Galaxy’s Edge Book Review Roundup: April 2022

In the March/April 2022 issue of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (which you can read or buy here), there are stories by Harry Turtledove, Mike Resnick, Tai Yi, Torion Oey, Katharine Kerr, and more. Plus, Jean Marie Ward finishes up Part 2 of her interview with John Scalzi, talking about his new book, The Kaiju Preservation Society.

And as always, we have a selection of insightful science fiction and fantasy book reviews from Robert Chwedyk.

In this issue, he takes a look at:

  • Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus
  • Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
  • Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett
  • The Reinvented Heart edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek

Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

I’ve been waiting for this book for a while. I’m familiar with some of Broaddus’s other writings and was excited to see what he would do with a now-familiar form like a science fiction epic trilogy. I am not disappointed.

The beginning has the now-common lists of characters and time line that you’re going to skip back to later but you have no time for now. You want to see how the novel opens and if it will compel you to keep reading until you reach the final page:

Your name is Leah Adisa. For now.

Choosing a name for yourself is not something to be entered into lightly. It is a promise you make to the universe. Or it to you. A name is the story of yourself you present to the world, a label to define you. That is the entire point of the Naming Ceremony: you are finally of age to interpret yourself and into the Muungano community as a full free member.

The paragraphs that follow continue to orient you to a world you’ve not encountered in a novel before: the African-based hegemony (of sorts) of the Muungano people, which extends from Earth to Titan, and a little further to a mining colony named Oyigiyigi. We may be familiar with spacefaring empires extending to the outer planets, but we’ve usually seen them from a Western perspective, a sort of continuation of “American” middle-class culture, or how Octavia Butler once put it, “The same as now, only more so.” In this novel, we’re not just discovering new worlds but old worlds seen in new ways, from a new perspective. We’re discovering what, for we readers, is a whole new culture.

It’s not as if this hasn’t been attempted before, but Broaddus seems to have found the right angle or point of view from which to address we readers that neither frustrates us with opaque “strangeness” or presumes we are simpletons who need every little detail explained. The result is a clarity of narrative that is truly splendid.

sweep of stars

And that narrative is…complex. To say the least. You expect that in a trilogy. But that same angle or point of view, or better still, that voice, never leaves you confused as it shifts from setting to setting and person to person.

And I was intensely impressed with Broaddus’s focus upon his people. He has great insight into human concerns, their desires and needs, how they express them and how they attempt to conceal them. Some authors of this sort of work become so overwhelmed by their own world building, they can only manage to “populate” their novels. With Sweep of Stars, one gets the feeling this story began with the people. The world came later, or simultaneously, so the human scale is never lost.

Sweep of Stars exercises the best traditions of science fiction while providing new perspectives and redefining the expectations we place upon such works. Some readers may find it rough going, but I encourage them to stay with it. On rare occasions, even for science fiction readers, one encounters a book that truly changes the way one sees the world, yesterday, today and most certainly tomorrow. I believe this is one of them.

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

Fantasy readers, I can guarantee you have never read a novel like this. I can extend that guarantee to everyone else who may be curious. The borders between fantasy, science fiction, and horror are here either discarded or ignored. And to you aspiring writers out there: remember all those things your esteemed writing teachers said you can never get away with? Well, Kerstin Hall gets away with most of them. Honestly, I don’t know how. I suspect she does it through a modicum of chutzpah and a great deal of skill.

Something about this novel reminded me of one of those profound pronouncements Marlow makes in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: about “The fascination of the abomination.” But not in a bad way. I will add, though, that some other reviewers have added trigger warnings to their comments, and they can be justified. There are some really rough scenes in here. Be warned.

star eater

But…what can be expected from a novel where, if someone were to ask you what it was about, you’d say something like, “Well, it takes place in a city that’s elevated over the world, because on the surface all the men have become zombies. In the city, there’s a sisterhood that acquires magic through cannibalism, and once they have it the magic is manifested in lace. Literally, lace. And that’s just the background for some really Machiavellian intrigue.”

And if this someone asks you further, “Well, who are the good guys?” you will most likely answer, “Well, I’m still trying to figure that out.”

The thing is, you’re still fascinated by these people, either because they have real human facets that accompany these atrocious activities, or because you keep turning pages, muttering to yourself, “They can’t possibly get away with that! Can they?”

They can, with Kerstin Hall telling the tale, and doing so with masterful precision.

Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett

As with Kerstin Hall’s novel, readers should take note that there’s some strong stuff here.

Aspects of this story will strike you as familiar, and I’m not referring to its reimagining of the Persephone myth. Aliens boot us off our planet, genetically modify us and relocate us to a world called Eleusis, where things go “not as planned” from the get-go. There are three habitable areas of the planet, named Day, Dusk and Night. Resources, material and intellectual, and some things more, are not equally distributed. And often, this situation, rather than encouraging cooperation, spawns greed and violence.

destroyer of light

We may have read versions of this kind of thing before (suddenly, I’m remembering a Bradbury story called “Frost and Fire”), but not in this way. The central character, Cora, is sympathetic enough, as you might expect, but also enigmatic, but not in any bad way. She is, after all, Persephone, and everything we encounter on Eleusis is a little bent, a little twisted, like what we might encounter through Lewis Carroll’s looking glass if it were being held by James Tiptree Jr. I’m not saying Brissett writes like Tiptree, but her vision shares that same uncompromising intensity.

When you’re dealing with myths, it’s difficult to be otherwise. To paraphrase R. A. Lafferty, the myths aren’t inside us; we are inside them, struggling to get out.

You won’t “get” this book on a first read. It will haunt you, though. And that’s likely one of the things in Destroyer of Light that goes exactly as planned, by Brissett.

The Reinvented Heart edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek

Last November, when I went to Windycon, my first “in person” convention in what seemed like ages, I very often heard a word that I really hadn’t encountered much at conventions heretofore: “Romance.”

And that word being used in the denotation of a literary category: those books in the store with the label “Romance” on the spine. Many of us in fandom made fun of those books. We believed them all to have been built on a steadfast, indestructible narrative skeleton: young woman of modest means falls in love with a handsome young man of higher social status, or some other condition which seems to doom their relationship, though the young man reciprocates her feelings. Whatever, their hardships are overcome by the last page and the beautiful couple prepare for a lifetime of happiness. Thousands of novels were built on that skeleton, and billions of copies of those novels were sold. They were reliable. And predictable. And we made fun of them. Their fungible structure seemed a polar opposite of what science fiction was all about. They were allegedly more predictable than Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or Tom Swift.

the reinvented heart

But the picture was never quite that simple. At least a couple of new generations of readers have grown up since we callow old fogies sniffed at the romance market. Many new science fiction readers began by reading romance novels, then switched over to several of the many “cross-genre” variations, like romances set in fantasy worlds or science-fictional universes. Not to mention the explosion of romances catering to a number of diverse, non-traditional audiences. And many of the newer writers in our field not only got their start in the romance market, but they maintain a presence in that genre while doing other work in ours.

All of that is to say that we should no longer be surprised at having romance fiction discussed at SF cons. It’s here. Get used to it.

And frankly, I’m not really sure if the preceding tangent of mine has any relevance to the brilliant anthology edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek, The Reinvented Heart, but I started there, so be it.

The marvelous thing about this anthology is that it left me far removed from the simple definitions of what we’re talking about when we talk about “relationships,” romantic or otherwise.

In her foreword, Rambo quotes the call to authors she made for this book:

Science fiction often thinks about the technology without considering the ways social structures will change as tech changes—or not. What will relationships look like in the future when we have complications like clones, uploaded intelligences, artificial brains, or body augmentation? What happens when emotions like love and friendship span vast distances—in space, in time, and in the heart? And as we acknowledge differences in gender in a way we never have before, what stories are finally given the space in which to emerge?

Any sort of devoted reader of science fiction will no doubt immediately recall any number of stories—by Octavia Butler, or Sturgeon, or Delany, or Sheckley, or Le Guin, or Tiptree, to name just a few—that already address what Rambo and Brozek were looking for, but you’ll have to admit that those gems are rare—exquisite, but rare.

The marvelous thing about this anthology is how successful the editors were in their search to increase this number. This is all fine work, written with great skill, great intelligence, great wit and, perhaps most of all, a discerning and sympathetic eye for the way change can seem at once surprising and inevitable in this world (and any other world you choose to imagine). My favorites, not necessarily the best, works are by Rosemary Claire Smith, Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Fran Wilde, Lauren Ring, Sam Fleming, Xander Odell and Devin Miller. The three sections: “Hearts,” “Hands” and “Minds” are prefaced with poems by Jane Yolen. One need say no more.

Full disclosure: yes, it’s published by Caezik, but I would have grabbed up this anthology no matter who published it. Dozens of themed anthologies come out every year. This one is significantly a keeper.

If you’d like to read more of the great content that’s gone into the March/April issue of Galaxy’s Edge, you can find an issue at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Interview with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Author of O2 Arena

“O2 Arena”, a novelette by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, was published in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine in 2021 and is a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award.

We got a chance to talk with Oghenechovwe about “O2 Arena”, his ambitions as a writer and editor, as well as what he has planned for the future!

If you would like to read “O2 Arena”, you can do so here. Please also consider nominating it for the Nebula and Hugo Awards!

IP: The world of “O2 Arena” takes place in 2030, not so far off from our own time and place. Is this grim future a warning or a prediction for the next 10 years?

ODE: It’s both a warning and a prediction. “O2 Arena” is not exactly a wild sci fi story. There’s no terraforming on Mars, the elements in “O2 Arena” are things we live with daily.

There are people dying of all these illnesses because of capitalism and a lack of a system that cares for the people’s health. Instead, companies focus on how much money they can take from the African continent. There’s capitalism on toxic levels, and neo-colonizing loan firms that are offering money to the continent at rates that are exploitative.

70% of what’s in “O2 Arena” are already happening and 20% is on the same trajectory if we do nothing. The remaining 10% is a little out of the way, the hope that things can get better.

So “O2 Arena” is both a warning and a prediction of what will happen if we don’t move from current path. The underground O2 arena is where you have to fight for your right to breathe, taking that right from someone else. That’s the endgame of toxic capitalism.

It’s a very close reality that could actualize itself if we don’t do anything about it. 

IP: I know that you’ve been working on a lot of projects as an editor, including the upcoming anthology Africa Risen. For you, how is being an editor different than being a writer, and which do you prefer doing more?

ODE: They serve different purposes, but I’ll say that writing is definitely my first love. I always wanted to be a writer and tell stories. It just so happens that editing is a part of writing that you cannot escape, especially when you come from certain demographics. When you come from an underrepresented group, writing without editing is like trying to have a child without a partner.

There’s not enough representation for black people, especially for Africans on the continent, that it becomes a necessity to embark on projects like editing and publishing. Editing is like an appendage. Both are like the seed and the flower, or flower and the branch; they depend on each other.

Like I said, writing is my first love, but editing is just as important to me. My writing might not have survived without my editing. For example, my biggest writing project, my novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, I had to publish it myself in an anthology that I co-edited.

IP: Did you start out as a writer and move into editing, or have those two things always lived together?

ODE: I definitely started out as a writer, but my writing was coming along really slowly. Editing was a way to fast-track that.

My first collaboration was the Dominion anthology, and Zelda Knight reached out to me asking if I wanted to contribute a piece or be a co-editor. I said I wanted to do both, because I saw the advantage of having both a writing credit and an editing credit.

From there, I leapt into many different projects in writing, editing, and publishing. Like I said, they all go together like seed and flower.

IP: Your work has gained a lot of attention, what with the Otherwise Award, BSFA, and others. For you as a writer, what was your biggest achievement?

ODE: People talk about achieving their dreams, but I think for me, the biggest flex is that a lot of the things I’ve done, I never dared to dream of. They aren’t things that I thought were feasible, or even possible.

You dream about getting a good job, buying a nice car and a house. You don’t dream about winning a Nebula award, you know?

But I guess for me, my biggest achievement is to be on the same platform with some of the people whose work I grew up reading. While other kids were out playing football, I was reading.

I’m not crazy about Michael Jackson or Halle Berry; I’m crazy about Patrick Rothfuss, GRRM, Brandon Sanderson. Those are people that I’ve gotten to be on the platform with, and I’ve gotten to interact with them on a personal level. I’ve been able to share my views on art, writing, editing, and craft with them and take part in an intellectual conversation with them.

I was on a panel with Patrick Rothfuss, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most impressive thing I’ve achieved. Rothfuss was one of the most important authors at a point in my life, and I spent a long time living off his writing—reading and dreaming.

And these people were so far away. They’re far away for the average American, so you can imagine how far away they are for somebody in Nigeria. For me, it was like meeting Michael Jackson.

IP: What happens next? You’ve achieved these things you never imagined were possible, so what’s next for you?

ODE: Well, now I’ve started dreaming, and I have some ambitions. I want to reinvent pop culture and center it around Black and African narratives. The world has suppressed Blackness and African-ness for a long time, while still using its resources to build and boost its own cultures.

I want to give us our rightful place in art and history. There was slavery, colonization, and we know that a lot of the resources from the continent have built things around the world. Our art is still hanging in museums in Germany and Britain. It’s only fair that we have a place in the current pop and entertainment structures.

African artists should have a place and a chance to benefit off the systems that were built using their blood and the resources of their ancestors.

That’s my dream.

IP: That’s very inspiring, I certainly hope it comes true. Speaking of the futures, what kind of projects are you working on currently?

ODE: I’m working on everything. I’m writing a novel. I’m pitching a novella and a novella series. I have editing projects currently underway. Africa Risen is coming out later this year, I have an editing project I’m working on with the editor of Galaxy’s Edge.

I have several awards, ceremonies, and events planned for this year. Plus, I have a publishing imprint in the works.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s novelette “O2 Arena” was nominated for the Nebula Awards this year. It is the first novelette by an African writer—diaspora or continental—to be nominated for the award. It’s also eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. 

“O2 Arena” is also Galaxy’s Edge’s first nomination for a Nebula award in this category. 

To learn more about Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s writing and editing projects, please visit his website!

A big thanks goes out to Oghenechovwe for sitting down for this chat!

Nebula Award 2021 Nominations

It’s that time of year again! SFWA just announced all the nominations for the Nebula Award 2021.

All finalists had their science fiction, horror, or fantasy work published in 2021, and the winners for each category will be announced on Saturday, May 21, 2022 during a virtual ceremony. Eligible SFWA members will be able to start voting on March 14th, 2022.

We are super excited to share that Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s story, “O2 Arena”, that was published in Galaxy’s Edge issue 53 last year is a finalist for the Nebula Award for Novelette!

If you would like to read his novelette, you can do so here.

We also provided links to read all of the work that has been published online. Without further ado, here are all the Nebula Award Finalists for 2021:

Best Novel

  • The Unbroken, C.L. Clark (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom; Orbit UK)
  • Machinehood, S.B. Divya (Saga)
  • A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Plague Birds, Jason Sanford (Apex)

Best Novella

  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers (Tordotcom)
  • Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom)
  • And What Can We Offer You Tonight, Premee Mohamed (Neon Hemlock)
  • Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, Aimee Ogden (Tordotcom)
  • Flowers for the Sea, Zin E. Rocklyn (Tordotcom)
  • The Necessity of Stars, E. Catherine Tobler (Neon Hemlock)
  • The Giants of the Violet Sea“, Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny 9–10/21)

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade & Young Adult Fiction

  • Victories Greater Than Death, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Teen; Titan)
  • Thornwood, Leah Cypess (Delacorte)
  • Redemptor, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet; Hot Key)
  • A Snake Falls to Earth, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Root Magic, Eden Royce (Walden Pond)
  • Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen; Rock the Boat)

Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Encanto, Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures)
  • The Green Knight, David Lowery (Sailor Bear, BRON Studios, A24)
  • Loki: Season 1, Bisha K. Ali, Elissa Karasik, Eric Martin, Michael Waldron, Tom Kauffman, Jess Dweck (Marvel Studios)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Studios)
  • Space Sweepers, Jo Sung-hee 조성희 (Bidangil Pictures)
  • WandaVision: Season 1, Peter Cameron, Mackenzie Dohr, Laura Donney, Bobak Esfarjani, Megan McDonnell, Jac Schaeffer, Cameron Squires, Gretchen Enders, Chuck Hayward (Marvel Studios)
  • What We Do in the Shadows: Season 3, Jake Bender, Zach Dunn, Shana Gohd, Sam Johnson, Chris Marcil, William Meny, Sarah Naftalis, Stefani Robinson, Marika Sawyer, Paul Simms, Lauren Wells (FX Productions, Two Canoes Pictures, 343 Incorporated, FX Network)

Nebula Award for Game Writing

  • Coyote & Crow, Connor Alexander, William McKay, Weyodi Oldbear, Derek Pounds, Nico Albert, Riana Elliott, Diogo Nogueira, William Thompson (Coyote & Crow, LLC.)
  • Gramma’s Hand, Balogun Ojetade (Balogun Ojetade, Roaring Lion Productions)
  • Thirsty Sword Lesbians, April Kit Walsh, Whitney Delagio, Dominique Dickey, Jonaya Kemper, Alexis Sara, Rae Nedjadi (Evil Hat Games)
  • Wanderhome, Jay Dragon (Possum Creek Games)
  • Wildermyth, Nate Austin, Anne Austin (Worldwalker Games, LLC, Whisper Games)

Congratulations to all of the finalists! 2021 was truly a great year for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We’re looking forward to seeing the results in May!

If you read “O2 Arena” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and you want to read more from Galaxy’s Edge, consider becoming a subscriber:

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews John Scalzi

In 2022’s first issue of Galaxy’s Edge, we’ve seen stories from new and old writers alike, book reviews by Robert Chwedyk, and, of course, an interview from Jean Marie Ward.

In this issue, she chats with John Scalzi, best-selling sci fi author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

From Rock Stars to Redshirts and Kaiju

At any moment in time, the number of cultural figures immediately recognizable by a single name can be numbered on a single hand. For over ten years, John Scalzi has been one of those rare few. His last name alone not only conjures images of fast-paced, witty, pop culture–infused science fiction, but also the attitudes and opinions that have made his long-running blog, Whatever, a must-read for fans and detractors alike. Despite over 15 best-selling books, numerous published novellas and short stories, produced scripts, and Hugo Awards, he retains the work ethic and crusading spirit of the journalist he used to be—and on occasion still is. His unprecedented three consecutive terms as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America focused on making SFWA a better advocate for writers in the marketplace. In the years since, he has continued to promote the genre and its writers. Catching up with Scalzi as he prepared for the March release of Kaiju Preservation Society, Galaxy’s Edge quizzed him about how to grow a writing career out of pop culture, a philosophy degree, and a lot of low-hanging fruit.

Galaxy’s Edge: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Was it before or after you wanted to become a rock star?

John Scalzi: I think everybody wants to be a rock star from a very early age. I think the very first time I thought of being a rock star was in 1977 when, as an eight-year-old, I thought I had a more than passing resemblance to Shaun Cassidy. As it turns out, that resemblance no longer exists. Shaun Cassidy still has much more hair.

I figured out I wanted to be a writer was when I was 14, when I did an assignment for a class in high school. It was English composition class taught by John Hayes. He had everybody in the three sections that he taught do a story about a gift and the consequences of that gift. As someone who read a lot of science fiction and horror and mystery and stuff like that, my first thought was to write a sort of supernatural tale about a black cat that was cursed.

I couldn’t make it work. So, at the last—literally the last—minute, I stayed up all night to write a lightly fictionalized tale about my friends, Peter and Jennifer, who had started dating. The story was that their gift to each other was the love they had for each other. I typed it up overnight in a panic, turned it in, and I was the only person in those three sections that got an “A” on the thing. And I had, as we call in the industry, an epiphany, which was like: “Holy crap, I threw this together at the last minute and still somehow did better than everybody else. Also, everything else in school is really hard. So, I’m gonna be a writer, because this is easy, and everything else is hard.”

Now the irony is that writing became hard, because there’s a difference between what you can do in an English composition class when you’re a freshman and what you can actually publish and make a living out of. But by that point, it was too late. I was too far down the rabbit hole, and I was not qualified to do anything else.

So that’s when I became a writer. I would still not mind being a rock star, but I don’t think it’s gonna work out. There’s not much of a market for a 52-year-old rookie rock star. I’ll just have to content myself with collecting more guitars than any one person really needs.

Galaxy’s Edge: How did “Writing is easy!” translate into taking a philosophy major in college?

John Scalzi: The thing about it was… (And again, this helps establish the trend of I will do anything as long as it furthers my own laziness.) I was going into college to be a writer. I went immediately to the school newspaper and started writing there. As I tell people, regardless of what degree I would have ended up with, I majored in newspaper. But while I was writing for the newspaper, I still had to take classes, or they wouldn’t let me stay in school. Strange how that works out. So, I started taking the classes that looked interesting to me, and they ended up being philosophy courses.

At the end of my third year, I went to talk to my advisor, and my advisor said, “Look, if you were planning to get an English degree because you’re a writer, I regret to tell you, you haven’t taken enough English courses. It would take you five years. But if you took a philosophy degree, you could pretty much graduate now.”

And I’m like: “Well, I guess I’m a philosopher.” So, I kind of fell into it.

Having said that, a philosophy degree ends up being very useful for a writer, not in any practical sense, but in the overarching sense of learning how to think, learning how to reason, learning how to research, learning how to find things out for yourself, and also examining the consequences of what people do and how they do them. Now, additionally, my concentration within the philosophy degree (which is basically the equivalent of the minor) is in language arts. So, my full degree is philosophy with a concentration in philosophy of language.

Learning how people use language not only to communicate, but also to obfuscate, or to explain or to avoid or just how people make language work comes, oddly enough, in handy when one is a writer and one is trying to develop characters and have them use language in particularly interesting ways. So, for me, the philosophy degree, on one hand, has been completely useless. I only have a bachelor’s in it, not a master’s or a doctorate. But on the other hand, it has been extraordinarily useful to me in the sense of the things I learned in philosophy, I use every day, not only when I write fiction, but nonfiction as well.

Galaxy’s Edge: One of my college humanities courses was taught by a philosophy professor. His said you could tell a lot about a nation by the structure and the content of their language.

John Scalzi: That’s entirely possible. I think it’s certainly true that the way that language is being used today and how we communicate with each other has made a huge difference in the politics of the day. So much of our discourse right now is about making rhetorical points, not necessarily to the advantage of political unity or political cohesiveness. And it’s not unintentional. Of course, we are also talking about the fact that social media is often used to manipulate public opinion, not only just in the matter of people talking to each other, but by specific actors using rhetoric in a way that gets other people to share it and shapes the conversation for good or for ill. I think it’s very important that we understand how rhetoric is used, how discourse matters, how the language that we use in describing others dictates how we feel.

I’m a liberal who lives in a county that went 81 percent for Trump. I have a lot of very liberal friends who are like: “Oh, my God, how can you live there? These are awful people.” It’s difficult to say, “Well, their politics are awful from my point of view, but 90 percent of the time when I’m dealing with my neighbors, politics is not the thing that comes up.”

Now, there are lots of ways that that can be broken down. You can’t just ignore what they are voting for. You can’t just say, “Oh, they’re good neighbors,” and leave it at that. And there’s some truth to that, but it’s also a matter of 90 percent of what I have to do with my neighbors on a daily basis isn’t about politics.

The question is, isn’t there more that connects us than separates us? How do we build our discourse and our rhetoric so that becomes the case, so that we can learn to cooperate where we can cooperate? And where we can’t cooperate, how do we learn to make that an issue that is very focused, as opposed to just a general No, we can no longer get along with these folks? It’s a very difficult, particular moment that we’re in, and we’ll just see where it goes in the next several years.

Galaxy’s Edge: Your first paying jobs were all nonfiction gigs. How did your experiences writing nonfiction contribute to your fiction?

John Scalzi: In a number of ways. The most practical thing is I learned to hit deadlines. Mostly. That is really important for me as a fiction writer, because whether or not we want to admit it, most of the people who write fiction are commercial writers. You want to be reliable and able to say, “I’m going to do this, and I’m gonna hit this deadline.” That sort of stuff is really important. If your publisher realizes they can trust you to produce a book each year, every year, and have it be of reasonable quality, then all of a sudden you are more likely to get a three-book deal or a four-book deal, or in my case, it was a ridiculous 13-book deal because they’re like, “Yeah, we can trust that Scalzi’s gonna have something for us every year.”

So, deadlines were a huge thing, but also the idea that writing was a gig. Writing was a job. Writing was a thing that you did day in and day out, and you didn’t wait for the news. Because if I was as a newspaperman waiting for the news before I wrote my reviews and before I wrote my feature pieces for my newspaper column, the copy editor would have come over and strangled me. Because news, schmooze, you have a three p.m. deadline. Hit it. I think that that is really useful, particularly if you are a commercial writer and you want to be seen as reliable. So, having writing demystified, having it just be a job, having it be something where everything needed to be in by three p.m. every day, or your stuff didn’t show up, and then your editor had to talk to you—all of these things were really important.

But I also think that it [contributed] a bit of character in terms of what my prose is like. I am not a particularly ornate prose writer. If you look at my prose and then you find out that the first ten years of my writing life was as a working journalist, all of a sudden, it’s like: “Wow. That makes sense.” Because the prose does not generally call attention to itself in a way that [the prose of] someone who has gone through fiction writing and everything else first necessarily does. This isn’t a complaint. This isn’t me saying what I do is better. Some of my favorite writers have prose that is so beautiful that it almost doesn’t matter about the story they’re telling, because each sentence is its own reward. My sentences are not the reward. Generally speaking, the story is the reward. It’s just a different type of writing, but it is a type of writing that suits me as a person and as a reader in many ways. So as far as it goes, I’m happy that I had that experience writing nonfiction.

The final thing that was really useful—and piggybacking on the thing about philosophy teaching you how to write and how to research—is when you are writing nonfiction and writing as a freelancer, you are basically writing whatever you can get, because that’s how you pay your bills. You learn very quickly how to research, how to find things, how to communicate those ideas quickly and simply, as much as you can. I had a lot of experience as a freelance writer and as a journalist becoming sort of an instant expert on things, or if not an expert—because now I can hear all the actual experts clearing their throats—then at least someone able to learn enough to communicate the precis of a concept to people who know even less about it than I do. That becomes very useful, particularly in science fiction, when you have all these really weird concepts that you need to get across to people who are encountering them for the first time in your prose.

Now we can say that science fiction readers are used to super cool concepts and will take a flyer. But I don’t write just for the dyed-in-the-wool science fiction readers. I also write for people who want a good story but don’t necessarily know that they like science fiction, or who have always said, “Oh, there’s so much I have to take on board. I don’t know that I can read science fiction.” I want to be someone who makes science fiction that you can give to your dad, or you can give to your grandma, or you can give to your kid. That being the case, the idea of explaining abstruse stuff in a way that we’re like, “And now you have enough, let’s go on with the story,” comes really in handy. So, I’m super grateful that my first few years were as a journalist and then as a freelancer, because I think it’s made all the difference in terms of both how I write and, when I got lucky enough to be successful, being able to maintain that success.

Galaxy’s Edge: You read a lot of mystery in science fiction before flipping the coin that had you trying your hand at writing science fiction. In other interviews, you’ve talked a lot about the SF writers who influenced you, but who are your heroes in the mystery canon? (I have a bet with myself on that.)

John Scalzi: Well, now I need to know who it is you’re thinking of.

Galaxy’s Edge: Dashiell Hammett.

John Scalzi: That’s not a bad guess at all, because it’s not only him, but the second order of people and the people who were influenced by him. Particularly, I’m thinking of Carl Hiaasen. The big three for me, in terms of being really enjoyable, were Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen and Gregory Mcdonald, who wrote the Fletch books—and the Fletch books, in particular. I think if you look at the way I use dialogue and the way Gregory Mcdonald used dialogue in the Fletch books, you will see a lot of similarities. Not necessarily the same words, not necessarily the same tone, but having so much of the story told through people talking is something I definitely got from him. I mean, with the Fletch novels, it was such a prominent part of the books that it was on the covers. The cover treatment for the Fletch books originally was snippets of dialogue, which nobody ever did. Nobody ever made that a selling point of their books, and yet Gregory Mcdonald absolutely did.

[The thing about] Carl Hiaasen, for me, was the absurdity, being able to put absurdity in his books and still have it grounded into the real world, because he wrote all his books in Florida, where everything was possible no matter how ridiculous. With Elmore Leonard, a lot of it was tone. I think that that happens with folks like Hammett, as well. The thing about Hammett and Elmore Leonard is the way they so economically communicated where they were, where you were, what the characters were like, what they were doing, and what the world was like. The world-building that mystery writers do so quickly and in such shorthand is a portable skill. It’s not only something you can use in mystery. You can use it in science fiction and other genres, as well. I find it becomes super handy in science fiction. When I want to make people very quickly aware of where we are, what we’re doing, all that sort of stuff, I fall back on the mystery writers that I love more than I fall back on the science fiction writers.

One of the things I would say—and this is not necessarily fair, and it’s not necessarily true now—but back in the golden age of these genres, science fiction writers had more of a monopoly on ideas that were really cool, and mystery writers had a better grip on human relationships. I think that’s a gross oversimplification, and I don’t think that that’s true now. Science fiction has expanded what it does and who does it and how they do it. But that shorthand of establishing characters was very much more of one genre than the other. That’s why when I started writing science fiction, I was like: “Well, I can use more in my toolbox to write science fiction than just what is in science fiction.”

And it wasn’t just mystery. It was journalism. It was also humor. There’s as much Nora Ephron in my writing as there is Robert Heinlein. I think that’s really important to say: Science fiction and fantasy writers can get influences from anywhere. It’s important to be well-read—not only within your genre, which is a thing that science fiction writers have always done, but outside of it as well.

Galaxy’s Edge: Much of your science fiction seems to be a deliberate engagement with classic SF novels and media properties—Old Man’s War, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation…. What’s at work here? Is this marketing savvy or something more thematic?

John Scalzi: Absolutely pure cynical marketing. I’ve gone to where the kids are.

No. The answer is kind of complex. I wrote Redshirts in part because I’m a fan of Star Trek, and I really wanted to. It was a world that I liked, and a world that I was exposed to, and a world that I wanted to honor. At the same time, I was well aware that nobody had actually written a book about redshirts, and it was inexplicable to me that nobody had. The reason was because everybody in science fiction was so familiar with redshirts as a concept and redshirts as a five-minute joke, that they never thought to…I don’t want to say they never thought of it as more, but nobody had taken that extra step and written that novel. And I was like: “Really? This is super low-hanging fruit, this big ripe fruit almost to the ground. It’s so low-hanging, and nobody has plucked this particular fruit.” I think everybody just looked at it and went: “That’s too low-hanging.” And I’m like: “No, I’m gonna take this fruit, and I’m gonna make a pie.”

When you look at a lot of stuff that I write, a lot of it echoes a lot of media. Old Man’s War is very clearly, and acknowledged as such, a riff on Starship Troopers and that tradition of science fiction. Redshirts is obviously Star Trek. Kaiju Preservation Society, which is coming out in March, is clearly riffing off not only people’s knowledge of Godzilla and all the Japanese movies but all the second-order movies like Pacific Rim as well, and everybody gets the joke. Again, part of that is just me. I’m writing a kaiju book because I wanted to read a kaiju book. But also, I am not unaware that when I go into Tor and I say, “Hey, I have this book, and it’s called Kaiju Preservation Society,” that the marketing people go Bzing! because they know that everybody will get it. That is not a difficult concept to sell to booksellers or to readers.

The same thing happened with Redshirts. I told my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, “Hey, I’m writing a book.” And he’s like: “Great. What’s it called?” I said, “It’s called “Redshirts.” And he’s like: “Ah!” He immediately got it. He went to the marketing people and said, “Scalzi’s writing a new book.” “What’s the book called?” “It’s called Redshirts.” And they went, “Ah!” Then the marketing people went to the booksellers and said, “Hey, booksellers, Scalzi’s got a new book out. It’s called Redshirts.” And all the booksellers were like: “Ah!” They were all so excited.

The only person who wasn’t 100 percent with the brief right at the beginning was the guy who did the cover, Peter Lutjen, who is fantastic. He did all these amazing cover art treatments that were so clever and were so awesome, and we all looked at them and said, “Why isn’t there a red shirt?” To be clear, Pete Lutjen is the best. He’s just the best. He’s done so many good covers for everything including Redshirts, but you could just hear him going: “It’s too on the nose.” And we were like: “No, make it a red shirt, because then you can see it all the way across the bookstore.”

So, it’s a combination. I am a pop culture guy. I don’t pretend that I am not a pop culture guy, but more to that point, I also have no problem acknowledging that I’m a pop culture guy. But also, pop culture is a great place for someone who writes like me and who has goals like mine. Why did I write Redshirts? Because I wanted to and once I did, I was like: “I am not gonna deny this is gonna be something that everybody gets.” And everybody did get it.

Now, not everybody liked it. Redshirts is the book that has the largest number of one-star reviews and five-star reviews. There’s almost nothing in the middle. You either love it or you hate it. I find that I’m often polarizing that way. Either people are totally in for the John Scalzi experience, or they’re like, “Why Scalzi? Why? What is it with him? Why…” And they make strangling motions and stuff like that. I totally get it. I mean, I don’t think that I’m that polarizing in the actual text of what I write, but I am polarizing in how I write it. I am additionally polarizing because I’m a very outspoken person on the internet, but that’s mostly an aside.

Learn about bestselling author John Scalzi’s writing process, his experiences as a scriptwriter for TV and streaming services, and the origin of his new novel, Kaiju Preservation Society, in the next issue of Galaxy’s Edge!

In the meantime, check out some of our other great interviews!

Galaxy’s Edge Sci-Fi Book Review Roundup: January, 2022

The new year brings with it a new issue of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine! This month’s lineup includes authors Harry Turtledove, Effie Seiberg, Galen Westlake, Wang Yuan, and more!

Plus, Jean Marie Ward sits down for an interview with prolific sci fi legend, John Scalzi.

And Robert Chwedyk is at it again with another round of sci fi book reviews, this time including:

  • Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer
  • Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Needle by Hal Clements

Check out what he had to say about these books below!

Perhaps the Stars

by Ada Palmer

Tor

November 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7653-7806-4

sci fi book review perhaps the stars

This was the work I was most hoping to get my hands upon when I entered the dealers’ room. It’s the “culmination” (it says so on the cover) of Ada Palmer’s massive tetralogy, Terra Ignota. And it fulfills the promise of the earlier books, Too Like the Lightning, Seven Surrenders and The Will to Battle. This is science fiction conceived of as a “literature of ideas,” and then raises the stakes to something that seems to dwarf such terms as “literature” and “ideas.” It’s a novel that not only contains the heart of a person or group of persons (a cast too numerous to even hint at), it contains the heart of an entire age. An age to come.

That age, to the surprise of some, is a renaissance transported centuries ahead of our time.

And why not? Writers like John M. Ford and Jack Dann have transported science-fictional concepts and sensibilities to alternate versions of the Renaissance. Why not the other way round? It was an age of great discoveries and brutal struggles for power and influence. It was era of great art and murderous passions. It was an age marked by both progress and the threat of ultimate calamity. Describing it that way, it sounds like the milieu of an Alfred Bester novel, or Cordwainer Smith with a crueler streak. And that’s not a bad way to summarize Palmer’s Terra Ignota milieu, except that Palmer raises the stakes a few nth degrees. Palmer’s world reinvents and somewhat refines technologies that have existed for centuries, were lost, and invented yet again. More important than technologies in some ways are the reinventions of ideas, like humanism, since the Renaissance can also be considered to some degree a humanist revolution.

It was also a most forward-thinking era. An impressive number of its luminaries could be mistaken for science fiction writers (and very often are). Also very much present in Palmer’s imagined future is the presence of the classical myth and epic imagery which energized and inspired the historical renaissance.

Those are just some of the aspects of renaissance culture Palmer so splendidly re-tools and extrapolates to thrilling effect, which may sound strange, since much of her prose is dense in texture. It is not, however, impenetrable. On the contrary, it draws you in and sustains your attention.

No matter how alien (in the widest sense) and far-out her scenarios and speculations may get, there is something familiar about them that we can connect with. Science fiction is often complimented (and also castigated) as a literature of ideas. Palmer is one of those writers who can bring those ideas to life in myriad, and fascinating, ways. It is more than intellectual exercise. In her hands, it’s emotionally compelling too. The novel pulls you in and sustains your interest throughout.

There is no one else in the field now (or at any time before) writing like Ada Palmer, which some readers may think a pity and others a blessing. The good news is that one Ada Palmer is sufficient (and necessary), and we’re very fortunate to have her.

Noor

by Nnedi Okorafor

DAW

November 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7564-1609-6

sci fi book review noor

Of recent, Nnedi Okorafor has branched out into writing comics and screenplays, but what I still love best are her novels. She has not only invented a whole new way of looking at science fiction, but in doing so not only invented a voice, but a new kind of voice. Her worlds are as distinct in their own Africanfuturist (which Okorafor distinguishes from “Afrofuturist”) way as are the worlds of a Cordwainer Smith or an Alfred Bester or a R. A. Lafferty or a James Tiptree, Jr. are to theirs. I know, she has received much acclaim already, but I think her contributions are still undervalued to the field because, simply, so many of us are still learning how to read her.

Her most recent work has us following Anwuli Okwundili, who has shortened her name to AO, though she also insists this stands for “Artificial Organism.” AO was born with severe defects and given a number of mechanical enhancements. We’re in cyberpunk territory, but only in some ways. AO ends up with more enhancements when she turns fourteen, courtesy of the Ultimate Corp. All of this, as you would expect, makes her something of an outcast in her Nigerian village, until the day she is attacked in an Abuja marketplace. She manages to kill all the attackers. Now she is really an outcast, on the run, and she heads for the desert, where she runs into a Fulani herdsman named DNA, who is a lot more than his humble profession may suggest.

Also in the desert they encounter a roving dust storm called the Red Eye (which reminded me, of all things, of the sentient tornado named Sweetiepie that outsider artist Henry Darger wrote about in his autobiography). It is inevitable, especially in an Okorafor novel, that AO and DNA’s journey will bring them into the very heart of Red Eye, and even if you are familiar with any of Okorafor’s recent work, it will not be like anything you expect.

The thing I’ve found about Okorafor’s books is this: whoever you are and wherever you come from, you have to give yourself over to her and let her work her (in some cases literal) magic on you. With some authors this would be a dangerous proposition. Not so with Okorafor. Not only does she give me a plethora of new places to see, she lets me see them from angles I never would have imagined before. I trust her even when I have no clue what she’s doing because I’m certain she damn well knows what she’s doing, and that’s good enough for me. That feeling, that trust, is one of the things that got me reading science fiction in the first place.

Needle

by Hal Clement

Doubleday & Company, Inc.

1950 (first printing; many editions followed from several publishers)

ISBN: 0-380-00635-9

sci fi book review needle

As much as I love all the new releases, my favorite part of the dealers’ room are the tables and tables of second-hand books, especially the mass market paperbacks. Were it not for those little gems calling out to me, siren-like, from the spinner racks of pharmacies and department store displays all those years ago, I might not have lost my heart to science fiction, at least at such an early age.

At the convention, I was fortunately able to acquire a copy of Hal Clement’s first novel, Needle, which I loaned out to someone who had the good sense never to return it. Clement hasn’t been given much attention in a long, long while, though he is occasionally remembered via lip service as one of the founders of “hard” SF. When mentioned, it is usually in regard to his best-known novel, Mission of Gravity.

I can’t say which novel is objectively better, but I have a fondness for Needle because it not only gives us the prototype for a number of stories where alien life forms take up residence in human hosts, but it does not descend into the kind of horrific scenarios most writers would take this sort of thing. In fact, Needle can also serve as a prototype YA novel, since its human protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy. It has also been unofficially adapted (aka ripped off) by the manga 7 Billion Needles, along with media variations as far afield as Ultraman, The Hidden and Brain from Planet Arous. If “steal from the best” means anything in our culture, this novel has some real creds.

Robert Kinnaird, the boy, finds himself inhabited by the alien, The Hunter, who, as his name suggests, is in pursuit of a criminal alien. The criminal and The Hunter, both in their own ships, crash land near a sparsely populated Pacific island. As The Hunter inhabits Kinnaird, the criminal he’s pursuing inhabits someone else on the island. But just as The Hunter is learning something of his host, the planet and the culture he now finds himself in, Robert is sent off to a New England prep school. The Hunter not only has to find a way of cooperating with his host, and vice versa, he also has to find a way to get himself (or “themself,” sort of) back to the island so he can apprehend the criminal alien.

The novel works marvelously on several levels. It not only successfully portrays non-humanoid aliens as something other than nefarious invaders and maintains its hard science-fictional pedigree, but it also serves as a metaphorical evocation of the strangeness of adolescence: a boy feeling his body in change, as if something new is living inside him, not quite him but not quite not him. This perceived change gets even pricklier when he returns to the island and we discover who the host of the criminal alien is (no spoilers).

It’s a fable of change and growth and maturation told in the brisk and capable voice that marks the best of Clement’s work.

The discovery of such a gem in any dealers’ room is one of the joys of going to conventions in the flesh.

It felt so good to be back.

May we all be able to do much more of this soon.

Be sure to check out all the other books Chwedyk has reviewed in the January, 2022 issue of Galaxy’s Edge, as well as the great stories from new and established authors alike!

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Seanan McGuire

In the July 2021 issue of Galaxy’s Edge, Jean Marie Ward interviews Seanan McGuire. They discuss all manner of things, including writing, publishing, feminism, and much more!

Check out the full interview below, and if you like this content, consider subscribing to Galaxy’s Edge, where we bring you the best speculative fiction from writers new and old, as well as thoughtful interviews and book reviews.

About Jean Marie Ward

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between. Her first novel, With Nine You get Vanyr (written with the late Teri Smith), finaled in both the science fiction/fantasy and humor categories of the 2008 Indie Awards. She has published stories in Asimov’s and many anthologies and provided an in-depth look into an award-wining artist, with her book Illumina: The Art of J.P. Targete. Her second nonfiction title, Fantasy Art Templates, marries the superb illustrations of artist Rafi Adrian Zulkarnain with pithy descriptions of over one hundred fifty creatures and characters from science fiction, fantasy, folklore and myth. A former assistant producer of the local access cable TV program Mystery Readers Corner, Ms. Ward edited the respected webzine Crescent Blues for eight years, and co-edited Unconventional Fantasy, a six-volume collection of fiction, non-fiction and art celebrating the fortieth anniversary of World Fantasy Con. She has also contributed interviews and articles for diverse publications before starting interviewing for Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Her website is JeanMarieWard.com.

FOLKLORE, PLAGUES, AND ANGLERFISH

What are award-winning, SFF writers made of? In the case of Seanan McGuire—author of the October Daye, InCryptid, Wayward Children series and more under her own name, as well as the science fiction horror novels of her alter ego Mira Grant and the children’s fantasy she writes as A. Deborah Baker—the answer encompasses music, art, anglerfish and 3 a.m. fanfiction attacks. Strange as the recipe may seem, you can’t argue with the results. To date, McGuire’s honors include the 2010 John W. Campbell Award (now the Astounding Award) for Best New Writer, the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Novella, five Hugo Awards, a record-breaking five Hugo nominations in a single year, and five consecutive Hugo nominations for Best Series—to say nothing of the seven Pegasus Awards she’s won for her filking. Eager to learn more, Galaxy’s Edge sat down with the California native a few days before the release of her latest novel, Angel of the Overpass, to talk about her earliest days as a writer, her fascination with microbial marvels, and expanding the notion of personhood on the page.

Galaxy’s Edge: When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?

Seanan McGuire: When I found out it was an option. I was a very weird child. I was credulous in some ways that sound fake to me now, even though I remember the experience, and disbelieving in other odd ways. It made perfect sense to me that lunch boxes would grow on trees, which happens in The Wizard of Oz. And if there are lunchbox trees, why wouldn’t there be book trees? I had never met an author. I had never met anyone who said they were an author. I just figured that books happened. Being a storyteller felt like too much of a responsibility for any one person. It didn’t make sense, given the breadth of stories I could experience if I went looking, that anyone would do that.

At the time, one of my favorite shows was an anthology series on the USA Network called Ray Bradbury Presents. Every episode began with this white-haired dude sitting at a typewriter pounding away. Then there’d be a ding, and he would pull a sheet of paper out of the typewriter and throw it into the air. It fluttered down and formed part of the logo.

One day I asked my grandmother, “Who the heck is that? Why is this old dude taking up like a whole minute of what could be story?”

She said, “That’s Ray Bradbury. He wrote all these stories.”

That was my bolt of lightning moment. Wait, one person made all this up? This is all fake, and one person sat down and thought of it, and that was okay? That was allowed? I pretty much decided on the spot that that’s what I was going to do.

Galaxy’s Edge: How did you get from there to your first published stories?

Seanan McGuire: A lot of fan fiction. So much fan fiction. Shortly after the Ray Bradbury Presents incident, my mother brought me this gigantic manual typewriter from a yard sale. It cost five dollars, and it disrupted her sleep for years. It weighed more than I did. I would sit down, feed my paper in, and pound away for hours. I was seven. Seven-year-olds don’t sleep like humans They’re people, but they aren’t humans yet. The idea that 3 a.m. is not a good time to start working on a giant manual typewriter that sounds like gunfire does not occur to their tiny seven-year-old brains. And since the typewriter was so big compared to how big I was, I couldn’t just type, I had to assault the keyboard. I hunt and peck at approximately two hundred forty words per minute…

Because I was writing for hours at night, I would write stories about my cats or what I did that weekend or—and this is key—about having adventures with my friends, the My Little Ponies in Dream Valley. I had no idea that a self-insert was a bad thing. I was seven. I had no idea that saying I would be good at everything the ponies needed me to be good at was being a Mary Sue. Again, I was seven. I did this for years.

The thing about writing is the more you do it, the better you’ll get. You can get good at some really bad habits. But putting words in a line, forming sentences, building sentences into a paragraph, building enough paragraphs onto a page to have a page? That’s a muscle. That’s something that you learn by doing. I turned out reams and reams and reams of not goodness, but it taught me how to put together a page.

Then I got to high school and discovered real fanfic, where you write in a universe. [Fanfic] had these weird unspoken rules, like the Mary Sue Litmus Test, and what was and was not appropriate to do. One of the first pieces of advice I was given was never write a character who looks like you, even if they’re canonical, because everyone will assume that the blonde girl writing about Veronica Mars or Emma Frost is really writing about herself, and that’s not okay. At some point, every dude I know writes about himself having magical adventures in a magical D&D land and getting all the hot elf babes. But if a blonde woman writes a blonde character or a Black woman writes a Black character or anything superficially similar to their appearance, it doesn’t matter how integral that character is to the story, it’s proof they’re sticking themselves in the story, and that’s bad. I disagree with this, in case you can’t tell.

Galaxy’s Edge: What about the little blonde girl in the InCryptid series?

Seanan McGuire: I ultimately got around the problem by making everything fanfic. Verity is basically Chelsie Hightower from So You Think You Can Dance. The InCryptid series was a response to my PA saying, “Please, write something that gets us invited to go backstage on So You Think You Can Dance.

But in the beginning I just wrote a lot of fanfic. The more fanfic I wrote, the better I got at things like plot and structure and actually writing a 20,000-word, a 50,000-word, a 100,000-word story that wouldn’t bore my readers. Eventually I started writing original fiction, which pretty much went nowhere. I would write it, I would be happy with it, and then I would revise it, because when no one’s publishing you, masturbatory revision takes 90 percent of your time.

One day, my friend Tara, who knew me from the fanfic community, said an agent friend of hers was branching out and starting her own boutique agency. And because [the agent] was from the fanfic community, she was looking for fanfic authors with an interest in their own original fiction. I sent her a copy of Rosemary and Rue. She sent me back a list of suggested revisions. I did one more revision, and she signed me. Then everything went nuts.

Galaxy’s Edge: Because you had something else in the pipe—something that became the Newsflesh series.

Seanan McGuire: The thing about writing very fast is I write very fast. When we took Rosemary and Rue to DAW, I had already finished [the] first three books in the October Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night). I also had a rough and not-so-great draft of Book Four, Late Eclipses, but I had time to revise and beat it into a shape. I also had Feed, my biotechnical science-fiction thriller. We took Feed to Orbit.

With DAW, we were very fortunate in that a good friend of mine was also a DAW author and able to give me the nepotism referral to her editor. She wasn’t inappropriate about it. She just said, “This is my friend, Seanan. She wrote a really good book. I think you’ll like it. Let me introduce you.”

At Orbit, we went through a more normal submissions process. We wound up with DongWon Song, who’s now an agent but at the time was an Orbit editor. They were the perfect editor for that series. I miss working with them.

Galaxy’s Edge: You mentioned in another interview that you took the “dragon major” in college: a double major in folklore and herpetology. How did that play into your writing and your day job?

Seanan McGuire: I’ve never had a day job that used either parts of my degree. I think that anything we do or are interested in will play into our writing. We can’t help it. It’s part of why I get kind of angry on a personal level at authors who say that fanfic is bad and you can’t do fanfic ever. Well, okay, I’m gonna go over your work and find every element that you took from Shakespeare. How dare you write fanfic? I’m gonna find every element you took from Austen or from Poe. Or from fairy tales, from the Brothers Grimm, from Disney.

Humans are magpies. We do not thrive on original thought. That’s not how we’re constructed. If you have one truly original thought in your entire lifetime, you’re about average. You’re doing well. We want to think of ourselves as these incredible original innovators of everything, but that’s not how monomyths work. It’s not how human psychology works. Everything’s a remix.

Because I studied both the so-called soft science of folklore and the hard science of herpetology, I have, to a certain degree, the flexibility of thought arising from two very different disciplines. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It just means that I have been trained to look at things from those multiple angles. There are still ways of thought that are completely alien to me. I have no experience or background in any kind of physical handiwork. I don’t know how to fix a car. If you hand me a hammer and a nail, the odds are good that what I’ll hand you back is a trip to the ER, because I have just broken my hand. There are patterns and ways of thought that I can’t wrap my head around. But having that initial flexibility made it easier for me to switch gears as I got older.

You can see the dichotomy in the two sides of my work. When I write as Seanan, I tend to write very monomythical, very inspired by folklore, very poetic. One of my favorite copy editors says, when you copy edit my work for flow and for tone, you need to remain aware of the fact that I have never written a book in my life. What I write is 300-page poems. That’s not inaccurate. The way I build sentences, the way I phrase things and manage the rising action very much reflects the fact I was a folklore major who studied oral histories for a long time. Within a single book, there will usually be one or two phrases that I hit very often. It’s not because don’t I think my readers are clever; it’s how I assemble a narrative.

When I write as Mira Grant, [the stories] are very biological. I started out wanting her to be a horror author. It turns out she’s not, because I am so much less interested in the screaming than I am in the scalpel. I want my science to make sense, and I want my biology to make sense. That’s what makes me happy.

Galaxy’s Edge: Even when dealing with mermaids?

Seanan McGuire: Even when dealing with mermaids. The mermaids [of Into the Drowning Deep] were actually a direct attack on DongWon. When they were my editor, I would threaten to write them a book about anglerfish mermaids.

The way anglerfish reproduce is the male anglerfish will be attracted by the smell of the female anglerfish’s pheromones. He thinks she’s so sexy that, when he finally finds her, all he wants to do is eat her. So, he chomps onto her skin. This causes a chemical reaction which melts his skin and fuses him with the female. Her body will gradually absorb his until all that’s left is his scrotum.

The female now has a pair of testicles sticking out of her, and she can control when sperm is released. One female anglerfish can have hundreds of sets of testes stuck to her from men that she has effectively eaten. In terms of size, the male anglerfish is about one and a half to two inches long. The female anglerfish is the size of an alligator snapping turtle. It’s one of the biggest cases of sexual dimorphism in the vertebrate world…. The biology of my mermaids was preset by that horror.

Galaxy’s Edge: You didn’t work in herpetology, but I understand your former day job used a lot of your science background, which contributed to Feed and your all-too-plausible zombie apocalypse.

Seanan McGuire: Yep. I am a prophetic genius. The entirety of COVID-19 has been an exciting game of people telling me: “You were right about everything two years ago.” Yes, I was. Thank you. There you go.

Galaxy’s Edge: Are there more such prophecies in our future? Should we be shivering in our boots?

Seanan McGuire: Right now, I am not doing anything super pathological, in part because I lost a lot of optimism in the current pandemic.

People ask me all the time, “What do you feel like you got wrong? What would you do differently?” The answer is I had too much hope. Part of that is Feed was written and published before the real rise of Facebook, before the rise of microblogging, [at a time] when if you wanted a blog, you still had to set up a blog and usually wrote longer-form things. Readers could get an idea of who you were, your likes, your dislikes, your prejudices. You weren’t just delivering speedy sound bites of hatred and vitriol.

I like the flexibility and speed of Facebook and Twitter in terms of things like coordinating disaster response. But what we’ve seen is we’re not doing as much as we could, because we’ve all learned to hate each other in this time of super-fast microblogging, botnets and trolls.

There was a point, early in the current situation, where I posted a thread on Twitter (which is my primary habitat most of the time) about ways to protect yourself from con crud and the seasonal flu. There is a tweet in that thread which can be seen as equating coronavirus with airborne diseases.

At the time, the official position was that the disease we’re dealing with now was not in fact airborne, even though anyone who had ever worked with any coronavirus anywhere was saying, “No, it’s probably airborne. If you don’t think it’s airborne, you’re probably wrong.” The science said, “Probably airborne,” but the official public information said, “Not.”

So, I posted this tweet. It’s in the middle of a relatively innocuous thread. Hey, wash your hands, drink lots of water, sleep. I know that you don’t feel like those last two have anything to do with your health at a convention, but they genuinely do. The more well hydrated you are, the less likely you are to pick up most common crud. That sort of thing. For three days I got barraged by trolls screaming at me for being so irresponsible as to imply that this could be an airborne disease. They weren’t real people. None of them had existed on Twitter prior to a month previous. They weren’t there to engage in conversation. They were there to yell at me. That’s because it’s so easy to set up a word finder, something that triggers off a keyword and unleashes this tide of hating on people who say things you don’t like.

My pandemic response [in Feed] was founded on the idea that the news would lie to us (which we saw will happen), and that in the absence of the news, citizen scientists and citizen reporters would rise as a source of credible information. Instead, what we saw is people will rise to sell you miracle cures made from mercury and tell you that your children have COVID because they were given a vaccination twenty years ago, even though your children are eleven. It’s just bad.

I am not currently working on any diseases because part of what I enjoy about writing pandemic fiction, why it makes me happy to be Mira Grant, is that diseases fascinate me. I find them really interesting—the mechanisms by which they work, the things that we know they can do to us, the things that we’re still finding out they can do to us. They’re amazing. They’re so simple. They’re not living things. They’re basically malware. They’re just these little instruction bundles that plug into your body and go haywire.

It is easier for me not to be afraid of them if I understand them and am writing about them and having a good time. It feels a little mean to have a good time with diseases right now. The way I have always coped with the horrible diseases I created was by going, “No-no. Once enough people started dying, we would care. Once enough people were at risk, we would care.” But what I’ve seen is that far too many of the people in positions of power wouldn’t.

Galaxy’s Edge: There are those who say, if this world fails us, we should write the world we want to live in. What would that world look like for you?

Seanan McGuire: The way I would like the world to be is incredibly overly optimistic. I don’t think we’re going to get there in my lifetime. We have enough food that no one needs to be hungry. We have enough resources that no one needs to be homeless, no one needs to be sick. We have enough of everything that no one actually needs to feel like they don’t have enough. But there is a point at which anything stops being the thing itself and becomes counting coup. There are people with so much money, they could be spending money every minute of every single day of their lives and not come even remotely close to running out of money. And what do they do? Do they rent Disney World for a month? No. Do they set up a zoo full of tigers in their basement? No. They make more money because they have seen how much they are willing to exploit the world, and they want to make sure there’s no one in a position to exploit them.

I want a world where rich people pay their fair share, where everybody gets safe housing, food, clean water, medical care. Where the color of your skin is not treated as any kind of judgment on your personal character. Where the fact that people love who they’re gonna love is not treated as some kind of judgment on their character. It’s so idealistic. Every step forward is amazing, but we have the potential, as a species, to be so much better. Sometimes we aren’t because it would be inconvenient to be better right now. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to, or it would be hard or “How can I feel like I am better than you if you have as much as me?”

Galaxy’s Edge: As opposed to seeing equality as a valid goal.

Seanan McGuire: We’ve been unequal for so incredibly long that equality really does feel like oppression to a lot of people who have been on the top of the inequality pyramid.

Galaxy’s Edge: Your fiction celebrates diversity and inclusivity. Is this your way of making the world you write shinier, or is it something that just happens?

Seanan McGuire: A little bit of both. But mostly it’s that anything that is 100 percent straight, white, and able-bodied is unrealistic unless you want to set up a bunch of oppressive structures I have no interest in writing.

The world is not a monoculture. Humanity has never been a monoculture. [A lot of stories] treat humanity like a monoculture where any setting you want to use is just pretty stage-dressing and any character you want to design needs a reason to be something other than what we jokingly refer to as the “Six-fecta”: straight, white, vaguely Christian (but not too Christian; you can’t be too religious) able-bodied, cisgender and male. So many books in our genre still hit all six of those attributes with every main character. The only exceptions are some secondary characters who are women because, otherwise, how do we reward the men for being awesome?

But that’s not the world I live in. I have been a queer, disabled, half-Roma woman for my entire life. I knew I liked girls from the time I was eight. Not in a sexual way but in a “If I’m gonna hold hands with somebody and kiss them” way, I would prefer it be a girl. So I can absolutely say that I was queer when I was eight. I’ve been half Roma since my daddy knocked up my mom in the back of a van, and I’ve been female since I popped out. I’ve done the gender interrogation you’re supposed to do as a cis ally and determined that “girl” is pretty much the label that works for me.

I never had a shot at that Six-fecta if I wanted it. Why would I, as someone who deviates from that “norm” on multiple levels, want to write that norm? I know people who fit it, I love people who fit it. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with them wanting to see characters who look like them. But sometimes I want to see a character who looks like me, and that means a character with multiple overlapping identities all of which inform her daily life.

Sometimes, people I know will tell me they want to see a character that looks like them, and they don’t get to do that very often. Then I will make a genuine effort to include a character that looks like them, because I want them to have that experience. We learn how to human from stories. Like I said before, humans are not built for constant original thought. We learn what a person looks like from the stories people tell us. Sometimes that is learning: “Wait, that’s me. I’m a person.” And sometimes it’s learning: “Wait, that’s Jean Marie. Maybe she’s a person too.”

Culturally, we have done ourselves a huge disservice by telling so many stories for such a long time where the only people who got to be at the center of the story were the ones who fit those six attributes, because only those people get fully acknowledged as people by the monomyth we’re living in. That’s not fair and not okay. The only time I tend to manipulate the diversity in a story is if I realize I need to kill somebody. If a group has little representation, you can kill a much larger percentage of that group by killing one character. If I kill a straight white man in science fiction, I have killed one of ninety million straight white men. If I kill a trans woman in science fiction, I’ve killed one of maybe twelve. That’s a very different statement, whether or not I intend to be making it.

So, if someone is in the line of fire and I cannot move them, I will stop, look at what I’m doing, and ask myself: How big a deal is this character to the group they represent? How big a deal would it be if I were reading this book and that character looked like me? Would I have seen me before? That’s not tokenism. I don’t give plot armor to these characters. They can still die. It’s a matter of am I taking away someone’s emotional support character?

Galaxy’s Edge: You have explored just about every subgenre in speculative fiction. Is there any particular kind of story or genre that you would really like to write but haven’t had the chance?

Seanan McGuire: I have an intense, bordering on the ridiculous, fondness for mid-Nineties chick lit, the sub-genre where The Princess Diaries, The Boy Next Door, and Bridget Jones’s Diary live. I’m waiting for the nostalgia wave to whip those back around. I’ve written several. I’m pretty good at it, but there’s no market for them right now. So they sit and occasionally get revised, when I have time, to make sure that they stay up to my current standards. And they go nowhere.

I would also very much like to write a series of cozy mysteries—The Dog Barks at Midnight sort of thing. I have a concept for a fun series of cozy mysteries. But unfortunately, I am told by both my agent and several authors I know who write cozy mysteries, there is no money there. There’s just none.

It’s not that I only write to chase the money, because no one becomes a writer to chase the money. That is the worst decision you could possibly make. Don’t do that, children. Or adults. Or unspeakable cosmic entities. Don’t become a writer because you want to get paid. You will not get paid. But there is a difference between writing something I am truly passionate about, cannot stop myself from writing, that I already know I’m good at, and not getting paid; and writing books in a genre I find charming but not completely compelling, kind-of-wanna-try-my-hand-at but will not get paid. One is a reasonable self-limiting decision. The other is just not bright.

I’d also like to write a truly horrific horror novel that has no science fiction elements. Just horror. I wanna do horror for the sake of horror. I wanna get my Clive Barker on. I wanna get my Kathe Koja on. I can’t. Every time I try, I get distracted by the possibility of science.

Galaxy’s Edge: That’s tragic. Science is death to horror.

Seanan McGuire: Yeah, I love horror so much, and I’m so bad at it.

Galaxy’s Edge: Any closing thoughts?

Seanan McGuire: We are recording this on April 29, 2021. I have a book coming out on May 4 called Angel of the Overpass. It’s the third book in my Ghost Roads series, which is InCryptid-adjacent, published by DAW Books. I won’t say it’s the last, but it is likely to be the final entry in Rose Marshall’s story for a while. So I’m very excited about that.

Over on my Twitter, I just finished a complete review of the October Daye books, because they are nominated for a Best Series Hugo this year. Having grown up in fandom, I tend to be very careful and a little aloof when talking about the Hugos. I remember being told by my foster mother when I was a teenager that it’s gauche to say you want to win. But I really want to win this year.

I feel that the Best Series category was created for urban fantasy. I know it wasn’t created just for urban fantasy, but urban fantasy plays best at series length. It is a story that needs that room to grow and breathe and really be considered as a whole, not just as the sum of its parts. I would desperately like for the first true urban fantasy—just urban fantasy, not urban science fiction, not urban horror, but urban fantasy—Hugo to go to a female or female-identifying author. It’s the only science fiction subgenre that is female-dominated and doesn’t have the word “romance” somewhere in the description. Romance is great. I love romance. I write romance. But female authors get shoved into romance so quickly, whether or not that’s what we want to be doing. Having a subgenre we currently control has always been very very important to me. It feels like a thing we have accomplished as ladies.

So, I would like the first Hugo Award given to a work of pure urban fantasy to be given to a female-identifying author. It doesn’t have to be me. You have many other choices. We are a big and diverse field. But if you’re looking at this year’s ballot, it does have to be me.

Galaxy’s Edge: We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope the best.

Seanan McGuire: Thank you.

Like our interviews? Read our conversation with qntm, author of There Is No Antimemetics Division!

Galaxy’s Edge Sci-Fi Book Review Roundup: July, 2021

July’s issue of Galaxy’s Edge showcases many great sci-fi stories, including work by Brian Trent, Bao Shu, Julie Frost, Harry Turtledove, and others.

In addition, Jean Marie Ward interviews Seanan McQuire, the prolific SFF writer of acclaimed series like Wayward Children.

Richard Chwedyk also puts his expansive sci-fi book knowledge to the test, reviewing three science fiction books.

  • Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
  • Immunity Index by Sue Burke
  • Starborn & Godsons by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes

Here’s what Chwedyk has to say about this month’s sci-fi books!

Stand on Zanzibar

by John Brunner

Tor Essentials

March 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-78122-2

It’s hard to find anything recently published that matches the ambitions of John Brunner’s 1968 novel, Stand on Zanzibar: exploring a culture—a whole world, really—from a multiplicity of levels while maintaining a central story that brings the vastness of this complex (and maybe crumbling) planet into stark focus. Parts of the novel are written in the straightforward, no-nonsense prose Brunner had been working to perfect for a decade or so beforehand. Other parts are written as news reports or anecdotal bits, illustrating aspects of the twenty-first century world in an almost documentary style. Other parts are written from the glib perspectives of canny social commentators. And all of this is interlaced to keep things moving along at a surprisingly brisk pace.

As was mentioned often at the time, the novel’s structure owes much to the trilogy by John Dos Passos, U.S.A. In this case, I dare to say it now, though I couldn’t have gotten away with saying it 53 years ago, Brunner actually improves upon the trilogy in many ways. He streamlined it, actually. His central dramatic story is more compelling, his worldview wider and, worth noting in the current literary environment, more diverse. This is not to knock Dos Passos’s sublime achievement with U.S.A., but Brunner took the baton and ran with it like a winner.

This adventurous structure itself is a thing to behold, like a Bauhaus-designed “modern” building after it’s been around for a century. In some ways, Brunner was re-thinking the way a novel could be written—as if that’s part of his future vision. If vehicles and buildings will be built differently a half century from this day, why shouldn’t novels look and work differently in that anticipated world? He applied his science-fictional imagination to the act of novel writing itself.

The sad thing is, perhaps, now that we’re living in the time Brunner wrote about in 1968, there is a greater sameness to the way our current novels are written. All our current writers, it seems (exceptions granted), have gone to writing schools that have taught them “best practices” that manage great efficiencies and great comforts. But like a row of townhouses in a residential urban neighborhood, they all have the same look and feel, omitting a few changes of color schemes and some superficial ornamentation.

Of course, in the era Brunner was writing this novel, he was considered a member of the “New Wave.” Brunner, in retrospect, wasn’t really part of that merry, contentious crew (like most literary movements, a great many of its members were draftees, not volunteers). Half of the anger and vitriol and brawling over the New Wave was the notion of “style over substance.” Brunner was all for innovations in style (whatever that is), but only so far as it helped to convey the substance (whatever that is) of the story in its most effective way.

And what about that substance? Much of the current reading of “classic” and/or “modern” science fiction these days seems to rest on picking over which parts authors did or didn’t “get right.” As far as the focal “issue” of the novel—i.e., exponential overpopulation—Brunner didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The “population bomb” didn’t go off (though it may still be ticking). We don’t have any cell phones here, and all the computers are ginormous, house-sized structures with little public access.

Other aspects, like the growing frustration of individuals who become “berserkers” and strike out against innocent bystanders, the “corporatization” of governments, the excesses of popular culture, the addict-like hunger for media replacing “real” experience (like “Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere”), the blending of cultures across the globe—Brunner hits the nail hard and true.

Which makes reading the novel even now a revelation. You’ll turn to certain sections and find yourself whispering, or grunting, “How did he know? How did he do it?”

We’re fortunate that someone at Tor decided to bring back this novel at this time, to remind us what we can do when we of think of science fiction as something more than a tag on the binding of certain books relegated to certain shelves of the local bookstore. It can be dangerous, as this novel remains.

Immunity Index

by Sue Burke

Tor

May 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-31787-2

Also from Tor, Sue Burke’s latest novel may not be the successor to Brunner’s brilliance, but she has managed the remarkable task of making her near-future world so plausible it nearly (but not quite) defeats its task of being a “what’s coming” story to a “what’s happening” story. She has placed her story in a world bowled over by a worldwide pandemic (who saw that coming?), and places it in a country and city (my all-too-familiar but beloved Chicago) where democracy is fast eroding, as are supplies of the basics. Remember the disappearance of toilet paper at the beginning of COVID-19? Burke will see you and raise you ten. Her degree of accuracy on that front is downright frightening. That’s the brief version of the world in which Burke has placed her novel.

The story deftly shifts between the tribulations of three women and one genetic scientist, the latter having “designed” the three formers, to purposes it will take the rest of this brief but challenging novel to reveal. Burke’s experience as a journalist and translator prove exceptionally helpful in keeping a complex plot coherent and intriguing.

So much recent science fiction has been set in the far future to presumably avoid becoming entangled in the messiness of our current circumstances. Burke, to her credit, takes on the messiness, and does so courageously. Remember that word that appears in many definitions of SF: “extrapolation”? Burke extrapolates with facility, intensity and vigor.

Burke’s vision of our near future is in many respects bleak, but not without its hopes and a few lighter notes. Its wit is dry but satisfying. Another thing that I found enjoyable about this novel is that it is written at the tight length of those paperback originals we geezers grew up on in the middle of the previous century. It’s a good length to get a story across without overweighing the vehicle with added-on subplots. Would that more novels follow in that path.

Starborn & Godsons

by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes

Baen

April 2020

978-1-9821-2448-9

I received a letter—a real letter—a while back from GE reader and subscriber John Hertz, who remembers me from the days when I moderated writing workshops at a few Worldcons. He wrote in general complaint that some of his favorite recent books have received scant attention from the award-giving bodies in the field, such as the Hugos, Nebulas, Locus Awards, etc. Indirectly, I think, I was being taken to task for not having reviewed them in these pages. I’ll take only partial blame, as Baen’s promo folks have not been at the top of their game in getting advance copies to me. Nevertheless, Mr. Hertz gave me a list of books he considered worthy but overlooked, and this is one I managed to catch up with.

Starborn and Godsons is/was a long-awaited sequel (and conclusion?) to the Legacy of Heorot series. It finds us on the planet Avalon, which after several generations and much conflict has been colonized by humans. The original colonists have mostly passed on, and the planet’s humans are called “Starborn.” They have no direct memory of Earth and have had no contact with the planet in ages. Earlier volumes in the series concerned themselves with the struggles of surviving a harsh environment, conflicts with competing lifeforms called “grendels,” which attracted me to the earlier volume, Beowulf’s Children. You can understand why. At a visceral level, these stories tie together with the world depicted in Old English epic poetry in ways that seem more than an extended metaphor. The old world of bardic sagas and the tales of humans establishing footholds on new planets re-envisions both traditions in new and surprising ways.

At the heart of this novel, which puts us into contact, or in some cases reacquaints us with, some other alien lifeforms, are the starborns facing encounters with “godsons”—other humans who set out spacefaring after the original colonists of Avalon. They also have no direct contact with Earth, and have developed in their own way, different from the earth-born humans and the starborn alike. In a way, it’s a “first contact” tale between humans and humans, which is something you don’t see too often, and implicitly questions our expectations when we think or talk about one of the big questions in our science fiction (and our literature in general): what makes us human?

Any attempt at plot summary on my part at this juncture would be insufficient. The novel is super-jam packed with action, characters and ideas. The question for readers (and since many of you have already read this novel and have already answered the question to your own satisfaction, bear with me) is whether it all holds together into an enjoyable and rewarding experience. As many of you can already guess, my reviewing it here and now indicates my answer is yes.

What added to my enjoyment and appreciation of it has to do with my interest in writers and writing and how we manage to do the crazy things we sometimes manage to do. Like having three authors work in collaboration. How do they manage not to get in each other’s way? It’s hard enough for two authors to collaborate on an extended narrative (except when they do, and has been done famously in this field), how do three authors manage it? I’m familiar with the works of each author here individually as well as in collaboration. And each author, individually, does not write like the other two collaborators, but when they come together they seem to create a distinct, new voice which is unlike any of the previous ones. It is a tribute to their skill and their professionalism, to which I’ll add, since the passing of Mr. Pournelle, we’ll not see its like again.

Another reason to squeeze in this review now was to note that unfortunate passing (I wanted to get to this in the previous issue, but space and time prohibited my doing so). This was Mr. Pournelle’s last book, I believe. And regardless of his behavior or opinion outside the pages of his fiction, as a novelist and as a science fiction thinker, he was a formidable and significant presence in our field whose work—in collaboration or individually—was always skillful, intelligent and witty.

Be sure to check out the rest of Galaxy’s Edge July 2021 issue!

News From the Edge: Resnick Award, Book Sale

Galaxy’s Edge magazine and Dragon Con have the pleasure of announcing the 2021 finalists for THE MIKE RESNICK MEMORIAL AWARD FOR SHORT FICTION for Best Unpublished Science Fiction Short Story by a New Author (in no particular order):

  • Lucas Carroll-Garrett: “Hive at the Dead Star”
  • Shirley Song: “Times, Needles, and Gravity”
  • Z. T. Bright: “The Measure of a Mother’s Love”
  • Christopher Henckel: “Echoes of Gelise”
  • Torion Oey: “Feel”


Congratulations to all of our finalists and thank you to all the talented authors who submitted entries for award consideration! Mike Resnick would have so loved to have been here to witness this achievement!

If you are one of the finalists listed above, and you have not received prior notification that you are a finalist via email, please check your spam folder of the email account you used to submit your story entry or contact us at admin@ArcManor.com.

If you’re interested in submitting a story for the 2022 Mike Resnick Award, please visit our website to read the submission details.

Publishers Pick Book Sale

For a limited time, Publishers Pick is offering discounted prices on many great science fiction books.

There are books by:

  • Robert Heinlein
  • Harry Turtledove
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Sarah J. Maas
  • And many more authors!

At the time of this sale, all sale prices are better than other popular book retailer prices, including Amazon! Don’t wait, pick up a great summer read today!

Read an insightful GALAXY’S EDGE interview with Nancy Kress!

Tomorrows-KinNancy Kress is one of science fiction’s crown jewels. She is a writer of powerful science fiction, having won Hugos and Nebulas. She also is known as a talented writing teacher.

September’s issue of sf and fantasy magazine Galaxy’s Edge has an insightful interview by the wildly talented author. To read her own personal thoughts on her career (and to access the full interview) you can click the magazine link to see the many options available for buying this wonderful 28th issue.

To whet your appetite here is an exclusive excerpt:

Joy Ward: How did you get started writing?

Nancy Kress: By accident. I had never planned on being a writer. When I was a child, I thought all writers were dead because the writers I was reading were Louisa May Alcott. I really did not realize that writing was a commodity that was still being produced. I thought it was like oil, there was a finite amount of it.

Then I discovered that there were actual writers living and this completely shocked me, but I come from a very conservative Italian-American family, and I grew up in the 1950s. So my mother sat me down when I was 12 and said, “Do you want to be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary?” Because those were the only possible things she could think of, and I thought it over and I said, “Okay, I’ll be a teacher.” So I became a fourth grade teacher, and I was for four years. I enjoyed it. Then I got married and had my children. I was pregnant with my second child. We lived way out in the country. There were no other women at home. They were all older and had gone back to work. My then husband took our only car to work, and he was taking an MBA, so he often didn’t come home for dinner; he stayed for classes. I was there with my one-year-old- 18-month-year-old, very difficult pregnancy, and I was going nuts.

I started writing to have something to do that didn’t involve Sesame Street, and I didn’t take it seriously. It was a thing I was doing while the baby was napping, to try to have something of my own. I would send them out. They’d come back. I’d send them out they’d come back. After a year, one sold. After another year, a second one. After another year a third one sold, then it started to pick up and I began to take it more seriously, but I didn’t plan on doing this.

I remember (selling the first story) very well. It was to Galaxy, which is a magazine long-defunct. What I didn’t know is that everybody else had stopped submitting to Galaxy because it was trembling on the verge of bankruptcy. I had no connection with fandom. I didn’t know it existed, I didn’t know SFWA existed. I didn’t know conventions existed. When I first sold it, it turned out that nobody else was submitting anything, and they were desperate. So they published my story immediately then it  went bankrupt. It took me three years to get my $105. I wanted it, and I kept writing and I’d say, “This is my first sale. I want my $105.” And for that eventually I think he had pity and he sent me the check.

I did it. I did that was what goes through my mind. Three words, “I did it.” I didn’t think I could, but I did it.

To read more go to Galaxy’s Edge for options on purchasing issue 28!

 

Galaxy’s Edge’s Interview With Author Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson is a Hugo winner, and a three-time Nebula winner (in consecutive years, yet!) and is acknowledged as one of the field’s leading short fiction writers. And this week, over at Galaxy’s Edge, Joy Ward interviews her about what it takes to be true to yourself as a writer:

interview with author kij johnson
Kij Johnson in 2018,
Photo from Wikipedia

“One of the most important things I ever say to my students is, everything else I teach them is just tactics, but the thing that I am always proudest of bringing up is: figure out why you’re writing. Really why you’re writing. Not, oh I have things worth saying or oh, I want to make a living or whatever it is.

But really if you go all the way down deeper and deeper and deeper, like spend two years in therapy with a therapist every single Tuesday. So why do you write? Usually the answer is somewhere in early childhood. So it’s a little kid response. I’m not ascribing any value judgment to that. Because mine, when you get right down to it, is parents were sort of emotionally absent and when I wrote I didn’t get praised for my writing very much but I didn’t get praised for anything else.

So my writing ultimately was a way of saying I’m not my mother and look at me to my parents. I also did a lot of art for the same reasons. That’s mine. We all have one, ultimately, underneath it all.

Whatever we say in interviews usually is the cover up. It’s the pat response we use to cover up the sincere response. I do it because the only time anybody took me seriously as a 5’10” Amazon blonde was when I wrote and they didn’t know what I looked like. Because they stopped staring at my chest long enough it took to read my story. So there are so many responses and so many of them sound venal or petty or small or something like that.

Those responses are not any of those things. Those responses are the heart that when we understand it gives us the spines that we build adulthood on. That’s what I always think of, so to me knowing that is the most important part of your writing cause if you know your reason for writing is because you’re competing with your dad and you didn’t know it. It’s like, as soon as you know that, now you can get away from writing your dad’s story or the stories that are going to school your dad about you and now you’re going to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. If you are doing it because you are insecure and you want people to look at you, that you’re smart or clever or cute or whatever it is, as soon as you know that, you are in control. Until you know it you don’t.

So I’m always telling undergrads but especially adults because we get those super complicated defense mechanisms that allow us to never, ever look at ourselves. That’s fundamental. That’s my answer really. It’s fundamental that we understand who we are and our smallest, pettiest, most selfish or narcissistic or greedy, envious little pieces. We can either counter or use to our advantage and make them work.”

Go to the interview page of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine to read the rest of this wonderful interview!

And if you liked this interview, check out our interview with author qntm!

Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ward.