I’m headed to Worldcon later this week in Chicago! There will be fun! Thrills! Hijinks! A non-zero chance of derring do!
And me, sitting off by the side somewhere, trying to make eye-contact with somebody I know so I don’t feel like I’m alone. This post is my official invitation to make eye contact.
Actually, no – scratch that – that would be weird. This is my official invitation to introduce yourself like a regular person and we can have a nice conversation about science fiction and stuff.
Barring that, if you’d rather observe me from afar or find me in a predetermined place, here is where I’ll be:
Panel: The Care and Feeding of Your Tabletop Game Group
Friday, 9/2, 1pm, in McCormick
Successful and enduring game groups don’t happen by accident, they require careful thought and regular maintenance. In this panel we draw on our decades of experience to give you advice on setting the tone, picking games, cultivating good sportsmanship, picking the ideal location, and establishing ground rules—to ensure that fun is had by all!
Table Talk: Auston Habershaw
Friday, 9/2, 4pm, in Crystal Foyer
Auston Habershaw is the author of over 25 short stories in places like Analog, F&SF, and ZNB Anthologies. He has published four fantasy novels with Harper Voyager and is a longtime presenter at PAX East about storytelling in TTRPGs.
This is just me, at a table, with a small group of people having a conversation about…well…anything at all! To sign up for this Table Talk, visit https://chicon.org/tabletalks All sign up are available starting Wednesday August 31st at Noon central, and you will be notified at least 12 hours before the Table Talk time if you were chosen for a spot. More details available at https://chicon.org/tabletalks.
I really hope people sign up for this, because sitting at one of these tables by yourself is a trifle demoralizing. Come talk to me! I promise I’m nice!
Group Reading: Zombies Need Brains Authors
Saturday, 9/3, 10am, in Roosevelt 1
Join Auston Habershaw, Elektra Hammond, and Joshua Palmatier as they read from works published through Zombies Need Brains.
I have no idea what I’m reading yet, but this should be fun! There may be more of us there than just us 3, too, so who knows who you might run into? Check it out!
Online Panel: One Hero to Save Them All
Saturday, 9/3, 2:30pm (CDT), in Airmeet 3
Many stories set in dystopias or featuring a revolution focus the narrative on a single, solitary hero. But is this realistic? Is it fair, either to the hero who must do all the work or to the secondary characters? Is it fair to readers, looking to effect changes in their own societies, to read about hyper-competent characters who can do it all? Come join the panelists as they explore and question examples of solitary heroes.
So, there you have it – I’ve got one of everything, here. Take your pick! And if you see me in the dealers hall or wherever, say hi!
Looking forward to meeting you!
For the last couple years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to contribute to the anthologies published by Zombies Need Brains each year. Well, they’ve kicked off their 10 year anniversary with another set of anthologies and, once again, you’ll find my work in their pages. What’s my topic this year? Well, I’m really excited because it is one of my favorite subjects:
Here’s the description of the anthology:
DRAGONESQUE: Since Grendel and McCaffrey’s Pern, readers have been enthralled with the magic and mystique of dragons. But it’s rare that we get to see the world through the dragon’s perspective. In DRAGONESQUE, you’ll experience an anthology of fantasy and science fiction stories told from, or through, or with, the dragon’s point of view. High fantasy, sword & sorcery, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, and of course science fiction…DRAGONESQUE will feature a wealth of genres that even a dragon would be tempted to horde. Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, DRAGONESQUE will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of 6,000 words each.
Now, I’ve written dragon stuff before. My story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac,” about a dragon moving to the suburbs, made it into one of Galaxy’s Edge “Best Of” anthologies. I really dig dragons and, in particular, I really like to insert dragons into the modern world.
So, by way of a sneak peak for the story I’m working on for this next year’s anthology, let me tell you what I’m thinking: a dragon who solves crimes.
A dragon detective.
A modern art loving dragon detective.
A modern art loving dragon detective who refuses to leave her lair and, instead, has her personal assistant/henchman doing all the legwork and dragging suspects to her palatial home and so on and then solves the crimes using her supernaturally keen senses and even keener intellect.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is a fantasy adaptation of my favorite mystery series of all time: none other than Rex Stout’s immortal Nero Wolfe mysteries, wherein gumshoe Archie Goodwin legs it all over town to help reclusive genius Nero Wolfe solve the crimes that leave the police scratching their heads.
Unlike Wolfe, my dragon (currently named “Angharad”) doesn’t collect orchids, she collects artwork. Collecting artwork costs a lot of money, and the way she sustains her habits is by recovering lost or stolen things, because I figured that there was very little that would disgust a dragon more than thieves.
In my dream of dreams, this won’t just be one story, but the first (or maybe second) of many. A linked series of dragon-centered mysteries. I’ve already written one of them (trying to sell it now) and either that one or the next one I write I hope to include in Dragonesque.
Now, I’m tempted to share an excerpt, but as I’m not sure whether the story I have done will be appearing in Dragonesque or somewhere else, I’ll just leave it at that and you’ll just have to wait. I’m excited and I hope you’re excited, too!
Want to make sure you meet Angharad and her loyal man-about-town, Sam Braun? Back the ZNB kickstarter, happening now!
For those of you weary of hyperlinks, here it is:
In it, we talk about the Saga of the Redeemed and writing in general and basically have a great conversation. Joshua is a great writer himself and his publishing company, Zombies Need Brains, puts out about two anthologies of short stories a year, and they are always great! You should check out his work and also those anthologies and support them if you can!
In Other News…
A lot will be happening on the short fiction front in the next few months, I think. I’ve got two stories coming out in Analog this year, another in ZNB’s Brave New Worlds, another in Galaxy’s Edge at some point, and hopefully more besides.
On the novel front, I’ve got two books still out on submission with my agent and another in the works. Keep your fingers crossed! If anything develops, I’ll post it here, for sure. Until then!
I have let this blog lie fallow these last months. This has been a rough year for me and the traffic this place draws isn’t substantial, so I’ve not devoted much time to it. Moving forward, this is probably going to be a space where I primarily announce my upcoming or current publications before I (eventually) launch some kind of newsletter. That’s me, folks – getting in on Substack a full calendar year after it was cool.
Anyway, check this shit out:
I had a subscription to this magazine in high school. I read a ton of it (though I don’t think I ever managed to finish a single issue, alas) and it has always been the gold standard for my short fiction publication goals. The story in this issue is my third appearance in its esteemed pages, and my first time making the cover. I am super, super thrilled – this is the best writing news I’ve had in a while.
The story, “Prison Colony Optimization Protocols,” is about an AI convicted of a crime and sent to administer a prison colony on a terraforming planet on a distant frontier as punishment. Just your average fish-out-of-water story, you know? People who love Murderbot (like ME! I love Murderbot! Read Murderbot!) will like this one, I hope.
To get a subscription or buy individual issues of this issue, go here. Honestly, you should subscribe to this magazine even if you have no interest in reading my specific story–it’s great, and the new editor, Sheree Renee Thomas, is doing great work. Check it out!
Catch next time I’ve got something big coming!
I’m here to announce something I’ve sort of already announced, but here it is again: I will be a featured author in another Zombies Need Brains short story anthology! The Kickstarter to fund the project (and two others!) has just launched – go check it out!
Here’s a teaser for the anthology I’ll be in, titled BRAVE NEW WORLDS:
Humans have dreamed of traveling to the stars for generations. Their hope? To discover verdant new planets where they can build new societies or escape past persecutions. BRAVE NEW WORLDS will feature fourteen stellar stories set anywhere along our prospective settlers’ uncertain paths—from the heart-wrenching departure from Earth, through the unknown dangers of the long flight through the cold vastness of space, to the immigrants’ final arrival on an alien world. Will they be confronted by the ethical issue of an entirely new ecosystem, or the pure engineering challenges of terraforming a previously lifeless planet? Join us in BRAVE NEW WORLDS as we explore humanity’s race for the stars!
Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, BRAVE NEW WORLDS will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of 6,000 words each. Anchor authors include:
- Jacey Bedford,
- Chaz Brenchley,
- Eric Choi,
- Auston Habershaw,
- Juliet Kemp,
- Gini Koch,
- Stephen Leigh, and
- Ian Tregillis
Cool, right? Also, if they fully fund, they’ll be taking submissions, too – and not just for this anthology, but for this on, NOIR, and SHATTERING THE GLASS SLIPPER, too! It all sounds super cool and you all should check it out!
In Other Writing News:
Weird Little World’s monster anthology, HUMANS ARE THE PROBLEM, is inching very close to release! My bio is posted up there with the other authors (exciting!). I can’t wait to read it! Go and check it out!
I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but it’s been a challenging few months, to say the least (and maybe more on that later). I’m here now to do a little bit of plugging and give a few writing updates:
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, available now!
First things first, my short story “The Malevolent Liberation of Pret” is part of the wonderful new anthology from Zombies Need Brains titled WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. That story is my take on a member of a post-singularity collectivist society realizing their interest/attraction to more individualized existence. I’m halfway through reading the anthology now and I’ve really enjoyed the stories – I’m in very good company and I heartily recommend checking out the whole thing. You can buy it here.
I’ve also sold four (yes, four) other stories to pro markets recently, which is great given my lull in sales for the past year. They are to the following venues:
- “Planned Obsolescence” to Galaxy’s Edge
- “Proof of Concept” to Analog Science Fiction and Fact
- “Prison Colony Optimization Protocols” to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
- “Epic Troll” to Humans Are the Problem, an anthology of monster tales from Weird Little Worlds
Now, I’m not sure when these various stories are coming out, per se – I’ll let you know when I know – but it’s exciting, to say the least.
I’ve got a number of irons in the fire right now. I’ve got a time travel caper novel on submission (think Loki, but with 70s Boston gangsters), another novel getting ready to go on submission (a space opera featuring a shape-shifting assassin), a bunch of stories still out there working their way through slush piles, and another invitation to write a story for a Zombies Need Brains anthology next year (I’ll let you all know when the kickstarter goes live!). I’m also writing another novel right now, still in its early drafting stages (it’s a humorous contemporary fantasy novel).
In other words, I hope to give all of you a lot more things to read, and soon. For now, keep an eye out for me in your favorite scifi mags and buy WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE now!
This is going to be an education rant in the guise of a science fiction rant, or maybe a science fiction rant in the guise of an education rant – your choice, really. My day job is as an educator and one of my former education-related jobs was working for a test prep company, teaching students how to take the SAT. I have a lot of opinions about tests, not all of them bad, but I will say this: standardized tests, in order to function as designed, need completely unrealistic infrastructure and, for that reason, they should be universally abolished or completely changed.
By way of demonstrating what I’m talking about, let’s talk about that iconic science fiction test, the Kobyashi Maru of Starfleet Academy.
For those of you not in the know, the Kobyashi Maru is a bridge crew simulation that Starfleet runs for its cadets, placing them in an impossible, unwinnable situation for the purpose of seeing how the cadets will react under such pressures. On the surface, this is a wholly reasonable and even intelligently designed test, very much in the vein of what a standardized test aspires to be: a test that can be applied equally to everyone that will generate completely unbiased results that allow you to evaluate all students who take the test equally. It’s also the purest of test-design fiction – it literally cannot exist as displayed and actually work.
The reason for this is very simple: as soon as students learn how the test works (and they inevitably will, since students always talk to other students about tests), the test will cease to be an accurate measure of the cadet’s capabilities because they will know it’s a no-win scenario going in. This necessarily will change their behavior towards said test and will, therefore, throw off the results. So, sure, for the first few years (if we’re being generous) the Kobyashi Maru will be a perfectly reasonable test because no one will actually know it is no-win, but before long somebody will find out. Once they find out, it is in their interest that the test (1) not change and (2) they guide their friends in how to take the test. Furthermore, instructors – whose capabilities will likewise be judged by how their students perform on the test – will inevitably skew their instruction (even surreptitiously) to reflect the qualities the test aims for.
Before long, certainly long before the events of The Wrath of Khan, the test would be bracketed by
all manner of pedagogical apparatuses that serve to help students perform well on the test, and that wouldn’t even count the cheaters, such as Kirk (who would doubtlessly be more numerous).
The solution, of course, is for Starfleet to change the test somehow, but even if they change that test, if it is designed to test the same thing (a no-win scenario), it will inevitably be vulnerable to the same kind of gaming as it was before. Test gamesters will just have to modulate their strategies somewhat, and the Academy will be right back where it started.
This is exactly the problem real world standardized testing faces. There is nothing inherently wrong with a standardized test. A standardized test is attempting to create an assessment tool that will tell you (with some degree of accuracy) the aptitude of any student in some specific set of skills, regardless of who they are or when they take the test. All SAT results, in other words, are supposed to be comparable with all other SAT results. This is a useful tool! Given that everyone comes from different school systems and are taught by different teachers and that, no matter how hard anyone tries, GPA is not and just cannot be a completely even or universally measurable kind of assessment (some people’s schools are easier/harder than others! Some schools “don’t believe” in GPA! Etc, etc.). Having some kind of universal yardstick by which to assess everybody is great!
But it can’t work! And here’s why:
1: It only works if nobody knows HOW it works
Here’s the thing: multiple choice standardized tests are a game. They are a game because they are (and sort of have to be) graded by machines and they have to assess all the exact same skills in the exact same proportions. Once you “solve” how the game works, the test becomes monumentally easier. Like the Kobyashi Maru, it is inevitable that people will figure out how the game works and, once they do that, they throw off all the results, since the results are designed to compare your performance against everyone else’s performance. So, unless you can keep the content of your test some kind of state secret (and good luck with that!), any given standardized test is only good for as long as it takes for the test takers to figure out the rules.
2: The people who know how it works will inevitably be the best connected/wealthiest people
Okay, fine – so suppose your test has been cracked by somebody. The damage, at least, would be somewhat mitigated if everyone had access to the tools needed to crack the test themselves. That’s never the case, though! The people who will be taught to crack the test will inevitable be the ones who can afford the tutors or who happen to have the connections or live in the kinds of privileged communities that get these kinds of advantages. This is NOT everyone, and this inequality automatically invalidates the test results, since some people are actually taking the test (the regular folks) and others are simply cracking the game behind the test (the test preppers). You can’t have an accurate standardized test that is testing two different cohorts of people in two different ways for two different things. Want to know something funny? The students that routinely did the worst on SAT math were almost always the best at math in all other environments. Why? They didn’t see the game. The best way to do well on SAT math is to do as little math as possible. Don’t believe me? Well, this lazy math student scored in the 95% percentile on SAT math by doing just that. And I did it several times over.
3: The test cannot be fundamentally changed without invalidating its own existence.
“Just change the test” sounds like a great plan, but if you fundamentally change how the test works, you automatically invalidate all the preceding test scores. In other words, if part of the purpose of a test like the SAT (or MCAS or TOEFL or LSAT or MCAT or whatever) is to produce scores that can be compared (and this is their purpose), then changing how the test works means your test has lost the very thing that makes it useful.
4: Testing warps instruction!
Because these tests are so important and because they are also so crackable, this means that teachers have a vested interest in teaching students to crack the test, knowing (as I point out in #2) that not all of their students will have the resources to crack it on their own. So, instead of actually learning things, they learn how to take a test. Pretty much everybody knows about this problem at this point – it’s cliche to even point it out – but it is also 100% true. Students that are taught to take tests have less knowledge, fewer skills, and impaired critical thinking when placed against previous generations who were not saddled with these things. I know this because I’ve been teaching at the collegiate level for 15 years and have watched both the amount of testing rise and the quality of incoming students drop simultaneously. Granted, that’s anecdotal – maybe I’m wrong (I hope I am!) – but I somewhat doubt it.
5: A perfect test doesn’t exist in the first place!
And all of this is just assuming the test is actually able to test the thing it claims it does! Sure, a well-designed standardized test might give us accurate picture of the average, neurotypical student, but this hardly covers everyone! Furthermore, I sort of doubt there’s any reliable way you could get a standardized test to apply equally to everybody – people, and how they think or approach test taking, are just too different.
So, if Starfleet Academy is still giving the Kobyashi Maru after however many years it takes for Kirk to go from being a cadet to being on the verge of retirement, it’s safe to assume that it is no longer performing the function it once did. It should be abolished and replaced with something new. Furthermore, we should reassess the need to compare students to other students in these kind of universal, simplistic ways. When looking to the future, we should try to imagine something more nuanced, more accurate, and fairer. You know, the sort of thing the Federation might cook up.
Good news! If finally figured out how to get back to the classic editor on WordPress, which means I’ll probably get back to posting more regularly than once a month or so (I really really hate this site’s “block editor”).
More (relevant) good news! I’ve got a story in an anthology releasing this summer! It’s called When Worlds Collide, published by Zombies Need Brains. Here’s the description:
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE:
What could possibly happen when two cultures meet for the first time?
In WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, anything.
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE presents fourteen original stories where two different societies intersect and deal with the aftermath of that meeting. Will the conflicting cultures merge and adapt and find peace? Or will they clash, unable to either accept their differences or acknowledge their commonalities? Who will survive when the last of the Fae battle a world-killing AI? What happens when a being who is part of a vast collective-consciousness is forced to face their own individuality? Can a werewolf ever break free of the unholy pact its fae creator has made with humanity? Will Earth really manage to commit the biggest and most egregious faux pas in history when it’s on the cusp of joining the Galactic Union? And why is it that two very different kinds of elves are angrily facing off at a simple dinner party?
Whether your taste runs to humor, horror, science fiction, or fantasy, the stories collected in this latest anthology from Zombies Need Brains and written by some of today’s hottest SF&F authors will delight, thrill, and terrify you. Join Christopher Leapock, Howard Andrew Jones, Gary Kloster, Louis Evans, Peter S. Drang, Esther Friesner, S.C. Butler, Nancy Holzner, Auston Habershaw, Violette Malan, Stephen Leigh, Alan Smale, Steven Harper, and Jordan Chase-Young as they delve into what may happen…WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE.
“The Erratics” by Christopher Leapock
“Brother of Swords” by Howard Andrew Jones
“Walls of Teeth and Iron” by Gary Kloster
“Faux Pas” by Louis Evans
“Darithian Life Cycle” by Peter S. Drang
“Seelie With a Kiss” by Esther Friesner
“What and Why” by S.C. Butler
“Melusina” by Nancy Holzner
“Malevolent Liberation of Pret” by Auston Habershaw
“Mercenary Code” by Violette Malan
“Deep Heart Inside” by Stephen Leigh
“Dogs of Babylon” by Alan Smale
“Eight Mile City” by Steven Harper
“How the Fae of Savernake Forest Fought the AI that Ate the World” by Jordan Chase-Young
So, there I am, cheek-and-jowl with some fine authors in a really cool themed anthology. It’s releasing sometime this summer, but you can pre-order it by going to Zombies Need Brains’ site.
Go and check it out!
Writing has been difficult of late. Stuck at home, the world aflame, so very many distractions. And yet I have much to do. Novel edits, for one thing. Story edits, for another. New stories desperate for revision, for creation. Many in new worlds, as yet fully formed.
It takes effort to remain inside a story. What I mean by inside is this: to write a strange world, you must inhabit that world. You have to take up its sights and sounds and smells and flavors as your own. You must push away the real and dwell wholly in the imaginary. No doubt there are authors – better, more disciplined authors than myself – who can sink into their world more easily than I can, but for me, it takes time. It takes silence and solitude and a mind relatively at peace. If my concentration slips, the whole world I’m building pops, like a bubble, and then where am I? In my office at home, with children downstairs needing attention, a democracy that is crumbling to ruin, a day job that is now wholly contained within my laptop and bleating for attention, regardless of the hour or day of the week. I’ve got a video game console right downstairs, I’ve books to read at my fingertips.
I remember a time this was easier, staying inside this bubble and living there. I remember daydreaming more often, letting my mind drift. I spend hours each day alone, on the train or in my office at work or in the silence of a lunch break by myself. COVID has blown all of that away. I have to re-adapt.
There is little more frustrating than wanting to write and being unable to do so. I’ve got a dark planet full of spiders and cities of spun silk that needs attention, but I just don’t have the time to find my way back there just now. Too much clamors for my attention; every bubble I blow bursts before I’ve time to find my reflection there.
I miss the calm of my former life. I miss the bustle that let the calm exist. Now, instead, there is just a dull roar – the gusting of a steady wind, blowing away dreams half-formed. Picture me, then, running down the road after them, trying to remember what they look like as they sail up and up, out of view.
It’s been two months since I posted here last. A lot’s been going on in my life, in the world, etc.. But I’m still around and for the first time in a while I have something I want to talk about.
Like a lot of people, I have been watching The Mandalorian. Unlike most of you, I’ve been…underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the first season! But this season has taken what I felt was something new and different in Star Wars and reduced to pretty much the same thing as all the other Star Wars stuff, and it’s just not for me.
I’m not here to complain about The Mandalorian, though. Trying not to rain on other people’s parades, etc, etc.. What watching this last season has shown me, though, is just how important audience buy-in is for something like Star Wars to work. And when I say “something like Star Wars,” I mean “tent-pole franchises that rely on an established fan base.” Because, let’s face it, if Star Wars didn’t have an established fanbase or a sizeable footprint in the scifi/fantasy zeitgeist, a lot of it just doesn’t stand up to even minor scrutiny.
It’s a truism at this point that Star Wars defiantly refuses to make sense at any point. Honestly, it doesn’t have to! Nobody cares that the Death Star makes no goddamned sense. The fact that there are no railings anywhere is a running joke, not an actual criticism. Stormtroopers are inexplicably punched in the helmet and for some reason this renders them unconscious and all people talk about is how cool the puncher is.
Why don’t they care? Well, because Star Wars as a franchise has already, somewhere along the line, done the work of earning the audience’s enthusiasm. For an awful lot of us, that enthusiasm was earned long, long ago when we were kids and our critical reasoning was less robust. For others of us, we stumbled across those scattered gemstones in the Star Wars canon that are honestly, legitimately good stories. And once we’re in, it can hold onto us for a goddamned LONG time.
The Mandalorian is an operative example of this phenomenon. As someone who had no interest in The Clone Wars series, the inclusion of Bo Katan was both perplexing and supremely uninteresting. Who is this person showing up Mando on his own show? Why should I give a crap about her problems? Well, if you were a pre-existing fan, then it’s great! If you weren’t? Well, tough luck, because the show is presenting you with no actual reasons to like or care about this character besides her cool outfit. If you don’t accept her coolness right off the bat, the rest of it won’t work, either.
Proving this is the inclusion of Luke Skywalker in the season 2 finale. Despite his appearance being completely random, his use as deus ex machina largely unearned, and the dialogue given to him wooden and stilted, I was still really excited to see Luke again. But that’s a cheap trick, though – it’s driven by nostalgia for how cool Luke was/might have been/is, not by anything actually present. If I didn’t know who Luke Skywalker is (somehow) and watched that episode, my reaction would probably be confusion and possibly even incredulity as he saws his way down that corridor and the Dark Troopers just sort of let it happen to them. “Why didn’t Mando just do that with the Dark Saber, then?” is one basic question one might ask. It is the purpose of a show like this to keep you from asking that question, because you are just too breathless from all the fun.
In cases like that, the “coolness” of the show exceeds the burden of realism. Star Wars is not alone here. Doctor Who does this (should have been shot by a Dalek long, long ago), every James Bond movie does this (remember in Golden Eye when Bond falls faster than the plane), Harry Potter does this (does Harry ever learn geometry?), Marvel does this (Cap’s shield makes no sense) – it’s a feature, not a bug. It’s just rare for me to experience both sides of that equation inside the same exact show or even the same episode.
Now, whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, a thing to aspire to or a thing to avoid – this I leave to you. But let me tell you, once The Mandalorian lost me, I couldn’t stop seeing all the holes in, well, everything. Even knowing what I know about Star Wars, I’d hoped for something more tangible.