Review of Upgraded at Fantasy Scroll

I’ve reviewed Neil Clarke’s cyborg anthology UPGRADED for Fantasy Scroll Magazine; the review can be found here in the new issue of the magazine.

Czech readers can look forward to a Czech translation of the review at XB-1’s website (update: it’s here). And who knows, with some luck, the magazine might feature some of the stories from UPGRADED in the future if our editor picks some of them. There are certainly some stories which deserve to get to as many readers in as many languages as possible.


Worldcon, Fringe & more

It had been a busy summer. I’ve attended the European Conference on Behavioral Biology (there would be a report coming up in the bulletin of the Czech & Slovak Ethological Society – in Czech), Worldcon in London, Edinburgh Fringe and I taught at a space-themed children’s summer camp. I hope you’ll forgive me cramming it all into one blogpost; I’ve only just returned home and have work to get to and you can always skip the parts you’re not so interested in. But I must say that each of these events had been very interesting and full of inspiration. This summer had been busy – and also really, really good.


So. My first Worldcon. It was great to experience the convention, meet new people and see some I had known through the internet in person for the first time. We discussed publishing with Neil Clarke, who is as brilliant in person as on the net, I met some very interesting and sympathetic people, especially among authors, did two interview for XB-1 and a part of a third one (which was conducted primarily by Martin Šust). So you can look forward to them here as well – after they’re published in the magazine, which has to wait for when the stories for the interview to go with are published. Patience will be rewarded.

From the big events, the philharmonic concert was very good except for the ventilation running loud, which had prevented me from fully enjoying the music (it practically ruined one of the pieces and harmed the rest). The theatre performance of The Anubis Gates disappointed me a bit, likely in a large part because the hall was not suited for theatre very well. However, the Hugo ceremony was just great and I was very happy about the results.

I’ve written a longer report for XB-1, which can be seen here (in Czech). And my photos from London (mostly sightseeing but Worldcon as well) are available on Google+.

Oh, and shortly before Worldcon, a new flash SF story of mine, “Catching a Ride“, was published in Perihelion SF.

Edinburgh Fringe

Though we had originally planned to go to Edinburgh for Turing Fest, it wasn’t held this year. Luckily, there was Fringe festival at the time of our scheduled visit, so besides sightseeing, we visited a couple of shows. The best highlight by far was the first one we attended: Man of Steal. James Freedman revealed some tricks (not only) pickpockets use and he did so in a very sophisticated and also entertaining way. Full of surprises and educating as well; a brilliant show.

Piaf: Love Conquers All was a great one-woman play focused on the life of Edith Piaf. Not having known much about Piaf’s life before, the play introduced me to it, and Laurene Hope was amazing at acting as well as singing.

Hecat’s Poison was a one-woman show too: a rendering of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for just one actress. S. T. Sato proved herself a brilliant actress, able to shift from one character to another on a whim and with the viewers always knowing what’s going on, because she gave each character a distinct performance style (without overdoing it). But as she had noted in the programme, Shakespeare is best done in full company. While she was great, the play lost much of its appeal with just one character at the scene at one moment. We could focus on each individual closely, which was fine, but the whole layer of interaction between characters was inevitably lost.

I Need A Doctor: A Whosical was an easy, fun affair. At some points, the singing was too off even for my untrained ears but it was good fun. Potted Sherlock was also fun but too aimed at children’s entertainment. Apparently, I should have read more reviews up ahead. And we had seen some interesting street performances, especially magicians. Also, Experimental: The Show That Plays With Your Mind was a great show, which gave us a good laugh and some material to think of.

Overall, we had a good, inspirational time in Edinburgh.

…and the camp!

Could I have expected a children’s camp to be a highlight of the summer? It was brilliant. The kids were great: curious, thoughtful, nice, mostly working together well. And some of them just completely amazed me by the depth and range of their knowledge. Just wow. They’re on a good way to become truly great scientists one day. And maybe science fiction writers…? But most importantly, all of them are already great people.

We had good viewing conditions two nights and could spend the time observing the sky. I learned just how much a hopeless theorist I am – a bookworm who can find her way through science papers but virtually unable to successfully point a telescope at a chosen object of interest and follow it on the sky. Well, I’m determined to learn til the next time if I go the following year too! For now, I had taught the basics about our solar system, exoplanets, Kuiper & Oort and icy objects with possible subsurface oceans and I had also prepared some games like a simulated space mission or Mars exploration. It had been great fun and I hope the kids had even much more fun than us instructors. There had also been some unexpected funny moments like when my colleague found a bunch of costumes stuck among the art supplies the last full day of the camp, just before announcing the winning team and giving off prizes and diplomas. The kids fell silent for a second when we walked into the room, and then burst into laughter. So if you by any chance encounter a photo of me dressed up as a crocodile, standing next to a bee and a chicken, you’ll know where it’s from.

I will miss this summer.

Interview with Peter Watts

My interview with Peter Watts was published last Friday in Clarkesworld. Be sure to check it out; Watts writes really brilliant, thrilling SF full of very interesting ideas! Here’s a link for his website.

In other news, Worldcon is approaching. I may see some of you there. I’m not actively participating in the program but I’d like to attend a large part of it as a visitor. I’ll be possible to reach via Twitter.

Where are current SF magazines going?

I’ve had a talk on current Anglo-American magazines at Festival Fantazie in Chotebor last weekend. I meant to present notable magazines to the Czech audience, describe the change this market went through since its establishment up until now and most of all talk about magazines with freely-accessible content, their strategies, benefits and how they shape the world of speculative fiction. Finally, I mentioned the opportunities online magazines present to authors worldwide. The talk had more impact than I had expected (especially given at 9 a.m. at a busy convention where this is about the time many people finally go to sleep); it gave one editor the idea to add podcasts to his magazine (more specifics about this later if he succeeds – I certainly hope so), some authors’ eyes brightened and Františka Vrbenská asked me to write an article based on my talk.

Well, here it is! (Czech version of the article can be found here.) Most of this information is quite easy to find for any English-speaking person interested in this topic, so I’ll only very briefly mention the history of SF magazines here and then will move to the changes brought by online publishing (and what it means for readers as well as authors).

Continue reading

New issue of XB-1 and more

The April issue of Czech SF magazine XB-1 was published today, including a new flash story of mine and my interview with Ken Liu (from which I’ll post a snippet here some time later). In other news, the Czech urban SF anthology Zpěv kovových velryb (The Song of Metal Whales) by editor Vlado Ríša is out and had a book launch on Saturday during StarCon convention in Prague. The convention was great though I only had time to arrive just before my afternoon lecture on exoplanets and the following discussion with authors plus the anthology launch.

There’s a new work in English too, nonfiction in this case; I’ve got an article about subsurface oceans in the new issue of Clarkesworld (for resources on the topic, see previous blogpost). It’s been a good week; let’s hope for others like this one to follow.

XB-1 April 2014


A new article: Realms of Dark, Deep and Cold

These places never see sunlight, are buried deep under thick ice crusts and warmed mostly by radioactive decay and tidal forces: subsurface oceans of celestial objects far from their stars – if they have any. Decades ago, they were the domain of science fiction, until such places were hypothesized in our solar system thanks in part to Voyager flybys of Europa in 1979. Shortly after, the idea was popularized when it appeared in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey saga. Since then, we learned much more about characteristics of possible subsurface oceans, discovered that they probably exist on more worlds than we dared to expect just a few years ago, and that they’re more fascinating than even SF authors hoped.

My article on the topic of subsurface oceans was published today in Clarkesworld Magazine. I wrote about moons and dwarf planets in our system as well as extrasolar planets; however, the topic is so vast that I couldn’t have possibly covered everything of interest – especially when virtually any piece of information is interesting and thought-provoking. If you’ve read the article and want to go deeper and learn more, you can read some of the following material I’ve used. Many of the scientific papers can be downloaded without any special access (use Google Scholar). The rest should be accessible from most university libraries.

If you don’t want to dig into the scientific articles at first, I can recommend the popular science book Alien Seas: Oceans in Space. It doesn’t deal just with subsurface oceans of icy objects; it concerns nearly any conceivable kind of oceans in a broad sense of the word, in our system as well as in the rest of the galaxy. It’s an excellent introductory read, well-written and an interesting food for thought.

There is plenty of resources about Europa but it’s never a bad way to start with a relatively recent good review. That’s the case of Kargel et al. (2000); very comprehensive information about Europa’s history, geology, characteristics of both the crust and the ocean and its prospects for life can be found there. Specifically conditions for methanogenesis as an energy source for possible life on Europa are discussed in McCollom (1999). More about all three Galilean moons possibly containing bodies of liquid water and consequences of different parameters is to be found in Zimmer et al. (2000) and Spohn and Schubert (2003).

A lot has been published about Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan; this is just a tip of the iceberg: Titan’s probable internal structure is described in Tobie et al. (2005). Regarding the tiny Enceladus, Roberts and Nimmo (2007) investigated the long-term stability of its ocean; analysis of ice grains from its geysers in Saturn’s E-ring is present in Postberg et al. (2009); shear heating as a heat source for the ocean is discussed in Nimmo et al. (2007); possible conditions for life in Parkinson et al. (2007); this along with possible biomarkers in McKay et al. (2008).

A paper by Hussmann et al. (2006) dealt with modeling the interior of icy satellites of the giant planets and trans-Neptunian objects. This work represents a turning point of a kind – a subsurface ocean even in very far Kuiper belt bodies like Eris and Sedna (sometimes also considered an inner Oort cloud object) was first officially proposed here. Thermal evolution and possible cryovolcanism of KB objects is also investigated in Desch et al. (2009).

Concerning Pluto, Robuchon and Nimmo (2011) modeled Pluto with several different initial condition sets and proposed what observable features might tell us about the possible presence of the ocean during the New Horizons flyby. Spectroscopy of Pluto, its moon Charon and Neptune’s Triton is described in Protopapa et al. (2007), including the detection of crystalline water ice on Charon’s surface.

A very good overview of possibilities of life in the Solar System, including subsurface oceans, and opportunities of energy cycles and geoindicators of life detection can be found in Schulze-Makuch et al. (2002).

Speaking of even further places, Ehrenreich and Cassan (2006) investigated the possibilities of existence of bodies of liquid water (both surface and subsurface) on extrasolar planets throughout the galaxy. Information specifically about the GJ 667C system can be found in Anglada-Escudé et al. (2012). Exomoons are discussed very well in Scharf (2006).

I hope you enjoyed the Clarkesworld article and this list of resources will be of interest to you. If I’ve managed to ignite even one spark of fascination and curiosity, I’m happy.

3rd April 2014 update: Results from Cassini’s measurements of the gravitational pull of Enceladus suggest a large pocket of liquid water near the south pole, as published in the newest issue of Science (Iess et al. 2014); it adds to the indirect (albeit extremely important) evidence of the moon’s intense cryovolcanism. So – good news! Also, discoveries of three dwarf planets were announced in the last couple of days. 2013 FY27 is might be even larger than Sedna (between 760 and 1500 km compared to about 1000 km) so we can expect quite significant radiogenic heating – according to Hussman et al. (2006) model maybe sufficient for a liquid ocean. Let’s hope for even more amazing discoveries like these.


Anglada-Escudé, G., Arriagada, P., Vogt, S. S., Rivera, E. J., Butler, R. P., Crane, J. D., … & Jenkins, J. S. (2012). A planetary system around the nearby M dwarf GJ 667C with at least one super-Earth in its habitable zone. The Astrophysical Journal Letters751(1), L16.

Desch, S. J., Cook, J. C., Doggett, T. C., & Porter, S. B. (2009). Thermal evolution of Kuiper belt objects, with implications for cryovolcanism. Icarus,202(2), 694-714.

Ehrenreich, D., & Cassan, A. (2007). Are extrasolar oceans common throughout the Galaxy?. Astronomische Nachrichten328(8), 789-792.

Hussmann, H., Sohl, F., & Spohn, T. (2006). Subsurface oceans and deep interiors of medium-sized outer planet satellites and large trans-neptunian objects. Icarus185(1), 258-273.

Kargel, J. S., Kaye, J. Z., Head III, J. W., Marion, G. M., Sassen, R., Crowley, J. K., … & Hogenboom, D. L. (2000). Europa’s crust and ocean: Origin, composition, and the prospects for life. Icarus148(1), 226-265.

McCollom, T. M. (1999). Methanogenesis as a potential source of chemical energy for primary biomass production by autotrophic organisms in hydrothermal systems on Europa. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (1991–2012)104(E12), 30729-30742.

McKay, C. P., Porco, C. C., Altheide, T., Davis, W. L., & Kral, T. A. (2008). The possible origin and persistence of life on Enceladus and detection of biomarkers in the plume. Astrobiology8(5), 909-919.

Nimmo, F., Spencer, J. R., Pappalardo, R. T., & Mullen, M. E. (2007). Shear heating as the origin of the plumes and heat flux on Enceladus. Nature,447(7142), 289-291.

Parkinson, C. D., Liang, M. C., Yung, Y. L., & Kirschivnk, J. L. (2008). Habitability of Enceladus: Planetary conditions for life. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres38(4), 355-369.

Postberg, F., Kempf, S., Schmidt, J., Brilliantov, N., Beinsen, A., Abel, B., … & Srama, R. (2009). Sodium salts in E-ring ice grains from an ocean below the surface of Enceladus. Nature459(7250), 1098-1101.

Protopapa, S., Herbst, T., & Böhnhardt, H. (2007). Surface ice spectroscopy of Pluto, Charon and Triton. Messenger129, 58-60.

Roberts, J. H., & Nimmo, F. (2008). Tidal heating and the long-term stability of a subsurface ocean on Enceladus. Icarus194(2), 675-689.

Robuchon, G., & Nimmo, F. (2011). Thermal evolution of Pluto and implications for surface tectonics and a subsurface ocean. Icarus216(2), 426-439.

Scharf, C. A. (2006). The potential for tidally heated icy and temperate moons around exoplanets. The Astrophysical Journal648(2), 1196.

Schulze-Makuch, D., Irwin, L. N., & Guan, H. (2002). Search parameters for the remote detection of extraterrestrial life. Planetary and Space Science50(7), 675-683.

Spohn, T., & Schubert, G. (2003). Oceans in the icy Galilean satellites of Jupiter?. Icarus161(2), 456-467.

Tobie, G., Grasset, O., Lunine, J. I., Mocquet, A., & Sotin, C. (2005). Titan’s internal structure inferred from a coupled thermal-orbital model. Icarus175(2), 496-502.

Zimmer, C., Khurana, K. K., & Kivelson, M. G. (2000). Subsurface oceans on Europa and Callisto: Constraints from Galileo magnetometer observations.Icarus147(2), 329-347.

Interviewing for XB-1

Last autumn, I interviewed Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld) and Martin Šust (XB-1) about their respective editorial work. The interviews were published on the website of XB-1 and in print in February and January issues of the magazine, respectively. Since then, Martin asked me to do more interviews, especially tied to the stories published in XB-1. March issue will among other stories feature a translation of Adam-Troy Castro’s great short story “My Wife Hates Time Travel”, along with an interview with him. One of the following issues is going to contain Ken Liu’s beautiful “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” and last week, I was preparing for an interview with him. He has received the questions by now and I’m really looking forward to his answers.

All the people I’ve interviewed so far are just brilliant and their answers were very interesting. The magazine is only available in Czech, however; that’s why I’ve asked Martin whether I could post snippets from the interviews here in English. He said yes – and here’s the first one!

How a supposedly crazy idea gave us one of the best SF magazines

Meet Neil Clarke, founder and editor of Clarkesworld Magazine. He has been nominated for the Best Editor Short Form category Hugo Award as the first editor being nominated for his work on a digital medium solely. He also runs Wyrm Publishing, which is focused on works in the realm of science fiction and fantasy and published books by Tobias S. Buckell, Catherynne M. Valente, Charles Stross and other well-known authors of SF.

With the October 2013 issue, Clarkesworld Magazine successfully reached its 7th anniversary. Did you try to imagine how the magazine would look today when you launched it in 2006?

It’s nothing like we thought it would be. In 2006, no one had any idea how to make an online publication work. Longevity wasn’t something these publications were known for and many authors were dead set against publishing their work online. For all practical purposes, e-books, our biggest source of income, didn’t exist. There have been major changes in the landscape over the last seven years and that’s required us to regularly revise our vision for Clarkesworld.

Clarkesworld was one of the first major online speculative fiction magazines, even more notable for its freely accessible content as well as pro pay-rate for authors and regular monthly issues – certainly a very ambitious project. It might be one of the notoriously unanswerable questions, but I dare to ask anyway: How did you come up with an idea for the magazine and decide to actually realize it?

At the time, I owned an online bookstore and had been experimenting with online fiction to help promote the small press magazines we were selling. Sean Wallace was publishing Fantasy Magazine at the time and had been one of the publishers participating in my little project. Sean and I were both at Readercon in 2006 and one night, we were just chatting about the experiment, the recent demise of Sci Fiction, and why no one was having any luck with this medium. Over the course of that discussion, we came up with a new business model and I decided to give it a try. By the end of the weekend, the magazine was fully staffed. A few months later, we published our first issue. Looking back, we were just as crazy as everyone said we must be.

The magazine went from being a newly established online periodical to one of the most important genre magazines very quickly; it won two of the Million Writers Award categories for the year 2006 and then continued with countless nominations for major SF awards and winning the three most famous ones, Nebula, Hugo and Locus, multiple times. What was in your opinion the most notable success so far, if such can be picked?

Our Hugo Award wins, particularly the most recent one, have been very personally rewarding, but when it comes to notability, it’s all about the stories. When one of them is nominated for or wins a major award, it’s a big deal for us. Singling out just one would be like picking your favorite child: an impossible task.

In summer, you launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for you first Clarkesworld-unrelated anthology, cyborg-themed Upgraded. It was preceded by very dramatic events…

Yes. I had a near-fatal heart attack while on vacation in July 2012. The doctors’ nickname for this type of heart attack is a “Widowmaker”. Every time I visit my doctor he reminds me just how lucky I am to be alive. The damage was much more extensive than originally believed, so they had to implant a defibrillator in my chest. Technically, that made me a cyborg and it’s what inspired the anthology. It may be the first cyborg anthology edited by a cyborg.

The magazine is not your full-time job yet, though hopefully the time when it becomes professional-paying market for the staff as well as the authors is nearing. How do you cope with having to have a day job beside your editorial work?

It isn’t without some stress. I have to work the Clarkesworld time in around the day job and family time. A lot of work gets done in short bursts, an hour before work, at lunch, after dinner while the kids do homework, late nights, etc. If I didn’t love the job, it would probably drive me insane. It also helps that I don’t watch a lot of TV.

The full interview is available in Czech here:

Since the interview, Clarkesworld also launched their Patreon and became a prozine according to Hugo ballot rules.

Hope you liked it. Soon I’ll also post a snippet from the interview with Martin Šust. And after the other interviews are published, you’ll be able to read snippets from them too.