Learning From Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports

SFWA President Cat Rambo, in “Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports, Part 1 of 2”, is joined by Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl for a roundtable discussion of Fireside Fiction’s reports on blacks in speculative fiction and what the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America might take away from it as action items. Listen to the recording at Soundcloud.

The reports driving their discussion are Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction: #BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report (2015), the follow-up 2016 #BlackSpecFic Report, and the accompanying essays by black writers.

Cat Rambo notes in her introduction:

Here is the central fact they present. Black writers are underrepresented in fantasy and science fiction short fiction magazines. The 2015 figures: 2039 stories in 63 magazines, of which 38 stories were by black authors, in 2015….

For the sake of very broad comparison, American demographics as of July 2016 (according to Wikipedia) were 13.3% African American, 17.8% Latino/Hispanic, and 61.3% white. Like the magazines when it comes to publishing black writers, SFWA’s population skews much whiter than figures might lead one to assume.

Rambo plans to follow the up the two-part discussion with a post about her own takeaway, and how SFWA can respond.

This was a terrific conversation. I was scribbling notes down throughout most of it. In a day or two I’ll post those notes and action items, along with an account of what’s happened so far, but today the focus should be that discussion.

David Gerrold’s Martian Child Grows Up, While the Chtorr Universe Expands

David Gerrold

By Carl Slaughter: David Gerrold is swimming in novels and has been cranking out more than a few short stories for Asimov’s, Analog, FSF, and other magazines. On a personal note, his adopted son, the inspiration for the Martian Child story and screen adaptation, recently got married and Gerrold is the proudest father on the planet.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why return to the Chtorr universe after such a long lapse?

DAVID GERROLD: I never left the Chtorr universe. I’ve been adding to it continually. Books five and six and pieces of seven have been growing for years. Book five is essentially done. I’m editing it now. I’m rearranging some chapters and adding a key scene at the end. Book six is mostly done, but needs some deeper editing.

CS: How many Chtorr books will there be?

DG: At least seven. Maybe eight. Or nine. Until the story is done.

CS: What are the release dates?

DG: TBD after I turn in the final drafts.

CS: What’s happened so far in the series, what will happen as it progresses, and, without spoilers, how will it be resolved?

DG: In the words of River Song, “Spoilers!” The short version: The Earth got invaded by an alien ecology. A lot of stuff happened, then shit got real. One of the reasons why the long lapse between the previous four books and the next three — the big payoffs come in books five, six, and seven.

CS: Will be see art work for any of the pending novels any time soon?

DG: Not until an artist is assigned. And that won’t happen until the books are turned in. Although … I’ll give you this hint. I am having discussions about a graphic novel series.

CS: Why make the main character a soldier rather than a scientist?

DG: Jim isn’t a a soldier. He’s a scientist who got drafted. He’s been trying to be a scientist throughout — but it’s like studying a volcano. If you get too close, you die. So being a soldier is part of the job.

CS: How do scientists factor into the plot?

DG: Somebody has to ‘splain it all. Murray the Explainer died in the plagues. From my perspective, the science is the most interesting part, but a good story also needs some action between the explanations. And maybe a love story too.

CS: What short fiction have you done lately?

DG: I’ve sold “Bubble And Squeak” (a collaboration with Ctein) to Asimov’s. And I’ve got “Endless City” coming up in Analog sometime soon. Before that, I had a run of short stories placed in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, including “The White Piano,” “The Further Adventures of Mister Costello,” and “The Dunsmuir Horror.” Plus, I’ve placed a slew of shorter stories in various anthologies: “The Schwarzchild Radius,” “The Trouble With Hairy,” “The Great Milo,” (in Amazing) and “A Brief Explanation Of How Budapest Became The Taco Capital Of The World” in Altered States.

CS: What short fiction is on the horizon?

DG: Well, as mentioned above, “Bubble And Squeak” should be showing up in Asimov’s soon, and “Endless City” in Analog. But there’s nothing else in the pipeline that’s ready. I’ve got three stories that I need to finish, but they’re already at novella length and are threatening to turn into novels. I also have the first draft of a Young Adult sequel to the Jumping Off The Planet trilogy. That’s a novel.

CS: Why the need for fund raising?

DG: I’ve made and spent three fortunes. I intend to make and spend at least three more. I’ve spent most of it raising my son, and I don’t regret a penny. My son is my hero. He’s the best thing that ever happened in my life and it makes me proud to see how well he’s doing. It was money well-spent. Myself, I’ve been in a writing spurt — or surge for a long time. A writing torrent? This last few years, I’ve been turning out enough short fiction to cover all the bills and even put a bit aside. But novels (and other responsibilities) take up a lot of time. I’ve got three big-ticket projects working, each of which require a lot of working time without the usual on-time payday. (I may or may not announce progress on these, but only if there’s something significant to report.) So when several big checks did not arrive as expected, I started an online book sale as a GoFundMe project.

CS: How is the campaign going?

DG: We sold a few thousand dollars worth of ebooks in a very short time. In terms of value received, the people who donate are getting a bargain. I’ll probably let the book sale go on as long as people want to buy books. I’ve already earmarked some of the funds for Hurricane Harvey relief. I believe in paying it forward.

CS: Do you still need beta readers?

DG: I used to be resistant to the idea of beta-readers, but when Ctein and I worked on “Bubble And Squeak” we found that we needed a lot of technical information from people who were experts in their field. It helped a lot. So I’m always open to the idea.

CS: What happens after you wrap Chtorr?

DG: Do you know how much bubble wrap and duct tape you need to wrap a Chtorr? Not sure I’m ever gonna get this bastard to the post office. Ask me again after I’ve wrapped and shipped it

CS: Your book Martian Child and the screen adaptation of the same name were based on your experience as a parent of an adopted child. How did parenting turn out for you?

DG: Parenting is probably the single greatest adventure any human being can undertake. You’re given custody of another life and your job is to provide a safe place for the growth and development of a healthy human being. It’s not ownership, it’s something else — we don’t have a word for it, but it’s a relationship of nurturing, cherishing, supporting, listening, and simply being an emotional safety net. And you learn it the hard way — by making it up as you go. But specifically, all I needed to know about Sean the day I met him was that he had a big heart — he proved that in the first five minutes. I won’t say that he was an easy child to raise — but he turned into a terrific adult, dependable, generous, and intelligent. He’s got street-smarts too. He married a wonderful young woman in December of 2016. He saved up for the wedding and for a terrific honeymoon in London and Paris, and they both came home sparkling. I have never seen him so happy in his entire life. Now, he’s making plans for the next part of their lives together and he’s working hard to turn those plans into reality. I couldn’t be prouder of him. Now, yes — if I hadn’t adopted Sean, I probably could have written another dozen books, but they wouldn’t have been as good, and I wouldn’t have learned how to be a better person. I learned as much from Sean as he learned from me.

David Gerrold, Ursula K. Le Guin and Suzy McKee Charnas at the 2015 Tiptree Symposium. Photo used by permission.

How To Add Identifications to Jay Kay Klein’s Digitized Photos

Two Eaton archivists studying a Klein shipment.

Since last week, when the California Digital Library and the UC Riverside Library made available online nearly 6,000 photos taken by Jay Kay Klein at eight Worldcons in the Sixties, fans have voiced concerns that the names of the people in most of these pictures are not been included, and that many of the existing identifications are wrong.

J.J. Jacobson, the UC Riverside Library’s Jay Kay and Doris Klein Librarian for Science Fiction, has now announced a way for everyone  to give their input.

Here’s how to tell us what you want us to know about the Jay Kay Klein Photographs now up on Calisphere

  1. Go to the Klein Papers on Calisphere: https://calisphere.org/collections/26943/
  2. Find a photo about which you have information
  3. Create a post here [on the Eaton Collection’s Facebook page] with that photo’s URL — (Example: https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/86086/n23j3b9q/)
  4. Tell us what you know about the image: what, who, where, when
  5. Discuss

[Note: Jacobson is a different person than File 770’s JJ.]

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #13

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

~ Gloria Steinem ~

By Chris M. Barkley

On July 19, Variety, once the primary news sources of the entertainment industry, reported that the Home Box Office network issued a routine press release announcing a new project, an alternate history series called Confederate, created by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the show runners of their top-rated show, Game of Thrones.

Confederate chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall,” said the Variety story, written by Elizabeth Wagmeinster.

“Benioff and Weiss created Confederate and will serve as show runners, executive producers and writers, along with Nichelle Tramble Spellman (Justified, The Good Wife) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire), who will co-write the series and executive produce. Game of Thrones producers Carolyn Strauss and Bernadette Caulfield will also serve as executive producers,“ it stated. (It should be noted at this point that Nichelle and Malcolm Spellman are African Americans.)

Now, if you are a tried and true sf fan and reader, you are well familiar with the concept of “alternate history” which we will delve into in a moment. But first, let gauge the initial reactions to the announcement, which were swift, and furious.

The first rumblings of trouble came the very next day in a New York Times article by their television critic, David Itzkoff titled, “Confederate Poses Test Over Race for Game of Thrones Creators and HBO.” “To the show’s critics, its promise to depict slavery as it might be practiced in modern times is perhaps the most worrisome element of Confederate. They say that slavery, a grave and longstanding scar on the national psyche, especially for black Americans, should not be trivialized for the sake of a fantasy tv series,” wrote Itzkoff.

The story quotes Dodai Stewart, the editor in chief of Fusion, a social justice culture website, saying, “Racial history in this country is a very open, sensitive wound.” Also, “Nothing’s settled, nothing is healed. I want to believe that this will be handled sensitively. But it’s an emotional subject, and for too many people, it’s uncomfortably close to the reality they already experience.”

David Harewood, a black actor who has a starring role on the WB superhero program Supergirl tweeted, “Good Luck finding black actors for this project.”

The producers and HBO, realizing that they were facing a major blowback on social media, granted an interview on Vulture the very next day in which they defended the project and stated their intentions. “We plan to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity, than we would approach a show named Game of Thrones” said co-creator D.B. Weiss.  His partner David Benioff added, “You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet.” That last quote did not help matters very much.

On that same day, ReBecca Theodore tweeted:

On July 25, bestselling feminist author Roxanne Gay penned an NYT editorial titled, “I don’t want to watch Slavery Fan Fiction”.

Activist April Reign, creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in protesting the whitewashing of the Academy Award nominations of the past several years, came out with a new hashtag on Sunday, July 31: #NoConfederate, calling for HBO to cancel the series altogether. In an interview with Vox Reign stated, “One red flag was the premise of the show itself. This is supposed to be alternate history, yet we see in the news almost every day the way that the Confederate mindset is still very alive and well in present-day 2017. You’ve got somebody like Dylann Roof, who is a Confederate flag waver, a white nationalist, very calmly going into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killing nine black people. You’ve got textbooks in the state of Texas literally rewriting history so that black people and Africans and African Americans were not ‘enslaved,’ they were merely workers.”

This past Friday, author and Hugo award nominee Ta-Nehisi Coates weighed in with essay on The Atlantic’s website, “The Lost Cause Rides Again”.

And THEN, just when you thought things weren’t turbulent enough, Amazon threw another shoe into the cauldron: African-American producers Will Packer (Girls Trip and Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks and Black Jesus) announced on August 1 that they were teaming up to create Black America, in which former slaves are granted the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in the post-Reconstruction South as reparations for slavery. In other words, the “anti-Confederate.” And both producers readily admit that the announcement of their project, which had been in development for over a year, was spurred by the controversy surrounding Confederate.

Now, I have to admit that all of this sturm und drang regarding these two projects did not surprise me at all. In a world where a lie can circle the earth several times while the truth is still struggling to get into its pants, this sort of reaction is very typical of any breaking news flash, political misstep or celebrity meltdown. (And fan feuds; now, more than ever.)

It has always been personally dismaying to me that when a project something like Confederate is announced, people who are so damned concerned about the feelings of a constituency, whether it be whites, minorities and sexes, gather together to condemn, decry and call for either boycotts or cancel said projects.

I am particularly perturbed that two writers that I admire, Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, would jump on the censorship bandwagon. And let’s not kid ourselves, when you call for creators to abandon a project for being perceived as racist in nature, before a frame of film has been shot, it’s censorship.

What also upsets me is that when social critics attack science fiction or, in this case, the alternate history branch of sf, they often don’t know nor care about its history or purpose.

According to my good friend and Hugo-nominated sf author and editor Steven H Silver, an alternate history story requires three things: a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, a change that would alter history as it is known, and an examination of the ramifications of that change.

While there are many sources on what may have been the first literary instances of alternate history, the first one I vividly remember reading was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, wherein the Ghost of Christmas Future show Ebenezer Scrooge the consequences of his actions if he continued his curmudgeonly ways.

Many historians of modern sf recognize Nat Schachner‘s 1933 story “Ancestral Voices” and Murray Leinster’s “Sidewise In Time”, published a year later, as the most influential templates from which most alternate history stories we read today can trace their origins. Some of the more famous literary examples include Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee (1953), Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South (1992) and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007) . Media contributions include many episodes of Star Trek, The Back to the Future series, the Terminator films, Groundhog Day, the Amazon series version of The Man in the High Castle, and Timeless.

So as an ardent fan of some of these works, the idea of the Nazis or Russians taking over America, World War Three starting right after the end of WWII or the enslavement of the human race by aliens or other humans doesn’t faze me in the least. In fact, the most disturbing thing I have seen recently is Netflix’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Which brings me to my first point, when well made, alternate history tales are meant to inform, illuminate and SCARE an audience into a different frame of mind. Or, as Robert Heinlein famously posited in the 1940’s, “if this goes on…”

Secondly, specifically to Roxanne Gay’s point, she does not want to watch “slavery fan fiction”. Well, as it turns out, neither do I. Yet one of her reasons for tuning out is that, and I quote, “My exhaustion with the idea of Confederate is multiplied by the realization that this show (referring to Game of Thrones) is the brainchild of two white men who oversee a show that has few people of color to speak of and where sexual violence is often gratuitous and treated as no big deal. I shudder to imagine the enslaved black body in their creative hands.”

Well to begin with, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff may have created the television version of Game of Thrones, but the outline of the story they are dramatizing is the sole property of one George R.R. Martin.

And Martin’s story is about power, greed, avarice, pain, faith, loyalty, perseverance and the longing for true freedom, all cloaked in a fantasy world where sometimes, doing the right thing, having a conscience or just being kind is an excellent way to a quick and sudden demise. Women have endured rape, betrayal, poisoning, torture and other various forms of violence. But men have not gotten off the hook so easily in the show as you imply; they have been decapitated, totally emasculated, has their throats slit and died other equally horrible fates. All of the characters, male and female, are serving the main substance of the story; surviving, forging on and trying to retain some small thread of humanity amid the carnage and terrible circumstances.

And when Weiss and Benioff approached Martin with the idea of turning his books into a maxi-series, he, a seasoned television producer himself, was highly skeptical it could be done with any semblance of quality or coherence. What persuaded him to relent was their impressive demonstration of their knowledge of the material and a battle plan to interpret the story for the small screen.

And what are their qualifications? I mean despite winning the Emmy Award for Best Drama Series (from their industry peers mind you) for the past two years?

David Brett Weiss has a Master of Philosophy in Irish literature from Trinity College, Dublin and attended Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. He has written one novel, Lucky Wander Boy (2003), was an executive producer of The Specials (an Oprah Winfrey Network show about five friends with intellectual disabilities who share a house) and has co-written 45 episodes of Game of Thrones with his writing partner, David Benioff.

Mr. Benioff is an alumnus The Collegiate School, Dartmouth College and also attended Trinity College in Dublin for a year, where he met his writing partner, D.B. Weiss. He has a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California, in Irvine. He has written two novels, The 25th Hour in 2001 (which was adapted for the screen starring Edward Norton and directed by, wait for it, Spike Lee!) and City of Thieves in 2008. He drafted an early version of Troy (2004) and wrote screenplays for the films Stay (2005) and The Kite Runner (2007).

You, Ms. Gay, object to these “two white men” tackling an alternate history project you don’t approve of? Well, I have a term for that, barefaced racism. One’s race, Ms. Gay should NOT disqualify a person to write, direct or produce anything. And from the credits of these two men cited above, I would hardly call either man close to being anything like Simon Legree. I feel some empathy for your distress you expressed in your editorial, Ms. Gay, but not at the expense of artistic freedom. Yes, I miss President Obama, too and the current occupant of the White House is an abomination to any rational person’s standards. Wringing our hands about him is not the way to react. In my opinion, projects like Confederate; if it’s done correctly, illuminates what makes human beings act in such a abhorrent manner. You may choose to cover your eyes, Ms. Gay, I intend to stay “woke” and attentive.

Secondly, Ta-Nesihi Coats and April Reign’s comments attack Confederate on the corporate level, taking direct aim at the motives of HBO. In his Atlantic editorial Coates writes, “A swirl of virtual protests and op-eds have greeted this proposed premise. In response, HBO has expressed ‘great respect’ for its critics but also said it hopes that they will ‘reserve judgment until there is something to see.’

“This request sounds sensible at first pass. Should one not ‘reserve judgment’ of a thing until after it has been seen? But HBO does not actually want the public to reserve judgment so much as it wants the public to make a positive judgment. A major entertainment company does not announce a big new show in hopes of garnering dispassionate nods of acknowledgement. HBO executives themselves judged Confederate before they’d seen it—they had to, as no television script actually exists. HBO hoped to communicate that approval to its audience through the announcement.

“HBO’s motives aside, the plea to wait supposes that a problem of conception can be fixed in execution. We do not need to wait to observe that this supposition is, at best, dicey.”

Well, it’s pretty clear to me what, HBO’s motives are; money, audience and acclaim, in that order. They provide the programming, money is provided by paid subscribers, the audience watches (ad free, I might add) and the acclaim, through ratings, awards and attracting bigger audiences, is the goal. Mr. Coates says we should be skeptical and on that point we are in total agreement; more often than not Hollywood rarely gets films or tv shows about race relations right. I don’t mind the criticism or the protests. What I mind is the insistence or even the implication that NO ONE (except maybe, people of color) should attempt to do these subjects, ever.

What both Mr. Coates and Ms. Reign seem to be asserting is that black people live in oppression and fear every single day, so why should we, as people of color, tolerate it being dramatized as entertainment?

Because, I reply, we, the American people, have a tradition of freedom of expression. Goodness knows, it has not been a perfectly implemented or even a fair tradition at certain points in our history. But it’s THERE, in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Yes, it only insures that the government is mostly inhibited in the free expression of speech and the arts. But we, without exception, are free to speak about almost anything we like without fear of retribution from the government. But the double edged sword is that we are not free from the consequences of our speech.

Just as Chic-Fil-A COO Dan T. Cathy, Mark Fuhrman, Paula Dean, former sheriff Joe Arpaio and pharma-bro Martin Shkreli and other miscreants ultimately discovered, you can express an unpopular, dumb, stupid or racist sentiments but the payment for that freedom will insure the bright glare of social media scrutiny, ridicule, protests, loss of privacy and yes, boycotts of their products and services.

HBO is not in the business of backing a losing proposition or inviting scorn. When they made a production deal for Confederate, they had the two writer-producers of the most popular television show in the world pitching it to them. Weiss and Benioff were given the benefit of the doubt by HBO, not the critics, protesters and naysayers. Nor, I suspect, do they want it. They, the other writers and co-producers bear the weight of the responsibility of producing a show that should provoke and confront the deepest and most powerful emotions from us.

What I sense from both you Mr. Coates and you, Ms. Reign, is that you appear angry and afraid; angry that Hollywood is going to screw it up again, afraid that the show is going to be a rallying cry for racists, right wing neo-conservatives and crazy people and angry that the creators of Confederate do not have the interests of minorities at heart.

And I say this: I am afraid of all of those things, too. But you know what I am more afraid of? That if artists and entertainers give into these sorts of protestations, we stifle free speech and artistic freedom to the point where people will go out of their way NOT to take a chance to be innovative, daring or take risks.

I am adamant in saying that we can’t give in to or give any credibility to this sort of fear and loathing. We must confront, overcome and transcend the fears within us. And sometimes, that means going head to head against it, not merely wanting to wish it away.

Those risks, of alienating the public, taking unpopular stances or being outright controversial or just plain wrong come with the territory of creating any art. But those are risks worth taking. That is why we revere the works people who were the risk takers of their times; Mozart, Janis Joplin, James Baldwin, Alice Cooper, Robert Mapplethorpe, Judy Chicago and Misty Copeland. Without the risk of failure, there is no reward and certainly no art worth noting for prosperity.

Frankly, we are damned lucky to have these four veteran writer-producers in charge of this particular high wire act.

And finally, Confederate, and Black America for that matter, are still untold stories right at this moment. Other than the provocative premises of each project, we know less about them than what Jon Snow knew during the first season of Game of Thrones.

Since the beginning of humankind, we have always expressed the compulsive desire for parables, tales and stories, either cut from real life or made from the fears and longings of our minds. These stories come in many forms, crime, romance, biography and yes, even fantasy and science fiction.

Speaking for myself, I don’t care for poorly told stories, only well told ones. My only charge to the writers, directors and producers of these projects is this: Make me CARE. Make it MATTER. And most importantly, make me beg to ask, WHAT COMES NEXT?

Five That Shouldn’t Be Forgotten

[Republished as a post by permission.]

By Kyra: For my own contribution to “Five That Shouldn’t Be Forgotten,” here are the most obscure SFF books that I have listed as among my favorites, according to Goodreads. None has more than 200 ratings. By comparison, the most popular book on Goodreads I have listed among my favorites, The Hunger Games, has 4,940,743 ratings.

War Birds, by R. M. Meluch (Total Goodreads ratings: 46) A novel about the aftermath of one interplanetary war and the build-up to the next one, touching on culture clash, first contact, fear of the other, and the existential dangers of a technological arms race. Meluch took her writing to the next level with this 1989 tour de force space opera, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Maerlande Chronicles by Elisabeth Vonarburg (Total Goodreads ratings: 153) How is this masterpiece of Canadian SF so obscure, according to Goodreads? Perhaps because it was originally available only in French? But a great translation is now available, so there’s no excuse. Although technically a sequel to 1981’s The Silent CIty, this 1992 far-future post-apocalyptic novel stands on its own quite well. Cultural change occurs in a matriarchal society where women vastly outnumber men. One of the best depictions I have ever read of how cultural shifts actually happen, plus a riveting plot and characters. Don’t forget it!

All the Colors of Darkness by Lloyd Biggle Jr. (Total Goodreads ratings: 155) This one comes from 1963. When humans finally develop practical teleportation, they attract the hostile attention of aliens. It falls to one man, held captive on the moon, to convince them that humans aren’t awful. A great piece from an SF master who deserves a wider reputation.

The Masters of Solitude / Wintermind by Parke Godwin and Marvin Kaye (Total Goodreads ratings: 163 and 71, respectively) The first two books of a planned trilogy that was sadly never completed, but enough is explored and enough plotlines are wrapped up in these rich, complex novels from 1978 and 1982 that you might not care — I didn’t. Another post-apocalyptic setting, another set of novels about change; when the “barbarians” of the outer world finally begin talking with the technologically advanced inhabitants of The City, both find themselves altered. There’s so much to these!

The Wine of Violence by James K. Morrow (Total Goodreads ratings: 179) Can this really be obscure? Can James K. Morrow’s first novel, and one of his finest, really be falling down the memory hole? Say it isn’t so! When a spaceship crash lands on a harsh planet, they find a utopia whose inhabitants are incapable of murder, assault, or aggression. But that utopia is under threat from external enemies … and from the novel’s protagonists. A true classic from 1981.

Escape Pod’s Divya Breed and Mur Lafferty Interviewed by Carl Slaughter

By Carl Slaughter: Newly promoted Escape Pod co-editors Divya Breed and Mur Lafferty give us the inside story on the magazine and their careers.

Carl Slaughter:  What did Escape Pod look like in the beginning, how has it evolved, and what’s the vision for the future?

Mur Lafferty: Escape Pod was a one-person show, run entirely by Serah (then Steve) Eley. She covered all of the work from slush reading to audio production to hosting to web design, and it was a huge job.

Serah’s focus was to deliver fun science fiction, with the meaning of fun open to interpretation, but, like obscenity, you know it when you see it.

It was the first podcast magazine, driven only by online donations.

The show hasn’t really changed a lot since those early days, nearly 600 episodes ago. It’s still one story per week, we still have the same Creative Commons license, and we still have music from Daikaiju. Some changes have included paying SFWA pro rates for original stories and paying narrators, not to mention the show doing well enough to branch off other shows focused on other genres.

Different editors have also brought different visions to the magazine, sometimes veering away from “fun,” sometimes coming back to it. I think looking forward Divya and I just want to present a good story. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Divya Breed: I suspect Mur has a better handle on Escape Pod’s history than I do, having been around for much more of it! In terms of the future, we are indeed looking for whatever tickles our fancy, and I can say safely that so far, we’re generally in agreement on what that means. We enjoy publishing new authors, we’ll be soliciting stories, especially from up-and-coming authors, and we’ll continue to highlight classics for some of our special episodes.

CS:  How is the site different since the last time Mur was at the helm?

ML: We have a bigger staff now, and the incredible workload is spread among many people. I keep having the feeling that “Oh crap, I didn’t do X for the show,” and then remember that X is someone else’s job. It makes the actual editorial job easier when I don’t need to worry about finding narrators, or production, or the website.

CS:  You’re listed as co-editors.  Is there an official or implied chief co-editor.  Does Divya take the lead because she was part of the current regime when Mur arrived?  Does Mur take the lead because she has more podcast experience.  Am I reading too much into this?  Is it more like 2 editors getting into the groove with each other?

DB: You are definitely reading too much into it! [insert me laughing] It’s an equal partnership at the top right now. When Norm decided that it was time for him to focus on other parts of his life, I had been working as the Assistant Editor of Escape Pod for less than a year. Between that and my writing career, I didn’t want to take on an editor-in-chief role without some backup. Mur was my ideal choice, having plenty of experience in the editor’s chair, but also being an author herself and therefore understanding how to balance the two roles.

We are getting into the groove of things, and we do our best to keep the bumps in the road from becoming unpleasant for our audience. And I confess: a good portion of our monthly meeting revolves around non-Escape Pod related conversation, like writing, conventions, and family. I’ll quote Casablanca: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

ML: I came into this with the editorial and EP experience, but have been away for a while, and Divya knows how the machine is working now. So while she’s made some of the decisions regarding staff (ie, promoting our new Assistant Editor, Ben Kinney), we are equals with regards to editorial decisions.

So far we’ve pretty much agreed on everything, with only two non-negotiable claims so far (one was “We have to buy this story, I will fight you if you disagree,” and one “This is a hard no, I hate this.” I will leave out who was on which side, to keep an air of mystery about this. But I will say that one of us was willing to fight for a story, and one of us was willing to fight to NOT buy a story. We get along quite well despite the occasional violent threats.)

CS:  How has editing duties affected your own writing and other ambitions?

ML: Not so much, I don’t think. I usually try to do my EP work in batches, so a few days are all focused on EP, and I can work on writing and my other podcasts on other days.

DB: I tend to work similar to Mur, compartmentalizing my editing duties to one day per week (not counting email). I’ll often pick up stories to review while eating lunch or in the evenings, but other than that, my time is devoted to writing or other types of work.

CS:  I count 2 editors, a host, an assistant editor, an audio producer, a community manager, and 8 associate editors.  Wow, does it really take that many people to generate a weekly podcast episode?  Exactly who does what?

ML: Since we deal with a large slush pile, and no one is making a living wage (and some are 100% volunteer), it’s definitely a relief to have a team backing us up.

The associate editors are our slush team, our valiant volunteers. The audio producer finds the narrators and assembles the podcast. We split the hosting duties between the two editors and our one host for variety (and to not have to write a host spot every week). The community manager wrestles the forums (since personally I prefer Twitter as a way to communicate with people.) And our assistant editor manages the slush team and the flow of stories from slushers to us.

DB: Part of being a SFWA qualifying market means being professional in our engagement with authors and delivery of content. After we migrated to using Submittable for our story and narrator submissions, our monthly input almost doubled. We also have quite a bit of turnover at our associate editor level, with many a slusher needing to move on after a year or so. We’re in one of those transitional periods, but even otherwise, we try to keep their loads light so they have adequate time to give every story a fair reading.

In addition, our annual Artemis Rising month (to highlight authors who identify as women or non-binary) pulls away several members of the team who dedicate themselves to those submissions.

CS:  What’s the criteria for becoming an Escape Pod story?  What type of stories do you target and what do you decidedly avoid?

DB: Right now, the criteria is that Mur and I both like it. In general terms, we try to create some boundary conditions between us and the other Escape Artists podcasts, so we want stories where a science or technological element plays a fundamental role. The focus of the story might lie elsewhere, but as long as that SFnal aspect exists, we’ll give the story a chance.

ML: I also like to consider the aspect of “fun,” but if a nonfun story knocks my socks off, I definitely won’t turn it down.

CS:  What type of gauntlet does a story go through from submission to posting?

DB: Most stories go through 3 tiers. The associate editors get first crack at our slush pile, and each story will be read and reviewed by one of them. The assistant editor (currently Ben Kinney) then looks over the results, decides which stories to decline and which to hold on for review by Mur and myself. The final round stories must get a go-ahead from both of us. We have enough high-quality stories that filling our weekly quota has not posed a problem.

Some stories take a shorter path when Ben, Mur, or I pick them up straight from slush. We might do this for a variety of reasons. The shortest of all is when we solicit reprints directly from the author. At that point, we’ve already decided to buy the story.

Once we’ve accepted a story, it goes to the contracts team who handle the paperwork and payments for all of the Escape Artists podcasts. In parallel, our audio producer starts on the process of selecting and contracting a narrator for the story, and any text edits get sent to the author for approval.

The final podcast is a concatenation of promotional spots, host segments, and story narration that’s edited and posted by our audio producer.

CS:  Looking through the list of Escape Pod authors, I don’t see the same names I see in the sci-fi magazines, ie, Asimov’s, etc.  Is that deliberate?  Do you prefer unknown and lesser known authors?

ML: (laugh) Are you asking if we deliberately don’t publish Elizabeth Bear or David Gerrold? No, it’s not a deliberate decision to ignore the bigger writers. Remember that it’s not always the editors’ decision what gets published – if authors don’t send us anything, we can’t publish them. A lot of authors don’t know about us, aren’t interested in Creative Commons or audio distribution, or know they can make more money elsewhere. We’re an indie magazine driven only by donations, and aren’t backed by a larger publisher.

Anecdote: A while back I was at a con and tried to solicit a story from a big author (no, I won’t name them) and they frankly (and politely) told me they get so many solicitations that they have to charge $.25 a word. We would very rarely pay that much, so we usually end up publishing a lot more reprints from bigger names than we do originals.

That said, we are a SFWA pro market, and we love giving newer authors their first sale, and we hope to become a place where marginalized voices will feel comfortable soliciting to.

DB: I will add this: Escape Pod has evolved over its lifetime, and the larger community hasn’t always kept up with those changes. We’re working to address some common misconceptions that are holdovers from the past. For example, every new episode is available (in full) as text on our website. We accept original stories – and pay professional rates for them – as well as reprints, paid with a flat fee. Alasdair Stuart has a wonderful blog post on this topic that I encourage everyone to read: “The Top 5 Myths about Escape Artists”.

CS:  How does Escape Pod distinguish itself from other sci-fi podcast sites?

DB: We run exclusively short fiction, we hand-select the best narrator for every episode, and we have a round-table of hosts who discuss what that week’s story meant to them. That has been Escape Pod’s focus from its inception, and that will continue to be so.

Other podcasts are doing great work, but I think we occupy a unique, trusted space with our listenership in part because of our consistent history.

CS:  What’s the status of Mothership Zeta with Mur gone?

ML: Mothership Zeta had a trial run to see if people would pay for a larger project. We wanted to give it six issues to see if it could sustain itself, and we failed at that. We’ve learned an awful lot of lessons and are proud of the work we put out. The magazine is on indefinite hiatus now, but Escape Artists continues to grow, and we’re not ruling out bringing it back someday (although it’s highly unlikely I’ll abandon Divya and go back to MZ.)

CS:  What’s on the horizon for Mur Lafferty and Divya Breed?

ML: The book based on my podcast I Should Be Writing will be out in August. I’ve wanted to write this book for years, and so glad I finally got the opportunity. I’m editing the space marine midwives anthology along with Cast of Wonders editor Marguerite Kenner, and I continue to podcast. As for writing fiction, I’m working on several proposals to throw at my agent, hoping for another book project in the near future.

DB: I’m chipping away at a full-length novel and, of course, learning how to be the best co-editor of a podcast magazine that I can be. I have short stories forthcoming in Apex Magazine and an anthology of Asian science fiction called, Where the Stars Rise. I’m also traveling and making local appearances to promote Runtime, including Worldcon and FenCon. This will be my first Worldcon outside of the USA, and I’m excited about that.

In terms of Escape Pod news, we’ll be closing submissions for the month of August, then reopening in September to general submissions as well as our open call for Artemis Rising 4. We’re also looking forward to our 600th episode this November, and we’ll celebrate the occasion with something special!

ML: We will both be at Worldcon, so please come say hi to us!

Bujold’s “Ask Me Anything” Today, 8/3

Lois McMaster Bujold will be doing an Ask Me Anything for Reddit today at 7 p.m. CST

Welcome to my r/Fantasy AMA “Ask Me Anything” chat, which is now open to collect questions.

I will be back around 7 PM CST to start answering them as best I can.

For those who want More, or who are scratching their heads going “Louis who?” (and I know you’re out there, I hear from you all the time), here are a few maybe-useful links.

And a big thank-you to fan Karen Hunt, who created and runs the Vorkosigan Wiki!

And I have absolutely no idea who creates the sfadb, although I imagine they, too, are volunteers, but bless them for saving me reams of retyping.

…Which leads me to wonder how many people nowadays no longer know (or need to know) what a ream is, but that’s another subject, somewhere back up there with the squeaky flow pens.

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

 

Robert J. Sawyer: Calling Us To the Future

By Carl Slaughter: Robert J. Sawyer talks science premises, scientific method, philosophy of human existence, and the themes and messages in his stories.

CARL SLAUGHTER: You said of your latest novel, Quantum Night, that the theme is, “The most pernicious lie humanity has ever told itself is that you can’t change human nature.” You list 50 books you consulted for Quantum Night. Why is this so important?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: It’s important to recognize that this canard that you can’t change human nature is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card; if you accept it, you can forever be racist, sexist, transphobic, jingoistic, militaristic, religious, and so on, then say, well, it’s always been that way so it always must be that way. And that is pernicious. Even when invoked on a small scale, when we forgive someone for being “tone deaf” rather than recognizing that they’re a dyed-in-the-wool racist or misogynist, or whatever, is to excuse the behavior as being an acceptable, normal gaffe rather than something that we rightly demand should be changed, and can be changed.

When I teach science-fiction writing, I tell my students that one of the standard story-generating engines for the genre is to take something we normally only think of as metaphoric and treat it as literal — from H.G. Wells’s making concrete the fantasy of knowing what the future holds, to Robert Charles Wilson’s recent The Affinities, which turns the online notion of “social networking” into a real-life paradigm. And so, in that same vein, Quantum Night is quite literally about changing human nature.

If we don’t change — if we don’t find better ways of conflict resolution, if we don’t move from zero-sum thinking to win-win thinking, if we don’t discard and abjure our millennia-old prejudices — then we as a species are headed for disaster.

As for the bibliography, it’s proven to be extremely popular. I’ve had short ones at the end of a couple of my previous novels — my Hugo Award-winner Hominids and my John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winner Mindscan — but this is by far the most elaborate one I’ve ever provided. Quantum Night is, among other things, a serious attempt to make sense of human consciousness — I was thrilled when Stuart Hameroff invited me to give a talk about the book in 2013 at the famed Tucson “Science of Consciousness” conference. I allude in the novel’s text to the work of many experts in many areas — psychology, neuroscience, quantum physics, philosophy — but didn’t want to bog down the narrative with excessive exposition. The annotated bibliography is there for those who want to go deeper into the underpinnings of the novel.

CS: I was intrigued with the story Far-Seer as well as its cast of characters, both rational and irrational. What lessons does Far-Seer offer society?

RJS: In 1999, I give a talk at the Library of Congress entitled “Is There a Place for Science Fiction in the Twenty-First Century?” Far-Seer — as well as its sequels, and my 2001 Hugo-nominee Calculating God — are exemplars of the point I made in that talk, so I’ll just quote the conclusion of it:

Does science fiction have a role in the 21st century? Absolutely. If we can help shape the Zeitgeist, help inculcate the belief that rational thought, that discarding superstition, that subjecting all beliefs to the test of the scientific method, is the most reasonable approach to any question, then not only will science fiction have a key role to play in the intellectual development of the new century, but it will also, finally and at last, help humanity shuck off the last vestiges of the supernatural, the irrational, the spurious, the fake, and allow us to embrace, to quote poet Archibald Lampman, “the wide awe and wonder of the night” but with our eyes wide open and our minds fully engaged. Then, finally, some 40,000 years after consciousness first flickered into being on this world, we will at last truly deserve that name we bestowed upon ourselves: Homo sapiens — Man of Wisdom.

CS: Are there any parallels between Far-Seer and the Trump era?

RJS: That’s an interesting question. Far-Seer came out in 1992, and its sequels Fossil Hunter and Foreigner came out in 1993 and 1994. It’s been observed that there were three great blows to the human ego. First, the Copernican/Galilean revolution — ironically named, if you think about it — that says we aren’t at the center of the universe; we revolve around the sun. Second, the Darwinian revolution, which punctuated thousands of years of our equilibrium, so to speak, by showing that we weren’t divinely created in God’s image, but rather were the results of mindless evolution; and the Freudian insight, which demonstrated that we don’t even really have conscious volition but rather are driven by unconscious forces and the impacts of our early experiences.

But, you know, all of those were academic victories for us. It might be irritating to try to argue with a young-Earth creationist, but what he or she believes — and, for that matter, what we believe — doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect how either of us do our jobs, treat our families, or, indeed, our ultimate fate.

But for that trilogy — which I’ve just reissued as ebooks and is collectively called the Quintaglio Ascension — I wanted to tell parallel stories of the three great ego blows on an alien world, but have it be desperately important that the aliens learn these truths. They face an existential threat — doomsday — unless they come to grips with, in turn, the facts of cosmology, evolution, and their own psychology.

When I wrote the books, we weren’t really conscious of the existential threat our species is facing, but now, in the current era — and this existed before Trump, but has gotten substantially worse since he was elected — acknowledging radical climate change is crucial; the science deniers, if they continue to have political clout, will result in doomsday for us, too. So, yeah, to answer your question: this trilogy is 100% relevant right now, as its core message — accepting reality; embracing science; thinking rationally not emotionally — is the only thing that will save this planet.

Robert J. Sawyer in 2009.

CS: Here’s a report about how Canadian scientists fought the good fight and won. Being a Canadian science fiction writer, can you tell us if this report is accurate and if it offers hope to the American science community and its supporters?

RJS: The report is absolutely accurate. Canada is very much better off than the US right now in terms of government support for intellectualism, art, and science but it was only a short time ago that the reverse was true. To quote from Quantum Night:

“Actually, until recently, Canada had had a much more conservative leader than the United States did. When Stephen Harper came to office in 2006, George W. Bush had been in the White House and, to liberal Canadian sensibilities — the kind found on university campuses — he seemed the lesser of two evils. But once Barack Obama was elected, Canada had by far the more right-wing leader. Harper managed to hold on to power for almost a decade, but Canada was now ruled by the left-leaning Liberal Party….”

So, how did we get out of the anti-science mess that was the horrific Harper regime? We voted him out of office. Trump has already started his bid for re-election; let’s hope you have palatable alternatives — on the left and the right — in your next election.

CS: How do the cognitive sciences define a mind? How do you prove a mind exists? If a mind is an object, what is its location, appearance, and molecular structure?

RJS: The only mind you can prove exists is your own, as Descartes so handily showed: cogito ergo sum; I think therefore I am. As to whether others have minds or just appear to do so, that’s the whole notion behind Australian philosopher David Chalmers’s “philosopher’s zombie” thought experiment, which I expand upon at length in Quantum Night. Dave, who introduced me when I gave a keynote address at the Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson in 2010 — the first of two times I’ve spoken there — reviewed my novel in manuscript for me.

The mind is an emergent phenomenon of the brain, not an object. You can no more point to its location, describe its appearance, and define its molecular structure than you can do that for any of the things mind produces, such as patriotism, which is love of the things a nation stands for. It would be as wrong to point to the borders of Canada or the United States and say “patriotism is these neurotransmitter molecules or synaptic webs in relation to all atoms circumscribed by this border.” Mind is emergent; patriotism is a feeling created by mind in response to a concept — a nation’s principles — that only exists within minds.

CS: OK, now what’s the connection between consciousness and mind?

RJS: Consciousness, as I mostly use the term, refers to self-awareness and self-reflection. HAL 9000 claimed to be conscious; maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But in both science fiction and computer science we definitely used to conflate the notions of “artificial intelligence” and “artificial consciousness” into one thing. That’s wrong.

We’ve got some great AIs now — Deep Blue and Watson, or even Siri and Cortana — but none of them have any consciousness. They may look like they pass the Turing test in some narrow ways, but they’re only Turing machines, and that’s a key distinction: a Turing machine is an idealized, bare-bones computer that can only perform three basic operations, but can simulate any algorithm, no matter how complex; everything Deep Blue, Watson, Siri, or Cortana does can be reproduced on a Turing machine; they just do it very fast. But as mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, who wrote the 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind — and who I got to spend time with last year in Tenerife — would argue, self-reflection can’t be simulated on a Turing machine. In other words, we have fast calculators now; we don’t having self-aware devices. To put it in old sciffy jargon, we’ve got electronic brains, sure, but not a single electronic mind.

Not all brains are conscious, but any entity that passes the cogito — that can say only to itself and understand what it has said — that “I think therefore I am” is conscious. The conceit in Quantum Night is that four-sevenths of the human race can’t pass the cogito and therefore are not conscious. The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

CS: How exactly can a consciousness theoretically be transferred or downloaded?

RJS: My friend Andrew Porter used to publish the wonderful Science Fiction Chronicle, and many years ago he won a charity auction to be Tuckerized in one of my novels (where I described him affectionately thus: “Andrew Porter was a tall bear of a man, sixty or so, slightly stooped from dealing with a world populated by shorter people. He had squinty eyes, a beard, and hair combed straight back from a high forehead. His kindly face was home to eyebrows that seemed constantly in motion, as if they were working out, in training for the body-hair Olympics.€).

In my 2007 novel Mindscan, Andy plays the part of a scientist who does precisely what you’ve asked about — transferring consciousness to artificial bodies — so I’ll let him answer for me:

“Consider it like this: I don’t know anything about music. When I was in school, they thought I’d be a menace to every hearing person if they gave me a musical instrument to play, so I was assigned to the vocal class, along with all the other tone-deaf people. So, I know nothing at all about what makes Beethoven’s Fifth a great piece of music. But as an engineer, if you brought me a CD recording of it, and asked me to copy it onto a MemWafer, no problem — I could do that. I don’t look for the ‘musical’ stuff on the CD; I don’t look for the ‘genius’ on the CD. I just copy everything to the new medium. And that’s exactly what we do when we’re transferring consciousness.”

CS: Have you read much literature about the subcognitive – dreams, premonitions, discernment, instinct? People often claim to know things, even though they don’t know how they know, even though they have no scientific proof, and are often vindicated by experience. How do you explain this aspect of human existence?

RJS: I don’t explain it; I reject it. People claiming things is not evidence, and the plural of anecdote is not data. None of that has been replicated under controlled conditions. I’m a rationalist, an empiricist, and a skeptic — in other words, a science-fiction fan.

CS: What’s on the horizon for Robert J. Sawyer?

RJS: My longtime friend (and fellow judge for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award) Barry Malzberg has just retired from doing the science-fiction column for the bimonthly Galaxy’s Edge magazine and editor Mike Resnick has tapped me to take over. My first column will appear in the July-August 2017 edition.

Beyond that, I have a development deal with a major Canadian broadcaster for an original science-fiction TV series, and am having a blast working on that.

Robert J. Sawyer. Photo by Michelle Pincus.

Jody Lynn Nye: Carrying The Torch for Humorous SF

By Carl Slaughter: Humor author Jody Nye has way too much fun. So do the authors she hangs out with.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why do you write primarily humor?

JODY LYNN NYE: I enjoy it. I love a book that makes me laugh out loud, or even chuckle knowingly. There’s so much out in the real world that is depressing that I want to help lift people’s spirits. If I can help by being the anodyne to the evening news, I will consider my job well done. From the responses I’ve had from readers, they enjoy it. The books I reach for are primarily ones that examine a situation wisely, but with a kind heart behind it. Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, and Mark Twain all had a hand in forming my point of view, and they were masters at what I practice. You can make hard truths palatable if you make people laugh while you’re stating them, but pure entertainment is also a noble cause.

CS: What makes good humor?

JLN: The easiest way to look at humor is to take an ordinary situation, but put a twist in it. (A very quick example is a commercial on television right now, where a man behind a desk is explaining his business, but an adorable two-year-old is asking, as two-year-olds do, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” after every explanation, so he keeps going. At last, he clearly feels that he’s done enough catering to a two-year-old, and glances toward the mother, who scolds him. “These are important questions!” she insists.) Elevate the lowly, bring the lofty down a peg, make the unimportant vital. There’s a saying that humor is tragedy plus time, but I believe it’s also defined as tragedy plus distance. (i.e., “The Ballad of Harry Lewis,” by Allan Sherman.) Exaggeration is another factor. As Mel Brooks says, “If I get a papercut on my finger, that’s a tragedy. If you fall down a manhole and die, that’s comedy.” Most good humor is brief, so you need a good story to base the funny moments upon. Humor should never punch down.

CS: How do you mix humor and speculative?

JLN: Like tragedy or drama, humor can enhance a story. Read any science article while keeping an ironic point of view, and almost anything can sound absurd. Take the ravings of a clear crank seriously, and you also have humor. In my Lord Thomas Kinago space opera series, maintaining humankind’s genetic structure is vital, but it has the unintended consequence of allowing the otherwise useless nobility to keep existing. The humorous SF detective stories I write for Alex Shvartsman’s Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series feature a detective sergeant having to allow the implantation into her abdomen of a symbiotic alien as an extreme form of witness protection. Each story also has a further SF twist to otherwise ordinary objects, rendering such things as contact lenses and a swimming pool as murder weapons.

CS: How did you hook up with Anne McCaffrey and what type of relationship did you have with her?

JLN: Anne had licensed the Pern universe to Mayfair Games for the Dragonriders of Pern role play game. My husband, then fiancè, was one of the partners who owned Mayfair. I wrote game materials for them. Bill created two series of choose-your-own adventures set in licensed fictional worlds, the Crossroads individual adventures for TOR Books and the Combat Command military adventures for Ace. Because I wrote game materials for Mayfair (I had been playing D&D since 1976) and I could write fiction, I ended up penning two Crossroads game novels set on Pern, and Anne’s son Todd, wrote a Combat Command set in David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series. I met Anne at Norwescon that year to go over the proposed plot of the first one, Dragonharper (yes, I know Todd has since written a Pern novel called Dragon Harper.) and explain how a chosen-path story works. Since Dragonharper was going to be about young Journeyman Harper Robinton (later Master Harper Robinton), I wrote a very short sample for her, which was called “Robinton Hits the Sauce.” Anne thought it was hilarious, and it explained game book structure to her. Anne adopted me as one of her large extended family. She told me, “You’re going to be writing official Pern fiction, and a lot of people might be jealous of you. You can tell them, “Oh, that Anne McCaffrey! She’s so hard to deal with! I’ll never work with her again!” Or, you can tell them you’re my daughter.” She was always encouraging and otherwise wonderful and welcoming. I’ll always miss her.

CS: How did you hook up with Robert Asprin and what type of relationship did you have with him?

Jody Lynn Nye and Robert Asprin

JLN: Bob was one of my husband Bill’s best friends. They knew each other long before I met either of them. When Bill and I were still engaged, we went to Ann Arbor, where Bob lived with his second wife, Lynn Abbey. They were so welcoming and kind that I felt I had known them for years. They introduced me to interests such as ice dancing and needlepoint. A lot of people pushed me and Bob to work together. Since we both wrote humor, of course. And we liked cats. And singing show tunes. We eyed each other dubiously, but when Bob hit a hard writer’s block after Phule’s Company hit the New York Times bestseller list (fear of success is a thing), Bill encouraged us to sit down and write something together that had nothing to do with any of our previous series.

Bob came up to our house, to Chicago in January, showing incredible faith in his friends, since our winters are not for sissies. Bill sat in the room as we began to outline the story, which later became License Invoked, for Baen Books. After no more than half an hour, it became evident that we were having a blast, and didn’t need him to referee. I think we were born to be collaborators. Bill went back to his office to play computer games, and we wrote the outline and divided it by sections. It seemed to help him get over the hump.

When he finally finished the twelve-book Donning Starblaze contract for Myth, he said he wanted me to collaborate on continuing Myth books. We wrote six novels and a story collection before he passed away in 2008. I’ve done two Myth books since, and continued his Dragons series, also from Ace Books. I adored Bob. Our sense of humor were similar. We had a stunning number of things and attitudes in common. My favorite times were sitting with him in the restaurant of the Hyatt in Atlanta every DragonCon weekend working on the plot of the next Myth book. We’d be laughing like loons, and passersby would rubberneck furiously to try to hear what we were talking about.

CS: What goes on in the Myth Adventures universe?

JLN: Same as always. Skeeve is a soft touch to a hard-luck story and has to deal with his shortcomings as an innocent Klahd. Aahz lets people think he’s a heartless, greedy monster, instead of the soft-hearted old grouse we all know him to be. (Notice I didn’t dispute the “greedy” part.) Their friendship will never die. Bunny is now in charge of M.Y.T.H., Inc., which means more organization for the gang. The series will always be full of horrible puns and chapter quotes which, trivia fact, only appear on the head of chapters in which Skeeve is featured. I have had so many people tell me that the books came along when they needed them. The same is true for me. I started reading them during a tough time in college. I want that joy to be there for future readers.

CS: How long will the Myth Adventure series continue and how often will the stories be released?

JLN: I will continue them as long as I can. I’m trying to keep the breezy mood of the earlier volumes such as Little Myth Marker. I’ve got ideas for several more volumes waiting in the wings, more short stories (a couple have been published in anthologies by Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press), and a young adult series. Keep an eye on my website or the Myth-Adventures website for news as I get it.

CS: You’ve done a lot of work with DAW, Baen’s, Ace, Del Rey, and Tor. What type of relationship have you have with these blue chip speculative publishers?

JLN: Cordial, I hope. Baen is my primary publisher. I’ve been with them since 1988 or 1989, and twelve books so far, if you don’t count the omnibuses. Moon Beam will make it thirteen. I love being part of the Baen family. It’s one of the few publishers that encourages their writers to collaborate and intersect on series. I have only done short stories for DAW, but they’re a joy to work with. Ace encouraged me by bringing out my own science fiction series (Taylor’s Ark). Susan Allison had been the series editor for the Myth-Adventures since the beginning, and pleaded with me to continue the Dragons series after Bob died. Del Rey published the Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern. The editor was surprised when we brought her twice the length and twice the number of illustrations she originally requested, but they got behind it in a big way. Tom Doherty of TOR is my hero. Claire Eddy at TOR was my editor on the Crossroads books, and I am still very fond of her. Brian Thomsen edited my fantasy duology, but died before the second volume came out. He had been my editor on my first fantasy books, the Mythology 101 series (no relation to Myth), and I loved him. I’d still be working with him if he was around.

CS: What type of story is Moon Beam?

JLN: Adventure featuring a group of great characters in an exciting setting. Barbara Winton is the newest member of the Bright Sparks, a group of young scientists working on the Moon under the auspices of Dr. Keegan Bright, the host of a daily science broadcast program for kids. Dr. Bright is the Sparks’ mentor, but they come up with the experiments and programs that they want to explore, and they do all the work. In Moon Beam (this is intended as an ongoing series; the second is already being written), the Sparks are building a radio/radar telescope on the far side of the Moon, well away from the light pollution and atmosphere of Earth. If that wasn’t enough of an adventure by itself, a coronal mass ejection, the hard radioactive rays ejected from a sunspot, is heading toward the Sparks, who are trapped days away from rescue, and have to save themselves as one thing after another goes wrong.

CS: Why a young adult series?

JLN: Since my style makes many people already think I write young adult fiction, it seemed like a natural progression. I got into a conversation at a Baen party with Travis Taylor, who actually IS a rocket scientist as well as an author. He, too, had wanted to write YA fiction, but hadn’t made the jump yet. We started throwing ideas back and forth. They gelled beautifully, and I started taking notes. By the party’s end, we had written an outline and proposed it to our publisher, Toni Weisskopf. She didn’t take that particular outline, but we soon adapted it to something she liked.

CS: What’s the STEM connection?

JLN: Young scientists working on the Moon. The subject just begs to be explored.

CS: Why a STEM connection?

JLN: The US is falling far behind other countries in promoting the STEM disciplines, science, technology, engineering and math, to students, particularly female students. Too many kids begin to think that science is too hard, and that there’s no place for them in any program that does anything real or important. They drop away, and we lose brilliant, motivated, interested minds when we should be begging them to share their energy with us. Science can be fun and exciting, and we need young thinkers to be part of our shared future.

CS: How long will the STEM series continue and how often will the stories be released?

JLN: The second one is being written, and we have proposals in for several more. I think that Baen would like to have them out once a year.

CS: What’s Travis Taylor’s connection to the series and connection with you?

JLN: We are collaborators and getting to be friends. We first met at Deep South Con 50 in Huntsville, AL, in 2012, but it wasn’t until LibertyCon the next year, I think, that we had a chance to sit down and talk. (see above)

CS: WordFire, isn’t that Kevin Anderson? What’s it like to work with him?

JLN: I’ve known Kevin since we were all at an awful convention together in 2001. He started WordFire some years later, and did me the honor to invite me to bring out my backlist of out-of-print books through WordFire. He’s been very encouraging. I think it’s been beneficial to both of us. I’m working on a small book for his Million Dollar Productivity series at the moment.

CS: You’ve sold at least 4 stories to Galaxy’s Edge, 3 the same year and one on the horizon. What’s it like to work with Mike Resnick?

JLN: (Correction — our name is usually on the cover because of the book column. I’ve sold three reprints to Mike, but they didn’t all come out in the same year.) Mike’s a national treasure. He has been enormously encouraging to younger writers, including me. He has collaborated with a number of them that he felt could benefit from the attention of being published with him. He calls them his “author daughters.” I’m working on a book with him, too, but I’m waiting to see what title he gives me. Mike created the Stellar Guild series, which pairs “superstars” (his term), including Robert Silverberg, Mercedes Lackey, Harry Turtledove, Kevin J. Anderson, and me, with younger, less experienced writers. The senior author creates a novella, and the junior author writes a prequel or sequel to the main story. I thought it was a wonderful idea. My Stellar Guild book was written with Angelina Adams, a promising new writer whom Todd McCaffrey had been teaching. My husband and I also write the Book Recommendations column for Galaxy’s Edge. So far, Mike seems happy with it.

CS: It’s hard not to notice that all your short fiction is through anthologies. Why not market to periodicals?

JLN: At first, it was blatant cowardice. I sent my first SF story to Stan Schmidt at Analog. He rejected it, but with a full letter telling me that he had seen the plot before, but he really liked my style, and to send him something else. I was only nineteen and had no connection to other SF writers to be reassured how rare and special a thing such a letter was. Instead, I retreated into my shell for several more years. I wrote my first professional short story for David Drake and my husband Bill for The Fleet shared world anthologies. After that, I got on Martin Greenberg’s radar, and wrote at least forty stories for his anthologies. I like the guidance of themed anthologies. The idea creates a frame I can paint in. It turns out that there were three of us who were Marty’s go-to authors when he needed good stories in a hurry, or to fill up a space for a writer who had let him down: me, Esther Friesner, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Other editors reached out to me, filling my schedule with terrific ideas I couldn’t wait to explore. Now, it’s probably pure indolence that I don’t write more stories for magazines. I do want to. The more I read the good things that are being published, the more I want to be part of that.

CS: Did I miss anything?

JLN: I’m a big cat fan. My cat Jeremy enjoys a life of quiet luxury. A few of my friends have told me they’d like to come back as one of my cats. I enjoy reading, cooking and baking, travel, photography, and calligraphy. I have found that I really enjoy teaching. I run the two-day intense basic workshop at DragonCon every year.

Author and Editor Deborah Ross Interviewed by Carl Slaughter

By Carl Slaughter: Deborah Ross traces her career from her first encounter with Marion Zimmer Bradley to becoming an editor herself.

CARL SLAUGHTER: You’re best known for continuing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, but you had already established a writing career before then. Tell us about your earlier work.

DEBORAH ROSS: I’ve been part of the sf/f community and SFWA for 35 years now. My first professional sale (under my previous name, Deborah Wheeler) was to Marion for the very first Sword and Sorceress anthology in 1982. Other sales of short fiction followed to F & SF, Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, and a slew other anthologies including Star Wars: Tales from Jabba’s Palace, Sisters of the Night, DAW 30th Anniversary Fantasy, and Bruce Coville’s Alien Visitors.

The real break came in 1991, when I lived in Lyons, France. A couple of months after I returned to the States, I sold my first novel, Jaydium, to DAW. The novel I’d written in France, Northlight, came out two years after that. And the novel inspired by living in the center of the French Resistance to the Nazi Occupation, Collaborators, was a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

Since I’ve taken over the Darkover series, I’ve continued my original work with an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield, which had its origins in the “Azkhantian Tales” short fiction in various issues of Sword and Sorceress.

CS: How did you meet Marion Zimmer Bradley?

DR: Somewhere around 1980, I wrote Marion a fan letter. To my surprise and delight, she wrote back with three pages of single-spaced typewriting. At the time, she was on the Grievance Committee of SFWA and used the official stationery. I now appreciate the prudence of that step, knowing the volume of fan mail she received over the years and her experiences of theft and exploitation by people she’d reached out to. I’d been training in Chinese martial arts (t’ai chi chu’an and kung fu san soo) at that time, and we began a conversation about empowerment, women, and writing.

CS: What type of relationship did you have with her?

DR: Over the years, we became friends as well as colleagues. Toward the end of her life, hampered by a series of strokes, Marion worked with in collaboration several other writers. I was one of the writers she considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional. When she asked if I would like to work with her, I was just emerging from a particularly difficult time of my life and found myself a single working mom with a troubled adolescent still at home. Marion’s offer helped get me back on my feet again in terms of writing. She and I discussed the basic concept of our project by mail and then I drove up to see her. She’d been resting and was on oxygen, but she insisted on sitting up when I came in, and soon we were deep in discussion of plot ideas. I knew she had been very ill, but seeing her made her condition so much more vivid for me. One of my best memories of her was watching her “come alive” as we developed the characters and hatched plot points. Her eyes “glowed as if lit from within,” to use one of her favorite descriptions, and energy suffused her whole being. I asked question after question and then sat back as she spun out answers. It was as if she had opened a window into her imagination and invited me to peek inside. Her secretary told me that she talked for days afterwards about the visit and how excited she was about the project. We never got a second visit. She died a month later.

CS: How are you carrying on her work?

MR: Writing Darkover novels is very like writing historical fiction. I do research, using not only Marion’s published work, but her letters to me, The Darkover Concordance, and her articles in the old Darkover newsletters. Her Literary Trust and the folks at DAW have been invaluable as nit-pickers and sources of arcane details. I’d already written a number of stories for the Darkover anthologies, so I was familiar with the world not only as a reader but as a writer.

I try to create story lines that are true to Marion’s vision of Darkover and the themes that were meaningful to her. Fortunately, my natural literary voice is very close to Marion’s. Because I’m not trying to distort my own voice, I can then write from my heart. I trust that the footwork will lead me in the right direction and that I can flow with what comes to me.

CS: What was Bradley’s connection with Sword and Sorceress? What’s your connection?

DR: About the time I met Marion, the Friends of Darkover held periodic writing contests and published its own fanzine. I sent her a couple of stories and received encouraging comments (and, as I remember, an award for one of the stories and eventual fanzine publication of the other). When Marion began editing the first Sword and Sorceress for Don Wollheim at DAW, she suggested I submit a story for her. I was as elated by the invitation as if it had been a sale, and threw myself into writing the best story I could. It was a modest little story, but more than that, Marion showed me that I could take my writing professionally.

When I submitted a story for the second volume, Marion telephoned me. “Now Deborah,” she said (her typical way of opening an editorial conversation), “I’m going to take your story, but I’m sending it back to you for revision.” With that, I made the leap from all-or-nothing sale-or-rejection to working with an editor. My manuscript came back drenched in red ink, with comments like, “All thuds are dull!” and “Overwritten.” Don’t just fall in love with your words, she was saying, make them serve the story.

CS: How did you yourself become an editor?

DR: Like many other writers, I wondered what it was like “on the other side of the desk,” both in terms of the choice of stories and their evolution into final form. I have had the honor to work with some extraordinary editors; I knew just how helpful a sympathetic and insightful editor can be in bringing out the best in a story. In other words, an editor is — or can be, if allowed to edit and not simply push numbers around for a multinational conglomerate — a story midwife. I also have strong ideas of what works for me in a story, what touches my heart and stirs my spirit.

Around 2007, Vera Nazarian of Norilana Books approached me with the idea of editing an anthology. “Lace and Blade” is a term she coined for elegant, witty romantic fantasy that doesn’t sacrifice intelligence for swashbuckling action. This also gave me a chance to work with some of my favorite authors, including Tanith Lee, Mary Rosenblum, and Chaz Brenchley. (Editor’s joy: Mary’s story was a Nebula Finalist, and Chaz’s was reprinted in a “year’s best” anthology.) Since then, I’ve worked on subsequent volumes, as well as anthologies published by Book View Café (Beyond Grimm, with Phyllis Irene Radford; Mad Science Café, and Across the Spectrum, with Pati Nagle).

A few years ago, the Marion Zimmer Literary Trust decided to resume publication of the Darkover anthology series, and I edited Stars of Darkover (2014) with Elisabeth Waters, and subsequent volumes as solo editor. Since then, the Trust has put out annual volumes of both the Darkover series and Lace and Blade.

CS: Tell us a bit about your editorial approach to dealing with writers.

DR: Writing can be heart-wrenchingly lonely. It’s you and your doubts and the words that simply will not do what you want them to. When, finally, you have something that flows from your heart and you’re at the stage of submission, I think that calls for a special form of love. By this I mean respect for what both writer and editor are struggling to bring forth. We are partners and allies, not adversaries.

I’m very much a hands-on editor. I almost always ask for changes, but I’m quite open to hearing contrary opinions from my writers. (Thank you, Tanith, for drumming that principle into me!) Often that discussion clarifies where what’s on the page fails to fully evoke the author’s vision. Although I may make suggestions, I try not to tell the writer how to “fix” the problem. For one thing, I hate it when that happens to me. For another, the writer must be the final authority. I’m the second pair of educated eyes. If we come to an impasse, I have to decide if I can live with what the writer insists upon. Sometimes, then, it’s better to let the story go to another home, rather than carve the heart out of it.

CS: How does editing differ from writing fiction?

DR: Oh my goodness, everything is different — except perhaps the shared goal of the best possible creative work! As an themed-anthology editor, it’s my job to communicate my vision of the project to the writers, then cheer and encourage and appreciate. And ask for changes aimed at bringing the story more into itself, making it more effective at what the writer — not me — is trying to do. So it’s important for me to keep my ego out of the editing process. I must constantly keep in mind that these are not my stories.

CS: What’s in the future for you as an editor and a writer?

DR: As an editor, I’ll be working on annual volumes of the Darkover anthologies and Lace and Blade. And maybe more for Book View Cafe if inspiration strikes. As a writer, I have two major projects on my plate, plus a handful of shorter pieces. I’m now working on the next Darkover novel, The Laran Gambit, for DAW, and an on-spec YA astronomy-geek urban fantasy. I’d like to write more Darkover novels, including a series about the founding of each Tower. One of the joys of working with Book View Café is that I’m free to bring out my own work under my own control. So I expect I’ll continue to divide my time between the Darkover series, editing, and original fantasy and science fiction.

CS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

DR: Over the decades, I’ve also worked as a medical assistant to a cardiologist, resuscitated an elementary school library, studied Chinese martial arts, French, Hebrew, and yoga, lived in France, attended Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, advocated as the family member of a murder victim for the abolition of the death penalty, knit for charity, and have been active in the women’s martial arts network and local Quaker community. I’ve also gotten interested in canine body language and dog training, with my most recent project the social rehabilitation of a traumatized retired seeing eye dog.

DEBORAH ROSS BIO

My work has earned Honorable Mention in Year’s Best SF, Kirkus notable new release, the Locus Recommended Reading List, and James Tiptree, Jr. Award recommended list, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and nominations for the National Fantasy Federation Speculative Fiction Award for Best Author, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

I served as Secretary of SFWA in 2004-05, and have taught writing and led writer’s workshops in various places. I’m a member and on the Board or Directors of the online writers’ collective, Book View Café, and on the current Philip K. Dick Award jury.