Timequake, Vonnegut’s Classic, Literary, Autobiographical Sci-Fi Drama

Kurt Vonnegut is arguably one of the greatest American writers of our time. He’s been described as the Mark Twain of the 20th century, and his fiction pairs intense satire with thoughtful philosophic musings.

My first run-in with Kurt Vonnegut was his science-fiction short story Harrison Bergeron, published in 1961. Coincidentally, I read it as part of an assignment for an advanced English class in middle school, which for anyone who has read the story, knows the importance of the education system to the plot.

From that first reading of Vonnegut, my perception of him has been that he was a classic sci-fi writer. Not a harmful assumption, in my opinion.

But, in the eyes of the literary world, Vonnegut’s delving to science fiction was an act that would forever set him apart from the larger American literary scene.

I only learned all this – and that Vonnegut teeters on the edge of the classic sci-fi author cliff—very recently. My roommate gifted me Timequake during the exodus from our college dorms in the midst of the pandemic.

“You’ll like it,” he said, “It had a big influence on my personal philosophy.”

Timequake, Vonnegut, and Science Fiction

Before we delve into the nitty gritty of Timequake, I’d first like to take a moment to think about what makes science fiction, well, science fiction.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you already have a good understanding of the genre, its conventions, tropes, etc. But have you ever thought about what the acceptable level of fiction is to merit calling something science fiction?

For example, The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey very much embodies science fiction. Space fleets, civilization on Mars, wormholes, undiscovered planets—the list goes on. Or Yokohoma Station SF by Yuba Isukari, where a sentient train station consumes Japan.

But what about books where a single element of our world is altered, and in some cases, you can’t distinguish if you’re reading a literary classic or science fiction?

In the case of Timequake, Vonnegut institutes a blip in reality, a “rerun” for the span of ten years where everyone has to relive the past ten years of their life over again, fully conscious.

Sometimes, Vonnegut will go chapters without mentioning the rerun, instead focusing on autobiographical elements or reciting anecdotes about things he found humorous or curious. It’s in these stretches that you realize perhaps the science fiction element isn’t that important.

As a writer, I was taught that if the speculative element of a story can be removed without changing the story, then there’s a problem.

However, in Timequake, the rerun isn’t a pinnacle of the story. Sure, a lot of the anecdotes and stories Vonnegut recounts might lose a bit of their luster without the rerun to act as the foil, but at the end of the day, there’s still meaning in those stories.

I guess the question I’m getting at here is this: What makes something ‘more’ or ‘less’ science fiction than anything else?

Is The Expanse more science fiction than Timequake? And why?

Kurt Vonnegut’s Sci-Fi and Kilgore Trout

While doing some research, I came across an interesting article about Vonnegut’s relationship with science fiction.

And I think it helps us answer the previous question of ‘more’ or ‘less’ sci-fi.

Vonnegut was often considered to be a science fiction writer, and quietly shunned by the literary world for breaking away from the mainstream realism that dominated bestseller lists.

In his essay about science fiction, Vonnegut talks about being classified in the science fiction drawer of the filing cabinet, saying “I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”

In Timequake, Vonnegut voices some of these feelings through Kilgore Trout, his fictitious sci-fi author.

Trout is one of Vonnegut’s pinnacle characters, wrought with wit and tragedy. As a writer, Trout is largely unsuccessful by conventional terms. His stories are often ignored, thrown away, or unfinished.

However, in Timequake, the security guard, Dudley Prince, finds one of Trout’s stories in a trashcan, and think’s it’s a great work of art. So, when the rerun is over, and Trout inspires members of New York City with his “You’ve been sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do” spiel, Prince is one of the first to join his ranks.

Trout seems an awful lot like Vonnegut himself: shunned for science fiction, yet still inspiration enough for at least one person.

Ryan Britt, who has read far more Vonnegut than I have, said in a column for Tor.com that “Vonnegut doesn’t want to do any world-building, or have you marvel at any technology, or really ask you to meditate on a cool science fiction idea for very long. He wants to cut right to the human drama, and if he needs flying saucers to do it, he will.”

And that sentiment put into words the feeling that had been tugging at me since I finished reading Timequake.

I think Vonnegut’s writing is just as much science fiction as The Expanse, or Ray Bradbury, or any other big classic sci-fi author. The intent of Vonnegut’s science fiction is different—he’s using it as a foil, as a means to an end, whereas a hardcore sci-fi writer lives and breathes by the science, the technology.

If reading Timequake taught me anything, it’s that the definition of genre is perhaps more harmful than it is helpful. At the end of the day, who cares whether Timequake was just as much science fiction as any other piece of literature. Does it really matter? Let me know in the comments what you think.

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.


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!

Sci-Fi Subgenres: Breaking Down the Punks

The practice of segmenting films, books, games, and stories into genres can get pretty tricky. Sometimes, a novel or film fits neatly into the conventions set down by a genre, other times the waters are a little muddier. But sci-fi subgenres have exploded in the past few years, and there a lot more categories with which to classify new (and old) work.

One of the large subsections of science fiction literature classification falls on the ‘punk’.  The idea of ‘punk’ literature focuses on the outcasts from society, the rebels, the vigilantes, those who go against the grain. The punks.

Genres like cyberpunk and steampunk sparked a flurry of smaller subsections that have distinct conventions, and often subvert the aesthetics of their parent genre.

In this blog post, we’ll break down some of the well-established ‘punk’ sci-fi subgenres and take a look at the rising stars.

Cyberpunk: Where It All Began

The term cyberpunk is now kind of a commonplace, kitchen-table word. It refers to science fiction literature (and by literature, I lump the written, visual, and interactive together) that takes place in a futuristic world filled with advanced tech, but riddled with socio-economic issues.

Characters in cyberpunk literature are often downtrodden, working-class loners rebelling against some kind of convention, whether that’s their corporate overlords or street gangs that control their neighborhood.

The term cyberpunk came from a short story of the same name by author Bruce Bethke in 1983, even though sci-fi writers had been exploring the themes of the genre years before there was a name to associate with them.

Authors like Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Gardner Dozois, and William Gibson pioneered the movement with their fiction and non-fiction alike.

Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson is one of the pinnacles of the cyperpunk genre, and helped bring more attention to the aesthetics of the genre as a whole. Films like Blade Runner, comics like Judge Dredd, and anthologies like Mirrorshades kept cyberpunk in the limelight.

Recently, the genre has gained some attention from the release of CD Projekt Red’s triple-A video game, Cyperpunk 2077. While the game and its release were largely a disaster, it succeeded in introducing newcomers to the genre of cyberpunk.

And with all the attention the cyperpunk genre has received, writers began to deviate from the aesthetics of cyberpunk, sparking new genres like solarpunk and biopunk.

Biopunk Aesthetics

Biopunk as a genre is closely related to cyberpunk. Both are set in dystopian futures with rampant technological advancement.

However, the distinction between the two genres comes down to body modification. In cyberpunk, people often alter their bodies with cyberware and technological implants. Eye implants, enhanced limbs, etc. etc.

But biopunk takes that convention a step further, altering bodies using biotechnology like genetic engineering.

Biopunk still keeps the dark, grungy aesthetics of cyperpunk, dystopian futures; it just focuses more on the implications of governments or corporations using bioengineering as a tool to control people.

Popular books in this genre include:

  • The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfield
  • The Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler
  • Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

Solarpunk Aesthetics

Solarpunk is one of the relatively new sci-fi subgenres, really only established with a set of conventions and aesthetics in the late 2000s. Internet communities and literary icons alike were instrumental in bringing solarpunk into the public eye.

Where cyberpunk is rooted in dystopia and worlds wrought with misfortune, apocalyptic landscapes, and ever-encroaching environmental failure, solarpunk focuses on futures where we’ve overcome issues like climate change with sustainable practices and renewable energy. Hence the solar in solarpunk, in reference to solar energy.

Solarpunk literature often takes an upbeat tone, optimistic about the future and proud of overcoming the issues of the past. Works often have a heavy focus on nature as well as sustainable technology, which is what really sets the genre apart from cyberpunk, a genre that for the most part ignores nature.

Some notable solarpunk works include:

  • Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
  • Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland
  • Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

Modern Steampunk and Victorian Steampunk

When I hear the word steampunk, I think of elaborate Victorian-era costumes with neat techy-bits, airships, and tall, whimsical buildings.

The steampunk genre is often described as the point of deviation in our historical timeline where steam power overtakes other forms of power, like electricity. Writers in the steampunk genre explore historical events and settings with the “what if steam powered technology was the end-all-be-all” question in mind. Alternate history narratives, cosplay, and visual art mediums are also very popular in the steampunk genres. 

The term steampunk was coined by K.W. Jeter in the 1980s, but the term applied to work published before then, as far back as Jules Verne and Mary Shelley. Steampunk literature generally takes on a more optimistic tone than cyberpunk and dieselpunk (a steampunk derivative).

Settings for steampunk stories are a bit more fluid than cyberpunk’s megapolis dystopias. Steampunk can be set in alternate histories of the Victorian era, in the American Wild West, or even in post-apocalyptic settings.

Popular early voices in the genre, while they might not have considered themselves voices for the genre, include:

  • Michael Moorcock
  • Harry Harrison
  • Paul Di Filippo

Dieselpunk Aesthetics

Just like solarpunk contrasts with cyberpunk, dieselpunk contrasts with steampunk.

Where steampunk draws heavy inspiration from Victorian-era technology and fashion, dieselpunk is rooted in the period between WWI and WWII. Dieselpunk, as the term implies, idolizes diesel-powered machines, and takes on a grungy, darker outlook on the future.

But, just like steampunk, dieselpunk is filled with alternative histories, many of which build off the question “what if the Nazis won WWII?”.

Many of dieselpunk’s seminal works were published before the term was coined in 2001, including:

  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • SS-GB by Len Deighton
  • Fatherland by Robert Harris

There Are a Lot More Punks to Speak of…

Exploring these sci-fi subgenres has merely scratched the surface of all the spin-off genres present in sci-fi literature.

Coalpunk and atompunk are derivatives of dieselpunk, lunarpunk is the polar opposite of solarpunk, etc. etc.

If there’s a certain genre you’re interested in learning more about, drop a comment and we’ll explore it in a future post!

INTERVIEW With qntm, Author of There Is No Antimemetics Division

I recently had the pleasure of reading There Is No Antimemetics Division, a paranormal sci-fi novel. I stumbled across it while browsing the Kindle store and I was immediately hooked from the premise.

The story focuses on the members of the Foundation as they fight to save Earth from the titular antimemes, which are elusive, memory-altering entities intent on destroying humanity.

When I finished reading the book, I did a bit of digging online and learned about the wide genre of SCP fiction (Special Containment Procedures), of which There Is No Antimemetics Division is a part of. After my sleuthing, I found qntm’s website and reached out for a chat.

So, I’m excited to share with you all the conversation I had with qntm!

Author Bio:

The author known as qntm was born in the UK and still lives there. He is educated in mathematics and now develops software for a living. He’s been writing science fiction in his spare time since he was in secondary school. For an incredible amount of time, it was just a hobby, but he’s now at the point where it’s a full-on side gig. He is the author of Ra, Fine Structure, Ed, and most recently, There Is No Antimemetics Division.

So, qntm, you have a few books in the broader sci-fi genre, how did you get into writing, and who the biggest influences to your writing?

“I have been writing science fiction for a long time, mostly putting that writing out online for free, on my own website and as part of various online writing communities. I spent a massive chunk of my life contributing both fiction and factual work to Everything2, which is where I found my earliest real audience, and where my first few books originally appeared (serially, over the course of years). E2’s popularity waned in the early 2010s, but around that time my own website was beginning to gain traction/readers. More recently, I spent several years contributing to the SCP wiki. That’s where There Is No Antimemetics Division originates. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve actually started publishing my serials in ebook and paper formats.

My earliest influences were Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. For a long time I wrote in an Asimovian style where essentially I would have largely personality-free talking heads produce a new science fiction concept, and then do something clever with it, and then end the story immediately. It was David X. Cohen and Matt Groening’s Futurama that taught me that science fiction could, and should, be much more than that: smart, colourful, funny, relevant, opinionated, story-driven, character-driven. Like a lot of people of my generation, I was also massively influenced by The Matrix. And I’ve drawn massive stylistic inspiration from Grant Morrison’s late 1990s run on JLA — those comic books are the main reason why I write in the present tense, just to begin with. More recently, I’ve loved the Culture novels of the late, great Iain M. Banks.

But most recently of all, a lot of my inspiration is simply modern technology news. The world is moving unbelievably fast right now, and the gap between what a science fiction writer can imagine and what a real human can just do in reality has never been narrower. It’s difficult to stay out in front of that.”

One of the most interesting things about There Is No Antimemetics Division is of course antimemes; can you explain what an antimeme is for our readers, and can you talk a bit about your inspiration for such a concept?

“So, “meme” has multiple conflicting definitions, but for our purposes I define a meme to be a contagious idea. It’s an idea with some kind of intrinsic property which causes people to spread it to other people. The mechanism for that spreading can take a lot of different forms. An idea can spread because it’s useful, but it can also spread because it’s just catchy, or it rhymes, or because someone’s paying people to spread it, or because it’s forbidden to spread it (reverse psychology)… A meme can be a catchphrase, or a scientific theory, or a design for a tool, or a memorable tune which is easy to chant, or a symbol which is easy to scribble, or an urban legend, or a massive, complicated economic philosophy, or a whole religion. A meme doesn’t have to be the truth. A meme can be a lie.

My observation was that the contagiousness of an idea varies greatly. Some ideas are clearly less contagious than others. So, what’s at the bottom end of that scale? What ideas, truths or lies, are the most difficult to share? What ideas intrinsically resist being shared? There are plenty of examples. Things like dirty secrets, taboos, passwords, dreams, politically inconvenient historical facts, complex equations, boring tax code, injunctions and super-injunctions. I call these difficult-to-share ideas “antimemes”. Both memes and antimemes are real, by the way.

The study of memes is memetics. Exactly whether memetics is a real scientific field is, I believe, disputed and questionable. Personally, I think it seems rather elusive and pseudoscientific. Luckily, I’m not a scientist, I’m a science fiction writer, and exactly what memetics can be in fiction is something we are free to play around with, and redefine. I called the study of antimemes “antimemetics”, obviously. Antimemetics is just as questionable as memetics, as a field of study, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep going.

Now, what happens if you take a step from there into fiction? A fictional, “supernatural” meme might be an idea which spreads faster than should be physically possible – it spreads from person to person seemingly telepathically, maybe across great distances, and maybe has some physical power to it. Meanwhile, a supernatural antimeme might be an idea which should be memorable but somehow isn’t. An item locked in a vault which anybody can go in and look at… but nobody who leaves the vault can remember what they saw, or what happened to them. Photos come out blurry. An antimemetic entity trips you up — you don’t remember why you fell, and after getting up, you may not even remember falling.

I wrote SCP-055, which is the first chapter of what came to be There Is No Antimemetics Division, in 2008. SCP-055 is little more than an antimemetic entity in a box — there’s not a lot to it other than this thought-provoking premise, in the Asimovian sense I mentioned above. But years later I decided that there was a lot more unexplored narrative potential here.

Antimemes make for a really interesting science fiction adversary — how do you fight something you can’t remember? What else is there in this ecosystem of competing ideas? What kind of organisation can deal with that kind of problem, and what kind of person works there? These questions turned out to have really interesting answers. That’s how the book starts.”

One of the things that struck me about There Is No Antimemetics Division is the structure. It jumps back and forth between characters at different parts in the timeline, and in the beginning, it incorporates case files for SCPs as part of the narrative. How did you land on that structure, and is there something about it you feel lends itself to the story?

There Is No Antimemetics Division was originally written in serial form on the SCP Foundation wiki, as a series of SCPs and Tales, over the course of years. All of my SCPs are intended to be comprehensible if read standalone by an idly browsing reader. About half of my individual Tales are too, especially the earlier ones.

So, the structure of Antimemetics is less of a continuous narrative than it is a series of discrete events.  Think like a series of movies, rather than a television show.  Chapters appeared individually, with months separating them. With this in mind, I was trying to make it so that each chapter was, to a certain extent, a complete short story, providing value to a reader, providing progress and narrative satisfaction in itself.

And I really like the effect this had. First of all, I think it just keeps things interesting. It keeps the reader guessing, keeps them on their toes, changes the scenery, changes the pace. A strictly linear story would have been much less interesting, and, in this case, it would have given away quite a lot of crucial information far too early.

 Secondly, a major theme of this specific story is that the characters themselves are kind of acting without context. They are arriving at confusing and frightening situations, with no memory of the years of prior events which led up to those situations, and then they are making the best decisions they can based on limited information.

When I withhold that backstory from the reader, the reader has to deal with the same situation, and decide for themselves whether the characters made good decisions. The flashbacks make it a complete story in retrospect, but they mean you aren’t second-guessing the characters. It’s the best alternative I have to actually erasing the readers’ memories.”

You’ve mentioned the SCP Foundation Wiki, can you explain a bit more about that?

“At its heart, it’s a collaborative work of science fiction/fantasy/horror, using the format of a database of “Special Containment Procedures” (SCPs) for thousands of diverse “anomalies”. The anomalies are all contained by the same ambiguously moral organisation, the Foundation.

The Foundation is a huge, nebulous, bureaucratic secret agency, the kind you’ve seen in many other places in fiction. It has a lot in common with The X-Files, Hellboy’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Warehouse 13, Men In Black… the key differentiator here is the collaborative wiki aspect.

Anybody can sign up, invent a new SCP, and contribute it to the wiki. When you do, other people will vote your contribution up or down. If people like what you wrote, they might even build on it. As a result, a sort of consensus lore gradually emerges, a background for other people to build on…. The wiki isn’t something I invented, by the way. I’m just one of thousands of contributors to this show.

A Special Containment Procedures database entry (“SCP”) has to use a specific, fairly rigid structure, and a clinical tone. And normally it should stand completely alone, being comprehensible if read in isolation. It can be really challenging to tell a compelling story in this format — that’s part of the fun. I actually consider it a form of constrained writing, like a sonnet or a palindrome. But the wiki also allows for “Tales”, where contributors can break from that format and present a conventional narrative.”

I know a lot of the literature in the same universe as There Is No Antimemetics Division consists of different short fiction pieces, how did you decide it had to be a novel?

“It was a coin toss whether it would even turn out to be a novel. There Is No Antimemetics Division was written primarily as a web serial, to entertain the readers of the SCP wiki. That was the top priority for me. In fact, some aspects of the original web content had to be sacrificed in order to assemble the ebook, and then more still to turn it into a printable format for the paperback and hardcover editions.

For example, the original web version of “SCP-3125” shows only the first half of the database entry, and an interactive keypad. The reader has to figure out the right code to enter before they’re even allowed to read the rest. In the book, naturally, there’s no keypad, you just turn the page and there’s the rest.

Of course, the adaptation could have been a lot harder. Some SCP wiki content uses moving images, complex full colour text and backgrounds, advanced interactive controls… all very difficult things to adapt to a non-web format.

Some SCP wiki content is hyperfiction with no single intended linear reading order. Some of it is highly collaborative, with multiple contributors. And some of it relies heavily on contextual knowledge from other SCPs.

As for me, I wrote a relatively linear, self-contained, closed, plain text story. There’s some screwy text formatting, but relative to a lot of wiki content, There Is No Antimemetics Division is positively pedestrian. I guess that makes me old-fashioned. But it meant the end result was fairly novel-like.

If you’re asking how I decided that the serial should be adapted as an ebook, and then a paperback, and then a hardcover? People asked for it!”

Along the same vein as the last question, I realized there are a lot of things in the novel that aren’t really explained, the man who confronts Adam Wheeler outside of Site 41 near the end of the novel, for instance. I haven’t read all the short fiction in the same universe, but are many of these things explained there? Or is the lack of explanation a part of the paranormal horror?

“I consider this to be a very self-contained story. There are some mysteries which I left open because I wanted the reader not to know the answer. You won’t find the answers to those elsewhere in the wiki. In particular, you know everything about that man, Red, that I want you to know.

Having said that, if you don’t get cracking into the rest of the wiki, you are missing the heck out. The main thing to check out is What the Dead Know, a side story by sirpudding set in the Antimemetics continuity and written around the same time. This side story introduces Mobile Task Force ω-0, and eventually crosses over into Antimemetics. It’s not necessary for understanding Antimemetics — if it were, I would have found a way to incorporate it into the published novel — but it provides valuable background detail and is well worth a read in its own right. I also highly recommend SCP-1425, an early SCP by Silberescher which was massively influential on Antimemetics and is obliquely referenced in the story.”

From what I understand, there’s no official canon in the SCP universe. A lot of other authors might shy away from letting readers actively participate in the ‘canon’ (I’m using the term loosely here), how do you balance your own writing versus reading what other people have written in the world you’ve created? I personally really love the idea that the SCP universe is a collaborative effort, and I think more authors should start opening up their worlds to readers like you have. There is of course, fanfiction, but to actually be considered part of the universe’s ‘canon’, must be very exciting as a reader.

“Contributions to the Antimemetics Division corner of the SCP wiki have been relatively limited since I wrapped the story up in 2020. I think that’s because the story is fairly complete and self-contained — it was kind of designed to be that way, after all. I suspect a lot of potential contributors get to the end and think, “How do I follow THAT?” and instead head over to another corner of the wiki and develop something without those creative constraints!

As for the fiction content of the greater wiki… like I say, it’s not something I have control over, or would even want to control. I wish I could read more than a fraction of it. But I think contributing to a huge shared universe, even one with “no canon”, is one of the great attractions of the SCP wiki. There being “no canon” is another way of saying that when you write your contribution, you have great creative freedom in which facts you take to be canonical or not — and others have the same choice when it comes to your work. There’s a chance to contribute something which really resonates with a lot of people.”

There Is No Antimemetics Division was your latest book; what projects are you working on next?

“Next up is a book of short stories. This will include my short stories “Lena”, “The Difference” and “I Don’t Know, Timmy, Being God Is A Big Responsibility”, at minimum… and a fistful of others, some old, maybe some new, I haven’t decided yet. No working title, no planned date.

After that, there’s an outside chance that I might do something I’ve never done before, and write a book and self-publish it, without first releasing it for free on the web. It’ll take a lot of willpower, because I love that immediate feedback.”

Can you describe what your writing process looks like?

“I’d love to have a reliable, consistent process. That sounds great.

When developing a story, my general approach is to start from some kind of compelling science fiction “What if?” and then run with it. What if information was a substance you could almost shovel around like snow? What if magic was, starting from the 1970s, just another field of engineering? What if you were at war with your own failing memory? Then I explore the logical consequences as far as I can, finding out how the universe changes if this concept is introduced, and how the universe has to change retroactively in order for this to become possible in the first place. Usually, once I get far enough, some kind of story emerges — if it doesn’t, it’s time to start over from some other premise.

Ideas, however, are cheap. Execution is expensive. I write pretty slowly by most people’s standards, and that’s when I can muster the time to write at all. Maybe a hundred words a day. It’s hard going.

If I’m writing a serial, it then becomes about planning ahead as far as humanly possible, while also understanding that the plan can’t be perfect in every detail, because a plan perfect in every detail would just be the completed serial. I usually have a basic end goal in mind and some cool set pieces or lines of dialogue which I want to engineer somewhere along the line — and commonly half of them turn out to be mutually exclusive with the others, so they have to be ditched.

The rest is just time. And experience.”

You can find qntm’s novels for sale on Amazon or Google Play!

And if you liked this interview, let us know! Is there another author you’d like us to interview?

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!


The Beauty of Why English Is Hard To Learn

Why is the English language hard to learn? Well. English is is acknowledged as being one of the most complicated languages to translate into other languages, along with Hindi, Korean, Icelandic and a host of others (depending on which particular set of statistics you look at). English incorporates multitudes of words from other languages, like the word robot for example. The robot definition actually came from a Slavonic word, and was popularized by Czech playwright Karel Capek.

But did you know there are some weird and wonderful words that are unable to be translated at all?

No? Well, even more interesting is the reason why these words can’t be translated. No solo word in any other language represents the scope of the original word. Each of these words can usually only be translated using multiple words or a phrase.

A notable English word that fits the bill is Serendipity, which literally means fortunate accident, and has no direct translation in any other language. But there are some really fascinating words in other languages, too, that helps us realize how emotion-driven verbal and written forms of communication can be.


What if those precious nameless moments between a couple actually did have a word to describe them?


Who would think there was a word for the specific type of bad luck you can experience?


There are many untranslatable words that seem to focus on someone’s sense of being. While Litost in Czech describes the torment that is gained by being aware of how miserable your life is, there are other single words our their to describe a positive feeling. Hygge is that cozy feeling you get while you are sitting around a cozy fire with your loved ones, but my favorite, all-encompassing, untranslatable word is Gezellig.


Has this given you some insight as to why is English hard to learn? There are many, many more examples of untranslatable words (the Italian even have a word for people addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons: Slampadato!), but one thing they all have in common is they show us that not matter who we are, we all have the same experiences over our lifetimes, and it behooves us to learn more about the fascinating languages around us that connect us to each other.

Learning how to impress publishers…it isn’t just a novel idea. (Poll)

When you start writing your first novel, it can be quite daunting imagining the endless amount of words you have to arrange in just the right order to impress an agent, publisher, and eventually, hopefully, legions of readers. But first you have to plot it out, and decide just how big your story will be. I’m not saying big to mean how impressive it will be, but rather asking if you will need more than one book to complete the full story arc, or if you think a standalone format is the perfect length to do justice to your vision.

There are pros and cons to either option.

If you write a standalone, you can make a more immediate impact on potential publishers, and publishers are more willing to commit to a new author if they can already read the conclusion (and obviously like it). When award time comes around, standalone novels are also more likely to win, because your book will have a completed story arc which means it could resonate better with judges and readers. Your debut could even be applauded as an “instant” success.

But on the flip side, unless you show vast potential, publishers are less inclined to give multiple book deals to debut authors who initially give them a standalone, because your track record hasn’t been established yet. They might request right of first refusal for any future novels, but that is not the same as a multi-book deal. You would have to pray that your first book is a runaway success, so you can be offered a bigger, more lucrative, second contract.

If you write a trilogy or series, you are more likely to be offered a multi-book contract from the beginning, even if the publisher has only read the first completed book, because why would a publisher buy the beginning of a series, and not the middle or end? A multi-book contract with a major publisher would definitely a great way to start a career, with multiple opportunities for exposure.

But, yet again, on the flipside, if the publisher does offer you a multi-book contract, unless they believe you are the next George R.R. Martin, the amount they offer a debut author might look very attractive at first blush, but when you break down the amount you would receive for each individual book, you realized you got a bulk discount deal. Not to mention that publishers are less forgiving now, so if your first couple of books underperform, more authors are dropped after their first trilogy than ever before. It makes you realize it’s probably easier to outperform a standalone contract, then try to hit every sale goal on a multi-book contract.

So which is better? Should you focus on one particular model, with the belief you will be more successful? I recommend picking the model that best suits the idea you are most enthusiastic about, so any resulting novel will be produced with as much passion and creativity as possible. With the right amount of talent added in, that would be a winning combination for any type of book.

What do you think? Leave us a comment, or feel free to answer our poll.

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