Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Racism Is Not a Family Value

Originally published November 2009


My daughter, a recent graduate in Cultural Anthropology, praised in particular a course on Zora Neale Hurston, an American folklorist, novelist, and authority on black culture, taught by Professor Lorecia Kaifa Roland of the University of Colorado Boulder. Raised as I was in lily-white suburbia, I had never heard of Zora. She was "rediscovered" by Alice Walker. But it turns out that one of Zora's best friends was Fanny Hurst, another famous novelist writing about black life. Hurst's novel, "Imitation of Life," was one of the defining "experiences" of my life, even though I never read the book. During your life, if you have children, you try to share your values and reasons for those values. I had shared the story with my daughter that I had joined the YWCA, one of the oldest women's organizations in the United States, not because I was a Christian, but because one of their basic tenets was to get rid of racism. Somewhere along the way, the YWCA felt this goal was no longer necessary and dropped it from their principles and practices. At the time, I was very upset about this and felt it was premature. I'm happy to say that it is now back (http://www.ywca.org/site/pp.asp?c=djISI6PIKpG&b=284783). My daughter and I didn't know we had these inspirational novelists in common, but for me it was exciting to see her discover and internalize an experience so different from her own privileged upbringing yet so important to our society today. "Imitation of Life" was made into two films, one in the late 1930s and another in the 1950s. I saw the 1950s version first. The story involves a black woman raising her light-skinned daughter while working as a servant for a strong white woman entrepreneur. The daughter, even as a young child, wants to be white and denies that she is "colored." When she grows up, she abandons her mother and gets as far away from her as possible, passing herself as white. She lives in constant fear of being discovered. Her mother is resigned, even comfortable, with her identity and never understands why her daughter rejects her race and her mother's love. There have been many other fantastic stories about mother/daughter betrayal, notably "Mildred Pierce" and "The Piano," but "Imitation" contained the double edges of blood kin betrayal and racism, a potent combination that I found life-changing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Editor's Note: Brain Games: Stories to Astonish

 Life's become something of a shifted chessboard, hasn't it? My gang has worked hard to put together the Fall/Winter 2020 edition of Third Flatiron Anthologies, a huge issue with 27 short scifi, horror, and fantasy stories. The theme of Brain Games: Stories to Astonish focuses on puzzle solving and ingenuity, inverted tv tropes, inventions (clockwork, practical, or Rube Goldberg), masterful creations, mythology, and social commentary. A number of these tales cross over to the dark side, in keeping with the season, and our final short story ushers us into the winter holidays. (Note the young Santa at work on the cover.)


We open with an odd space mystery, as asteroid miners try different theories about who stole their Earth shuttle. Brian Trent gives us "Theft, Sex, and Space Pirates."

Further bending our minds, Geoff Taylor gives us "Killer dApp," software scifi that presents a completely evil yet plausible way to take advantage of anonymous cryptocurrency (hey, kids, don't try this at home). Jetse de Vries dishes out Japanese AI warrior scifi, with embedded poetry.

With the coronavirus playing havoc with people's smellers, it could be important to keep our noses in tip-top health. Two of our stories disagree on what space aliens smell like. Alyce Campbell is pretty sure they smell garlicky ("Kwatt Games"), while Brenda Kezar speculates that they smell like patchouli ("US Portal Service"). Maureen Bowden dips into "The Sweet Smell of Sheep" to tell the story of the Trojan War from Paris's ex-wife.

As we are encouraged to stay in our homes and socially distance ourselves, mail delivery becomes an even more important daily service, not to mention that postal service is a pillar of civilization. We're not so sure a quantum portal would be a good replacement. Rebecca Fung posits that Santa might agree with us, as he gets all his toy ideas from kids' letters, in "The Greatest Toymaker in the World."

Artificial intelligence, androids, and robots seem to be on a lot of people's minds. That is, do they have minds like us? Henry McFarland describes some "Perfectly Rational Gamblers," and their frequent visits to casinos, while C. J. Peterson writes the code that would determine whether two supercomputers have achieved self awareness (hilarity ensues). But could we be living in a computer simulation? In Paula Hammond's "All Your Bases Yada-Yada," a woman discovers what seems like a glitch in the pixels on the way to work. It's a bittersweet symphony. Although they didn't have 3-IN-ONE oil back in Medea's day, she helps out Jason and the Argonauts against a giant robot that's prone to rust, in Jenny Blackford's "A Bronze Giant to Guard Her."

For you players of games: A cop in training gets too comfortable living in virtual reality in Jess Hyslop's "Softlock."

Intelligence different from our own may arise from Nature, as Ellen Denton reminds us, in "Minds Unseen."

We hope to rely on good old-fashioned human ingenuity to get us out of scrapes like deadly viruses. Let's see what the Nobel Peace Prize address in "Stockholm, 2066" might be, as told by Joseph Sidari. And we wonder what Graham J. Darling is referring to in his comical postapocalyptic tale, "The New Season." Is it the new flu season, or the election season? And which is scarier?

Lisa Timpf shows us it's possible to do our shopping without all of today's "helper technology," in "The Disconnect."

Halloween season wouldn't be complete without some horror tales. Eleftherios Keramidas's sorcerer just can't resist applying the latest technology to outsmart a deadly magical book, in "Toxic." Monica Joyce Evans's "Forced Teaming" discusses the cons of a job holding the digital copies of dead human personalities. For some Frankensteinian steampunk, Dennis Conrad's "The Incredible Machine" sucks the life out of us. Otherworldly calls come in through a village's outdated switchboard in David Rogers's ghostly "Numbers." In M. Richard Eley's "Bad Connection," a hacker gets his just comeuppance when he Zoom-bombs the wrong meeting.

To spice things up, Justin Short offers "Mock Me Amadeus." (It's a graveyard smash.) Dominick Cancilla recounts the adventures of "Joey and Rue," a riotous mashup of demons and Rube Goldberg, while M. K. Hutchins writes an empathetic tale about getting on the Grim Reaper's good side in "Upcycling Death."

As usual, we conclude with the flash humor section, "Grins and Gurgles." If you're fed up with the constant pillow guy commercials, Steve Zisson tells us how to DIY your own. Aidan Doyle channels his lovable evil villain to lecture his minions in "To All the Creatures I've Hid from Ethics Committees," and Lauren Lang's lingerie model suffers the discomfort of outer space to find "The Best Bra for the Boobs."

Brain Games: Stories to Astonish is available in eBook on Amazon (free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers), and there's a paperback edition.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Science Fiction Goes Virtual

 Or, at least all the conventions seem to be…

It's 2020.

WorldCon 78 this year was supposed to be in New Zealand, but the fans and volunteers did an awesome job of converting the whole shebang to a virtual convention after the spread of coronavirus mandated social distancing. The amount of work this took is unimaginable (I'm trying...). We enjoyed seeing George R.R. Martin give the opening speech, even if it was from his living room in New Mexico.

I loved moderating a panel via Zoom about favorite off-the-beaten track SFF tv shows. Fellow panelists were Shaun Duke (brains behind the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty podcast), Stina Leicht, Christine Taylor-Butler, and Sarah Gulde (editor of Star Trek Quarterly). We each gave our favorites (mine were "Devs," "Dark," and "Russian Doll"), and had the privilege of "collecting" the massive number of suggestions coming from chats going on in the background. Plenty of great new fantasy coming too, like "Cursed," and older shows worth digging up from obscurity, such as "UltraViolet." Folks could move offline via Discord to continue conversations.

A highlight, of course, was the Hugo Awards and the re-named Astounding Award (formerly the John W. Campbell).  As a big filk music fan, I clicked on over and was treated to a living room concert by author Ada Palmer (Terra Ignota series) and her band, Sassafras. My husband and I then packed in as many short SFF indie movies as time permitted.

The Scottish Connection

It's great to see Glasgow lobbying to be the host city for WorldCon in 2024! Follow the bid on Twitter @Glasgow2024.

Following WorldCon, I attended another recent virtual reading night sponsored by the Edinburgh magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, with authors Ada Palmer, Jo Walton, Rachel Plummer, and Jane Yolen.  Thanks to editor Noel Chidwick for bringing these ladies back for an annual reunion (even if for the Americans it had to be virtual instead of in Scotland).

Here in Denver, we are ramping up to hold a virtual con for MileHiCon52  from October 23-25. Glad we've been able to get a little experience under our belts and hope to see you there.




Case Files of a Spirit Talker by Lela E. Buis - Review

Lela Buis has released a new collection of her tales of Anna Detroyer, private eye and Black Seminole spirit talker.

Anna follows cases into the dark corners of Japan, Mexico, Kenya, Miami Beach, the Florida Everglades, and Alaska, and she usually gets her man, god, or demon (pick your pantheon), with a little help from her friends in the Native American supernatural world. A puzzle lurking in the background is the developing rift between her and her longtime partner, Paul Angstrom.

Author Buis does a great job of describing the various locales, so you feel like you are traveling with her. Highly recommended for readers who like their fantasy shrouded in mystery and romance. The book's available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B089FN3XJT

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses - Note from the Editor

We are all feeling shut in during the C-19 coronavirus pandemic, so Third Flatiron wants to reach out to our many friends and readers, to give back a little of the support we've received over the years. We will be offering the ebook of Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses free during this period to help anyone whose discretionary reading funds might be tight. Pick your own price over at Smashwords.
The theme of this science fiction and fantasy anthology is "the future we'd all like to see." This doesn't mean it all has to be rainbows and balloons, but some optimism and brightness don't hurt a bit. Besides returning authors from previous anthologies, we are pleased to feature three stories by Colorado authors, as well as first publications by new writers.
Weird is wonderful: We lead off with Robert Bagnall's "The Thirteenth Floor," a fascinating trip to an invisible world that's sitting right in front of us. (Probably.)
A little help from our friends: Artificially intelligent creatures designed to serve humanity begin to realize that social distancing is not their thing, as in Alexandra Seidel's "We Make Life Beautiful Again." Patrick Hurley's police constable becomes a crime-solving whiz when augmented by his AI partner in "The Centaur Detective and the Vanishing Man."
Pokémon Ultra: Several of our contributors this time delved into future cyberpunk. Some of their characters use augmented reality and implants to play games, as in Koji A. Dae's "SoulShine," while others just use VR to blot out a crumbling world, as in David Cleden's "All Fuzzed Out and Fractal." Either way, it may be costly to your soul.
Anywhere but here: To some, a best possible future might be Heaven on Earth, but others look to quantum mechanics for something even better, as in Eneasz Brodski's "Give Me My Wings."
Taste l'Arc en Ciel: A boy's family helps reintroduce giraffes to their native African home in Gustavo Bondoni's "Such Sweet Sorrow." (See? Rainbows and balloons.)
To see a loved one again: A grieving mother and daughter (and the dog and the goldfish) find that their new life is "Just Like Living with Dad," as told by Jenny Blackford.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a "Catcher in the Sky" to remove carbon from the atmosphere, asks Paul A. Freeman. And Liam Hogan's alien visitors treat a young vlogger to a tour of their "Lighter Than Air" cities.
The best rock concert ever, and you're there: After the apocalypse, join the Battle of the Bands in Angelique Fawns' "The New Mutants."
A fresh start: A young girl survives a ski accident, and has her clone to thank for it in Emily Martha Sorensen's "Tabula Rasa."
Hey, Aquaman: Earth's oceans shelter humanity from the ravages on land in Christopher Muscato's underwater adventure, "Living As You, Our City a Garden."
To the Stars and Beyond: When the first of the pioneers aboard a colony ship die, a young descendant learns the meaning of "Ashes to Ashes," in Chloie Piveral's touching story.
For the good of all: Though not everyone agrees that geoengineering the climate is a good idea, Mike Adamson's straight-shooting space warrior does her level best to ensure the return of "The First Day of Winter." And though most of future humanity has learned the value of peace, as in Neil James Hudson's "War's End," we might want to hold a little in reserve, just in case…
. . .
Grins & Gurgles: To close the anthology, we proffer a bit of lightness in our flash humor section.
Wordplay: "Lexophile" describes those that have a love for words, such as "you can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish," and "To write with a broken pencil is pointless." Mariev, Erie Matriarch, cracks us up expertly with "For Mom: Standup Cosmic Comedy."
A bit of common sense wins out in Matt Tighe's "The Plumber."
Stiff upper lip: Ville Nummenpää's "Interview with a Zombie" starts out well, until everything falls apart.
 To see ourselves as others see us: A colonist has a little "Night Chat" with some tiny Martians in this fun story by John Kiste.

Enjoy! Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Little Hatred - Review

Betwixt a Sword and a Hard Place

Joe Abercrombie's A Little Hatred gets off to a slow start. This appears to be the beginning of a "Game of Thrones"-size, multibook grimdark epic littered with dozens of characters (and requiring frequent consultation with the appendix).

At first glance, some of the major characters are downright despicable, such as the money-hungry businesswoman Savine dan Glokta, whose factories exploit the workers. (Savine is certainly no Daenerys Targaryen, more like Cersei Lannister.)  Or Leo dan Brock, aka "The Young Lion," who seems to be a spoiled ne'er-do-well of a knight not worthy of our respect, and the enormous and cruel henchman Pike (guest starring in the role of The Mountain). Rikke, a young woman of the North with the "gift" of the Long Eye, has trouble getting her shit together in between chillingly prescient visions.

But after about 100 pages or so, things begin to pick up, as the worlds the characters inhabit begin to congeal. Abercrombie's creation is a blend of medieval history, Viking mythology, and 18th century industrial revolution. When it veers into the medieval, in a Battle of Hastings-like showdown, for example, pages began to turn. Not that I like arrows in the eye, or duels to the death, of course, but it is pretty exciting to try to figure out who to root for and worry whether they are about to die. Abercrombie knows how to write a thrilling climax.

The book's long, though. It's lucky that our local library shut its doors for social distancing and forgave all late fees. Or, you can buy it on Amazon.com.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Under Darker Suns: Review

Martin M. Clark has given us the first exciting installment of a trilogy of collected mil-fic novellas set in the far future, Under Darker Suns: Star Light.

Sargent Gary Cooper is a tough Earth Alliance non-com who's been busted in rank more than once for using his own judgment, and re-promoted for being the last survivor of a mission gone wrong. His exploits are the remnants of diaries discovered by the AI archivist, Polyakov-241, recounting some of the events preceding what's called
"The Fall."

My favorite "Star Light" novella was "The Long Night of Wilhelm Reich," a weird trip, in which Cooper's team is sent to rescue a shipload of colonists stranded in space. What begins as a routine boarding turns into a spooky sabotage-laced hunt for the disappeared colonists and a pulse-raising battle against an energy-sucking entity created by an orgone device. What's that, you ask? Check out the bizarre theories of Wilhelm Reich (a real person) in wikipedia or Martin Gardner's classic "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science," and you'll understand.

I highly recommend Under Darker Suns: Star Light. The ebook is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TVR63R5. Also available in paperback.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Infinite Lives: Notes from the Editor

 Fiction abounds with characters who can cheat death. Legends tell of people who lived a long time, like Methuselah. Some have rightfully earned a form of immortality (for example, Shakespeare or Hank Williams). Buddhist religion has Amitabha, god of infinite light and infinite life. Some species just naturally come by it (cats, bristlecone pines). For our twenty-sixth collection, we asked authors to ponder the idea of longevity, and are pleased to present an eclectic mix of speculative fiction for your entertainment. Welcome to the new anthology, Infinite Lives: Short Tales of Longevity, from Third Flatiron.
We lead off with Brian Trent's romantic, time-bending tale, "Tunnels." Brian's fans may know that his story, "Crash Site" (F&SF 5-6/18) won Baen's fifth annual Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF Readers’ Choice Award. We're lucky to welcome him back to our pages this Fall.
We dream of a utopian future where death is easily rolled back by technology, and scientists such as Harvard's David Sinclair take the approach that old age is a pathology that can be treated. But what would happen if Humanity were to be yoked to the whims of an overly cautious super-computer, as in Matt Thompson's "Del Boy Falling Through the Bar, Forever?" That must give us pause, as does Ingrid Garcia's "At the Precipice of Eternity," where aliens convince a scientist on the brink of a big discovery to just let evolution take its course… Still, it's possible that our future children will be hybrids or androids, and that they will honor their parents, as in Larry C. Kay's "A Last Word," and Philip John Schweitzer's "Like a Seagull, Hurling Itself into the Mist."
Not everyone believes the rich should live forever, such as Dr. Paul Krugman in his NYT faux-future essay: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/opinion/future-billionaires.html
We believe D. A. Campisi explores the idea of cheating death rather more fully in his satirical "Only the Poor Die Young." We might want to consider expanding our insurance coverage.
Is ageism a real thing? In K. G. Anderson's "Wishbone," a grandmother and her granddaughter decide the government has gone too far in cutting off benefits.
What makes me me? As technology offers the chance to swap in new parts in order to live longer, the philosophical question arises. Megan Branning presents a lovely parable on the topic, "The Scarecrow's Question."
We also proffer some excellent cosmological contemplations about our role in the universe: Louis Evans has a theory about why things die, in "The Reinvention of Death." And in Russell Dorn's "Long Stretches," an astronaut stranded on a damaged spacecraft combats boredom, a failing ship, and a growing neurosis in which he fears his limbs extending too far. Spaghettification?
In Caias Ward's distant future, a world assassin is kept in check, with the most exquisite safeguards, until "When They Damned the Name of Oma Rekkai from Memory, I Danced." Leah Miller's yarn asks whether the future might change in ways we haven't thought of yet, in "Thoughts of a Divergent Ephemeron."
Revenge is a dish that often has a very long shelf life, as in Sloane Leong's "A Billion Bodies More," about a general sentenced to live out the life sentences through the bodies of her fallen soldiers. In David Cleden's "Sweet Release," a woman scorned has the upper hand in re-creating a better lover in virtual space.
Does the Garden exist? Come along with us out to the desert, as J. B. Toner's rich oligarch tricks his way in for a taste of the Tree of Life, "Left of Eden."
One of the most enduring legends is that of the Faerie, where time moves more slowly than in the fields we know. We offer two tales where the worlds intersect: Maureen Bowden's "Frost on the Fields," in which a fairy queen returns to earth to bid goodbye to her dying human lover, and Brandon Butler's "Secrets from the Land Without Fear," in which an orphaned half-blood accuses a visitor from Fae of using the world as a playground for kicks. Lord Dunsany would be proud.
We offer a new tale, starring that perennial favorite, Death aka the Grim Reaper. In Tom Pappalardo's "Chosen," Death finds an enthusiastic successor in a coffee shop barrista. What do you think the coffee shop playlist was playing? I'm thinking maybe, "Don't Fear the Reaper?"
Thinking we've forgotten about vampires? Nope. Samson Stormcrow Hayes takes us to a book signing, where the guest of honor is treated to a bit of "Professional Envy."
Dark sorcery ever seeks a way to prolong life, no matter the cost, as in David F. Shultz's "Dry Bones," and Mack Moyer's "The Last Son of Geppetto," in which a wooden puppet rues the day he never became a real boy. Martin M. Clark introduces us to a "sin eater" in "Found Wanting."
Presidents often gain a form of immortality in our memories, especially in alternate histories. There are the great ones, who share their love of the world, as in Robert Walton's "Abe in Yosemite," or the other ones who make wars last forever, as in John Paul Davies' "President Redux."
The Fountain of Youth has long caught the imagination, even including Leela on "Futurama," and we're happy to include another story about the indomitable Spanish conquistador Capricho and his phoenixlike war dog Leoncillo, who put their dip in the Fountain to good use, in Wulf Moon's "Cold Iron."
As we think about infinite lives, we wonder: Whatever happened to Zoroastrianism? It seemed to be one of the more sensible religions. . . except for the Wheel of Time. We close with a story for the ages: Konstantine Paradias's "Find Her," in which a demon and an angel battle through eternity, until hate turns to love.
Our humor section, "Grins & Gurgles," is composed of a couple of completely off-topic subjects, "Dear AirBnB," by E. E. King, offering plenty of good examples of why not to venture into the VRBO world, and "Best-Selling Items from the M. R. James Collectibles Catalogue," by Sarah Totton, for those interested in adding something new and unusual to their Halloween hoard.
Thanks for choosing Infinite Lives: Short Tales of Longevity. We hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as we have.
--Juliana Rew
Copyright 2019, Third Flatiron Publishing
Infinite Lives is available on Amazon
Statue of Amithabha, Buddhist god of infinite light and infinite life, Ushiku, Japan. From commons.wikimedia.org, uploaded by user Sandunruki