My novels have been characterized as being “Afrofuturistic,” but to be honest I never thought of the subgenre while writing them. When I write I generally don’t think of any subgenre before I sit down to create the work. My thinking when writing is usually concentrated more on story and narrative construction, not on the genre. Mostly all that is happening is that I have a story to tell, I ...Read MoreRead more
When I was a baby writer, I obsessively collected career advice from established writers, reading books and essays and attending panels on ‘‘How I broke in’’ featuring established pros. It’s a testament to the irrational, burning desire to publish that I continued to do this long after it became apparent that there was nothing of contemporary applicability in these discussions.
I mean, it was entertaining to hear a writer describe ...Read MoreRead more
Here’s some feedback I’ve received from editors, agents, and marketing managers in response to my work over the years:
“This is just a jumble of words.”
“I think this suffers from a failure of the imagination.”
“This is sorta too emotional.”
One of the most difficult skills a writer must learn – whether writing novels, screenplays, marketing copy, or news articles – is how to receive, process, and ...Read MoreRead more
I care about monopolies for exactly one reason: self-determination. I don’t care about competition as an end unto itself, or fetishize “choice” for its own sake. What I care about is your ability to live your life in the way you think will suit you, to the greatest extent possible, and taking into account the obvious limits when other people’s needs and wants conflict with you realizing your own desires. ...Read MoreRead more
Like most authors, I have more experience writing beginnings than I do endings, but perhaps not in the way one would expect. Some of this is an artifact of the linear way we have evolved to see time. It’s how many of us were taught to approach narrative. For many years I began every story with a scene, an inciting incident, a mood, a situation, and wrote until I figured ...Read MoreRead more
It’s a little dangerous, after selling a story to a professional science fiction or fantasy publication, to start calculating the odds of pulling in an award nomination. The draw is inexorable though – the Nebula Awards, the Hugos, World Fantasy, Locus. It’s the stuff of legends. Through the years, now-familiar SF/F names have stood to accept these awards, held them up to the light and heard that applause. It’s accomplishment, ...Read MoreRead more
Last summer, the pandemic was in its first wave and the nation was in chaos. A lack of federal leadership left each state to figure out how to interpret the science, and many states punted public health decisions to counties or cities or even smaller units, like universities.
Leaders, left to their own, often winged it, letting wishful thinking trump prudence in the drive to find ways to “reopen safely.” ...Read MoreRead more
“Nice try, but she should go read Tom Clancy to see how it’s done.”
That was a review on my first novel, Aurora: Darwin. I remember being a little stumped by this at the time because I hadn’t been trying to emulate Tom Clancy at all. I’ve never actually read any of his books, and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t write science fiction…. Perhaps it was the ...Read MoreRead more
In ancient Rome, they marked the new year in March, a time which has always made far more sense to me than a dark, frigid day in January. March is when we get the first breath of spring, when winter’s grasp begins to ease, and we realize that we have survived another miserly winter season.
After a very dark COVID-19 winter surge, I have emerged bleary-eyed into a new year ...Read MoreRead more
Authenticity as a lived principle—that is, the choice to become more truly and deeply oneself, whatever the cost—is as necessary as soil and rain. Without it, we wither. We put forth poisoned gourds. But if we speak truth, walk in truth, and cultivate truth, like strawberry plants, around us, we can offer what we’ve grown to others when they come with honest hunger to our door. In this slow way, ...Read MoreRead more
If you learned your economics from Heinlein novels or the University of Chicago, you probably think that “free market” describes an economic system that is free from government interference – where all consensual transactions between two or more parties are permissible.
But if you went to the source, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, you’ll have found a very different definition of a free market: Smith’s concern wasn’t freedom from ...Read MoreRead more
Our very strange year invited, among other things, mournful reflections on a past that felt abruptly truncated, and a number of non-fiction titles, though surely in production before the world’s temporary suspension, were eerily attuned to this backward gaze. Then again, SF/F/H have a tendency to steep themselves deeply in their own genre pasts and traditions, even as they often compost these into unexpected futures, so the apparent synchronicity may ...Read MoreRead more
Part way through The Silence by Don DeLillo (Picador) I came across a passage that resonated with me more that it perhaps might have done in other circumstances. One of the characters, in one of those archetypal DeLillo conversations that have the dispiriting and disconnecting feel of overlapping monologues, asks: “Is this the casual embrace that marks the fall of world civilization?”
DeLillo’s novella was written before the pandemic that ...Read MoreRead more
For the first three or four months of 2020, I had a difficult time focusing on anything – reading, writing, watching movies – for long enough to complete it. I devoted the spring to forcing myself to sit with a book or piece of writing or film long enough to engage it, and to keep engaging it until I was at the other side of it. The result was a ...Read MoreRead more
James Gunn was—indeed, still is—one of my heroes. While I didn’t meet him until 2002, when I first went to Lawrence for the Sturgeon Award ceremony, I already admired his writing, both fiction and non-fiction, and had benefited greatly from his expansive, benevolent influence on science fiction as critic, anthologist, conference organizer and educator.
Sitting rapt in Jim’s KU office as he talked about the field he loved, I realized ...Read MoreRead more
As I write, distribution of two separate COVID-19 vaccines is in progress in the United States. A new President has been elected and will soon be inaugurated. And on a personal note, I have welcomed my first grandchild into the world. A time of optimism, right?
At the same time, COVID cases are at or near their highest rate of incidence in the US (and indeed, in many countries). The ...Read MoreRead more
Several things kept me sane over the last 12 months. My family, the privilege of having a job while in lockdown, the Backlisted and Coode Street podcasts (particularly Coode Street‘s “10 minutes with” series), and the books I read. Yes, there were times in 2020 where I struggled to read more than a handful of pages, but the novels, novellas, and collections I did complete (47 of which I ...Read MoreRead more
We all know 2020 was a horrific year, but it was also a superb year for horror. As the world struggled through the pandemic, readers stuck at home turned to horror narratives as much – if not more so – than they regularly do because fictional horrors offer us an escape from real ones. As always, the genre delivered.
The greatness started early with Andy Davidson’s The Boatman’s Daughter, ...Read MoreRead more
While reading for Locus this year, I kept an unofficial list of notes about things I wanted to mention in my end-of-the-year essay. The biggest word on the list is “WITCHES,” which cropped up in more than one memorable title to cross my desk. From the field hockey team that takes a solemn oath within an Emilio Estevez notebook in Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks to the mill workers ...Read MoreRead more
I was on not one but two award juries in 2020. I told myself it was reasonable because there was a lot of overlap in the potential nominee pools, so it wouldn’t be that much extra reading. I didn’t count on 2020 being a year of unusual strain and psychic deterioration, which increased the difficulty of reading, thinking, making critical judgments, and really doing anything that required executive function. Still, ...Read MoreRead more
Publishing lead-times being what they are, the extraordinary events of 2020 largely weren’t reflected in the books that came out in the year – or at least, not intentionally. I managed to read a good deal of thought-provoking SF and fantasy this year, but some books seemed even more relevant than expected because of the pandemic-shuttered world they emerged into. How posterity will view them – let alone how it’ll ...Read MoreRead more
2020 has been a hellish year for so many reasons, but one of the few bright spots has been the mass of absolutely incredible fiction that managed to get published. Usually I’m able to read a good chunk of new books, particularly young-adult speculative fiction, but what with – waves hands dramatically – everything, my reading this year took a sharp left into romance fiction. It’s become my main reading ...Read MoreRead more
As rough as the year has been for the country, it’s been a great time for reading. As if in response to the year itself, a slew of powerful books came out, expanding the scope of genre and engaging in conversations long overdue.
Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby kicked things off in January, on the heels of his excellent late-2019 release War Girls. The story follows Ella as her powers ...Read MoreRead more
Around 11 a.m. on December 23, 2020, James Edwin Gunn died. He’s survived by his son, Kevin, and his cat, Annie—and by the many for whom he was ‘‘Science Fiction’s Dad.’’
Deepest condolences to all who cared about Jim, whose lives he touched and careers he influenced. This amounts to almost everyone in our field today, whether or not they’re aware of his intellectual parentage.
Career highlights: In 2007, SFWA ...Read MoreRead more
I’m sure I won’t be the only person in these pages remarking that 2020 was an unusual year, to say the least. The global pandemic caused massive overnight disruptions but has also lasted long enough to yield something that’s like a new (horrible) “normal.” Given the relatively quick turnaround times for short fiction, it’s not surprising that the crisis that started early in 2020 started showing up in short fiction ...Read MoreRead more
For pretty much the reasons anyone can figure, I didn’t get through as many titles as I would usually review in a year. Some anticipated books were held back, but mostly it was lack of appetite on my part – a mild case of what my mother used to call “the blahs” – that condition when energies flag, the palate dulls, and this goodly frame, the Earth, while not quite ...Read MoreRead more
This January marked the tenth anniversary of my first published novel, God’s War, back in the halcyon days of 2011.
It was a long road to publication.
I finished the book in early 2007, shopped it in late 2007, had it picked up, then cancelled in early 2009 after the crash of 2008. Another publisher eventually bought it for the second time, then that publisher was sold, and the ...Read MoreRead more
I started the year with good intentions. I intended to read every piece of short fiction that I could lay my hands on, every major novel, every exciting debut or anthology or short story collection and more. I would read all the things. This is the story of how I did not read all the things. I did not even read most of the things.
Way back in January, everything ...Read MoreRead more
I often shy away from these annual summations. Even in late December, I haven’t seen everything, so it is never truly complete. Plus, I always fear I will forget something important. Nevertheless, I’m giving it a shot this year. After all, despite 2020 being a horrific year in the real world, there was a lot of great horror and other dark fiction.
My favorite debut of the year is most ...Read MoreRead more
About a hundred years ago, in the village of Petrovichi near the Russian-Belarusian border, a baby was born in the Jewish family of Azimovs. The parents named their son Isaac. The exact date of his birth is unknown; it was sometime between October 1919 and early 1920. Nevertheless, the family, which arrived on RMS Baltic from the newborn Soviet Russia to New York on February 3, 1923, gave as the ...Read MoreRead more
It should have been a good year for reading. Many of the usual distractions seemed to go on hold in the spring, and most of them never came back. What had previously been the most boring software to emerge from the corporate app world, Zoom, suddenly became a lifeline for many, especially those without pants, while a simple trip to pick up groceries began to feel like going out on ...Read MoreRead more
In so many of our modern stories, saying the above phrase almost feels like an insult. It’s often a dour statement, juxtaposed against how characters will do anything to make romantic relationships work, or how the power of blood family can make evil people return to a path of righteousness.
But friendship? It’s often presented as a lower-tier relationship, something given to a secondary character to help the ...Read MoreRead more