Sci-fi author Ted Chiang on the disaster novel we're currently living through

On Electric Lit, Halimah Marcus, interviews speculative fiction author Ted Chiang (Exhalation, Arrival) on the current global pandemic and whether there will ever be a "normal" for us to return to.

HM: What’s the relationship between disruption and doom? Would “the disruption is resolved and nothing is ever the same” qualify as a doom narrative? Or is doom a third kind of story, in which the disruption is never resolved?

TC: A lot of dystopian stories posit variations on a Mad Max world where marauders roam the wasteland. That’s a kind of change no one wants to see. I think those qualify as doom. What I mean by disruption is not the end of civilization, but the end of a particular way of life. Aristocrats might have thought the world was ending when feudalism was abolished during the French Revolution, but the world didn’t end; the world changed. (The critic John Clute has said that the French Revolution was one of the things that gave rise to science fiction.)

HM: Do you see aspects of science fiction (your own work or others) in the coronavirus pandemic? In how it is being handled, or how it has spread?

TC: While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job.

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A free short story about Irish history to read while you're quarantined over St. Patrick's Day

I wrote An Baile na mBan: a story of mothers, monsters, and war a few years ago for an anthology called Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Originally published by Crossed Genres Publishing, the anthology focused on sci-fi/fantasy stories of adolescent protagonists from historically marginalized communities from before the 1920s. This story was loosely inspired by the tragic discovery of a mass grave at an Irish nunnery for single mothers, and thus involves pretty much all of the horrible things that might relate to that:

Set during the Irish War of Independence, An Baile na mBan tells the story of 16-year-old Caoimhe, a Traveller girl who has been paying off her debts to the Catholic Church by working at the nunnery that took her in while she was with child—and by stealing their supplies and selling them on streets. When one of her black market customers takes an interest in Aisling, the young Protestant girl who recently arrived at the home, he offers Caoimhe a chance to reunite with her daughter in exchange for a favor. But the club-footed man isn't all that he seems, and neither are his plans for Aisling's child. Or his stake in the war that rages through the land.

In case you aren't familiar with Travellers, they're a distinct ethnic group in Ireland, with their own language and culture that goes back hundreds of years. Unfortunately, they still deal with a lot of discrimination today, because the ladder of oppression is always ugly and complicated. Read the rest

Kevin Kelly discusses "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" with author Neal Stephenson

I really enjoyed this interview that Kevin Kelly conducted with sci-fi author, Neal Stephenson, as part of The Long Now Foundation's salon series at The Interval in San Francisco.

During the one hour exchange, these two inspiring thinkers discuss Neal's latest book, Fall, or Dodge in Hell, some of the inspirations behind it, and how some of these technologies may come to pass. Half of the video is Q&A with the audience.

Here is the cover slap copy for the book:

Fall, or Dodge in Hell" is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

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Review: "The Nobody People" is like a literary X-Men novel for the Trump era

The X-Men are often cited as a pop culture metaphor for the struggles of persecuted peoples in the face of bigotry. But the allegory is far from perfect. It's barely even present in the foundational DNA of the earliest comics. The idea of "mutants" was initially just an excuse to skip over the origin stories and get straight to the super-powered superhero antics. These days, we commonly hear comparisons between Magneto and Professor X to Malcolm X and MLK. Even though it's, erm, not quite accurate. And even though Magneto started out by literally calling his team "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."

But Bob Proehl's new novel, The Nobody People, takes the opposite approach. Proehl is a friend of mine — I even wrote a song to help him promote the book, before I actually I read it — and he'll pretty openly admit that he envisioned it as a sort-of love letter to the X-Men. Whereas the X-Men began as pulpy superhero comics that eventually mutated into a political metaphor, The Nobody People starts with the metaphor, and mutates into a powerful personal drama. Here, the super-powered individuals are known as Resonants, and at the start of the novel, their presence is largely hidden from the modern world. The first part of the book mostly follows war correspondent Avi Hirsch, an amputee who learns that his biracial daughter is one of those powered Resonants; once they're outed, the book shifts into a sort of Bildungsroman, with a series of episodes that follow the logical progression of what always happens when a marginalized group tries to claim their own tiny corner in a world full of ignorance of hate. Read the rest

Get 35 free audio books from Tor's new horror imprint

Renowned sci-fi and fantasy publisher Tor just launched a new book imprint called Nightfire, focusing on new horror fiction. And to celebrate, they're giving away 35 free short horror stories as audiobooks. The list includes stories by Alyssa Wong, Chuck Wendig, China Miéville, Carmen Maria Machado, and more.

The only catch is that the stories are only available through the GooglePlay Store, or through Google Assistant commands. This is only really a minor inconvenience if you (like me) are not an Android user—but also if you're like me, it's totally worth it.

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This new fiction anthology is punk as f*ck

A Punk Rock Future is a brand new fiction anthology featuring 25 speculative sci-fi and fantasy writers smashing the State in whatever fantastical futuristic form that it might take. Editor Steve Zisson (not to be confused with Steve Zissou) was smart enough to realize that a good short story is already like a punk song—fast, effective, and brutally DIY, with a fistful of meaning that explodes in your face with pure undistilled emotion. It only made sense to slam the two together.

The anthology features a setlist of writers with all the scene cred you need, including Nebula Award-winner Sarah Pinkser, who just released her debut novel about an illegal underground music scene; Margaret Killjoy, whose book The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award; and Marie Vibbert, who has published some forty-plus short stories and also attended the Clarion Writer's Workshop with me (where BoingBoing's own Cory Doctorow was our instructor).

We might be trapped in the dystopian cyberpunk hellhole of a future we were promised is children, but another world is possible. So check out A Punk Rock Future, or there's no future for you.

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