This is a test to see what happens if I give one of my code breakers one of these as part of my roving book launch party for GHOST TALKERS at WorldCon, without explanation.
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?
Mary Robinette Kowal’s GHOST TALKERS: Video, Art and Giveaway | The Book SmugglersThe Book Smugglers
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.
You can pre-order the actual audio book of Ghost Talkers, which contains none of these errors. Hopefully.
*That’s an actual line that I had to read and sound earnest. No, I didn’t write it. No, I won’t tell you who did.
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.”
She smirked. It was enough.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
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.
They are also walking distance from my apartment and thus… if you order a copy of Ghost Talkers, I can just wander in and personalize it for you. So if you can’t make it to the launch party on August 16th, you can still get a signed and personalized copy.
And then I can sit down and write. It’s perfect for both of us, don’t you think?
- 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…
HA! I told you I was writing science fiction.
(h/t Yonaton Junger)
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.
This is why we’re running the Uncanny Magazine Year Three: The Space Unicorn Flies Again Kickstarter! If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or re-up with the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance!
We have an outstanding group of solicited contributors, fantastic backer rewards, plus some additional surprises on deck for Year Three!
- Paul Cornell
- John Chu
- Maria Dahvana Headley
- Nalo Hopkinson
- N. K. Jemisin
- Mary Robinette Kowal
- Seanan McGuire
- Sam J. Miller
- Sarah Pinsker
- Delia Sherman
- Ursula Vernon
- Catherynne M. Valente
- Alyssa Wong (with art by Grace P. Fong)
- Isabel Yap
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.
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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.
I’ll leave it to you to judge.
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.
SL Huang is joining us today with her novel Plastic Smile. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Cas Russell, antisocial mercenary, has decided to Fight Crime. With capital letters, like in one of her friend’s comic books.
After all, she has a real-life superpower: with her instantaneous mathematical ability, she can neuter bombs or out-shoot an army. And it’s Cas’s own fault violence has been spiking in the world’s cities lately — she’s the one who crushed the organization of telepaths that had been keeping the world’s worst offenders under control. Now every drive-by or gang shooting reminds Cas how she’s failed, and taking out these scumbags one at a time is never going to be enough.
She needs to find a way to stop all the violence. At once.
But Cas’s own power has a history, one she can’t remember — or control. A history that’s creeping into the cracks in her mind and fracturing her sanity . . . just when she’s gotten herself on the hit list of every crime lord on the West Coast.
Cas isn’t going to be able to save the world. She might not even be able to save herself.
What’s SL’s favorite bit?
A Real-Life Story
I have horrible gaydar. I’m really, truly terrible at identifying other queer people. Only twice in my life have I suspected someone’s sexual orientation without being told.
One of these was N. When I walked into the first meeting of one of the many theatre groups I belonged to in college, N. was sprawled on the floor sporting a tiara and a pink feather boa, waxing boisterously on some entertaining story for the room. A few minutes later, I thought, “Hmm — I think he might be gay.”
He was — proudly and openly so. He was also a charming and talented fellow who was a tentpole of the college theatre community. He deservedly snagged leads in everything he auditioned for, and was funny, vivacious, and very well-liked.
One show, a post-rehearsal tradition was to go out for beers at a local campus-adjacent watering hole. They served only cheap beer at $3 a pitcher. That show had a small cast and crew, and all eight of us would cram around one of the tables and joke and tell stories until the wee hours of the morning. As a freshman, I was the young ’un of the bunch, and though I couldn’t share in the beer, I felt awed to be included in the company.
During a very normal such night, N. got up to use the bathroom. He was sitting against the wall, so had to squeeze past everyone else to get out. One of the people who was scooting his chair in for N. to pass was R., another pleasant, friendly fellow in the cast.
As N. squeezed past R.’s chair, he touched R.’s shoulder with his hand.
He flinched loudly. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was huge, it was obvious, and the entire table went from uproarious chatter to dead quiet. Everyone stared.
N.’s face went red.
So did R.’s. He started stammering an apology. To his credit, he didn’t try to make it out to be anything it hadn’t been. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying. “I never would have thought I was homophobic, that I would ever do something like that. I’m so sorry.”
The incident etched itself into my memory forever.
The real-life memory informed the writing of a similar instance in Plastic Smile, the fourth book of my Russell’s Attic series. It’s a minor character note that some readers may not even notice — one person flinching from another after connecting that he’s gay.
In the book, the difference — a major difference — from what I saw in real life is that the person flinching is someone framed as bigoted and a buffoon. Which is not the same thing, not as powerful, because to me, what made the real-life incident so visceral was that the person perpetrating homophobia was a good person. An accepting person. Someone who considered himself a non-homophobic person, but who still had a reflexive reaction that was drastically homophobic.
Having a character who’s written as bigoted do such a thing is not, to my mind, nearly as affecting. We expect it of such people. We don’t expect it of our friends and allies.
So maybe I’ll be writing about this again, and again, in other contexts. Especially as an author who is (mostly) out and openly queer myself now, and who wonders sometimes —
Who would flinch from me?
Who would pull their children away from me?
Who would vote for my civil rights but still not want to touch my hand?
I don’t know. I go through life, I meet people, wonderful people, accepting people. And I don’t know.
Who will flinch?
SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. Her short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Strange Horizons, The Book Smugglers, and Daily Science Fiction, and she’s unhealthily opinionated at www.slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.
David D. Levine is joining us today with his novel Arabella of Mars. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, he proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.
Now, one century later, a plantation in a flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby, a young woman who is perfectly content growing up in the untamed frontier. But days spent working on complex automata with her father or stalking her brother Michael with her Martian nanny is not the proper behavior of an English lady. That is something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.
However, when events transpire that threaten her home on Mars, Arabella decides that sometimes doing the right thing is far more important than behaving as expected. She disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company, where she meets a mysterious captain who is intrigued by her knack with clockwork creations. Now Arabella just has to weather the naval war currently raging between Britain and France, learn how to sail, and deal with a mutinous crew…if she hopes to save her family remaining on Mars.
Arabella of Mars, the debut novel by Hugo-winning author David D. Levine, offers adventure, romance, political intrigue, and Napoleon in space!
What’s David’s favorite bit?
DAVID D. LEVINE
There’s no question what my favorite bit of this book is. It’s the scene I had in mind from the very beginning, the one I was writing toward during the whole first hundred pages, and the one (other than the opening) that I pick most often when I’m reading for an audience: the scene where Arabella takes off from Earth aboard the airship Diana.
Up to this point Arabella has been a Patrick O’Brian girl stuck in a Jane Austen world. Born and raised on Mars, she grew up as an adventurous tomboy on a wild colonial frontier, running around the desert with her brother (in leather pants, no less!). So her mother, fearing she would turn out completely unmarriageable, has hauled her back to England to bring her up as a proper lady. But she hates it, and chafes against England’s climate, gravity, and especially the limited role to which she, as an English female of the gentry, is restricted. Then she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother, back on Mars, and inherit the family fortune — and Arabella is the only person who can stop him. This presents her with a horrible responsibility… and a fantastic opportunity to escape the boring, constricted life of an English lady.
This scene is the place where all of my research and thinking about achieving space travel using Regency-era technology (with a few small changes in physics, such as filling the solar system with air) hits the page where the first time, and it’s also a critical hinge point in Arabella’s physical and emotional journey. It’s the moment when she commits, beyond recall, to a life in male clothing as a crew member of an aerial clipper, and it’s also the first time she sees London, then England, and finally the whole planet Earth from above. This is where she sees how far she has already come, and where it’s clear just how far she has to go.
After this scene she has duties to perform, shoveling coal and swaying-out the masts and suchlike, and a whole new vocabulary of aerial gibberish to learn. Her life from this moment on will never be the same. But what will happen to her? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
David D. Levine is the author of novel Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016) and over fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, Tor.com, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies as well as award-winning collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press.
David is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s bestselling shared-world series Wild Cards. He is also a member of publishing cooperative Book View Cafe and of nonprofit organization Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc. He has narrated podcasts for Escape Pod, PodCastle, and StarShipSofa, and his video “Dr. Talon’s Letter to the Editor” was a finalist for the Parsec Award. In 2010 he spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert.
David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule. His web site is www.daviddlevine.com.
Sarah Kuhn is joining us today with her novel Heroine Complex. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.
What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?
I love karaoke.
Please note: this does not mean I am a good singer. Anyone who has ever been forced to listen to me try to harmonize with myself during a stirring rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs” will tell you the exact opposite is true. Thankfully, enthusiasm counts for a lot in karaoke and I am really good at enthusiasm. I’ve rallied crowds through totally off-key Britney Spears covers using nothing more than a few well-placed hand claps and a heaping serving of bravado. And I’ve seen other musically challenged performers do the same. To me, that’s the key to karaoke’s appeal: for a brief, shining moment—those three minutes of perfect pop—anyone can be a star.
When I was writing Heroine Complex, I knew I wanted my fabulous Asian American superheroine protagonists to have big, colorful fight scenes that were outrageous, funny, and a ton of fun. One of the climactic fights features Evie Tanaka—a former sidekick coming into her own as a bona fide heroine—facing off against her foe in a supernaturally enhanced karaoke battle.
I loved this idea for a few reasons. First of all, it’s the kind of challenge that’s horrifying to someone like Evie, who’s comfortable staying in the background and on the sidelines. As she’s forced to rally and find her inner karaoke star bravado, her heroic side starts to come out and she finally begins to find the confidence to stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in.
Second, while “karaoke battle against demonic forces” obviously has an element of the ridiculous, the stakes involved mean our heroes must treat karaoke very seriously. And while I believe karaoke should be fun above all else, I also believe it should be done earnestly rather than ironically—when I sing Britney, I mean every word. And when Evie takes on some of pop music’s other great masters, she does too.
Finally, writing this kind of battle is just pure fun. I love sing-offs, dance-offs (hmm, maybe a dance-off in the sequel?), and pretty much any kind of “-off” involving the creative arts. Writing a fight scene where superheroes have to use killer dance moves, stage presence, and vocal range—rather than punches, kicks, or actual superpowers—to vanquish evil puts a big, stupid grin on my face and allows me to let my imagination go to some truly weird places.
The resulting scene in question is too spoilery for me to share, so I’ll just tell you some of the key songs involved.
*“Single Ladies” by Beyoncé: Beyoncé’s songs are really some of the ultimates when it comes to aspirational karaoke jams. This one has the added bonus of being accompanied by well-known dance moves for Evie to utilize. Somewhere there exists a terrible iPhone video of me and a friend attempting these dance moves during our own (drunk) karaoke attempt. Do not try to find it.
*“I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys: You can put some real high school prom slow dance soul into this jam. I have also performed this one with a friend, to great acclaim—the karaoke place we were at didn’t have both parts cued up during the “tell me why” section and we sang them anyway.
*“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles: Shockingly, I have never performed this one, but I totally recommend looking up the clip from The Vampire Diaries where Caroline Forbes uses her vampire powers to compel a band to play it for her so she can have a big rock star moment and woo the guy she likes. It’s every beautiful karaoke fantasy in one amazing scene. In Heroine Complex, Evie has a special connection to this song—it recurs a few times throughout the book. And in the end, it’s the song that helps her finally shed the assistant mantle and find her true karaoke stardom.
Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, Asian American representation, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, Back Stage, Geek Monthly, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, Creative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.
Alyc Helms is joining us today with her novel The Conclave of Shadow. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.
Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters – a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic – has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.
But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.
In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…
What’s Alyc’s favorite bit?
Recently, as part of another blog interview, I talked about a pilgrimage that I once made to Cape Wrath, which was often considered to be Ultima Thule—the end of the earth. To get there, I had to take a plane (to London), a train (to Inverness), a bus (to Thurso), another bus and then a POSTAL TRUCK (to the Village of Smoo), a bike (to the Cape Wrath tour meeting point), a jeep, a boat (across the Kyle of Durness), and then another jeep. When I got to Cape Wrath, I walked right past the lighthouse, climbed as far as I could down the sloping edge of the cliff, and ate my lunch while I watched the birds and waves below my feet.
San Francisco has its own sort of Ultima Thule: Lands End. The surf-pounded rocks of Cape Wrath represent (if only imaginatively) the border space between the European continent and the cold, empty expanse of the North Atlantic. Similarly, Lands End is the last outpost, beyond even the Golden Gate, where San Francisco gives way to the vast Pacific. The ocean is constantly eating away at the cliffs. The winds blast at the breaks of California cypress, twisting their limbs like taffy. Fogs regularly blanket the land, drifting through the trees like winding sheets. Just south sits the crumbled ruins of the Sutro Baths, and just east looms the Presidio.
And on a tiny shelf thrusting out toward Pyramid Rock, is the Lands End Labyrinth.
The Lands End Labyrinth was conceived and constructed by local artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. It has been vandalized a few times, and each time locals came together to rebuild it. It’s not the sort of destination that’s marked by signage or listed in most official literature. It’s just something you learn about if you live in San Francisco long enough, almost by osmosis. You find it by turning off one of the coastal hiking trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On weekend days, there may be a dozen or so people there, some taking pictures, many waiting their turn to walk the path between the stones.
I have a thing for border zones and the liminality they represent. Border zones are beautiful, but they can also be painful places, what Gloria Anzaldúa called in Borderlands/La Frontera, “this thin edge of barbwire.” They scrape, they cut, they erode a landscape, a culture, a people, an identity. In a place like Lands End, where the ocean and wind are constantly devouring the land, the labyrinth is intended as a monument to peace and meditation. It’s like a metaphysical shunt for all that turbulent energy. It is easy enough to tear down the physical structure of the labyrinth—it’s only a bunch of fist-sized rocks, after all—but the imaginative hold it has on the community means we rebuild it again and again.
In my writing, I often return to this metaphysical idea of borders as wounds that need to be treated before they can start to heal. This is built into the mythology of the Mr. Mystic series in the form of the boundaries between the real world and the nightmarish Shadow Realms that Missy Masters has control over.
I expand that idea in The Conclave of Shadow when Missy learns that the Shadow Realms are the kinder, gentler buffer zone to the cosmic horror that is the Voidlands. The boundaries between these realms are decaying, and Missy has to find a way to reinforce them and redirect the Voidlands energy before it reaches catastrophic proportions. Much like the community effort to rebuild the Lands End Labyrinth, she cannot do it alone.
On a personal level, the Lands End Labyrinth becomes a centering point for Missy when desperation drives her to wonder if the ends can justify the means. Later, she uses it—along with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Alcatraz lighthouse, and the seven hills—in the ritual she and her allies have created to protect the city against the Voidlands threat.
Missy never considers that other metaphysical association common to labyrinths: There’s always a monster in the center.
Alyc Helms fled her doctoral program in anthropology and folklore when she realized she preferred fiction to academic writing. She dabbles in corsetry and costuming, dances Scottish Highland and Irish Ceili at Renaissance and Dickens fairs, gets her dander up about social justice issues, and games in all forms of media. She sometimes refers to her work as “critical theory fanfic,” which is a fancy way to say that she is obsessed with liminality, gender identity, and foxes. She has published stories in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and she has published monsters in Green Ronin’s Chronicle Creatures splatbook series. The Conclave of Shadow is the second novel in her Adventures of Mr. Mystic series from Angry Robot. She can be found on twitter @alychelms or at www.alychelms.com.