Tag Archives: scifi

Mono no aware in Emoji

The super talented Oliver Buckram, a regular contributor to F&SF whose stories are funny, delightful, and full of wit, has just made my day by translating “Mono no aware” into Emoji (and you know how I love Emoji translations).

You should also ask him for his Emoji translation of Kij Johnson’s “Spar.”


I’ll be at Readercon this year in Burlington, Massachusetts, on Saturday and Sunday (July 13 and 14).

Programming on Saturday:

  • 11:00 AM The Art of Critique. Jeanne Cavelos, Ellen Datlow, Matthew Kressel (leader), Ken Liu, Eugene Mirabelli, Betsy Mitchell. Criticism is a large part of a writer’s life. What are the elements of a good short story or novel critique? How does one go about critiquing another writer’s work? What are the most effective techniques? What types of things do we look for? Is there such a thing as destructive criticism or are all kinds of critique helpful? How does a writer learn what to listen to from a critique and what to ignore? We will explore these and other questions.

  • 1:00 PM Kaffeeklatsch. I’m scheduled against Maureen F. McHugh, which means I’ll probably be having coffee by myself.

Hope to see some of you there!

The Hugos

I’m speechless: “Mono no aware” has been nominated for a Hugo in the Short Story category (along with Aliette de Bodard’s “Immersion” and Kij Johnson’s “Mantis Wives” — and Aliette is also nominated for her novella, “On a Red Station, Drifting”).

Thank you, everyone who nominated me. You’ve made me so happy and I’m very grateful.

(Full list of nominees here).

I’m really, really proud to be listed with Aliette and Kij, congrats to them both and good luck!

My heartiest congratulations to all the nominees — many of whom are friends and writers/artists/editors I admire. Good luck to all of you!

Two Really, Really Awesome Stories

I don’t understand the process by which a reader connects with a story. As far as I can tell, some kind of secret frequency has to be matched between the story and the reader, and they resonate.

When it happens to me, I feel like a gong being struck, and I vibrate and vibrate and vibrate until the world looks slightly askew. It’s the kind of experience that makes reading fiction worthwhile — one hit like that makes up for reading twenty duds.

It’s not plot — I’ve liked stories with no plot and stories with totally cliched plots. It’s not theme — I’ve liked stories with really grand and deep themes and stories that don’t even try. It’s not “the writing” — I’ve liked stories that are very poetic, ornate, and twist and dance with every sentence, and stories that rely on transparent prose. It’s not editorial judgment — in a good anthology or issue of a major magazine, I usually come away with only one or two stories that hit me that way. It’s not even the author — I can’t say there’s a single author whose every work I’ve loved.

I like the unpredictability. I like the magic.

(But my reading experience sometimes really depresses me as a writer — I can’t even articulate why the magic works for me as a reader, so how am I supposed to replicate it as a writer? It’s also why I kind of scoff at any writing “advice” — the stories that work so well for me almost always break some so-called “rules.”)

Anyway, back on topic. This month, I read two stories that made me vibrate, a REALLY good month. The stories are “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky and “In Light of Recent Events I Have Reconsidered The Wisdom of Your Space Elevator” by Helena Bell. My discussion won’t be spoiler-y, but you might still want to go read the stories before coming back to my thoughts after the fold.

Continue reading Two Really, Really Awesome Stories

Nebula Nominations

I’ve been ill this last week, so this post is a bit delayed.

I’m delighted to see the list of nominees for the Nebulas. Lots of deserving friends on there: Helena, Aliette, Jay, Rachel, Leah, Cat, Tina, Tom … Many of these stories I loved and nominated, and I’m so glad to see others shared my judgment.

And of course I’m utterly floored to see my own fiction on the list too. Thank you very, very much. Here they are:

“The Postman” and “Always Here” Out in IGMS

Note: this post will also appear on the IGMS blog. You can read the stories on the IGMS web site if you are a subscriber: “Always Here” and “The Postman”. There is also an interview of me by the amazing Jamie Todd Rubin in the issue.

I used to only write very long stories. I didn’t know how to tell a story in under 5,000 words, much less 1,000. Someone told me that I had to learn to write shorter stories because they were easier to sell. So I resolved to learn the art of flash.

The advice turned out to be very useful, though not for the reason stated above. For a long time, I had much more trouble selling my shorter stories than longer ones because they were so much worse. Terrible really. But somehow practicing the very short form made my longer pieces better. (The way my writing mind works is often still a mystery to me.)

Eventually, I did get flash as a form (I’m thankful that my early attempts will never see the light of day). Both of my stories in Issue 31 began life as entries in the Shock Totem bi-monthly flash fiction contest. Entrants have a week to write a story based on a prompt (a photograph, a news article, etc.). Since the contests are geared towards dark fantasy and horror, my entries, which tend to be science fiction, don’t tend to do well. But as my purpose in entering these contests is to learn how to write flash fiction better, I’m very happy with the results.


“The Postman”: This was inspired by Karl Bunker’s “Overtaken” in the Sep/Oct 2011 issue of F&SF. I enjoy participating in literary dialogs where authors write stories to respond to each other — that’s what a literary tradition is: authors talking to each other through stories in a common enterprise, much as scientists converse through papers in their common enterprise. (I consulted Karl ahead of time to be sure that he had no objections with me publishing this story, which picks up on his story’s theme and offers a variation.)

There’s a long history of anxiety that our creations (robots, AIs, post-humans, etc.) may surpass us someday, leaving us at their mercy as wards or little more than pets. There’s also a long tradition of science fiction about explorers on ancient space vessels obsoleted by those on faster, newer vessels before reaching their destinations. The two worries are related to each other as well as to the deep parental anxiety about being surpassed by their children without their children’s understanding or appreciation for their sacrifices.

“The Postman” doesn’t resolve this anxiety — most anxieties that have literary interest are unresolvable — but it offers a hopeful view of how parents will be seen by their children. Hope is separated only thinly from wishful thinking, but I always prefer to err on the side of hope.


“Always Here”: I’ve been experimenting lately with writing stories that adopt the conventions of science fiction for fantasy and vice versa. This is one example.

I think of fantasy as literature that literalizes a metaphor. “Always Here” is a fantasy story told in the language of science fiction. As we grow older, many (most?) of us lose our sense of wonder, our openness to possibilities, our willingness to hear voices that are unexpected. This story makes that ossification of the mind literally true.

Yet the metaphor is not just a metaphor. There is some biological basis for the common belief that aging reduces our novelty-seeking behavior, makes us less open-minded, causes us to dwell on the past. Our free wills are only as free as their biological foundation.

After writing this, I often imagined what Anna would look like after emerging from the probe. And the truth is that every time I came up with a different answer. Somehow, that makes me happy.


Yes, it’s true. I’ll be translating Volume One of the Three-Body Trilogy (《三体》) by Liu Cixin (刘慈欣). Joel Martinsen (of danwei.com) and Eric Abrahamsen (of paper-republic.org) will be handling Volumes Two and Three, respectively.

Both Joel and Eric are experienced and fantastic translators. I’m honored to be on the same team.

I’ve long admired Liu’s work, and I’m just thrilled to have this opportunity to introduce his magnum opus to English readers. The novel is extremely cool, and Volume One alone involves virtual reality computer games, astrophysics, the Cultural Revolution, ancient Chinese history, aliens (OF COURSE), and an exciting plot that keeps the pages turning.

Of course they didn’t give me much time … so I’m going to be very very busy for a few months. Wish me luck!