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!