Story Sold to Abyss & Apex

Last week, the awesome online science fiction magazine, Abyss & Apex, accepted some of my fiction.  My short story—”Have You Seen Lucky?”—will appear on their site in 2015.

I am thrilled.  I will post a link when it is released.  It’s a long wait, but totally worth it.

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Scott Westerfeld & Justine Larbalestier Interview is Out

The interview Laurie Glover and I did with YA science-fiction giants Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier is now out.

It appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Writing on the Edge (WOE), pages 96-106.  It’s not available online, so Larbalestier/Westerfeld fans and researchers will need to order a copy directly from Writing on the Edge.  Copies are $15.

The interview is titled “Change the Ruling Science,” a reference to one of the ways they create new worlds.  We discuss many influences on their work including travel, presentations at public schools, life in Australia compared to the U.S., and developments in YA publishing.  We spend significant time talking about Scott’s Leviathan, Uglies, and Peeps and Justine’s How to Ditch Your Fairy and Magic and Madness.

BONUS:  We also discuss the genesis of their soon-to-be-published works.  I’m now completely stoked to read Scott’s upcoming comedic tribute to YA publishing, Afterworlds, and Justine’s new, gritty Australian historical novel, Razorhurst.

I want to thank editor David Maisel, co-author Laurie Glover, and of course Justine and Scott.

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Phase II: Music, Nostalgia, SF, Fantasy

Quick update.  I’ve got a few announcements coming, including a fiction acceptance and other publication info.  Before I do that, I’m thinking about the next batch of posts.

I’m not teaching anything SF- or music-related over the next quarter at UC Davis (although I’m tentatively teaching Science Fiction in summer).  I won’t have any pedagogical stuff to post.

So, I’m planning to spend the next few months posting about my own musical fandom, with a few tangents into SF/fantasy.  Serving two masters means one gets shorted sometimes.

As always, I’m interested to know if any readers have suggestions or preferences.  Contact me here or by email.

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Forthcoming Westerfeld and Labalestier Interview

Last week, Laurie Glover and I interviewed authors Scott Westerfeld and Justine Labalestier for UC Davis’s interdisciplinary writing journal, Writing on the Edge.  I’ve been transcribing and editing for the past few days with a February 28th deadline.

We discussed the intersections of science fiction, steampunk, and young adult (YA) fiction, from the early stages of preparatory scientific and historical research to the post-publication visits to high schools where their books are being taught.  Along the way, we discussed gender norms in the US and Australia, strategic use of podcasts to get story ideas, the difference between “Apple” hoverboards and “Nascar” hoverboards, and using dystopia to teach social justice.

When I began working with AboutSF in 2007, nearly all the high school teacher I met said that Westerfeld’s Uglies series was a “slam dunk” teaching-wise.  Kids just ate it up.  Justine’s material is equally interesting.  I just read her How to Ditch Your Fairy and enjoyed the blend of magic and everyday teenage disappointments.

I’ll post more when the interview is closer to publication.  Many thanks to Scott and Justine for their time, and to Laurie for thinking of me as a co-interviewer.

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Steampunk Final Exam, Part 2

As promised, here is the second half of the final questions I posed to students in my Steampunk first-year seminar at UC Davis.  This was the essay portion of the exam, and their answers were thoughtful.

Instructions: Take a position for or against one of the following statements.

1) “Steampunk rarely has any real science content, and therefore it is wrong to classify it as science fiction.”

Setting science fiction in the past does seem rather odd, doesn’t it?  This question attempted to get students to really think about that.  They noted stories, like Mary Brown’s “Selene Gardening Society,” which really is about science’s problem-solving capacity.  Moreover, that story tackles a very real problem of global ecology.  At its best, steampunk can provide a fantasy “past” as backdrop while considering today’s most pertinent and touchy subjects.  This is, of course, what most good science fiction has always done (original Star Trek, Octavia Butler’s oeuvre, et. al.)

2) “Steampunk fashion perpetuates the objectification of women as much or more than other kinds of fashion.”

This one had some great responses.  A number of students noted the plethora of strong female characters in stories, and saw fashion as an extension of that trend.  From their perspective, steampunk’s independent, D.I.Y. ethos gives women a chance to rewrite history.  Other students pointed out that women’s steampunk fashion seems to be all about corsets and pantaloons (i.e., the underwear’s on the outside), which led to their skepticism.  They also pointed out that real Victorian fashion was all about covering up women’s bodies, often in painful, mobility-crushing ways.

3) “While steampunk fiction frequently features heroes who use steampunk prosthetics to enhance their disabled bodies, steampunk film relegates disability exclusively to villains.”

Along the way, several members of the class noticed this trend.  I’m particularly interested in it.  The stories, from Steam Man of the Prairies to Boneshaker and beyond, nearly always portray characters with mechanical body parts as heroes, as people who use technology to rise above their limitations.  What about films.  We have Arliss Loveless from the Wild, Wild West film, Long John Silver from Treasure Planet, the clockwork baddie from Hellboy–all villains.  I’ll need to ruminate on this one a bit.

4) “Steampunk is primarily a white, Eurocentric genre.  It’s Victorian English or American “Wild West” settings focus on an era when Anglos held the most power in terms of culture and capital.”

This assertion still dogs steampunk fandom.  There are many non-Eurocentric steampunk stories already in existence, and we’ve seen a clarion call from editors from the past few years for more steampunk with underrepresented ethnic characters.  Despite this, the genre does keep returning to London and “the West”–about as whitebread as it gets.  My students, however, had no problem listing off a number of minority/marginalized characters in the stories and films we analyzed.  As one student noted, the problem seems to be about settings rather than about diversity of characters.

Overall, I was pleased with my first-year students.  They were willing to be critical of a genre they seemed to enjoy, and had no troubles supporting their opinions with pertinent examples.  I will probably add new readings or exam questions if I teach it again.  Suggestions are welcome.

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Steampunk Final Exam for First-Year University Seminar, Part 1

O.K., I didn’t actually give my students a final exam for our Steampunk seminar.  I did, however, make a mock final and asked them to come up with answers for me.

Part 1 was an identification section.  Answers are listed below.

Identify the following and explain their significance in steampunk:

  1. “Cognition and Estrangement”
  2. Beadle’s American Novels
  3. Jess Nevins
  4. K.W. Jeter/James Blaylock/Tim Powers
  5. Steampunk in Anime
  6. “Salvage and Customization”
  7. Gaslight Fantasy
  8. Michael Moorcock

- – - Answers:

1. Darko Suvin’s description of what makes science fiction. The story must have recognizable information, be it characters, plot, setting, or others (the cognition part) and something different or unusual that cues readers in to the fact that this isn’t the reality they live in (estrangement).  If it doesn’t have both, it ain’t sci-fi.

2. The dime novel publishing company that printed The Steam Man of the Prairies in 1868.  The Beadle firm reprinted it multiple times under different titles over the next decades, with numerous imitations by other dime novel companies.  Really savvy students recalled that one hero of Joe Lansdale’s “The Steam Man of the Prairies and the Dark Rider Get Down” was named “Beadle.”

3. Writer of our textbook’s (the VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology’s) introduction, but–more importantly for exam purposes–the creator/collector/curator of annotations about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  This monumental undertaking reveals the massive number of Victorian references in League, showing us just how complex a steampunk comic’s blend of history, literature, and fake science can be.

4.  Jeter coined the term “steampunk” in an effort to describe the stories by himself, Blaylock, and Powers that were set in the Victorian age, but with an emphasis on wierd science and a modern sensibility.

5. There have been numerous anime films that used steampunk imagery.  More importantly, however, is the notion that Japanese anime’s definitive style (which uses iconic, unrealistic characters in hyperrealistic, detailed backgrounds) is a natural fit for visualizing steampunk’s complex, ornate settings.

6. Cherie Priest’s phrase describing the values of steampunk.  The do-it-yourself aesthetic of steampunk appeals to people who are resistant to our disposable culture, and the genre is focused on re-tooling and re-creating objects and ideas.

7.  Essentially another name for steampunk, but one that acknowledges the genre’s fantasy elements (i.e., magic) over its science fiction elements.  Often used to distinguish historical or Victorian romance fiction with fantasy overtones from more science-and-technology based tales in the same setting.  (It’s always fun to get students thinking about labels.  Why are or aren’t steampunk and gaslight fantasy completely interchangeable?)

8.  One of the twentieth century’s major SF writers and an example of an author who has been retroactively labeled “steampunk” even though he wrote his material a decade or more before the term was coined.  Wrote major fantasy series (Elric) and SF fiction, as well as edited of the game-changing magazine New Worlds.

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A Link to My New Short Story

“Eyesores” is up and ready for reading at the online magazine Perihelion.  I’m providing a direct link to the story.  It’s around 6,000 words, and it falls into the near-future SF category–with a little martial arts, a little extremist pediatrics.

I also have to say that I’m in the process of reading the other stories published this month.  I’m in some really great company.  Check out their stuff too!

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