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Jul. 16th, 2014

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Caren Gussoff and the Birthday Problem

Interview by Cat Rambo.

Photo by Folly Blaine

Seattle writer and frequent SFWA blog contributor Caren Gussoff describes her newest novel, The Birthday Problem, as her “zombie book.” If she’s telling the truth, then The Birthday Problem turns all zombie novels, literally, on their head; in the book, a pandemic-level mental illness caused by malfunctioning nanobots is the root of the transformation. Originally conceived as an homage to Greg Bear’s Blood Music, Gussoff’s novel, out from Massachusetts-based publisher Pink Narcissus Press, strives to answer many of the same questions Bear’s masterpiece does while drawing deeply from her literary background and the Pacific Northwest setting.

What is the most interesting way you have explained the mathematical concept of the birthday problem?

I’ve mostly just had fun having people guess! I’ve yet to have someone not already familiar with the birthday problem even come close.

The birthday problem is a mathematical concept that tests both what we know about probability and the ways we, as individuals, subconsciously think about our own special uniqueness. The problem itself asks a simple question: how many people do you need in one room to have a greater than 50% chance that two of them will have the same birthday?

The answer is just 23. You need 23 people in one room, randomly selected, to have a greater than even chance two will share the same birthday. With 23 people, there are 253 combinations of people/birthdays, which brings the probability of two people/one birthday above 50%.

Most folks are shocked it’s so few. Firstly, humans tend to be terrible at predicting how probable something is in reality…there are many theories why, but none that fully answer why our subjectivity is so off. Secondly, birthdays have significance in our culture, and we personalize the day on which we were born so much, to the point where it feels unlikely, somehow — though most people can’t fully explain why — that the math shakes out like that.

That entire notion, of how we consider probability, and therefore luck, coincidence, and even fate, is a driving theme in the novel…in fact, important enough to give the book its title (The Birthday Problem).

–What are you doing to promote the book?

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Jul. 14th, 2014

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Prometheus Award Winners Announced

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced its Prometheus Award winners for 2014.

There was a tie for Best Novel: The winners are Homeland (TOR Books) by Cory Doctorow and Nexus (Angry Robot Books) by Ramez Naam.

The other Prometheus finalists for best pro-freedom novel of 2013 were Sarah Hoyt’s A Few Good Men (Baen Books); Naam’s Crux, the sequel to Nexus (Angry Robot Books); and Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance (Thomas & Mercer).

Lois McMaster Bujold wins Hall of Fame for Falling Free

The Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) winner is Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold ‘s 1988 novel that explores free will and self-ownership by considering the legal and ethical implications of human genetic engineering.

The other 2014 Hall of Fame finalists: “As Easy as A.B.C.,” a 1912 short story by Rudyard Kipling;  “Sam Hall,” a 1953 short story by Poul Anderson; “ ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” a 1965 short story by Harlan Ellison; andCourtship Rite, a 1982 novel by Donald M. Kingsbury.

The Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction honors novels, novellas, stories, graphic novels, anthologies, films, TV shows/series, plays, poems, music recordings and other works of fiction first published or broadcast more than five years ago.

Leslie Fish wins Special Award

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Jul. 10th, 2014

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Support the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund with a Great Deal on Awesome SF!

humble

Pay what you want. Support charity. Get exceptional titles. Last year, the Humble Book Bundle raised over $55,000 for the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. Offering pay-what-you-want pricing, you could receive the following titles:

 

The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
The Reluctant Swordsman by Dave Duncan
Freehold by William Dietz
The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly
Wingman by Mack Maloney.

Beat the average price and you’ll receive all of the above as well as:
Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
I Have No Mouth and I Must Screamby Harlan Ellison
The Forge of God by Greg Bear
and 
Song of Kali by Dan Simmons.

Pay $12 or more to receive everything previously mentioned as well as:
Encounter with Tiber by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
and Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn.

Separately, this instant eBook library would typically cost you more than $86, but you can set the price!

The books are available in multiple formats including PDF, MOBI, and ePub. Instructions can be found here.

“If you like this bundle, a tip to Humble Bundle would be greatly appreciated!”

For more information or to get great books and help support the SFWA EMF, head to Humble Bundle.  This is a limited time offer!

Thank you for your support.

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Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer

by Matthew Kressel

mattIt’s become a cliché, the tortured writer beset by periods of crippling self-doubt. But things become clichés simply because they have been true for so many. Writing, for most people I know, is an experience of few victories and many small defeats. The little victories can make all those defeats worthwhile, but when you’re in the writing mode, staring at the screen or paper, slogging away day after day, without feedback, you can often feel like you’ve wandered deep into the woods without a guide and now you’re lost and it’s getting dark and there are strange sounds coming from that grove of trees, and at this far out no one can hear you scream.

Eventually, though, you’ll find your way back to civilization. You send out that story that you worked on for months, only to get rejection after rejection. You submit your magnum opus to agents and editors expecting high praise only to be met with…crushing silence. The waiting sometimes can be the worst of all.

And it’s in these interstitial periods that the most crippling feelings of self-doubt can occur. We ask ourselves, Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Did they like what I wrote? Does it suck? Am I a hack? What the hell am I doing all this for? All those things we do to escape our uncomfortable feelings become super tempting: binge television watching, drinking, drugs, sex, anything to escape the Great Uncertainty.

And then your story sells, maybe even to a pro market, and the reviews come in, and everyone loves it, and praises it. And people talk about how it moved them, some cried and read it to their grandmothers, and maybe your story even gets nominated for an award. Maybe you even win that award. And you feel like a million dollars, and you’ll never doubt yourself again.

Yeah right.

A few weeks go by, maybe a few months, and the doubts creep back. We say to ourselves, Maybe I was lucky. Maybe the awards system is rigged. Maybe it was only a popularity contest. Maybe that’s the best I’ll ever do.

It’s a vicious cycle, this self-doubt, and it’s been my experience that most writers experience these crippling neuroses in one form or another. A few lucky people I know seem to lack all such self-doubts, but I suspect they’re well hidden, that under their confident exterior they too doubt themselves from time to time. Hell, even Stephen King has been known to express doubts about his work.

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Jul. 7th, 2014

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Guest Post: Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing

by John Scalzi

John ScalziMany years ago, writer Jim Macdonald postulated “Yog’s Law,” a handy rule of thumb for writers about the direction money is meant to flow in publishing:

“Money flows toward the writer.”

This is handy because it will give the writer pause when she has a publisher (or agent, or editor) who says that in order to get published, the author needs to lay out some cash up front, and to that publisher/agent/editor. The author can step back, say, huh, this is not how Yog’s Law says it’s supposed to go, and then surmise, generally correctly, that the publisher/agent/editor in question is a scam artist and that she should run away as fast as her feet will carry her.

But does Yog’s Law apply in an age where many writers — and some even successfully — are self-publishing via digital? In self-publishing, authors are on the financial hook for the editorial services that publishers usually do: Editing, copy-editing, page and cover design and art, marketing, publicity and so on. In this case, unless the author does everything (which is possible but not advised if one want’s a professional-looking product), money is going to have to flow away from the writer, as he hired people to do work for him.

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Jul. 1st, 2014

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New Board Members at SFWA

Logo SFWA-Web squareOn July 1st, 2014, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers welcome Cat Rambo as the new Vice President and Sarah Pinsker as incoming Director at Large (elected from the Eastern Region*).

Concurrent with the start of the organization’s new fiscal year, the SFWA Board will now consist of:

President: Steven Gould (2nd term)

Vice President: Cat Rambo

Secretary: Susan Forest (2nd term)

Chief Financial Officer: Bud Sparhawk (Continuing)

Directors At Large: Sarah Pinsker (Incoming), Lee Martindale, Jim Fiscus, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Matthew Johnson.

SFWA would also like to thank outgoing Vice President and Eastern Regional Director, Rachel Swirsky and E.C. Myers for their hard work and dedication throughout their respective terms.

About the new Board members:

Cat Rambo is on the road through the end of 2014 and may be coming soon to a city near you. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’sClarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com as well as reprints in Catalan, Czech, Estonian, Galician, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and (quite frequently) audio form.  Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from collection Near + Far, was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012 and she most recently guest-edited Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroying Fantasy issue. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, the Johns Hopkins University, and the Clarion West Writers workshop. Among her accomplishments, she once won a hula contest judged by Neil Gaiman, has ridden an elephant, and is a Maryland-certified Master Gardener. For more about her, as well as links to her blog and fiction, see kittywumpus.net or find her on most social media networks as catrambo.

 

Sarah Pinsker  is the author of the novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2014 and 2013 Nebula Award finalist. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Lightspeed, and in anthologies including Long HiddenFierce Family, and The Future Embodied.

She co-hosts the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Dangerous Voices Variety Hour, a reading series/quiz show. She is also a singer/songwriter and toured nationally behind three albums on various independent labels: (Charmed, disappear records; Wingspan, Reinventing Records; This is Your Signal, The Beechfields, with the Stalking Horses). A fourth is forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at
She co-hosts the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Dangerous Voices Variety Hour, a reading series/quiz show. She is also a singer/songwriter and toured nationally behind three albums on various independent labels: (Charmed, disappear records; Wingspan, Reinventing Records; This is Your Signal, The Beechfields, with the Stalking Horses). A fourth is forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and twitter.com/sarahpinsker. ​

 

*All current directors were elected under the previous bylaws which mandated region specific Directors and three year terms. Our new bylaws bylaws mandate Directors-at-Large which are not region specific and have two year terms. As directors’ old terms expire, replacements and incumbents will run for the new two-year terms voted on by the entire active membership.

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Jun. 26th, 2014

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SFWA Policy on Self Publishing: Comments Welcome.

Logo SFWA-Web squareThe SFWA Board of Directors is asking members to share their opinions of self-publishing over the summer. The Board has asked the members to consider not just whether or not to make it possible for writers to join on the basis of self-published works but also the issues that would have to be addressed, such as confirming income, sales, and other publishing information from self-published writers. The issue should be submitted to the full membership prior to November’s business meeting at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention.

Members are invited to share their opinions with the Board through emails, via letters to the Forum, on the discussion boards, or at SFWA business meetings.

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Jun. 23rd, 2014

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Philip K. Dick in Orange County

“Philip K. Dick in Orange County” website has launched with the following background provided by SFWA member, Dr. David Sandner:


In 1972, Philip K. Dick moved to Fullerton, California, in Orange County, at the behest of Dr. Willis McNelly, Professor of English at California State University, Fullerton. Dick lived in the OC for ten years until his death in 1982, and left his manuscripts and papers to CSUF’s Special Collections in the library. In the Spring of 2014, I taught the first Digital Literary Studies class for the English Department at CSUF. As a final collaborative assignment, our class, using the fact of Dick’s presence on our campus, created our website. With the site, we intend to document and share CSUF’s literary history by creating digital archives both aggregating and ordering what was out there into relevant links and commenting upon it from our own perspective, and creating our own content through interviews, new explorations, and research.

Here are the highlights of the site:

  • Google Earth maps of places Philip K. Dick lived in Orange County and of locations mentioned in A Scanner Darkly and Radio Free Albemuth.
  • A new inventory of recent changes to the Special Collections holdings of Dick’s work that documents what the Dick estate removed in the past few years and now holds privately. An early document by Dr. McNelly and a new video interview with the Special Collections Librarian tells the story of the holdings from their arrival at CSUF to now.
  • A new video interview with Tim Powers.
  • Archives including: local media write ups of PKD in the OC by the LA Times, OC Weekly, Rolling Stone, and others; letters and other documents; photos; and more from 1972-1982.

A Facebook page has also been established.

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Jun. 20th, 2014

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Sunburst Award Society Announces The 2014 Shortlists

Sunburst Award logoThe Sunburst Award Society has announced the short-lists for this year’s awards.

The short-listed works in the adult category are:

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central Publishing)
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Group Canada)
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Exile Editions)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Penguin Group Canada)
The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster)

The short-listed works in the young adult category are:

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (Scholastic Inc.)
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint (Little Brown Books)
Homeland by Cory Doctorow (Tom Doherty Associates)
The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (Scholastic Inc.)
Urgle by Meaghan McIsaac (Cormorant Books)

Additionally, the jury has chosen to include a list of honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions

The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess (Chizine Publications)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (McClelland & Stewart)
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Doubleday Canada)
Wild Fell by Michael Rowe (Chizine Publications)
Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts (Tachyon Publications)

The awards will be presented in the fall of 2014.

The jurors for the 2014 award are: Camille Alexa, Paul Glennon, Bob Knowlton, Nicole Luiken, and Derek Newman-Stille.

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is an annual award celebrating the best in Canadian fantastic literature published during the previous calendar year.

The winners receive a cash prize of $1,000 as well as a hand-crafted medallion incorporating the Sunburst logo.

The Sunburst Award takes its name from the debut novel of the late Phyllis Gotlieb, one of the first published authors of contemporary Canadian speculative fiction.
For additional information about the Sunburst Award, the nominees and jurors, as well as previous awards, eligibility and the selection process, please visit the website at www.sunburstaward.org.

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Jun. 16th, 2014

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Guest Post: Cooking the Books with Ann Leckie

by Fran Wilde

We are pleased to have Ann Leckie as our guest for Cooking the Books. Her first book, Ancillary Justice,  won the 2014 Nebula Award, the 2013 BSFA Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

In Ancillary Justice, tea is sometimes a staple, sometimes a luxury item – for instance, citizens relying on the baseline free supplies from the Radchaai don’t get tea, or not very good tea. Can you talk about the classes of tea culture?

I think of tea in Radch space as being one of those “essentials” that’s actually an extra–a baseline requirement and indication of civility and civilization that actually isn’t truly freely available to all citizens. You’re right, it’s not part of basic rations, and it’s in a lot of cases a powerful reason for wanting more than just those basic necessities.

Tea is also part of the gift-giving end of Radchaai culture. A patron might supply a client with a tea she otherwise couldn’t afford, or tea will be part of a gift exchange between more-or-less equals, or given to a superior in the hope of favor or some sort or reciprocal gesture.

At its lowest-class, cheapest end, we’re talking leaves and floor sweepings, minimally processed, packed tight into bricks and shipped in bulk, very slowly. At the high end, rare, single-estate teas, or teas with delicate processing methods or long aging periods.  The most luxurious, prestigious of teas won’t be buyable, except possibly from the grower herself, but more likely you’ll have exchanged gifts for it, and give it as a gift to someone you want or need to impress very much, or need a very large favor from.

Does Breq have any rituals regarding tea? Are they “traditional” rituals or has she made her own?

Breq only started drinking tea when Seivarden began making it for her, when they left Nilt. And Seivarden’s habits are, of course, somewhat antique, upper class Radchaai who’s served in the military. This, of course, is entirely familiar to Breq, who served tea in the same way to her lieutenants.

I’m not a hundred percent sure what the details of that would be–I’ll only know if it comes up in a story! I’m fairly sure, though, that one peculiarity of military tea consumption is that leaves will be re-used much longer than most wealthy Radchaai would stomach. When you’re at an annexation, or stationed some distance from a source of things like tea, you’ve only got so much to last you. Elsewhere, multiple steepings of various lengths might be standard for certain kinds of tea, even required, but a military decade room might use the same leaves for a couple of days, even if they’re not the sort of tea that stands up to that kind of thing.

I do know, however, that there are regional differences in the way tea is “properly” served and drunk, but most Radchaai would be astonished to realize it. Most assume that their way of drinking tea is just the civilized way to do it and all Radchaai do the same.

What is your favorite kind of tea?

Do I have to pick? Honestly, it depends. Right now, probably a nice oolong. That’ll change.

In a star-faring culture, how is tea procured? Is it shipped? Is it standardized?

Tea is grown on planets–there might be stations large enough for significant tea growing, but I don’t know where those would be, or how many of them there are. So, when the Radchaai annex a system with one or more terraformed planets, they sometimes allot land for growing tea and give that out to houses that have already specialized in that, or that are ambitious to begin.

Some growers have very large stretches of land which they use to produce the standard sort of tea, processed quickly and formed up into bricks and shipped out in huge amounts, in some cases just packaged up, with a beacon attached, and pushed through a gate to slowly sail on to the other side and be picked up and distributed–some to shops, some as gifts (because even if you can’t afford the expensive sort, tea is a nicely “proper” gift that’s welcome nearly everywhere). This is largely standardized, and very profitable.

There are, similarly, large growers who produce more affordable (and less prestigious) versions of the high end teas–that generally get treated the same way as the standard brick tea, which is one of the ways a nouveau riche can embarrass herself, actually, particularly outside the military (though even there one is expected to know the difference between the various sorts, and One Esk would never have brewed one at a temperature more appropriate for another, for instance). These aren’t (usually) bricked, but are shipped in much the same way, and are often bought in huge amounts and then blended (with other teas, or with flowers or dried fruits or other flavors) and sold in shops, a step above the baseline brick tea.

Then there are the smaller operations that produce various high-end teas, of various types, some blended, some “vintage” and all quite expensive.

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