The Big Idea: Leah Bobet

When it comes to the creative impulse, never underestimate the power of watching someone else get something wrong. Author Leah Bobet, whose debut novel Above hits stores today, found her inspiration when she got aggravated at what she was seeing in her television set. And just as a bit of sand in an oyster shell becomes a pearl, so did this irritation become in time a novel. Here’s how it happened.

LEAH BOBET:

I didn’t exactly start writing Above intending to write a book about being marginalized, intersectionality, and cultural trauma.

I started it because I was pissed off at a TV show.  An old one.  From 1987.

(Yeah, let’s think about that for a second.)

I’m an engineer’s kid; it means I’m a bit of a know-it-all sometimes. There’s always a part of my brain that sees the underpinnings of some genre trope or assumption and hollers But that’s not how it would really work!  And Ron Perlman and his friends below the sewers of New York in Beauty and the Beast, using nothing but dramatic black capes to pass on the streets?  Not notably worrying about the state of their plumbing or, well, scurvy?  That was not how it would really work.

So I started playing around.  With how it might really work.

Some of the answers to those questions were pure logistics: things like ventilation; how you’d pirate off the power grid; the social organization that’d emerge in a community where food was constantly rationed.  But the bigger ones quickly became about who would live there: What would have to be going on in your life to plausibly look at the choice between living in a cave underground or gritting your teeth and bearing it for one more day to make the cave the better option?  Well, you wouldn’t be people with cool superpowers, forced to flee because your claws were just too cool and kept distracting motorists.  You’d be people who potentially have enough threat and marginalization and barriers to flee; the people our society’s not so good at being built for.  The people we actively let down enough that they might just say, Screw this.  I’ll live in the dark if it means I don’t have to deal with that.

–and before I knew it, the underground community of Safe was populated by people with psychiatric diagnoses from schizophrenia to psychosis; people with physical disabilities that were either invisible enough to be scoffed at, or visible enough that nobody took them seriously when they said no, this is what I need; survivors of child abuse and institutional neglect.  People ostracized for how their bodies were put together, whether that was something fantastical like your arms growing back as crab claws or something fairly common, like intersex.

It also said something about the minds inside those bodies: The kinds of personalities who would make that choice instead of working within the system or becoming advocates; instead of just putting their energy into whole other parts of their lives and becoming musicians or tax accountants.  People who would have chosen to go down, below the subways and sewers, and live in a place that’s a secret.

That meant trauma.  A whole community living with, and built around, and creating their mythologies out of trauma.

The stories they’d tell about the world they left would be terrible.

Two things occurred to that wiseguy insisting on realism in her fantasy at this point:

First, it couldn’t last.  There’s only so long you can keep people united with the threat of an outside enemy, and even secret underground societies are made up of people.  They’d be back to drawing battle lines sooner or later: I’d end up with a whole group of marginalized people, marginalizing each other even more because of that hierarchy-beast inside our heads.

Second: Now, what would it be like to grow up there?

I have some experience with cultural trauma.  My grandfather on one side was a concentration camp survivor; my grandmother on the other was evacuated, as a child, from London during the Blitz.  There are little habits in how I was raised and educated that overstepped the bounds of normal familial concern: a sneaking, violent distrust of formal institutions; a whole family that was convinced that unless we were in sight — or telephone reach — at all times, something terrible was going to happen; a tendency to hoard food.  I was never a hungry kid, and I still feel obscurely less anxious when I have a full fridge.

This is ridiculous and does not make sense in the context of my own life.

But when your parents are brought up by people for whom yeah, children can and did go around the corner and just disappear, and enforced famine was a reality?  The idea of normal shifts.  All those reaction behaviours built up to keep you alive when things are bad twine around everything else, and they become the new normal, and your own kids treat that as the way to raise a child and pass the whole thing on.

After enough time goes by, and enough changes?  Some of those behaviours get downright weird and maladaptive.

That is what it’d be like to grow up in Safe: It would mean having a toolset to deal with the wider world that just didn’t apply when you got up there and had your first real look around.  It would mean being afraid of things that weren’t there anymore.  Being not afraid enough, maybe, of some of the things living right in your own pocket.  Having to get over the idea of Us vs. Them if you wanted to get anywhere at all with anything.

Having to, somehow, go back among the people who raised you and love you, and recognize their mistakes.  And not repeat them.  Without becoming a traitor.

–and that is how I wrote a book about cultural trauma, and having compassion and respect for the things your parents lived through without having to agree about how the world is, and the terrible balance between redress for having been victimized and starting to victimize other people too.  About complicated, tangled, late-stage Growing Up.

And people with crab claws.  And living shadow-creatures.  And a girl who turns into a honeybee, and a boy who grew up underground.

Because Beauty and the Beast was getting it wrong.

…go figure.

—-

Above: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.

Nebula Award Winners!

The winners are in bold. Also noted: The Norton and Bradbury awards, as well as the Solstice and the Kevin J. O’Donnell Service to SFWA Award.

Novel:

  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
  • Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
  • The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
  • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Novella:

  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie,” Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
  • “All the Flavors,” Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
  • “Katabasis,” Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
  • “Barry’s Tale,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)

Novelette:

  • “Close Encounters,” Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
  • “The Pyre of New Day,” Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
  • “The Waves,” Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
  • “The Finite Canvas,” Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
  • “Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
  • “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
  • “Fade to White,” Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)

Short Story:

  • “Immersion,” Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
  • “Robot,” Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
  • “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
  • “Nanny’s Day,” Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
  • “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
  • “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed8/12)
  • “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight)
  • The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
  • The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (writers), (Lionsgate)
  • John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
  • Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

  • Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
  • Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
  • Black Heart, Holly Black (McElderry; Gollancz)
  • Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
  • The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
  • Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
  • Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
  • Every Day, David Levithan (Knopf)
  • Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
  • Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
  • Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Solstice Awards were awarded to editor Ginjer Buchanan and astronomer and entertainer Carl Sagan, the latter of which was accepted by his son Nick Sagan.

The Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service Award was awarded to Michael Payne.

(The list above borrowed from this Tor.com posting. You may also see results on SFWA’s own site.)

Also, of course, we formally invested Gene Wolfe with the title of Grand Master. He was gracious and touching in his speech, which is of course no surprise at all.

I am delighted to say that my final Nebula Award ceremony as president went along swimmingly, with Robert Silverberg as our emcee. I got to introduced Bob and give him some good-natured ribbing; he got up and dropped a house on me, which may go down as one of the highlights of my time as SFWA President. If you ever get a chance to get zinged by Grand Master Silverberg, I highly recommend it.

Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the other most worthy nominees, and many thanks to the volunteers and other who made the Nebula Ceremony, and indeed the entire Nebula Weekend, possible. It was a great time. As a fan, I was thrilled. As the President of SFWA, I was relieved.

Hey! Mass SF/F Signing! Tomorrow! San Jose! 5:30 – 7:30! With Me!

Want to see literally dozens of SF/F writers in one place at one time? Who are there to sign books? For you?

Then come on down to the San Jose Hilton (300 Almaden Blvd), from 5:30 to 7:30pm tomorrow (Friday, May 17) for the SFWA Mass Signing. It’s free and open to the public. Come see me! Not just me: Here are the some of the others signing books:

John Joseph Adams
Saladin Ahmed
Catherine Asaro
Kate Baker
Terry Bisson
Leah Bobet
Sonja A. Bock
Chaz Brenchley
Jason V Brock
Tina Connolly
Grania Davis
Aliette de Bodard
Jon DeCles
William C. Dietz
Sarah Beth Durst
Cynthia Felice
Jim Fiscus
Susan Forest
Steven Gould
Karen Haber Silverberg
Joe W. Haldeman
Marty Halpern
Maria Dahvana Headley
Howard V. Hendrix
Vylar Kaftan
Alethea Kontis
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Edward M. Lerner
Brit Mandelo
Lee Martindale
Michael J. Martinez
Jack McDevitt
Mike Moscoe
Eugene Myers
Mark Niemann-Ross
William Nolan
Diana L. Paxson
Michael H. Payne
Cat Rambo
Kim Stanley Robinson
Deborah J. Ross
Stanley Schmidt
Lawrence M. Schoen
Robert Silverberg
Bud Sparhawk
Rachel Swirsky
Joe Trela
Connie Willis
Gene Wolfe

Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to show up. It’s science fiction/fantasy Nirvana. Borderlands Books will be on hand with books to buy, or you can bring your own. We’ll be happy to scrawl in them.

See you there!

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees

Getting to tell you all who the year’s Nebula nominees are is one of my favorite things to do, and not just because I’m president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the organization that hands out the Nebulas. It’s also because these are awards from writers, to writers. It’s always lovely to be recognized by one’s peers.

Now, without further ado, this year’s Nebula Award nominees, straight from the press release. Congratulations to all the nominees, and I hope I will see them at the Nebula Awards weekend in May! (P.S.: You can attend Nebula Weekend even if you are not a nominee — see the details below).

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announces the nominees for the 2012 Nebula Awards (presented 2013), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Novel
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Novella
On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
“All the Flavors”, Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
“Katabasis”, Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
“Barry’s Tale”, Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)

Novelette
“The Pyre of New Day”, Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
“Close Encounters”, Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
“The Waves”, Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
“The Finite Canvas”, Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
“Swift, Brutal Retaliation”, Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia”, Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
“Fade to White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)

Short Story
“Robot”, Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
“Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes”, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
“Nanny’s Day”, Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream”, Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12)
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain”, Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight )
The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray writers), (Lionsgate)
John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

The Forty-Eighth Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 16-19th, 2013, in San Jose at the San Jose Hilton. Borderland Books will host the mass autograph session from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 17th at the San Jose Hilton. This autograph session is open to the public and books by the authors in attendance will be available for purchase. More information about the Nebula Awards Weekend is available at http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/.

 

SFContario Appearance Schedule for This Weekend

Starting Thursday I will be in Toronto — one of North America’s very finest cities! — as the International Guest of Honor for SFContario 2, joining the estimable Karl Schroeder, Gardner Dozois and musical guests Toyboat, who are also guests of honor. If you are going, or were thinking of going but were wondering what things I would be doing whilst in Toronto, here is my official schedule of events.

Reading at the Merril Collection, Thursday, 7pm: I’ll likely read from Redshirts and then possibly a couple other things, and have a Q&A. I won’t be having a reading at the convention proper, so if you want to see one, from me specifically, this is when to do it. More details here.

Opening Ceremonies – Friday 7 PM, Ballroom BC

Criticism and Critique: Critics in the 21st Century – Saturday 11 AM, Gardenview: “Developments in social media and web 2.0 technology continue to blur the line between amateur and professional critics.  As North American colleges and universities produce record numbers of graduates, the media consuming public is transforming itself into something that feels it ought to be included in larger critical conversations.  Our panelists explore how professionals and amateurs work together to evaluate genre media.” (James Nicoll(M), John Scalzi, Matt Moore, Elizabeth Hirst)

Autographs – Saturday 1 PM, Autograph Area: Bring your books.

Creation Museum Slideshow – Saturday 2 PM, Ballroom BC: I’ll be doing the live show of my trip to the Creation Museum. Come watch blood shoot from my temples!

Author Guest of Honour interview – Saturday 3 PM, Ballroom BC: James Nicoll puts the screws to me, and I suspect we’ll also open it up to audience questions as well.

Writing in the Digital Age – Saturday 5 PM, Solarium: How does one survive as a writer in the age of the internet?  How does an internet persona fit together with the introverted lifestyle of an author?  What’s the best way to deal with the trolls and haters? (Stephanie Bedwell-Grime(M), Leah Bobet, Kent Pollard, Brett Savory, John Scalzi)

Kaffeeklatsch – Saturday 8 PM, Room 20: I assume like most kaffeklatches this will be first come, first served.

The Business of Writing – Sunday 2 PM, Solarium: For creative people, the business end of things is often the most difficult. Issues like getting published, finding an agent or editor, hunting out sources of funding, and dealing with copyright issues can be daunting. Come and learn how our panelists tackle these issues. (Marie Bilodeau(M), Leah Bobet, Robert J Sawyer, John Scalzi, Douglas Smith)

Closing Ceremonies – Sunday 3 PM, Ballroom BC

I expect I will also be at the Aurora Awards banquet and ceremony, although I’ll just be in the audience, not a participant.

See you there.

Toronto Recap

So, how did my trip to Toronto go? Quick recap:

1. The Friends of the Merril Collection offered to pay for a plane ticket, but I ended up driving because I had other travel coming up which might have dovetailed with the Toronto trip but the dates weren’t confirmed until last Wednesday, by which time the cost of a plane ticket from Dayton to Toronto was $1,500. Which seemed excessive. So I got in the car instead. It’s not a short trip — 435 miles and close to eight hours — but it wasn’t as bad as all that, since Southern Ontario in late April is pretty. That said, driving to Toronto and back with only a day between is a lot of driving, and I’m not hugely in a rush to do it again. Next time: taking a plane.

2. Friday I spent most of the day in the company of Chris Szego of Bakka-Phoenix Books, who was a lovely hostess and who walked me all through Toronto with sightseeing. We walked for several miles, which was the most exercise I’ve gotten in a while, alas, and my body was more than happy to inform me of it once we has stopped long enough for my leg muscles to seize up. I ended up taking some aspirin before I went to bed. Chris of course should not be blamed for my sloth coming back to kick my ass, and as noted it really was a fine time seeing more of Toronto than I have before.

3. After all the sight-seeing we did end up at Bakka-Phoenix, where I filmed an interview with Space, the Canadian science fiction television channel, and got a chance to catch up with Michelle Sagara West and Leah Bobet, who were excellent company. Bakka-Phoenix is one of my favorite book stores on the North American continent, and is jam-packed with the books of many of my writer friends, so getting a chance to hang out there for a bit was a Very Good Thing.

4. We got to the Merril Collection a little bit early, in order to let the folks there give me a tour of their stacks. For those of you who don’t know what the Merril Collection is, it’s one of the most comprehensive collections of science fiction literature (if not in fact the most comprehensive collection) in the world. The reference stacks there are climate and humidity controlled and feature a genuinely staggering amount of science fiction, fantasy and horror, including rare first editions, author manuscripts, and science fiction pulp magazines going back to the 1920s. In short, a true Geek Mecca, and one of those places every geek should visit before they die (because visiting it after you die will not do as much for you).

5. I am deeply relieved to say that my talk was well attended (we had people standing in the back — sorry, folks), and what you missed by not being there was me reading the first two chapters of Fuzzy Nation — its global debut, in point of fact — followed by roughly an hour of general blather, because I do try to give value for my appearance fee, and then the ritual defacing of books with my signature. I think it all went pretty well, but I’m not the one to ask about that. But if nothing else I had fun. Afterward Chris, Leah, Michelle and I went for a post-blatheration drink accompanied by Lesley Livingston, the fabulous YA author who as it happens was one of the very first people I met in this whole wacky science fiction/fantasy community, because we hung out at Torcon 3, which was my very first ever science fiction convention. It was really cool to be able to catch up with her.

6. The only downside to any of this is that my netbook took this opportunity to die on me — fortunately after I used it for my reading, but even so. I suspect it’s my fault for not making sure it was entirely shut down before stuffing it into my travel bag after the reading and then walking all over Toronto with it, but no matter what it makes me a little sad. It was a good little netbook. Of course, now I’m in the clear to buy an iPad if I want to, which is something Krissy noted to me when I announced the demise of the netbook. I think she may suspect I intentionally killed the little dude. For the record, I would totally not ever do such a thing. Totally not ever, man.

To sum up: Toronto is a wonderful city full of wonderful people (mostly Canadian!) who treated me very well while I was there. I had a grand time and look forward to visiting again. Thanks for  having me, and especially thanks for coming out and seeing me while I was there. I look forward to coming back some time, sooner rather than later.

Realms of Fantasy New Web Site and Sample Issue

Realms of Fantasy magazine has a revamped Web site up and at those new and improved digs is also offering folks a free pdf version of its February issue, as a way of getting you to try it, perchance to get a subscription or suchlike. I’ll note (because it’s all about me me me) that this is the issue that features Paul Witcover’s review of The God Engines in it (reminder: some spoilers), but I think more relevantly for the rest of you it features new fiction by Leah Bobet, Aliette de Bodard, Euan Harvey, Ann Leckie, and some scrappy kid named Harlan Ellison. Yeah, I know. Never heard of him before either.

In any event, check out the site and the issue, and if you’ve never tried RoF before, give it a read and see what you think.