Science Fiction

All posts tagged Science Fiction

Actually, there are more than thirteen ways to get nominated for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry’s Association’s Rhysling Award.  In fact this year there are 154 individual and unique poems up for consideration (which, if I’m not mistaken, is a record high).  Here are two, which happen to be mine, which I am posting so you can read them, as they are featured today on SpecPo, the SFPA’s official blog.

“Terran Mythology” first appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact (October 2016).  It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Short Poem Category.

Terran Mythology

This talk of Old Earth is conflated,
it is—always was—a death garden
trash planet—
tree spines, titan turtle backs
native gutter talk.

No buried forests there, no vaulted mansions
tiered roadway arpeggios
beneath the dump-yards
no fish in those oceans
no thirteen stars in the sky.

It’s all folklore
piquant escape
from the firefields, factories
the appeal
of more than fortified water rations
in these populated ovens.

(As if deserts ever
birthed rivers
sustained “agrow-cultures”.
as if life evolved from mothers
from monkeys, was ever
anything
but science spew.)

—Shannon Connor Winward

“Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost” won second place the SFPA’s 2016 Poetry Contest in the Long Poem catgory.  It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Long Poem Category.

Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost

1.
As a young woman, your mother finds a dead uncle watching her sleep. The chair is no longer wedged against the door.

2.
Neighbors tell her the couple who owned this house first lost a child. Your mother found him. The crayon marks in her closet could have come from her own, but she sees him, not much taller than the mattress, circumnavigating the bed, as children do, while your father and the boys are sleeping.

3.
You make a joke of it, but he bit her once, left marks, and how would you explain that?

4.
There’s a closet under the basement stairs, a perfect Bat Cave and hiding place. Not-it once, your brother hears, distinctly, Hi. He forfeits the game.

5.
You never found him, but you’ve lost enough in that closet.

6.
Your mother cleans the Hazard house, a squat yellow colonial leftover spitting distance from the old capitol with roots under the New Castle cobblestone. It reeks of piss and centuries. The basement stairs are narrow, dank. She prefers to leave it to the cats until one she’s never seen before climbs out and growls, Get out. After that, she makes the owner leave the Mop-n-Glo upstairs.

7.
“I’m supposed to be here,” she spits back. “You get out.”

8.
You do the Garrett mansion by the Pennsylvania border, too, when it’s still a school. Your job is to flip chairs for the boys, collect bits too big for the vacuum mouth. You visit the animals, nose to their cedar-lined cages, and the human skull, and play outside on the hill alone. You don’t remember the house, just the trees and open sky, the town of Yorklyn sleepy and rustling below, but Mom says those basements go deeper than any should. There are three, one under the next, and no one is allowed to go past the first. Slaves slept down there. It’s darker than dark, and what breathes out at you is not about freedom.

9.
Your grandfather slept in the basement until your mother kicked him out for whoring, and then he died. You don’t remember him, either.

10.
In second grade you start a ghost club. You hold hands over the drainage grates at recess (because the dead prefer damp, dark places) and tell lost souls to move on. The other girls swear they can see them too.

11.
In the basement of your parents’ house, your bags are packed. You are used to things sitting on the mattress, tugging the sheets, but that is no Casper-friendly child. That is man-sized. It is an absence of light, still there when you click on the lamp, but not after you scream. It doesn’t want you to go.

12.
You worked nights at the old school below where the Garrett house burned down. A caretaker haunts it, walking the halls, rustling papers, shutting doors—but this story is not about you.

13.
When they escort your parents to the room where your brother’s body lies waiting, your mother stammers, “I’ve never met anyone who died,” which, by any definition, just isn’t true.

—Shannon Connor Winward

In Case You’re Just Tuning In

Earlier this week a controversy developed over poems that were nominated by members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association for the 2017 Rhysling Award anthology, posted to the SFPA’s website, and then later removed because they’d been deemed ineligible by the Rhysling Chair on the grounds that they were not sufficiently speculative to qualify.  The removal of a poem by Tlotlo Tsamaase, “I Will Be Your Grave”, which first appeared in Strange Horizons, was met with particular dismay, with concerns that the exclusion of the poem demonstrates, at best, cultural insensitivity on the part of the Rhysling Chair and executive committee.

After further review, two of the disqualified poems, including “I Will Be Your Grave”, have since be reinstated (though it appears not to have made it back to the website at the time of this writing).  This was done not only as a gesture of good faith in answer to the grave concerns of the speculative poetry community, but also because the decision to disqualify the poems had not been unanimous in the first place.  Even among so small a group (six volunteers), the definition of “speculative” is highly variable—and problematic.

SFPA President Bryan Thao Worra has made a public statement regarding this issue which touches on the overarching goals of the organization; goals that include “inclusion, imagination, innovation, and community”, as well as active dialog among disparate points of view, even on sensitive and uncomfortable matters.  I encourage anyone following this issue to read it, if you haven’t already.

As an officer of the SFPA, I have held back on commenting on the matter – even as online discussions became heated, and colleagues and friends on all sides suffered personal attacks—because to me, the heart of the problem stems from a breakdown in communication, particularly among the SFPA officers.  In addition to the very serious and distressing political situation here in the states (and globally!), many of us are also facing personal hardships which make it challenging to conduct business in real time at the best of times, let alone when controversy hits with the lightning speed of social media.  It has taken some effort for all of us, in completely different time zones, to connect, review our notes, reiterate our positions, and reach a meaningful consensus.

Now that the matter is, hopefully, behind us, I would first like to apologize to anyone who has felt aggrieved by these events.  I am confident that was not the intent of the Chair or the officers, even if that was the result.   I personally feel that there was much we, as an executive body, could have done earlier to prevent this, for reasons I will touch on in a moment.  My heart is heavy over the fallout from this situation, but I am hoping we can learn from it and use its momentum to improve our policies and process in the future.

Secondly, I’d like to share my thoughts, as both a writer and fan of speculative poetry as well as an SFPA officer with firsthand knowledge of the events that transpired.  I believe that, although it may be at times uncomfortable, this is one of those difficult conversations that needs to be had.

WHAT IS SPECULATIVE POETRY?

One of the first issues to appear on my radar as an elected officer of the SFPA was the fact that, even within an organization dedicated to speculative poetry, not everyone agrees on what “speculative” means.  While this may seem like a philosophical or semantic question, it’s also a practical one.  The SFPA exists to foster community among people who read and write speculative poetry.  Each year the SFPA publishes two award anthologies (the Rhysling and the Dwarf Stars) of speculative poetry, bestows the Elgin Award for chapbook and book-length speculative poetry manuscripts, and hosts a speculative poetry contest with cash prizes, with the express purpose of highlighting the very best speculative poetry being written today.  Without a clear, working consensus of what speculative poetry is, what’s the fucking point?

The problem (as our members and colleagues have consistently and eloquently pointed out in many impassioned and drawn-out debates)is that a universally accepted definition of “speculative” is the stuff of fantasy (pun intended).  If you ask ten poets to define the genre you will get eleventy-seven conflicting answers.  Each writer and reader brings to the page an understanding informed by culture, marketing trends, historical framing, personal preference and bias… I don’t believe that straight science poetry belongs in science fiction, for example, but there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree.  And that’s okay.  Because what happens when we start trying to draw lines in the moon dust to define what belongs and what doesn’t? We end up with a divided community which, in the end, defeats the fucking point. 

So while I have my own personal opinions about what constitutes “speculative”, I have taken to heart the wisdom of members who, when asked the question, caution the community to err on the side of inclusion.  If it means that a few poems squeak by that are (arguably) less representative of the field than others, so be it. The upshot of fuzzy boundaries is that it allows for diversity, and diversity is a good thing.  Diversity freshens the poetic gene pool.  It educates, opens new doors of possibility, broadens horizons and raises new speculation and isn’t that the fucking point?

And yet.  As an officer of the SFPA, it is my responsibility to help recruit, vet, and assist those people we appoint as Editors and Chairs of our organization’s endeavors.  This year’s Rhysling Chair, David Kopaska-Merkel, is a notable member of the SFPA and the wider speculative poetry community – a person with a breadth of experience and demonstrated ability.  We were thrilled to have him take the helm for this project, and to vest him with the responsibilities as well as the discretion required for the role.

I am deeply troubled by the accusations on social media that David acted irresponsibly in deeming certain poems ineligible, or that his actions were done with malice, with the intent of purposely excluding some voices.  As Rhysling Chair, it is David’s job to ensure that all nominated poems meet the criteria for eligibility, which by extension includes determining whether the poems count as speculative, even though there is not – as yet – any clear policy to guide him in this.  David’s solution was to bring  each poem that he found questionable to the attention of the executive committee, seeking our input, before making his final determination.  His was a measured, conscientious approach.  And while I did not personally agree with each decision that he made, I was willing to support them.

Members of the SFPA and in the greater community have questioned the right of one person to decide what counts as speculative – and given that as a community we’ve yet to land on a universal definition, it’s a valid question.  It has been argued that the fact the nominated poem first appeared in one of the most celebrated speculative markets in the field should automatically qualify the poem as speculative, which is also an excellent point—I even suggested as much myself at one point during one of the many discussions in our list-serv, saying that any poem published in a speculative journal had already been vetted by an editor and should get an automatic pass.

But on the other hand, a point that I haven’t seen vocalized is the fact that magazine editors, too, exercise personal discretion.  They make decisions based on the same personally or culturally defined and often arbitrary standards and preferences and biases that we, as readers, exercise—and they have the right to do so, because of the task that has been entrusted to them.  Similarly, the Rhysling Chair is tasked with interpreting the organization’s guidelines to the best of his or her ability, which also implies a degree of individual, even arbitrary discretion—and that is what happened.  Without any clear guidance in the form of official policy, and with only the less-than-unanimous opinions of the executive committee (a microcosm of the larger spec community), he made a judgment call.

Personally, I am glad that “I Will Be Your Grave” was reinstated.  I believe that surrealism has a place in the speculative genre, and that poems like this are doing interesting things with language and imagery and genre tropes that should be recognized.  But as an officer, I believe the takeaway from this issue has less to do with righting a perceived injustice, and more to do with improving the Rhysling process.

I think, as a community, we need to look at the central issue –how do we define speculative, and, more importantly, who/how do we empower to apply that definition when it comes to featuring poems in our annual award programs—including our anthologies, which we hold up to the world as the best representatives of what speculative poetry is?

To accomplish this, we need to move away from the merry-go-round of debate (and name-calling) that is endemic in our social media and forums.  We need to work together to define clear and equitable guidelines for both the nomination process and the vetting system—assuming a vetting system for “speculative” should even exist.

Rather than writing the SFPA off as an exclusive or broken community, which I see happening (and which breaks my heart) I encourage anyone who is invested in speculative poetry and the issues raised herein to participate in making us better.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

For one thing, membership equals a vote.  We need membership dollars to exist and we need member votes to make policy.  Information about membership rates and benefits can be found here.

Secondly, if you have not already, please visit the WHAT IS SPECULATIVE  survey and share your opinions with us.  We were planning to close the poll soon, but given the events of the last week I think it behooves us to leave it open a bit longer.  This is an informal poll, not a binding ballot, but it may help provide a measure of member consensus on this very challenging topic that guide us—or at the very least, a way to frame the question.

Third, help us improve the process.

As Secretary, it has been a priority of mine to codify the various SFPA volunteer positions, including that of the award/contest Chairs and publication editors, so that people coming into these roles have a clear understanding of what is expected of them without the added burden of having to figure out how to do everything by scratch each time.  We now have official contracts that outline the duties and timelines for each position, but clearly there are still things we need to address, such as how/when to post nominated poems, how/whether to vet nominating poems for genre eligibility and how/when to handle poems that have been disqualified.   These are all part of a conversation that has been ongoing among the officers, but needs to be taken up with renewed urgency, out of respect for the frustration and hurt that was caused by our failure to provide clearer policies in time.

In the coming weeks, I would like to see these issues addressed as clearly-worded proposals to be approved by the membership and adopted as policy, to be cited in our official documents and posted guidelines.  Hopefully, we can reach a consensus and have these policies in place in advance not just of next year’s Rhyslings, but also our other upcoming 2017 projects, such as the Dwarf Stars, where the question of “What is speculative” is also relevant.

To that aim, I invite members of the SFPA and other interested parties to contact me with your thoughts on the matter.  Please note, I am NOT interested in further finger-pointing or recriminations.  What I am interested in are your suggestions for policy reform.

I am committed to leaving this organization better than I found it.  If you would like to help me accomplish that, please feel free to reach out.  I can be reached through Facebook or via email: ladytairngire @ yahoo dot com

In Closing

I realize that, to some, this incident has raised serious concerns.  I hope that in this long rambling I’ve made it clear that these concerns are not falling on deaf ears, and that many of us who are working within the SFPA are striving for an inclusive community of poets who will continue to challenge and broaden and enrich the speculative genre(s).  If we falter (and we will) I hope that passionate people will continue to call us on it.  In particular, I want to thank those who have done so with open minds and measured words, as this, I believe, is the surest way to create positive change.

Sincerely,

Shannon Connor Winward

SFPA Secretary

With MiniWriMo come round again, I’ve been thinking about what to write this month – which led me led me to look back on what I have written, and, more specifically, how those stories came to be.

head-113927_640Sometimes, stories are NOT born because a mommy story and a daddy story loved each other very much.

Sometimes, story ideas come about fully-formed, like little gifts from fiction heaven. (And isn’t it peachy when THAT happens?)

Other times, it takes a lot of forethought and muscle on the writer’s part – like, conjuring one’s inner Frankenstein to hack and sew words together and scream at the Gods until the Thing takes a life of its own.index

And then, sometimes, the process falls somewhere in the middle. A little prompting, a little “hmmm-ing”, a little pen-to-papering, and then… hey, look. An idea begins to grow.
For me, this often takes the form of a “What If” story.

What If… Bad Was Good?

In April of this year, my flash fiction story, DEFIANCE, appeared in Plasma Frequency Magazine.

Issue 11 Cover Preview

DEFIANCE is a fun little piece. Written in late 2012, it predates – I swear! – the Syfy show of the same name. While both the story and the tv show involve alien invasions and pockets of humanity that remain, erm, defiant, that’s pretty much where the similarities end (at least as far as I’m aware – I lost interest in the series halfway through the first season. Sorry Rockne).

In my DEFIANCE, the main character is a soldier in Earth’s resistance against aliens that have enslaved most of humanity. Poised for a sniper attack on the roof of an old elementary school, Jackson recalls his pre-invasion childhood of classroom tantrums and frowny-face notes that made his mother cry. While we learn that it was his inherent defiance that got young Jackson separated from his mother in civilization’s final hour, it was also what spared him from slavery – and presumably it is what helps him thrive in an alien apocalypse.

So how was this a “What If?” Back in 2012, my six-year-old had a disciplinary record that could put any teenaged hoodlum to shame. He is a brilliant child and the apple of my eye, but our boy was (and still can be) a holy terror to his teachers. A year later, he would (finally!) be diagnosed with Aspergers/Autism Spectrum, but at the time the “whys” of him were a mystery. One of the labels bandied about was Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is another way of saying “irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome”.

2336528544_12c8c64896_z

irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome

On the verge of seeing my baby expelled from first grade, I spent one afternoon crying into my hands until, when my own brand of stubborn kicked in, I poured myself a glass of suck-it-up and sat down at my computer. “What If,” I pondered, “being a born butthead was a survival skill? What would that look like?” An hour of fevered-typing later, the world of DEFIANCE had taken shape. Murky shape, maybe – it is only 800 words long, after all – but lo, I’d invented a possible future for my son that wasn’t all bad.

 

WHAT IF can offer new ways of thinking about old problems – and conjure up kick-ass stories, too.

 

What If… Left Was Right?

Science Fiction is an especially appropriate Petri dish for “What-Ifs”; it is, after all, speculative by definition. What if we had the technology to…? What would the future be like if ?

My story, GHOST-WRITER (published thiScigentasyWEBheader2s month in Scigentasy) tackles the Sci-Fi challenge of “What If” in a couple of ways. The primary question, dealing with possible technologies, comes from a note-to-self I found while flipping through old files in search for story ideas: [sic] what if someone’s brain hemispheres suddenly switched dominance?

For those of us who aren’t psychology nerds, “lateralization of brain function” describes the different but complimentary personalities of the left vs right sides of the brain. Though the subject has long made my geek happy (google split-brain experiments), I had recently read a book that was a game-changer for me: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, in which a neuroanatomist describes how her life was enriched by a stroke that disabled her left hemisphere. Free from the constrains of language-labeling and logical thinking, Dr. Taylor describes a world she perceived as free-flowing, creative, and spiritual.

Blausen_0215_CerebralHemispheres
With my, “What If”, inspired by Dr. Taylor, I tried to imagine what it would be like not to lose the functions of one hemisphere or the other, but to have the hemispheres up and trade places – prince and the pauper-style? Would wacky hjinks ensue? Would the body even notice, short of some vertigo, a Matrix-like glitch? The brain is superbly plastic; science has shown that under the right circumstances it can recover from grievous wounds, basically re-wiring itself to restore lost functioning.

It was from this line of thinking that GHOST-WRITER was conceived. In it, my neuroscientist, Carla, has invented a means of restoring function to brain-damaged patients by getting the remaining, healthy hemisphere to annex the dead tissue and graft its own programming there. Though the titular “Ghost-Writer” project is still in its exploratory stage, wrapped up in the proverbial red-tape, an inoperable brain tumor and a pending divorce compel Carla into taking matters into her own hands.

All fiction can be a “What If” playground; as writers, we can pose the question and invent answers within the parameters of any genre. Science Fiction just happens to lend itself particularly well to pushing the boundaries of possibility.

 

What If… Maybe Was True?

For this reason, a lot of Sci-Fi doubles as social commentary: if we can imagine a future or world or an alternate universe with even a minor shift in our cultural norms, what would that look like? Sometimes this socio-political exploration can be overt, with plots that cover the author’s agenda like a dancing green alien’s chemise (*cough* Star Trek *cough*).

In other cases, like with GHOST-WRITER, the questioning can be more subtle. My “What-if” about the brain’s hemispheres was my primary reason for writing it, but because my main characters are gay women, the story naturally raised questions about the future of gender and sexual politics, in particular same-sex marriage (which was not recognizedl in most states in 2011, when GHOST-WRITER was written).

Gaymarriage

So I wrote Carla and Maggie as a married couple –more significantly, I chose not to comment on it. I wanted to create a future where same-sex marriage is not only legal, it’s a non-issue. And I wanted to allow for fluidity, too: when Maggie turns down a date with another doctor it is for emotional reasons – not because he’s a he.

These were little things – I think I said more on the topic by not saying much – but the fact that beta readers were surprised when Carla’s spouse turned out to be a female pleased me, because it means my  take on “What If” here had the power to challenge assumptions.  And that’s, well, something.
What’s great about “What If” is that it inspires us, as writers and readers, to consider possibilities. Not necessarily large or paradigm-changing ones; we should not expect, when we sit down with our laptops or pens, that what we write will save a life or change the world. But, then again, we can always ask:  – What If it could?

What_if_I_ask_for_help

When a friend invited me to participate in an upcoming pulp-inspired “giant monster” anthology, I initially turned him down – something to the tune of “well I don’t… do? giant monsters?” But he asked me to think about it, and I did, and I’m glad. I won’t say too much, as the project is still pulling bits of matter into it’s orbit, but I started with a “what if”, and ended up somewhere I never expected to go:

600px-Mars-Schiaparelli

Mosaic of the Schiaparelli hemisphere of Mars – USGS Astrogeology: Martian Hemesphere Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve decided I like writing to themes. I like challenging my own habits and tropes, trying out my voice to other people’s songs. The resulting arrangements can be very interesting – like…

pagan gods and terra-forming

640px-Sapporo_Underground_Pedestrian_Space_Station_Road01s3

‘Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space Station Road”’ in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan} by 663highland

 

womena2

From http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/women.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

magic, black-eyed maidens, and destiny –

3003158871_a8a2838766_z

“the goddess” by Eddi van W.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiritual_marketplace/3003158871/

 

 

Mercury_helmet_gloves_boots

Mercury Spacesuit – NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

– on Mars.

 

Speaking of Mars, and playing outside our comfort zones, here are some interesting Red Planet-related oddities I discovered while writing my story:

 

 

942_streamPRINCESS OF MARS – by Chase Toole

Searching for illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, I stumbled across this image by contemporary artist Chase Toole.  I honestly thought at first that it was taken from some 60s pulp cover.  Although the heroine in my story is (mostly) fully dressed, I’m in love with this girl.  Just look at those colors, and contrasts.

 

THE MARS SOCIETY
MarsSociety_logosmall

Featured recently on NPR, The Mars Society is an organization dedicated to “furthering the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet” through “Public outreach fostering Mars pioneers, worldwide support for government-funded Mars research and exploration, and private-enterprise Mars exploration and settlement.”

 

I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?

Want to sign up?

Or, you could just SEND YOUR POETRY TO MARS and touch the cosmos that way.

2594040178_86c098afbd_m

“haiku” – Monrovia Public Library
http://www.flickr.com/photos/monroviapubliclibrary/2594040178/

 

A part of the Going to Mars Project, NASA has invited citizens of earth (yes, you!) to write  mars-related haiku.  Three global winners will be recorded on a dvd that’s to be sent with the MAVEN spacecraft into – yeah – outer space.
Everyone who participates will get their name on the dvd, at least.  To find out more, visit Going to Mars with MAVEN.

 

 

Want to know more about giant monsters, beautiful (clothed) ladies, and colonies on Mars? WATCH THIS SPACE – there’s more info to come!