Tag Archives: story notes

The Veiled Shanghai

I have a story coming out in an anthology of speculative fiction inspired by Oz: Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen. You can pre-order the anthology from Amazon here.

The anthology features work from Theodora Goss, Kat Howard, Seanan McGuire, Rachel Swirsky, Robin Wasserman, and Jane Yolen, among others. I’m really proud to be in such company.

Even better, each of the stories from the anthology will be available as a Kindle single, and the talented and amazing Galen Dara has provided an illustration/cover for each. The cover for my contribution, “The Veiled Shanghai,” is lovely:

And you can pre-order the single here.

“The Veiled Shanghai” is a steampunk fantasy set at the time of the May Fourth Movement in colonial Shanghai. Dorothy and her ragtag team must find the Great Oz, save a revolution, and defeat the Wicked Warlord of the West.

The May Fourth Movement defined much of what it means to be “Chinese” in the modern era (culture, language, the legacy of colonialism, the struggle for freedom, etc.). Almost a century later, I still feel a keen sense of connection to those men and women because the revolution in many ways continues to this day.

This story is, in a sense, written to honor them.

It’s surprising to me that many in the west do not understand the complicated feelings that the Chinese had (and still do) about the colonial legacy of places like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Some readers of the story expressed surprise at the (apparently) conflicted feelings that my Chinese characters show towards their status as colonial subjects.

I suppose the colonial experience, intuitive to me, is not so intuitive to many who have never lived in a society shaped by it. It’s not a simple matter of being “anti-West” when one is opposed to being colonized. Indeed, the May Fourth movement was very much a “pro-West” movement while also being an anti-colonial movement.

I suppose that’s also why stories like this one are important to me, for I hope through them I can capture some sense of that complexity in our experience as historical subjects.

Oh, I’m also going to be doing a reading of this story for the New York Review of Science Fiction with Jim Freund. It will be on March 6, 7:00 PM, at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art. More info here. Robin Wasserman will also be reading her story. Hope to see you there!

“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.

Chinese Collection

《爱的算法》, a collection of thirteen of my short stories in Chinese, is out from SFW Publishing.

I love the cover design and the interior art, and I think the translators all did a fine job. I’m very grateful for the editors and translators for their hard work in making this happen.

(And my friend Chen Qiufan carried a few copies of the book thousands of miles so that I could get them at Chicon. If you’ve ever traveled overseas, when every ounce/cubic centimeter of luggage matters, you’ll realize that only a very good friend would agree to do this as a favor. I’m deeply thankful.)

Chinese collection cover

A few notes for my Chinese readers:

Some of my favorite stories could not be published in this collection, and others had to be edited by the translators for political reasons. I think we all know what these reasons are, and there’s no need for me to go into them here.

I do not know all of the changes/omissions that have been made. Where I was made aware of them, some of the changes were surprising to me, and I wish they did not have to be made. But I was told that without these changes, the stories would be unpublishable.

Would I rather have readers see a story that is edited or have readers not see the story at all? That is not an easy question to answer.

In the end, I decided that I preferred to have readers see my (altered) stories, even if they were now more like those renaissance paintings that had fig leafs painted over them. I think it’s better to have such a painting and ask viewers to exercise their imagination, than to have them stare at a blank wall.

I understand the difficulties of the translators and editors and publisher. I can only hope that someday they and I will not be put in this position where we have to balance the desire to reach readers against the distasteful act of having to perform such alterations. I can only hope that things will change.

Any Chinese reader who wishes to see the original English can email me. I will either point you to the online English edition or email you the relevant section where I know changes have been made.