The Uncanny Valley

(Editors’ Note: Because Michael was procrastinating about writing this issue’s editorial, he decided to ask Twitter to do it. This section is The Uncanny Magazine Exquisite Corpse Editorial. The Exquisite Corpse was an old Surrealist game where you build off of what the previous person created, but you never see the whole. In this case, each writer only read the previous sentence before writing their sentence. Then their sentence and only their sentence was passed to the next person, and so on. On that note, enjoy this editorial by nearly 40 writers! Or… you can just skip to the next section for a slightly more coherent editorial by the Thomases.)

I tried to warn people, put on my best dire face, spoke clearly and concisely, but someone seems to have opened the door anyway. Outside is only darkness, a void so profound and so silent that we stand, struck dumb, on a threshold beyond which lie a hundred thousand stars. We can choose to back away, to go silent in the dark, or we can step forward and feel the swell of stars beneath us, buoying us up and speeding us once more ahead. The choice didn’t look that simple, of course, because we’re humans, and humanity has never done simple when we could instead do complicated with a side of chaos. Simplicity is for arithmetic and traffic signage, but these are matters of systems, capillaries, sinew, and pat answers cannot serve us.

Complexity forms the framework of these questions we’ve yet to ask, the skeleton upon which all else builds. So let’s use these temporally challenged questions and, out of that complexity, connect a narrative foot bone to a plot ankle bone. And so we enter into the hard labor of attaching the metaphorical muscle, one striated sentence at a time, tying the tagmemics of tendons, meat-puppetizing this inanimate heap of questioning bones as we attempt to shock them into a visceral, philosophical life. And oh! this regime of entanglements—the resultant enfleshed paragraph, the narrative embodied and made to consider itself—a text displaying not only the corpse of the author but the prionic after effects of our readerly consumption.

She paused, glancing up from lidded eyes at the petitioner seated across the desk, half daring him to feign comprehension, and half flirting, hoping someone would finally call her bluff and see past the tired, academic superiority into the human who yearned to once again be challenged by the universe. Little did she know, beneath his shabby clothes, he was the universe who could make that challenge; or, more precisely, the human embodiment of that universe, which was close enough for jazz or television.

Yet, of the two, his (to issue the challenge) was by far the easier task; taking up that challenge would call for strengths none knew she had. Adamant and electrum mingled in their words; hers, then his, and then hers again, a repetitive schoolyard chant more gibe than logic. A memory of the sixth grade play, when she had been toiling and troubling as one of Macbeth’s witches, sprang to mind, and she wished fenney snakes and howlets were applicable here. Which goes to show that memory is performance of its own kind, a personal play acted out in your head (with arguably better lighting and a sharper delivery of your dialog, as time goes on) so if you’re going to be in the audience of your past, reliving your best and worst acts, do you want to see the sadly pedestrian drama of a wasted life, or the stirring musical number highlighting your never-forgotten acts of resistance?

And if memory’s stage is how we’ll incentivize acting boldly in the present reality, creating stories that shape how others act—which demonstrate that real people, like well-drawn characters, have agency—should be our incentive to act boldly on the page. That said, it’s important to remember that resistance can take many forms and there is a reason that musical comedy and satire historically see an uptick during dystopian periods. For example, while we cannot describe (to any well-cited degree) the musical comedy of the same period, one may read any of Juvenal’s earlier satires for a worked example of this response to a sense of political frustration in difficult times. Which is why in light of the current state of the body politic, which itself seems to be in active rebellion against the very concept of satire through an attempt to push the envelope of credulity to the point that sarcasm itself is rendered inert in the face of such mind-boggling stupidity, the only refuge for serious-minded, politically-engaged citizens is to find a corner bar and get absolutely, ruinously, life-alteringly, shit-hammered.

Welcome to the country-wide exploration of the age-old question just how much functioning is required of “functioning alcoholics?” It’s not necessarily a hopeful answer, but it can certainly be the funny kind, given a high enough burden of proof. Laughter, after all, has been proven to save lives, and though exercising a sense of humor is no substitute for more direct forms of action, sometimes it’s the only recourse we have. It can indeed be the best medicine but we cannot allow laughter to become a mere palliative or worse, a nostrum on which we consider spending our last precious dollar out of desperation for a cure.

Already mourning the joy he would not experience, Thomas replaced Bottled Laughter on the shelf and wandered over to a locked display that bore the label “See manager for assistance.” Inside the cabinet there were a series of elaborately framed blueprints, each labelled “Emotional Response Facilitator Schematics, Do Not Operate Before Morning Coffee.” Given the state of the world, one could hardly be blamed for giving in to temptation and building the damned device, with the red button for “I need more outrage,” the blue for “give me the courage to do the things that are difficult,” and, for the worst of the days when every action seemed futile, the gentlest seafoam-green for “remind me that small, soft creatures full of love still exist in this world.” The red button would be mostly unused, as outrage was all too easy to find. The blue would be worn, as courage was badly needed. But the green button, the button of small things full of love, would be broken on a weekly basis, so sore was the need for it.

But don’t lose heart to see such a lovely thing break, for solace may be taken in the mending of it, in the sharing of it, in the shining of its little emerald eye; it may break, but its luster is never lost, especially not in the times it is most needed. In that mending meditation, the pieces will come together again; they will fit with each other in new and fantastic configurations that wouldn’t have been possible before—the light from its new facets will dazzle and reflect new multitudes, new possibilities. For it is in possibilities that we find ourselves, never quite what we hope to be, but always a little more than that: more complex, more open, more true.

And the risk that what we find might not be what we hoped for; that is how our humanity is accreted. For without risk, the accretion becomes depletion and the profound picturesque becomes petty picaresque. And as Captain James T. Kirk (and not Picard) said, “Risk! Risk is our business!”—we must embrace the challenges we are given. If the challenge is to dance in our underwear a la Tom Cruise in Risky Business, then we must turn the Bob Seger up to eleven and make sure there are no holes in our underwear or our socks, which of course must match. There is danger to be found in conformity, however; yes, make sure you match but not merely to blend in and not to denigrate that which makes you unique because we are stronger as a collection of individuals rather than an indistinguishable mass of blasé obsequiousness.

And do not mistake another’s uniqueness for being “other” or “wrong”—celebrate the differences of others too, for theirs are needed just as much as yours. Remember that another’s uniqueness or difference is just that, theirs, it is not yours to gawk at or co-opt for entertainment. And with its feathery gills fluttering in the current, the mud puppy released its hold on the rock and drifted lazily away along the stream bed, content that it had made its point to the annoyingly superior crawdad, which scuttled backwards, in the way of all its kind, into the shadows beneath that same rock.

(The Uncanny Magazine Exquisite Corpse Editorial authors are A.G. Pasquella, Alasdair Stuart, Alex Bledsoe, Aliette de Bodard, Angel Cruz, Arkady Martine, Carrie Cuinn, Cassandra Khaw, Cat Rambo, Chelsea Outlaw, Clare McCanna, Didi Chanoch, Don Pizarro, Edmund Schweppe, Effie Seiberg, Eileen Wiedbrauk, Erika Ensign, Fade Manley, Ferrett Steinmetz, Fran Wilde, Heather Berberet, JL Sigman, John Klima, JY Yang, K.M. Szpara, Kat Howard, Kristine Smith, Martin Cahill, Mary Robinette Kowal, Meg Frank, Michael Lee, Mike Allen, Mike Headley, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, Nicasio Andres Reed, Pablo Defendini, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Sarah Pinsker, and Tracy Townsend. If you can correctly match all of the authors to their sentences, we will give you a lifetime Uncanny Magazine subscription!)

Well, that was interesting! Part ridiculous, part poignant. So, pretty much Uncanny Magazine

What matters most of all about the Exquisite Corpse is that it was created by almost 40 writers. I made the joke on Twitter, and people quickly lined up to play. I had to actually cap the participants! You see, the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps is a Community. A glorious community of tens of thousands of people from a tremendous number of backgrounds—people who love fun, art, beauty, and kindness. They are Space Unicorns who appreciate each other, and will fight the fascists together with everything they’ve got.

I’m writing this during the first month of the current regime. The assholes have created a swirling mess of malice and incompetence. Every day, there are dozens of stories that make anybody with basic human empathy upset and angry. It’s easy to despair. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. But we’re here for each other. Collectively, we can fight this.

In early February, I made an open call for essay pitches about how we can fight the current darkness. We received a gigantic number of ideas from so many amazing people, and you’ll be seeing the first batch of political essays in this issue. These essays are filled with passion, strategy, and bold resistance. As we said last issue:

THESE UNICORNS FIGHT FASCISTS.

The season of publishing accolades and awards for 2016 SF/F works has begun! First off, we’re thrilled that two Uncanny Magazine stories are finalists for the prestigious Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America! “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander is a finalist for Best Short Story, and “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong is a finalist for Best Novelette! As you may recall, these were the top two stories in our 2016 Favorite Fiction Reader Poll! Also, “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar from the Saga Press anthology The Starlit Wood (edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe), which we reprinted in Uncanny Magazine, is a finalist for Best Short Story! Congratulations Brooke, Alyssa, and Amal!

These are the first stories ever from Uncanny Magazine to become Nebula Award finalists, and we couldn’t be more excited! It is an amazing list of finalists, many of whom are Uncanny authors and friends. CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYBODY!!!

In more story news the 2016 Locus Recommended Reading List has been released, and we’re excited that six Uncanny Magazine stories made the list! As you may know, this list makes up the primary choices on the Locus Awards ballot. The Uncanny stories on the Locus list include “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong for Best Novelette, plus “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander, “My Body, Herself” by Carmen Maria Machado, “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands” by Seanan McGuire, “Under One Roof” by Sarah Pinsker, and The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight by E. Lily Yu, all for Best Short Story. Also appearing is “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar from The Starlit Wood, which was reprinted in Uncanny Magazine! Uncanny Magazine is also listed on the Locus Awards ballot for Best Magazine or Fanzine, and Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are listed for Best Editor! The Locus ballot is filled with amazing choices, and EVERYBODY can vote!

Congratulations are also in order for Uncanny Magazine’s own Poetry/Reprint Editor, Julia Rios, who is a finalist for the 2016 Aurealis Awards by the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation (WASFF)! Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 (Twelfth Planet Press), edited by Julia and Alisa Krasnostein, made the Best Anthology shortlist. We’re so happy for Julia and proud she’s a part of Uncanny’s editorial staff! Congratulations to all the Aurealis Award finalists!

Last but not least, we have the results of the aforementioned Uncanny Magazine 2016 Favorite Fiction Reader Poll! The Space Unicorn Ranger Corps voted for their favorites, and they were:

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong
The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight” by E. Lily Yu
The Green Knight’s Wife” by Kat Howard
The Sound of Salt and Sea” by Kat Howard

Hooray! Brooke Bolander will be receiving a Snazzy Certificate for coming in First Place. Congratulations to all of our authors, and a huge thank you to our readers!

A reminder that if you are a member of Worldcon 75, MidAmeriCon 2, or Worldcon 76, your deadline for Hugo Award Nominations is March 17, 2017, 11:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time. If you’re nominating for awards and need to know what was eligible from Uncanny Magazine in 2016 and the appropriate categories, we have a handy list for you on the website! This year, Uncanny Magazine is still eligible for the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are also eligible for the Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo Award. (Note: If you are nominating the Thomases in this category, please nominate them together. They are a co-editing team.)

The Thomases will be mostly home in March and April. Some combination of Thomases will be at the The 38th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March 22–26, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. This is our first time, but we’ve heard many marvelous things. We hope to see you there! Unless you’re an alligator, and then only from a distance.

And finally, here are the contents of Uncanny Magazine Issue 15! Our cover is the “Submerged City” by the phenomenal Julie Dillon. Our new fiction this month includes Beth Cato’s story of ghosts and secrets “With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips,” Stephen Graham Jones’s twisted academic grant proposal “Rising Star,” JY Yang’s examination of leadership and cloning “Auspicium Melioris Aevi,” Sarah Pinsker’s alternate universe convention mystery novella (our first novella!) “And Then There Were (N-One),” and S. Qiouyi Lu’s beautiful and bittersweet “An Abundance of Fish.” Our reprint is Kameron Hurley’s brutal tale of the aftereffects of war “The Red Secretary.”

Our nonfiction this month includes Sam J. Miller’s list of protest tips for the SF/F community, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s examination of the role of the disabled community in protesting, Shveta Thakrar’s thoughts about beauty and resistance, Dawn Xiana Moon’s look at how important art is for refuge and resistance, and Paul Booth’s discussion of why he teaches college students about SF/F fandom. Our poetry includes Cassandra Khaw’s powerful “Protestations Against the Idea of Anglicization,” Brandon O’Brien’s thoughtful “time, and time again,” Bogi Takács’s beautiful “The Size of a Barleycorn, Encased in Lead,” and Lisa M. Bradley’s gorgeous “The Axolotl Inquest.” Finally, Julia Rios interviews Stephen Graham Jones and Sarah Pinsker.

Podcast 15A features Beth Cato’s “With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips” as read by Erika Ensign, Cassandra Khaw’s “Protestations Against the Idea of Anglicization” as read by Amal El-Mohtar, and an interview with Beth Cato by Julia Rios. Podcast 15B features JY Yang’s “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” as read by Amal El-Mohtar, Lisa M. Bradley’s “The Axolotl Inquest” as read by Erika Ensign, and an interview with JY Yang by Julia Rios.

Please enjoy the latest issue of Uncanny Magazine, and thank you all so much for your continued support.

Fight on, Space Unicorns! Enjoy!

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

Lynne and Michael are the Publishers/Editors-in-Chief for the Hugo and Parsec Award-winning Uncanny Magazine.

Four-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas was the Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine (2011–2013). She co-edited the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords, as well as Whedonistas and Chicks Dig Comics.

Along with being a two-time Hugo Award nominee as the former Managing Editor of Apex Magazine (2012–2013) Michael Damian Thomas co-edited the Hugo-nominated Queers Dig Time Lords (Mad Norwegian Press, 2013) with Sigrid Ellis and Glitter & Mayhem (Apex Publications, 2013), with John Klima and Lynne M. Thomas.

Together, they solve mysteries.

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