to look objectively at my work.

One of the benefits of a media that has become increas­ingly bleak is that I’m spending less time on social media and more time with my nose in a book again. I recently read 14 books in ten weeks, captivated by Sue Grafton’s comfort­ing Alphabet series. I also sat down and studied the plots of some of my favorite thrillers. I was back to actively practice in the profession that I love. No more excuses.

I discovered that my reading time hadn’t been eaten by work, but by relentless engagement with media streams that now seem to be beaming in dispatches from a dystopic future. Now is a great time to turn to the field that captivated me from the start, and buckle down on becoming a better writer.

Reading is crucial in this profession. When I meet writers who tell me they don’t read it’s like talking to an architect who says they never look at other buildings. Certainly, you can build a career that way, but it sure is going to be a lot tougher. Our profession is difficult enough as it is, so I encourage you to give yourself the advantage wherever you can.

I’m often asked about work-life balance, since I am a novelist who also has a day job and a personal life to juggle. The reality is that there’s no such thing as work-life balance. Some days you are doing great with your books, but poorly at your day job. Some days you just want to crawl into bed and just start again tomorrow. But if something is important to you, you make time for it. This is the year that I re-invest my energy in reading and studying great work instead of just making words.

When I attended the Clarion West Writing Workshop, author Carol Emsh­willer told us, ‘‘Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent.’’ Writing the same book over and over, making the same mistakes over and over, without learning anything from it, might feel like progress because there are a lot of words on the page, but it’s just counting time. If we can make time to write novels, we can certainly make time to study the novels of others.

More importantly even than leveling up your own career is getting back in touch with what you loved about reading in the first place. Explore new worlds, travel to distant stars, meet rogues and pirates and scientists and settlers and space jockeys and terraformers. And when you come back from those distant shores and find yourself back in this reality, you will come back armed with the tools to make your own story. To pilot a way forward. To imagine how things could be really different, not just in the fiction you create, but in the reality we are all building together.

Reading teaches us empathy and fosters wonder, and we will be sorely in need of both in the years to come. Don’t just do it for you, do it for the world you want to live in.


Spotlight on: Kelly Abbott, Great Jones Street

Kelly Abbott is CEO and co-founder of Great Jones Street. He’s helped launch and grow social media, dating, and publishing products purchased by Match.com, Adobe, and Oprah. Now his mission is to meld his literary roots and tech chops to transform the world of short fiction for readers and authors alike. He plays soccer, roots for Cleveland, and lives in San Diego by the ocean with his wife, his son, and his dog.

Tell us about your short story app, Great Jones Street. What is it, who founded it, and when did it launch?

Great Jones Street is the Netflix of Fiction. We mean that seriously, as both a business model and a battle cry. We feature short fiction. We curate. We package it nicely into a great user experience. We will also bring in serials in 2017. People can use our app to discover great fiction from every genre from today’s best work­ing writers and feed their addiction to fiction, as it were. Pay a low monthly fee. All you can eat. Cancel anytime. If you join now, it’s free. We’re doing that for the first 10,000 readers.

The company was founded by me and Ken Truesdale. We’re both guys who’ve had enough non-fiction to last a lifetime. There’s more to fiction than most people realize. I sold a company a few years ago, took some time off, and found I was reading a lot of fiction on my phone. It turns out I was reading a lot of short fiction but spending a lot on collections and anthologies. My dad is a short story writer, so I asked him if he could put me in touch with other story writers. What I discovered astounded me. I had to build the product.

We launched officially this year. But I’ve been talking with writers since that fateful conversation with my dad back in the summer of 2015. We put all of our effort into building the product and acquiring stories in 2016. We’re on track to acquire a thousand stories every year.

Your mission is to ‘‘Bring short fiction back to pop culture.’’ Can you elaborate on that? Why is it important?

So many great writers were going undiscovered because the product for discovering them didn’t exist. The mobile phone changed how we consume movies, TV, and music. Serials, shorts, episodic and auteur-driven media are huge for everyone else right now except books. I love novels. I read them just as enthusiastically as most. But there’s something to being able to drift between stories, genres, voices, and worlds that’s so much better. I love that I have discovered so many great writers in our app, none of whom would have been on my radar were it not for their short fiction. I think the most voracious readers will love Great Jones Street for that. And the way that we package each story makes it more appealing to curious readers.

I have a strong feeling that pop culture promotes what’s promotable, what’s different and odd and exotic without being kitsch or phony. We have some shareworthy writers for sure, great stories that will blow your mind. I want to unlock that potential in readers and writers both.

Why is that important? Because readers are waiting for it. There’s a big shift in our culture away from poor quality and algorithmic consumption. As a result, beer is better. Underwear is better. Televi­sion is better. Sex is better. Discerning consumers want more from their publishers. This is a good thing. We’re here to serve that need.

You’ve reached out to editors like John Joseph Adams (for SF/fantasy) and Nick Mamatas (for mystery/crime) to build a quality catalog in various subjects. How many stories do you intend to publish per year, across what range of categories?

We’re leaving no stone unturned. John and Nick helped. We learned a lot from that experience. We were trying to contact writers one by one ourselves. Then John and Nick came along and broke open the flood gates. The experience mirrored what I was experiencing in that writers were eager to join our ‘‘experiment’’ (a term I loathe). There’s a follow-on to their work that makes me proud. I send out these regular notes to our writers, keeping them abreast of what’s happening in the product and at the company. I’m pretty candid in these e-mails. It’s important that writers know that we’re working hard for them. Anyway, in one of my early e-mails, I touted all these great writers we had signed. I was feeling pretty good until I got several e-mails back saying ‘‘what about people of color?’’ and ‘‘what about Japanese sci-fi?’’ and ‘‘what about women?’’ Like anyone I was a little miffed that my effort wasn’t being appreciated, but then I realized what they were saying without saying: ‘‘Can I curate this gap?’’ So now we’re finding really interesting angles on fleshing out our catalog, so much diversity regarding genre, geography, and gender. It is turning out to be the world’s most interesting catalog of fiction.

Your focus is on reprints, but you also publish some original fiction. Tell us about the kind of originals you’re looking for.

Our originals are also referrals from our writers. Honestly, I’m looking for new writers more than established ones when it comes to originals. We have a Fresh Writers series which honestly has some of my favorite stories. These are writers who are maybe in a writing group with one of our writers or are MFA students. Anyway, they’re just starting out in their careers and can get a no-hassle offer from me if they make an impression on one of our writers. It’s so hard for anyone to get a story published, but the first story? I’m really happy when we make that happen.

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

Share the app. Download it. Send it to your friends. Read a story and post it on Facebook. We have buttons on every screen for sharing. Our success is dependent upon sharing. We can’t be popular without you.


Spotlight on: Ellen Kushner, Tremontaine

Ellen Kushner lives in New York City with her wife, the writer and teacher Delia Sherman. They have no cats, just plane tickets and theater stubs. After college, Kushner lucked into jobs as a fantasy editor for Jim Baen at Ace Books, and then for David G. Hartwell at Pocket/Simon & Schuster. She quit to write her first novel, Swordspoint, which took longer than she thought it would, so she supported herself writing Choose-Your-Own-AdventureTM books. She moved to Boston to become an announcer for WGBH public radio, later becoming the writer and host of the national series Sound & Spirit, which ran for ten years or so. With Holly Black, she co-edited Welcome to Bordertown, the revival of Terri Windling’s original shared world series. She has taught creative writing at Clarion and the Odyssey Workshop, and is a regular instructor at Hollins University’s Children’s Literature M.F.A. program. She is nearly always happy to see you.

You’re the creator of the Riverside series, which includes novels and stories written by you, in collaboration, and by other hands, most recently the Tremontaine serials. Tell us a little about the history of the Riverside series.

When my first novel, Swordspoint, came out in the US in 1987, it was a weird outlier: a fantasy without magic! Set in a city, not a Tolkienian landscape! With queer characters in a largely bisexual society…! I didn’t do it on purpose. Or rather, I did – I just wrote what I wanted, and figured it would be a disaster.

Well, at the time, the book found its little audience. And it seems also to have been a stake stuck in the ground of the late ’80s, saying: ‘‘Hey, it’s OK to depart from tradition!’’ Since then, books of that kind in the genre have tended to be called either Fantasy of Manners or Historical Fantasy.

Swordspoint wasn’t the first to do any of the things I listed, but it was the noisiest, I guess. Anyway, people asked me when I would do the sequel, but I had a horror of repeating myself. So my next book was the rural, romantic, folkloric and musical Thomas the Rhymer (which won the World Fantasy and the Mythopoeic Awards).

But I missed my city. And I missed my characters – so I made a deal with myself: I was allowed to write about them, but only if I took a new approach each time.

The next book I started in the series occurred 15 years later. Same city, same characters (a little older), told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. It would become The Privilege of the Sword – but at the time I was deep into my new career in public radio in Boston, and I set it aside.

A few years later, my friend Delia Sherman and I began a romantic rela­tionship, and started making up what happened in the next generation. Delia was particularly interested in the history, mythology and academics of the world, and we ended up writing The Fall of the Kings together. That upset all the Swordspoint fans, because all their favorite characters were dead (though much spoken-of, which was part of the fun!). When it came out, my agent made me pull Privilege out of the drawer, and so that got finished and published as well.

I started getting nervous: was I, in fact, writing a series after all?? There were three novels, all set years apart, sure, but… would people call it a trilogy?

Fortunately the insightful and erudite Jo Walton unwittingly came to my rescue with a piece on Tor.com calling the series ‘‘a very odd family saga.’’

Saved my life. And also true: the next novel, a WIP I’m calling City Year, is about the bastard daughter of Alec from Swordspoint (she’s encountered by the reader in utero in Privilege), the angriest teenager in the world.

In between novels, I’ve written a fair number of short stories that tell about characters or situations referred to in the series – and, yeah, they’re all in slightly differ­ent styles. It’s a bitch: it also means I have to figure out just what a reader who’s never heard of Riverside needs to know in order to make each story stand on its own. Again, Delia came to my rescue by saying, ‘‘Just pretend you’re writing something set during the French Revolution. They don’t always need to know about Robespierre and Danton to make the story work.’’ She’s also fond of explaining Kings as ‘‘a historical novel about a place we made up.’’

Tremontaine, which premiered in fall 2015, takes another leap in time: It’s a collaborative serialized narrative set 15 years before Swordspoint.

The second season of e-book serial Tremontaine just concluded. Tell us how you started working with Serial Box on the project.

I’ve known Julian Yap since he was a college student, when he came to me at a World Fantasy Con holding out a fountain pen and his copy of Swordspoint. Since then, he’s gotten a folklore degree, a law degree, and worked in Obama’s Justice Department, which he left in 2014 when he had the vision of starting up a little e-publishing venture with some friends. His idea was to take the aesthetics, and, more importantly, the shape and structure, of the best of current TV series, and deliver the pleasure so many of us get from weekly enjoyment of an hour of well-written TV – or from binging at the end of the series when all the episodes turn out to be, essentially, stand-alone chapters in a complicated novel.

He’d planned to start small, with just one series (Bookburners) crafted by Max Gladstone. But someone – I think it was Naomi Novik – said Serial Box should launch with more than one series in hand, so Julian came to me asking if I would be interested in working on a Riverside serial. I decided it would be fun, but stipulated that it couldn’t take place during the time of any of the books, nor use any of my major characters. Setting it 15 years before Swordspoint works perfectly: we see some of the older, secondary Swordspoint characters in their prime as main characters, and explore a little of the origins of the Tremontaine family drama – and get to introduce a bucketload of new characters as well!

Talk about the collaborative process for creating the serial. Do the writers work closely together, or more independently? How much control do you exert as creator?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I write the opening and closing season episodes. The three staff writers write three stori – I mean, episodes each, and we have a couple of guest writers.

Before any writing gets done, Julian and staff convene in my living room for a Brainstorm Retreat with a giant whiteboard, a bunch of colored index cards, and vast reserves of bagels, smoked fish, Mountain Dew, potato chips, and chocolate.

Three days later, nobody’s dead, and we have the outline for the season, the rough contents of each episode, and have decided who’s going to write which one – and everyone goes home.

We have regular meetings on Google-chat, and all communicate madly on Slack, to make sure that 13 stand-alone episodes all dovetail with each other, the First Kiss doesn’t happen twice, the person who was stabbed in episode three doesn’t show up dancing a jig in episode five… and that something Terribly Clever that Tessa just thought of for episode nine is duly foreshadowed in Joel’s episode seven. The stories are edited mercilessly (Delia the first year, Juliet Ulman now and forever), then I step in to make sure that nothing I know about the world but somehow forgot to tell anyone hasn’t been compromised.

What’s been the most surprising part of having other people write in your world? The most satisfying? (How about the most frustrating?)

The other writers have made it more real. The world is already a great big stewpot of periods, books, and cities I love. But I’ve only explored certain corners of it. A real world is vast and full of complexities and contradictions. Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Kinwiinik chocolate traders come from another whole continent based on Meso-America, for which she has a passion and a helluva lot of knowledge. Malinda Lo will do any amount of research to get the science right, and is a cold-blooded killer. Mary Anne Mohanraj introduced a refugee sex-worker hotter than Vesuvius. We asked Tessa Gratton for some backstory notes on what we thought was a minor character, and she delivered an entire standalone novella set on a hitherto-unexplored island!

The Brainstorm really is like playing in the backyard when you were kids: There is a lot of waving of hands and jumping up and down going, I know! I know! There could be this party, right? But he shows up and challenges the guy and, and, and….

Most frustrating? They’ve all read my books. In fact, I chose them in part because they were fans. So, darlings: is there anything, anywhere in any of the books implying that the city has hackney carriages???? I mean, really! Also, darlings, this is not Downton Abbey: the Duchess Tremontaine does not have a butler! It’s a steward, like in the Elizabethan period. Is that so hard to understand? Stop calling Dumaine a butler, dammit!!! Oh, wait – is it Dumaine, or Tilson? Was it Tilson in Season One? Oh, shit, do we have to change it now…?

Can we look forward to a season three? How about other projects set in this world?

When we sat down to plot out season one, I said, ‘‘Let’s set this 10 years before Swordspoint,’’ and Julian said, ‘‘Er, actually, can we make it 15 years? I want to be able to do a five-season arc.’’ And I thought, Sure, fella, whatever you say – I’ll be amazed if this first season works!

Well, we have scheduled the Brainstorm Retreat for season three already, in February. And Julian says it’s time to figure out the arc through five. So I guess he was not so dumb after all.

Meanwhile, for those who will not read a serial online, Tremontaine (Season One) will appear in Spring 2017 from Saga Press.

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

I like cake, but pie has my heart.

I spent many years in public radio (at WGBH in Boston), and learned to be unafraid of public speaking. In fact, bring it on! Large groups energize me onstage, and I’m always excited beforehand but never nervous. It’s only afterwards that I start to gibber and worry that I was dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. Fortunately, my amazing wife Delia Sherman, enjoys my gigs, and so is almost always on hand to say, ‘‘No, you were fine.’’

I’ve recorded all three of the Riverside series audiobooks myself, because I am the luckiest author on the planet. My producer, Sue Zizza, casually asked if she could bring in some ‘‘actors she knows’’ to do voice cameos at certain points – and they happened to be some of today’s big audio talents. Two of them agreed to narrate the Tremontaine stories: an audio version accompanies the e-text in a way indistinguishable from magic. So the audiobooks’ original Duchess Tremontaine, Katherine Kellgren, reads all the duchess’s viewpoint sections in Tremontaine – while newcomer Sara Mollo-Christensen invented a whole new accent for the Kinwiinik – and Nick Sullivan (the villain in Swordspoint and the hero in Kings) narrates all the male POVs in Tremontaine.

When I was a kid, all my teachers said they wondered what I would do with my passion for acting, writing, and bossing people around.

I think Tremontaine finally answers that question.


Blake Charlton: Forward & Backward

Blake Randolph Charlton was born December 30, 1979 ‘‘on Stanford campus, quite literally,’’ where his parents were faculty in psychiatry. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in kindergarten and spent much of elementary school in special ed classes. He excelled at sports, but at age 12 still couldn’t read a book on his own, until a love for SF and fantasy led him to books by Robert Jordan, Ursula K. Le Guin, and other fantasy writers. He soon began to excel academically, and attended Yale University as an undergrad, where he began writing a book about a dyslexic student of magic.

After graduation, he wrote his first novel while working various jobs, including as a medical writer, an English teacher, and a JV football coach at a New England boarding school. He returned to Northern California as a private tutor and freelance medical writer. He finished his first novel Spellwright while helping to care for his father during an illness, and sold it in 2006. He was admitted to Stanford Medical School, and while there rewrote Spellwright. The novel appeared in 2010, and was followed by sequels Spellbound (2011) and Spellbreaker (2016). Charlton is currently a cardiology fellow at UCSF.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘You’d think failing kindergarten would be difficult to do, but I did it rather spectacularly. I have a pretty good auditory memory, and it was expected towards the end of kindergarten that you would take turns reading a page of a picture book to the class. I was very anxious about this, so I brought the picture book home, and my mother would read it to me and I would memorize whatever she said with whatever page was open. The book went around the class, and soon after that my parents got called in. My teacher said, ‘When Blake had the book, he held it upside down when he read from it.’ That’s not because of dyslexia; it’s because I didn’t know what the hell was going on. That’s when my fam­ily knew something was up. I was pulled out of normal first grade and sent to special ed. I rode the short bus with a lot of other special needs kids, and went to a magnet school. My parents, being psychiatrists, were intensely interested and worried about my difference. At the time I felt I was being persecuted and segregated, and wasn’t it awful to have to ride the short bus and be called ‘retard’ by all the other kids. It was only later in life that I looked back and realized how privileged I was, and how lucky to receive such an early diagnosis. I’m a member of what I think of as Generation Zero for dyslexia – the first generation that was diagnosed at a young age.”

*
‘‘In fantasy there’s often a linguistic component to magic. Ursula Le Guin, in the Earthsea series, has this idea of a True Language, and Harry Potter’s magic system is more or less bastardized Latin, and then there are runes. No one ever stopped and thought that, if there were a magical language, and people are disabled in language, couldn’t you have a learn­ing disability in a magical language? That idea led to Spellwright, my first book. Someone called it ‘Harry Potter in the special ed classroom.’ It’s basically an academy story but the hero turns out to have a learning disability. As the series goes on, it’s about trying to dig deeper into the themes of ability, disability, and language in the fantastic.

‘‘The science of dyslexia is phenomenal. I’m not an expert – I’m not a neurologist, and I’m not even a teacher, though I used to be a special ed teacher. But I do know there are different types of dyslexia, and mine is caused by the rejection of a degenerate phonemic code. For example, when I speak basic Spanish with my patients now, and write things down in Spanish, I don’t misspell. If you can say a word in Spanish, you can spell it. Maybe you don’t know if it’s a B or a V or an S or a Z, but you can figure it out pretty easily. It sounds the same. You won’t confuse anyone. Contrast that with English. You can imagine tell­ing a little dyslexic boy like me, ‘This is an F, it makes a ‘‘ff’’ sound.’ You’re like, ‘Great, now I know everything that’s going to make a ‘‘ff’’ sound.’ Then they say, ‘This is a word, ‘‘enough’’, what does it say?’ And you’re like, ‘Enow.’ And they say, ‘No, it’s enuff.’ Oh, I got it. Then they ask ‘What’s ‘‘bough?’’’ And you say, ‘That’s buff.’ They say, ‘No, it’s ‘‘bow.’’’ You can go on and on with the crazy things English does for various historical reasons.”

*

‘‘The first book was written when I was having the revelation that many disabled people have in early adulthood, which is that, when they were younger, they waxed and waned between these flares of self-hatred and self-doubt: trying to wish away the part of them that was different, and then trying to accept themselves, and like themselves. The first book is really about dealing with the part of you that is broken. Is it really broken? How do you define broken? It’s a celebration of the fact that if you’ve been broken and you put yourself back together, there’s a beauty in that. It was a young man’s book, and it had its flaws, but I hope people think it was heartfelt, and it dealt with that central question. The second book, Spellbound, was written as a medical student when I was, every day, dissecting a corpse. The immediacy of life and death, even though it is fairly mild compared to what I would experience later as a physician, completely controls your world. The second book focuses on Francesca, who’s dealing with being a young physician, and is overwhelmed with the shock of life and death situations, realizing she has been more intimately tied up in the goings-on of the world than she knew. When I was a kid there was this very nerdy computer game series called Quest for Glory, and every installment had an element and an environment. This is extremely nerdy, but all my books also have an element and a setting. Book one was supposed to be a disabled person dealing with disability, and the element is earth and the direction is down – he’s going down into this old environment. Book two is about healing. The direction is up and the focus is romance and the element is air, with the airships and everyone flying around.

‘‘With book three, Spellbreaker, I wanted to push the envelope and make it about death and mortal­ity. There’s this young woman, Leandra, growing up with a fatal disease, and for her whole life she’s known she’ll die young. When I was an intern, I first started pronouncing people dead. You’re called by the nurse, ‘Mr. So-and-So has passed away, can you please come pronounce him?’ I’ve done it for hundreds of people. You’re there, and you’re hold­ing their hands. For the vast majority of people in modern industrialized society, death is something totally separated from us. I think that’s unnatural. The natural state of human beings is that you’re born into a society where death is prevalent. Your siblings might die. Your parents might die. People died and were born in your house. When you be­come a doctor, you are reverted back to that natural state. You’re there to pronounce a patient, and you get really good at knowing when someone’s dead. It’s like that crocodile in Peter Pan: you start to hear the alarm clock in the crocodile. Even though you’re young and you’re finally achieving the dream of becoming a young physician after so much work, you realize that no matter how much time is left, there’s not enough. That’s the focus of book three. Even though Leandra has a special situation – she’s going to die young – I wanted to try and extrapolate that to all of us, and let us all hear that clock ticking. And of course I wanted her to be fun and snarky.”

*

“My next book, I hope, takes place in San Fran­cisco, in the modern day. It was inspired when my then-seven-year-old niece told me to write a ghost story about the hospital in which I work. It’s about a young girl who can talk to disease. Diseases talk to her; they have little voices that she can hear. Her uncle happens to be a medical resident in the hospital, and strange things start happening. The elevator pitch in my mind is, ‘Abraham Verghese and Neil Gaiman have a love child who goes to medical school.’ Or the other way to say that is ‘Abraham Verghese rewrites American Gods.’ There may be two other people in the world who know what I’m talking about. But the book will be more about life and death, modern society, and all the amazing social, political, ethnic, and linguistic conflicts that arise in the hospital, and how we’ve built these temples where we go to be born and die, because we’ve decided to separate ourselves from these parts of life.’’

 

Mary Robinette Kowal: The Familiar & the Strange

Mary Robinette Kowal was born Mary Robinette Harrison on February 8, 1969 in Raleigh NC. She attended Eastern Carolina University, majoring in Art Education, with a minor in Theater and Speech. In 1991 she left for an internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta GA and never went back. She has been a professional puppeteer ever since. Kowal spent a year and a half working in Iceland on the children’s television show Lazytown, worked for various other shows and theaters, and ran her own company, Other Hand Productions.

Kowal began publishing fiction in literary journals in 2004, and in SF magazines with ‘‘Portrait of Ari’’ in Strange Horizons (2006). Her work has since appeared in various genre magazines and anthologies. Notable stories include Hugo Award finalists ‘‘Evil Robot Monkey’’ (2008), Hugo winners ‘‘For Want of a Nail’’ (2010) and ‘‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’’ (2013), and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Kiss Me Twice’’ (2011). Some of her short fiction was collected in Scenting the Dark and Other Stories (2009) and Word Puppets (2015).

Kowal is also a novelist, notably of the Jane Austen-inspired Glamourist Histories series: Shades of Milk and Honey (2010), Glamour in Glass (2012), Without a Summer (2013), Valour and Vanity (2014), and Of Noble Family (2015). Standalone Ghost Talkers (2016) is a fantasy set during WWI. The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, set in the world of ‘‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’’, are forthcoming as a duology in 2018.

She served as secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America starting in 2008, and spent two terms as SFWA vice-president starting in 2010. She was the art director for small-press magazine Shimmer. She attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp in 2005, and won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2008. Since 2008 she has been part of the Hugo Award-winning Writing Excuses podcast.

Kowal lives in Chicago IL with husband Robert Kowal, married 2001.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The moment I knew I was setting something during the First World War, I knew that darkness was going to be part of it, and that I would have to work really hard to keep the darkness from completely overwhelming Ghost Talkers. When you do any reading at all about the First World War, it becomes very clear why it made such a huge, permanent mark on Europe – and the US less so, because we were not directly touched by it. It wasn’t even the death tolls, because in England a lot of men actually came home, but everyone came home wounded in some way, either physically or emotionally. I read interview after interview of survivors saying, ‘I went over the top of the trench, and everyone in my platoon died. I don’t know why I lived.’ I knew going in that dealing with someone who deals with ghosts as her job, during WWI, would mean a darker book than people are used to from me. On the other hand, the last book in the Glamourist series, I jokingly refer to as ‘Regency Grimdark.’

‘‘I had already been doing reading about WWI, just because I like history. Ginger Stuyvesant, the heroine, actually comes from some short stories I’d written, and the ideas that make up this book were originally just the backstory. I’d done some research for the stories, but it wasn’t really until I started to get into the novel that I buckled down and did some more research and realized how much perceived knowledge I had about the First World War was completely wrong and very American-centric. You watch these war movies, and it’s all about the men at the battlefront. I did not realize at all how heavily involved women were in the First World War, and how directly tied it was to suffrage. Because all of the men were basically needed as cannon fodder, women were the ambulance drivers and the motorcycle couriers, so all of the orders sent to the front lines were delivered by young women on motorcycles. All of these places where women are right up at the front – nurses in hospitals, doctors in hospitals – they’re all just right there, and that gets completely glossed over and deleted.”

*

‘‘I’m working on the novel that’s coming out in 2018 as part of a pair, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. They’re a prequel to my novelette ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’. The year is 1952, and the novel starts five minutes before an asteroid slams into the Earth, into Chesapeake Bay, and wipes out DC. It is about the recovery efforts and the efforts to try to get off the planet, and establish safehold colonies in other places. I am in the first quarter of the second book right now. It’s fun. And again, just going back to that thing where women get written out of history: before I started work­ing on this book I hadn’t realized how heavily involved women were in rocketry. There’s a film coming out, Hidden Figures, which I’m super excited about because it’s talking about the role of African American women in the early NASA program. Women and women of color were pres­ent from the ’40s. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s entire computing department was women, and there’s a great book about that called The Rise of the Rocket Girls. Back then the word ‘computer’ meant someone who computed. There’s a theory, which I find fascinating and unprovable, that the reason why computer voices in the US tend to be women is because back in the early days, all of the computers were women, and when you asked for a readout, you heard a feminine voice. In Europe, like in Germany for instance, computer voices tend to be male.”

*

‘‘When we were living in Iceland, there was a period of two months, because I’d gone there for my work in puppetry, when my husband was a house husband. I’d come home from work and the laundry was done, he had dinner on the table, he had a cocktail waiting for me, and I was like, ‘This is why men did not want women to get jobs. Because this is amazing.’ I would come home and I wouldn’t have to make any decisions.

‘‘In puppeteering, I had a very brief stint with Sesame Street. The project I’m working on now is for the House Theatre here in Chicago, and it’s an adaptation of Alastair Reynolds’s Diamond Dogs. I’m building the puppets for that. I’m also building a polar bear for a children’s hospital in Iceland. That’s a full-size body suit. Periodically you’ll hear me talking about ‘building the bear.’”

*

‘‘I did the narration for the audiobook of Ghost Talkers. There are house styles. I’m fortunate that I work for two companies whose styles are the same as my own, which is that they prefer an emotion­ally invested narrator, as opposed to a neutral read. The neutral read is easier to do. It doesn’t take as much work. But as a listener, I find those dull, and I find them very easy to tune out. I prefer listening to things with an emotionally invested narrator, so that means that when I’m doing the accents, I’m trying to create for the listener the experience that I have when I’m reading the work. This is the way I hear these characters. There are two things that make it easier to do my own books. One is that the rhythms naturally match my own voice. The other is because I’ve made a deal with the publisher, Audible. Normally you record audiobooks from the final proof, which is the thing that’s going to be printed, but we record mine from the first pass proof, so the moment it’s typeset, we go in and record. Whenever I read a book, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, I find mistakes, and this allows me to make the changes, send them in to Tor, and get them in to the printed version.”

 

Cory Doctorow:
It’s Time to Short Surveillance and Go Long on Freedom

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you voted for Donald Trump and you’re ecstatic that he’s taking the White House. You might even be rubbing your hands in glee at the thought that Obama was dumb enough to operationalize George W. Bush’s surveillance apparatus – rather than living up to his election promise to dismantle it – because now there’s a technological means by which President Trump can track the 11 million people he’s vowed to deport, and there’s the secret inter­pretations of Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which Obama’s DoJ fought so hard to keep under wraps, and which formed the legal basis for ramping up mass domestic surveillance from 2008-2016.

(You might also be heartily disappoint­ed that Trump won the election and terri­fied of what he’ll do with Obama’s shiny mass-surveillance system. For the sake of this exercise, it doesn’t really matter.)

(Though I’ll stipulate that for the sake of the next four years of your life it mat­ters a lot.)

Fast forward to November 3, 2020, when President Anthony Weiner takes the White House for the Democrats, and vows to track down everyone who committed any­thing that could be construed as a ‘‘hate crime’’ during the Trump years and ‘‘keep an eye on them.’’ Assuming you trust Trump to competently administer his se­curity service from 2016-2020, and to use it as the basis for his mass deportations, you can assume that President Weiner is inheriting something much more sophis­ticated, well-funded, and entrenched than the machine Obama handed over to Trump in 2016.

Trump railed against Apple when they refused to put ‘‘back doors’’ in their phones that would let governments secretly take them over, read their files, control their cameras and phones, and track their owners’ location. He’s promised to require companies to let government into devices that can be used to fight crime, and, good news, there are a lot of those: smart lightbulbs, smart thermostats, self-driving cars; networked baby-monitor cams and security CCTV cameras; smart insulin pumps and heart moni­tors and implanted AEDs; there’s even a smart rectal thermometer that one company showed off at 2016’s Consumer Electronics Show. You thought 2016 was weird before you realized that it heralded the advent of potential surveillance devices literally up your literal ass.

Every one of these has law-enforcement potential and some slice of them will get Trump’s attention over the years to come, and will come under whatever rule his administration crafts to force Apple to write defective security software that intentionally fails when presented with some kind of law-enforcement credential (lucky for Trump, he’ll be able to appoint a Supreme Court justice who’ll say that forcing companies to write code isn’t a violation of their First Amendment rights).

President Trump will hand President-Elect Weiner a huge, beautiful surveillance apparatus that can watch us from every angle, all the time, in fine-grained detail.

Now, tech companies make tools to comply with the regulations in their biggest markets. When Texas mandates something for their textbooks, the whole country gets it. When America mandated back-doors in com­munications switches under Bill Clinton with 1994’s Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, those back doors went into the switches used throughout the world.

That means that it’s not just Trump supporters who have cause to fear President Weiner’s witch-hunts – it’s Syrians who’ll have to contend with President Assad’s new surveillance powers, too. It’s French citizens liv­ing under Marine Le Pen’s white supremacist regime; Hungarians living with dictator Viktor Orban; Turks living under the murderous, vengeful, thin-skinned Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Ethiopians cowering in Mulatu Teshome’s ‘‘turnkey surveillance state.’’

Even before President Trump, I was calling 2016 the year of ‘‘peak indifference to surveillance.’’ I realized that we were living in that year when I went to a multi-stakeholder cybersecurity wargame held by the Rand Corporation, and noticed that all the spooks, cops, and prosecutors in the room got antsy whenever someone proposed a privacy-invading ‘‘solution’’ to the hypothetical technology apocalypse we were gaming out.

I couldn’t figure it out until one of them mentioned three initials: O.P.M.

If you’re one of the 22 million Ameri­cans who applied for security clearance in order to work on sensitive government or military projects, you had to apply to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and tell them every sensitive detail about your life, anything that could be used to blackmail you: your mom’s heroin habit, your brother’s suicide attempt, that time you experimented with gay sex in college. The OPM stored all that data, along with your fingerprints, on insecure servers, which the Chinese People’s Liberation Army raided in 2015, sucking up all 22 million records for their own political use (2015 was also the year that Ashley Madison, a dating service for men looking to cheat on their wives, was breached by hackers, creating the tantalizing possibil­ity that the two databases could be cross-referenced. In theory, Ashley Madison also catered to cheating wives, but it turns out all the women on the service were chatbots created to string the men along and get them to keep paying for their subscriptions).

Those spooks and cops are pioneers. Long before most of us have had our lives potentially destroyed by privacy breaches, these early adopters blazed the trail. They will never be indifferent to surveillance again.

Don’t feel left out. We’ll all get there eventually. Too much data has been siloed in too many places; too much insecurity has been engineered in, or allowed to fester, for us to be safe from our computers for much longer.

Long before President Weiner takes office, the market for privacy tools will be booming. In the first week after the 2016 elections, signups for Protonmail (a privacy-oriented e-mail provider) doubled. It’s raining privacy soup – grab your boots!

How can you short the surveillance economy and go long on technological freedom? Personally, you can peruse the easy-to-follow ‘‘Surveillance Self Defense’’ documentation maintained (in 11 languages!) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (https://ssd.eff.org), and get your friends to do the same (remember, privacy is a team sport – it doesn’t matter if you keep your messages secure if your correspondents leave them in plain sight).

But if you’re minded to think about new businesses and business mod­els, get thinking about how you might offer services to protect people from the backdoored, hyper-invasive Internet of Things. What about a Facebook login tool that scrapes all your feeds by clicking everything and downloading it all, then letting you choose what you see without letting Facebook know, depriving Facebook of information about the choices you make and the places you are when you make them? That’ll get you sued by Facebook under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but who knows, maybe a peak-indifference judge will find in your favor. Facebook has a lot of users who like the utility of hanging out with their friends and will increasingly be terrified of the consequences of hemorrhaging their data directly into Mark Zuckerberg’s remorseless, gaping maw.

Think of how you could jailbreak Philips lightbulbs and HP printers and ‘‘smart’’ TVs and games consoles and cable boxes and load them with software that treats your personal data as if it was precious lifeblood, not the consequence-free exhalations of your digital metabolism. That’ll get you sued under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copy­right Act, and again, we’ll have to see whether a peak-indifference judge will decide that’s what Congress meant when they passed the DMCA in 1998. But that’s what limited liability companies are for, right?

Most importantly, you short the surveillance economy by investing in the activist groups that are fighting to make it legally safe to command your devices to stop stabbing you in the back and start guarding your back. That’s groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org; dis­closure, I consult to, but don’t earn money from, the EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and many, many others.

We’ve got a rough four years ahead of us, and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But the only thing that could make the privacy catastrophes of the coming years even worse is if we let them go to waste.


Thomas Olde Heuvelt: Color of Language

Thomas Olde Heuvelt was born April 16, 1983 and grew up in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, about an hour outside Amsterdam. He attended university in Nijmegen and spent a year at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He studied American literature, English language, and American Studies.

His first novel De Onvoorziene, written as a teenager, was published by a Dutch small press in 2002, and followed by PhantasAmnesia (2004). With Leerling Tovenaar Vader & Zoon (2004) he moved to a large commercial publisher; that was his breakout book in Holland, and was followed by Harten Sara (2011) and HEX (2013). HEX is his first novel translated into English, and appeared in the US and UK in 2016. It has since been sold to 19 countries, among them Japan, China, Brazil and France.

Some of his short fiction has also been translated, notably Hugo Award finalist ‘‘The Boy Who Cast No Shadow’’ (2011), Hugo and World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘The Ink Readers of Doi Saket’’ (2013), and Hugo Award-winning novelette ‘‘The Day the World Turned Upside Down’’ (2014).

Olde Heuvelt now lives in Den Bosch in the Netherlands.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Olde Heuvelt is a double last name – in an old Dutch dialect it means ‘Old Hill.’ When I sold HEX in English I wondered if I should take a pseudonym, like ‘Thomas Old Hill,’ but you already have a horror writer named Hill and I’m actually younger than him, so I decided to stick with it.

‘‘My mom and my sister were big readers, but my uncle and my grandpa were my storytellers. They told me creepy stories that kept me up at night. My uncle told me Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a bedtime story when I was seven years old. Also The Witches by Roald Dahl. That was my favorite children’s novel. He first told me the story, then I read it, and then saw the movie with Anjelica Huston. It totally freaked me out.

‘‘I started writing stories when I was eight. I remember being in the bookstore as an 11-year-old kid, in the Netherlands, looking at these shelves with translations of Stephen King novels. I knew all of the covers by heart because my mom thought I was too young to read the actual books. I thought to myself, ‘When I grow up I want to be like that, on the shelves at the bookstore, writing creepy novels.’ Ever since, I’ve pursued every­thing to make that happen, and it’s worked out.”

*

‘‘HEX is the first novel of mine that’s been translated. It was originally set in Holland, and I chose to change the setting for the English-language edition. HEX is a creepy book, and when it came out in Holland I got hundreds of messages from readers who told me, ‘You bastard, I had to sleep with the lights on.’ Imagine how much I dig that. That’s exactly what you want as a horror writer. I wanted to get the same messages from readers in America and Britain. In order to really scare your reader in a novel, you need to create this perfect sense of familiarity, to suck the reader in, and then you tear it apart when the supernatural kicks in. If I’m reading a book set in a country I don’t know much about, say, Senegal or Azerbaijan, I’d be wondering, ‘How do you pronounce their names? What’s the norm for these people? What’s not the norm? What scares them? What does not?’ That creates distance. I figured American readers would experience the same in a novel set in the Netherlands. I didn’t want that distance; I wanted that perfect sense of familiarity. Had it been a fantasy novel or a sci­ence fiction novel it would have been different – in those genres, the feeling of estrangement is great. But in horror, where the first goal is to scare your reader, you need that familiarity. So that’s why I decided to change the setting.

‘‘Rewriting a novel to an American setting is a lot more than changing names and places and using Google Earth. The entire cultural heart changes. I actually went to upstate New York, to the Hudson Valley where it’s set now, to do research. The region has a lot of Dutch history. It’s where the first Dutch settlers came on the journey to the promised land, where they met the perils of the undiscovered Americas, and where they settled and traded furs with the natives and fought wars with the English. I enjoyed capturing that Dutchness in the book. I also chose this region because it’s the breeding ground of the Gothic novel – it’s where Washington Irving is from, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, and the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ‘Young Goodman Brown’. Especially in our modern day and age, it’s exciting to realize that this place is so close to New York City, which is like the most cultivated place on Earth. I’ve experienced this first-hand. One time, I spent a night in a New York hotel overlooking Central Park North. I saw Manhattan, and the George Washington Bridge in the distance. Beyond that, there were rocks sticking out of the Hudson River, and beyond that, countless hills and forests – this vast wilderness. The contrast is spectacular: there’s this extremely big city where everything happens, but it’s right on the edge of this wilderness. It’s that exact wilderness where the stuff from the classic gothic tales happened. It was the perfect setting for HEX.”

*

“When I read the translation of HEX, I felt the original ending was off, and that I could make it much creepier if I could be more subtle. I changed the last four chapters of the book, like 15,000 words or something. They’re totally different in the American version. And be­cause I was so much into the editing process by then, I figured, why not try writing it directly in English? It was the first time I’d written new fiction in English. It worked well. It paid off. I’ve been experimenting with writing a few short stories in English, and it’s going quiet well. It would make things a lot easier, I can tell you that.

‘‘You know, I never dared to write in English before, because I didn’t feel confident, even though I studied English language and lived in Ottawa for a year. It’s not my native tongue. There’s so much to a language you don’t get when you’re not a na­tive speaker. You really have to live in a country for a couple of years to grasp the nuances, and then you’re stylistically different as well. That’s the color of language.”

*

‘‘The Netherlands doesn’t have a long history of fantastic literature. There used to be a magazine that published SF in Dutch, but they went out of business. There’s an annual short story contest in the Nether­lands, which is really good, but we don’t have a lot of options for publication of short fiction. Every now and then there’s an anthology, mostly small press. It’s because of our history. Our literature’s very Calvinistic, very psychological. Most Dutch liter­ary novels are basically long interior monologues, unlike American literature, which is much more driven by storytelling, by plot. There’s a reason why I studied American literature and not Dutch literature. It’s much more exciting, even when it’s not genre literature. I stood out in the beginning as one of the first Dutch authors writing in this genre. There’s one other bestselling fantasy author in the Netherlands. His name is Adrian Stone, and he’s writing fantasy series and doing really well. Everything else is small press or self-pub.”

*
‘‘I’m halfway through the next book. It’s a pos­session novel. I always wanted to write a possession novel, but change the key element. What I don’t like about possession novels is the religious aspect – there’s a demon or a devil or an evil spirit who pos­sesses a person and a priest comes to exorcise it. I’m a mountain climber, and whenever I’m in the moun­tains, I feel them as if they are living beings. I’m not a very spiritual person, but other mountaineers have come down with similar stories. Each mountain has a very different soul than another mountain. They seem places of power. So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a guy who’s possessed by the soul of a mountain? To have this force of nature-gone-bad raging inside of him?’ It will be exciting, and it will be creepy, I promise you that.’’

 

Spotlight On: Brooks Peck, MoPOP Curator

Brooks Peck is an author, museum curator, and journalist. In 1996 he co-founded Science Fiction Weekly, the first professional website devoted to SF, and in time became editor-in-chief. He joined the Museum of Pop Culture (AKA MoPOP, formerly known as the EMP Museum) in 2004 when the museum established its first science fiction galleries. There he has curated exhibitions on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Battlestar Galactica, and Avatar among others. His most recent show is ‘‘Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds’’, which is currently on view. He co-authored two creature features for the Syfy Channel, and his short story ‘‘With Folded RAM’’ recently appeared in Asimov’s.

Tell us about MoPOP and how SF/F/H are represented there. What is the mission statement or guiding philosophy?

We started as a popular music museum, but have evolved a great deal since opening in 2000. I joined the museum in 2004 when we opened our first science fiction galleries. In the following years we added fantasy, horror, and have made forays into everything from wearable art to Lego to indie video games. So today we are firmly and happily a museum of popular culture. In particular we like to tell the stories of pop culture phenomena that started on the outside and stormed the mainstream. Star Trek, for example, can be seen as an effort by Gene Roddenberry to upend the status quo of science fiction on television and use the genre to sneak some very difficult, socially relevant themes and ideas past the censors.

How did you become involved with the museum, and what does your job as curator entail?

I started out producing articles for the museum’s website, having come from the entertainment journalism world. For about 10 years prior I worked for the Syfy Channel writing for their magazine and websites. So I came into the job with a broad knowledge of SF/F/H in lots of mediums. Soon after I was hired, though, the museum dropped its plans for extensive web content, and suddenly I had very little to do. I began helping out with exhibits. My very first display was a feature area on The Rocketeer, about ten square feet. Next I did a 14-foot-long wall about SETI. My first full-blown exhibition was called ‘‘Spaced Out: The Final Frontier in Album Covers’’, a display of 125 LP covers from the ‘50s and ‘60s with space and science fiction themes. It was super groovy.

Curating exhibitions involves a lot of writing, but also scenic design, planning how to display objects, a little filmmaking. Being a curator is akin to being a writer-director of a film. You work with a creative team, and the various team members have their specialized tasks such as graphic design, construction, etc. Your job is to maintain the overall vision of the exhibition. The curator is also like Kermit on The Muppet Show, trying to be calm in a storm of chaos.

Curating science fiction exhibitions in particular requires a great deal of what I call bridging and bonding. There are two main audiences for a given SF exhibition: fans and general folks. In any exhibition I want to show fans a deep appreciation for and understanding of this thing they love very much, and I want to validate their fandom. That’s the bonding. At the same time I have to remember that most of our visitors are not fans, or not yet. I need to introduce this potentially strange and exotic topic to them and show them why it’s cool and how it relates to them. That’s bridging. These two goals can be in opposition. Too much insider jargon will alienate the general audience, but treating the topic in an overly simplistic way could alienate the fans.

What are your favorite parts of the job and/or the museum?

It’s a tiny part, but those rare moments when I unearth (not literally) some rare or forgotten item, that’s wonderful. I receive a lot of e-mails and calls from people who tell me they’ve got something really special, and 99 times out of 100 what they have is cool, but… maybe not so special. Every once in a while, though, yeah, a genuine find comes along: a forgotten manu­script, an early Hugo trophy, or heck, an entire art archive. Those are great days.

According to popular depictions, that’s what curators do all day every day. Would that it were so. (Actually, according to many movies, museum curators work late at night in very dim galleries. Their last words are often, ‘‘Is someone there?’’)

Tell us about your past few SF/F/H exhibits, and what is up next?

In May I opened ‘‘Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds’’, which we created to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. Star Trek was one of my earliest science fiction experiences, and my love of SF has driven my work and career, so I loved coming full circle on that. And, of course, loved looking at things like communicators and tricorders and tribbles up close. Before you ask, no, I haven’t sat in Captain Kirk’s chair. Prior to ‘‘Trek’’ I curated ‘‘Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction’’, the latest version of our permanent SF gallery. For that I took a kind of futuristic cabinet of curiosities approach and decorated the gallery as if it were a derelict, alien starship.

Up next, we’re rolling out a brand new Science Fiction & Fantasy Hall of Fame. The new gallery is the biggest amount of space we’ve ever devoted to the Hall of Fame, and will have a great location right off the lobby. The new gallery opens in March. We are also opening the nomination and induction process up to the public at large, not just museum members, and I encourage Locus readers to get involved. You! Do it!

You’ve had some forays into publishing and are also a writer. Tell us a little about that. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?

What’s that saying? 90% of genre readers are writers, and the other 10% are liars. I’ve always written science fiction and fantasy, and at­tended Clarion during college. Before I joined the museum, I published short stories with a certain regularity. Work cut into my output drasti­cally, although I did co-write two creature features for Syfy: Rage of the Yeti and Zombie Apocalypse. Last fall Asimov’s picked up my story ‘‘With Folded RAM’’, an AI tale that is meant to be a commentary on typical depictions of sentient software as heartless murderbots. These days I’m working on a series of fantasy stories that I describe as P.G. Wodehouse with magic. For a long time I wanted to be a writer more than I wanted to write, you know? Lately, though, that’s changed, and I enjoy the process so much more.


Kameron Hurley: There Have Always Been Times Like These

‘‘Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.’’

Ursula K. Le Guin

Change is the only constant in our lives. Octavia Butler built an entire religion out of this fact in her Parable Trilogy. She set her novel in what could easily be our present: the last gasping days of the disintegrating United States. It’s a dark novel about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. And yet from this darkness, emerging from the ruins of a gutted civilization, a young woman founds a pacifist philosophical and religious order that transforms those who follow her. From the ashes, a savior. In even the darkest times, a ray of hope. A glimmer of light.

Speculative fiction has always been the safe sandbox for creating ‘‘what if?’’ stories. It allows us to play out our utopias and dystopias without miring ourselves in real-world revolution, with all its bloodshed and instability. We can sit back in our arm chairs or cozy up in our bunker and visit another time and place, and explore reali­ties that we can choose to embrace and seek to make real, or ones we can dismiss and guard against.

I miss those days.

When I cast about for a safe harbor now in a world speeding so quickly and changing so rapidly that our parents could have never have hoped to prepare us for it, I remember these stories. I remember the possible futures, the fantastic landscapes, the harrowing quests and epic federations that inspired me to be part of building a more hopeful future.

I also remember Butler’s dark future. Butler saw the darkness in us more clearly than many white writers, for the simple fact that she was exposed to more of it: racism, sexism, and a mountain of oppres­sive history all built up behind her and ahead of her. She had seen the fearful white supremacist heart of many of this country’s people clearly for what it was.

But still, she wrote. She was her own glimmer in the darkness.

My own writing has been that ray of hope for me, too, though I certainly have lived in better times, with more privileges, than many other writers. As I see that hopeful ray of light we have all been shining out into the world smothered once again in darkness during this latest backlash, I look back at all that has come before me. The United States and United Kingdom embrace far-right fundamental­ism and Russia moves toward the field of war, and I say: we have seen these dark times before. Better people than me have survived those times to deliver us here. We could not kick down the door and let in the light, but we saw all those beautiful beams of it, and it was uplifting. Getting shoved back into the dark is horrifying. But there is a backlash after every progressive surge forward, and this is our timeline. This is the reality thrust upon us, and we must muster all that we have done before to give us courage to marshal forward.

We are artists, certainly, but above all, storytellers. We create the narratives that help us all make sense of the world. As Le Guin said in her National Book Award speech, the hard times are coming. In fact, at this point in the year, I’ll say that the hard times are here, harder than they have been for many for a good long time. There are already young people who do not remember the world before 9/11 and the grim powers of surveillance and destruction that we licensed to our own government. Now we prepare to usher in 2017 with a far-right nationalist at the head of a country brimming with nuclear weapons, and another generation is poised to forget the freedoms that came before it.

We are going to lose much in 2017. That is something that we as writers, as artists, as human beings, cannot forget… but we cannot allow it to let us lose our hope or our ability to tell the stories that not only earn us our supper but also inspire and comfort others during times of great upheaval.

We have our possible futures. We have our memories of the world we were building, the world we can build, and that cannot be taken away from us. We cannot lose our memories of both what we were headed toward and what we could still achieve. Because it is our stories of hope that have sustained us through each period of darkness, after which we emerged into brilliant flashes of light, and someday, perhaps someday, that bril­liant dawn. It is our hope that helped us make sweeping policy changes that protected the most vulnerable among us, and extended the rights of citizenship to all people, no matter who they love. That hope and that future are not dead, but they are set back once again, in that long and ancient war we have fought and written about as futurists and fantasists. The long war between the light and the dark, between our better selves and our darker natures.

Our hopeful stories, our ability to tell dif­ferent futures, will sustain us through this darkness as they have in the past and as they will in the years to come. That is not to minimize what we will face; we won’t all survive it. But it is a reminder that there is a future, however dark, to push through to the world on the other side.

Each generation has its moment to discover who it really is, and these times will test us to the utmost. We will find out who are friends and colleagues are at their very core, and it will shake us. But, as with every story of war and suffering and hope and despair, we will also discover who the heroes are.

‘‘The real hero is only a hero by mistake,’’ said Umberto Eco, ‘‘he dreams of being an honest coward like everyone else.’’

As a writer, an artist, I wish desperately that I could be that coward. I had a hopeful road all paved out ahead of me, a road I saw snatched away in a moment as a darker power was elected into office in the United States by a slim minority.

But this reality does not take my stories. Instead, it thrusts us all into a new future, an uncertain and frightening one, without map or guide, in which honest cowards must discard their dreams in an effort to become the heroes they write about.

When everything else is stripped away, and history looks back to judge us as storytellers, they will look here, to you and I and to the futures we spin, to the ways we conduct ourselves, and they will ask, ‘‘How did you let this happen?’’

And we will say, ‘‘I am dreaming and building a better future.’’

That is the future I give to you. That is the future we must build together.



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