Nebula Novelette Review 2015

written by David Steffen

The Nebulas are voted for by the members of SFWA, the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America, based on all the published stories from 2014.  The Novelette category covers stories between 7500 and 17500 words.

I have only had time to read three of the six stories before the SFWA voting deadline.  It’s Ferrett Steinmetz’s fault, really.  His first novel FLEX released the first week of March and my reading time was all occupied with reading his book.

1.  “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
The protagonist of the story is an every expanding near-omniscient near-omnipotent AI.  It thinks it has everything under control, but it discovers a new threat, an inscrutable impossible unprovable threat–magic.  The alteration of probability which only manifests when it can’t be proved.  Alteration of probability isn’t inherently provable because there’s always a chance it could’ve turned out that way anyway, but when the same person can twist it in their favor time and time again, even if it’s not provable.

This story was great on so many levels.  The outcome was never certain because the two sides are so powerful, but differently powerful.  I love a great mix of science fiction and fantasy like this.  Epic, fun, exciting.

2.  “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
In the not-so-distant future, computer-brain interfaces are common.  The obious use of these devices is for people to surf the Internet just with their brain, but the focus of the story is a much different and much more scary use–farming out processing power from people’s brains.  It’s a voluntary contract, one which only someone desperate for the money would do, because it’s literally repurposing portions of your brain to aid with web searches and other processing that is in demand from the general.  Of course there’s never any shortage of people hard for money, especially if arranging for them to stay that way is profitable.  This story is about the people who have farmed out their brainpower in this way, one in particular who is discovering that there is more to this interface than anyone understands.

This story was scarily plausible.  In my opinion, the only thing missing is the technology.  There will always be organizations, legal and otherwise, that take advantage of the desperate, exploiting them for profitability, and I have no doubt that this would happen if this kind of brain-farming were currently possible.  If you have to make the choice between your children starving and farming out part of your brain it’s a straightforard if horrible choice.  This is the story of that exploitation, and also of the starting steps of revolution that build from it.

3.  “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
Key is a human in a rare position of power in a vampire-dominated world.  She works as a facilitator in the Mauna Kea food production facility in the  Hawai’i.  The Mauna Kea is a lower grade facility, where the humans are only kept at subsistence levels, fed nutritional but bland food bricks but never offered any real pleasure.   She is asked to travel to the Oahu Grade Gold production facility to sort out the murder of one of the humans kept there.  Emotions and other experiences affect the taste of the blood, so if humans are treated as though they live at a resort.  When she was younger she had longed to be made into a vampire by the vampire Tetsuo, and he had refused to ever turn her, or to ever feed from her.  Now she is being reunited with him at the Oahu facility.

Great worldbuilding, very interesting characters.  If vampires existed, I think something like this is probably the most plausible outcome.  Even though she keeps her job by maintaining a gruesome status quo, she is doing her job as best she can (and it’s not like she has a lot of other options)–interesting point of view where she is often more sympathetic to the vampires than to her own kind.  Very good story.


The stories I didn’t have time to read:

“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes ( 7/9/14)

“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)

“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson ( 4/2/14)

Interview: Ken Liu

interview by Carl Slaughter
introduction by David Steffen


If you’ve kept up with science fiction publications in the last few years, you’ve probably at least heard the name Ken Liu. Dozens of his stories have been published just in the last couple of years in the biggest and best SF publications out there today, including F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction… The list goes on and on. He won the Hugo for “Mono No Aware” this year. He won the Hugo and the Nebula for “The Paper Menagerie” last year, one of my personal favorite stories I’ve read in years. I just read a fun story by him on the Drabblecast titled “The Call of the Pancake Factory”, about a representative of a certain supercorporation amusement park happening to cross paths with a cult of Cthulhu–great story. He’s on a roll, and showing no signs of stopping. He’s a great writer and you should check out his work if you ever get a chance to read it.


You’ve been getting an awful lot of stories published the last few years. Did you build up an archive or have you just been a really busy guy lately?

For the longest time, I wrote very slowly, and so there never really was much “inventory.” But I’ve been writing at a somewhat steady, faster pace for the last four years. The more I write, the more ideas I seem to have. So that has worked out well.


How do you maintain quality and quantity? Natural talent, hard work, long hours, disciplined lifestyle, or some combination?

I think over time, I’ve learned to do a better job of picking out which story ideas seem cool but won’t work, which ones are good for flash pieces, and which ones are good for longer development. That has helped to reduce the number of stories I have to trunk.

I’ve also learned to work better under deadline. Knowing how long it takes me to finish a story and polish it to the point where I’m satisfied with it builds confidence, and that makes it easier to take up new projects and plan them into my schedule.


What’s your day job? How do you find time for family, the office, and the keyboard?

I used to be a programmer, became a corporate attorney, and now I work as a litigation consultant for high-tech patent cases, which sort of combines my areas of expertise. It’s very interesting, stimulating work, and probably helps with giving me story ideas.

I have two young children at home, ages 3 and 1. As anyone with young children knows, they severely constrain your writing time. I’ve learned to be better about time management and use the little writing time I do have more efficiently. For example, I try to do some drafting on my commuter rail ride every day.

I can’t say I’ve got it figured out. My novel revisions are going much more slowly than I’d like, partly due to the lack of uninterrupted writing time. But plenty of writers have figured out such a balance before, I just need to keep on working on my process and improve it.


Some author’s sell to the same two or three markets or half a dozen markets. You’ve been selling to every market under the sun. What’s the explanation? Diverse material? Looks better on your resume? Just like to shop around?

I enjoy working with different editors. Every editor has taught me something new. And I do write a wide variety of stories, so some stories might be a better fit with F&SF while others might work better at Analog. Not every editor likes everything I write.

I also like being exposed to new readers through new markets, so being published in multiple markets has worked out well for me.


You’ve been winning and being nominated for a lot of awards. Mike Resnick said about awards, “When you walk out of the convention, nobody on the street knows who you are.” This in contrast to, for example, the Oscar. How has winning famous awards affected you personally? How has it affected your career? More sales? More fan mail? Invitations to speak at conventions? Requests for interviews?

I can’t say it has affected my personal life significantly — I did get a lot of congratulations from my friends and co-workers, which made me very happy. I think the stories that were nominated got more readers, and of course I’m happy about that.

Career wise, since I don’t have a novel, I can’t point to any concrete sales boost from the awards. I do think some of the translation deals I’ve gotten were due to the awards — if nothing else, they help with name recognition, especially overseas.

Unless people ask about the awards though, I just don’t think about them much. I’m very grateful to have been nominated and to have won some of them, but what keeps me writing isn’t the desire for awards, but to write stories that I want to read myself.


You’ve been concentrating on short stories. What does the novel horizon look like?

I’m working on a novel, an epic fantasy of sorts, set in a secondary world created by my wife and me together. The setting is an archipelago, and there are magical creatures, gods, and lots of fanciful machines based on ancient Chinese mechanical engineering. The plot is loosely adapted from the historical legends about the founding of the Han Dynasty, and some of the cultural aspects are derived from classical East Asian elements.

The first draft is done, but there’s a lot of rewriting left still.


What about the screen market? Any queries to or from Hollywood to buy or write scripts?

I do like scripts, and want to get better at writing them. But there’s not much of a market for them unless you’re in Hollywood, so, for now, I’m focusing just on narrative fiction.


What’s the market like for science fiction in China? Aren’t they more into traditional fantasy? You know, beings with magical powers. Personification of animals, like the famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West.” (Or is it more accurately translated, “The Journey West”?) Is there a market in China for traditional science fiction? Biotechnology, space travel, etc.

I’m not an expert on the Chinese science fiction market, but from what I’ve seen, science fiction does very well there. Of course, China is a very big country, so even if only a small percentage of readers are interested in science fiction, the absolute numbers are going to be big. Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, for example, sold some 400,000 copies, and that’s a hard science fiction first contact story. (I’ve been engaged to translate the first book of the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, into English, and Tor Books will be publishing the book in the US in 2014.)

A lot of my writer friends in China — in science fiction, fantasy, and slip-stream — seem to have many more readers (even if they don’t all have novels out yet). And even my own stories, translated into Chinese, seem to have generated more feedback than they received in English. So I’d say the market is very healthy, overall.


Besides China, how are overseas sales going?

I have a Japanese collection coming out from Hayakawa Publishing in 2015, and I’ve sold a few reprints to markets in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Sometimes I get a chance to work directly with the translators, and that’s always such a pleasure.


You have all your stories critiqued on the Critters Online Workshop. How has that affected your writing and your sales?

I haven’t used Critters for most of my fiction for a while now. Over time, I’ve developed a circle of beta readers (several of whom I met through critters) whose opinions I trust, and it’s just more efficient to get their take than to go through critters, especially when I’m under tight deadlines.

I think Critters taught me, above all, how to figure out which critiques are helpful and which ones are not. When you’re relatively inexperienced as a writer, there’s a lot of benefit to getting a wide range of opinions because they help you figure out who your target audience is. Learning to ignore opinions from people who aren’t in your target audience is a difficult lesson because our natural tendency as writers is to try to please everyone. But that’s impossible, and it’s better that you learn this lesson earlier rather than later.


Any advice for aspiring writers?

Listen when other writers share their process and try their techniques out, but don’t be surprised when most of them don’t work for you — but also be prepared for the possibility that a few will. You won’t know which is which until you try them though.



Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.


His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.


Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.


Interview: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has vast experience and enormous success as an author, editor, and publisher. She also has a lot of experience as a workshop instructor. As an editor, she has a strong background in magazine and anthologies. She was editor of F&SF magazine for several years and was publisher and editor of Pulphouse’s Hardback Magazine. Her latest project is Fiction River, a new anthology series.


Carl Slaughter: First, let’s talk about anthologies. What gap do anthologies fill that magazines cannot?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Anthologies can focus on a single topic or can take risks that a magazine cannot. A magazine is responsible to its readers and its advertisers. An anthology has no advertisers and builds its readership on its topic and the table of contents alone. That allows for a lot of freedom.


Carl: Tell us about Pulphouse. Was that your first experience with anthologies? What did you hope to accomplish? How successful was it, from an editor/publisher standpoint and from a fan standpoint? What ultimately happened to it?

Kristine: Well, do you have a few years? We can talk about this.

First Pulphouse: the Hardback Magazine was an anthology series of twelve issues. Pulphouse itself was a publishing company that my husband Dean Wesley Smith and I started. So I assume, when you ask about Pulphouse, you mean the anthology series. The answers to your questions are very different if we’re talking about the publishing company.

So the Hardback Magazine was my first experience with fiction anthologies. I’d edited a lot of nonfiction “anthologies” in the form of radio programs.

We did an issue zero “a blank book” to show bookstores we were serious, to practice the form, and to get the bugs worked out before the first issue. I mailed a copy of issue zero to every major name I invited into the anthology, and got all of them to submit stories, including people like Jack Williamson and Kate Wilhelm, who never worked with start-ups. I also got a Harlan Ellison story which was unusual, something I didn’t know at the time.

The anthology series’ reputation just went up from there. Everyone who wrote wanted to be in it, and everyone who heard about it wanted all twelve issues. It was a limited run series, and when we reached the end of the run, we were done. Twelve issues, which we are still very proud of, and whose reputation grows as each year passes.


Carl: What lessons did you learn from the Pulphouse project and how will you apply those lessons to Fiction River?

Kristine: Again, I’m assuming you’re asking about the anthology series and not Pulphouse Publishing. Because, again, the answers would be very different.

I learned how to edit fiction from Pulphouse and how to manage fiction writers, which is a real trick. I then went on to edit The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where I learned even more.

Because we built everything from scratch at the Hardback Magazine and I had to revamp everything at F&SF, Dean and I knew how to set up Fiction River. We know what we want from each issue, how we will accomplish it, and what it will take, both financially and editorially. We did not know that with Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.


Carl: Why raise funds through Kickstarter instead of seeking corporate backing or self-publishing?

Kristine: Let me stop laughing first. Corporate backing? Seriously? Do you mean selling the anthology to a traditional publisher? I’ve done that too, and it’s not pretty. They want only J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, not new writers, and they don’t want to pay anyone anything. Then they’ll edit the content themselves and kick out stories that might build a reputation or win an award. I will never, ever, ever work with traditional publishing again on an anthology. If I want to do something with my vision, then I’ll do it on my own. Oh, wait! I am.

I don’t understand why going through Kickstarter makes self publishing impossible. Do you mean self-funded? Again, I’ve done that before (see Pulphouse) and that way lies madness. Bookstores pay on 90 days if they pay at all, and distributors want a huge cut. E-books bring in money but 60 days (minimum) after publication. So paying authors and paying for the production becomes a dicey proposition in the best of times.

Dean and I could do that and were thinking of it, but ultimately, we decided to use Kickstarter. As we said in our Kickstarter pitch, we wanted to gauge interest in the project. We can think the project is great, spend a fortune doing it, and have no one buy the books.

What we learned with Kickstarter is that we have an even bigger audience than we thought. And that’s extremely worthwhile. We’re even more excited about the project now that the Kickstarter was successful.


Carl: Many anthologies use a lot of reprints. Fiction River will be entirely original material. Why?

Kristine: We’ll do reprint anthologies as a separate line of anthologies down the road. But readers deserve new fiction, instead of reading the same five stories over and over again. I’ve written stories that have been reprinted a dozen times and even better stories that no anthologist has picked up, mostly because they don’t know the story exists.

When we do reprint anthologies, we’ll have someone dedicated to the anthology series who will find the stories that we need. We had someone in mind, but we lost him last year, and that put the project on the back burner.


Carl: Will Fiction River be strictly speculative fiction or will it include other genres? All subgenres of speculative fiction

Kristine: With the exception of F&SF (a rather large exception, I grant you), I have never edited anything that limits itself to one genre. I find that uninteresting in the extreme. I write in every genre, I read in every genre, I edit in every genre. The first Fiction River Special, which will be out in a year, will be a crime anthology, with stories from many genres, stories that feature a crime. So I suppose you could call it a mystery anthology, but that’s not really accurate.

In our first year, we’ll have a fantasy anthology, an sf anthology, a romance anthology, an urban fantasy, a crime (mystery) anthology, and one other as yet undetermined. I suspect that the next year will be just as eclectic.


Carl: What’s the business model? Will Fiction River be print, electronic, website, Kindle? Will it be a periodical or a series, do we look for it on the magazine rack or the book rack? Set expiration date or indefinite? How much will it cost?

Kristine: Fiction River is an anthology series, with a regular schedule. A hybrid, if you will. It will come out in print and ebook editions, with some website activity, a bit of audio, and a few other things. You’ll find each edition on the book rack, with no pull date. But like a magazine, you’ll be able to subscribe. The price varies depending on what you want. An e-book? That’s one price. A print book with the ebook bundled in? Another price. A year’s subscription to the ebook? A third price. And so on.

Carl: How has the internet and epublishing had an impact on the anthology market?

Kristine: Not as much as you’d think. Mostly the impact has been on actual magazines. There are more magazines now than ever before.


Carl: You’ve done magazine and you’ve done anthology. Which do you prefer?

Kristine: I prefer anthologies. They’re limited and they don’t interfere with my own writing career.


Carl: Finally, a tip for aspiring writers. Which has more opportunities for breaking in, anthologies or magazines?

Kristine: Magazines. The editors read slush and are always looking for new writers. Anthology editors rarely do.


Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.