Just digging myself out of the writing mines long enough to let you all know I’ll be at Boskone 60, this February 17th-19th, 2023 in my home town of Boston, MA. I’ll be there on Friday afternoon/evening, all day Saturday, and on Sunday morning, and I hope to see you all there!
For those of you unaware, Boskone is the convention organized each year by the New England Science Fiction Association. It draw a lot of top talent from across the country and even from Europe, usually features a good number of top shelf agents and editors from New York City, all while being an intimate and very personable convention. It’s especially good for people trying to break into the business or for folks from around the Boston/New England area who want to go to a con but don’t want to be overwhelmed. I’ve been going for years now and I always have a good time, and I strongly recommend coming down and checking it out.
As for myself, here’s my schedule for the weekend:
Panel: The Villain Protagonist in Speculative Fiction (Friday, 2/17, 2:30pm)
Big bads can be fun to write and fun to read. As moral ambiguity grows in fiction, we see the line begin to blur for characters who were traditionally cast as villains. How are villains evolving and where do we see them crossing over into the protagonist role? These are characters who often have immoral goals and who use immoral means to achieve their goals … and yet, we root for them. (Think of Breaking Bad.) Let’s dig into why these protagonists are compelling, and what makes them work.
Group Reading: Science Fiction (Saturday, 2/18, 1:00pm)
Our group reading will feature up to five science fiction authors who will each read from one of their published or in-process works. They will also host an author Q&A as time permits.
Panel: Andor, Hope, and the Galactic Rebellion (Sunday, 2/19, 11:30am)
Andor, the series, is many things: a prequel, an epic dystopian series, and an origin story for many-many people and story lines within the Star Wars universe. Oddly, it has no Jedi, no magic, no traditionally “Star Wars-y” trappings. So, why does this series work so well? How does it continue to feel fresh and new? Does it really fit into the Star Wars mythology that has been constructed? Is the series really about the character Cassian Andor or something else? And why did the three words “I can’t swim” hit us so hard? We discuss all of these questions and more as we dissect the series.
Panel: Shining a Light on Humor (Sunday, 2/19, 1:00pm)
Humorous SF/F is a much loved subgenre, but it doesn’t get the same respect as its serious peers. But why? This has long been a touchy subject among authors and fans of funny fiction. We look at the role of humor in SF/F, some of the best stories, and how a brilliant writer like the late Sir Terry Pratchett can earn a knighthood but never a major award in the field. What will it take for the powers that be to take humor seriously?
There you have it! Looking forward to seeing some old friend and meeting some new ones down on the Boston Waterfront! Hope to see you there!
Greetings friends, bots, and errant Twitter exiles!
As is tradition in the SF/F writing world, when the nominations for the Nebula awards open, we list off the stuff we wrote this year on the odd chance somebody with some kind of clout or pull notices us, remembers that story we wrote, and BANG, we make the ballot. This is very similar to buying raffle tickets at your local rotary club function, albeit with much lower chances of success and vastly fewer opportunities to score basketball tickets.
That said, I had a pretty good year for short fiction, and I’d like to advertise my work a bit, so listen up:
First up (and most recent) is my short story “Tithe the Bones, Sell the Blood” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #368
This one has the distinction of being able to be read online for free, so go and check it out right now if you haven’t. I am a big fan of BCS and have been trying to score a sale there for years – very pleased with this dark fantasy tale.
This is my second story to appear in ZNB anthologies and it has been a great experience both times. This particular one is a very dark tale of the future of space colonization, involving space pirates and a debate about a very particular kind of cannibalism.
In July was my most recent Faceless short story in the July/August issue of Analog: “Punctuated Equilibrium”
It seems I’m writing a series of linked short stories over on Analog, all involving a shape-shifting assassin “named” Faceless and its various adventures. I am loving these tales and I hope you are too!
In May, another Faceless story in the May/June Analog: “Proof of Concept”
This one has Faceless with a ravaged memory on a space ship full of violent aliens and no answers! Wheeee! These were my 4th and 5th appearances in this magazine, and I’m super excited every time I make its pages!
Finally, in January I published my story “Prison Colony Optimization Protocols” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
I’m particularly proud of this one – about a rogue AI who is sentenced to administer and prison colony – and it was my 3rd appearance in F&SF. January is a long time back, though, so I hope people haven’t forgotten it! I even made the cover!
Anyway, that’s about it for this year! 5 stories, all in pro markets–go me! I’m very proud of all of them and hope you will give them some consideration!Thanks and good luck to all my fellow writers out there!
I’ve got a new story out! This one is on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a market I’ve been trying to break into for a while. It’s about a desperate man planning to cheat the undead at cards – nice and dark and bleak and with just a dash of hope. Perfect for Halloween, I’d say. Buy it here!
How to Play Tithe
Now, it just so happens I was obsessive enough with this story to actually draw up the rules for the card game that Cedric plays with the dead, called Tithe. I even went so far as to play a few hands (against myself, granted) to see if the game would work and, if it worked, how would it go. Nothing like an actual test of the game, of course, and I’m hardly the best card player in the world, but I did enough for it to pass basic inspection. Curious? Well, here are the rules.
The Deck and Play Area
Tithe is played with a deck of 60 cards with five suits of 12 cards – a Tomb, numbered cards 1-10, and a Lord. The suits are Skulls, Swords, Crowns, Coins, and Hearts.
The game is played on a five-pointed star, with up to five players, each at a vertex of the star. The game can also be played with as few as two players, but the rules shift a little bit to make that possible. Generally, play with a full table is preferred.
Sequence of Play
At the start of a hand, each player puts their ante in the center of the pentagram and are dealt 5 cards by the dealer. The dealer then lays five cards at the five intersections at the center of the pentagram – this is called “the Circle.”
The first round of betting happens just after the Circle, starting with the left of the dealer and moving clockwise. Players with poor starting positions or poor hands fold, anyone else has to match the highest bet at the table or go all-in with whatever they have remaining to play out the hand.
Remaining players must then play a card by matching or beating a card on the Circle adjacent to their starting point and placing it on top. Lords are high, but are beaten by Tombs. Additionally, the suits have a pecking order: Skulls over Coins over Swords over Crowns over Hearts over Skulls.
All suits are therefore dominant over one suit and servile to another. This affects what happens when a card is played on the Circle. It goes like this:
- A card played on another card that is neither dominant or servile wins, meaning the card beneath is out of play (covered entirely by the winning card).
- A card played on a card of a dominant suit merely buries, meaning the card beneath is still in play and the card above (the one you played) can be disregarded. (the top card is placed so the buried card is still visible).
- A card played on a card of a servile suit takes, meaning the player takes the card beneath (and any other cards it has covered) and puts them in your hand.
End of the Hand
Bets are taken every two turns of the circle until everybody but the winner folds OR no remaining players can play cards. The pot is then split between the remaining players (assuming there is more than one left) and the deal moves clockwise and a new hand is begun.
Observations from Games Played against Myself
First, I’ve found it’s super unlikely that more than one person wins a hand. I played a few dozen hands of this thing (looking like a lunatic in my office, believe me), using a suit from a second deck with a different design to represent the 5th suit. The basic strategy circles around knowing or guessing what cards everybody else has based upon what has been shown already. Most hands did not go more than four turns.
Does it work as an actual, playable game? I have no goddamned idea. I am not much of a gambler or a card player (though I am an inveterate gamer), so whether this would make a good way to lose money to card sharks is sort of beyond me. However, the rules are just plausible enough to pass basic inspection. Yes, this seems like a playable game, and that’s what matters.
Also, if any of you ever want to try it out at a convention someday, I’m happy to try – you just have to figure out how to get our hands on a 5-suit, 60-card deck.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed this one! And check out my story in BCS this month!
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.