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WisCon 40 GoH Speeches

For its fortieth anniversary WisCon invited three Guests of Honor, Justine Larabalestier, Sofia Samatar, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson. Today, which happens to be James Tiptree, Jr.’s birthday, all three have published their Guest of Honor speeches online.

Justine Larabalestier gave a speech about prejudice against YA fiction as a symptom of societal prejudice against teens themselves.

Turns out it wasn’t just the SFF crowd who aren’t fans of YA. (Though I suspect that SFF folk have particularly painful memories of being a teen and being oppressed by other teens.) I heard the following a lot: “Teens are awful. Being a teen was awful. Why on Earth would you write about them?” Often accompanied by visible shuddering.

It was starting to dawn on me that the horrified reaction to my writing Young Adult had little to do with the books and a whole lot to do with lack of interest in, as well as fear and hatred of, teenagers. Much as dislike of Romance is often more about misogyny than the books themselves.

It’s a mystery to me how I failed to notice that many adults hate teens. I’d certainly been aware of it when I was a teen. But somehow I forgot.

I also realised that adults hating teen wasn’t just a personal thing it was also a societal thing. There are, in fact, laws against teenagers in many jurisdictions. There are stores and even whole malls that won’t let teens in unsupervised by adults.

Why? I wondered. Why do we hate teens so much. I mean sure some of them are arseholes but so are some adults. What’s going on?

She followed with a fascinating discussion of just how new an idea it is–less than a century old–to consider “teenagers” as their own category, and how important it is to take them seriously.

Sofia Samatar’s speech was a gorgeous, soaring defense of diverse style and voice within genre, opening by quoting a critic’s line, “Genre is much less of a pigeonhole than a pigeon,” and flying on from there.

In fantasy and science fiction we might ask—why does our longing so often look like Isaac Asimov’s longing? This is the genre of possibility! After all, many people are drawn to the worlds of fantasy and science fiction because they feel like outsiders, they feel like they don’t belong in this world. The tropes of fantasy and science fiction can be powerful vehicles for expressing the sense of dislocation experienced by those who are physically and psychologically on the outside. I myself am drawn to these genres partly due to the experience of growing up between cultures that everything around me insisted could not exist together: half of my family are Somali and Muslim and the other half are Swiss-German Mennonites from North Dakota. What does that make me? It might mean I’m from the future, it might mean I’m a citizen of an alternate universe, but either way it complicates my relationship to this world. It makes me long for ways of being I don’t see in the world around me, and that’s not John Updike’s longing, it’s not Isaac Asimov’s longing, it’s particular and I believe worthy of expression.

Nalo’s speech was structured around lines curated from her own exercise music playlist, and focused on the rhetorics of the genre fiction community. She looked at the reasons people are angry, and how they act in their anger, and the predictable responses that her analysis would cause.

Listen: If I’ve learned anything in this past little while, it’s that there are people who will warp one’s message, in violation of one’s principles. I know that soon after this speech goes public, there will be those who will either mock it, or appropriate its language for their own ends. They’re going to say that I’m modelling the very things against which I’m advocating. That kind of flipping the script has become a popular tactic. I’ve begun to take it as a measure of success, in part because said appropriation is reactionary, not originary. They envy a particular sound bite or concept, so they try to make it their own, or, failing that, to make fun of it.

I don’t know what to do about that, but I do know that snark is easy, maybe too easy. It’s easy to ridicule others, for good or for ill. It’s easy to encourage others to join your dogpile, to create an atmosphere of fear, anguish and self-doubt in your preferred victims. Yet it’s not a bad thing to urge people to question their own beliefs and behaviours. Anger and conflict have their uses. But what are we doing on the other side of the ledger? I’m hearing from far too many people who would love to be part of science fiction, but who are terrified of the bullying. So what are we doing to foster joy and welcome to this community? What are we doing to cultivate its health and vibrancy? What are we doing to create an environment in which imperfect people (as all people are) who are trying to be good people can feel encouraged and supported to take the risk of a misstep, perhaps learn from it, and come back refocussed and re-energized, eager to try again?

Following up that thought, Nalo proposed doing a specific thing: the creation of an award for kindness, given to people determined to have made positive change within science fiction communities. She calls it the Lemonade Award, and even discovered an SFnal object to inspire the trophy. I think incentivizing prosocial behavior in our field is an excellent and timely idea, and hope that her award takes off as well as the Tiptree Award–also proposed in a WisCon GoH speech–did.

“The New Mother” Places 2nd in Sturgeon Awards

Or, as I prefer to think of it, earns first place among all stories not written by Kelly Link, who won for “Game of Smash and Recovery.” Coming in second behind Kelly feels a hell of a lot like winning. It was also completely unexpected. In her opening comments at the Campbell & Sturgeon Memorial Awards Reception, Kij Johnson said that the conversation over picking a winner was always “peppery,” but that this year it was especially so. When she announced my name I was astonished. Here’s what she said:

Second Place, “The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer, Asimov’s, Apr/May 2015.

A new disease makes women able to have babies without sexual reproduction. The story, broken by a pregnant lesbian reporter with her own worries, interestingly explores a multiplicity of legal and cultural complexities that could arise in this situation, without compromising the personal angle. The story was masterfully written and exhibited some of the best craft of anything we read this year.

After the ceremony, she and several others approached me to reiterate how much they loved the story, and what a close choice it was. I spent hours drunk on the experience. Much thanks to the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and the Sturgeon Award jury. Here are some photos.

Zach Lowe’s “Welcome to Manu’s Familia”

This is one of the best articles on Manu Ginobili’s career I’ve read. Includes many gems like this:

Ginobili carried no sense of entitlement; he outworked everyone in practice, especially during scrimmages, when he played as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Toward the end of an early September 2007 pickup game involving Spurs and visiting free agents, Ginobili dove through three players to retrieve a loose ball and flung it to a teammate. That player scored, and Popovich, watching, stopped the scrimmage even though it wasn’t over.
He gathered everyone and asked them: “What does that play mean to you?” Popovich told them Ginobili wanted to win more than anyone on the floor, and that if the Spurs wished to repeat after their 2007 title, they would all need to play that hard. Popovich walked away, and everyone thought the speech was over. Suddenly, he turned: “And Manu: It’s f—ing September. Never do that again in September.”

David Robinson was my childhood hero, and the newly retired Tim Duncan is inarguably the greatest Spur ever, but Manu Ginobili is my favorite basketball player, and he’s coming back for one more year. Lowe’s piece does a great job capturing all the things that are special about him.

Bullet Journaling with GoodNotes 4


This past year I’ve finally gotten busy enough to need a more robust system for keeping track of my tasks than my previous mess of memory, post-its, and smudged words on the back of my hand. I tried a bunch of phone apps with very little success, and eventually stumbled on Bullet Journaling. I’m not evangelical about it, but it’s worked very well for me. Physically writing out my tasks, moving them around, Xing them out; it’s kept me focused and given me a visual record of my productivity that’s unmatched by any of the software tools. Trouble is, it’s also meant carrying around a red Moleskine that I look at multiple times a day. Everything else I do lives on my devices now, constantly backed up and accessible everywhere. Being beholden to a stack of paper has been a source of constant, low-level anxiety. One moment of clumsiness with a beverage or forgetfulness on a bus and my life could become a desperate scramble.

Fortunately, that’s all over now. I’ve recently switched to an iPad Pro 9.7 for my mobile computing (about which a longer post soon), and with it begun using a phenomenal app called GoodNotes 4 that solves every problem with my old journal and then some. Paired with the Apple Pencil, using it feels just like writing on paper, and lets me quickly jot down anything I need to remember. It looks like this:


If you’ve done any Bullet Journaling though, you know it’s not just about the lists. The primary selling point of the system is its organization, with an index for all the different sections. GoodNotes 4 takes care of that with its bookmark system. Just drop a bookmark at each new section, the bookmarks tab becomes an index:


So that’s all the organizational features of my paper version covered. And GoodNotes 4 also syncs with iCloud, allowing me to access it from my phone if necessary and eliminating my last significant risk of data loss. On top of that, digital features like copy/paste, erase, and undo are all available, not to mention dozens of options for color and drawing style, plus the ability to add new blank pages (in any of multiple paper types) inside the journal.

All of that would have been enough to make the switch worthwhile, but it has another feature that’s incredible, and would be completely impossible with pen and ink. All of that handwriting in the images above? It’s fully searchable.


This app lets me do text search of handwritten notes, and it works almost perfectly. It’s so good I’ve found myself fantasizing about how convenient it would’ve been to have this technology when I was an undergrad, carrying around a different composition notebook for every course. Had I to do it over again, my entire physics degree would live in GoodNotes 4. As it is, I’m happy enough just saying goodbye to the last paper journal in my life.



Austin Bat Cave’s Science Fiction Writing Camp


imageAustin Bat Cave is a nonprofit organization that creates free writing programs for Austin-area kids. During the academic year they work inside schools, and put on a series of writing camps during the summer. A few months ago the program director, Ali Haider, approached me about the latter. He wanted to do a summer camp for 9- to 11-year-olds on writing science fiction, and wanted me to design and teach it. The curriculum development seemed like a fun challenge, and I thought I might enjoy the novelty of teaching a much younger age group than when I was at Iowa (fun largely because I didn’t have to do it alone; three volunteers were signed up to help run the class.) So I said yes, and this summer spent a week with twelve mostly eager young writers.

It was a Monday through Friday camp in the conference room of a branch library, three hours a session, with a public reading of student work at the end. The goal of the camp was for students to produce, workshop, and revise a complete science fiction short story of ~1000 words. Day 1 was all about getting the kids used to the camp and each other, discussing what a science fiction story is, and having them choose the settings they’d be working with the rest of the week. We talked about all the different kinds of places science fiction stories could take place, watched Powers of Ten, and read Ken Liu’s “Celestial Bodies.”

Day 2 was about character and characterization, with a guest speaker from a local tech design firm to talk to the kids about the interface between life and technology. We read “Project Daffodil” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley and discussed unreliable narrators, then developed characters as a class and discussed how their natures and histories suggested possible plots.

Day 3 was full of exercises on plot and detail language. We discussed the chains of causality that link one event in a story to another, and read Beth Cato’s “Post-Apocalyptic Conversations with a Sidewalk.” Then we did an exercise recommended by Kendra Fortmeyer, in which the class collaboratively wrote a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story in Twine, splitting as the branches diverged, until every student wrote their own ending.

Days 4 and 5 were all about finishing and revising the stories the students were writing, doing peer workshops in pairs one day and then rewriting on the basis of that feedback the next. They also read “Misprint” by Vonda McIntyre and had another guest speaker, Martina Belozerco, who discussed medicine and its role in people’s lives. Thursday evening was a reading for parents and guest, some of the students’ first time reciting their own work into a microphone. And of course, when everything was finished, we had a party. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, the parents were pleased, and I got to scratch the teaching itch that’d been growing since I moved to Texas. So thanks to Austin Bat Cave for the opportunity. If you live here and have school-aged children, you should look into their programs.


One Year With A Road Bike


It was a year ago this week that I bought a road bike, the 2014 Jamis Ventura Comp, and I’ve been tearing around the streets of Austin on it ever since. I’ve gone hundreds of miles, through traffic and along trails, alone and with friends. The Texas heat sometimes makes it hard to motivate myself to hop on the saddle in the summer, but once I get going I always lose myself in the thrill of the ride. My bicycle has become one of my most cherished possessions, and cycling far more than a passing fancy. Here’s my current setup:

  • Panaracer Pasela tires – very durable, with tread that lets me stay stable on gravel despite the narrow width. This is especially useful when I’m riding along the river, one of the best ways to get from my place to the East Side. Adore these.
  • Specialized Milano saddle – bought this back when I was rehabbing after my bedridden period in 2009, and still like it. This is the third bike I’ve installed it on, and expect I’ll keep riding it until it wears out.
  • Shimano Click’r platform/clipless pedals – these made a huge difference to my rides, giving me better form (I used to pedal on my arches rather than on the balls of my feet) while transferring more of the energy from my legs to the bike. I got the half platform style so I could still ride with regular shoes if I wanted, but I almost never do.
  • Bontrager rear rack – originally got this for my Trek hybrid. It took a tumble in my accident on that bike and picked up a few dings, but still works just fine.
  • Arkel Urban Commuter pannier – the newest thing here. Up until now I’ve been wearing my Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack, still my favorite bag, but in this heat I just can’t stand having the airflow around my body obstructed. I used to dump the backpack into a collapsible basket on my rear rack, but didn’t like the way it threw off the balance of the bike, nor did I feel as comfortable riding in traffic with how far out it protruded. I tried a few other pannier types, and settled on this, a laptop/shoulder bag style pannier was also The Sweethome’s favorite. It’s working well so far, but I wish Tom Bihn would make a pannier bag.
  • Delta Cycle smartphone mount – best solution I’ve found so far, in that it’s sturdy, doesn’t require me to use a special phone case, and leaves the whole screen accessible. But the two halves get misaligned easily, and the lock clip doesn’t have enough clearance on the handlebars. I don’t love it.
  • Specialized KEG with flat repair kit – most folks around here keep their flat kit in a saddle pouch, but I don’t have room for one. Since there are braze-ons for multiple cages and I don’t need more than one bottle in the city, this works well as an alternative.

Not listed: my light kit. Up until now I’ve been using the Bontrager light kit that I got in Iowa with my Trek, but I’ve been meaning to switch to something brighter, with rechargeable batteries. Just last night my rear light got lost on a ride, so it’s time to take the plunge. Tomorrow I’ll be buying my Jamis a birthday present.

WisCon 40 and the Tiptree Award

Me with my parents on the night of the the Tiptree Award ceremony. Photo by John Scalzi.

This post is long overdue, having been constantly delayed by other life stuff. But WisCon 40 was special, and I want to record some of it here. WisCon is always special to me; it was my first con and the one I still attend every year. Attending as a Tiptree winner though is a unique experience, and one I’m very grateful to have had.


A warm reception at dinner

I made it to Madison on Thursday just in time to race to the hotel and change into a suit for the Tiptree Motherboard dinner at Cento. I was very nearly on time but still the last to arrive, which produced the weekend’s first moment of atypical celebration when the already assembled group applauded my arrival. I took a stunned and bashful moment, then asked them to do it again so I could snap a picture. I was sure to take time during dinner to move down that long table and introduce myself to everyone, and met many people I was to keep interacting with for the rest of the weekend.

Me and Pat Murphy, founder of the Tiptree Awards

With Pat Murphy, who founded the award in her GoH speech in 1991

The next day was the official start of the convention, with my first programming of the weekend: a reading with Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, and Anthony Ha. My co-readers shared some great stories, and everyone laughed at the funny parts of mine and seemed interested in the philosophy bits, so I think it went fairly well. After that was dinner, and then the Opening Ceremonies. As it was the occasion of WisCon’s 40th anniversary, many people spoke of what the con and its community meant to them. Then the three guests of honor, Justine Larbalestier, Sofia Samatar, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson were introduced.  To close things out I was presented with the Tiptree tiara by founding mother Pat Murphy, and crowned by Eleanor Arnason, the winner of the very first Tiptree Award.

Doing my best Space Babe impression

Doing my best Space Babe impression. This was, obviously, before I got the tiara. Photo by Jeanne Gomoll.

Saturday was my day without any programming, allowing me to simply float about and marvel over how absurdly kind everyone was to me. Cath Schaff-Stump invited me to do an interview for the Unreliable Narrators podcast, which you can listen to here for a sense of how overwhelmed by it all I was. There was a cake for me to cut featuring a mashup of the cover of my Asimov’s issue and the cover of Lizard Radio, the other Tiptree winner. There were many long and pleasant talks with friends. And, for the first time, there were my parents, who showed up that evening and took me out to a steak dinner at Rare, a fancy restaurant around the corner from the hotel. After that was the Tiptree auction, where my mother won me a first edition copy of Patternmaster. The night finished, of course, with the Floomp, perennially a WisCon high point.

Sunday was the big day. I spent the morning in my room working on my acceptance speech, then went downstairs for my first ever WisCon panels: Exposition in SF/F, and Writing Near Future SF. While I was empaneled, my aunt and uncle drove up from Chicago to join my parents and myself at the dessert banquet and subsequent ceremonies. First came the three excellent Guest of Honor speeches, including Nalo Hopkinson’s establishment of the Lemonade Award for kindness in science fiction communities. Then, when those were over, the Tiptree Award presentation. This included receiving the award, a check, a box of chocolates, a commissioned artwork based on “The New Mother,” and a serenade from audience. Some pictures:

Then it was time for me to give the speech I’d spent the morning writing. Just as with the the picture of my loss of composure in the gallery above, John Scalzi managed to snap an action shot:

This is an overwhelming honor. I owe so much gratitude to so many people for the success of “The New Mother”—readers, jurors, friends old and new— that, even if I restricted myself to just people who are in this room, I would outlast any reasonable person’s patience before I could individually thank them all with the thoroughness their generosity merits. Doing so may well be less the work of an acceptance speech and more a permanent life project. Special recognition is due, though, to my parents, Jean Stein and Michael Fischer, who traveled from Texas to be here tonight, who raised me in a house full of science fiction novels and have been the most constant supporters of my own writing. Beyond that, I’d like to briefly explain how instrumental the entire WisCon community was in enabling me to write “The New Mother.” When I attended Clarion in 2008, I had already been sitting on the idea for this story for two years, certain that the concept was strong, and equally certain I didn’t have the knowledge or skill to do it justice. During the last week of the workshop I mentioned to Nalo Hopkinson that my recent, brief visit to San Diego Comicon had given me a panic attack, and that I was unsure the whole con thing was really for me. She told me that not all cons are like that, and specifically made me promise to give WisCon a try before I made up my mind. I attended for the first time in 2009, and when I got home I sent Nalo flowers in Canada to thank her for pushing me in this direction. I’ve been coming every year since, listening to all of you and your important, challenging ideas. I could not have written “The New Mother” without access to the vibrant polyphony I encounter annually in this building. So I thank you, WisCon, both for celebrating me this weekend and for educating me over the last seven years. I hope to continue learning from you for a long time to come.

After that came hugs and laughs and, as I recall, a very great deal of tequila. My hangover the next morning was pristine, the sort of hangover where anyplace you put your body feels like littering. Fortunately it began to abate by the time I had to make my way to the airport shuttle, because I ended up sharing that ride with Pat Murphy. We were on the same outbound flight, and so I got to cap my Tiptree experience by debriefing with the woman who was there from the very start. A more perfect close I couldn’t imagine.

Ghostbusters (2016)


1455576670739Ghostbusters was the earliest franchise I can remember getting really into, coming even before my devotion to Star Trek. I had all the the toys–the firehouse with a grill at the top for slime to seep through, the proton pack with its yellow foam beam–watched the movies over and over, wore out videocassettes of the cartoon show. (Fun fact: some of the most memorable episodes of The REAL Ghostbusters were written by J. Michael Straczynski.) So seeing this new remake was a heart-in-my-throat nostalgia bloom from the opening teaser on. Fortunately, and contrary to the impression I got from the seriously underwhelming trailers, it’s also enjoyable as hell. The ensemble cast is delightful, especially Kate McKinnon who steals every scene to announce that she’s a big damn movie star now. The jokes all land. The cameos are delightful (the last one, during the end credits, especially). The inevitable callbacks to the original are done with self-aware humor, and with enough new twists thrown in to avoid feeling perfunctory. Sure, the plot gets a little floppy in the third act, but I didn’t give a damn while I was watching because the movie is unrelentingly fun. I don’t generally even like comedies, and I left the theater feeling giddy. If you’re going to remake Ghostbusters at all, this is probably the best possible way to do it. Easily recommended.ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-images

Thank You Tim Duncan

ThankYouTDTim Duncan is retiring after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Over the next several days millions of words will be written about his impact on San Antonio, on the NBA, on basketball. The Spurs have already put up a lovely career retrospective, with pictures, videos, and highlights from his every year in the league. The hashtag #ThankYouTD is trending on Twitter and Instagram. He’s retiring with what, by any reasonable estimation, is one of the greatest careers in the history of the league, up there with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. During his nearly two-decade tenure the Spurs won 71% of their games. His 19 straight years of winning more than 60% is a record not just for the NBA, but also for the NFL, NHL, and MLB. Tim Duncan was drafted right around the time I entered high school, and has made my hometown team the most successful organization in American professional sports throughout my entire adult life. I’ll never, as a sports fan, have it any better than that. Thank you for the memories, Tim.

Nebula Awards Weekend 2016 in Pictures and Words

IMG_7822I’m finally over the cold I brought home with me from Chicago, so it’s time to put up a few pictures before it’s off to the next con. Short version: didn’t win a Nebula award, but still had a fully lovely time. Met many wonderful new people with whom I hope stay friends for years to come, wore good clothing, drank tasty drinks, and gave a speech from the alternate universe in which I did win that was well-received, especially by SFWA President Cat Rambo. The programming was excellent and the environment welcoming; I’m very grateful to the officers, administrators, and volunteers for all their fine work. Here’re some photos and the text of my AU speech.

Thank you all for the bravery and optimism you’ve shown in congregating for this kind of celebration. For so many of us to risk staying so long in the same place reveals, I think, the great value stories have in lessening our burdens. To those who claim that the time we spend in fabulation would more profitably be used marshaling resources against our adversary, I answer: what is the purpose of our fight if we cease to dream of better lives? Our parents parents parents owned the surface of this world. They named this award after what they saw when they looked up. Above them was the “Sky,” and deep inside the Sky, the “Nebula.” Even then it was something lofty and aspirational. We can still dream as well as they could, and when I retire behind the fortifications tonight, I will do so with confidence that, some day, people will look with bare eyes upon the Nebula again!