This is a short story set in the Lady Astronaut Universe. It is does not contain any real spoilers for the novels — or at least nothing you couldn’t glean from a blurb about the books. Although it takes place between books 1 and 2, you don’t need to have read anything in the LAU to follow this.
Here’s the teaser
by Mary Robinette Kowal
MOON COLONY EXPANDS TO 100 COLONISTS
Sep. 26, 1960 (AP) — The International Aerospace Coalition announced today that the lunar colony, established last year, was ready to expand to hold 100 colonists. This is the next step in preparing to colonize Mars, but although many still question the necessity of such an endeavor.
Patches of orange light from the sodium vapor lamps fractured the dark parking lot at the IAC’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Six-thirty in the morning was a brutal time to start work and Ruby was already sore and exhausted, which was she tried to tell herself was good practise as an astronaut.
All she wanted was to do the NBL training run and then collapse in bed, but somehow she’d agreed to another lindy-hop dance rehearsal tonight. It was just hard to disappoint a friend that you’d been dancing with since before the Meteor struck. She didn’t have that many pieces of Before left in her life.
I’m looking for 5-10 new readers. Just raise your hand in the comments below.
What will happen then is that I’ll email you with the link and instructions on what sort of feedback I’m looking for.
Chris Cutler is joining us today to talk about his anthology Unspun. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Whatever happened to “happily ever after”?
Heroes search for happiness, villains plot revenge, and nothing is as easy as it once seemed. Gretel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, an orphan girl questions Rumpelstiltskin’s legacy, a monster cat searches for a child to eat, and the pied piper realizes stealing a hundred and thirty children may not have been his smartest idea.
Fairy tales have endured for centuries even though—or perhaps because—their conclusions are often more unsettling than satisfying. In Unspun, eleven storytellers come together to challenge and explore a few of those classic tales. Unexpected twists are sure to provoke both thought and laughter.
What’s Chris’ favorite bit?
Fairy tales are wonderfully flawed, and we love them for it. They are morality tales whose morals have changed. They are cautionary tales repurposed as entertainment. They are improbable tales built out of incongruities and logic holes. They are escapist tales in which love at first sight relationships and rags-to-riches success fade to “Happily Ever After” before the heroine has time to confront the lasting consequences of her adventure. And I am convinced that we love fairy tales precisely because of these flaws, because each dissonant quality compels us to tell the story over again in a new way. Without those rough edges to catch our imagination, they couldn’t have embedded themselves so deeply into our social consciousness.
If you can’t tell, I happen to really love fairy tale adaptations. Several of my all-time favorite books fall into that category, as do many of the bedtime stories I tell my children. There is something inescapably fun about unpacking motivations to make the characters feel genuine. There is something incredibly satisfying about rearranging background events and people to justify the narrative thread of a story. And, at heart, there is something simply wonderful about telling a familiar story in a new and exciting way. I was thrilled by the experience of participating in this anthology because it not only allowed me to join some great authors in doing exactly this sort of unpacking, rearranging, and retelling, but it also let each of us explore the wonderful realm of “What happens next?”
For example, I absolutely adore Jeanna Stay’s story “Breadcrumbs,” which follows Gretel after she escapes the horrors of the gingerbread house. How do you return to your family after betrayal and abandonment? How do you escape the nightmares that remind you of what you had to do to survive? Gretel’s struggle to find hope and direction after the trauma of her fairy tale is intensely personal and beautifully told.
Another personal favorite from the anthology is Katherine Cowley’s novella “Tatterhood and the Prince’s Hand.” In the original fairy tale, Tatterhood is an ugly princess who rides a goat and wields a magic spoon. After rescuing her sister from trolls, she finds herself happily-ever-aftered to a foreign prince. In Cowley’s continuation of the story, Tatterhood is happy with herself and her abilities, but she is not entirely confident in the affection of her new husband (or in her affection for him). When he is captured by a magical creature, Tatterhood has to decide how much she wants him back. Underneath the action scenes and the search for clues, the story is an insightful and touching exploration of loyalty and confidence and acceptance.
When I approached writing “Heart of a Thief,” my continuation of Jack and the Beanstalk, the flaw that captured my attention was the cow. Recall that Jack’s whole adventure starts off when he sells the family cow to an old man in exchange for a handful of magic beans. If someone has genuine magic beans, why on earth would they trade them for a cow that can no longer help Jack and his mother subsist?
As it happens, there are a whole slew of possible ulterior motives. Here is a glimpse into my brainstorming session:
The man is Jack’s estranged father in disguise, coming back to make amends by giving Jack something valuable.
It’s the giant’s wife in disguise, hoping to get rid of her good-for-nothing husband. That explains why she keeps hiding Jack in the house on repeated visits despite Jack’s habit of running off with their valuables.
No disguise, he’s just a con man. Buying the cow is step one of a heist. It’s easier to rob a farmhouse than a giant’s stronghold, and he’s planning to steal the treasure from Jack.
He is a pickpocket who stole the beans from a passing wizard, not knowing their value. Now he’s being pursued and needs to offload them quick.
Maybe it’s a fair trade, even knowing all the treasure that Jack stands to gain, because the cow is magic, too! When fed the right diet, this cow’s milk is like the fountain of youth!
No wait, the cow is his true love, a princess enchanted years ago by an evil witch. (This might be the most plausible yet. Princesses, witches, and true love are hardly in short supply in these stories.)
Settling on a reason for the trade (none of the above, actually) was crucial in establishing the old man’s character, but once I had done so I mistakenly assumed that the cow’s part in this was over. After all, the story is about the bean-seller, not the the cow he bought. To my surprise, the cow continued to impact the story from start to finish. Her presence altered the direction of the plot, constrained the choices available to the protagonist, and illuminated the motivations of those around her. When the old man sits on a hill watching villagers steal from the giant’s corpse, the cow is grazing in the background. When he leaves the village, his interaction with the cow is a primary lens into his personality. When he seeks a path to the giant’s house, he finds himself severely limited by the need to bring the cow with him. And in the climax when he discovers more obstacles in his way, the cow gets to play a role yet again.
I set out to tell the story of the bean-seller, a background character from the original fairy tale. I found that in order to do his story justice I needed to include another background story, the story of the cow he bought. Letting the two of them interact ended up driving the creative process of almost every scene, and I love that a loose end I almost overlooked in the original fairy tale turned out to have such an immense impact. She doesn’t get to play much of a role in Jack’s story, but she forced herself onto the stage for the sequel. That’s why she’s my favorite bit.
Chris is an immunologist who, instead of songs, often gets words stuck in his head. He loves stories of all types, especially speculative fiction. He enjoys writing both poetry and prose, but despite living a mere thirty minutes from Walden Pond, Chris has yet to embrace a solitary life in the woods. (He does like to go there on walks with his two kids.)
Charles Soule is joining us today to talk about his novel The Oracle Year. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From bestselling comic-book franchise writer Charles Soule comes a clever and witty first novel of a twentysomething New Yorker who wakes up one morning with the power to predict the future — perfect for fans of Joe Hill and Brad Meltzer, or books like This Book Is Full of Spiders and Welcome to Night Vale.
Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded website with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.
He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site — as it’s come to be called — and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust — including a beautiful journalist — it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.
Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.
What’s Charles’s favorite bit?
Well, first and foremost – spoilers. It’s hard to talk about my favorite part of my debut novel The Oracle Year without giving away some of the plot… but I’ll do my best. The book is about the appearance of a real-deal prophet in the world, a New Yorker in his late twenties named Will Dando. This otherwise ordinary guy has one hundred and eight specific future events revealed to him, all set to happen over roughly the next year. When the first few come true, he has to try to understand why he was given such an incredible gift/curse and, more importantly, what he’s supposed to do with them.
The book follows Will’s story as the Oracle, but also the way the Oracle’s presence affects the world – and it does, massively. Every aspect of human society is changed in one way or another, from politics to religion to economics to pop culture. I think we all want to know what’s going to happen next, and if someone were out there who could actually tell us… well. It’d flip the whole world on its ear – and so it does, in The Oracle Year.
There are a lot of parts I love about the story, which is a good thing, because in order to live with a book for the years it takes to bring it into being, you better love a lot of it – if not the whole dang thing. Some of the parts I love are the parts you’ll never get to see, in fact, the bits I cut to get the novel down to a publishable length. There are a number of alternate versions of the big “Interview with the Oracle” scene, including one set on a boat floating off the Long Island coast. There’s a fully written chapter set at the Lucky Corner Massacre. There’s an interlude built around the reaction of a young woman who was the subject of an Oracle prediction stating she’d win the lottery, and what she does with her winnings. There’s a scene when the Oracle first realizes he’s the Oracle. More than that, too, “deleted scenes” of all types, not to mention the cut lines, cut words… in a way, they’re all my favorite bits, because I love the whole book, in all its incarnations.
But none of that’s really fair to you, the person reading this right now, since you’ll probably never seen any of that. So, I’ll select a section from the finished book, something you can actually read, if you’re kind enough to pick up my novel. One of Will Dando’s predictions is just a set of three numbers: 23-12-4. He doesn’t know what they mean, and the reveal is a big plot point from the ending, so I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that Will spends a bunch of time and money trying to figure it out for himself. He hires a bunch of consultants from all disciplines – mathematicians, codebreakers, numerologists, astronomers, you name it. (He gets very rich at one point in the book, which is how he’s able to afford all of that.) One of the consultants, a numerologist/kabbalist, tells him that the numbers might refer to a certain Bible verse. When the first letters of each line in that verse are lined up, they form an anagram which, when unscrambled, reads ‘God quit the sad task,’ with two letters left over: W and D.
Now, remember that the prophet’s real name is Will Dando. W and D. Will didn’t tell the numerologist his actual name when he commissioned the report, so to the analyst, the W and D are just two random letters. To Will, though, they read like a sign that the message was created especially for him – in an ancient religious text. He’s not sure what it means, if anything, but it freaks him right out. This ends up being a red herring in the story, just a coincidence, but it gives that part of the book a very cool frisson of “oooh, what does that mean?” possibility that I think is a lot of fun.
The Oracle Year is full of a bunch of things like that – so why is this my favorite bit? Because it’s true. When I was trying to think of fun things to do for alternate explanations of the 23-12-4 numbers, I did a bunch of research. I found that verse, figured out the anagram, and then saw that it ended up with two leftover letters that just happened to be the initials of my main character. An incredibly fortunate coincidence, just a happy accident, but the kind of thing I knew I could really run with – and I did.
For me, writing a novel generally starts in one place and ends somewhere very different, and that journey is fueled by amazing, unexpected connections you make between your ideas as you go. Something you never could have seen coming until you were deep into the story ends up pushing everything in a new direction. Makes for quite a ride, and it’s often one of the best parts of writing something big. For me, 23-12-4 is representative of that concept as a whole, and that is why it’s my favorite bit.
Charles Soule is a musician, attorney and the New York Times bestselling author of numerous comics titles for Marvel, DC, Image and other publishers, with over 2.2 million individual comics sold in 2017 alone. He is best known for writing Daredevil, She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, and various Star Wars comics from Marvel Comics, as well as his creator-owned series Curse Words from Image Comics and the award-winning political sci-fi epic Letter 44 from Oni Press. Letter 44 was an official selection of the 2016 Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, France, which recognizes the finest graphic titles published in the French language. Soule also received the 2015 Stan Lee Excelsior Award for Superman/Wonder Woman Vol.1: Power Couple. His series Twenty-Seven (with Renzo Podesta) and She-Hulk (with Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberly) were included on the “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list from the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2012 and 2016, respectively.
Kate Heartfield is joining us today to talk about her novel Armed in Her Fashion. Here is the publisher’s description:
In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras—humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.
Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.
Margriet killed her first soldier when she was 11. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, even if it means raiding Hell itself to get her inheritance back.
Margriet’s daughter is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who has unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Bruges with her children, Margriet and Beatrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.
What’s Kate’s favorite bit?
Let me tell you a secret. All along, as I was writing my novel Armed in Her Fashion, I was rooting for the villain.
The thing is, the Chatelaine of Hell has reasons to be pissed off. Long ago, her husband abducted her. He imprisoned her inside a chthonic beast for centuries. When the novel begins, in 1328 CE, she’s driven the beast called Hell up to the surface of the Earth, having locked said husband in an oubliette within. All she wants now is what any medieval ruler wants: some land, some alliances, and an army when she needs it. Is that so much to ask?
Sure, she’s ruthless, manipulative, downright cruel. But no more so than her ally, Philip VI of France. Philip promised to make her a countess, with land and vassals of her own, in exchange for her help in his wars. But he’s not eager to fulfill that promise. The Chatelaine has Hell at her disposal, with its revenants and its furnaces. Giving her more authority and legitimacy doesn’t strike the French king as a very good idea.
Philip—who happens to owe his crown to the opinions of Very Learned Men when it comes to gender and inheritance law—has an interest in drawing the Chatelaine into legal disputes about the property rights of women.
So does a much less powerful figure marching across Europe, armed with nothing but a frying pan, to demand her own inheritance. The widow Margriet de Vos comes from Flanders, which has some of the most enlightened laws in medieval Europe when it comes to widows’ rights. She wants something that belonged to her dead husband, a weapon that the Chatelaine is desperate not to lose.
This is my favorite bit: The villain who is a mirror of the protagonist. They’re both stubborn, they both have (literally and figuratively) rotten husbands, and they are both ready to use any means necessary to get their due.
From the vantage point of 2018, the progress of women’s rights—and human rights in general—tends to get smoothed into a global narrative that looks natural, even inevitable. Progress doesn’t work that neatly. The rights of widows in 14th-century Bruges, for example, were completely different from the rights of widows at precisely that time in Florence. It’s far from inevitable, and it can always go backward. The only way justice has ever happened is by ordinary people fighting for it, with pots and pans if need be.
I’ve always been drawn to villains who make a pretty good point, even when they’re getting in the hero’s way; Marvel’s Erik Killmonger is a great example. I’ve also always been fascinated by villains whose identity and backstory is obscure. Maybe it’s a taste I picked up as a kid reading J.R.R. Tolkien; I still remember the chill that went through me the first time I read about the Mouth of Sauron, whose “name is remembered in no tale, for he himself had forgotten it.”
The Chatelaine makes a similar appearance:
“The woman told Giovanni Saranzo, the Doge of Venice, that she had been so long in the belly of that Beast that she had forgotten her birth name.
‘Was it Persephone? Was it Hel? Was it Lilith?’ The scholars asked her. She shook her head, and said it might have been, but then again it might not.
‘We thought Hell was a place,’ they said.
‘It is,’ she said. ‘It is also a Beast. A capacious Beast; it carries multitudes within it.’
‘Are you the Queen of Hell?’ they asked her.
She shook her head. ‘I have no right to that kingdom as it had no right to me,’ she said. ‘But I am, for now, its mistress and manager. I hold the keys. You may call me, perhaps, its Chatelaine.’”
I wrote that passage very early in my first draft of the novel, and I knew right away that this woman was my favorite bit.
Kate Heartfield is the author of Armed in Her Fashion, a historical fantasy novel from ChiZine Publications, and The Road to Canterbury, an interactive novel from Choice of Games. Tor.com Publishing will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. A former journalist, Kate lives in Ottawa, Canada.
Sheryl R. Hayes is joining us today to talk about her novel Chaos Wolf. Here is a publisher’s description:
Bitten by a werewolf. Taught by a vampire. At this rate, she’s going to start a war.
Literature major Jordan Abbey ordered a double mocha latte, but it wasn’t supposed to come with a side order bite by a love-sick werewolf. When a vampire comes to her rescue, gut instinct tells her he has questionable motives. But he’s the only one she can trust to help get in touch with her inner animal.
Within a week, her smart mouth lands her in trouble with the hostile Alpha of the local pack and the stiff-necked vampire Elder. She now has less than a moon cycle to master shape changing… or else. And the besotted werewolf who started this whole mess is stalking Jordan and killing her friends. He won’t take no for an answer.
In the Northern California town of Rancho Robles where the children of the Wolf and the Bat share an uneasy coexistence, one woman makes an epic mess of the status quo.
What’s Sheryl’s favorite bit?
SHERYL R. HAYES
I love world building. Pick up my copy of The Magician’s Nephew and the book falls open to is where Aslan sings Narnia into being. Tolkien’s Simillarion has a well thumbed section about the creation of Arda. I read my mother’s copy of Mother West Wind’s “How” Stories over and over and over until all I had to do was close my eyes and I could see the Green Forest and all the animals who lived there. So when I got the chance, I dove in head first to create my own mythos.
It’s a standard trope of most urban fantasy that werewolves and vampires do not get along. The comment ‘it’s always been that way’ without an explanation of why left me unsatisfied. It makes sense if you consider them both as alpha predators that may be competing for the same resources. Sometimes it’s a personal dislike, but more often than not, it’s something intrinsic to both species. I wanted to dig into the reason for that instinct. That meant going all the way back to the beginning.
In my new novel Chaos Wolf, as Jordan explores her werewolf nature, she is taught about the Wolf and the Bat. All vampires and werewolves are familiar with the legend. Whether or not they believe it is another matter entirely. But they can all recite how the first Wolf and the first Bat were cursed by Gaia for killing the first Man, locking them into human forms.
If you listen to the werewolves, the Wolf showed true contrition for her sin and Luna, unable to lift the curse placed on her by Gaia, lessened it. Moved to pity, she allowed the Wolf to regain her true shape once a month, making her the first werewolf. When the Bat sought sympathy from Sol, he was punished further for attempting to deceive his patron god, transforming him into the first vampire.
The vampires tell a slightly different version. Ashamed of how he had led his friend into temptation, the Bat interceded on the Wolf’s behalf. He took on additional punishment of not being able to bear the rays of the sun in addition to the blood thirst that ravaged him. But she didn’t show any appreciation for his sacrifice, still angry at him for causing their downfall from grace.
Both the Children of the Wolf and the Children of the Bat use this story as justification for the hostilities between their species. Which one is telling the truth? Only the gods, the Wolf, and the Bat know for sure. And me, but I’m not telling.
Sheryl R. Hayes can be found untangling plot threads or the yarn her cats have been playing with. In addition to writing, she is a cosplayer focusing on knit and crochet costumes and works full time at a Bay Area water company.
Technically, this is just for Alyshondra, who is all things wonderful, BUT she wants to share her birthday present, so that means you get a story, too. Make sure to wish her a happy birthday in the comments.
The moment the stuffed giraffe drifted toward the floor of their small lunar hopper, Alyshondra knew that she had a problem. It was not that her eleven-month-old had lost her grip on the beleaguered patchwork giraffe and would start crying in about — now — but they weren’t supposed to be decelerating at this point in the trip to Grandma’s new homestead.
Amara’s wail wept up from a whimper to a full klaxxon to match Alyshondra’s internal alarm. She grimaced and ignored her daughter because the giraffe was continuing to fall.
She raked her gaze over the gauges on the panel of the hopper. 720 meters altitude, down at 80, 120 forward…. Their altitude was dropping with the giraffe and– MASCON. The moon had mass concentrations of gravity where the density of some rock formations made the gravity measurably stronger. They must be passing over one of those. Working on instinct, she gave a double tap on the nadir and aft thrusters to counter their drop and send them surging forward.
The engines kicked the seat against them. The giraffe dropped to the floor and bounced, spinning upward. Right hand on the manual controllers, Alyshondra snared the giraffe with her left as she watched the gauges. 1000 meters altitude, up at 100, 190 forward…. and steady. By the numbers, they weren’t dropping any more and were back on course for Grandma’s.
Sighing, she handed the giraffe to Amara whose wail cut off like an engine. Alyshondra’s daughter giggled and shoved the giraffe’s foot into her mouth
Glancing from the gauges, which continued to show a steady altitude, to her daughter, Alyshondra grinned and settled back into the rhythm of flight. “Well, done, little one.” She leaned forward and made a note on her logbook for the trip home. “MASCON discovered by Amara’s giraffe…”
Mary will be at the SFWA Nebula Conference in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania from Thursday, May 17th to Sunday, May 20th.
Here’s where to find her at the conference!
Thursday, May 17th
Ignite Talks (moderator) 3:30-4:30pm
Get snapshot talks on a variety of subjects, geared toward jumpstarting your brain. Presenters get 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The results are fast and fun presentation each of which lasts just 5 minutes.
Heinlein’s Rules for writing – Kevin McLaughlin
Senses of Sailing – Rekka Jay
Poetry in Science (119 times) – Mary Soon Lee
How to Accurately Portray Mental Illness – Dr. Shana Feibel
Medieval European Swordsmanship – John Appel
how covers differ between countries and genres, and how readers interpret them – Claire Humphrey
Ghost Hunting – J.R. Dawson
The Emotions of Salvage Archaeology – Jason Sanford
SF and Rock and Roll – Larry Ivkovich
Elementary Particle Physics – Lesley L. Smith
Shape of Narrative Arc in Gaming
Stories can be found in games just as much as fiction. Panelists will discuss how they emerge in games, how the type of game affects the narrative arc, and how writers impact the story. The panel will also highlight techniques to evaluate the narrative arcs in published games.
Friday, May 18th
Makeup for Writers
You’re at a con, you’re exhausted and have to look like you’re in top form. Learn tricks for femme, ace, masc, and everyone on the gender spectrum to spackle over the fatigue. This isn’t about conforming to media stereotypes but about using a tool to look like the best version of you.
And if you’re a nominee wanting a little extra sparkle… this is a hands-on workshop.
Ongoing Funding for Authors
There are more ways for a writer to earn income now than every before. This panel focuses specifically on the subscription or patronage model for providing an author with on-going support. From Patreon to Drip to Koffi, what are some ways to reduce the uncertainty of your income stream?
Nebula Nominee Presentation
Here is your chance to meet and congratulate this year’s Nebula Nominees before the mass autographing. As a way to celebrate the nominees’ work, we have partnered with SAG/AFTRA to have two professional audiobook narrators who will read excerpts from the nominated work (Mary is one of narrators reading).
Sunday, May 20th
Self-Publishing an Audiobook (moderator)
A narrator can make or break a book. How do you find, evaluate, and work with a narrator to create the best possible audiobook? Representatives from SAG/AFTRA, (the union representing audiobook narrators) join with narrators and audiobook publishers to give you the low-down on what goes into creating an audiobook and how to proceed if you don’t want to sell your audiobook rights but would rather produce it yourself.
Mass Autographing – open to the public!
Come have your things signed by Mary and the other attendees and nominees!
Rebecca F. Kuang is joining us today with her novel The Poppy War. Here is the publisher’s description:
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
What is Rebecca’s favorite bit?
Let’s talk about blood.
Specifically, let’s talk about menstruation.
Halfway through the first act of The Poppy War, there’s a scene where the protagonist–Rin–gets her period for the first time. The cramps are awful. She’s living in a secondary world that mirrors Song Dynasty China, so she doesn’t have access to anything so convenient as tampons or diva cups. And she has some brutal martial arts exams coming up that she needs to pass if she wants to stay at the academy, so she really doesn’t have time for this shit.
Rin’s reaction, if you’ve met her, is predictably wild.
Here’s an excerpt:
Rin reached the infirmary in a sweaty, bloody mess, halfway to a nervous breakdown. The physician on call took one look at her and called his female assistant over. “One of those situations,” he said.
“Of course.” The assistant looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. Rin did not see anything remotely funny about the situation.
The assistant took Rin behind a curtain, handed her a change of clothes and a towel, and then sat her down with a detailed diagram of the female body.
It was a testament, perhaps, to the lack of sexual education in Tikany that Rin didn’t learn about menstruation until that morning. Over the next fifteen minutes, the physician’s assistant explained in detail the changes going on in Rin’s body, pointing to various places on the diagram and making some very vivid gestures with her hands.
“So you’re not dying, sweetheart, your body is just shedding your uterine lining.”
Rin’s jaw had been hanging open for a solid minute. “What the fuck?”
I’ve always been a bit frustrated about how my favorite fantasy novels, most of them written by men, tended to hand-wave away the idea that a lot of the characters had uteruses, and that a lot of them were probably going through a monthly ritual of cramps, pain, and waves of blood. How the fork did they deal? Did they wear girdles? Did they stick some wadded-up leaves in there? You can’t exactly take period time off when you’re travelling the dirt road with your mercenary party, so do you just shut up and deal?
And what about fighting battles on your period? Period fatigue is a thing; every twenty-eight days, I’m barely able to crawl out of my bed. But the Lord of the Underworld doesn’t care about my menstruation cycle. What’s a girl to do?
Here’s what Rin decides to do:
“There’s no way to just stop it forever?”
“Not unless you cut out your womb,” Kureel scoffed, then paused at the look on Rin’s face. “I was kidding. That’s not actually possible.”
“It’s possible.” Arda, who was a Medicine apprentice, interrupted them quietly. “There’s a procedure they offer at the infirmary. At your age, it wouldn’t even require open surgery. They’ll give you a concoction. It’ll stop the process pretty much indefinitely.”
“Seriously?” Hope flared in Rin’s chest. She looked between the two apprentices. “Well, what’s stopping you from taking it?”
They both looked at her incredulously.
“It destroys your womb,” Arda said finally. “Basically kills one of your inner organs. You won’t be able to have children after.”
“And it hurts like a bitch,” Kureel said. “It’s not worth it.” But I don’t want children, Rin thought. I want to stay here. If that procedure could stop her menstruating, if it could help her remain at Sinegard, it was worth it.
Hysterectomies are at tricky subject in popular culture. Often they reduce characters to their abilities to produce children. (“Oh, my god! I can’t have kids! My life is over.) And yes–for some people, infertility is devastating. For others, getting rid of your uterus can also be empowering. It’s a personal choice. Granted, it’s an extreme choice, but Rin is nothing if not extreme.
So there’s my favorite bit. I became a fantasy author solely to gripe about how much I hate getting my period, and how much I don’t want kids. Raise your diva cups and have a drink.
Rebecca F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history at Georgetown University, and will be pursuing her graduate studies at the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop in 2017. She tweets at @kuangrf and blogs at www.rfkuang.com.
Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent are joining us today to talk about the anthology they co-edited, The Underwater Ballroom Society. Here is the publisher’s description:
Would you rather dance beneath the waves or hide your smuggled magic there? Welcome to a world of sparkling adult fantasy and science fiction stories edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent and featuring underwater ballrooms of one sort or another, from a 1930s ballroom to a Martian hotel to a grand rock ‘n roll ball held in the heart of Faery itself.
Stories in this anthology:
Ysabeau S. Wilce, “The Queen of Life”
Y.S. Lee, “Twelve Sisters”
Iona Datt Sharma, “Penhallow Amid Passing Things”
Tiffany Trent, “Mermaids, Singing”
Jenny Moss, “A Brand New Thing”
Cassandra Khaw, “Four Revelations from the Rusalka Ball”
Stephanie Burgis, “Spellswept”
Laura Anne Gilman, “The River Always Wins”
Shveta Thakrar, “The Amethyst Deceiver”
Patrick Samphire, “A Spy in the Deep”
What are Stephanie’s and Tiffany’s favorite bits?
With stories featuring rock ‘n roll showdowns, underwater heists, mosasaur attacks, kissing stories and kiss-off stories, magical circuses, fairy tales, and more, I find it unbearably difficult to choose any favorite part of this anthology – so I’m going to cheat by talking about the joy of creating the anthology itself.
As a pro writer, there’s a real imperative to focus only on our “sensible” projects, the ones that will move our careers forward and can be contracted for a smart price. But very few of us started writing for those reasons. I’m pretty sure that most of us started just for fun – for the intense creative delight and freedom of escaping into different worlds and characters through our words. Unfortunately, when you turn your fun writing hobby into your serious profession (which is, of course, the dream for many of us!), it can be all too easy to lose that joy along the wayside – which isn’t good for our writing or our lives.
So in the last few years, I’ve made a new rule for myself: every single year, I have to take on at least one passion project, something that I do just for the joy of it, purely to stretch myself in new and different ways and feel like writing is a game again. And what could possibly be more fun than playing a writing game with friends?
I’d never co-edited an anthology before. So it was genuinely shocking to realize how magical that could feel – to say to some of your favorite writers in the world, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write stories with underwater ballrooms?” and then actually WATCH THEM DO IT. Talk about the most amazing gift!
Writing my own novella for the anthology was simply fun, but getting all those fabulous new stories in my email inbox felt like a true miracle. Every single time a new story was sent to me, I would open it up, start reading and just be amazed all over again that this was really happening.
Every story in this anthology brought me joy. I hope they’ll bring our readers joy as well. We all need more fun in our lives, after all. And what better place for that to happen than an underwater ballroom?
I hope you’ll join our Underwater Ballroom Society! We’d love to see you there.
I echo Steph here. I honestly tried to choose a favorite bit and couldn’t in all good conscience just choose any one particular story, because every story offers up some sparkling magic worthy of praise. When the idea for the anthology came up, I tried (not very hard) to tell myself I really didn’t have time for this right now. I had a novel to finish. But when so many fabulous authors (and there really were more than we could take on) jumped in our swimming pool (or our ballroom, if you will), I couldn’t resist saying yes.
I’m so glad I did. These days, fun really seems to come at a premium. But what’s struck me most about this anthology with its heists, punk memories, rock n’ roll balls, and romantic encounters beneath the ballroom dome is how much joy it’s given those who have read it. More than ever, I think people are longing for stories that transport them, and every single one of these stories does that. I am so grateful to our authors who not only said yes with us, but also turned things around when we needed them, worked with us through the copy-editing stage, and have supported the anthology every step of the way.
But truly if I had to choose my most favorite bit of all of this, it’s been working in this capacity with Steph. The process was so smooth and enjoyable that it sometimes barely felt like work. Steph always knows how to hit the right note with her feedback, is always punctual and professional, and is just an absolute joy to work with. I hope at some future time we can do it again, but even if we can’t, I’ll always take joy and pride in the fact that we managed this project together and opened the doors of the underwater ballroom to the adventures within.
Tiffany Trent is the author of eight science fiction and fantasy novels for young adults, including the dark historical Hallowmere series and the steampunk Unnaturalists duology. The Unnaturalists was named a Green Earth Book Award Honor in 2012. She’s also published many short stories in various venues, including Clockwork Cairo, Corsets & Clockwork, Wilful Impropriety, and Subterranean magazine. The Underwater Ballroom Society is her second co-editing adventure. When not writing, she’s out playing with her children (known on the Internet as Doomlet and Jupiter), keeping bees, or rummaging in her garden. Visit her at www.tiffanytrent.com, on Twitter @tiffanytrent, or Facebook at /tiffanytrentbooks.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She is the author of several MG fantasy novels, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Bloomsbury 2017), which won the Cybils Award for Best Elementary Speculative Fiction novel of 2017, and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. She is also the author of various romantic historical fantasies for adults, most recently Snowspelled (Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook), and has published nearly 40 short stories in various magazines and anthologies. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her novels and novellas, visit her website – www.stephanieburgis.com – or find her on Twitter @stephanieburgis. You can also find more cat photos than you ever thought you needed on her Instagram account, @stephanieburgisinwales!
Emily Devenport is joining us today with her novel Medusa Uploaded. Here’s a publisher’s description:
Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport offers readers a fast-paced science fiction thriller on the limits of power and control, and the knife-edge between killing for revenge or a greater good.
My name is Oichi Angelis, and I am a worm.
They see me every day. They consider me harmless. And that’s the trick, isn’t it?
A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her.
Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.
What’s Emily’s favorite bit?
I’d like to tell you that my favorite bit of Medusa Uploaded was the science.A generation ship called Olympia!A colossal habitat that spins to simulate gravity, with an airy sector inside for growing crops!Shazam!
And now that you mention it, that’s pretty cool.Imagining that gigantic inner space, with a horizon that curves up instead of down, is the sort of thing that used to inspire a sense of wonder in me when I was a kid.It reminds me of that scene in Forbidden Planet, when you get the first glimpse of the vast, underground city of the Krell, still working after untold millennia.
A grand canvas like Olympia inspires Default Majesty Music.For me, that’s “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” by Gustav Holst, a piece played by full orchestra, with a relentless tempo that suggests the marching of a grim procession.That music evokes the passage of Olympia through the vast gulf between the stars.
I love that stuff, but it’s people that make a story.To be more specific, it’s people’s talents, and flaws, and grand schemes, and what goes wrong.And in a lot of my favorite novels (by other writers), it’s murder.The powerful ruling class on Olympia are fond of using airlocks to solve conflicts with uncooperative underlings.They believe that keeps everyone in line.
But the people of Olympia are not what they seem.Especially Oichi Angelis.She was trained by her parents to be an insurgent against the brutal class society that dictates every step she takes, what she see and hears, even what voice she uses to speak.And in Lucifer Tower, an unpressurized research center on the leading edge of Olympia, Medusa, a powerful AI born of ancient, alien technology, waits to wake her sisters and join the insurgents.The intersection of Medusa and Oichi is my version of the Dream Team.Together, they are deadly.And that’s pretty damn cool.
But that’s not my favorite bit either.As much as I love to see my own grand schemes come to life in a story, it’s the unexpected things that I love best, the characters who show up unannounced.In Medusa Uploaded, those unplanned characters are the Minis.Because as fast, and clever, and deadly as Medusa and Oichi are, they can’t control everything that happens on Olympia.And even they have a soft spot for children.Give those talented children the right tools, instruct them to build their own version of the Medusa units, and what do they come up with?Dragonette, Kitten, Teddy and Rocket.AI creatures made out of biometal, by children who may have gotten the wrong idea about what those units are for.
Or maybe it was the right idea.The Minis are smart, brave, and able to navigate the inner and outer landscape of Olympia with ease.They can climb the rafters in the House of Clans and spy on leaders without being noticed.And they can sing show tunes.Sometimes they come off like the children who made them; sometimes they’re as clever as elves.Sometimes they sound like your wise-ass grandma.
The Minis are my favorite bit.They’re not the only monkey wrench thrown into the plans of the good guys and the bad guys, but they’re definitely the most fun complication that arises.They’re so much fun, they made it into the sequel.
Despite my intentions, the science, the murder, the Dream Team, and the Default Majesty Music all conspired to create the Minis.I can’t argue with their logic.I can only wait to see what they’ll come up with next.
Nine of my novels were published in the U.S. under three pen names. I’ve also been published in the U.K., Italy, and Israel. I have two new novels forthcoming from Tor: Medusa Uploaded (May 1, 2018) and an untitled sequel.
My short stories were published in ASIMOV’S SF MAGAZINE, the Full Spectrum anthology, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju, UNCANNY, CICADA , SCIENCE FICTION WORLD, ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE, CLARKESWORLD, and ABORIGINAL SF, whose readers voted me a Boomerang Award. I’m married to artist/writer Ernest Hogan.
I’m a buyer for the Heard Museum book store in Phoenix. I’m studying geology, and I volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden.
George Beahm is joining us today to talk about his book The Military Science of Star Wars. Here is the publisher’s description:
George Beahm, a former U.S. Army major, draws on his experience to discuss the military science of the sprawling Star Wars universe: its personnel, weapons, technology, tactics and strategy, including an analysis of its key battles to explain how the outmanned and outgunned rebels ultimately prevailed against overwhelming forces.
Contrasting the military doctrine of the real world with the fictional world of Star Wars, the author constructively criticizes the military strengths and weaknesses of Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire and Kylo Ren’s First Order…
From Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) to Rogue One (2016), this timely book demystifies the operational arts in an accessible and entertaining way for military personnel and civilians.
Replete with a glossary of military terms, this book is supplemented with an annotated bibliography.
What’s George’s favorite bit?
Forty-one years ago, Star Wars (its original title) hit movie screens nationwide. Its creator, George Lucas, had hoped his little movie would do well, but he wasn’t convinced himself, because it was a science fiction movie, and those kinds of movies made a big splash and then disappeared.
“I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched….I expect it to all fall apart next week,” said Lucas (The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film).
As we all know, Lucas’s pessimistic viewpoint was proven wrong: his space fantasy was the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg–many of them, in fact–and Lucas, Hollywood, and the film industry would never again be the same.
That was forty-one years ago.
Lucas has moved on to enjoy retirement, and Disney now helms the Star Wars franchise because its appeal has not diminished over the years: the Force is strong with the franchise.
During all that time, though, I wondered why no one had attempted to discuss at book length Star Wars in terms of its military underpinnings. After all, discussions about the military science of Star Wars could easily be found online, so why this glaring omission? And what could I do about it?
In The Military Science of Star Wars, I wanted to make the world of the military accessible to the lay reader, as opposed to appealing to readers of war porn: hardcore male readers who typically read Tom Clancy novels festooned with confusing military terminology, mind-numbing acronyms, and military culture as seen from an insider’s perspective. A private brotherhood, so to speak, in which only those who know the secret handshake can join.
As a former army officer, I’ve always enjoy dissecting the conduct of military operations, to the point where, when my wife and I are watching the news, and there’s a U.S. military strike in (usually) the Middle East, I explain it in layman’s terms, though I’m sure she’d just as soon I keep my mouth shut: it ain’t her cup of tea.
When I thought about writing my book, I wanted to give readers a broad picture of military culture as framed by the Star Wars universe. I also wanted to discuss the tactics, strategies, and successes (or failures) of specific battles, because that’s what war always comes down to: who wins—and who loses.
The Star Wars universe, it seemed to me, was a perfect subject in which to explore military science because millions of people worldwide have seen its movies, and some of them have read the novelizations and other official books. So when I talk about the “Battle of Hoth” from The Empire Strikes Back (1980), it rings a bell because people remember the large AT-ATs plodding their way across the winter landscape of the planet Hoth, as the Galactic Empire attacks the dug-in rebel forces.
For those of us who have served in the military, especially in the combat arms—my own branch was field artillery—such discussions are made all the more fun because the movies bring them alive, in a way that a dry recitation of history from textbooks cannot. Thus, Star Wars allows us to easily visualize the battles for dissection, allowing us to pose questions like: If you were the general in charge of the rebel force, or the ground force that attacked the rebels, how would you have conducted the mission?
If you think such exercises are merely diversions, think again: the U.S. military employs such battlefield analyses as a matter of course, in the classroom and in the field: It’s exactly the kind of intellectual exercise that can be found in one of the classes I took as a senior lieutenant in my Tactics and Combined Arms class, at the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery Advance Course, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
One exercise postulated that the student was in command of an artillery firing battery in direct support of an infantry unit taking heavy fire and suffering casualties. They’re requesting more fire support, but your own unit is taking counterbattery fire: incoming artillery rounds from the enemy.
Your dilemma: Do you stay in place to support the infantry, knowing full well you may take casualties that will soon render your unit combat ineffective? Or do you displace to an alternate position, set up, and resume firing? You, as the commander, must make that call—and do so immediately. “Captain, what are your orders?” your men ask.
Lives—theirs, yours, and those of the frantic infantrymen requesting immediate fire—hang in the balance. Again: “Captain, what are your orders?” There’s a reason the U.S. Army chooses its commanders at every echelon with great care: it’s the most difficult, challenging, and riskiest job in the world.
If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the premise of a well-known Star Trek engagement depicted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a Starfleet training exercise for cadets called “The Kobayashi Maru,” in which a no-win scenario is played out: you, as a starship’s captain in Starfleet, respond to a distress call from a freighter named Kobayashi Maru, for which there are no viable military options. The point of the exercise is to put a cadet in a pressure situation, a simulation that one that may in fact play out later in real life, to test his or her mettle.
That is why the U.S. Army’s training doctrine is simply stated: “train as you fight, fight as you train.” The bottom line: realistic training will save lives when the bullets start to fly.
My point, of course, is that the military is a crucible unlike any other: you, as a commander, are tasked to make life or death decisions. It’s why your senior officers chose you over others to do the job—because they believe in you to accomplish the mission while taking care of your men . . . and bringing as many as you can back home alive.
It’s all about training in peace to prepare for war, and that’s why postulating fictional scenarios in Star Wars is no mere mental exercise but, in fact, is serious business—the timeless business of war.
 Though Tom Clancy died in 2013, books bearing his name are still being published because he’s a brand name. This explains why his name is writ large on the cover of his thick novels, and name of the actual writer is in smaller text size. In essence, other writers are coming up with tales inspired by the Clancy universe.
George Beahm is a former U.S. Army major in the field artillery. He served on active duty, in the National Guard, and in the Army Reserve. He has commanded both line and support units, and at battalion level as a staff officer. His last assignment, in a Lieutenant Colonel’s slot, was to serve as a Ground Liaison Officer to an active duty F-16 Fighter Wing. He is an inductee in the Order of Saint Barbara, a military honor society; Saint Barbara is the patron saint of field artillerymen.
Mary will be a Guest of Honor at Penguicon this weekend, from May 4-6, at the Westing in Southfield, Michigan. Tickets are available at the door, information here.
Here’s where to find her!
Friday, May 4th
Join our con chair, Cassy Sinke, the Con Committee, and our Guests of Honor as we open this bad boy up for the weekend. You never know what surprises might be in store!
Setting as Character
Character In Science Fiction and Fantasy settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?
Saturday, May 5th
Writing Excuses Podcast Panel
The team that is Writing Excuses talks about their podcast and, if we’re very lucky, they might even record one! Come hang out with them, be entertained, and talk podcasts, writing, and how the two work together.
Historical accuracy isn’t just the stuff of academics. It can open up whole new plot complications and what author doesn’t enjoy those? Come and handle Regency underwear, learn how to use a quill, and why your nobleman should never, ever buy a bottle of wine.
Penguicon always has a wide variety of really incredible cosplayers. Join us in appreciating the talent that goes into each of the creations that our cosplayers bring to the table…. or the stage.
Some writers crank out ten books a year. Others of us struggle for one every two years. How do high-productivity writers get the words out? What techniques do they use?
Sunday, May 6th
Nonverbal cues are a major part of communication. In the world of puppetry, you have to convey these cues and bring to life inanimate objects that not carry emotion but deliver a captivating story. Join professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal, as she teaches the fundamental techniques of the art of puppetry through lecture and play time.
Sometimes Writer’s Block is Really Depression
Sometimes these two things are closely intertwined. Being able to identify why you have trouble writing can often help you find strategies to start writing again and to know when to ask for help.
Writing Excuses Reading
The team that is the Writing Excuses Podcast will read from various books and pieces they’ve written, as only an author can.
As we officially shut down another amazing, exciting year for Penguicon, come hear about how it went, and what we’ve got our eye on for next year.
WICOMICON 2018, a one-day pop-up arts and comics convention is coming to Baltimore this Saturday, April 28.This brand new festival, housed at the historic building at 1100 Wicomico Street, will feature an all-star roster of guests from the worlds of television, comic books, and entertainment!
Just days after the announcement of WICOMICON 2018, Black Heroes Matter, The Nerds of Color, Carbon-Fibre Media, New Release Wednesday, theblerdgurl, and the Be A Boss App are pleased to announce the following guests:
CHEO HODARI COKER, creator and showrunner of Netflix’s Luke Cage; APRIL REIGN, creator of #OscarsSoWhite and founder of AKUAREL; GREG PAK, writer of Mech Cadet Yu (BOOM!)and Totally Awesome Hulk (Marvel); LEAH WILLIAMS, author of The Alchemy of Being Fourteen and writer of X-Men: Gold (Marvel); BRYAN TILLMAN, artist of Creative Character Design;JADE TAILOR, RIZWAN MANJI, SERGIO OSUNA, and HANNAH LEVIENfrom SYFY’s THE MAGICIANS; and TAMSEN MCDONOUGH and SEAN BAEK from SYFY’s KILLJOYS.
Come meet your favorite celebrity guests for signings, panels, and photo opportunities on Saturday, April 28, beginning at 10:00 am. Visit WICOMICON’s exhibit hall to peruse artwork and merchandise from over50 vendors; experience cosplay contests, tabletop gaming, music performances, kid’s entertainment, prizes, and more! See the constantly updated list of exhibitors online at hardnocmedia.com/exhibitors.
Featuring some of the most acclaimed names in the comic book, arts, and entertainment industries, WICOMICON 2018 will open its doors starting at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 28 and run until 7:00 pm. In addition to dozens of exhibitors, this unique pop-up convention will also feature panels, cosplay contests, special guests, and a wide variety of food options. Admission at the door will be only $10 for everyone ($5 for FanCon ticket holders) and free for children under 12 years old.
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his two novellas currently in Kickstarter: The Society of Two Houses and Journey to the Top of the Nether. As of April 24, the Kickstarter is 107% funded, and going toward stretch goals! Here is the description of each:
The Society of Two Houses:
Mandamon Feldo is scheduled to meet with a high-profile diplomat to present his newest invention, but he finds the diplomat dead in a pool of blood on the floor of his office. Even worse, the diplomat, until recently, was holding a list of all the members of The Society of Two Houses—a secret organization existing inside the maji, and one to which Mandamon belongs.
If the list gets out, the Society—which brings innovation and new technology to the Nether—may crumble under the weight of the secrets it holds. Often, the ends are seen to justify the means when developing new ideas, and the Society has done its share of cleaning up ‘accidents.’ Before the murderer can release the information, Mandamon must figure out who would kill the diplomat and betray The Society of Two Houses.
Journey to the Top of the Nether:
Natina grew up studying the artifacts found by her mother, the famous explorer Morvu Francita Januti. Now, her mother has discovered an ancient machine able to drill into the impenetrable mineral of the Nether, and is leading an expedition to climb its incredibly high walls for the very first time. She wants Natina to be part of the expedition, but Natina is more comfortable helping her parents research at home—if only her mother were home more often.
The Nether’s walls are smooth like crystal, any fall will mean certain death, and no one knows what, or who, may lurk above the clouds. There are even rumors of another team of explorers following them, trying to steal their glory. It could be the chance of a lifetime for Natina, and a good way to learn how her mother became the most famous explorer of the ten species—if they survive.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
Before I get to my actual favorite bit, here is my next favorite: this is my second Kickstarter, and this time I’m putting out two novellas, instead of one novel. The first novella is a mystery, and the other is a mid-grade adventure. I’m hoping the diverse genres will attract more readers, including parents who want to share a book series with their children.
I’ve always loved the steampunk genre, as well as books from when science fiction and fantasy were just beginning to take off. With these two novellas, I decided to incorporate the adventure stories from the Victorian era into my Dissolutionverse. Thus, The Society of Two Houses emulates a Sherlock Holmes story, and Journey to the Top of the Nether hearkens back to the adventure and discovery one sees in a Jules Verne novel. The mix of these two things—steampunk and old adventure stories—led to my favorite bit about both these books: the mechanical companions.
The Society of Two Houses is partially concerned with the main character’s new inventions, called System Beasts. They are magically assisted automatons, created to be nearly self-aware, or at least with animal intelligence. They exist in my novel too—set about fifty years later—but as mechanical beasts. One of the little side mysteries is why this happens. It’s not a big part of the plot, but something I really enjoy because it ties into the Dissolutionverse as a whole.
In Journey to the Top of the Nether, I get to turn one of my worldbuilding cornerstones on its head. The unbreakable crystal that makes up the surroundings of the Nether (a planet-sized box that serves as the nexus for ten alien species) has kept anyone from climbing all the way to the ceiling. It’s sort of a “here there be dragons” place, because no one knows what’s up that far. Enter the Crystal Beetle Drill, as Natina has dubbed it. This is a relic of long past, not quite a System Beast, but a very old machine able to drill into the crystal of the Nether. It allows the party to begin their climb.
Here are both mechanical companions in action:
The Society of Two Houses:
Kratitha held the lenses in front of her multifaceted eyes once more, then gave them absently to the Festuour before peering into the interior of our one life-size prototype System Beast, created in the shape of a proud Kirian Ethulina pullbeast. The mane of crested feathers were slivers of crystal that reflected light, and the claw-hooves were of solid steel, etched with filigree. Kratitha and Gompt had spent a good ten-day attaching and painting wooden representations of the scales along its body, covering the places where we had installed service hatches—one of which the Pixie had open now.
The creature was starting to look as impressive as we first imagined, and its mannerisms were almost entirely lifelike, with the latest adjustments to the gearing ratios. The model I was to show the Speaker was a toy compared with our masterpiece.
Journey to the Top of the Nether:
“I still like ‘crystal beetle thing’ better,” I muttered and crossed my arms. It does look like a beetle, all hunched over like that. Especially with the black shell and those jointed legs. It even has crystal mandibles. I took in the two shimmering spikes that stuck out of the ‘head’ attached to the metal shell. They look like melted glass. The device was pretty amazing, even if I thought the plan to kill ourselves climbing a sheer, slippery, indestructible wall was kind of terrible.
“Come on,” my mother said again. “We can debate all you want on the balloon ride, while you still have the energy to do it.”
And sometime later, when they have to depend on the Beetle to keep them from falling…
The beetle shifted, tipping out from the wall. I yelled, and Wailimani yelled with me. We’re going to fall!
But then she pulled herself back straight, putting her jointed legs in different holes. She reached out to drill the next set of holes, and her legs creaked forward, pulling us along, each step tipping us out over nothingness until the jointed leg found a hole and gripped it. We hung there while she began to drill, and walk, drill and walk.
Like last time, the Kickstarter is meant to bring in more art to make the experience better for readers. I love finding illustrations in the novels I read, and I like to do the same with my books. I’m really excited to show off both the System Beast and the Beetle. This time, I am working with three different artists, and I hope to have full-page interior illustrations in the mystery, and small section header illustrations in the mid-grade novella.
So if you like steampunk, or mystery, or adventure, or just want to get a book for you along with one for your kids, check out the Kickstarter for Mystery, Magic, and Adventure: Two Dissolutionverse Novellas. There are a lot of great backer rewards, and an extra short story. There are also chances to buy original artwork or even become a part of the story! See you around the Dissolutionverse!
William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has two novellas and one novel in his Dissolutionverse: Tuning the Symphony, Merchants and Maji, and the newest addition, The Seeds of Dissolution.
He also has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer. He and his wife also cosplay, and he has appeared as Tenzin, Jafar, and in several steampunk outfits. They both enjoy putting their three cats in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]