My short story Meltwater came out today at Escape Pod, the internet’s oldest and finest source of audio science fiction! Rajan Khanna gave it an absolutely lovely reading, the perfect balance of mellow and melancholy. If you read the story last year, go forth and listen to the new interpretation – and if you didn’t, now’s your chance to discover my first professional short story!
My nonfiction neuroscience essay, “The Evolved Brain,” is up in the January issue of Clarkesworld!
I’d like to use this space for a bit of bonus content: the eleven links and footnotes I’d originally included. We decided to remove them during the editorial process, but if you want to see the sources for my claims, here they are for posterity:
- Dr. Marcus’ quote about what “No overarching theory of neuroscience could predict” comes from this New York Times editorial.
- For more details on the Information Processing (IP) model, this wikipedia page is a good place to start.
- The quotation “All models are wrong, but some models are useful” is generally attributed to George Box, in this book’s original 1978 edition. The variant “models have no truth value” comes from this 2013 article on Bayesian statistics.
- For “our decisions remain riddled with biases and errors” (and “sloppy and unreliable kludges”), I like to cite this wikipedia article. If you printed out that list of cognitive biases, it would stretch for 10.5 pages.
- “Moral uncertainty induces movement uncertainty” is reviewed in this article. It’s a more general phenomenon about cognitive states influencing action, but the more difficult yes/no judgment questions include ones like “is murder ever justified?” (See the “High-Level Decision Making” section, starting on page 4.)1
- “Conscious memory is an unreliable reconstruction” is a widely-known phenomenon, but there’s a good academic review here, and good wikipedia examples here (including the “see also” links at the bottom).
- The presence of separate systems for vision-for-perception and vision-for-action is a discovery of wikipedia-level magnitude.
- The way optical illusions separate vision-for-perception from vision-for-action was first confirmed here…
- …and here is the specific example of the Ebbinghaus Illusion unaffected by vision-for-action. This is one of my all-time-favorite articles, because its main thrust is about the strange interaction between the two visual subsystems and handedness. But that’s a whole separate article.
- The role of the cerebellum in movement self-prediction has been understood since at least 1998.
- The Affordance Competition Hypothesis is best described in this 2010 review, but sadly not available for free anywhere online. The 2007 original article is available, but much less readable.
- If you want to watch those neurons following the ACH, those data originally come from this 2005 study, though you can find a lovely graphical summary in the article linked in #5, as well as the 2010 article in #11.
Finally, if you haven’t read the essay “The Brain is Not a Computer” (Aeon magazine, May 2016), I recommend it. I agree with its overall direction, and I think it makes a lot of good points, but it fails because it relies on a straw-man misunderstanding of the IP model, tied to the specifics of computer architecture. The internet is full of rebuttals, and largely fair ones. That’s why I wrote “The Evolved Brain” to show not why the IP model is wrong, but instead why it’s unhelpful, if your goal is to understand the human brain and experience.
2016 is drawing to a close, and in terms of my writing, it’s been an incomprehensibly good year. I’ve had the immense good fortune to sell and publish five short stories. I hope you’ll read some of them, and enjoy them; and if you consider anything I’ve done worthy of some kind of award nomination, I would be thrilled and flattered beyond belief.
I list my stories below in approximate order of pride, so if your time is limited, I strongly recommend #1. Insofar as I’m pushing one story as award-worthy, it’s “The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.“
Only a terrible parent would show such favoritism. But thankfully, we can show love for the whole family! I speak with the utmost of blustery impostor syndrome pride when I point out that this will be my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and if you enjoy my body of work, I hope you’ll consider me.
Thank you for reading!
- The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R. (Strange Horizons, June 2016; modern fantasy, 3400 words). A ghost story, with a classic recurrent haunting, but told from the ghost’s perspective. Also the ghost used to be a scientist. About how relationships survive or change across gulfs of habit, time, space, and death. Publication notes here, audio version here.1
- Meltwater (Strange Horizons, March 2016; science fiction, 2200 words). Love among the posthuman. The less I spoil about it, the better. Publication notes here, audio version here.
- The Time Cookie Wars (Flash Fiction Online, August 2016; science fiction, 970 words). Time travel black comedy! About all those times you blame your past self for your mistakes, and also about delicious baked goods. Publication notes here.2
- Sweeter than Lead (PodCastle, July 2016; dark fantasy, 2700 words). Neo-Lovecraftian: cosmic dread in the face of a hostile universe, without the underpinnings of racism and xenophobia. About addiction, succession, and malevolent prophecies. Publication notes here, audio version here.
I’m pleased to announce that my first published short story, “The Wind and the Spark,” will appear as a reprint in Digital Science Fiction! This is one of my older stories, but I’m thrilled to re-release it: it’s currently only available in a paid issue of a magazine that went defunct before it published me, so not a lot of people have read it. Stay tuned for a publication date.
This was originally one of the first stories I ever wrote; the first words hit the page in June 2012, but it’s been vastly revised over the years. It’s a science fiction story set on humankind’s first extrasolar colony world, about fear and politics and the inevitability of generational divides.
I have some story notes below the cut, but they may contain spoilers, so read the story first!
How was your July? Was it amazing? Mine was!
- My story “Sweeter than Lead” came out at PodCastle. Neo-Lovecraftian dark fantasy about addiction, succession and malevolent timelines!
- My story “The Time Cookie Wars” came out at Flash Fiction Online1. Black comedy about time travel and delicious cookies!
- I finished the first draft of the Conquistador Dragon novel: 106,000 words of Age of Exploration epic fantasy, now titled The Cannon and the Coin!
- I got my Worldcon panel schedule!
- I attended Mary Robinette Kowal‘s short story intensive workshop. Folks this class is fantastic. My favorite parts were the tools for expanding ideas into stories at turbo speed, and especially the methods for plot structuring. And in the process I wrote up the openings to two super exciting new stories.
I think that’s it? It sure feels like enough! This coming month will bring yet more of the joyful chaos. Two weeks until Worldcon! And after that, only one week until my wife returns from Mars!
Have you ever had one of those “Past Self, why did you mess this up for me?” moments? Of course you have. Past Self is a jerk.
Well, the time has come to get your vengeance on Past Self, because my story “The Time Cookie Wars” is now available at Flash Fiction Online! If you like the internet’s best short-short fiction, I strongly recommend a subscription to their fine magazine.
Go enjoy a quick little bite of black humor, then continue below the fold for some brief extra background and story notes. May contain spoilers.
Ladies and gentlemen and everyone! Buckle up, and close your eyes, because my short story Sweeter than Lead has gone live in audio form on PodCastle, the original fantasy fiction podcast! (Text version now available also.)
Sweeter than Lead is a dark fantasy about succession, addiction, and malevolent prophecies. With worldbuilding so thick it will go back in time and drown you as a child.
Plenty of story notes on this one; worldbuilding this dense comes with extra layers, sources of inspiration, and so forth. Spoilers abound, of course, so stop right here until you’ve read or heard the story…
I am thrilled to announce another short story sale to one of my favorite markets! “Sweeter than Lead” will be appearing late this summer in PodCastle, the original fantasy fiction podcast!
It’ll be free online in audio (and text) when it goes live, so once again you’ll all be able to enjoy the story the moment it comes out! This one is a bit different from anything I’ve published so far: it’s a neo-Lovecraftian1 dark fantasy about seers, prophecies, and what it means to foresee possible futures. If some kind of worldbuilding-per-page competition existed, this tale would reach across timelines to strangle its competitors’ authors in their beds.
Because that’s just the kind of story it is.