Darkest humor in the new issue of XB-1

The February issue of XB-1 is coming soon a it features the second part of Equoid (Charles Stross), Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma (Alex Shvartsman) and What Doctor Gottlieb Saw (Ian Tregilis) in the foreign stories section. And with so much horror, humor ranging from the darkest tones to the lighter ones and a lot of lovecraftian world, it would be impossible not to build on it in the nonfiction section. Therefore my article “The Darkest Humor from Deep Spacetime” on Lovecraftian pastiches, with emphasis on the ones containing an element rarely if ever found in Lovecraft: humor.

There are hundreds or thousands of pastiches, many of them more or less humorous, some even parodies. But there are two great fiction series I’ve encountered that managed to convey deep horror and despair and season it with moments of wonderful, mostly very dark humor without making the horror seem any less serious, each series in its own brilliant way. One of them are Laundry Files by Stross. Equoid is a part of that series, among more shorter works, but be sure to try the novels as well. The other one is the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L. Howard. It’s composed of short stories as well as novels too and again I can recommend reading everything of it.

In light of unseen terrors and gloom, on the very verge of madness, there still can be something to laugh at. And where you’ve got laugher, you’ve got an even tiny spark of hope. Maybe that’s why the combination of true horror and humor works so well.

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Science-fictional & real science

If we have seen further, it’s largely by standing on layers of previous errors.

I had a lecture last week about cognitive biases, their possible adaptiveness and also impacts on science. It also led me to think about the old “hyper-competent scientist” trope so typical for SF. Science-fictional scientists can often recite complex information verbatim and know the answer to every question, even if it’s unrelated to their subfield of research – but then again, there are few molecular biologists focused on studying only one class of receptors in SF. Science-fictional scientists are usually either “generalists”, or very well-informed about basically every single subject of their field. A biologist can easily identify any plant or animal, run various analyses, create a model of a protein’s active site as well as an ecosystem simulation. And if they by chance don’t know something, they are able to quickly look the relevant information up or find out.

Mwahaha.

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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.

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).

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“If we could edit our lives we would not make them better…”

In an interview for XB-1 magazine, Adam-Troy Castro, a remarkable SF author known especially for his Andrea Cort detective SF stories, revealed what he’d been working at recently, what might happen should he ever try time travel, whether we can be looking forward to new stories from his popular Aisource Infection universe and more. Enjoy this snippet from the interview!

You’re a quite prolific author. How do you cope with time constraints that come along with it without time travel (assuming you don’t have a time machine hidden in your basement)?
Actually, I’m a prolific time-waster, when I’m not feeling it. You have absolutely no idea. But if you produce some directed work every day, the work accrues. I try for a thousand words every weekday and frequently beat that, sometimes by multiplying it. When a story is hot, I leave the thousand words far behind. I suspect that the rest of time is battery recharging.

Assuming you actually had a time machine hidden in your basement, would you visit your past selves like the protagonist of your story “My Wife Hates Time Travel” or would you rather try to avoid this?
Oh, boy, if I had a time machine, the advice I would give my younger self! But I’d never stop. I also perceive that sometimes the good things that happen in life occur only because the bad things steer you toward them. I suspect that if we could edit our lives we would not make them better, but homogenize them, removing the flavor.

In the Czech Republic, you’re well-known especially for your Andrea Cort novels. Are you planning to write more about her and from the AIsource Infection universe?
Yes, though I haven’t for a while, and none of the stories currently in the publication pipeline fit in that universe. At various points of completion on my hard drive are a new Andrea Cort novella and another starring the Porrinyards at a point in their lives before they met her. One of the problems I have with writing a new Andrea Cort story at this point is that it necessarily has to take place in her past, as the chronologically latest story, “Hiding Place”, brings her to a point where something has to change for her, one way or another, and I cannot address the issue except at novel length, and I cannot write the novel unless I know somebody’s willing to foot the bill for it. Stories set in her past, before EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD, are fine, as happened with “With Unclean Hands,” but then the Porrinyards get left out, and I consider them an important part of the recipe for Andrea stories, as she can be pretty intolerable without their leavening influence. So, yeah, she needs novels. As for other stories in the AIsource Infection universe – they will be coming, though again, there are none in the publication pipeline right now.

Andrea’s experiences present a world where corporate slavery is a daily reality for most people, bullet-proof job contracts for decades ahead are common and human rights are a luxury on countless planets. Are you afraid that we might actually be going there?
Absolutely terrified of it. Already, the simple economic truth of life in most human societies is that if you’re not screamingly wealthy or otherwise somebody in power, you are a disposable spare part — and the simple truth of most empowered people is that the power is devoted to acquiring more.

You’ve written about zombies or vampires several times. How do you perceive recent changes of these phenomena and their popularity?
It amuses me that people argue at such length about changes in the “rules,” as if the rules weren’t always arbitrary. Generally, I roll my eyes at anything that paints vampires (and now zombies!) as sweet and attentive lovers; that’s necrophilia and therefore gross. There have been some recent innovations in both tropes, in print, that I find thrilling.

I’ve noticed that none of your bios online mentioned your work before you started your professional writing career, just that you studied Communication Arts at Cornell. I must admit it piqued my curiosity. What was your profession before you became a full-time writer?
I worked a customer service line for many, many years, and both it and a much shorter spell of one year in retail were so horrific that I keep talking about fictionalizing them, someday. Maybe. If I can stand to look.

Can you tell us what are you currently working at?
I am working on various novel proposals. The one I have the biggest hopes for, right now, is called LAWLESS, and is currently making the rounds; though I have something else in the pipeline, not yet ready for submission, that might or might not see the light of day. I offer only one teaser about that one, unreliable in that it might not reflect the intended product in the way you think it does: TRANSYLVANIA.

The full interview (in Czech) can be found at XB-1’s website. The print version was published in March issue of the magazine.
Next up some time later is Ken Liu!

XB-1 March 2014

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