Friday, December 25, 2015

Anthropology’s Three Questions

Visitors to the website may have noted that we publish short speculative fiction, particularly within the genres of SF, fantasy, horror, and. . . *anthropological fiction.”

The editor is a little fuzzy on what the latter actually entails, but luckily one of our First Readers has a degree in Anthropology, and some understanding has trickled down to the rest of us as we’ve read through hundreds of submissions to our open calls.

We recently attended the retirement party of close friend and Cultural Anthropology Professor Paul Shankman of the University of Colorado, who regaled us with reminisces about his career. Shankman, as we all call him, wrote “The Trashing of Margaret Mead,” a rebuttal to the controversy over the famous Mead’s methods, and is a recognized expert on pop culture.

Shankman explained that his love for the field of Anthropology boiled down to a thirst for exploring three basic questions:

1. Who are we?
2. Where did we come from?
3. Where are we going?

Those questions sound awfully similar to ones speculative fiction seeks to answer, don’t they?

It helps account for why we’ve been delighted when familiar heroes like Elvis Presley or Neil Armstrong show up in our stories. Or, when stories about primitive or advanced cultures reveal universal and timeless truths about what it means to be human. We’ve been transported by alternate histories that show how our tendencies may have taken us down a different path. Stories framed with an anthropological angle make us think, and we hope they give us a better awareness of where humanity is heading.

An emphasis on “cultural concerns” doesn’t mean that fantasy doesn’t have a place in our anthologies. On the contrary, fantasy and imagination are important parts of being human. We like stories featuring scientific extrapolation, artificial intelligence, or acknowledging intelligent species other than humanity.

So, while our goal is to provide fun and diverting fiction that crosses an array of genres, we also would like the work to be meaningful and relevant. We find stories are often best when they address one of those three questions, or at least give us something or someone we can take personally. It’s finding the universal in the specific. That’s what we mean when we say, “anthropological.”

As our “staff anthropologist” sums it up: “Anthropology is something we can all relate to, from our earliest ancestors to our distant descendants. Ultimately, we’re all related.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Story in "Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction"

In a time when I should be writing letters to the editor or Congress on serious topics such as gun control and abortion rights, it seems a little frivolous to talk about what inspired me to write a little piece of flash fiction for “Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction,” edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson, but here goes.

I called my story “Considerations of Having Royalty as Namesake.” I myself was named after the queen of the Netherlands, Koningin Juliana. At the time, only 40 in 1,000,000 babies got that name. My namesake’s weakness for the preternatural landed in the headlines: she invited to the palace a crackpot from California who numbered among his friends men from Mars, Venus, and other solar-system suburbs ( Understandably, it was much more popular in that era to name your daughter after Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria.

However, upon closer inspection, I see that popularity of my name has increased tenfold since I was born. Go me!

Oh, I personally have nothing to do with it, you say? That was the kernel of the inspiration for the story. I tried to picture a future galactic civilization that can extrapolate one’s future actions based on the history of one’s name (a la psychohistory in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, see

Well, let’s just say that based on the long-term scientific evidence, people with royal names just haven’t turned out to be good eggs, so our protagonist receives a detailed letter explaining why he’s about to be terminated.

For a chance to win a copy of Dear Robot and read it for yourself, comment on this or any other Dear Robot blog post by my fellow contributors or Kelly herself (the blog roll is at by midnight on Friday, December 4. Include your email address in the post (deconstructed as, for example, dearrobot (at) gmail dot com to thwart the spambots!). You can also check out Goodreads by December 10 for another chance to win. Or just go ahead and buy a copy on Amazon (; it works out to less than fifty cents per story!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Trio of Fantasy Stories by Women: Elizabeth Bear, Alyssa Wong, and Ursula Vernon

"The Bone War" by Elizabeth Bear begins with a fascinating premise. A wizard woman, Bijou,  uses magic jewels to bring the bones of long-dead creatures back to life, called “artifices.” She is hired to animate a pile of gigantic bones, the first dinosaur skeleton ever discovered, on behalf of a natural history museum. Working for two years, she finally accomplishes her task.

Bijou is said to not have much use for people, and she’s constantly annoyed with everyone who speaks to her. More than once, “[She] contemplated the insufficiency of her retainer.” Despite the magical ornamentations, she comes off as a crotchety old woman who wants us to get off her lawn, rather than a darkly powerful character. Is this the “war” the title refers to? Apparently it is, as Bijou spitefully names her creation after two of the scientists who have strong opinions about what they imagine the dinosaur should look like.

This story first appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept./Oct. 2015.


I read most of the May/June 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, because it contained many of my favorite authors. But, oddly, I overlooked “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong, which I recently learned is a finalist for the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. Better late than never.

Lily works on  a fishing boat in the Mekong Delta along with her father. They catch many species of fish, but the strangest are called “mermaids” because of their slight resemblance to humans. It’s a family joke that Lily and her sisters are daughters of mermaids. But one day they catch a fish that talks, and it smiles at Lily and says, “daughter.” Unable to resist, Lily sneaks down to the hold, where the mermaid is confined. Author Wong’s tale is a rather fine reversal of the Celtic fairy tale of the salmon of knowledge. The mermaid offers Lily a wish in return for her freedom. The only catch is that Lily must agree to be bitten. And, like the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, she will carry the wound forever. Highly recommended.


Having just attended MileHiCon 47 in Denver, I had the pleasure of seeing Guest of Honor Ursula Vernon, but I hadn’t yet read her 2015 Nebula Award-winning story, “Jackalope Wives.”

In the high desert, magical women who are a cross between jackrabbits and antelope dance at night by firelight. Men find them irresistible.

Here we have another story with a grumpy old grandmother, this one stuck with the results of her grandson’s botched attempt to catch himself a jackalope wife. Instead of burning her rabbit coat, he’s pulled it out of the fire prematurely, and the girl has turned only half-human, a monster. The grandmother takes the jackalope/girl out into the desert to try to return her to her natural surroundings, searching a long time for the “right place” to make a sacrifice to the desert spirits. The Father of Rabbits appears and just happens to have a spare jackalope skin. Will the girl decide to return to being a jackalope, or become fully human? “it’s easier when you have a choice,” the grandmother says, revealing that she’s been there before herself.

A beautiful story, although I would also recommend Ken Altabef’s “The Woman Who Married the Snow” (July/August 2013 F&SF)

“Jackalope Wives” first appeared in Apex Magazine, and is available free on the website. It is a finalist for the World Fantasy Award 2015, Short Fiction

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Ain't Superstitious" - the Editor's Thoughts

We've always loved bluesman Willie Dixon's tune, "I Ain't Superstitious," and think it makes a great theme for a short story anthology, especially as Fall rolls around and thoughts turn to Halloween, All Saints', and Día de los Muertos. Our writing prompt called for stories involving luck, prophecy, and magic. We found that these topics brought forth a new pool of writers from the horror and dark fiction genres, and we were glad to get them. We've done a full-size double issue this time.

We open with the strange world of Amy Aderman's "Salt and Bone," in which the savage sea contains demons that can only be soothed by playing magical instruments carved from bone.
Witchcraft is of course an old standby in the world of superstition, and some witches are indeed evil, as in Gerri Leen's "Spellcasting." But we do like our witches resourceful as well as powerful, as in Maureen Bowden's "Confrontation on the Big One Three" and Judith Field's "Ambrose's Eight-plus-Oneth," The magical realism of E. E. King's "Pandora's Piñata" is a fine antidote to the heartbreak of love stolen by a curse.
And since cats, especially black ones, hold a special place of honor in the superstition pantheon, we invite you to join Ken Altabef's cat, "Jester," on a late-night outing for "A Little Mischief." But we can't leave out the horses of the Apocalypse, so take Bruce Golden's "Upon a Pale Horse" for a ride.
In a way, destructive feelings, such as guilt and phobias, are a form of superstition, with a fine pedigree dating back to greats like Edgar Allan Poe. John Hegenberger's "The Necromancer" and Will Morton's "The Candlestick" present instructive tales about men who didn't do the right thing. In Andrew Kozma's offbeat "The Apple Falls Upward," we are pulled into a dysfunctional friendship between two men, one apparently mental.
Since the Age of Enlightenment, it's become the norm to reject belief in miracles, revelation, magic, or the supernatural. But it's only human to feel that delicious frisson of fear when things get a little strange. Thus we feature a healthy dollop of straight horror in this collection. Spencer Carvalho's ambrosial "Coffee Lake" is just a little too good to be true, and Lyn Godfrey's "Pantomimus" convinces us of the folly of whistling in a circus tent. Dennis Mombauer's "The Plague Well" might answer that question you've been wanting to ask. And don't forget to attend the "The Annual Scarecrow Festival" with John Paul Davies. Oh, wait. You can't, it's cancelled.
We need the occasional break from the horror of it all, and our "Grins and Gurgles" flash humor offerings this time are Sarina Dorie's "Nine Ways to Communicate with the Living" and Benjamin Jacobson's "Schrödinger's Schrödinger."
Other humorous contributions for this round include Kevin Lauderdale's "James and the Prince of Darkness," a rollicking P. G. Wodehouse spoof; K. T. Katzmann's "Sam, Sam, and the Demoness," superstition done Jewish-style; and Adele Gardner's "Wolf Call," a unique celebration of Elvis's birthday.
We point you to a trio of wonderful stories that reflect their region or origin. Jacob M. Lambert's "Across the Styx of Norway" stars a dying Native American who seeks to cross the Northern Lights off his bucket list, and Sean O'Dea's "Wind Chimes," a particularly Colorado story, features neighbor-on-neighbor feng shui in suburbia. Argentinian author Gustavo Bondoni's "Gualicho Days" proves once again it's not nice to try to fool Mother Nature.
Sometimes it's just plain satisfying to see right conquer might, even if it's pure fantasy ("It could happen, right?…"). James Aquilone proffers "A Day to End All Days," a satisfying beat-the-devil tale. A. P. Sessler's "What Is Sacred to Dogs" gives us a sweet little hellhound who helps a preacher clean up (and clean out) his congregation full of sinners.
We were greatly moved by Christina Bates's poignant "Dead Men's Drinks," in which a mother hopes for one last conversation with her daughter, and we truly hope she gets it.
Finally, we close with Eric J. Guignard's "O Shades, My Woe," as one of King Arthur's knights gets his come-uppance for serving his master far too devotedly. It's a classic ghost story that will stay with you a long time.
So, as dogs begin to bark all over your neighborhood, lock all the doors, put on a recording of Frank Zappa's "Zomby Woof," and settle in for a good, old-fashioned scary read. Third Flatiron's "Ain't Superstitious" anthology proudly showcases an international group of new and established speculative fiction authors, who let their imaginations run wild.
Get the ebook on Amazon or Smashwords. Print edition available too.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review of Dead Reign by T. A. Pratt

I realize this 2008 offering from T. A. Pratt is only the third in a longer series, but it's my first introduction to his master sorceress, Marla Mason.

It would have been nice to get to know Marla a little better before the action of this story begins. Instead, after Death kicks her out of Felport, the city she runs, she hardly plays a role in the story until about 80% of the way in.

While her supporters, led by mysterious entity Rondeau,
fight a rear-guard resistance, we are left to wonder what her next
play will be, if any. Finally, she decides to invade Hell to kick some
butt. She just happens to know a seer who can get her in. It all
sounds a little too easy.

Luckily, I always enjoy it when there's a feckless sidekick, and Dead Reign introduces Pelham, gifted to Marla as a "valet," much against her desires. Pelham is rather naive and wishy-washy (picture Jarvis in "Agent Carter,") but a welcome addition anyway, especially when we see Marla rescue him after he's been eaten by a dragon/witch.

Marla's sortie into Hell can't help but be a real thrill ride. You see, hell is an individual thing. In this case, it embodies all of Marla's worst fears and contains her worst, albeit dead, enemies. Pratt throws an incredible panoply of nightmarish monsters and creatures at Marla and Pelham. But the one monster she never would expect is Death himself--or, rather, the
old Death, who refuses to step down. He makes Marla an offer she can't refuse, and we await the verdict: Who will reign in Hell?

As you might guess, Marla lives to fight another day in the sequel, "Spell Games." Dead Reign's available on Amazon.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Notes from the Editor: "Only Disconnect"

Third Flatiron's summer edition calls upon Presentism as a theme: the pitfalls of distraction, overstimulation, and other attention thieves—too much to do, too little time. We asked: Are we becoming ADD? What are the advantages of being "in the present," or even bored?

      We open with Evan Henry's near-future detective thriller set in Shanghai, "Seventh Sense," a world where there are "too many people" and the State tightly monitors everyone. What would you do to have just three minutes to yourself?
      Arrest and interrogation with undisclosed charges is a common science fiction nightmare, but Steve Coate adds a new twist in his dark tale, "Jacked." ("But officer, I wasn't even there, I tell you.")
      We're so connected to our identity as human beings, it's interesting to contemplate what would happen if we had to take an alien perspective into account, as in Jonathan Shipley's "Aqua Equal," a fun tale about the first Earth student to attend college with our alien overlords. Evelyn Deshane takes us to the "Carnival of Colours," where aliens judge you by the color of your name.
      We're featuring a lot of game-related excitement in this issue. Stephanie Flood's adventure, "A House of Mirrors," and Jason Lairamore's "She Dies," show us that it's not always "just a game," but that's the fun of it, right?
      Though it saves us the trouble of dating, online romance can be risky, and it's even more so if the intelligent AI running the network doesn't like mushy stuff, as in E. E. King's "Just Visulate."
      We can't resist a bit of the steampunk, of course. In Matt Weinburg's "The Eyes in the Water," a young blogger gains a wide audience as he tracks the mystery of his deceased uncle's intelligent creation.
      Connect with the Earth rather than Bluetooth? Maybe going back to Nature is the solution to today's over-booked world. When a couple goes camping together in Adria Laycraft's "Killing the Green Man," we learn that's not always the case.
      It's just a gut feeling, but we think Robert Lowell Russell is onto something when he says "Super Bugs" are about to give us a nudge.
      Other humorous offerings for this round include Elliotte Rusty Harold's "Email Recovered from Genetech Debris, Lieutenant Jeffrey Abramowitz Investigating" and Wendy Nikel's "Life After Download." Whew, take a breath. And then call your mother.
      Finally, we close with Paul Barclay's luminous "Into the Light," where we learn that even though you can't hug a hologram, even a character who's not very likable or connected with people can still have the best of intentions that turn out to benefit humanity.
      "Only Disconnect" proudly showcases an international group of new and established speculative fiction authors, who help us decide whether it's time to disconnect—or instead to connect even further.
      It's available on Amazon and Smashwords.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review of "The Three-Body Problem" by Cixin Liu

I'm not sure whether this science fiction novel is the first Chinese work to be nominated for a Nebula, but it has caused a well-deserved worldwide sensation.

Cixin Liu is the most famous SF author in China, but had been little known until American author Ken Liu translated his work into English. At last month's Conference on World Affairs, eminent author David Brin recommended it highly, so I decided to give it a read.

The Three-Body Problem is a rarity in science fiction that will appeal to readers across many genres. Nestled within its thrilling plot are complex characters, an intriguing game, along with a healthy dose of cosmology. We see that understanding the fundamental nature of the universe is key to advancing humanity's progress.

The story opens during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Radioscientist Wenjie Ye's father, a famous physicist, and her Red Guard sister are both killed, and she is sent to a remote site to work on a farm. Nearby, a secret radiotelescope installation beams messages into space, the Chinese equivalent of the SETI project. The gentle Ye manages to get a job at the telescope and one night receives a communication.

At first Ye simply seems naive, wanting to be the first to communicate with an extraterrestrial civilization, but her motives are revealed to be increasingly dark. She hides the communication and replies to the message, commiting murder to keep her secret. She has lost faith in humanity and wants human civilization to end. We sympathize with her family tragedies, but we can't understand her total disaffection. After the Cultural Revolution winds down, a billionaire environmentalist joins her cause, and in the guise of an addictive game called Three Body, humans are recruited to understand an alien culture and help it survive.

Meanwhile, we see events unfold on the alien planet, Trisolaris, which is subject to the ravages of triple suns that unpredictably burn and freeze it. Trisolarans are desperate to reach earth, and they find a way to buy time until they can conquer it.

The devastating conclusion will stay with you a long time--and renew your appreciation for the preciousness of life--not just human--on our blessed blue planet.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Writing the Novel" Panel at CWA 2015

Amidst blooming crabapple and cherry trees, throngs turned out this week for the 67th Conference on World Affairs at CU-Boulder. Only a controversy about whether this beloved institution will continue to be free and open to the community put a damper on the activities.

It's a particular joy to see eminent panelists from all over talk about issues, life, and whatever inspires them, sharing viewpoints and insights that take us out of our quotidian thought processes. I listened to a panel called "Writing the Novel," attended by four novelists, each of whom had practical advice as well as general observations about the novel writing process.

These panelists agreed that attending workshops to learn the craft can be beneficial, but all emphasized that it's necessary to actually complete the long work, not just dream about it.

G. Willow Wilson, a young Muslim woman who writes graphic novels and created the female Muslim superhero "Ms. Marvel," outlined a number of steps, including how to find an agent, recommending "Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents." The guide is updated frequently. By approaching agents who represented books similar to hers, she was able to connect with her agent of 10 years. Another valuable piece of advice is that the book should grab the reader's attention--from the very first sentence. It's unlikely readers will give the book 100 pages to see if it gets good.

Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell award-winning science fiction writer David Brin ("Earth," "Startide Rising," and other "Uplift" novels) felt the most important help a writer can get is criticism. He even went so far as to say that if an early reader said they loved his book, he'd remove them from the reviewer list in the future. He feels criticism was the key factor in making a writer improve.

Teen writer Anna Caltabiano has completed two Young Adult novels, the first when she was only 14 years old! This articulate, passionate youngster showed she understands what it takes to be a
writer, saying she enjoys putting two characters together in an empty room and seeing what develops. She often has an ending in mind, and writes outlines for the next several chapters, but doesn't necessarily plot out every detail in advance.

One of the most inspiring of the panelists was Leonard Pitts, Jr. Though he's a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, he recounted how he tried for decades to get a novel published, and hadn't succeeded
until 2009. His persistence finally paid off, though, and now he has four best-selling novels under his belt. He asked how many in the audience were "aspiring writers." He then said, "Ha, that's a trick
question! Aspiring to write isn't enough, you have to need to write."

As an aspiring novelist (seriously, I have at least written my first one), I hope to apply some of these hints toute suite.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Editor's Thoughts: "The Time It Happened"

Sometimes themes just have a way of imposing certain genres on an anthology. Third Flatiron's previous anthology skewed heavily toward fantasy and epic themes. In contrast, this edition, which calls upon the theme, "The Time It Happened," is almost entirely hard science fiction. We asked for tales that evoke an event that everyone remembers, or certainly would remember if it were to actually happen.
In sifting submissions we were pleased to receive a number of time-tinkering** stories, including a return of favorite character Dr. Leon Prinz in Martin Clark's intriguing alternate history recounting of the Apollo 11 mission in "False Footfall."
As every writer knows, it's well nigh impossible to get a tin foil hat story published, but you'll be glad to know we're publishing not one, but two! Ellen Denton's "Stilled Life" nicely complements Clark's offering. Did you know that William Safire once wrote a speech for President Nixon in case the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got marooned on the moon? The excellent cover by Keely Rew shows an angry Neil Armstrong about to school the clueless Nixon.
Humans may have some exciting future events to look forward to as they reach for the stars, as in Richard Mark Ankers' "Armada of Snow," Evan Henry's "With Gilded Wings," and Jason Lairamore's "Kin Carriers."
We couldn't leave out Sputnik, of course. Thomas Canfield spins an engaging tale about who really won the space race in "Puppy Love."
There's a healthy helping of sobering "what-if" scenarios, including "Net War I" by Elliotte Rusty Harold, "Going Viral" by Dan Koboldt, and "Good to the Last Drop" by Wendy Nikel.
With the passage of time come memories, which can be either heartbreaking, as in Atar Hadari's "Lincoln's Watch," or heartening, as in Larry C. Kay's "What Was Lost."
Anchoring the collection is "A Rock in the Air," an affecting tale about a man who is thrown forward in time by the explosion in Hiroshima and his ultimate decision to return home to be with his people.
Our flash humor offerings, "Blargnorff Industries New Employee Handbook Human Edition" by Dana Schellings, "The Zzzombie Apocalypse" by Mark Hill, and "Xenofabulous" by Amanda C. Davis," show the importance of proper behavior and attire as well as a good work ethic.
"The Time It Happened" proudly showcases an international group of new and established speculative fiction authors, who help us recall events as they could only happen in the mind's eye.
It's available on Amazon and Smashwords.
**If any of you cosmology buffs might be wondering if time is real or simply a construct of the human mind, we recommend a Guardian review of the Unger and Smolin book, "The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time," by Caspar Henderson.