I’ve been getting a lot of traffic on old Craft Crucible posts, so I thought I’d mention for anybody dropping in for craft discussion that you can get a lot of detailed talk on the subject from me at the Literary Level Up. It’s a newsletter that comes out twice weekly, and is currently doing a very in depth focus on Plot and Structure. We’re about a month in and having a good time.
Most of the content is free, so it’s easy to check out.
Want a failed rom-com that’s actually a breakup letter with Seattle? Want it in your ears instead of your eyeballs? You can have it! The Overcast has done an audio version of, “For the Last Time, It’s not a Raygun,” and now you can hear it.
I insist that this story is a documentary based on real events. The other people who appear in it insist that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Who’s right? You decide!
Long time, no post. But I want to make sure you know that I’m going to be at ConFusion, and you can find me there. My schedule is below:
Footnotes in Fiction
Friday, 8pm, Southfield While readers are accustomed to footnotes in translated and historical works, footnotes, endnotes, and other side-matter such as indexes pack powerful storytelling potential. Goldman used them to power the meta-story in The Princess Bride. Ursula K. Le Guin used the occasional footnote to define terms, and footnotes are popular in alt history and historical fiction for audiences of all ages. How can we use footnotes to best effect in our work, and how do we walk the line between entertaining flavortext and extraneous infodump?
Annalee Flower Horne (M), David John Baker, Scott H. Andrews, Anaea Lay, Amy Sundberg
Political History As Setting in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Saturday, 12pm, Southfield The history of Gildor is essential context for S. Morganstern’s classic. Even in his abridged version, Goldman includes this background in footnotes so that readers will be able to fully appreciate the story. Whether we’re writing a sweeping secondary-world epic, an alternate history, or futuristic science fiction, giving our worlds history helps them feel lived-in and real. Let’s talk about our favorite worlds with deep histories, and how authors can weave historical information into the story in an engaging way that doesn’t bog down the narrative with infodumps.
Dave Klecha (M), Anaea Lay, Carl Engle-Laird, K.A. Doore, K. Lynne O’Connor, Lewis Shiner
New Trends in Post-Collapse Fiction
Saturday, 5pm, Greenfield The prospect of a world where the march of social and technological progress has drastically reversed course seems a lot closer than it used to be. What has changed in the way we imagine post-collapse futures? How do post-collapse futures of the past and present exist in conversation with the social and political worlds in which they were written?
Marissa Lingen (M), Andrea Johnson, Michael J. DeLuca, Petra Kuppers, Anaea Lay
Saturday, 7pm, Rotunda
Petra Kuppers, Anaea Lay, John Chu
I swear I didn’t just tell the programming folks to let me ramble about exposition all weekend, but apparently I’ll be rambling about exposition all weekend. It should be informative!
Did you miss me at WisCon? Or do you just miss me in general? Then come find me at the summer edition for the Deep Dish Reading Series at Volumes Book Cafe. It’s happening this Thursday at 7pm, and you don’t want to miss it. There’s a 30% chance of funny pandas making an appearance.
This actually happened a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been busy, so I’m telling you about it now. “Armed for You” which originally appeared in the dark humor version of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology now has an audio version. It’s my third appearance on The Overcast and I think this is easily the best reading they’ve done, so you should definitely check it out.
Other reasons to check it out:
1) You like cannibals or cannibalism
2) You don’t like cannibals or cannibalism
3) You want to play, “Spot the former co-worker Anaea put in three different stories before she sold one featuring a version of him.”
If one or more of those reasons applies to you, or you simply have excellent taste in audio fiction, go check it out.
This is going to be simple and short. If you know anything about me, you know that it must matter a whole lot if I managed to make it short. Ready? Here it is:
I hereby formally and publicly announce the launch of an endeavor currently code named Project FAD. This endeavor will, at a minimum, launch a contest for beginning writers of science fiction and fantasy with a prize meant to bolster and nurture their nascent careers. That’s the very small, pragmatic elevator pitch.
I’m not feeling small or pragmatic. I’m not planning to limit this endeavor to writers. The field is so much bigger than that, and the value in supporting creators across the field so much more vast. Artists, editors, (podcasters?), teenagers, marginalized folks, people who bleed across the margins with a hunger to hone their craft, you name it, I mean for this to be a thing they can latch onto and find support, resources, and a chance to grow.
I’ve already got enough people volunteering to help to count by dozens. That’s only a start. We’re going to need so much more.
Like you. Interested? Sign up. Let’s make this happen.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back to the place that crushed all your dreams, physically shattered you, and betrayed the covenant you made for their lasting survival? Wonder no more! PodCastle has published “Emshalur’s Hand Stays” with a very fine reading by Cian Mac Mahon.
It begins like so:
I returned to Irishem with three sources of power: a letter from Kelian, a clear memory of why I left, and the space between my hands. The letter proved my right to enter as a citizen at the outer gate. It also got me past the boy keeping Kelian’s door when I arrived, though the house was closed for the evening. “Sealed save for family and Emshalur,” go the ritual words of denial.
If audio isn’t your preferred consumption format, they also have the full text of the story up.
It’s spring, the season where plants fornicate with everything and in revenge we cut off their sex organs as tribute to the dinner table needing sprucing up a bit. You should honor the season with checking the Overcast’s production of A Long Fuse to a Slow Detonation, a happy story about dead people and blowing up space ships.
I did too just use the word “happy” correctly. This story is as happy as spring and sunshine are great.
Last year the Overcast did a great production of Turning the Whisper, so if you remember that, you have some idea of what to look forward to. And if you want to read along, you can see the text for Fuse where it was originally published in Waylines.
May you derive comfort and entertainment in this time of pollen.
When I moved to Seattle I set to work right away on ensuring that I met one of my most important priorities: finding all the good tea shops. And Seattle is rich in options for public consumption of tea. But after a few months I noticed a certain trend amongst my fellow patrons. It’s something that has taken on the weight of quintessential-Seattle for me. So much so that I chose to immortalize it in fiction.
The resulting story such a perfect encapsulation of my deep and nuanced feelings about the culture of my current stomping grounds that I’m going to overthrow my normal custom for public readings. Next week at Two Hour Transport (happening at Cafe Racer, a noble Seattle institution if ever there was one) I shall treat the audience to a dramatic reading of “For the Last Time, It’s not a Ray Gun.” Normally I’d let the audience choose what to hear, but in this case I didn’t want to give them the chance to make a bad choice. There’s a joke about Portland in it. You should come.
Event details, including the bio for my fellow invited reader, here.
September is an awful lot like June, especially when the entire summer vanished in a poof of work. Which has been frustrating, because I’ve been wanting to write up the Craft Crucible piece on this story for ages.
You don’t have to look far to find people praising David Levine’s Damage for being an excellent story, and that’s not surprising. And you don’t have to read very many CCs to know that this story plays off some of my favorite tropes in SF; space battles, AI’s with feelings, revenge, and a bittersweet ending. And while having all those things are enough to win me over to a story, what I find uniquely appealing about this story is how it uses deception and misleading omission throughout.
The first comes early on while Scraps is explaining just who exactly she is.
But his loss, though a tragedy, was no sadder to me than any of the thousands of other deaths Earth had inflicted on the Free Belt—Valkyrie’s love for her pilot was not one of the things that had survived her death to be incorporated into my programming. Only Commander Ziegler mattered. My love, my light, my reason to live.
Where it’s placed, at the beginning of the story, this seems perfectly credible. The unfolding of the story puts the lie to this, however. It’s clear that not only is the trauma and loss sustained by the ships that went into making Scraps very present and real, but Commander Ziegler is not the sole motivating force for Scraps, either. If he were, the innocent lives on Earth wouldn’t have been a concern; only Commander Ziegler’s well being would. Instead, it was such a concern that she steered her pilot to his death in order to save Earth. The ending of the story would have read very differently if it were true that, “Only Commander Ziegler mattered.” The conflict would have entirely been about whether giving Ziegler the fight and challenge he longed for and his validation as the greatest pilot in the solar system mattered more than supporting his fulfillment of his mission and immortalizing his reputation as the hero of the belt.
There a couple of levels on which this lie works. First, it’s something Scraps is telling herself because that is a core element of being a functional ship. Love from Commander Ziegler, like victory for the belt, is unobtainable. Which means pursuing it, striving to perform well enough to gain his notice and affection, is a safe goal to have as a distraction from her baseline terror and misery; she’s never going to achieve it and need something else as a distraction. At the craft level, it makes Scraps instantly likable and relatable to the reader; she’s a ship bound to unrequited love, not just because a human can’t love her back, but because the human she loves is an asshole. And finally, it masks the real bond that is the through line of the story: Scraps and Specialist Toman. (Note: we hear about Toman well before Ziegler is mentioned, the protagonist does have a name despite her assertions otherwise, because Toman gave her a serial number and dubbed her “Scraps.”) Toman isn’t just the human who appreciates and respects Scraps in the way Ziegler doesn’t, she’s the actual pillar Scraps leans on to make it through.
There are a lot of fibs and minor lies in Scraps’s interaction with Ziegler, but the next big doozy of a lie by omission comes from Specialist Toman, when she deliberately lets Scraps overhear the conversation about how the war is going.
“I don’t care what General Geary says about ‘murderous mud-people,’” Toman shot back. “Earth Force is still following the Geneva Conventions, even if we aren’t, and given their advantage in numbers I’m sure they’ll offer us terms before they bring the hammer down.”
This revelation is huge. Up to this point we knew Ziegler was an asshole, but this is the first we find out that Scraps is fighting for the bad guys. We’ve got racist epithets directed at Earth-dwellers, a reveal that the Belters aren’t following the Geneva convention while Earth forces are, and that Earth isn’t in this for total destruction. Scraps may or may not have known all of this already, but the reader sure didn’t. More, there’s no way Scraps would have said something to the reader to indicate this. Toman’s subterfuge with the communication line is, at a minimum, necessary as a way for Levine to tell the reader whose side we’re on (and consequently, to foreshadow the suicide mission at the end of the story).
But the technical issues of needing to deliver this exposition to the reader aside, this is a staggeringly important line in the story, because it’s Toman telling Scraps, without actually telling Scraps anything, that she can honor her commitments without going all the way to the bitter end. Scraps doesn’t explicitly reflect on this moment in her recounting of later events, but it absolutely has to have informed the decision she makes. Toman can’t tell Scraps any of this directly because Scraps would have to argue with her, and it’d also probably be treason, but having an allegedly private conversation with somebody else while ensuring Scraps can hear it is a-okay. This isn’t just Toman telling Scraps that there’s an alternative to death, it’s Toman saying, “Hey, I care about you.”
Toman gets another piece of subtle commentary in right before Scraps and Ziegler leave for their final mission.
“Make me proud, Scraps.”
Not, “Take care of yourself,” or “Go get ’em,” or “May the Force be with you.” Instead it’s, “Make me proud.” Toman almost certainly knows, or has deduced, the nature of the mission. And knows that Scraps doesn’t. And again, there’s the need to thread the needle of what she can safely say out loud, and what she can say to Scraps that won’t require Scraps to argue. And like her warning during the not-actually-private conversation earlier, this isn’t something Scraps thinks of explicitly while deciding whether to redirect Ziegler’s attention. It is, however, an invocation of the bond between Scraps and Toman, a reinforcement of priorities and options that exist outside devotion to Ziegler, and the directive Scraps ultimately follows. Toman omits all warnings or pleas for a particular choice, and thereby optimizes circumstances such that Scraps makes the right choice.
Of course, Scraps’s lie of omission in directing Ziegler is pivotal, and another data point that argues that these lies and omissions throughout the story are a deliberate craft element, but what I find more interesting on this theme is a line that comes much later.
Specialist Toman came to visit me there once, with her children. She told me how proud she was of me.
That! Right there! It could just be a nice tying up a loose thread for the only other character of significance in the story, but it’s not. That, right there, is David Levine shouting from the rooftops that the obsession with Ziegler is a smokescreen, and the real relationship in this story is Scraps/Toman. It’s a lie Scraps believes, because she has to and otherwise she wouldn’t be safe (remember, they could examine her memories to confirm she was telling the truth) but she also knows what the truth is. This entire story is a lie of omission, a cover story crafted by a wily ship to distract you from the fact that she defied orders and murdered her pilot. She’s teaching others about how she did it. She says scientists and historians, but I’m betting she’s talking to other artificial intelligences, too. The real story here isn’t what’s on the page at all, but the one implied by this line at the end where Scraps is actively playing the good-little-fighter-craft propaganda machine to let everybody, especially other AI’s know, that they can circumvent their programming. The sequel to Damage is going to be the AI uprising, with general Scraps at the fore.
To which I say, well played, Scraps/Toman/Levine. Well played.
Nest time: Angel, Monster, Man, Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed)