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Arkady Martine

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Fiction and Excerpts [2]

A Memory Called Empire: Chapter One

|| Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident...

A Memory Called Empire: Prologue

|| Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident...

One Free Trick: How to Use the Writing Skills You Have to Learn the Ones You Don’t

When I went to the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop back in the distant dim year of 2013, the inestimable Elizabeth Bear, along with various other people who are cleverer than me, explained to me about the tricks a writer gets for free in their box. The writing-skill cards you drew in your first poker hand.

The magic of this idea is that it is a promise: everyone gets something. Every writer, no matter how green, has at least one thing they’re good at to start off with. It could be character, or prose rhythm, or pacing. Or the instructions to the Plot Machine. (The people who got the instructions to the Plot Machine are very lucky, and I hate them all with a profound envy. My Plot Machine instructions were incomplete and mostly made of those guys from the IKEA instruction manuals, gesticulating happily at a pile of incomprehensible parts.)

Your One Free Trick is the skill you can build on. The skill you can lean on, while you learn the rest of the craft of being a writer. Thinking about writing craft in this way—as a collection of interlinked skills, some of which you got for free, some of which you have to work for—completely changed how I approached new and hard projects. In a certain sense, this concept let me learn how to write a novel.

[Read more]

On the Cult of Originality: What Byzantine Literary Culture Can Tell Us About Fanfiction

What are we going to do with the cult of originality? The set of pernicious beliefs that say: oh, all romances are the same, there’s always a happy ending, that can’t be real literature? Or, this book is full of tropes, it must be too commercial to be good? Or even: if you can’t write something entirely new, you aren’t writing real literature … and if you’re writing fanfiction, you must be ‘practicing’ until you’re ready to be original! I’m entirely sure most of you readers have heard—or even subscribe to—one or more of these beliefs about originality being a sign of artistic achievement. It’s an idea that’s baked into modern Western cultural criticism, particularly literary criticism.

And yet: we are surrounded by literature which is not original and which is successful, enjoyed, and persistent.

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The Mysterious Discipline of Narratologists: Why We Need Stories to Make Sense

I used to live on the roof of the world, trying to understand why some stories get preserved for millennia and other ones disappear. I spent three years there. I wasn’t alone: I had colleagues with me, all thinking very hard about narrative and storytelling and how to talk about the ways people used to tell stories, in the other country of the past, when what truth and verisimilitude and good storytelling might have meant very different things than what they mean to us now.

No, I hadn’t joined a monastery devoted to a cult of literary criticism, located in the far north. Promise.

I was a historian, and I worked at Uppsala University, on a research project called Text and Narrative in Byzantium. It’s where I learned about narratology. In a way, I became a narratologist myself.

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The Ethical Drama of Farscape’s John Crichton

Farscape, the Henson Company’s extravaganza of a gonzo science fiction TV series, filmed in Australia at the turn of the last century, weirder and grosser and funnier and more brutal than almost any other piece of SF television—a show where a puppet, playing Dominar Rygel the XVI, sluglike deposed ruler of the Hynerian Empire, farts helium for plot purposes more than once—has at its center a drama of profound ethical transformation. By this I am of course referring to the journey of the show’s protagonist, John Crichton.

Farscape is a brilliant piece of television for many reasons—compulsively enjoyable, incredibly weird, emotionally challenging. But it is the ethical journey of John Crichton which, for me, makes it worth watching and rewatching, especially as our own world veers out of the predicted, understandable, comfortable place some of us believed we dwelled in, and into something far closer to what Crichton calls the “weird, amazing, and psychotic life. In Technicolor,” that he found through a wormhole to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. In looking at what happens to Crichton over four seasons and a miniseries, I find myself thinking about the lasting effects of trauma, and the experience of trying to find a new, solid self in a universe gone off the rails.

[Read more]

How To Make Beer With Only What You Can Grow On A Generation Ship

Beer is the oldest human-made alcoholic beverage that we know about. People living in the Yellow River Valley (now in China) were brewing some sort of fermented grain alcohol around 9,000 B.C.E., and the first barley beer was probably made in the Zagros Mountains of Iran around 3,400 B.C.E. We’ve been drinking it, in all its ethanol-and-carbonation-filled glory, for pretty much as long as we’ve been people. Some of our earliest writing is even about beer: the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, was not only a praise song but also a way of remembering the standard beer recipe. It stands to reason that, if humans manage to get off of earth and head for the vast reaches of the galaxy, we’d want to have some beer to drink along the way.

Which brings us to a conundrum: beer requires many ingredients that really grow best on a nice, healthy, soil-and-oxygen-rich planet. Spacefarers—particularly those on a generation ship or a self-sufficient space station, i.e. people who live in space—are going to have an interesting and difficult time making something that we’d recognize as beer, in the quantities humans tend to like to consume beer in. I recently had the pleasure, if that’s the right word for it, of trying to solve this problem for Lsel Station, a self-sufficient completely non-planetary location in my upcoming novel A Memory Called Empire, which is why I am now duty-bound to bring you the answer to how to make beer with only what you can grow on a generation ship.

[Read more]

A Memory Called Empire: Chapter One

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is available March 26th from Tor Books. Read chapter one below, or head back to the prologue here!

[Read more]

A Memory Called Empire: Prologue

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is available March 26th from Tor Books. Read the prologue below, and come back tomorrow for chapter one!

[Read more]

What Really Happens After the Apocalypse

Right now, the largest and most deadly wildfire in California history is burning. Last year, Hurricane Harvey drowned southeast Texas under punishing, endless rain; a month ago, Hurricane Florence did the same to North Carolina. Apocalyptic-scale disasters happen every day (and more often now, as climate change intensifies weather patterns all over the world.) Apocalyptic disaster isn’t always the weather, either: it’s human-made, by war or by industrial accident; by system failure or simple individual error. Or it’s biological: the flu of 1918, the Ebola outbreaks in 2014.

In science fiction, apocalypse and what comes after is an enduring theme. Whether it’s pandemic (like in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Stephen King’s The Stand), nuclear (such as Theodore Sturgeon’s short story “Thunder and Roses” or the 1984 BBC drama Threads), or environmental (Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and a slew of brilliant short fiction, including Tobias Buckell’s “A World to Die For” (Clarkesworld 2018) and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Spider the Artist” (Lightspeed 2011), disaster, apocalypse, and destruction fascinate the genre. If science fiction is, as sometimes described, a literature of ideas, then apocalyptic science fiction is the literature of how ideas go wrong—an exploration of all of our bad possible futures, and what might happen after.

Most of apocalyptic literature focuses on all the terrible ways that society goes wrong after a society-disrupting disaster, though. This is especially prevalent in television and film—think of The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later where, while the zombies might be the initial threat, most of the horrible violence is done by surviving humans to one another. This kind of focus on antisocial behavior—in fact, the belief that after a disaster humans will revert to some sort of ‘base state of nature’—reflects very common myths that exist throughout Western culture. We think that disaster situations cause panic, looting, assaults, the breakdown of social structures—and we make policy decisions based on that belief, assuming that crime rises during a crisis and that anti-crime enforcement is needed along with humanitarian aid.

But absolutely none of this is true.

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Artificial Intelligence, Technology, Queerness, and Desire in Chris Moriarity’s Spin Trilogy

There is an alien encounter at the heart of cyberpunk, despite the genre’s usual lack of actual aliens. In accordance with cyberpunk’s central concern, its obsessive fixation on the fluid boundary between technology and humanity, the alien lurking in the genre’s secret heart is a technological alien: the artificial intelligence. The encounter between the technologically enhanced (or technologically invaded, take your pick) but nevertheless still-human (we think) protagonists and a defiantly inhuman—but often startlingly humane—AI is a stock plot point in the cyberpunk arsenal. And there is a stock character type belonging to these AIs who encounter cyberpunk’s human protagonists: a flirtatious, fluid, and emotionally labile type, an AI who seems, quite often, to have a larger emotional range than the humans it interacts with.

[Read more]

Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com

Sleeps With Monsters: “Once Again We Return” — The Wicked + The Divine

Wic+Div is back, after four months hiatus, with Issue #18—and if you weren’t on board this ride already, here’s your engraved invitation. Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s comic about gods, cult art, fame, and death (especially death) returns with an action-heavy, visual/symbolic kick to the throat from a Lucite-heeled boot: Persephone’s in Hell, but she’s also back here on earth and she has got a gig to play.

(Issue #18 is explicitly framed as a good place to join the comic if you haven’t been reading already. It’s up on Comixology as of this morning. Go have fun. I’ll be here when you get back.)

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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