2018 in Review & Awards Eligibility

Another year is coming to a close, and much to show for it. I finished the first draft of a new novel, and worked on more short stories than I can shake a metaphor at. I lost a Hugo award with the rest of the amazing Escape Pod team, and made the Campbell Award longlist. My last submission to Writers of the Future became a finalist, but I withdrew my story over ethical concerns. I sold 4 original stories, but two of those sales fell through when the magazines closed.

I had five original stories come out in 2018. In chronological order:

  1. Toward Lands Uncharted – Mind Candy, Feb 2018 (secondary world fantasy, 4900 words). A diplomat and spy must try to save her nation and its very history from their conqueror’s Sykes-Picot border magic.
  2. Where the Anchor Lies – Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Feb 2018 (science fantasy, 4000 words). A general visits the grave of the sentient battleship she loved, to use it as a political tool.
  3. The Seeds We Plant – Compelling SF special issue, Sep 2018 (science fiction, 2200 words).1 When a colony ship suffers a brutal accident, the pilot must reply on his emotional-control neuroprosthesis to save his cargo.
  4. Elegy of Carbon – The Internet Is Where The Robots Live Now, Nov 2018 (science fiction, 4400 words).2 In the waning days of the solar system, a mining AI must find a new way to fulfill the purpose it loves.
  5. The Hammer’s Prayer – Diabolical Plots, Dec 2018 (contemporary fantasy, 3300 words). A golem hides away in ugly places, to help him resist the compulsion to share his gift of animation.
    • If you only have time to read one story, this is the one I’d recommend.

I didn’t have much time for nonfiction this year, but I did publish:

  1. The chapter “What’s Possible with Cyborgs and Cybernetics” in Putting the Science in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). I’m also quite proud of my associated writing-prompts post, “Machines, You, and Other Synonyms.”
  2. Twelve new entries in the #NeuroThursday Twitter feature.

If you’re in a position to nominate for awards of any kind, I hope you’ll consider not only these fine works, but the whole team over at Escape Pod. We work hard every week to bring you the finest in audio fiction, and we’ll be eligible once again for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. We also published a lot of awesome stories, so take a look back at that list and see if one of them feels worthy of your love too!

Publication: The Hammer’s Prayer

The Hammer’s Prayer, my short story about a golem secretly working in the depths of Logan Airport, is now live on the Diabolical Plots website! This story was previously available as past of the Diabolical Plots Year Four anthology, but now it’s online for everyone to read.

This story is, I think, a brand new take on the golem myth. What if the word of life was no mere static gift, but a vibrant and contagious thing, begging to spread breath to new lungs?

I showed up early for work, as always. The airport’s underbelly was the ugliest place in Boston, but I would’ve spent every hour there if I could get away with it. Among the hurried machines and distant reek-sweet jet fuel, I had everything I needed. A purpose, a paycheck, a place to hide; and most of all, a land of function without beauty, where nothing would tempt me to invest it with holiness and life.

Further thoughts below the fold. No true spoilers, but why not read the story first anyways?

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Publication: Elegy of Carbon

My science fiction short story, “Elegy of Carbon,” is now available in the anthology The Internet Is Where The Robots Live Now! This exciting anthology offers 20 short stories about the intertwined lives of human and machine, from near-future to space opera.Anthology cover

About the anthology:

We are headed for convergence. The separation between mind and matter, robot and man, the artificial and the sublime is becoming less every day. Will the human race survive the reckoning? Will we crash into extinction or wake to a future beyond our current comprehension? Join Mari Ness, Benjamin C. Kinney, Aimee Ogden, Monica Louzon, Sharon Diane King, Deepak Bharathan, Kevin Daniel Lonano, Vajra Chandrasekera, Marie Vibbert, S.H. Mansouri, Nikki Macahon, Krishan Coupland, Premee Mohamed, David Rogers, Priya Sridhar, Rhoads Brazos, Matt Fuchs, Conor Powers-Smith, Maria Haskins, and Claudio J.A. Espinal as they tell twenty unique stories exploring the thinning space between human and machine.

“Elegy of Carbon” is the story I like to call the Brave Little ToasterMining AI. The miner finishes its mission, no carbonaceous asteroids left in its territory to mine for diamonds. What, then, is a mining AI to do, in a solar system cold and empty yet very much still populated?

Keep reading for some spoiler-free notes about its creation and inspiration…

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Publication: The Seeds We Plant

My short story, “The Seeds We Plant,” is now available on Amazon as part of the Compelling Science Fiction special issue! This special was originally available as a companion for their anthology kickstarter, but now you can buy it directly. Contains five original short stories from Compelling SF authors, including Pip Coen, Deborah Davitt, Mike Adamson, Steve Wire, and myself.

“The Seeds We Plant” is a story about brain-machine interfaces for emotional control: a neuroprosthetic device in the most literal sense, serving as an artificial (and externally controllable) replacement for a neural system that isn’t functioning as desired. This technology provides a way to guide and control a spaceship pilot, not by influencing their thoughts and actions, but by telling them what to care about.

Which could be dystopic indeed. But what happens when the external control goes silent, and you have only your own implants to pull yourself toward some kind of salvation?

The worst moment came not when the collision alarm flashed in his lenses, not when he slammed back and forth and sideways in his restraints, not when every screen went black. No, the worst moment came afterward, when Nathan tried to ride his adrenalinesurge toward the next action, and his fear dropped out from under him. His limbic net caught one last blip, a pulse of relief from the nursery, and then fell quiet. No fear meant no incoming signals–no equipment left alive in the ship, except in Nathan and the nursery.

Read below for some more thoughts & references, including some extremely minor spoilers.

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Machines, You, and Other Synonyms: PSIF and NaNoWriMo

Today is the final stop of the Putting the Science in Fiction1 blog tour, where ten of its authors offer ideas and story prompts to help you get some exciting science ideas to help build your National Novel Writing Month  (#NaNoWriMo) efforts – and offer you a chance to win a free copy of PSIF. As you may know, I’m a neuroscientist as well as a SFF writer and editor, so I contributed a chapter on Cyborgs & Cybernetics to PSIF.

My chapter is an expanded version of my “Putting the Science in Fiction” blog post Seven Things Authors Should Know about Cybernetics, so take a peek there if you need a refresher. This topic covers everything near-future medical implants to space opera neurotechnology, so it’s a field rich with possible stories.

PSIF NaNoWriMo story prompts

Note: no official connection to NaNoWriMo

Machines, You, and Other Synonyms

Cybernetics – the hybridization of human and machine – is a staple of science fiction, from ubiquitous internet-access implants to the terrifying Borg to the differently terrifying ancillaries of the Imperial Radch. It’s easy to include cyborgs in a story: give a character a little bit of superhuman capability, maybe a little bit of discrimination or prejudice, a dash of handwavey Humanity Loss if you’re feeling cyberpunk. But who needs to stay bound by those shallow clichés? After all, not only is NaNoWriMo coming up, but even after it’s over, the next year is forecast to have 365.25 other good days to start a new writing project.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what cybernetics might really mean for the recipients, society, and culture. I think we’ll find ourselves a rich vein of story prompts down here. I’m going to open three idea-mines for you, and I promise I’ll dig them deep.

The Brain is Enslaved to the Body

The development of any animal’s brain follows from the development of their body, not vice versa. Grotesque-but-fascinating animal experimentshave shown that if you alter an animal at birth, e.g. by blinding it, you radically alter their brain development. Visual areas of the brain only develop because vision-like information arrived from the eyes and the world. In the words of one of that experiment’s authors, “the brain is enslaved to the body.”

What might happen, then, if we change the brain?

Perhaps we can add a new source of data – a new sense – to a newborn brain, and they’ll develop to adapt to it. Or worse yet, they might not quite succeed. After all, the brain isn’t infinitely changeable; an embryonic cow brain transplanted into a human body wouldn’t become a human. Plus, it’s not as if our brain is sitting around with spare capacity. Despite myths to the contrary,we use 100% of our brains, 100% of the time. If we try to add more or different functions, will we simply fail? Or will we pay some other price, in the tradeoffs of brain development?

It’s certainly a risky proposition. Almost certainly unethical. What pressures, then, might drive parents to make such a decision for their newborn child?

Blue Collar Borg

As William Gibson once said, the future is already here, it’s just distributed unevenly. The first clinical trial of a human cybernetic implant– a chip implanted in the brain to control a computer – began in 2004. The current studybegan in 2009, scheduled to finish in 2021. It will be many years yet before these become a reliable, common medical device. Once the technology is established and safe, how will it trickle down into everyday life?

Many technologies start among the rich, and slowly become cheaper as companies try to widen their markets. Medical technologies sometimes follow a different route, at least in the United States: if insurance will pay for it, it can become widespread regardless of price. But the medical market for these devices is people with spinal cord injuries, ALS, or other conditions that impair the brain’s ability to control the body. Even in the technology’s simplest form, controlling a computer cursor with the brain, who else might want that ability?

Will America fill up with medium-rich workers who want an extra edge in the speed and precision of how they control their computers? Will there be advertisements out there to promise you all that speed and precision? Will the products really deliver on that promise, or will your cybernetic implant only save your wrists from carpal tunnel syndrome? What do you do if yours doesn’t live up to the promise? Or even if it does at first, what happens when your supplier goes out of business, and nobody remains to honor the service contract for the electrodes in your brain?

Perhaps instead, the real market for cybernetics will be more physical: workers who not only type, but control machines. Perhaps you could control a crane as easily as you move your own arm. Will this transform blue-collar work into an exciting and cutting-edge field, or push them into the realm of the strange and reviled?

Cyborgs and Society

The impact of any technology on society depends on the stories we tell about it. Space travel is the terrain of humanist adventure or fathomless terror. Universal surveillance is the tool of world-saving spies or a soul-crushing panopticon. Even a technology’s mere presence onscreen can affect society: eyeglasses became more popular after they began to appear in silent film.

How will movies, books, and other media reinterpret these changes for the mass audience? Will they tell stories of cybernetic implants as a tool to help people, or a tool of control? Will they be ordinary, or a sign of villainy? Hollywood persistently and harmfully portrays disability as a sign of evil. Will cybernetic implants be portrayed as another tool for horror-movie clichés to terrify their victims, for dystopian societies to alter or police their citizens, or as an ordinary part of how we help human bodies – in all their diverse shapes – interact with the world?

We can shape the societies within our stories, but we can also shape the one outside. The next generation of stories are ours to write, starting this November and every day thereafter.

Book Giveaway

This raffle is your chance to win a free copy of PSIF!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Putting the Science in Fiction: Publication Day

TPSIF cover imagehe day has arrived (or did on Tuesday): Putting the Science in Fiction has launched! This fascinating tome contains 59 essays by scientists and other experts, written at a level to help authors integrate believable science into their writing. Includes a foreword by Chuck Wendig – and more importantly, a chapter by me on cyborgs and cybernetics!

As of today, Amazon has the hardcopy only, not the ebook. So why not support your local bookstore and get it through Indiebound instead? For more options, scroll down in the publicity link above.

If you check it out, put up a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon! Your feedback will help sales, and help get this book in front of more rising authors of speculative fiction.

Meaningful Knowledge and Dopamine

NeuroThursday takes a hiatus from its hiatus this week! Read on through to see how a recent article about dopamine in beliefs can get us thinking about what’s meaningful, and what we do with the meaning we detect in our lives.

Twitter:

Threadreader:

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1050555234282590208.html

TIIWTRLN – Cover, ToC, and Preorder

Check out this awesome cover for “The Internet is Where the Robots Live Now,” the upcoming anthology with my Brave Little ToasterMining AI story – now available for preorder!

Anthology cover

“The Internet Is Where The Robots Live Now” cover image

We are headed for convergence. The separation between mind and matter, robot and man, the artificial and the sublime is becoming less every day. Will we crash into extinction or wake to a future beyond our current comprehension? Join some of the brightest voices in science fiction today as they tell twenty unique stories exploring the thinning space between mind and machine.

Preorder your copy today! Contains original short stories from myself and nineteen other excellent authors including Vajra Chandrasekera, Maria Haskins, Premee Mohammed, and Aimee Ogden.

Archon 42 Schedule

We’re less than a month away from Archon, the midwest’s most excellent fan-run science fiction & fantasy convention! If you want to find me, here’s my schedule:

Author Reading with Benjamin Philip, Van Plexico, and Daniel Yezbik
Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Illini A (Gateway Center)
Benjamin C. Kinney, Van Plexico, Prof Daniel Yezbick

Does Science Fiction Still Give Us Hope?
Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Lasalle (Gateway Center)
Cynthianna/ Celine Chatillon (M), Christine Amsden, Charlie Jane Anders, Mr Mark Tiedemann, Benjamin C. Kinney
Science Fiction has shown us the greatness we could strive for in the future. Is it still capable of that or are we too jaded?

Editing: Behind the Scenes
Saturday 13:00 – 14:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Cynthianna/ Celine Chatillon (M), Benjamin C. Kinney, Prof Daniel Yezbick, Ms Joy Ward , Edward Stasheff
A chance for new authors to understand what happens to stories after they’re submitted.

Religion and its Place in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, Madison C & D (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
Setsu Uzume (M), David Benem, Benjamin C. Kinney, Ms Judi Cook
Plenty of our favorite worlds have their own religion, or have a mix of real world religions. How do they stem from what we know in the real world?

Understanding Non-Human Point of View
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Kathryn Sullivan (M), Kasey Mackenzie, Benjamin C. Kinney, Mr Mark Tiedemann
Characters don’t always have to be human. Discuss how to effectively create a POV for an animals or other non-human character.

I’m going to have a busy Saturday midday, but your presence and enjoyment shall carry me through!