Haven’t really talked about this much in these parts, but I’ve been working on a second book this year! This one is in honour of Octavia Butler, a groundbreaking science fiction writer: amazing stories, provocative ideas, and (it appears) the first African-American woman to make a living from science fiction. And this is the cover!!
The book comprises almost 50 original pieces – letters and essays – to and about Butler, encompassing a bunch of different issues and themes and responses. You can see the list of contributors at the Twelfth Planet Press site. It will also include some reprinted material.
I’m really pleased with how the book has developed, and I am in love with the cover.
Tansy, Rivqa: I hear you have an exciting new project coming up. Care to share what it is?
Hi, Alex! We’re about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a new speculative fiction anthology of artificial intelligence stories: Mother of Invention.
So tell me about this title. Who came up with it, what’s the point, and so on?
Artificial intelligence stories, from the very beginning, have always been dominated by the idea of a male creator ‘giving birth’ to robots or intelligent computers. This in turn means that we end up with a lot of artificial intelligence narratives with a sexy female robot, or a disembodied voice played by Scarlett Johanssen. Starting with Frankenstein (though even going back to the Ancient Greek Pygmalion/Galatea myth) the stories so often centre around the idea of what happens (or what goes terribly wrong) when men create life. Is Susan Calvin the only iconic female creator of artificial life in our whole genre? We’re happy to be ‘well, actually’d on this one, but she’s definitely outnumbered by her male counterparts.
To be honest, the ‘isolated dude builds/interacts with sexy robot girlfriend/daughter and/or angry robot/computer son who wants to kill him’ tropes have become the SF equivalent of ‘middle-aged college professor has affair with younger female student’. And just because (some) women can have babies biologically doesn’t mean they can’t build robots or super-smart imaginary friends as well as, or instead of, creating life the squishy old fashioned way.
We wanted to challenge the gender dynamic of artificial intelligence stories, and rather than focus on the ‘why are all robot women sexy and adorable’ trope, we thought we’d let some fantastic writers explore the idea of what kind of artificial lifeforms women, and other under-represented genders, might create.
As for the title… it took us ages to find something that captured what we want, but ultimately the quote ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ gave us the answer. When it comes to artificial intelligence stories, the motivation is often just as interesting as the ‘how it all went terribly wrong’ part, and we’re interested to see how the gender of the creator in these stories will affect what they build, and who they make.
The anthology will be published by Twelfth Planet Press… why go with them?
Twelfth Planet Press have a reputation for smart, thought-provoking projects and for challenging the gender dynamic of SF publishing, so they were absolutely our first choice. We’ve both worked with them before, though mostly at the fiction writing end of things, so it’s exciting to be getting our teeth into an editing project this time around.
We want to follow in the footsteps of Kaleidoscope and Defying Doomsday, which were both fantastic, diverse anthologies with strong political concepts behind them.
Do you have a stash of money up your collective sleeves to pay the authors for the project, or do you have some other plan?
Crowdfunding is our plan! With a project like this, a crowdfunding campaign has a lot of benefits to it, particularly that you can create advanced buzz for the book, and also gauge the interest of the readers. If we can’t make our target, then we don’t have enough interest to make the book viable, and it’s better to know that up front. The best thing about crowdfunding is that we are able to comfortably pay the authors (and editors and designers and artists and everyone) professional rates, which is often a hard ask for an Aussie small press budget.
Twelfth Planet Press has run a couple of very successful crowdfunding campaigns for anthologies like this one, and each time that has helped to bring international awareness to the book which is hugely important. We may be working out of the Australian suburbs, but we want to get this book into the hands of readers all around the world.
This will actually be the first time Twelfth Planet Press has worked with Kickstarter rather than the locally-based Pozible, so that’s an exciting adventure. It will be interesting to see whether it makes a difference to international reach.
Are there any authors associated with the project yet?
Yes, there are! We’ll also be opening for general submissions after crowdfunding closes, from July-August 2017.
Our core team of Mother of Invention authors are Seanan McGuire, John Chu, Kameron Hurley, Nisi Shawl, Sandra McDonald, E.C. Myers, Justina Robson, Bogi Takács, Rosaleen Love, Cat Sparks and Joanne Anderton. We also have an essay coming from Ambelin Kwaymullina, which we are very excited about.
Do you have dream plots or ideas you’d like to see reflected in your slush pile?
Tansy: I’m not gonna lie, I kind of want at least one super smart sexbot story and/or a gender-reversed Stepford Wives story. So many robot-as-person stories are about beauty and perfection and the unrealistic expectations on human/artificial female bodies, so I’d love something that turns that around to look at the potential sexuality/sensuality of artificial male bodies. I’d also love to see stories that look at how women socialise and connect to each other, and how intelligences that are created by women might reflect that. I’d definitely like a range of ages of the creators — a 96-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl are going to create a different intelligent software, presumably. What would you get if they worked together?
I also really want stories that challenge our premise, challenge the gender binary, and allow for a wide, inclusive definition of what gender means anyway. Artificial intelligence is a theme that invites a complex exploration of gender (or an absence of gender) beyond just the creator themselves, so it would be fantastic to get stories that do this.
Rivqa: While I’m sure we’ll be including some ‘AI turns evil’ stories, I’m personally more excited to see stories that explore our creators’ creations in more subtle ways. In particular, autonomy interests me as a writer and a parent. At what point do we let go of our children, whatever their nature? What does it mean to make an autonomous AI, whether purposefully or accidentally?
Like Tansy, I’m excited to see how our authors use the theme to explore gender identity and expression. Would a female, genderqueer or agender creator necessarily invent something different to a cis male creator? Or is that just playing into the kyriarchy’s hands in a different way? I can’t wait to see how our submissions subvert the tired old trope of the cis male inventor, because I have no doubt that they’ll do so in a multitude of ways.
At a simpler level, I’m just looking forward to reading stories from people who love robots as much as I do, because I think they’re awesome.
What’s the timeline for all of this?
It all starts in June 2017, just a few weeks from now! We’ll be crowdfunding for the whole month. We’ll then have our open submission period and be reading, selecting and editing for the rest of this year. We’ll be delivering crowdfunding rewards from early 2018, with the book itself delivering to supporters in June 2018.
We also have a stretch goal planned for a companion series of gender and artificial intelligence essays which would, if we reach the target, extend beyond the original timeline.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a writer, Hugo Award-winning podcaster and pop culture critic based in Tasmania. Her award-winning fiction includes the Creature Court trilogy and the Love & Romanpunk short story collection. Tansy has edited various magazines and books, most recently the Cranky Ladies of History anthology which was crowdfunded in 2014. She also regularly assesses manuscripts for the Tasmanian Writer’s Centre.
Rivqa Rafael is a writer and editor based in Sydney. Her speculative fiction has been published in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), Defying Doomsday, and elsewhere. In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. As an editor, she specialises in medical and science writing, both short and long form; she has also edited memoir, fiction and popular magazines.
I think this is the first James Bradley book I’ve read, which is… a thing. If this is an indication of his calibre, I shall rectify that.
This is a near-future Australia. The entire world has been affected by alien spores that Change animals, plants and people – not everyone, but many of those who come into contact. And the spores seem to particularly like it hot and humid, so there’s been an exodus of people from the tropical parts of the world. Of course, this hasn’t been particularly well received by the temperate parts of the world. There are walls. And camps. And suspicion of foreigners.
All sounding a bit familiar, isn’t it.
The heart of the book is Callie, an adolescent whose father Changed some years ago and whose young sister is now exhibiting symptoms – because even in temperate Adelaide, you’re not safe from the spores. Rather than allow Gracie to be taken to Quarantine, Callie decides to run away with her to the Zone: the part of Australia that’s been sectioned off by a mighty Wall, to the north of which the Change runs riot. Cue adventure and desperation and bravery and hardship.
What is perhaps most intriguing about this book is the prologue. I mean, I really enjoyed the book, and Callie is a gutsy character, and I liked the depiction of Australia. But the prologue? It makes it clear that this desperate adventure across southern Australia is only the beginning of what will confront Callie across the trilogy. Because in the opening paragraph, she mentions “this alien beach,” and being “under a sky so full of stars that even the night shines”. There is something much weirder going on than just another version of the Triffids, or a slow invasion story. And while I enjoyed the look-after-the-sister story, I am really intrigued by what’s going to happen to Callie to lead her to this alien planet.
Bring on the next book.
Book 2 of Cixin Liu’s trilogy that started with The Three-Body Problem.
You could probably read this without having read the first book – it’s been ages since I read Three-Body Problem and I didn’t remember a whole heap – but honestly, why would you? It’s such an amazing book that if you’re considering reading these at all (perhaps because the third one has just been nominated for a Hugo Award, which the first book won), seriously just go and read both of them.
So the world is going to be attacked by an alien space-navy… in four centuries. Meanwhile emissaries from those aliens are already here, because somewhat hand-wavy-science, and they’re both halting humanity’s exploration of science and potentially listening in to every single conversation we’re having. So what can be done to try and deal with the aliens, and not have them sabotage humanity’s plans? (The aliens have their human tools, of course, too.) You nominate four people to be Wallfacers: people who have authority to do anything as long as they justify it as “part of the plan”… and they don’t have to explain anything, because if they explain it then the aliens might find out.
Because nothing could go wrong with that plan.
And that’s only part of what this novel is about. There’s also love and loss and trauma and sheer human effrontery. It takes place in the near-isa future and then a few centuries after that. It mostly takes place in China with a few bits elsewhere. Lots of it is from the perspective of Luo Ji, who would really rather it wasn’t, thanks all the same.
Some of the things I really enjoyed and/or was intrigued by:
- The acknowledgement, and exploration, of the idea that when confronted with an alien enemy, one of the likely responses is defeatism. Even in the armed forces. This is actually quite refreshing, given how often Hollywood blockbusters like to present (usually American) soldier-heroes.
- The general lack of draaaamah. When things go bad, people react, but there’s not pages upon pages of people feeling sorry for themselves. Nonetheless, these are still generally real and believable, if restrained, characters who I enjoyed reading about and did feel that I got to know (somewhat, anyway). (And I’m not only referring to the Chinese characters when I say that; the USan and other characters also don’t go in for massive theatrics.)
- Shi Qiang. About the only main character to transition from Three-Body to this, and I love him. He’s so quirky and shrewd and insightful and human. (I can imagine Miller, from the Expanse, and Da Shi getting together and drinking way too much and sharing police stories for hours.)
- Zhang Beihai. What even was going on with that narrative arc? Fascinating and unexpected; every time he appeared on the page I didn’t even bother trying to figure out what was going to happen. Because I knew I would be wrong.
This is a great science fiction novel and I’m completely stoked for the third, although I can’t really fathom where it’s going to go. Do not read this unless you prepared for some pretty hard-core science discussion, and if you’d rather that your fiction has in-dpeth discussion of character motivation and lavish character reflection. Do read if you enjoy a brilliant SF story with breathtaking ideas.
This is the sequel to the brilliant Illuminae. Intriguingly, though, it could definitely be read as a stand-alone book. There’s an entirely new set of main characters, and while the events do flow on from the initial ones they’re taking place in a completely different part of space. What little background knowledge might be useful is provided as part of the briefing documents.
Note: if you didn’t enjoy Illuminae (and I understand the style isn’t for everyone), don’t come to this one.
Like Illuminae, the novel is composed of ‘found’ documents, here presented as part of trial. Those documents are things like IM-chat transcripts; descriptions of video surveillance, complete with occasional snarky comments from the tech doing the description; logs of emails, and other communications; and a few other bits and pieces. It means that the narrative isn’t entirely linear, and this works really nicely – the story of what has happened, and what the characters are like, comes out slowly and… I guess organically. There’s a few bits where people are described in reports or get talked about, but in general we learn about them through their words and actions.
The setting for the main narrative is a space station, guarding a worm hole that has gates to several different systems. Something terrible happens, and things must be done by unlikely heroes. Exactly the depth of the Terrible Things and how they might be resolved are the focus of the story. There’s crawling through air vents and unlikely alliances, hacking both computer and physical, general death and destruction and mayhem, betrayals and banter. And it all happens over a really short space of time so that it feels quite desperate and breathless; when I had to put it down 50 pages from the end to go out for dinner (I’d read the rest of it that day), I was horrified at leaving everyone hanging.
This is an immensely fun book. I can imagine it working on reluctant readers – or those who think they only like graphic novels – once they got over the thickness of it, that is, since it’s a very graphic piece of work: each page is designed to look like what it’s meant to be, whether that’s a chat transcript or legal documents. Or excerpts from an adolescent girl’s diary. Each ‘chapter’ feels short and punchy because none of the documents are very long. It’s a clever pacing trick.
A very entertaining and enjoyable book. I am excited for the next instalment.
In theory it took me months to read this, because I read the prologue… and then I put it down. Then I read the first two chapters… and then I put it down. And I read like 30 other books and then I finally picked it up and read it. This is no reflection on the book or the series; I’ve been waiting for this book since I finished book 5. I think partly this was a concern that the book would be too much; that after the events of book 5, how could things POSSIBLY go well for my beloved characters? And there’s an intensity to Corey’s writing, too, that I just didn’t feel ready for at the start of this year.
But I finally got over all of that and I read it and of course it’s fantastic and by golly I want book 7 yesterday. I had wondered how on earth the series could be continued… but now it’s clear. Well, as clear as the combined minds that make James Corey can ever be to someone out here.
(Spoilers for the first five books, I guess)
Things I continue to love about this series:
- the focus on little, domestic things in the midst of solar-system wide disaster. The image of Avasarala applying a ‘homeopathic’ level of rouge is priceless. Also the details of life on the Roci and the various stations and asteroids. Plus…
- the focus on characters and relationships. Holden’s vague concerns about having Clarissa on board: make so much sense, and he tries so hard to deal with it and it’s so sweet amidst all the political wrangling. Bobbie, and where she might ever fit in. Every single thing damned about Avasarala. Also Amos.
- the widening perspective. There are more character perspectives in this book than previous ones, as has been the trend. So we get a much wider view of what’s going on; motivations and consequences, reactions and individual concerns. They matter, even when the solar system is threatened.
- just… the writing. It is so very easy to read. This is the sort of thing I would like to read all the time please.
This book is, of course, not an entirely easy or pleasant book. Terrible, terrible things happen. I was constantly worried, at the back of my mind, that THIS would be the book where Corey decided to screw up the crew of the Roci. Of course that nearly happened in the last book, and I had a lot of trouble dealing with my darlings all being in different places; maybe that was a softening up to deal with one of them… leaving? Dying? And then of course there’s the worries about the solar system, and Earth as a whole being devastated, and the Belt being in huge difficulties too… so while it’s not quite apocalypse level (well, aside from Earth, but there’s not so much focus on that in this volume), this is still not a book to read if you’re feeling particularly fragile. That said, it is still a great story, and of course the point of the whole series is human endurance and dealing with enormous difficulties.
I love this series.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $29.99 (480 pages).
I adored Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 and after reading this I have an overwhelming itch to go read it again. Partly because this reminded of that earlier work, and partly because it reminded me just how very good Robinson can be (as I thought of 2312).
As the name suggests, the book opens in 2140, and is set almost entirely in New York. There’s been catastrophic sea level rise, due to melting polar ice mostly, and of course this has had a huge impact on coastal towns. While Manhattan isn’t quite an exemplar for all coastal cities, it does provide an intriguing setting for such a book – and of course New York is, as the narrative acknowledges, a very particular and, perhaps, unique city in terms of how inhabitants and others around the world relate to it. Sydney probably wouldn’t get you quite such a response.
Things I loved about this book:
- The different narrative points of view. Each one is clearly different from the others, with a unique voice and style: told from the first or third person; mostly through dialogue or action; individuals or pairs. I love this as a method of conveying a multitude of perspectives, both moving the narrative forward and allowing the reader to meet, identify with, and consider different sorts of people.
- Speaking of, I adore “that citizen”. That citizen gets their own chapter in each section and is basically there to explain the history of the world up to this point, and how New York and the USA work, and comment on aspects of New York’s social and cultural history. They are deeply knowledgeable and deeply cynical and deeply aware of the narrative they are a part of. To whit:
People sometimes say no one saw it coming, but no, wrong: they did. Paleoclimatologists looked at the modern situation and saw CO2 levels screaming up… and they searched the geological record for the best analogs to this unprecedented event, and they said, Whoa. They said, Holy shit. People! they said. Sea level rise! … They put it in bumper sticker terms: massive sea level rise sure to follow our unprecedented release of CO2! They published their papers… a few canny and deeply thoughtful sci-fi writers wrote up lurid accounts of such an eventuality, and the rest of civilisation went on torching the planet like a Burning Man pyromasterpiece. (p140)
Seriously. I alternately giggled and sighed reading a lot of that citizen‘s accounts. They also make snarky comments about surveillance states, growing throughout the 21st century, when being called “a police state… would have been aspirational” (p207) and the capabilities of industry to make drastic adjustments when it’s financially necessary. They are also deeply unimpressed by people who dismiss “info-dumps” in narratives while, of course, demonstrating exactly how to do them in splendid, self-aware, and necessary ways.
- Speaking of being self-aware, and something else that made me recall 2312, is what I guess might be Tuckerisation. One of the characers is Inspector Gen Octaviasdottir. Which I thought was nice, until I got to this description: “Tall black woman, as tall as he was, rather massive, with a sharp look and a reserved manner” (p29) – and then I realised who Robinson was tipping the hat too, and … I was moved. I know some don’t love this, but when it’s done in such a way that both people who get the reference appreciate it and it doesn’t prevent those who don’t see it from appreciating the story… well. I enjoy it. Robinson also has “delanydens” – places where there was lots of “intergender” and “indeterminate gender” and where “it was best not to look too closely at what was happening in the corners” (p183) – so again, don’t know who Delany is? doesn’t really impact on your understanding of the context. And another of my favourites: “russrage” – “at the ugly cynicism of whoever or whatever it was doing” the things that made people unsafe (p273). Of course I’m lucky to get these; I haven’t read any Calvino so “calvinocity” doesn’t have that extra layer for me.
- While the background of the narrative is the massive changes that have happened in New York and indeed continue to happen in the novel, a lot of the story is actually pretty small scale… dare I say, domestic. It felt like there was as much attention given to the antics of two young boys and their friendship with an old man, and the beginnings and difficulties of love, as to the possible relocation of polar bears and massive system defrauding. I really, really like this. Robinson suggests that even as places change around us, humanity adapts and remains fundamentally the same.
- It’s remarkably optimistic: that humanity can adapt and cope with the difficulties we face – yes they’re our fault, as a species, but we can keep going and maybe, maybe, make things better. Or at least not worse. And individuals can still have worthwhile lives amidst the problems. That’s pretty important.
- I just love the writing. It’s smooth and elegant and… readable. I really, really, really enjoyed this book. Yes, it has gone on my “Possible Hugos 2018” list.
The final in our Great Scott! reviewing adventure.
A: Basically this is our reward for getting through the others. We saw it twice in the cinema…
J: Mars has never been rendered more beautifully.
A: or realistically. I love that this is not the first mission, but well into the history of Martian exploration.
I also love the banter. And that the Commander is definite in her commitment to safety because THAT’S HOW IT SHOULD BE.
J: If this was really a NASA mission that whole conversation about aborting or not would not happen.
A: I think being on a different planet is going to have an impact on attitudes to command structures.
I love the cinematography of the storm.
J: Yup, it does a really good job of intense and frenetic without being shaky cam or hard to watch.
A: There’s a touch of the ‘do we sacrifice everything for one man’ but I like the grim reality of … no, of course you don’t. Continue reading →
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Wesleyan University Press, at no cost. It’s available now.
It’s no secret that I like science fiction and history and am feminist, so books like this are like a perfect conjunction for me. I’ve previously read Helen Merrick’s Secret Feminist Cabal, and Justine Larbalestier’s Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction AND Daughter of Earth, which is a compilation of early female SF writers. So I’ve got a bit of background knowledge – not that you need it at all for this anthology, because Lisa Yaszek and Patrick B Sharp set the scene magnificently in their intro to the book and to the chapters.
Here’s the thing that makes this book really special: while the biggest section is on the authors, because they include some stories – including a fairly long novelette – the editors don’t stop there. They also have sections on the female poets, and artists, and journalists, and editors of the 30s and 40s. This blew my mind. I’d vaguely heard of Margaret Brundage, I think? But I certainly didn’t realise that there were women active and influential in all of those spheres. Yaszek and Sharp also cross into the amateur magazines, where women were also hugely important in the development of “understandings of science, society, and SF in different arenas of SF production” (xxiii). If you’re interested in early science fiction at all, if you’re interested in women in literature, if you’re interested in the history of SF – this is an excellent anthology.
This novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost. It will be out on 11 April, 2017.
Um. Wow. No seriously. Terrifying and amazing and absolutely captivating.
Jones is saying a lot about modern society in this novella and most of it isn’t very nice. She’s also presenting a compelling story and believable characters and… this is yet more evidence that novellas are a fantastic length for stories.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how facebook mediates news and how people who only get their news from facebook can end up in an echo-chamber, essentially, with their own opinions endlessly reflected back to them. Jones presents GAM: Global Audience Mediation. An avatar, the AI of GAM, asks questions for news broadcasts – it’s “the statistical sum of… real-time responses” from the global audience (4). It’s crowd-sourced journalism, where presumably minority views and questions get drowned out in the fantastically huge audience. No room for dissenting voices then. Then there’s the broadcasts of the VLDMT (Very Long Duration Mission Training) – in theory Earth 2-like training situations for people who might go on interstellar missions, but effectively ending up like reality tv – Big Brother in extremis.
And this isn’t even really what the story is about. They’re just creepy incidental issues that Jones throws in to show that this is a real and believable future story. I love Gwyneth Jones.
What the story is actually about is getting off Earth as the population and climactic situation gets progressively worse and worse. There are two solutions being proposed: the VLDMT people imagine a space ship, while Margrethe Patel is working on a method of hyperspatial travel that shifts within 4D information space. (Happily, Jones is not Greg Egan, so there’s no vector diagrams to attempt to understand.) The two groups come together when an enormous abyss is discovered under Poland and it appears to offer a place to practise for both groups. They need complete isolation from the rest of the planet, and things go from there…
Did I mention that the focal character, Kir, has an AI in her head? Yeh. There’s a huge amount going on here.
I loved Kir and how she faces the various problems – like annoying people and difficult work – that confront her. I was gutted by how Jones imagines this possible future, and I was enthralled by what she imagines as solutions. If you like science fiction you need to read this story. When it’s available.