Ted Chiang, as they say, needs no introduction — if you follow the contemporary science fiction and fantasy short story scene. In case you don’t, Chiang is a powerhouse, not only one of the masters of the short form, but also someone whose work can always be relied on to be strong. Is some better than others? Sure. But it all shows his characteristic attention to detail and deep consideration and analysis.
My favorite of his is actually “The Short Story of Your Life and Others,” but alas, it’s not online. Instead I give you this one, to which it was my honor to lose the Hugo.
“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang:
Ana’s half expecting to see a fantastical landscape when the window refreshes, but instead her avatar shows up in what looks at first glance to be a daycare center. On second glance, it looks like a scene from a children’s book: there’s a little anthropomorphic tiger cub sliding colored beads along a frame of wires; a panda bear examining a toy car; a cartoon version of a chimpanzee rolling a foam rubber ball.
The onscreen annotations identify them as digients, digital organisms that live in environments like Data Earth, but they don’t look like any that Ana’s seen before. These aren’t the idealized pets marketed to people who can’t commit to a real animal; they lack the picture-perfect cuteness, and their movements are too awkward.
Keffy Kehrli is a too-often-overlooked writer. This is my favorite of his short stories.
My parents raised me on a diet of jazz, big bands, musicals, and classical music. I’ve never spent much time listening to more recent popular music. “This Is a Ghost Story” is about Kurt Cobain — but even for me, who has no connection to the source material, it was still intense and affecting.
(By the by, if you like listening to short stories, you might be interested in Keffy Kehrli’s LGBTQ podcast, Glittership.)
“This Is a Ghost Story” by Keffy Kerhli
On a muted television:
He smirks like he’s found the way out of an impossible maze, like he hasn’t a care in the world. Except that if you look in his eyes, you’ll see the breadcrumbs leading right back to the labyrinth. You’ll feel a memory of unrelenting stone walls and know that it wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling, being held. Suffocating.
Turn up the sound too late for the question.
He runs cigarette–stained fingers over the stubble on his chin and leans on the arm of the leather couch. He crosses his legs, skinny jeans worn and ragged. He’s still wearing old Chucks with the tread half–gone, even though he could buy a thousand new pairs. He doesn’t wear the Mister Rogers sweaters anymore. Sometimes he still wears dresses for the fuck of it, but today he’s wearing a white t–shirt that looks like his kid doodled on it with four colors of Sharpie. A bloodied stick man holds a shotgun.
He licks his lips, and he doesn’t look at the camera, or at the floor, or at the interviewer’s face. He’s focused on the space between, like it’s a gulf or a fence or a wall. He says, “Yeah, it was pretty rough for a while, you know. I kept saying things were getting better, but really they weren’t. Eventually it was clean up or die, so…
“I started thinking about doing music for other shit, not because I needed the money, but to fuck with people. Then I thought maybe I’d do a Disney soundtrack, but it’d probably end up like in Fight Club where the guy’s splicing porn into kid movies.”
Then the interviewer asks about his kid, and he grins. “She’s great,” he says. “I know that’s not very ‘punk rock’ of me, but whatever.”
What are you looking at? This interview never fucking happened.
It’s the last day of my Making Lemons into Jokes campaign! Thanks to absolutely everyone who has contributed, supported, signal boosted, chuckled, and etc. And there’s still a little time to chip in! There are three stretch goals left —
$850 – A satirical essay by Greg Machlin on the topic of how I, personally, destroyed science fiction.
$900 – I’ll write a silly story based on a prompt that John Hodgman gave SFWAns at this year’s Nebula banquet.
$950 – I’ll write a silly story based on all three of his prompts.
$1000 – I’ll hire a professional to make the whole bundle into something pretty.
It would be nice to hit the last one; I could probably use the help. 😉
I’ve written a bunch about the harassment and the campaign this month. On Ann Leckie’s blog, I talked about why the common advice to ignore trolls isn’t enough. On Mary Robinette Kowal’s, I wrote about some of the threads of oppression that make solidarity personally important to me. On Jim Hines’, I wrote about coping with harassment as a vulnerable person.
Today, I wanted to write a little about the places where the light is increasing.
When I started selling my writing in 2005, if I wrote a story with queer characters, I had to think about where I could send it. Not all markets would publish things that pushed those boundaries. Even editors who had no problem with queer content might have to deal with things like school library distribution, where some librarians (more than do today) believed that “gay” = “sex” = “inappropriate for children.”
These days? I don’t even think about it.
These days, when a young trans writer asks me whether there are people with non-normative genders in the industry, I have instant access to an array of publicly known names like my former student, An Owomoyela, one of the fiction editors of the Hugo-winning Strange Horizons, Keffy Kehrli, a brilliant writer who is also running his own queer-themed podcast, and Charlie Jane Anders, whose beautiful writing has been acknowledged with well-earned awards.
In 2005, a venerated old, male writer grabbed a woman’s breast without her permission, on stage, in front of thousands. The science fiction community was befuddled, tripped over its own feet in confusion, and nothing decisive proceeded.
Now large numbers of pro writers have signed pledges not to attend conventions without harassment policies. Activists like Elise Mathesen, Genevieve Valentine, and Rose Fox, among so, so many others, have stood up to make those policies mean something.
And yet more activists, like Mary Robinette Kowal, Michael and Lynne Thomas, and Mari Ness, have come up with a similar pledge about accessibility policies, to try to extend that energy and protection to disabled congoers.
In 2008, fans of color stood up to be counted, because people didn’t even really believe they were there.
I think most white people know better now. It’s been a long time since I saw someone suggest everyone who said they were brown was a sock puppet.
When I came into the field, I knew a little about post-colonial and Indian diasporic science fiction because of my anthropology classes, and I’d been reading some Japanese fiction in translation. But it’s only been in the past several years — thanks to the efforts of American translators like Ken Liu, and international critics and writers like Charles Tan and Lavie Tidhar — that non-anglophone speculative fiction is being widely read and heard in the United States, leading to the recognition of powerful, non-Western writers like Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang.
Every single moment of progress has had its backlash, of course. When Nora Jemisin came to deserved prominence as one of this century’s most important, emerging voices, jealous graspers harassed her, to try to put her back in her “place.” Elise Mathesen and Genevieve Valentine are still subjected to victim blaming.
But they made a difference. They’re still making a difference.
If my post on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog was about why people still need to stand together, then this post is the light side of that. When we push hard, and when we bear the costs of pushing, we can make progress. We have.
RS: I’ve been reading your Raadchai stories for eleven years now (Yeah, eleven years. Let that sink in.) and I know the gloves and tea were in them by the time I started reading. Were they part of the initial germ of the Raadch, or if not, how did they evolve?
They weren’t part of the initial germ, but they got into the mix pretty soon after that. And I’m not sure where they came from or why they stuck–it just kind of worked for me somehow.
Which is how a lot of things are when I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll see someone say, like, “Oh, and this detail here, this is obviously Leckie doing this profound intentional thematic thing” and I’m like, no, actually, it was shiny, or else it made the story work the way I wanted it to, but I am not going to speak up and spoil the impression that I was actually doing this very sophisticated thing!
RS: Tell everyone the story of the tea Vonda.
So, Clarion West has a party every Friday night of the workshop. And I turned up to the first one and I walk in (actually into the front yard of the house where it was) not knowing anybody, and this woman comes up with a plastic bag full of yarn and says, “Here, I make these for the students every year. Take one.” So what they are is these crocheted…objects. Our class mostly called them “scrunchies” or “scrunchy things.” If you were to crochet a couple chains and then join them to make a small loop, and then do a dozen or so double crochets in the loop and join the first and last ones to make a flat circle, and then every round after that make two double crochets in every double crochet, after a few rounds you’d have a scrunchy thing. Mine was mostly a sportweight yarn that was white with a strand of what looked like silver tinsel in it, and then it was edged with a round of single crochets in red.
Anyway, so I picked my red and silver and white scrunchy thing and I thanked the nice lady and she went off to give one to another student and someone leaned over and said to me, very quietly, “That was Vonda McIntyre,” and I nearly fell over. Vonda McIntyre! Gave me a scrunchy thing she had crocheted herself! I put it on my desk in my room where the workshop was.
And so then, while I was working on the story that eventually became “Night’s Slow Poison” I needed a creature. Building creatures can take quite a while if you take your worldbuilding seriously, which I generally do. But I needed something fast, and I looked up and there was my scrunchy thing. “Right,” I said, “you’re my creature. What to call you?” And thus the tea Vonda was born.
RS: Do you have a picture of your tea Vonda?
I don’t! I know it’s in my office somewhere, I ran across it the last time I cleaned the whole office, but Mithras only knows where it is now. Probably under a huge pile of beads and yarn.
RS: I do not have a picture of my tea Vonda. Maybe I’ll find it when we clean our office.
Hahaha clean the office. The very idea. I don’t know about yours, but that would be a big project here in my office.
RS: I love your fantasy world in which gods must always speak the truth, and suffer penalties when they lie. Can you describe it more fully and talk about how you came up with it?
I actually designed that world for “The God of Au” and then found that I could use it for other things.
I did a lot of reading on various topics, and ended up fascinated with the very…I guess I’ll say “contractual” nature of some pagan Roman religious practices. Like, you’d make an offering and you would be careful to describe the terms of your offering very specifically so there was no misunderstanding. “I give you the wine I pour out on the ground” rather than “I give you this wine” which could, if you squinted, mean all the wine in the amphora, or from the harvest, right? Or when praying to a god or asking them for something, they’re sometimes very careful about names and identities. If you clearly needed to propitiate *some* god (there’s a plague, or a string of misfortunes, or some ill-omened event but there’s no information about which god might be the one to go to) you’d make an offering to something like “the god who’s concerned in this, whether they’re male or female or neither, by whatever name they answer to” (that’s a very loose paraphrase, not an actual quote of any inscription). In fact, such a dedication occurs in “The God of Au.” Or, like, there were certain ceremonies that had to go off as specified, and if there was one detail wrong they had to start over from the beginning, because the deal was it had to happen a particular way. So if, say, it was a procession during which the officiating priest couldn’t be contaminated by seeing something–let’s say a dog–during the procession, well, instead of having to start over every time a stray dog turned up, they’d put blinders on the priest in the procession so even if the dog was there, he wouldn’t, you know, see it.
I found that really interesting, in part because of the way it implied the assumption of the very real presence of gods, and the potential for a very direct relationship between people and gods, and for gods’ very direct actions on the world, in a way that makes perfect logical sense if in fact gods exist and they consider themselves bound by contracts in that way. It was a small step from there to “gods are bound by their own words.”
Which is essentially the premise of the universe–not much different from the world we live in at all, but for this one thing–multiple gods exist, and their power comes from the fact that whatever they say is true–even if it wasn’t before they said it. Of course, a world that has such beings in it is going to be very different from ours, even if everything else is basically the same.
RS: Have you considered writing a fantasy novel? Do you have an idea for it?
I have! I have some faint scratchings of an idea. It would take work to develop those into an actual novel, but I would really like to do it some time.
RS: What is the best kind of tea?
The kind that tastes good to you! Right now I’m enjoying different oolongs, but there aren’t many kinds of tea that I just don’t like. Well, I’m not a rooibos fan. (Well, let me amend that, I’ve got a green rooibos blend that I was given as a gift and I like that one a lot. But generally, not a rooibos fan.)
RS: For the past several years, you’ve been making spectacularly gorgeous woven bead jewelry. Can you describe a couple of your favorite projects? Pictures please!
Oh, wow. I’m not sure I’d say “spectacularly gorgeous,” but. I’ve got a few necklaces I’m very proud of, and I got into doing pins for a while (for maybe obvious reasons), which are nice because they’re small and finish quickly. Beadweaving can take such a long time! I’ve got a freeform peyote necklace that’s been in progress for a couple of years, sheesh, I really do need to finish it.
I’ve posted pics of some of the pins on my tumblr:
I’m kind of proud of that one, though it’s mostly bead embroidery and polymer clay. The cuneiform allegedly says “the goddess Innana.” I know “the goddess” part is right, that’s that star-looking thing on the left, it’s the determinative for gods. (alone it can also mean “star” or “sky” and you now have almost the entire extent of my knowledge of Sumerian.)
These are just kind of playing around. In colors I hardly ever use, actually, but I walked into the bead store last winter and was so tired of gray, and they’d put a bunch of beads those colors up front and I was like ‘I need the bright colors!”
There are more, and I did bunches and bunches of little triangles. I did the necklace in my author photo! And also the necklace and purse I wore for the 2014 Nebulas and Hugos! I’m not sure I have pictures of all of them, though.
RS: New fans may or may not know you as someone who was the assistant/associate editor at PodCastle for several years, and the founder and editor of Giganotosaurus Magazine. What do you get out of editing? Do you see yourself taking up another editing project?
Maybe! I enjoy editing, but it does take up a very similar part of my energy as writing does, which is why I handed off the editing of GigaNotoSaurus to Rashida Smith (who is doing a fabulous job).
Part of what I’ve learned from editing is how to look at something that isn’t working for me and think of effective ways to fix it. I wasn’t doing the fixing myself, but I think I got better as time went on at identifying things and coming up with workable suggestions for the writer. And of course, sometimes the writer’s reply would be “No, actually, I think this other thing will work better” and it would! That was something I felt I could bring back to my own work, that would make it better.
Also, honestly, it is genuinely fun to buy stories, to say “Yes, give me the story I want to publish it!” And then even more fun to have it go out into the world and maybe see people read it or talk about it. Most of the credit goes to the writer, and rightly so, but there’s just something…I don’t know, parental? about publishing stories.
RS: Should dinosaurs have guns?
Yes. Yes they should. Especially if their technology has gotten to the point that they’re mounting expeditions to Mars.
RS: What is your least favorite way to end an interview?
I..don’t know? I don’t think I’ve had an interview end badly. 😀
I’m a big fan of science fiction that takes vivid, strange images into the future. I think, actually, I always have — and if you look at a lot of classic SF, that’s what it’s doing. That’s obvious when reading someone like Stanislaw Lem, but I think it’s still true about folks who we consider more traditional now. It’s just that some of the weird images they used have been carried on in the conversation so far now that they’ve become standard, and have lost their newness. Stories like this, and space opera by people like Yoon Ha Lee, bring a contemporary disjunctive strangeness to the genre. I look forward to seeing what happens when the next generation gets bored with it.
If you like odd surrealism and lyrical writing, Maria Dahvana Headley is worth perusing.
“The Traditional” by Maria Dahvana Headley:
By your first anniversary, the world’s stopped making paper, and so you can’t give 3your boyfriend the traditional gift. You never would have anyway, regardless of circumstances. You’re not that kind of girl. You pride yourself on your original sin. It’s the hot you trade in.
So you give him the piece of your skin just beneath your ribcage on the right side, where the floating ribs bend in. It’s a good part. Not the best. You’re like a food hoarder who pretends her larder’s empty, all the while running her finger along the dusty ledge that leads to the trick shelves that hold the jars of Caspian caviar. You’ve always been the kind of liar who leans back and lets boys fall into you while you see if you can make them fall all the way out the other side. You want them to feel like they’ve hit Narnia. You traffic in interdimensional fucking, during which they transcend space and time, and you go nowhere. When they fall in love, you Shun & Break™ them. Their poor plastic hearts are Pez dispensers topped with copyright violation Mickey Mice.
Your boy’s not falling for this shit. He simply refuses. He sees through your methods. You met him in a bar on the night of the first apocalypse, just prior, and both of you somehow lived through the night.
He clocked you from moment one, when you bought him a drink and brought it to him, fresh lipstick on your mouth, altering your walk to cause him pain. He drank it. He then took the cherry out of yours and drank your drink too, looking at you the whole time like he was a prime transgressor who was going to rock your world until it broke.
“You gonna try to make me love you now?” he asked. “That your thing?”
“Brother,” you said, taken aback by the way he’d just needlessly whacked the rules of flirtation, “I don’t even know you exist.”
Five days left in May, and five days left until the end of the “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” fundraiser.
Thanks so much to Jim Hines for hosting me at his place today! I talked a little bit about how to be an individual coping with harassment when you’re someone who’s vulnerable.
As of yesterday, we’ve reached $700, and the audio book stretch goal!! Unicorn glitter!!
Just a bit more to reach $800, and original cover art from Barry Deutsch!
Cat Rambo is a Nebula-nominated writer, successful online writing teacher, current president of SFWA, and one of my Clarion West classmates–along with Ann Leckie, who I’m interviewing next week. I’m a great admirer of her short stories (I’ll be publishing some fan art of a few of them in a bit), like this one and this one. Her first novel came out this year, too, in the lovely and well-developed world of Tabat (I have a draft of the sequel in my inbox, and I can’t wait!) Also, she’s tons of fun to hang out with, and everyone should do so, but hopefully not all at once.
1. Although you write stories in other venues, you have at least two persistent worlds. One is Tabat where your novel takes place. Can you talk about the world and how it came to be?
Tabat started with a game concept. A friend was working on a MUD (a text-based multi-player game) where each administrator would create their own city, and I decided to do a seaport. One of the cool things about the game engine was that you could add tags onto room, so there were bits of description that only appeared under certain conditions, including things like time of day, season, moon phase, tide, and so forth, including things like if the player was carrying a specific object or had particular spells on them.
I went nuts with it. I built a city where you smelled fish when the tide was high and the wind was coming from the south, and where the tiles of the great Moonway shifted in color depending on whether the moon was full or lean. In the spring there was the smell of particular flowers when you descended the stairways leading from one terrace to another, and in the fall, storms sweeping in from the south-east brought the smell of rotting reeds from the marshes bordering the city on one side.
Alas, much of my work was lost in a server accident, and after that discouragement and the falling away of the other administrators, Tabat never got to see actual players.
Later, I tried to recreate it in another MUD. I had been working with Armageddon MUD, which had a period each Saturday where the game was inaccessible to players while the staff performed maintenance and additions. We planned to have a space available only on Saturdays, a mini-mud that would be a single city. However, we ended up doing away with the Saturday downtimes, and so this project also never saw light. (Armageddon still exists; enter at your own peril.)
So when I started writing fantasy stories, it was a logical place to set some. I knew it well, and it’s gotten even further fleshed out in my head over the decade I’ve been working with fiction in it. Writing a fantasy quartet in it has been fun, but the next volume, Exiles of Tabat, actually moves the reader outside the city, accompanying Bella and Teo.
2. Likewise, you have a space station (Twicefar, right?) where you’ve set a lot of stories. (I can link to some here.) How did that develop?
Twicefar grew out of a single story that I wrote while at Clarion West, Amid the Words of War, which is set in a brothel named The Little Teacup of the Soul aboard the station.
As characters emerged in one story, I ended up exploring them further in others. One of my favorites is “Kallakak’s Cousins,” which appeared in Asimov’s. The universe around that far-future setting has hosted some stories as well, such as TimeSnip, Angry Rose’s Lament (another Clarion West story), and Bots d’Amor.
3. What new writing skills have you learned from teaching regularly?
I’ve gotten better things like placing the reader inside the character’s head, rather than a spot about six inches behind it or, worse yet, hovering at a distance. A lot of it are little tricks, devices I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t been thinking about the topic for a particular class.
And I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to get from “this would be nifty” to finished story. I keep getting people who tell me they want to learn how to tell the ideas that will turn into stories from the ones that will peter out. And that’s not actually a skill you pick up. Instead you learn how to reliably turn something into a story.
4. You and I have both attended a lot of workshops in different venues. In my experience, different workshop cultures have different strengths and weaknesses. Common, useful metaphors known in sci fi workshops might not be common in graduate programs that concentrate on realism. What did you learn in graduate school that doesn’t get included in most science fiction workshops?
Hmmm. I think one of the things that gets emphasized in grad workshops as opposed to SF workshops is a sense that you’re part of the overall conversation of literature, that anything you write is influenced by and in some ways a reply to the texts that have moved you in one way or another.
I wrote “Bus Ride to Mars” as a love poem to Geoffrey Chaucer, who I adore, for example. Do you need to have read The Canterbury Tales to appreciate it? I sure hope not. But there’s great pleasure in reading a text and seeing the layers of influence at work in it, and sometimes SF workshops don’t talk about that or even denigrate it as snooty literary stuff. That’s a shame and it’s something that hampers us.
I’m very happy to see efforts to keep genre history — particularly the pieces that end up dropping away often — preserved in projects like Kris Rusch’s Women in SF website.
5. How does your women’s studies background influence your writing at this point? Does that relationship continue to develop as you keep writing?
Always. I’ve got an undergrad certificate in Gender Studies from Notre Dame, plus I taught in the Women’s Studies department at Towson for a number of years. It shapes a lot of my reading as well as many of my approaches to life and acts as a goad to keep me trying to understand and learn about my own filters and blind spots.
Sometimes it overtly influences a story, as with “All the Pretty Little Mermaids,” another Asimov’s story, which actually also has a little tribute to one of my favorite professors from Notre Dame, Charlene Avallone, in it.
6. Is there a color that you would never dye your hair?
I probably would never bleach it again. I did that one year to go purple at World Fantasy and found the process alarmingly painful.
7. As president of SFWA, can you describe your plan for fixing all problems with the Hugo Awards?
Hahahahaha. I’m too busy with the SFWA mission of doing stuff that actually helps working writers. Lots of cool things lately, and more to come this year. For recent examples, see the Speakers Bureau and the SFWA Star Project program.
8. Upcoming projects and other news: take it away.
I just finished Hearts of Tabat, the sequel to Beasts of Tabat; it’s off with beta readers right now. Finishing up the second edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writerswith lots of interesting updates. Releasing two collections this year, one of steampunk stories on June 1 and another two-sided collection from Hydra House in August. Writing lots of stories, finishing up “The Wizards of West Seattle” for Patreon supporters later this month. Working on more on-demand classes, including both class and book version of Moving from Idea to Draft. Plenty of travel this year, including the Nebulas next week, Gencon, Worldcon, Westercon, Dragoncon, Orycon, and the Chinese Nebulas in Beijing in the fall. Whew!
Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for hosting me at her place today to let me talk about Making Lemons into Jokes, my campaign for responding to harassment with support for LGBTQ healthcare.
Trying to think about why I’m doing the fundraiser, and what LGBTQ care and harassment mean to me, I ended up in a sort of non-linear meditative space, remembering many needle-like moments that form the sharp space where isms live.
If you read it, I hope you enjoy!
Yesterday, I put up an article about John Joseph Adams’ SFWA Bulletin article, “Zen in the Art of Short Fiction Titling.” The article was illustrated with a really interesting sidebar, publishing a list of the most common short story titles received by Clarkesworld Magazine.
“Shortly after Clarkesworld Magazine crossed the 50,000 submissions bar, they posted a list of the top ten story titles in their slush pile.” The list is online here.
Reproducing part of it:
The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming
Lost and Found
Sacrifice, The Hunt, Flight
The list calculates out through the tenth place, which — including ties — comes out to a total of more than forty titles. The frequency is between eight and eighteen.
I’m taking for granted here that one wants to have unique titles. The argument is that if a story has the same title as lots of others, it will be harder to draw readers in, and harder for them to remember or refer to the story later. However, that doesn’t always have to be an author’s main priority.
Second, the rules for titling novels and short stories are different, so this is only about short fic.
Where Things Go Wrong
I’m sure there are a lot of ways to think about the list, but here’s what shows up to me:
1. A lot of people are using common phrases or cliches to create titles. I understand that. I used to do it a lot when I was working on fan fiction. I still do it sometimes. For instance, although the title isn’t on the Clarkesworld list, Ann Leckie and I published a story with the common title, “Maiden, Mother, Crone.”
The problem with this technique (IMO obviously) is twofold. First, sometimes it can be glib; sometimes it’s not the best title for the short story, just the easiest to come up with. Second, because everyone is familiar with common phrases and cliches, that means lots of the titles will be duplicated. Clarkesworld has, among others: “Skin Deep,” “Lost and Found,” “Perchance to Dream,” “Deus Ex Machina,” “Night Terrors.”
2. Writers use the format “The Noun,” when the noun in question is possibly intriguing, but not actually that unique. Some words have a tendency to be chosen more than others — when I taught poetry, I used to call them Poetic Words. Star, Candle, Love, Dream, etc. Clarkesworld notes: “The Git,” “The Box,” “The Hunt,” “The End,” “The Visit,” “The Collector,” “The Wall,” “The Prisoner,” “The Machine,” “The Tower,” “The Dark,” “The Door,” “The Choice,” “The Fall.” When I was at Clarion West, Michael Swanwick referred to this technique as “The Lump” titles. Picking truly unique words helps, of course.
3. Using reasonably evocative words… that are the same evocative words everyone else uses. This isn’t quite “The Lump” territory because, actually, including or omitting the article makes a pretty big difference in a phrase as short as a title.
Some of these are titles that could be genuinely lovely if they weren’t so common. “Red” could be a perfect title for something if the work were isolated — but in this populous world, “Red” scores 8th place on the list.
Some of them are words that are actually pretty boring. For instance, “Sacrifice.” The word “Red” can prime me for imagery and perhaps even mood. “Sacrifice” is telling me about the events and theme of the story. I’m not usually a show-don’t-tell person, but in this case, I think I am. If you’re giving me a title that’s only one word, I want it to be a really cool word. Others on the list include “Legacy” and “Rebirth.”
I say this as someone who gave up and called a story “Virgin Sacrifices” once. I may have lots of ideas about what I like in titles, but I am hardly a champion titler.
Regarding memorable words, I think it can be hard to guess which words are common. In my experience, instincts can sometimes lead you down the garden path on that one.
Everything Has Exceptions
No doubt, the things I’ve said don’t apply universally.
Also, I’m sure there’s a story out there whose perfect title is “Dust.”
Iiiiit’s time for an “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” update!
(By the way, that’s a tomato. If you’re at work, Liz Argall suggests that just in case you’re worried, you exclaim, “It’s a culinary vegetable!” whenever anyone passes by.)
Kermit arms and confetti! We reached the $600 stretch goal. Now I can continue to usher forth into the world the terrible brainchild that is the round robin short story about dinosaurs currently being written by me, Brooke Bolander, Adam-Troy Castro, John Chu, Alexandra Erin, Ann Leckie, Ken Liu, Juliette Wade, and Alyssa Wong!
Aaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re halfway to $700! Mary Robinette Kowal, of the sultry tweet-reading voice, will narrate the audio book if we hit the stretch goal, and I personally think that would be hilarious so I hope it happens.
At $800, Barry Deutsch will create original cover art — but skipping over him for a moment, because I have new announcements for the later stretch goals:
At $850, Greg Machlin will contribute EVEN MORE SATIRE with an essay detailing his argument that I, personally, have DESTROYED SCIENCE FICTION. (Confession: I had help.)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if John Hodgman wrote a science fiction story? In a way, we could call that the first fiction authored by an artificial intelligence (because he’s a P.C…. thank you, I’ll see myself out). At this year’s Nebula banquet, John Hodgman proposed three science fiction concepts he felt SFWAns should get on writing.
If I can find a copy of his speech (I’m trying!) then at $900, I will be that SFWAn for one of his prompts. At $950, what the heck–I’ll just do all three.
And if we hit $1000, I will hire someone to make a professional, pretty package out of the whole thing, so that my poor subscribers are not burdened by my technologically unsophisticated hands.
I know that’s a long way to go — but what the heck, why not go for it, right? There’s nothing to lose, and only ridiculous things inspired by John Hodgman to gain.