There’s an interview with me this week’s episode of the inimitable Dice Geeks podcast! In their “Writing Science Fiction” episode, I dredge up my rusty knowledge and finely-honed love of tabletop RPGs, and discuss how prose fiction can (and should) draw from – and differ from – the stories that emerge from TTRPGs.
The episode title says “science fiction” but I promise at least as much fantasy content as science fiction! Give the interview a listen from their site, spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
This weekend is Archon 45, the midwest’s premier SFF convention!
I’ll be there during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday – no parties for me due to the lack of vaccine policy. But you can still find me on plenty of panels. Here’s my schedule!
Unimportant Details or Enhancing the Scene?
1 Oct 2022, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Salon 4 (Gateway Center)
A discussion about why background fluff and other trivialities matter in a game.
Dana Lockhart (M), Benjamin C. Kinney, Michales Joy
It Takes More Than a Hook to Reel In a Reader
1 Oct 2022, Saturday 14:00 – 15:00, Salon 2 (Gateway Center)
You’ve got a great idea and a killer opening sentence but you don’t know where to go with it. Is there a book in it or just a short story? Or maybe it’s not as clever as you first thought.
Cynthianna/ Celine Chatillon (M), Jack Snyder, Benjamin C. Kinney, Kathleen Collins
I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Dave: Machine Learning and AI in Space
2 Oct 2022, Sunday 10:00 – 11:00, Salon 1 (Gateway Center)
Computers becoming sentient has been both in the news and on the big screen. How realistic is that scenario? How could those developments actually be beneficial in the harsh environment of space?
Anastasa Yanchilinia (M), Benjamin C. Kinney, Daniel Van Hoesen
It’s Not All Saving the World: What Do Real Scientists Actually Do?
2 Oct 2022, Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Salon 1 (Gateway Center)
Ever wonder what real scientists do? It’s not like in the movies (unfortunately).
Benjamin C. Kinney (M), Bob Perry, Daniel Van Hoesen
Here’s my schedule for ChiCon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, in Chicago IL on September 1-5 2022!
Don’t forget, in addition to all this, you can also come see me lose a Hugo Award in the Best Semiprozine category.
“Table Talk” is the beverage-free version of the olde Kaffeklatch. Sign up for it and you can have a small-group face-to-face chat with me, about neuroscience or Escape Pod or any ol’ thing.
I hope to see some of you there!
A long week-and-a-half ago was 2022’s fabled Fourth Street Fantasy convention! Always one of my favorites, with its single-track programming allowing a deep and ever-growing conversation to thread through the entire weekend.
I know a lot of people couldn’t come this year, but I took notes! Specifically, livetweets. I find livetweets great for note-taking, in that they have all the freedom of a keyboard while also adding the “rapid interpretation and condensation” that makes note-taking an effective form of learning. So, ultimately I do these for myself – and you all get to enjoy the benefit!
For lists of panelists, see the first tweet in each thread, or the official Fourth Street 2022 Programming Page.
- Designing Worlds for Everyone
- From airport scanners with only two body type defaults to facial recognition systems that can’t recognize BIPOC, unconscious—or conscious—design decisions from our world that treat people unequally seep into our fantasy worlds. Authors create fantastic worlds full of stairs wheelchair users can’t access or magic systems designed to erase disabilities. But there also exist magic writing systems that dyslexic users excel at and blind earthbenders who don’t have to overcome their disabilities in order to thrive. What are broad principles or specific ways of approaching world-building to include as many people in the fantasy as possible?
- No livetweets, I was on this one!
- Join us in the Muck: The Value of Dark Escapism
- Past 4th Streets have gushed over books like The Goblin Emperor and other approaches favoring communities coming together and triumphing over oppression, but what is the value of fantasy that is super Not That? Many of us at 4th Street also enjoy reading both TGE and stories with bleak outlooks on the world, and somehow these aesthetic—or thematic—preferences coexist. Let’s talk about why fantasies that share stylistic markers of nihilism and bloodgore can still be validating and empowering rather than depressing slogs. What does dark escapism have to say about heroism and living that we want to take with us?
- Would You Want to Live Forever? Depictions of Immortality in Fantasy
- In some stories, immortality is a curse, where a person is forced to continue on when everyone they love dies. Sometimes it’s a gift, with all the time in the world to develop the resources and interests a person cares about. In others it’s an ongoing choice made through concerted spiritual and physical effort. What does a story’s approach to immortality say about the story itself? Who do we immortalize, and why? How can we use and expand depictions of immortality in fantasy to create or deepen dimensions of our stories?
- Modern Sensibility and “Progressive” Narratives
- Fantasy writers often write characters who don’t, or logically would not, share modern sensibilities, but they are writing for readers who do. While we want our narratives to progress toward a conclusion, “progress” in our world is not always linear, particularly when it comes to people and cultures. Failure modes of attempting to walk this line abound, including characterizing premodern cultures as “primitive” or making the protagonist the lone ethical exception to prevailing attitudes. Let’s unpack how we balance contextualizing other understandings of the world in different times and places without excusing or validating oppressive behaviors and ways of thinking.
- From a Different Point of View: Choosing Perspective
- Some subgenres of fantasy have common market default points-of-view, but there are always exceptions and innovations, too. How do authors decide what POV—third or first, past or present, or something more experimental—to tell stories from? Let’s talk about unique applications of POV, how to weigh their merits, and how the narrative perspective can shape and influence a story.
- What It Takes to Feed a City: Logistics of Agriculture in Fantasy
- Despite the preponderance of farmboy chosen ones, actual farming to support the vast armies and civilizations of fantasy worlds tend to be in short supply. Let’s talk about the logistics of feeding entire worlds—from the space it takes, to how the food actually gets to the bulk of people before it spoils. Not every book needs to focus on agriculture when our heroes are off adventuring, but what are important or interesting aspects to consider that can complicate and enrich our stories?
- Overthrow Systems, Not People: Accountability and Social Action in Fantasy
- The great fantasy of overthrowing leaders and in so doing restoring peace is that all problems can stem from a single bad actor. In reality, our systems are deliberately constructed to defend against this, so no one is individually responsible for unethical conglomerates’ actions—they are borne out of policy, algorithms, and tradition as if by magic. But of course, it’s humans who construct those too. With the understanding that a single villain has the advantage of narrative simplicity, how can fantasy do better work at holding vaster fictional constructed institutions—governments, corporations, or even neighborhood community organizations—accountable, and challenging and changing them?
- Conversations with Inanimate Objects: Personification in Fantasy
- From talking swords to animated teapots to tribbles, humans will personify absolutely fucking anything. “Why are we like this” is a question probably outside the scope of any single panel, but let’s talk about how fantasy can use this technique to delight—or horrify—readers. In fantasy we have the power to actually bring our dead to a semblance of life and infuse inanimate objects with consciousness or take cursed artifacts on adventures and tuck them into bed. What are ways to be clever about personification, and what opportunity space have we missed?
- No livetweets, I was on this one!
- The Flavor in the Details
- Everyone loves being CaptainAmericaUnderstoodThatReference dot gif. On the other hand, it’s alienating to feel left out of the in-joke. How do we walk the line of background details that add extra flavor and resonance for some readers to appreciate without hanging critical story understanding on references not everyone will understand? How do we incorporate allusions to real-world events and memes without their feeling anachronistic? What makes these details worthwhile and not just cleverness at the expense of the story?
- Ambiguous Narrative Stances
- What kind of ambiguity serves a story, in endings and in narrative support? Raising complicated questions with no easy answers is all well and good; avoiding dealing with what they mean entirely is an abnegation of responsibility. We can’t control reader interpretations, and there can be power in letting readers fill in for themselves what goes, but when is failing to take an explicit stance a disservice to the reader, and how explicit is it important to be? Where is the line between an ambiguous ending that fails the reader by failing to take a stance, or that serves the reader in forcing them to think through implications to their logical conclusion and intentionally decide on their own reading?
- “…But That’s Another Panel” bonus panel: Can You Trust the Archives? Imperfect Memory in Fantasy
- Many fantasies treat ancient archives — or ancient immortals — as if the memory they contain is gospel. But we know there is no perfect recording system, not to mention transmission system: human memory is fallible even when differing accounts agree on events, written records are biased in perspective and rely on someone who can translate them “accurately,” and digital recordings can be corrupted or their technology rendered inaccessible. On the other hand, readers need something solid in a fantasy world to hold onto. How can fantasy incorporate this tension of needing archives but knowing they’re fallible in interesting ways? How does who can access the records shape the story? How would the story change if Leia’s message to Obi-Wan in A NEW HOPE was hacked and edited, or if the prophecy was embellished by a scribe who thought the original was boring?
- No livetweets, I was asked to be on this one too, it was AWESOME
We are less than three weeks out from DisCon3, the 79th World Science Fiction Convention, in Washington DC. As a finalist (Best Semiprozine) for my work as assistant editor of Escape Pod, I’ll be there in person!
Here’s where you can find me:
AI in Fiction and Reality
16 Dec 2021 (Thu), `11:30am-12:30pm, Empire Ballroom. (Session 588)
Andrea Hairston (mod), Avani Wildani, Benjamin C. Kinney, Natalie Luhrs, Lincoln Peters
Is there a Doctor in the House?
16 Dec 2021 (Thu), `1:00-2:00pm, Forum Room. (Session 574)
Benjamin C. Kinney (mod), Usman T. Malik, Shannon Chakraborty, Leonardo Espinoza Benavides, Lincoln Peters
Meetup: Escape Artists
17 Dec 2021 (Fri), 2:30-3:20pm, Ambassador Ballroom. (Session 746)
The Morphology of Fantasy Creatures
17 Dec 2021 (Fri), 8:30-9:30pm, Diplomat Ballroom. (Session 601)
DW “Lemur” Rowlands (mod), Fonda Lee, Rodrigo Juri, Eva L. Elasigue, Benjamin C. Kinney
Kaffeeklatsch with Benjamin C. Kinney
19 Dec 2021 (Sun), 11:30am-12:30pm, Suite 325 Bedroom Room. (Session 1121)
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!
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
With conventions still online for the foreseeable future, I’ll be attending a few cons I’ve always wanted to be part of: which means I’ll be on programming for Capricon 41, February 4-7 2021!
This should be a fantastic convention, with guests of honor Aliette de Bodard, Brandon O’Brien, John Jennings, Michi Trota, and Dr. Cacophonie Tamayo.
You can find me at a couple of panels & a reading. As always, I love talking about neuroscience and SFF, so come on by and join the conversation!
We’re all made of meat… until we’re not.
Thursday 2/4, 7-8pm Central, Willow
A panel on cyberpunk, cyber spies, and other cybernetic imaginaries.
Pablo Vazquez (mod), Benjamin C. Kinney, Casella Brookins, Will Frank
Science of worldbuilding
Saturday 2/6, 10-11am Central, Willow
Scientists talk about world building, and what it takes to get it right.
Pat Sayre McCoy (mod), Benjamin C. Kinney, PatrickJ, Barbara Bennett
Reading: Benjamin C. Kinney
Sunday 2/7, 12:30-1pm Central, Birch
Benjamin C. Kinney reads from “Conference of the Birds” (Analog, Jan/Feb 2021). It’s hard work being a mid-level node in an oppressive megacorp’s distributed neural network AI.
UPDATE December 10: The recording is up on YouTube. Watch it here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdAGook8pnk&list=WL&index=14
Are you familiar with the Worldbuilders charity? They work to unite the geek community into a charity-supporting machine, and partner with global charities to make the world a better place.
This month they’re running the Something To Look Forward To #S2LF2 twitch stream to raise donations for the charity Heifer International. And this Friday I’ll be lending my hand and brain to the cause. Friday December 4th at 11am Central Time, I’ll be on the Worldbuilders Twitch stream for the panel “Star Trek & Optimistic SFF” with Martha Wells, Dana Pellebon, Sarah Gulde, and special guest Anthony Rapp.
Well, I’m nervous! But I’m also super excited! I’m not a deep font of Star Trek lore, but it’s the SF I grew up on – not as a young child, but at the start of my adolescence, taking in the ethical exemplars and new worlds of TNG after dinner with my parents. And perhaps because of that, I have a lot to say and think about optimistic SFF.
Come on down to the twitch on Friday, then check out all the other events. If you can’t make it out to elevensies, the discussion will be up later on the Worldbuilders YouTube channel. Either way, if you can afford it, consider a donation to Heifer International to help create sustainable change in the world!
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.