My futures include disability

The Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is an emission nebula located 8 000 light-years away. This stunning new image was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to celebrate its 26th year in space.

I never thought to wonder why I include characters with disabilities in my stories — and especially in my SF stories. They’re not boxes I’m checking; they’re simply people who worked in the stories I wanted to tell.

Mikkel in “Two-Year Man” has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Jane in “We Who Live in the Heart” uses a wheelchair. And in the forthcoming “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach,” my 83-year-old hero Minh had her legs amputated when she was a child, and her friend and colleague Hamid is a little person. Minh and Hamid are members of a generation known as the Plague Babies — people who were hit hard by parasitic pandemics and spent their childhoods dealing with medical interventions. This generational shared experience has huge repercussions for the 23rd century Earth of Lucky Peach and is a foundation of the story’s world building.

Recently, I realized why these characters come naturally to me and why I’m interested in the issues. I also realized I cannot envision a future world that excludes people with disabilities, and even more, I don’t want to envision that future.

My reason comes straight from the heart.

My brother was born without an esophagus. This was the early 70s, and he nearly died. The story of his life isn’t mine to tell, but I witnessed it and remember a lot. I saw how much he went through as a baby, as a boy, and as a young man. Photos of his pain-etched little toddler face still bring tears to my eyes.

To be clear, I have never thought of my brother as a person with a disability. I doubt he identifies himself in that way. He’s just a person living his life. A loving dad, good husband, and all-around terrific person. But I came very close to losing him when he was a baby, and he is only here today by a twist of good fortune that put an answer in my dad’s hands when the hospital had given up on trying to save him.

People say, “In the future we’ll be able to make sure nobody is born with X, Y, or Z.” Okay, but what does that mean? Human development isn’t always going to be predictable. Parents who have no reason to worry can birth a child who requires medical intervention to survive, while babies born with serious problems can live and even thrive.

People also say, “In the future we’ll be able to fix disabilities. Even if someone is injured, we’ll be able to fix them.” Okay, but not everything is fixable. Not every medical risk is warranted. Not every procedure is worthwhile. And not everyone wants or needs to be fixed. A person who is managing their disability is still disabled, after all, and managing one’s own life and making choices for oneself is the foundation of human adulthood.

If we envision a future that excludes the possibility of people with disabilities, then that future (a) embraces eugenics, (b) is a perfect place where nothing unexpected happens, or (c) is a place where all problems can be fixed perfectly with no repercussions. Option a is horrible, option b is undramatic, and option c is simply unbelievable.

Despite all the doom and gloom the world is going through right now, I believe in the future. I truly believe humanity will go to the stars — not soon, not easily, but we will get there. And I believe when we do, people with disabilities will be a big part of that success story.

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I know nothing about being disabled. For actual information, please see John Wiswell’s “Evil isn’t a Disability” at Fireside, and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s articles at Feminist Sonar for starters.

And please support the upcoming Kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. It’s going to be the most ass-kickingest of all the Destroy series.

 

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On being a Campbell Award finalist

Sometimes the news is too good, it’s hard to know what to say about it. Where to start? An amazing thing happened. I can’t believe this, it’s so great…

Okay, how’s this:

A dream came true. I’m a finalist for the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which will be presented at the Hugo Awards on August 11, at WorldCon in Helsinki. This is absolutely the award nomination that every new SFF writer dreams about, and I assure you, I’m drinking in every drop of joy it brings.

My fellow finalists are Sarah Gailey (my friend, great writer, and awesome human), J. Mulrooney, Malka Older (making such a splash with her work), Ada Palmer (her novel is up for the Best Novel Hugo!), and Laurie Penny. If you’re voting in the Hugos (and of course even if you’re not) please check out their work and if voting, download the packet of our work and vote your heart.

I will always say vote your heart for everything. Not because I don’t want to win (of course I do!), but because I care more about people voting for the right reasons that I do about winning. I’ve loved SF my whole life. The past two years of drama over the Hugos has been deeply upsetting, and I hope this year will be the first step in getting the awards back to normal.

Anyway, enough of that. I’m so excited about being a finalist! My wife and I will be going to Finland for WorldCon and I simply can’t wait. My plan is to have a terrific time, stay up late every night, see old friends and make new ones. Because that’s what it’s all about in the end. It’s not about winning or losing, but the people you meet along the way.

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Lucky Peach coming soon(ish)

Sometime in early 2018, Tor.com’s novella program will publish my time travel story Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. It’s a big novella, just 300 words shy of 40,000 words, which is about half the size of your average novel.

So why not make it a novel?
That’s what everyone said when I told them the first draft was 50,000 words! But it’s not quite that simple. To make it a novel, the story would have to be a lot bigger. This is a tight novella-sized concept.

But it’s going to be an actual book?
Yes! An actual physical book with gorgeous cover art. Which means I get to include a dedication, acknowledgements, and all that real book stuff.

What’s it about?
A fluvial geomorphologist, a gay veterinarian, and a research assistant walk into a bar…

No, wait. Here’s the elevator pitch:

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, has spent her entire life working to restore ecosystems, and she’s enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems. When Minh gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to conduct a past-state assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.

Why did you decide to write about this?
I’ve worked in professional services firms for most of my life, and it’s taught me that it take an incredible amount of time and effort to get humans to work together well.

In Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, the world economy is designed around the idea that the only thing of value is a person’s time. The basic economic unit is the billable hour. Natural resources have no value because everything, including food, can be fabricated at the atomic level. Labor is done by robots. If you don’t like the standard of life where you’re living, everyone has the basic human right to leave and take their projected billable hours elsewhere – basically vote with their feet.

This is a utopia, right?
Not quite. The economic system I’ve created has some definitely drawbacks. One is a lack of privacy. Another is the fact that the world has humans in it. Even if we had a utopia, we’d find ways to make drama.

But nobody has to work, right?
Hah! There are lots of things computers, robots, and databases will never be able to do. Plus, many people like to work. I think a major contributing factor to happiness is knowing your time is well spent.

How does the time travel fit into all this?
Time travel is a big complication. It was invented about ten years before the story begins.

Are there paradoxes?
No! I don’t care for time travel paradoxes. I think there’s tons of drama to be had from the simple fact of time travel being possible.

So how does your time travel work?
Every writer designs their time travel physics to suit the kinds of stories they like to tell. Mine is specifically set up to be essentially useless – it can’t be used to change anything. You can go to the past, do whatever you like, and come home, but you can’t stay there. And once you’ve returned home, you can’t revisit the same past timeline you visited before. Each trip is to a fresh timeline. There’s no way to build on anything you do in the past.

I wanted to explore how time travel can be a big problem and people can still get themselves in HUGE trouble with it even when, on a basic level, it’s only good for tourism.

And historical research.
Oh yes, lots of historical research! And ecological research too. And a lot of other things — but it’s especially good for getting yourself into trouble.

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2016 in Retrospect

Cover by Sam Wolfe

Lesbian Gothic Horror novelette out January 4, 2017 at Tor.com. Cover by Sam Wolfe

2016 was a terrific year for me, filled with travel, excitement, and personal and professional triumph. 2016 has another face, of course, and it’s not pretty. However, I won’t rail against its injustices here. I’m just going to focus on the personal stuff.

Let’s count in fives: In 2016 I had stories in five year’s bests and was a finalist for five awards. Five by five. To keep up the pattern, my plan for 2017 is to write five 5000-word stories. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s run it down:

Five Year’s Bests

Three of my stories were reprinted in year’s best anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Paula Guran, Neil Clarke, and Alan Kaster. The copies make a nice tall tower on my dresser. I’m extremely proud so many editors thought well of my work and can only hope to have such a successful year again.

Five Award Nominations

I was nominated for the Nebula Award, the Aurora Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy Award. I want to give a few details about these awards because nobody ever says much about what it’s like to be an award finalist. Superstition, perhaps? I can understand that, but people want to know how I found out, what I felt, what happened. So here are my impressions.

Nebula Award

  • How I found out: SFWA Director of Operations Kate Baker, who is a total doll, phoned me to ask if I would accept the nomination. This was delicious because I got to squeal at her and get virtual hugs over the phone. So if you think you might get a nomination, pick up all phone calls from mysterious numbers in February.
  • What the award ceremony was like: Total glam-fest multi-day celebration. The SFWA Nebula Conference is a glorious event and SFWA makes you feel like a star.
  • Finalist swag: Nebula nominee pin and certificate, also ribbon for conference badge.
  • How I felt when the results hit: About 15 seconds of disappointment for myself, and slightly longer disappointment that my friends didn’t win either. But I was live-tweeting the results so I was more concerned that I spelled winner Nnedi Okorafor’s name right. She’s an amazing writer and if you haven’t read her Nebula-winning BINTI, you should.

Aurora Award

  • How I found out: Alyx and I were on vacation in London when we got the emails from the award committee. Very excited that we were both nominated!
  • What the award ceremony was like: We didn’t get to go, but it was in Calgary my brother went in our place and had a great time.
  • Finalist swag: As with the Nebula, nominees get lovely pins.
  • How I felt when the results hit: Alyx and I found out we both won via Twitter, in quick succession, and then shortly after, via text and photos from my brother. We were really sad we couldn’t have attended in person especially since so many friends were at the ceremony.
  • Our twin trophies are proudly displayed in our living room. So pretty!

Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award

  • How I found out: Kij Johnson sent a lovely email with congratulations, checking to see if I would accept the nomination, which of course I did.
  • How I felt when the results hit: I ran into friend and fellow finalist E.J. Fischer before the event. When I congratulated him, he said, “Oh, didn’t you know? Kelly Link won.” Apparently this info was printed on the event posters. That was a bit of a let down, especially since Alyx and I had been traveling all day to get to the event.
  • Kelly Link winning is hardly unexpected because she is a goddess. However, it turned out during the ceremony that E.J. was runner-up, so that was a surprise and very nice because he’s wonderful and so is his work. I love it when my friends are rewarded for their genius!

Sunburst Award

  • How I found out: The committee posted the long list on their site, and then the short list a few months later.
  • How I felt when the results hit: About 20 seconds of disappointment. I was hoping for this one, especially since it brings actual award money. Maybe another year, if I’m lucky.

World Fantasy Award

  • How I found out: I looked at Twitter and had a zillion notifications. Unexpected and a fun way to find out!
  • What the award ceremony was like: Unfortunately I couldn’t go to WFC. We’d planned to go but had to change our plans to make a trip to visit family instead.
  • How I felt when the results hit: About 2 minutes of disappointment. I was rooting for Usman Malik and really thought he would win.

I can say with a great deal of confidence that being an award finalist is pretty darn nice. Part of the excitement and fun is juggling the social media with congratulations flowing in from all directions. It’s a true adrenaline hit!

What could have been…

Apparently without puppy business, I might have had been Campbell finalist, too. That would have been nice but I can live without it.

What have you done for me lately?

It looks like I’ve been slacking because 2016 publications are thin on the ground. I’ve been hard at it, though. Here’s what I did in 2016:

  • Extensive revisions to my lesbian gothic horror novelette “A Human Stain,” which appears at Tor.com on January 4, 2017.  Ellen Datlow put me through five rewrites for this one! Not complaining. The story needed it. (See, though, the continuing pattern of fives?)
  • Ellen Kushner asked me to write a Tremontaine tie-in story and I was thrilled to do it. “The Eye of the Swan” appeared on Tor.com in October 2016.
  • The editors of Nasty – Fetish Erotica for a Good Cause, invited me to contribute a short-short. I chose public nudity for my fetish. The story is called called “The Desperate Flesh.” 
  • I wrote two essays for the Another Word column at Clarkesworld. “On Being a Late Bloomer” appeared in September 2016 and “Dystopias are Not Enough” will appear in January 2017.
  • I wrote a column about the Netflix series Stranger Things for the Omni Magazine reboot. Writing for Omni was a childhood dream come true, let me tell you.
  • And finally, I finished the long novella (39,700 words) that I’ve been working on since summer 2015. It’s a time travel story tentatively titled “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.” I’m hoping it’ll find a home soon.

And in 2017?

After spending more than a year writing my time travel novella, I’m desperate to work on shorter pieces. My plan for 2017 is to write five 5000-word stories. I’ve got them all planned out.

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My schedule at Ad Astra 2016

Ad Astra is this weekend. Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, April 30 – 6:00 PM
Saturday Evening Science Fiction Reading (room: Oakridge)
With: A.M. Dellamonica, Derwin Mak, and Madeline Ashby 

Saturday, April 30 – 8:00 PM
Into the Labyrinth of Guillermo Del Toro (room: Newmarket)

Sunday, May 1 – 10:00 AM
Online Social Networks and Communities Explained (room: Markham A)

Sunday, May 1 – 1:00 PM
Recommended Non-Fiction for the Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer (room: Oakridge)

Sunday, May 1 – 3:00 PM
The Trials and Tribulations of Writing About Time Travel (room: Newmarket)

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2015, the year all my dreams came true

enkiinanna

I’m at Boskone for the weekend. I’m not on the programming, but just here to hang out and have fun. I’ll see some delicious friends and mentors.

Though I haven’t updated this blog in a while, I haven’t been idle. I’ve been running hard to finish a time travel novella. It’s going long. Will probably end up around 40K words. Yikes.

Some people can write a story in a weekend but I certainly can’t. This particular story has been a lengthy process even though I’ve had the concept beginning-middle-end from the start. I never write a story without knowing where it’s going, but it’s the bits in between that are difficult. I want it to feel authentic, so I’m being very careful. If I go too fast, I’ll only create problems that will be difficult to fix in revision. I can only hope that in the end it’ll be worth the effort. Whether it’ll be marketable or not, I leave that up to the gods. In this case, the ancient Sumerian gods Enki and Inanna.

Last year was such an amazing year — in 2015 all my dreams came true. My first publication at Clarkesworld in February, closely followed by an anthology, then Asimov’s, then Tor.com, then another anthology. My work has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception, with three stories appearing on the Locus Recommended Reading list and five stories chosen for year’s best anthologies. I’m eager to get more stories out into the world, but that simply can’t be rushed.

I do have one story out to market right now and I’m hoping to hear a yea or nay soon from the editor who has it in hand. I don’t know if it’s exactly the right story to follow up this amazing year for a few reasons — not the least because I’d rather follow up 2015 with a story that knocks people’s hats off. Not sure this little horror story has that quality. I wrote myself into some difficult corners with it (probably because I tried to rush the first draft) and have been working with the editor on revisions. It’s been a good learning process. Now I know that for me, forcing a draft to completion just causes intractable story problems.

So back to the novella for me! Onward, forward, and ahead! All that matters are the words!

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TOC for Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction, 33rd Annual Collection

Gardner Dozois' Year's Best SF 33

Art by Jim Burns

A few days ago on his Facebook page, Gardner Dozois posted the Table of Contents for his upcoming Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-third Annual Collection. The anthology will be available next July, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

The TOC includes a story of mine. I’d be thrilled about this under any circumstances, but it turns out the story he chose is my very first published story, The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, which appeared in Clarkesworld this past February. Hitting Gardner’s Year’s Best with a first published story feels — well, there are no words. Peter Watts reminded me a few days ago, however, that it’s all downhill from here. I could only laugh and agree with him. Peter is the happiest cynic I know.

Here are the stories appearing in the anthology. The list is in no particular order. I’m definitely the most junior writer in the bunch, though by no means the youngest. And look: Aliette de Bodard has two stories here. Nice!

  • “The Falls: A Luna Story,” by Ian McDonald
  • “Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight,” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “Ruins,” by Eleanor Arnason
  • “Gypsy,” by Carter Scholz
  • “Emergence,” by Gwyneth Jones
  • “Calved,” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Meshed,” by Rich Larson
  • “Bannerless,” by Carrie Vaughn
  • “The Astrakhan, the Homberg, and the Red Red Coat,” by Chaz Brenchley
  • “Another Word for World,” by Ann Leckie
  • “City of Ash,” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • “The Muses of Shuyedan-18,” by Indrapramit Das
  • “The Audience,” by Sean McMullen
  • “Consolation,” by John Kessel
  • “Botanica Veneris,” by Ian McDonald
  • “Rates of Change,” by James S.A. Corey
  • “The Children of Gal,” by Allen M. Steele
  • “Today I Am Paul,” by Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “Trapping the Pleistecene,” by James Sarafin
  • “Machine Learning,” by Nancy Kress
  • “Silence Like Diamonds,” by John Barnes
  • “Inhuman Garbage,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • “Planet of Fear,” by Paul McAuley
  • “It Takes More Than Muscles to Frown,” by Ned Beauman
  • “The Daughters of John Demetrius,” by Joe Pitkin
  • “Hello, Hello,” by Seanan McGuire
  • “Capitalism in the 22nd Century,” by Geoff Ryman
  • “Ice,” by Rich Larson
  • “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” by Kelly Robson
  • “In Panic Town, on the Backward Moon,” by Michael F. Flynn
  • “The First Gate of Logic,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • “Billy Tumult,” by Nick Harkaway
  • “No Placeholder for You, My Love,” by Nick Wolven
  • “The Game of Smash and Recovery,” by Kelly Link
  • “A Stopped Clock,” by Madeline Ashby
  • “Citadel of Weeping Pearls,” by Aliette de Bodard

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