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 Tacács, 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.
Another short story from Roberts set in the world of “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, from the anthology Kaleidoscope. It’s a world where there’s a machine that makes people superheroes… for a time. Where the first story looked at what might happen when a girl with a physical disability got to the machine, this one looks at the aftermath for one person – what’s it like when you didn’t choose to be a superhero and then you have to go back to being ‘normal’?
I love this story, and I love this world. I love Griff, struggling to deal with the ordinary world and how to fit in to it after a period of fame. I love how Roberts imagines super villains. And I love the hints at what it’s like to have a sidekick thrust on you when you really don’t want one.
You can read it over here. Free!
In which books take longer to make than they do to read. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
What’s New on the Internet?
CJ CHerryh named SFWA grandmaster
SF Signal closing – farewell to our friends and thanks for all the links!
Get in your nominations to us for the GS AWard: for activism and/ or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2015.
Tansy: Finished writing a book! My research reading list over the last several years includes: Orlando Furioso (Ludovico Ariosto/Slavitt translation), Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Chivalry & Charlemagne, E Nesbit’s entire backlist, Christina Rossetti, George McDonald, etc.
Also: Tansy’s serial Glass Slipper Scandal is now complete at the Sheep Might Fly podcast.
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In which all 3 of us celebrate 6 years of Galactic Suburbia with an excellent baby and variable cake. ALISA IS BACK THIS IS NOT A DRILL! You can get us at iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.
What’s new on the internet?
JK Rowling, Native American “magic” and cultural appropriation.
National Geographic outlines the issues.
An open letter to Jo Rowling on the Native Appropriations blog – why indigenous people are not magical creatures.
Feminist Frequency crowdfunding at Seed & Spark: a series of films about historical women.
Also, Tansy’s upcoming superhero story at Book Smugglers – “Boy’s Own Superhero Bingo Card.”
Defying Doomsday coming soon too!
Listen to the end for the GALACTIC SUBURBIA GIVEAWAY – win a copy of The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower by Kate Forsyth, a unique non-fiction collection presenting Kate’s extensive academic research into the ‘Rapunzel’ fairy tale, alongside several other pieces related to fairy tales and folklore. Available soon from Fablecroft.
AND, although we forgot to mention this in the show, it’s time to nominate for the Galactic Suburbia Award! We want to honour activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction – so if you’ve got someone or something that should be nominated for 2015, let us know!
Declaring my connections: the publisher and half the editors of this anthology, Alisa Krasnostein, is a Galactic Suburbian with me; so is the author of the first story, Tansy Rayner Roberts.
I’m a lucky person because I’m white, and straight. I’m marginalised in fiction because I’m a woman who reads science fiction. I’m one of those female readers who long ago learned the trick of imagining myself with the fellas in the books I was reading – courtesy of all those Biggles books, mostly, and all that never-written-down fanfic of joining the Fellowship of the Ring (mostly to swoon over Legolas). So my emotional connection to the idea of needing diversity in fiction is somewhat less than, say, Julia Rios – one of the editors of this anthology – who notes that “As a bisexual Mexican-American woman, I didn’t see myself reflected very often in books I read as a child or teen…”. Nonetheless, I do get personally terrifically bored of straight while male characters, and I intellectually and ethically passionately support the need for diversity in all fiction. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this project was a great one in theory, and has turned out to be a great one in practise.
Krasnostein and Rios got themselves an awesome set of authors to approach the idea of stories whose protagonists represent diversity, but where that diversity isn’t the point – it just is. Just like it should be in life. So this isn’t an issues book, and it’s not even really a themed anthology. There’s superheroes (hey Roberts, where’s that novel?) and d-mat transportation and mythology and aliens. There’s neurodiversity and mental health issues and gender and sexuality questioning and non-whites! and teens being teens and why haven’t you bought it yet?
I’ve noted before my assumption that picking the first story of an anthology must be hard. I say this with no reference to Tansy being a friend: “Cookie Cutter Superhero” really does deserve to springboard more stories. A universe wherein machines to create superheroes have appeared around the world? Where different countries take different routes to figure out who gets to use it, and the machine decides what they’ll be like? Seriously. Someone get that woman a contract and option the TV rights. And Roberts setting this in Sydney, casually mentioning the indigenous superhero who refused the media’s attempt to make him tribal, and our soon-to-be-superhero lacks a hand and it’s not the focus of the story… everything is right about this story. Up to and including the ending.
There are other stories in the anthology too. Sean Williams throws in a story set in his Twinmaker world, and it’s mighty fine. Gabriela Lee’s “End of Service” is a bit creepy both for the SF elements and for its real-world elements. Faith Mudge’s “Signature” is wonderful and not only because it reminded me strongly of The Changeover which is a pretty sure way to my heart. I hadn’t read a new Dirk Flinthart in a while, so finding “Vanilla” in here was a delight. The title suggested one thing, especially with the discussion around identity and what being a ‘proper’ Australian, or Somali, or Somali-Australian actually means… and then it turned out to have another meaning as well. Karen Healey’s “Careful Magic” is a bit Holly Black, and all awesome. I should not have read Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” in public – let that be a warning – I love her use of footnotes, and the eccentric spelling works beautifully, and the format does too. It’s not often you see Celtic mythology get utilised in a story, and Amal El-Mohtar does so wonderfully in a story about owls and displacement.
This isn’t a complete list, by any means. There’s also Jim Hines, Ken Liu and John Chu, Shveta Thakrar and Alena McNamara, and a bunch of others coming at the notion of diversity in YA from different points. As a reader, therefore, thanks to everyone who helped get this anthology off the ground – this is a great book that should do the rounds of every YA reader you know.
You can get this from Twelfth Planet Press direct – Australian release coming in October!
I love The Three Musketeers in the same way I love Sherlock Holmes. Via their later interpretations.
I’ve read Dumas… a long time ago… probably when I was too young to really enjoy it. And after I’d seen the movie, and loved it.
Hmm. Let’s be honest. After I watched Kiefer Sutherland and some others and loved Kiefer Sutherland. The others were ok too.
ANYway, I love the idea of the Musketeers, and I adore reinterpretations. Thus, readers: Musketeer Space! Tansy is doing a gender-swapped space opera version and I am very much looking forward to reading it. She’s also experimenting with Patreon to see whether people want to support her in the endeavour, and is offering all sorts of incentives. Like promising to review Musketeer-related stuff. The first such is a review of the 2011 Musketeer movie involving airships and other steampunkery, which I tragically never got around to watching. Until today.
There are many, many amusing aspects to this movie.
Number 1: I’ve thought of Luke Evans as the new Orlando Bloom for a while now, so to see them in the same movie is hilarious.
Number 2: as Tansy points out, Orlando Bloom is doing his best to channel 1970s Elvis hair.
Number 3: Mads Mikkelsen chewing the scenery.
Like the Sutherland version, D’Artagnan is the most wet and boring of all the characters. I just don’t get him, and I eye-roll so hard at the thought of Chris O’Donnell that don’t even get me started.
I mostly agree with Tansy’s review, especially the desire to see Milady and the lads conduct heist after heist after heist. I do disagree with her about the Cardinal – remembering that I am no connoisseur of the original, I don’t think he was dull; understated, perhaps, instead of underplayed. Tim Curry was an archetypal villain in the Sutherland version and I can’t help but feel that this one was doing his best to differentiate himself. I thought it worked ok. I also disagree with her assessment of Constance’s speech about a lady in waiting not being as important as a musketeer – my understanding of this section is that she was suggesting she was in less danger partly because she was a woman, but mostly because her position as a lady in waiting offered protection. It is possible I misheard some of this exchange because the knitting was distracting me….
I am most saddened that, after a delightfully swoony prologue read by Matthew MacFadyen, he really just phoned in this performance. Not a jot on Kiefer.
I do not think this has a lot of rewatchability, so I am amused and impressed that Tansy sat through it a second time. It was genuinely enjoyable, and there may have been shrieks of laughter especially over the airship’s steampunk machine guns, but it is not a cinematic masterpiece.
Also thanks to Tansy, I now have “All for Love” stuck in my head. And I’m starting to fear that the Suck Fairy may have visited my beloved 1993 (gasp! 1993?!?) version…
In just a few days, A Trifle Dead will be launched – a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for rather a long time. Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, another voice of Galactic Suburbia and overall awesome author. I decided to throw some questions at her and see what happened…
OMG I hadn’t even thought of a Livia Day autograph. I only have a few days to figure that one out before the launch! Thanks for the head’s up.
I have actually just finished writing an article I was commissioned to do for Writing Queensland about this whole topic so I’ll keep it fairly brief this time: I wanted to differentiate between my crime writing and fantasy writing selves. Livia is after my favourite imperial Roman woman, the one I never managed to name one of my children after (believe me, I considered it!) and Day is from teenage newspaper editor Lynda Day in Press Gang, one of my first fictional heroes.
Given the title, and its setting in and around a cafe (I’ve read the first chapter thanks to Salvage), clearly food is going to play some role in the novel. How important is food, do you think, in setting up a world? I can think of lammas bread from Lord of the Rings, and vaguely remember exotic English teas from ancient kids’ books, but a lot of the time food doesn’t seem to get much of a look in.
Food is a great storytelling device! I do a lot of worldbuilding through social customs in my fantasy writing, and food is key to that – in A Trifle Dead food is certainly relevant to character traits. Almost everything in crime fiction comes down to the psychology of characters, the reason why people do what they do. My protagonist is a professional cook and cafe manager and she uses food in many ways – to heal, to nurture, to manipulate, to bribe, to cement friendships. In the opening chapters she is actually using food as a kind of anti-siege weapon, to rid herself of the over-protective men in her life.
I think part of the reason that culinary themes work so well with crime fiction is because it gives us something comforting to balance out the scary or more confronting themes to do with murder and darker psychologies. I love Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and the baking she does in those books – and one of my favourite crime series of all time, the Roman historical mysteries about Falco the informer (by Lindsey Davis) uses food as worldbuilding as well as to express character.
Then there’s Agatha Christie, of course, herself an experienced chemist – every bite in those books could potentially kill you!
Why Hobart, aside from it being your home town?
Well you see, it’s my home town… but that doesn’t mean it was the default for these books. I actually found it quite confronting to write something set in my own home town, especially when I was much younger. One of the oddest things about doing that is how your own version of a place you know intimately can clash with other people’s perceptions – I think I’m going to have a much better time selling the idea of Hobart being a fun, arty and cosmopolitan centre than when I first started working on this manuscript years ago, because we’ve had a bit of a media renaissance around here in the last year or two thanks to MONA and other cultural events.
But of course the short answer is that Tabitha grew out of this city – her story couldn’t be told anywhere else.
It certainly has a different skillset – much tighter plotting is required! You can’t just take people off down a meandering path, or let your imagination run completely unfettered. It’s harder in some ways and easier in others – the biggest difference is not actually the genre aspect, but the difference between writing in an imaginary world and the current world. Being able to throw in pop culture or technology references, and so on. I had to think a lot more about the constraints because in all the crime fiction I grew up reading, no one had mobile phones or Twitter or DNA testing, and that sort of thing makes it kind of difficult to get away with a lot of the more traditional crime fiction twists. Sure you can have your character’s mobile phone get broken but that’s cheating…
Do you have further stories in mind for Tabitha Darling?
Oh, yes, I’m contracted for a sequel, Drowned Vanilla. Even more than A Trifle Dead it is about internet culture and creative culture and how these two things interact. The story is about a girl who goes missing from a house that’s full of webcams. But mostly it’s about ice cream. Oh my goodness I know so much about the history of vanilla that I didn’t know before writing this book!
After that, we’ll see – if the readership is there, I will happily continue with Tabitha’s adventures in catering and murder mystery solving – I’m deeply in love with the eccentric ensemble cast she has gathered around her, and any excuse to spend more time with them.
Is there anything else we should know? Like other exciting books?
Just that my early fantasy books are being made available as e-books by Fablecroft – Splashdance Silver is up now on Kindle, Wizard’s Tower and Weightless Books, and the other two Mocklore Chronicles are shortly to follow. The third one was never officially published before so that’s quite exciting to people like yourself who had a fondness for my funny pirate witch explosive magic books…