It’s Alive! Geeking Out About Inhuman, Yet Sentient, Beings

I’ve always been fascinated with things that have a mind of their own. I’m not sure why, and never quite understood it, but I’m always happy to find someone else who shares that passion. This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! I welcome guest Karina Sumner-Smith, speculative fiction author and fellow lover of sentient beings.

Image: Talos/Skyhorse
Image: Talos/Skyhorse

I’ve never been a geek for architecture. Don’t get me wrong; I love ancient monuments and urban skylines, interesting libraries and houses that feel like home from the moment you walk inside. But it’s never been the buildings themselves that catch my attention so much as the thought of the stories that might happen inside them.

Yet, of everything, it was the Towers of the title that made me geek out while writing Towers Fall. Continue reading It’s Alive! Geeking Out About Inhuman, Yet Sentient, Beings

Geeking Out On Starship Design

This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction! we welcome science fiction author Patrick S. Tomlinson! Not only is Patrick the author of the brand new book The Ark from Angry Robot Books, he’s also a stand-up comedian and a blogger. Please welcome him to GeekMom!

Hello GeekMom readers! My name is Patrick S. Tomlinson. I’m a sci-fi author and stand-up comedian living in Milwaukee. My debut novel, The Ark, is hitting the shelves November 3rd from Angry Robot Books. I’ve been asked to share what about writing it made me geek out the most.

The Ark was the first novel I’ve written where the plot emerged fully formed. In the span of just a few hours, the outline of all the major plot points and characters filled up my head in a burst of creativity. Over dinner that night, I positively gushed everything I’d come up with to my girlfriend, just to get it out.

As a result, it was also the fastest book I’ve written to date, taking only six months to reach the end, (I’m still not the fastest writer, although I’m getting a lot better). The whole idea behind the book is Earth was destroyed centuries ago, but humanity had just enough time to do something about it. So they built a stupendous generation ship, filled it with fifty-thousand of the planet’s best and brightest, then shot them off for the stars.

Because of this, the world-building for the story was limited to the ship and its occupants, but that didn’t make the task any less daunting. Creating a self-sustaining world in miniature that is believable, compelling, and still scientifically-grounded was a big deal. Just look at the infamous Biodome II experiment to know what I mean. Continue reading Geeking Out On Starship Design

This Is SO Good: ‘Parable of the Sower’ In Concert

I’m spending a rainy morning re-reading Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. There’s a lot to do around the house and for work, but I don’t care. My ears are filled with words and song, and I want to revisit Butler’s masterful and wrenching post-apocalyptic vision, thanks to folk musician Toshi Reagon and the team of performers who are helping bring Butler’s work to a new audience.

Photo: Hachette (trade reprint, 2000). Buy the book at Amazon.

Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower was a 1994 Nebula Award nominee. Twenty-two years on, the story doesn’t just resonate and shock. It grabs hold and shakes, yelling “Wake up!”

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, a young woman with hyperempathy who is the daughter of a visionary preacher, chronicles her journey through a destroyed L.A. and out into the world.

“The first time I read Parable, it was so terrifying,” folksinger Reagon told her audience at a recent concert. “I had to put it down.” Luckily, Reagon picked the book back up again.

Reagon and her mother, Dr. Bernice Johnson (Sweet Honey in the Rock & Freedom Singers co-founder), have written a glorious rock opera and set Parable of the Sower to music. Her musical interpretation of Parable of the Sower premiered at the 2015 Under the Radar festival and is currently making limited appearances as a work-in-progress. Parable of the Sower features outstanding performances by cast members Bertilla Baker, Helga Davis, Karma Mayet Johnson, Tamar-kali, Morley Kamen, Marcelle Davies Lashley, Josette Newsam-Marchak, Carl Hancock Rux, Shayna Small, and Jason C. Walker. The musicians are Robert Burke, Fred Cash, Juliette Jones, and Adam Widoff. (Source:

Program for Parable of the Sower, from The Annenberg Center performance 10/02/15. Image: Fran Wilde
Program for Parable of the Sower, from the Annenberg Center performance on 10/02/15. Image: Fran Wilde

A mix of spirituals, rock, soul-searing solos, and powerful choruses and harmonies, Reagon’s Parable of the Sower is nothing short of transformative. At the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, where I saw the concert, performers wove the intimacy of the setting and the power of connection through the audience with voice, movement, light and darkness, and eye contact. The music is exquisite. The voices linger long after the theater is quiet.

Reagon said during the performance that Parable of the Sower will be a full opera. Should it, or the work-in-progress concert come to a venue near you? Go.

Concert photo by Fran Wilde.

Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Veronica Scott


She’s the best-selling science fiction and paranormal romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today “Happily Ever After” blog. However, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history, and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.

Three-time winner of the Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances!

Thanks for inviting me to be your guest!

I love doing research and for my science fiction novels, I’m often doing a deep dive into odd things that I’m going to adapt for my future galactic civilization known as the Sectors.

SF Romance
Cover copyright Veronica Scott.

The first topic I geeked out about for a specific book was the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, because my first published SF novel was Wreck of the Nebula Dream, loosely inspired by the Titanic’s sinking. (I’ve always been fascinated by Titanic though.)

For that book, I researched anything and everything to do with the real-life tragedy, including the ship’s design, its passengers and crew, premonitions and superstitions connected to the event, the cargo… I enjoyed the creative exercise of applying that wealth of detail to a luxury cruiser roaming the star lanes. For my recent best-seller, Star Cruise: Marooned, I researched the world of the charter yacht, which is somewhat different in nature than a liner.

The second thing I’ve geeked out about for my SF world is Special Forces military operators.

My heroes are pretty much always in that line of work and my goal is to create men who could walk into any bar on Earth today where SEALs and Rangers gather, and be accepted as members of the brotherhood.

My late husband was a Marine, so I’m very supportive of the military in general, have had SEAL and Ranger authors as guests on my blog in the past… but as actual research, I’ve read numerous real-life accounts, asked a lot of questions, subscribe to a (public) Special Forces-oriented website to stay current, have been to at least one conference I’m not allowed to discuss….

Veronica Scott square photo
Veronica Scott, image via Veronica Scott.

I guess by now you can tell my definition of “geek out” isn’t about the hardware or the science, so much as it is about the world-building and the people.

I worked at JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory] for many years and totally geeked out over everything built and managed there, from Mars rovers to space telescopes, so it’s not that I’m not into those things! We’ll count that as the third thing for this column.

Nothing like looking at the actual flight hardware that’s going to be on another planet or watching a giant multi-legged robot cross the street in front of you. And yes, a lot of the engineers and scientists who work there could be characters on The Big Bang Theory. Maybe slightly exaggerated, but there’s a resemblance. Being in the room with those guys and gals is amazing. Some of the finest scientific and technical minds anywhere on Earth. I feel very privileged to have supported the efforts from my business-oriented vantage point as a contracts person.

cover copyright Veronica Scott
Cover copyright Veronica Scott.

The fourth thing I’ve geeked out about, which certainly influenced me as an author, would be comic books. As a kid, I had thousands squirreled away in my bedroom, mostly DC comics. I wasn’t into Marvel then, other than Thor. Two of my all-time favorites were Magnus Robot Fighter and Brothers of the Spear.

More geeking?

Interviewing John Scalzi, which I got to do for my USA Today “Happily Ever After SciFi Encounters” column. Talking to him was fascinating! His mind goes a mile a minute in a good way and as an interviewer, I absolutely felt motivated to try to ask him questions he hadn’t been asked before a million times. Discussing the processes of writing a novel, comparing notes with him, was like a Masters’ class for me. Really a rare and memorable experience!

You can find Veronica Scott at her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Her latest is Star Cruise: Marooned, on sale for just 99 cents:

Meg Antille works long hours on the charter cruise ship Far Horizon so she can send credits home to her family. Working hard to earn a promotion to a better post (and better pay), Meg has no time for romance.

Former Special Forces soldier Red Thomsill only took the berth on the Far Horizon in hopes of getting to know Meg better, but so far she’s kept him at a polite distance. A scheduled stopover on the idyllic beach of a nature preserve planet may be his last chance to impress the girl.

But when one of the passengers is attacked by a wild animal it becomes clear that conditions on the lushly forested Dantaralon aren’t as advertised—the ranger station is deserted, the defensive perimeter is down…and then the Far Horizon’s shuttle abruptly leaves without any of them.

Marooned on the dangerous outback world, romance is the least of their concerns, and yet Meg and Red cannot help being drawn to each other once they see how well they work together. But can they survive long enough to see their romance through? Or will the wild alien planet defeat them, ending their romance and their lives before anything can really begin?

Geek Speaks… Fiction! by Aliette de Bodard


Today’s guest on Geek Speaks… Fiction is author Aliette de Bodard.

house of shattered
Order on Amazon image courtesy Ace/Roc

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she works as a System Engineer and herds a toddler nicknamed “Snakelet”. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction: She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award, and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel The House of Shattered Wings is out from Roc/Gollancz this month. 

Manga, anime, and my writing

My writerly influences tend to the eclectic: I have a tendency to read everything (including the back of the toothpaste package if I get bored), and my childhood was filled with a mix of books in all genres, bandes dessineés, movies—and manga, which I sneak-read because my parents weren’t overly keen on it (they’d caught a bit of the Ken the Survivor anime on TV and decided they didn’t want me exposed to that kind of graphical violence, so I couldn’t have any manga or watch any anime). Needless to say, I felt like trying both anyway!

Below are my five influential manga/anime and how they impacted my writing and my most recent novel The House of Shattered Wings (out August 18th from Roc in the US, August 20th from Gollancz in the UK).

  1. Black Jack (manga): It’s probably a good thing that my parents never actually opened the Black Jack mangas I was so fond of, since they might have had quite a few surprises about graphically explicit… Featuring the adventures of a blackmarket surgeon and his precocious adopted daughter, and hovering between body horror, black humour, and serious ethical dilemmas, this has had a lot of influence on me—notably teaching me a lot about creepiness and unease and how effective they are when deployed against the background of everyday life; and there’s plenty of dark and creepy in The House of Shattered Wings, from people drinking the blood of angels to shadows that slither just out of sight, just out of reach…
  1. Sailor Moon (manga): Another manga I found when young—one of the few carried by my (small) local bookshop. I actually had a period of feeling ashamed about having read it because it felt so girly to me, but I came back to it years later, when Takeuchi Naoko released the new editions, and was genuinely surprised to still find it excellent. It’s about magical girls, reincarnation, and time travel, and I loved the mythic undertones to the whole saga (also, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are the best). It’s taught me quite a few things about merging science fiction and fantasy in my own fiction—The House of Shattered Wings mixes a post-apocalyptic setting (a devastated Paris with nuked monuments where people struggle to survive) with the presence of Fallen angels and magic, and I think the merge of genres makes it a much stronger one than the pure urban fantasy it started out as.
  1. Cowboy Bebop (anime/movie): To the best of my recollection, I actually watched the movie of this first, and was so struck with the aesthetic that we decided to watch the rest of the series. And I wasn’t disappointed: I love the run-down atmosphere of the series, and most of all the soundtrack, which is unusual for an SF series but just brilliant. It made for great listening when I’m writing!
  1. Revolutionary Girl Utena (manga/anime/movie): I watched this one on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, and it blew my mind away. It’s a freaking effective deconstruction of tropes, rpm fairy tales to gender roles to power dynamics. And the ending still makes me weep every time I get to it. The quality isn’t great (lots of recycled animations for scenes); the plot meanders a bit and can get repetitive, and there are a few triggery bits, and yet… and yet for all its flaws it’s got a freshness and an energy that drags me along every single time. It’s an object lesson that a thing doesn’t have to be technically perfect to grab the imagination of the audience (though of course as a writer I still angst over reaching perfection every single time—guess I can’t help it!)

(And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I own the movie and the manga too :) )

  1. Full Metal Alchemist (anime/manga/anime): It’s hard to encompass the impact Full Metal Alchemist had on my life. I watched the first anime, which I found a bit disappointing; checked out the manga and then the second anime—and now own all volumes of the manga (a pretty hefty space investment for my small house). It’s a meld of wonderful worldbuilding with an original magic system (alchemy and the principle of equivalence), a wonderful cast of memorable characters from naive Al to ambivalent Greed (and badass general Olivia Armstrong will always have a special place in my heart :) ), and an ending that delivers both on an epic scale and on a personal one (Ed’s final choice is inevitable but wonderfully done). I learnt a lot from it about entwining plot lines, and doing badass characters: My Fallen angels and my heads of magical factions in The House Of Shattered Wings owe more than a passing debt to Arakawa Hiromu.
Aliette de Bodard | Image courtesy of the author.

And I was very struck with the redefinition of alchemy into a non-potion-based magical system, and re-used the word in my book as a homage to the series: In my world, alchemists are specialized in re-using the breath and body parts of Fallen angels to provide magical energy to practitioners so they can cast spells—so not FMA‘s alchemists, but definitely at the centre of things.

Those are my top five, but it was hard to limit myself to just these. (I wanted to mention Le Chevalier d’Eon, Ergo Proxy, Black Butler, Haibane Renmei, and so many others that I vividly remember!)

Visit for book geekery, fiction, and Franco-Vietnamese recipes. Follow Aliette on Twitter.

Geek Speaks… Fiction! With Guest Jeff Somers

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Please help us welcome this week’s “Geek Speaks… Fiction!” guest, science fiction and fantasy author Jeff Somers, who talks about what to do when the ideas overflow.

The Overages
Sometimes the clichés are true; whenever someone learns I’m a writer, they do inevitably ask the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” As if there is some service you can sign up for that will tweet you brilliancies, or some kids at the local community college or on oDesk who will gladly send you several detailed synopses of awesome novels for $5 apiece. Which, come to think of it, there probably are both of these things, but please do not tell me about them or I will spontaneously die of ennui like Gorey’s sad little Neville.

The thing is, like most writers I’ve spoken to, ideas aren’t the problem. Ideas are never the problem. Formalizing those ideas? Plotting and outlining stories, sketching characters, realizing your story ends with 15,000 words and that’s not a novel? Those are problems.

But sheer number of ideas never is, because writers have ideas all the time. We have so many ideas, as a rule, that we can’t write them all, and that’s why we always walk around with that slight slump and Eeyore-esque aura: The sadness due to not being able to work on all our awesome ideas. So it’s always been with me, with a hard drive crammed with a million ideas I will someday get to, assuming they cure Death and I have eternity to work on them.

Image: Gallery Books

Avery Cates
And so it is with my character, Avery Cates. When I published the fifth Cates novel, The Final Evolution, in 2011, the story was finished, and I didn’t have an immediate reason to keep going. I’d done exactly what I wanted with those five books: I’d followed the end of civilization through a series of cataclysms as seen through the eyes of the desperate, hilarious, and sometimes brutal Avery Cates, a character I loved. But I lacked impetus to keep exploring that character, so I moved on to other things, most notably We Are Not Good People and an all-new humorous bastard, Lem Vonnegan.

But the ideas keep coming. The overages in ideas specifically about Cates kept piling up to an alarming degree. In the first five books, I’d explored a technological society crumbling into violent collapse. There was now an opportunity to do something cool: Watch the remnants of that society turn into something else entirely, something maybe less science-fiction and more epic fantasy. I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but the ideas kept hitting me in the face. The overages got taller and taller.

So, I started sketching.

Nothing serious. Just get some ideas into a file in case I had time or an offer from a publisher. One surprising thing about writing professionally: You never know when someone’s going to say: Pitch me. Right here.

So I sketched. And sketched. And before I knew it, I had 10,000 words and a stand-alone story about Avery called “The Shattered Gears.” I sat on it for a while, thinking I’d develop it into a novel using some of the other ideas that were overflowing the buckets. And then I thought, why wait? Why wait until there were so many ideas my head just explodes and I have to be fitted for a tattered bathrobe and tissue boxes for shoes (my inevitable end, don’t worry, it is known)? So I put “The Shattered Gears” through editing and put it out digitally.

Image: Jeff Somers

And the ideas kept coming, and the overages got steeper, and so I started working again. The end result was “The Walled City,” another short story, just released, that continues Avery’s new story. And now that I’ve started this, I’m going to keep going, releasing chunks of the story as I finish them, eventually collecting them into a novel—probably more like a trilogy of novels. I could wait until I’ve written those novels and look into traditional publishing, but that takes time, and during that time the overages will just get worse and worse.

So, after “The Walled City” will come a story called “The Pale.” And after that, even more. It’s just a way of siphoning off some ideas. I’ll be exploring this idea I have of taking a protagonist from a firmly science fictional universe and exploring his reaction as the universe becomes less science fiction, and more… I dunno.

Magical isn’t the right word, actually. There’s no magic, but it’s a world where the hovers no longer fly and no one’s making any new bullets, so it’s not the cyberpunk universe of the first five novels, either. Everything’s winding down, spinning off, and thinning out, and Avery, as always, is there to kill people and somehow make us like him for it.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the basic problem. Only cloning me into several versions that can type out the ideas simultaneously—known as Multiple Jeffs and we would sell out arenas around the world!—would put a dent in The Overages. And the cost of care and feeding an army of drunken, pantsless writers would far exceed the earnings I might expect from those stories, so the math doesn’t work. Which means I am stuck writing things one at a time, like a sucker.

Photo: Barbara Nitke

About the author: Jeff Somers was first sighted in Jersey City, New Jersey, after the destruction of a classified government installation in the early 1970s; the area in question is still too radioactive to go near. When asked about this, he will only say that he regrets nothing. He is the author of Lifers, the Avery Cates series from Orbit Books, Chum from Tyrus Books, and the Ustari Cycle from Pocket/Gallery, including We Are Not Good People.

Jeff’s published over 30 short stories as well; his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris, and his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006. He survives on the nickels and quarters he regularly finds behind his ears, his guitar playing is a plague upon his household, and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would wither and die if left to his own devices, but this is only half true.

He has published his own zine, The Inner Swine, since 1995, once in print and now in digital format only. A few hardy fools still read that rag, believe it or not. So can you!

Today, he makes beer money by writing amazing things for various people. Favorite whiskey: Glenmorangie 10 Year. Yes, it is acceptable to pay me in it.

10 Questions & Giveaway With Award-winning Author Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie  (image courtesy Ann Leckie)
Ann Leckie
(image courtesy Ann Leckie)

Author Ann Leckie’s first novel, Ancillary Justice (2014, Orbit), won Hugo, Nebula, Locus, British Science Fiction Award, and Arthur C. Clarke awards in 2014. Her second novel in the same Radch empire series, Ancillary Sword, won the BSFA and is on the ballots for the 2015 Nebulas and Hugos. And the third, Ancillary Mercy, is on the launch pad. Recently, Leckie signed with Orbit to write more books within the Radch empire as well. Meanwhile, her short stories have appeared (and several can be read for free) at Subterranean magazineStrange Horizons, and Realms of Fantasy. Her story “Hesperia and Glory” was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition, edited by Rich Horton. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her family.

Leckie recently took a moment away from writing to speak with GeekMom Fran Wilde and answer 10 questions.

Breaking News: Leckie and her publisher—Orbit Books—have generously offered to give away a set of two Ancillary books (U.S./Canada only), as well as personally selected teas. Read to the end of the interview for more information on how to win!

Ancillary Justice (Orbit, 2013) - Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke, Kitschies winner
Ancillary Justice (Orbit, 2013), the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke, and Kitschies winner.

GeekMom: Your books have struck a chord for many readers—the voice and characters in Ancillary Justice, the sweeping arc of Ancillary Sword. What can we expect from Ancillary Mercy?

Ann Leckie: Ancillary Mercy is, like Ancillary Sword, not exactly the same sort of book as the one before it. Expect outside events to begin filtering into Athoek—or more specifically, expect the Presger and Anaander Mianaai to show up.

GM: You are a big science fiction and fantasy fan. Do you have other fandoms besides SF/F?

AL: SF/F is certainly my primary fandom! It’s a pretty broad one, actually, since you can say “fandom” and mean something as specific as a particular book or movie. But, the only other thing that I might classify as a (non-SF/F) fandom would be my participation in what was at the time called Gabeweb—that is, three or four websites dedicated to following and discussing Peter Gabriel, back in the, what, the late nineties, early 2000s? I’d decided to learn HTML, and thought for a while about what sort of website I might build—what was there that I knew about, or was sufficiently enthusiastic about, that I might actually make some sort of contribution to? And I discovered a small community of PG fans. It was a good bunch of folks and I had a good time. We were mostly just being kind of silly, and I think the folks running Gabriel’s website at the time had a pretty tolerant attitude towards us, which was nice.

GM: What would you like to tell someone new to your work about the Imperial Radch universe? What would you tell longtime fans who are snapping up Awn Elming memorial pins and debating what various teas from the Radch might taste like?

AL: Hmm. Aside from what’s already on the back covers, and what they might have seen mentioned around here and there, really the universe is meant to be a more or less classic space opera universe. My intention was to tell stories that were fun and gripping or affecting. And, something I’d say to any reader at all, if you give it a few chapters (or less, or more) and you find it’s not doing it for you, by all means put the book down with a clear conscience and my blessing. Thanks for giving it a try and I hope your next read is more your thing. Although, of course, I hope it does do it for you, and you don’t put it down!

To the fans? Hah, you’re awesome. Seriously, having people make fan art and fanfic, and really getting into speculating about details (whether it’s tea or what various passive-aggressive tortures Justice of Toren One Esk used on Seivarden back in the day) is right up there with winning awards, in my opinion.

Ancillary Sword (Orbit, 2014) BFSA winner, Hugo & Nebula nominee (as of publication)
Ancillary Sword (Orbit, 2014), the BFSA winner, Hugo and Nebula nominee (as of publication).

GM: What one piece of advice would you give a parent who wanted to return to writing or to begin writing?

AL: Do it. Just do it. Make whatever time you can—obviously, particularly when your kids are small, your available time will be small, or even when you have time it’s in circumstances that make it difficult to concentrate on your writing. That’s okay. Do what you can. Eventually, kids get older, and more able to safely amuse themselves for longish periods. And even if you’re in a situation where that doesn’t happen—if there are health or disability issues that prevent that, for instance—whatever time you can take, use it. It’s worth it. It all adds up eventually. The longest novel ever written was written one word at a time, one sentence at a time. There’s no due date, no time limit, no prizes for finishing sooner, or fines for taking a long time. Just put one word after the other, whenever you get a chance.

GM: Do you have any thoughts about the media’s need to modify the word “writer” with adjectives like “lady” or “female?”

AL: I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel like women writing science fiction have been repeatedly invisible. It feels to me like every 10 years or so, someone looks around and sees women in SF and goes, “Wow, look at all these women! It’s sure not like the old days, when it was all guys!” And then 10 years later, “Wow, look at all these women!” So from that perspective, I think it’s maybe a good idea to draw attention to the fact that, no, there are and have been women in the field for quite some time, and still are now, so that 10 years from now maybe people won’t suddenly be surprised to find women SF writers, like fish suddenly surprised to discover that water has materialized around them.

On the other hand, those labels have the potential to rope off women writers and their writing as a sort of “other” to unmarked, “regular” science fiction. And honestly, though this is probably particular to me and my history, I really dislike “lady” as a label. I could probably spend an entire blog post going into why, but to keep it short, there are not only class issues involved, but also a weird “good women/bad women” thing going on with it, particularly with constructions like “ladylike” or “she’s a real lady.” I almost never use it unless I’m asking where a public restroom is. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

GM: What advice have your kids given you that’s really stuck with you?

AL: I’ve only gotten one piece of advice, or what might pass for it, from my son. He was about 12, and I had sent Ancillary Justice out to agents and was waiting for replies, and you know that emotional state when you’ve sent something out and you really, really want to not get rejections back, but you know of course that’s what’s most likely, and I’d been working and working on writing the query letter and the synopses and all that and I was explaining to my husband about what I’d done and what I hoped to accomplish, (he had already heard all of it before, but because he’s awesome he was patiently listening), and my son, who had only been half listening, pipes up, “Mom! I have an idea! You should get an agent!”

It was good advice! The state I was in, I almost snapped at him, “Don’t toy with me!” But instead, I took a breath and said, “That’s what I’m trying to do, honey. That’s what all this is about.” And he said, “Oh.” And went back to his computer game.

GM: Who are you reading these days?

AL: Mostly people whose editors send me mss for possible blurbs! And lots of nonfiction. Whenever I’m in the planning stages of a project, I read large amounts of nearly random nonfiction. And whenever I get stuck. Often I feel like, if I’m stuck, I just need to find the right nonfiction to supply me with some idea or detail that will get things back on track.

It’s weirdly ironic, though of course it makes sense, that one of the reasons I wanted to write was because I love so much to read. But now that I’ve been quite successful writing, I have hardly any time to read, and often when I do, I find my brain sliding off SF/F. I gather I’m not the only writer to have this happen.

GM: What are you crafting these days? (Note: Leckie is a great maker-of-things across the board. She has an Etsy shop to prove it, which occasionally stocks the aforementioned Awn Elming memorial pins. If you don’t know what those are, read more Ancillary.)

AL: I have ambitions to reduce my yarn stash—it’s a very tiny stash by hardcore knitter/crocheter standards, but it would still probably make someone blink, who didn’t do either of those. But I haven’t made much progress, because I haven’t really been in yarn mode for a while.

Lately I’ve been beading. I started out crocheting beaded necklaces and I sold a few on Etsy, and then I discovered the local bead shop and next thing I knew, I was taking classes and doing beadweaving. As a consequence, I have a stash of beads that’s more impressive than my yarn stash, and several UFOs. For possibly obvious reasons, my focus has been on pins lately, which basically means beading up various small things and sticking a pin finding on the back, which has the advantage of not taking as long as, say, the ginormous free-form netted bracelet I’m in the middle of, or the even ginormouser free-form necklace I started a year or so ago. (I am a professional writer, therefore “ginormouser” is now a real word.)

GM: Geek or nerd?

AL: Yes!

GM: You are an award-winning novelist, an editor of short fiction, a supportive voice in the community, and a lifelong fan of genre fiction. What do you wish for the future of the field?

AL: I wish for a genuinely wide range of voices, and a recognition that when someone says “most people” they often actually mean “most people like me” or “people who fit into certain default categories.” And similarly, generalizations about what “readers” want is nearly always a shorthand for a particular subgroup of readers. And it’s perfectly cromulent to talk about what that a subgroup wants, or what people in one or another category mostly respond to, default categories included, but just realizing that you’re not actually talking about everyone, that the default categories aren’t the center and other groups of people aren’t just weird exceptions, just making that step in thinking about things is, in my opinion, an essential first step to having that range of voices.

Thanks so much to Ann Leckie for joining us!

From May 13-18, 2015, you can enter our GeekMom Rafflecopter giveaway to win two of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary books—Justice and Sword—or tea selected personally by her. To enter, log into Rafflecopter and follow the directions!

Ann Leckie Rafflecopter giveaway

Mid-Atlantic Geeks Assemble! ‘Asimov’s’ Magazine Comes to Philadelphia

image via Fran Wilde
Image via Fran Wilde

Asimov’s Magazine comes to Philadelphia on March 28 at 1pm at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble!

If you’re near Philadelphia on Saturday, March 28, stop by the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble from 1pm to 3pm to meet Asimov’s Magazine editor Sheila Williams (who visited GeekMom last year), and Philadelphia-area science fiction writers Gregory Frost, Michael Swanwick, Tom Purdom, and intrepid GeekMom Fran Wilde*.

More information and RSVP here.

(*yup, that’s me. INTREPID. Hope to see you there.)

10 Questions With Amelia Smith From Big Giant Swords

Amelia Smith, image courtesy Discovery Channel
Amelia Smith, image courtesy Discovery Channel

As the Discovery Channel’s Big Giant Swords heads into its season finale, GeekMom asked Amelia Smith, whose husband, blacksmith “Irish” Mike, is the show’s star, 10 questions about herself, and about Big Giant Swords.

Discovery Channel has given us an exclusive clip of the finale—so stay tuned at the end. And if you have your own questions for Amelia, let us know in the comments.

GeekMom: You met Irish Mike at a con? Which one? 

Amelia: We met at Boskone in 2007, at the back of the filksinging audience. We were both a little skeptical of filking, which neither of us had seen before.

GM: When did you realize your life was going to be so very metal?

Amelia: Soon after I met Mike it became clear that our relationship was moving into semi-permanent status. I went to visit him in Ireland and his bedroom was full of swords. It’s been an ongoing adventure.

GM: What’s it like raising a family around a giant swords workshop?

Amelia: Oh, fine. Kids will find dangerous things everywhere, and the workshop is a hundred yards or so away from the house. Things do drift in, but the kids get into the knife drawer or climb up the refrigerator far more often than they get into Mike’s work stuff.

GM: Mike’s a fantastic dad and you’re an amazing mom (I know because I’ve seen you guys in action). What do you hope your kids will be fanatic about when they get older?

Amelia: Aw, thanks. I don’t know what they will like. So far, Nova is taking after Mike in her tastes for bland food and comic books, while Christopher is more of an explorer of physical space and might yet become a bit of a foodie. I don’t have any set ideas about what they’ll be most interested in, but I’m hoping it will be something I haven’t even heard of yet!

GM: You’re a writer as well. Is it tough finding time to create?

Amelia: Finding time is only part of the challenge. Energy and mental focus are also in short supply as I try to keep track of who’s where and what everyone needs to be doing, plus the groceries, bill-paying, etc. When the kids were younger, they napped for a couple of hours in the early afternoon and that was usually my best writing time. I found that if I tried to get up more than an hour early, I just got too tired to think. Sleep is essential.

Nowadays, I try to get in my big blocks of writing time when they’re at school. I try to do the cleaning and grocery shopping when they’re around, both because I can and because I don’t think those things should happen off-screen. I mean, the dinner doesn’t magically cook itself, right? They should know that.

GM: Do you favor fantasy or science fiction? Why or why not?

Amelia: I read mostly fantasy and historical fiction, but I read occasional science fiction, too. The preference probably has a lot to do with aesthetics (liking tapestries and castles more than sleek metal and plastic spaceships), but it’s probably also about the ideas. I’m very interested in religions, which seem to be more often explored in fantasy.

GM: What can you tell us about what it’s like to be on a Discovery Channel show?

Amelia: It’s been an interesting experience. The filming was hectic and I found not knowing the schedules very stressful, but I don’t mind being on camera. Now that the show is on the air, I often have people come up to me when I’m out doing errands and say how much they like the show, which is actually kind of nice.

I feel a bit of distance from it, too, because although I’m involved, it’s not my project, it’s Mike’s project and I’m just helping out a bit. In my head, my career is my writing, even if it’s not profitable at the moment!

big giant swords

GM: What’s your favorite episode of Big Giant Swords

Amelia: I still haven’t seen the season finale, but so far I have two vying for the top spot. For the first episode, I had no idea what to expect, what the production company had done in editing. I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Since then, I like the episode with Sarah Robles best, although I don’t enjoy being the nagging practical person all the time.

GM: Geek or Nerd?

Amelia: I still don’t understand this question. I’m old, and when I was in high school yes, nerds played D&D and read speculative fiction, but mostly nerds were not-jocks, not-popular, not-stoners, got good grades and/or cared about their classes. I’m not up to speed on TV and movie trivia, which cuts me out of a lot of token nerd/geekiness. I say a bit of one, a bit of the other, maybe a little more towards geekery. I’m also neither an introvert nor an extrovert, I come out right on the line.

GM: What would your kids say is the best piece of advice you’ve given them? What would they say for Mike?

Amelia: They are still pretty young for appreciating advice. I’ve been working on getting Christopher to take deep breaths when he’s upset or frustrated, and I think that’s been useful to him. Nova is quite independent and social and doesn’t need much advice, though I do boss her around plenty. So far she has not taken my advice to clean her room more regularly.

Mike is good at play and has been very encouraging to the kids in their art projects. He told Nova, “You can do art any time,” which I hope will stick with her.

Many thanks to Amelia for sharing her time with GeekMom. And thanks to Discovery Channel for providing the *exclusive clip*, below, for Big Giant Swords.

Big Giant Swords season finale airs Tuesday night, February 17th at 10pm ET/PT on Discovery Channel.

Little Boy Sees Star Wars for the First Time, Completely Loses It

Star Wars came out a decade long, long ago when the only way to see the movie was in a theater. I was seven, so my Dad took me to see it and the movie completely and utterly blew my little mind. According to him, I watched half the film with my jaw dropped down to the floor. Now kids see it for the first time in the comfort of their own homes. This 3-year-old boy is one of those kids and his reaction is brilliant.

It appears that he’s already familiar with the characters as he calls out Darth Vader and “Storm Woopers.” Storm Woopers? I will now think of them this way forever and until the end of time. It makes them much less scary and makes this kid unbearably cute. He’s adorable and the way he keeps adjusting his glasses to be sure he doesn’t miss anything is just killing me.

His dialogue is great, but his physical reactions will have you giggle-snorting your coffee onto your monitor, so be warned. He shushes Dad with a finger held up as the movie starts and then he has the most incredible freak out. There is jumping up and down. There is flailing. There is dancing and there is a huge smile.

Since I saw the movie for the first time in a theater, I could not jump up and down, but if I could have, I’d have done exactly what this kid did, right until they kicked me out. If we’re being totally honest, and we are, that’s exactly what all Star Wars fans do inside every single time that music starts to play.

The completely rapt look on his face is how we’re all going to look when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in December. You guys, that’s this year! Yup, absolutely flailed my arms at that thought and barely refrained from jumping up and down at my desk.

(via NerdApproved)

Upcoming Reading for 2015

2015 Books
Images: Jo Fletcher Books, Saga Press, PM Press, Orbit Press.

‘Tis the season for looking at what books will be published in the coming year! I’ve seen many such lists on the web in the last couple of weeks, but most of them don’t capture what I consider to be the glorious diversity of perspectives that the current science fiction and fantasy scene has to offer. Since everyone gets to make a list if they want to, here’s mine! I hope you’ll find plenty here to fill your bookshelves and eReaders for the next several months.

Image: Jo Fletcher Books

The Galaxy Game, Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher, January) Karen Lord wowed the community with her award-winning fantasy debut, Redemption in Indigo, then followed it up with a much-discussed science fiction novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. The Galaxy Game follows on directly from Best, and Lord recommends that you read Best first to understand Game better.

Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (Tor, February). Bear writes in just about every sub-genre of sf and fantasy that exists. This book kicks off a fast-paced steampunk trilogy, set in the 19th century American west.

Get in Trouble, Kelly Link (Random House). Kelly Link is one of the best short story writers working in any genre today. A new volume from her is always worth picking up. If I’m not mistaken, this is her first collection in three years.

Something Coming Through, Paul McAuley (Gollancz, February). McAuley is one of the UK’s finest sf writers, and in this book he looks at what happens when aliens come bringing gifts of technology and new worlds.

Image: PM Press

Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (PM Press, February). The VanderMeers have proved themselves to be eminent anthologists through many projects, including significant volumes on Steampunk and the New Weird. This reprint anthology covers more than 40 years of feminist speculative fiction, and will make the case for its importance and excellence.

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory (Tor, March). Gregory’s first foray into the YA genre, after a string of truly excellent sf novels aimed at adults, most recently with 2014’s Afterparty. From the taste of the world offered by Gregory’s stand-along novella We Are All Completely Fine, I expect Harrison Squared to be packed full of weirdness and triumph to satisfy many different audiences.

The Glorious Angels, Justina Robson (Gollancz, March). Robson has written hard sf, and also sf that crosses over to fantasy, with elves and all. A new release from her is always cause for anticipation.

Image: Saga Press

Persona, Genevieve Valentine (Saga, March). One of my favorite new writers, Valentine (who is also now writing the Catwoman comic books) plays on the weird edges of sf and fantasy. This one is described as a near-future political thriller, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

The Rebirths of Tao, Wesley Chu (Angry Robot, April). The first two books of this sf thriller series (The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao) have been fun guilty pleasures. In this volume we’ll find out how things wind up for the alien Tao and his host, former geek-schlub Roen.

The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, May). After his remarkable debut, the adult sf post-ecological collapse novel The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi turned to YA with books like Ship Breaker and Zombie Baseball Beatdown. In Water Knife he returns to writing for adults, this time focusing on the environmental challenges facing the American Southwest.

The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW, May). A prequel to her amazing science fiction novel Who Fears Death, Book of Phoenix promises to bring us more of the world and characters of her unique future vision, ranging from the North America to Africa and back.

Cold Iron, Stina Leicht (Saga, June). The author of a fascinating fantasy series set in Northern Ireland (the first of which was Of Blood and Honey), with Cold Iron Leicht kicks off a epic fantasy series that might be categorized as military fantasy–a sub-genre that I’ve been finding particularly interesting of late.

Company Town, Madeleine Ashby (Tor, Summer). Ashby made a splash with her debut duology consisting of vN and iD. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

The Year’s Illustrious Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 1, Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct, Summer) An award winning writer in her own right, Shawl kicks off an anthology series from this hugely respected small press, focusing on feminist F&SF. An excellent showcase for excellent, cutting-edge short fiction.

The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin (Tor, July). The second volume in a trilogy being translated from Chinese. The first volume, Three Body Problem, is an excellent read for any hard science fiction fan.

Image: Orbit Press

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, August). Although so far best known as a fantasy author, in this volume, Jemisin kicks off a post-apocalyptic sf series focusing on a mother seeking to save her daughter.

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson (Tachyon, August). An amazing writer with Caribbean roots, Hopkinson’s novels have entranced audiences for years. This book collects her short fiction, which can be just as sharp and moving as her longer work. I especially love the fact that she touches on topics that are often absent from genre-fiction, such as post-menopausal women, miscarriages, etc.

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho (Tor UK, Autumn). Cho’s debut short fiction collection, Spirits Abroad, was one of the highlights of 2014, focusing on fantasy rooted in Malaysian folklore. It will be interesting to see what this fantasy novel has to offer.

Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor, September). From our own GeekMom Fran, a high-flying fantasy tale of towers of living bone and dark secrets, loaded with engineering, mystery, and monsters. Science-backed fantasy, fast-paced adventure, a multi-generational cast, and a deeply layered world.

Disclaimer: The only book of these that I’ve seen so far is Galaxy Game, for which I was a beta-reader. I know a number of authors on this list personally. All of the release dates come from Amazon and are subject to change. 

They Wrote Science Fiction?

twain cover
Mark Twain is one of many authors known for other genres who also dabbled in science fiction.
All photo compilations by Lisa Kay Tate from Wikimedia Commons images.

Despite it’s undeniable popularity, it seems even today, science fiction gets the proverbial literary wedgie from some “real literature” bullies.

I’ve even had polite-but-pointed brush-offs from fellow moms in a book club, who, upon finding out the last book I read was a science fiction, said in slightly piteous tones: “You might not enjoy what we read. It’s more ‘real world’ stories.”


Of course, I regard the science-fiction genre to be every bit as “real” as any other form of fiction, many of which I enjoy just as much. However, I’m sure I’m not the only sci-fi lover who feels they have to defend their reading choices, just because it may involve robots, outer space dog fights, evil computer overlords, or clones.

As it turns out, plenty of “real” authors have taken a break from their most notable styles of classic literature, adventure, thrillers, or even science fiction’s closest literary neighbor, fantasy, to dabble in straight-forward science fiction. Here are a few lesser-known science-fiction writers you may not know about:

jack london
Jack London

Jack London: There may be no other author so readily associated with man-against-the-elements or wild adventure stories where characters take a backseat to the wild Alaskan wilderness, but London wrote several key works of Radium-Age science fiction including the post-apocalyptic The Scarlet Plague in 1912, set his hometown of San Francisco. Although not as well-known as his adventure stories, his science fiction has been noted as having an influence on writers such as H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley. These stories aren’t light reading, and do demand some attention from the reader. One that I personally remember the most is “The Shadow and the Flash,” the story of a pair of rival geniuses each trying to achieve invisibility. Their methods of doing this were innovative, unexpected, and surprisingly hypothetically doable.

C.S. Lewis: A far reach from the fanciful fantasy world of Narnia, Lewis released his “space trilogy” from 1938 to 1945, following the voyages of Dr. Elwin Ransom on Mars, Venus, and Earth. Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (aka Voyage of Venus), and That Hideous Strength (also published in an abridged version as The Tortured Planet) are a series, which follows Earth’s battle of dark forces bent laying waste to the planet. Those familiar with Lewis’ style will recognize many of the common elements celebrated by his fans and discounted by his critics, from a variety of otherworldly creatures to underlying spiritual themes, but the futuristic space setting certainly shows a different side to his work.

Mark Twain: Twain’s science fiction is an extension of his own adventure-driven life and writing. In addition to his most famous in this area, the time-traveler’s tale A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, his sci-fi works run the gamut of futuristic inventions, space travels, time travel, alien visitors, and dystopian futures. The one story that has gotten the most attention in science-fiction circles is From The ‘London Times’ of 1904. Written in 1898, Twain is often cited as having predicted the internet and social media in this story by describing “the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.” Wow.

rudyard kipling
Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling: This turn-of-the century Nobel Prize-winning author may have taken most readers into the jungle and exotic lands on Earth, but he also wrote a handful of science-fiction stories. Like Twain, Kipling’s “future” contains many details and devises, which pretty much predicted several of today’s modern realities. This includes artificial intelligence, especially in regards to transportation as in the stories .007 and The Ship That Found Herself, wireless communication in Wireless, and mechanical advancements as in As Easy as A.B.C. Much of his science fiction can be found in collected volumes.

Edgar Allan Poe: Poe’s work wasn’t all angst-ridden horror and macabre. He also enjoyed writing mystery, essays, and adventure. Some of his science fiction was fun, clever, and, in some cases, humorous; not the type of works readers think of when they hear the name Edgar Allan Poe. The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, for example, is the voyage of one man’s travels to the moon that could almost be a steampunk classic in the company of Jules Verne. Most of these tales, however, do merge the horror/science-fiction genre, such as The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and Mesmerism, so fans of Poe’s gothic darkness can have the best of both worlds.

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle: Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the only eccentric lead character to emerge from the mind of Conan-Doyle, he also created the Professor Challenger series, featuring an adventurer he called the “caveman in a leisure suit.” Unlike the Holmes stories, where it was vital to both Holmes’ stories and persona to remain rooted in only what is possible (despite how improbable) in the real world, Professor Challenger gave Conan-Doyle an outlet to go crazy with time travel, space travel, monsters, aliens, and even fantastic inventions. His most famous, The Lost World, puts Challenger up against some foes from a prehistoric world; hardly the type of adventure suitable for Sherlock Holmes. This character did have his own fan base at the time, too. However, he wouldn’t exactly be the focus of today’s “Sherlocked” fangirl mania, being less Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and more Zach Galifianakis.

We already know the impact that classic-era science-fiction writers, such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H.P. Lovecraft, had on literary history. However, with these other authors proving themselves fans of the genre, today’s science-fiction lovers can consider themselves in good company—very good company.

Tesse-whatsit? The Science-ish of Tesseracts in Science Fiction

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) examines a holographic representation of Marvel’s version of a tesseract in The Avengers. Image: © Marvel/Disney.

Coining the word “tesseract” is generally credited to Charles Howard Hinton, a 19th century scientist and science fiction writer who had a particular interest in the concept of a fourth dimension. In 1880, he wrote an article called “What is the Fourth Dimension?,” in which he suggests that the fourth dimension a) exists and b) could be time-related.  He then introduced the idea of visualizing this fourth dimension with cubes. He tried out different words to describe it and came up with “tesseract” for his 1888 book A New Era of Thought.

The tesseract—both the word and concept—have since been adapted into fiction repeatedly.

But before we dive into those, let’s break it down, geometrically speaking, to see what we’re talking about. We exist in three dimensions, so that’s pretty easy to imagine. We all understand length, width, and depth. If you want to hang out in two dimensions for a while, read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. If you’re ready to move to four, that’s when we have to get more creative with the visualizations and get to start talking science fiction.

A square is two-dimensional; we need two coordinates to describe a location on it. A cube is a square’s three-dimensional counterpart; we need three coordinates for a location. A tesseract is the four-dimensional counterpart, also called a hypercube or cube-within-a-cube:

Public domain animation visualizing a geometrical tesseract.

Now let’s look at how that geometrical concept and the fourth dimension as time translate into fiction.

A Wrinkle In Time

The first time I saw the word “tesseract” was in elementary school when I read A Wrinkle In Time. When Madeleine L’Engle was writing it around 1960, she was interested in particle physics and quantum mechanics. She once wrote about the book’s history:

I wrote A Wrinkle in Time when we were living in a small dairy farm village in New England. I had three small children to raise, and life was not easy. We lost four of our closest friends within two years by death—that’s a lot of death statistically. And I really wasn’t finding the answers to my big questions in the logical places. So, at the time I discovered the world of particle physics. I discovered Einstein and relativity. I read a book of Einstein’s, in which he said that anyone who’s not lost in rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe is as good as a burnt-out candle. And I thought, “Oh, I’ve found my theologian, what a wonderful thing.” I began to read more in that area. A Wrinkle in Time came out of these questions, and out of my discovery of the post-utopian sciences, which knocked everything we knew about science for a loop.

In the novel, she says that time is the fourth dimension, and the fifth dimension is a tesseract, which they travel through by tessering. The characters fold space and time to travel through it—the titular “wrinkle in time,” conceptually similar (though not identical) to wormholes or warp travel. The novel’s characters explain:

Mrs. Who took a portion of her white robe in her hands and held it tight. “You see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “if a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs. Who’s right hand to that in her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”

Swiftly Mrs. Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt, together. “Now, you see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “he would be there, without that long trip. That is how we travel.”

In her autobiography, A Circle of Quiet, L’Engle says that there are two types of time.: Chronos is the sort of time we generally think of as time, while Kairos is God’s time, a less linear sort of time without a past or present. Her tesseract is a way of time travel achieved by jumping from Chronos to Kairos back to Chronos.

If you read much more about L’Engle’s ideas in A Wrinkle In Time, you see more and more of her vision of God and religion in science. (She was surprised when it often ended up on banned books lists for being a challenge to Christianity, while she considered the three Mrs. to be angels.)

In Leonard S. Marcus’ Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Thomas Banchoff (mathematician and professor at Brown University who even teaches a course called “Exploring the Fourth Dimension“) speaks of meeting her at a dinner in Feburary 1984 and discovering she had a completely different view of the science of the tesseract than he did. When asked if he thought she didn’t understand it, he replied, “No, not at all. It was just that she had an alternative view of the science. Hers was more like Star Trek, you know: ‘Beam me up, Scotty!'”

He goes on to clarify that her version of a tesseract was based on her belief that the world we live in has three dimensions of space and a fourth that is time, and tessering involved moving through the fifth dimension. In the end, he supports, though with hedging, the math and science of the book—emphasizing the fiction part of “science fiction”—and confirming that Dr. Murray is trapped in a hypercube (i.e., the cube-within-a-cube tesseract as it is more commonly known) in Camazotz.

Cube 2: Electric Boogaloo

Fine, you caught me. It’s not called “Cube 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Seems like it should have been. It’s actually Cube 2 – Hypercube (familiar word yet?). We’re not talking the finest cinema ever, scoring a 45 percent from Rotten Tomatoes with 37 percent of the audience saying they were into it. But it has “hypercube” in the name, which means it meets the qualifications for talking about tesseracts in fiction.

Spoilers ahead… because I know you’re dying to rush out and watch this right now.

In the original movie, Cube, a guy wakes up trapped in a cube (we often call this “a room”) with hatches on each face, each of which lead to other rooms. In Cube 2, a woman is again trapped in the cube, but when she goes through a hatch, gravity is reversed. Others trapped in the rooms discover gravity is different in each room, things are just plain wacky in all of them, and declare that they’re in a hypercube/tesseract. In one room, they find a square floating, which turns into a tesseract. The tesseract sucks in one of the trapped victims and rips him apart. Then things get weird.

They discover the computer nerd who created the tesseract. It’s imploding. One of them jumps into the imploding tesseract. Look, I want to talk about the science of tesseracts in fiction, but I feel like it’s just not going to happen here. You can watch the trailer instead. It has lots of Matrix-style drippy numbers, so you know there are computers involved.

In case it turns out this really does get you excited, there’s a third movie that’s a prequel.


Fez is an adorable game, which you now have if you paid above average for the Humble Indie Bundle 11 last week. If not, it’s available for quite a few platforms (including Linux!) and will be available on PS4 at the end of this month.

You begin Fez in a platform-game-familiar, two-dimensional world. But it’s not long before you (as Gomez, who looks a lot like a pixellated Adipose from Doctor Who) meet a nice old man who gives you a fez and the knowledge that the world is actually three-dimensional. The puzzles you solve through the game as you collect cubes and anti-cubes depend on you rotating the world to reveal things you couldn’t see before.

Once Gomez gets his fez, he also acquires a friend named Dot, who follows him around and occasionally offers advice—or occasionally acts like she has no idea what’s going on. Dot is a colorful hypercube. See her helping Gomez in this video:

Marvel’s Tesseract

Those who didn’t read A Wrinkle In Time (where were you in elementary school?!) and skipped the advanced physics class may think that “tesseract” was a word made up for The Avengers. It’s a connecting thread throughout much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films along with the recently introduced Aether and presumably the four other as-yet-to-be seen Infinity Stones. (We’ll see another this year in Guardians of the Galaxy.)

First, in Iron Man 2 (2010), Tony Stark goes through his father’s old notebook. (You’ll recall that papa Howard Stark designs some goodies for Cap in Captain America: The First Avenger, released the next year, but set in the past.) He finds a drawing of the tesseract, which you’ll notice looks a lot like the animation above:

From Iron Man 2. Image: © Marvel/Disney.

The next year, the always-awaited post-credits scene in Thor features Nick Fury meeting Erik Selvig to discuss research in parallel dimensions. We see Fury checking out a glowing, crackling cube in a big metal briefcase, which he calls “power if we can figure out how to tap it…maybe unlimited power” (and, we assume, silently declares that he finally knows what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction). Later that summer in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull has a serious want for the Tesseract. Cap’s plane goes down, but good old Howard Stark rescues the cube.

In The Avengers, the Tesseract takes center stage and causes all of the drama. Then in Thor: The Dark World‘s post-credits scene, we are told the Tesseract is now in Asgard. It’s even mentioned briefly in episode “0-8-4” of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The movie version of the Tesseract is based on the Cosmic Cube of the Marvel comics. It can teleport things—perhaps similarly to L’Engle’s concept of moving about time and space. It can also either summon or produce large amounts of energy.

In The Avengers, Bruce Banner says that Loki had to heat the Tesseract to 120 million Kelvin to break the Coulomb barrier in order to use it to come to Earth. We’ll ignore the ridiculousness of them gazing upon this cube that’s several times hotter than the surface of the hottest stars. We’ll say it somehow tesse-mysteriously contains that heat. The Coulomb barrier is what nuclei have to beat to get a nuclear reaction party started. Presumably then, the Marvel version of a Tesseract is a very small nuclear power device that uses said power to create wormholes to other parts of the universe as well as potential plot holes and hilarity.

And More

These are just a few examples. The fourth dimension pops up regularly, though tesseracts and hypercubes less so, and the meaning those words have is often less clear. There’s a book called The Tesseract and a movie based on it, but it’s not science fiction, rather just a references to the intertwined storylines. There’s also a band named TesseracT, though I doubt listening to their music will assist your time travel goals in any fashion. But hey, even Zephram Cochrane had “Magic Carpet Ride.”

10 Questions With Award-Winning Science Fiction Editor Sheila Williams

Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.

Sheila Williams is the multiple Hugo-award winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. She is also the editor or co-editor of twenty-six anthologies. The most recent of these are Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology (Tachyon Publications) and Enter A Future: Fantastic Tales from Asimov’s Science Fiction (Dell Magazines). Sheila is the co-founder of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, which is given out each year in Orlando, Florida, by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.

GeekMom recently asked Sheila questions about growing up in science fiction and fantasy, the ins and outs of the editorial process, and the amazing Dell Magazine Award. Sheila’s daughters joined in, too, contributing their own perspectives and favorite reads. Check it out:

Geek Mom: You came on staff at Asimov’s in the 1980s, and became editor of Asimov’s in 2004. What shifts have been particularly apparent in science fiction over the past three decades?

Sheila Williams: I had the good fortune to work with Shawna McCarthy and Gardner Dozois—two editors who published groundbreaking fiction. They looked for quality writing along with thoughtful extrapolation. The stories I get have continued this tradition. The backgrounds of some of the writers are more diverse now, though, so I am seeing material that explores the future from refreshingly varied perspectives.

Photo by Ché Ryback, courtesy of Sheila Williams.
Photo by Ché Ryback, courtesy of Sheila Williams.

GM: Would you talk a bit about your editorial approach to Asimov’s Magazine

SW: I read for enjoyment. I buy stories that I like to read. Sometimes a story works for me immediately. More often, I have to put it on the back burner for a while. Days later, if I’m still thinking about a story, still amused, haunted, or moved in other ways, I’m probably going to take it. There are my line edits, of course, but some stories need to be revised by the author. Some tales are perfect the first time around. Writers are almost always extremely easy to work with. I can’t promise to buy the revised story, but I usually do, because I only ask for revisions when I’m very serious about a story.

Every issue has to strike a balance. I try not to have more than one time travel or alternate history story in an issue. Try to go easy on parallel universes (though authors are overly fond of this theme). Most stories will qualify as some sort of science fiction, but I might put one fantasy and/or one hard to quantify tale in each issue. Many stories will be serious, but I always shoot for some levity somewhere. Not all stories can be far future, or about teenagers, or Mars, or whatever. Also, there has to be a mix of story lengths.

GM: What challenges and opportunities do you see for women interested in writing for and editing anthologies and magazines with a science fiction focus? 

SW: From the editing side, it was never easy for anyone to break into publishing, but it’s certainly gotten harder to find a full-time salaried position with benefits. On the other hand, with Webzines and Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sources, there are a lot more opportunities to engage in the field as a serious sideline editing ones own magazine or anthology. As for writing, I don’t think it’s any more challenging for women to break into SF magazines than it is for men. Breaking in is hard in general. There are a lot more people writing SF then there are story slots, but if the story is good, editors will jump on it. Keep in mind that less than 30 percent of story submissions to Asimov’s are by women. The gender breakdown among the published stories in the magazine is usually about 30 to 33 percent, so women are definitely holding their own. Still, as I say elsewhere, I’d love to see more women reading, writing, and submitting SF.

GM:  Tell us about the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.

SW: Rick Wilber and I founded the award in 1993. The award is co-sponsored by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and Dell Magazines. The winner gets an expense paid trip to Florida for the award ceremony at the Conference on the Fantastic. They also get to read their story, usually with two established authors. The winner receives $500 and the story is featured on Asimov’s website. Every finalist gets a private consultation with me. The authors go out of their way to spend time talking with the students and the students usually become fast friends. They form writers groups and generally support each other. We see this as a way of encouraging young writers. Many published authors have been award winners or finalists. I love spending my time with these young writers. They are all smart and interesting. Their interests and career trajectories are wide ranging.

It’s great to have this chance to meet and encourage young authors. During our consultation, I ask a lot of personal questions because I need information for my award presentation (an edited version of which will also become a magazine editorial). This has given me a chance to develop a rapport with dozens of aspiring authors. It’s been highly rewarding work.

GM: Your two daughters are both big readers. What kinds of stories do you wish for them in the future?

SW: When I was in sixth grade, my school reader was crammed full of short stories. All but one story featured a young male protagonist. Although she was a gifted pianist, the plot of the one story with a female protagonist was about how she pined with unrequited love for a boy. I was frustrated and asked my parents to find me books about girls who did things and solved their own problems. On a trip to Bermuda, my parents found a British anthology called Adventure Stories for Girls. I must have read that anthology a dozen times.  Like most younger readers, my girls have no problem finding lots of terrific fantasy novels. They both love Gail Carson Levine, Diana Wynne Jones (they chose our dog’s name, “Waif,” from one of her books), J.K. Rowling, and many others. My older daughter is 20 and she’s also discovered some SF writers—Connie Willis, Paolo Bacigalupi, Scott Westerfeld, to name a few—but it was harder to find good modern SF for the YA crowd when she was a preteen. I was delighted to see how much Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series took off. I like to see my girls reading stories about strong young women who can handle adversity, opt for challenging careers that include the sciences and high tech options, have adventures, and draw on their inner reserves to resolve issues. Other types of stories are fine, too. Life is not all happy endings and a way out doesn’t always exist, but I want them to have the sense that all avenues are open. I’m frustrated by the gender imbalance among science fiction readers.

Girls need to know from an early age that science and technology are cool. Much of our future will be shaped by advances in both, and they should be encouraged to be fifty percent of these industries. Good science fiction with strong and exciting female protagonists can give teens a framework for their dreams and aspirations.

GM: Question for either Juliet or Irene [Sheila’s daughters], or both: What are your favorite books and authors right now?

J: Tuesdays in the Castle and Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George, the Gregor series by Susan Collins, the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling, and Fairy Lies and Fairy Wings by E.D. Baker.

I: My favorite books are Howl’s Moving Castle, Pump Six, On the Road,  Sorcery and Cecilia, and Fire and Hemlock. Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favorite author but I also love Margo Lanagan, Kij Johnson, and Megan Arkenberg.

Asimov's Science Fiction. Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.
Copyright 2014 by Penny Publications LLC/Dell Magazines.

GM: Question for all three of you: What is it like going to conventions together now that Juliet is old enough to attend panels? I know she sat on a panel at the Austin Worldcon, ‘Should the next Doctor Who be a woman?’ What are your favorite conventions? 

I’ve always taken my kids with me when I go to Worldcon, but since I’m working, they usually spent most of their time being tourists with their dad. As they’ve gotten older and developed their own interests in science fiction and fantasy, I’ve been able to incorporate them into my schedule at conventions. Irene is old enough to take in the convention on her own, and Juliet is on the brink. Last year, Irene and a friend attended ICFA with me because of their interest in Neil Gaiman. Juliet delighted in everything Doctor Who at the 2013 World Con. I’m going to bring her with me to Luna Con in March, without her father as back up. I’m curious to see how this works out but not too worried. I brought Irene to a Philcon when she was only a couple of years older than her sister is now. At Philcon, Irene had no problem making friends and doing crafts, etc. I’m pretty sure Juliet will have a similar experience.

I: My favorite convention is Worldcon because there are so many different things to see and people to meet. The one in Glasgow was really cool.

J: It was fun when I got to answer questions and be the center of attention. And being able to bring up points like Kim and Ron from Kim Possible [being] a lot like Amy and Rory from Dr. Who. My favorite convention was the convention in Montréal.

GW: For all of you – Geek or Nerd? 

SW: To paraphrase the bard, my interests are vast. I can contain both.

J: Geek.

I: Nerd.

GM: A question for Irene and Juliet: Your mom is amazing. Her editing advice has improved so many stories. What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given her?

J: Don’t follow strangers in to a car if they offer you candy. Stop talking!

I: Oh that’s hard. I think the best piece of advice she ever gave me was not to date two guys at the same time. She also tells me to not overthink things, which can be very useful. I don’t know if I’ve ever given her good advice.

GM: If you could ask your mom one question about her work, what would it be?

I: Why do you love your job so much?

SW: I’ve loved science fiction and science fiction short stories all my life. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of someday working on a science fiction magazine. At that time I imagined myself filing and running errands. It never occurred to my 14-year-old self that I could actually be the editor. To say that my job is a dream come true is to make an understatement. I love reading the stories, working with authors, and doing the physical work of pulling each issue together.

Asimov’s Science Fiction is available in hardcopy from Dell Magazines. It is also available from multiple purveyors of e-magazines, including: Barnes & Noble | Amazon (kindle) |iPad | Kobo | Magzter | Google play.

They Destroyed It! Women Destroy Science Fiction Update

In an amazing 30 days, the Women Destroy Science Fiction kickstarter campaign shattered their original fundraising goal by over 1,000%.


The project hit every stretch goal and has gone on to enact destruction plans for horror AND fantasy with editors Ellen Datlow and Cat Rambo, as well as another special issue, Queers Destroy Science Fiction, with editor Seannan McGuire.

Read our kickoff interview with WDSF editor Christie Yant.

Women Destroy Science Fiction! This Kickstarter Will Wreck Everything!

Courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine.

On January 15, Lightspeed Magazine launched a daring plan: an all-women double issue, to appear online and in e-subscription. To fund the project, guest editor Christie Yant and her team set a Kickstarter goal of $5,000. They came up with great rewards and described their goals:

It could be said that women invented science fiction; after all, Mary Shelley wrote what is considered by many to be the first science fiction novel (Frankenstein). Yet some readers seem to have this funny idea that women don’t—or can’t—write science fiction. Some have even gone so far as to accuse women of destroying science fiction with their girl cooties. So to help prove how silly that notion is, LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE‘s June 2014 issue—our fourth anniversary issue—will be a Women Destroy Science Fiction! special issue.

Then, they pushed the Kickstarter button and waited to hear what the public had to say.

They didn’t have to wait long. Their project, “Women Destroy Science Fiction!,” funded its first level in less than 24 hours. It was faster than I could post the project to GeekMom’s Fund This section.

Now they’ve decided to expand their horizons. Now women will destroy all genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror… the sky’s the limit.  GeekMom asked Christie to talk about the amazing project. Read on, my fellow genre-fiction fans, but be sure to head over and support the Kickstarter—and drive that number into the stratosphere. (Because women not only destroy science fiction, we like to read it too. A lot.)

GeekMom: Hi Christie! Thanks for talking with us. Tell me about the future.

Christie Yant: Well, it’s so bright, I gotta wear sha… no, wait, that’s probably not what you’re asking.

The future of science fiction really is bright, though, because it’s expanding, and with it, its readership—and I think that’s in large part due to the participation and recognition of under-represented groups and genre-blending books and stories that aren’t easily categorized. The internet allows us to find creators and books we might not have heard of before, because they were previously buried under the more-of-the-same that marketing departments are convinced we want.

GM: You said in your editorial declaration for the “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” issue: “They do not get to make me quit.” Can you talk about that a little more? What does that mean for everyone writing today? What does that mean for lovers of science fiction?

CY: Sometimes the amount of “you can’t” and “you shouldn’t” that gets thrown at us just gets overwhelming, and I start to think, “Why bother?” It doesn’t last very long. I’m not very good being told I can’t do something.

And it’s not just writing SF, of course. As women, we’re told constantly that we can’t and we shouldn’t, whether it’s about our choice to marry or not, to have children or not, to have careers or not, to pursue our dreams or not. We’re told in a hundred ways that our priorities are wrong, that we should subsume our own goals in the support of others’, that the inequities we face are just the way it is, and we should be grateful because it used to be much worse.

I am grateful. I think many of us are, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make it better.

Your readers may already be aware of what’s known as the Russ Challenge, after Joanna Russ, who wrote How to Suppress Women’s Writing. The premise of the Russ Challenge is that we all—all, including women—have been socially conditioned to accept “male” as “default” and “better,” and that this deep bias carries over into our reading choices. So the challenge is to seek out and read only books by women for a year. I had heard of this before, but the need for it didn’t really sink in until I had this unnerving moment while trying to decide which of two collections I was going to read next: Ted Chiang’s or Karen Joy Fowler’s. I had no information about either of them, other than people generally recommending them both. I reached for Chiang, and stopped, and asked myself “Why?” And I realized that the bias existed in me, too.

It’s about changing the “default” by making the work of women visible. So I will not quit. I won’t quit writing science fiction, because every story I write is one more added to the aggregate of SF written by women. And I won’t quit trying to make the work of other women visible. I hope that this special issue will be a good start.

GM: “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” seems like a good step forward in how to *unsuppress* women’s writing. When the project proves popular (and I think it already has), are there plans for the project to clone itself and *devour* science fiction?

CY: We like SF way too much to totally devour it. And there are so many other things to destroy! The legendary Ellen Datlow is anxiously waiting to destroy horror and Cat Rambo, the former editor of Fantasy Magazine, is eager to destroy fantasy as well. We’re close to meeting our first stretch goal, which would put Ellen at the helm of “Women Destroy Horror” (which, as our publisher noted in the announcement, totally has it coming), and we still have plenty of time to reach the next stretch goal and bring Cat back for “Women Destroy Fantasy.” They’re both amazing editors and fantastic human beings. I would love to see what they do with the projects.

GM: What do you see as your editorial philosophy for this project?

CY: Science fiction is vast, and it doesn’t fit in a tidy box. The stories I’m looking for are what I consider strong examples of some of the most far-flung reaches of SF: SF that verges on horror, SF of an alternate past (steampunk), folkloric SF…as well as great examples of more traditional tropes. One of the complaints we’ve heard is that we’re not writing science fiction, we’re writing romance disguised as SF, or fantasy disguised as SF, or…whatever. To that I say no your definition of SF is simply too narrow. I believe that it’s the hugeness of the genre that makes it great. There is something for everybody under the umbrella of SF.

GM: Can you tell me a bit about those folks already involved in “Women Destroy Science Fiction?”

CY: When I was asked to take on the editorial role, I knew immediately who I wanted working on it with me. I emailed them and then refreshed my email obsessively until I got the replies, and then there was a lot of triumphant shouting involved.

Robyn Lupo has been with Lightspeed since 2011 and has been hands-on with the editorial team for all that time. We’ve been counterparts as assistant editors for years and have a great rapport. When we talked about making room for more women by opening to flash fiction for the first time, she jumped at the chance to act as flash fiction editor for the issue. She’s hoping to find stories that are elegant, surprising, and that use the shortest form to make the biggest impact.

I asked Rachel Swirsky—award-winning author and previously an editor herself—to join us as reprint editor because she’s one of the most well-read people I know. She has an educated understanding of the history of the field, and specifically of women in the field. She’s teased me a bit with a few of the stories she’s considering, and they would all be fantastic additions. She’s looking at both the established canon and reprint submissions from newer authors. There is no one I would trust more to find them.

Gabrielle de Cuir is an astonishingly talented, Grammy-nominated voice actor and producer, and I am thrilled to have her producing the podcast for this issue. She keeps coming back with more ideas: Bigger! Better! More stories! More women! Her enthusiasm is boundless and she is going to make this podcast one to remember.

And our podcast will be hosted by Mur Lafferty, who was a pioneer in the field of podcast novels. She’s been podcasting longer than most people have known what a podcast even was. I confess I may have geeked out a tiny bit when she accepted. I listened to her show I Should Be Writing pretty religiously, and was always so impressed by her! I never would have guessed back then that I’d get to work with her on a project like this some day. [Read GeekMom’s profile of Mur.]

And of course, you want to know who our contributors are. We actually haven’t announced any of them yet! Hm…do I tell?

GM: Heck Yes! 

CY: Okay, just one, for now: I have a story in hand from Seanan McGuire (and she seemed only slightly disappointed that I was merely asking her to write a story, and not actually acquire demolition materials).

Maybe one more? Maria Dahvana Headley will have a seriously destructive story in the issue as well.

There are more to come! One of the fun things about this issue, for me anyway, is the combination of getting stories from the women I solicited for the project, as well as finding great things in our open submissions from authors I don’t know.

But there are so many more people involved! Lightspeed‘s new managing editor, Wendy Wagner, for instance. She worked for Fantasy Magazine before it was merged with Lightspeed, and we’re so happy she’s back! She’s behind the blog posts that are going up daily at the Kickstarter. We heard from so many women who just wanted to do something to support the project and many of them offered to blog, so Wendy rounded them up and organized this part of the project. Every day she posts a new essay by a woman in SF. Some of them are heartening and optimistic, some of them make me cry—but it’s so wonderful to hear the voices and experiences of so many, and know that we are not alone.

GM: Please issue a call to arms for GeekMom readers…

CY: I think that this, which with I concluded our formal announcement, says it all:

Photo: Christie Yant.

Women of Science Fiction, don your space suits; set up your lab equipment; fire up your boiler; perform your pre-flight inspection. Spread your girl cooties all over that rocket ship, Mars colony, or deadly bacterial slime. Your sisters are beside you.

Now let’s go wreck some shit.

Christie Yant is a science fiction and fantasy writer and assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies and magazines including Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011 (Horton), Armored, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, io9,, and China’s Science Fiction World. Her work has received honorable mentions in Year’s Best Science Fiction (Dozois) and Best Horror of the Year (Datlow), and has been long-listed for StorySouth’s Million Writers Award. She lives on the central coast of California with two writers, an editor, and assorted four-legged nuisances. Follow her on Twitter @christieyant.

Green Tara: Sci-Fi Eco Adventure

green tara_print_front_cover_cropped_400dpi
Image By KH. Brower

Ecology gets a space-adventure for young adults in a new book by K.H. Brower.  Green Tara: A Bosque Family Adventure is set in a future where Earth can no longer sustain life; colonists have gone off to live without our beloved planet.

However, there is one family, the Bosques, that had a plan long ago to someday renew the Earth. Fast-forward several generations to the main character of the novel, Virginia Bosque: a teenage girl living on a large space-ship with an emotionally distant father, a furry pet robot, and a cousin named Gordy. Her mother disappeared when she was five, and Dot (the furry pet robot) is her only link, since her mother designed and programmed it. Gordy’s mother is also gone. Life on the ship is strict due to the Triumverate, a corporate controlled government that rules the humans still around the universe. Virginia’s only goal in life is to fly freely in her Blast- a small spaceship she is still too young to pilot on her own.

Purely by accident, Virginia and Gordy discover details about their missing mothers, and the Bosque family mission to bring life back to Earth. They set off on an adventure to a secret planet called Tara where humans have been nurturing Earth plants and animals. They find Virginia’s mother, but it is not the loving reunion Virginia always hoped for. In fact, nothing is what Virginia hoped for. She is thrust into a role she was unprepared for, with parents who were never there for her, physically or emotionally. Written in first person, our heroine thinks Gordy and Dot are the only ones who seem to really care about her. She is overwhelmed with dealing with family issues, let alone saving Earth! But she has courage and hope.


The ecological message is there, but never forced beyond what is necessary for the plot, which I really appreciated. However, except for the lush vegetation described on Tara, the book lacked much in the way of description. I often found myself struggling to envision the physical sci-fi world Virginia was a part of, including the characters. I looked up later that this book was originally a script, which explains a lot. However, Virginia’s thoughts and emotions are well written and bring depth to the book that would otherwise just be a fun action novel. Gordy and Virginia are well-rounded characters, and I hope we get a story from Gordy’s point of view next.

Does Virginia help her family’s mission to restore life on Earth? Join a band of space-pirates (that is an option!)? Or figure out how to return to her previous life under the Triumverate? I won’t give away any more of the plot here, but Green Tara is full of action and emotion for ages nine and up.

Geekmom received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Get Creative! Win Money! Inspire Science!

Muse of Nerds By Lilianna Maxwell
Muse of Nerds By Lilianna Maxwell

I love science fiction and fantasy. Although fantasy is a great escape, there’s a sadness when I finish a book or movie. It’s not real. But science fiction? I know it’s not real, at least not yet. Could it happen? Often the answer is “I certainly hope not!” because the stories can be warnings about paths we don’t want humanity skipping down blindly to our destruction. But sometimes, like the Star Trek universe, we can be inspired by a hopeful future, and dream of all that cool stuff!

The Society for Science and the Public, in collaboration with the Tomorrow Project, Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, and the Intel Foundation, is hosting “The Future: Powered by Fiction.” It’s a contest for stories, essays, videos, and comics in the science fiction genre with a cash prize. The competition is open to people ages 13-25 anywhere in the world. Entries due November 14th, 2013, so get going!

But wait, there’s more!

As a kid, my dad would regularly take my sister and I into his biology lab to try out simple experiments. My sister is now a biology professor, and I have a life-long love of science. It would be nice to say it was because of my science classes in school, but really, it was being able to play with cool stuff, make up new experiments, and having science fun-time with my dad at his work.

Not everyone has a parent in the science field, but that shouldn’t stop anyyone from having fun with science. Another competition, this one sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is the Science Play and Research Kit (SPARK): Reimagining the 21st Century Chemistry Set. It is for those eighteen and older, with a longer deadline (January 2014) and a bigger prize. Entrants are asked to create or make the plans for a chemistry set that will engage both children and adults to become more hands-on with science.

Encourage your kid to imagine science and technology in the future with the first competition, and why don’t you imagine the coolest chemistry set there could ever be?

Ten Questions with Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Author Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty, after winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at this year’s Hugo Awards. Check out the tiara!

In September 2013, author and podcaster Mur Lafferty was named the John W. Campbell Best New Writer at the  Hugo Awards (the science fiction and fantasy community’s version of the Oscars). The Campbell Award for Best New Writer is given annually to one author who has published his or her first professional work within the past two years. The Campbell comes with its own tiara and a list of previous winners that reads like a who’s who of modern science fiction, including C.J. Cherryh, Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Elizabeth Bear.

Mur Lafferty has been a presence in the geek community for so long, I can’t imagine it without her. So when she and her daughter (AKA Princess Scientist) agreed to talk to me for GeekMom, I was thrilled. I spoke with them about her new novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City (Orbit 2013), the award, advice she shares with Princess Scientist, and whether she’s pro faster-than-light (FTL) or not.

GeekMom: Congratulations on winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 2012 at this year’s Worldcon! Aside from getting (accidentally) smacked in the face by John Scalzi just after the event, how has your life changed?

Mur: Thanks! Little has changed. I’ve done a few interviews and was on our local NPR show this week, which is exciting. I have, as Mary Robinette Kowal says, a “new first name” and a tiara that so far I’ve only worn while writing by myself. Although I do want to vacuum with it on. Just because. The deep scar from Scalzi hitting me in the face with his Hugo is slowly fading, but the bitter memory remains.

GeekMom: You’ve created an amazing podcast called “I Should Be Writing.” What was the goal behind the project?

Mur: I felt that even though I was nowhere near a pro writer, as I hadn’t even sold anything, I did understand various things in writing, such as how rejections don’t mean you’re hopeless, and how you have to work to get better. I knew a lot of beginning writers who seemed to feel so alone when they felt lost and adrift and have the illusion that everyone’s career was moving faster and along a greased road made of gold and happiness. So I started it to let people know that they’re not alone, that these feelings are normal, that rejection is normal, and writing bad stories, also normal.

GeekMom: Geek or Nerd?

Mur: Geek.

GeekMom: FTL yes/no?

Mur: Totally FTL. I just don’t understand people who get mad about this. Without FTL, our space SF is limited to either generation starships or journeys within our solar system. Those stories are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not all that you should be able to experience. If you want to call me heretic and say FTL stories are fantasy, not SF, then I’ll say cool, they’re fantasy, now shut up and let me write my fantasy FTL story.

Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City (Orbit 2013)

GeekMom: Tell me a little about The Shambling Guide to New York City. How did Zoe’s workplace evolve as you wrote the story?

Mur: Interesting question. I had to think of an easy way to get a light tight building in the city, and a condemned theater seemed the best way. From there I had to populate it, and I didn’t want too many zombies and vampires, so I started reading folklore and mythology and figuring out what other monsters I could put in there. So we have a death goddess/psychopomp, a water sprite, zombies, vampires, and a succubus and an incubus.

GeekMom: A question for Princess Scientist (Mur’s daughter): A bunch of us think your mom is darn cool. What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given her?

Princess Scientist: Best advice she’s given me: How to gently tell a boy that I don’t like him. (That’s LIKE like.)

Best advice I’ve given her: [When Mom gets jealous of another writer] You should be happy for him/her because think of how bad you’d feel if someone came up, pissed off that you’re doing well. You’re probably going to get up there [succeed] anyway.

Mur Lafferty’s Ghost Train to New Orleans (Shambling Guides) – coming from Orbit in 2014.

GeekMom: Another question for Princess Scientist: If you could ask your mom one question about her work, what would it be?

Princess Scientist: How do you get ideas?

Mur: I get ideas all the time, the problem is trying to decide which ones are worth going after and which ones are not worth my time. The more you create, the more ideas you get.

GeekMom: Which authors have influenced you the most?

Mur: Growing up: Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Now, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Connie Willis. And of course Dougas Adams, taken far too young, is an inspiration.

GeekMom:  What’s on your To Be Read shelf?

My TBR list is a source of great anxiety for me, especially as I know more authors whose books I haven’t read yet, but they’re there. Books I’m not ashamed to mention: I’m currently in the middle of the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn, and I’m reading Railsea by China Mieville to my daughter. I am looking forward to Dr. Sleep by Stephen King, and I just got Elizabeth Bear’s new book, Book of Iron.

John W. Campbell Award Winner Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster from Durham, NC. Her next book, Ghost Train to New Orleans, comes out March 4, 2014.


WorldCon Has Lots of Kid Friendly Options

Photo: John Davis, courtesy of LSC3, (c) 2013
Photo: John Davis, courtesy of LSC3, (c) 2013

The World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) is just around the corner! The phenomenal photo above shows Texas artist Vincent Villafranca in the process of casting the bronze sculptures that will grace the Hugo awards this year. Anyone who can make it to San Antonio for Labor Day weekend will see the final design that Vincent is working on, along with costumes, filk songs (sf/f flavored folk songs), films, and vendors selling books and t-shirts and all sorts of fantastic things. There will be plenty of panels by and for people who love science fiction literature, too.

But what about the little ones?

I started attending WorldCon in 2002, long before my little geekling arrived on the scene. I’ll admit, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the kid’s track back then. However, now that he’s almost two and ready for his first WorldCon, I was thrilled to discover just how kid friendly this con will be.

For very small children, the Con committee has arranged for a bonded, licensed organization to provide day care in the associated hotel. KiddieCorp will be available for childcare on Thursday (Aug. 29) afternoon, all day Friday through Monday, and also Saturday and Sunday nights so that parents can go to the premiere evening events, the Masquerade (Saturday) and the Hugo Awards Ceremony (Sunday). KiddieCorp takes children younger than 12 for $10/hour, and if you sign your geekling up for a child membership, you get 6 hours of day care for free. You will probably need to sign up in advance if you are interested in this option, as space will be limited. You can sign up now through the website.

For kids who are older/more independent/more interested in science fiction and fantasy, there’s also a whole track of programming just for them. The Rangernauts program is aimed at kids 6-12. It features many different kinds of hands-on arts and crafts and science projects that kids can get involved in. Some activities require a parent to be present, while others allow you to drop your child off for brief periods of time.

In addition to these on-site options, San Antonio has plenty of things for kids to explore. The convention center and hotels are located on the justly famous San Antonio River Walk. There’s a lovely playground at Hemisfair park within easy walking distance of the convention center (already approved of by my son in a scouting trip earlier this year). The San Antonio Zoo and the San Antonio Children’s Museum are nearby as well.

WorldCon is one of those conventions that moves around each year, and next year it will be in London. I have a sneaky suspicion that it will be fairly family friendly in 2014 as well, since the same James Bacon who is head of San Antonio’s Children’s track will be the Programming chair for London. I hope that you’ll be able to make it to one or both of these fine conventions, secure in the knowledge that there are plenty of options to the younger set enjoy the con as well.

Full disclosure: I am on the staff of both the San Antonio (2013) and London (2014) WorldCons. For San Antonio I am organizing the Academic track of programming, and for London I am co-head of the Literary track of programming.