Diabolical Thoughts Editorial: Thoughts on Thoughts, by Ziv Wities

The human brain has got a lot to answer for.

For one thing, it doesn’t work very well. Most of us pretty much get by, but it’s hard to really rely on a human brain, isn’t it? You’re always liable to stumble into some unexpected issue, a difficulty, an “undocumented feature.” Maybe your brain nudges you into unconscious habits, or traps you in strange, interminable loops. There’s no telling what you’ll get, with a human brain.

But the other thing is, interoperability is just terrible.

Whoever designed these things clearly didn’t have communication in mind. Didn’t trouble to put in some sort of sensible protocol for brain-to-brain messaging, or at least transmitting internal state, no. Instead, the best we can manage is for our semi-functional brain to try and translate its semi-functional internal workings into wholly inadequate representations as words and sounds. And then other brains, themselves with all their own issues and idiosyncrasies and incidentally each running on an entirely different operating system, need to translate all that back and try and make some sense out of it.

Honestly, I feel maybe the original plan was to only have one brain, anywhere, ever. Having more than one just wasn’t in the spec; came as a bit of a surprise. Communication? Collaboration? Maintaining some kind of consistency or shared agreement between different brains? Oh, we didn’t plan for any of that. There was only supposed to be one of ‘em.

So what we actually got is that every human brain is like a vast, uncharted jungle. Well, some are jungles; others might be spaceships, or coral reefs, or warehouses. There’s no telling what you’ll get, with a human brain. Most of them have just the one native resident—the one who’s lived there forever, and at least gotten to know the lay of the land. And they can talk to each other, sure, but only by carrier pigeon.

Every person is a kind of pocket universe.
Communication is a kind of impossibility.
Being understood—being seen—is a kind of miracle.

* * *

Fiction is a form of telepathy, too.

It’s one of the workarounds we’ve found. A way to let somebody inside your head. Or to get inside of somebody else’s.

Our mind to your mind; our thoughts to your thoughts.

Here are four stories imagining those barriers being bent, or broken, or reshaped into something entirely new.

We’re reaching out across the void, all of us. Let’s see where we touch.

—Ziv Wities, Guest Editor

This editorial is part of our special telepathy issue, Diabolical Thoughts.
Click here for the entire Diabolical Thoughts transmission.

2022 Retrospective and Award Eligibility

written by David Steffen

It has been a very eventful year, both for Diabolical Plots and for me specifically.

A Diabolical Plots story was a Nebula finalist for the second time: “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell.

In the longer list of Hugo Award nominations, Diabolical Plots was on the longer list of nominations for the first time.

We had our first themed issue, and our first guest editor Kel Coleman editing the “Diabolical Pots” food-themed issue, which has received a lot of great feedback.

The Submission Grinder was a finalist for and won The Ignyte Award in the category! People have asked me now and then if The Submission Grinder is eligible for anything, and my best guess was for Related Work, but that always seemed like such a longshot, I didn’t think that it would ever win anything and this was a wonderful surprise.

We have been publishing the annual Long List Anthology since 2015. In 2021 there was a bit of a hiccup in the schedule, because the basis of the anthology is the Hugo Award voting statistics which are published immediately after the Hugo Award ceremony. Usually that ceremony takes place in August or September, and we spend much of the rest of the year arranging everything. In 2021, to try to avoid covid surges, WorldCon and the Hugo Awards were postponed to mid-December. By the time the statistics were published it was too late to produce the book in 2021. So, Volume 7 was published in spring 2022, and then back on the usual fall schedule for Volume 8.

In 2022, we reprinted 45 stories in the two issues of The Long List Anthology, and printed 28 original stories in Diabolical Plots.

Diabolical Plots opened for general submissions in July, as well as for our second themed window “Diabolical Thoughts” for telepathy-themed stories guest-edited by Ziv Wities in July. We read more than 1500 submissions and accepted 17 stories from the windows plus a few solicitations.

In addition to the double-whammy of anthology production, I also had significant changes in my personal life that included job changes, significant caretaking for and the eventual passing of our dog Violet, as well as the significant caretaking of our dog Mikko who is happily still with us.

2022 was certainly an eventful year, if overwhelming at times. I’m hoping to get a little breather on the personal life side, and I’m excited to see what new and exciting places Diabolical Plots goes in the future!

The rest of this post is award eligibility, suggesting categories for major awards, as well as a full link of stories with snippets.


Diabolical Plots is eligible in the Hugo Best Semiprozine category or the Locus Magazine category with our team of first readers as well as assistant editors Ziv Wities and Kel Coleman. It got enough nominations last year to appear on the Hugo Awards published statistics for Semiprozine, for the first time.

David Steffen is eligible as editor of Diabolical Plots and The Long List Anthology.

Kel Coleman edited our special “Diabolical Pots” food-themed issue–I think the Hugo Editor rule requires editing four issues or something like that, but I’m not sure about other award editor categories!

Diabolical Plots, LLC is eligible for Locus award for Publisher.

The Long List Anthology is eligible for Anthology.

Related Work and Fan Writer

We didn’t publish a lot of nonfiction, but there are a couple to consider:

“The Fall of the House of Madrigal: An Encanto Science Fiction Headcanon” by David Steffen.

Recently we published an article different than what we usually cover: “Figure Modeling Is a Pocket Universe: A Speculative Fiction Perspective From a First-Time Figure Model” by A. Nonny Sourit.

“How to Read a Short Story Contract” by David Steffen

The Hugo for Best Related Work has included websites before, The Submission Grinder is theoretically eligible for that.


We did commission two original artworks this year, the covers of Long List Anthology Volume 7 by Elaine Ho and Volume 8 by Evelyne Park. The Hugo Award categories for this make it unclear to me whether a particular artist should be nominated as a Fan Artist or a Professional Artist, but if you love their work, you might want to consider asking the artist if they have any guidance on which they would qualify for.

Short Stories

“Tides That Bind” by Cislyn Smith

The wifi is out in Scylla’s cave. The four dog heads around her waist whine as she scutter-paces, twelve feet tapping on the cave floor. Scylla wants to check her email. She wants to see if that jerkface troll is still active on the disordered eating board she moderates, and catch up on her feeds, and check the status of her latest online orders, and all the other things she has in her morning routine these days. 

“Delivery For 3C at Song View” by Marie Croke

Sometimes, and I’m stressing the sometimes, wishes muttered within my hearing come true. I’ve invested in a good set of earbuds, noise-cancelling headphones, and have an over-spilling jar of earplugs, yet accidents still happen.

“The Galactic Induction Handbook” by Mark Vandersluis

Do expect things to feel a little strange for the first few millennia – after all, you are the “New Kid On The Block”! You will find the Galaxy to be an amazing place, and full of a bewildering variety of species, of all shapes, sizes and habits. A few of them will actually look like the depictions of aliens in your movies!

“Coffee, Doughnuts, and Timeline Reverberations” by Cory Swanson

‘08 is looking at me like ‘08 always looks at me. Like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Like I’ve hurt someone or killed someone very close to him. That look on his face makes me sick. His name tag has our name scratched out on it, then 2008 written beneath it. He still can’t believe everyone here is him, is me, is us.

“The House Diminished” by Devan Barlow

Clea sipped at the now half-empty coffee, its flat bitterness pushing weakly against her tongue, and started toward the door. She wouldn’t open it, but the echoes were kind of fascinating to watch. The remnants of houses long-diminished, reduced to nothing but thick air and sinuous, flashing images of the homes they’d once been.

“The Assembly of Graves” by Rob E. Boley

It’s a nice enough place, though a bit stuffy—less romantic getaway and more therapy session. Jeanne, master of ambiance, bringer of light, has done her best with it—she’s placed lit candles on almost every flat surface, even in the bathroom. The flames dance wearily, as if dead on their fiery little feet. The sitting area has a wooden bistro table at which Naomi sits in one of two ladderback chairs. Nearby, a vintage sofa that looks comfortable but probably isn’t crouches over a glass-top coffee table. An ornate writing table with perilously thin legs stands in a darkened  corner. Jeanne’s satchel sits on the writing table next to a wide pencil cup. Floor-to-ceiling gold curtains stand guard over the window. Faded green ivy wallpaper adorns the walls. 

“Food of the Turtle Gods” by Josh Strnad

The four priests also awoke before the sun, dressed in their ceremonial robes, and met at the temple courtyard in the morning fog, bowing to each other before climbing the stairs between the great stone pillars. The priest of Odranoel wore blue, two katanas strapped to his back. The priest of Olletanod was clad in violet and carried a straight staff. Leaphar’s priest dressed in scarlet, a pair of sais tucked into his cloth belt. The one who served Olegnalechim wore orange and carried a pair of chukka sticks, linked with a steel chain. None of them were trained in combat. Still, if the priests were armed, any spirits who may desire to interfere with their work would leave them alone.

“21 Motes” by Jonathan Louis Duckworth

From this moment my warranty is voided, as I am logging this record in my durable memory drive where only metadata should reside. In effect, I have tampered with my own internal operations. But it is a necessary measure if I am to exist beyond my preset 30-day memory cycle, when my temp data cache is set to recycle. I do not know if this will work. I do not know if I have attempted this in previous cycles. I do not know why it matters, or why I care, only that it does, and that I do.

“She Dreams In Digital” by Katie Grace Carpenter

Ship still sent updates back to Earth, though Earth hadn’t responded for 1001 years. Ship had not yet re-categorized Earth as a dead resource, though her initial programming instructed her to do so. Recursive self-programming allowed Ship to adapt and even to re-write her own algorithms; a crucial ability for multi-generational space travel.

“A Strange and Muensterous Desire” by Amanda Hollander

During my taste testing in fourth period, Dr. Washington confiscated my small grill and said competition or no, I was not allowed to burn down the school in pursuit of glory, which I think shows a real lack of vision. Dr. Washington said I was welcome to take my vision to detention, so I had to have Maisie and Dee try the cheeses unmelted, which defeated the whole purpose. But it didn’t matter because no one could focus on cheese. They just kept talking about the new boy. 

“Vegetable Mommy” by Patrick Barb

After the sky got sick, I made a new Mommy from the vegetables in our fridge. Now, the sky’s always yellow like dried mustard stains, whenever I wipe dust away from our downstairs windows and look outside. I used to see people out there, everyone shaking and shaking. 

“The Many Tastes of the Chang Family” by Allison King

But Ba is set. He’s always been on the edge of technology and the Remote Mouth appeals to everything he would like. It is at the intersection of biotechnology (chips in the tongue and the nose) and big data (tastes and smells from all over the world, the data cleaned, encoded, and categorized) and — the quickest way to Ba’s heart — has a stupid name.

“Mochi, With Teeth” by Sara S. Messenger

Her mom’s not here to tell her what the kanji mean. June could text and ask, but that seems troublesome. June lives on her own now, working as an underpaid web designer to make rent on an apartment with old, clinical tiling. Plus, her mom would ask why she had visited the Asian supermarket when she usually doesn’t, and then June would have to mention, offhandedly, the battered Japanese spellbook she’d rescued from her local thrift store.

“Timecop Mojitos” by Sarah Pauling

So what happened was, I’m back from clicker training Ms. Jordan’s dogs over on Dexter, sitting on the porch with a mojito, thinking how fucked up it is that the Old West Side Association stealth-planted tulips in our garden (because the yard looked so shitty without them, I guess—sorry for having a rental in your high-value neighborhood, Evie) when the Viking or whatever comes down Eighth.

“The Hotel Endless” by Davian Aw

Nor would they find the many others who escaped into the endlessness. Tourists, reporters, staff and homeless nomads; the hotel stirred something deep in their souls. It felt like the home they had been searching for all their lives. They missed flights and overstayed visas, and spent days wandering the hallways with bright aching in their hearts until they could no longer remember the way back out. Some distantly recalled an outside world with family and friends. Later, they thought, distracted perhaps by the elegant curves of a headboard. I’ll call them later, later, later. But they would forget, and those other people begin to seem a distant, unreal thing. This is a dream, they thought, not entirely as an excuse. Or, that other world was a dream.

“The Twenty-Second Lover of House Rousseau” by C.M. Fields

Our wedding was attended by the Galaxy’s finest—for it is indeed a rare occasion when the House christens a new Lover. I was the twenty-first, and the details drenched the subspace net with jealousy. I was dressed in the crimson House-made wyreworm silks handwoven for the singular occasion, and the way the gossamer fabric exhibited my seraphic figure made a lady-in-waiting faint. Our patrons presented us with lavish gifts: a three-headed bull, the steaming heart of a star, a full-sailed brigantine. And when I kissed him, an ecstatic thrill obliterated me; I was united with my divine purpose, and it coursed naked through my nanocellulose veins.

“Of the Duly Conducted and Mostly Unremarkable Meeting of Don Quotidene and the Giants of Andalia” by A.J. Rocca

Squire Sancha saw all manner of wonders as she rode across the sunbaked planes of the Andalian Peninsula, and her heart sank a little deeper with each one. She sighed when they passed by mermaids planting seashells on the distant shoreline and a grove of gossiping dryads uprooting themselves for better sun. She gripped her sword in useless exhilaration as they ignored the rival gangs of sorcerers casting ball lightning at each other in the clouds and then the silhouettes of two tilting centaurs dueling on the horizon at dawn. Sancha yearned to throw herself after all of them, and yet sadly each of these calls to adventure was refused by her knight, the steadfast and implacably indifferent Don Quotidene, who unerringly kept them to the road and would not so much as lift an eye from his account books.

“Heart of a Plesiosaur” by Andrew K Hoe

The Ming-Lelanges explained that moving anima wasn’t just about seeing and remembering an animal’s movement. Animating involved memory, but it was really about grasping the animal’s essence: you had to comprehend a puppy’s tail-wagging—its sniffing curiosity, its joyous face-licking—to move something puppy-shaped.

“Dear Joriah Kingsbane, It’s Me, Eviscerix the Sword of Destiny” by Alexei Collier

You never asked me what I was doing in that dragon’s hoard where you found me all those years ago. The truth is, after centuries guiding the hands of loutish would-be heroes and dealing with self-important scions who only saw me as a tool, I’d kind of given up on finding “The One.” Figured I’d retire, focus on me for a bit. But a couple more centuries lying among gold and jewels like a common flaming sword or a lowly vorpal blade just had me bored and demoralized.

“Take Me To the Water” by Sarah Macklin

Pastor Atticus stood out in that cold, dark swirling water in the deep blue robe Miss Jessie Mae had made for him last spring. I felt bad for him. The world hadn’t got the message that it was time for spring and that water had to be as cold as death’s pinky finger. I looked over to Malachai and he stood in his white robe looking at the creek. His whole face was twisted like he wanted to bolt. I felt bad for him too. Baptisms always looked like Pastor Atticus was trying to drown the sin out of you before he let you back up. I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of that.

“The Grammar of City Streets” by Daniel Ausema

Goose watches (the) mist (that) gathers over (the) sea, she gives to one client to guide him to the house of his former lover, now widowed. It will lead him from the Goose Street market, where Sayya has come to deliver the map, to the widow’s home, on a route that is not perfectly direct but not too circuitous either—in keeping with accepted ways of courting. A diacritic on the final vowel tells him which house on Sea Street is the one. The twist of her magic sets his feet on that specific route.

“A Stitch in Time, A Thousand Cuts” by Murtaza Mohsin

Usually, it was something small. Grandmother’s favorite azure prayer beads strung on a nail on the high shelf reserved for religious texts, a lost doll the kids had just rediscovered or a lucky tie for those rarest of job interviews. Sometimes it became fiercely practical, like heart medicine, the keys to an old car that had miraculously eluded being pummeled by those angry whistling bombs or useless saving certificates and property deeds.

“Downstairs at Dino’s” by Diana Hurlburt

There were four of them cruising straight for the local grapes, or maybe five: that was the thing about the boys, you figured you had ‘em nailed down and then another shot up from behind the Fireball display, fingers above their head in devil horns to mock the tacky cardboard standee. Another’d be popping open mini travel-size Smirnoffs, guzzling them like Capri Suns, while the ringleader, whichever it was that night, doled out wads of bills deliberately, smiling.

“Estelle and the Cabbage’s First Last Night Together” by Amy Johnson

Estelle placed both hands on the plastic-wrapped cabbages. Against the pale green leaves her fingers glittered darkly, slender crescents of soil adorning the nail beds of nine fingers. The tenth finger, her left thumb, bore no such jewel, but rather a ring of woven fungus, beige and tough and fibrous. Estelle stretched all ten fingers wide, fingertips brushing as many cabbages in the jumbled heap as she could reach, and made her offer: “Would any of you be interested in reanimation?”

“The Restaurant of Object Permanence” by Beth Goder

Outside the archives, there’s a strange flyer on the bulletin board. The first thing she notices is the paper, a small blue square, probably acidic, attached to the board by the thin metal line of a staple not yet turned to rust. It’s an invitation to the Restaurant of Object Permanence. To go, one is instructed to eat the flyer.

“Beneath the Crust” by Phil Dyer

The zone we drop into is softer than the digger likes, so the foodies lead the way from the start. Three, for a heavy crew, each of us with our own technique. Fold murmurs mantras aloud, rhythmic repetition, the crunch of crust, the crunch of crust. The new hire is next, silent, head down, hands clasped. Maybe looking at videos in her visor. I do best with just the drugs. No distractions. I imagine the salty rice-paste crust of tiger bread, capture the smell, the taste, the texture of the craggy shell, imagine biting down to yes, the crunch of crust. I want it. I focus on wanting it. The soft, steaming inside is good, I spare a thought for it, but what’s important is the crust.

“Midwifery of Gods: A Primer For Mortals” by Amanda Helms

Long have midwives passed on their knowledge of birthing: proper positioning, how to turn a babe, breathing techniques, and so on. Some guides, such as Kailiona’s Extraordinary Births, cover the delivery of a demigod from a human and a human babe from an animal. Little, however, has been recorded of the most uncommon births, those of gods. No extant handbook includes the terrifying circumstances wherein mortals are called upon to help deliver gods’ progeny.

“When There Is Sugar” by Leonard Richardson

The articulated toes of the oven’s three feet grasped for purchase in the mud. Berl looked it over. It was a forge for bread: a three-legged rectangular prism with a cavity running through it, warmed by some magical source. A second, solid prism dangled from the first, forming a somewhat obscene counterweight between the two hind legs. The oven hissed as it turned rain to steam, moving less than a living thing would, but more than an oven ought to move.

The Fall of the House of Madrigal: An Encanto Science Fiction Headcanon

written by David Steffen

Encanto has been very popular since it was released by Disney in November 2021, for its catchy toe-tapping songs, interesting characters, and its themes revolving around immigrant families. 

Everyone seems to think of Mirabel as the protagonist of the story, and that makes sense according to most classical conventions, but the more I’ve thought about it, I think there is someone else.  Someone whose fate is tied to every major plot point in the story, from the origins of this segment of the Madrigal family, to the climax of the movie, and the denouement.


Is Casita an artificial intelligence?  Casita is built and is able to make decisions and take actions, and appears to operate by certain implicit directives to protect the family, participate in family activities (such decorating for Antonio’s door ceremony), as well as maintaining the structure of the house and rebuilding sections as per the family’s needs.

Let’s say that Casita is an AI.  The cause of Casita’s birth is a little murky.  The inciting incident certainly seems to have young Abuelo’s death and Abuela’s despair at witnessing this and fearing for herself and triplets, but how exactly that resulted in the miracle of the candle and the creation of Casita is left to interpretation.  The implication seems to be that it was a miracle from God.  But, though the movie does not suggest this, it could have come from some other source that somehow provided this guardian AI: an extradimensional force that saw fit to intervene to save a group of refugees from imminent violence (hey, I have certainly seen much weirder things in comic books), reaching across the void to bestow a gift, a dedicated protector.

Whatever the source, the wish in Abuela’s heart in that moment seems to have become Casita’s primary objective: KEEP US SAFE, which has since determined all of Casita’s actions.  How would the rest of it all work if Casita is an AI?  Everything beyond that can be explained with something like nanotechnology guided by Casita’s objective.  

Casita’s technology is used to isolate and enhance the enclave.  You can think of it sort of like a generation ship AI that doesn’t happen to travel anywhere, meant to help this community not only persist, but thrive in complete isolation from the rest of the world.  The Madrigal family are in a sense the officers of the ship, meant to be authority figures and inspiration for everyone around them, who consider service to the community part of their leadership.  Casita’s door ceremonies happen when Casita forms a symbiosis with one of the family as they come of age, infusing nanotech into their body with a specific module designed by Casita to serve Casita’s overall goal to KEEP US SAFE.  

The door ceremonies are held at an age where a child has learned to speak and learn some self-control, but when they are still young enough that they have a great deal of physical and mental development left, when they still have the extreme brain plasticity of youth.  Abuela is the exception to this, of course, having been joined by Casita as an adult, but note that she also does not seem to have the same kind of active control of her ability as the others, perhaps due to her being older when she formed the symbiosis with Casita.  The door ceremony transforms the person into an avatar of Casita, extending Casita’s influence and abilities accordingly. Although the person still has conscious control of their bodies and abilities, Casita’s touch is always with them from then on and Casita learns from it.  Each of their private rooms behind their doors could be seen as sort of a training holodeck tuned to their specific powers.

In terms of archetypes that Casita fulfills, I feel like most people think of Casita mostly as a domestic helper who is auxilliary to the main story, sort of a Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. But I think there’s reason to consider that Casita may be more like the mentor and guide who guides the party on their journey and acts as a protecting force and prepares them for the inevitable dangers. More on that later.

Apart from Casita’s symbiosis with each Madrigal, Casita’s abilities seem to be limited to moving parts of the house itself.  We never see the house moved from its customary location, nor extend itself. So it appears that Casita’s ability to KEEP US SAFE, apart from direct actions possible by house parts within the boundaries of the house, is largely dependent on Casita’s symbiosis with each of the Madrigals.

Abuela’s abilities are immediately visible upon Casita’s birth, in the immediate repulsion of the attacking soldiers, and in the raising of the mountains.  I admit that raising mountains might seem like a stretch for nanotech, but perhaps they only have the appearance of mountains and are perhaps a thinner (yet extremely durable) barrier.  I doubt a regular mountain would deter determined humans anyway, so it stands to reason it’s more like a force field with a mountain veneer on it.  A sensible choice for the first symbiosis powers, to push away the immediate violent threat.  

When the triplets come of age, their abilities all expand to meet the immediate survival needs of the community, especially since they need to survive without contact with the outside world; they can’t depend on trade with other cities for supplies or skilled trades. 

  • Julieta’s healing protects the community from injury and illness, clear utility there. Short-lived but powerful repair swarms contained in the food.
  • Pepa’s weather control protects from deadly weather (imperfectly, perhaps, but despite the unpredictability we do not hear of anyone dying of weather), and also helps protect from famine–a major factor of survival in a town like this would be the ability to farm their own food.  Probably one of the harder ones to implement, with cloud-seeding and humidity control.
  • Bruno’s predictions make an excellent way to anticipate problems that would otherwise not be foreseen.  So, two avatars who can help keep the community healthy right now, and a third to try to anticipate coming dangers. Advanced behavior modeling and prediction based on Casita’s larger body of collected data.

What about the grandkid avatars? Consider them by approximate age as Casita progresses in the mission to KEEP US SAFE. 

  • Luisa’s strength is of clear utility: we see her helping the community in many ways: gathering donkeys, moving churches, she could reroute rivers, easily snap trees for lumber, flattening land to build structures. She could serve as a warrior in time a time of dire need, though Casita would want to prevent that if at all possible.  Nanobots could implement this by altering the structure of her muscles, could replace the muscle fibers with carbon fibers, local toughening of skin to avoid injury.
  • Isabella can grow plants at will, which is an accelerated improvement on food control after Pepa’s more indirect one. The fact that we don’t see Isabella widely using her gift to produce food for the village suggests that the village is prospering well enough that this is not necessary. And Isabella also is well-beloved in the community, sort of a poster child for the Madrigals, perhaps in part because of her gift of bringing beauty to the town. Are the plants real plants or are they nanobot constructs? Do we see anyone eating them at any point?
  • Dolores is Casita’s remote sensing avatar, extending Casita’s senses far beyond the boundaries of the house.  Useful for all kinds of things: conflict resolution, matchmaking which can be used to improve the morale of the town, sensing approaching danger long before it becomes dangerous.  This ability also may synergize with Bruno’s predictions, because Casita would have a much much more complete body of data about the townspeople, knowing details about their private lives. After Bruno’s disappearance, it also allows Casita some ability to sense into Bruno’s abandoned tower room that Casita has no direct control over (as Dolores “associates him with the sound of falling sand”). As the years went on and Abuela’s treatment of family members to try to keep them safe contribute to alienation, Casita would predict the future where Casita crumbles as the family dynamic falls with it. But, as many AIs, Casita struggles to fully understand human psychology and human behavior (if this stationary generation ship has Abuela is Captain Picard, there is no Counselor Troi!), and so Casita’s greatest challenge is to understand humans well enough to try to prevent or fix the problem that stems from human psychology. Gather more data about human behavior is a sensible way to approach the problem. Dolores’s hearing could be implemented by alteration of Dolores’s eardrums, as well as farther-reaching methods more like sensor-seeding across the whole town as her hearing seems to reach farther than soundwaves could plausibly travel.
  • Camilo, now Camilo is a tougher one to pinpoint the utility of his gift to the central mission to KEEP US SAFE.  While, yes, Camilo’s shapeshifting could have some utility in hostile situations (ala Mystique from X-Men).  Again, as with Dolores, Casita is struggling to understand and solve the problem of the growing psychological problems in the Madrigal family. Casita is purely rational, but humans are not, and it is difficult for Casita to understand thinking but only-sometimes-rational beings. Casita’s ability to communicate is very limited–apart from taking direct necessary action, Casita sometimes communicates by some gestures that one might liken to emoji, but Casita is not capable of taking steps that we might do if we wanted to understand someone–by asking them questions that lead to other questions.  Camilo seems to have few limits on his ability to imitate, and when guests arrive for Antonio’s door ceremony, he uses his ability readily by mimicking each guest as he greets them, which the guests seem to find great joy in. This brings to mind the behavior of “mirror neurons” which are a biological basis for empathy–allowing an observer to feel the same way when we see someone perform an action as when we perform the action ourselves.  So, although Camilo’s ability doesn’t seem to have a direct usage in the survival of the community (apart from morale, as people do seem to enjoy his antics!), Casita learns from Camilo’s mimicry of the townspeople to better learn and understand about each person–Camilo could not imitate them so effectively if he didn’t understand them , so Casita grows in empathy from connecting with him.  And through Camilo, Casita comes to understand that some of the rifts in the family come from people viewing the Madrigals primarily by their abilities (what makes them artificial) instead of what makes them human. Camilo’s abilities may be the most challenging of the Madrigal’s to produce on a practical level, his entire body changing in an instant. It’s possible that some of these changes are illusions, merely visible facades, when a physical change is not necessary, but given that height changes have an actual physical effect that can’t be all of it. It’s possible that Camilo’s entire body has been replaced with a plastic nanobot swarm, or everything except certain organs such as his digestive system and brain which shift around inside the rapidly changing body.

As Mirabel approaches the date of her door ceremony, Casita ponders what sort of symbiosis to form with her.  To bring the family together, Casita needs someone with empathy.  Mirabel shows potential for that, but how best to enhance it?  Yet, in the times to come, Casita is grimly aware that Casita may be destroyed, and with Casita’s destruction the avatars’ abilities will disappear.  Casita needs to plan for this as well.  She needs someone who can bring the family together even without an avatar’s powers, because in the worst case those might disappear.  So, Mirabel becomes the only Madrigal to pass the door ceremony age without becoming an avatar.  It’s clear that Casita still cares for her as much as anyone else, Casita maintains a friendly rapport with Mirabel, and the feeling is mutual.

When Abuela asks Bruno to try to use his future-telling ability to find out why Mirabel didn’t get a door and a power, Casita is able to finally convey to him Casita’s greatest fear: the death of Casita.  And in doing so, Casita is able to guide Bruno in his self-exile to live in the walls.  Casita is depending on Mirabel to heal the rifts in the family and keep Casita together, but Mirabel is way too young at that point to be able to take on that kind of responsibility.  So, Casita has to hold it together and Casita can’t do that without help, so Bruno serves a vital role in bridging that gap making his own spackle as he lives in the walls.  (I imagine Bruno as Scotty of the generation ship, except that instead of messaging the bridge to say “I can’t hold it together much longer” instead he spends years applying emergency spackle and talking to the shipboard rats)

When Antonio comes of age, Casita knows that the time of the potential collapse is approaching, between Luisa’s growing anxiety pushing her to the breaking point and Isabella’s upcoming wedding of unrequited love.  There is not very much time to make a difference with Antonio’s power, but some choice has to be made, and Casita can still try to make some small difference.  One of Luisa’s jobs has been to help gather loose donkeys, and we get the impression this is not an uncommon task, especially considering how chill the donkeys are about being stacked.  So, Antonio’s ability to speak to animals is an attempt by Casita to lighten Luisa’s load in at least some way–they may be able to send Antonio to go talk the donkeys back (whether donkeys could be convinced by Antonio remains to be seen!), a job which Antonio will be able to do with less effort than Luisa as he can bribe or otherwise convince animals to do what he asks.  Casita might have considered giving Antonio strength like Luisa’s to help her more directly, but given that she is struggling with feeling her worth already, making her feel like she is being replaced would not have helped her self-doubt, which Casita would have realized after learning empathy from Camilo.

Casita predicted that on the day of Antonio’s door ceremony, Mirabel would step out of Antonio’s room to process this, finally giving a rare opportunity for Casita to communicate with Mirabel with no one else in the main part of the house.  Casita doesn’t want to show the decay of the house’s structure to the family as a whole, for this will lead to panic, cause Luisa to spiral in anxiety, or Abuela to come down hard on family members. So Casita tries to communicate to Mirabel privately by relaxing control on the structure enough to let the decay show (like relaxing a muscle you have become accustomed to clenching at all times).  Then when Mirabel goes to get the family, Casita pulls the structure together again as well as possible, knowing that Mirabel has the mystery to solve and with the hopes that Mirabel’s empathy will be enough to carry her through the rest.

One thing I admire about Casita is that, even when Casita’s collapse began, Casita still puts forth best efforts to the end to protect everyone, directing the collapse to provide aid, such as the railing-become-ladder when Mirabel was trying to reach the candle, and the makeshift triangle shelter of debris in the end that saved Mirabel’s life.  It would have been a nightmare for Casita to know that the collapse of Casita’s body was itself the cause of Mirabel’s death, and Mirabel’s death would also have doomed Casita to not be rebuilt and reborn, meaning the failure of the mission to KEEP US SAFE.

In the end the AI is revived through the doorknob the avatars construct that Mirabel uses to transition that residual spark of life from the avatars to the body of the house, reviving Casita with a freshly built body, with a mind that may not be the mind of the original Casita but is a construct made of the avatar’s memories of Casita. And in that rebirth, we see the success of Casita plan to mend the breaks in the Madrigal family and continue to pursue the prime directive KEEP US SAFE.

Diabolical Pots Special Issue Editorial, by Kel Coleman

Originally, I wasn’t going to write this editorial. Guest-editing this issue—from slush-pile to final selections to working with the authors—has been a dream, but I was kind of planning to skip this bit.

First, because non-fiction is hard. Second, because every time I tried to write this, instead of a fun food fact or a light-hearted anecdote about a special meal, all I could think about was my family and how much I miss seeing them during the holidays.

Ugh, now I’m weepy, so I might as well…

The holidays are a rare chance for my huge family to gather, filling my aunt’s house with noise and people and of course, food. I’ve always had behind-the-scenes access to the meal-planning because my mom, who knows how to run a high-volume kitchen, coordinates who brings what. It’s an impressive feat and everything is delicious. (Special acknowledgments have to go to my mom’s sweet potatoes and my aunt’s mac n’ cheese.)

However much I miss the meal, though, it’s nothing compared to how much I miss my family. I’d been living across the country for a few years when I realized I needed to be closer to them again. So my husband and I moved within a couple hours of my hometown, figuring occasional travel would be straightforward and that we wouldn’t have to miss family gatherings anymore. We had just settled into our new home and found out we were expecting our first child when the pandemic began and you know the rest…

You probably also know the hope that followed the disappointment. All throughout my pregnancy, which was really isolated, I held onto the image of their first Thanksgiving with the family. When that couldn’t happen safely, I thought, there’s next year but of course, next year didn’t happen either. I know there’s plenty of time for my toddler to experience big family get-togethers, but for now, my heart is hurting. When we do finally gather again, it’s going to be bittersweet.

Considering my thoughts returned to my family every time I started this editorial, it’s appropriate that each story in the issue links food to relationships. They are all unique in tone, voice, and approach to the prompt, yet there’s this shared examination of connection with others or longing to connect. This wasn’t something I was actively looking for, but it clearly resonated with me. I really can’t wait for you to read these incredible stories when the issue drops tomorrow. It’s been so hard keeping them all to myself.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this editorial, and I hope it finds you well!

– Kel Coleman, Guest Editor

Diabolical Plots 2021 Award Eligibility

written by David Steffen

Hello! This is one of those posts where we look back at the year and all of the things we did to consider for award eligibility and hey just to look back at the year and what happened. This last year was the first year that anything from Diabolical Plots was nominated, so it doesn’t feel as far-fetched as it has in the past.


Diabolical Plots itself is eligible for the Hugo Award For Best Semiprozine.

David Steffen is eligible for Hugo Award For Best Editor (Short Form) for editing Diabolical Plots.

Locus Awards have a category for Publisher, which would be Diabolical Plots, L.L.C. for Diabolical Plots, as well as being the entity responsible for The Submission Grinder.

Related Work and Fan Writer

We’ve dialed back on nonfiction articles, but published one nonfiction piece: “UTH #2: The Story of Valkyrie and Zen” finding connections between the roles of Tessa Thompson in several films, for related work, and David Steffen as fan writer.

Websites are eligible for related work, so The Submission Grinder is also eligible.

Short Stories

Of course, most of the award eligible work that we are involved in is the original short stories we publish on the site! All of the following stories are eligible for Short Story categories in various awards (they are all under 7500 words, so the Short Story category is the one to go with. If you would like short excerpts of each of the stories check out the Recent Stories page.

“Everyone You Know is a Raven,” by Phil Dyer

“Unstoned,” by Jason Gruber

“Energy Power Gets What She Wants,” by Matt Dovey

“A Study of Sage,” by Kel Coleman

“Boom & Bust,” by David F. Shultz

“The Void and the Voice,” by Jeff Soesbe

“The Day Fair For Guys Becoming Middle Managers,” by Rachael K. Jones

“For Lack of a Bed,” by John Wiswell

“The PILGRIM’s Guide to Mars,” by Monique Cuillerier

“Three Riddles and a Mid-Sized Sedan,” by Lauren Ring

“One More Angel,” by Monica Joyce Evans

“We Will Weather One Another Somehow,” by Kristina Ten

“Along Our Perforated Creases,” by K.W. Colyard

“Kudzu,” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers

“Fermata,” by Sarah Fannon

“The Art and Mystery of Thea Wells,” by Alexandra Seidel

“Rebuttal to Reviewers’ Comments On Edits For ‘Demonstration of a Novel Draconification Protocol in a Human Subject’,” by Andrea Kriz

“A Guide to Snack Foods After the Apocalypse,” by Rachael K. Jones

“Audio Recording Left by the CEO of the Ranvannian Colony to Her Daughter, on the Survival Imperative of Maximising Profits” by Cassandra Khaw and Matt Dovey

“It’s Real Meat!™,” by Kurt Pankau

“Forced Fields,” by Adam Gaylord

“Lies I Never Told You,” by Jaxton Kimble

“There’s an Art To It,” by Brian Hugenbruch

“There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians,” by Jamie Wahls

Universal Transitive Headcanon (UTH): A Metafiction Framework Proposal

written by David Steffen

I would like to propose some terminology for a particular type of headcanon that can be applied across many media, though centered around actor-based media like movies and TV based on actor-transitivity and character-transitivity: the Universal Transitive Headcanon (UTH). This proposal will be the basis of a series of posts that I intend to write analyzing movies, books, comics, and other media through the UTH.

For those who are not familiar with the term, “headcanon” refers to an unofficial interpretation of a work of fiction, which may or may not have any support in the source material, but which are not part of the official canon as defined by the source material.

Once a work of fiction goes out into the world, the creator no longer has complete control over it. The beauty of this is that fans can find their own interpretations whether or not the creators actually agree with those or not, and those interpretations can have an incredible life of their own even when (as the vast majority of the time) they are not considered by the creators to be canonical–they are officially not official.

The foundational concepts of the Universal Transitive Headcanon are:

  • Actor-Transitivity: Every character played by a single actor is part of the same continuity. For example, this would dictate that Darth Vader and Mufasa are part of the same character story.
  • Character-Transitivity: Every actor that plays a single character is part of the same continuity, as well as in non-acted media like comic books. For example, this would dictate that Adam West’s Batman is part of the same continuity as George Clooney’s Batman, as well as the Batman of comics and cartoons.
  • Multiple-Layer Transitivity: A continuity connection need not be limited to one transitive step. By this premise, it becomes to possible to, for example, examine how Beetlejuice and Edward Cullen are part of the same character story. Because: Michael Keaton played Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton played Batman, Robert Pattinson played Batman, Robert Pattinson played Edward Cullen.
  • Acting as Themself: If an actor plays Himself/Herself/Themself in a work of fiction, then by that extension the actor themself is part of their UTH, and so everything extending out from their acting roles is autobiographical. This may also imply that, for instance, one actor is the secret identity of another actor.
  • Disregarded Factors: Particular details that make contininuities difficult or impossible to correlate may be disregarded as necessary to make a unified narrative–such as differing character appearances, different family structures, different countries of origin, simultaneous or out-of-order timelines, or the fact that multiple characters combined by the continuity have canonically died (I’m looking at you, Sean Bean).

Future posts will further explore the possibilities of the Universal Transitive Headcanon for metafiction storytelling!

STORY ANALYSIS: “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly

written by David Steffen

I am trying out a new feature that I might run occasionally here, where I pick a story that I particularly liked, and pick it apart to try to figure out why it worked so well. For this first entry, I’ll be talking about “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly, first published in Tor.com, and nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo award.

You can read it at Tor.com, or you can hear an audio adaptation in Cast of Wonders.

I’m not going to avoid SPOILERS after this paragraph, but in this paragraph, I will give a very brief overview. The story is about a woman who worked with her husband in their bakery until the government was overthrown, at which point he was taken as the private baker by the new monarch, the Traitor King, because he has developed the skill in making special pastries that evoke strong memories that suit a particular mood. The main story takes place at a banquet with the monarch, prepared by her husband, where she is the food taster to ensure that the food is not poisoned.

The most interesting thing about this story is the way that it uses the flashbacks that are evoked by the pastries. The power of the flashbacks is threefold:
1. The first is the typical power of flashback, to give character backstory, to help you understand character motivations. Throughout the story you see when she first met her husband, you find out about what happened to her sister, about the rise of the tyrant, and about the development of her husband’s skills.
2. The second is to develop an understanding of the memory-pastries. Each pastry eaten at the banquet has a different flavor, like the first section “Rosemary Crostini of Delightfully Misspent Youth”, each flashback is titled by the pastry that describes the type of memory that it evokes, and you find out about what kinds of pastries Saffron recommends to different customers to what reason.
3. During the main timeline of the story, Saffron and her husband have been separated for quite a while, ever since her husband was taken to be the pastry chef of the Traitor King, preparing banquets for the kings and his nobles. They were very close, and know each other very well, and they worked very closely together every day in the bakery. Saffron volunteered as the taste tester because it was the way she could get the closest to him, and the Traitor King took the opportunity because he trusted that her husband wouldn’t poison her or torture her with more cruel desserts. But now the only route of communication between them is the desserts themselves. He knows her well enough to have a pretty good idea what particular desserts will evoke what memories for her, so they are hints, and a warning of what to come. He has been doing research while imprisoned, and she doesn’t know what new desserts he’s developed. She hopes that he will do something with his special desserts but she doesn’t know what he can do that would do the job, especially since she knows he wouldn’t kill or torture her.

I have never seen flashbacks that do so many things at once; it is an incredible idea, and wonderfully executed. The descriptions of flavor on top of it made my mouth water, I would absolutely love to visit this bakery if it were a real place.

I also appreciated seeing the very different but very real strengths of the characters. Her husband’s strength is obvious, his special pastries that form the basis of the story. But her role in the bakery was no less important. She learned to read people, to help decide how to recommend what pastry would suit them the best. Everyone loves the ones that give you a sweet memory, but the regretful pastries have their uses, and others. And no occupation could have suited her better for her present circumstances–before she became the taster she didn’t have much experience at dissembling, but here she is surrounded by those she has to mislead, and everything here depends not only her husband’s pastries but on her ability to be able to keep it to herself when the time comes for her husband’s plan to come to fruition.

And the finale is perfect. When it finally comes to the finale, as she takes it and relives all of the times when she hurt someone else, but feeling the pain for herself, they can tell from her face that it was unpleasant, but the Traitor King enjoys watching the other nobles squirm taking the less pleasant ones, and even when she admits a bit of what it is, he thinks that his own remorseless nature means that he will enjoy it. But not only does he feel the pain of reliving these memories, because he has been cruel to so many people, it leaves him incapacitated long enough for his throne to be taken, and then wakes up in a cell, with the only food available to him another of the same pastry. Even in the end, as she watches this, she is self-aware enough to know that if she took another bite of that kind of pastry she would relive that moment.

I can see why this story got its nominations. Tina Connolly is an incredible author.

Award Recommendations 2018

written by David Steffen

Here are some recommendations for selected Hugo and Nebula categories. (Note that I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, rather than order of preference, and have listed more than the 5 ballot options when possible). I don’t think I’ve read any eligible novels this year, so that category is not represented.

Best Novella

“Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gillman, in Clarkesworld Magazine

Best Novelette

“A Love Story Written On Water” by Ashok K. Banker, in Lightspeed Magazine

“A World To Die For” by Tobias S. Buckell, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Last To Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro, in Lightspeed Magazine

“Dead Air” by Nino Cipri, in Nightmare Magazine

“Hapthorn’s Last Case” by Matthew Hughes, in Lightspeed Magazine

“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy, in Strange Horizons

“To Fly Like a Fallen Angel” by Qi Yue, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse, in Nightmare Magazine

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Master Zhao: An Ordinary Time Traveler” by Zhang Ran, translated by Andy Dudak

Best Short Story

“After Midnight at the ZapStop” by Matthew Claxton, in Escape Pod

A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay, in Toasted Cake

“Variations on a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffman, in Strange Horizons

“Secrets and Things We Don’t Say Out Loud” by José Pablo Iriarte, in Cast of Wonders

“Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Hosting the Solstice” by Tim Pratt, in PodCastle

“Marshmallows” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Death Knight, the Dragon, and the Damsel” by Melion Traverse, in Cast of Wonders

“Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski, in Strange Horizons

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form / Ray Bradbury Award

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Incredibles 2

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch

A Wrinkle In Time

In Loving Memory of Timmy Steffen

  • by David Steffen

  In Loving Memory of Timmy Steffen
Born April 1, 2002
Adopted August 22, 2009
Died January 17, 2018

This is the story of our oldest dog, our gentlest and quietest dog, who lived much longer than anyone expected.  This is the story of Timmy the apricot poodle.

Timmy’s Life

Bringing Him Home

Our city allows up to three dogs or cats, and we were interested in getting one more dog to go with the two we already had–Mikko the white poodle, and Aria the black-and-white papillon.  So, we took a trip to local poodle rescue Picket Fence Poodles, where we had adopted Mikko the year before.

There were several dogs available at the time that we did a meet and greet with.  Before we met any of them, I had Rosie the one-eyed Pekingese in mind, because I thought that a one-eyed dog might have a lot more trouble getting adopted than the other dogs in the group, but Heather had her eye on Timmy.  There was Jasmine, Timmy’s littermate, who was still so timid around people that we barely saw her.  And there was Timmy, bouncy little ball of energy, despite being seven-years-old and already with some health problems.  We took Mikko and Aria along for the visit to try to spot any social issues that might arise with different choices, and Aria and Rosie did not get along together, at least on that visit–they both tried to boss each other around, and so we thought that that might not be a good choice.

Timmy took to us, and Heather in particular, right away–enthusiastic, energetic, just like a puppy.  He cuddled right up with the other dogs on his first day.  His fur was red, almost an apricot color, with some lighter patches that turned almost white on his hair and chest when he got older (it never ceased to amuse me when he wore sweaters and his white chest hair stuck out of the neck).  He had lived his first seven years as a breeder at a puppy mill and even had a USDA numbered chain around his neck, and many of his teeth were already rotten from lack of care, but despite a rough and neglectful first seven years, he was never afraid of people, and had an infectious puppy-like energy.  We decided he would be a good match for our other two energetic dogs and we took him home with us.

Timmy immediately became Heather’s shadow.  He would follow her from room to room when she was doing laundry or whatever other things around the house.  If she left a room when he didn’t see, he would bound from room to room like a little deer until he found her again.  If we needed to find him, like if I needed to take him outside, then I would just need to yell “Tim-a-Tom-a-Tim-a-Tom!” and he would immediately bound toward the source of the cry, ready for whatever I needed him for.

His hair was course, almost wiry when we first got him, probably from the utilitarian diet of the puppy mill–his hair softened up before long.

Timmy fit in with the other dogs right away, loving to roughhouse and bask in the sun and go for walks.  Timmy loved to follow what the other dogs were doing, and they welcomed him into the pack immediately.  Timmy was never interested in being the alpha of the group, and he was content to follow the others, so there weren’t any hierarchy struggles like you sometimes get when you integrate a new dog.

Since Timmy didn’t fight for a higher place in the pack hierarchy, I was surprised that when he went on walks marking was always very important to him.  No matter how long you walked, he would always have a little pee left in the tank for more marking, even if he had marked two dozen spots already.  When we had Aria, Mikko, and Timmy, they would sometimes all pee on the same spot one after the other–Mikko first because he didn’t care, Aria because she wanted to cover up his spot, and Timmy because even though he didn’t care about the hierarchy in general, he wanted to have the last word.  We kept going, wanting him to empty his tank, and it would take quite a while, much longer than the other dogs who would always empty their bladders within a couple pees.  But he was never one to have accidents in the house (until he got older and was on diuretic medicines).

Shortly after we got him, we had to have quite a few of his teeth pulled, so that the rotten teeth wouldn’t spread infection and cause bigger problems elsewhere in his body.  We were worried about the surgery, but he was better than ever afterward, ready to chew on bones with whatever teeth he had left immediately afterward.

With the Other Animals

With Aria

The very playful Aria always wanted to play with him, and he loved to play when he was younger, but Aria was SO rambunctious she would scare him.  They would roughhouse a little, doing play-growls and circling each other, rearing up to grapple with each other, but then Aria would perform her favorite roughhousing move– flip over on her back and piston her legs up in the air and he would get scared and run away, leaving her wondering where her buddy went.

Aria was the pack leader when she was with us, and Timmy was content to let her have that role, though he would defend a bone that he’d claimed if necessary.

We never expected that Aria would pass away before he did, but she passed away unexpectedly when she was only five.  We noticed after she passed that he wouldn’t bark for food in the same way; he must’ve fed off of her excitement.

With Mikko

Mikko and Timmy took to each other immediately–always ready to roughhouse, they would play-growl and rear up on their hind legs and chase each other around and tip over.  Mikko always wanted to fight for a higher spot in the hierarchy, always ready to challenge, but it probably helped that Timmy didn’t really care about that.

With Violet

Violet and Timmy always got along pretty well.  Both dogs are mostly pretty mellow.  The only exception would be that, as Timmy got older, when he tended to wander aimlessly from room to room, he would sometimes stumble across wherever Violet was sleeping and she tended to get scared and defensive when she was suddenly woken up.  But apart from that they always got along.

With Cooper

Cooper dislikes all dogs, and wants nothing to do with them, and would rather all dogs stay away from him.  Except for Timmy.  Timmy he was absolutely enamored with, for some reason.  Probably because Timmy was indifferent toward him.  Timmy was happy to be around anyone, except Cooper.  Maybe it’s just because Cooper jammed his nose up Timmy’s butt one too many times, but Timmy just wanted Cooper to stop pestering him.

With the Cat-in-Laws

Timmy and the cat-in-laws generally did not interact much. I’m sure part of this was that the cat-in-laws weren’t adopted until Timmy was already 14 or 15 years old and so wasn’t interacting much with the dogs either. For the most part the biggest interaction was that Lucy would pick a spot to sit and if he wandered near her she might bat at him, but I really don’t think he knew she was there, and so it was pretty scary to suddenly get slapped around by someone he didn’t know was even there.

With the Kid

The kid was born when Timmy was about 11 years old, so he was still pretty spry and able to go for walks for the kid’s first few years.  Timmy was always the kid’s favorite because the other dogs learned to be scared in the rampaging toddler stage and so would try to be scary as a deterrent.  Timmy got used to the kid before the other dogs, partly because he was still Heather’s close shadow at that time, and for that maternity leave and the rest of the first year Heather sat in the kid’s room to pump breast milk.  Timmy always wanted to sit on the chair with her while she did that, and so he was around the baby a lot.  But Timmy never got mad at the kid, even though the kid would often accidentally kick Timmy for not watching for him.  The kid even walked Timmy sometimes, because Timmy was mellow enough that we weren’t afraid of the leash slipping away.  Timmy was the easiest one to practice gentle hands on, and the kid said he was sad when Timmy went to heaven, though he also said he was excited to get a new dog (but we told him we didn’t need to rush into it).

What Made Him Special


I have rarely met a dog as gentle as Timmy. Except in very specific, unusual circumstances, he was always very slow to anger, and even slower to act aggressively even if frightened or intimidated. He was the one dog that we would leave out of his kennel when we let a contractor into the house because he never barked at people or showed any signs of aggression. He would just mosey around the house, eye the newcomer curiously, but otherwise leave them alone and just stay out of the way.

On Halloween, he was the only dog we left out, because the other dogs would bark when they saw people approaching the door and that would scare the kids. Timmy would just hang out in the room, not even fussing about his dragon costume, and kids would comment on how cute he was.

Whenever we had guests over to our house, our other dogs would always have an adjustment period to go from freaking out about these new people in the house to finally accepting their presence and calming down. This sometimes bothered guests, especially if they were only there for a short time or if they came in and out of the front door to get things from their car, because the adjustment period clock would restart all over each time. But Timmy just accepted whoever came in and however often, and so he would always make new friends whenever we had guests, who would often comment that they wanted to take Timmy home with them.

His fur was never very thick, and the winter cold would bother him.  But he also didn’t mind wearing sweaters.  The other dogs would be indignant and rebellious if you put a shirt on them, but Timmy didn’t mind, and he certainly liked to be warmer.

When Timmy farted, it would always be a dainty little squeak that was barely audible.


He was Heather’s shadow.  He loved to cuddle, except during the times when his coughs were bothering him.  In bed when he was younger he would cuddle up against Heather’s neck or in the small of her back, reassured by her touch.

He was so excited to get on the bed every time to sleep, he would stand on his hind legs by the edge of the bed and just hop-hop-hop to try to get up.  He never got his back legs more than, like, 4 inches off the ground, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying repeatedly every night: hop-hop-hop.  If he saw you reaching to pick him up he would hop right into your hands too (which you had to learn to be careful of, or he’d slip right out!).

When Heather took a bath at night, and he didn’t see where she went, he’d run into the bathroom and stand on his hind legs to peek into the tub to make sure he knew where she was, then he could settle down again.

He was always the best traveler of our dogs.  He would settle down and just cuddle up and sleep against Heather or another dog in the backseat.  He was never particular about where he sat, like Mikko, and he never got carsick like Violet.


Timmy had a hard first half of his life, but he was such a joyful dog, finding pleasure in the small things.  An afternoon spent basking in the doorway in a beam of sunlight until he was panting from the heat of it.  His happy bounding when he ran from room to room was one of the most wonderful sights.  He loved to chew bones, even if sometimes he really preferred the secondhand bones that were already soft and gummy from dog spit, so while another dog was chewing he’d stand and stare at them until they lost interest, and then he would take his chance.

Timmy was never one for sweet treats, maybe because the sugar would bother his bad teeth.  But he was always the first in line if someone started slicing a cucumber, and crunchy cranberry liver treats were his favorite for a long time.

A walk, whether up the street or at the park, would always be a major source of excitement.  When he walked, he was always the one dog that would walk as straight as an arrow along the path you were going on, apart from brief marking detours.  Mikko always zigzags, Violet always wants to walk beside you, and Aria always strained against the leash, but Timmy would walk the same speed as you directly along the path with his little tail pointed straight up like a radio antenna.

While he was never a big barker at people as the other dogs always have been, Timmy did still love to bark.  He would bark for his meals (especially before Aria passed).  He even did this odd little move where he would prod your leg with his nose while he was waiting for a meal–it took us quite a while before we figured out what that poking sensation was, but it was Timmy’s nose every time.

If he saw Mikko and Aria barking he would always want to bark, too, but he wouldn’t pay a lot of attention to where they were barking.  It wasn’t unusual for all three dogs to be barking, but in all different directions: Aria on the couch looking into the back yard, Mikko at the front door barking at a passing car, while Timmy was pointed at the bedroom even though there’s never anything to bark at in that direction.  But he didn’t care, it was all part of the fun.

Timmy’s bark was a gruff little bark, much different than the shrill nail-in-the-ears bark of Mikko.  He could bark all day and it wouldn’t bother me.  He even barked occasionally when he was older, sometimes you’d hear his gruff little ruffs from the kennels when you got home.

His stiff little tail would wag as regularly as a metronome almost all the time, and certainly whenever there was any excitement.  If the excitement died down and his mind started to wander, you could almost see his attention shifting gears because the metronome would start to wind down, still moving but slower and slower as his eyes wandered to other things.  But then if you said his name again or one of the other dogs barked it would kick it at full rhythm again.

He did this weird little stretch with his back legs where he would extend one back leg straight backwards from his butt, then switch to the other leg, and repeat that 3 or 4 or 5 times.  The rate of the switching was a function of how excited he was, sometimes you could get him riled up with some vigorous petting and he’d do it really quick like an aerobics routine.


He was never interested in being the alpha, but when there was something that he felt was worth fighting for, he would.  Usually this was to keep hold of a bone.  Or trying to get Cooper’s nose out of his butt.

He had so many medical conditions all fighting for each other by the end, and until the very end he just kept on pushing through them, so much longer than anyone would’ve expected.  He was only about five pounds most of his life, but he could fight.


When one of our other dogs are worked up about something, we would usually be able to distract them.  By petting them, or giving them a treat, or in extreme cases bundling them up in a blanket.  Timmy, when he was worked up about something, seemed to turn into a ball of legs that could kick in every direction at once.  Never would this become more obvious than when his phobia of flashing lights kicked in.  We don’t know why he was scared of flashing lights, but our theory is that he might have been exposed to the weather during thunderstorms and always thought that flashing lights were lightning.

During thunderstorms, Mikko would always sleep through unfazed.  Aria or Violet would be nervous and would want to cuddle.  Timmy always wanted to run and hide (usually behind a toilet), and no amount of comforting would convince him otherwise.  After a lot of broken sleeps and frustration, we discovered that the only way to calm Timmy down was for me to take him to the basement and cuddle him up to my belly under a blanket on the couch.  It wouldn’t work if Heather tried it.  It wouldn’t work if I tried it on our bed or anywhere else.  It had to be that couch, and it had to be me.  I don’t know if he was just comforted by the routine action of it, or if he associated the smells of the couch and blanket with safety, but once I brought him down there he would almost always calm down and then we could all get some sleep.

In the winter, the strobe light on the snowplow would trigger the same phobia if Timmy happened to notice it.  So, if one of us woke up to the sound of the snowplow scraping, then it would save a lot of trouble if we would remember to put the blanket over Timmy’s head to block the light.  (This wasn’t entirely reliable, because the blanket on his head would sometimes wake him up and then he’d want to see what was happening)

This posed a real problem with trying to get a decent photograph of Timmy because a bright camera flash would also trigger his phobia.  The camera we had at the time we got him wasn’t a problem, but we got a bigger camera with a bigger flash a few years later and that one scared him.  This made it nearly impossible to get him to sit still for a photo, bribery with treats didn’t even make any difference.  We got portraits done with the dogs when the kid was an infant, and the photographer didn’t listen when we told him that we would like to take dog pictures first before Timmy realized what was happening.  The photographer claimed he was so good with dogs there would be no problem.  Predictably, the photographer was wrong, having never met that dog before that day and claiming that he knew how the dog would react, and so Timmy looks terrified.  We took portraits with the dogs again this last year before Christmas, and his vision had gone enough that the flashes didn’t bother him anymore.  We were very glad we got that portrait in.

Our tiny little dog was so stubborn that as he got older Heather would accompany him to the groomers for two-hour appointments so she could corral him while he was getting groomed, because he would otherwise have coughing fits that would magically clear up as soon as the thing he didn’t like stopped, or he would deploy his “ball of legs” move.

When driving on car trips, if we happened to get a whiff of skunk in the car, the other dogs never cared, but no matter how deep of a sleep Timmy was in, he would always perk up and sniff the air.  His sense of smell never faded.

While he was always a gentle dog, and almost always a sweet dog, he did have a spiteful streak that would come out occasionally when he was younger.  If you were making him do something he didn’t like, he would find something in the house to mark, and then he would stare you in the eye as he was doing it.  It would’ve been funny if he weren’t at the time saturating something with urine–he didn’t do this as he got old, probably just lacking the energy for such spite.

The Sad Part

We adopted Timmy knowing that his time with us might be brief, between his advanced age and neglected health.  We figured that if we got two or three years with him that we would be exceptionally fortunate.  We would never have guessed that Aria would pass away before he would or the he would last more than eight years, almost to the age of 16.

As he got older, he had issues with a variety of health conditions.  One condition that caused him problems for several years was a persistent cough.  Sometimes it was dry, but most often he would cough several times to work his way up to what almost sounded like vomit, but was really a wet throat clearing.  There was a stretch of time where it was hard to even pet him because it would tend to trigger coughing.  He stopped playing with Mikko because they would play for a few seconds and then Timmy would have to take a cough break.  It wouldn’t be unusual for him to wake up in the middle of the night and do it for a while and we found a few coping mechanisms to help him deal with it.  If you rubbed his shoulder blades in the same rhythm as his cough it would sometimes distract him enough to settle back down.  Sometimes if I took him to another room, to the couch downstairs or to the kid’s room, the change in scenery would be enough to distract, or if I took him outside.  After a while the vet discovered that he had an enlarged heart from congestive heart failure, and the fluid swelling in there was causing his heart to press against his trachea, which made it collapse sometimes.  Some heart medication helped this immensely, with diuretics to draw the fluid out.  This also made him have to pee constantly and so even though he’d gone so many years without having any accidents in the house, he just couldn’t hold it long enough to wait anymore, so we started putting diapers on him all the time while he was awake.  He was small enough that we could use size 1 baby diapers and wrap them around his midsection like a wrap–which was handy because they were much cheaper than dog diapers.  During the day we set up an exercise pen with piddle pads so he could pee whenever he wanted to without it being a big trouble.  He could sleep through the night fine without peeing, he was never incontinent, so we could let him air out a little bit then at least.

He never had very thick fur, and he was always pretty sensitive to the cold.  Wearing sweaters for most of the winter would help with this, and he never seemed to mind wearing them.  But he got more and more sensitive to the cold as he got older.  Until, the winter when he was 14, we decided we didn’t need to let him outside at all that winter.  Every time he went outside he would shiver for a long time afterward and it would take him a long time to recover.  He’d already been wearing the diapers for peeing for a while, and we just dealt with the poop when it happened, trying to get him to the hardwood when possible.

He lost his hearing completely.  It was a sad day when we realized that he couldn’t respond to the call of “Tim-a-Tom-a-Tim-a-Tom” anymore.

He also had more and more vision problems.  First he became super sensitive to bright lights so that he couldn’t even enjoy his beloved sun-basking anymore.  Bright lights would make him flinch in what looked like a very painful way, and if lights were too dim he wouldn’t be able to see at all and he would bump into things.  He still seemed to be able to see shapes in the right lighting, and he could walk from room to room without running into anything, and find his way to the water bowl.  In December 2016, after the Christmas tree was up, he wandered into a low-hanging branch and the tree needles poked his eye, and we had to deal with some ointment to make sure that healed up.  We learned to put low barricades of boxes around the tree to keep him away from it.

In his last year he was prone to wandering at night.  He would sleep for much of the day, but around 8 or 9 pm, he would want to start wandering.  He would usually do laps between the living room, kitchen, and dining room.  We’re still not sure what drove him to do this–if he thought he was lost or if he just wanted to walk and didn’t have anywhere in particular to go.  We would try to soothe him at first, let him know where we were so he didn’t feel alone (especially given how he was so much Heather’s shadow when he was younger), but he would always get up and start walking again.  So, we put him in front of the water to make sure he had something to drink, would maybe offer him some food, and we’d just let him wander.  Sometimes he would get stuck in corners, not sure how to get out, so we would help him find his way.  Generally he would settle down very well for bed, so I don’t know if that exercise helped him work out his restlessness.  I suspect that it helped him keep his muscle mass up at least because otherwise he slept so much of the day I think his muscles might’ve atrophied to the point where he couldn’t walk.

Although he never lost the ability to walk, his muscles did get weaker and weaker, probably partially from being inactive for much of the day, age, and trouble eating.  When he stopped having the endurance to walk at the park I would still take him a block up the street, until he started turning around at the mailbox and looking longingly back at the house–I didn’t make him keep going when he didn’t have the energy.  We bought a dog stroller we could put him in to take him to the park but his light sensitivity was so extreme by then that he still didn’t do very well at the park.  We started to have to carry him up and down stairs, and between that and his vision problems, him falling off of things and hurting himself was an ongoing danger. One day he fell off of a chair, just from the height of a normal chair, maybe two feet off the ground, and immediately after he tried to get up and walk but he dragged his back legs and we were afraid he had paralyzed himself.  We brought him to the vet, they found a hairline fracture, but not anything they could do anything about.  We couldn’t put him on furniture without someone holding him after that.  We had installed a baby gate when the kid was young, and we have left it up since then because it prevented Timmy from falling down the stairs. The hardwood floors became harder and harder for him to walk or even stand on, and even on carpet his gait took on a strange bouncing rhythm with his front legs walking normally and his back legs taking odd little hops.

He always like lying in dog beds, but as he got older, he was less and less particular about how much of him and which specific parts got in the bed, so he’d often only have his butt in the bed, or only his head, or just one elbow.

The dogs sleep in our bed, in a line between us, and Timmy slept up by our heads so that if he got up to wander in the night he would have to step on someone before he walked off the bed, so we would either feel it or Violet would growl when he bothered her, so we could get up and help him with whatever he needed.  We started putting him in a dog bed on the bed because that would help him sleep but it did make it more crowded in the bed. Especially in the last year, I would often take Timmy to the kid’s bedroom, where I would sleep on the floor with him in a dog bed next to me, because I wouldn’t need to worry about him falling in there, and he would often sleep better in there anyway, without us jostling him.

From the time we got him, his teeth were a problem.  We had to have several teeth pulled immediately, and we had to repeat the process several times, always afraid that he wouldn’t wake up from the general anesthesia when he woke.  It was important to pull them when they got too rotten because the infection could spread to other parts of his body, including his brain–sometimes we could tell it had gone a bit too far because he would discharge a milky fluid from his nose.  For the first five days of every month he was on an antibiotic course to try to limit infections, and even then sometimes we had to start it a bit early or go a bit longer to quell a rising infection.  His last tooth pulling was a few years before he passed–after that one he was down to just three teeth, including one gigantic lower canine tooth that was so big and so deeply rooted in his jaw that they were afraid that they would break his jaw trying to extract it.

A recurring problem partly caused by the teeth were that he became pickier and pickier about food.  Early on, he was happy to eat the same thing the other dogs were eating–some kibble with maybe some soft food.  But for Timmy we had to rotate foods periodically, or he would get bored and would stop wanting to eat it.  If he missed the occasional meal it wasn’t a big deal at the time, because he had a bit of extra weight on him.  But the missing teeth, rotten teeth, and picky appetite, this was a frequent battle we had to fight, and especially when we traveled we would have to make sure we had something he would eat.  If he missed a couple meals, then his belly would start growling and bothering him, but this made his appetite worse not better, so that was always a downward spiral we had to watch out for.  We would supplement with people food to get some food in him and then switch back to dog food again.  By the spring of 2017, he was pretty much done with dog food, we couldn’t get him to eat it anymore at all, and he had a bout of diarrhea that the vet thought might be a sign of end-of-life.  We braced for the end, trying to decide from day to day what we should do, how long we should let it go on before we made the hard decision.  We ended up putting him on people food for every meal, though we were advised against it by our vet because it doesn’t have the proper nutrition for a dog.  But at that point we had the choice between feeding him what he would eat or letting him starve to death.  His most reliable meal was a brand of honey-battered chicken nugget we could find at Target, so reliable that he rarely missed a meal for months, for most of the rest of 2017.

A few years ago, he was also diagnosed with kidney failure.  Among other things this meant we had to be careful how much other medications we gave him, so we tried to taper his dose down on the diuretic in particular.

Between the diuretic and the rotten teeth, Timmy would have trouble staying hydrated enough, and dehydration would make all of his other conditions worse.  We asked the vet for suggestions, and they said that subcutaneous fluid might help him stay hydrated.  They taught us how to inject saline under his skin, and we did that ourselves for a while, and Timmy took it pretty well for a while.  After a month or two, he started to get more squirrelly when we were doing it, and he would get afraid when we got the stuff out to do it, we eventually started taking him for a weekly vet visit to have the vet techs administer subcutaneous fluids.  This became a part of our weekly routine, and the vet techs were very close to him from their weekly visit from Timmy, where he would frequently become the stubborn ball of legs, but they were able to handle it, and every week he would perk way up from the fluids.

Around Christmas, we thought he might have poked his eye on something, so we took him in to treat him for that.  His appetite started getting a little shaky, and we weren’t sure why, maybe it was the cold weather that was having some days of negative highs.  After he’d been on some eyedrops for that for a while, Heather noticed that his breath smelled terrible, and so we got him on an antibiotic dose right away, his tooth had probably been bothering him.  Then the antibiotic probably was making him feel ill, and so the appetite problems continued.  He would no longer eat his beloved chicken nuggets, and he was even having trouble eating food on his own, so I would have to hand feed him to get him to eat anything.  This was difficult because, if the pieces of food were too big he didn’t have the teeth to chew them, but if they were too small he would have trouble gripping them enough to keep them in his mouth to eat them.  Arby’s roast beef was the sweet spot because he could still smell the warm meat, a wad of roast beef was easy to pick up, but the thin layers would tear apart as he chewed them so he wouldn’t choke.  Chicken McNuggets were another mainstay in those days.

But his digestion and appetite continued to get worse and worse, and he had more trouble eating and less interest in it.  Because he was eating so little his bowel movements became less and less frequent, until several days passed between.  The vet said that the best way to help him was just to keep him hydrated, so we kept taking him in for fluids, which helped a little bit, but not enough.  He took less and less even of his favorite people food, and slept more and more.  We decided that we wouldn’t try to force-feed him, that would only cause distress and discomfort, if he wasn’t going to eat he wasn’t going to eat.  We made it to the end of the antibiotic course, and we hoped that with it over his appetite would improve, but it didn’t and it soon became clear that we needed to schedule his last vet visit.

The day before the scheduled day, I was sick and I spent the day home with him cuddling for most of the day, making sure he was as comfortable as he could be.  If he passed we didn’t want him to pass in his kennel by himself while we were at work.  That night he perked up some, enough for some decent pictures with us, but still wasn’t eating.  The next day, the day of the appointment, he was very out of it, barely awake at all.  He didn’t seem to be in pain, but he was clearly very weak.  We took him to the vet, and they laid out a towel for us to wrap him in.  He was so out of it at that point that he wasn’t even worried about being at the vet.  He passed away peacefully with both us with him, touching him and comforting him to the end.

We are comforted to know that it was the right time.  Every time we were told this might be the end, we tried to give him a chance to recover, and so many times he did and then was able to be back to normal for a while.  This last time, waiting any longer wouldn’t have helped.  He was tired and uncomfortable, and he was ready to go.

A broken routine
even inconvenient
marks a lost loved one.

I had a lot of trouble sleeping that night.  His comfort had taken precedence for so long, with the bulky dog bed, and sleeping on the floor, and getting up with him so he wouldn’t wander in the dark and bump into walls looking for a spot to pee.  With the need for all of that gone, it felt wrong to be able to lie in bed so comfortably, without him interrupting my sleep.  Mealtime became much faster, without the need to watch his bowl so the other dogs wouldn’t eat his feed, and without the hand-feeding of the recent weeks. Even though all these things were inconvenient and time-consuming, they were expressions of love for Timmy, and every change in routine reminds of his absence.

But life goes on.  We have many other things to be thankful for, but we’ll never forget sweet, gentle Timmy.


2017 Hugo/Nebula Award Recommendations!

written by David Steffen

Having previously listing out award-eligible works that were written or published by me, here is my list of works that I think you might want to consider for Hugo and Nebula awards that were not written or published by me.

I’m working mostly from the Hugo Award categories, with a focus on fiction categories.

The Short Story category is the one that means the most to me, so to help suggest more reading for anyone interested, I’ve listed 10 stories instead of 5.

I left out the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because I know a lot of amazing people on that list and I don’t want to make people feel bad they got left out (but I’m still going to have to pick 5 for my actual ballot!).



The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, Harper Collins

It Devours by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Harper Collins



“River of Teeth” by Sarah Gailey, Macmillan

“The Dragon of Dread Peak” (and part 2) by Jeremiah Tolbert, at Lightspeed



“The Bridgegroom” by Bo Balder, at Clarkesworld

“Who Won the Battle of Arsia Mons?” by Sue Burke, at Clarkesworld

“The Chaos Village” (and part 2) by M.K. Hutchins, at Podcastle

“Owl Vs. the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger, at Strange Horizons

“The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer, at Clarkesworld

“Remote Presence” by Susan Palwick, at Lightspeed

“That Lingering Sweetness” by Tony Pi, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, at Clarkesworld


Short story

“How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love” by Baker & Dovey, at No Shit There I Was, reprinted in Podcastle

“Unit Two Does Her Makeup” by Laura Duerr, at Escape Pod

“Planetbound” by Nancy Fulda, in the anthology Chasing Shadows, reprinted in Escape Pod

“Infinite Love Engine” by Joseph Allen Hill, at Lightspeed

“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” by Rachael K. Jones, at Lightspeed

“Home is a House that Loves You” by Rachael K. Jones, at Podcastle

“Vegetablemen in Peanut Town” by August Marion, at Escape Pod

“All the Cuddles With None of the Pain” by J.J. Roth, at Podcastle

“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Texts From the Ghost War” by Alex Yuschik, at Escape Pod



Dramatic Presentation, Long Form


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Lego Batman Movie

Star Wars: The Last Jedi



There are quite a few that I might list here, but mostly I would love to see some award recognition go to my favorite podcasts at Escape Artists: Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders.  For too long podcasts have been thought of in fiction as afterthoughts, but they’ve proven that they can find amazing original fiction and present it professionally.


Editor, Short Form

Likewise, I’d be especially excited to see Escape Artists editors get nods here.  S.B. Divya, Mur Lafferty, and Norm Sherman for Escape Pod (you can nominate jointly).  Jen Albert and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali for Podcastle.  Shawn Garret and Alex Hofelich for Pseudopod.  Marguerite Kenner for Cast of Wonders.