For added fun, you can listen to “Squeeze” in Episode 7 of the Kaleidocast, performed by the indelible Jon Hoche.
Another one of our members is professionally published! Rob Cameron’s “Squeeze” will be making an appearance in the fifth iteration of Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix 5. David Foster Wallace tells us every love story is a ghost story – but “Squeeze” proves that that particular door swings both ways. A meditation on the boundaries between life, love, and death, Cameron’s story is right at home in this anthology. You won’t want to miss this one – all the feels, people. Not to mention that once you finish “Squeeze,” you’ll have an entire book of amazing short stories from some of the best speculative fictioneers in the business.
For added fun, you can listen to “Squeeze” in Episode 7 of the Kaleidocast, performed by the indelible Jon Hoche.
So, this is what we've been working on for over a year.
When Brad first came up with the idea for a BSFW produced podcast, we kind of had an idea of how ambitious an idea it was...but not really. But after 5 years with BSFW, one thing had become clear: this group has got some seriously talented writers and people should hear their stories.
Also, the producers, Brad Parks, Sam Schreiber, Tanya Ireland McLean, and I had made some life long friends in the speculative fiction writing community at KGB Fantastic Fiction readings, the New York Review of Science Fiction, Riverside, and, of course, Readercon. The Kaleidocast is BSFW's attempt to honor both groups of writers by creating a new venue for them to publish and a new speculative world to play with: Meta Brooklyn.
Our Meta-Brooklyn exists in a parallel universe where stories from the real world percolate, project, and propagate in weird, wonderful, and often lethal ways. Then again, who's to say whose reality is more real...er? We invite you to join our characters, both academics and story hunters, as they delve into the mystery that is the Kaleidocast.
Stick around, we've got a lot of story to tell.
-Cameron Roberson, aka Rob Cameron, aka Spidercam, aka that guy who does dragon boat and drank all your hard cider.
The panel, “When Toxic Masculinity is the Problem,” was a not so subtle reminder of the power of the pen over the sword; the “sword” taken literally, literarily, metaphorically, and euphemistically.
Erik Amundsen, Max Gladstone, Daniel José Older, and moderator Josh Jasper, led a discussion on the dangers of authors telling stories where the characters comport with and therefore contort themselves into a vestigial form of masculinity where the hero is emotionally restricted (except for anger), invulnerable, has misogynistic relationships, and is driven to succeed by having a greater (and often secret) capacity for violence.
The series of James Bond movies was one very clear example given by Max, though apparently the movie Bond is an allergically toxic reaction to the more complex novels, which often happens when a story is retold for mainstream audiences. But, the conversation really started at last year’s Readercon when Josh had noted how the WB horror drama “Supernatural” was a prime example of a narrative where the main characters were caught in a cycle of death fueled by blatantly stupid toxic masculinity.
Part of the show’s failure in storytelling, beyond its over the top misogyny (and mediocre plot), is in not really knowing or at least not writing for their audience, which is majority female and much more diverse in sexual orientation. I hear that’s changing. But if their fan base was as young, white, and male as the show’s writers seem to want, then it would seem even more important to tell a better more inclusive story.
We subconsciously live out the stories we associate with. Through his work as a community organizer and paramedic, Daniel has seen the literal “blood and guts” consequences of toxic masculinity gone untreated in all walks of life, from Wall Street execs to gang members. And, he said, young people who are steeped in this narrative are eager for, even “starving for” this conversation. Speculative fiction is an excellent tool with which to conduct it.
But as far as Supernatural goes...in addition to the show's abysmal track record when it comes to women, the show has also never shown much respect for the enormous female population of shippers who comprise the majority of its fanbase.
Max made the point that speculative fiction’s real strength is in pulling into the limelight social constructs that we are normally unaware of, like masculinity, and through innovative use of genre tropes and great writing, we can explore them in ways less flexible genres cannot. Yet, there is also a desire on the part of the reader to be immersed in any story. Therefore the engine of good writing built from dialogue, descriptions, plotting, and conflict, can ultimately be an empty vehicle if the author is incapable of growing as a person along with his characters. The words a writer chooses are part of an ongoing conversation with the self. Which brings us to “The Dresden Files.”
The urban fantasy noir series is well written, complex, descriptive, and more self-aware than "Supernatural." But Dresden always wins (even when he dies), by having a greater capacity for violence. Emotions beyond anger are as rare as minorities in his version of Chicago, and as Daniel pointed out, perpetuating the belief that happy endings always come after you’ve obliterated the "bad" people is dangerous. Both "Supernatural" and "The Dresden Files" are mainstreamed speculative fiction and need to do a better job of breaking down the “mythologies of gender” we all live with.
So then which writers and narratives are taking on toxic masculinity? Max highly recommended “Neo Genesis Evangeline,” an anime that took the box of toxic masculinity, especially as defined for Japanese boys, and tore it apart. This brought up the really interesting topic of audience expectations. The audience came for the giant robot v.s. alien battle and rejected the series finale when they were offered something more complex. (Watch the video below to hear the author's graphic rebuttal to audience outrage at time stamp 23:50.)
Josh recommended Ken Liu’s “Grace of Kings.” It does a very good job of contrasting the lives of a hyper toxic masculine man character with one who saw vulnerability as a strength and feminine as integrated with masculine rather than opposed to it. Josh also recommended Daniel Abram’s stories including the “Dagger and Coin” series.
Erik recommended Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, though more for the villain Kingpin, than the super hero. The show takes a more balanced approach: Daredevil is endowed with a super power that makes him more aware of others (so kind of cheating), yet hides his own true nature from those he loves. But then he wins because he’s simply more bad ass and more angry than Kingpin. Kingpin's journey is much more clearly defined as he learned to draw strength from vulnerability, healed (relatively speaking) from early childhood trauma, and survived those who tried to hold him to his more toxic, stunted self. It's a very curious case of projection.
Finally, Daniel Jose Elder’s “Half-Resurrection Blues” urban fantasy noir, a kind of answer to the "Dresden Files," writes very convincingly about the consequences of power over rather than power with and introduces you to different flavors of masculinity that bare more resemblance to real world people.
I asked the panel how quickly they thought you can turn this ship. Josh’s answer was that you have to lay it out there for the reader, where the characters have a chance at self-discovery: the idea of self you have been handed no longer works and maybe there are other ways to define yourself as a man.
You still run the risk of audience backlash, like what happened with "Neo Genesis," but ultimately I take a historical view on this. Many Victorian era fairy tales were written by women challenging the limitations put upon them. Samuel Delany’s generation in the twentieth century pushed the envelope of what was considered taboo sexuality. 21st century America is right now having a conversation about gender. Re-imagining masculinity is a task whose time has come. Pick up your pen.
I write a lot of hard sci-fi, and I enjoy the complex puzzle of creating ecologies and biospheres and societies and philosophies that are “other” enough to be interesting. So at this year's Readercon, I made sure I attended two of the panel discussions on designing aliens: “Biology as Destiny” and “Not Just Pointy-Eared Humans.”
The biggest takeaway for me was recognizing that a certain amount of similarity between an alien character and the human reader is necessary for there to be insight into the human condition. An alien who is too different becomes more like scenery or environment. Among the aliens who straddle the line gracefully, the panelists frequently made mention of China Mieville’s Embassytown, in which the aliens think so differently from humans, the mere presence of human settlers on their planet creates problems with their language and therefore their thinking.
Another important point made by the panelists was how important it was to make the physiology, philosophy, politics, and behavior of your aliens matter to the plot. If some aspect of your aliens’ design doesn’t serve the plot, it is like an extraneous character.
For my own writing, I realized that as exhaustively as I tend to plot out my alien worlds, there is still a lot of stuff missing when you consider all the niches that, for example, life on Earth exploits. And in that process of filling out my world, I have to stop going for easy analogs like viruses, insects, squirrels, dogs, and, of course, humans.
by Mark Salzwedel
KaffeeKlatches. Coffee clutches. Gathering over coffee.
Where, at Readercon, you get to have about an hour–long chat with a writer, along with about fourteen other people. Sit on a high chair at a square table on the 8th floor of the Burlington Marriott. Get some coffee from coffee boxes (abomination!). Ask questions. Listen to stories. Discuss life and writing.
Sometimes the writer asks your name, sometimes a bit about you. If you’re a fan, it is more than cool. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to gaze with awe, love, and admiration. Maybe they’ll remember you. If an editor, maybe they’ll publish you.
I KaKl’ed with Daniel José Older, Sheila Williams, and Samuel Delaney .
Daniel José Older
Daniel writes urban fantasy mysteries and has just reached a tipping point, getting fabulous reviews in the NY Times Book Review for Shadowshaper. His work is set in Brooklyn where I live. Where he lives. With Latino and Latina characters, with language that reflects the New York Hispanic culture. He paints a rich, cultural landscape where bizarre things happen and even more bizarre people live. He deserves all the success in the world.
Daniel is a Santeria priest. He told us! This lends him, for us Anglos in the room, a flavor of exoticism, as well as a sense of danger, ignorant as we are for the most part, about the religion. He admits to sacrificing chickens, though I’m not sure he is not goofing on us. I’m not a fan of sacrificing animals for religious purposes, and personally I believe amazing things can be done without animal murder. I get the blood thing. But still.
But aside from the sensational, Daniel is a warm, outgoing guy who is totally dedicated to his writing (after also working as an EMT in the Bronx.). He is also dedicated to bringing Latino/a characters into speculative fiction and supports many causes and people on this account (apparently he has a hugely popular Twitter account). i.e. Get rid of Lovecraft as the image for the statue for the World Fantasy Awards. The guy, according to Daniel, and to me, was a total racist, anti-semitic, misogynistic loonie tune, who wrote brilliantly creepy stuff. But come on, folks, Get over him.
Daniel also has no tolerance (yay!!) for writing that includes stereotypes of brown people from wherever, and cited the much-maligned (deservedly, I think) work of JimButcher. A minor tiff ensued with someone who supported and admired Butcher, citing his improved political stances (less homophobic, racist, by book 4), but Daniel had no tolerance for that.
Apparently he is willing to throw a book across the room if it makes him angry. Yay again.
A moving moment during this particular KaKl was when a young woman mentioned that she, being Hispanic, felt finally she could read stories about characters like her (maybe she doesn’t get to read the many many Latino/a writers out there). But it is true, that in the mostly white world of spec fiction, non-white writers and characters are rare. We see that changing (cf. DJO, Butler, Shawl, Liu, Chiang, Hopkinson, etc.), and we can reference the folks in BSFW.
Daniel is a very likable, personable, friendly, funny, and smart guy. The hour flew by.
Sheila, as the world knows, is the Editor of Asimov’s. (I had met her a couple of years ago when I attended the Short Story Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, with Chris McKitterick and Andy Duncan, with a meeting with James Gunn. Writers: GO! They are all brilliant teachers and the critique groups are excellent.)
Anyway, I was thrilled that Sheila not only recognized me but remembered I worked in theatre. Cool! Also in attendance were my dear friends Kathy Kitts and Jean Asselin, who I met in Kansas.
Sheila talked at length about her work day. She reads hundreds of stories now, and mentioned that she is finally caught up with all the submissions. She had some thoughts and anecdotes:
The guy who had sent in 85 stories and been rejected 85 times. She guessed he was hoping that the next one would be the one Asimov’s accepted.
She does not want to read a novel in the cover letter. Unless the story is based on something in the writer’s life (i.e. about a weird circus and the writer worked in the circus), long bios aren’t really necessary. The story should say it all.
After so many years as an editor, she has a strong feeling about what makes a strong story and if it is suitable for Asimov’s.
Asimov’s is digital now, which has helped circulation. Asimov’s will be starting a podcast soon, and is looking for readers. No pay, but hey.
I got the feeling that Sheila is a generous editor and REALLY, REALLY wants a good story to come her way.
Asked if she regretted passing up a story that went on to win awards, she said that of course editors miss stuff, but generally if she passed, it meant the story was not right for Asimov’s.
Right then (at Readercon) she was working on the blurbs that precede the stories. I always wanted to know who wrote those.
For someone who is probably besieged by writers, Sheila was warm and open! I felt encouraged and sent in one of my stories the next week. She wrote back an extremely charming rejection letter, which actually included a helpful critique.
What can I say? What a character! What a nice man! What a brilliant man! What an unabashedly sexual man!
I don’t remember all of the questions, but I remember that each question prompted a long involved story about theory, practice, working, writing, sexuality, publishing, and academia. It seems Mr. Delaney, (I couldn’t bring myself to call him Samuel) has mostly been writing critique and theory articles about speculative fiction, writing, and issues of gender and identity.
I read Dhalgren in college (so long ago) and remember being very unsettled by the book for numerous reasons: an unpleasant post-apocalyptic world, sexual behavior that this then-naïve gal had never heard of, and a strong sense of alienation on the part of the protagonist. Yes, it was a time for this sort of investigation, but no one, with perhaps the exception of Ellison, Russ, and a few others were interested in unsettling the speculative fiction reader. Escape, we could not.
Seems like Mr. Delaney hasn’t mellowed at all in this respect, which is such a wonderful inspiration for writers: follow your heart, your mission, and your personal truth. Think about what society is, gives, and takes away.
Societal analysis should not be a stranger to speculative fiction, but an integral part, no matter how “out there” it may seem to be.
Delaney is an original: he wrote about sex, people of color, screwed-up society, alienation, and a whole host of other themes that are now almost standard.
And he still shows up at a Readercon and talks with everybody and anybody, telling stories, answering questions, and always asking questions.
So, should you sign up for these kaffeeklatches?
Ridiculous question, of course you should. Meet these folks. Ask a question. Have your face in the room and listen. Take notes. Get books signed. They are there because they want to meet you, too. Otherwise, why bother?
They are a nice change from the huge panels in the huge freezing rooms, or odd questions from the audience (though this was rarer this year than my first Readercon two years ago).
Would love to hear from those who went to other KaKl’s.
This year, twelve of us from BSFW went to Readercon together, the largest group of us to attend Readercon yet. Aside from it being a great time socially (fond memories of doing shots and playing Cards Against Humanity), it was an invaluable experience for a writer in my position – i.e., motivated, probably talented enough, but not quite there yet.
I still have a ways to go before I've experienced all of the writing-related activities I should, but Readercon was an excellent second step (joining BSFW was the first). I not only got the opportunity to hear about the likes of writers like Max Gladstone, I got to hear Max Gladstone himself read his own work, have morning coffee with him and a small group of ten or so, and hear him express his ideas in a number of fascinating and useful panels covering different topics.
By far, the most interesting panel for me, and the one most pertinent to my own work, was entitled “If Magic Has Always Been Real.” The panel explored the challenges inherent to any story that takes place in the “world we know”, only where magic is real and has always been real. If magic has always been real, then why have such terrible things happened in the course of human history? How powerful can magic be if it couldn't prevent these things? Is magical power usable as military power? Also, how has its existence been kept secret all this time?
Successful authors have dealt with these challenges in different ways. In Lev Grossman's “Magicians” trilogy, magic is taught only at a few special colleges around the world, where worthy candidates are sought out and tested, and only a handful of the most gifted are matriculated and allowed passage to these magically hidden academies. In Huruki Murakami's 1Q84, events lead the heroine to unwittingly change the course of reality. In popular anime such as Full Metal Alchemist, magic works only at great cost and so is used sparingly.
Especially in stories set in the modern Western world, where (some have argued) magic has been supplanted by religion, there are higher powers and supernatural beings that oversee the world and/or reality and don't allow mere mortals to influence (read, screw up) things too badly. Or, magic is really a sort of ritualized prayer, petitioning higher (or lower) powers to intervene in a desired way, instead of trying to influence events directly by manipulating unseen mechanisms or energies.
An intelligent author can do any number of things to make magic plausible in the world of his or her story. Maybe something happened to make magic impossible for a time, and now it's possible again. Or maybe the story takes place in an alternate history line where history has been affected by magic and so has unfolded differently. Maybe history unfolded the way it did because of magic being worked behind the scenes, and without magic history would have turned out better, or worse, or about the same.
My own take from the whole panel discussion was this: magic is technology – the application of knowledge for practical purposes. It just so happens that with magic, the mechanisms used can't be scientifically measured or explained, in contrast to science fiction, where they can be (at least, in the world of the story). So the important question for an author is, what are magic's limits? What can it do, and what can't it do?
Viewing it this way, as technology, one can ask why people in the world are starving today when we possess the technology to feed every human being on the planet just as easily as one can ask why magic, if it has existed since antiquity, hasn't presented itself a panacea to all of the world's evils and ills.
The obvious (if vague) answer to both is “because things get in the way.” I think some of the most fertile ground for a writer including magic in his or her work, in terms of creating an interesting story, as well as making any pertinent social commentary, lies in choosing what exactly is getting in the way.
The panelists made three very important and useful points for writers using magic in their stories (which I've paraphrased):
1. If you're going to use magic or other fantastical premises, make the reader aware up front, toward the beginning of the story. Don't suddenly endow a character in the middle of the story with some psychic ability or magical power the reader had no idea was even possible in your world.
2. Keeping the existence of magic completely secret in a modern world setting is very problematic.
3. Whatever you do, do not over-explain the mechanics of how magic works in your world. Readers don't want or need to read dissertations or technical manuals.
I think of the me who exists in an alternate world, one in which I didn't go to Readercon this year, and I realize that I'm chewing on and digesting ideas and viewpoints that don't even occur to that guy to think about. I'm betting that I get published well before he does. And regardless of what else that guy chooses to do, I know I'll be hitting up Readercon next year.
by Christophe Maso
You can find Christophe's novel, "Lynxharrow: Path of the Witch" here!
One of the many magical things that happened at Readercon this year, and which subsequently popped my poor brain like an overripe grape, resulted from being exposed to a new type of “punk”… solarpunk!
For those of you who don’t know, all the sub-genres bearing the -punk suffix share a set of characteristics. Steampunk, cyberpunk, afropunk, clockpunk, atompunk…you get the idea. They all harken to a certain maker mentality, an edgier vibe of ingenuity and do-it-yourself-ness.
Here’s what Wikipedia says:
"…a world built on one particular technology that is extrapolated to a highly sophisticated level (this may even be a fantastical or anachronistic technology, akin to retro-futurism), a gritty transreal urban style, or a particular approach to social themes."
Also referred to as eco-futurism, solarpunk is a literary and visual movement that addresses the problems I frequently face when attempting to write science fiction. It’s hard to project our current course as a species forward without arriving inevitably in a world of scarcity and decay. In otherwords, dystopian. Yawn.
Not to say that compelling dystopian stories can’t be told. I’ve read The Hunger Games. I’m not so much bored with the premise as I am worn out by it. I read for enjoyment, to escape into a fantastical world, not a dark, depressing place where I can’t get enough to eat.
It’s why I can only tolerate so much horror, and why I avoid grimdark like the plague. A number of sub-genres have sprung up to embrace entropy and the worst aspects of our baser natures. Or is that the best of the worst in us? Either way, not for me.
I see, or at least I want to see, a more positive future. Just as I turned to science fiction in my teens for its sense of adventure and discovery, I’m unwilling to turn to it now when that spirit is absent. Solarpunk subverts the cyberpunk future of technology that overwhelms our humanity, and puts human beings back into the equation, as makers of a brighter world.
Not a perfect world, mind you. Solarpunk has the potential to nestle within dystopian settings as well as supplant them. The stories solarpunk tells will still be human stories, perhaps all the more human for the acknowledgement of how connected to the environment we are, how dependent on it for our survival.
Consider this example of solar punk micro fiction from Romie Stott, who led the solarpunk discussion at Readercon:
“California’s property-tax-funded electrical collectives worked like fire departments, ready to rush batteries and generators onto the grid when weather events took buildings’ self-powering systems offline. It was a skittery, nerve-wracking job, and Elena loved the adrenaline.”
From her blog, Postorbital: very short science fiction by Romie Stott (and worth a visit! Very inspiring).
I intend to give this a try. I have a deep fondness for all the “punk” subgenres, and this one hacks more than just the sun. It hacks hope. It hacks optimism. It hacks a brighter tomorrow.
Won’t you join me?
Get inspired with these articles:
Solarpunk: a new movement sees the future in a positive light
Solarpunk, the LGBT Community, and the Importance of Imagining Positive Futures
The Solarpunks Tumblr Blog
Interview with Adam Flynn on Solarpunk
Innovation Starvation by Neal Stephenson
A Solarpunk Reading List on Goodreads
Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto
Renewable energy from living plants!
by Bradly Robert Parks
You can find more of his writing here.
And in case you missed the panel on Solar Punk, here it is.
It was a pretty eventful Readercon for BSFW. We went down there with our largest posse yet, twelve writers strong. Three members, Mark Salzwedel, Marcy Arlin, and Bradley Robert Parks read their stories and poetry at the convention, and I was invited to speak on a panel. The next five posts on the blog were written by some of the writers who went to Readercon 2015.
Bradley Robert Parks will introduce you to "Solar Punk," a brand new sub-genre that is both an extension of the steam-punk brand as well as an answer to the glut of post apocalyptic stories that currently take center stage.
Christophe Maso will discuss his experience as a virgin Readerconner and his take away from the "If Magic Were Real," panel. Marcy Arlin, a Readercon veteran will take you inside the more intimate and interactive world of the kaffeeklatches and the leading writers and editors you'd find there.
Mark Salzwedel will examine the key elements of making your aliens not only plausibly, but also how to avoid the pitfalls that so many writers fall into when experimenting with creating sufficiently original, alien perspectives. Finally, I'll discuss lessons learned from my favorite panel of the convention, "Toxic Masculinity," including what exactly that means, social ramifications, and how to avoid it in your writing. Check it out, we'll be posting links to videos, books, authors, and resources along the way.
BSFW went to Readercon for the fourth time and did are darndest to record the panels and events for you guys. Then the good folks at Readercon jumped into the 21st century, videoed the panels themselves, and posted them on Youtube!
This panel was Successfully Writing About Horrible Things with Mike Allen, Catt Kingsgrave, Shira Lipkin, Kate Nepveu (leader), Patty Templeton. The BSFW members who went to Readercon will also contribute blog posts about their experiences in the coming weeks.
If you're not writing horror but your plot calls for something horrific to happen to a character, how do you handle it? You might go overboard and be detailed to the point of undermining or derailing the narrative, or might be so vague that the horrific event has little effect on the reader or the story. A reader who's been through a similar experience might be offended or distressed by a description of awfulness that's lurid, gratuitous, clichéd, or bland. What strategies can writers use to help readers empathize with the characters' suffering and build stories that respectfully handle the consequences of terrible events, without falling into these traps?
Ladies and gentlemen, Marcy Arlin's devilish little gem of a story, Teaching Your Demon Lover to Cha Cha, is freshly published at Daily Science Fiction! Read it, laugh, blush, then tell your friends.