Your Weekend Reading: The 2012 Short Story Hugo Nominees

As you may have heard, the nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards are out, and I am nominated in the Short Story category for my completely ridiculous April Fool’s tale “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue.” I am of course delighted. But there are four other stories that have made the cut, and they, too, are excellent. Have you read them? If you have, then congratulations, you are awesome. If you have not, well, let’s fix that.

So: Below, the links to all of this year’s Hugo Short Story nominees. Read them, enjoy them, and, if you plan on voting for the Hugo this year, consider how you’ll rank them for this year’s ballot. It’s going to be tough to pick a favorite, I know. But it wouldn’t be fun if it were easy.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld April 2011)

The Homecoming” (PDF link) by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s April/May 2011)

Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s March 2011)

The Paper Menagerie” (PDF link) by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2011)

The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (

Happy reading!

Big Idea

The Big Idea: A.M. Dellamonica

Magic has been variously described and quantified, and we hear about white magic, black magic, good magic, bad magic — but how often is it compared to toxic waste? In Blue Magic, author A.M. Dellamonica makes that comparison, and expands on what that unusual approach to magic means for the world (our world, or one very close to it) and the people who live in it.

The idea of magic as a pollutant, a form of spiritual waste whose container has broken, came to me in bits and pieces at the very end of the Nineties. I took a few runs at it before writing the book I eventually finished in 2003, which was Indigo Springs.

In my first attempts, the idea wasn’t fully formed. I couldn’t quite bring a story together around that initial image of liquid magic, an oil-dense fluid with mutagenic qualities that was oozing into the world from a nearby dimension where it had essentially been dumped. I wrote other things instead, but the image kept nagging at me.

The missing piece of this puzzle came when I took a second look at a short story of mine, “Nevada,” which was set at my grandparents’ ranch in the Mason Valley near Reno. That story brought together everything but the mystical fluid, vitagua. At the core of that piece was the idea of magical objects, little trinkets called chantments, each with their own charm or power. “Nevada” is about a person who makes chantments, but it doesn’t get into how. When I reread the story, I could see that these objects fit in with the mystical fluid. So I took another run at Indigo Springs, and ended up with a novel about a woman, Astrid Lethewood, who turns vitagua into chantments. . . or does, until she causes a massive magical spill that necessitates the evacuation of a third of Oregon.

This year’s follow-up, Blue Magic, is the sequel to Indigo Springs. If the first book tells the story of the magical spill, this one is about the fallout from the initial disaster.

It wasn’t until my first novel came out that I heard anyone refer to my writing, or anyone’s, as ecofantasy. It’s a great term: the books are set in the here and now, and the magic in them, though it’s a force for good, is in its raw form something of a cross between an oil spill and radioactive waste. As the existence of magic becomes the lead story on CNN and Fox News, people split into camps. There are those who want to destroy it, others who hope to establish a monopoly over enchantment, some who think the government should regulate it all and a fair number who just want it the hell out of their backyard. There are people who think magic can save the world and people who think they can put the genie back in the bottle–banish it, and somehow get the old world back.

But even establishing the old status quo would hurt someone. The magic in Indigo Springs had been contained in a realm variously known as the unreal or fairyland, for centuries. There were people there, too, the spill woke them up, and now they want their spiritual real estate back. In Blue Magic, Astrid Lethewood sets about trying to do just that–to reintroduce magic to something like its old place in our ecosystem, and to do so without destroying two worlds.

That’s a big job, needless to say, and one of the things I like best about Astrid as a human being is that though she has this unique, off-the-scale power, she never mistakes herself for a god. Instead, she asks for help. As a result, the cast of Blue Magic is much, much bigger than in Indigo Springs. Astrid goes looking for everyone who might possibly help her. And as she brings in these various stakeholders, all with opinions and agendas and needs and ideas of their own as to how it should be done, the whole process starts to become unbelievably complex.

None of this is something I came up with, obviously. To me, it feels as though these ideas are just lying around, everywhere I look. It’s a basic reality that when you do some damage to the environment, it takes immense effort and a lot of consultation to restore the ecosystem. Even then, you never get things back to the way they were. I was especially lucky as I was writing these books to have had a chance to peer behind the scenes at the work of a lot of environmental scientists, people who are actively involved in Cascadia-area fisheries, in forest industries, and in river repatriation.

The upshot is that it’s easy to screw things up–whether it’s a relationship or a pristine stand of old-growth trees–and comparatively hard to set them right. I think we all wish, at times, for magical solutions to our problems. In Indigo Springs Astrid Lethewood inherits and then worsens a huge, beautiful, dangerous, enchantment-laden shambles of a situation. In Blue Magic the people of the Western United States–and, to a lesser extent, all of Earth–race to do something about it before everything blows up in their faces.

I suppose you could say I write about mess. But that makes it all sound awfully preachy, doesn’t it? So, to close, I want to add that these books have sex, violence, witch-burnings, extremely bizarre magic, a televised show trial and that by the end of it all, there’s a really big crater in the Pacific Northwest. Sorry about that, Oregon.


Blue Magic: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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


In Which I Decline a Nerd Fight

My inbox is filling up with people e-mailing me about Nick Mamatas’ broadside against Geek Pride, in which he says, among other things:

A subculture is not a counterculture. A consumer culture is not a subculture. We are not all in this together. Your social Laws (Godwin’s, etc.) are as insipid as any aphorism your grandmother might have cross-stitched and put on display two generations ago. What you think is cool is not cool. What you decide is uncool is also uncool. Your counter-snobbery is snobbery. Your snobbery is snobbery. You do not rule the world. Obama flashing a Vulcan salute does not mean that you rule the world.

I’m pretty sure people are e-mailing me about this so I’ll have a big online nerd fight with Nick, which is guaranteed to be entertaining because both Nick and I can be delightfully obnoxious when we want to be, and we’re pretty evenly matched when it comes to entertainingly snarking while simultaneously making reasonably cogent points. Basically people want to get out their popcorn and munch along while we go at it.

Sorry, no. I have a somewhat different take on the geek pride thing than Nick does, and at some point in the near future I’ll post about it. But as regards Nick’s screed here, he’s making some totally fair points, some of which I agree with. So rather than fight him on it in public for the amusement of all, I’ll just tell you to go over there and see what he has to say.

I know, I’ve disappointed some of you. It will happen. You can still eat your popcorn, if you want. I hear X-Men 2 is on HBO this month.


My Thoughts on Book Tours

Via Metafilter, I found and read this article on The Awl in which several authors (and a couple of publicists) discussed the pros and cons of book tours. As someone who tours and otherwise does lots of author appearances I found it interesting, with some of the points lining up with my own experience and some not. This prompted me to write up my own thoughts about book tours in the Metafilter comments. Because I believe in “waste not, want not,” I’m reposting the bulk of that comment here for the edification of all y’all, with a minor edit because I made a hasty snark which I thought I should walk back a bit (you’ll see it).

Some of this has been covered here before, but this has enough variance that I think it’s a worthwhile post.

And yes, I will be doing a tour for Redshirts in June. We’re still fine-tuning the stops. I’ll post it when it’s locked down.


My thoughts on book tours.

1. I find them to be very useful, personally; the tour I did last year for Fuzzy Nation definitely helped to get the book on the NYT best seller list, first by helping me do publicity in the various cities the tour was in (which helped sales) and second by the tour going to bookstores sampled by the NYT lists, which helped to sell a lot of books at those particular stores.

2. You don’t have to be an extrovert to go on a book tour, but what you do have be is social — that is, have the ability to engage an audience during the reading part, and make amusing small talk during the autographing part. You are essentially going to be on stage and the focus of attention for three hours straight, and that’s draining (especially if you are an introvert), so you better be prepared for it.

3. Related to the above, you should recognize that for the duration of the appearance, you are not a writer, you are a performer — your job is to entertain the people who have come out to see you. To that end, the person in that article who said they like to read in a quiet, flat monotone is, in my opinion, something of an idiot not doing it the way I think it should be done. You have to perform your reading and make it memorable. They’ve humped out to wherever the hell you are; it’s not out of line for you to make it worth their while.

4. When I read at an appearance, I rarely if ever read from the book I’m touring for; most of the people have either already bought the book (or are going to buy it at the appearance) so reading them what they already know is no fun. What I typically do is read from an upcoming novel and emphasize that because the audience members took time from their lives to see me, I’m giving them an exclusive that no one else gets. It makes them feel special and it also serves the useful purpose of giving me feedback on what’s often a work in progress.

5. Book tours can indeed be lonely and disorienting, particularly if you’re traveling to a different city every day. If you can, do visit with friends either before or after your event, but do make them aware that after two or three hours of being “ON,” you might be a little… dissipated. In other words, they’ll need to do the heavy conversational lifting.

6. Try to fit everything into a carryon. On my last tour I traveled to 14 cities; that was 14 opportunities for the airlines to lose my luggage. Be aware if you have a long tour that this means you may have to do laundry in the middle of it. It helps to have a friend with a washer and dryer somewhere around halfway through the tour.

7. Try to eat well. Tours give you lots of opportunity to eat a bunch of shit from airport news stands and fast food restaurants. Resist the temptation. You will notice the difference in your energy level.

8. Authors don’t get groupies. Sorry.

9. Book tours really aren’t for everyone. You have to be willing to perform and entertain, and be a public entity, and lots of writers either can’t do it or don’t want to do it. For such a writer, a tour isn’t going to be useful. They should focus on publicity options that are congenial to them. Not being able to tour isn’t a crime, and it isn’t even necessarily a drawback, publicity-wise, provided that the author is doing other things to get their work out in the public sphere.

10. That said, if you can tour, and be an interesting public speaker and personality, then there are definitely benefits. People remember good readings and appearances and thereby think positively about you; that makes them more likely to buy your work in the future and to recommend your work to others. Touring can give you an opportunity to meet booksellers, librarians and other writers, all of whom can be helpful for building friendships and business relationships. You get to see the country (and sometimes the world), often on your publisher’s dime, and that doesn’t suck, either. And hey, you might sell some books too. It beats lifting heavy objects for a living.


That Ann Romney Thing

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia

In which DNC strategist CNN Analyst* Hilary Rosen criticized Ann Romney on CNN because Mrs. Romney was a stay-at-home mother and “has actually never worked a day in her life”:

1. Wow, Ms. Rosen, you must really like the taste of your own toes. Also, if this is you exercising strategy for the Democrats, you sure did a bang-up job, since you obliged the president, a Democrat, to side with Ann Romney, and otherwise derailed the national political conversation for a day. Well done, you.

2. It’s fantastic Mrs. Romney could be a stay-at-home mother. It no doubt helped that she and Mr. Romney both came from highly privileged backgrounds (his father was former CEO of American Motors and then governor of Michigan; her father was an industrialist and mayor of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) and that Mr. Romney went directly from Harvard into a well-paying consulting gig and later became extraordinarily rich in his own right, with a net worth of something above $200 million. All stay-at-home mothers should have such fortunate circumstances.

Alas, most stay-at-home mothers are not as financially secure as Mrs. Romney has been in her life. Many more mothers who might prefer to stay at home if they could afford it do not have that financial option, and many mothers who choose to work (or have to work) find their work life beset on all sides by challenges, many relating specifically to their gender. What a shame these particular issues, affecting most working mothers, are not being addressed, while our attention is directed at a wealthy political strategist popping off thoughtlessly at someone even more wealthy than she.

* It’s been noted Ms. Rosen is not actually a DNC strategist or associated with the Obama campaign. Which makes her foot-chewing no less chewy, mind you.

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