Tag Archives: jonathan strahan

Not if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth: May 2016 DOOM EDITION

DD_cover_ebook-640x1024It’s all apocalypse and global warming and terrifying futures in my reading this month!

First, an extraordinary presentation/monologue presented as a Ted Talk: A Sci-Fi Vision of Love from a 318 year old hologram, by Monica Byrne, a gorgeous and deeply emotional performance that works as a clever, layered piece of science fiction as well as being an affecting love story.

Jonathan Strahan’s new anthology Drowned Worlds explores the many horrific possibilities of those pesky rising oceans, that I normally prefer to think about as little as possible. Thanks for the nightmares, Jonathan!

The opening story of this book, “Elves of Antarctica” by Paul McCauley is a great character piece that sets the tone very well, with a protagonist who rails against the loss of the icecaps in Antarctica, and can’t see beyond that tragedy to the intriguing new possibilities of grass, warmth and oh yes, FREAKING MAMMOTHS. Also, there are elves, or are there? Yes, I think there are. Those standing stones have to mean something, right? A gorgeous, thought-provoking piece.

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Not if you were the last… oh, you are.

I appear on a new podcast! You can hear me joining Ian Mond and Jonathan Strahan on Episode 2 of the “pre-season” of the Last Short Story podcast to discuss new dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA anthology After, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

Well, to be more precise, we talk about our six favourite stories from that anthology, because more than six seems to be the limit for LSS discussion.

I always enjoy a chance to chat about fiction with my friends, and I think Jonathan and Mondy are on to a winner with the idea of the Last Short Story project (which has been floundering a bit in recent years) transitioning into podcast form. It won’t be the same people every month (except when it is, of course), but I am excited about getting a chance to talk short fiction every now and then with smart people who have read the same things I have.

We discuss each story in great depth, so be aware that spoilers abound!

The stories we look at in After are:

“The Segment,” Genevieve Valentine
“Valedictorian,” N.K. Jemisin
“Blood Drive,” Jeffrey Ford
“The Easthound,” Nalo Hopkinson
“Fake Plastic Trees,” Caitlin R. Kiernan
“The Marker,” Cecil Castellucci

And I was really interested how easily we picked those six as the ones we most wanted to talk about, as a group! I plan to be back with the LSS podcast next month because they let me pick the story source, so we’ll be looking at The Future is Japanese, edited by Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington.

On my iPod: Science Fiction Podcasty Goodness

The Coode Street podcast invite on special guest Ursula Le Guin to discuss the good, the bad and the “oh no she didn’t” contained within the pages of Margaret Atwood’s recent collection of essays about science fiction In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011). It’s especially interesting because Le Guin not only considers herself a friend of Atwood, but is often a subject in the essays themselves – but she pulls no punches when it comes to casting a critical eye over the book – and, with equal sharpness, the fans who have contributed to Atwood’s often misguided image of what SF readers are like. If there was a literary canon of SF-themed podcasts, this one would have to be pretty high on the list.

I also very much enjoyed the latest, 12th episode of The Outer Alliance podcast – these have been going from strength to strength with some wonderful interviews (and I’m not just saying that because they namecheck Galactic Suburbia!) and the latest one has host Julia Rios discussing all manner of gleeful and squeeful things with Lynne M Thomas – Hugo-award winning co-editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords, co-editor also of Whedonistas and the upcoming Chicks Dig Comics, incoming editor of Apex Magazine, podcaster of the SF Squeecast, archivist extraordinaire, etc. Oh yes, and she’s my fellow Tiptree juror this year too! Getting a chance to eavesdrop on the conversation between these two bouncy, enthusiastic and smart women was a great pleasure today, and they cover all kinds of issues, from behind the scenes podcasting gossip to third wave feminism, and how talking about shoes can be a subversive act.

I checked on a new discovery, the Anomaly podcast this week, with mixed results. I had been linked to their special two part Women of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Fandom episode, and found that inspiring and illuminating in some places, and deeply irritating in others. I liked that it was a group of women discussing their interests in SF, fandom, etc. and tackling questions like who writes strong female authors best, and whether ‘slave Leia’ costumes are problematic or empowering.

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Night of Necklaces, Day of Ferries

I felt like such a jet-setter, getting on a plane yesterday morning for a single night in Sydney for the Aurealis Awards. I arrived in the early afternoon and met up with Tehani, Helen and baby Max at the airport so we could taxi in to the hotel together. It felt so decadent to hang out and chat with friends I normally don’t get to see more than once every few years – twice within a month!

We went down to the hotel restaurant for a (very) early dinner, correctly guessing it would be our last chance to eat for the night. Some familiar faces were already down there, with the same idea, and we added a table on the end of theirs – and as more and more people arrived, kept doing so, until we had at least 20 people there, and the table had turned into a long L-shape!

Then of course we all had to disappear to frock up, as the new arrivals were looking increasingly glamorous.

The Aurealis Awards were held at the Independent Theatre, a lovely venue only a few minute’s stagger (a bit longer in high heels, but I was wearing flats, hehehe) from the hotel. We met and mingled at the cocktail party (sponsored by HarperCollins), many of us marvelling at how utterly weird it was to be together again so soon after Swancon – when we’re used to an 18 month separation! Of course there were people there who hadn’t been at Swancon, too, so it was a general crowd of happy reunions, gossip and hugging. With champagne. I had lots of lovely conversations with lots of adorable people, though the highlight for me was getting to meet IN PERSON the amazing Nicola, who has edited all three of the Creature Court books with me, one way or another. To get to talk to her in person about the choices we made and how much we love each other’s work was very, very cool.

And oh, the fashions! We are a gorgeously dressed bunch. Tehani referred to it as the ‘night of necklaces,’ and there was certainly some spectacular jewellery on display. Kirstyn wins the prize, of course, for her bird skull necklace that made people go ooh, and then, erkhhhh when they looked more closely…

The theatre itself was the perfect size for an event like this – grand but cozy at the same time, if that makes sense? Tehani and I decided to start a trend by sitting in the front row, since we knew I had to go on stage at some point to present (and we knew Helen would be going up too, but more on that later!). Spec Faction deserve a huge amount of kudos for the event – it ran smoothly, with any dramas rendered pretty much invisible to the rest of us. Cat had put together a hilarious and touching montage of Aurealis Awards photographs (the overall theme was people we knew looking overheated, a bit drunk and terribly happy) which broke the ice marvellously, and there was a really good vibe in the theatre, all that community spirit stuff.

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Linkington Manor

Random Alex and I joined Jonathan Strahan for an Australia Day podcast on Wednesday. We discussed the nature of Australian identity, the discomfort of patriotism and colonial guilt, the relationship of people to landscape, cultural cringe and trying to overcome decades of assumption that Everything British is Better, and managed somehow to tie all of that into speculative fiction, and the concept of an Australian literary voice. We talked about how some parts of the genre more easily/comfortably convey their Australian origins (deep space opera, for example, or otherworld fantasy) but managed to come up with some examples that did. We also got a bit squeeful about some upcoming Australian spec fic for 2011. Probably left lots out (I even forgot about my books until Alex mentioned them, duh!) but we did our best.

One thing that really interested me was that we all had childhoods where we felt isolated from the rest of Australia – one in Perth, one in Darwin, one in Hobart. It’s an oddity about Australia that there are so many overlapping ‘us and them’ attitudes to geography. No wonder it’s hard to pin down the Australian Voice!

Mostly, of course, we just talked! If you enjoy Galactic Suburbia you might enjoy giving it a listen.

Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Huntress, talks here about the lack of diversity in YA book covers. She puts forward quite a moderate view, but some very eye opening points about books in general. I was fascinated to hear that the lesbian aspect of the storyline of Ash was entirely invisible on the UK cover, and that this invisibility may have improved her sales, when that was what I perceived as the main selling point. It was certainly why I picked up the book. Lesbian Cinderella retelling!

Sarah Rees Brennan writes marvellously about the limitations some books put on their awesomeness, and how more modern attitudes towards sexuality, disability, race, etc. can reduce those limitations. I always enjoy what Sarah has to say, and she often conceals quite devastating cleverness behind banter and mockery. In particular, I’ve appreciated her regular discussion on Twitter about the comments she receives/hears about her characters, and how gendered that can be – where male characters are adored for their perfections and imperfections quite equally, and female characters are often despised for both. It’s particularly indicative when she compares the comments she receives about the sexual/romantic attitudes of her male and female protagonists (so far in her published novels she has one of each) and how hard readers find it to forgive a girl hero who kisses more than one boy.

Finally, a comprehensive post on the biggest mistakes authors make when querying agents.

Definitions of Speculative Fiction (or why spec fic is specific)

This post was very nearly entitled ‘in defence of speculative fiction,’ but that sounded needlessly… well, defensive.

Jonathan and Gary quite took me aback with their latest episode of the Coode St Podcast with Jonathan’s strong dislike of and Gary’s similarly negative associations with the term ‘speculative fiction’ – mostly my surprise came from the fact that I’ve had several really in depth conversations with Jonathan about the field over the last 12 months, and never once come across this particular pet hate.

It wasn’t until Jonathan mentioned it on said episode that I realised how greatly and comfortably we use the term ‘spec fic’ over at Galactic Suburbia. Which is something I’m perfectly happy about. I certainly don’t see it as a vague or wishy washy term, as Jonathan does – I see it as something very specific and necessary to the point where I could not see how he manages the current conversation without using it.

Cheryl Morgan did a nice job of talking about speculative fiction as a neutral, useful umbrella term, and also how terms can mean different things to different people. While Jonathan suggested that liking/hating specfic as a term was a generational issue, she suggested it might actually have something to do with gender, and be a term of inclusiveness rather than non-specificity.

Basically I agree with Cheryl, so go read what she says! I understand how annoying it can be when you hold one definition of a term closely to your skin and other people insist on using it differently (try being in the same room with me when someone uses “decimate”). I also agree with Jonathan that in the SF community, we all hate each other’s terms!

I sympathise entirely with people like Gary and Jonathan who have heard ‘speculative fiction’ used by people or institutions who are embarrassed by the connotations of science fiction, either through ignorance or insider cringe, and for whom the phrase is always going to recall those negative associations. I have experienced that too – good old Margaret Atwood and her “it’s speculative fiction because it’s intelligent and doesn’t have spaceships”. (a horrible paraphrase, I know, let’s move on)

However, I do think that speculative fiction has become a term that is essential to the conversation. We’ve got past the stage where science fiction or fantasy can be said to include each other – they both have such a long history behind them, and ultimately have quite oppositional meanings. By including fantasy as a subset of science fiction, or vice versa, as has variously been done in the past (and, probably, the present), there is an implication that whichever is used as the umbrella term is the most important, which is needlessly judgemental and divisive. It’s also inaccurate, and confusing to people outside (or even, let’s face it, inside) the conversation.

We can just say ‘science fiction and fantasy’ of course, and often do. But there are times when that is also just not accurate enough. The spec fic community includes a lot of work which does not wholly fit into one category or another, and I don’t just mean crossover work like Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (fantasy in a science fictional setting). Something I learned from judging the Aurealis Awards for years (which divides all fiction into science fiction, fantasy and horror categories) is that sometimes, those categories just aren’t inclusive enough. If you’re judging science fiction, then there are great stories which can get dismissed because they’re not QUITE science fiction, and lost between the cracks because they’re also not QUITE fantasy, or horror, and maybe the best story of the year might miss out on any recognition at all.

This is particularly an issue in Australia, because in our science-fiction-and-fantasy-and-horror community, many of our best writers are those who don’t QUITE write in the categories. We have Anna Tambour and Deb Biancotti and Peter Ball and Margo Lanagan, and Ben Peek, and Terry Dowling. Never mind works slipping between the cracks of the categories, sometimes all the good stuff is in the cracks. Those damned cracks are overflowing with stories that are only science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, if you look at them sideways.

Speculative fiction is not just science fiction and fantasy and horror and slipstream. It’s also steampunk and alt. history and new weird, and urban fantasy/paranormal romance (however hard many critics or editors try to keep that particular subset out of the clubhouse), and far too many hours have been spent trying to shoehorn that work into the science fiction box, or the fantasy box, or the horror box, when in fact speculative fiction covers them all nicely, like a big, glorious patchwork quilt.

Then there are those stories which Gary brilliantly calls ‘slippage,’ which are only really science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, or slipstream, OR WHATEVER (in a Muppet accent) because of who wrote them, or what they were written next to, not because of the content itself. China Mieville or John Crowley, or Karen Joy Fowler or whoever are already in the clubhouse, and because their work makes more sense within the speculative fiction dialogue than without it (at least to those of us carrying on the conversation).

Speculative fiction is dear to my heart because I’m an inclusionist rather than a reductionist, because I love the crunchy bits around the edges, and because, quite frankly, ‘specfic’ is faster to say than any of the other options. I think speculative fiction is an incredibly useful, essential term. It doesn’t mean we stop talking about science fiction, or fantasy, or steampunk, or slippage, and gnawing back and forth on those terms and what they might mean, or include. But it does mean that we can talk about those things discretely as well as collectively, depending on our needs at the time.

I for one welcome our speculative fiction overlords!

Saturday Soup

It’s been oddly productive around here, for a Saturday. Usually Saturdays are a mad haze of parenting, unrealistic expectations about work goals, a bit of hasty housework and occasionally managing to snatch a chapter or two of reading by flinging the children at my honey and locking myself in the library. Usually there’s guilt, either for not spending enough time with the girls, or for getting cranky with the girls after spending too MUCH time with them, or for not getting anything done, or for the house looking like a circus threw up on it.

But today I manage to hang out with the girls all morning (including a cranky teething baby), threw together a delicious lunch for me & my honey (leftover potato & cauliflower soup goes VERY WELL with added chorizo & bacon, served with hot cheesy muffins), put out some laundry, finished reading my 100th book for the year (a Joanna Russ, which seems appropriate), did a last minute podcast with Jonathan Strahan, got to the two-thirds mark of my copy edits, and played outside with the kids. I got to see Jem on a bike for the first time!

All this, and my honey is cooking dinner. Awesome!

Elsewhere in the world, Mary Robinette Kowal talks about how amateur writers should be given the same respect as hobbyists in other fields. I still can’t get over that Shades of Milk and Honey is a Nano novel! I had been meaning to lend it to [info] godiyeva already, but once I learned that, I practically forced it upon her, for inspiration.

John Scalzi puts his weight behind Nano being awesome rather than a waste of everyone’s time – I particularly enjoyed the comments on that one!

Ekaterina Sedia makes a great post about what you can say when men who don’t feel they’re sufficiently benefiting from the patriarchy derail a feminist conversation to talk about themselves.

Finally, some Bujoldy goodness. On Tor.com the very learned and well-read Jo Walton analyses the appeal of Aral Vorkosigan (lotsa spoilers) while on i09, Charlie Jane Anders asks whether Bujold writes “hard” science fiction, leading to many tangled comments as everyone tries to define what hard SF is. Sigh. At some point I am going to write my hard SF post. I think my philosophy comes down to “if Bujold isn’t it, and one of the best examples of it, then I don’t understand what it’s for.” Possibly I shouldn’t write that post.


This week has been a frenzy of podcasting. We’ve put up a whole bunch of Galactic Suburbia episodes that we recorded during Aussiecon in Melbourne, and then this morning Jonathan Strahan called Alisa and I in to guest on his podcast as The Coode St Feminist Advisory Committee.

Check it out:

Galactic Suburbia 15.0 – “Live” at Aussiecon
Galactic Suburbia 15.1 – Ditmar Special and Girl Genius Interview
Galactic Suburbia 15.2 – Hugo Special
Galactic Suburbia 15.3 – Worldcon Wrap Up

Coode St Episode 17 – featuring Tansy & Alisa from Galactic Suburbia

And of course you can also find these by searching for Galactic Suburbia or Notes From Coode Street on iTunes.

Tuck Boxes, Literary High Ground, and the SF Community

Mmmm coffee cake. I have just returned from Raeli’s Book Week parade. She dressed up as Rhapsody from the Fairies which isn’t overly literary (though she has several of their books!) but she came up with the idea herself, based on a trouble-free costume she already had, so who was I to argue? I was also delighted that her obsession with Cats the Musical has gone viral, as her friend Inigo insisted on going as Macavity. Not sure if he had a copy of TS Eliot with him. 😀

The coffee cake came from the cake stall. Mmmm. Also from the Book Fair, I picked up a classic Alice in Wonderland colouring book and Egyptian sticker book for Raeli for our upcoming plane trip, and got myself a biography of Beatrix Potter purely because I adored the cover, plus she was heralded on it as a ‘Victorian genius’ which blew my mind. A female children’s author who drew slightly morbid pretty pictures (seriously, have you ever read Jemima Puddleduck, that book is MESSED UP) heralded as a genius! And a Victorian rebel, too. Had to buy it.

Anyway, getting distracted. On the way back I was listening to the latest Coode Street podcast in the car, and very pleased to get a shout out from some conversations I’ve had lately with Jonathan Strahan. Am totally working for my Feminist Advisory Committee t-shirt.

Once you get past the 10 or so minutes of discussion about what might or might not be happening with Gary’s microphone (SERIOUSLY, guys, learn to use the pause button!) I was interested to hear further discussion of the ongoing conversation they’ve been having about the core or centre of science fiction, and how that may or may not be the same thing.

Personally I really dislike the idea of science fiction having to have a core, mostly because I’m pretty sure the stuff I think should be in it is different to other people’s – I’ll have my own, core, thanks! And Jonathan acknowledged this, referring to a conversation we had when I pointed out that the younger you are, the more off-putting it is to be told (or have it implied) that you basically have to catch up on 60 or 70 (the younger you are the bigger the number gets) years worth of core material, before your opinion is worth something.

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Zombie Contingency Plans and Other Coode Street Notes

Some thoughts raised by the recent episode of The Coode Street Podcast, featuring Locus editor/debut novelist Amelia Beamer:

Amelia’s first zomromcom novel The Loving Dead sounds all kinds of awesome and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered it, I would be doing so on the strength of this podcast! The discussion of Kelly Link’s influence on how zombie stories can be told was also really interesting. Also the most recent zombie contingency plan I read was in a Glee fanfic. They get around!

The gang discuss the growing divide in the scene between short and long fiction as one is increasingly published by small/independent presses and the other by mass market. While I agree with this discussion in the main, I do think it should be pointed out that the one area this seems to not be true (and is becoming less true if that makes sense) is YA. I’ve been saying for the last couple of years that some of the most interesting work in spec fic seems to be coming out of the YA field. I’ve also noticed more and more mass market short fiction collections emerging from that field – they might have trashy titles and seem to be mostly about vampires, zombies, boyfriends and prom dates, but they are also featuring some of the most respected writers in the field, such as Holly Black, Libba Bray, the Larbalesterfelds, and so on. I see these books popping up in places like the local Big W (the closest thing Australia has to a Wal-Mart, I think) and can never resist picking them up, because even though sometimes they will have a bunch of cheeseball Buffy wannabe tales in them, there is almost certain to be a couple of real gems, and even the average stories are a lot more readable to me than the contents of an average issue of F&SF.

This is particularly noteworthy, I think, considering the massmarket paperback release of Kelly Link’s YA collection, Pretty Monsters. I’ve seen it a few places and didn’t buy it because I knew I had all the stories, but since then the very existence of that book has (quite appropriately) been eating my brain, to the point that I know next time I go into town I am going to pick it up. It’s a freaking Kelly Link book, and seeing it on bookshelves in my home town instead of having to order a pretty hardback from Small Beer Press is all kinds of awesome. I regularly lend out her first two collections, and I know that this is a book I will regularly press into people’s hands. So yes, I’m going to be buying it.

I’m actually completely in the mood to reread Kelly Link’s body of work, and not just because of Gary Wolfe reminding me how awesome Magic For Beginners was.

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