01 Sep

August Patreon Short Story: Sunset

Patreon lets me run a monthly short story subscription service for readers. Over 100 of my readers have subscribed to have a short story a month delivered to their inboxes for as little as $1.

The August Patreon short story came out last night, a 6,300 word long classic science fiction story about a headstrong young boy who encounters a starship bent for retirement on his out-of-the-way world.

Here’s a snippet of the story for you:

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Sunset

The starship crash-landed somewhere in the dark and early hours of morning. The thunderclap sound of it striking the East Bay woke Tamuel up, heart racing and confused. He glanced out his window, but didn’t see anything. He stumbled out into the common room to see if he could see anything different from the balcony.

“What was that?” One of his siblings also was apparently out and looking around for the cause of the sound. “There’s no storm.”

Outside, through the windows opened to allow the cool land breeze rushing out toward the ocean to pass through the foundling dorm’s corridors, Tamuel saw only stars and the looming dark of the Berenthais Mountains.

Tamuel squinted through the dark to see that it was Shau who had woken with him. Several of the other boys grunted and swore from in their rooms, annoyed at the late interruption to their sleep. Group classes would start early in the morning, this was an unwelcome event.

“I—” Tamuel stopped as the horrid wail of the tsunami sirens pierced the night.

Everyone woke up and streamed out of their doors, sleep forgotten as fear jolted them awake. There was a mass of panic before some of the prefects, older and well-drilled, asserted order. “Line up! Those of you near the east corridor, march to the stairs and head to the third floor. West corridor, march! Do not go back to your rooms to take anything with you. Move now!”

The thirty boys fell into lines and the entire common room split right near Tamuel into two groups that streamed out into the two stairwells. Emergency lighting, red and calm, dappled their worried faces as they rushed upwards.

Minutes later the water struck. It rushed up Watt Street, just several inches of foaming sea, lapped at the wheels of the carts parked around the dorm, then gently poured out through the storm drains and retreated back down the street leaving only some confused small fish behind.

The warning sirens stopped, leaving a strange quiet to fall over all of Weatherly, from the distant East Bay to the Callum Docks.

They all waited for whatever came next. Some of the second floor girls started to complain about Tamuel’s siblings staring at them in nightdresses. It was creepy. Tamuel understood. They were not all really siblings, they’d all been raised in the foundling dorm together. Go stare at some other girl from Summerstown’s foundling dorm.

“Hey, get off the balcony,” one of the prefects shouted from the back. “We don’t know if something else is coming.”

Shau was pressed against a railing, looking out toward East Bay with night vision binoculars. “Nothing else is coming,” he announced. “It’s a fucking starship crashed into the bay!”

“Language!” snapped Tosha, one of the prefects. Tamuel shivered when he heard her voice. She’d been singling him out for any dorm infractions and worse for the last year. “Who was that, is that Shau? Get over here. And what are you doing with binoculars? You’re supposed to leave everything in place during a drill.”

Tamuel decided to take a chance and shoved past siblings to get to the balcony. Shau was his closest sibling. Shau would let him use the binoculars.

“Shau, let me look!” he demanded.

Shau passed the binoculars over. Tamuel looked out over Weatherly to the curve of East Bay, skipping over the roofs of hundreds of structures in grainy green, and he gasped. There it was, a shark-fin shaped mass squatting in the dark pool of water where they normally sailed their tiny catamarans on weekends.

He recognized the shape. “It’s an Interstellar. It’s a Shatter Dart.” Thousands of tons of bio-organic, semi-sentient starship. With a crew of hundreds, it could leap between the stars. Hundreds of light years with each carefully planned gulp of the void-mouth contained deep in the belly buried under the water in East Bay.

“What the hell’s it doing here?” Shau asked.

“That’s it!” Tosha had pushed through and stood right behind them both. “I gave you a language warning, and asked you to get off the balcony.”

She grabbed Tamuel from behind. It was a violation, broaching someone’s physical space like this. The last time Tamuel had formally complained there’d been a disciplinary board hearing. No one would step forward as a witness. Tosha was six years older than him. A respected prefect who had the ear of the adult board. He’d learned to try and stay invisible to her since then. He’d wished for cameras inside, like the street cams, but that would be a violation of dorm privacy.

Tamuel twisted loose from her and shoved the binoculars into her hands. “It’s a starship.”

Tosha couldn’t help but raise the binoculars. Tamuel, as he’d hoped, had completely yanked the prefect’s attention elsewhere as she succumbed to curiosity and looked out toward East Bay.

He yanked Shau away from her. “Nothing like this ever happens in Weatherly,” he said as they pushed through the crowds of siblings toward a stairwell.

“My binoculars!” Shau protested.

Fuck your binoculars,” Tamuel hissed, just low enough none of the prefects would hear him. “Nothing like this happens in Weatherly. Or in Summerstown.” Or even, for that matter, Yelekene. Their entire world, all the archipelagos scattered across it, were far from the Core. Ships of this size had last visited Yelekene a hundred years ago, to ship terraforming equipment and raw materials here. Even the original Founders had come via smaller cargo skip-planers that had been disassembled upon arrival.

This… this was something different.

“What are you doing?” Shau asked as Tamuel pulled him down the stairwell.

“We’re going to be first to see it,” Tamuel said.

“We’ll get our asses handed to us.”

“All the prefects are upstairs herding us. We won’t get a better chance.”

Shau stopped. “You know how many demerits I have? No, I have to stay put.”

Tamuel paused. He really didn’t want to do this alone. Going out into the town at dark, it wasn’t scary, they’d snuck out before. But he’d rather have some company if he was going to head out onto the open ocean in the dark.

He briefly reconsidered, then bit his lip. “Then just cover for me as long as you can. Tell them I went to use the bathroom or something.”

“Yeah, sure,” Shau said. “Good luck, Tam. I hope it’s worth it, you’re going to be pulling weeds in the garden for weeks if you’re lucky.”

Tamuel grimaced.

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17 Nov

There’s a new, high-paying short SF market in town from Motherboard. Some thoughts on Terraform’s launch

A new weekly short story and daily SF blog launched recently. Terraform, from Motherboard, the people from Vice.

Critics may argue about science fiction’s literary origins—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! No, Gulliver’s Travels!—but the genre metastasized in the 1950s and 60s, through the vehicle of pulp magazine publishing, as fantastic short stories and serialized adventures. Short stories are the DNA of the genre; bite-sized futures and parallel realities designed to jar their readers into radical disconnection with the present-day.

Surely we have room for short stories again in our networked world. They don’t take too much of our precious time. The medium is nimble and versatile. We could slip short stories into our pockets (and send them to our Pockets), daisy-chaining fiction to the op-eds and news pieces we read and share ad nauseam every day.

(Via Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction | Motherboard.)

As many new markets do, they started off with a manifesto. Even though the pulps of the 50s and 60s are well behind us, the science fiction short story market still exists today, and is healthier than many other short story markets. Careers are made here. I built mine there, and have almost 60 short stories published to show for it.

Terraform’s manifesto included the insinuation that short SF had died off. And they were, rightfully, called to task in their comments section for that. Because, in short, it ain’t true.

But let’s be fair, it’s an easy place to miss. While my whole early career revolved around short stories, the first time I signed an anthology in a mall I learning that hardly anyone realizes short stories exist, let alone short SF stories. The whole distribution mechanism and grocery store presence faded away, which for many meant the form had disappeared. I once spent a day quizzing SF readers in a store about short stories. It was illuminating how many of them didn’t even realize they were a thing.

We know better, but Vice is a big, fucking media machine with some big hit counts. Yes, they should have googled, but in many ways our assumption that Terraform is *all about us* somewhat misses the point.

Terraform is competing with science and SF blogs like IO9, and they’ve done a cool thing by experimenting with short form fiction. I mean, imagine if IO9 did that, right? Even my own readers sometimes don’t realize I have new book until IO9 mentions it, and they email me the link to say ‘hey!’ The most widely read short story I’ve ever had was run on IO9, and I had distant friends reaching to say it was the first thing of mine they’d read.

So I can understand their not focusing. Would it be nice. Hell yes. Am I glad they amended the manifesto to point out some great online zines (including my favorite, Clarkesworld)? Yes.

But mainly, before I saw their slip up in the manifesto, I’m excited to see a new market trying to something new and with a potential for a large audience and paying very well. This will be great for new writers, great for short stories. More markets is better. More *readers* is better, and having Vice send traffic around is potentially awesome (Motherboard has 48,000 readers on twitter, quarter of a million tied to it on Facebook, 402,000 followers on YouTube. This makes them, in one swoop, one of the larger audiences for SF).

I have no idea how this will shake out, but my reaction is ‘cool. More places for writers to sell to and more fiction that I get to read.’

They will make mistakes, but part of someone becoming part of a field is being welcomed in, not just them making all the right obeisance. I’m ready to correct a mistake or call something out. But I’m also excited to see the launch of a new venue.

So, Terraform, welcome. I like that you guys are paying 20c/w as a ‘base’ rate and I hope that a rising tide lifts all boats.

For writers, here are the guidelines for Terraform.

06 Nov

May I draw your attention to the posts of Elizabeth Bear, Laura J. Mixon, and Rochita Loenen Ruiz?

Author Laura J. Mixon has spent time documenting carefully and with links the damage done by a person using several pseudonyms online with the intent of damaging writers, using the community of people who care about diversity as a shield and to recruit allies.

It’s very detailed and documents a repeated history of this person attacking young, promising diverse writers.

Our genre has always had a soft spot for sharp-tongued souls. The person who speaks embarrassing truths has an honored—if discomfiting—place at the dinner table, in our SFF Island of Misfit Toys. Though some dislike the extreme rhetoric she uses in her reviews and on Twitter, Requires Hate has shown a deft way with words, and has been promoted as a contender for a Hugo award for some of her blog posts.

What has also become clear in recent weeks is that Benjanun, in the roles of Requires Hate and her other known pseudonyms (including Winterfox, acrackedmoon, ACM, pyrofennec, Valse De La Lune, valsedelune, and Lesifoere), has a decade-plus history of destructive trolling behavior in online SFF and videogaming communities, going back to at least 2003.

One of the highlights of London Worldcon was meeting Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, a Filipino writer who I have chatted with on twitter occasionally, who has spoken up about this and should be read:

I believe that no one has any right to dictate to me when I should speak, where I should speak or how I should speak on any given subject. I also believe that questioning a person on the choices they make is breach of personhood. In matters pertaining to decisions about one’s profession, that questioning is a clear breach of professionalism. I also want to reiterate that if the work under discussion is a work that I have not read in its completed form, it is not right for me to criticize the work or condemn it.

(Via Standing Up and Speaking Truth | From the Beloved Country.)

Elizabeth Bear has written a fantastic post that I retweeted as well that should be read:

It saddens me deeply that some people within communities I consider essential to the health of my industry and my social group (they’re largely the same thing, that being how both publishing and the internet work) use those communities as camouflage to hide abuse, as springboards to facilitate it, and as cheering sections, god help us all, to reward them for their most violent behaviors.

You can often spot them because, instead of going after people with a great deal of social capital and perceived strength, they go after those who are marginalized, young, at the cusp of their professional careers, or struggling with a setback. They go after people who would seem natural allies, who would trust them, who would take their violence much more personally than somebody who actually despises them or to whom their opinion means nothing.

These predators gaslight; they reversion the truth; they have an explanation for everything. And all of it piles up to make you feel as if you’ve lost your grip on reality. As if nothing you perceived was the truth. You think their narrative doesn’t make sense, but other people buy it, and because memory is fallible, you start to buy it too.

They’re not there to teach, to elevate, to change the system. On some level, they don’t want the system changed–because if it were, where would they go to get their kicks?

I’ve seen some of the damage done by RH, but a lot of people have kept quiet, worried that they would harm their careers or be targeted for speaking up.

That is sobering. And I have to admit I didn’t appreciate the true extent and wideness, as well as deep history and multiple pseudonyms this form of harassment continued consistently via the internet.

I do not call on anyone to ‘not publish’ the person’s current pseudonym that they are writing under. That is the tactic they have used, I will not stoop to that.

But I damn well sure will draw awareness to the accounts of people speaking up and documenting how they were ill-treated. That shit’s gotta stop. Criticism and disagreement are one thing, this is another. And the person’s use of deletions, multiple pseudonyms, as well as expert use of a cause I’m passionate about (diversity) have led me to also initially underestimate this.

Since Bermuda (when this broke out, and I was mainly broadcasting tweets) I have only been using twitter to talk to friends and have been not keeping up on the 400 or so tweets a day. Sorry, I’m behind. But I had to take a moment to speak up on this.

20 Jun

A voice from the Islands: Stephanie Saulter talks about her novel Gemsigns

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Stephanie Saulter‘s first book, Gemsigns, is available in the UK and Commonwealth and in the US from Jo Fletcher Books. It arrived not too long ago on my doorstep, and I asked Stephanie if she’d like to post on this blog because I thought my readers might be interested in her work (see Boing Boing’s excerpt of the novel here).

Stephanie has a Caribbean connection, like me. And has had some very similar experiences visiting the US.

Read on:

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Gemsigns has made it to America, almost thirty years after I did. I’ve been contemplating that fact a lot lately. Although it’s been well received everywhere, I’ve observed with interest the way reactions to the book differ between the United Kingdom, where I’ve lived for over a decade now and where the story is set, and the United States, where I went to university and lived and worked for many years. Above all it’s been a revelation to discover just how much of what I ended up embedding in the novel can be traced in a straight line back to what was embedded into me, when I came to America all those years ago.

One of the things that every incoming freshman in 1988 received was a work of fiction: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to be precise (it wasn’t my year but I somehow ended up with a copy anyway). It was part of a program to try to encourage a broader range of interests, and in particular an appreciation for the arts and humanities, amongst a resolutely nerdy student body who tended to focus exclusively on their core math, science and engineering subjects. The initiative aimed to develop social and political awareness, alongside scientific and technological expertise. There were concerns about what I remember being called ‘the arrogance of intellect’ – the sense that exceptional academic ability confers a kind of entitlement to do whatever you like, to follow the threads of your curiosity and ambition wherever they may take you, regardless of the impact on others; indeed, the feeling that consequences are for other people.

The university’s response? A recognition of fiction’s ability to provoke the imagination; to unsettle and challenge; to ask difficult questions about the consequences of wealth, and arrogance, and entitlement. To engage instead of harangue, persuade instead of criticise. To speak truth to power.

It was one of the most potent lessons I learned as a college student. It’s stayed with me.

Another lesson soon learned was about race, and appearance, and expectation. I’m from Jamaica, and one of the most common refrains I heard back then (and to this day) was, ‘Oh, I didn’t know there were white Jamaicans!’ – Uttered always by some white person, regarding me as though I were a pleasingly exotic discovery.
‘There are, but I’m not one,’ I would (and still do) reply. ‘My family is mixed race. I just happen to be on the vanilla end.’ This would be greeted, more often than not, by a stunned silence. I had no idea why anyone found it so shocking, until an African-American friend explained things to me.

‘You could pass,’ she said bluntly (and then had to explain what ‘passing’ meant). ‘No one would know if you didn’t tell them. In this country, having even the smallest amount of black ancestry means you are black. Period. You’re choosing that.’

Given that the majority of people reading this post will likely be Americans, I don’t imagine I have to explain the significance of that apparent choice. What was a simple matter of fact for me – like having brown eyes not green – was in the minds of others a hugely impactful decision to reject privilege. It gave me a strangely honorary status. It opened my eyes. Although Jamaica is also a country of great and grave inequalities, it was in America that I really learnt about the politics of race.

That lesson’s stayed with me too.

So, on to the ®Evolution. When I set out to write the story that would end up being Gemsigns, I knew that every aspect of the plot would turn on how people dealt with difference. In my near-future, post-apocalyptic scenario, genetically modified humans – ‘gems’ – have only recently been emancipated from a system euphemistically referred to as indenture but in truth little different from slavery; they’d been the property of the biotech corporations that created them. These pillars of industry have now, essentially, been asset-stripped. The gems have received their liberty, but little else. The norm population is facing an influx of people into their communities whom they’ve mostly only dealt with at arms length, if at all, and have been brought up to think of as other, alien, inferior, and often dangerous.

The result is massive social and economic upheaval, public unrest, and general uncertainty. Emancipation is all well and good, but what form should freedom take? What’s the best course for the gems – to assimilate, slip into the norm population and hide the truth of their origins? For some, whose visible differences amount to no more than their glowing, jewel-coloured hair, this may be possible – though not necessarily agreeable. For others, whose anatomy has been more radically altered or whose minds have been too terribly damaged, it isn’t an option. And what about the norm majority? Public sentiment may have turned against the indenture system, but that doesn’t mean there’s any kind of consensus about what should replace it. Should gems continue to live and work separately? Should integration be encouraged? What about the threat from gems harbouring deep resentments, and possibly even deeper psychosis? Might norm fears not be justified?

It sounds like I must have mapped it out, doesn’t it? Drawn up a chart of the politics and prejudices of the real world, and then ticked them off as I created equivalent scenarios in my invented one. I swear to you I did not do that. It wasn’t until quite late on in the editing process that it even began to dawn on me just how much this tale of a possible future drew on the realities of the present, and the past. And in fact I’ve heard from many readers who’ve enjoyed the book without noticing any parallels with the history of the Caribbean or the American South; or who, if they relate the gem/norm dynamic to contemporary events at all, see connections with local controversies around European immigration or economic inequality.

Of course those parallels are just as accurate as any other, but I suspect it was what bled into my awareness back in the 1980s that led, a generation later, to my imagined tale of the 22nd century. Because what I learned then, and what I know now, is this: We tell stories in order to understand the world. Stories are where we replay past events, and test future possibilities. They give us a way to examine our prejudices, our fears, our hopes and our dreams. They are how we map uncharted territory to the terrain we know, and thereby find a safer path. They’re where we can tell each other, and ourselves, the truths that are sometimes too hard to speak. They are the sleeper agents of the unconscious.

Hello, America. I’m back. I wrote a story. I hope you like it.

§

AUTHOR BIO

Stephanie Saulter writes what she likes to think is literary science fiction. Born in Jamaica, she earned her degree at MIT and spent fifteen years in the USA before moving to the UK in 2003. Her first novel, Gemsigns, was published there in 2013 and released in the US in 2014. The second, Binary, is already out in the UK and will be released in the US next spring. Gemsigns and Binary are the first two books of the ®Evolution trilogy, and are set in a near future London, in the aftermath of a pandemic which required human genetic modification in order to prevent extinction. The novels take a look at the conflicts, compromises and relationships between the different types of human that result.

19 Jun

Orphan Black: the show too few are watching

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Indeed. Worth watching just to see Tatiana Maslany inhabit all the different roles:

“Orphan Black isn’t most shows. It’s one of the best shows; the only problem is that no one is actually watching it.

Genre fans are living in a golden age of television these days, with series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead tearing up the charts as fellow standouts such as Arrow and Doctor Who continue to carve out strong niches. But ratings aren’t always indicative of quality, and those aren’t the only awesome shows out there.

Not content to keep riding the coattails of Doctor Who and other imports from across the pond, BBC America expanded into original science fiction fare last season and took a shot on an ambitious little series that — at face value — sounded almost like a ripoff of The CW’s fairly terrible (and short-lived) Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Ringer. Oh, how wrong that early assessment was.

Instead, the network had essentially given screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett free rein to develop an insanely deep character drama framed around a cloning conspiracy. They also gave the duo enough development time to map out not just the first season, but a framework for future seasons so they could plant seeds and start peeling back layers until those happy few actually watching realized that, yes, this is one of the best shows on television, science fiction or otherwise.”

(Via Orphan Black is absolutely the best sci-fi show you’re not watching | Blastr.)

19 Jun

Small press publisher Hadley Rille Books is crowdfunding their move to the next level

Just got an email from Hadley Rille about their IndieGogo campaign to take it to the next level:

“Founded in 2005, Hadley Rille Books is a quality small press that publishes exceptional titles in fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. Our critically acclaimed authors craft a variety of worlds with diverse, complex characters, including everyday people who face extraordinary challenges.”

(Via Support the Growth of Hadley Rille Books: A Quality Small Press Publisher | Indiegogo.)

16 Jun

I’m over at the Tor-Forge blog, talking about the Caribbean’s forgotten space program

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“I’m in Barbados doing research, and I’m standing under a 100 caliber barrel. The thing looks big enough to crawl into, but not quite. And the barrel just keeps going and going. Big enough that I have to trudge through the wet grass a ways to get some perspective on the whole thing. This cannon is so damn big it has a structure around the barrel to keep it rigid. It’s mounted on a concrete pad the size of an office building’s foundation. And there’s this huge space for recoil: a dark pit that I don’t want to fall down into, because it’s filled now with stagnant water.

I’m on the coast of Barbados, so there’s a pleasant, salty wind kicking up that’s cutting the heat as I walk around the 119 foot long barrel. It’s pitted with exposure to the corrosive ocean, but still majestically aims off over the Atlantic crashing against the low cliffs not too far away.

I was born in Grenada, an island further to the west of Barbados, both of us at the southern tip of the sweep of the Caribbean as it curves down toward South America. Only Trinidad and Tobago lie between Venezuela and us. And all that time growing up, I had no idea that a lost, but no less major and fascinating chapter of humanity’s early attempts to get into orbit lay just one island over from me.”

(Via Hurricane Fever and the Caribbean’s Forgotten Space Program | Tor/Forge Blog.)

I had to keep the essay a little short, so I could talk about how Karen Lord and Robert Sandiford were really important in getting me there. Again, thanks to them both for taking me to see this amazing piece of history last summer.

05 Jun

A voice from the Islands: R.S.A Garcia talks about how she came to write her science fiction novel Lex Talionis

I recently asked R.S.A Garcia if she wanted to take over my blog for a day to talk about her latest novel, LEX TALIONIS. I did it because I was getting ready to give it a shout out, then thought ‘why not let her tell you all about the book?’ Publishers Weekly recently called it a ‘stunning debut’ and gave the book a star. She’s gotten props from Tor.com and SF Crowsnest, and hopefully those are the first of many reviews.

Now, this is something I don’t do too often, but I thought that if you read about her story, some of my readers might find some overlap with what I’ve been up to as well, as R.S.A Garcia hails from the south Caribbean (Trinidad).

Seriously, read on:

***********************

Thanks, Tobias, for giving me this opportunity to talk about my book, LEX TALIONIS, a space opera mystery that just launched from the small press, Dragonwell Publishing.

THE STORY

On one of Earth’s planetary outposts, a young woman dies–and is brought back to life by a mysterious alien.

Inside a military starship, a wounded soldier is stalked by an unseen enemy.

When Lex reawakens in a clinic, she doesn’t remember who she is, or who killed her. All she remembers is a phrase she does not understand. Lex Talionis. The law of revenge. Stripped of her past, Lex focuses on the only thing she can. Retribution. She will find the people who murdered her and she will make them pay.

What Lex doesn’t know is that she’s being hunted. The alien who saved her and the soldier fighting for survival are the keys to her past…and her future. She must discover what they know before the hunter finds her. Every clue brings her closer to powerful enemies. Everything she learns draws her nearer to the person who almost destroyed her.

The only man she has ever loved.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP A STARVING ARTIST

‘Lex Talionis’ is available on Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Dragonwell Publishing.

COVER  2

THE LONG, WINDING ROAD TO HERE

As a child I was a terrible bookworm. I preferred reading over sleeping, which frustrated my mother no end at bedtime. While my many cousins were out climbing mango trees, or plum trees, or guava trees (depending on the season), I would remain inside, devouring the latest Enid Blyton book, or Nancy Drew novel, or Hardy Boys mystery. When I did go outside, it wasn’t long before I wanted to go back in again, which made my cousins laugh at me and deride me as strange and weird.

I didn’t care. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t love books as much as I did. I thought they were the weird ones. I started writing stories at 8, and finished my first collection at 10. One of my stories was about a soap dish. Ground-breaking stuff, I tell you. Despite all this, I didn’t actually realise I wanted to be a writer until I was 14 and a school friend asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. As soon as I said it, my heart sank because I knew it was true, and I knew how impossible it was that a girl from a tiny West Indian island would ever publish the kind of stories I liked to read. I had no hope of ever leaving my island to go form ties with the right people in other countries, and no possibility of being discovered while at university in the UK or the USA. But I decided in that moment to do it anyway. I would become a writer, and I would be published.

Publication in the West Indies was all about post-colonial fiction. Our close ties to the Commonwealth and England had given a voice to many revered and talented authors who wrote contemporary literature, but no one wrote modern commercial fiction. That was the down and dirty stuff. The common stuff. Everyone wanted to be Derek Walcott and win a Nobel Prize.

I was different. I wanted to write stories. Absorbing stories. Heart-stopping stories. Stories that people actually bought from bookstores. Not the stories they read because it was on the school curriculum or because it was all the rage in certain circles.

And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the other kinds of stories. Are you kidding? You’ll never begin to understand the meaning of Carnival to Trinbagonian society until you read the amazing and poetic The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. You haven’t been scared until you’ve read My Bones And My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer. You haven’t laughed until you’ve read Samuel Selvon.

But the truth was, none of these writers made me save money for months to buy their stuff. No one lined up in bookstores to get their books. In my country, that honour was reserved for people like Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Alex Haley and VC Andrews.

And for people like me, the books that moved me were even less popular because they were about something West Indians somehow didn’t seem to think they were part of.

The future.

I spent my formative years in the library reading stories by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Katherine Kerr, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, L. Ron Hubbard, Margaret Weis and Ursula K. Le Guin. And don’t get me started on my fantasy list, or my mystery list, or my horror list, or any of the other genres I was into. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a lover of genre fiction. Even more importantly, I was in love with speculative fiction before I knew what it was.

My library was outdated, of course, so I didn’t even discover writers like Octavia Butler until I was an adult, after the Internet opened up the world to my corner of it. No, before the internet, I was eating a steady diet of people from other countries and other societies, and there weren’t that many women in those stories that were more than just the girl the hero gets.

I started thinking about that. Really thinking about it. Because a little known fact of the West Indies is that women rule here. We hold the family unit together. Grandmothers often babysit so mothers can go to work. Grandmother’s word is often the law, whether there is a grandfather or not. Strong women are the norm here, a holdover from the centuries of slavery and the splitting of the family unit that came with it. The children stayed with the women. So it was then and even now, it’s often the same. Wisdom is the old women in the neighbourhood. Families emphasize to girls that they have to get an education if they want to get up and out.

At the same time I started noticing how important the women in my family were to the family as a whole, I fell in love with space opera. Star Wars and Star Trek changed my world. Dr. Who was wildly popular in my school. Any story that featured multiple aliens and cultures had my attention. Was that because I was growing up in a society that was more cosmopolitan than most in the West Indies? Perhaps. Trinidad and Tobago is no Canada, certainly not in size, but it has a diverse population and I grew up with best friends who were East Indian, Chinese, American, Creole, Spanish and so many more. I am a black woman, but I am also East Indian, Chinese and Spanish, and that’s just what I know of up to my great-grandparents. The rest of my large family’s past is clouded by the centuries.

All I knew for sure was that I loved this. I loved thinking about the what ifs, and the future and the big ideas. I didn’t have much access to science articles or the latest advancements, but along came the internet and everything changed. Suddenly, my library wasn’t so outdated. And if it was, a simple search at my workplace after hours could change that. The stories I’d been writing had always had bits of my Trinbagonian heritage and mythology in it. Now I could branch out into the future too.

LEX TALIONIS was partially born of this. I wanted to write about a strong woman. I wanted her to be part of those space adventures that only men got to have in the books and movies I grew up with. I wanted to write a story about how it feels to be a small cog in a big machine, a tiny island in a big world. A story that came at the future from a slightly different angle–what if humanity was a tiny, unimportant world in a universe of strange and powerful races? What if we were discovered by the aliens and they didn’t want to blow up our seats of government, or take our planet–they wanted to trade? What if we spread out amongst these huge galaxies and almost no one knew that we carried within a singular bloodline the most important part of the universe’s future?

Yes, I cheated a little. Yes, I made humanity simultaneously important and not. But that reflects what I believe–that even the smallest amongst us has a purpose and can be important in the vast scheme of things, whatever their history. I think I’ve told a story about a strong woman, with an unusual background who overcomes her past and takes hold of her future.

It’s something the West Indies has done and is still struggling to do. We are struggling to find our place in the world and the discussion of power going on now. As a region, we are trying to make our voices heard over the more ‘important’ ones. To chart a course in a vast, unfamiliar world that touches ours more and more intimately every day. And I think, whether we are successful or not, we deserve a chance to talk about this journey, in our own words.

In the end, I hope that’s what LEX TALIONIS is. Part of a discussion on power and morals and so much else that society makes decisions on every day. A personal journey that looks into the dark side of humanity and tries to pin down what the light side is and isn’t–and how much that might matter to our future.

A BIT ABOUT ME

R.S.A. Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs.

Her debut novel, LEX TALIONIS, a science fiction mystery, is out now and has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and advanced praise from award-winning author, Elizabeth Bear.

You can find out more about the author at her website, rsagarcia.com. She’s also usually hanging out on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lextalionisrsagarcia
Twitter: @rsagarcia
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21806455-lex-talionis
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/rsagarcia/

21 Jan

Dear Mr. Gee: you don’t punch down

This is pretty fucked up:

“Henry Gee is an editor at Nature magazine. I’ve met him: he’s smart, he’s interesting, he’s extremely opinionated and often obnoxious, so we have at least one of those things in common. He and Dr Isis have a long-running feud — it may have begun with Gee publishing an awful piece of short fiction called Womanspace, or it may have been something to do with an argument at Science Online, but I don’t know and don’t care.

But now it has blown up in ways that are ultimately going to be damaging to Gee. Dr Isis is a pseudonymous blogger and scientist, and rather vindictively, Gee has outed her. Why? Because she was mean to him.”

(Via Oh, Henry » Pharyngula.)

I’m a science nerd, I even considered a degree down that direction, but realized my passion more aligned with spending time with story. But Nature was one of the magazines I used to pore over in the library, or when I hung out at the college’s science center. I had two stories published there, and it was really one of those full circle, realized dreams moments.

However, I after reading the links and following this up, I can’t in good conscience say that I’d feel comfortable supporting or submitting my work there again given what is done to those who bring criticism.

Criticism is healthy. Henry Gee is in a position of power, and as I’ve said before, you don’t use power to punch down. Mr. Gee did exactly that.

Punching down is a concept in which you’re assumed to have a measurable level of power and you’re looking for a fight. Now, you can either go after the big guy who might hurt you, or go after the little guy who has absolutely no shot. Either way, you’ve picked a fight, but one fight is remarkably more noble and worthwhile than the other. Going after the big guy, punching up, is an act of nobility. Going after the little guy, punching down, is an act of bullying.

I’m far from a prominent scientist, or a major SF figure. But I don’t think I care to be associated with this.

Fuck this shit. I’m out.

You won’t be seeing anything from me in Nature in the future.

21 Sep

Core SF’s visions are getting almost 100 years old, let’s bold on a few new ones?

An interesting thought by Alex Steffen:

While a lot of people think SF/F is futuristic, and shiny, one of the things I’m noticing about some of the discussions being had about stuff that’s just over the horizon is that the ideas that many fans at conventions want to focus on end up being a lot of those symbols of that 100 year old stuff. I was especially thinking of the fetishizing of rocket technologies (what Winchell Chung points out to as Rocket Punk):

However, regardless of whether the proposed science fiction background is Rocketpunk or something more like NASA, there is the elephant in the room to consider. Basically, there currently is no reason compelling enough to justify the huge investment required to create an extensive manned presence in space.

Yes, I can already hear the outrages screams of SF fans, and the flood of arguments attempting to refute the elephant. Just keep in mind [a] you are always free to ignore the problem in the same way most SF authors ignore the difficulties associated with faster than light travel and [b] chances are any arguments you have are addressed below, so read this entire page first. Since everybody is busy ignoring the elephant in the room, nobody will notice if you ignore it as well. Like I said about FTL travel: you want it, they want it, everybody is doing it.

It was interesting to run up against the religious belief that rockets would give us all super cheap energy with a solar mirror at the last Worldcon I was at, and see the tremendous outrage and anger at the suggestion it wasn’t economically realist anytime soon. Rocketpunk has a fundamentalist streak with some followers.

I do like playing with the symbols and ideas in rocket punk, as a child of the cyberpunk years and having been born post-Apollo, my own baked-in impressions of rocket punks religious regalia are not so nearly wide-eyed.

And it’s not that I mind a spirited clash of ideas, I think Elon Musk might well get us to swerve around a grim, no humans-in-space mode, but we have a lot of technology to invent yet. He’s doing more to make it less horrible, but there are still major challenges.

The other thing that fascinates me is how Elon is fast becoming a saint in some techno-fetishist circles. With his double threat of leading both electric cars and space access, he’s fast on his way to embedding there (and he’s doing SolarCity as well).

But, while these things do play with bread and butter SF, some of the most amazing thinking is coming out of authors not playing with some of the obvious symbols. And that disappoints me slightly, because after almost a hundred years, we can’t remain defined by only those older technological obsessions.

Right?