In the dreaming… wandering large, sprawling old university grounds, come across research display of work done with animals, melding them to robot AIs and other things. Horrific. But as I turn to flee, unable to stand it, catch the gaze of dog who’s been made half-robot thing and go to comfort him instead. As I stroke the space between his eyes, feeling his pain and fear, we start to breathe together; a cat and another dog come and lean against him with me, all of us breathing together, as, gradually, his pain and fear lessen into comfort, in and from the breath.
When I was a kid and a teenager, and periodically on into adulthood, I had debilitating anxiety. I described it as feeling like I was walking on an unreliable dock over deep, dark, oily liquid nothingness, catastrophic black waters, with the sense that things really weren’t all right or okay, under the surface—and the surface was not solid.
Learning to meditate at 11, and eventually, as an adult, taking anti-anxiety & depression medication, gave me a sense of solid footing, in myself, in my breath, in love and connection.
Now I find myself thinking that the description of the anxiety I experienced as a kid sounds a lot like a premonition of the future we humans were making, and that of the animals who are cursed with our presence on this planet.
The good stuff is still real, but we really do have dangerous abyss at our feet, and the surface we tread day by day is not as solid as we think; and that abyss is formed, in part, of oil and greed and the darkness of a refusal to see.
Saturday October 13
Reading, Salon B, 3-3:25 – I'll read from the in-progress sequel to Substrate Phantoms, and a bonus as yet unpublished weird fable about an ice bear in a haunted forest. Followed by the incomparable Kelly Robson's reading!
Sunday October 14
Panel, Penthouse A, 1-1:50 - Beyond Romantic Entanglements– Every great story needs at least a romantic subplot, right? Novels, films, TV shows and even video games or plays often include character romance somewhere. Why does this seem to be so essential in our stories (spoiler: it doesn’t)? How can alternatives to a romantic relationship accomplish the same outcomes, and what works have done this? KT Bryski, James Alan Gardner, Jessica Reisman, Kelly Robson (Moderator)
I will otherwise be around and about and probably smiling my goofy big smile, because I will be happy to be there seeing my Alyx & Kelly & others.
Where and when I'll be at this years ArmadilloCon:
Friday, August 3, I teach in the Writers' Workshop.
Saturday, August 4
Post-Apocalypse & Post-Post-Apocalypse
Race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class have been central concerns of SF since the beginning. Our panelists will discuss places where we see, or want to see, science fiction and fantasy studying these intersections to explore and expand the worlds of stories we write and read.
Daily anxiety attack
Endless pleas for money
To fix what’s been broken
The busted egg of our reality, opened to darkness
Fascism, not just a word
But a series of ever more horrible policies
Allowing for the abuse and murder of so
We will go on
Each of us
Until we don’t
That’s a fact
But for the many
The time alive made harrowing by
It’s unforgivable, horrifying, wrong, wrong, all wrong
So much pain
I flee to the sweet respite of story, escape, as I know distant relatives did
In Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, those Jewish relations who did not escape
Broken, broken reality
It hurts, I cry, I go on
The darkness was always there for some, I know
But there are times when the floodgates openAnd we are deluged
"A Salt Moon" explores the very beginnings of the Thorough Order of Physic Arts, which appears in my novels Substrate Phantoms and The Z Radiant.
The Terra Nullius anthology is available as the actual book, pictured with cat for scale, or as an ebook:
Houston Comicpalooza has a lot going on (I get mesmerized in the artists’ alley). Among its many splendors there is a Literary Track that taps a whole bunch of authors and screenwriters. I will be contributing my own particular feelings and opinions (oh yes, I have opinions) on horror in the Horror for the 21st Century: Film and Literature panel (Saturday May 26, 2018, 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm), with other panelists including the stellar Joe Landsdale, K.J. Russell, Lisa Vasquez, and Channing Whitaker, with Gerald Hanks serving as moderator.
As the panel description puts it:
Once upon a time, all you needed was an isolated setting, a serial killer and a handful of teenagers with questionable survival instincts. Fortunately, the realm of horror is expanding in tandem with our increasingly modern world and benefiting from bold new voices in the genre. Let’s talk about some of the freshest and most frightening stories out there and what’s coming up next. Bring your favorites!
There are some amazing things going on in horror these days (Get Out instantly comes to mind), so it should be a pretty lively discussion.
I will also be available in Saturday’s Read and Critique session as a feedback springboard for aspiring authors:
Are you an aspiring author? Do you want professional and peer critique of your work? Bring your pages and join us for these daily interactive small-group critique sessions. You’ll have a set time limit to read aloud and receive feedback. NOTE: Workshops have a limited-seating capacity. Sign-up to participate.
I’m pretty good at the feedback, having almost 30 years of workshopping under my belt. (I will also once again be one of the instructors at the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop in early August.)
If you think of literature and film as an ecosystem, a forest (as I do), you need biodiversity. You need a wide, deep range of life in the biome. This is why I so dislike best-of lists, I think. Especially those that claim, ‘This is it, these are THE best books of the year.’ Maybe it’s understood that this only really means ‘These are my/our favorites of what I/we actually read during the year’—but I don’t think it is.
What happens if you only support the biggest, best-fertilized (read: invested in by the publishing industry and taken up by reviewers) ‘star’ trees? You make the forest sick. I get that ‘my favorite’ or ‘the books that were best in my mind’ doesn’t have the attention-grabbing power of ‘This is it, look no further, these are the best, the crème de la crème.’ But, ugh. I find that sort of headline actively aversive. I’ve never liked it. I’m glad those lists are getting more diverse—ecstatic, really—but I wish we weren’t a culture that promulgated them at all.
Such lists are useful for tools, appliances, items with measurable objective performance and functions. That rubric shouldn’t be applied to art. So, dear media outlets and reviewers, say our or my favorites, please? It’s a small thing, on the surface, but I think it goes deep into the roots and ultimate health of our ecosystem.
Substrate Phantoms, a novel, from Resurrection House on its Arche imprint.
"A deep dive into prose-poetry sci-fi and a mind-stretching mystery." - Kirkus Reviews
Available at the SFWA site for members nominating for the Nebula.
"Bourbon, Sugar, Grace," a novelette at Tor.com. "Four and a half FASCINATING Stars. In the SciFi short story 'Bourbon, Sugar, Grace' by talented author Jessica Reisman, she introduces the reader to Fox, a salvager in a mining colony on the mostly-abandoned planet, Sloe."
We should be spending all our time being amazed at the wonders of this planet, loving each other, celebrating, being kind, helping each other out. Instead we have this mess of unkind, selfish, destructoid, mealy mouthed horrorshow monster-clowns stealing all our time, killing us, killing the wonder and beauty of the planet, of nature, raping humans and the wild and leaving us all to reap the (literal climate change) whirlwind.
Everyday we have this amazing life within us, breath and perception and sweetness. That’s where our focus should be. Can it be there while we also resist and work for social justice, work to protect the vulnerable, the threatened, the beauty that is life loved and appreciated, not life raped and murdered?
It has to be, because that’s part of resistance, to continue to love, cherish, celebrate each other and the intricately amazing planet we live on together. To hold light in our hearts and hands and pass it one to another as necessary. To honor the wild, each other, and ourselves.This has been a solstice manifesto…
picture by me
It seems to me I often start
Reaching for words, for meaning
To embody seed, shoot, branch, bud
Of something stronger than words
Deeper than I can shape
But reaching still
Stretching into shape, curve, rhythm
A helluva a way to write
Translating the thing inside
So whole in itself
Into what makes story
On the page
Alive in others
Clean outlines, by the numbers, have never
Worked for me
I guess inchoate, reachingIs where I have to be
There are plenty of situational reasons for anxiety/depression these days, and, indeed, I do feel overwhelmed right now, and tired. But I've also struggled with severe anxiety/depression from childhood. Add the daily drags and challenges of a chronic illness to that, and yeah, I have hard periods. Things that help, meditating, writing every day (challenging with a full-time dayjob and a chronic illness), feeling like my writing is being read and engaged and doing some small good in the world, cats, loved ones, books & movies. But the first two most of all, in terms of even keel. And medication. What a good, good thing it's been for me and my quality of life.
When I can't get on social media without a dozen important, desperate issues hitting me and the anxiety square in the injustice-rage and feels buttons, I'm already off-kilter and then the posts about all the best novels and stories lists I'm not on tweak the 'oh, cod, I'm such a failure,' pedal, and the whole ridiculous vehicle careens into anxiety/depression gulch. I know better than to compare my career to any other writer's. I know better than to rely at all on external validation (though it's always super incredibly appreciated when it comes). But knowing better doesn't always keep you from fucking up.
(I've done lots and lots of therapy, at various points, for many years, so please don't offer advice or counsel here--I'm not looking for it. Just processing a bit, and putting it out there, because maybe other people are having some of the same issues.)
So, reminders for self: You always come through it. It's okay to stick your nose in a book or a tv show for a while and give reality a break--you don't have to feel guilty about it. Hang on, keep doing what you know helps (even if you have to keep retrying for that bloody one regular hour of writing fiction on dayjob days over and over). Love on the animals in your life, don't just mourn and desperately miss the one who's gone. Be kind to yourself. Come back to the fight when you're ready. It doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
- Thursday November 2, 4:00pm-5:00pm - Beards and Intrigue: Queering the Historical Fantastic (Our moderator, Sara Megibow, promises book giveaways!)
- Saturday November 4, 10:00am-10:30am - Reading (Come see me!)
Reality crumbling in our hands
Like some Dickian nightmare
Evidence of infection in the veins of every day
Monsters who are monsters because they
Care only about themselves and
Will only support those who either
Resemble them, fawn to them,
Or provide gratification to them,
Passively, like surfaces mapped with
Scars, the impress of
The monsters' warped psyches
Naming the monsters—white, cis, male, heterosexual—is not
Helpful, because like any monsters, they are distinct from others
Who wear the same labels and are not
Naming doesn’t help, as it does in fairy tales
They go on raining destruction
Burning all that nurtures, protects, is beautiful or
I, who as a child daydreamed of being one of
Arthur’s knights, I want to slay them
I guess I’ve always been a little blood thirsty
But only for the blood of the evil
Like a cursed sword, lost
In a very deep lake
Blade Runner 2049 has lots of great technology riffs and visuals of a beautifully (unnuanced) dystopian nearish noir future. I love that stuff—gadgets, technology, future landscapes, urbanscapes, interiors. I am a science fiction loving girl.
But the movie has zero other science fictional world building—that is, social world building that admits of any desires or worldviews of any individuals other than heterosexual, normative, white men. Even the replicant protagonist is a het, white, normative guy—who projects his perfect dream woman onto a sex worker to have sex with her. And, ooh, ahh, what a cool scene. /sarcasm. It made me sad, annoyed, and bored as shit, that scene. Because it’s just an externalized realization of the Same. Old. Story.
High heels, naked women objectified all over the place—where are the beautiful, objectified young men, large women, androgynous individuals? Where are the desires of literally everyone else? Where are the women and people of color who aren’t props and furnishing for the world of straight white men? Every single female character in this movie is a prop or foil for white straight males, either the protagonist, or Deckard, or the Jared Leto character. And do I even need to mention the few PoC minor characters? Yeesh.
If that’s how humanity develops, admitting nothing of the diversity of aims and needs, worldviews, strengths, and desires of anyone but the ones western culture has always served—to say nothing of the visions of all the very intelligent people working on green answers to the issues that become Blade Runner’s environmentally bereft future—humanity may as well be killed off right now. When science fiction does little beyond spinning the worst technologies forward while reifying the oldest, most retro, and tired of male, western, heterosexual angst, desires, and projections onto others—literally mapping them onto others in that one scene, and projecting them hugely into the landscape in others—science fiction is lazy and not doing what it needs to do.
You could say that all this objectification of women was in keeping with the noir aspect of Blade Runner, but I’d say there was cherry picking there, too. And I’d also say I want more, I want better. Given everything going on in our world right now, I think we need better from big budget Hollywood movies, which command so much attention and money. Maybe that’s hopeless, but I think we have to ask, and keep asking, for it.
At the very least, for Blade Runner 2049 to have been truly remarkable and worth doing, for my money anyway, the protagonist should have been a gay man, or a woman, or a PoC—or all of those.
Wondering where exactly
Thinking of my ancestors
Thinking, should I leave now—leave
This here, where now the nightmare drifts
A deadly gas
Promise of horror
Do I fight on?
In this midst, this here, this now
Write my far flung, deep-set
Stories of others and self, self as others
Adventuring, fighting the dark forces
How do you fight a deadly gas?
Go always masked
Wear clown noses
Bury your face in the cat’s soft fur and breathe
Only the scent of love and warmth?
Hide in the woods
Deep in the water, breathing through reeds
Listen for far off music
Listen, for hope, for love, for strength, hands to hold
An embrace of comfort in the dark—
Friday I'm teaching in the writers' workshop, an all day affair.
Saturday, 5:30 PM-6:00 PM Reading, Room 102
I'm reading with the most fab E.J. Fischer, two brief readings of outstanding wonderfulness
Saturday, 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Fiction for Empathy, Ballroom F
How do reading and writing fiction help us to understand one another?
Sunday 1:00 PM-2:00 PM, Dystopias (and utopias) in a dystopian age, Ballroom E
Reading and writing dystopias (and utopias) in a dystopian age
*If you bring me a copy of SUBSTRATE PHANTOMS to sign, I'll give you a full set of my limited edition postcards from space, which I made, me my ownself, good for sending postcards, framing, making notes on, fanning oneself, admiring.
But I am very thankful to those individuals who have read it and said very best-of kinds of things. A sampling:
I also particularly enjoy novels about life in a particular place, whether a space station or a starliner. What it is like to live in such a culture....
I also enjoy good worldbuilding. This book is full of not only a richly detailed world but complex well-developed characters who I was sorry to let go. (Sequel, please?) I particularly enjoyed her use of language. This culture has its own slang but there was enough context and enough that reasonably could be extrapolated from today's world that I was able to keep up smoothly.
Substrate Phantoms has it all. A well-told tale and a very satisfying read indeed. I highly recommend Substrate Phantoms to all who enjoy speculative fiction and have not lost their sense of wonder! - Margaret A. Davis on Amazon
In this far-future space opera, Reisman spins a tale both intimate and cosmic. Its two settings are vividly realized. One is Termagenti Station, a manufactured world with a deep structure and culture, appropriately exotic yet accessible to the reader--a combination not always easy to pull off in far-future fiction. The other is Ash, the planet below, a world slowly being adapted for human use. Jhinsei is a young man of unknown parentage who, after losing the only family he has known, becomes aware that the station--or is it Jhinsei himself?--is haunted, and by no conventional ghost. Meanwhile, another young man, Mheth, discovers uncomfortable truths about his own powerful, privileged, damaged family. Their fates are intertwined with that of another being--one that is sought after for its power to transform, or to destroy. What might first contact with another intelligent species really be like? What might we do to it--or it to us?
Reisman shines in her use of language. She captures the perceptions and emotions of her characters, and limns the worlds around them, in words both evocative and precise. In this way she sometimes reminded me of my favorite speculative-fiction writer, Jack Vance, especially in her rich but deft descriptions of Ash's beauty and strangeness. (I smiled to see the particularly Vancian word "nugatory" at one apt point.) The events and ideas of this novel are large, but there is power in the author's evoking of their interior repercussions. Highly recommended as an example of character-driven space opera. - Rebecca Stetoff Amazon & Goodreads
Here are the postcards (from spaaace!) I made (they refer to things in the book):
Here is something a smart and talented person said about the book:
"Substrate Phantoms is beautifully written and richly imagined, with themes and imagery that remind me of Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17. It’s a lovely book; I hope we’ll see more of this universe and these characters."
—Judith Tarr, award winning author of FORGOTTEN SUNS
Here is the giveaway package:
If you would like to have this (yes, this very one, pictured above) advance reader copy of the book and a set of my bespoke postcards (from spaaace!), printed on nice recycled stock, please enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway. Begins Monday May 8, ends midnight Wednesday May 10. Once the winner is chosen and mailing address obtained, package will be sent! (Only entrants with USA or Canadian mailing addresses, please--sorry.) (Pillow fox not included.)
I got my ARCs pretty much too late to do a Goodreads giveaway; I don't have a huge following (yet), so RTs and spreading of the word is very much appreciated. Let's launch this book. (Into spaaace!)