Publication: Machines in Motion

My Jewish steampunk short story, Machines in Motion, is available in Hybrid Fiction’s September 2020 issue! The publisher, Hybrid Fiction, is a new magazine showcasing stories that merge and combine genres – in my case, steampunk and historical fiction. For $3.99 (or less if you support them on Patreon) you’ll get 8 great stories, plus art, and a chance to support small creators and new magazines.

Machines in Motion Teaser Image

Not sold yet? Here’s a teaser sample of Machines in Motion released on their website last week.

Keep reading below here for some author notes about the story. May contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read yet, stop here!


Story Notes

Machines in Motion is about – among other things – the tensions of assimilation. Eszter comes to a clear conclusion at the end, but I consider that ending a dark one. She might get the career she wants, but she’s paying a steep price. The things she tells herself are, without exception, lies.

This story is being published on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Ironic, for a story that seems to reject a Jewish identity. But no matter what Eszter tells herself, her experience is defined by a Jewish lens and faith. Like many of us here in the late 20th century, she’ll need to find a balance in the gearing: between the mechanisms her world expects, and the mechanisms that drive her.

Early in my writing career I wrote a series of stories about Eszter. Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to find homes for two of them. Machines in Motion is the second chronologically; the first one tells of Eszter’s escape from Budapest and her first meeting with Lujza, and will appear in the excellent Kaleidotrope in 2021 under the title The Promise of Iron.

Someday I may return to writing Eszter’s, because her path isn’t finished. She has a long way to go ahead of her.

Steampunk can be a difficult genre to write in. Too much of it is tied into Victoriana, and all that period’s implicit assumptions and oblivious, imperialistic dreams. But even a steampunk Europe contains people at the margins, who have much to gain – and much to lose – as new technologies and brutal wars upset the world’s entrenched patterns.

I am American, but much of my ancestry comes from Hungary, and I spent a week there once visiting distant relatives. Pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy) can be good or terrible, but apricot is definitely the best flavor. Krémes is a very good Hungarian pastry, albeit not the best (that’s Zserbó), but Krémes has a refined fluffy lightness that better fits a noble like Sipos. Try them both and make your own decisions. You won’t regret it.

Story Sale: Cruise Control

Story sale announcement! My flash fiction piece “Cruise Control” will be published in the Spring 2021 issue of Fireside Fiction.

Stay tuned for a short little tale about retirees spending their sunset years with their brains transplanted inside “self-driving” cars. It’s the only surefire way to get away from your ungrateful adult kids.

I’m extra proud of this sale, not only because Fireside is an amazing & gorgeous magazine, but also because this  fills a Writer Bingo Square I never thought I’d fill: this story sold on its first submission.

Story Hour

Last night I was one of the author guest on Story Hour 2020, alongside Craig Laurence Gidney. In the space of about 45 minutes, we each read a story that touched on themes of death, communication, and subjectivity – in very different ways. I managed to get through the Scientist Ghost story without choking up too badly!

If you’d like to attend these readings at your leisure, in the comfort of your home, you can watch the recording anytime.

Worldcon Schedule 2020

2020 Worldcon (CoNZealand) is just around the corner! They’ve had some scheduling and related issues, but it looks like most of those issues have gotten sorted out, through lots of behind-the-scenes help from the Hugo finalist crew and other volunteers. Here’s my final lineup!

This event belongs to Alasdair and Marguerite, co-owners of Escape Artists, but I’ll show up for sure to say hi to Escape Pod fans!

Brain-machine interfaces are currently in early clinical trials, and they’ve proven the ability to let a human brain control a robotic limb. Sometime in the coming years, this technology will move from the laboratory to the public. How might society respond to the option of becoming a cyborg, and the presence of cyborgs among us? Many factors will influence this, including media, fiction, aesthetics, and what kinds of organizations drive the rollout. What responses do we expect, and how will these  responses vary in different cultures and communities?

Panelists: Benjamin C. Kinney (M), SL Huang, SB Divya, Errick Nunnally

Coffee time for New Zealand’s timezone, beer for me in the US. Have any questions about Escape Pod, or want to discuss a bit of neuroscience for your fiction and/or curioisity? Come hang out!

Is corporate control of research and the drive for short-term profit crippling scientific innovation and basic research? Do established companies always feel threatened by new technology and lobby for legislation to restrict it?

Panelists: Benjamin C. Kinney (M), Raymond Sheh, Keith Kato, Diane Kelly

Human rights are a contentious issue – while many nations signed the UN Declaration on Human Rights, that consensus only formed because the Declaration doesn’t specify where rights come from. How can the definition and origin of “universal” rights grapple with the rise of general artificial intelligence? What rights are inherent to people made of small, sub-sentient devices scattered across an asteroid belt, or to algorithms of commercial origin? Will the AIs think we deserve rights, or will they resent slow meatbrained humans passing judgment on them?

Panelists: Dr. Hirotaka Osawa, L.J. Kendall, Barbara Howe, Mikko Rauhala (M), Benjamin C. Kinney

Thalience and sentience. Is there really a difference? How do we tease it out?

Panelists: Karl Schroeder (M), Benjamin C. Kinney, Eli K.P. William, SB Divya

Want to help me pick which of my stories to read? Poll forthcoming on twitter early next week!

Fourth Street Fantasy Podcasts

In-person conventions may be canceled this year, but the community has prepared all kinds of remote options for you to enjoy. Fourth Street Fantasy is one of my favorite conventions, known for its tight-knit community and high-level discussions. This year, 4th Street is bringing those discussions straight to you in four panels, presented in podcast form (with transcripts).

This year’s panels are:

  • “In Which We Consider the Role of Hospitality in Stories”
  • “The Fantasy Feast, or the Same Old Immediate Road Stew”
  • “This is Fine: Making Art While the World Burns”
  • “Systems of Communication”

I’m especially excited about that last one, because you can hear Yours Truly on it, in discussion with Django Wexler, John Appel, Arkady Martine, and Sherwood Smith!

2020 4th Street Programming – Podcast Edition

 

Publication: The Gentry

My short story, The Gentry, is live in the Summer 2020 issue of Kaleidotrope! Alongside 6 other excellent stories and five poems, you’ll find my tale of the diner with the portal between worlds… after the owners have retired, and condos have gone up in its place, and one last fairy chevalier is still stuck on Earth.

This story has gone through a long and twisty history – it once killed the professional magazine PerVisions. But the chevalier has made it back to New York at last.

Some notes and background on the story below the fold. Contains spoilers.

Continue reading

Time Cookie Wars in Drabblecast

Time is cyclical, and so are the wars over the perfect snack. My story The Time Cookie Wars has appeared in Drabblecast, as part of its episode 426 Flash Trifecta! The episode’s theme is “Friends close, enemies closer,” which is a perfect fit for this story. Sometimes the enemy is very close indeed.

Whether this is your first time reading/hearing Time Cookie Wars, or you want to hear a wonderful new narration alongside a pair of fresh weird stories, go check it out!

If you want to learn more about the story’s inspiration, check out the author notes I posted alongside its first publication.

Story Sale: Weights and Measures

I’m delighted to announce that my short story Weights and Measures will be appearing in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly in November 2020!

This story takes place in the same world as my unpublished Conquistador Dragon Novel (and even shares a character with it). It’s a fantasy world where the only source of magic is gods and religion. Our main character, Prelate Agnella, is a banker-priestess of the globe-spanning Church of the Trader. For all the church’s flaws, theirs is the god of trade, exchange, and fairness. Sometimes, the only justice in this world is what they bring to it.

I’m so glad this story has found a home after its long journeys. It was a Writers of the Future finalist in 2017 (prior to the piece I withdrew in 2018), and was accepted by the ill-omened Spectacle Magazine, though the latter folded before publication (or payment). Now it’s going out into the world, with original art!

FenCon Postponed

In sad-but-necessary news, FenCon XVII has been postponed from 2020 to 2021.

If you were looking forward to my appearance as Science Guest of Honor (like I was), fear not: I plan to be there in Dallas/Fort Worth next year  (September 17-19 2021), alongside all the rest of the excellent GoH list!

Neuroscience for Writers: The Slides

Thank you to all the 80+ people who attended my “Neuroscience for Writers: The Evolved Brain” talk at Flights of Foundry! Lots of attendees asked for the slides, as did some of you out there who hadn’t been able to attend. So I’m happy to provide: you can download the slides here. I may take the slides offline in a week or two (i.e. early June 2020), but if so I’ll update this post.

Slides aren’t everything, of course. I like to hope that my ramblingcharming presence adds something beyond the mere powerpoint. I hope I’ll get the privilege to share the talk again at future conventions, online or in person. This was the 4th time I’ve given the “Neuroscience for Writers” talk, but no two deliveries are alike. Every year I update and improve it – and more importantly, share it with a new audience.