Inhuman Swill : Science Fiction : Page 2
            
This poem debuted live at Tuesday Funk #48 in Chicago on September 4, 2012, the same day it was written. I've submitted it to a few editors since then, but since they (probably sensibly) turned it down, my birthday present to myself is to publish it here.

It was the early 23rd and I was just the latest turd
Of a miner to get dumped on Harkin's Moon.
I had finished my first shift and took the slow repulsor lift
Up to a weightless bar called Betsy's Grand Saloon.

We were sipping bulbs of beer in artificial atmosphere
And watching servers flit around that hollow space.
My hair still caked with sand, I said the place it sure was grand,
And my new buddies smirked and pointed 'cross the place.

"You see that mope sitting alone like some sad king up on his throne?"
They said. "That bastard is the grandest of the grand.
And if you go and ask him why and make it back, why, then we'll buy
Your drinks all night, and we'll know you're a real man."

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Electric Velocipede, Issue 1
According to John Klima, he and I first met at the SFWA Authors & Editors Reception in 2001, perhaps introduced by Cory Doctorow. I have no memory of that. The first time I remember meeting John was at a party at a convention around that same time (I forget which one) where he was handing out free copies of his new zine, Electric Velocipede. I was dubious, eyeing the cheap, stapled covers, but everyone else around was acting like they'd just been given a gift of gold.

Before I started reading that first issue, I had never given much thought to sending any of my stories to fanzine markets, or even really to the semipros. Electric Velocipede changed my mind. The fiction was good, really good, and John had a keen, idiosyncratic editorial eye. And an air of unlikely coolness somehow clung to the roster of names on the cover. I wanted to be a part of it.

And by Issue 4, I was, with a weird little horror story called "Mrs. Janokowski Hits One out of the Park," a story I believed in but that no pro editor seemed interested in. That was the first of five EV stories over the years (including one under my Perry Slaughter byline). Along the way another story appeared on the EV blog, and John also published my chapbook An Alternate History of the 21st Century, which contained two more original stories that no one else seemed to want to touch. (One of those, "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System," ended up reprinted in Hartwell & Cramer's Year's Best SF 13.)

All this is by way of saying that Electric Velocipede has played a crucial role in my short fiction career, and I owe John Klima a deep debt of gratitude. Now, after a Hugo Award win and something like four World Fantasy Award nominations, EV is publishing its 27th and final issue. It's a sad occasion, but I hope you'll join me and a boatload of other contributors on Friday, February 28th, at Bluestockings Bookstore, for a reading, release party, and memorial service. It'll be great fun, and besides me you'll get to hear from writers like Robert J. Howe, K. Tempest Bradford, Nancy Hightower, Matthew Kressel, Barbara Krasnoff, Richard Bowes, Mercurio D. Rivera, Jonathan Wood, and Sam J. Miller. There'll be raffles and snacks, and a chance to purchase an EV sampler with stories by all the participants.

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The Summoners
New York's Hook & Eye Theater company is nearing the end of its run of its new play "The Summoners." A surreal, mindbending blend of Groundhog Day and Synecdoche, New York, "The Summoners" tells the thought-provoking story of what happens when the blanket of clouds that has shrouded America for three years parts for five blissful minutes over one Indiana town—and the chilling media circus that ensues.

Our friend Cynthia Babak is part of the terrific cast that together devised the story of this play, which was then turned into a script by Gavin Broady. But it's only running two more nights! See it tonight or Saturday at The C.O.W. Theater, 21 Clinton Street in Manhattan. Tickets are a mere $18! Don't miss it!

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When I showed up to attend the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading on August 21st, the last thing I expected was to end the night in front of a radio mike. But that's what happened.

Rather than greeting me in a traditional fashion when I wandered up to say hello, Jim Freund said to me, "You're on the air at one-thirty."

"Tonight?" I said. "One-thirty A.M.?"

It seems he'd had a guest for his long-running WBAI program "Hour of the Wolf" drop out on him, and he needed a substitute. Well, fair enough. I'd done the show at least five times before, and I'd enjoyed it, so what the hell.

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In case my comment on Paul Cook's ridiculous post at Amazing Stories does not pass moderation, let me reproduce it here.


Mr. Cook, you tip your hand early on, with your risibly shallow reading of Wolfe, that the insights to follow will be, at best, ill-informed.  Romance and intrigue have no place in science fiction?  I suppose Heinlein never included a bit of romance or military dress in his work, nor Asimov any palace intrigue.

Science fiction as you paint it, its precious bodily fluids uncontaminated by any less virile genre, would be a dreary, boring place indeed.  To truly be a literature of humanity and human potential, SF must address human concerns, and the human experience encompasses far more than just racing through space and blasting BEMs.  Tor editor Moshe Feder once passed a useful analogy along to me, that of science fiction as the "universal recipient" of literature, able to take in and incorporate elements from any other genre of fiction.  If science fiction is to represent more than one tiny, narrow slice of human experience, it must be able to represent any aspect of the human experience.  It must, at the highest level, be able to do anything that can be done in any other genre, whether romance, mystery, or mainstream literary.

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Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who

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I know it's a disappointment that the new Doctor Who isn't a woman or a person of color, but to this In the Loop fan he at least has the potential of being colorful...

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Luminarium by Alex Shakar
Novelist J. Robert Lennon wrote recently on Salon.com that young writers should avoid reading much contemporary literary fiction because most of it is terrible. (The essay, in fact, is headlined: "Most Contemporary Literary Fiction Is Terrible.") It's a well-argued piece, worth reading, but what really caught my attention was this passage:

But a fiction writer ought to engage with other parts of the culture, too. This includes reading outside one's genre — I happen to favor sci-fi and mystery, but I think it's fine for literary writers to read YA, romance, fantasy or whatever they please. Literary writers are in the privileged position of being permitted to raid any genre for tools to subvert and repurpose.
The emphasis there is mine, on a sentence I find troubling. I certainly support Lennon's contention that writers—all writers—should read widely, and read what they enjoy. What's problematic to me is that word privileged, as if writers of "literary" fiction inhabit in some class superior to writers of other genres, and they're the only ones permitted to reach down and rummage through the toolboxes of their inferiors, and then only for purposes of upending genre conventions.

This is a limited, and limiting, view of genre. It implies that no genre but literary fiction can amount to more than the sum of its tropes, and that the tropes of genre fiction are only useful to the literary writer insofar as they can be employed to ironic or postmodernist ends.

Both those implications are false. Central to Lennon's essay is the proposition that most of contemporary literary fiction is stuck in an insular, navel-gazing loop—in other words, that it continues to reinforce and perpetuate its own tropes. A few works might break out of that cycle and transcend it, but if we accept that most works in the category are stuck inside a constraining boundary of accepted elements, then we are defining literary fiction as a genre. And if any works in that genre are capable of transcending its limitations, then why can't works in any other genre do the same?

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Iain Banks
Amid the staggering news of other losses this week, I want to remember to say a few words about Iain Banks, one my literary idols. (Two of my literary idols, really, if you care to think of his Iain M. Banks byline separately.)

I, like many of you, I'm sure, was stunned to tears on Wednesday morning by the news that Mr. Banks is suffering from late-stage cancer and probably doesn't have long to live. He broke the news in typically straightforward and mordant fashion, but that didn't make it any easier to take.

Iain Banks is an important writer. I can't think of another writer who so consciously, so prolifically, and so successfully divided his output between serious mainstream fiction and rigorous hard science fiction. He proved, at least in the U.K., that one need not confine oneself to a single genre or style of fiction in order to maintain a brilliant career. It would have been impossible to guess from his twisted 1984 debut, The Wasp Factory, that just three years later he would affix a giant M to his chest like some superhero of letters, fly into space, and bring Consider Phlebas back to Earth, introducing us to what may at the time have been the most mind-expanding and humane future society ever invented, The Culture.

And Iain Banks is an important writer to me. His books can be found all over our house—on the science fiction shelves, on the mainstream shelves, almost always in the to-be-read pile on my nightstand, and even, in the case of his whisky travelogue Raw Spirit, on the alcohol shelf. He's a model of professional productivity, putting out a book nearly every year, and he's as fearless in his contemporary novels as he is visionary in his science fiction. (In 2002's Dead Air, he was already riffing on the meaning of 9/11 before other writers dared even think about it.) And his work is a constant inspiration to those of us who find ourselves attracted writing in more than one world.

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An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013
Just a reminder that I'll be hosting a special evening of speculative fiction readings tonight at Open Books in Chicago. It's the first in the Chicago Writers Conference's new quarterly readings series, and it's free. Arrive early if you want a cupcake. I hope to see you there!

Chicago Writers Conference Presents
An Evening of Speculative Fiction

Date: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time: 6:30 - 9:00 pm

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An Evening of Speculative Fiction, Open Books Bookstory, Thursday, February 28, 2013
Hey, I'll be hosting a special evening of speculative fiction readings on Thursday, February 28th, at Open Books Bookstore in Chicago! It's the first in the Chicago Writers Conference's new quarterly readings series, and I'm delighted that they asked me to put together this program.

Please share the Facebook invitation with all your Chicagoland friends:

http://www.facebook.com/events/148595008632051/

And here's all the info, straight from the CWC itself:

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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