So of you are at WorldCon and playing along with my roving launch party for GHOST TALKERS, I should probably tell you what you’re aiming for. Kinda important. In the Tor party tonight (9pm, Crowne Plaza, Ballroom), I’ll write a one page short story, on a manual typewriter, while you wait. Come, even if you aren’t playing to win.
Certainly, it won’t be easy to decipher all the layers of ciphers, passphrases, and live drops. Of course, I have faith that you can get through all five layers. Despite the fact that they get progressively harder… Each one is a type that I’ve mentioned on the blog, although, perhaps also in coded form in my blog posts about the roving launch party.
Today, I’ve already had a couple of people come up to me with the correct passphrase for my roving launch party. Here is where I should make it clear that though I said the party is tomorrow, it’s actually all weekend. Except that tomorrow is the day that I’ll be in costume.
Perhaps it might be helpful for you if I talk about a couple of different types of ciphers and codes and the ways that spies passed messages back and forth. Okay…here’s an excerpt, which I hope you’ll accept as being out of context.
Mrs. Richardson asked, “Are there really codes based on the weather?”
Ben laughed, and a bubble of amusement floated up from Merrow. Ben said, “Th e weather. Fish. Th e number and length of pauses you take in a sentence. I once knew a fellow who could stammer in Morse code. It was quite impressive. Another woman used the length of stitches in her dresses to carry messages. I used to carry cigars that had onionskin paper tucked inside. Lived in fear of grabbing the wrong one and smoking my secret message.”
Merrow said, “Remember the baker, sir?”
“Right!” Ben rubbed his mouth, grinning. “We had a live drop who signalled that he had a message waiting by the number of pastries in the window. You had to let him know you were the contact by ordering a specific grouping of pastry. Damn good pastries. Pleasantest password exchange I’ve ever had to do.”
So what’s a live drop? That’s when you actually talk to your contact, usually through an exchange of passwords. Coming up to me and giving me the passphrase from the roving launch party post, will trigger an exchange. An exchange. Right. Delivering the passphrase means you’ll get something in return.
It might be written in plain text. Sometimes it’ll be a cipher.
A cipher is when numbers, letters, or symbols are substituted to create text that is unreadable except to someone who knows the key.
Common ciphers still abound in everyday use. One example, in use on internet forums today is rotational 13. Most people know that as rot13. Meaning that it’s a type of Caesar cipher in which the alphabet is rotated, in this case by 13 spaces. Once you rotate the alphabet A becomes N and so on. Now, you can do a Caesar with any number of rotational spaces.
Cracking a common Caesar is fairly easy to crack by brute force, which means that you just keep trying rotations until you run through them all. Above that in difficulty level is a “keyed Caesar” in which a phrase goes at the beginning of the alphabet. Every letter not used in in the key get rotated to the end. So, I was going to do one in which a rot7 returned “E tu Brute” and then if you said that passphrase to me, I would hand you the next code and say, “Caesar rot in hell.” As an example, the rotation then became INHELABCDFGJKMOPQRSTUWXYZ. Rather sadly, as fun as that bit of verbal humor was, in trials no one got it.
Of course, there are also skip codes, book codes, columnar codes, double-codes like the Navajo code talkers who were writing messages in Navajo which was then run through a cipher as well. Kinda a there’s a ton of cool stuff, huh?
To celebrate the release of GHOST TALKERS I am being sneaky again today — as if that is a surprise to anyone — and have once again snuck a code into a post. La! It is different from the previous ones. But with all the research I did into ciphers and codes for GHOST TALKERS I have found myself wanting to use them all. I know! So — if you can figure this one out then it will serve as a password for a deleted scene. Deleted! I do need to warn you though — it seems only fair — that this scene does contain spoilers. So many spoilers! So do not read it until you have had a chance to finish the book. I mean it! I hope that code itself is not too hard. Perhaps it is so — if you are really struggling then this link contains a blatantly obvious clue.
Erica L. Satifka is joining us today with her novel Stay Crazy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.
An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.
What’s Erica’s favorite bit?
ERICA L. SATIFKA
The protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, Emmeline Kalberg, isn’t like most girls. That’s because she’s recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, a situation that becomes even more complex when she’s contacted by an interdimensional being who tells her that our universe is on the verge of annihilation. And she’s not alone.
Roger Cermak, Em’s coworker at the alien-infested Savertown USA, also has schizophrenia. Unlike Em, his psychotic experiences are not recent, and are totally controlled with medication and the passage of time. So when he too is contacted by the being called Escodex, he knows it’s real. Em, however, doesn’t trust him. Why would she? She can’t even trust herself. Here’s what happens during their first extended conversation:
“I’ll have a diet pop. It’s on him.” She narrowed her eyes at Roger in the dimly lit booth. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I want to talk about the voices you’ve been hearing.”
She frowned. “Come again?”
“Don’t play dumb. I saw the burn on your forehead. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. First I got a burn, then I started hearing voices.”
She looked out the window at the blocky facade of Savertown USA. “So?”
“You don’t think this whole situation’s a little strange?”
“Lots of weird things happen to me, mister. I’m a crazy person.”
“But this weird thing is actually happening.” Roger sipped at his own Diet Coke. “Listen, I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought I was hallucinating again. But the same thing happened to both of us and that proves it’s real.”
Em rolled her straw between her fingertips. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”
“I used to be schizophrenic. Haven’t had an episode in twenty years. Until now. But I’m not crazy, and neither are you.”
Em looked at Roger. “I think you’re mistaken about that one.”
It was really important to me that Em not be the only neuro-atypical major character in the book. While she didn’t always have schizophrenia (this book has been through countless “imaginings”), once I figured out she did, Roger’s character sprang up almost immediately, fully formed.
Their relationship isn’t easily defined. It’s definitely not romantic, it’s not even really friendship, and Em would rather die than call Roger something as sappy as a mentor. Yet, as they work together, Em sees a glimpse of her possible future. Roger is overweight and balding (two common side effects of antipsychotic medication), and she mocks his appearance out of fear. But Roger is also stable, and smart, and kind. Throughout the course of their uneasy alliance, Em realizes there’s life after her diagnosis. At the beginning of the book, she feels and to a large extent is totally alone: her mom doesn’t get her at all, and try as he might her therapist isn’t really equipped to deal with her. Roger becomes the positive model Em needs, even if she’d never admit it.
Roger is about twenty years older than Em, and developed his disorder in a time when people were even more misinformed about mental illness than they are now, especially one as serious as schizophrenia. And he’s been through a lot of crappy things: homelessness, jail, involuntary commitment. Just as Em sees Roger as a possible future, Roger sees Em as a window into his past, and he’s determined not to let her make some of the same mistakes he’s made, no matter how stubborn she is (and she’s really stubborn).
So often in books that feature a neuro-atypical character, there’s only one of them. I really wanted to do something different, something to show that two mentally ill characters can learn from each other, prop each other up, and most importantly, kick some alien ass.
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld,Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy was released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.
In 1916, as part of WWI the Women’s Auxiliary Corps set up a series of “hospitality rooms.” Maybe that sounds like a euphemism, but at the time it was in response to a recognized need to care for soldiers’ mental as well as physical health.
When they had time off, soldiers could go and sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Inside the tent, a young lady would pour the tea, perhaps sing a little, and just engage in gentle conversation. Therefore, in the spirit of that, at Worldcon, I’m going to have a roving launch party. Here’s my thinking…
This is in part because I’d rather not try to cram people into a hotel room that’s too hot and too crowded. Heaven forfend. Everyone always feels like they are on the front lines at a convention anyway, so I’ll be wandering around on Thursday in costume as a member of the Spirit Corps.
Let me explain how this works. On the floor, or on panels, if you find me I’ll have recipes for cocktails, postcards so you can write home from “the front,” biscuits, rum, and… coded messages. Now, there is in fact, a code in this post. Damnable clever of me, what? Oh, I’ve made it simple, so don’t worry. Now, try to decipher it to get the password you need to deliver to me at WorldCon.
But what happens if you decipher it? Rather than tell you straight up, I’ll hint. All I’ll say is that at the Tor.com party on Friday night, there will be some additional prizes, including books, cocktails, and a bespoke story typed on a 1913 Corona #3 portable typewriter to your specifications, by me, while you wait. No seriously. Clearly, you’re already sorting out the code. How long will it take you to solve it?
Psst. Want to see the trailer for Ghost Talkers? It’s hosted over at Books Smugglers, along with behind the scenes stuff AND a giveaway.
Ghost Talkers is a new novel from fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal featuring the mysterious spirit corps and their heroic work in World War I. We are delighted to be hosting the reveal of the exquisite book trailer, made with paper cut animation by Rebecca Celsi along with super cool notes from the artist and the author on its creation.
People ask me if it is easier to narrate my own books or someone else’s. No. Neither. The one thing about narrating my own stuff is that I get to share the blooper reel. I rarely get to do that when it’s someone else’s fiction because it can often sound like I’m mocking them. Which…to be fair, sometimes I am. (“Yes,” she agreed, nodding.)* But I also mock my own
For instance, the NSFW moment in this recording is when I remembered that I’d included Middle English in the novel. Really? That was necessary?
Anyway, this contains a variety of the ways in which I screw up. A lot. Transposing words, tongue tied, and one very quiet burp.
Brooke Johnson is joining us today with her novel The Guild Conspiracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized . . . war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
What’s Brooke’s favorite bit?
Two words: MECH FIGHTS.
Think Real Steel (you know… that one movie with Hugh Jackman and the boxing robots) meets the smaller-scale bot fights of Big Hero 6, except, instead of futuristic, computer-controlled robots, you’ve got teenage engineers fighting with grungy combat mechs, built using the most advanced technology of the late Victorians. It’s all clockwork and steam, early combustion engines and primitive electronic circuitry, somehow cobbled together into deadly mechanical combatants. And then they get to punch each other.
How could that not be my favorite bit?
In The Brass Giant, the first book of the Chroniker City series, the main character, Petra, helps build a clockwork automaton, proving herself as a capable engineer and attracting the attention of the Guild—the elite institution of engineers she desperately wishes to join—but after attempting to expose the underlying conspiracy behind the automaton’s construction, all of her involvement in the project is buried and forgotten, unknown but to the select few who would rather keep it that way.
Fast forward to The Guild Conspiracy, and once again, Petra finds her talent and abilities questioned and challenged by everyone around her. No one knows who she is or what she’s done. They don’t realize that the failed automaton project collecting dust in the armory—the same automaton that prompted them to start the mechanical fight ring in the first place—was built from her design. All they know is that she is a girl, and girls can’t possibly be engineers.
Well Petra is there to prove them wrong, one fight at a time.
The mech fights were one of the earliest ideas I had for The Guild Conspiracy, surviving several reimaginings of the novel over the years, but when I finally finished the first draft—more than 50,000 words over target and several months past my deadline—I was worried my editor would ask me to cut the fights for the sake of pacing or tension or for sheer lack of relevance to the main plot. I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen.
The mech fights were my way of adding a glimmer of something good and bright—in all their technicolor, bombastic, impossible glory—to an otherwise dreary and somber plot. So I did my best to meld this seemingly extraneous subplot into the rest of the story, making it more and more integral to Petra’s story arc with each iteration. And I must have done a good job because by the time I sent the manuscript to my publisher, my editor loved every word. No complaints whatsoever. The mech fights were there to stay.
For me, steampunk has always been about grandeur, lots of flash and bang, gears and goggles, but the best steampunk has more than enough substance behind the shiny brass aesthetic. The machines in my books are improbable, and sometimes impossible, but with the mech fights especially, there is this underlying sense of wonder and awe built into to every ticking gear, into the ratchet and clank of these incredible machines. Every puff of exhaust and churning piston is there as a testament to the innovation and invention of brilliant minds, of engineers and their ability to dream and imagine and build something new, something impossible, something never done before. That is what I wanted to capture with the mech fights. They exist as a glimmer of hope for the future, a promise of something other than the inescapable war looming over the horizon.
And that hope is just as important to the story as Petra trying to stop the conspiracy.
Plus, it’s fun. 🙂
She eyed Bellamy across the ring, his face drawn in concentration, waiting for her to act. She would have to distract him, break his guard.
“What?” he spat.
Flipping a switch on the control box, she activated the transport wheels on the bottom of the mech’s feet. All she needed was a second or two, a slight delay in his reactions. If she could get past his defenses, knock the mech to the floor, the fight would be as good as hers.
She poised her fingers over the controls. “Tell me how it feels, knowing you’re about to lose to a girl.”
He scoffed, his arms relaxing slightly as he glared at her. “You wish.”
Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving author. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes one day to live somewhere a bit more mountainous.
My local independent bookstore is Volumes Bookcafe. I have spent many happy hours writing there while sipping a coffee, or cider. Or wine. That’s right, it’s a bookstore with coffee and wine. It is perfect.
WHEN: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
WHERE: Volumes Bookcafe – 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 6062
I’m so thrilled that Volumes Bookcafe is hosting the new book release for Ghost Talkers. Come join us in the celebration. There will be WWI era costumes, party favors, and shenanigans.
You totally don’t have to register, but if you do it a) helps us plan for the party favors and b) means that you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a signed printout of deleted scenes.
What is Ghost Talkers?
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…
Michi Trota is joining us today to talk about the Uncanny Magazine Year Three Kickstarter. About the Kickstarter:
Over the last two years, three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas & four-time Hugo Award finalist Michael Damian Thomas ran the Uncanny MagazineYear One and Year Two Kickstarters. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic podcast featuring exclusive content.
Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised. All Uncanny Magazine content is available for free over the web, thanks to your support.
We’ve had exceptional Years One and Two with numerous accolades. So far, pieces from Uncanny Magazine Year One are finalists for 14 different awards and have been included in 6 separate Year’s Best anthologies. This year, we’ve been recognized as a World Fantasy Award Finalist (Special Award, Nonprofessional) and Hugo Award Finalist (Best Semiprozine). Hao Jingfang’s Uncanny Magazine story “Folding Beijing” (translated by Ken Liu) became a finalist for the Hugo, Sturgeon, and Locus Awards. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets” and Sam J. Miller’s “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” are also World Fantasy Award Short Fiction finalists.
This is a phenomenal achievement for our first year of existence, and we couldn’t have done it without you. This is your magazine. Our community of Kickstarter Backers, the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers.
Thank you. Thank you for having faith in us and becoming stakeholders in this dream.
Though Uncanny continues to develop several additional funding streams, we still need the help of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter community to keep bringing you this amazing content.
There will also be more slots for unsolicited submissions (we reopen once we reach our first fundraising milestone). We’re deeply committed to finding and showcasing new voices in our genre from around the world.
Uncanny Magazine is published as an eBook (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly (the every other month kind) on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue contains 3-5 new short stories, 1 reprinted story, 3 poems, 2 nonfiction essays, and 1 interview, at minimum. Our monthly podcast includes a story, a poem, and an exclusive interview in each episode.
Kickstarter Backers at the Subscriber Level or higher, and those purchasing single issues, get each issue in its entirety up front, no waiting. Those reading online for free wait a month for the second half, which appears on the second Tuesday of the month at http://uncannymagazine.com/.
We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Three.
What’s Michi’s favorite bit?
Clearly I need to obtain a Time Turner. Or a TARDIS. Because it doesn’t feel as if it’s been a full year since Uncanny Magazine ran our Kickstarter to fund Year Two, and yet here we are, back in the thick of things with another Kickstarter to fund Year Three.
And what a year it’s been.
The outpouring of support for Uncanny’s Year Two Kickstarter blew us past all of our stretch goals, allowing us to publish another year’s worth of beautiful, challenging, and inspiring SF/F prose, poetry, and art. The magazine is now both a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist, and several Uncanny pieces have been included in Year’s Best anthologies and nominated for awards. My reading pile is never going to be empty, thanks to all the writers whose work I’ve been introduced to because of Uncanny (I’m pretty sure my tombstone’s going to say “Here lies Michi: She was buried by stories she hadn’t yet read”). I’m so happy to know that Uncanny’s work is bringing so much enjoyment to SF/F fans, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.
And yet there is: I’m immensely humbled by the fact that as Uncanny’s Managing Editor, I’m the first Filipina to be a Hugo finalist, in any category.
This isn’t My Favorite Bit about Uncanny though, as proud as I may be as a Hugo finalist, but it does illustrate what I love best about Uncanny: the dedication of its publishers, staff, and supporters to welcome and celebrate the best of what SF/F has to offer, in all its infinite variety. Because Space Unicorns know that it’s not just enough to open the gates of SF/F and wait for people to walk in, especially if they haven’t always been welcome — in order to build a thriving, vibrant SF/F community, you also need to do the work of actively inviting others in, which includes reaching out to new people, as well as those you know. Uncanny has become a home for weird, wonderful, experimental prose, poetry, and art, and I’m especially proud of how the magazine has become a platform for sharing the work of marginalized creators.
Visibility is incredibly important. Who we see as characters, as creators, can either inspire us or close the door on our dreams. It can be a struggle to remain true to your vision and find the energy to create in a world that often ignores (if not denigrates) your work; it’s that much harder when you think you’re alone, and when you don’t see people who share your face and your experiences in the spaces you want to join.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been on a panel at a con, and been approached afterward by AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) fans, by Filipino fans, who tell me what it means to see themselves represented in these spaces. Before I joined Uncanny, I participated in geek communities. I went to conventions, organized panels and local nerd events. I started firespinning in cosplay. I’ve read SFF all my life and considered myself a fan, but didn’t exactly feel as if I belonged in fandom. Even though I’ve been working in publishing and editorial for over 15 years, the idea that I could be a part of a publication like Uncanny never even crossed my mind (ok, it did, but I didn’t actually think it would happen). But here I am, 11 issues under my belt, going to my very first WorldCon as an actual Hugo finalist, all because Lynne and Michael Thomas, Uncanny’s Editors-in-Chief and publishers, believed in what I could contribute to the magazine and took a chance on asking me to be a part of it.
This approach is why every issue of Uncanny can be exciting and new for both regular readers and those who are just discovering the magazine. We’ve published stories about telepathic alien lions, the literally-combustible nature of collective fury and sorrow, tattoos that determine the nature of one’s personality, zombie-haunted beaches, and weird Western desert ghosts. You can find essays about everything from geek rock to gaming communities to examining nerd culture and social privilege to starting your own podcast. I’ve personally re-discovered an appreciation for poetry in reading Uncanny’s selections, and I squee with delight every time I’m given a new piece of cover art for each issue (at this point I’m going to have to dedicate one wall in our apartment just for Uncanny covers). Deborah Stanish’s interviews with Uncanny contributors are never anything less than insightful, and just when I think I’ve made up my mind about how I feel about a story or a poem, Amal El-Mohtar and Erika Ensign’s readings on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast allow me to experience those pieces in a different light.
There’s a reason why we say Uncanny publishes prose, poetry, and art that will make you feel.
When people ask me why I love SF/F so much, why they should give the genre a chance, I can tell them without hesitation to look through Uncanny because there are so many different approaches and interpretations of what SF/F means that they are sure to find something that speaks to their own tastes. The magazine is constantly evolving, expanding, and experimenting with what SF/F is, and can be.
The willingness to embrace new people, seek out fresh perspectives, and publish SF/F that is at turns gorgeous, experimental, heart-wrenching, and challenging (and sometimes all at once), is what I believe makes Uncanny so special, and really is My Favorite Bit about the magazine and the community it’s creating. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be here without it, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
Michi Trota is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She is the Managing Editor for the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is the first Filipina Hugo Award finalist. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom (and sometimes food), focusing primarily on issues of diversity and representation, on her blog Geek Melange, and is a member of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers. In her professional life, she is a content development and growth manager with over fifteen years of editorial experience in media. In her spare time, she spins fire with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams. You can follow Michi on Twitter @GeekMelange.
Cat Rambo is joining us today with her book Altered America. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Steampunk fans will rejoice in the appearance of Altered America: Steampunk Stories, collecting Nebula and World Fantasy Award-nominated author Cat Rambo’s steampunk fantasies, including “Clockwork Fairies,” “Snakes on a A Train,” and “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” into a single book. Rambo’s wry humor, precise and evocative descriptions, and ability to create a world with a few deft touches are showcased in these ten tales.
Rambo has a gift for immersing her reader into a vivid universe full of adventure, sensuality, wit, and poignant observation. -Jody Lynn Nye
“Cat Rambo is endlessly innovative, ingenious, and just plain entertaining. Read her stories.” -Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars.
Highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed “The Wild, Wild West” and other steampunk stories. -Galaxy’s Edge Magazine
“A sparkling collection from one of the brightest talents in the field.” -Ursula Vernon
“Each one of Cat Rambo’s steampunk stories stands solidly on its own, but as a collection, these stories click together like cogs to depict a complicated, curious alternate Earth filled with magic, technology, and mayhem.” -Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger
Includes “Clockwork Fairies,” “Rare Pears and Greengages,” “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”, Darrell Award nominated “Memphis BBQ,” “Rappacini’s Crow,” “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” “Snakes On a Train,” “Web of Blood and Iron,” “Ticktock Girl” and “Seven Clockwork Angels.”
What’s Cat’s favorite bit?
My favorite thing about Altered America is that it let me go back to one of those places of wonder that we inhabit as children, which was the television show Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad as James T. West and Ross Martin as his sidekick, Artemus Gordon. Set in the frontier era, the show featured the two special agents serving President Grant by traveling around troubleshooting a variety of issues, including Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a genius dwarf given to constructing all manner of diabolical devices.
I was a solitary child, but I had plenty of imaginary playmates. West and Gordon often accompanied me in my explorations of the neighborhood; while I appreciated West, Gordon seemed the more approachable to me, and we had a number of conversations, though I cannot remember much of the content. Artemus West, the mechanical Pinkerton agent who appears in several of these stories (as well as at least one forthcoming one), is my tribute to those companions. I miss you guys.
I loved the texture of the show, the brassy glitter and touches of Art Nouveau, and the world they inhabited, which managed to also be the West that I knew from visits to my cattle-raising grandparents in Kansas. The show was steampunk before anyone knew what steampunk was, and decades later when I encountered the label, I knew instantly that it was a familiar landscape.
There’s a combination of machinery and magic in steampunk that fascinates me, that reminds me of those days of early reading when anything was quite possible because you hadn’t learned yet how many impossibilities the world presents. Why shouldn’t clockwork people think or guns shoot purple sparks and fire that turn you into animals? It’s a more malleable, interesting world than this one seems at times.
And it’s an era of exploration, of new doors constantly opening, and in steampunk those doors can lead in so many directions and collide with so many sub genres, opening onto the roiling depths of Lovecraftian horror or wandering into a beautifully ornate version of space. The stories in Altered America often differ from each other in flavor, whether it’s the fairytale tinged retelling of Sleeping Beauty or the more eerie realism of “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” but they’ve all got the crunch of gears and cogs down among the base notes.
“Her Windowed Eyes” is a return to one of the episodes that has stuck with me all my life, “The Night of the Living House,” in which West and Gordon track a fugitive to his ancestral home, which is haunted by the ghost of his mother. There’s a moment where every window in the room slams shut, refusing to let them out, that was — and remains — one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen on film, and so when I wanted to work with a steampunk piece, that story was my inspiration — although I like to think what emerged is very different from the television episode.
Cat Rambo lives and writes primarily in the state of Washington, with occasional peregrinations elsewhere. A prolific short story writer, she has had work published in such places as Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, Weird Tales, and Tor.com. Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appeared in early 2015 from Wordfire Press and will be followed by its sequel, Hearts of Tabat, in late 2016. Also appearing this fall is Neither Here Nor There, Rambo’s fourth story collection.
Award nominations have included the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, the latter for Rambo’s editorial work with Fantasy Magazine. She is a frequent volunteer with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is currently its President. She teaches a series of online writing classes, details of which can be found at her website. Her most recent nonfiction work is Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, co-edited with Fran Wilde.
Looking for readers for a 1400 word interstitial short story. Here’s an excerpt to get you started.
Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting
Your mama adjusted her face mask and checked the chronometer on her eyepiece. Darn it. The filter would only be good for another fifteen minutes. She was nowhere near finished with the job. And this particular theft would fetch a good price on the energy market, what with the price of methane.
She slid the siphon tube across to the capture valve and turned on the vacuum suction. If your mama could get most of the gas into the tank…
The filter failed. A rank, heavy scent, filled with sulfur and dead moss, burned into her sinuses. Your mama’s eyes watered. She pressed the filter, trying to snug it up or eke out a few more minutes. The smell just grew stronger, moving past eggs, and into the bowels of hell itself.
Just raise your hand in the comments below if you want to read. I’ll update when I have enough. Okay! I’m all set, thank you.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]
Location: Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA
ABOUT NERDCON: STORIES
From the moment we could speak, we’ve been telling each other stories.
And since then, our stories have defined and created us. Every human society that wants to behave different first has to change the stories they tell. The story was — and remains — the key to the marvel of human progress. Stories in songs, in books, on the stage, around the campfire. Stories drove the evolution of human language and fostered the massive burst of creation that accompanied it. We celebrate our culture all the time, but we don’t do a great job of just praising the institution of the story.
Last year, with the help of 40 special guests, and a few thousand adventurous lovers of narrative, we created NerdCon: Stories, a two day conference of connection, content, instruction, and hilarity. The feel of the event was electric, the consensus was that it was maybe the best thing ever.
Now we would like to do it again, and even cooler. This time we’ll have a larger room for booths, activities, and signings. Two new ballrooms for panels and Q&As, and a bunch of small rooms for workshops and more intimate conversations.
And to reflect the diversity of ways humans tell stories this year, we’ll have over 60 special guests including authors, actors, artists, narrators, podcasters, puppeteers, comedians, dancers, directors, screenwriters, game designers, radio hosts, musicians, comic writers, and cartoonists. All of these people will come together to discuss and celebrate the institution of the story. This simple human thing that creates us and defines us.
We are made of stories. Come celebrate them at NerdCon: Stories 2016.
HERE IS A (VERY INCOMPLETE) LIST OF THINGS YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE AT NERDCON: STORIES 2016:
– Panels, workshops, discussions & more
– Signings with Featured Guests
– Interactive storytelling art projects
– Live podcasts (including Improvised Star Trek & Unattended Consequences)
– Story Circle
– Live Superfight
– Lots of music (including Paul & Storm and Dessa)
– An expo hall with vendors & activities
– A board game zone
– Opportunities for live attendee storytelling
– A live performance by Rives
– Featured Guest Kaffeeklatsches (Featured Guests will hang out with small groups of attendees and have a grand old time chatting about anything & everything)