Shannon Eichorn is joining us today with her novel Rights of Use. Here is the description:
In the 1960s, Project Blue Book assured America that no aliens visited its amber waves or shining seas.
Thirty years later, Project Black Book knows better and has the flying saucers to prove it, but they still can’t stop the body-possessing Kemtewet from scooping their pick of young women from Earth to host an alien queen.
Sarah Anderson yearned for an escape from her new life in Pennsylvania, but not for this: being kidnapped by aliens and faced with a choice between having a Kemtewet queen erase her brain or sharing her body with a Gertewet insurgent. Unless the Air Force can rescue her in time, it’s either death or a chance to make a difference in the galaxy. With Sarah, the Gertewet have one last shot to end the Kemtewet Empire and free billions of humans subject to their body markets.
In a war over consent, only some things are black and white.
What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?
I have an obsession with alien symbionts.
It started with Stargate. Or maybe it started when I was growing up as an only child. Or maybe it started when I was bullied.
I love the idea of having that constant companion, that implicit ally in every bit of pettiness in daily life. “No, you’re not overreacting. This is a problem.” I like the idea of being paired up with someone older and wiser who can take a step back from the emotions of the moment and call me out. “You can lay off the road rage, Shannon. Tailgating them is unsafe and not going to help anything.” I daydream about having a second perspective available the instant I need it. “You have to make this snap decision for the first time. Here are the implications you don’t know about yet.”
I’ve been writing about body-possessing aliens for fifteen years. As I’ve been revising and polishing the first book in a series, my favorite bit, hands down, is the implantation scene. When I started revising, this was the core thing that kept me from skipping the series beginning: when Vinnet and her host first meet. I especially love it after all the revisions. I love how immediate the host’s fear comes across, and how it shines in the last draft. Even more, I love the situation. Vinnet is a sentient, intelligent, compassionate creature desperate to get her potential host’s permission before implanting herself, but she has no ears and no mouth. She can’t speak or listen. This whole scene is how to be responsible and seek consent when all the odds are against you. Because that’s what good guys do, even when they’re body-possessing aliens and taking over hosts is a fact of day-to-day life.
I love this scene for how it fits in the overall book. This is the end of the world for the new host. It’s been one trauma after another, and to her, this is surely how she’ll die. But because she meets Vinnet and takes on this symbiont, she gets empowered to fight the oppression that brought her here, both as an individual and in conjunction with her entire planet. As a side effect, it even assuages the loneliness she dealt with before she was kidnapped.
Every time I read it, this scene and this book are a touchstone for me to remember that a lot of good can come out of “end of the world” crises. It just takes a long time to see it.
Shannon Eichorn is a scifi writer and aerospace engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2012. During the day, she works in aerospace testing but has also written service instructions for turbofan engines, taught horseback riding at a summer camp, and supported supersonic wind tunnel testing. She is a 2005 graduate of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers.
James Patrick Kelly is joining us today with his short story collection The Promise of Space and Other Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Hugo and Nebula Award-winner James Patrick Kelly may offer the “Promise of Space,” but he delivers so much more. The sixteen stories included in this collection demonstrate the versatility of the author as a visionary and science fiction as a genre. Exploring Directed Intelligence, space opera, and shared sensory perception, he paints vivid pictures of startling futures and fantastic landscapes. And while Kelly pushes the boundaries of technology, his focus remains always on character, giving these speculative tales of loyalty and betrayal, love and desire, the human touch . . .
What’s James’s favorite bit?
JAMES PATRICK KELLY
My favorite bit of my new short story collection, The Promise of Space, is actually a statistic. Of the sixteen stories in the table of contents, all published in the last decade, thirteen are narrated from a woman’s point of view. So? Compare that to my first collection, Think Like A Dinosaur, which came out in 1990. Just six of the fourteen stories in that book are in the point of view of a woman. Am I proud of this statistic? Well, sort of, although I’m not looking for a medal or claiming any kind of literary breakthrough. I’m well aware that when a woman publishes a persuasive male point of view, nobody is standing by with a microphone and videocam to document it. Women have been writing men since science fiction was invented. Hello, Mary Shelley!
Of course, back in sf’s so-called Golden Age, when sf was run as a boys’ club, some particularly ignorant chauvinists in our genre insisted that women couldn’t create convincing male characters. Period. End of discussion. But those were the Bad Old Days. When I first started publishing, I believed that we’d moved on from the debate about whether men can write women or whether women can write men. Now my mind has changed. I don’t think we’re there yet and maybe we shouldn’t be. I’ve observed recently that the heat of the debate has cooled and has shifted into an interesting and more nuanced conversation. One that I believe is worth pursuing.
Whether or not my thirteen women are convincing is for you to judge. All I can say is that I try my hardest to get them right. I confess that it is the externals that often flummox me. Like clothes. Shoes. Hairstyles. I remember once taking the better part of a day to figure out how to describe a manicure, having never experienced what seemed to me, as I wrote, to be a particularly gratifying experience.
For the more essential and serious aspects of characterization, I can only draw upon my own experience. I was a stay-at-home dad before that become commonplace and was usually the only dad in the company of moms. The years of my daughter’s childhood helped me redefine who I was and how I related to the world. In 1989, when Maura was nine, I wrote this in an introduction to a chapbook, “Feminism may well be remembered as the most important contribution of the Twentieth Century. Yes, more important than all the high tech: cybernetics, space exploration, nuclear physics, or biotechnology. In the next few decades, it has the potential to transform the fundamental structure of human culture.” And so it has, even as the transformations continue. With the arrogance of youth, I thought myself a feminist back then, but now I realize that I can only aspire to be a feminist. These days, I feel the weight of my examined and as yet unexamined prejudices about sex and gender, baggage from growing up male in the Fifties and early Sixties. So I worry about what you think of my thirteen women. I worry a lot.
Which brings me back to my collection and the conversation about men writing women. I needed to write an original story for The Promise of Space and for reasons that remain mysterious to me, I decided to write about a highly intelligent fembot programmed to serve the sexual needs of a rich man. Not a particularly original idea, but the twist was that her master wasn’t interested in her and she was thus sexually frustrated. In the opening sections of “Yukui!” we see how enthusiastic she is about her skeevy role as a dependent intelligence and sexual plaything. I’d hoped that the intent of the author was made plain when her antagonist, a woman, tells her:
“’Intelligent servitude is a terrible institution,’ the lifeguide said. ‘You don’t realize it, but your sidekick programming is a kind of insanity.’”
The story’s ending, in my opinion, is upbeat and feminist. You can judge for yourself, since it was just reprinted in Clarkesworld. But when I workshopped it before sending it off to my editor, Sean Wallace, at Prime, the women in my group had some hard words for me. I realized that I had not made my intent plain enough. Okay, that’s what rewrite is for. But one workshop comment has been spinning in my mind ever since. A very smart woman said, “This story wouldn’t be so hard to take if a woman had written it.”
Flash forward a few months. I did a reading at the monthly Fantastic Fiction series at the renowned KGB literary bar in New York, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matt Kressel. The final version of “Yukui!” is just 3500 words long, the perfect length for KGB. So I read it. The book wasn’t out then and this was the first time anyone had ever read or heard the rewrite. I was a little nervous, but apparently the revised ending worked and the audience seemed happy enough. But as I read those opening sections, I picked out a couple of women, strangers to me, who were listening intently with what I took to be troubled looks on their faces. After the reading, there was some time for mingling. I worked the room toward the two women, finally plopping down at their table. “Did I pull it off?” I asked. They knew exactly what I was talking about and one of those very interesting conversations ensued. They allowed as how I won them over at the end but that they were very uncomfortable for most of the story. And then one of them said, “It would have been different if you were a woman.”
And, you know, I think she was right. I absolutely get it.
Should it have made a difference? I don’t know, but that’s a conversation I’d really like to start. However, if you don’t mind, I think it best if I just listen to what other people have to say.
James Patrick Kelly has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards; his fiction has been translated into twenty-one languages. His most recent story collections were this year’s The Promise of Space from Prime Books and Masters of Science Fiction: James Patrick Kelly published by Centipede Press in 2016. His most recent novel, Mother Go, was published in 2017 as an Audible original audiobook on Audible.com. He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and is on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.
Matt Mikalatos is joining us today to talk about his novel The Crescent Stone. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A young woman with a deadly lung disease . . .
A young man with a tragic past . . .
A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . .
Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger name Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.
What’s Matt’s Favorite Bit?
I have some favorite bits I can’t share because of spoilers, like a twist that comes late in the book but that I already set out in plain sight from early in the novel, or the secret world of unicorns that’s revealed in a battle scene. But I can share about a favorite bit that became a central part of the book, and that’s the oath taken by Jason Wu to tell the truth no matter what.
Jason has a terrible trauma in his recent past that he feels responsible for… something he lied about contributed to what happened. So he makes a decision to never lie again.
A character who never lies and is also a seventeen year old, it turns out, brings a lot of humor to the story as well as constantly complicating the plot. Jason can’t stop himself, whether it’s telling everyone about his high school principal’s toupee or explaining his plans in detail to the bad guys.
Here’s a scene where we see Jason’s truth-telling causing some future problems. Jason’s friend, David, sneaks him into the dungeons to meet one of the Scim — a captured warrior in a centuries old war:
“I’m Wu Song,” Jason said. “That’s my real name.”
The Scim chortled. “Truth teller, are you?” Its voice was like gravel spilt on concrete.
Jason’s eyebrows rose. “Yes.”
“We Scim say only three tell the truth: prophets, story-tellers, and fools. Which are you?”
Jason considered this question. “Probably fool.”
“Ha!” The Scim straightened, seeming suddenly interested. “I will trade you, truth for truth. I am called Break Bones.”
Hmmm. Interesting. “I am called Jason.”
Break Bones smiled, opening his wide, frog-like mouth to reveal jagged and uneven teeth that were each the size of Jason’s pinky. “Why do you come to the Sunlit Lands?”
“To protect my friend,” Jason said. He thought about his answer for a moment. “And to lay to rest old ghosts. And you?”
The Scim stood and shook its chains. “To shatter the sun and bring five hundred years of darkness and terror to the Elenil and all who befriend them. To crush skulls and break necks. To build a temple of bleached bones that reaches to the great dome of the heavens. To humiliate every Elenil before their death, then tear down the works of their hands, stone by stone, beam by beam, brick by brick. Only then shall I rest.”
“Huh,” Jason said. “I guess that’s why they call you Break Bones.”
“The fountains will run with blood. The city walls will be shelves for their heads.”
“Better make a priority list, because if you tear down all their bricks and then try to use the walls as shelves, you’re going to have to rebuild the walls again. It’s a lot of work.”
“You mock me,” Break Bones said, his voice low. “The Scim are not fond of mockery, Wu Song.”
Jason cocked his head. “Is anyone fond of mockery?”
“I think you’re ticking him off,” David said.
“It’s a legitimate question,” Jason replied, watching the Scim.
Break Bone’s chest was heaving, his breath coming in staccato pants. “Humans. Are you even allowed in this prison?”
“We should go,” Kekoa said. “I think you get the point. The Scim are terrible monsters.”
“No,” Jason said, answering the Scim. “We snuck in.”
Break Bone laughed, and the horrible sound of it filled the dungeon. “I like you, Wu Song. When I am free from this place I will honor you with a violent death. I will not humiliate you with captivity.”
“That’s nice,” Jason said. “Though I might prefer humiliation.”
Break Bones grunted, flashing his broken yellow smile. “What is the name of your friend? The one who is under your protection?”
“Don’t tell him,” David said.
Kekoa grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him toward the door.
“Madeline,” Jason said. “Madeline Oliver.”
Break Bones wrapped his right arm into the chains holding him fast. “On the night I bring the darkness to you, I will come with her lifeless body, so you will know.” He slammed his arm forward, and dust puffed out of the wall where the chain was anchored. He yanked again, and the chain rattled, coming free. “So you will know you failed!” Break Bones roared, pulling the chain nearly all the way out. A distant trumpet sounded, and there was the sound of feet on the stone stairway.
As you might imagine, Madeline isn’t pleased to learn that Jason shared her name with a violent prisoner hidden beneath the city. Of course he tells her, because he always tells the truth.
Jason is part prophet and part comic relief. He ignores social niceties and his own safety to say what he thinks no matter what comes, and it creates a character who becomes equal parts charming and exasperating.
So there’s my favorite bit! Jason Wu, truth teller! I know you’ll love him, too.
Yay! New book! The Fated Sky released today and while normally on My Favorite Bit, we have the author talk, I decided to invite my assistant and first reader, Alyshondra, to talk about her favorite bit. My thinking is that it will give you a little bit of an insight into how a first reader can shape a novel. Also… honestly, it’s one of my favorite bits, too.
Here’s the traditional publisher’s description:
Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun 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, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission. Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? With the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.
What’s Alyshondra’s favorite bit?
I did a lot of beta reading for Mary Robinette before we got to know each other in person. I had already done The Calculating Stars and half of The Fated Sky before we met up at LTUE in Utah. We were talking in a small group, and I was working on a Star Wars/Hamilton cross stitch to keep my hands busy and my anxiety at bay. As part of the conversation, she asked me a lot of questions: How did I design them? What materials were usually required? How long did it normally take? I thought that she was just being Good Hostess Mary Robinette, interested in her guests.
A few weeks later, Mary Robinette sent out a new chapter for The Fated Sky, and I read this:
She had her needlepoint out, and it was far enough along now that you could recognize Orion in the star field. Florence tucked the needle into a corner. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I brought you some pie.” I sent the baggie spinning across the mod to her.
Florence snatched it out of the air with a grin. “You are my favorite person.”
“Right now.” She winked. “Keep plying me with your pie . . .”
It turned out that I had been talking to Researching Writer Mary Robinette, looking for a hobby for one of her astronauts. When you are on a long journey–whether by car, plane or rocket ship–it helps to have something to do. You need something to (sorry not sorry) ground you, something that you do for your own joy. On a rocket, every ounce of cargo counts, so it’s important that it be something lightweight. Elma bakes, Terrazas does radio plays, and after Mary met me, Florence does needlework. Later, Mary Robinette asked me to design the actual pattern.
“In my head, what she’s doing is a star chart. It’s a gift for Elma, because she had such trouble with stars during training. It’d be on the same blue fabric as the flight suits, because there is a lot of extra floating (ha) around.”
I decided that the star chart Florence used is what the sky looked like from Kansas City on October 19, 1962. That’s the day that the Mars mission launched, ten and a half years after the Meteor strikes DC. No one in Kansas City would have seen the sky, though – the clouds from the Meteor would still have been ever-present. To Florence, that makes this view of the stars even more precious.
Here’s one of the charts I used:
And here’s the final result:
Florence cares about details, so most stars are represented with their correct colors, the background stars are relatively accurate, and the quarter moon from that night is shown as well. The visual binary of Mizar and Alcor (in the asterism of the Big Dipper) is one of my favorite things to tell people about, so she included that too. She does indulge in a little artist’s prerogative: the Moon (in Gemini), Mars, and the North Star are all in their proper places, but are larger than life. Mars is circled – here’s where we’re going! As a little dig at Elma, Alkaid (the last star in the Big Dipper) is circled too. You’ll see why when you read The Fated Sky.
Look, when I read that first line about needlepoint, I actually flailed. Think Kermit the Frog-style squealing and flapping my hands–the whole nine yards. The Lady Astronaut Universe is so precisely what I want out of my fiction. It sometimes feels like Mary Robinette is writing them *specifically for me*, and I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to influence some small part of the final product.
MRK again! So, this is one of my favorite bits, too and it exists because I know Alyshondra. There are lots of little touches throughout the books that come directly from interacting with other people. Writers often get asked, “where do your ideas come from” and they come from moments like this. They come from being curious and interested in other people. The writer is a filter, but the ideas are all around us.
Also, the cross-stitch is beautiful, right?
UPDATE! Want to make your own cross stitch? Kits and patterns are now on sale at Worldbuilders Market!
Michael Mammay is joining us today to talk about his novel Planetside. Here is the publisher’s description:
A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…
War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.
The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…
What’s Michael’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of PLANETSIDE is a scene that cracked open the story for me. This might come as a shock (or not), but sometimes authors start writing novels without really knowing where they’re going. Or is that just me? I’m going to pretend that it’s a lot of us, so that I can continue to function, okay? Thanks. So there I was, cranking along and not completely sure where I was going with the story, and I sent the protagonist, Colonel Carl Butler, to meet with the commander of the hospital, Colonel Mary Elliot. Going into the scene, my intent was that Butler would go in, pull some macho BS, roll over the medical person and get the next piece of information he needed to continue his investigation.
A funny thing happened when I put them in a room together. Elliot wouldn’t have it. As the person who created her, nobody was more surprised than me.
Here’s how that imaginary conversation went:
Me: Okay, Elliot, Butler’s going to show up, you’re going to give him some trouble, then you’re going to give him a key piece of information about his investigation. Okay?
Elliot: It’s Doctor Elliot.
Elliot: You should refer to me as Doctor. Or Colonel, if you prefer.
Me: Yeah, sure. So about the scene…
Dr. Elliot: Yeah. About that. I don’t think so.
Dr. Elliot: I didn’t spend 25 years working my butt off to reach the highest levels of my profession just so that some asshole grunt could come in and push me around.
Me: But he needs that information…
Dr. Elliot: Guess he’s got a problem, then.
Me: Wait a damned minute. This is my book. I make the decisions.
Dr. Elliot: Do you?
Me: Okay. I hear you. What if you put him in his place, dress him down, and once he understands that it’s your scene, you give him the information?
Dr. Elliot: Counteroffer. What if I put him in his place, dress him down, and throw him out of my hospital?
And that’s what she did. She was supposed to be a bit character with one or two scenes, and instead she became a key piece of the story, all because she refused to be run over. The thing is, it made the story better, because it made things harder on Butler. Instead of giving him the information he needed, she thwarted him, and he had to search for another way. Any time you can make things harder on the protagonist, you’re probably making the story better.
But it had impact beyond just Butler. It informed the entire plot, because while I didn’t know it at the time, once she refused to give answers, she had to have a reason for not giving those answers. Clearly she had to be hiding something. Or not. But her confrontational manner certainly made it possible that she had something she wasn’t sharing. Or maybe she just didn’t care for Butler and his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. It didn’t really matter. Instead of closing her role with her passing information, it kept it open for future scenes. For me, the scenes with Butler and Elliot are some of my favorite in the book, and they never would have happened if she’d just done what I initially wanted her to do.
One of the most exciting parts about writing a book is when I figure out something about the plot that I didn’t know. At the time that scene happened, I really had no idea why Elliot was doing what she was doing. It just didn’t fit her character to roll over, so when I started writing the dialogue, she didn’t. I did figure it out later, and when I did, it changed the book into what it is today. If it sounds like I’m being a bit vague, that’s intentional. PLANETSIDE is a twisty book, and I don’t want to give too much away. I might have already told you too much!
Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a masters degree in military history, and he is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia, where he teaches English to high school boys, which is at least as challenging as combat.
Claire O’Dell is joining us today to talk about her novel A Study In Honor. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.
Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.
Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.
What’s Claire’s favorite bit?
When I was nine years old, my Aunt Marianne gave me a collection of stories about Sherlock Holmes. (Please note, my Aunt Marianne was an English teacher and had served in the Women’s Marine Corps during WWII. She was mighty. I miss her very much.)
It goes without saying that I read the book, as I read all the other books she gave me. And as many others have done, I imprinted on the mythos of the brilliant detective and his more ordinary friend. Fast forward to years later, when I decided to write a story about Watson and Holmes.
My Holmes is Sara Holmes, an independent agent for the FBI. My Watson is Dr. Janet Watson, a newly discharged army surgeon, wounded in America’s New Civil War. Their lives are nothing like two men in the Victorian Age, but I knew that a story about Watson and Holmes had to include that iconic scene when they first meet.
Instead of a chemistry lab, Janet meets Sara in the National Gallery of Art, in front of Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper:
I was no Christian, not these days. But, oh, those luminous colors. The images upon images. The small trickeries my teachers had pointed out that added layers of story to the most obvious and outermost one. It almost didn’t matter that the Son of Man, a child of Israel and the King of the Jews, was portrayed as a pale-skinned man with yellow hair.
Fuck it, I’m lying. It did matter, the same way it rankled when people–mostly white people–stared when I said I was a doctor, a surgeon, and a veteran of the wars. But I could still look beyond the unthinking bigotry of this particular artist, and the assumptions of his age, to the moment he portrayed, when Christ drank the wine and spoke of his body and his blood.
Then she catches sight of Sara herself:
She was tall and lean. Her complexion was the darkest brown I had ever seen, the angles of her face were sharp enough to cut, and she wore her hair in locs, arranged in a careless, complicated fashion wound around her head, then plaited and pinned, so they fell in a thick cascade down her back. The cant of her cheekbones, the almost imperceptible folds next to her eyes, spoke of East Asia, or certain nations in Africa. Of a world outside my own.
Janet’s friend makes the introductions:
We closed the distance between us, then both of us hesitated. I sensed a Rubicon before me, an array of choices wise or foolish. Gaius Julius Caesar had made his own choice in that matter and died. Or perhaps I was being fanciful.
Then Holmes reached out to me with a hand covered in lace. “You’ve come from the war in Oklahoma,” she said and clasped my hand in hers.
Claire O’Dell grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the years of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. She attended high school just a few miles from the house where Mary Surratt once lived and where John Wilkes Booth conspired for Lincoln to die. All this might explain why she spent so much time in the history and political science departments at college. Claire currently lives in Manchester, CT with her family and two idiosyncratic cats.
Kate Alice Marshall is joining us today with her novel I Am Still Alive. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After: Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive—for now.
Before: Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.
After: With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined.
Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father…and she wants revenge
What’s Kate’s favorite bit?
KATE ALICE MARSHALL
The first challenge in writing I AM STILL ALIVE was putting Jess in ever-increasing danger, designing setbacks and disasters to threaten her at every turn.
The second challenge was making sure I didn’t actually kill her.
The first half of the manuscript was written on a writing retreat in the mountains, surrounded by people with a talent for mayhem and more survival know-how than I will ever possess. Together we came up with obstacles and twists of fate, escalating and escalating until I had to call “definitely dead” and back up a few steps or provide some extra bit of advantage so Jess could squeak through our latest devilry still breathing.
This give and take led to one of my favorite scenes, one that I wrote toward with relish, knowing it was coming.
Jess, you see, has a rifle. In the few seconds she has to grab whatever she can find before her father’s cabin burns down, she also manages to secure a box of ammunition. So, though she isn’t very good at hunting, she can hunt, and she sets out to make good use of that gun and that ammunition. Bullet by bullet, she uses up what’s already in the rifle. And then she goes to reload it and realizes that she’s grabbed the wrong type of ammo. The other boxes are gone, destroyed in the fire that destroyed the cabin. Back to square one.
But, starving and desperate, she realizes those weren’t the only bullets. The day he was killed, she saw her father put a handful of ammunition in his jacket pocket.
And she knows where he’s buried.
When writing a survival story, the most important question to answer is: what is the character surviving for? The easy answer to that for Jess is revenge. Her father has been murdered. She wants to get back at the men responsible. But revenge and survival are at odds with each other—revenge is a self-destructive act, one that you don’t expect to emerge from whole. I knew that I needed something else to drive Jess—but I’d taken everything from her. Her parents, her home, any semblance of a normal life. That drive had to come purely from within. So the core of Jess’s character is this: she believes she is worthy of survival. She doesn’t fight for someone else, or for something outside of herself; she fights because she wants to stay alive and knows that is a righteous cause.
Jess’s journey to her father’s grave is the closest she ever comes to despair—to deciding that survival isn’t worth it, and that she isn’t strong enough to do what she needs to do. It comes at her lowest point, when every meager scrap of progress that she’s made has been taken from her.
In this scene, she gives up.
And she keeps going anyway.
That contradiction is at the heart of her success. And as dark as the scene is—and yes, it gets pretty gruesome—it’s also the heart of the story. The moment when she is forced to face in vivid, horrifying detail all she’s lost and all she’s suffered, unable to leave it buried any longer, and admit just how far she’s fallen, and just how close to failure she is.
Kate Alice Marshall started writing before she could hold a pen properly, and never stopped. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a chaotic menagerie of pets and family members and ventures out in the summer to kayak and camp along the Puget Sound. Visit her online at katemarshallbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @kmarshallarts.
Over the last few years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the two-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years One, Two, Three, and Four. 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 Parsec Award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards!
This year, we’re also back with a new mission for the ranger corps: UNCANNY TV
Hosted and produced by Michi Trota and Matt Peters, Uncanny TV will be the launch of our community-based vid channel, featuring exclusive geeky content related to Uncanny and the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps community!
Matt Peters & Michi Trota will host a short (20-30 min) variety talk show, Uncanny Magazine-style: highlighting creators in SF/F working in a variety of art forms and projects, focusing on people building and nurturing their communities, particularly highlighting marginalized creators. They’ll talk about topics that can be serious, but the overall tone of the show will be to celebrate the things we enjoy and the people who make our communities good places to be in SF/F.
When I came onboard as a reader for Uncanny, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be a good fit. Obviously, that wasn’t my favorite bit.
I grew up loving sci-fi. My dad and I bonded over classic Star Trek and Star Wars and when he told me I could actually read books that furthered the story past what was on screen I was hooked. I read as much as I could by whomever I could. I’ve read so much sci-fi and fantasy growing up, I can’t even begin to tell you who all the authors were. At one point, if a book had a rocket ship on the cover and it was in stock at the library, that was good enough for me.
When Michi invited me to be a submissions editor for Uncanny, I was excited to begin. Suddenly, there was so much content flying at me at one time, I was overwhelmed. I panicked. I loved sci-fi, so this should be right up my alley, right? After talking to my wife, we came up with a great solution: we’d take turns reading submissions to each other as we played Tetris (Dolores joined Uncanny as a submissions editor soon after).
That’s where it finally clicked for me. A big part of the allure of Uncanny is the camaraderie. There’s a communal aspect. People just like me who grew up reading the same stories I love feel so passionate about them that they came up with their own. Maybe it was because they wanted to honor it. Maybe it was because they felt they could do it better. Maybe they just had something on their mind and staging it in a fantasy realm was just disconnected enough to be honest about their private dreams and desires.
Our true nature reveals itself when we think no one is watching. How incredibly brave to put that story to paper or keyboard and share it with the world on the off chance someone might find a kinship in what you created. Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes as they retell a story that they truly connect with? That driving, nervous energy… That is my favorite bit of Uncanny: the passion.
After four years as Uncanny Magazine’s Managing Editor, I thought it would be a lot harder to pick what my favorite bit about Uncanny is, but in fact, the answer was pretty easy: What I love the most about Uncanny is how its community shows me every day why stories, and who tells them, matters. The people I’ve met through Uncanny have made an incredible difference in my life, and collaborating with them in different ways has brought me so much joy, and has helped me to hone my own craft as a writer. The creativity, willingness to test boundaries, and passion for craft among creators and fans that I’ve encountered has been endlessly surprising. There are so many writers whose work I became introduced to because of Uncanny, and if all their stories, poems, and global working essay that I’ve added to my “to read” list physically manifested into an actual pile, I’d probably have been buried under it by now.
But what’s impressed and inspired me more than anything is the vibrant network of mutual support and admiration I’ve seen being continually built among creators and fans. The outpouring of joy and signal boosting whenever there’s a new release, whether it’s for an Uncanny issue or a novel or anthology, is one of the best things to see taking over my feeds on social media. And what really gets me, every time, is when someone shares a cool story about how something they made inspired someone else to create something completely unexpected. I have a friend who’s written songs based on stories and novels she’s fallen in love with. I know acrobats who craft their acts to tell superhero stories. I’ve seen fans honor creators with beautiful pieces of fanart, and who’ve taken a page from their favorite stories to build charity and activist organizations. These are people who are taking a deep and abiding love for SF/F and using it to enrich their lives and the lives of others, often for no other reason beyond just wanting to make a positive difference, no matter the scale.
Seeing just how varied and thriving the greater ecosystem of geeky creators actually can be has been a necessary balm, especially since the election. Finding a reason for joy and inspiration to create new stories, new kinds of art, new connections among strangers, is especially important in the face of oppression and rising fascism. When we can see others being creative rather than complacent, building bridges rather than walls, it makes a difference. It’s why I’m excited by the prospect of being able to take Uncanny’s mission of supporting gorgeous, experimental, passionate storytelling even further with Uncanny TV, and dive even deeper into more stories about why SF/F matters. And getting to do this with Matt Peters, a friend and colleague I enjoy collaborating with, and who has inspired me to do better in my own work? That’s definitely one of my favorite bits!
Uncanny TV Presenter Matt Peters is an enthusiast of all things nerdy. Matt has been a voice in the industry for several years through his website and podcast Since Last We Spoke. He’s contributed to various media outlets both print and digital and has been invited to speak on panels regarding diversity in geek spaces at C2E2 and Wizard World. Matt is also founder of Core/Demo, a belly dance charity event that supports cancer research. You can find him on Twitter @MightyInkMatt where he frequently geeks out over comics, video games, and pro-wrestling. His favorite color is orange and he’s fond of the number “13.”
Managing Editor/Uncanny TV Presenter Michi Trota is a two-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Establishment, The Learned Fangirl, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. 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. She serves as president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club Board of Organizers and lives 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.
Ruthanna Emrys is joining us today to talk about her novel Deep Roots. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy, which began with Winter Tide and continues with Deep Roots, confronts H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos head-on, boldly upturning his fear of the unknown with a heart-warming story of found family, acceptance, and perseverance in the face of human cruelty and the cosmic apathy of the universe. Emrys brings together a family of outsiders, bridging the gaps between the many people marginalized by the homogenizing pressure of 1940s America.
Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Deep Rootscontinues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.
What is Ruthanna’s favorite bit?
The source material for the Innsmouth Legacy series—H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction—straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy. Lovecraft tried hard to base his gods, ghouls, and lost continents on the very latest scientific findings. In the 1930s. As someone with voracious reading habits but no particular scientific training.
Writing now in the early 21st century, my take on Lovecraft’s Mythos includes open magic and the supernatural. But I still hew close to modern scientific understanding, particularly in my own field of psychology and its cousin neuroscience. This is particularly fun when playing with Lovecraft’s own ideas about the mind. Nowadays, he probably would have been fascinated by the idea of uploading personalities into computers (and all the terrible, world-breaking things that could go wrong amid the circuits). Instead, he came up with the Mi-Go.
The Mi-Go are aliens, possibly fungous, from space that is Not Like the Space We Know. Their favorite pastime is brain surgery. The kind that involves removing your brain entirely and putting you in a canister where you can see, hear, and talk—and travel the universe, learning Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know and being part of a never-ending awesome conversation with all the other brain canisters. I couldn’t resist.
I’ve talked elsewhere about how Lovecraft’s calls the Mi-Go “cosmopolitan,” about his xenophobic idea that multicultural society just naturally deprives people of the strength and agency of their own bodies, and about how this made the Mi-Go a perfect fit for a story about finding identity in diversity… but my favorite bit was figuring out how to make brain thieves fit into a book informed by modern psychology.
I already set up one psychological gimme in Winter Tide: minds are different from brains, and can be separated from them with the right magic. They’re also closely tied to brains, and can’t survive long on their own. Winter Tide featured aliens skilled at the advanced magical art of switching minds between bodies. So the Mi-Go must be doing something similar—not removing actual brains (and more impressively, putting them back), but removing minds and sticking them in artificial “host bodies.” Lovecraft’s classic brain canisters.
Research on embodied cognition suggests that we’d probably adapt to this sort of thing pretty quickly. The real human mind is shaped by a constant influx of sensory input, and by our ability to touch and shape the world. Change that input, and the possibilities for output, and you change the mind at the center. This happens in the real world all the time—we come with different subsets of senses and gain or lose them over the course of a lifetime, work with levels of bodily control ranging from Olympic athletes to Steven Hawking and Jean-Dominique Bauby. It’s a little different, though, when someone can move you between states at will, and has absolute control over where you go and who you meet. And the Mi-Go are very good at psychology…
Some people choose willingly to trade physical autonomy for good company and fantastic journeys. Maybe many people—when I asked my Twitter followers where they’d go, I got a ton of enthusiasm for disembodied tours of the Virgo Supercluster and Marianas Trench, and about three people willing to fight to the death to avoid those tours. Aphra Marsh, my main character, falls firmly in the latter camp. She’s struggled long and hard to live comfortably in her body, has no intention of giving it up, and sees very clearly the cost of doing so.
The other side of the argument is ably represented by Shelean, one of my favorite characters/thought experiments. (She’d be delighted to hear herself described as a thought experiment, which tells you something about her.) Shelean’s body and brain have been twisted by the most dangerous of magical studies—but disembodied she can escape the effects, and think and perceive clearly (mostly). She still talks like someone who grew up in a society of mad scientists/sorcerers, though. Nature versus nurture, another fascinating psychological research question. For both Aphra and Shelean, as well as their compatriots, the Mi-Go force them to think about who they are, and how much that identity depends on the shapes their minds wear.
Teasing apart brains and minds—something we can’t actually do without magic—let me play around with fun scientific ideas, and as a bonus gave me a brand new way to explore my characters.
Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house in the outskirts of Washington DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, occasionally attempts to save the world, and blogs sporadically about these things at her Livejournal. She is the author of The Litany of Earth. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange Horizons and Analog.
Kameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel Apocalypse Nyx. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey―it’s a living.
Nyx’s disreputable reputation has been well earned. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future―but only if she can survive.
What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?
All literature is escapism. It takes us away from wherever we are and deposits us neatly into another place, another time, among people whose problems we don’t have to negotiate, manage, or solve in our daily life.
Literature is glorious.
I grew up watching a lot of apocalyptic science fiction movies when I was a kid, probably for the same reason so many enjoy watching The Walking Dead. We all want to believe that when society breaks down and we run out of vaccines and hot water and canned food, that we’ll be one of the tough, lucky few to who can use our wits and our physical prowess to survive.
In reality, the odds are against us. Try talking to any amateur who’s planted a garden, and you’ll discover that growing enough food to feed yourself for a year is no small feat. Every time I battle the bugs eating up all my crops, I lament to my spouse: “How did people ever survive growing food like this?” to which he responds, “There were a lot fewer people.”
Being one crop failure or infected scratch away from death is a harrowing way to live. But if you spend most of your days shuttling to and from a boring, crappy job with crappy benefits with an abusive boss, falling over onto the couch at night and then doing it all over again, day in, day out, with no hope of an end date, there can be an allure in the idea of living more dangerously. Of living for something. Of knowing every second counts.
I learned a far greater appreciation for life when I nearly died at twenty-six. Going from great health to having a chronic illness was like getting hit on the back of the head with a shovel. It completely transformed my life. I realized, for the first time, just how close we all are to death. And I needed a new world to escape to more than ever.
I’m often asked, “Why do you write about terrible people?” Probably for the same reason most people do: we know terrible people. We, ourselves, often have terrible impulses. If you’ve ever sat in a cubicle all day, having a random dude ask you to get him coffee, and being berated, constantly, about how you need to be “civil” to people who are trying to take away your human rights and your friend’s citizenship, you know what it’s like to just want to throw your computer at the window and start punching people.
It happens to the best of us.
To live is to feel powerless much of the time. Powerless in your job. In your state. In your country. Powerless against nature. Many feel powerless even in their relationships. And we are all powerless when it comes to the inevitability of death.
I had a dog, Drake, a very young, healthy dog, who contracted an antibiotic-resistant staph infection after a common surgery. We fought hard for that dog. He fought too. For some time, he was on an antibiotic drip that cost a thousand dollars a week to administer. We kept telling ourselves, “We can beat this. This is a modern era. We have pet insurance. He’s young. We have the best vets. We have the resources to save him.”
But nature won against us, and him, as it so often does. Bacteria, viruses, parasites – all those gooey living critters that want to break down our parts and mulch us back into the earth – they all win, eventually. Our big brains and big guns and big egos can only get us so far.
It’s fun to pretend that this isn’t so, of course. It’s why I love the Conan novels so dearly, despite their obvious flaws and absurdities. They invite you to imagine a giant tank of a hero who never gets infections or STD’s, and never loses a battle or fails to woo a partner. He has a simple solution to everything – just hit it in the face. Wizards? Punch them in the face. Rats? Punch them in the face. Nazis? Punch them in the face.
A simpler world.
Perhaps it is this fantasy of a brutal hero surviving a brutal world that is my favorite part of writing about Nyx, the heroine in Apocalypse Nyx. Nyx is a hot mess of problems. She’s impulsive, callous, bad at relationships. But in her world, none of that matters. She isn’t spending time putting money into a 401(k) because she figures every job will be her last. She doesn’t take shit from a boss because healthcare is free and she has no trouble picking up freelance jobs to live. She doesn’t get sick, only hung over. She’s been inoculated against the worst of the world’s viral contagions. When she gets hit, she gets up. She keeps going. She’s notoriously hard, if not impossible, to kill. Her moral code is hers alone. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her.
Nyx is the fantastically brutal escapist Conan I always wanted to see in the world. I keep coming back to her in projects like Apocalypse Nyx and in stories I share with Patreon backers, because her brutal simplicity, her unwillingness to think more than a few steps ahead, and her near-invulnerability make her a cozy tank to slip into when the world wants to grind me down. I suspect many of her fans love her for the same reason. She is the ever-persistent endurance athlete who will keep going long after everyone who bet on her to give up has gone back to the pub for a beer.
Of course, she is callous. She is a brute. I certainly wouldn’t want to be her friend, because she’d murder me in a heartbeat if it would further her ends. But I wouldn’t want to be friends with Conan, either. They each belong to a very specific time a place. A place I enjoy visiting, but a place I would never want to live.
So, when the world gets you down, as it often does me, try slipping into a new skin once in a while. Go meet Nyx.
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Stars are Legion and the award-winning argumentative essay topics collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the God’s War Trilogy and the Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, BSFA Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bitch Magazine, and Locus. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com. Apocalypse Nyx marks her return to the Bel Dame Apocrypha, first started in the acclaimed God’s War Trilogy.
Jason Denzel is joining us today to talk about his novel Mystic Dragon. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Seven years have passed since lowborn Pomella AnDone became an unlikely Mystic’s apprentice.
Though she has achieved much in a short time, as a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels the burden of being a Mystic more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, the land is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright, and Mystics from across the world gather to protect them. Among them is Shevia, a haunted and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst is unlike anything Pomella has ever seen.
Shevia will challenge Pomella in every possible way, from her mastery of the Myst to her emotional connection with Pomella’s own friends―and as Shevia’s dark intentions become more clear, Pomella fears she may be unstoppable.
What’s Jason’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit about my new novel, Mystic Dragon, or its publication at least, is that I’m lucky enough to have Mary as the book’s audiobook narrator.
Like she did for my debut novel, Mystic, Mary helped elevate the storytelling found within Mystic Dragon by breathing life to a wide variety of colorful characters. In the first book, Mystic, the main character was a young woman who defies tradition and law by leaving her home to enter the Mystwood, where she seeks to become an apprentice to a reclusive Mystic living in the woods. In the new sequel, seven years have passed and a rare celestial event threatens to throw both the human realm and Fayün, the land of the fay, into chaos.
Mary is, in my view, a world-class narrator and performer. Not only does she bring a level of cool professionalism to the performance, but she also provides a spark of youthful enthusiasm to go along with a profound sense of experienced wisdom. These are the exact traits that I want Pomella, the series protagonist, to have in this second volume. Because I’m aging the characters by several years since the events of the first book, Pomella has shed a lot of her gullible teenage youthfulness. Mary skillfully navigates that, and still provides an arc to the character’s “voice”.
What do I mean by voice arc? To explain, let me talk about Shevia, a complicated new character to the series. My goal with Shevia was to examine the mind of somebody who has been routinely oppressed her entire life and then suddenly given an immense amount of magical power. Shevia learns early in her story that power does not always equal freedom. Her story begins when she’s nine years old, and Mary does a great job of making her sound young and full of energy. As Shevia grows up, Mary naturally matures her voice so that she not only sounds older, but she sounds more powerful. It’s a tricky line to walk with this character because Shevia is trying at times to hide her power and appear docile. I was very impressed with how Mary depicted Shevia as having power, but hiding it from those that would seek to exploit her.
Mary, however, wasn’t too thrilled after having to channel Shevia for nine hours in the booth. I’m pretty sure my face often looked like that after writing her chapters.
Another awesome reason why I’m delighted Mary contributed to Mystic Dragon’s audiobook is that I always learn a tremendous amount from working with her. Leading up to the recording, I prepared a Google document with some name pronunciations. I’m not an expert in this field, but I’m making a noble attempt to have my characters’ dialect seem real and consistent, and Mary has always been a big help with that. During our pre-recording phone call she talked a little about the various ways people speak, and I found myself scribbling notes about dialect, pacing, and breathing. We spoke about accents, and how to approach representing characters of different cultures who struggle to speak a native language.
Overall, I’m delighted with how Mystic Dragon turned out, and I’m overjoyed that somebody with Mary’s talent and experience could further uplift the story through her narration expertise.
JASON DENZEL is the founder of Dragonmount.com, the leading online community for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga and the Web’s top destination for Wheel of Time-related news, features, and discussion. Dragonmount.com has been featured in USA Today, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, and on CNN and ABC. Denzel lives in Northern California with his two young boys, and owns a lot of swords. He is the author of the Mystic Trilogy (Mystic, Mystic Dragon, and Mystic Skies).
Wendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Grandmother Paradox. Here’s the publisher’s description:
When Dr. Wells, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, learns that someone’s trying to track down the ancestors of his star employee, there are few people he can turn to without revealing her secrets. But who better to jump down the timeline and rescue Elise from being snuffed out of existence generations before she’s born than the very person whose life she saved a hundred years in the future?
But Juliette Argent isn’t an easy woman to protect. The assistant to a traveling magician, she’s bold, fearless, and has a fascination with time travel, of all things. Can the former secret agent Chandler, with his knowledge of what’s to come, keep her safe from harm and keep his purpose there a secret? Or will his presence there only entangle the timeline more?
What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?
THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX is the second book in the Place in Time novella series, which is based around a travel agency that specializes in time travel vacations in the past. Although I still love the travel agency itself, which I blogged about for the release of book one, in this book, my favorite part is one of the settings: the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
I first read about the fair in Erik Larson’s 2004 book, The Devil in the White City, and instantly, I was hooked. I tried to get my hands on anything I could read about this fascinating event. As the city recovered from the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago put in its bid for the World’s Fair, right at a time of global change and innovation, which would make this one of the most memorable fairs in history. Electric lights illuminated the fairgrounds. Products such as Quaker Oats, Cracker Jack, and Juicy Fruit gum were first introduced to the public. Countries from around the world and individual states hosted pavilions that showcased their best qualities.
It was an exciting place to be at a pivotal point in United States history, where technological developments were beginning to put the world within the common person’s reach and anything seemed possible. If I had access to a time machine, this would definitely be on my list of places to visit.
I initially used this setting in a now-trunked manuscript. In it, a boy and his family journeyed down to the fair from Wisconsin, and there he met up with a traveling magician who gave him some important advice and a gift. The Midway Plaisance of the fair – which also featured carnival rides such as a balloon drop and the world’s first Ferris Wheel – was filled with performers like this, including one who would become quite well-known for his escape acts: Harry Houdini. So when I decided to set part of this novella at the fair, the idea of traveling magicians came along with it.
In THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, suspects that someone is plotting to kill the great-great-grandmother of his star employee (to prevent the events of the previous book), so he calls upon the man whose life she saved to jump to the year 1893 and protect the young woman, who’s working as a magician’s assistant in a traveling show.
Together, they make their way to the World’s Fair, where he hopes they’ll be able to blend in among the sights and crowds, but he quickly discovers that when you’re being stalked by a man with a time machine, nowhere – and no time – is really safe.
Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, was published by World Weaver Press in January 2018, with a sequel, The Grandmother Paradox, out now. For more info, visit wendynikel.com
TJ Berry is joining us today with her book Space Unicorn Blues. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.
Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he’s finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors’ stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend… who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?
What’s TJ’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about Space Unicorn Blues is a single word deep in the book about a quarter of the way from the end. Part-unicorn Gary Cobalt reminisces about his human mother teaching him how to read and write languages from her home planet of Earth:
His mother, on the other hand, had taught him only two human languages: English and Kannada. She showed him how to assemble sticks and balls to make English letters and how to glide his pen through the undulating contortions of the Kannada alphabet.
The single word is the name of an Indian language, Kannada, and it’s my favorite because it was a reminder to me of a wonderful dinner spent with friends discussing their home city.
My zero drafts are sprawling things in which logic, reason, and story arcs don’t exist. Anything from an underwater helicopter chase to a love story between an octopus and an assassin can end up on the page. I write recklessly and rapidly, daring myself to visit every unexpected possibility before settling down to find the heart of the story. It gets the pantsing urge largely out of my system so that I can hew close to my outline in subsequent drafts.
But this fast and furious approach means that I don’t slow down for research during a zero draft. I toss in hundreds of brackets full of placeholder text like [insert saucy jokes here] and [look up the flag of New Zealand]. It also means that some of what I write is flat-out wrong. I originally dashed off the two lines above using Hindi as the language that Gary’s mother would have taught him. It wasn’t until nearly two years later that I discovered my mistake.
You see, Gary Cobalt is the descendent of aerospace engineers who live and work in Bangalore. They board a generation ship to escape a dying Earth, and decades later their granddaughter Anjali falls in love with a space unicorn. (I know. Just trust me.) It wasn’t until I passed the manuscript to a group of sensitivity readers and expert advisors that my error was pointed out to me. Friends who had offered to fact check the parts of the book influenced by Indian culture asked me, “Why is she teaching him Hindi? We only speak Kannada at home and that’s what we’d teach our children.”
Reader, I am ashamed to admit that even though I consider myself moderately well-versed in the basics of Indian culture—okay, maybe we’ll just call it a semester of grad school Hindi and eating more baingan bharta than I care to admit—I had never encountered Kannada. Luckily, my friends were quite eager to fill me in about their beloved home city over a long and delicious curry dinner.
They patiently and cheerfully answered all of my questions about Bangalorean family life. I learned what spices and seeds would be vital to bring onto a generation ship destined for an unfamiliar planet. They helped me brainstorm names for space stations and ships based on important figures in Indian history. At one point, we got into a deep dive about mango pickle. This is, I have learned, a Very Important Condiment in Indian cuisine. Every family has their own mango pickle recipe, which is always better than any other family’s recipe. The instructions are passed down through the generations with such reverence that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Indian families on a deep-space generation ship will someday have a minor civil unrest that begins with a slight to one person’s mango pickle.
A mango pickle, which is clearly far inferior to everyone else’s mango pickle.
They ordered a dish of it and urged me to add it to everything on the table. As a person from a culture where the primary condiment is sugared tomatoes boiled down to a paste, I felt that I might be on familiar ground with a condiment with “mango” in the name, but it was not sweet at all. The pickle I tried was not particularly spicy, but it was astringent—vinegary and tart with hint of licorice whenever I hit a fennel seed. The mango is meant to be green and have an al dente bite. It’s absolutely lovely and I want to eat it with everything, which is precisely the point of a mango pickle.
After all was said and done (and eaten), a dozen plates of food and hours of discussion distilled down to a single word in the actual book. That’s often how research works, but this time I also came away from the table with two dozen pages of notes for a different book about a generation ship full of Bangalorean engineers and the strife caused by a jar of mango pickle.
TJ Berry grew up living between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. Her favorite pizza is a plain slice from Three Brothers in Seaside Heights. She can be coaxed into a trap using any type of cheese.
TJ has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and she spent a disastrous two weeks on the assembly line in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries.
She also co-hosts the weekly Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry and online at http://tjberrywrites.com.
Theodora Goss is joining us today with her novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.
Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.
But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?
Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.
What’s Theodora’s favorite bit?
I hope you’re not offended if I assert that Hungarian pastries are the best in the world.
Oh, I know, the French tarte tatin is world-famous, as is the Italian tiramisu. And who can pass up a piece of bakhlavah? Pavlova, dulce de leche, halva, flan, panettone . . . Every culture has wonderful sweets to share. But my favorites are the traditional Hungarian ones, because they are not too sweet, and often combine contrasting flavors in interesting ways: chocolate and apricots, poppy seed and sour cherries. If you want to disagree with me, go right ahead, but not before you travel to Budapest yourself, sit down at one of the traditional old cafés like Gerbeaud or the Centrál Kávéház, and try some of them for yourself. I’ll gladly share a tarte tatin with you, if you’ll take a bite of my Eszterházy torte.
Why am I talking to you about Hungarian pastries? Because one of my favorite moments in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman happens when Mina Murray, Mary Jekyll’s former governess, welcomes Mary and her friends to Budapest by taking them shopping on Váci utca, and then suggests they stop at Gerbeaud. She buys them a selection of traditional Hungarian pastries, including Eszterházy torte, Dobos torte, krémes, and Rigó Jancsi. My favorite of these is the Eszterházy torte, which is layers of buttercream between layers of a flourless cake made with walnuts, egg whites, and sugar. Lots of layers, like five or six or seven, so you get plenty of buttercream and walnuts. Dobos torte is probably the most famous Hungarian cake for its shining caramel top. Rigó Jancsi, which you seldom find outside Hungary and Austria, is the most romantic: it’s supposedly named after a Romani violinist who fell in love with a Belgian princess. She left her husband for him, they were married, and he created the pastry for her. Krémes is like a Napoleon, only better.
So there they are, Mina and Mary and other members of the Athena Club, sitting in a café in Budapest eating pastries. Why is this one of my favorite bits of the book? When I was writing the first and second Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, I wanted my characters to have adventures, of course—they would overcome obstacles, fight adversaries, and have revelations of various sorts. All the things characters do in books. After all, Vladimir Nabokov said a writer is someone who puts his characters up a tree and throws stones at them. I’ve thrown all sorts of things—murder and mayhem—at mine. But life is never all adventure. I also wanted my novels to contain moments that are more realistic. Moments when the characters are just sitting round drinking tea, or when they get bored, or have to go to the bathroom. (Even characters have to go to the bathroom sometimes.) There they are in Budapest, trying to fight the dastardly Société des Alchimistes, but they have to eat, right? So for about an hour, they stop and sit down and have cake. Not just any cake, but some of my favorite cakes.
There’s another reason this particular bit matters to me. In this novel, it makes sense for my characters to go to Budapest because the villains they’re dealing with are in Budapest—that’s where they were in the original texts I was drawing on. The plot requires a trip to that part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, I was born in Budapest and it’s my favorite city in the world. In this book, I wanted to show you a bit of the city I love, as it would have looked in the late nineteenth century. Sure, I populated it with monsters—that’s what I do. But I also wanted to make sure you knew there were cakes. Really good cakes. The monsters may not be there anymore, but Gerbeaud and the Centrál Kávéház are, and they still have all those pastries, right in the pastry cases, close to the front. You can order them, just as Mina did for Mary and her friends. I guarantee that they will fortify you for whatever obstacles you need to face, whether fighting monsters or just finding your way to the art museum.
Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning author of the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman(2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at theodoragoss.com.
Lauren James is joining us today to discuss her novel The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on theInfinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.
Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.
Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of theEternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….
What’s Lauren’s favorite bit?
When you write realistic science fiction, it takes a lot of research. I always try to make the science in my books as accurate as possible, – the time machine in one of my other books, The Last Beginning, is based on real life research into sub-atomic particles at CERN, like the Large Hadron Collider.
This book is set on a spaceship a few decades into the future, so I did a lot of research into space travel and the theory of space travel behind NASA’s equipment. I read a lot of non-fiction about space travel – NASA does a series of free eBooks explaining their science for beginners, so I had a great time diving into them.
I think there’s a danger of crossing over into Fantasy instead of Science Fiction if you don’t base your technology in solid scientific concepts, and there’s never been as much appeal in writing Fantasy for me. As long as there’s some seed of truth, it’s very easy to make readers believe anything else.
I wanted to write about the fear and confinement and constant stress of being alone on a small spaceship, where you’re completely responsibility for running the ship. I read up on the experiments NASA did where they made people live in a pseudo-spaceship for a year on Earth, to see how that affected them mentally. I read a lot of therapy and mental health books about post-traumatic stress disorder, stress and young carers.
I watched lots of sci-fi films like Moon,Gravity and Interstellar – and that really
helped with capturing the aesthetics and design of the ship. I tried to explain it in a series of terrible sketches:
I also had to calculate the time it would take for laser beam messages to travel to and from Earth to my spaceships on every single day of narrative, something which ended up needing an Excel spreadsheet this big:
The dark side of writing a book set in space: the calculations. Luckily I have a Masters degree in Chemistry and Physics, which helped with this. And it was all worth it in the end.
Lauren James’ books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles.
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books, in the US by HarperCollins and in translation in five other countries around the world. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for the Guardian, Buzzfeed and The Toast, and wrote an article for the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2019.
You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.
(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, […]