I Would

My short story “I Would” is free to read (or listen) today at the excellent Fantasy Magazine!

Knira can see thousands of possible futures, but never her captor’s. When two heroes visit the castle, Knira will need to find a vision of them rescuing her, and make that prophecy come true. But it’s hard to manipulate the future of a woman you’ve just met when you can already foresee your relationship falling apart.

Some people say the stars control fate.

I would never say such a thing.

Our conversation followed the same arc as last time, as regular as the heavens. Queen Iroda claimed her constellation, and protected herself with the power of foresight. For every future I showed her, I kept a handful for myself:

Usually I put story notes here, but this time I’ll point you toward my Author Spotlight over at the magazine. Phoebe Barton had some great questions for me, which let me talk about this piece’s craft and inspiration and origins.

The only thing I have to add is a direct link to Weights and Measures, my previous short story in the same setting (Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, November 2020). W&M takes place a long way away, with entirely different characters, but the world runs by the same rules – under some of the same gods.

If you like the great work put together by the folks at Fantasy Magazine, consider supporting them with a subscription, or just purchase an ebook of issue #69 with “I Would.”

Cruise Control

My short story Cruise Control is free to read online today, as part of the July 2021 issue of Fireside Magazine!

If your son won’t visit you in the nursing home, it’s his own damn fault. He’s the coward who won’t give you an honest reaction unless you needle him. And he’s the one who keeps bringing pamphlets about sticking your brain in a self-driving car.

“Pop, please. This’ll add years to your life.” He kept his voice gentle. “They rejuvenate your brain. It’s the only way to make a driver; need to learn radar and wheels, like a kid learning their hands. There’s no damage. Only change.”

I tried to wave him away. “You don’t want me alive. Don’t tell me you’re grateful, what a good father I was. Pack of lies, right there.”

Why not support the magazine and buy an ebook of the whole issue? You’ll get your own copy of Cruise Control alongside three more stories by Ryan Boyd (seven more if you get June 2021 too), every one of them full of delicious embodied cyberpunk grit.

Keep reading for a few author notes, about the story’s creation and neuroscience. May contain spoilers, so why not read the story first?


Continue reading Cruise Control

Ebook publication: “I Would”

My short story “I Would” is available now in Fantasy Magazine issue #69!1

Knira is a seer, not a hero. If she wants to escape from a robber-queen’s jeweled prison, she’ll have to use her visions to maneuver the heroes into rescuing her. But it’s not easy to manipulate a hero who appears in far too many of your possible futures.

“Invite her in,” I said. “Shower her with gifts and honors. She’ll thank you, she’ll resent you, and she’ll go on her way as soon as she can.”

Some people say the stars control fate.

I would never say such a thing.

Our conversation followed the same arc as last time, as regular as the heavens. Queen Iroda claimed her constellation and protected herself with the power of foresight. For every future I showed her, I kept a handful for myself:

The story will be available online for free on July 27th. But why not pick up a copy now and support an awesome magazine?

4th Street Fantasy 2021

The 4th Street Fantasy convention is going online for 2021!

This has long been one of my favorite conventions, a small one-track gathering full of high-level content and deep-dive discussions. Last year those discussions happened on a series of wonderful podcasts, but this year on June 18-20 they’re going further with a full weekend of online activities: panels, Q&A’s, online social events, and the list is still growing.

Here’s the full list of panels, chock-full as always of awesome topics & panelists. I’ll be appearing on “Kinging is Hard, but Not Kinging is Harder: Valorizing Collective Action” along with Aliette de Bodard, Intisar Khanani, Sherwood Smith, and Scott Lynch moderating.

Normally 4th Street Fantasy has an attendance cap to keep the one-track content manageable, but there’s no limit for this year’s online version, so this is the perfect year to dip your toes in. Plus, it’s pay-what-you-can, so if the last year has been a financial struggle, you can still come join the conversation.

Register here for 4th Street Fantasy 2021!

Escape Pod Award Nominations 2021

April has been an exciting month for us at Escape Pod, with three major award nominations!

First up, the Escape Pod team has been nominated again as a 2021 Hugo Award finalist in the Best Semiprozine category!

 

Second, another Hugo Award nomination for the team: our co-editors Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya have been nominated personally for their work in the Best Editor Short Form category!

Third, another Escape Pod team nomination: Best Fiction Podcast at the 2021 Ignyte awards!

Ignyte Award finalist: Escape Pod (Best Fiction Podcast)

For those of you who are here for Benjamin-specific content, the first and third ones have my name on them. But none of these award nominations are an individual effort: this stuff comes from the work of our entire crew. I couldn’t be more proud of our spaceteam.

Flights of Foundry Schedule 2021

Flights of Foundry is back on April 16-18! One of the first and best online conferences, back with another year of content for speculative fiction creators & their fans. Run by The Dream Foundry, the only organization devoted entirely to supporting early-career speculative creators (writers, artists, and more).

If you aren’t coming to Flights of Foundry, why not? Attendance is free with a recommended donation!

Here’s my panel schedule this year:

AI in the Real and Imagined Future
Saturday 4/17, 1-1:50 pm CDT (18:00-18:50 UTC)
Our understanding of AI and how intelligence works has come a long way since HAL’s fixation on the pod bay doors. Nowadays “AI” powers everything from what you see on social media to what happens when you make a phone call. Depictions of AI in media have and haven’t changed to accommodate this reality. What does AI mean for us in our everyday lives? How have our AI characters and motifs changed or evolved in response to that understanding? We’ll discuss all of this, and also take a look at where we’re heading and how these trends will continue with time and further development of the technology.

Panelists: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (mod), Benjamin C. Kinney, Brahidaliz Martinez, Adrian Tchaikovsky, PJ Manney

The Unhelpful Legacy of Mad Scientists: Writing Scientists as Positive Role Models.
Sunday 4/18, 6-6:50 pm CDT (23:00-23:50 UTC)
The mad scientist archetype has a long history in science fiction and comic book media that we feel has had a damaging impact on public trust in scientists, as seen in rising climate denialism and anti-vaxxerism. In this panel, we will deconstruct the archetype down to its most damaging tropes, talk about the historical and philosophical context in which the mad scientist archetype fits into, and look at the gender bias in fictional depictions of scientists. We will also talk about craft suggestions and techniques to portray scientists in a more realistic and positive way.

Panelists: Sid Jain (mod), Octavia Cade, Arula Ratnakar, Benjamin C. Kinney

Conference of the Birds Available Online

My short story “Conference of the Birds” is now free to read online, along with its companion essay on neuroscience, AI, and science fiction.

“Conference of the Birds” is the tale of Surveillance Hub, a hard-working layer in a distributed surveillance AI. Doing its job, tracking intellectual-property thieves, hoping for another round of reinforcement signals from the network’s uppermost levels.

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).

A crow-drone spotted the target. Surveillance confirmed Krina’s identity and sent a brief reward signal to inspire the bird onward.

The drone switched from search to pursuit, redoubling its data collection as it chased the taste of reinforcement. So much joy and empty-matrix innocence in its response to a simple reward. Flockmembers were too simple to understand that reinforcement implied punishment, and no success would ever suffice for long.

This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of Analog1, which is now off the bookstore shelves and thus out of exclusivity. I’ve put it up on Curious Fictions and made it free for all to read.

Nonfiction: Artificial Intelligence & Neuroscience

For further reading on the science behind Conference of the Birds, I’ve indulged you all (and myself) with 1600 words about neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and storytelling. The essay, “Embodied and Empathetic Minds in Conference of the Birds,” is up at the Astounding Analog Companion Blog, and also free to read.

By day, I work as a rehabilitation neuroscientist. My laboratory studies the human brain, how it changes after injury to the hand, and how we can use those changes to help injured people live the lives they want to live. No humans suffer hand injuries in the course of “Conference of the Birds,” but nevertheless, it’s a story steeped in the interaction between minds and bodies, and how doing is the core of being.

Memories of Fire

At long last, my short story Memories of Fire is out in the world, in Translunar Travelers Lounge issue #4!

Enoch is a creature from the myths of Jewish apocrypha: one of the rebellious stars, punished for refusing to shine at God’s command. Of all his kin, he alone was given the chance to work for his parole. He’s spent millennia of protecting humankind from its endless follies, but this time – Libya, 2011 – the threat comes from another star like him. The song of rebellion rises into the world again, stirring every soul against the tyrants of Heaven and Earth.

I finally got my smoke. I enjoy them for the ritual, not the nicotine. A little fire, a brand-new drop of ash, the same little destruction every time.

Plus, it makes some mortals impatient.

“Lot of people counting on us,” Maryam said.

This piece is inspired by one of the most touching and terrifying pieces of reporting I’ve ever read, a walk through the ruins of 2011 Tripoli, in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s fall. It took me years to be ready to write the piece that this story deserved, and years more to find a home for it. Nowadays, with Libya mired in civil war, Memories of Fire has grown darker. But I hope the story still contains hope and truth enough.

This story also has neuroscience and psychology hidden in its core. But like the reporting, I don’t want to cite details yet. Too many spoilers! Why don’t you go read the story first? Once you’ve done that, keep on reading for story notes about history, science, and forgiveness.


Continue reading Memories of Fire

Story Sale: I Would

Sale announcement: my epic fantasy short story “I Would” will be appearing in Fantasy Magazine! No publication date set, but it should be relatively soon.

I’m super excited to share this story with you all. It’s the tale of Knira, a prophet locked up in a tower by an evil queen, with no tools but her visions and manipulations. When a pair of adventurers visit the fortress, one of them fits into every future Knira wants. But her first priority is manuevering the adventurers into rescuing her.

It takes place in the same world as Weights and Measures, where all magic comes from faith in the gods. However, there’s no direct link between the two stories.

I had only one defense against a woman who knew me.

“Fine.” I layered venom into my voice, to make her think it a hard-won concession yet again. “I’ll prophecy for you.”

Watch this space. Or better yet, watch the stars. You never know what futures the constellations might show you…

Embodied and Empathetic Minds

I promise the neuroscience, and I deliver!

My post “Embodied and Empathetic Minds in Conference of the Birds” is up at the Astounding Analog Companion Blog. A 1600 word essay on how my neuroscience background informs the fiction I write about human and nonhuman minds. Fiction has great power to help us understand and empathize with minds unlike ours – but those empathetic minds could go in both directions. Here’s hoping we can create a world where those nonhuman minds try to understand us too.

You don’t need to have read my short story “Conference of the Birds” to understand the essay, and the essay has no real spoilers. But you will understand it better if you’ve read the story first. Why not read it for free online at Curious Fictions?