Story Sale: “A Start to Judgment”

Sale announcement: my epic fantasy short story “A Start to Judgment” will be appearing in Kaleidotrope! Sometime in 2022 or 2023.

I love this story. It’s got everything you need from epic fantasy: a doomed and self-blaming hero, the clash of armies, deep mythology, and a personal showdown with a malevolent god… all in 1500 words (~6 pages).

Everyone calls Arsha the Chosen One. But her power cannot dethrone the Flensed Lord, because her magic is a piece of His. When they come face to face, He will reclaim what He owns.

The truth wouldn’t save anyone. With or without her, He and His creatures will butcher the rebellion.

As long as she hides her fears, they can believe they’re dying for a purpose.

2021 in Review & Awards Eligibility

2021 is coming to a close. It’s been a wild year by any metric, but I’ve brought you all here today not for annual angst, but to look back on my publications in the past year. I’ve published ~6 short stories (four pro, two semi-pro), and sold three; wrote up two interesting bits of nonfiction; and sent my AI Cold War novel out on query.

Whether you’re looking for some stories to enjoy, or reading for SFF awards, I’d love to share these 2021 publications with you!

Short Fiction

  1. I Would – Fantasy Magazine, July 2021 (secondary world fantasy, 5600 words). About prophecy, faith, and a non-hero using what power she has. If you want to read just one piece of mine this year (for award nominations or otherwise), this is the one I’d recommend!
    • “Some people say the stars control fate. I would never say such a thing.”
  2. Conference of the Birds – Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Jan/Feb 20211 (science fiction, 3900 words). AI and distributed minds.
    • “No program-layer could predict what a human might do, but Surveillance Hub could see everything that mattered.”
  3. Memories of Fire – Translunar Travelers Lounge, April 2021 (contemporary fantasy noir, 4400 words). Jewish mythology, the 2011 Libyan revolution, and the tyrants of Heaven and Earth. This one still moves me, and I wish more people read it.
    • “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.”
  4. Cruise Control – Fireside Fiction, July 2021 (science fiction, 1100 words). Unhappy families, retiree brains, and self-driving cars.
    • “Why the hell would I want to become a car?”
  5. The Promise of Iron – Kaleidotrope, September 2021 (steampunk, 5900 words). Hungarian Jews in a world upended by steampunktech.
    • “Food and money are a greater fortune than the sight of machines, she told herself.”
  6. Eight Reasons You Are Alone – Nature Futures, November 2021 (science fiction, 900 words). Conscience and self-definition.
    • “If I asked you what kind of person you are, you wouldn’t know the answer.”

In addition, my short story “A Living Planet” is due out in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Analog. It will hit bookshelves in December 2021, so by Nebula Award rules (but not Hugo) it will count as a 2021 story. Expect an update to this page when the publication comes to pass!

Nonfiction

  1. Short Fiction Rejection Letters: Best Practices and Expectations” – SFWA Blog (August 24, 2021)
  2. Embodied and Empathetic Minds” – Astounding Analog Companion Blog (February 2, 2021). Linked to “Conference of the Birds” above.

Other Award Recommendations

If you’re nominating for the Hugo Awards, I hope you’ll consider Escape Pod for Best Semiprozine. We’ve put out a lot of great stories, and been at the vanguard of Escape Artists’ efforts to do right by our authors in every way we can. Our co-editors Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya would make a great choice (as a two-person team) for Best Editor Short Form, too.

Eight Reasons You Are Alone

My science fiction story “Eight Reasons You Are Alone” is available today in Nature Futures! You’ve pulled it off, and learned the price, and now you have plenty of time to think about the consequences. There’s nobody left to talk to, after all.

Illustration by Jacey

But the alarm came too late for the shuttles to escape the blast radius.

All but yours, which launched before the alarm with only one human aboard.

I think you believed the shuttles would be fast enough to escape. But you never investigated. You certainly never asked me.

When you pass your shuttle’s 19 empty berths, do you imagine your dead co-workers? The family you haven’t seen in years? Or nothing at all?

To learn more about the inspiration behind “Eight Reasons You Are Alone,” check out my notes at the bottom of the story!

The only other thing I have to say is: I’ve always wanted to be published in Nature, but my science is in the wrong field for it, so I’m pleased to find this other route into one of science’s most prestigious publications.

The Promise of Iron

My steampunk short story “The Promise of Iron” is available to read today in the Fall 2021 issue of Kaleidotrope!

Eszter and her brother scrounge to put food on the table in a Budapest beseiged by Napeoleon’s war machines. Forty years into the war, both sides fight with machines of steam and thaumic science, but a Jewish girl like Eszter can only dream of getting her hands on the gears.

Eszter pressed her forehead against the narrow window, watching the war-engines roll down the boulevard. The thirty railless cars progressed in perfect synchrony, shaking the tenement floorboards beneath her feet. She stared down at the stubby barrels of cannon, the smoked-glass lenses of eyes, and the mane of pistons emerging from each pressure engine. She wished the machines would pause there, beneath her window, where they seemed close enough to touch. But the automata continued their implacable roll southward, beyond her reach.

The Promise of Iron is free for everyone to read! If you enjoy it, and all the other excellent stories in this issue of Kaleidotrope, consider supporting the magazine.

Story notes below the fold!

Continue reading The Promise of Iron

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?

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…