A writer’s decade

Rarely can anyone point to a turning point in their life, but here’s mine. Ten years ago today, April 1, 2013, I was laid off my job. I was devastated, but it doesn’t sting anymore because I can mark that moment as the beginning of becoming…

Becoming myself.

The next day, I took a stalled story and started rewriting it from scratch, in a new way, with a style and confidence that had eluded me for years. The story was Waters of Versailles, and it felt right. It felt like me. I’d found the thing I’d been long searching for in my writing, that I could bring to new stories, over and over again. We call it voice, and though it’s a bit of a cliché, it’s a good metaphor for finding your own unique way of expressing yourself on the page.

Gain though pain. Oh god, can we just not?

Though I’ve told this story about my artistic breakthrough many times, I kind of hate it. It shouldn’t take a massive, life-upheaving event to make an artistic breakthrough. Often it doesn’t. Lots of people find their voices through simple consistent hard work, punctuated by nothing particularly terrible or dramatic.

So why am I going on and on about this?

This past decade has been big, and I want to commemorate it here.

Books by Kelly Robson: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Alias Space and other stories, High Times in the Low Parliament, and the lovely jewelbox illustrated hardcover version of Waters of Versailles

In the past ten years, I published two books (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and High Times in the Low Parliament), and a short fiction collection (Alias Space and Other Stories) in hardcover, no less.

I published 18 short stories, many of which were reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and translated internationally — including a gorgeous hardcover, illustrated version of Waters of Versailles in Spanish. I wrote several nonfiction pieces about writing and writers, mostly for Clarkesworld.

I consulted as a creative futurist for national and international organizations. Often, this took the form of listening to people’s ideas about the future and creating stories out of them, but I also made presentations about various technological advances and what they may mean for the future.

I attended conventions and literary events in Spain and China (twice!), and many conventions in Canada and the US. I was a been a guest of honor twice, at WindyCon and Canvention. I won a Nebula Award and three Aurora Awards, and have been a finalist for most of the major awards in our genres.

I won a Nebula Award?

Hard to believe, but here it is. It’s a beauty. As an SF fan since birth, this is lifelong dream come true.

Rectangular clear lucite with three round, orange stones representing planets, with a swirl of orange and brown sand above. Black lower portion is inscribed: 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
2017 Nebula Award for Novelette
"A Human Stain" 
Kelly Robson
Pittsburgh, PA - May 19th, 2018


What’s next, then?

High Times in the Low Parliament is the finalist for a Nebula, and I’m looking forward to going to the Nebula Conference this May — for the first time live and in-person since 2019.

I finished a High Times sequel called Down and Out at the Mighty Assembly, but not sure yet when or where it will appear. I’m working on a big sweeping Science Fiction novel, and am discovering, NOT to my surprise, that novels are difficult and all-consuming.

I want to write more stories — I have several in the works, and am looking forward to turning my attention to them, if I can only get the novel done and out of the way. It’d be great to have another year like 2015 and 2018, with four stories out in one year. That’s my idea of perfection.

Let’s see how it goes for the next decade, then?

Yes, in 2033, we’ll see how all of it has gone.

We need more comedies in SF and Fantasy

After I wrote this little post about being surprised that High Times in the Low Parliament is a Nebula finalist, I realized I didn’t say why I was surprised by it getting a Nebula nod. I was surprised because it’s a comedy, and comedies are a risk and a hard sell. Drama is universal. What’s dramatic to me is probably dramatic to lots of people. But what’s funny to me isn’t necessarily funny to you, or anyone.

Nothing fails harder than a failed comedy (except a failed musical — that fails worst of all). So why write comedies at all? Why take the risk? Because we need them. And because comedy can tell us truths tragedy can’t.

Truths like: Humans may be ridiculous, but we are not unsalvagable.

Truths like: The things we spend so much time and effort on may not matter at all, while the truly important things are overlooked.

Truths like: We can come together when we lower our boundaries, and it’s worth it.

Truths like: There is value in laughing with friends, in gormless goodwill.

Truths like: Life may be precarious, but we can still find moments to vibe with each other

Truths like: Despite overwhelming evidence, you can be happy and safe. Life can get better. But to do this, we need other people to be happy, safe, and better with.

This is not a pollyanna point of view. I have not lived a cushy life and aside from waves hands, the past couple years have been especially hard. The death of my mom from dementia, and my dear friend from ALS. The exposure of two other treasured elders as horrific moral failures. Yeah, that was fun. In the middle of all that, things were so dark I had to make my own light.

And that’s why we need comedies more than ever. All good comedies address how difficult it is to be alive, to age, to change. Comedies show us we can move away the places of caution and safety that are killing us, and the risk is worthwhile. Comedies prove that even when we’re buried in the tragedy of being alive, someday we will laugh again.

In conclusion, I would love to see more comedies in SFF. I think we need them. Here’s a great one: GLITTERATI by Oliver K. Langmead. I guess you’d call it social satire but no, it’s a freaking comedy — Zoolander in the future, if you will. I loved it. Maybe you will too.

High Times is a Nebula finalist!

I am incredibly surprised and pleased that High Times in the Low Parliament is a finalist for the Nebula Award this year.

Five paperback books "High Times in the Low Parliament" on an abstract background.

This is the fourth time I’ve received a Nebula nod. Waters of Versailles was a finalist in 2016. A Human Stain won the Nebula in 2018. And Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach was a finalist in 2019.

I’m that lucky. I get pushback when I call it luck, and yes, it also takes hard work and dedication. Luck comes in when your story manages to say the right things, at the right time, to readers who understand and care. Lovely when that comes together, but it can’t be aimed at. I don’t take it for granted.

I have lots of experience both winning and losing awards, and being a finalist is a huge win.

The Nebula Awards are voted on by the members of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and awarded at the Nebula Conference, which runs May 12-14. This year, there will be both an in-person event and a virtual conference, supplemented by virtual events throughout the year. I’ll be in Anaheim for the in-person conference this year, barring unforeseen events, and hope to see you there, too!

SFWA does a heathen ton of nigh-invisible, amazing work that benefits all writers. The organization has, by the way, recently streamlined their membership qualification requirements, so hey writers, why not join?

DRESSED AS PEOPLE in Toronto, LIVE, March 7-18, 2023

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, A Triptych of Uncanny Abduction

UPDATE: Tonight is opening night! Alyx and I will be there tonight (March 7), Thursday, March 9, and on closing night, Saturday, March 18.

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, the play I wrote with award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy writers Amal El-Mohtar and A.M. Dellamonica, will be live in Toronto at Red Sandcastle Theatre from March 7 to 18. Three very different characters, superbly performed by brilliant actor Margo MacDonald.

Tickets are available now — book early! Tix on Tuesdays are only $20. Prebooked tix are $30, or you can buy at the door for $40.

We have just finished a highly successful series of performances in Ottawa, and the stage is HOT. Here’s a rave review of the production but beware of spoilers).

Photos from Ottawa!

Here are some shots from the recent Ottawa gig:

Five people pose playfully on a stage
Mary Ellis, director, Amal El-Mohtar, writer, Kelly Robson, writer, A.M. Dellamonica, writer, Margo MacDonald, performer and producer (photo by Titus Androgynous)
Three sett of clothing hang above a dark stage, bathed in blue light and framed by small white lights
The Dressed As People stage
Two women pose affectionately, bathed in pink light
Our wonderful performer and producer, Margo MacDonald, and our superb director, Mary Ellis

Want to know more? Dressed As People was created in 2021, deep in pandemic-time. It premiered at the Ottawa Fringe via streaming on-demand, and won the Best Solo Performance Award and the Audience Choice Award!

Margo MacDonald is a superbly talented actor and producer, who has worked all over the world. Don’t miss this chance to see her live!

My WorldCon schedule

I’ll be at the 2022 Chicago WorldCon in September. Here’s where you can find me. (Note that the assigned rooms may change. I’ll try to update this if they do but check the official schedule to be sure)

4:00 PM on Thursday, September 1
20 Minute Reading (room: Roosevelt 1)
I’ll read some brand new work!

1:00 PM on Friday, September 2
Autographing (room: not listed yet)
WorldCon always has several big mass autographing sessions, so you can get books signed by your favorite authors.

5:30 PM on Friday September 2
Panel – Living in a Zociety (room: Regency Ballroom D)
The Walking Dead, Kingdom, Army of the Dead, Daybreak, and Anna and the Apocalypse are examples of zombie-populated societies. In such settings, the focus is more on the surviving humans and their fight for survival. But in order to succeed, survivors sometimes need to break social norms and do the unthinkable. Who are the real monsters? Humans or zombies?

10:00 AM on Saturday, September 3
Table Talk (room: Crystal Foyer)
Let’s sit around and chat! I’ll answer any and all questions about my work, my life, publishing, writing tips, anything! Table Talks require pre-registration, so visit the registration site after noon Central time on August 30 to sign up.

2:30 PM on Saturday, September 3
Panel: Overcoming the Debut Challenge (room: Michigan 1)
The publishing landscape has become a challenge even for the pros, leaving debut authors scrambling for useful scraps of advice to help them navigate the gauntlet of taking their book to market. This global panel of experienced and newly minted authors share practical career advice, tackling issues such as finding an agent, maintaining your authorial voice, avoiding publicity time sinks, and navigating the behemoth that is social media.

1:00 PM on Sunday, September 4
Panel: Episodes in Focus: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (room: Randolph 2)
A close-up look at “The Body,” the Buffy episode in which Joyce dies. It’s as close as the show ever got to a “very special episode,” and will be examined not just for its importance to the series as a whole, but also as a way to frame writer/director Joss Whedon’s problematic (to say the least) behavior on set. What makes this episode unique? How does Whedon’s treatment of women in real life affect how the audience interprets the female characters he created?

High Times in the Low Parliament is out and events are happening!

My lesbian stoner buddy comedy with fairies about Brexit is out in the world! Available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook at your favorite indie bookstore, or: Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Chapters Indigo | Kobo | Books-a-Million | Indiebound | iTunes | Macmillan

High Times in the Low Parliament

Thursday, August 11 at 6PM Central/7PM Eastern (virtual event)

New Orleans bookstore Tubby and Coos hosts a virtual event with Nicola Griffith and me, on Thursday, August 11 at 6PM Central/7PM Eastern (to attend, you must register here).

Nicola has just published the superb queer Arthurian book SPEAR. We have thoughts about historical fantasy and probably will gab like wildfire. It’ll be fun!! (And if you haven’t read SPEAR yet, get it in your eyes.)

Friday, August 12 at 6PM Mountain time, 8PM Eastern (virtual panel)

Colorado bookstore Old Firehouse Books has Alix E. Harrow, Rachel Swirsky, and me at their Summer SpecFic Panel. All info is here — the event will stream to the bookstore via Facebook.

Saturday, August 13, at 3 PM Eastern
Live launch at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto

My book launch will be in person at Toronto’s Legendary Bakka Phoenix Books, (map). There will be cake! And laughs! Please come if you’re in Toronto, I’d love to see you!

Want a signed, personalized copy of HIGH TIMES IN THE LOW PARLIAMENT, but aren’t in Toronto or prefer to avoid strange germs (which is totally understandable!)? Order from Bakka Phoenix and I will sign it! In the instruction field, just let them know who the book should be dedicated to.

September 1 to 5
WorldCon in Chicago

The schedule isn’t finalized, but I’ll definitely be doing a kaffeeclatch, a signing, and a reading, along with several panels. See you there, I hope!

October 14 to 16
Can-Con in Ottawa

Ottawa’s Can-Con is one of my favorite conventions, attended (and organized!) by so many of my favorite people. I’ll definitely be there. You should be, too!

November 11 to 13
GoH at WindyCon

Alyx and I are excited to be Guests of Honor at WindyCon, in Lombard, IL. Come and hang out with us there this November!

Amal El-Mohtar, A.M. Dellamonica, and I team up for DRESSED AS PEOPLE

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, a play at the Ottawa Fringe Festival June 17-27

Exciting news! Amal El-Mohtar, A.M. Dellamonica, and I wrote a play together: DRESSED AS PEOPLE, performed by multi-award winning actor Margo MacDonald. You can stream it on demand during the Ottawa Fringe Festival, June 17 to 27. Tickets are $15 (Canadian) for this world premiere.

A Triptych of Uncanny Abduction

Skinless by Kelly Robson
The Shape of My Teeth by Amal El-Mohtar
Repositioning by A.M. Dellamonica
Performed by Margo MacDonald
Directed by Mary Ellis
Music by SIESKI

Tickets $15 / 75 minutes

A school haunted by troubled children, an encounter with the unknown on open waters, the mysterious disappearance of a friend. Three characters, three time periods, three tales of abduction and the intrusion of the uncanny into the lives of those who are taken, those who do the taking, and those who are left behind.

No spoilers!

What can I tell you about DRESSED AS PEOPLE that isn’t a spoiler? All three pieces are about supernatural abductions. Mine, Skinless, is emphatically horror. British playwright Alan Bennett is one of my heroes, and I tried to bring to the script something of his trademark whiplash effect. So watch out.

I can’t tell you anything about Amal’s piece The Shape of My Teeth, except it’s gorgeous and chilling. And A.M. Dellamonica’s piece Repositioning is probably my favorite of anything they’ve ever written – it’s hilarious and heartbreaking. All three pieces pack a powerful emotional punch. Audiences will be blown away.


Margo MacDonald is a superb performer, so charismatic and charming (and scary!). I got to sit in on rehearsals alongside director Mary Ellis, and seeing them bring my words to life was something new and thrilling. As writers, we’re used to working alone. Collaborating live and in person (or rather, in pixel) with a pair of highly skilled professionals who care about the meaning and emotion behind every single word? It was like being able to hang on the shoulder and mind-meld with a passionate reader, over and over again, and feel the shape my story made in their brains. Wow.

Superb young songwriter and singer SIESKI is at this moment working on original music for the show. Legendary drag king Titus Androgynous has been supporting the company as Associate Producer, and we also have support from wonderful graphic designer K.

We will probably be having a special event for the premiere, so stay tuned for more info. Subscribe to the Perry Riposte newsletter (here in the right column) to get all the info when it’s hot!


Closed captioning and a sensory-friendly transcript of the show will be available to viewers.

What I published in 2020

In this year of our weirdness, with reality bending all around us, it’s actually difficult to remember what was done and when. I don’t think I’m alone in that!

So here it is in pixels — four short stories, three of them available to read for free online, and the other in a spectacular illustrated anthology. I’m proud of them all. If you read and liked them enough to nominate them for any award, I would be honored.

La Vitesse (Fantasy short story)
in The Book of Dragons, edited by Jonathan Strahan, July 2020

Monkey Work (Science Fiction short story)
at Serial Box, April 2020

Two Watersheds (Science Fiction short story)
in Avatars Inc., edited by Ann VanderMeer, March 2020

So You Want to be a Honeypot (Fantasy short story)
in Uncanny Magazine, March-April 2020

The problems of managing a train of pack horses

A few years ago, a friend was contemplating a writing a book or story where the main character, an experienced trader, has to make a solo pack horse trip over unfamiliar terrain. He didn’t know anything about very difficult this would be, or anything about the challenges of pack horse trains. I freaked out and brain dumped — because there are so options for complications and drama.

First of all:

The Technology

Moving goods with pack horses is ancient technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. Here’s your equipment:

  1. Pack saddles (may have a variety of chest and breech straps for stability) and saddle pads
  2. Ropes, pack cinches, and halters
  3. Waterproof tarps
  4. Containers for your goods — these can be bags, bundles, or specially-made panniers (boxes). Modern panniers are thick plastic.
  5. Hobbles (more about these later)
  6. Don’t forget your camping equipment!

Techniques for loading a pack horse will be different from culture to culture. What matters most is stability, reliability, and ease of assembly. In North America for the past century (at least), the standard has been the Diamond Hitch. This video shows you how to do it.

What about the horses?

How many horses you’ll need will depend on how far you’re going, how much you have to transport, and how many people are coming along on the trip.

A horse can carry about a third of its weight. Which sounds good, because horses are big, right? Well, generally, pack horses are small to medium size, probably 600-700 pounds. This means each horse can only carry about 200 pounds. You might have a big pack horse or two, which can carry 300 pounds, but you don’t want a pack train full of tall horses unless you have got a lot of help.

The weight each horse can carry also depends on the terrain. If it’s rough, you’ll want to pack them light (more on this later).

Remember, every morning, you have to catch the horses and pack them, then unpack them at night before setting up camp. It’s a hell of a lot of work.

But that doesn’t tell us how many horses we need. Here’s a hint: In addition to whatever you’re transporting, you have to carry your food, clothes, tent, and cooking equipment, probably a weapon of some kind, and grain for the horses unless you’re certain about the grazing opportunities along the trail. So count on one pack horse per person just for food and gear. This is before whatever you’re transporting.

So let’s say we have 600 pounds of trade goods to transport, and we have two people to manage the train. We need five pack horses (three for the goods and two for the food and gear), and two riding horses. That’s seven horses. A reasonable amount of work for two people. It’s fine, but it’s work.

Why a solo pack trip is the worst idea in the world

My friend was contemplating a solo pack trip for his main character. Okay. Also: ouch. There isn’t enough money in the world. That’s one hell of a lot of work for one person. Let’s assume they have 600 pounds of trade goods to move, which means five horses. Here’s what the day looks like:

  1. (dawn) Catch all five horses (hope they didn’t wander too far in the night)
  2. Cook, eat, and break camp
  3. Pack four horses (which means lifting and adjusting about 1000 lbs of saddles, goods, and equipment)
  4. Guide yourself down the trail, keeping track of four pack horses all the way,
  5. Find a camp with water and good grazing nearby
  6. Unpack four horses (lifting another 1000 pounds)
  7. Make camp, cook, eat, and sleep like the dead

So yes: a solo pack trip is the worse idea in the world. But it can be done. Here’s a video showing how to throw the Diamond Hitch solo:

Don’t sleep like the dead

Except you can’t sleep like the dead. even if you’re not worried about predators. At night, you’re always keeping one ear open for the bell you’ve put on your alpha mare, because the last thing you want is to wake up and 2 AM and not hear it. That means your horses didn’t like the local grazing, and have gone off in search of better eats. They could be five miles away by dawn — even if you’ve put them in hobbles to curtail their roaming.

Horses are perfectly able to run in hobbles, if they feel like it:

What kind of terrain are you on?

The weight and dimensions of the packs will depend on what kind of terrain you’re traveling over. On flat terrain and a wide trail, you can have big heavy packs, and stack them as high as three feet over the horse’s back.

On mountainous or heavily forested terrain you have to to keep your packs small and low, because you don’t want them shifting around going up and down slopes, or getting caught on branches.

Packing the horses lightly means you’ll need more pack horses. Which means longer packing time in the morning, and unpacking every night.

Never forget that horses have personalities

Let’s imagine you have an experienced pack train and you’ve made a lot of trips together. But because you have to carry more goods, or travel over unfamiliar or difficult terrain, you have to add new horses to your string. The horses are going to have strong some feelings about this.

Horses are highly social animals with a finely tuned sense of herd hierarchy. They have love/hate relationships with each other just like humans. One horse will insist on always following another, so your pack train will always walk in the same order. The horses like it that way.

Whenever you add new horses to an established herd, your horses have to readjust their social hierarchy. The horses are not going to be happy – not until a new equilibrium is reached. This could lead to some serious problems, with horses biting and kicking each other as they sort out the new order. Which could mean thrown packs, scattered and broken goods, and injured horses.

But we’ll hope that won’t happen, because you’ve got good pack horses, maybe a little old, which means you can’t load them up as much, but old, calm horses are much easier to deal with than young ones. Skittishness is the last thing you want in a pack horse.

The lead mare is your best friend

Mostly, your pack horses will be geldings, with a lead mare who bosses them all around. You’ll be riding a gelding. Your mare is the kind of horse all the other horses will follow. She’ll be a the head of the train and she’ll set the pace. .

If you really trust your lead pack mare, you don’t even have to lead it once you’re moving, as long as there’s a clear trail. The horses will follow and stay in line because horses desperately want to be together. Of course if their dynamics are shifting, this will be harder, and if something happens to panic the horses, they could scatter.

How far can you go?

How far you can get in a day completely depends on the weather, the terrain, and how fast the horses feel like going. Oh yes. Never forget they’re setting the pace.

If the horses haven’t been on this trail before, they’ll probably go slower than if they know the trail and are looking forward to grazing at the next camp. They’ll also probably say close together for safety.

If they’re familiar with the trail, and know it’s hard traveling with not much to eat at the end, they’ll be slow and reluctant, and the train will spread out. If they are on their way home, or know they’re going somewhere where the grazing is good, they’ll walk much faster, and the hungrier/greedier horses might try to push the hierarchy to get there first.

My favorite non-fiction books

Did you know we’re living in a golden age of non-fiction writing? It’s true: never have there been so many excellent books on so many diverse topics. Here are some of my favorites from the past few years. I’ve been meaning to do a run-down on this topic for a while, so there’s a lot!

I’ll try not to use the term “mind blowing” too many times (runaway enthusiasm is my drug of choice). But all of these books sincerely did.

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America, by Sam White

Early North American colonization attempts by Europeans were doomed by the colonizers’ poor knowledge of about climate science. They assumed that growing seasons in North America were analogous to those at the same latitude on the opposite side of the Atlantic, which it simply isn’t. This led to a lot of failed attempts and fascinatingly stupid disasters.

It also discusses the theory that the Little Ice Age is directly linked to the population crash of North and South American Indigenous people via intentional and unintentional genocide by European colonizers, which was a link I’d never heard before. The evidence holds up.

The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin

This biography was extra-fascinating because the biographer has very little sympathy for her subject. Basically, she treats Mary Wollstonecraft like a massive trash fire. Which, sure, there’s a lot of evidence for her being a hot mess. What a life, though.

It also goes into depth about Mary Wollstonecraft’s involvement with the French Revolution. She went to Paris as a journalist at the beginning of the revolution and threw herself into it whole hot. She might have been a disaster but she had lots of guts.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon

I read this right after the biography above, and it made a great pairing. Mary Shelley’s radical mother died giving birth to her. They never knew each other, but their lives were entwined nonetheless.

This dual biography that jumps from Mary to Mary, picking out influences and similarities between their lives. It’s simply wonderful. The biographer is sensitive to the domestic detail of both women’s lives, which is extremely relevant, because while they were rewriting our history, both women had to support their extended families financially, emotionally, and domestically.

The Tiger, by John Vaillant

In the isolated Amur region of Siberia, poachers hunt tigers, and the tigers hunt them right back. This is the story of how tigers respond to human threat, taking revenge in ways that are simultaneously human and alien. We know cats are smart. This book show’s they’re also psychologically sophisticated. Cats know us well.

At points, while reading this book, I simply had to scream, “No way!” It’s brilliant.

Origins – How Earth’s History Shaped Human History, by Lewis Dartnell

It makes sense, right? Humans evolved in specific ecosystems, so climate, geography, geology all influence who and what humans are.

One of the most fascinating revelations here is the theory that the climatic variations of the Rift Valley, which fluctuated from wet to dry on a 50,000-year cycle, are the reason humans evolved to be smart and adaptable. And it also may mean we are uniquely suited to surviving or even thriving in conditions of climate change.

The Five, The Untold Stories of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold

Millions and millions of words have been written about Jack the Ripper. Movie, TV shows, comic books, you name it, but it’s all conjecture.

By contrast, there’s a lot of information about the five women he murdered, but their stories have never been told. Jack is the universal boogeyman, but let’s forget about him. In the past, these five woman have been faceless and near-nameless, but no more. What a brilliant book.

What I found especially fascinating (and terrifying) is the repeated illustration of fragility of women’s lives in the downward spiral of poverty. This has not changed.

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, by Marcia Bjornerud

Okay, I’ll admit it. When I really want to relax, I read about geology. This book is about deep time – the unimaginable timescales of our planet, where we are not even a blip in the data.

Humans have trouble thinking long-term. Even five years is often too much for us. If we can start appreciating our temporal insignificance and plan for the future using more reasonable time frames, we have a chance of living to meet our future.

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures, by Nick Pyenson

Before reading this book, I would have said that scientists know a lot about whales. After reading it, turns out we know almost nothing. But what we do know is amazing.

Also, I was blown away when the author, Nick Pyenson, describes discovering a wholly unknown whale organ never before recorded by science. It’s not a small organ, either!

Maybe this is the best book I’ve ever read? Yes, probably. Whales!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Steve Brusatte

Of course I love dinosaurs. What’s special about this book is it’s new (published in 2018), so it’s as up-to-the-minute with the latest research. Or up to a couple years ago, at least.

The author is a young paleontologist and seems to have no sacred cows. He’s just as fascinated by dinosaur tracks as he is by huge fossil finds. Just as enthralled by ancient reptiles as he is by T-Rex and the gang.

But best of all, Steve Brusatte is a cracking writer. Gosh, it’s good.

Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

This book makes a superb argument for the importance of textiles in the development of human societies. It’s an area of history under-researched because of the assumed unimportance of women’s economic activities, and also because of the relatively few surviving artifacts in the historical record.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discover. Textiles were cutting edge science and technology, and its practitioners constantly innovated and adapted materials and techniques. A great book on an important topic. Also tons of fun.

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family, by Juliet Barker

A lot of what we think we know about the Brontës is untrue, a series of literary inventions concocted by their early biographers and by Charlotte herself. Those stories have been taken as gospel, but it turns out their lives weren’t as simple or as bleak and isolated as they would have had us believe.

Instead of taking the Brontë legends at face value, Juliet Barker actually goes to primary sources (imagine that!) to write a new biography of this fascinating family. It’s incredibly detailed and immensely readable.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber

Finally, the book I recommend to everyone, always, as a worldbuilding primer, as an unfamiliar take on history, and for insights on human behavior.

David Graeber is an anthropologist, and he argues that the model of early human economic interaction standard to every econ textbook and taught in every 101-level course is, at best, a simple fantasy, and at worst, dumb as hell. Turns out, basic barter exists nowhere in the anthropological record. What does exist is much much more complicated, and has fascinating implications for our times.