Book Cover for The Death of All Things

The Death of All Things, edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson

Go to the Mirror, Boy! – Rory, More Personally

Fascism is isolating.

It feeds on isolation, and it exploits it.

I have seen so many exhortations from people on the ground: get to know your neighbors. Know who will help you, and who will hurt you. Join together. Take collective action. Who would hide you in the basement, if you needed to hide? Who will pass you twenty bucks to make rent, to get away, to get a meal?

Whose streets? Our streets.

We save us.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

At the same time, I’ve read so many articles about the radicalisation path into fascism – about isolated, usually young, usually white, usually men, seeking community and being convinced that that community is under threat from the Other. That isolation provides a hook, only for those people instead of being a way of cutting them from the herd and tearing them apart, it’s an invitation to join the pack.

Those guys have the right culture fit to devour the world apocalyptically, and hey, it’s a place to fit in.

Hold that thought for a moment, now.

Another thread: I almost never see people like me in stories.

When I read Geometries of Belonging I sobbed for hours, because I had never in my life been so seen by a text I read, had never been in the head of a character whose texture was so familiar. I am not Parét, not remotely, but Parét was the most of me I had ever met in someone else’s words, and I suddenly knew what it was to have representation, and I will forever be grateful to R. B. Lemberg for that.

There is something deeply, profoundly isolating about never encountering that intimate familiar. I have read so many stories about alien people with unfamiliar textures and it is, perhaps, why I can only write speculative: there is so much alien, so much unfamiliar, so much of the strange in what I see, that I do not know that I could write otherwise, without that twist of the peculiar to make you forgive me for my otherness, for my solitude.

It is very easy to be alone in a neurodivergent mind, to be constantly caught on the chasms between me and you, whoever you are. It is very easy to be alone when prone to dissociation, to having a camera eye perspective on one’s own life, too.

It is very easy to be alone, and that means it is very easy to be afraid in times like these, when survival depends on being not alone.

(And I am lucky; I have a family, I have certain securities, I have the privilege of my whiteness, I have so many things that so many people don’t have, and so I have less fear than I might if things were different. And I am still afraid.)

But here is a secret about Rory: I wrote this bit about Rory to ask you to see me, to see people like me – to be less alone. I wrote Rory, and now you get to read “The Company Store” when Recognizing Fascism comes out, and we will see how I am doing at getting to know my broader neighbors.

(I’m really kind of bad at this.)

Now that my video recitation is up on the Kickstarter, maybe the next bit should go after you see the video, dear readers, if you are inclined to do so. I’m trying not to say much directly about the story than you can get from the excerpt, but I may miss that mark.

Continue reading Go to the Mirror, Boy! – Rory, More Personally

Rory’s Cyberpunk Dystopia

“The Company Store” is not the first one of Rory’s stories I wrote, even though it is first chronologically. The first one I wrote begins with a bouncer at a speakeasy.

I love that bouncer. I don’t know her story. I know that her “wheelchair” has robot legs because the speakeasy where she works isn’t ramp-accessible, but her four-legged chair can make it up and down the stairs just fine. She has the security cameras patched into cybernetic lenses that make her look like she has multiple eyes, and she has an extra pair of cybernetic arms – and just to nail down the image of the spider, as she sits in her lair in the entry to the speakeasy, those robot arms are quite occupied with her knitting.

I adore that terrifying Madam Defarge of a woman. I love what she says about that world, about that underworld. She is powerful, she is respected, and she is, by standards common to the overworld, monstrous.

A lot of cyberpunk explores what it is to be human, one way or another, and I don’t think Rory’s world is any different. But instead of this sense that the machines make one less human, that I’ve seen done a lot, I wanted to dig in, more fully, into the idea that this technology can make people more themselves, bring themselves into line with what and who they want to be. My spider lady bouncer doesn’t think she’s less of a person because of her augmentations any more than she thinks she’s less of a person because she’s not ambulatory.

The problem is, the world above thinks both things. If there’s a reasonable extrapolation that would let the spider lady exist, there’s also a reasonable extrapolation that would lead to the overworld, the corporate-controlled world, being horrified that she exists.

She’s not a good “culture fit”, right?

When I started writing Rory’s world, I spent a lot of time thinking about plausible futures. I thought about the trend towards corporate consolidation, about the big tech companies who say things like “Oh, here’s a cafeteria so you don’t need to leave work” and “Here’s a ping-pong table so you can take a break and have fun without leaving your office” and “Here’s an apartment so you don’t have to have a home.” And I thought about cybernetics and genetic engineering and how would corporations that are already large enough to be more or less extralegal get their hands on those things.

Who gets to be human – who’s considered real people – is one of those questions that cyberpunk worlds often consider. Blade Runner‘s replicants: real people or no? In the Shadowrun game and some other fictional worlds, adding cybernetics to a body is considered to make those bodies less human in some ineffable way, to cost some sort of essence or soul, because deviation from the template of an abled, unmodified body is becoming less than fully human.

And that, right there, is a fascist model. There is a perfected body, and it is abled, it is cis, it conforms to the standard. It does not have aftermarket addons. It’s not a huge leap to get from there to that perfected body being white, or male; those are common additional steps, after all. Perfected bodies perform heterosexually, attend approved activities, eschew disapproved ones. Perfected bodies have Good Culture Fit, and can advance in the Company. The ethos of cybernetics as degrading to human essence meshes so perfectly with corporatist fascism.

The imperfectable body, defined as less than human, is at risk. It must adhere more closely to establishing Good Culture Fit, lest it become unemployable, or worse. Once there is an established, secure underclass to which one fears descending – or which one fears, like the replicants – it is possible to tighten that grip and make the standards of purity more and more stringent.

I am talking about Rory’s world, and I am talking about my own.

Who counts as human? Who is inescapably, overtly marked?

Who only counts as human as long as the mask stays on?

All of these questions were already in my mind, and in my sense of the world, when I started writing “The Company Store”.

Announcement: “The Company Store” will be published in Recognizing Fascism

The first chronological Rory story will appear in Recognizing Fascism! (Not the first one written, but also to be fair the first one sold.)

I will probably have more to say about Rory and that world over the next little while, but right now I wanted to say that the Kickstarter for the book is live and people can now do pre-orders of what looks like it will be an amazing book.

I am excited and terrified.

I Cannot Believe I Forgot To Announce This Here

My poem, “Of Winter and Other Seasons”, will be appearing in Climbing Lightly Through Forests, a memorial anthology of poetry in honor of the late Ursula K. Le Guin.

When she passed into the beautiful West, I tried to write about her here, and of course I didn’t get the half of it in, but then RB Lemberg opened a call for submissions for the anthology that became this and well. That happened.

I wrote this poem trying to talk about the whole process of becoming that is intrinsic to me and my relationship with her work, and the threads there, all the people she wrote who are a part of who I am and why. It is beyond articulation, and so of course like all things that are beyond articulation, it had to be a poem. And it turned out to be a pretty successful poem.

I am so utterly thrilled and honored to be included as part of this project, to be able to be part of something honoring someone who gave me so much. I never met her in person, but I have loved her work for some thirty-two years now, ever since I read A Wizard of Earthsea the summer after I turned ten, and then set about devouring so many other things.

Ugh dear WordPress I’m going to have to revert whatever setting changed in that update that means you’re not letting me just type in my HTML and have it work. [fixes all the things]

I Was Born To Be A Fake Fan

I have, in my drawer upstairs, a t-shirt with line art of a dragon, probably about fifty years old, labeled “Smaug”; it no longer fits my father. I don’t know if he was one of those people who taught himself Sindarin in college, but he certainly knew that sort of crowd. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were bedtime reading stories for me, my father’s voice and the text intertwined perhaps not as much as they are for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (a yearly reread starting on 21 December), but always there. I packed away a copy of The Silmarillion one year for my time at nerd camp and read it twice; I owned a little guidebook to Middle Earth.

(This is super long so I’m cutting it.)

Continue reading I Was Born To Be A Fake Fan

Scales and Shapes and Stories

I’ve been doing more short story reading in the last while than I’ve done since I was little – I was never much of a short story reader when I was younger, but something seems to have turned me into someone who can write them, at least with the right sort of provocation, so I’ve been trying to get a sense of what else is out there. (And there are some damn good stories. I read Marissa Lingen’s “The Thing, With Feathers” earlier today, for example.) And it’s got me thinking about the scale of thing, the shapes of things.

One thing I really liked about “The Thing, With Feathers” is that it had a very tight, personal scale: not just that it was two people dealing with their world, but that it wasn’t epic, it wasn’t save the world, it wasn’t a grand quest, it wasn’t about more than what it takes for a couple of people to get through the night, and consider the day after.

I’m finding myself hungry for personal stories. Intimate stories, in their way.

(Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the grander things, I will at some point manage to come up with something to say about Vellum other than “HOLY FUCK THIS FUCKING BOOK HAL DUNCAN YOU MAD GENIUS WHAT THE HELL“, possibly after I’ve read Ink, which is on my nightstand under the ILL copy of Same-Sex Love in India, which is research and probably ought to be finished first especially since it has to go back.)

But Geometries of Belonging by Rose Lemberg had me sobbing, and my tears were the ones of someone who had finally seen themselves, somehow, in a story, in the form of someone who so desperately does not wish his will to make a mark upon the world, but who is, nonetheless, one who changes grand events, in a quiet, intimate, personal way, the pebble that turns the landslide. I want stories about small people, real people, ordinary people, and perhaps they do something extraordinary, and perhaps they just live out the night, but I want those stories, and I want to tell those stories.

I’ve been poking at the Baen fantasy adventure short story contest, and I’ve written a thing, and I’m pretty sure it’s not what they’re looking for. It’s an adventure story, sure, but it’s not about heroes and it’s not about warriors, it’s about a couple of guys with a hireable airship that get into trouble and have to figure out how to get out of it again. The people are too ordinary, I think, for that. I’ll try to write something else, something Baen-ier, and find somewhere else to send that one.

(But oh, back to Vellum, and maybe part of the genius of Vellum is that its multiply factured mirror shards of narrative contain, not just grand epics and immortal beings and an impending and ongoing apocalypse but these small personal stories, upon which other things hinge, vividly drawn. I cannot help but think that if only I could have ascended to godhood in response to a bully the world would be different. I cannot help but shudder at that moment where Seamus offers Jack a light, because it is so intimate, so personal, and after the weight of book leading up to that moment that it kicks like an ascended mule, an epic moment that is on a human scale and actually has been earned by the towering stack of implications and gah. I was not intending to write about Vellum right now but it is in fact consuming my brain with a furious intensity that I really wish I could swear eloquently enough to properly convey.)

I look at Cracked Pots and In The Seed as I write them and they’re long books, they’re slow books, they’re books about people and the science in them is actually paced like real science, slow and with a lot of missteps and tangents, and it’s counterpointing the complexities of humans, and that’s the story I want to tell. And people seem to like reading it, and the short stories I’m building in that same world, about some of the same ordinary people doing their various ordinary people things! But, again, it’s slow and long and it doesn’t have that action thrill kick and I don’t know whether that will make enough people happy.

But I can’t be alone in not wanting all the stories to be about finding new life and new civilizations, or saving the world, or overthrowing the system, or whatever else, to want stories that I can fit into, which aren’t a sensory overload extravaganza that goes too fast and does too much for an autistic homebody to have space in. I just get afraid, sometimes, that the stories I’m trying to tell are too much not the thing that other people want to hear, because they’re too quiet like that, too many threads in the mist. Or the Fog.

Once More, Albany

Right, I should announce this: I will be at Flights of Fantasy in Albany, New York, for the Zombies Need Brains signing on Sunday, 9 September, at 3pm.

Flash Fiction: Tribute to the Wild Desert

This week’s flash fiction challenge involved rolling 2d20 to pick a story-meets-story pair.

So: Dune meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Tribute to the Wild Desert

Flash Fiction: Colcannon and Curry

Another Cracked Pots short; I should come up with a better name for that ‘verse since apparently I’m writing a sequel.  This one is spoilery so people who are in the midst of the draft should not read it.  (I am peering at you, yes, you know who you are.)

This challenge was “To Write About Food” in honor of Bourdain and I got to thinking about cultural interactions and food as a result, so I wound up here.  Which is useful because it’s in the interstitial space between the books, like the previous one, and I did sort of need to figure out where Margaret was before I picked up with In The Seed.

 

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Colcannon and Curry

Flash Fiction: Mist and Light

In honor of the fact that I put Cracked Pots through PitMad yesterday, a Cracked Pots short, set after the end of the book. I have attempted to minimize spoilery content, not that that matters a huge amount.  For the A Random Scattering Of Fresh Titles challenge.

Please excuse lack of refining, I ran out of time.  Toddler music class does not play well with ‘last minute fic idea’.

****

The mechanical clanks and whirrs of the dirigible engines were an inescapable presence in the ship’s gondola, but at least Margaret found them soothing.  She had tucked herself into a seat away from the windows with a book, her bag shoved in under her feet.  There was nothing, really, to see at this time of year, in any case, with night falling so soon and the Fog obscuring the land below.  Even when the thick, smoke-saturated Fog near Camlon was well behind them, the hills and villages below would be hidden from view.

Her book was titled “On the Colors of Heaven: the analysis of substances by their luminous properties” and she had read it before, but, she thought, not really understood it.  She reviewed the contents with brow furrowed in concentration, her free hand fidgeting with the strap of the goggles that were looped over her belt.  If she had the opportunity to peer into the ship’s engine room, she might venture putting them on, but the appearance of the things was a bit too ridiculous to face for lesser reason.

No opportunity presented itself before the dirigible slid into position in its tower, so she pulled her bag out, tucked the book back into it, and slung it over her shoulder without attempting to make a spectacle of herself.  Crossing the gangway was, as always, a bit of a trial, but she did not look down, and made it safely to the stairs.

“Ride into the village, miss?”  The man at the cab stand doffed his cap politely.

“I generally walk,” she said, “I’m going to the Beacon.”  She paused, considering.  “But if you need the fare, um.  I can wait to see if anyone else wants a cab?”

“Shan’t take your coin if you don’t need the ride, miss,” said the man.

“Then I’ll walk,” she said.  “Have a warm holiday.”

“Thankee, miss.”  He tipped his cap again, and she shifted the bag on her shoulder and started down the gentle slope of the road.  It was dark, and more than a little cold, but her cloak was warm, and walking was a good way to settle her thoughts.

The Fog was hardly thick enough, after her time in Camlon, to feel like Fog at all, more like a mist.  She found herself wondering, at about the point she passed the turnoff for the village, whether it had remotely the same properties as the Fog in the city, and paused to fumble the goggles off her belt.

The cab from the dirigible tower rattled by, the horses snorting in the cold, with what sounded like a young couple laughing cheerfully in the back.  Margaret wondered if she knew either of them, and which of the village houses was their destination.

She slid the goggles on, adjusting the strap carefully.  They shielded her face from the cold, if nothing else, and she told herself that was sufficient reason for them before reopening her eyes to peer out through the lightly opalescent sheen of the lenses.

The Fog might not be as thick here as in the city, but through the panes of the goggles it was a marvel, and she sucked in a breath in startlement.  The older trees were limned in light, sparkling like they were encrusted with gems, and the low stone wall along the side of the road was, if not consistently bright, enough of a steady glow to walk by without fear of losing the path, even in the winter evening.

She resumed walking, slowly, hearing the church bells ringing out from the village for the hour, and wondered, not for the first time, what the interior of a church might look like.  She had yet to be brave enough to try it, though she had at least come around to admitting that it was for fear that she might see nothing of note there.  She knew the decorations would shed some sort of ghostlight, but art always did, at least a little, and that the voices raised in song would raise a misty glow over the angelic prominences of each individual human.  She was terribly afraid of knowing for certain, and so she did nothing more than wear the lighter spectacles, which did not reveal the awesome and terrible fullness of the ghostlight, when she attended with Mrs. Blair.

Looking at the village church would, she thought, be even more terrifying than facing the possibility of absence in the city.

She kept walking.  Nothing separated itself from the luminous secret world to greet her, none of the familiar spirits from the city, and she wondered if they communicated in some fashion, though she was far from where she had made insubstantial friends, if they could be considered friends.  Eventually, she would reach the Beacon, and she steeled herself for what she might see there.  In the ordinary light, the sweep of the beam pulsed out, regular as clockwork, its brilliance markedly stronger than when she was a child.

Then she drew close enough to see the tower itself.  Here and there she could see crevices filled with light in the stonework of its construction, and connected each shape, each outline, to one of her father’s stories about its construction or rebuilding after some disaster or other.  In daylight, only one of those lines was visible, where the stones jutted out a bit too far for smoothness, and could be seen even under the layer of whitewashing.  She stopped at the gate and looked up, and saw that the peak of the tower was wreathed in a sort of numinous flame, from which the ordinary light jutted out like a spear.

She pushed the goggles up onto her forehead, looked at the Beacon with ordinary eyes that blinked against the dimness, and crossed the garden to open the door to the lower storeroom, which was filled with supplies laid in against the winter.  She found the stair, and climbed up, and called, “Hello?  It smells good.”

It smelled like home, the winter stew going on the hearth, but also a roasted ham for homecoming.  “We hear our Maggie’s coming around, have you seen her.”

“I might’ve,” she said, and let her father sweep her into a hug.

“What’s this then?”  He tapped one of the lenses of the goggles.

She shrugged.  “It’s… I’ve been helping some friends with some research.”

“Oh, yes, the women’s group that you wrote about.  How’s that going, then?”

“We’re getting some… interesting results.”  Margaret let them bring her over to the kitchen, and let her brother take her bag and drag it up to her room, and let them interrogate her about her time in Camlon and her friends there and whether her cousins had managed to introduce her to an appealing young man.

“They have dreadful taste, mother,” she said wearily.  “As you well know.”

“I did run away to live in a Beacon,” her mother agreed with a laugh.  “But what about among your friends?  You had mentioned some eligible men among them.”

She grimaced.  “That’s complicated,” she said firmly, “and I don’t want to talk about it.”

Her mother gave her a sympathetic look, and said, “I shan’t pry.  A woman needs her privacy after having her heart broken.”

Margaret bit back a retort, because telling her it was not that at all was more than she wanted to get into, and just nodded.  They took the conversation to Mrs. Blair and what she was doing without her assistant, and spent some time wondering about her son – who she was staying with for the interim – and why they had such a dreadful relationship, which was at least a way of passing the time.

Eventually, Margaret made her way to bed in her familiar old room, and put the goggles on and watched the play of light on the ceiling until she felt ready to fall asleep.

When she appeared again in the morning, her mother chided her with, “Don’t you get up in the morning anymore, girl?”

“It’s the longest night vigil tonight,” said Margaret.  “I thought I’d rest up.”

Her mother shook her head.  “That’s Beaconmaster superstition.”

Margaret lifted her chin, and stared at her, her expression cool and level.  Her mother looked up, and then looked away.

“You can’t be Beaconmaster, Maggie, it’s a man’s job.”

“But you know I will.”

“You need a man.”

“We’ll see.”  Margaret set her jaw, and went about the day with a stubbornness that even her mother was not willing to question.  Her father smiled at her tightly, and they made the preparations for the vigil side by side, bringing supplies up to the top of the tower and laying them out, and bringing up blankets against the cold, and making sure the boiler room was properly supplied with coal so there would be no need to haul any up from the storeroom.

At a pause in the preparations, she took a little honey and a little wine, when nobody was looking, and set them out in a bowl in the garden, murmuring, “There’s no cream, I’m sorry, I hope this will do for an introduction,” to the Fog.  Before anyone noticed she was gone, she scooped up another bucketful of coal and set to hauling it up the stairs, holding her skirts out of her way with the other hand.

Her father stole glances at her as they sat out on the balcony, backs against the windows, looking east over the edge of the cliffs.  “You don’t have to sit up with me.”

“Yes I do,” she said.  “I’m the Beaconmaster’s apprentice.”

He frowned slightly, and looked away from her, towards the invisible horizon.  “That’s not going to be easy, Maggie,” he said, after a long pause.

“I think I can do it.  I have friends.”

“Friends can only take you so far.”

Margaret pulled the goggles down to watch the ghostlight playing around them.  “I have confidence in my friends,” she said.

A shimmering figure separated itself from the invisible flame, roughly humanoid, and bowed to her.  She inclined her head, just slightly, and smiled.