Writer Warning: Unfit / Unreal / Thinkerbeat Reader

Last Updated March 12, 2020

If you’re an author out there submitting short stories, you should be aware of the things that the magazine Unfit and Unreal (via their portal Thinkerbeat Reader) are doing without your permission.

Here’s a screenshot from Feb 27 of the “honorable mentions” page where they publish the authors, titles, and ratings for some stories they’ve rejected.

Screenshot from Thinkerbeat Reader

I’ve edited the screenshot to only reveal the information of authors who’ve given me consent to share. I’m not providing links because there are dozens more authors on that page, who presumably never wanted this information publicized. Nothing in the website’s guidelines warns an author that their story may be publicly named & rated. In fact, their privacy policy states that they will not share your information with anyone.

(Yes, public. This page is visible to everyone, not only Thinkerbeat members.)

I tried yesterday to tell the editor that authors would see this practice as upsetting & predatory, so that he could quietly fix it. Unfortunately, he instead responded with a masterclass in professionalism.

Email containing only the words "Grow up."

Maybe some authors are willing to have their rejections named & rated. I certainly wouldn’t be, but that’s your choice to make. But it’s DEFINITELY not okay to share information about individual submissions without asking permission. None of the authors in my screenshot were aware of this until I told them.

If you’re considering submitting here, also keep in mind the Unfit / Unreal / Thinkerbeat practice of requiring a subscription to submit – a subscription which costs money after the first three months.1

Thanks to David Steffen of the Submission Grinder for doing the initial legwork of spotting the problem.

Updates and Developments

Edit 2/27: Please don’t try to track down the full list of names-and-ratings. It contains about 75 rows, and every one of them contains information that the submitter didn’t plan to tell the whole internet. Let’s respect their privacy. If you want to know whether your story is listed, let me know and I’ll check my screenshot.

Paypal transfer, totaling $0.00 after feesEdits 2/28: Changes to the main post: Clarified that the ranking page is public. Clarified that they are violating their website privacy policy. Revised info on their payment scheme.

Rest assured that Writer Beware has been notified and is investigating.

Update 3/01: The editor sent me a Paypal transfer that totaled $0.00 after fees. Perhaps this is a petty way of reminding me that I didn’t pay? Or an attempt to verify my email address? Who knows? There’s no note with the transfer. I have refunded it, to make clear that I have no financial relationship of any kind with him.

Update 3/04: According to reports, they have removed story titles and ratings from the Honorable Mention page, changed the landing page to make clear that subscriptions will be required after 3 months (rather than hiding it in the website terms), and updated their privacy policy. However, their new privacy policy leaves much to be desired – it only says “will not sell your contact info.” This does not prevent them from giving your contact info, nor does it forbid the story title/ranking info from the original Honorable Mention page.

Update 3/12: The Science Fiction Writers of America have posted an official warning statement about Thinkerbeat and its magazines. Note that Daniel Scott White (the publisher of Thinkerbeat) also runs the online review magazine Phantaxis, according to Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware. Finally, Daniel Scott White continues to act like a jerk when people ask him to remove their stories.

Update 3/22: It looks like Thinkerbeat is now calling their rejections a “Thinkerbeat Award.” Not that they like your story enough to buy it, but they still want you to give them some free advertising by putting the image on their website. (A very Writers-Of-The-Future-like practice. Good to know that markets with a predatory approach to their writers are learning from each other. Sigh.)

Story Sale: Conference of the Birds

I am super-excited to announce my first short story sale of 2020: “Conference of the Birds” has sold to Analog Science Fiction, one of the oldest & awesomest science fiction magazines out there!

I can’t wait to introduce you all to Surveillance Hub, a hard-working node in the distributed neural network AI of an oppressive cyberpunk megacorp. Doing its job, tracking intellectual-property thieves, hoping for another round of reinforcement signals from the network’s uppermost levels.

More info to come when I have a publication date!

No program-layer could predict what a human might do, but Surveillance Hub could see everything that mattered. Their bird-drones spread across the city, scattered on cables and rooftops and broadcast towers. Every camera hunted for Krina Viy, independent security contractor (AWOL from JoyCorp contact 5 hours). 

We live!

This website was down, or in various states of deshabille, for a week or two following my host’s server move. But I think I have everything back in order. If anything appears to be broken or missing, let me know!

Archon 43 Schedule

My panel schedule for Archon 43 look super exciting this year – I hope you’ll come join me!

Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

5 Oct 2019, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Madison C & D (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
Usually lumped into one, but which one is actually more popular? Is it cyclical?
Joey Froehlich (M), Mrs. E Susan Baugh, The Tom Meserole, Rich Horton, Benjamin C. Kinney

Searching for Markets and Writing to Them

5 Oct 2019, Saturday 13:00 – 14:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
An explanation of how writers find markets, build up a pro career, get paid to write (even if it is just a bit).
Kasey Mackenzie (M), Benjamin C. Kinney, Elizabeth Donald, Thomas Carpenter, Brock J. Hanke

The Same ol’ Trope and Dance

5 Oct 2019, Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Editors want the newest freshest story…right?
Meg Elison (M), Angie Fox, Ms Joy Ward, Benjamin C. Kinney, Daniel Abraham

When to Finish Your Story

6 Oct 2019, Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
How to stop before you ruin your story.
Kasey Mackenzie (M), Mr Mark Tiedemann, Benjamin C. Kinney, Ty Franck, Rich Horton

Myths and Legends

6 Oct 2019, Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Why are we still drawn to stories and characters hundreds or thousands of years old?
Mr Thomas Stratman (M), Sela Carsen, Benjamin C. Kinney

Dublin Worldcon 2019 Schedule

Three weeks from today begins the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Dublin, and I’ll be on programming!

Here’s where you can find me:

Escape Artists podcast – Live Recording

16 Aug 2019, Friday 13:00 – 13:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)

Come learn more about free weekly podcast fiction! Join the Escape Artists for an audio fiction show presented by all four EA podcasts — Escape Pod, PseudoPod, PodCastle and Cast of Wonders. There’ll be a Q&A session, swag giveaways, all the latest news, and live readings.

Talk: Neuroscience for writers and readers: the evolved brain

16 Aug 2019, Friday 15:30 – 16:20, Odeon 4 (Point Square Dublin)

The human brain and mind have been topics of fiction since time immemorial, but our stories don’t always keep up with the science. The classic science fictional frameworks of the last fifty years have produced a lot of great stories, but a better understanding of the brain can lead us to new stories and new ideas. How can we, as writers and readers, make sense of the most complex structure in the world?
This will be an updated version of the talk given at the 2017 Nebula Conference and 2018 Readercon.

Panel: What writers need to know: the brain and body

16 Aug 2019, Friday 18:00 – 18:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)

This is the first of a two-part series of panels designed to help authors on science topics. Join our panel of experts who share the ins and outs about the brain and body. Let’s dive into what’s possible, impossible, and probable at some point in the future. How do you write about medical issues without a medical background? How much do you need to know and how much can you fake, and can a writer ensure that they are getting their body and brain science right?

Kaffeeklatsch: Benjamin C. Kinney

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Level 3 Foyer (KK/LB) (CCD)

Did my Friday talk inspire any neuroscience questions? Here’s your chance to pin me down with caffeine and pick my brain!

Panel: Intelligent Others in SF

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 15:30 – 16:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)

The outsiders. Inhuman intelligences. What are they and what do they signify? Let’s explore the concept of aliens, mutants, cyborgs, artificial intelligences, and other cases in which sentience is different to our own. How difficult is it to write from the perspective of a non-human sentience? Will we inevitably insert some humanity into our inhuman creations and what does that make them?

Escape Taxonomy

Over the weekend, Escape Pod received one of the highest honors possible for a science fiction entity: someone named a species after us.Image and description of Zelomopha effugia

The newest member of the Escape Pod team, Zelomorpha effugia, is a Costa Rican parasitoid wasp. The taxonomic methods used to identify it (and the other newly-described species in this publication1) are new and perhaps controversial. But I, for one, welcome our scientific controversy overlords.

This delights me beyond words. Ever since I was a child reading Far Side cartoons, the idea of having a species named after something I’ve done was a dream beyond imagining.

Smell, Taste, and Emotion

NeuroThursday is wafting by this week for a piece on smell, taste, and emotion! The full text is posted here, below the Twitter link. You can also find a ThreadReader version at the very bottom.

Inhale deeply, and enjoy the aroma of #NeuroThursday, because this week I want to talk about smell, taste, and emotion – inspired by Tina Connolly‘s Nebula- and Hugo-finalist novelette, “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections.”

If you haven’t read it, it’s a wonderful story about memory, food, cruelty, and empathy. But you don’t need to read it for this thread. I’m here to talk about neuroscience, not pastry-magic. https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/

Tastes and smells are notoriously emotional. Smells can evoke a flood of memories, with all their associations. Freshly-cut grass, your partner’s favorite flowers, the spices of your favorite meal, or the ammoniac strike of a campground toilet. Why so strong?

The first step is to realize that by “taste and smell,” we’re really just talking about smell. Most of the experience you get when enjoying food – the stuff we think of as “taste” – comes from the nose, not the tongue.

(Try eating with your nose clamped shut. Or don’t. It’s terrible.)

So now we’re talking just about smell. This sense works via 10-20 million olfactory neurons (labeled in image as “receptor cell”). They’re embedded in “olfactory epithelium” at the roof of your nose. (Epithelium = body’s surface layers, whether skin or a hollow space.)

Olfactory Neurons & Epithelium

Each of those neurons has one type of “olfactory receptor,” which does the scent detection itself. One receptor type, but many copies of it.

A scent enters your nose, dissolves into the mucus in there (appetizing!), and thus reaches olfactory receptors. When a receptor matches the scent, the two molecules will bond. Ions flow into the neuron, and a signal is produced.

Olfactory receptors are incredibly diverse. 900+ genes (the largest gene family in the body), and each receptor is broadly tuned so it can detect more than one scent. Like the visual receptors in the eye, which I discussed on a NeuroThursday past.

In the eye, your “red” cones respond strongest to red light, but respond medium-strongly to wavelengths close for red. Same idea in the nose: each receptor can respond medium-well to scents with similar molecular shapes.

This is why scents *mean* things. If two molecules are related (with common features), they’ll bond to the same receptors (though not at equal strength). Same receptors = similar info to your brain = similar smell!

As with the eyes, broad tuning – a neuron has one target, but responds weakly to near-misses– is the way to perceive structure in the world.

This is super-fundamental, preserved across evolution. Olfactory neurons have basically the same cellular and molecular properties across all animals.

So now that we understand the biology of smell, we’re ready to ask why they’re so emotionally powerful.

Most of those emotional associations are learned: with exposure, we’ve learned that swimming-pool-chlorine tastes like summer. This can, in turn, bring up a specific summer-pool memory.

(There are exceptions to this “learned” thing – particularly in the realm of disgust, which starts as a hardwired thing. But even there, learning & association add layers.)

But smell memories can be more emotionally vivid than others. Is there something special about smell and emotion?

We have ideas, but no solid answers. “Emotional memory strength” isn’t exactly something modern science can study effectively. But the anatomy does point toward a possible explanation.

Those little olfactory neurons are rooted in your Olfactory Bulb, which does some initial processing of olfactory information, and receives guidance from top-down stuff like attention.

Olfactory Bulb image

The olfactory bulb is part of your brain, and it connects straight to the limbic system: a network of areas in the brain involved in emotion and the formation of memories.

Some well-known parts of the limbic system could deserve their own NeuroThursday, since there are a lot of misunderstandings about them. If you know what the “hippocampus” is, I’d say 30% odds you know something false.

But the point here is that the olfactory bulb has direct access to parts of the brain involved in emotion and memory. One possible #NeuroThursday takeaway is that, yes, there’s an anatomical basis for smell memories to be uniquely evocative.

However, I’d like to finish by pivoting from fact to opinion. (Can your olfactory neurons detect the rank smell of punditry?)

Smell can be highly emotional. But so can vision and hearing. The sight of a loved one, the sound of a familiar song. Even a gentle touch, at the right time, can produce a mighty emotional response.

I’m not 100% convinced that there’s anything uniquely emotional about smell, compared to our other senses. Maybe its emotional-intensity only stands out because we don’t think about smell as often: we needed to be reminded of its intensity.

Powerful memories and delicious scents may make a challenging research project, but they’re a deep (and hopefully delicious) part of our lives, whether or not we pay attention to them.

Did you enjoy the scent of this #NeuroThursday on taste, smell, and emotion? Share it around, or check out some of my fiction! And if you haven’t yet read Tina’s story above, now’s the time!


Threadreader version:

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1141845165142958080.html

Fourth Street Fantasy schedule 2019

Fourth Street fantasy is this coming weekend, with a fantastic lineup of programming!

In a wonderful little convention packed with smart people & deep ideas, I’ll be on one panel. Since it’s a one-track con, you won’t miss it if you’re attending, but I still want to highlight it here for delight & for the record:

7:00 PM – When Gods Step In

Robyn Bennis, Pamela Dean, Benjamin C. Kinney, Scott Lynch (M), Jenn Lyons

In fantasy, it’s no surprise to see gods taking an active hand in the story—except sometimes, that fundamentally changes all the rules. With stories that can feature beings of unprecedented power, how do we manage stakes and agency? How can gods act as divine intervention without becoming narratively unsatisfying deus ex machina, how can characters do anything that matters if free will is negotiable or fate isn’t, and how do you depict their faith or understandings of magic in a nuanced way when gods are provably real? When we reference gods in our determinations of how the rules of fantasy worlds work, that affects what it means to challenge of any understanding of what has “always” been “true,” and it shades how we read stories about exercising freedom under systems we can’t comprehend or influence. This panel will discuss how we navigate the awesome potential for power and problems of gods literally and figuratively stepping into our stories.

Readercon schedule 2019

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be appearing at Readercon in Quincy MA on July 11-14! Here’s where you can find me:

Friday 6:00 PM
Concierge Lounge – Kaffeeklatsch
If you want to pick my brain about neuroscience stuff, here’s your chance to trap me with caffeine!

xFriday 8:00 PM
Sylvanus Thayer – Reading
Who needs dinner? Come hear me read something awesome! I’m thinking “A Breath of Salt,” the Writers of the Future finalist story I withdrew from the contest. An epic fantasy with religious sorcery pirates, faith journeys in a world of real-but-transcendent pantheistic gods, and a CW for suicidal ideation.

Saturday 7:00 PM
Salon B – The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Models
Ruthanna Emrys, Benjamin C. Kinney, John P. Murphy (mod), John O’Neil
Computer science and neuroscience may each be getting closer to the mysteries of cognition, but they do so from very different directions. How do they inform each other, and how do they get in each other’s way? Are their differences reconcilable? For that matter, is it even meaningful to think of them as being about the same thing? What do their cutting edges imply for our own deep dreams of fantastika?

Sunday 2:00 PM
Salon 4 – From Seed to Story: How to Escape the Slush Pile
Martin Cahill, Scott Edelman, James Patrick Kelly (mod), Benjamin C. Kinney, Kenneth Schneyer
As Ann Leckie explained in a 2013 blog post, even great writers will have stories rejected if they write 7,000 words around an underdeveloped idea. So what kind of research should go into a short story? How much plot and exposition are called for? What questions should the writer be asking and answering before they even start writing? Panelists will explore various methods by which a story seed can be nurtured into something publishable.