Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Uncanny Magazine Wins the 2017 Best Semiprozine Hugo Award!

We have wonderful news! Uncanny Magazine won its second Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine! We are deeply honored by this Hugo Award. It was a stellar group of finalists.

A magazine is the work of numerous people, so we want to thank our 2016 staff of Michi Trota, Julia Rios, Erika Ensign, Steven Schapansky, Amal El-Mohtar, and Deborah Stanish; all of our submissions editors and guest podcast readers; our webmaster Jeremiah Tolbert from Clockpunk Studios; and, of course, our ombudsman and world’s greatest daughter, Caitlin. Thank you to every single member of the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps and all of the Hugo voters. We couldn’t do this without the support of this community.

Once again, congratulations to the two Uncanny Magazine stories which were finalists for the Hugo Awards: “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander for Best Short Story and “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong for Best Novelette.

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas didn’t win the Best Editor- Short Form Hugo Award, but did come in second, which is phenomenal! Congratulations to the winner, Ellen Datlow!

Finally, “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Uncanny Magazine Podcast Reader Amal El-Mohtar from the Saga Press anthology The Starlit Wood (edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, who was also a Hugo finalist for Best Editor- Long Form), which we reprinted in Uncanny Magazine, won the Best Short Story Hugo Award, just like it won the Nebula and Locus Awards! Congratulations Amal!

The Thomases and Bolander’s Story Are World Fantasy Award Finalists and Uncanny Is a British Fantasy Award Finalist!

More excellent award news, Space Unicorns!

The World Fantasy Award Finalists have been announced! Once again, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are finalists for the Special Award, Non-Professional World Fantasy Award for Uncanny Magazine! Also, “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander is a finalist for the Best Short Story World Fantasy Award! Congratulations to Brooke and all of the finalists!

Michael will be at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio representing Uncanny.

On top of that, Uncanny Magazine is a British Fantasy Awards- Best Magazine/Periodical Finalist!

We are thrilled and honored. Once again, congratulations to all of the finalists!

Alyssa Wong’s Uncanny Story Wins a Locus Award and Galen Dara’s Issue 10 Cover Wins a Chesley Award!

Huge news, Space Unicorns! TWO pieces of Uncanny Magazine Issue 10 have won awards!

First,  “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong won the Locus Award for Best Novelette! Congratulations, Alyssa!

Uncanny Magazine Co-Publisher and Co-Editor-in-Chief Michael Damian Thomas with Alyssa Wong’s acceptor, Emma Osborne, at the Locus Awards.

Second, Galen Dara’s Uncanny Magazine Issue 10 cover Bubbles and Blast Off won the 2017 Chesley Award for Best Cover Illustration: Magazine!  Congratulations, Galen!

Uncanny Magazine Staff Changes: Goodbye Julia Rios, Hello Mimi Mondal and Shana DuBois!

There is some bittersweet news and some wonderful news, Space Unicorns. First, the bittersweet. The marvelous and phenomenal Julia Rios will be leaving us to explore some new opportunities after Issues 19. We can’t overstate how amazing her work has been for Uncanny. Julia is simply a most excellent human being, and one of the best editors in the industry. We know she will continue to do amazing things. We will greatly miss her in every possible way, though we are glad we get to keep her around for most of the year!

And now the good news! We are adding TWO new staff members starting with Issue 19!

Our new Poetry/Reprint Editor will be the marvelous Mimi Mondal! Mimi is an astounding writer of fiction (Daily Science Fiction, PodCastle) and nonfiction (please read her powerful Uncanny essay) and was an editor at Penguin India and co-edited with Alexandra Pierce the upcoming Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler from 12th Planet Press.





Our new interviewer will be the sensational Shana DuBois! Shana is a writer for the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, nerds of a feather, and previously for SF Signal.








We are thrilled to have both on the team. Welcome, new Space Unicorns!

Uncanny Magazine Issue 17 Cover and Table of Contents!


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 August 1.

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

“Enceladus” by Kirbi Fagan

“The Uncanny Valley” by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas (7/4)

“How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea” by Seanan McGuire (7/4)
“A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds” by Kat Howard (7/4)
“The Ache of Home” by Maurice Broaddus (7/4)

“The Worshipful Society of Glovers” by Mary Robinette Kowal (8/1)
“I Built This City For You” by Cassandra Khaw (8/1)
“Packing” by T. Kingfisher (8/1)

Reprint Fiction:
“Children of Thorns, Children of Water” by Aliette de Bodard (7/4)

“Why Millennials Yearn for Magical School” by Sarah Gailey (7/4)
“After a Revolution” by Dimas Ilaw (7/4)

“Resistance 101: Basics of Community Organizing for SF/F Creators and Consumers—Volume Three: My First
Civil Disobedience” by Sam J. Miller (8/1)
“Dean Winchester and Commander Shepard Walk into a Bar: Why Fanon Matters” by Alasdair Stuart (8/1)

“Qi Xi” by Joyce Chng (7/4)
“Starskin, Sealskin” by Shveta Thakrar and Sara Cleto (7/4)

“Questions We Asked for the Girls Turned to Limbs” by Chloe N. Clark (8/1)
“Domovoi” by Rose Lemberg (8/1)

Maurice Broaddus interviewed by Julia Rios (7/4)

Mary Robinette Kowal interviewed by Julia Rios (8/1)


17A (7/4)
Seanan McGuire- “How the Maine Coon Cat Learned to Love the Sea” (As
read by Amal El-Mohtar)
Shveta Thakrar and Sara Cleto- “Starskin, Sealskin” (As read by Erika Ensign)
Seanan McGuire Interviewed by Julia Rios

17B (8/1)
Cassandra Khaw- “I Built This City for You” (As read by Erika Ensign)
Rose Lemberg- “Domovoi” (As read by Amal El-Mohtar)
Cassandra Khaw Interviewed by Julia Rios

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Personal Essays Editor Nicolette Barischoff Wants Your Essay Pitches!

(ETA 6/29: We are now closed to pitches. Thanks, everybody!)

As you know, the Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine is taking over the Destroy series from Lightspeed Magazine. The current plan is to run the Kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction in July 2017. The issue will be written and edited entirely by disabled people.

Personal Essays Editor Nicolette Barischoff is currently looking for short personal essays (ideally between 500-800 words) to run during the Kickstarter and eventually be included in the special issue. These pieces will explore the writer’s connection to disability and genre fiction in a deeply personal way, as a writer, an editor, an activist, or a consumer. We’re defining these terms (connection, genre) as broadly as possible to give you as much space as you need to tell your story.

Uncanny is offering a flat $15 on acceptance for these short essays. If you’re interested, please email Nicolette Barischoff and Editor-in-Chief/Nonfiction Editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry at [email protected] with your idea for an essay as soon as possible. If you have any questions, you may tweet them to @NBarischoff and @snarkbat. The deadline for completed essays is July 17th. We are particularly looking for disabled writers of color.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Uncanny Magazine Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction/Year 4 Kickstarter Coming in July!

DeKalb, IL – Hugo Award-winning editors and publishers Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas are launching a Kickstarter in July for their Hugo Award-winning professional online science fiction and fantasy magazine Uncanny Magazine, covering the magazine’s Year Four, including the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction double-sized, guest-edited issue. Each issue of Uncanny contains new and classic speculative fiction, podcasts, poetry, essays, art, and interviews. Uncanny Magazine is raising funds via Kickstarter to cover some of its operational and production costs for its fourth year and the special issue. Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction will be an issue of Uncanny Magazine 100% written and edited by disabled creators– an official continuation of Lightspeed Magazine’s immensely popular and award-winning Destroy series of special issues. The Kickstarter will launch July 24 and run through August 23.

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction will be in the same vein as the previous Destroy special issues, this time featuring editors, writers (both solicited and unsolicited), and artists with representation from all across the sliding scale of disability. There is already a stellar team of guest editors for the special issue which includes:

Editor-in-Chief/Fiction Editor: Dominik Parisien
Editor-in-Chief/Nonfiction Editor: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
Reprint Editor: Judith Tarr
Poetry Editor: S. Qiouyi Lu
Personal Essays Editor: Nicolette Barischoff
Cover: Likhain

“We at Uncanny are absolutely thrilled to be taking over the Destroy series of special issues from Lightspeed Magazine. We are so honored that Lightspeed Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief John Joseph Adams trusts us enough to pass the torch so we can publish Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction with a phenomenal roster of guest editors who we know will find some amazing contributors. We feel this is an excellent fit for Uncanny’s mission of featuring passionate SF/F fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction, with a deep investment in our diverse SF/F culture. We publish intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and vision, from writers from every conceivable background. With the hard work of the best staff and contributors in the world, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised with our Years One, Two, and Three Kickstarters, and we are ecstatic that Year Four will feature Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. So far, pieces from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists for 28 different awards including Hugo, Locus, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. Uncanny Magazine has won a Best Semiprozine Hugo Award, a Parsec Award for our podcast, and Hao Jingfang’s Uncanny Magazine story “Folding Beijing” (translated by Ken Liu) won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. We couldn’t have done all of this without the amazing support of our Kickstarter community, whom we call the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps after our logo mascot. This is also their magazine, which is why we’re running the Uncanny Magazine Year Four/Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter,” Lynne says.

In 2014, Lightspeed Magazine conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund its first special issue, Women Destroy Science Fiction!, which ended up raising more than 1000% of its original goal. In 2015, Lightspeed conducted another successful campaign to fund Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and in 2016 to fund People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction!, both performing similarly to WDSF. Likewise, Uncanny Magazine has previously run Kickstarters for its first 3 years, each time fully funding and reaching all of the stretch goals.

Uncanny Magazine issues are published as eBooks (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue contains 5-6 new short stories, 1 reprinted story, 4 poems, 4 nonfiction essays, and 2 interviews, at minimum.

Material from half an issue is posted for free on Uncanny Magazine’s website (built by Clockpunk Studios) once per month, appearing on the second Tuesday of every month ( Uncanny also produces a monthly podcast with a story, poem, and original interview. Subscribers and backers receive the entire double issue at the beginning of the issue’s first month before online readers.

For more information, interview requests, or guest blog invitations, please contact Lynne and Michael Thomas at [email protected]

Uncanny Magazine Staff:

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas guide the magazine as Publishers and Editors-in-Chief. Four-time Hugo Award winner Lynne is the former Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine (2011-2013) which was a finalist for three Hugo Awards during her tenure. She co-edited the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords with Tara O’Shea, as well as Whedonistas with Deborah Stanish, and the Hugo Award finalist Chicks Dig Comics with Sigrid Ellis. She co-moderated the two-time Hugo Award-winning SF Squeecast and contributes to the Hugo Award finalist Doctor Who: Verity! Podcast. She is currently a finalist for two Hugo Awards and two Locus Awards for her work on Uncanny Magazine.

Hugo Award-winner Michael was the former Managing Editor of Apex Magazine (2012-2013). He also co-edited the Hugo Award finalist Queers Dig Time Lords with Sigrid Ellis and Glitter & Mayhem with John Klima and Lynne M. Thomas. He is the moderator for Down & Safe: A Blake’s 7 Podcast. He is currently a finalist for two Hugo Awards and two Locus Awards for his work on Uncanny Magazine.

Michi Trota is Uncanny’s Managing Editor. She is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager, and community organizer in Chicago, IL. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom, focusing primarily on issues of diversity and representation, on her blog, Geek Melange. She was a featured essayist in Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F (edited by Jim C. Hines) and is a professional editor with fifteen years of experience in publishing and communications.

Uncanny’s Parsec Award-winning podcast is edited and produced by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky. Erika is a founding member and producer of the Doctor Who: Verity! podcast. She also co-hosts The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 and is a frequent panelist on The Incomparable. Steven is one of the three hosts of the popular Doctor Who podcast Radio Free Skaro, as well as a co-host of another Doctor Who podcast called The Memory Cheats. They co-host together the Lazy Doctor Who podcast.

Uncanny Magazine’s Reprint/Poetry Editor/Interviewer Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction series. She is also a co-host of the Hugo Award finalist podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, and has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast. To find out more, visit

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Guest Editors:

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a partially deafblind speculative fiction writer and disability activist. Her short fiction is included in Upside Down, Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, Fireside Magazine, and Ghost in the Cogs. She also writes for tabletop roleplaying games, and was part of the ENNIe award winning staff for Dracula Dossier. Her nonfiction has been included in The Boston Globe, Uncanny Magazine, Terrible Minds, and many other venues. She teaches disability representation at Writing the Other, and recently spoke at the New York Public Library on this topic. She is the assistant editor at Fireside Magazine. She has a Masters in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College, and uses it to critique media representation of disability from all mediums.

Dominik Parisien is the co-editor, with Navah Wolfe, of The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, which is a finalist for the Shirley Jackson and Locus Awards, and the forthcoming Robots vs Fairies. He also edited the Aurora Award-nominated Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, ELQ/Exile: The Literary Quarterly, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, as well as other magazines and anthologies. His fiction has twice been nominated for the Sunburst Award. He is a disabled, French Canadian living in Toronto.

Judith Tarr… hates writing bios of herself. She would rather write historical fantasy or historical novels or epic fantasy or the (rather) odd alternate history, or short stories on just about any subject that catches her fancy. She has been a World Fantasy Award nominee for her Alexander the Great novel, Lord of the Two Lands, and won the Crawford Award for her Hound and the Falcon trilogy. She also writes as Caitlin Brennan (The Mountain’s Call and sequels) and Kathleen Bryan (The Serpent and the Rose and sequels). Caitlin published House of the Star, a magical-horse novel from Tor, in Fall 2010. The paperback appeared in November of 2011. She is dancinghorse on LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter.

Nicolette Barischoff was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which has only made her more awesome. Her fiction has appeared in Long Hidden, Accessing the Future, The Journal of Unlikely Academia, Podcastle, and Angels of the Meanwhile. She regularly writes about disability, feminism, sex- and body-positivity, and how all these fit together. Her personal essays on these topics get read way more than her fiction does, which is only a little annoying. She regularly collaborates with visual and performance artists to promote normalization of visibly disabled bodies. She’s been on the front page of CBS New York, where they called her activism public pornography and suggested her face was a Public Order Crime.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, editor, narrator, and translator; their fiction and poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons and Uncanny, among other venues, and they currently edit the quarterly speculative flash fiction/poetry magazine Arsenika. They are a dread member of the Queer Asian SFFH Illuminati and enjoy destroying speculative fiction in their spare time. They live in Los Angeles, California with a tiny black cat named Thin Mint. Find out more at or follow them on Twitter at @sqiouyilu.

Max and Amal Go to the Movies! The Girl With All the Gifts

Welcome to another installment of authors Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar’s movie reviews! 

Amal El-Mohtar: TO THE MOVIES!

Max Gladstone: The Girl with All the Gifts!

She has so many gifts—

You guys—

Much Pandora, many things in boxes!

Amal El-Mohtar: Get ALL the Gifts!

Max Gladstone: Perhaps we should set the stage for the movie a little? Because this is one I imagine many people in our audience (hi, audience) haven’t seen?

Amal El-Mohtar: So, Max, before we began this column in earnest we totally had a list of movies we wanted to cover. You made a list, I made a list, we compared our lists, we had a system.

Max Gladstone: We had, at least, something adjacent to a system.

Amal El-Mohtar: It was a good almost-system! So good that I feel almost-bad for abandoning it nigh completely in favour of talking about whatever interesting movie we’ve both recently seen.


Which we watched largely because you were visiting me and my husband insisted it was amazing.

Max Gladstone: Ssh, we don’t want to reveal our Highly Scientific Selection Process.

Amal El-Mohtar: OH, you’re right, I will totally edit that part out.

Max Gladstone: Which totally isn’t “We are trapped in a satellite and Pearl keeps sending us movies.”

Amal El-Mohtar: MAX NO!

Max Gladstone: Aaaand now I’m recasting MST3K with Steven Universe characters.

We must stop this or else there will be no column.


Amal El-Mohtar: (Would Pearl even send us this movie? Oh man—actually, this is surely the quintessential Gem Horror Film. SUCH ORGANIC.)

Max Gladstone: (I recently as in just this morning read a really interesting Strange Horizons review of SU that pointed out that strawberries grow in sandy ground, like the kind of ground you’d get after you crushed and shattered a lot of gems.)


Max Gladstone: (I thought it was just a Beatles reference!)


Amal El-Mohtar: ANYWAY.


So this film is based on the book by M. R. Carey.

Max Gladstone; Film! Book! Carey!

MR not Jacqueline!

Amal El-Mohtar; I refuse to take the bait for that OBVIOUS DIGRESSION.

Max Gladstone: Bait? Who’s bait? Oh look a chocolate! *gets chocolate* *is trapped under box*

Amal El-Mohtar: When the book came out, everyone seemed to be talking about it but also not talking about it?

So I knew that there was a SHOCKING TWIST, and also that there was something to do with zombies.

Max Gladstone: Yes.

This is what I also knew about this book.

In fact, that kind of turned me off the entire project of the book?

Amal El-Mohtar: SAME! Because I HATE ZOMBIES.

Max Gladstone: For me it was that I hate twists.

Or, rather, I have a chip on my shoulder about stories you can’t talk about without talking about the twist

So it was really weird, and blessedly cool, to see this movie blow past the twist in the first five minutes.

Amal El-Mohtar: Ha! I sympathise with that at the same time that I actually kind of love twists when they aren’t over-hyped OR being ruined for me in advance, which I concede is sort of contradictory, but here we are.

And yes!!

So, full disclosure, we are obviously going to spoil the heck out of both book and film because, you know, Big Twist in First Five Minutes.

Max Gladstone: Well, so, here’s the thing about twists.

A good twist does not prevent you from describing the movie to a prospective viewer.

The Usual Suspects is a heist story told by crook Kevin Spacey to the police in the aftermath of the heist’s utter failure, about how all his friends got killed by this arch-criminal. You can even stop before the comma of that sentence and it sounds like a compelling flick.

Similarly, “Bruce Willis is a psychiatrist who, after his own near-death experience, tries to help out this kid who believes in ghosts” sounds like a movie I’d go see.


But yes! Spoiling the heck out of the movie.

Let’s maybe scroll down some spoiler space?

Amal El-Mohtar: Oh that’s a really good point.


By that token, Melanie is a brilliant child being kept prisoner with other children in a military facility. She’s in love with her teacher, Miss Justineau, and consistently cheerful in the face of having guns pointed at her while soldiers strap her into a wheelchair to take her to and from her classes. Every now and then Dr. Caldwell comes by and comments on her “exquisite mimicry.” This is all Profoundly Uncool. How could anyone treat these sweet children in this terrible way?

The answer is:


Sort of.

Max Gladstone: nom nom nom

So, in the film, this reveal happens maybe five minutes in. Which is great, because it’s a necessary element of scene-setting. It’s either the end of the first act or the middle of the first act depending on how you want to run the act breaks for this film. We know, all of a sudden, most of the stakes and context behind our central characters’ relationships as they understand them—though that will be broken open over the course of the movie, because many of the characters are lying to one another, or mistaken, or incompletely representing themselves.

Amal El-Mohtar: Yes! Everything about the setup and the reveal are wonderfully, economically done. We start by wondering why on earth these poor children are being called “friggin’ abortions” by aggressive awful guards, with Miss Justineau’s tearful affection towards them being our natural representative—and then there’s the revelation that, if they get a whiff of human effluvia, their jaws distend and they become these teeth-clacking horrifying creatures lusting for your flesh.

And what’s brilliant about it is that Miss Justineau knows this, but maintains her sympathy, while the guards know this and don’t.

And that’s a fantastically subtle piece of storytelling: showing you two equally true facts and two equally plausible positions on the subject.

Max Gladstone: Right. And perspective is hugely important here.

Miss J. has a limited perspective on her charges in one way, because she doesn’t tend to see them (or other zombies) being clacky chomping death monsters, while the guards do. On the other hand, the guards never see zombies as people, even limited-edition conscious zombies like Melanie.



Max Gladstone: They’re both wrong—and they both become deeply uncomfortable when presented with the limits of the boxes into which they’ve put the kids. Miss J sees them as children, which they aren’t—quite—at least not the way she thinks of children… and the guards see them as zoms, which, again, they aren’t. Quite.

Amal El-Mohtar: I am super restraining myself from jumping in immediately with my reading of this as a decolonial text about the limits and uses of respectability.

Max Gladstone: Why wait?

Amal El-Mohtar: No, no, I just think that there’s a ton of REALLY FASCINATING things to talk about besides that. Like Glenn Close’s role!

Max Gladstone: Right! Excellent! Glenn Close, as Dr. Caldwell, Avatar of Science.

Amal El-Mohtar: Can you think of another instance of that role—the hardcore pragmatic scientist for whom the ends justify the means—being played by a woman? Because I can’t!

Max Gladstone: Hm, I’m trying to! I feel like I’ve seen it done before but I can’t think of a specific role. Maybe Sigourney Weaver in Avatar, but that’s not really the same kind of role.

So, we have Glenn Close Dr, Caldwell, who really, really wants to eat your brain—I mean study! Study your brain!

Amal El-Mohtar: HA!

Oh man I hadn’t even thought of that comparison!

That the only character in this movie who is SUPER INTO BRAINS is the doctor trying to cure zombie-ness!

Max Gladstone: I think that’s a big part of why it works!

Over the course of the film we’re forced to slowly accept Melanie’s zombie-ness—she’s not human. She’s like human in many respects, she’s deserving of compassion as are all sentient beings, but she is very different. But at the same time we see that all the humans, especially Caldwell, have their own sort of insuperable automatic behaviors.

Paddy Considine’s Sgt. Parks, our resident Man of Action, at the film’s more-or-less exact midpoint, says something like, when your life’s on the line, you never know what you can do, what you’re going to do, until it’s done.

Amal El-Mohtar: OH MAN that is such a good point that I absolutely at no point thought of during the film and this is making me (almost) want to watch it again!

Max Gladstone: By what right are we supposed to think that the downfall of humanity is bad? Well, zombies are all automatic behavior—they have no will, no personality, just chompings. Dr. Caldwell’s stated position is that Melanie and the other limited edition zoms are pre-zombies—creatures that exhibit human behavior without sentience.

But again and again we see humans exhibit pre-sentient, conditioned, automatic behavior. To the extent that, in the film’s climax, when Caldwell has sedated Melanie and wants to operate on her, she’s staggering around and moaning just like a zombie, and she literally wants to eat Melanie’s brain to survive.

Well, okay, “use” and “titrate” instead of “eat” but you see where I’m going with this.

Amal El-Mohtar: I DO.


Max Gladstone: So there’s a strong Buddhist read here as well.

Amal El-Mohtar: Haha the only Buddhist thing I am seeing here is “the world is on fire.

So please tell me more.

Max Gladstone: Hahahah


Well, without getting too far into it, and recognizing that there are lots of different traditions and ways around Buddhism, the questions of “liberation” and “wakefulness” are at the heart of a lot of Buddhist teaching. So, the goal is to be liberated from suffering. But why are you suffering? Because of clinging—not only to specific sights, sounds, emotions, but to the consciousness that underpins them—the notion that these thoughts and experiences are in some sort of absolute and context-independent way.

So one part of liberating practice is meditating on the codependent origination of phenomena—you figure out where things came from, and discover they’re not essential substances at all. Including, and this is the tricky thing, thought.

Amal El-Mohtar: This sounds an awful lot like turning into a tree.

Max Gladstone: Hahaha yes!

A lot of our thoughts, if we ask ourselves why we’re thinking them, end up being sort of reflexive—we have them because we’ve been conditioned to have them.

Which raises the question: why are we acting or thinking this way? Often it’s not actually because we want to, or because we’ve given the matter any thought—it’s because we’re responding automatically to stimuli. We’re preconditioned by our history and surroundings, including culture, upbringing, systemic racism, our own view of our history, etc. We’re thinking in the way context has made us think. If we trace the causes of our mental formations, we gain a little bit of metacognitive perspective—enough, perhaps, to free us from unquestioned allegiance to our environment, and the cycle of perpetual suffering where people keep hurting each other forever.

So I see that playing into the question of automatic behavior and the existence of free will (and the relevance of consciousness) in this film.

Make sense?

Amal El-Mohtar: It makes total sense! I am persuaded! And that COULD dovetail neatly into my view of this as decolonial—which is likewise a process of questioning received defaults that have shaped us, uprooting and responding to them.

Max Gladstone: ++

Decolonialism is wicked Buddhist, I think. Or at least the approaches have a great deal in common.

Amal El-Mohtar: But I want to talk about fast zombies first.

Max Gladstone: ZOOMBIES.

Amal El-Mohtar: So, broadly speaking, I hate fast zombies. I feel like it’s cheating.


Touching on what you point out about the ways in which the film shows us humans behaving in zombie-like ways? The zombies’ speed makes it extremely difficult for us to tell who’s a hungry and who’s not.

Max Gladstone: TRUE.

Amal El-Mohtar: That speed is also super effectively contrasted with the zombies’ behaviour of congregating in groups and standing utterly still in order for the fungal infection to achieve the second part of its lifecycle: LITERALLY TURNING THEM INTO TREES.

This film isn’t using fast zombies as a cheap scare tactic—it’s using speed very, very deliberately to position them as human in motion and alien in stillness.

Max Gladstone: Oh, wow, yes! Which then effectively transforms the natural environment around our human (or near-human) protagonists into a threat.

Amal El-Mohtar: (I only just noticed the pun in ZOOMbies by the way.)

(Because I am not fast like a zombie.)

Max Gladstone: (It sneaks up on ya.)

(Not entirely unlike)

(A ninja.)

Amal El-Mohtar: I have just vacillated between whether to respond to that with a facepalming gif, a Max No, or silent ellipses.

I chose none and all of them.

Not entirely unlike

YOUR PROTAGONIST Melanie, beautifully portrayed by Sennia Nenua!

Max Gladstone: She’s SO GOOD.

Amal El-Mohtar: She’s so amazing it’s hard to even talk about how amazing she is. This girl is what, maybe 13?

Max Gladstone: She’s so, so very sharp.

Amal El-Mohtar: And she absolutely holds her own against GLENN CLOSE.

Their scenes together were some of the most scintillating in the film. Melanie is so loving and careful and smart, and it comes across so profoundly that all she wants is to learn, all she wants is for these adults to teach her about who she is and how to be in the world, but all they can teach her is to hate herself and hate her hunger and wear a LITERAL MASK TO PROTECT THEM FROM HER and ok I can restrain the decolonialism no longer here we go.

Max Gladstone: Woooooo! Go!

Amal El-Mohtar: I was absolutely shocked at the film’s ending. I thought it was the most radical thing I’ve seen on a screen in a long time. But I’ve had some difficulty articulating its nuances to myself.

I guess the thing to say at the outset is that the film is not a 1for1 analogue, and that’s a feature, not a bug (as it were). Obviously this fungus is literally colonizing humanity, and humanity is fighting back—BUT LOSES. How could that be about resisting colonialism, you might justly ask? How does that not simply position a young black girl as somehow INVADING WHITENESS and playing into the rankest bullshit of white supremacist narratives?

Well! Because it lulls a hegemonic audience into an ironic sense of security, given that this is a horror film.

Max Gladstone: *chinhands*

Amal El-Mohtar: You think you know, heading into this movie, what you’re rooting for. You think you’re rooting for Tolerance and Understanding via Miss Justineau. You think you’re rooting for a cure that will eradicate difference and eliminate Melanie’s hunger via Dr. Caldwell.

Max Gladstone: Hm, interesting. Not certain I’m with you there, but, please continue!

Amal El-Mohtar: And you think that, consequently, you’re rooting for Melanie—that rooting for these things is rooting for Melanie.

Max Gladstone: *nod*

Amal El-Mohtar: But the ending strips that way. You’re not rooting for Melanie—you’re rooting for part of Melanie, the part that is sweet and smart and like you, the part that loves listening to your stories, the part that works hard to protect you from the parts of her that threaten you.

And what Melanie says, by putting the match to the seed pods, is that you’ve not been rooting for her at all.

Unless you literally turn into a tree.

Then you’re rooting for her just fine.

(I’m sorry.)

Max Gladstone:


Amal El-Mohtar: OK I welcome you to chime in here as I further gather my thoughts about the ending. What was the part you disagreed with?

Max Gladstone: Mostly the sequence you present!

Let me see.

I don’t have an undergirding theory here, but, we’re not on Justineau’s side at first. We start off with Melanie—we’re rooting for her, against this screwed up system, against the soldiers, against the teachers. We do like Miss Justineau when she shows up, but that’s because (1) the movie plays a trick on us by having her come in to relieve the jerk teacher, so she’s not immediately and intuitively associated with the soldiers and authority, and (2) Melanie likes her.

The film gets a lot of its power by testing the affection we form for Melanie in those first few minutes. Do you still like her now? How about now? How about now?

And because it’s well-balanced and effective, the answer is yes. It has to work a lot harder to encourage empathy with the humans, who, at rock bottom, fear her and want to imprison Melanie (though in Miss J’s case, she commits actual armed rebellion to try to save Melanie, so that’s a thing. Even though she doesn’t seem to have a plan.)

Amal El-Mohtar: Oh, absolutely! I may have skipped a few steps, but that’s totally in line with what I mean—a big part of why we have affection for Melanie is because she’s SO exceptional and SO polite and SO remarkable, even in the face of all this violence exerted against her.

Max Gladstone: Hm, interesting. Again, I’m not sure that’s so?

We have affection for this kid who’s looking at her cat photos and counting to herself…

That I don’t think is conditioned on her performing niceness…

Amal El-Mohtar: You don’t think an audience’s relationship with Melanie would be different if she was shown to be sullen and furious and fighty at the outset? Instead of sunny and sweet?

I think the enormous contrast between the guns pointed in her face and her very genuine warmth is a huge part of the effect.

Max Gladstone: She would be a different character, certainly, and the effect would be different, but I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to get the audience to empathize with her

If anything, I think her niceness marks her as a bit uncanny in the opening scenes.

Especially given what’s going on around her.

Amal El-Mohtar: I agree that it’s uncanny—I spent a portion of that first act trying to figure out how much of it was genuine—but let me put it this way: it felt extremely familiar to me as a tactic for moving through a hostile world, of working extremely hard to be beyond reproach in even the most extreme and provoking of situations in order to protect oneself from attack.

Max Gladstone: Sure.

Amal El-Mohtar: And I felt that was a deliberate storytelling choice—that the dynamic would be different otherwise. And obviously I’m not saying it would have been impossible to empathize with her! Only that it would be a different dynamic, and I’m fascinated by how the story chose this dynamic.

Max Gladstone: Okay, I can see that. I got the impression you thought our ability to empathize with Melanie at all was contingent on her presenting in this way; it doesn’t seem to me that this is a necessary precondition of empathy. And that the film positions her niceness as being uncanny itself—which I think supports your point in a way.

Amal El-Mohtar: No no, not contingent—but connected! And yes, I think so too. This is an uncanny response to an uncanny situation.

This is also what I mean by it not being a 1for1 analogue: I definitely see a parable about respectability in the way Melanie’s positioned, but that’s not ALL I see.

But it maps on so effectively on to elements of my own experience, I can’t help but foreground those. To grow up speaking more than one language and learning which is valued in which context; to feel that you’re expected to hide parts of yourself until those parts are useful to others; even the scene where Melanie’s communicating with the feral children, seamlessly switching from speaking to them in their language and to the adults in theirs, is uncomfortably tidy.

In its associations, I mean.

Obviously the scene itself is very… Messy.

Max Gladstone: *nod* Yeah, that make sense! How does that feel, seeing it portrayed in this way  this context and on screen?

Amal El-Mohtar: It feels INCREDIBLE.

It feels—heh.

I am probably extrapolating here.

Perhaps too much.

But you know what the camera does whenever Melanie gets to eat?

It’s a little like that.

But less murdery.

Max Gladstone: Hahaha!

Don’t eat the cat!




Max Gladstone: As someone who has seen too many people cite “Save the Cat,” I felt sort of glorious watching Melanie bliss out on cat-murder—even though I like cats a lot. Cats are great and I do not condone their zombie murder

Amal El-Mohtar: I love cats! I have two of them! I want neither of them to get eaten by anything!

But only ONE of their people consistently refers to Millie as a PIE, STU.



From here we could probably branch (snrk) out into where this story intersects with climate change stories and gets a bit VanderMeery.

Since domestic cats are pretty invasive and stuff, I mean.

Max Gladstone: Kill songbirds. Delicious little elf monsters.

But: Yes! Change! Ecolo-Gs!

Amal El-Mohtar: This isn’t a zombie story where Humanity Engineers a Plague, you know? We never learn where the fungus comes from.

Max Gladstone: Nope. It’s pretty clearly a cordyceps (I think they even call it cordyceps somethingorother), adapted to humans.

Which could easily happen as a result of climate change—certainly climate change releases stuff buried in permafrost, all humans die, is a doomsday climate change scenario that gets kicked around quite a bit.

Amal El-Mohtar: Yes! And since we never learn whether it’s aliens, or Science Gone Bad, or whatever, my headcanon has it as a naturally occurring phenomenon to recalibrate a population which has grown uncontrollably parasitic.

Because humanity is

[Agent Smith] a virus [/Agent Smith]

Max Gladstone: This is all Nausicaä backgroundfic.

Amal El-Mohtar: Aw man I still haven’t seen Nausicaä.

…Maybe we should watch it next.

Max Gladstone: Oh man! It’s so gooooood.

We should!

Amal El-Mohtar: But if we want that to happen probably we SHOULDN’T add it to the list.

Max Gladstone: I mean, setting aside normative language like “recalibrate.”

There’s a lot of evidence that habitat intrusion and climate change have introduced new strange pathogens and chaotic cascades we don’t understand yet.

IIRC this is probably where ebola came from, etc.

Amal El-Mohtar: (Is that normative? Can’t we recalibrate into difference?)

Max Gladstone: Let’s consult Merriam-Webster, the standard dictionary of the resistance.

Calibrate: 1:  to ascertain the caliber (see caliber 3) of (as a thermometer tube)

2:  to determine, rectify, or mark the graduations (see graduation 1)of (as a thermometer tube)

3:  to standardize (as a measuring instrument) by determining the deviation from a standard so as to ascertain the proper correction factors

4:  to adjust precisely for a particular function calibrate a thermometer

5:  to measure precisely carefully calibrate the dosage of a medicine; especially :  to measure against a standard

Amal El-Mohtar: OK but as per Merriam-Webster if my usage changes it

haven’t I



What were you saying above about metacognitive processes? >.>

Max Gladstone: Hahaha, yes, but against a standard or to bring it in line with an existing standard?


Amal El-Mohtar: PROBABLY we should stop this from getting any sillier by which I mean I should stop and anyway I agree with you!

Max Gladstone: But we do have a situation where something has shown up and the new, post-event equilibrium for the Earth doesn’t involve humans living in it.

As far as humans are concerned, this is of course a major catastrophe.

As far as Earth is concerned, lingering heavy metal and radiation contamination is probably going to be a bigger deal than human absence from the biome.

(I bought a book about this recently, can’t wait to read it.)

One of the questions stories like this raise, for me, is, well, what would happen if all humans died?

What kind of moral event is that?

I mean, obviously it would suck to experience, and there are many people I don’t want to die—most, even!

Amal El-Mohtar: Most Magnanimous of Maxen, truly.

Max Gladstone: I guess it feels like it’s asking a different sort of question than “Would you want some specific human to die?” (The answer is no.)

I don’t know if this is making any sense.

Amal El-Mohtar: No it totally does! Which is also really interesting in terms of the ending—that Miss Justineau ends up positioned as potentially the last of her species because Melanie doesn’t want her to die.

I really felt that the film wasn’t making a moral statement there about who deserves to live or die—but that there was a deep respect for agency in the deaths of Sgt. Parks and Dr. Caldwell, even as Melanie, exerting her own agency, made the world uninhabitable for them.

I’m still not sure what to do with that, to be honest, ethically speaking—just that it spoke to me as something that films don’t usually do.

Max Gladstone: Yes. And by the end the film has us so much on Melanie’s side that her decision feels at least sorta justifiable.

Amal El-Mohtar: It’s the fact that she waits for Caldwell to acknowledge her personhood, I think.

Max Gladstone: I can’t go all the way to “justifiable” because she’s literally killing the entire human race.

That’s part of it, yes.

Overall I think the film resists the very, very easy temptation to cast anyone as a “bad” guy.

Amal El-Mohtar: YES, exactly. From the first act, it’s so, so easy to empathize with everyone’s actions.

Max Gladstone: Everyone does their thing. Sometimes that works out well for people you like. Sometimes not.

It’s heartbreaking and it feels true.

Oddly, also, everyone gets exactly what they want. Or, dies in the process of getting there.

Gallagher dies getting the food they need. Caldwell dies in search of her cure. Parks dies looking for his daughter. Justineau wants to live and teach, and she gets to do that.

Amal El-Mohtar: OMG, you’re so right, AND I just noticed that each of those desires is neatly subverted!

Gallagher dies… And BECOMES food.

Max Gladstone: Hah! Yes!

Amal El-Mohtar: Caldwell dies succumbing to a different disease, turning into the zombie simulacrum you described above.

Parks—whose arc I interpreted as being partly about protection—ends up needing to be rescued by the girl he’s come to treat as a surrogate daughter.

Max Gladstone: (And who’s almost certainly in an identical position to his real daughter.)

Amal El-Mohtar: (RIGHT!!!)

Max Gladstone: (Well, not *identical* identical.)

Amal El-Mohtar: And in the tidiest reversal, Justineau wants to live and teach her imprisoned students—but ends up being the one imprisoned as she does so.  

Max Gladstone: I agree completely though I see Parks’s arc as being different: he talks about protection and about the survival of the species, but when the chips are down, he’s in all this because he wants to know what happened to his wife and his kid. And in his last moment, he learns.

Amal El-Mohtar: Aww, yeah. I totally forgot about that, you’re right.

Max Gladstone: That moment between Parks and Melanie is beautiful—and it’s only possible if he fully knows her, including that she’s someone who would set the trees on fire and release the spores.

Amal El-Mohtar: It so is. He’s not even mad.

Man, this was such a great film. I’m just remembering how when all these characters are together in the van for the first time I kept exclaiming how much I loved ALL of them and could see where they were all coming from!

Max Gladstone: It’s really great! It even is comfortable with the ending being sort of down-up.

Amal El-Mohtar: It’s a profoundly empathic film, even at its most frightening—the zombies, when eating, are so peaceful, so joyous.

Imagine, it says, being so hungry, and then eating.

Melanie is so, so beautiful, even when her face is covered in gore.

Max Gladstone: It’s blissful and effective.

And the fact that it doesn’t shrink from the ugliness or the beauty makes it feel profoundly ecological.

Amal El-Mohtar: Yes! Nature red in tooth and claw; Anne Rice (heavens help me) and her Savage Garden.

Max Gladstone: Which feels profound and real, compared to the sense I’ve received from some books that play this general “and then the world was reclaimed or transformed by nature” game, that we’re supposed to feel really great about the fact that the Forest has Reclaimed Everything.

We shall Stride Forth into Transformed Eden, etc.

Amal El-Mohtar: Hah, yes.

Turn to the nearest woman and call her Eve.

Max Gladstone: And I’m sitting here reading, like, motherfucker, I have friends with type 2 diabetes and a nut allergy.

Fuck your Eden fantasy.

Amal El-Mohtar: AAHHHH THIS.

OK once again Max you have sung a note I cannot top, so shall we leave it at Fuck Your Eden Fantasy?

Max Gladstone: Hahaha Yes! But just where I was going with that: I love how we get that kind of ecological, end-of-humanity note here, and it’s the zombie apocalypse. We’re not holding hands and humming. Even if something happens after us, it will look so, so different from us.

Everything changes. Some things are truly lost.

Amal El-Mohtar: YES. Exactly. And there’s tragedy and beauty in it, as Justineau continues to tell the children stories as a means to them making up their own, and it all comes so full circle that I get a bit dizzy.

I wonder what beings will make powder of the human-muching cordyceps for their wellness supplements.

As Paul Fidalgo once sang, “And when we’re all dead and seep into the crust / The beings to come can make oil out of us.”

Amal El–Mohtar has received the Locus Award, been a Nebula Award finalist for her short fiction, and won the Rhysling Award for poetry three times. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty–eight different kinds of honey, and contributes criticism to NPR Books and the LA Times. Her fiction has most recently appeared in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Uncanny Magazine, and The Starlit Wood anthology from Saga Press. She lives in Ottawa with her spouse and two cats. Find her online at, or on Twitter @tithenai.

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated (twice!) for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award. Tor Books published Last First Snow, the fourth novel in Max’s Craft Sequence (preceded by Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Full Fathom Five) in July 2015. Max’s game Choice of the Deathless was nominated for the XYZZY Award, and his short stories have appeared on and in Uncanny Magazine.