Official SLF Cowriting Sessions

I’m delighted to announce that with Victor Raymond’s help, the SLF will now officially be hosting regular Saturday cowriting sessions from 11am to 2pm Central time. This is a session for writers who would like support for their writing, and is currently open to SLF members, staff, and my writing students. (We may open it up further once we work out the kinks. 🙂 )

There will be 10-15 minutes of introductions, followed by 45 minutes of SILENT writing; doing this three times, from beginning to end. People are welcome to show up on the hour; if you join at another time, Darius Vinesar will welcome you via chat.

These sessions will be a great time to catch up on the writing you’ve been meaning to write, while also being in the presence of others doing the same thing. Write whatever you would like to write – it’s completely up to you.

Our first session will take place tomorrow, Saturday 4/17 from 11-2pm. If you’re already a SLF member ($2/month), you’ll be getting an e-mail with the Zoom link.

In the near future, we will have a place for the cowriting sessions officially on the SLF site where all the info can be found for members and staff.

Hope to see some of you there!

Membership info: https://speculativeliterature.org/membership/

Finished U+ Board Meeting

Finished U+ board meeting (we meet at 7 a.m. my time because it’s an international group). Heading towards our next general assembly, prepping for sequence of narratopias workshops, looking forward to November 5-6 Other Futures festival in the Netherlands — I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend in person this year, but I’d surely love to. We’ll have to see where we are with the pandemic at this point. Jed, maybe come to Netherlands with me?

More about Plurality University (U+) — artists, designers, utopians, and activists imagining diverse futures: https://www.plurality-university.org

The Beginning of Moon Maid

I thought y’all might enjoy the opening to my story, “Moon Maid”!

*****

1948

Aarti ducked into the Bird and Babe, hoping that she wasn’t too late to snag her favorite corner for lunch. Thankfully, it was free – the Inklings hadn’t descended on it yet with their smeared manuscripts and typical high spirits. They’d probably be in soon – it was Tuesday, after all — but if she were firmly ensconced, then perhaps they would let her keep it and find somewhere else for their literary endeavours.

She slid onto the bench beside the fireplace, thankful for the heat. After three years in Oxford, she still hadn’t adapted to the dampness of English winters. A nasty February drizzle fell on the cobbled streets outside, and she shrugged off her soggy coat with relief. The dark panelled walls added to the coziness of the room, and for a moment, she could forget England, forget Oxford, maybe even forget that her heart was breaking.

The server came over to wipe down the table. “It’s good to see you, Miss Aarti. How’s the painting going?” He’d seen her in here with paint-smeared fingers often enough.

“Fine, John, fine. Just had a show, actually.” Her first gallery show, which should have been a triumph. Aarti was studying astronomy because that’s what her father expected of her, what her scholarship was for, the scholarship that had brought an Indian woman all the way to England, where she could be a prodigy, a curiosity. A woman at Oxford was rare enough, though more common since the War had taken so many brave young men. A brown woman at Oxford was unheard of. She loved astronomy – the first time one of her teachers had let her look through a telescope at the moon, she had gasped in wonder. But Aarti had a second passion; she loved to paint. Her family hadn’t taken it seriously, but in this town, at least a few people thought she had real talent. Did she have to pick, between the glory of the stars and the glory of paint on canvas? Couldn’t she have both?

“Where’s your young man?” John didn’t mean to be cruel – he was just used to seeing her come in with Raj. Aarti had never actually been in a pub by herself, and Appa would be furious if he saw – but she was twenty years old now, and her father was in Bombay. She didn’t really care what he would think.

“He’s gone, John. Gone for good this time.” Raj had never found it easy, putting up with Aarti’s sharp tongue, but their families had been pushing the match hard, and there weren’t that many reasonable prospects for a boy like him in Oxford. Even fewer for her, of course. And they’d had art in common, at least – attended lectures together, painted dozens of dour English landscapes side by side. But eventually, she abandoned the English landscapes, and started painting her work instead. Galaxies and constellations bloomed across the canvas. The rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter.

And the moon – oh, Aarti loved to paint the moon in all Her phases, the craters and mountains. Mare Imbrium, Serenitatis, Tranquilitatis. Mare Crisium, also called the Sea of Crises. Mons Pico, Mons Argaeus. And the craters: Aristarchus, Boussingault, Copernicus – she memorized a host of them, from a to zed. Zagut.

Copernicus, Tycho and Kepler’s bright rays were a pleasure to paint, and she couldn’t resist the Alpine Valley, Bay of Rainbows, and the Straight Wall. But Aarti had her personal favorites too – Mons Argaeus sat between Serenitatis and Tranquilitatis, on their eastern border. She painted it over and over again, drawn to it for reasons she could not name, and with each repetition, the work improved. Another layer of paint, or perhaps a scraping away, highlighting the curve of a dark sea, the play of light and shadow on mountain rise.

At first Aarti painted the images as if from a ship, circling the Moon, gazing upon Her. But over time, the perspective shifted, until at last it was if you walked the surface yourself, and the mountain rose before you in edged chiaroscuro.

As it turned out, other people loved her moon paintings too. As time went on, Aarti’s work started getting more recognition, and Raj’s didn’t. He couldn’t stand it. This last fight had been an ugly one, on the steps of the gallery, in full earshot of dozens of people.

“Everything is about you, isn’t it? Aarti Aarti Aarti.”

“Not everything. Just this! Why can’t you just be happy for me?”

“Why can’t you be like other women, and support your man? Is this what it’s going to be like when we’re married?”

“I can’t help it if I’m better than you!”

Raj turned and walked away, leaving Aarti standing there in the rain, knowing it was over. She shouldn’t have said that last. Her mother always said her tongue would get her into trouble. But was she expected to bridle it for the entire length of her marriage? Amma would undoubtedly say yes.

Aarti met John’s eyes and said quietly, “Raj and I are over.”

John clucked his tongue in sympathy. “Sorry to hear that, lass. Chin up – you’re pretty enough to find yourself another man soon. Plenty of fish in the sea.”

Did people really say that? Apparently, but she wouldn’t complain as long as John fetched her drink. He brought it quickly enough, but his hand brushed against hers on the table as he set it down. She pulled back, setting her spine against the corner of the fireplace; John wandered away without saying anything else.

Maybe she shouldn’t be in here on her own. John was handsome, but the last thing she needed was to start something with a white man. If her father got word of it, he’d never let her stay at Oxford, and if Aarti couldn’t have Raj, she could at least have her degree. With it, she could go home and get a teaching job, finally get some independence from her family. It’d probably be basic mathematics taught to schoolgirls instead of serious astronomy, which would break her heart. But it was better than being forced into a loveless marriage. Just one more year… Aarti’s fingers curved around the half-pint stemmed glass, tightening. She would survive this.

Loud voices from the hall – the Inklings had arrived, inevitably. Aarti braced to repulse their invasion.

“Lewis, do you regret agreeing to the debate with that woman? She demolished your arguments regarding naturalism and the possibility of human reason rather handily, I’m afraid.”

“Let’s not discuss it, please. I have some new chapters of my Aslan story that I’d like you to look at – Miss? Miss, are you not feeling well?”

“I’m fine,” Aarti wanted to snap, wanted to demand that they simply leave her alone with the sherry she hoped to drown her sorrows in. She would have said that, but the room was spinning strangely. Aarti tried to stand up, but that was a mistake. The room tilted and fell away, and she fell with it, into the arms of one of them — Lewis, Tolkien? The pale face blurred and darkness descended.

*****

Joker Moon drops on July 6 — pre-order now! 🙂

https://www.amazon.com/Joker-Moon-Wild…/dp/1250168015

Ep. 2 of MRAH Out Now

Ep. 2 of MRAH is out now! In this podcast episode Benjamin Rosenbaum and I start out arguing about genre definitions, and end up talking about marriage and polyamory, and I swear, it all connects eventually? Sort of kind of? It made sense to us at the time, anyway….

(Side note — we’re slowing down release a little bit, because we realized we were being over-ambitious re: editing time. So expect the podcast to drop on Mondays, with occasional Thursday bonus episodes.)

https://speculativeliterature.org/episodes/

Modules for Jump Space

So, I’m trying to write a RPG supplement, and I admit, I’m getting confused in the process. I’d like to write little modules to go along with my Jump Space RPG, essentially suggestions for additional games people can play in the universe, once they’ve played through the main game. Clear?

But I’m not quite sure how much information to put into such a thing. The question is, would this be read by a game master, as in classic D&D, in which case, they would decide how much information to reveal to the players? The rest of the Jump Space game doesn’t assume a game master.

If it’s being read by everyone playing at the table, then I’m not sure how to build suspense into the scenario — it feels like if I put in explicit plot, then I kind of take the main choices out of the players’ hands, and where’s the fun in that?

Am just confused now. Experienced RPG folks, would love your thoughts.

(Also, should I present it in this order, or have the setting before the scenario, to set the scene? This is a supplement to the main Jump Space game, so they’d already have several pages on the universe as a whole.)

******

Ariel Module

SCENARIO: Founders’ Day on Ariel

Normally, no one on this planet would be able to afford to commission your ship’s crew for an event, but the governor of Ariel has authorized a Founders’ Day celebration, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the colony’s founding. She’s hired your crew to provide a reception for the leaders of the colony and their families, about two hundred people. You’ll have support from local chefs, florists, and performers, but are expected to bring dazzling innovations and off-world delights.

CREW:

This module requires (1) chef, (1) horticulturist, and (1) dancer. One of you must also be willing to try using a jet-pack to fly.

SCENES:

• Scene 1: You arrive on the planet and get right to work, meeting the governor and her family (a wife and three teenage sons). The contract specified that one of you must try flying on Ariel, so that you can report back on its wonders to the rest of the galaxy when you leave. Which of you will go with the governor’s youngest son to Tourists’ Canyon, to be fitted with a jetpack and taken on a wild ride? (At least one, but potentially all. If you are a dancer, you may want to experiment with dance in mid-air.) Will you strip down naked, as he suggests, for best aerodynamics? When he gets flirty, how will you respond, bearing in mind that you don’t want to offend the client, or her son? If any choose not to fly, they should get to know the rest of the kitchen staff, and may hear that the youngest son has a rather problematic reputation. “Spoilt,” “wealthy,” and “entitled” are words that get thrown around behind the scenes.

• Scene 2: You begin setting up for the first event, a reception for the invited guests. At the reception, things go smoothly at first, but then guests start acting very strangely. Many become loud, somewhat belligerent, and sexually demonstrative. One of them attempts to kiss one of your crew – respond as you like! Some leave, declaring that it’s the perfect night for flying (night flying can be quite dangerous), resisting all attempts to dissuade them. Your crew is drafted into trying to help manage the guests – interestingly, only humod flyers seem to be affected, so your crew is entirely fine. Unless some belligerent guest lands a punch…

• Scene 3: Your crew is hauled up before the governor and planetary council (a grandiose title, given the size of the community, but anyway) and accused of poisoning the guests. Word arrives in the midst of the accusation that one of the night flyers has managed to crash himself into a cliff wall, and has died. Your crew is threatened with arrest and imprisonment – not that Ariel has a real prison, but they’ll manage something. If you manage to protest your innocence and hold off the authorities long enough, discussion will eventually reveal the truth, that the governor’s youngest son has essentially ‘spiked the punch.’ He jiggered the order list for supplies, so that your crew has inadvertently brought in and used ingredients that he knew would have a hallucinatory effect on the humod flyers. He thinks the whole thing is hilarious – or he did, until the death.

The planetary council will apologize, and offer to send you on your way with handsome bonus if you will refrain from discussing these events in the wider galaxy – the decision on whether to accept their offer is up to you.

SETTING & CULTURE

Ariel is a low-gravity planet, with steep cliffs and complex wind patterns; modified humans (humods) have genetically adapted themselves to glide there, and with practice and skill, can come remarkably close to flying.

(By attaching small thruster jets to backpacks, humans can come even closer to true flight, but that’s severely frowned on by the majority of Ariel’s flyers, since joozers (jet-users) have a bad tendency to cut across typical flight patterns and make life harder for everyone. The jets aren’t technically illegal, but there’s so much licensing wrapped around getting one that most people don’t even try. Besiders, most agree it’s much more thrilling being solely humod-powered; there’s no thrill in using a jet.)

Ariel has no native sentient life, and is overall hot and dry; much of the planet resembles Bryce Canyon in what was once Earth’s state of Utah. Agriculture is difficult, though there are some genetically-modified human crops that can be grown successfully there – enough for a fairly limited diet, with imported supplements. Humans and humods have only been on Ariel for two generations, and there are some concerns about long-term effects of this diet on their health, but the thrill-seekers who come to Ariel are generally unworried by such potential issues.

Most of Ariel’s flyers are also nudists, which can be something of a shock to visitors. They prefer to be ‘naked as a bird’ when they fly, which also helps with avoiding overheating. (There’s a cooler season, and cooler regions of the planet, but humod settlements cluster near the best flying cliffs, and those are mostly high altitude and quite warm.)

The prime landing spots at cliff-base host small marketplaces (similar to Old Earth souks) where flyers can rent a wrap for the walk home (or rent a ride on a bullock-cart if they’ve overextended their own strength). Wraps may be returned at kiosks at the top of the cliff. Disposable wraps would be a dream, but at the moment, Ariel’s economy can’t support that kind of luxury.

Families survive through small-scale farming (kitchen gardens) and hunting of ubiquitous flying insects and small birds. As the saying goes, “You’ll have to eat a thousand-peck of insects, if you want to live on Ariel.” It’s not the catchiest saying, but at least it’s accurate.

There’s essentially nothing in the way of industry yet, aside from the spaceport, and no real cities or even towns. Ariel hosts about fifty thousand residents and quite a few tourists. The latter of whom come to gawk at the humod flyers and rent a jet for carefully supervised use in Tourists’ Canyon. They sometimes try to beg a ride from a humod – how thrilling! – but since humod bones are lighter and thinner than human, the physics generally doesn’t work out, and the tourist must give up, disappointed.

Every day at sunset, a troupe of flyer-dancers perform with colorful trailing pennants in the Green Canyon (‘Green’ indicates ease-of-flight here, and is also where beginners go to train); a percentage of their profits goes to the nascent government, and is used to support the growing tourist industry.

*****

Benjamin Rosenbaum and I Made a Podcast!

It’s a little surreal, somehow, seeing our podcast on my phone. Benjamin Rosenbaum and I made a podcast! How bizarre. I think it will be of interest to writers and editors and teachers and anyone who is trying to make positive change in their community, but we won’t really know for a while whether anyone will actually listen to it. 🙂

I do wonder how many people will check it out, see the first episode is 1 hr and 42 minutes, and scroll right past. It was tempting to try and do something quick, in keeping with this age of short attention spans; we had a lot of discussion of length in the early days of recording.

But I’m afraid the essence of what we were trying to do would be lost if we’d aimed for a terse format — we wanted to offer a long, rambling conversation, with time for exploring nuance. (Although I admit, I’m tempted to ask Darius Vinesar if he wants to make a ‘short take’ version of the episode for those who just want a taste of it. I’m not sure it’s really possible to do that in any kind of coherent way, though.)

I’m listening to the first episode now, and it’s even more surreal, somehow, listening to something we recorded early last summer. We’re trying to introduce ourselves, and it’s kind of amazing how much we wander in that process. After all the strict 2-minute candidate introductions of the last several election forums, this is almost a shocking contrast.

Jed Hartman’s show notes do offer a sort-of-highlights reel, I suppose. This is what he has for the first episode, which at least makes it easier to skip around to the parts that interest you? Online magazines, and science fiction and racism and the time I said the n-word on a panel (GAH), and forgiveness and Dr. Who / Star Trek….

Contents:

0:10: Introduction to the podcast.

0:30: Starting to introduce Ben: Youth and Clarion West.

2:30: How Mary Anne and Ben met, in Seattle.

3:50: Strange Horizons, and staff not getting paid.

5:15: Identities, and gendered differences in how people identify themselves.

6:45: Parenthood, Switzerland, parenting paradigms.

9:55: Religion and community.

14:55: Starting to introduce Mary Anne. “This is not going to be a long intro.”

31:05: Mary Anne’s role and voice in the community, including Strange Horizons.

33:20: One area where Mary Anne and Ben overlap: a strong interest in community.

34:20: “When I see a problem, … my immediate impulse is to fix it.”

39:05: More differences in Mary Anne’s and Ben’s approaches, such as their different reactions to MoonFail.

46:45: Forgiveness and recovery and redemption after failures and mistakes. Also racism in sf and horror.

52:35: Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.

53:15: Continuing the discussion of forgiveness and redemption.

1:08:00: What you’re likely to hear in episodes of this podcast, and some possible titles for the podcast. (This episode was recorded before the podcast had a title.)

1:13:50: Approaches to science fiction vs literary fiction, and plausibility, and Dr. Who.

1:23:20: Star Trek: Picard: realistic characterization and fantastical plots.

1:27:30: Ben’s rule of thumb about things persisting into the future; also cognitive estrangement and operationalizing strangeness.

1:40:20: Wrapup and credits.

Full show notes are here: https://speculativeliterature.org/episodes/

Listen wherever you like to listen to podcasts (and if it’s not there, please let us know, so we can fix that!) — Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans.

If you’d like to support the podcast directly, you can join us on Patreon here (there are even some little rewards, so check them out!) — https://www.patreon.com/mrahpodcast

Ariel

Working on a new module for the Jump Space RPG (a bit overdue, sorry Patreon peeps!). It requires world building, which is not my best thing, so if you feel like brainstorming details of this planet with me — physical, cultural, etc., feel free to throw suggestions in.

******

Ariel is a low-gravity planet, with steep cliffs and complex wind patterns; modified humans (humods) have genetically adapted themselves to glide there, and with practice and skill, can come remarkably close to flying.

(By attaching small thruster jets to backpacks, humans can come even closer to true flight, but that’s severely frowned on by the majority of Ariel’s flyers, since joozers (jet-users) have a bad tendency to cut across typical flight patterns and make life harder for everyone. The jets aren’t technically illegal, but there’s so much licensing wrapped around getting one that most people don’t even try. Besiders, most agree it’s much more thrilling being solely humod-powered; there’s no thrill in using a jet.)

Ariel has no native sentient life, and is overall hot and dry; much of the planet resembles Bryce Canyon in what was once Earth’s state of Utah. Agriculture is difficult, though there are some genetically-modified human crops that can be grown successfully there – enough for a fairly limited diet, with imported supplements. Humans and humods have only been on Ariel for two generations, and there are some concerns about long-term effects of this diet on their health, but the thrill-seekers who come to Ariel are generally unworried by such potential issues.

Most of Ariel’s flyers are also nudists, which can be something of a shock to visitors. They prefer to be ‘naked as a bird’ when they fly, which also helps with avoiding overheating. (There’s a cooler season, and cooler regions of the planet, but humod settlements cluster near the best flying cliffs, and those are mostly high altitude and quite warm.)

The prime landing spots at cliff-base host small marketplaces (similar to Old Earth souks) where flyers can rent a wrap for the walk home (or rent a ride on a bullock-cart if they’ve overextended their own strength). Wraps may be returned at kiosks at the top of the cliff. Disposable wraps would be a dream, but at the moment, Ariel’s economy can’t support that kind of luxury.

Families survive through small-scale farming (kitchen gardens) and hunting of ubiquitous flying insects and small birds. As the saying goes, “You’ll have to eat a thousand-peck of insects, if you want to live on Ariel.” It’s not the catchiest saying, but at least it’s accurate.

There’s essentially nothing in the way of industry yet, and no real cities or even towns. Aside from the spaceport, the rest of Ariel is for a few thousand residents and quite a few tourists. The latter of whom come to gawk at the humod flyers and rent a jet for carefully supervised use in Tourists’ Canyon. They sometimes try to beg a ride from a humod – how thrilling! – but since humod bones are lighter and thinner than human, the physics generally doesn’t work out, and the tourist must give up, disappointed.

Every day at sunset, a troupe of flyer-dancers perform with colorful trailing pennants in the Green Canyon (‘Green’ indicates ease-of-flight here, and is also where beginners go to train); a percentage of their profits goes to the nascent government, and is used to support the growing tourist industry.

*****

Can Finally Work in the Shed

It’s been warm enough the last two days that not only can I work comfortably in my shed, I can do so with the windows open. This makes me SO Happy. I mean, it also means that I can see all the clean-up still left to do in the garden, a thick mat of leaves smothering the bulbs and a jumble of tomato cages and other vegetable supports that never quite got put away…but the forsythia are about to bloom in this window, and I can’t wait. 🙂

In theory, this spring break week, I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, but I’m still catching up on backlogged other work, alas, so writing hasn’t happened yet. Possibly soon, though. Possibly very soon? We’ll see.

Brainstorming for a SLF Workshop

Hey, SF/F writer folks. Workshop brainstorming help?

So, one thing we’ve been talking about is setting up a SLF workshop in the Chicago area. It might eventually evolve to something like Clarion, 6 weeks in length, but for now, we’re figuring we’ll start smaller. We’re hoping all American adults who want to be vaccinated will be by end of May, so tentatively looking at July for holding this. We’ve done a long weekend workshop before, and are considering a 10-day option.

I’d love some early feedback — does this sound appealing to you, what format would you be looking for, etc. Consider this early brainstorming / survey of community needs — all thoughts welcome. Some questions:

a) FORMAT: Are you interested in a short fiction workshop, novel workshop, or both?

b) LENGTH: Are you interested in a long weekend (Fri – Mon) or a 10-day workshop (Fri to following Sunday), or both?

c) RETREAT: Would you like the option of attending as a retreat, rather than participating in the workshop? (Retreat option would cost less; you’d join us for meals and socializing, but otherwise be on your own with a quiet room to work in.)

d) INSTRUCTION: I’m planning to facilitate, possibly with Jed Hartman as co-facilitator. Would you like guest agents and/or guest editors and/or guest pro writers flown in from New York, etc., or have us stick to what Chicago has available? (Note, each one of those we add will bump the cost.) Chicago has lots of great writing teachers and editors, but they’re less likely to specialize in SF/F, so factor that in.

e) LOCATION: We’d actually be hosting the workshop in Oak Park, just outside Chicago. Easy walk to the train (or we can run you over if needed) and a 20-minute train ride to get into the city to visit the Art Institute, etc., and lots of local attractions too, especially if you’re into architecture, like the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. Fabulous food options in the city, if that’s your jam.

f) HOUSING: There’s a hotel nearby, numerous bed-and-breakfast, and AirBnb options. My inclination is to let people sort that out on their own, with us providing a list of options, as I don’t think there’s a great option for putting you all up together, and expecting that most people will spend most of their time hanging out at Serendib House (where we have lots of options for creative space). We may be able to provide some financial aid re: housing for people in need, and/or crash space from local hosts. Any thoughts on housing welcome.

g) FOOD: We’d provide continental breakfast, simple sandwich fixings for lunch, and communal dinner (cooked by me) during the workshop at Serendib House. Happy to support people’s food needs, but the kitchen is not celiac-or-other-serious-allergen-safe, so we’d have to plan appropriately on that front — we can probably do safe takeout if needed, but I’d have to research more. If people wanted to go out and grab lunch at a local restaurant, there are lots of great options, and we’d provide a list. Thoughts welcome on meal planning.

h) SIZE: We’re thinking we’ll cap workshop size somewhere in the 12-15 person range. Thoughts welcome on that.

i) ACCESS: The house is an old Victorian, with several steps to the front door. We can get a ramp if needed, I think (have to research), but the first floor bathroom doorway is too narrow to be wheelchair accessible. We want SLF events to be accessible generally, so our thought is that if we have a potential attendee who wouldn’t find the house accessible, we’ll switch locations (probably to Pleasant Home nearby), which would also entail changing meal planning (probably still breakfast and lunch on-site, with dinners out). There’d be a significant charge for that, but the SLF can cover it as part of our commitment to access (thank you to our generous donors!), so we wouldn’t pass that on to workshop participants. Thoughts on access welcome.

j) LEVEL: Are you interested in a beginner, intermediate, or advanced workshop? (Beginner is for true beginners — no experience necessary. Intermediate, you’ve been writing and maybe sending out and possibly even publishing a few stories, and want to develop your skills further. Advanced, you’re publishing at a pro level, and want to really dig in with a group of peers.)

Okay, that’s a lot of brainstorming thoughts. Chime in, please!

This is a link to the 2017 workshop, if you’d like to look at how that was set up: https://maryannemohanraj.com/slf-writing-workshop…/