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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 edited by Lilian 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?
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?
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.
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!
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 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” 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.
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.