Jun 21 2009 2:43pm

KGB Fantastic Fiction 6/17/09 Post-apocalyptic Barter Skills

Woah, sorry: it’s been awhile, guys.* But I (selfishly) had to make sure I posted about this month’s KGB Fantastic Fiction because I (do or will) publish both of the authors involved: Mary Robinette Kowal, who you may know as the most recent winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a Hugo nominee for her story “Evil Robot Monkey,” or the author of many fine short fictions. Brian Francis Slattery, on the other hand, is best known for his novels Spaceman Blues and Liberation.

I must confess to egging on a  bit of artistic one-upmanship this month, but I can’t say I’m sorry. Y’see, Brian barely ever does readings that are not backed by musicians (hear some previous examples here and here), so KGB cohost Matt Kressel graciously let him bring in violinist Kari Denis and upright-bassist Charlie Shaw to accompany him while he read. But Mary is a professional puppeteer, so when I “warned” her what Brian would be doing, she said, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to have to bring a puppet, then.” Score! So Mary started out the evening by doing a short monologue with an adorable T-Rex puppet, then read the first chapter of her Jane Austen fantasy novel Shades of Milk and Honey, forthcoming from Tor in Spring 2010; then Brian did three short “songs” from Liberation. The result was an enormously fun evening quite unlike any other KGB event I’ve been to. If you need more evidence, you can check out Matt Kressel’s photos from the evening, which include a short videos of each reader at the end of the set.

In tribute to our talented readers, and inspired in part by Liberation’s semi-apocalyptic plot, I asked our readers and attendees to tell us about their post-apocalyptic barter skill: what ability they’d rely upon to trade for goods and services in the absence of a traditional economy. And let me tell you, we had some very non-traditional talents in our midst. Theirs are below the cut. What’s yours?

  • Ben Francisco: grant writing, or being charming

  • Brian Slattery: making coffee (he uses a hand grinder and a stovetop espresso maker, so he can make really good coffee without electricity)

  • Charlie Shaw: being in bands

  • Cris Fisher: the ability to beat you to death with a lightsaber

  • Delia Sherman: has “every intention of dying in the apocalypse—it would be both more realistic and probably more pleasant—but if I survive, I am actually quite good at growing vegetables”

  • Douglas Cohen: finding roadkill and trading the pelts for food

  • Dustin Kurtz: “Meat. I will barter myself an arm at a time.”

  • Edward Gauvin: making music boxes

  • Ehren: useless music trivia

  • Ellen Kushner: “I will introduce you to other people you need to know.”

  • Genevive Valentine: measuring in cubits—“though you could just cut off your arm and hand it to someone”

  • Gina Gagliano: sarcastic advice

  • Ian: the ability to forget anything

  • James Stuart: “teacher of games to forget the cold reality we live in”

  • Jennifer Jackson: can cook squirrel.

  • John Joseph Adams: a librarian. “I can give you some books about apocalypses so you can survive”

  • Jordan Hamessley: tap-dancing

  • Josh Jasper: “will trade in souls”

  • Josh Starr: “I always kind of figured I’m going to die.”

  • Laura Anne Gilman: can cook goat, which is useful, because goats will survive the apocalypse. “And I can make a really good meal out of vegetable scraps.”

  • Liz Gorinsky: my Girl Scout skills are getting a bit rusty, but I’m pretty sure I can still lash and build one-match fires

  • Liz Matthews: staring contests

  • Mac Rogers: Britney Spears karaoke dance routines

  • Mary Robinette Kowal: puppetry, though the skills it incorporates (woodworking, sewing, and mechanical engineering) are probably more useful

  • Matt Kressel: hacking computers

  • Megan Messinger: making bread from scratch

  • Mercurio D. Rivera: legal negotiation (which will be useful even in a state of lawlessness)

  • Mike Carlisle: beacon of pessimism

  • Nora Jemisin: post-traumatic stress counseling

  • Paul M. Berger: juggling

  • Rob Bland: messenger (he’s a fast runner)

  • Rob Kowal: making wine

  • Rose Fox: editing and reviewing—“people will always need criticism, even during the apocalypse”

  • Sheila Williams: organization. “I can whip people into shape when I have to.”

  • Tammy Oler: roller-skating assault

  • Tempest Bradford: the ability to make any kind of drink palatable

As always, if I mistranscribed your answer—or if you’d rather I linked to a different webpage or didn’t use your full name—please let me know via my shoutbox. And if I missed you this time, please come find me at the next event!

* In fact, I did take surveys in both April and May, but my question for April turned out to be lame, and in May I made the mistake of getting on a plane to WisCon the morning after KGB and having conventions for the next three weekends. But we got some good answers to that survey, so I'm still planning to post them soon to start off a general community conversation. Sorry for the wait!

[Image by Flickr user Anosmia, CC licensed for commercial use.]

Richard Fife
1. R.Fife
I think I'd be a merc. I'm not bad with a gun, and actually really good with a sword for when the bullets run out. So, um, "Lawman"?

Barring that, I'd find an enclave with electricity and keep their computers running.
Pablo Defendini
2. pablodefendini
Man, I'm sorry I missed this one.

As for me, I'd have to say that in the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse, my very rusty carpentry and bricklaying skills would come in handy. After things settle down, we're going to need to disseminate information again, so I'd probably become a printer.
Melissa Ann Singer
3. masinger
Oddly enough for a city person, I have an assortment of (rusty and semi-rusty) useful skills. In no particular order, I can:

tack, saddle, and ride a horse (and unsaddle and untack)
shoot a bow and arrow
shoot a rifle
sling a sword (various types and lengths, plus quarterstaff)
milk a cow
catch a chicken
dig worms and fish with them, and actually catch fish, at least in still water
identify ripeness in a variety of berries
grow some kinds of plants (and could probably learn to grow more)
hand launder clothing (though I don't remember how to make soap)
tend babies
sew and embroider
Dot Lin
4. fangirl
I can play the piano. Remember that string quartet that kept playing as the Titanic sank? That'll be me.
lanyo lanyo
5. lanyo
I can complain, a lot, and then shoot those who disagree with my whinging. I can steal a car, and force someone else to siphon fuel for me at gunpoint. Though I have always presumed I'd be pretty early out, so my skillz wouldn't matter anyhow.
I can do lots of other things, I keep compiling lists of "things to learn in case of apocalypse" so should I need to be able to fend for myself, I hopefully can.
Karen Lofstrom
6. DPZora
Garden, cook, clean, and SEW. Sewing includes mending, altering, drafting patterns, handsewing, and making things out of scraps of cloth.
Margaret Organ-Kean
7. Margaret Organ-Kean
Horse grooming, basic and advanced.
Tack cleaning, basic and advanced.

Pigment and paint creation. Can also make paper.

Make jam or dry fruit.

Have handstitched a patchwork quilt.

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