Essays, Interviews, and Reviews

Write, Critique, Revise, Repeat: On Le Guin and Asking the Hard Questions of Ourselves, 2018
“One of the most striking aspects of Ursula K. Le Guin as a writer and thinker is how much she encouraged sharp interrogation of everything we believe or hold dear. This is a hard thing for most humans to do, and it is noticeably lacking in much of early speculative fiction.”

This is Our Work:  What Star Trek Asks of Us, 2016
“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”—Rabbi Tarfon
I was tremendously lonely my first year in high school. My parents had insisted I go to a prep school they could barely afford instead of going to the local high school with all my friends from elementary. The girls at Miss Porter’s seemed alien to me—most of them came from far more wealth than I did, the sorts of families that endowed buildings and wore trendy clothes I couldn’t even recognize, much less afford. Those girls often spent spring break in the Bahamas; I spent mine at home, babysitting my little sisters.”

Carrie Fisher and Leia: A Legacy of Strength, 2016
“I had just finished writing the first scene of my new novel when I heard the news about Carrie Fisher. I’d dared to imagine she might read my story someday, or see it adapted for the big screen. After all, without her, I might not be writing science fiction today.”

Nimoy and Spock:  Reflections and Farewells, 2015
*Note: This is part of a larger tribute piece. Full article here.*
“Somewhere in my house there’s a videotape of me, playing Spock, on the Enterprise bridge. I was fifteen years old, at Universal Studios, acting out a scene in front of a green screen; the final version had Kirk, the rest of the crew, and the bridge set in it. I was such a terrible actor that I was only able to bear to watch the video once, and it’s a little surprising that I didn’t just burn the damn thing. But I didn’t, because it featured me—as Spock! My teen heart was fluttering almost as fast as a Vulcan’s.”

Seven Ways of Looking at Captain Jack, 2013
“When asked to write this essay, my first thought was that all I wanted to do was go “Squeee!” about Captain Jack.  Because that’s how I feel about Jack; I love him quite madly.  I was recently on a panel at a comics convention, about Geek Girls and Artists, and while the discussion ranged far and wide, we kept coming back to Captain Jack as a common denominator.  No matter where you fell on the geeky or girly scale, there was a place for you to love Captain Jack.  As one of us said that night, “Captain Jack is the great equalizer.””

The Sword at Your Door, 2010 (WisCon 34 GOH speech)
“In the stories, there’s always that moment when a stranger appears to the young hero, when the wise old man shows up at your doorstep with a flaming sword and says to you — we need you, you’re the chosen one, you’re the only one who can save us. I grew up waiting for that call, waiting for someone to open my door, and reach out his hand to me. The call could come at any moment; that doorway could open to another world. Sometimes, walking alone down a street, seeing a shadowed door, I would step into the shadow, just in case. It was never a magic door, but I kept hoping. I keep hoping.”

Old Books Made New, Four Book Reviews, 2004
General Practice is a reprint of two James White novels, Code Blue: Emergency and The Genocidal Healer.Readers should note that these are the seventh and eighth novels in the “Sector General” series — while you can read any of these novels as stand-alones, I would strongly recommend going back and starting earlier in the series.”

Changing of the Guard, 2003
“I’m both pleased and a little saddened to announce that I’m going to be stepping down as editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons at the end of this calendar year, and on January 1st, 2004, Susan Groppi (one of our current fiction editors) will be taking charge of the magazine.”

The 2002 Tiptree, an Inside Look at a Juried Award, 2003
“I’m going to tell you a little bit about the Tiptree Award, about what we were looking for as we read stories and novels, about the selection process, and about how I, personally, made my recommendations, helped select a winner, and helped create the annotated primary list, plus a secondary list of recommended titles.”

Journals and Communities, with Jed Hartman, 2003
“Online forums of various sorts, and particularly online journals, have provided a fertile ground for community-building in the speculative fiction world. Here at Strange Horizons, we’re big proponents of community-building, so we’re pleased to see this process at work.”

Power Dynamics in the Novels of Tananarive Due, 2002
“I noted what appeared to be a pattern in those books, a trend in which Due invests her male protagonists with power, which they then use (and abuse) indiscriminately in attempts to protect the people they love. Eventually, these men are forced to confront their im/amorality, and by the end of the story, the protagonists resolve to restrain their use of power (although other men continue to be abusively powerful). This apparent pattern raises questions regarding Due’s work; I wondered if in the novels Due intended to imply that power inevitably leads (at least initially) to abuse and violence. And given that primary assertion, did she imply further that men are particularly susceptible to such abuses of power?”

Interview: John M. Ford, with Fred Bush, 2002
“I don’t think anyone wants a reader to be completely lost — certainly not to the point of giving up — but there’s something to be said for a book that isn’t instantly disposable, that rewards a second reading.  There are readers who want every point to be clearly and unambiguously set forth, and there are those who want to pry ideas and meanings out for themselves. Most people want some of both, and there’s no mechanical rule on where to set the balance.”

Avoiding the Potholes:  Adventures in Genre-Crossing, 2001
“In 1999, I edited a erotica anthology, Aqua Erotica. It was a pretty convoluted process, since after I did preliminary selection of the stories, I discussed them with two editors at the packager, Melcher Media. After the Melcher people and I whipped a set of stories into shape, we submitted them to a Random House editor for final approval. The book came out in September 2000 and was in its fourth printing by January; by publishing industry standards, it was a rousing success — in fact, it did much better than Random House expected it to. Which led us to ask, why?  What makes a book succeed? Why did this one succeed beyond industry predictions?”

Online Magazines and Speculative Fiction, 2001
“There’s been a lot of discussion in the publishing world about the impact of e-books on publishing — traditional publishers are worried that they’ll go out of business, writers are worried that they’ll be paid even less than the pittance they now earn, and readers are worried that they’ll end up drowning in a sea of self-published books. I don’t really know enough to feel comfortable talking about e-books in detail, but I know a little about online magazines — enough to make some cautious generalizations and predictions.”

Fearful Desire:  Jonathan Carroll’s The Marriage of Sticks (review), 2001
“Hints and portents, premonitions. You’re not quite sure what they signify — but then, neither is the narrator, Miranda. She doesn’t realize (until much later) that there was something strange happening in her life. “That should have been reason enough to tell me that there was more in the air then than oxygen. Why does it take a lifetime to realize that premonitions are as numerous as birds in a cherry tree?” Odd things happen to her — just a few at first, and, as the story develops, you could almost forget about them. I almost did. By the third chapter, I had forgotten one of the strongest portents: the woman in the wheelchair on the side of the freeway. Miranda, too, sees her and moves on: “There she was, illuminated by the car in front and then us: a woman sitting in a wheelchair on the shoulder of a superhighway out in the middle of nowhere.” I even forgot that there was magic in the story at all.”

Interview:  Pamela Dean, 2001
“Then, sometime before the middle of ninth grade, a friend handed me a fat paperback with a strange cover illustration and said, “My aunt gave me this for my birthday. There’s three of them. It looks really weird to me. You like weird books. Will you read it and tell me if I’d like it?”  It was the Ballantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. I had been a voracious reader, deeply delighted, stunned, bowled over by and fanatical about, all sorts of books, but nothing hit me the way Tolkien did. After I had reread it six or seven times and pressed it upon my parents and my brothers and my friends, I sat down and started writing a profoundly derivative quest fantasy. The protagonist was called Jairy, because I had been much taken with the Jirel of Joiry stories, and the core of the story was not very like Tolkien; rather, it was a crazy hodge-podge of Barbara Sleigh and Andre Norton and Lewis Carroll. The background was Tolkienesque. I ran out of steam perhaps a hundred handwritten pages in, but I still thought of it as a work in progress.”

So You Want to Start a Magazine, 2001
“Since Strange Horizons launched in September, the questions I’ve gotten most often are: How do you do it? How do you plan to make this work? Where does your money come from? Can I do it too? So here are a few answers. If you have more questions at the end of this editorial, please feel free to ask; I’ll answer whatever I can. This article is directed at people interested in starting a magazine, but it will hopefully also give an interesting behind-the-scenes look to those of you who simply enjoy reading Strange Horizons.”

From Tapestry to Mosaic:  The Fantasy Novels of Guy Gavriel Kay, with Christopher Cobb, 2001
“Kay’s eight novels ask to be understood in relation to one another, as parts of a much larger imaginative project.”

‘We must learn to bend, or we break’: The Art of Living in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, with Christopher Cobb, 2001
“What interested me most in this story was the central character of Crispin. He’s one of Kay’s most complex protagonists, and most touching. Crispin is grieving at the beginning of the story; his wife and two young daughters have recently died of plague (a plague that killed one in four people in his homeland). One of the central questions of the set is whether Crispin will ever be able to care about living (and art) again, and that question immediately drew me in. He was brilliant, moody and difficult; a passionate man at heart who had lost his passion for living. His journey towards Sarantium, and then through the intricacies of politics in the city, seemed the heart of the books for me; I think the books are worth reading for his character alone.”

Interview: Cecilia Tan, 2000
“Basically what had happened was I had written some stories that were very graphically erotic and also very clearly science fiction, involving telepathic characters, other planets, etc. . . . and I found there was no place I could submit them for publication. Now, I had been telling myself I was a writer for years and years, but I had never written anything that really made me say “Aha! This is it!” until I had written these stories. They were the best and most important work I had done to date, I felt, and it just seemed baffling that there was no outlet for them.”

Interview:  Nalo Hopkinson, 2000
“The other challenge I see is that of the diversity of expression in speculative fiction. The readers seem to come from all over the place, but the writing that gets published (or that gets marketed as SF) still comes from a fairly narrow range of experience. The imaginative worlds that we’re creating still draw heavily on Greek and Roman mythology and on Euro-Celtic folktales, and the futures we imagine still feel pretty Western middle class. And that’s fair enough, because it’s the primary cultural context in which many of the writers are situated. Some excellent writing has come and is coming out of those experiences. However, I also want to see more writing from the vast range of cultural contexts which makes up the world.”

Strange New Horizons, 2000
“I can’t remember the first science fiction book I read. It could have been Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo. Or Asimov’s  I, Robot. Maybe it was Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, or Clarke’s Childhood’s End. I was about eight when I discovered science fiction, and I made no distinction between juvenile and adult SF — I read both voraciously. Rocket ships and aliens, the silence of deep space, voyages into the unknown; the stories caught my imagination and took me way way out there, with them. I was delighted when I found Podkayne of Mars — finally, a girl having adventures! But I was so desperate for these stories that I happily adventured with the boys the rest of the time. The librarians became accustomed to me showing up at the check-out desk every Saturday with a stack of twenty books (the most they would let you check out at once) — all SF.”