Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Cons, Crud, and Coronavirus by Kelly Lagor

(Editors’ note: This essay will be appearing in Uncanny Magazine Issue 34, but we felt it necessary to release it immediately. Author Kelly Lagor will be periodically updating the article as more is known. Updated 3/31/20)

The world is a different place today than it was a month ago, as more and more countries adopt increasingly stringent lockdown policies in an attempt to get ahead of the growing coronavirus epidemic. We have entered a state of collective limbo, watching the number of diagnosed cases worldwide climb towards one million, as dramas surrounding access to testing, and availability of personal protective equipment and necessary medical equipment evolve. It’s hard to not feel anxious and wonder when life will ever feel normal again. It’s hard not to worry about what the world will look like on the other side of this, making it easy to feel helpless and alone.

With calls for social isolation and distancing to help reduce rates of transmission, “flatten the curve,” and relieve the serious burden on our medical institutions, these feelings of helplessness are compounded. After all, our communities are where friendships and partnerships are made and sustained. Our communities inspire us, define us, give us drive and a sense of purpose. This is true of any of our communities—from professional to academic to artistic, local to regional to global. Isolated from that sense of purpose and identity, we need to remember we are doing this not only to protect ourselves, but those larger communities, and through them, our collective futures.

It is no surprise that the worldwide lockdown was preceded by the canceling of large meetings of people. Conferences and conventions are notorious spreaders of disease. In fact, the rash of post-con illness is such a common phenomenon there is a special name for it—con crud. Con crud can be anything from the common cold, to norovirus, to an outbreak of H1N1 Swine Flu at the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. The stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, increased inebriant consumption, disruption of exercise routines, and impaired ability to regularly wash your hands all conspire to weaken the immune systems of even the healthiest attendees, all while surrounded by large numbers of people who have traveled from all over the world to hang out together in a confined space.

With the COVID-19 situation evolving daily, it’s understandable to feel apprehensive about leaving your home or interacting with others. The situation isn’t being helped by inconsistent messaging coming from politicians, public health agencies, social media posts, forum comments, and talking heads. And with journalists and medical professionals under high pressure as they scramble to feed a public anxious for updates, misinformation has at times been given a stamp of authenticity on its way into the 24-hour news cycle. So amid a barrage of anxiety and misinformation, how can you best weather this storm? Go about your life thinking it’s a bunch of overblown nonsense, or build yourself a fort of toilet paper and face masks?

As an immunocompromised, asthmatic biologist, and a speculative fiction writer who relies on my communities for my inspiration and sense of purpose, I have been following the continuous flow of coronavirus updates out of a sense of both professional curiosity and personal vigilance. We need to remember we’re all in this together. As a member of a vulnerable population in a state where I have been mandated to stay indoors and practice social distancing, it’s hard to sit by, helpless, watching my retirement funds evaporate and try not to think about the end of the world. While these kinds of situations often bring out the good in many, it brings out the worst in others, and there are already examples of stigmatization of Asians and Asian-run businesses in response to COVID-19 news. Novel diseases have always sparked particularly visceral public reactions—see the AIDS epidemic of the 90s, for one. So whenever I find myself dealing with such an emotionally fraught topic, I try to arm myself with the best information I can, which for many can be challenging when a lot of the useful information about a disease outbreak comes from an evolving understanding of the biology of that disease. Therefore, to help better understand why such a big deal is being made about COVID-19, I’d like to start with a brief lesson in virus biology.

Viruses are considered the minimum form of life on our planet. They’re made up of a handful of genes that sit on a relatively short string of DNA or RNA (which can be single- or double-stranded), wrapped in a coat of proteins that both protect its fragile genetic material, and help that genetic material enter an intended host cell to replicate and thus complete the virus’ life cycle. As long as there has been life on earth, there have been viruses to infect it, and as life evolved in complexity, viruses have evolved right alongside it into an array of species as diverse as there are hosts on our planet.

What determines a virus’ infectious properties are the specific proteins it wraps itself in, which are encoded by their genetic material. The role of some of those coat proteins is to recognize and attach to different structures on the surface of potential host cells. Most viruses, once attached, use other specialized coat proteins to penetrate the cell to allow it to slip inside. Protected inside the host cell, the genetic material can shed its coat, then use the host cell’s DNA or RNA synthesis machinery to make copies of its genetic material. There are a few different hypotheses about where viruses came from—from genetic elements that gained the ability to move between cells, to being the remnants of cellular organisms, to thinking viruses predated or coevolved alongside their hosts—but they are still made of the same stuff that all life is made from, and therefore can use the normal replicative machinery of any cell on earth to translate its genetic material into the coat proteins it needs to wrap its new copies in. These new viroids will then escape, usually by bursting and killing the host cell to start the process over again. There are viruses that have different lives than this one, but for many viral infections, this is their cycle.

All organisms have evolved an equally diverse array of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from being completely wiped out by such a relentless, mindless biological simplicity. In humans, viral immunity is handled by our two-tiered immune system. The first is our evolutionarily older, innate immune system. This is the “nuke it from orbit” system that is designed to keep new viral infections from getting out of hand. Infected cells 1) release specialized proteins that tell neighboring cells to be on their guard and 2) take little bits of an invading virus to display on its surface to flag down a type of killer white blood cell to destroy the cell before the virus gains a foothold. But this system is often imperfect, and some viruses have evolved ways of ducking it. The second line of defense is our newer, adaptive immune system, in which a different subset of white blood cells randomly makes antibody proteins until one such cell makes an antibody that recognizes the invading pathogen. Those lucky cells proliferate, using those antibodies to bind up free virus to be later mopped up, preventing further infection. This system operates on a bit of a lag from the innate system, but once the infection is dealt with, a subset of these cells sticks around in perpetuity in case that particular pathogen returns. This system is the intended target of vaccinations—to generate those memory cells without having to have the disease first, so that if you are infected, your immune system can mop it up without you ever noticing.

The danger of viral infections is therefore twofold. First, in a normal, healthy person, if you’re infected with a virus like we described above that you’ve never encountered before, your innate immune system will, along with the virus, cause the death of infected cells. In the case of something like the common cold, your sinuses bear the brunt of the onslaught until your secondary immune system makes the antibodies that help clear things up in 7-10 days. But in the case of more virulent viruses you get more severe infections, such as in influenza, which leads immune cells to release factors which stimulate your hypothalamus to increase your body temperature, which may help to interfere with further viral replication but is what causes a fever and its associated muscle aches and chills. But still, if your immune system is healthy, your body will make antibodies to eventually mop up the infection. Or if you got your flu shot and caught one of the strains the vaccine was raised against, you’ll likely not even notice. Better yet, you get your flu shot every year and you’ve got a whole host of memory cells patrolling for all kinds of flu viruses all year, every year, for years.

But if you’re immunocompromised, things become much more dire. Your innate or adaptive responses to an infection may be impaired, which may cause more cells to become infected than normally would—spreading from the nose to the throat to the lungs, and there to the kidneys or elsewhere. This can cause increased inflammation and cell death, which can lead to pneumonia, where the accumulation of fluids from the inflammatory response accumulates in the lungs, impairing oxygen transfer, leading to hypoxia, organ damage, and even death. There are also lots of different ways to be immunocompromised. You might take immunosuppressants for an autoimmune disease to keep your immune cells from attacking the cells of your own body, or to protect a transplanted organ from being rejected. You could be older and your immune system just doesn’t work as well anymore. Maybe you have reduced white blood cell counts due to a genetic disease, or from AIDS, or from chemotherapy, or because you lost your spleen in an accident. Or maybe you have an underlying condition that may complicate an infection, such as asthma, diabetes, or malnutrition. Often, these are invisible illnesses, and you may not be aware of the number of vulnerable people around you on a given day.

Now let’s talk about COVID-19. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses. Coronaviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. RNA viruses mutate more rapidly than DNA viruses do, which means coronaviruses can more easily acquire the kinds of mutations in the genes that encode their coat proteins, which makes their shapes slightly different and might let them go from just recognizing their animal host cells to being able to recognize human cells they might encounter, say by being inhaled, or when we touch a contaminated surface, then touching one of the mucous membranes on our face. Coronaviruses cause diseases in humans that range in severity from a few strains that cause the common cold, to the SARS-CoV virus, which killed 11% of the over 8,000 people it infected in a 2002 outbreak originating in China, to the MERS-CoV virus, which has killed over 34.4% of the small number of diagnosed cases (n=2,494) in the Middle East since 2012.

If the 2002 outbreak of SARS sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. The first case was reported in November 2002, and the virus, thought to have arisen originally in bats, was propagating in animals like wild civets, which were caught and sold in a meat market in Guangdong Province. The Chinese government drew intense international criticism after failing to inform the World Health Organization (WHO) for two months, and not disseminating information about the disease to healthcare providers, which impaired early efforts to control the epidemic before it spread to dozens of other countries prior to its containment in July 2003. China subsequently banned the kind of markets where animals like the infected civets were sold. The initial hypothesis that the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which was first identified in December 2019, came from pangolins at a meat market in Wuhan may not be accurate, but the genetic sequence similarity of the virus may again point to an origin in bats before it jumped to humans at a seafood market in Wuhan. What’s different this time is that China reacted quickly and publicly, going from the first case reported to identification and determining the genetic sequence one month later.

There are two important differences between the 2002 SARS-CoV and the SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The first is, unfortunately, how quickly and widely it has spread, with over 200,000 confirmed cases (and counting) in countries all over the world. The reason for this is twofold. 1) Our immune systems haven’t encountered the SARS-CoV-2 virus before, so we are more at risk for developing symptoms and being contagious if we catch it, as we don’t have memory cells in place from previous infections or a vaccine to help quash it quickly, and 2) this means we are more likely to be able to pass it on to those around us once we become contagious. There appears to be a lag time of—on average—five days between catching SARS-CoV-2 and developing symptoms (as determined by a study of 181 case files). Public health agencies initially reported that infected individuals were most contagious after they became symptomatic as the virus spreads through droplets expelled when coughing or sneezing, but a recent paper released by the journal Science indicates the the reason for the rapid spread of the disease is likely due to asymptomatic transmission. This is why such an abundance of caution is being taken—five days is a long time to walk around unaware that you are spreading disease. As such, the quarantine the world is implementing may help slow its spread by keeping those who are infected but asymptomatic away from others.

The second important difference is that the mortality rate of those diagnosed cases is lower than for SARS-CoV, hovering at about 3%. Let me put that into perspective. One of the bigger annual threats to the immunocompromised and those with complicating conditions is the seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate this 2019-2020 season of 0.06%. By contrast, COVID-19 so far has a higher mortality rate than the 1918 H1N1 Spanish Flu (Spanish Flu – 2.5% vs. 4.8% with COVID-19 as of March 30th, 2020). While Spanish Flu disproportionately killed young, otherwise healthy adults (due to how the virus strongly activated the innate immune system, triggering what’s known as a cytokine storm, which caused rapid onset respiratory failure), COVID-19 disproportionately kills a similar demographic to the seasonal flu—the immunocompromised and those with complicating conditions. Furthermore, young and healthy individuals should not assume they are immune to COVID-19 complications—hospitalization and fatality rates are much higher for any population than for the seasonal flu. Because it is spreading so easily and puts at-risk populations at an even greater risk that there is such an abundance of caution being taken worldwide. The goal of these measures is to “flatten the curve”—i.e. to slow the spread of the disease to prevent already overtaxed healthcare systems from potentially becoming overwhelmed, which could lead to further loss of life.

In this time of increasing social isolation and anxiety, we can’t forget that we are all part of a global community that has to look out for each other. While the decision ultimately will lie with you if you decide to flout the advice of your local governments and public health agencies, it is important to be mindful of the unique risks your actions will be having on your larger communities, be it if you’re a member of a vulnerable population, or if you have regular contact with members of that population. Everywhere in the world is now at high risk for COVID-19 transmission, and our ability to test for the virus continues to be hampered by the lack of availability of tests. During this critical time, it is essential we all adhere to the advice of our public health agencies, remember that our decisions may have wider, unintended consequences, while trying not to give too much weight to emotionally charged, secondhand information.

Here are links to the current recommendations from the CDC and the WHO for the public, which contains good advice for any cold and flu season or con-goer worried about con crud, coronavirus or no.

  • Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Stay home when you are sick and minimize contact with others until you are well.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Practice social distancing to keep at least 6 feet between you and anyone else to reduce the likelihood of community transmission of the virus

Even if the WHO convinced every viroid of SARS-CoV-2 to shed its protein coat tomorrow and walk into the sea, remember that doesn’t mean the immunocompromised and the vulnerable within our communities will get to stop suddenly worrying about their worlds being turned upside down thanks to what may become a not-so-simple case of con crud. As COVID-19 comes and will eventually go, remember con cruds of all types will remain threats to those with compromised immune systems. Hopefully understanding a bit more about viruses and immunity will help you to remember in every year to come that you have an obligation to be mindful and to protect not just yourself, but the communities that support and sustain us all.

 

Kelly Lagor is a scientist by day and science fiction writer by night. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various places and she tweets and blogs about all kinds of nonsense @klagor and at kellylagor.com.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 33 Cover and Table of Contents!

Coming March 3, THE THIRTY-THIRD ISSUE OF THE 2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019 HUGO AWARD-WINNING UNCANNY MAGAZINE!!!

All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release.

The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on April 7.

Don’t forget eBook Subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine are available from Weightless Books and Amazon Kindle, and you can support us on our Patreon!

Uncanny Magazine Issue 33 Table of Contents

Cover:
Wild Blue Yonder by Galen Dara

Editorials:
“The Uncanny Valley” by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
“Imagining Place: New York, New York. It’s a Hell of a Town” by Elsa Sjunneson

Fiction:
“So You Want to Be a Honeypot” by Kelly Robson (3/3)
“The Sycamore and the Sybil” by Alix E. Harrow (3/3)
“If Salt Lose Its Savor” by Christopher Caldwell (3/3)

“Getaway” by Nicole Kornher-Stace (4/7)
“If You Want to Erase Us, You Must Be Thorough” by L. Tu (4/7)
“Georgie in the Sun” by Natalia Theodoridou (4/7)

Reprint:
“Harvest” by Rebecca Roanhorse (4/7)

Nonfiction:
“Toss a Coin to Your Bitcher” by Suzanne Walker (3/3)
“One Year Older” by Michi Trota (3/3)

“Monsters at the End of the Sewer: Buffy’s Sixth Season is Now” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (4/7)
“The Assassination of Professor X: The Destruction of Marvel’s Most Famous Disabled Character” by John Wiswell (4/7)

Poetry:
“Other Worlds to Save” by Beth Cato (3/3)
“Hungry Ghost” by Millie Ho (3/3)

“behind the self-help section” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (4/7)
“Νόστιμον Ήμαρ” by Eva Papasoulioti (4/7)

Interviews:
Alix E. Harrow interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim (3/3)

Natalia Theodoridou interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim(4/7)

Podcasts:

Uncanny Magazine Podcast 33A (3/3)
“So You Want to Be a Honeypot” by Kelly Robson, as read by Joy Piedmont
“Other Worlds to Save” by Beth Cato, as read by Erika Ensign
Lynne M. Thomas Interviews Kelly Robson

Uncanny Magazine Podcast 33B (4/7)
“Getaway” by Nicole Kornher-Stace, as read by Erika Ensign
“behind the self-help section” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, as read by Joy Piedmont
Lynne M. Thomas Interviews Nicole Kornher-Stace

Four Uncanny Magazine Stories are 2019 Nebula Award Finalists!

Outstanding news, Space Unicorns! FOUR Uncanny Magazine stories are finalists for the prestigious Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America! “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker is a finalist for Best Novelette, “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne is a finalist for Best Short Story, “How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise is a finalist for Best Short Story, and finally “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde is a finalist for Best Short Story!

Also, the Fate Accessibility Toolkit by Uncanny Magazine Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson from Evil Hat Productions is a finalist for Best Game Writing, and “The Archronology of Love” by Uncanny Magazine Interviewer Caroline M. Yoachim from Lightspeed Magazine is a finalist for Best Novelette!

Congratulations to Sarah, Karen, A.C., Fran, Caroline, and Elsa!

It is an amazing list of finalists, many of whom are Uncanny authors and friends. CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYBODY!!!

From the SFWA Nebula Award announcement:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA, Inc.) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 55th Annual Nebula Awards, including the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book. The awards will be presented in Woodland Hills, CA at the Warner Center Marriott during a ceremony on the evening of May 30th.

2019 Nebula Award Finalists

Novel

Marque of Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor)

Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey; Jo Fletcher)

Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley)

Novella

“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan (Tor.com Publishing)

The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga)

Catfish Lullaby, A.C. Wise (Broken Eye)

Novelette

“A Strange Uncertain Light”, G.V. Anderson (F&SF 7-8/19)

“For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com 7/10/19)

“His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light”, Mimi Mondal (Tor.com 1/23/19)

“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)

Carpe Glitter, Cat Rambo (Meerkat)

“The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)

Short Story

“Give the Family My Love”, A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld 2/19)

“The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power”, Karen Osborne (Uncanny 3-4/19)

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)

“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)

“A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)

“How the Trick Is Done”, A.C. Wise (Uncanny 7-8/19)

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, Carlos Hernandez (Disney Hyperion)

Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)

Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee (Disney Hyperion)

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, Henry Lien (Holt)

Cog, Greg van Eekhout (Harper)

Riverland, Fran Wilde (Amulet)

 

Game Writing

Outer Wilds, Kelsey Beachum (Mobius Digital)

The Outer Worlds, Leonard Boyarsky, Megan Starks, Kate Dollarhyde, Chris L’Etoile (Obsidian Entertainment)

The Magician’s Workshop, Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games)

Disco Elysium, Robert Kurvitz (ZA/UM)

Fate Accessibility Toolkit, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (Evil Hat Productions)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Avengers: Endgame, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Marvel Studios)

Captain Marvel, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Marvel Studios)

Good Omens: “Hard Times”, Neil Gaiman (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios)

The Mandalorian: “The Child”, Jon Favreau (Disney+)

Russian Doll: “The Way Out”, Allison Silverman and Leslye Headland (Netflix)

Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”, Jeff Jensen & Damon Lindelof (HBO)

The Nebula Awards will be presented during the annual SFWA Nebula Conference, which will run from May 28th-31st, 2020 at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills and features programming developed and geared toward SFF professionals. The Awards Ceremony will be held on the evening of May 30th. On May 31st, a mass autograph session will take place, which is free and open to the public. 

The Nebula Awards, presented annually, recognize the best works of science fiction and fantasy published in the previous year. They are selected by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The first Nebula Awards were presented in 1966.

The Nebula Awards include four fiction awards, a game writing award, the Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book. SFWA also administers the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Awards, the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award, and the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.

The Nebula Finalist Assistance Fund exists to help defray the costs of travel to the Nebula Conference for Nebula Award finalists (including Norton, Bradbury, and Game Writing finalists) who would otherwise be unable to attend. Donations may be made at: www.sfwa.org/donate — choose Nebula Finalist Assistance in the drop down menu.

For more information, please email [email protected].

http://nebulas.sfwa.org/nebula-conference/

Heroism of Competency- A Guest Post by R.W.W. Greene

(Author R.W.W. Greene’s novel, The Light Years, was released by Angry Robot Books on February 11, 2020, and can be found at all major booksellers.)

What a great world it would be if everyone simply did their jobs! How productive! How stable! How…narratively dull? Not necessarily.

In his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield writes that on any given day, at any given moment, people are either minus-ones, zeroes, or plus-ones. Minus-ones are actively harmful; they create problems and additional work for others. Zeroes have neutral impact; they do their jobs and meet expectations. Plus-ones go above and beyond, actively adding value to the efforts of the moment. It’s good to avoid being a minus-one, Col. Hadfield writes, but personally, he aims no higher than to be a full-time zero, knowing that he could act as a plus-one if the moment requires.

A world of zeroes would run smoothly, indeed. I have lost track of the number of movies and shows that have used the phrase “You had one job!” as comic relief, generally after someone has failed to divert the snoopy in-laws, fallen asleep on guard duty, or forgotten to feed the zombies. Some minus-one had to screw up in order to raise the stakes and move the plot along. This is a narratively useful device for writers, but it often results in false notes. There is no way in hell, for example, that Hermione Granger, the brightest witch of her generation, would mistake a cat hair for one from a human head, but J.K Rowling needed to take her off mission so Dumb (Harry) and Dumber (Ron) could bumble through their quest for intelligence on the Chamber of Secrets. And if a habitually minus-one character is assigned to feed the zombies, the resulting chaos is utterly deserved by the person who made up the chores list.

It’s better to aim for zero, Hadfield writes, because if everyone tries to plus-one all the time, they’ll get in each other’s way, effectively becoming minus-ones. This is usually the result of ego: Maverick in Top Gun or Poe Dameron in The Last Jedi when he presumes the need for his plus-one-ness while General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo already have things in hand. Poor Leia had to rouse herself from a coma to shut him down! In 3%, a Brazilian SF series available on Netflix, nearly every character is a would-be plus-one, in direct competition with all the others, and it’s not until they learn to be zeroes that they make progress.

If everyone was a zero, there’d be little need for heroics at all, other than the everyday valor of competency. There’s no shame in being competent. Under normal conditions, a competent mechanic can maintain the car. A competent cabdriver can get fares safely home from the bar. Competent people meet expectations. There are hundreds of zeros at work, every day, on board the USS Enterprise.

Competency is mundane maybe, but through heroic effort and a bit of luck, Sabrina Studentface, a zero-level freshman writer, can produce true art. Cliff the Competent Cabbie can hit a patch of black ice and by dint of a dimly remembered driver’s-ed lesson and adrenaline, steer into the skid and save the day. Hodor can, you know, hold the door. These characters become, for a moment, plus-ones. This is exciting, prose-wise, and there’s no need to cry “you had one job.” Instead of forcing them to make an uncharacteristic mistake, the writer has allowed them to rise to the occasion.

What of masters, you say, those plus-plus-ones. A master mechanic can fix the car no matter what’s wrong with it. A master driver can handle any road conditions at any speed. Masters, assuming they actually exist, are reliably, boringly excellent. They are zeroes, in other words.

That’s why situation matters. It’s difficult for someone who has achieved mastery to perform heroically within their field. A master policeman, for example, who takes down a school shooter might get less attention than a middle-aged, untrained teacher who does the same. “To serve and protect” is the name of the policeman’s game, after all, and mastery of the job is what all the training is for. Mrs. Hickey might be a master teacher, a zero to plus-one in her own field, but she’s likely a rank amateur in bodyguarding; to pull it off, to save those kids, she’ll have to be a hero. The Kindergarten Cop is not a hero because he stopped the bad guy; that was his job. He’s a hero because he taught those kids outdated gender identifiers and how to march.

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is a zero-level moisture farmer (maybe), landspeeder mechanic, and T-16 Skyhopper pilot (which is a craft designed to travel in the lowest level of Tatooine’s atmosphere). None of these skill-sets proved useful in the adventure immediately ahead of him, which required Death Star infiltration, prisoner release, gun fighting, monster wrestling, gunnery, and flying an exoatmospheric fighter in outside-a-gravity-well dogfights and against a heavily-armed weapons platform. Yet, he succeeds, exceeding our wildest expectations and plus-oneing several new skill sets. Wedge Antilles, meanwhile, is a zero.

By the time The Last Jedi rolls around Luke has mastered these new skill sets. Employing them no longer makes him a hero; it’s his job, and he’s expected to zero through it. He becomes a minus-one because he fails to, leaving it to others to plus-one through the saga. Personally, I think Luke had good reason for retreating from his responsibilities; it fits the character.  Others believe it’s a false note. There is no excuse, though, for Yoda missing the Rise of the Sith and the Seduction of Anakin Skywalker.

Let’s be honest, Harry Potter was generally a minus-one. Ron Weasley, too. Hermione Granger is forced, over and over, into plus-one mode to save their asses. Captain James T. Kirk also had some minus-one tendencies, but he had Spock and Bones to plus-one him out. Picard is a zero. Data, zero.

Hadfield’s scale is an interesting lens through which to look at history, current events, and fiction. Which characters are zeroes, which characters are making more work for others, which characters have to go outside their comfort zones and exceed expectations there? How can I, as a writer, make them sound true?

Be like Hadfield: Aim for zero, and let the plot and the characters’ reaction to it and each other bring out the heroics.

R.W.W. Greene is a New Hampshire USA writer with an MA in Fine Arts, which he exorcises in dive bars and coffee shops. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has been in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press, among others. Greene is a past board member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats.

 

Eleven Uncanny Stories and The Best of Uncanny Are on the 2019 Locus Recommended Reading List and Locus Award Poll!

FABULOUS NEWS, SPACE UNICORNS! HAPPIEST OF DAYS!!! ELEVEN Uncanny Magazine stories and The Best of Uncanny are on the prestigious 2019 Locus Recommended Reading List! WE ARE SO CHUFFED! Congratulations to all of the authors!

Best Anthology:
The Best of Uncanny, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, eds. (Subterranean)

Best Novella:
“A Time to Reap,” Elizabeth Bear

Best Novelette:
“Nice Things,” Ellen Klages
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye,” Sarah Pinsker 

Best Short Story:
“Lest We Forget,” Elizabeth Bear
“The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor,” Maurice Broaddus
“Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan,” Christopher Caldwell
“Before the World Crumbles Away,” A.T. Greenblatt
“Dustdaughter,” Inda Lauryn
“On the Lonely Shore,” Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power,” Karen Osborne
“A Catalog of Storms,” Fran Wilde

This means you can vote for these stories in the 2020 Locus Poll and Survey which determines the Locus Awards! Voting is FREE TO ALL! Along with these stories, Uncanny Magazine is also eligible for a Locus Award in the Best Magazine or Fanzine category, and Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas are eligible in the Best Editor – Pro or Fan category! Vote for the things you liked, and you can even write in things that didn’t make the 2019 Locus Recommended Reading List! YOUR VOTE ALWAYS COUNTS!

And as long as you are in a voting mood, don’t forget to vote in the Uncanny Magazine Readers’ Favorite Stories Poll! It’s open until February 6, and the winning author gets a SNAZZY CERTIFICATE!

Shine on, Space Unicorns!

Uncanny Magazine 2019 Poetry Eligibility

Hello, Space Unicorns! Nominating for the Rhysling Award for speculative poetry is open! If you’re a SFPA member, you can nominate short and long poetry up until February 29 for the 2020 Rhysling Award. Uncanny Magazine’s eligible poems from 2019 are:

Short poems (1-49 lines or prose poems <500 words)

Buruburu by Betsy Aoki

Monsters & Women—Beneath Contempt by Roxanna Bennett

Red Berries by Jennifer Crow

Other Forms of Conjuring the Moon by Chloe N. Clark

The Thing In Us We Fear Just Wants Our Love by Julian K. Jarboe

goddess in forced repose by Tamara Jerée

A Letter from One Woman to Another by Cassandra Khaw

things you don’t say to city witches by Cassandra Khaw

Wendy, Waiting by Sandi Leibowitz

Flashover by S. Qiouyi Lu

Cavitation by Toby MacNutt

Neithal from abroad by Shweta Narayan

The Wooden Box by Annie Neugebauer

The following parameters by Nicasio Andres Reed

Manananggal by Sylvia Santiago

Sing by Alexandra Seidel

capturing the mood by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

The Watchword by Sonya Taaffe

Without Prayer or the Place in the Forest by Sonya Taaffe

The Magician Speaks to the Fool by Ali Trotta

fear cat by Hal Y. Zhang

 

Long poems (50+ lines or prose poems >500 words)

Childhood Memory from the Old Victorian House on Warner by Beth Cato

The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly by Theodora Goss

“Eating Disorder” does not begin to describe it by R.B. Lemberg

Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Beast by Brandon O’Brien

If Love Is Real, So Are Fairies by Cynthia So

Taho by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Steeped in Stars by Hal Y. Zhang

Uncanny Celebrates Reader Favorites of 2019!

Hello, Space Unicorns! 2019 was a complicated year. Though it was often a rollercoaster, we are very proud of all of the amazing works we published in Uncanny Magazine. Everyone in the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps has been wonderfully supportive, and your enthusiasm has meant so much to us. It’s been fantastic to see how much our readers have been enjoying Uncanny’s fiction. And while we have our personal favorites, we’d like to know which stories YOU loved from Uncanny in 2019.

We’ve set up a poll for Uncanny readers to vote for their top three favorite original short stories from 2019. (You can find links to all of the stories here.)

The poll will be open from January 9 to February 6, after which we’ll announce the results. We’re excited for you to share which Uncanny stories made you feel!

snazzy certificate will be given to the creator whose work comes out on top of  the poll!

So please spread the word! And don’t forget, EVERY VOTE COUNTS!

The Best of Uncanny is OUT NOW!

Fabulous news, Space Unicorns! In case you missed it during your New Year’s celebrations, The Best of Uncanny was released into the multiverse!

As you know, The Best of Uncanny is a collection from Subterranean Press edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas that brings together some of their favorite Uncanny Magazine stories and poems from the first few years of the magazine, including many works which were nominated for or won awards. Over 40 authors!

The Best of Uncanny has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus!

The trade hardcover edition is nearly out of print! If you pre-ordered, your copy should be on the way soon! You can still buy copies directly from Subterranean Press

Plus, the eBook edition is available! You can purchase an eBook of The Best of Uncanny from Subterranean Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo!

Don’t forget, there will be a book tour for The Best of Uncanny with stops in Seattle (Jan 17), Philadelphia (Jan 25), Champaign (Feb 5), and Minneapolis (Feb 15). If you still want a print copy and missed the pre-orders, this is the only way to get one! Please, come meet some of the editors and authors!

We are very proud of this book, and we think you will love these stories and poems as much as we do. Thank you, Space Unicorns!

 

Cover:

Traveling to a Distant Day by Tran Nguyen

Table of Contents:

  • “The Uncanny Valley- An Introduction” by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
  • “Blessings” by Naomi Novik
  • “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (translator signing, not the author)
  • “The New Ways” by Amal El-Mohtar (Poem)
  • “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • “Catcall” by Delilah S. Dawson
  • “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
  • “The Long Run” by Neil Gaiman (Poem)
  • “Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Ghost Champagne” by Charlie Jane Anders
  • “Translatio Corporis” by Kat Howard
  • “Rose Child” by Theodora Goss (Poem)
  • “The Witch of the Orion Waste and the Boy Knight” by E. Lily Yu
  • “Monster Girls Don’t Cry” by A. Merc Rustad
  • “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “Henosis” by N.K. Jemisin
  • “The Persecution of Witches” by Ali Trotta (Poem)
  • “Restore the Heart into Love” by John Chu
  • “I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise” by Sarah Pinsker
  • “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong
  • “肉骨茶 (Meat Bone Tea)” by S. Qiouyi Lu (Poem)
  • “She Still Loves the Dragon” by Elizabeth Bear
  • “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “archival testimony fragments / minersong” by Rose Lemberg (Poem)
  • “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon
  • “Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Hydraulic Emperor” by Arkady Martine
  • “Starskin, Sealskin” by Shveta Thakrar & Sara Cleto (Poem)
  • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara
  • “god-date” by Brandon O’Brien (Poem)
  • “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” by JY Yang
  • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde
  • “An Ocean the Color of Bruises” by Isabel Yap
  • “Dancing Princesses” by Roshani Chokshi (Poem)
  • “Those” by Sofia Samatar
  • “Though She Be But Little” by C. S. E. Cooney
  • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “Protestations Against the Idea of Anglicization” by Cassandra Khaw (Poem)
  • “My Body, Herself” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands” by Seanan McGuire
  • “The Words on My Skin” by Caroline M. Yoachim
  • “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker
  • “The Sea Never Says It Loves You” by Fran Wilde (Poem)
  • “Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar

Uncanny Magazine Issue 32 Cover and Table of Contents!

Coming January 7, THE THIRTY-SECOND ISSUE OF THE 2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019 HUGO AWARD-WINNING UNCANNY MAGAZINE!!!

All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release.

The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on February 4.

Don’t forget eBook Subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine are available from Weightless Books and Amazon Kindle, and you can support us on our Patreon!

As you may know, starting with this Uncanny Magazine issue, our new Nonfiction Editor is Elsa Sjunneson! Uncanny readers should be very familiar with Elsa. She was the guest Editor-in-Chief (with Dominik Parisien) and Nonfiction Editor of Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and has had her essays and fiction published in Uncanny on numerous occasions. We are so thrilled to have Elsa taking over the nonfiction editing. She did a tremendous job as a DPDSF guest editor, and has proven time and time again that along with being a brilliant writer, she is one of the best editors in the business.

A woman holding a glowing sword looks up toward a brown and pale yellow sky, her hair in a bun, wearing a skirt and jacket.

 

 

Uncanny Magazine Issue 32 Table of Contents

Cover:
Fallen Embers by Nilah Magruder

Editorials:
“The Uncanny Valley” by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
“Imagining Place: The BBC Miniseries” by Elsa Sjunneson

Fiction:
“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Rae Carson (1/7)
“My Country Is a Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (1/7)
“You Perfect, Broken Thing” by C.L. Clark (1/7)

“Where You Linger” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (2/4)
“And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands” by Sharon Hsu (2/4)
“The Spirit of the Leech” by Alex Bledsoe (2/4)

Reprint:
“Braid of Days and Wake of Nights” by E. Lily Yu (2/4)

Nonfiction:
“Writing with My Keys Between My Fingers” by Meg Elison (1/7)
“Save Me a Seat on the Couch: Spoiler Culture, Inclusion, and Disability” by Marissa Lingen (1/7)

“Speculative Fictions, Everywhere We Look” by Malka Older (2/4)
“Street Harassment Is an Access Issue” by Katharine Duckett (2/4)

Poetry:
“Who Do You Think You Are” by Ada Hoffmann (1/7)
“Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Belle” by Brandon O’Brien (1/7)

“The Death of the Gods” by Leah Bobet (2/4)
“A tenjō kudari (“ceiling hanger” yōkai) defends her theft” by Betsy Aoki (2/4)

Interviews:
Caroline M. Yoachim Interviews Eugenia Triantafyllou (1/7)

Caroline M. Yoachim Interviews Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (2/4)

Podcasts:

Uncanny Magazine Podcast 32A (1/7)
“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Rae Carson, as read by Erika Ensign
“Who Do You Think You Are” by Ada Hoffmann, as read by Joy Piedmont
Lynne M. Thomas Interviews Rae Carson

Uncanny Magazine Podcast 32B (2/4)
“And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands” by Sharon Hsu, as read by Joy Piedmont
“The Death of the Gods” by Leah Bobet, as read by Erika Ensign
Lynne M. Thomas Interviews Sharon Hsu

The Best of Uncanny BOOK TOUR!

Space Unicorns! Are you excited about the forthcoming The Best of Uncanny (edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas) from Subterranean Press? We have more great news! There will be four launch events next year featuring the editors and writers!

University Book Store
Seattle, WA
Friday, January 17th at 6:30 PM
Attending: Michael Damian Thomas, Caroline M. Yoachim, and E. Lily Yu

Shakespeare & Co.
Philadelphia, PA
Saturday, January 25 around 6 PM
Attending: Lynne M. Thomas, Fran Wilde, Sarah Pinsker, C. S. E. Cooney, Shveta Thakrar, Sara Cleto, Ali Trotta, and K.M. Szpara

Illini Union Bookstore
Champaign, IL
Wednesday, February 5 at 6:30 PM
Attending: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore
Minneapolis, MN
Saturday, February 15 at 1 PM
Attending: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, plus Kelly McCullough

We hope to see you, Space Unicorns!

The Best of Uncanny received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus! It’s a limited print run, and Subterranean Press believes it might sell out immediately! Make sure to pre-order or make plans to be at one of these events!