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Cory Doctorow: Be the First One to Not Do Something that No One Else Has Ever Not Thought of Doing Before

The legendary musician, producer, and weirdo Brian Eno has many notable accomplishments and high among them is the production of the ‘‘Oblique Strategies’’ deck, a deck of cards emblazoned with gnomic and hard-to-parse advice that is meant to shake your creative rut: ‘‘Fill every beat with something,’’ or ‘‘Infinitesimal gradations’’ or ‘‘Do nothing for as long as possible.’’

My favorite of these – first learned from Bruce Sterling – is ‘‘Be the first person to not do some­thing that no one else has ever thought of not doing before,’’ which I think of as being a bit like a lifestyle version of Jenga in which you remove something you’ve always assumed was vital and see whether everything falls over.

I first applied this advice most successfully to my 2008 novel Little Brother. Little Brother is a YA science fiction novel, which is to say it’s a pulp novel even by pulp novel standards. I don’t mean this to be pejorative. I love pulp novels, love their emphasis on plotting and stuff happening. As William Gibson told the Paris Review:

The only kind of ghetto arrogance I can summon up from being a science fiction writer is, I can do fucking plot. I can feel my links to Dashiell Hammett. If I meet some guy who subsists on teaching writing in colleges, and if there’s any kind of hostility, I think, I can do plot. I’ve still got wheels on my tractor. The great thing is when you’re doing the other stuff and you whip the plot into gear, then you know you’re driving something really weird.

In pulp novels, the plot is a vast and powerful engine that can pull a train containing anything or everything: subtle themes and obvious ones, light entertainment and brooding, thoughtful tales. But pulp stories live and die by their plots, and so whatever tale you’re pulling, it has to be in service to that all-powerful engine, even while the engine pulls along that tale.

That is how we got the curiosity known as the technothriller. Bruce Sterling defines this as ‘‘a science fiction novel with the President in it’’ but I’m using the term more broadly. Technothrillers are stories that hinge on the capabilities and constraints of the computers in them (be they the kind of computer you put in your pocket or the kind of computer you put in a Boeing 747 and then put your body inside of). But in the traditional technothriller, the capabilities and constraints of those computers are arbitrary, and they serve at the tyrannical discretion of the pulp author, who can add to them or subtract from them according to the demands of the story. Would your hero face higher tension if the computer could do something well-understood to be impossible? So mote be it. Is the story made more exciting if some widely known capability of computers didn’t exist? Wave the auctorial hand and make it vanish.

In Little Brother, I dispensed with this convention. I set out to write a technothriller in which the heroes’ challenges were designed around the real capabilities and constraints of computers – the plot turned on real computers, not imaginary and convenient ones. This spared the reader the need to expend their limited stores of suspension of disbelief on impossible computers and save it up for the parts of the story that mattered.

While that novel is sometimes criticized as being ‘‘esoteric,’’ I maintain that it has no more technical detail about real-world computers than, say, JK Rowling provides on the rules governing her imaginary magical system. The difference is that the real powers and limits of computers are broadly understood, and even for people who only vaguely understand them, a story that turns on these constraints takes on an urgency and immediacy that supercharges that big diesel, the pulp plotting engine.

Be the first person to not do something that no one else has ever thought of not doing before.

My newest novel is Walkaway, a novel for adults (that is to say, a novel that could conceivably get a teen librarian fired if handed to a kid without know­ing a little about that kid’s parents). Walkaway is also a novel that tries to remove a critical block from the Jenga tower of pulp plotting to see whether it stands up or falls to pieces.

Pulp stories, it is said, have two great themes: ‘‘man vs. nature’’ and ‘‘man vs. man.’’ But as any­one who loves a good dystopian tale knows, the canny pulp writer can have a two-for-one in the form of ‘‘man vs. nature vs. man’’: The earthquake knocked your house over and then your neighbors came over to eat you. Your basic Cormac McCarthy verse-verse-chorus.

In its own way, man-vs-man-vs-nature is every bit as much a fantasy as the technothriller’s impos­sible, plot-expedient computers. As Rebecca Solnit documented in her must-read history book A Paradise Built in Hell, disaster is not typically attended by a breakdown in the social order that lays bare the true bestial nature of your fellow human. Instead, these are moments in which people rise brilliantly to the occasion, digging their neighbors out of the rubble, rushing to give blood, opening their homes to strangers.

Of course, it’s easy to juice a story by ignoring this fact, converting disaster to catastrophe by pitting neighbor against neighbor, and this approach has the added bonus of pandering to the reader’s lurking (or overt) racism and classism – just make the baddies poor and/or brown.

But what if a story made the fact of humanity’s essential goodness the center of its conflict? What if, after a disaster, everyone wanted to help, but no one could agree on how to do so? What if the argument was not between enemies, but friends – what if the fundamental, irreconcilable differences were with people you loved, not people you hated?

As anyone who’s ever had a difficult Christmas dinner with family can attest, fighting with people you love is a lot harder than fighting with people you hate.

In Walkaway, I tell an ‘‘optimistic disaster story’’ in which the conflict arises from the differences between people of goodwill, people who like each other, people who want to make things better, but can’t quite agree on how.

Time will tell whether Walkaway reaches as many people as Little Brother has, but the early indications are good – and the early reviews seem to grope for this point: that a story where you don’t have to suspend your disbelief to imagine the conflict is one where the conflict itself feels much more immediate.


Cat Sparks: Strange Directions

Catriona Sparks was born September 11, 1965 in Sydney Australia. She studied film making and photography at the City Art Institute, and worked as a media monitor, political photographer and graphic designer for many years, as well as traveling through Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, the South Pacific, China, and the Americas.

Sparks began publishing short fiction in 2001, and has since published around 70 stories, including Ditmar Award winners ‘‘A Lady of Adestan’’ (2007), ‘‘All the Love in the World’’ (2010), ‘‘Scarp’’ (2013), and ‘‘The Seventh Relic’’ (2014), Aurealis Award winner ‘‘Hollywood Roadkill’’ (2007), and Ditmar and Aurealis winner ‘‘Seventeen’’ (2009). Some of her short fiction was collected in The Bride Price (2013). Debut novel Lotus Blue appeared in 2017.

With partner Rob Hood she ran Agog! Press from 2002-2008. She was fiction editor at Cosmos Magazine from 2010-2016. She is also an artist, and won Ditmar Awards for her art in 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2009. In all she has been nominated for 12 Aurealis Awards and 29 Ditmars for her writing, editing, and artwork.

Sparks attended the first Clarion South Writers’ Workshop in 2004, and was one of 12 students chosen to take part in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop during the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar. She was a Writers of the Future prize winner in 2004. She is pursuing a PhD in media, culture, and creative arts at Curtin University.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My parents were science fiction fans. What I like to say is, they put my bassinet down in front of Doctor Who, and that was it. They weren’t rabid fans, but it certainly wasn’t a lesser grade of literature to them. I was never prohibited from reading adult material. Anything they had, my sister and I were allowed to read if we wanted. Books were an important part of my upbringing. There was never a time when science fiction wasn’t a massive part of my life. You know how your parents keep little bits of school work? Whenever I was listing my favourite things when I was a kid, I’d put, ‘I like animals and science fiction.’ It was always there.”

*
‘‘I sold my first story in 2000, after spending nine years trying to write something publishable. By trying, I mean really trying. I did workshops. I took courses. I was in three writing groups, at it hammer and tongs. Because I also had the visual arts going, I wasn’t really aware nine years had passed. I only counted the years up later. Had I realized how crap I was at writing, I think I would’ve thrown in the towel. But I loved the community so much. When my boyfriend worked at Galaxy, I took photographs for the shop. This would never happen now, but they actually paid me to photograph authors, as did the local Dymocks store. I photographed Douglas Adams on three separate occasions. The first time, nobody knew who he was – it was that early. I remember looking at the authors signing and thinking, ‘I would like that to be me.’ The irony is I absolutely hate signing books now. Signing makes me feel like such a fraud. I have to go on tour when I get home, but I’d rather do my taxes and then have a root canal.”

*

‘‘The Australian spec fic scene is small. Everybody eventually knows everybody. I met my partner Rob Hood at some book event –- probably one of Terry Dowling’s launches. I used to love writing groups, particularly the social aspect. It would be at someone’s house, we’d all go around, in the early days we would read stories to each other out loud (this was pre-e-mail – that’s how old I am). We’d all bring snacks and sit around a big table. In this one group, we had the crown, a plastic tiara with jewels on it, and when anyone sold a story, we would have a crowning ceremony. As we got better we have several coronations in the same meeting. That was great for camaraderie.”

*
‘‘Margaret Atwood’s Time Machine Doorway workshop was fantastic. You had to apply with the first chapter of a post-apocalypse novel. I happened to have one of those, so I submitted it, and got in. But I had no money, so didn’t know how I was go­ing to get to Florida. I scored an Australia Council Emerging Writer’s grant, enough money to live for a year and was allowed to use some of that money for the Key West Seminar. A wonderful experience. KWLS normally don’t do science fiction – Atwood was the driver behind that year’s theme, I believe. I was terrified of meeting her because a lot of people have Atwood stories. There were 12 of us, and we all sat down, and there was dead silence. She’s like Yoda, right? She came in with these little white cards that said ‘stop talking’ and put them on the table. She said, ‘If you need to use these just pass them around.’ She’s got a great sense of humour. I try not to be a loud and overwhelming person but when I get excited I just can’t shut up. It was okay. She and I got on very well, probably partly because I’d turned up with an actual sci-fi novel. The other participants had turned up with sci-fi, too, but if it had been a bird poetry workshop, they would have written bird poetry, or whatever. They weren’t science-fiction people. One or two of them had in­terest in it, but they were there for her. She’s the real deal. She still gets so much flak from our commu­nity about that unfortunate ‘talking squids in outer space’ comment. I do not share her view as to the difference between science fiction and speculative fiction, but I can’t stand the fact that someone of her caliber has to go through so much rubbish because of one stupid comment.”
*

Lotus Blue went through many shapes and shifts before deciding on what sort of novel it really wanted to be. I’d initially been trying to write a YA, presuming that because the story I wanted to tell needed a young protagonist, YA was the right genre fit. Only it didn’t work out that way. The language wasn’t right. My story was about a young person cast adrift in a landscape that’s been trashed by adults, their laws and their machinery across a vast timeframe. It’s the story of a girl who finds out she isn’t as human as she thought, and the ramifications of this are terrifying.

“I didn’t set out to write a climate change story, but it is easy to see how I ended up with one. My still-not-finished PhD examines the intersection point of ecocatastrophe science fiction and climate fiction. No way to stop that bleeding over into any­thing else I’m working on. I can barely keep it out of my conversation.

‘‘All of this has resulted in a novel that for some readers is a little too unwieldy. A couple of negative reviews reckon there are too many characters. That there is too much going on. Personally, I’m bored to tears of the chosen one who saves the world. Saving our real world is going to be a group effort. For me, the theme I was trying to resonate with is, we’ll all do our little bit, and that’s how you bring the monster down. I gave my protagonist, Star, as much agency as a real person might be expected to have. She starts out with more bravado, then finds out how tough everything is, pushes on, and decides she’s willing to die to save the future if it comes to that. A choice we could all possibly make ourselves.”

*

‘‘For my PhD, I’m writing about the dying days of capitalism, because I think that’s the big issue be­hind climate change today. It’s all about capitalism and how it absolutely has to change to accommodate the future. I have nothing but undying respect for Kim Stanley Robinson who has been talking about this stuff for years. If I were starting my PhD today I would do it entirely on Stan Robinson’s body of work. Someone needs to do this – look at all his work in sequential order, because he’s telling one big story. He’s the man. He was 20 years ahead of everybody else.”

*

‘‘Here’s my take on writing. I’m 51 years old. I’m going to write the things I want to write. That is more important to me than any other consideration. After losing both my parents, I think like a mortal being. I’m already doing the thing I most want to do with my life. I just want to keep doing more of it.’’

 

Spotlight On: Scott H. Andrews, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Scott H. Andrews is a writer, editor, chemistry lecturer, musician, woodworker, and connoisseur of stouts. His literary short fiction has won a $1,000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales and in On Spec. He is editor-in-chief and publisher of the four-time Hugo Award-finalist fantasy e-zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies and its five-time Parsec Award finalist podcast. Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, 11 guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world.

Give us some background on your magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

I started BCS in 2008 because the F/SF short fiction field had no dedicated home for literary or character-driven secondary-world fantasy. There were lots of great literary fantasy, slipstream, and magical realism, and decades of great literary SF, but rarely were magazines publishing character-centered or stylistically bold fantasy set in invented worlds.

I knew there were authors interested in that sort of fiction, slipstream writers who had grown up on epic fantasy or D&D, and I hoped there was a readership for it. Nine years and almost 500 stories later, I’m delighted that there is; that it’s being written and read and recognized as worthy genre literature. I loved Locus Online’s review that BCS has ‘‘revive(d) adventure fantasy, secondary-world fantasy, as a respectable subgenre of short fiction, raising it from the midden of disdain into which it had been cast by most of the rest of the field.’’ And ‘‘midden’’ is such a great historical fantasy word!

BCS focuses on ‘‘literary adventure fantasy.’’ How do you define that? Why focus on those sorts of stories in particular?

‘‘Literary adventure fantasy’’ is my tagline for literary or character-centered fantasy set in other worlds. Much secondary-world fantasy feels focused on the setting or the plot; I like a focus on the characters, for example using Realist approaches like close points-of-view or ambiguous endings – realism in worlds that aren’t real.

I love the line from Faulkner’s Nobel speech that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. I want to read about the human, or nonhuman, heart in conflict with itself, but in some awe-inspiring place that’s different from the primary world I see out my window. A great freedom of speculative fiction is that we can go to any place or reality as the setting for a story, to awe or emote or epitomize or allegorize or just because it’s cool. For me, character-centered stories set in such worlds can be just as profound and moving as the best literary short fiction, but also have that spec-fic awe, allegory, or fun.

What’s happening next? Are there any upcoming stories or projects you’re particularly excited about?

BCS will hold our annual e-book subscription drive this May. We had one last year with our 200th issue. We are a 501c3 nonprofit organization, funded by donations, but e-book subscriptions are a vital secondary revenue source for us. Our 200th podcast episode will release in July and our 500th story this fall. We’re also planning our fourth science-fantasy theme month in early 2018.

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

Every rejection BCS sends is personalized. As a neo-pro writer myself, it’s important to me that every rejection offer a comment why that story wasn’t right for us. It helps writers – we get many e-mails from writers who revised based on our comments and sold that story elsewhere – and it helps us by showing writers what we’re looking for and building relationships with them.

It’s a ton of work for me and my slush readers, Nicole Lavigne and Kerstin Hall, but to me it’s worth it. Many BCS authors made their first or third pro sale with us and thereby joined SFWA and started their career. I’m proud that many recent award finalists or novelists getting buzz are authors who had stories in BCS years ago, and often still do.


John Kessel: Over the Moon

John Joseph Vincent Kessel was born September 24, 1950 in Buffalo NY. He received a dual BA in English and Physics from the University of Rochester in 1972, an MA in English from the University of Kansas in 1974, and a PhD in English from the University of Kansas in 1981. From 1979-82 he was a copy and news editor at Commodity News Service in Kansas. In 1982 he began teaching at North Carolina State University as professor of creative writing and American literature.

Kessel’s first story appeared in 1978, but he gained prominence with Nebula Award-winning novella ‘‘Another Orphan’’ (1982). Other notable stories include Sturgeon Memorial Award winner ‘‘Buffalo’’ (1991), Tiptree Award winner ‘‘Stories for Men’’ (2002), and Shirley Jackson and Nebula Award winner ‘‘Pride and Prometheus’’ (2008). Some of his stories were collected in Meeting in Infinity (1992), The Pure Product (1997), and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence (2008).

He edited Sycamore Hill workshop anthology Intersections (1996, with Richard Butner & Mark L. Van Name), and co-edited several books with James Patrick Kelly: Feeling Very Strange (2006), Rewired (2007), The Secret History of Science Fiction (2009), Kafkaesque (2011), Nebula Awards Showcase 2012 (2012), and Digital Rapture (2012).

Debut novel Freedom Beach (1985) was co-authored with James Patrick Kelly. First solo novel Good News from Outer Space (1989) was a Campbell and Nebula Award finalist, and screwball comedy time-travel novel Corrupting Doctor Nice appeared in 1997. His latest novel The Moon and the Other (2017) further explores the world introduced in ‘‘Stories for Men’’. A novel version of Pride and Prometheus is forthcoming. Kessel lives in Raleigh NC with his wife, author Therese Anne Fowler.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I have been a science fiction reader since I was a child. I had always wanted to write science fiction, but I expected to be a scientist and I studied astrophysics in college. I discovered fairly well along in my undergraduate days that I wasn’t quite up to the advanced math. I could do physics, but not well enough to be much better than a bottle washer. At the same time I also was taking English classes and I did very well in them. I had no intention to be a literature professor, but I ended up double majoring in physics and English.”

*
‘‘For a full-time academic, teaching a full course load, the academic year lends itself more easily to writing short fiction. I wrote short sto­ries, and I enjoyed the hell out of writing short fiction. I didn’t see it as an inferior form or as a warm-up for writing novels. But the world of publishing wants novels more than it wants short stories, and I wanted to write novels, too. In the summer I would work on a novel, and the semester would start and I would have a month or so where I would keep
writing. Then the hammer would come down, and I would have so much work to do at school that I would get less writing done. It took me a long time to finish novels. My first novel, Good News from Outer Space, took me about four years to write from front to end. That doesn’t seem like so long now, but it was slow. My next one, Corrupting Dr. Nice, again took me a number of years to write. I started thinking about The Moon and the Other, a novel set in this made-up Society of Cousins lunar world, in around 1999. I wrote four proof-of-concept stories, set in the background, exploring the society and how it worked and what the different issues would be, including a novella, ‘Stories for Men’ which came out in 2002.”

*

‘‘One of the things The Moon and the Other does is explore masculinity, or what it is to be male (if there is such a thing as male). A lot of different people are reimagining that right now. What makes a person male? We have this bathroom law in North Carolina, causing endless trouble, about who gets to be in the men’s bathroom, and who gets to be in the women’s bathroom, and how you decide that. In The Moon and the Other, I wanted to present a lot of different ideas of what it is to be a man. Some of them are historical, some are notions we have today. Others are affected by the fact that it’s in the future in my invented Society of Cousins.

‘‘I think, at least historically in the United States, our ideas of masculinity have been impoverished. Where I grew up in a working-class family in Buffalo NY, the men I knew in my family, and my school, and in my life, had given to them a number of different visions – by the culture at large, by their families, by the economic system – that I believe were self-destructive. That’s still the case. The feminist movement has been tremendously helpful to men, if they’re willing to look at it and engage with it, because the potential lies there to free men from having to be what they have been. Someone said that throughout human history the vast majority of men have been a pair of hands and a strong back, and that’s it. That’s been the degree to which society and the economic system and the culture have valued them. The privileged men at the top – the ones that we write about in fantasy novels – can be other things. They can be kings, noblemen, rulers, captains of industry. The men I grew up with – my father, my uncles, my cousins – were workers. That was their value. They were at the bottom of a chain of people kicking down. It wasn’t women who were oppressing them, although I think that many men felt that way. The only people they had the right to kick were their wives and children. I don’t want to totalize that vision, but it seems to me that’s been a lot of what our culture in the West (and elsewhere) has been. I think that’s sad and destructive.”

*

‘‘I’m very happy to have The Moon and the Other out. I suspect some people may be unhappy with parts of it. As regards gender issues, I was ask­ing as many questions as I was promoting answers. Coming from where I am, an aging white cis male heterosexual, I worry about what guys like me have to offer in exploration of gender issues. I grew up in a patriarchal culture. My mother was Sicilian and my father was Polish, both very Old World cultures. I’ve been educated by women and feminism, come from a place where I had a lot to learn. And I think I still have to learn some things.

‘‘The novel is several different kinds of books all mashed together, which is the story of my career, frankly – mashing things together, cross-breeding. In this book I wanted to make the scientific ex­trapolation as plausible as I could, and do social speculation, and get deeply into the characters -– tell a novel of manners, two love stories set in a made-up society –- and have political intrigues and family drama and even something of a thriller plot. I’ll let others figure out how well I carried off all these different ambitions.”

*

‘‘I’ve just turned in the final draft of a new novel, Pride and Prometheus, based on my earlier story of that title. At one point I was very self-conscious about the number of stories I’ve written that bor­rowed from very famous writers. ‘Another Orphan’ was a Moby-Dick story. I did a Raymond Chandler story. I wrote a sequel to Flannery O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ and a story about Mrs. Gulliver. I imagine people saying, ‘Kessel has read too much literature and can’t come up with any of his own ideas.’ Be that as it may, it occurred to me that Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, and Frankenstein in 1818, yet I seldom saw any discussion that put the two books together. Even though Jane Austen was older than Mary Shelley they come out of the same time period, yet they wrote very different books. In re-reading Pride and Prejudice I noticed that Darcy’s estate Pemberley is in Derbyshire, not far from the town of Matlock. In Frankenstein, which I was also teaching at the same time, Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry are traveling through England and they stop in the town of Matlock. I thought, ‘Whoa, that was really fortuitous.’ It’s possible that characters from Pride and Prejudice could meet Victor Franken­stein without much trouble. That got me going.”

*

‘‘Most of the science fiction I write has been near future, on Earth, but I wrote a couple of space opera short stories that I enjoyed a great deal. One of them is really one of my favorite stories, ‘The Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance’, in The New Space Opera 2 anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan & Gardner Dozois. That one was a lot of fun to write. I loved to read that stuff when I was a kid. I thought, can I write an A.E. van Vogt story with even more spectacular bizarre stuff? I don’t want to be the old cranky guy yelling, ‘Get off my lawn’ to younger sf writers but I think a lot of them haven’t read any of these people. They don’t know Alfred Bester from A.E. van Vogt, all these writers us old timers call up as significant figures, who were just pulp writers. The whole John W. Campbell tradition doesn’t mean anything to newer writers. H.L. Gold at Galaxy, Anthony Boucher. It might as well be the ancient Phoenicians to them. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just means they’re coming at the genre from a very different place. That whole vision that Jim Gunn represented to me when I went to grad school, the idea that there were rules to write sci­ence fiction: you must extrapolate, you must have the science plausible, there must be an economic rationality to the world, the physics should work, and all that stuff. I’m enough of an old fart to miss those things. In some ways the pulp magazines and Campbell and the writers who came after, reacting against him, they made their own culture, because the world of literature was closed off to them – they had no access to it, they were never going to be rec­ognized. They made their own rules. It was a ghetto culture, but it had a vigor, where they didn’t have to worry about Edmund Wilson coming in to tell them what was right and wrong. Edmund Wilson couldn’t be bothered. So they made their own rules, their own literature, their canon, a framework for how things should be done, which sustained them and created interesting work. That fiction is valu­able, because it isn’t cued into the mainstream of American modernism and postwar Jewish fiction and all of the other stuff that was considered serious writing in America for the mid-20th century. Many of those writers took a kind of pride in the fact that they were not highbrows, they were working men in the trenches. When I think about the short stories of C.M. Kornbluth, or Damon Knight, or Cordwainer Smith, there’s value there that I hope will be remembered.”

 

Spotlight On: Heather Shaw, Persistent Visions

Heather Shaw is an editor, writer, performer, mother, lindy hopper, and bookkeeper living in Berkeley CA with her husband and son. In addition to editing Persistent Visions, she has in the past edited poetry, erotica, catalog copy, and technical manuals. Her fiction has appeared in nice places like Strange Horizons and The Year’s Best Fantasy, and she’s performed everywhere from small stages in San Francisco to the Lollapalooza poetry tent back in the ’90s. In her spare time she enjoys rehearsing jazz numbers from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s with the Someday Sweethearts, a chorus girl group she belongs to, making up games with her son, and sewing all the things.

Give us some background on the magazine you edit, Persistent Visions. Who founded it, and when, and how did you become editor?Back in 2015, Christophe Pettus came to me with the idea for Persistent Visions. As a longtime fan of science fic­tion, he was distressed by the Sad Puppy situation, and was complaining about it on Twitter when it occurred to him: he could bitch about it, or he could do something productive, like start a magazine that specifically gave marginalized voices a platform. We met and discussed his vision, and what I could bring to the table as fiction editor. I’ve been writing and publishing and going to the occasional con for over a decade, and know a lot of people in the field, almost all of whom write and read the kind of stuff we wanted to feature. I’d also edited an erotica ’zine (Fishnet) published by Christophe in the past, so he knew and trusted my taste in fiction as well.

It took us some time to get the website up and running, and do all of the internal organization that goes with any project. I started by soliciting sto­ries from writers I knew and liked before we had our submission system in place. I got some good stuff from that, but I was a bit blown away by the flood of submissions that came in when we opened our call to everyone. I’d never edited for a magazine paying pro rates before, and we’ve had a lot of interest. Many of the stories in the slush pile were from people I’d never heard from before, so it’s been a great journey of discovery for me.

Does Persistent Visions have a mission statement, or is there a particular niche you aim to fill in the field? What sets you apart?

We aim to mainly feature stories by and about other voices – stories about women, people of color, people with disabilities…. As I say in my guidelines, I’m looking for ‘‘stories that include a diverse cast of characters, that challenge conventional assumptions regarding race, relationships, gender, neurodiversity, disability, and sexuality in thought-provoking, exciting new ways. Show us the people we will be, or illuminate the path we’re taking to get there. We want sci­ence fiction and fantasy that is truly revolutionary, and that embraces the variety of human experience in all of its glory.’’

One of the best things I’ve discovered in the year we’ve been buying stories is that my own assumptions have been challenged. Writers have found ways to incorporate their examinations of these topics with SFnal tropes that have truly delighted, surprised, and touched me. ‘‘The Sound of His Voice’’ by William Jablonsky springs to mind. The story is about a mother dealing with her son who has been infected by a zombie virus, and the amount of prejudice she gets while trying to manage her son in public is familiar to any parent, but particu­larly those whose children have unusual difficulties or come from marginalized backgrounds.

I’m also pleased to have found stories about even more universal human experiences, which just happen to have characters who aren’t the usual cis-straight-white-male default we see too often. Amy Ogden’s ‘‘To Touch the Sun Before it Fades’’ is set on Pluto, and is a story about losing a loved one when you’re too far away to see them before they pass away. The main character and her family in the story are polyamorous, but the story isn’t about polyamory. I love stories that do that – just present people with unusual lifestyles as regular characters. It helps normalize ideas that some people might not otherwise have experience with.

Your magazine has a focus on diversity and new writers. How do you encourage submissions from a wide range of authors?

We put a wide call out when we opened for submissions, I personally pinged authors I knew who came from a wide range of backgrounds, and I made it clear that I would prioritize stories by and about those with marginalized voices. We have a checkbox on our submission form where you can let me know you’re a new author (that is, never sold a SFWA eligible story before). We don’t ask for race or other details (although I have started asking for pronoun preference once I’ve bought a story, so I can refer to the person properly in my editor notes), but some authors have chosen to mention these things in their cover letters. It isn’t a make-or-break factor – I have published stories by white people who appear to be cis and straight and male, and just being something other than that isn’t going to make me buy a story that isn’t up to our standards – but it is definitely a factor I consider each time I buy a story.

I’m delighted by the number of authors from other coun­tries I see. It’s definitely more of a challenge to edit those stories – when I was doing Hannah Onoguwe’s ‘‘Tony(e)’’, I found myself googling Nigerian words and customs, and I asked her questions to make sure I was understanding what she wanted to present about the culture, so I wouldn’t ac­cidentally cut something just because I didn’t get it at first.

I’ve noticed that I have certain habits I’m developing as an editor. I’m pretty harsh when it comes to descriptions of a woman’s body – if you have a paragraph where you introduce three male characters and one woman, and you only tell me what the woman looks like, I’m not likely to trust you as my kind of writer. I have bought stories that had some prob­lematic, fat-shaming lines in them that I have asked authors to cut, if they didn’t otherwise contribute to the narrative.

Feminist and body size issues are easier, however, than issues pertaining to groups I’m not a part of. I don’t want to publish a story that has a character with autism if that story is going to upset that community by getting something wrong.It’s the same thing with stories about trans people, or stories about people with disabilities, etc. This is when that friendly note in the cover letter, letting me know the author’s experience with, or membership in those groups, is so helpful! I am much more likely to trust a member of a community to get it right than someone else – although I definitely have seen great pieces by folks who fit into the latter. I do my best to keep up with the current acceptable ways of talking about these things, because I know we’re all capable of making mistakes now and then, despite our best intentions. I want our magazine to get it as right as possible, though!

What’s happening next? Are there any upcoming stories or projects you’re particularly excited about?

There’s one story coming up, called ‘‘RIBSian Joke’’ by Avi Naftali, that I read once and got that glorious tingly feeling you get when you read a really great story. When you get to buy that story, and get it illustrated and help show it to the world, that tingly feeling becomes such a high! It’s the kind of surreal piece that’s close enough to magical realism to give it a dreamlike quality – that sense of the familiar mixed liberally with great dollops of whimsy. I get something new out of it every time I read it, and I’m really excited to be publishing it.

We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary (we launched at WorldCon last year, though we won’t be represented in Helsinki this year, alas), and we’re start­ing to look at putting together audio books and anthologies of the stories we’ve published. I’m hoping to put together a reading at a local bookstore soon that features authors who’ve been published in Persistent Visions so far (living in the San Francisco Bay Area means I have a decent pool to choose from here, too).

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

I’m still a writer, even if this magazine is taking up the majority of my writing time lately! My husband, Tim Pratt, and I are launching a Kickstarter in June for The Christmas Mummy and Other Carols, a collection of all of our holiday stories that have been featured in Podcastle every year for the past eight years, plus some additional and new holiday pieces as well. I am one of the rotating hosts of a monthly local event in San Francisco called Saturday Write Fever, where writers get 30 minutes to write a monologue based on a prompt, and then actors have five minutes to rehearse it before performing it on stage. It’s an instant, mini-new-plays festival, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s the second Saturday of every month at the Exit Theatre, and I would love to see more of the SF/F community come out and show their stuff there!

 

Kameron Hurley: Story Isn’t Just “Stuff Happens”

I brought my dogs to a new dog park this weekend, one frequented by experienced dog owners who enjoyed socializing their dogs. The park I usually go to is less frequented, with fewer dogs, and the owners are all worried and anxious sorts. Their dogs tend to be unsocialized, which contributes to their own fear about their dog’s potential behavior, and then their anxiety gets to the dogs, too, making the dogs fearful, and it’s one big go-around that makes everyone miserable.

We all think we know how dogs work because many of us interacted with them as children, and we see them every day – in the park, in someone’s house, on television, in funny dog videos. But simple exposure doesn’t make us great dog people any more than reading a lot of books automatically makes us great writers.

At this new dog park, I was sharing the space with people who understood dogs. They knew when to let them work out their differences with each other, and when to break it up. The dogs could run around and after each other, sniffing each other and barking and romping, and nobody jerked at their leads or anxiously hovered over them. When I caught a group of dogs snarling and tussling, I went up to them and clapped my hands sharply to snap them out of it, and the pack ceased and moved on.

There is a freedom that comes from understand­ing dogs and letting them be dogs, but I had to learn how dogs were different from humans before I, too, was able to relax. Working with animals is like working with aliens. Even dogs, which have been bred to work companionably with humans, have alien ways of interacting with each other and the world, because their sense of the world is so very different from ours. Understanding that went a long way toward making me a better guardian to my dogs. Before I worked to figure out dog behav­ior, I’d spend a lot of time yelling at my dogs, futilely believing that leash tugging did anything at all, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I learned a lot of bad habits from friends and family who’d had dogs – disciplinary actions that, it turns out, not only don’t work, but actively harm the dog emotionally, and make them even more neurotic.

What fascinated me was how long I could get along in life not under­standing the proper way to let a dog be a dog, when I had grown up with them, and when there were dogs all around me. It was the same process I went through when I realized that for my entire life, I was being taught how to write, but not how to tell stories. Here was this very human thing we all need to learn how to do, something every human intrinsically longs for and every human society does, and yet when it came time to learn how to put sentences down, I learned about grammar rules and how to make a singular perfect sentence… but not how to make that collection of sentences move people. I was being taught to get along with the words, and bend them to my will, in a way that simply wasn’t natural to the way that human beings use them.

Just because we have read stories doesn’t mean we intrinsically know how to write them, the same way that simply having a dog isn’t going to teach you how to better understand them.

Why do we teach people how to write instead of how to tell stories? Perhaps this is because we assume everyone knows how to tell a story. We relate anecdotes and gossip from a very young age. It’s part of being a social creature. But the act of storytelling at length is a skill that must be honed like any other, and it’s not a skill that we teach.

Storytelling is a powerful skill that can be leveraged in a variety of media, from books and comic books to videos and podcasts and narra­tive games of all sorts. One would think a potentially lucrative skill like storytelling would be an especially teachable thing today, but instead, I see novelists and filmmakers obsessed with issues of the medium instead of the message they want to deliver through that medium. It’s why so many novels ends up being just piles of pretty words stringing together events that don’t seem to build to anything, and so many films feature explosions and sex scenes that leave us feeling wowed by spectacle and then immediately empty, like eating junk food. There’s no emotional resonance. There’s nothing there. There’s no story.

My epiphany with story came during the realiza­tion that there are always two stories that make up a good piece of fiction. There is the external story, the thing we would call ‘‘plot.’’ These are the ex­plosions and sex scenes and betrayals. Then there is the internal emotional story, the ‘‘so what?’’ Da­mon Knight was infamous for writing ‘‘so what?’’ at the end of student stories that didn’t move him. That’s because this internal emotional plot is the engine of all those external plot elements. It is this internal story, the character’s desires and eventual emotional realization or reversal, which must drive that external story. If you have a series of events strung together that don’t move your protagonist, they are not likely to move your reader.

I expect that this lazy way of creating media persists because it’s still very possible to make money writing pure spectacle – there will always be a brisk market for porn and explosions. But the truly enduring stories, the narratives we encourage our friends to pick up and which happily make money for their creators over decades, the stories that outlast their creators, are the ones that reveal some core human truth.

While it may appear that we seek stories as a means of escape, nothing could be further from the truth. We seek out stories because they help us make sense of the world and societies we live in today, which is the real reason we grasp for them most during dark times. We seek out stories to learn how to be better humans, to learn how to cope with loss and heart­ache and fear and war and peace and utter despair, as well as stories about joy, found families, reconciling with loved ones, and finding an emotional connection with others. Stories that fail to explore these basic emotional challenges are stories that will soon lose our interest.

In truth, it is far easier and less harrowing to teach young people the rules of grammar than those of human emotion, because the human heart is complex and messy and sometimes dirty and awful and silly. We are, often, aliens even to one another. It is our shared stories that can bring us together.

This disassociation from human emotion also dooms many would-be science fiction writers in particular, who spend so much time creating a technological widget that they forget that the reason we’re reading science fiction isn’t for the widget – it’s to find out how the widget affects the way we live and love. We want to know how it will change us or help us explore what it is to be human.

As we go about plotting our futures, let’s remember that readers are far more interested in exploring what it means to be human than how gram­matically correct our sentences are. Pretty writing does not equal explosive story. Pretty writing without story might look nice, but it is like trying to engage a dog by yanking at its leash. You may have its attention for a short moment, but if you want its full attention, you’d be better served by offering up a piece of cheese that speaks to its powerful sense of smell and voracious appetites.

Humans are emotional creatures. We crave emotional stories. Carving that out and away tries to turn us into something we are not. Tell me what it means to be human. Awaken my fears, my hopes, my desires, and show me how to get through the very best and worst that life has to offer. I’ll thank you for it with my pocketbook, and I’ll tell my friends.


Comments from the 2017 Locus Poll and Survey

Here are comments, very lightly edited and presented anonymously, submitted by voters in this year’s Locus Poll and Survey. Results of the poll will be published in the magazine’s July issue; survey results will appear in August issue.

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A link to a sample of each entry would help, if it’s a book we haven’t tried yet. There are so many it’s bound to happen. Especially for artists.

A lot of what you appear to be classifying as “Young Adult” is actually “Middle Grade”. There is a significant difference in the types of books in those age categories. At very least, it would be good if you labeled the “Young Adult” section as “Young Adult and Middle Grade”, although separate sections would show the diversity of content better.

All of you are the Best! Thanks.

Although I get that it does not help with the demographic, etc. info for your advertisers, you should explore data on reading from the library.

although i’ve never been a subscriber i have donated to at least one project (sf archive related) you all have done in the past. and i love love love what you do with the list, the poll, reviewing in general, and offering a way to broaden one’s perspective on the field (even though i pay more attention some years than others). keep up the good work!

Are the Dragon Awards legitimate awards? Is there any transparency at all in how/who is nominated and selected?

As a retired person on a fixed income I have started using the library to keep up with the Locus Recommended list purchasing books when I have to.

As always: Define “collector.” I checked “no” because I’m more of an accumulator, not a systematic collector — but I own thousands of books. In the “pleasure reading” question, define SF — science fiction in the narrower sense, or all spec fic? I checked “yes” because I assume fantasy is included. As for the magazine, I register my usual perception that the number of book reviews has declined in recent years. If so, I wish you would add a few more pages of short reviews to each issue. (Personally, I would prefer those over additional interviews if choices had to be made.)

As per usual — a lot of the books I buy are “remainders” and I am never sure whether you want me to count those as new or used.

As usual in recent years, I didn’t vote for anything in the poll. I rarely read short fiction and I only buy new novels in mass market pb, and there are so few of those now that only a very few are on your list, and I haven’t read them yet. I continue to strongly believe that the “trade paper” book format is a ripoff of the reader (and the only purpose for hardbacks is to go into libraries), and I refuse to buy them new. For the last few years, I’ve been buying them used online – more expensive than libraries but much more flexible and convenient for me. Sooo…. it’s fine if you don’t want to give me an additional month for filling in the survey.

Avid reader

Continue doing a great job. I look forward to getting Locus.

Continue doing reviews on horror and weird fiction!!!

Could you please add a graphic novel selection to this nomination list?

Demographic & cultural outlier. A dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Fantastic magazine with remarkable staff

Glad you’re still here. Keep up the good work!

Good job. Go ahead! 🙂

Great magazine – keep up the good work.

Great magazine. Thank You.

Great magazine: the reviews have led to me to wonderful reading, the upcoming lists are really useful. I was very sad that the World Fantasy Award removed Lovecraft.

Hang in there, LOCUS! I know financial times are tough for us all, but HANG IN THERE! The field needs you!

Hard to single out Rich Larson far and away best of 2016. So many good stories which to nominate?

Hello, Locus Crew, Sorry for sending this so late. I was waiting to see if my granddaughter would sign up for softball this year. She would have played in a division that used score keepers. But she decided not to play so I will have to wait one more year when my grandson (her cousin) will be out of T-Ball and in a Coach Pitch League that will need a score keeper. It has been 15 years since my son has played so I might be a little rusty but I am ready to get back to it.

Hi colleagues, good article and fastidious arguments commented at this place, I am truly enjoying by these.

I adore Locus and it is one of the main sources for book shopping that I use every year. Keep up the *great* work.

I appreciate the terrific job that the Locus staff does every month in keeping up to date on the world of science fiction. I look forward to every issue.

I bet the readership is continuing to age, slowly & gracefully.

I buy very few books as I receive about 20 a month for free.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Locus exists — thank you. Keep up the good work!

I don’t really read books any more. When I did read books, they were nonfiction books such as Stiff and Salt. I buy hard and soft cover books for friends and family for Christmas. I don’t watch TV, but I do go out to the movies. I signed up for HBO just to watch Game of Thrones. I watch science and humor videos on YouTube. Hope this helps!

I generally do NOT write-in my votes but this year I did. It seemed to me that 2016 was a weaker year for SF/F Short fiction than 2015. I nominated and voted in the Hugo awards both years and read a lot relative to what I used to read.

I get 98% of my books from the Library

I get most of my books from the library.

I have a digital subscription, & a paper one. The latter I can share with a friend who can’t afford his own. I prefer to read novels in paper, and shorter fiction on my i-pad (Kindle) I find it surprising to see so many fantasy stories on the Hugo, when there’s also a World Fantasy Convention, etc. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

I have been subscribing to Locus for years. The quality of the writing, editorials and commentary continues to remain exemplary. Locus Staff…you are appreciated!

I have only read TWO of the “suggested” books. The rest I would not read if you paid me, as they just aren’t good stories (and I am NOT a “sad puppy,” just a normal SF/mystery/historical fictions reader, who reads for plot and character) FYI, I avoid anything the New York Times recommends, as well. Same reason. “Literary” does not mean interesting.

I just found out about Locus. I don’t feel I read enough of the books to vote for any. I dislike it when people vote for the only book in the category that they read. I think it would be worth noting, that I can read a book electronically, and only barely remember the title and author. Others have told me the same thing. That isn’t the same with print books. Perhaps research or an article on this could be interesting.

I look forward to Locus every month.

I lost interest in Locus when it was the same old names, indies ignored, especially women authors.

I love good genre fiction. Scalzi is a current favorite in sci fi because of his humor and decency.

I love Locus! I don’t like this survey! I love SF. Unfortunately, most of what I see today is fantasy by and about women and I can’t relate or identify as I could in the past.

I love the poll. I wish I could keep up on short fiction like I used to many years ago. I don’t collect anymore, only buying my absolute favorite authors (and occasional new ones), as I’m 70 now and need to downsize my extensive collection. So I use the library a lot, which means it’s hard to read books as they come out (libraries take a while to actually get the books). I’m a novice e-reader and expect my usage will increase over time. And my new year’s resolution is to subscribe to some of the online magazines Real Soon Now! It’s the only way to spot the new writers!

I love your collection of sci-fi awards news.

I mainly read on my smartphone so should I be including that in with ereader…?

I miss Lois Tilton’s short fiction column.

I never have enough time to read all that I want

I read a lot less now than I did when I had the bookstore….

I read a lot of library books, I hardly buy any.

I think that it is great that Locus readers are provided a voice through this poll & survey.

I wish people would stop worrying about who writes the fiction and concentrate more on the worth of the story or the book. Who cares whether the author is black, white, male, female, able bodied, disabled or a pile of spaghetti with too much garlic as long as they write good stories.

I wish you would stop asking how many books, etc. are purchased per month. If I buy 2-3 trade paperbacks a year, how am I supposed to answer the per month question? Isn’t yearly enough? The magazine continues to be great; keep up the good work!

I would like to subscribe to an electronic version. An app would be nice.

I’d heard of LOCUS for years, but couldn’t afford a subscription and often couldn’t find it in bookstores. Finally was able to subscribe a couple years back and hope to continue to do so for another 20+ years. GREAT publication!! I like the poll; wish I’d had more time to read even more of the entries here.

I’d like more coverage of sf: hard, social, international. Less fantasy & horror. Some perspective pieces too.

I’ll be honest, never heard of locus till a new author I support asked us Patreons to come vote for his books here. I hope you guys check Matthew Rossi out. Thanks!

I’m getting old enough now to see a lot of the SF concepts I read about as a child becoming reality, makes me wonder if today’s speculative fiction, especially hard SF, will have as much creation in reality in the future, if so it will be an amazing, and perhaps frightening, world.

I’m not buying as much sf/f as I did in the past — not because I’m not interested, but because, lord help me, I’m a writer and I’m broke. Busted. Bereft of funds. Two of the classes I teach were canceled this spring, so if it weren’t for libraries I could barely keep up at all. I could kvetch for hours but that would be a bore. Other than being destitute I’m doing all right. I like what I’m writing and teaching, when I get my gets, is more rewarding than should be legal. I could be worse.

I’m not sure how long I’ve subscribed to Locus, but I read it from the newsstands for several years before I did. I’m embedded in a network of friends (20+) across the country with varying tastes with whom I trade recommendations and personal evaluations of genre fiction. Locus helps me be among the most knowledgeable and helpful to others with suggestions.

Interesting about your asking about use of e-books. I have just made the decision this year to buy all my new SF as an e-book. If I like the story, I will then try to source a really good used hardcover copy, if possible. It is all down to the best bang for the buck.

Keep in mind I write fantasy with science fiction overtones, sometimes called spec fiction or scifan fiction.

Keep up the fantastic work!!! You continue each year to do Charles proud!!!

Keep up the good work. Without Locus, collecting scifi/fantasy/weird books wouldn’t be the same. Love from Sweden.

Keep up the great work!

Keep up the great work.

Keep up the increased coverage of dark fantasy and horror. I’d love it if you covered more small press publications.

Last year I let my subscription to Locus lapse for the first time in decades. I wasn’t reading the issues when the arrive in the mail, and I figured I could just pick up occasional issues at B&N. Well, you know what happened. I found myself flipping through every issue at B&N, and eventually buying it. At least I was reading it now! I finally re-subscribed last fall, and I’m glad I did.

Less choices on the forms, please. I went in knowing 2-3 things I wanted to vote for in most categories, and by having so many things on the list it was near impossible to find things I’d read and liked that I maybe didn’t remember off the top of my head.

Locus covers most of the things in the world of Science Fiction hence, I get the updated information here itself in my country. We remain grateful for the work done by the entire team.

Locus is a great way for me to find out what is coming out in book form. I prefer ink and paper to ebooks. Thank you for being such a great resource.

Locus is amazing. The poll helps me see the breadth and depth of our field, especially neat stuff I would otherwise miss.

Locus is indispensable for reviews, information, issues, and images from art and ads

Locus is one of the foundation-stones of my universe.

Locus is the best magazine ever published, especially for book collectors. However, I do wish there were more horror titles/interviews included. Thank you to all of you who work so hard to keep us informed.

Love LOCUS website!

Love Locus; always interesting!

Make it easier to find this online poll – it should be on the home page and easy to find (I had to search for “poll survey” to find it).

Most of my fiction buying is ebook. I occasionally add to my collection, but infrequently because of lack of space! I prefer non DRM ebook sellers but still buy a lot from Amazon.

My cat submitted my form for me, when it was only half filled out…this is the complete survey. Sorry about that. I’m afraid Bugbear is aptly named.

My stack of to be read books probably reaches to the moon now. 🙁

Need an easy way to tell novella/novelette/short story apart. I’m darned if I know how long something is (yes, I know it’s easy with e-books, but by the time the poll comes out I rarely have the originals around).

Not much to comment on. The real world is far more fantastic (and horrifying) than the books I read! Since I got an e-reader a couple of years ago, my book buying has exploded because I no longer need to worry about where to put all of them anymore! I now may actually achieve the library of my dreams. I read more first novels this past year than I typically have in the last 20 years or so and I liked three of them! It may well happen someday in the future when more of my reading isn’t SF, as I’m starting to read more non-fiction again. I’m reading again about the Civil War — it beats reading the news! I know how that will end. I had trouble deciding what short fiction to vote for, as I could probably do a completely different ballot in novelette and short story and still be happy with the results. I could probably replace three or four novellas and not mind the results. I suppose that means it was a good year.

Not sure if the book-buying section is meant to represent anything about book-reading practices… I answered the way I did because I review books for a living so am most often not buying them anymore.

Note: I accidentally hit submit w/out an email address 5min ago. I am not a subscriber(and am a bit weirded out by the questions asking me for so much demographic info…please reconsider/condense, it’s in poor taste to ask for income and housing status like this. The book questions I understand and would answer if the creepy stuff for you to sell to advertisers wasn’t there). I do visit the Locus website regularly. I find the updates on awards and lists of forthcoming books (both the weekly ones and the big one under ‘Resources’) very useful. Thanks for those:)

Nowadays mostly read online publications offline (i.e. after printing them)… p.s. international mailing form only lists 8-digit number

Our Locus subscription is in my husband’s name, but I do read it every month.

Pet peeve: “She was like …” used by C. J. Anders in her author’s voice; otherwise very good book, would have ranked first.

SF and F, for so many decades a large measure of my reading, has dwindled to near zero. I read your reviews, which to a one, excite me to read this or that book; so I buy it, begin reading, put it down unfinished, and walk away grumbling. Has the ability to tell a good story compellingly been lost? Or am I now just an old fart? I find better writing elsewhere so find fulfillment in those genres, mainstream literature included. While I could answer none of your business questions re the buying and reading of books, I thought to share my demographic specifics to aid your marketing effort. I enjoy reading each new issue of Locus, so want you all to continue. And to have fun in the endeavor. [I believe] Locus helps make for a sense of community comprised of people who otherwise would be too preoccupied with the enjoyable but solitary pursuit of reading. People such as me. Though of the age, I tend not to read obituaries — but I sure do appreciate the remembrances that occur in the pages of Locus. As a (sub-) culture, it is warming to remember who we were so we can better know who we are, where we came from. You guys humble me. Thank you for all you do. Best wishes!

Some of these questions are too personal and detailed. I’m just doing this as a favor to my editor. We all need to be careful about giving out information to strangers.

Start some book clubs!

Still here, still reading locus

Thank you for allowing me to express my humble opinions! 🙂

Thank you for allowing non-subscribers to vote. Money is VERY tight in my house (most books come from the library) but I still love genre fiction!

Thank you for another outstanding year of Locus

Thank you for listening to your readership and continuing to allow write in choices

Thank you for the wonderful work you all do…I appreciate the coverage you still give to authors and work not of the immediate era. How about an interview with Robert Silverberg?

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thanks for the chance to put a few nominations in. I look forward to following your work in the future.

Thanks for the hard work!! 🙂

Thanks you all for everything you do!

The buying questions were hard to answer as they vary so wildly, but I basically only buy new books as gifts. There are a couple authors whose works I know I will reread, but otherwise I buy used or borrow from the library. I could not afford to buy all the books I want to read.

The front cover design keeps getting worse and worse. The March 2017 cover with the heart trapped in barb wire is repulsive and in poor taste. I would rather have a blank cover than the cover designs you are using now.

The online magazine section of the poll could use some updating next year. ChiZine has not regularly published online content in some time. Numerous excellent publications such as Shimmer, The Book Smugglers, The Dark, and others, are regularly left off as options. Overall, Locus and Locus Online do excellent work in reviewing and providing news about the SF/F/H genres. Thank you!

There have been so many changes, fads, and different directions that science fiction and fantasy have taken since I first discovered LOTR 55 or so years ago. Many of those changes have been good–new authors, new discoveries–others, not so much. I look forward each month to see what Locus considers special, and I need to read more of those recommendations. Maybe someday…

There should be a separate podcasts category!

This is a lot of work! I hope it helps 🙂 as

This survey is too long, I nearly quit before I finished. It’s also too invasive. You don’t ask about how many free books people receive; your quiz makes it look like I’m not drowning in free books.

When you guys say “new books” do you mean new as in “not used” or new as in “it was first published this calendar year”?

Why did you snub Too Like the Lightning, probably the best book of 2016? It makes me doubt your judgement, it really does.

Works/people that give me the most hope and make me the most excited for our genre: Uncanny Magazine/Michi Trota/Lynne & Michael Thomas Sofia Samatar Mary Robinette Kowal Kat Howard Ken Liu Anthony Ryan Michael J. Sullivan Saga Press Navah Wolfe and: Locus! etc. Thanks for all you do!

You guys continue to rock it hard after all these years. Thanks for being my lifeline into the worlds of SF!!!

You guys didn’t ask about Library use – I read way more than your survey indicates, because I can’t afford to buy every book I want to read – but CAN take them out at the library – and that goes for e-books, too!

You should include both publishers where something is published in the US and the UK!

Ellen Klages: Magic in the Mix

Ellen Janeway Klages was born July 9, 1954 in Columbus OH. She attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1972, but dropped out in her sophomore year, spent time as a camp counselor and working at a book factory, then returned to college, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a philosophy degree. She worked at a pinball arcade and as a photographer before moving onto various jobs related to printing and publishing. ‘‘P’’ turned out to be a good letter. She spent four years working as the self-proclaimed ‘‘minister of propaganda’’ for Harbin Hot Springs resort in Northern California, and wrote its history: Harbin Hot Springs: Healing Waters, Sacred Land (1991). In 1992 she began working part time as a proofreader for the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum in San Francisco. She later began writing for the museum, collaborating with Pat Murphy and others on a series of science books for kids: The Science Explorer (1996), The Science Explorer Out and About (1997), and The Brain Explorer (1999). She also wrote the science activity book Exploratorium: A Year of Discoveries (1997).

Klages has published many highly regarded works of short fiction, beginning with Nebula and Hugo finalist ‘‘Time Gypsy’’ (1999). Other stories include Nebula nominee ‘‘Flying Over Water,’’ Nebula winner ‘‘Basement Magic’’ (2003), ‘‘The Green Glass Sea’’ (2004), ‘‘In the House of the Seven Librarians’’ (2006), and World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘Singing on a Star’’ (2009). Novella ‘‘Wakulla Springs’’, with Andy Duncan, (2013) was a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist and won the World Fantasy award. Her new novella Passing Strange (2017) is a historical fantasy set in 1940s San Francisco. Her short fiction has been collected in World Fantasy Award nominee Portable Childhoods (2007) and Wicked Wonders (2017). First novel The Green Glass Sea (2006) is about the Manhattan Project, and won the Scott O’Dell Award for best young adult historical fiction. Sequel White Sands, Red Menace appeared in 2010, and a third volume in the series, Out of Left Field is forthcoming in 2018.

Klages was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2000. She served for many years on the Motherboard for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (retiring in 2015), and used her considerable improv and comedy skills as the host of the annual Tiptree auction until 2013. She lives in San Francisco.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘On the cover of The Green Glass Sea, it says ‘Ages nine and up.’ The up that I know of is 96. It was marketed not even as YA, but as middle grade. The funny thing is, when I wrote the story ‘The Green Glass Sea’ for Strange Horizons in 2003, I didn’t write it any differently than I write for adults. My now-former agent turned the book down even though I had an editor, Sharyn November, who wanted it, saying, ‘It’s too sophisticated for children and too simple for adults, so I don’t think there’s a market for it.’ I didn’t write it as a middle grade or a YA – I just wrote it. It’s no different than anything else I write. Which means that I was not talking down to children, because I never actually thought children were my readers. But all of a sudden, I’m a middle-grade author. I won the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction, which was amazing, a big national award, and suddenly I had all this attention. Now I go to speak to classes of fourth and fifth and sixth graders. The book has been out for almost 11 years, so the kids who were nine then are in college, and somewhere out there, even as we speak, someone’s making a kid who’s going to be nine in nine years. Whereas for adult books, it comes out, the people who read it read it, maybe it gets word of mouth and lasts a couple of years. But there’s a new crop of nine-year-olds every year.”

*
‘‘My novella with Andy Duncan, ‘Wakulla Springs’, came out in 2013. We started writing it in 2003, the year I turned in The Green Glass Sea. ‘Started writing’ is a euphemism. I had this idea. I’d read an article about somebody interviewing a chimp in a trailer park in LA. The chimp was dressed in a white shirt, suspenders, and old man pants, and he was smoking a cigar and drinking whiskey. He was supposedly the chimp who had been Cheetah in the 1933 Tarzan movies, and he was the oldest chimp ever – he was 50-something, living in a trailer park. It was an article in The National Enquirer, and I clipped it out and put it in a folder, and thought, ‘There’s a story there.’ I saw something in Reader’s Digest about non-native species in Florida, because petting zoos and circuses and things like that would just let the animals go when they went bankrupt. There’s a population of monkeys somewhere in Florida, like 200 or 300 of them, and there are flocks of wild parrots, and now boa constrictors. I put that in the same folder with the Tarzan things. When they made the movies in the ’30s, they’d just set the animals free when the movie was over, thinking ‘one jungle’s the same as another.’ So 20 years ago, I had this folder full of ideas about Cheetah and Tarzan movies and non-native species in Florida, and every once in a while I would find another article, clip it out and put it in this folder. One night, sometime around 2002 or so, I was thinking, ‘This is an Andy Duncan story. It’s set in the deep South, which Andy does so well.’ I have no idea how Andy Duncan writes a story. He’s brilliant. I’ve read his stories. I still have no idea how he does it.

‘‘Andy and I were at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, I think in 2003, in Ft. Lauderdale, in a hotel that was slowly disintegrating into mildew, and I came up to Andy and said, ‘I have a story idea, let me pitch it and I’ll buy you a beer.’ He said, ‘I’m not working on an anthology or anything.’ I said, ‘I know. I have this idea and I think it’s an Andy Duncan story.’ I bought Andy a beer, and told him about my folder and what was in it. After an hour or so – and another beer – he said, ‘Maybe we should write it together. And maybe with both our names on it, we might even be able to sell it.’”

*

‘‘I wrote Passing Strange because Jonathan Strahan came to me and said, ‘I’m acquiring for Tor.com’s new novella line. Do you want to write one?’ I said, ‘I literally have not written anything in about two years.’ I had three stories that came out in 2014, but I had written them before my back went out. Still, I said ‘Sure,’ because I kind of needed a reason to live, and I didn’t want to disappear from the SF world without a trace. In 2014, my name and Andy’s name were on everybody’s list of everything for the year – it wasn’t like anybody was going to forget about us that year. But karma has no shelf life.

‘‘Jonathan said, ‘I need a proposal.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? It’s a short story. You want me to know what the story’s about before I write it?’ I don’t do that. I get ideas, but they’re just inklings that may or may not pan out as the story emerges. But I made up a proposal. I didn’t know if I could write. I didn’t even know if I could sit, much less type and think and have a brain. It was a risk. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish it, and I didn’t know if I did finish it, if I was gonna be writing to the best of my ability. But I said yes anyway.”

*

‘‘My new collection is called Wicked Wonders, and it’s nearly all of the short fiction I’ve written in the past decade, except for ‘Wakulla Springs’. Fourteen stories. One of them is ‘The Scary Ham’, which is non-fiction, and was a speech at the Nebulas in 2014, and then became a movie, and for a while I was thinking it was the thing I’d be most known for. There’s a previously unpublished story. The book has an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, which is such an honor.

‘‘I’m excited about it. Some stories have been reprinted a couple of times, but there are others that I really love which, in the way of short stories, came out and then disappeared. A brand-new one, ‘Woodsmoke’, is appearing there for the first time. I wrote it in 2012 for a Sharyn November Firebirds anthology that Viking decided not to do. There’s another story that is now called ‘Gone to the Library’ that came out in Eclipse Three. I had never been completely satisfied with the ending, and Jacob Weisman at Tachyon asked if I could rewrite it because he didn’t like the ending, either. It’s essentially the same story, rewritten, which I’ve never done before. The rest of the stories are as originally published.”

*

‘‘I love short stories. Imagine holding a small carved bowl, its weight and shape and size a perfect fit for two cupped hands. The grain of the wood flows with the bowl’s curves. The interplay of light and dark pleases the eye. The texture is silken against your skin. You turn it, admiring the craft, the artistry, and the detail. ‘It’s lovely,’ you say, handing it back to its creator. Then you say, ‘Now when are you going to make something real, like furniture?’ Now imagine the bowl is a short story. Why do so many readers and writers consider short stories to be some sort of training wheels? As if writing a short story is just a way of wobbling around until you find your balance, and are ready for the big-girl bike of a novel? Sigh. For many years I swore up and down I would never write a novel, because I do so love short stories. There was something about maintaining my sense of artistic purity or something. Then I wrote The Green Glass Sea. The story ‘The Green Glass Sea’ is the last chapter of the novel The Green Glass Sea. I can’t claim any sort of moral high ground for never writing a novel because I’ve written three of them now.”

 

Paul Tremblay: Aftermath

Paul Gaetan Tremblay was born June 30, 1971 in Aurora CO, and grew up in Beverley MA. He attended Providence College in Rhode Island, graduating in 1993, and in 1995 obtained a Master’s in Mathematics from the University of Vermont (1995). He became a math teacher and junior varsity basketball coach for a private high school after graduation. He began publishing with ‘‘King Bee’’ (2001), and most of his early work was under the byline Paul G. Tremblay. Notable short works include novellas City Pier: Above and Below (2007) and The Harlequin and the Train (2009), and Stoker Award finalists ‘‘There’s No Light Between Floors’’ (2007) and ‘‘The Teacher’’ (2007). First collection Compositions for the Young and Old appeared in 2004, followed by In the Mean Time (2010). He edited anthologies Bandersnatch (2007) and Phantom (2009) with Sean Wallace, and Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (2011) with John Langan.

Tremblay’s debut novel The Little Sleep (2009) started the PI Mark Genevich sequence, followed by No Sleep Till Wonderland (2010). Other books include Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (2012), World Fantasy Award finalist and Stoker Award winner A Head Full of Ghosts (2015), and Stoker Award finalist Disappearance at Devil’s Rock (2016). With Stephen Graham Jones he wrote Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (2014, under the name P.T. Jones).

He lives outside Boston MA with his family.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I wasn’t a reader until grad school. I was a good boy in high school , and I read for English class, and I vaguely remember reading as a kid, Choose Your Own Adventure stuff, but I didn’t really read for pleasure. I was small and skinny, and I wanted to be Larry Bird. I spent most of my time outside shooting hundreds of shots a day. Look at where it’s got me now! When I was outside, I had this interior fantasy world, because I was in my own head, outside shooting baskets and day dreaming, thinking about things. Music was important to me also. I’d come home and lay on the floor and tent the speakers over my head and lay in between them and listen to whatever records I happened to be listening to, for hours. I intensely remember the smell of the rug and the feel of the speakers, imagining I was performing the songs. I still do that when listening to music. I was definitely a child of the ’80s. Cable TV was new. I watched a ton of movies and a ton of TV. HBO would show the same movies over and over again, so I’d watch the same movies over and over again.”

*
‘‘I attempted some early novels that were not good at all. In the early 2000s, I started selling some short stories to horror markets. I joined the Horror Writers Association. When I joined they had this mentor program, and I got hooked up with Steve Eller, who’s a writer, and at the time he was a fiction editor for ChiZine, which was then called Chiaroscuro. It was a big fiction market, it paid professionally, and it was online. Steve was such a huge help for my development. I could never thank him enough. Then there was just finding the community and passing stories back and forth with friends. I think I got serious about writing in the late ’90s. The first stuff I wrote was terrible, and got rejected, but I started getting more encouraging rejection letters. First sales were for $20 or $25. I never would submit to non-paying markets. I had to get something. My first professional paying sales were in 2001.

‘‘I hope my strength is characters. It’s certainly my interest as a reader. I have a terrible memory for books, for story, even for the title or the characters’ names, and I can’t describe the plot usually a week or two after reading something – but I definitely remember the characters, and the emotions I felt. I hope that comes out in my writing, because that’s where my interest is.”

*

‘‘I’ll admit to a frustration with young-adult writing. I like reading YA, and there’s some good stuff that’s being done. I co-wrote a young adult novel with Stephen Graham Jones, and my frustration with that process is I feel like I don’t do the writing any differently. I think a strength of mine has always been writing child characters or teen characters. People have told me that the teen/child characters were the strengths of my most recent books. But when we wrote the YA novel we got feedback like, ‘There’s too much texting,’ or ‘We don’t like what the parents are doing.’ The book wasn’t for the parents or for the teachers. It was about what teens do and how they think. I’m not going to call myself a world expert on teens, but I’ve taught them for 20 years and I have two of them in my house now. I vividly remember that emotional life, and I still feel like a teen. To be fair, this is a very anecdotal experience of mine, but in YA I feel some people are writing to what they think the YA market is, as opposed to the actual teen experience. There’s a feeling of safety in some YA, like nothing bad is going to happen to any characters you care about. Which makes it less a horror story, and more of an adventure.”

*

‘‘In Devil’s Rock, I wanted to confront those heavy-duty emotions. If you haven’t already had a death in the family, you’re going to have to deal with that at some point. I think for some there’s almost a bit of attraction to that kind of grieflike when you see these adults who glom onto these large global catastrophes. They seem to react on such a personal level – it seems a little unseemly. There’s a weird attraction, a desire to know what happened. Maybe as a way to understand it… because you can’t understand it. The only way to try to understand a big horrible thing is to connect to it, even though it might not affect you directly. That’s why the emotional lives of characters in books are so interesting to me. I want to know why people react in certain ways to different situations, and what decisions they’re going to make after that. In the best horror stories, the horror happens somewhere in the middle. The interesting part for me is the aftermath: ‘What are people going to do now? How does anybody live through that?’ When horror’s done really well, it can get at those questions in a disturbing way.”

*

‘‘I have a new book deal with Morrow. A couple of novels and a collection. The first novel will be in 2018, the collection in 2019, and another novel in 2020. The first novel is my twist on a home invasion story. I’m not really a fan of home invasion movies, though that’s a popular subgenre of horror. I thought, ‘How would I do a home invasion novel I’d like to read?’ The collection is going to be a lot of the stories I’ve written in the last five years. I might write a couple of originals. The fun part will be one original story that takes place in the universe of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Then I’m going to write a story featuring Merry from A Head Full of Ghosts. She’s going to be at a convention, after the book has come out, and she’ll be confronted by a fan, and tell the fan a story. That’s going to be a fun connection to both novels.”

 

Cory Doctorow: Weaponized Narrative

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’’ To this day, especially in times of ‘‘disaster,’’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. Mr Rogers

In 2013, I published a column in Locus called ‘‘Ten Years On’’, where I reflected on the astonishing decade that had gone past since the publication of my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and ruminated on the novel I would write next:

I’ve been thinking that writing books in which people act good while not facing much existential adversity is a kind of easy optimism. Much more interesting are stories about people who behave well when they are at risk for life and limb: the person who shares with his neighbor when doing so might mean his own starvation; the person who takes in an orphan when she can hardly feed her own children. In short, the most optimistic fiction you can write is fiction where people treat each other well under conditions of crisis.

This month, that novel will be published. It’s called Walkaway, and it’s my first novel for adult readers since 2009. It garnered early praise from many of my personal heroes: Edward Snowden, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Yochai Benkler, the Harvard legal scholar whose Wealth of Networks is the best book ever written about the promise and peril of the end of scarcity.

Walkaway is a utopian disaster novel. It’s a novel about people doing right for one another under conditions of adversity. It’s a deliberate, tactical rebuttal of the science fiction stories (including my own) that resort to the easy, lazy trope of having civilization erupt into violence, rape, and chaos the minute that technology fails. Those are stories whose underlying theory of humanity is that a large number of people are just bastards, and if they thought they could get away with it, they would come over and kill you and eat you and wear your skin.

It’s a bizarre belief. There are many crimes that people could commit with impunity – spend ten minutes googling basic lock-picking and you’ll realize that there’s literally nothing stopping you from letting yourself into your neighbor’s house while they’re out except the fact that it’s a creepy thing to do (you’ll also realize that lock-makers are basically fraudsters). The thing that keeps you from walking into your neighbor’s house, making long-distance calls, wearing their underwear, and eating all the food in their fridge is the story you tell yourself about what is and isn’t normal, proportional, and moral. You might bear a grudge against your neighbor, might actively dislike them, but even so, letting yourself in their back door and filling their shoes with chocolate pudding is just not on.

When binoculars and telescopes got cheap, we already had a story about the fundamental creepiness of looking into other peoples’ windows. The illegality of doing so might provide some kind of abstract deterrent, but the statistical reality of peeping tommery is that you could almost certainly peep all the toms you wanted without ever getting caught. Laws against voyeurism are the result of the narrative, not the cause of it.

Rather, the two have a feedback cycle between them: laws that accord with the narrative strengthen it (and vice-versa); laws that are out of step with the narrative weaken it (and vice-versa). As Lenny Bruce famously observed: the law against having sex with a chicken implies that, at some point, someone decided to give it a try. That chicken law affirms our narrative that we should leave poultry be, and that narrative in turn eased the law’s passage. Meanwhile, other sexual laws – laws about things that consenting adults do – aren’t just unjust, they also legitimize the narrative about the acts’ immorality. The counter-narrative about the legitimacy and decency of things that loving people do to make each other happy makes it easier to repeal the laws. The laws’ repeal makes it easier to promote the narrative.

The future is a land of contested narratives. Standing on a corner with a camera, recording your neighbors as they pass by – or conspicuously recording them with a dictaphone on a city bus – will earn you something between filthy looks and a punch in the face. But putting a CCTV on the front of your building – or putting a ‘‘Sound recording in effect’’ sign up on the city bus – is apt to pass by without comment. We have a narrative about urban privacy that says that recording someone with fixed surveillance gadgets is fundamentally different from whipping a surveillance tool out of your pocket and pointing it them. That narrative – which is tissue-thin and awfully convenient – has transformed our cities without anyone even noticing very much.

The 2016 US federal election campaign was a war of narratives, and the winning one was about the bestial nature of our fellow humans. It was a story that played into the lazy trope of mass unrest waiting to break out, already broken out, about to break out further. It was based on demonizing whole populations – entire cities, entire ethnic groups, entire countries and regions – with the threat that they would both contribute to, and riot in, the breakdown of the social order.

This is an old narrative, the xenophobia story, and it’s what makes crises into tragedies. The world has many disasters in its future: between climate change and microbes and wars and the security/technology debt in our badly designed, widely deployed Internet of Things, we are set for plenty of challenges in the future. We can only resolve these challenges cooperatively. No one nation can sort out climate change – even the Nepalese can’t simply withdraw to their high ground while the seas rise, because they’re still sharing an atmosphere and microbes with the rest of us. If the Syrian refugee crisis has taught us anything, it’s that wars affect many nations, not just the belligerents. It’s trivially obvious that when a city fails, it will need skilled people and those of good will to put it back on its feet – engineers and doctors and childcare workers and carpenters – and that cities happen to be conveniently filled with those people, so the optimal way to get things running with a minimum of fuss and suffering isn’t to bug out, it’s to grab a shovel and start digging.

That’s what you’d do, right? I mean, when you read those pessimistic disaster novels about the rioting cannibalistic underclasses who’ll come for you when the lights go out, you’ll find that the people you’re meant to empathize with are the good ones: the ones who are picking up the pieces and starting over again. The helpers. That’s who we root for. The helpers are right here. When the lights go out, the helpers find their flashlights, clean out their freezers, and have a barbecue for the neighborhood.

That’s what makes an optimistic disaster story: it’s one in which the major challenge isn’t bad people, it’s the belief in the badness of people.

Walkaway is a weaponized counternarrative of human goodness. It’s a deliberate attempt to help us tell ourselves better stories. I hope you enjoy it.



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