Kent Davis is joining us today to talk about his novel A Riddle in Ruby: The Changer’s Key. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Riddle in Ruby trilogy takes readers on a rip-roaring adventure through an alternate version of colonial America, where magic and science meet, and where one young thief carries a secret everyone wants. In this second volume, Ruby Teach has become the enemy’s prisoner. She bargained with her freedom to protect her friends—but her friends aren’t about to abandon her, either. That’s not what friends do.
Ruby’s blood holds a secret, one that could turn the tides of the looming war for whomever unlocks it first. Ruby’s father, former pirate Captain Teach, and her friends—a motley crew made up of a young aristocrat, a servant, and an apprentice alchemist—must race against time to locate the hidden fortress where she’s being held. But the one person who could help them is Ruby’s mysterious and powerful mother, and no one has seen her since Ruby’s birth.
Kent Davis sweeps our heroes through cities and the deepest wilderness with imagination, humor, and magic that fans of Jonathan Stroud and Terry Pratchett will devour.
What’s Kent’s favorite bit?
Imprisoned in a mountaintop fortress, surrounded by ninja-warriors that are smarter, faster, and better than you at everything, experimented upon for the secrets hidden in your blood, torn in loyalty, blasted in confidence, hopeless in all of your prospects.
Isn’t that how you would describe your first day in middle school?
That’s how it felt for me anyway. And I’m pretty sure it feels like that for one Aruba (Ruby) Teach, the central character in A Riddle in Ruby 2: The Changer’s Key. My favorite bit of this second of three books is thirteen year-old Ruby’s wrestling match with that most potent of challenges: recognizing the who that you are, and then choosing the who that you want to be.
One of the things I treasure about fantasy, and steampunk-alt-historical-Colonial-America-with-a-side-of-alchemy-adventure-fantasy—let’s be specific—is how we can employ its wondrous, terrifying, and just plain weird elements to explore deeply personal challenges of the heart and mind.
And Ruby certainly has those. The one-time apprentice thief and fake pirate has discovered that she is a Changer, gifted with the power to alter her form. But there’s no one at the mountaintop prison called Fort Scoria that can teach her to change, so she has to try to figure it out on the fly. Worse, that changing gift is one of the keys to the secret that she carries in her blood, so if she reveals it, she is lost. At the same time, the lord commander of the fort has charged her to engage in a dangerous dance of double-agent deception (delicious!) with the creepy alchemyst who is poking about in her veins.
But hopefully the little nugget for readers at the crux of this hearty helping of torturous, thrilling, no-win, Kobayashi Maru choices is this: the only way for Ruby to navigate her way to freedom is through deciding the type of person she wants to be. Will she choose to be loyal? Will she choose to be traitorous? Will she choose to be brave? Will she even choose to sacrifice others in her quest to free herself? It’s the core of this book and also the sneaky spine of the entire trilogy.
My favorite stories when I was a kid and even more so now have always revolved around characters that weren’t Chosen Ones. They weren’t prophesied to be queens or kings or to save the multiverse. The stories that I love featured imperfect, uncertain kids (and adults!) who, at the moment of truth, had to plant the flag of their values, often only moments after they figured it out for themselves.
“Who will you choose to be?” I hope that’s a valuable question to offer to girls and boys aged 10-100: the opportunity to witness a character forging the core of themselves in conscious action.
Fran Wilde is joining us today with her novel Cloudbound. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde’s Updraft.
When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers–but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.
With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way–sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.
But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City, in Cloudbound.
What’s Fran’s favorite bit?
When people ask me about my debut novel, Updraft, their questions usually center around worldbuilding or influences. Online, there’s a lot of speculation about what’s down below the clouds. (I promise, you’ll find that out with Cloudbound, out September 27, 2016 from Tor — hey, that’s today!). We talk about monsters a lot too, and man-made wings, multigenerationality, and occasionally about echolocation.
What I don’t get asked about a lot is the disabilities represented in the series. There are three characters in Updraft with physical and/or neurological disabilities, as well as others with additional fall- and battle-related injuries throughout the book. Moreover, there are no magic cures – characters who get injured deal with the repercussions of those injuries throughout the series. How various communities treat each of these characters is part of Updraft’s world.
But each of these characters also has their own story arc and agency within the Bone Universe. As one mostly spoiler-free example, Elna Densira has altitude and cataract-related skyblindness. She is a force in the book, as well as in Cloudbound. When we first meet her, she’s climbing a ladder to the top of her tower with Nat close behind. She still gets around well, she works to support her family, she’s capable — an excellent seamstress — and she interacts with the other characters about things other than her vision impairment. So it goes mostly unmarked. With other characters, disability is a consequence of living and fighting at high altitude, and if the injury does interfere with intra-character communication, part of the story is the importance of finding ways to listen and hear those characters, on their own terms. Disability in Updraft and Cloudbound isn’t a checkbox or a layer added in order to make a character more sympathetic or anything else.
We like to put characters in boxes sometimes, and, when added as a layer to create some problem for the narrative or character, disability can become a literary box that a reader can’t see past. That occasionally happens in real life too — when only a person’s disability and not their competences, their excellences, their passions, are how they are perceived.
Earlier this year, I fell and did some damage to an old injury that had me flat on my back for days. In frustration, I cut loose on Twitter, admitting something I’ve been keeping mostly to myself for years: I live with pain — not just the migraines, which most people know about — but regular, pretty extreme pain. I’d written about some of the external stuff (like identifying more with Helva from The Ship Who Sang than with Deenie) now and then, and about various braces, but I’d kept quiet about the rest. Afterward I met so many people who deal with similar issues and making those connections helped me see truths about my experience — especially some parts of me that I hated, because I’d written my sensitivity to pain off as proof that I was weak and not good enough. pfffft.
What happened after sharing that information, though, was a bit more troubling. People occasionally began to introduce me as having chronic pain, without my permission. One indicated that they hadn’t invited me to do something because they were worried about my pain impacting my ability to do it, and hadn’t wanted me to feel awkward. That was annoying, because the only thing that had changed for me was that I was public about something I’ve been dealing with, without letting people down, for decades. I like to make my own decisions about what I’m able to do — everyone does. And if that happened to me from one twitter rant (plus a couple blog posts in the way-back-when), imagine then how people with visible disabilities are treated every day. As a culture, we like to put people into boxes, constraining them to labels, instead of seeing them for who they are.
At this year’s Worldcon, I was on a panel called “Unlikely Heroes.” A lot of great discussion happened there, but one thing was said — I can’t remember by whom — about how if you wanted to create an unlikely hero, you could give the character a disability, as if that would somehow render them less likely to be heroic. I disagreed vehemently then, and the conversation moved along. (The moderator was excellent and this was not her fault.) But as the weekend wore on, and then the months after, I kept coming back to this issue of disability defining characters, instead of disability being a component of a character’s life, with their character, backstory, competencies, and goals being dominant and primary. It’s something I think I’ve always consciously written against and will continue to do.
When it came to writing Cloudbound, I’d selected a character from an earlier story set a decade earlier in the Bone Universe, called “A Moment of Gravity Circumscribed.” In that story, a young character, Djonn, is viewed as clumsy by his family — and he is, but not for the reasons they think. Djonn’s in the very early stages of a skeletal degeneration that translates to extreme late-onset idiopathic scoliosis. This curvature of the spine is something I share with my character (and something that affects, to varying levels, about 2-3% of the United States population). As a kid, my curves (there’s either one or two – I got the double) were pretty extreme, and I wore an experimental brace that caused more damage than expected. Even now, I’m not straight, though it’s hard to see. As an adult, this results in pain, overcompensation, and sometimes joint slips that cause additional pain.
For Djonn, there are no real treatments. Left untreated, spinal curves can sometimes go past 70 degrees (think King Richard III), and that’s what’s happening to him. Such curves would make flying (which requires a pretty straight body plane) progressively harder, and even breathing sometimes very difficult. Djonn’s an inventor and artifex, so he’s created his own solutions for this over time. But his backstory and his role in Cloudbound are much more about the rest of his life — the things he’s invented and his interactions with other characters — than about his physical disability. Djonn is extremely good at what he does.
Djonn’s limitations and imperfections are part of the story too. But he’s in no way an unlikely anything. Nor is he a hero through and through. He’s a complex character.
So I guess what I’m saying is that one of my favorite bits about both Updraft and Cloudbound is that the disabilities (and hey, not just one flagship disability because no) in this narrative are represented by full-fledged characters first and foremost. So much so, in fact, that those disabilities have gone mostly unremarked in later discussion.
Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton-, and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel,Cloudbound, publishing from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net.
Marie Brennan is joining us today with her novella Cold-Forged Flame. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need. And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning?no?at the end?she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy.
Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This is the story of a woman’s struggle against her very existence, an epic tale of the adventure and emotional upheaval on the way to face an ancient enigmatic foe. This could only spun from the imagination of Marie Brennan, award-winning author and beloved fantasist, beginning a new series about the consequences of war?and of fate.
Cold-Forged Flame is the first in a new series by Marie Brennan.
What’s Marie’s favorite bit?
I haven’t made any secret of the fact that the protagonist of Cold-Forged Flame, my new Tor.com novella, is based on a character I played for four years in a LARP. But actually, her roots go back even further than that — to a tent on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, where Alyc Helms (future author of The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow) and I were working on an archaeological dig together. There’s not a lot to do at night when you’re living in tents on a hillside in a rural corner of Wales, so Alyc and I decided to combine her knowledge of the RPG Changeling: The Dreaming with my recollection of the tabletop mechanics for World of Darkness games and play a mini-campaign, roping in a couple of our friends on the dig. The whole thing was held together with chewing gum and string — Alyc didn’t really remember the Changeling magic system, and we had to use packs of cards in place of dice — but the character I created for that little ad-hoc game stayed with me, and wound up being ported into the LARP Alyc co-ran a few years later in grad school.
The skeleton of the game itself stayed with me, too. Cold-Forged Flame is substantially changed from what we played on that dig; the novella isn’t set in the real world, my protagonist isn’t a faerie, she isn’t part of a whole group on a quest, there’s no prophecy about what they’re doing, and so on and so forth. The character you’ll meet in the novella comes from a different place, fights different battles, meets someone who was never in the game. But if you excavate very carefully, the bones are still there, buried underneath: a journey across a strange island to a cave and a cauldron full of blood.
And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bit. We never actually finished the game, not properly; the dig was a field school, a place where baby archaeologists go to learn how to dig, and in the last two weeks we had to write papers, which takes up a lot of time when you have to do it all with pen and paper. But I hate leaving a story incomplete. So one night — our one night a week where we got bused into the nearest town — Alyc and I sat in the corner of one of the town’s three pubs and talked through the ending of the tale. That’s where we came up with the seven steps that are the climax of this story: a journey so small as to be insignificant, and so huge as to change my character’s life forever.
Those seven steps are where I figured out who she really was. The character who grew out of that moment has a powerful enough hold on my memory that, fourteen years later, when I went to work on this novella, I wrote seven thousand words in a single evening. Because once we were inside that cave, there was no stopping short of the end.
The end of the novella, that is. It isn’t the end of the story. That continues next spring, with Lightning in the Blood — and, sneak peek, my favorite bit of that one is front and center in the cover art!
Marie Brennan is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of several fantasy series, including the Memoirs of Lady Trent, the Onyx Court, the Wilders series, and the Doppelganger duology, as well as more than forty short stories. More information can be found at www.swantower.com.
Michael J. Martinez joins us today to talk about his novel MJ-12: Inception. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It is a new world, stunned by the horrors that linger in the aftermath of total war. The United States and Soviet Union are squaring off in a different kind of conflict, one that’s fought in the shadows, where there are whispers of strange and mysterious developments. . .
Normal people across the United States have inexplicably gained paranormal abilities. A factory worker can heal the sick and injured. A schoolteacher bends emotions to her will. A car salesman alters matter with a simple touch. A former soldier speaks to the dying and gains their memories as they pass on.
They are the Variants, controlled by a secret government program called MAJESTIC-12 to open a new front in the Cold War.
From the deserts of Nevada to the palaces of Istanbul, the halls of power in Washington to the dark, oppressive streets of Prague, the Variants are thrown into a deadly game of shifting alliances. Amidst the seedy underbelly of nations, these once-ordinary Americans dropped in extraordinary circumstances will struggle to come to terms with their abilities as they fight to carve out a place for themselves in a world that may ultimately turn against them.
And as the MAJESTIC-12 program will soon discover, there are others out there like them, some with far more malevolent goals. . .
What’s Mike’s favorite bit?
MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ
This may be terribly un-American of me to say, but one of my least favorite comic-book characters is Superman. The vast majority of the problems Superman faced in the comics – especially as I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s – could be boiled down to two things: a moral dilemma and Kryptonite. Pretty much everything else could be handled neatly because, well, his superpowers are pretty super.
I still think Superman is pretty boring, sad to say. His superpowers are immense, and they don’t actually cost him anything. Most of the time, he doesn’t even break a sweat.
So when I came up with the central idea behind the MAJESTIC-12 series – superpowered spies battling in the shadows of the Cold War on behalf of a shadowy government conspiracy – I knew I wanted characters to pay a price. I wanted there to be consequences to having these strange abilities. I wanted superpowers to be difficult.
An African-American factory worker gains the ability to heal – but at the cost of his own health. A car salesman in the South can alter matter, but can’t always control his manifestations. A former soldier can read minds, but only at the moment of the other person’s death – and he ends up carrying around far more of their memories than he’d like.
One of my very favorite bits in MJ-12: Inception is when Maggie is introduced. She’s a schoolteacher out in California who gains the ability to manipulate emotions – but at the cost of her own emotional stability and wellbeing. Not only is the ability rather difficult to control, but it’s also changing her in very scary ways.
Think about it: If you can manipulate emotion with a thought, how real is emotion to you? How can you trust your own emotions, or those of the people close to you?
We all think having superpowers would be awesome, but we never consider the downside. Yes, there are moral quandaries as well – it wouldn’t be a good superhero story, or a good spy thriller for that matter, without those. There are limits to those superpowers, and ways to counteract them.
But in MJ-12: Inception, powers come with risks. They aren’t easy to use, and it doesn’t always go well. That’s the kind of superhero story I wanted to see.
Michael J. Martinez is a husband, father and writer living the dream in the Garden State. He’s been a professional writer and journalist for more than 20 years, including stints at The Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com, and recently got it in his head that he could write fiction, too. He’s the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic Era space opera novels, as well as the new MAJESTIC-12 series of paranormal Cold War spy thrillers. Mike is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his book Merchants and Maji: Two Tales of the Dissolutionverse. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An old war machine and a revolutionary space capsule will change relations among the ten species forever
Prot, Amra, and crew sell goods across the ten homeworlds in a refitted war transport, saving up to buy a shop. But after fees to travel between worlds, their profits always fall short. Their newest customers are the xenophobic Sureriaj. But when a protest over offworlder trading shuts down all business, the crew’s only hope is to leave the planet delivering emergency medical supplies. The contract is for too much money, the seller is using a false name, and the cargo is magically sealed. Nothing could go wrong.
The First Majus in Space
The ten species are in awe of the first space capsule. But when the majus piloting it is assassinated, Origon Cyrysi is the only one able to complete the mission. Too late, he finds the spacecraft may cost him his abilities. And even if Origon returns from space, the escaped assassin might still trigger an interstellar war. Either way, the fuel is burning.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
Hopefully I may be forgiven having two favorite things since there are two stories in this novella. The first occurred in editing “Last Delivery.” I happened to listen to an episode of a podcast many of us are familiar with, which discussed unconscious biases, specifically with respect to women. I, as a male writer, often find myself writing male characters, especially side characters. But lately I’ve started challenging my character gender choices. In this particular case, “Last Delivery” had a cross species couple, consisting of a fiery female gun toting Festuour (large bear-like creature) and a very tall and dark male Methiemum (basically a human) doctor. Though their relationship is not a major part of the book, I have a whole convoluted and star-crossed background to the relationship floating through my mind.
The writing prompt at the end of the episode was to take something you’ve written and gender-swap it. So on a whim, I applied it to my story. Boom. Kamuli (the Methiemum doctor) was now a very large and dark woman who liked carrying knives. And her relationship with Bhon (her Festuour mate) suddenly took off for me. It finally worked, Kamuli’s actions became more certain, and the story became stronger. On top of that, a certain head-cannon (which I suppose is actual cannon, since I wrote it…) became fixed in my mind. Like many others, Kamuli had not been comfortable as a man. She was not only a female character, she was a trans woman. It isn’t mentioned or even hinted at in the story, as it’s not important to the tale, but you, dear readers, know the truth. There may be a story in the future of how Kamuli and Bhon’s romance began, and now you have a sneak peek…
I also challenged myself to scrutinize the heroic, over-the-top female lead. You’ve read the type before—Conan the Barbarian in a bikini. Instead, Amra, the main character’s girlfriend, is not a badass. She’s not very good with weapons. She’s an accountant. She wouldn’t mind settling down somewhere. I worked very hard on her character, with some great feedback from critiquers to tell me when I had crossed too far into “subservient and passive.” But in the end, I feel she becomes the heart of the story. Certain events could not happen the way they do if her character had been more intense. Amra also became a stronger, more real character for me, and I hope, for my readers.
My favorite bit for the second story, “The First Majus in Space” is pretty much what it says on the tin. I get to put a wizard in a spaceship. If you’ve ever watched Babylon 5, you can probably guess my favorite characters—the technomages, of course. I liked this idea so much it even became my imprint: Space Wizard Science Fantasy. The interaction between magic and technology is always a fascinating place to explore, but since the magic system in the Dissolutionverse uses reversible and non-reversible energy transfer, I got to play with how the technology effectively would suck away a majus’ magic, defined by their “song,” even if the end product still had the desired effect:
There was a pattern to the relentless beat of the fuel. He didn’t have to catch the notes to change them. He instead saw their pattern, made the new musical phrase, crafted from his own song, ready to insert it…there.
The ship righted abruptly, but Origon felt his invested song ripped out of his grip, flying out far beneath them. The ship began to list to the other side.
Gasping, his stomach threatening to jump out of his throat, he realized what he should have before. He no longer envied Teju his place here. There was no chance to reverse any of the changes he made. Every change to the Symphonies on this trip would be permanent. The shuttle was flying so fast that the surrounding music was in constant flux, notes changing. It would strip each application of his song from his being. If he was not efficient, the flight would drain him to something insubstantial, his song stripped of its notes.
But this unfortunate development will become a defining aspect for the titular majus, Origon. Because I’m a big fan of connected stories and larger universes, it becomes part of the arc started in my first novella, Tuning the Symphony, set almost twenty years in the past, and continued in a full novel coming in 2017.
So there you have it: gender studies and technowizards, my favorite bits of Merchants and Maji. As the story of the Dissolutionverse grows, I’m looking forward to writing more adventures and finding many more favorite bits in the years to come.
William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. In no particular order, he is a mechanical engineer, a Wado-Ryu Karate instructor, a video and board gamer, a gardener, a reader, and a writer. In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and a bald guinea pig, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). Both of them both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and then taking pictures of them repeatedly.
He is the author of Tuning the Symphony, another novella in the Dissolutionverse.
Bishop O’Connell is joining us today to talk about his novel The Returned. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a façade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.
Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?
What’s Bishop’s favorite bit?
I love magic, adore it. I don’t mean stage magic, though that can be cool too. No, I mean the “real” kind of magic: Harry Dresden, Gandalf, Merlin, Jane Ellsworth, to name a few. I’m also an old-school computer geek. Not quite punch cards old, but just barely. My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20, which I received despite asking for an Atari (my parents said I could make my own games on the Commodore, which in fairness I did). While my computer skills provided me a future means of steady employment, it also was the start of my fascination with tech and gadgets. It might seem that these two loves are at opposite sides of the spectrum, and never shall the twain meet. Sure, there is urban fantasy in books, a few different RPGs—Shadow Run, Rifts—but none of them really blended the two. The game Mage did with a specific group players could use, but I wanted more.
So in my second novel, The Forgotten, I introduced Wraith; a homeless teen, a genius at math and science, and her magic is based on quantum theory. Though I didn’t know the term at the time, she’s also a synesthete (from synesthesia). While other wizards in my world “feel” magic and control it through sheer mental focus, Wraith literally sees it all around her. Because of her scientific inclinations, she deduces that the symbols, numbers, and equations drifting around her are in fact the quantum information of reality. This lets her hack and modify that information with equations (spells) and cause all kinds of cool things to happen. She’s sort of a mashup of Neo, Will Hunting, and Scarlet Witch. I also introduced some basic level magical technology. It was mostly cobbled together bits—the kind of thing a homeless kid could collect—and looked very steampunk.
When I was writing The Returned, Wraith has had a year of mental stability and is more confident in her abilities. I wanted her to start using various bits of tech and modifying them. The most obvious choice was to give her a smartphone. I remember how important music was to me as a teen, so that would give her the chance to get into music (she’s a big Doubleclicks fan), but again, I wanted more. So I decided to have her modify the phone. As much as I’d love to give it all kinds of awesome tricks, I knew it needed to be practical and believable. When you’re a homeless kid, you don’t have extended periods of access to electricity; not reliably anyway. So she modified her phone to absorb energy in a myriad of forms: thermal, kinetic, radiation, and even dark energy. As such, her phone never runs out of juice. A smartphone also means apps, and it made sense that she would design her own, and that they’d have magical aspects to them. After all, her magic dealt in pure information, and what’s computer code but information? Why couldn’t spells in fact, be stored as apps? If she could see the quantum information of reality, there was no reason she couldn’t see the “information” behind the code. And since modifying one would naturally change the other, why couldn’t she work it from the other direction; change/create a program by altering the quantum information? Answer: there was no reason.
Holy crap, I blended magic and advanced tech!
That was when the computer geek in me make the next logical connection: magic based computer hacking. Yeah, I admit it, I had a little bit of a nerd-gasm at this point. Then I started figuring it all out. She wouldn’t even need a keyboard, a monitor, or any interface. She saw the information around her and could interact with it directly. Things like code protections and encryption would be useless against her as a quantum hacker. Since she could see the information that defined them, she would know what solution was needed to solve the algorithm and gain access, or decrypt the data she was after. This idea even altered the idea of data storage. She wasn’t limited to traditional media. She could copy the relevant information to quite literally, anything, modifying the destination’s information to match the source’s. And since this would be on a quantum level, storage capacity was no longer an issue, assuming each particle could be translated as one bit of data.
With the how and why it would work completed, I set out to writing the relevant scenes, and I loved it! I borrowed inspiration from my experiences playing Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, reading William Gibson novels, even some TV shows—anyone remember Wild Palms?—and movies. Chuck Wendig said that writing is a job, which means sometimes its work; ditch digging he called it. Well, other times, it’s freaking magic, with a little tech thrown in.
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, California where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled in Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
Beth Cato is joining us today with her novel Breath of Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.
What’s Beth’s favorite bit?
My new novel, Breath of Earth, is alt history steampunk fantasy set in 1906 San Francisco. I like to joke “Spoiler alert: there’s a big earthquake,” because the date and place (and the very cover) give away that plot point in a major way. That’s fine by me. The earthquake happens, yes, but the circumstances are a bit more complicated than a mere tectonic shift.
My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer. I drew on history, science, and mythology to create my own magic system and unique earthquake. I’m a research geek, so this was absolutely my favorite bit.
For me, earthquakes are personal. I’m a native Californian. One of my earliest memories is being three years old and in the bathtub when the devastating Coalinga earthquake occurred nearby. We practiced earthquake drills in schools. Family trips to the coast meant crossing the very visible ridged line of the infamous San Andreas Fault.
As part of my worldbuilding, I had to figure out how to cause earthquakes–and more importantly, how to stop them.
My version of 1906 features technology that is powered by crystals called kermanite that store the earth’s energy like batteries. Geomancers like Ingrid are conduits. During an earthquake, geomancers don’t simply feel the rumbling–they siphon the magic of the earth and actually stop tremblors. This isn’t without risks. Earth energy causes a spike in body temperature that can kill them quickly unless they break direct contact with the ground or grab kermanite, which will pull the energy out of their bodies. Ingrid, being the heroine, is especially gifted–and cursed–by her incredible ability to hold and use energy.
Kermanite and geomancy are my fabrications, but when it came to the actual earthquake, I relied heavily on historical fact. There are tons of books on the subject, fiction and non, and movies as well. The data was overwhelming, really. I had to pick and choose what would reinforce my new version of history.
For example, Enrico Caruso is famous for singing in Carmen the night before the real disaster; in my world, there is a highly controversial performance of the opera Lincoln, which celebrates the president’s Emancipation Proclamation as well as his late life work on behalf of Chinese refugees. That’s because the Civil War ended early because of an alliance between the American Union and Imperial Japan–and in 1906, the two are still partnered in their efforts to dominate mainland Asia.
Plate tectonics–the genuine science–play a role in my novel, but there are also more fantastical elements. Mythologies around the world attribute earthquakes to entities like massive two-headed snakes or shifting turtles or a giant namazu (catfish) twitching in the sea. Ingrid’s mentor is obsessed with researching semi-mythical geomantic Hidden Ones. Unlike everyday magical creatures like unicorns or pixies, these Hidden Ones are so extraordinary, so deific, that people question if they still exist at all. Hint: there might be something to the old stories.
For all the media ballyhoo about when the next “Big One” will happen, no one knows. There is something terrifying, something magical, about that. Breath of Earth gave me the chance to explore a subject that has fascinated me ever since I was a scared three-year-old asking, “What happened?”
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.
Erica L. Satifka is joining us today with her novel Stay Crazy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.
An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.
What’s Erica’s favorite bit?
ERICA L. SATIFKA
The protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, Emmeline Kalberg, isn’t like most girls. That’s because she’s recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, a situation that becomes even more complex when she’s contacted by an interdimensional being who tells her that our universe is on the verge of annihilation. And she’s not alone.
Roger Cermak, Em’s coworker at the alien-infested Savertown USA, also has schizophrenia. Unlike Em, his psychotic experiences are not recent, and are totally controlled with medication and the passage of time. So when he too is contacted by the being called Escodex, he knows it’s real. Em, however, doesn’t trust him. Why would she? She can’t even trust herself. Here’s what happens during their first extended conversation:
“I’ll have a diet pop. It’s on him.” She narrowed her eyes at Roger in the dimly lit booth. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I want to talk about the voices you’ve been hearing.”
She frowned. “Come again?”
“Don’t play dumb. I saw the burn on your forehead. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. First I got a burn, then I started hearing voices.”
She looked out the window at the blocky facade of Savertown USA. “So?”
“You don’t think this whole situation’s a little strange?”
“Lots of weird things happen to me, mister. I’m a crazy person.”
“But this weird thing is actually happening.” Roger sipped at his own Diet Coke. “Listen, I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought I was hallucinating again. But the same thing happened to both of us and that proves it’s real.”
Em rolled her straw between her fingertips. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”
“I used to be schizophrenic. Haven’t had an episode in twenty years. Until now. But I’m not crazy, and neither are you.”
Em looked at Roger. “I think you’re mistaken about that one.”
It was really important to me that Em not be the only neuro-atypical major character in the book. While she didn’t always have schizophrenia (this book has been through countless “imaginings”), once I figured out she did, Roger’s character sprang up almost immediately, fully formed.
Their relationship isn’t easily defined. It’s definitely not romantic, it’s not even really friendship, and Em would rather die than call Roger something as sappy as a mentor. Yet, as they work together, Em sees a glimpse of her possible future. Roger is overweight and balding (two common side effects of antipsychotic medication), and she mocks his appearance out of fear. But Roger is also stable, and smart, and kind. Throughout the course of their uneasy alliance, Em realizes there’s life after her diagnosis. At the beginning of the book, she feels and to a large extent is totally alone: her mom doesn’t get her at all, and try as he might her therapist isn’t really equipped to deal with her. Roger becomes the positive model Em needs, even if she’d never admit it.
Roger is about twenty years older than Em, and developed his disorder in a time when people were even more misinformed about mental illness than they are now, especially one as serious as schizophrenia. And he’s been through a lot of crappy things: homelessness, jail, involuntary commitment. Just as Em sees Roger as a possible future, Roger sees Em as a window into his past, and he’s determined not to let her make some of the same mistakes he’s made, no matter how stubborn she is (and she’s really stubborn).
So often in books that feature a neuro-atypical character, there’s only one of them. I really wanted to do something different, something to show that two mentally ill characters can learn from each other, prop each other up, and most importantly, kick some alien ass.
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld,Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy was released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.
Brooke Johnson is joining us today with her novel The Guild Conspiracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized . . . war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
What’s Brooke’s favorite bit?
Two words: MECH FIGHTS.
Think Real Steel (you know… that one movie with Hugh Jackman and the boxing robots) meets the smaller-scale bot fights of Big Hero 6, except, instead of futuristic, computer-controlled robots, you’ve got teenage engineers fighting with grungy combat mechs, built using the most advanced technology of the late Victorians. It’s all clockwork and steam, early combustion engines and primitive electronic circuitry, somehow cobbled together into deadly mechanical combatants. And then they get to punch each other.
How could that not be my favorite bit?
In The Brass Giant, the first book of the Chroniker City series, the main character, Petra, helps build a clockwork automaton, proving herself as a capable engineer and attracting the attention of the Guild—the elite institution of engineers she desperately wishes to join—but after attempting to expose the underlying conspiracy behind the automaton’s construction, all of her involvement in the project is buried and forgotten, unknown but to the select few who would rather keep it that way.
Fast forward to The Guild Conspiracy, and once again, Petra finds her talent and abilities questioned and challenged by everyone around her. No one knows who she is or what she’s done. They don’t realize that the failed automaton project collecting dust in the armory—the same automaton that prompted them to start the mechanical fight ring in the first place—was built from her design. All they know is that she is a girl, and girls can’t possibly be engineers.
Well Petra is there to prove them wrong, one fight at a time.
The mech fights were one of the earliest ideas I had for The Guild Conspiracy, surviving several reimaginings of the novel over the years, but when I finally finished the first draft—more than 50,000 words over target and several months past my deadline—I was worried my editor would ask me to cut the fights for the sake of pacing or tension or for sheer lack of relevance to the main plot. I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen.
The mech fights were my way of adding a glimmer of something good and bright—in all their technicolor, bombastic, impossible glory—to an otherwise dreary and somber plot. So I did my best to meld this seemingly extraneous subplot into the rest of the story, making it more and more integral to Petra’s story arc with each iteration. And I must have done a good job because by the time I sent the manuscript to my publisher, my editor loved every word. No complaints whatsoever. The mech fights were there to stay.
For me, steampunk has always been about grandeur, lots of flash and bang, gears and goggles, but the best steampunk has more than enough substance behind the shiny brass aesthetic. The machines in my books are improbable, and sometimes impossible, but with the mech fights especially, there is this underlying sense of wonder and awe built into to every ticking gear, into the ratchet and clank of these incredible machines. Every puff of exhaust and churning piston is there as a testament to the innovation and invention of brilliant minds, of engineers and their ability to dream and imagine and build something new, something impossible, something never done before. That is what I wanted to capture with the mech fights. They exist as a glimmer of hope for the future, a promise of something other than the inescapable war looming over the horizon.
And that hope is just as important to the story as Petra trying to stop the conspiracy.
Plus, it’s fun. 🙂
She eyed Bellamy across the ring, his face drawn in concentration, waiting for her to act. She would have to distract him, break his guard.
“What?” he spat.
Flipping a switch on the control box, she activated the transport wheels on the bottom of the mech’s feet. All she needed was a second or two, a slight delay in his reactions. If she could get past his defenses, knock the mech to the floor, the fight would be as good as hers.
She poised her fingers over the controls. “Tell me how it feels, knowing you’re about to lose to a girl.”
He scoffed, his arms relaxing slightly as he glared at her. “You wish.”
Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving author. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes one day to live somewhere a bit more mountainous.
Michi Trota is joining us today to talk about the Uncanny Magazine Year Three Kickstarter. About the Kickstarter:
Over the last two years, three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas & four-time Hugo Award finalist Michael Damian Thomas ran the Uncanny MagazineYear One and Year Two Kickstarters. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic podcast featuring exclusive content.
Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised. All Uncanny Magazine content is available for free over the web, thanks to your support.
We’ve had exceptional Years One and Two with numerous accolades. So far, pieces from Uncanny Magazine Year One are finalists for 14 different awards and have been included in 6 separate Year’s Best anthologies. This year, we’ve been recognized as a World Fantasy Award Finalist (Special Award, Nonprofessional) and Hugo Award Finalist (Best Semiprozine). Hao Jingfang’s Uncanny Magazine story “Folding Beijing” (translated by Ken Liu) became a finalist for the Hugo, Sturgeon, and Locus Awards. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets” and Sam J. Miller’s “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” are also World Fantasy Award Short Fiction finalists.
This is a phenomenal achievement for our first year of existence, and we couldn’t have done it without you. This is your magazine. Our community of Kickstarter Backers, the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers.
Thank you. Thank you for having faith in us and becoming stakeholders in this dream.
Though Uncanny continues to develop several additional funding streams, we still need the help of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter community to keep bringing you this amazing content.
There will also be more slots for unsolicited submissions (we reopen once we reach our first fundraising milestone). We’re deeply committed to finding and showcasing new voices in our genre from around the world.
Uncanny Magazine is published as an eBook (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly (the every other month kind) on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue contains 3-5 new short stories, 1 reprinted story, 3 poems, 2 nonfiction essays, and 1 interview, at minimum. Our monthly podcast includes a story, a poem, and an exclusive interview in each episode.
Kickstarter Backers at the Subscriber Level or higher, and those purchasing single issues, get each issue in its entirety up front, no waiting. Those reading online for free wait a month for the second half, which appears on the second Tuesday of the month at http://uncannymagazine.com/.
We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Three.
What’s Michi’s favorite bit?
Clearly I need to obtain a Time Turner. Or a TARDIS. Because it doesn’t feel as if it’s been a full year since Uncanny Magazine ran our Kickstarter to fund Year Two, and yet here we are, back in the thick of things with another Kickstarter to fund Year Three.
And what a year it’s been.
The outpouring of support for Uncanny’s Year Two Kickstarter blew us past all of our stretch goals, allowing us to publish another year’s worth of beautiful, challenging, and inspiring SF/F prose, poetry, and art. The magazine is now both a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist, and several Uncanny pieces have been included in Year’s Best anthologies and nominated for awards. My reading pile is never going to be empty, thanks to all the writers whose work I’ve been introduced to because of Uncanny (I’m pretty sure my tombstone’s going to say “Here lies Michi: She was buried by stories she hadn’t yet read”). I’m so happy to know that Uncanny’s work is bringing so much enjoyment to SF/F fans, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.
And yet there is: I’m immensely humbled by the fact that as Uncanny’s Managing Editor, I’m the first Filipina to be a Hugo finalist, in any category.
This isn’t My Favorite Bit about Uncanny though, as proud as I may be as a Hugo finalist, but it does illustrate what I love best about Uncanny: the dedication of its publishers, staff, and supporters to welcome and celebrate the best of what SF/F has to offer, in all its infinite variety. Because Space Unicorns know that it’s not just enough to open the gates of SF/F and wait for people to walk in, especially if they haven’t always been welcome — in order to build a thriving, vibrant SF/F community, you also need to do the work of actively inviting others in, which includes reaching out to new people, as well as those you know. Uncanny has become a home for weird, wonderful, experimental prose, poetry, and art, and I’m especially proud of how the magazine has become a platform for sharing the work of marginalized creators.
Visibility is incredibly important. Who we see as characters, as creators, can either inspire us or close the door on our dreams. It can be a struggle to remain true to your vision and find the energy to create in a world that often ignores (if not denigrates) your work; it’s that much harder when you think you’re alone, and when you don’t see people who share your face and your experiences in the spaces you want to join.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been on a panel at a con, and been approached afterward by AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) fans, by Filipino fans, who tell me what it means to see themselves represented in these spaces. Before I joined Uncanny, I participated in geek communities. I went to conventions, organized panels and local nerd events. I started firespinning in cosplay. I’ve read SFF all my life and considered myself a fan, but didn’t exactly feel as if I belonged in fandom. Even though I’ve been working in publishing and editorial for over 15 years, the idea that I could be a part of a publication like Uncanny never even crossed my mind (ok, it did, but I didn’t actually think it would happen). But here I am, 11 issues under my belt, going to my very first WorldCon as an actual Hugo finalist, all because Lynne and Michael Thomas, Uncanny’s Editors-in-Chief and publishers, believed in what I could contribute to the magazine and took a chance on asking me to be a part of it.
This approach is why every issue of Uncanny can be exciting and new for both regular readers and those who are just discovering the magazine. We’ve published stories about telepathic alien lions, the literally-combustible nature of collective fury and sorrow, tattoos that determine the nature of one’s personality, zombie-haunted beaches, and weird Western desert ghosts. You can find essays about everything from geek rock to gaming communities to examining nerd culture and social privilege to starting your own podcast. I’ve personally re-discovered an appreciation for poetry in reading Uncanny’s selections, and I squee with delight every time I’m given a new piece of cover art for each issue (at this point I’m going to have to dedicate one wall in our apartment just for Uncanny covers). Deborah Stanish’s interviews with Uncanny contributors are never anything less than insightful, and just when I think I’ve made up my mind about how I feel about a story or a poem, Amal El-Mohtar and Erika Ensign’s readings on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast allow me to experience those pieces in a different light.
There’s a reason why we say Uncanny publishes prose, poetry, and art that will make you feel.
When people ask me why I love SF/F so much, why they should give the genre a chance, I can tell them without hesitation to look through Uncanny because there are so many different approaches and interpretations of what SF/F means that they are sure to find something that speaks to their own tastes. The magazine is constantly evolving, expanding, and experimenting with what SF/F is, and can be.
The willingness to embrace new people, seek out fresh perspectives, and publish SF/F that is at turns gorgeous, experimental, heart-wrenching, and challenging (and sometimes all at once), is what I believe makes Uncanny so special, and really is My Favorite Bit about the magazine and the community it’s creating. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be here without it, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
Michi Trota is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She is the Managing Editor for the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and is the first Filipina Hugo Award finalist. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom (and sometimes food), focusing primarily on issues of diversity and representation, on her blog Geek Melange, and is a member of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers. In her professional life, she is a content development and growth manager with over fifteen years of editorial experience in media. In her spare time, she spins fire with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams. You can follow Michi on Twitter @GeekMelange.
Cat Rambo is joining us today with her book Altered America. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Steampunk fans will rejoice in the appearance of Altered America: Steampunk Stories, collecting Nebula and World Fantasy Award-nominated author Cat Rambo’s steampunk fantasies, including “Clockwork Fairies,” “Snakes on a A Train,” and “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” into a single book. Rambo’s wry humor, precise and evocative descriptions, and ability to create a world with a few deft touches are showcased in these ten tales.
Rambo has a gift for immersing her reader into a vivid universe full of adventure, sensuality, wit, and poignant observation. -Jody Lynn Nye
“Cat Rambo is endlessly innovative, ingenious, and just plain entertaining. Read her stories.” -Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars.
Highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed “The Wild, Wild West” and other steampunk stories. -Galaxy’s Edge Magazine
“A sparkling collection from one of the brightest talents in the field.” -Ursula Vernon
“Each one of Cat Rambo’s steampunk stories stands solidly on its own, but as a collection, these stories click together like cogs to depict a complicated, curious alternate Earth filled with magic, technology, and mayhem.” -Beth Cato, author of The Clockwork Dagger
Includes “Clockwork Fairies,” “Rare Pears and Greengages,” “Laurel Finch, Laurel Finch, Where Do You Wander?”, Darrell Award nominated “Memphis BBQ,” “Rappacini’s Crow,” “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” “Snakes On a Train,” “Web of Blood and Iron,” “Ticktock Girl” and “Seven Clockwork Angels.”
What’s Cat’s favorite bit?
My favorite thing about Altered America is that it let me go back to one of those places of wonder that we inhabit as children, which was the television show Wild Wild West, starring Robert Conrad as James T. West and Ross Martin as his sidekick, Artemus Gordon. Set in the frontier era, the show featured the two special agents serving President Grant by traveling around troubleshooting a variety of issues, including Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a genius dwarf given to constructing all manner of diabolical devices.
I was a solitary child, but I had plenty of imaginary playmates. West and Gordon often accompanied me in my explorations of the neighborhood; while I appreciated West, Gordon seemed the more approachable to me, and we had a number of conversations, though I cannot remember much of the content. Artemus West, the mechanical Pinkerton agent who appears in several of these stories (as well as at least one forthcoming one), is my tribute to those companions. I miss you guys.
I loved the texture of the show, the brassy glitter and touches of Art Nouveau, and the world they inhabited, which managed to also be the West that I knew from visits to my cattle-raising grandparents in Kansas. The show was steampunk before anyone knew what steampunk was, and decades later when I encountered the label, I knew instantly that it was a familiar landscape.
There’s a combination of machinery and magic in steampunk that fascinates me, that reminds me of those days of early reading when anything was quite possible because you hadn’t learned yet how many impossibilities the world presents. Why shouldn’t clockwork people think or guns shoot purple sparks and fire that turn you into animals? It’s a more malleable, interesting world than this one seems at times.
And it’s an era of exploration, of new doors constantly opening, and in steampunk those doors can lead in so many directions and collide with so many sub genres, opening onto the roiling depths of Lovecraftian horror or wandering into a beautifully ornate version of space. The stories in Altered America often differ from each other in flavor, whether it’s the fairytale tinged retelling of Sleeping Beauty or the more eerie realism of “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart,” but they’ve all got the crunch of gears and cogs down among the base notes.
“Her Windowed Eyes” is a return to one of the episodes that has stuck with me all my life, “The Night of the Living House,” in which West and Gordon track a fugitive to his ancestral home, which is haunted by the ghost of his mother. There’s a moment where every window in the room slams shut, refusing to let them out, that was — and remains — one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen on film, and so when I wanted to work with a steampunk piece, that story was my inspiration — although I like to think what emerged is very different from the television episode.
Cat Rambo lives and writes primarily in the state of Washington, with occasional peregrinations elsewhere. A prolific short story writer, she has had work published in such places as Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, Weird Tales, and Tor.com. Her first novel, Beasts of Tabat, appeared in early 2015 from Wordfire Press and will be followed by its sequel, Hearts of Tabat, in late 2016. Also appearing this fall is Neither Here Nor There, Rambo’s fourth story collection.
Award nominations have included the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, the latter for Rambo’s editorial work with Fantasy Magazine. She is a frequent volunteer with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is currently its President. She teaches a series of online writing classes, details of which can be found at her website. Her most recent nonfiction work is Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, co-edited with Fran Wilde.
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.
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.
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.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]