Keren Landsman is joining us today to talk about her novel The Heart of the Circle. Here is the publisher’s description:
Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.
Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolized and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?
What’s Keren’s favorite bit?
Choosing my favorite bit from THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE feels a little like choosing my favorite child. Of course I love all of you! It’s just that the thing that jumps to my mind when asked is not the sorcerers fights, the romance or the powers but the relationships. Specifically, the relationships between Reed and his family.
It’s quite common to give the hero a terrible family. A distant father, a neglecting mother, an obnoxious brother, and when the hero has a normal family, someone has to die. It’s usually done to give a motive for the hero. Without the dead parents, Stark would have never gone into the avenging business, Harry Potter would never have become the center of attention, Elsa would never have run away and discovered her true powers, and don’t even get me started about Superman whose entire planet had to be destroyed in order to give him his life’s mission.
I have a great family, and It’s hard for me to find myself in those books. Most of my friends have a somewhat functioning family. Just a normal, living, loving family with frictions sometimes, where anger is another expression to love, and caring sometimes manifests as prying.
I used my mother to model Reed’s mom: over-protectiive even though her son left home ten years earlier, pouring her worries into cooking and trying really really hard to respect his privacy whilst failing miserably. I might have also used some of my experiences as a mother to create her. Specifically, the first time my son brought his “not girlfriend” home and I had to keep my mouth shut even though I had SO MANY QUESTIONS!
Reed’s brother is based more on my kids’ relationships than my own. They are extremely close, closed than I was to my brother and sister at their age, and they care so much for one another. I know they fight, but whenever I’m mad at one of them they cover for each other and sometimes even provide fake alibis for each other. I love that about them and I tried to catch that feeling when I wrote Reed and Mathew.
The last part of Reed’s family is, of course, the non-genetic one. From Daphne, his best friend and roommate, to Aurora, who is the reason for his volunteering, his non-genetic family is freely based on mine. You can find their real names in the acknowledgement part of the book. Just imagine many sparkling hearts floating over the words.
KEREN LANDSMAN is a mother, a writer, a medical doctor who specializes in Epidemiology and Public health, and a blogger. She is one of the founders of Mida’at, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel. She works in the Levinski clinic in Tel Aviv. She has won the Geffen Award three times, most recently for the short story collection Broken Skies.
Reese Hogan is joining us today to talk about her novel Shrouded Loyalties. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A soldier returns home with a dangerous secret from an alternate realm, unaware that she is surrounded by spies and collaborators, in this intense military science fiction novel.
Naval officer Mila Blackwood is determined to keep her country’s most powerful secret – shrouding, the ability to traverse their planet in seconds through an alternate realm – out of enemy hands. But spies are everywhere: her submarine has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak agent, and her teenage brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier. When Blackwood’s submarine is attacked by a monster, she and fellow sailor, Holland, are marked with special abilities, whose manifestations could end the war – but in whose favor? Forced to submit to military scientists in her paranoid and war-torn home, Blackwood soon learns that the only people she can trust might also be the enemy.
What’s Reese’s favorite bit?
The very first line of my biography reads, “Reese Hogan loves nothing more than creating broken relationships in broken worlds.” No matter how many explosions or monsters or worldbuilding thrills I put in my books, it’s the massively screwed-up relationships that I really thrive on. That’s why my favorite bit in Shrouded Loyalties was giving points of view to three very different protagonists who not only didn’t get along, but were actively working against one another during wartime.
This is a distinctly different process than writing from the point of view of a villain. We’ve all read those books—the ones with antagonists who are so well-rounded that we know exactly why they’re doing their evil deeds. Maybe we even sympathize with them. But it’s not often that we root for them. It’s not normal for us to prefer the villain’s point of view, or for them to actively cross the line into becoming our favorite character.
There are exceptions. Of course there are exceptions. But the key word here is protagonist, usually defined as the leading character or point of view in a literary work. No matter how well-rounded that villain is, you’re not likely to walk away confused about who should have triumphed. However, when the antagonist of your novel is not only a point of view, but a protagonist with their own antagonist and involved character arc, suddenly it’s not so easy anymore.
You won’t see these intricate pairings written as a hero and a complex villain. That would be too simple. You’ll see them in the flawed relationships of intimate acquaintances. College roommates Victor and Eli in Vicious. Tamas and his son Taniel in A Promise of Blood. Siblings Mokoya and Akeha in The Black Tides of Heaven. They oftentimes both have fully developed points of view, and in many cases, you can’t definitively say one or the other is the villain – but there is no question that they are antagonists actively working against each other’s agendas.
I approach this by coming up with the most broken relationships I can think of, then writing both sides. I wasn’t just interested in why Blackwood needed so badly to keep her secrets safe; I wanted to know that the spy taking those secrets had just as much at stake for completely different reasons. I wanted the success of one character to be the dismal downfall of the other, and I wanted either of those failures to bite equally deeply to the reader. I wanted to show why Blackwood’s relationship with her brother was so difficult, and for the reader to see how impossible it was to fix from either end. It’s these places in relationships – these all too-human judgments we pass, these assumptions we make, these conclusions we jump to, and these wedges that our lack of communication drives between us – that I’m most interested in exploring. You don’t need some distant planet or fancy magic system to know what I’m talking about. Whether a story leaves you satisfied by the time you read the last word depends more on what those characters went through with each other and where they ended up than on how big the explosion was at the end. And I should know. I have yet to write a book without a big explosion at the end.
Broken relationships filled with betrayal, guilt, resentment, and lies are not just part of Shrouded Loyalties; they are the framework that built the book. So which of my three points of view are protagonists and which are antagonists? Well, when my first three readers each chose a different character as their favorite, I knew that was as easy to answer as it is in real life. They are all protagonists. And they are all antagonists. Just like the rest of us.
Susan Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel Bursts of Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Bursts of Fire begins an epic political fantasy of revenge, addictions, and redemption. In an empire where magic has become suspect, love and loyalty–for one’s lover, one’s family, one’s country–are tested. If Heaven desires the very earth be burned, what place can those below hope for, when the flames come for them?
The Falkyn sisters bear a burden and a legacy. Their mother, the imperial magiel of the kingdom of Orumon, protects her people from the horrors of the afterlife by calling upon the Gods with a precious Prayer Stone. But war among the kingdoms has brought fire and destruction to their sheltered world. When a mad king’s desire to destroy the Prayer Stones shatters their family, the three girls are scattered to the wilderness, relying on their wits and powers they don’t yet master.
Assassin. Battle tactician. Magic wielder. Driven by different ambitions, Meg, Janat, and Rennika are destined to become all these and more. To reclaim their birth right, they must overcome doubtful loyalties within a rising rebellion; more, they must challenge a dogma-driven chancellor’s influence on the prince raised to inherit his father’s war: a prince struggling to unravel the mystery of his brother’s addiction to Heaven.
To survive. To fight. To restore balance.
What’s Susan’s favorite bit?
One of many impetuses I had for creating the world of Shangril came from my roots growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Western Canada. I was only a city kid by geography; on weekends, my father took my sisters, my brother, and me trekking through forests and across scree slopes and glaciers, tenting or staying in back country huts (I even slept in an ice cave), watching long summer twilights from high alpine meadows, or taking a midnight ski by moonlight.
My dad, though an engineer by profession, was at heart a mountain man. He grew up fishing, tramping the woods of northern Saskatchewan, and hunting partridge for dinner, on his family’s farm during the Depression. So, years later, when my older sister brought home a permission slip from school to join the Alpine Club of Canada, mountaineering was a natural outgrowth of his passions. He found his true love: before he died at the age of eighty-three, my father had become the first person to scale all the peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 11,000 feet (53 peaks), and the oldest person to climb Canada’s highest mountain, Mt. Logan. But more than an explorer, my father was a family man who included his kids on his adventures. It meant everything to him to pass on the legacy of outdoor survival and backwoods camaraderie to his children.
And so it was that my siblings and I spent a great deal of time absorbing the skills of outdoor living and developing a love of the wilds.
But the interrelationships of sisterhood are complex and deeply rooted (my brother moved north in his twenties). My older sister was a strong, self-assured woman who didn’t necessarily have time for her younger siblings. She began duck hunting at an early age and skiing with members of the National Ski Team in her teens (and was, therefore, an excellent downhill skier in her own right). In her twenties, she became the first female National Park Warden in Canada. She was on the first all-women’s team to attempt Mt. Logan.
My younger sister, always one to work her heart out to keep up to the rest of us, was a cross-country skier, climber, chainsaw wielder, and horsewoman. She also became a National Park Warden (Rescue Specialist), and she was one of only a handful of women in Canada to earn her full Mountain Guide’s License. Today she is a heli-ski guide, mountain guide, and horse outfitter. Five-foot-two and a hundred and ten pounds, and my best friend.
There were times, growing up, when we did a variety of outdoor activities together, but because of the age spread, my older sister had moved on to activities with her friends before I took up climbing and skiing, and my younger sister was riding in a backpack or getting towed on her skis behind my dad. So, some of our shared experiences took the form of conversations around the dinner table, and the recounting of close encounters (but nothing that would worry my mom) or funny situations. Today we do still hike, ski, and ride horses together, but often just two of us at a time.
Nevertheless, the experiences I have had pursuing outdoor sports have given me a wonderful launch point for writing fantasy adventure. In a still-unpublished work, I’ve written scenes taking place in a cave that draw on my experience being in the third or fourth party to explore Rats Nest Cave on Goat Mountain. Early in Bursts of Fire, the three sisters are caught out on a mountain above tree line, and must negotiate its scree and fragmented rock ribs, in the cold of late September. I know what the wind on mountain tops is like; what it’s like to down-climb cliff bands to safety; what it’s like to tramp endlessly through trackless woods, not quite certain of the path. I’ve chopped wood, drawn water from a rushing river, washed my dishes with moss in an icy stream. The primitive stone and log huts in the series are modeled on places I’ve stayed.
An example of capturing the essence of harsh mountain weather is illustrated in these few lines:
She lifted thin arms to the wind, pitilessly small beneath the swirling gray sky. “We’ve done everything…everything you demanded…”
Rennika’s grief turned to lead in her limbs.
The wind rushed over them, drenching them with rain, speared their faces with icy needles, its endless lonely breath in their ears.
So, yes. Writing fantasy adventure in Bursts of Fire takes me back—at least in my mind—to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, the sensations I’ve felt. And that is definitely my favorite bit.
Susan Forest grew up in a family of mountaineers and skiers, and she loves adventure. She also loves the big ideas found in SF/F, and finds fast-paced adventure stories a great place to explore how individuals grapple with complex moral decisions. Bursts of Fire, first book in her Addicted to Heaven series (to be followed by Flights of Marigolds in 2020), confronts issues of addiction in an epic fantasy world of intrigue and betrayal. Susan is also an award-winning fiction editor, has published over 25 short stories (Analog, Asimov’s, BCS, & more), and has appeared at many international writing conventions. She loves travel and has been known to dictate novels from the back of her husband’s motorcycle.
Spencer Ellsworth is joining us today to talk about his novel The Great Faerie Strike. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A revolution in Faerie!
Ridley Enterprises has brought industry to the Otherworld, churning out magical goods for profit. But when they fire Charles the gnome, well, they’ve gone too far. And against a gnome’s respectable nature, he takes to the streets, fighting for workers’ rights.
The Otherworld’s first investigative reporter, Jane, is looking for a story. And she finds it, witnessing a murder and getting sucked into a conspiracy within werewolf high society.
Jane and Charles team up to unite the workers and bring the Ridleys to justice. But a budding romance complicates everything. Can they bring change to Faerie or will dark powers consume both worlds?
What’s Spencer’s favorite bit?
Whenever I am asked for “my favorite bit” in a book, I feel a little bit like a parent asked to pick their favorite child.
I love all of them, even the weird ones who test my patience!
But, with apologies to the weird ones, in The Great Faerie Strike, I immediately knew what my favorite part was. It was built into the book’s conception from the beginning—the main character Charles, a cantankerous and hotheaded gnome, laid off from his factory job, would have to find the inspiration to start a strike.
Charles is unusual for a gnome already. They’re typically known for steadiness, reliability, and a tendency to go along with authority and never be the nail that sticks up.
Charles has been trying to reform his unreliable ways, despite the layoffs. He… doesn’t do so well. He gets laid off again, this time from a butler job. He then gets in a fight and gets himself captured by vampires and thrown in a larder, waiting to be eaten.
Our heroine, Jane, an investigative reporter, is determined to save Charles from the vampires, since he has a lead on her best story. While he’s in there, she gives him a random pamphlet to read, something that she grabbed because it looked interesting.
That pamphlet is The Communist Manifesto.
I’ve never more had more fun as a writer than this: taking a hotheaded, stodgy little gnome and turning him into a revolutionary. Charles immediately sees how Marx’s philosophy applies to the Otherworld, and starts babbling on about Marx like an excited college sophomore, and determines to bring the bourgeoisie down.
I squeed with joy, just a little, as I wrote that bit. I love it when a character really, really, REALLY believes in something, especially when it puts them in conflict with their world, family and friends. And I may have been a bit like Charles myself, in college… and a bit like him still. In that way, he’s always been my favorite bit.
Spencer Ellsworth has been writing since he learned how. He is the author of The Great Faerie Strike, out in August 2019 from Broken Eye Books, and the Starfire Trilogy of space opera novels from Tor. He lives in Bellingham, WA, with his wife and three children, writes, edits and works at a small tribal college, and would really like a war mammoth if you’ve got one lying around.
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are joining us today to talk about their novella This Is How You Lose the Time War. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtarand Max Gladstone.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.
What are Amal and Max’s favorite part?
AMAL EL-MOHTAR AND MAX GLADSTONE
My favourite bit of this novella—besides remembering its creation, the moments where our eyes met in mingled shock and grief at what we were doing to these characters, and how well we were doing it—is the point of no return.
This actually happens multiple times. One would think a time travel story to be built of infinite points of return, the ability to cross strands of time like lines of Regency letters—but in such a story, the points of divergence, of commitment, of irreversible impact are the ones that stay with me the most, and that I most enjoyed writing.
I’ll single out three from my own writing, because to attempt to single out favourites of yours is literally just to unspool the story from start to finish. I shall describe them as cards in a tarot spread, in order not to spoil anything for readers still discovering the book, confident that you’ll recognize them instantly.
Here they are: the wolf; the bee; the berried thorn.
Those are my favourite bits.
What are yours?
PS: if divinatory obfuscation isn’t to your taste, please, do not feel limited by my choices! “Apophenic as a haruspex” is, after all, one of my many favourite bits of yours!
I love that you single out points of no return. Before I received your letter I’d planned my sole contribution to be your line, in Blue’s voice: “Tell me something true, or tell me nothing at all.” For me, our early draft up until that point had been an exuberance of play—dancing from strand to strand, enjoying the taunts and the grand concepts and above all else the speed our format permitted. But that letter of Blue’s, and that line in specific, shook me. And I think they shook Red, too. Somewhere a submarine commander shouted out: Dive, dive!
And we dove.
It came at just the right moment. We’d described a world, and I think that left to my own normal gears I would have settled myself down to particulars and complications. But we had to go deeper, out of safe and sunlit waters.
Did you know there’s a depth in the ocean beyond which the pressure will squeeze a human body until it becomes denser than the surrounding water? Past that point, you won’t float back toward the surface. You’ll fall, endlessly, to the ocean floor.
A terrifying, exhilarating thought—the moment when the pressure of character becomes destiny. But who knows what you find at the bottom?
As for favorite bits of my own writing, to match yours, I’ll stay just as e/allusive: Atlantis, surely. Do you smile, ice? And, perhaps: a simple wax seal.
Amal El-Mohtar is an award-winning author, academic, and critic. Her short story “Seasons of Glass and Iron” won a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Aurora, and Eugie Awards in the same year. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different kinds of honey, and is the science fiction and fantasy columnist for the New York Times Book Review. Her fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in magazines such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, and the Rubin Museum of Art’s Spiral, as well as in anthologies such as The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. She is pursuing a PhD at Carleton University and teaches creative writing at the University of Ottawa. Visit her at amalelmohtar.com
Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the Hugo, John W Campbell, and Lambda Awards. A narrative designer, writer, and consultant, Max is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence (starting with THREE PARTS DEAD and most recently continuing with RUIN OF ANGELS). His short fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in Uncanny Magazine. He has written games, comics, and interactive television, and is the lead writer of the fantasy procedural series BOOKBURNERS. Max’s most recent projects are the intergalactic adventure EMPRESS OF FOREVER, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the time travel epistolary spy-vs-spy novella THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR.
Michi Trota is joining us today to talk about Uncanny Magazine’s Year Six, which currently has a Kickstarter running until August 14. Here’s information about the Kickstarter:
Over the last few years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the three-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years One, Two, Three, Four, and Five. 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 award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise every single year. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards!
The Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, our name for the Uncanny Magazine community, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers via the web or as eBooks. THANK YOU, SPACE UNICORNS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or re-up with the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance! We need your help to continue this mission for another year. This is your magazine, Space Unicorns! Let’s make Year Six happen!
This year, we’re also back with a new mission for the ranger corps: RAISING OUR PAY RATES! We’ve been running Uncanny Magazine for five years with basically the exact same pay rates for all of our creators and staff. We think it’s time to pay all of these fabulous people a little bit more for their amazing creations.
Though Uncanny continues to have multiple ways to support us, we still need the help of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter community to keep bringing you this amazing content. YOUR support specifically makes it possible for us to make our fiction freely available on our website.
We have put together a fabulous lineup of solicited contributors for Year Six for short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry! There will also be slots for unsolicited submissions (we will reopen for short fiction submissions on August 1, 2019). 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. 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 first Tuesday of the second month at uncannymagazine.com.
We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Six!
What’s Michi’s favorite bit?
I’ve been with Uncanny Magazine since the beginning, way back in 2014, and while the last five years have just flown by, it also feels like this magazine and the many wonderful people involved have always been a part of my life. It’s been an honor learning from my teammates and being part of the passion, skill, and professionalism that everyone at Uncanny brings to the table at every turn; without a doubt, being Managing Editor, and later also Nonfiction Editor, has made a significant difference in my life, both professionally and personally. Thanks to my work with Uncanny, I became the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award, and now have three shiny rockets on my mantle. I’ve gotten to know writers and other creators in SF/F who I’ve admired for years and can now call colleagues and friends. I’ve even gotten to write the text for a museum exhibit about Asian Pacific American Science Fiction, and I’m excited to explore even more possibilities as both a writer and an editor as I prepare to move on to the next phase of my career.
And all of this was possible because one of Uncanny’s deepest held principles is the importance of supporting and encouraging an inclusive SF/F field that is filled with diverse voices, particularly those of new and emerging creators. Before I joined Uncanny, I had become increasingly active in my local Chicago nerd community, organizing events, speaking on panels, and blogging, but while I’d accumulated over a decade’s worth of experience in publishing and production, having managed different trade and association publications, I hadn’t yet edited anything professionally in SF/F. I was relatively unknown when I first met Lynne & Michael Thomas at various cons and through mutual acquaintances, and getting their offer to join Uncanny as its first managing editor was an unexpected and unlooked for dream opportunity.
I can’t overstate how vital it is for new and emerging creators to have the chance for their work published alongside writers who may be more familiar to audiences. For one, it’s incredibly exciting to see your name appear in the same table of contents or masthead as creators whose work you’ve looked up to. But more importantly, the inclusion of new and emerging creators is what keeps SF/F strong and growing. Those voices help push the boundaries of genre further, playing with new techniques and approaches, building on the visions and ideas that came before, and infusing our communities with fresh energy. I’m always humbled when writers express how excited they are to submit their work to Uncanny because it means that those writers thought enough of our magazine and our editors to take a chance on trusting us with their work. No matter where a writer is in their career — whether they’re just getting started or have been publishing in the genre for years — it’s exciting to see how their works inform, challenge, and illuminate each other. There’s always some new idea to find, or a different perspective on familiar tropes to interpret, and the more new writers our industry publishes, the better off we all are for their inclusion.
Having the chance to open doors for others and invite them through has been one of the best parts of my time with Uncanny. By being part of this team, I’ve gotten to learn how to do so with thoughtfulness, empathy, and a constant interrogation of my own biases, pushing myself beyond my own comfort zones. I’m grateful for being introduced to a bounty of creative insights and challenging perspectives, as well as more wonderful new colleagues and friends. And now that my time with the magazine closing at the end of this year, I can’t wait to see how Uncanny will continue to grow with the addition of some fantastically talented folks. Without a doubt, Uncanny is going to be all the stronger for the roles Chimedum Ohaegbu (Managing Editor), Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (Nonfiction Editor), Angel Cruz (Assistant Editor), and Joy Piedmont (Podcast Reader) will be taking on in Year 6. All of them bring unique skills and perspectives to the table, and I’m excited that I’ll get to watch their time with Uncanny unfold along with the rest of the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps.
The greatest gift I could ask for after my time with Uncanny is knowing that the magazine is in the best possible hands as I leave, and I’ve been given that in spades. New ideas, the willingness to take risks, amazing creative energy, passion, and kindness, and the chance for a fresh voices to shine. This will always be my favorite bit of Uncanny.
Managing Editor/Nonfiction Editor Michi Trota is a three-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an editor and essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Learned Fangirl, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. She was the exhibit text writer for Worlds Beyond Here: Asian Pacific Americans in Science Fiction at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. She’s spoken at C2E2, the Chicago Humanities Festival, on NPR, and at universities and other organizations. Michi is a firespinner with the Raks Geek Fire+Bellydance troupe and lives in Chicago with her spouse and their two cats. Her secret mutant superpower is to make anyone hungry just by talking about food. Find her on Twitter @GeekMelange.
Clark T. Carlton is joining us today with his novel The Prophet of the Ghost Ants. Here’s the publishers description:
Both familiar and fantastic, Clark T. Carlton’s Prophets of the Ghost Ants explores a world in which food, weapons, clothing, art—even religious beliefs—are derived from Humankind’s profound intertwining with the insect world.
In a savage landscape where humans have evolved to the size of insects, they cannot hope to dominate. Ceaselessly, humans are stalked by night wasps, lair spiders, and marauder fleas. And just as sinister, men are still men. Corrupt elites ruthlessly enforce a rigid caste system. Duplicitous clergymen and power-mongering royalty wage pointless wars for their own glory. Fantasies of a better life and a better world serve only to torment those who dare to dream.
One so tormented is a half-breed slave named Anand, a dung-collector who has known nothing but squalor and abuse. Anand wants to lead his people against a genocidal army who fight atop fearsome, translucent Ghost Ants. But to his horror, Anand learns this merciless enemy is led by someone from his own family: a religious zealot bent on the conversion of all non-believers . . . or their extermination.
A mix of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt,Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor,and Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass,this is a powerful new addition to the genre.
What’s Clark’s favorite bit?
CLARK THOMAS CARLTON
My favorite bit in my Antasy series is my Cockroach Tribe.
I may have lost a few of you already who think bugs are icky … and none are ickier than roaches.
I have no fondness for actual roaches. They were something I tried and failed to kill in the low rent apartments of my college days. I remember the nauseating stink of insecticides that failed to stop the cucarachas who only came out at night. While I was in bed I’d hear them as they crawled over the paper and plastics of the trash with that creepy rustling sound. When I flipped on the lights, they scrambled in a circular way to their home under the stove.
Cockroaches need to be exterminated because they can transmit the kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning and they can spread parasitic worms and other human pathogens. And as companions, well, they are not exactly cute and cuddly or likely to impress your dates. An embarrassing moment from the days-before-cell-phones was when I brought in my answering machine to be repaired and was told it was a “roach motel.” Its six-legged inhabitants were drawn to its heat and darkness and something within the machine was delicious and nourishing. And as for those actual Black Flag Roach Motels (roaches check in but they don’t check out), I remember an alcohol and pot-fueled party where one guest, an aspiring performance artist, created an impromptu piece when she gathered those boxes reeking of maple syrup. She carefully opened the Motels to reveal their victims stuck to ribbons of glue and then pinned these sheets to a wall facing the front door. Arriving guests encountered a kind of abstract art that was beautiful at first … until you got up closer.
So yes, death to the cockroaches, but in the world of my science-fantasy series, roaches have a beneficial relationship with at least one tribe of humans. In this distant future, men and women have shrunk to a tenth of an inch and they are the last of the Earth’s red blooded creatures. It’s an oxygen rich world where the insects have gotten as large as they were in the Carboniferous Period — some of the flying ones have wingspans of two feet or more. In order to survive, the tiny humans don’t battle bugs but infiltrate and live among them and their cultures are an outgrowth of the insect they adopt. The brown ant people hate the yellow ant people and they detest the beetle people. And everyone hates the cockroach people.
Yes, millions of years from now, roaches are still reviled, but for a different reason.
The ant peoples of this futurity confine their lives to the mounds where they cohabitate with their insects. In order to be accepted by ants (instead of torn apart and eaten by them) the humans have to disguise themselves. They wear antennae and clothing made from the eggshells of pupae or the moltings of larvae, but more importantly, they wear their ants’ colony scent. The ants of a colony recognize each other as kin not by appearance, but with sniffs of their antennae. If some brown ant people stumble into yellow territory, the yellow ants will destroy the browns because they wear the scent of an enemy ant. This makes for a world where tribal divides are absolute and the word “ambassador” does not exist. Men and women with different ants are not recognized as fellow humans but as lesser beings with inferior insects.
The exception in this world is the Britasyte roach people. They are the wanderers of these treacherous lands, something made possible by their roaches exuding a pheromone that repels other insects. The roach people are hated for their dark skin and the stink of their insects and they are resented for their wealth and the freedoms of the roaming life. Sometimes they are hired by the monarchs of the ant nations to pass critical messages, but mostly the Britasytes are show people as well as traders and craftsmen. Their elaborate spectacles feature the forbidden beauty of women dancing to a frenzied music. Before the show, seductive roach girls ply the audience with a drink laced with a hallucinogenic fungus. After the show, the roach men sell the drunken revelers their cloth, jewelry and exotic items from distant lands.
The Roach Tribe lives in constant danger — one of their four clans has been lost for years — but they cannot imagine a life more fulfilling than their own. They call the ant peoples ‘sedites’, a word that degrades them for their settled ways. The Britasytes are sure that no insect is better than the roach which provides them with protection as well as eggs both for eating and as leather for boots and shoes. The largest roaches are draped and bejeweled draft animals that haul sand sleds encrusted with thousands of gems.
My hero, Anand, like so many heroes, is a boy from a mixed marriage and he has a foot in two worlds. Among the ant people, Anand is the lowest of the low — a halfbreed outcaste. Like his father, he was born to a life of salvaging and waste disposal. But his mother, Corra, is a Britasyte who married an outsider to give birth to a spanner: a high status male to serve as a link to a powerful ant nation. Anand will grow up to negotiate trade deals as well as the tribe’s safety — or so he hopes.
My favorite chapter in my first book is when Anand is brought to an annual gathering of the Roach Clans to celebrate something like his bar mitzvah. It is the most beautiful night of his life when his clan’s chieftain gives him his first suit of clothes: a cape that resembles the elytra, or forewings of a roach. Under the cape is a tight and colorful tunic that reveals the roach-greased muscles of his arms and legs. That night, Anand is allowed his first drink of the Holy Mildew, a potion that connects him to the tribe’s two-sexed deity, the Lord-Lady Roach of the Spirit World. And just when it can’t get more blissful, Anand sees Daveena, a large and intimidating beauty as she dances around a cage of lightning flies. The sight of her “wracks Anand with a painful yearning and a sickness that would forever infect him.” When Daveena touches Anand’s hand, “he sees their future in an instant: their marriage, pregnancies and grandchildren. He saw her hair turn gray and her corpse fed to the roaches.”
Art by Mozchops
You may still not have warmed up to roaches, even these imagined ones, but I’ve learned recently that some of them, like mammals, care for their young and even provide them with something like milk. All that aside, the next time you see a cockroach in your own house, step on it. And then call the exterminator.
Clark T. Carlton is the son of a barefooted, Floridian cowboy and a beauty queen from the Land of Cotton who ventured North to raise their children in the long shadow of New York City. When he was a teenager, his family moved from a blue-collar melting pot to a segregated and conservative enclave of Southern California, an event which forever altered his world view. He studied English and Film at Boston University and UCLA and has worked as a screen and television writer, a journalist, and as a producer of reality television in addition to a thousand and one other professions. He has always had more blue than white in his collar.
Prophets of the Ghost Ants is his first original novel, a tale inspired during a trip to the Yucatan when he witnessed a battle for a Spanish peanut by two different kinds of ants. That night he dreamed of armies of tiny men on the backs of red and black ants. After doing years of research on insects and human social systems, the plot was revealed to him as a streaming, technicolor prophecy on the sixth night of Burning Man when the effigy goes up in flames.
Some of his favorite books are the classics of science fiction, all of which have an element of fantasy if they involve time travel or traveling faster than the speed of light (or through a wormhole) to another solar system. As a child, he had hopes of enlisting in Star Fleet Academy, but any physicist worth his neutrons will tell us that kind of space travel will never be possible. One of the greatest regrets of his life is that he cannot travel the galaxies to interact with alien societies- but it has opened him up to create his own imaginary world.
He lives with his family in Los Angeles where he enjoys tennis, volleyball, songwriting, and painting. A friend of his calls his paintings “Grandma Moses on acid”, which he takes as the highest compliment.
Sean Grigsby is joining us today to talk about his novel Ash Kickers. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Dragons vs Firefighters vs the Phoenix. The scorching fantasy sequel to Smoke Eaters.
With ex-firefighter Cole Brannigan in command of the Smoke Eaters, the dragon menace is under control. Thanks to non-lethal Canadian tech, the beasts are tranquilized and locked up, rather than killed. But for Tamerica Williams, this job filled with action and danger, has become tediously routine.
When a new threat emerges, a legendary bird of fire – the Phoenix – it’s the perfect task for Williams. But killing the Phoenix just brings it back stronger, spreading fire like a plague and whipping dragons into a frenzy. Will it prove to be too much excitement, even for adrenalin-junkie Williams?
What’s Sean’s favorite bit?
Sequels, am I right?
Fans of a story look forward to the next installment. Lauded creators do their best to make something new, that holds the spirit of the first, but not the same plot rewashed and hung out to dry. So many sequels end up sucking.
Obviously, I didn’t want Ash Kickers to suck. Its predecessor, Smoke Eaters, was well-received, and anything I wrote to expand that world had big fire boots to fill. I had to crank it to eleven.
If you’re not familiar, the Smoke Eaters series can be described as firefighters versus dragons in the future. The scalies have returned from beneath the earth and have turned the world into an ashen wasteland, save for the clusters of civilization that run as city-states. Parthenon City, Ohio is where our dragon-slaying civil servants call home, and they don’t just have scalies to worry about. Ghosts, job-stealing robots, and nefarious politicians round out a gallery of villains in the first book. Ash Kickers adds a few more to the list.
Tamerica Williams is now taking the reins while Cole Brannigan is still around, leading the smoke eaters as chief. Dragons are no longer killed, but caught and used for their life-saving blood. But something new just showed up. It eats dragons, is made of insanely hot fire, and no matter how many times you slay it, it comes back stronger than ever. That’s right. I’m talking about a phoenix.
And that’s not all.
A spree of suicide arsons is terrorizing the city. The cops suspect a cult, and the fire department can’t determine what they’re using as an accelerant. It’s almost as if they’re spontaneously combusting.
But I’m here to talk about my favorite bit, and I thought I’d give you a peek at something else. A sequel provides an opportunity to write the scenes you wished you’d put in the previous book. For me, I really wanted a scene where the smoke eaters have to battle dragons attacking the city. I’m talking about crumbling buildings, scalies soaring past windows on the twentieth floor, and good old fashioned downtown mayhem.
It starts with something going very wrong:
Multiple angry roars came from behind the smoke and flames. A scaly foot broke through and landed just in front of me. I looked up to see a white, crystalline dragon head looking down at me from at least fifty feet up. Training and adrenaline kicked in as I fired a few rounds at the scaly, the lasers striking the translucent spikes protruding from its cheek bones. My efforts only chipped off a few pieces of the spikes and made the dragon flinch slightly, as if the lasers were houseflies buzzing around its face.
Then, with a snarl, the dragon opened its mouth and showed me a sparkling blue light at the back of its throat.
Well, you don’t see that every day.
Still flat on the ground, I hit my suit’s power jump. The thrusters threw me across the ground. I didn’t go far but it was enough to dodge the scaly’s attack which came out as a blinding cone of cold energy.
“It’s a fucking ice dragon!” Naveena shouted through my helmet. “Get out of there, T!”
From there, dozens of dragons stampede for Parthenon City and the fight calls for every last smoke eater in Ohio to respond. Tamerica and fellow captain Naveena Jendal have their work cut out for them.
The ice dragon breathed its fury down the street as smatterings of people screamed and ran. Sheets of frost formed on windows. A few unfortunate souls had gotten blasted by the dragon’s ice beam, turning into macabre snow people after the light passed over them.
When Naveena lowered her final finger and the ice dragon’s tail swooped over our heads to the left, she shouted, “Now!”
Both of us hit our jump buttons and sailed into the air. Our trajectory should have put us dead center on the back of the scaly’s neck. But its tail swung back as we flew through the air, slamming into me first, then Naveena. We soared together in a tangled girl ball of smoke eaters. I managed to grab onto her, wanting something to hang onto. The world spun out of my control as I tumbled into the unknown.
What follows is a high-rise battle that only gets tougher as more dragons, walking human infernos, and vengeful ghosts enter the mix. But you’ll have to grab a copy to find out what happens next.
SEAN GRIGSBY is a professional firefighter in central Arkansas, where he writes about lasers, aliens, and guitar battles with the Devil when he’s not fighting dragons. He grew up on Goosebumps books in Memphis, Tennessee, and hosts the Cosmic Dragon podcast.
Olivia Waite is joining us today to talk about her novel The Lady’s Guild to Celestial Mechanics. Here’s the publisher’s description:
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.
Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.
While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?
What’s Olivia’s favorite bit?
In 1876 a woman in Iowa named Ellen Harding Baker finished a solar system quilt. Ellen was a teacher and an astronomer, and in her lectures she used her quilt as a visual aid: it’s made of wool and silk in mostly black and white, with details of red and gold and blue. The quilt-top shows the sun and a dazzling comet and the orbits of all eight planets (this was before there were nine, and long before we went back down to eight).
In 2018, I wanted to write a book about a lady astronomer who falls in love with a countess who’s an accomplished embroiderer. I thought this book was going to be about Art Versus Science, Beauty Versus Truth, ladies kissing—important historical ideas like that. The story’s set in 1816, in London, and in the course of doing research I found myself wandering online archives of old cross-stitch and embroidery samplers. It’s a much, much weirder world than you expect: alongside all the happy animals and Bible verses there are samplers mourning lost loved ones and describing children dying horribly, all carefully created by putting down one tiny length of thread at a time.
One sampler, dated 1811, was a model of the solar system.
Solar System Embroidery Sampler, 1811
I was gobsmacked: the pattern had been printed, which meant it had been produced for sale. That means there was enough of a market for astronomy-themed embroidery that someone had created a product to satisfy demand. This wasn’t a one-off. The sampler shows the sun and the first seven planets, including the one labeled Georgium Sidus (named for King George III, which would later be changed to Neptune so it wouldn’t feel out of place among the other mythologically named planets).
If there was a market, there might be other examples like this one. I started searching more broadly for astronomy-themed embroidery, and bam, there was Ellen Harding Baker’s quilt.
Ellen Harding Baker’s Solar System Quilt, 1876
It changed everything.
Let’s talk about how much time it takes to make a quilt: a lot. Cutting fabric, top stitching, seaming. Even if you have a Singer sewing machine to help with the piecework, you still end up doing all that fine embroidery by hand. You have to really love the subject you’re working on to spend seven years illustrating it.
You also have to believe your subject can be beautiful. You have to believe that loveliness is a kind of fact—and that showing the solar system’s aesthetic appeal is an important part of describing it accurately.
Ellen Harding Baker was doing Art and Science, Truth and Beauty. I realized my entire framework had been flawed—and not just about the book. As a feminist and that annoyingly precocious kid who loved school and learning and tests and all that, I always felt like I had failed on some level because I hadn’t ended up a scientist in a prestigious field in need of more women. I’d been quietly, thoughtlessly buying into notions of hard science versus soft humanities, logical manly knowledge versus flimsy feminine imagination. These categories were painfully, uselessly limiting, and I promptly spent the entire romance letting my fictional ladies knock them down bit by bit to see if we couldn’t create something better.
I put in something like the sampler—but I had to leave out Ellen Baker Harding and her quilt. She lived sixty years later and on a different continent; there was no way I could work it into the text.
But it’s still my favorite bit, because even though it’s not anywhere on the page, it shaped everything that I put into the book. It’s the heart of the entire 80,000-word idea.
Ellen Harding Baker died before she reached forty, so the seven years she spent making her quilt turned out to be nearly a quarter of her entire life. And unlike the unknown young lady who stitched the 1811 sampler, she signed it. Sewed her name and the date and the words Solar System right onto the wool, in all caps, so there would be no denying what it was, who made it, and when.
That we have her quilt and know her name is rare, especially since museum collections and historical narratives so often lean toward masculine-coded ideas of what objects and events are important: battles and discoveries and conquest, political power and violence. We keep swords and armor and royal portraits; we consign kitchenware and cast-off clothes to the trash bins of memory.
Writers often think of research as a kind of collection: you gather up facts and trivia and people until you can lay them all out for admiration like specimens in a curio cabinet. But with this book, I’ve realized there’s another method, which needs another metaphor. Imagine a writer’s mind as a space where story-bits accumulate, piling up in great formless heaps like fresh snowbanks. Inspiration is the thing that comes along and leaves an impression—the muse that tumbles full-length into the snow, waving arms and legs for a snow angel, imposing a shape on all that nebulous story-stuff. Inspiration moves on: you don’t need to keep it or trap it or put pins through its fragile wings.
What matters is the impression it left behind, that space in which we find meaning. So I thought of Ellen Harding Baker and wrote about the affinity between art and science, and how the truth could be beautiful. I wrote about artificial categories, and how to not let them keep you from pursuing better ideas.
All that, and ladies kissing, too. It’s the best and the truest writing I’ve ever done.
Olivia Waite writes historical romance, fantasy, and science fiction. She is also the monthly romance columnist for the Seattle Review of Books, where she writes reviews of romances old and new and thoughtful essays on the genre’s history and future.
Reed King is joining us today to talk about his book FKA USA. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In Reed King’s wildly imaginative and possibly prescient debut, the United States has dissolved in the wake of environmental disasters and the catastrophic policies of its final president.
It is 2085, and Truckee Wallace, a factory worker in Crunchtown 407 (formerly Little Rock, Arkansas, before the secessions), has no grand ambitions besides maybe, possibly, losing his virginity someday.
But when Truckee is thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight he is tapped by the President for a sensitive political mission: to deliver a talking goat across the continent. The fate of the world depends upon it.
The problem is―Truckee’s not sure it’s worth it.
Joined on the road by an android who wants to be human and a former convict lobotomized in Texas, Truckee will navigate an environmentally depleted and lawless continent with devastating―and hilarious―parallels to our own, dodging body pickers and Elvis-worshippers and logo girls, body subbers, and VR addicts.
Elvis-willing, he may even lose his virginity.
What’s Reed’s favorite bit?
It’s a little bit funny to wax poetic about one’s own writing—it gives the similarly squirmy feeling of discomfort of being discovered for some disgustingly indulgent personal habit, like revealing a private pleasure in the smell of one’s own dirty socks—but I will take inspiration from Barnaby, Gentleman, Scholar, and Talking Goat, who would no doubt have no trouble finding one thousand words (or one hundred thousand) of praise for the short section in which he takes the narrative reins and gives us his backstory.
FKA USA has always felt to me like a completely foreign interpolation in my brain—unlike anything else I had written, and full of characters who truly seemed to headbutt their way into existence without my permission—and at the same time, like an integration (some would say, collision?) of basically all of my interests, influences, and extremely diverse passions. Biotechnology and political science, cultism and VR, classic literature of all stripes, from Frank L. Baum to Douglas Adams to Trollope—yes, that Trollope.
I’ve always loved to escape into worlds. I’ve always loved hefty books with big page counts and too much detail. This is reflected in my work (and in many Goodreads reviews—but that’s another story). The story-within-a story subsections that grant first-person narration to some of the secondary characters was an idea born out of (I’m semi-ashamed to admit) lazy recollections of 19th– and 20th– century works, notably Tom Jones and The Turn of the Screw, which in my (indolent) memory (may have) made use of nesting structures and also the kind of passing of the narrative baton.
Also, there was no way Barnaby was going to let me get through 450 + pages without once steering the book.
It’s always kind of cringeworthy when writers talk about their characters as if they are real, other-beings, with independent existences and characteristics and demands. It’s somewhat like when people refer to themselves in the third person: like proof of pretention so big it has to have its own domain. But actually, writing does seem to work both in- and out-side of the self, much like any good romantic relationship. In other words: books seem to have their own independent stories, their own needs and will; but they also seem to be connected to your story, to what you wanted to say, to what you were looking to answer. And they must be willing to work with you.
I did not know that I would find a goat in this book. I certainly did not know that he would be a talking goat. I did not even know what book I was writing, by the time Billy Lou Ropes ended up on a crosswalk with his arms roped around a live animal–a living, breathing creature, made not by man but some riot of chance and evolution and quantum physics and timespace, or by what many people call God—in context, and in Truckee’s world, a fatal thing. I was just following Truckee’s voice, and it led me to the crosswalk, and to the warmth of the goat that pinned Truckee beneath his weight.
Barnaby by Rhys Davies
I like writing for the same reason I like reading, and it gives me much of the same sense of discovery. So it was much to my surprise when—without question, without doubt—I turned the mental page in my mind and heard that goat actually speak. He had to speak, because I heard him speak, in my head, but I knew it was him speaking, and not me.
And then, of course, I had to explain how it was possible a goat could speak.
And Barnaby would again be very happy and gratified to know that the entire book swung into rough shape on the hinge of his very first utterance. The scientific arms race toward infinity; the Wizard of Oz journeying toward a foreign city in an attempt to return to home or its idea; the narrative motivations and emotional arcs for our major characters…all would not have been possible were it not for Barnaby fisting Truckee, and me, simultaneously in the chest and, for the first (and last) time in the book, saying only two words.
The section in which he narrates his history at and escape from Lagunda-Honda is probably my favorite because, to be honest, it was really easy. (See aforementioned mental laziness as a factor.) You know how everyone has that one aunt or neighbor or classmate whose voice is so stridently audible it serves as a kind of warning signal to steer clear? Barnaby is like that. Once you hear him, you cannot unhear him. He will certainly make sure of it.
I was as delighted as anyone else to learn about Barnaby’s earliest memories and his fondness for Latex gloves. I literally did not experience any word of any portion of that section as “writing.” It felt just like transcribing—then, and every time Barnaby hoofed his way onto central-page.
One of my favorite aphorisms about writing is that the only criticism you can level meaningfully against a book is if it fails to live. Barnaby’s entrance—warm, profane, alive, and, you know, goat-y—into the clinical manipulations of Crunchtown 407 provoked a seism both on the page and in my imagination: suddenly, the words I was cranking down the line, one after another, blew apart. Suddenly, someone else was speaking.
More precisely—a goat.
And at the same time, the whole book came to life.
Agnes Gomillion is joining us today to talk about her novel The Record Keeper. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Record Keeper is a visceral and thrilling near-future dystopia examining past and present race relations.
After World War III, Earth is in ruins, and the final armies have come to a reluctant truce. Everyone must obey the law–in every way–or risk shattering the fragile peace and endangering the entire human race.
Arika Cobane is on the threshold of taking her place of privilege as a member of the Kongo elite after ten grueling years of training. But everything changes when a new student arrives speaking dangerous words of treason: What does peace matter if innocent lives are lost to maintain it? As Arika is exposed to new beliefs, she realizes that the laws she has dedicated herself to uphold are the root of her people’s misery. If Arika is to liberate her people, she must unearth her fierce heart and discover the true meaning of freedom: finding the courage to live–or die–without fear.
What’s Agnes’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of The Record Keeper is my heroine, Arika’s, weapon of choice, the Double Helix. The Helix is a thin metal tube scientifically coded with its owner’s DNA. It has the ladder-like shape of the two-stranded Double Helix etched into its side. And, like DNA, the Helix stores magnificent amounts of genetic information about its owner’s past and potential. Consequently, the Helix knows its owner intimately – often better than the owner knows herself.
In the wrong hands, the Helix will remain a tube. But, when grasped by the person that matches its coding, the Helix instantly transforms into a weapon of war. A rapier, nunchucks, a boomerang or billy club – the Helix can form innumerable combat tools, with one limitation: it’s only as powerful as its owner’s will.
Modern American scientists are aware of the power of an individual’s will – although will is notoriously difficult to define. In the sports world, coaches often talk about will in terms of “intangibles”. In entertainment, they call it “the X factor”. Colloquially, it’s simply called IT. And we all know IT when we see IT.
Whatever the term, it’s clear that possessing this element in large quantity renders an individual magnetic, compelling and unbeatable – superhuman in an indescribable way.
The scientists in Arika’s future America have found a way to measure all types of energy – spiritual, mental and emotional – including the energy of IT. More, they’ve imbued the Double Helix with the ability to translate IT energy into kinetic force.
So, with the Helix in hand, an individual’s strength of character becomes physical strength, just as forceful as height, weight and muscle density. Which means that a modestly built person – with unique passion and drive – can confidently confront a person twice her size and hope to win the battle.
At first, Arika is shocked to receive such a valuable weapon. When the shock wears off, she eagerly begins training, only to discover that her Helix refuses to transform for her. Day after day, she struggles to wield it. But, despite being coded with her genetics, it remains an innocuous weight in her hand.
Her mentor, Hosea Khan, is little help; although he does tell Arika that she must be blocked. A block, he says, can be spiritual, mental, or emotional. More, it can prevent her from connecting with her Helix – since the Helix knows her true heart and can’t be fooled by the tough façade she shows the world.
Arika’s no fool. She knows exactly where she’s blocked. For years her heart’s been buried in fear and shame. If she can resurrect it and reclaim the woman she was born to be, she can save herself and her people. But, the day of battle is hours away, and she’s running out of time.
AGNES GOMILLION is an #Ownvoices writer and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. Homegrown in the Sunshine State, Agnes holds a degree in English literature with a focus on African-American literature from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master degree from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. She is a voracious reader of the African-American literary canon and a dedicated advocate for marginalised people everywhere. Her debut novel, The Record Keeper, is a literary addition to the afro-futuristic science-fiction genre.
Megan E. O’Keefe is joining us today to talk about her novel Velocity Weapon. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Dazzling space battles, intergalactic politics, and rogue AI collide in Velocity Weapon, the first book in this epic space opera by award-winning author Megan O’Keefe.
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction.
However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.
Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right.
What’s Megan’s favorite bit?
MEGAN E. O’KEEFE
Picking the favorite bit of any story is usually tough but, in the instance of Velocity Weapon, I confess the answer came to me right away: Grippy the robot.
When Sanda finds herself marooned on a state-of-the-art, AI piloted ship thousands of light years from rescue, she also finds the smartship’s maintenance bot, who she quickly renames Grippy due to his sturdy, grasping “hands.” He’s about the size of a large dog, if a dog had tank treads for paws and cameras for eyes. I imagined him as a hybrid of Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog and Number 5 from Short Circuit, with a few more grasping hands thrown in for maintenance purposes.
Grippy quickly makes himself useful by helping Sanda get around. She has recently had part of her leg traumatically amputated, and while the medical facilities on the ship saved her life, there’re no doctors around to help her get accustomed to her new mobility – just Grippy and her own sense of determination to figure things out.
She’s no engineer, though, and when her attempts at fashioning prosthetics don’t always work, Grippy is ready to lend a metallic hand. He even plays a small role at the end. When everything’s gone sideways and Sanda is overwhelmed, he helps her see what she needs to do. Because his job, his programming, is to fix things. To help.
He also helps me, the writer, out a little as he shows us just how quickly Sanda can anthropomorphize, and serves as an interesting thematic parallel to Sanda’s relationship with the smartship, Bero.
Grippy isn’t the AI spaceship that drives the narrative, he’s not even really a central character. He’s got a tiny little brain when compared to the other intelligences in the universe and is pretty limited in what he can understand and do. But while things are steadily advancing toward chaos (hello, narrative entropy) Grippy is always there to help. Also, he’s just plain adorable.
Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and has won Writers of the Future and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Megan lives in the Bay Area of California.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today to talk about his novel The Sol Majestic. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Sol Majestic is a big-hearted and delightful intergalactic adventure for fans of Becky Chambers and The Good Place
Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents’ ambition to advise the celestial elite.
Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos’s one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized “free meal” risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish. In doing so, Kenna may sacrifice his ideals—or learn even greater lessons about wisdom, friendship, and love.
Utterly charming and out of this world, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Sol Majestic will satisfy the appetites of sci-fi aficionados and newcomers alike.
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
When I was seventeen, my Uncle Tommy was my only relative who was brave enough to take me into New York City. Which was strange, given that his doctors advised him not to leave the house.
My Uncle Tommy was a hemophiliac, you see. If you’re not familiar with the disease, it means your blood takes much longer to clot than baseline people – so my Uncle Tommy could bleed to death from injuries that other people might have fixed with a few stitches. His skin was continually bruised, because he never fully healed, and the blood leaked into his joints and eroded his cartilage. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, he walked unsteadily with a cane.
But my Uncle Tommy was unstoppable.
He had decided that yes, he was mortal, and maybe he only had eight months to live – the doctors had expected that he’d perish within a year since the day he’d been born – but he would live his life as fully as possible.
And if that involved driving into New York so his metalhead nephew could spend the day with his girlfriend from Canada, then by God he’d drive me in. Because he loved the city, and he loved adventures, and he loved me.
He loved me even though I was trying far too hard for a teenager, and everybody knew it but me. See, I had latched on to the identity of “metalhead” despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand the concept. So I had big poofy hair and wore a jean jacket emblazoned with an album cover featuring a demon hurling a chain-wrapped priest into a lake, and wore pleather stompy boots because I could not afford leather. My girlfriend was also a gum-chewin’ metal girl in a cut-off T-shirt and ripped jeans.
We looked like extras in a movie about heavy metal that hadn’t quite bothered to get the details right.
But it was time for dinner, and though New York City was filled with restaurants, we had three picky eaters. Tommy refused to eat at crappy restaurants when he was in a nice place like New York. I did not eat vegetables. And my girlfriend loathed seafood.
So we ambled down the streets of New York for two straight hours, stopping and perusing, one of us vetoing every menu. Which was not, I should add, an inconsequential expenditure of effort for Tommy – with his bad hip and his eroded knees, walking must have been like treading on knives. So when Tommy finally exploded with, “All right! This! Is! It! I don’t care what the next restaurant is, we are eating there! If they serve fried cockroaches, we are chowing down on insects! Got it?”
We got it. So when we saw the next restaurant, we pushed past the menu posted by the door to walk in without looking.
Which is why we were all taken aback by the maitre’d in a spotless tuxedo, standing behind a podium.
The restaurant was all gold and white – gold chandeliers, snow-white tableclothes, set off by the blurs of busboys in crisp gold-and-red uniforms. We could peer around the maitre’d to see New York’s finest ordering bottles of champage – fatcat bankers supping $200 bottles of wine, beautiful socialites in gowns perusing menus, old men in tailor-made suits cozily eating richly marbled steaks.
And there I was.
In my jean jacket.
With a demon throwing a priest into a lake of fire.
The heads turned to stare at us – my girlfriend chewing her gum, my Uncle in his worn jeans and button-down plaid workshirt. I’d already taken a step back towards the door when the maitre’d took a peremptory glance down into his reservation book before fixing Tommy with his cold eyes and asked, “…does sir have a reservation?”
And Tommy – God bless Tommy – cracked his neck, retreating for no man, and said three words that transformed my life:
“No. Whatcha got?”
They had, unbelievably, a table for three. A table far at the back where nobody could see us, a table right by the kitchen door, but a legitimate table. And as we settled in, I began to panic: how much money would this place cost? We weren’t that rich. And we were out of place, we were poor trash, we didn’t even dress up for this, how could we –
My Uncle Tommy gripped my shoulder:
“Hey,” he said. “I said we’d do the next restaurant no matter what, and I don’t lie. And yeah, it woulda been nice if we’d dressed up, but a place like this is about the food; if you appreciate, truly appreciate, what they give you, you’ll be all right. So settle in. And enjoy.”
Enjoy we did.
I do not remember what we ate at that meal. But I remember how it felt; I remember how kind the waiters were, how they never once judged us once they realized how excited we were to eat here. I remember how thrilling it was when they came by to sweep the crumbs off between courses with little brass sticks. I remember being delighted when they brought us tiny dishes of sherbert between courses – “To cleanse your palates,” the waiter said.
I remember feeling like there was a higher society, and that I was part of it, and that Tommy was the most wonderful man alive.
And in the end, my uncle demanded that we try the sweetness of amaretto coffee. They served it to all three of us, possibly because they assumed if we were bold enough to set foot here then we must have been of drinking age – or possibly because the waiters saw how our faces lit up at every course and decided to bend the rules just this once.
“Every fine meal,” Tommy told me, tipping the cup towards me, “Ends with a good coffee.”
The meal was, I later found out, the cost of a month’s rent. Tommy tossed his credit card on the table with nonchalance.
A nice story, you say. But how does this story relate to my book?
Well, the answer is that The Sol Majestic is about a beautiful restaurant in space. It’s light-years from nowhere, a hidden jewel where only those with the love of cuisine make the journey to it. It has miraculous meals made possible by science-fictional technologies, and a kindness to strangers, and it is a haven to anyone who truly learns to love food.
It is that restaurant, as best I can remember it. And it might well be where that restaurant’s moved to, for all we know; despite hunting through New York for years afterwards, we never found that restaurant again. But in my book, I moved it into a space station, preserving all the best bits.
And the owner of the Sol Majestic, Paulius, is my Uncle Tommy.
Tommy’s dead now; ironically, he survived the hemophilia, survived getting HIV from a bad blood transfusion, survived getting hepatitis from another bad blood transfusion, but pancreatic cancer took him from me over a decade ago.
But he’s in this book – an old man with a cane, a wounded man who creates a paradise for you to come on wild adventures, a man of indeterminate temper but loving nonetheless. And I recreated an imaginary place to bring you all to, and put the best of my Uncle in there to show you.
The Sol Majestic is about food. But it’s also about love. And it’s about my Uncle Tommy, and how understanding that food helps you know when you’re home.
That’s my favorite bit. That I exhumed a little part of my Uncle Tommy’s glorious magic to share with you.
And I hope my novel nourishes you half as much as he nourished me.
Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise. He was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2012 for his novelette Sauerkraut Station, and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015. He is the author of The Sol Majestic for Tor Books, as well as the ‘Mancer trilogy and The Uploaded. He has written for Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, and Shimmer, among many others. Ferrett lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
Elizabeth Crowens is joining us today to talk about her novel The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert pianist, but a paranormal investigator and a time traveler professor to a select few.
Like Holmes and Watson trying to solve a mystery, together they explore lost worlds and their friendship is tested to the limits when they go back in time to find it. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.
The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: SILENT MERIDIAN reveals the alternate histories of Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Houdini, Jung and other luminaries in the secret diaries of John Patrick Scott, in an X Files for the 19th century.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
Hands down, my favorite bit about creating The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian was the research which entailed several trips overseas from my home base in New York to Edinburgh, Scotland, London, Vienna, Prague and six cities in Germany. When it comes to writing, despite the ease of having so much information available on the internet, I tend to be more like a method actor in the way that I have to be physically somewhere to glean the full, immersive experience of it.
Case in point, in Book One I visualized the University of Edinburgh Library completely wrong and was lucky that the original library from the nineteenth century still existed as an event hall, and I was allowed to go up there and take a look. Most photos on the internet pictured the current library which, by its architectural design, appears to have been built during the 1960s.
Another “happy accident” I stumbled upon also happened in Edinburgh. I knew it was unlikely that I’d find a Victorian Scottish slang or dialect dictionary in the U.S. or on Amazon and something that niche would probably turn up somewhere in Scotland. Since I’m an antiquarian book collector, it’s impossible for me to resist going into used and collectibles bookstores, and one day while I was in an antique store I discovered they had books in the basement. Most were junk, but I managed to find what I was looking for from 1878 costing only £30.00. At first when I noticed the penciled in cost, I thought I had misinterpreted it and it was really £300.00. The shopkeeper said they were fairly hard to find, but the price was correct and it was my lucky day.
Once again being in the right place at the right time, I had another occurrence where I stumbled upon a tiny blue door that had a plaque for a Scottish Genealogical Society. Although they were only open to the public two or three days a week, I happened to pick one of the days they were open and walked in. I introduced myself and told them I was trying to find more information on some of the real people my characters were based upon. Somehow the conversation steered in the direction that my protagonist’s real person inspiration had served in British intelligence during WWI, but I couldn’t seem to find any war records. Then one of the volunteers told me about a British intelligence museum in England that also had a library. With all the research I had done online, I had never come across this and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t discovered this other place in Edinburgh. Overall, everyone was very helpful and enjoyed assisting a writer, not caring whether it was for fiction or non-fiction.
Elizabeth Crowens has worked in the film and television for over twenty years and as a journalist and a photographer. She’s a regular contributor of author interviews to an award-winning online speculative fiction magazine, Black Gate. Short stories of hers have been published in the Bram Stoker Awards nominated anthology, A New York State of Fright and Hell’s Heart. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Horror Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the Authors Guild, Broad Universe, Sisters in Crime and a member of several Sherlockian societies. She is also writing a Hollywood suspense series.
Kendra Merritt is joining us today to talk about her novel Skin Deep. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The only one who can free him is the girl he’s hurt the most.
Cursed for a youthful accident which maimed a young woman, Léon Beauregard roams his mountain as a bear, clinging to the scraps of his humanity. Too bad it’s not working. Every day he loses a little more of himself to the bear and his stupid fuzzy tail. But when Léon comes across Anwen, an enchanter scarred from an accident she doesn’t remember, she promises to free him, because she believes no one deserves this sort of punishment, no matter their crime.
As the graceful enchanter tries to free him, Léon begins to realize Anwen is much more than just a passing enchanter. She’s the one he’s falling in love with. And she is the one whose life he ruined. He knows he must hide his part in Anwen’s past if he wants to keep her, but when bodies show up mauled by a large animal, even she begins to doubt his ability to be redeemed. With his heart, soul, and humanity in the balance, Léon has more to hide and everything to lose if Anwen ever learns the truth about the monster inside him.
NOTE: The Mark of the Least is a series of related stories designed to be read in any order.
What’s Kendra’s favorite bit?
I consider it a good sign when I finish writing a book and it’s still one I’ll enjoy reading again. Especially when it has those moments that make me laugh or get my heart going even though I know what’s going to happen. Luckily, Skin Deep is full of those moments.
So, I had a hard time deciding what my favorite bit actually is. Surely it had to be that really awful poem I—I mean Léon—wrote for Fanny. Or maybe it was the snarky snow leopard with a penchant for poking the bear.
Normally, I write fairytales featuring main characters with disabilities; Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair, Cinderella has Polio, Little Red Riding Hood lives with Lupus.
And in Skin Deep, Beauty is scarred.
I really wanted to talk about writing a Beauty who isn’t in fact beautiful. But while I was agonizing over how to do that, I realized the part that I go back to over-and-over again, the part that I still love to read as if I didn’t write the whole dang thing, is the worst part of the book.
We all know it. There’s one in every story. It’s that moment where everything falls apart.
Skin Deep starts with a secret, a lie between two people that changes everything.
Léon is cursed for his involvement in an accident that leaves Anwen disfigured and disabled. But when she shows up on his doorstep offering to free him, he realizes she doesn’t recognize him. And in that moment of realization he makes a choice not to tell her.
Of course, you know this is going to come back to bite him.
Because by the time he wants to tell her, the truth will destroy them. And meanwhile all the awkward flirting and cutesy romantic gestures are all built atop that festering untruth, waiting for the moment it blows up in Léon’s face.
That’s the moment I love. Because you know it’s coming. You know it’s going to be horrible. But there’s no way forward without it.
As I tell my three-year-old, who keeps ruining movie night with the refrain, “I don’t like this part,” you have to get through the bad in order for the good to mean anything. (At least it’s better than saying “conflict is part of life, deal with it.”)
The secret is out. The consequences are inescapable. I love this moment because Léon chooses his redemption and destruction in one go, balancing his original mistake with the glorious ruination of truth. And it was Anwen’s grace and mercy all wrapped up in scars and pain that got him to that decision.
I choose my characters’ disabilities very carefully based on their backstory and personality but also based on the fairytale they’re living out. What could possibly make the story mean something deeper? For Maid Marion I really wanted to see an active heroine not only navigate but dominate the adventure in a wheelchair. Cinderella has a hard time walking and as a result has very interesting shoes.
So, I chose my Beauty to be scarred. She’s disfigured. She walks with a limp. And in no way can she be called a conventional beauty.
She’s exactly the way I imagined her from the beginning. I wanted to tell a story about a girl who is gracious and patient and strong on the inside and is perfect for someone who struggles with only seeing the outside. Léon, who is a little obsessed with physical beauty, takes a while to see Anwen for everything she is instead of everything she’s not. But therein lies his redemption.
And that’s my favorite bit. The moment he loses it all in order to gain what he doesn’t deserve. Cause I’m a glutton for punishment.
Books have been Kendra Merritt’s escape for as long as she can remember. She used to hide fantasy novels behind her government textbook in high school, and she wrote most of her first novel during a semester of college algebra.
Older and wiser now (but just as nerdy) Kendra writes retellings of fairytales with main characters who have disabilities. If she isn’t writing, she’s reading, and if she isn’t reading, she’s playing video games. Her first book, By Wingéd Chair, is a retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair.
Kendra lives in Denver with her very tall husband, their book loving progeny, and a lazy black monster masquerading as a service dog.
(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, […]