Welcome to Infomancy

Welcome to Infomancy.net, the website of librarian, author, editor, and haikuist Stewart C Baker.

If you’d like to browse around my published fiction and poetry (much of which is free to read on external sites), check the relevant links in the menu to see a list of each.

I am also now offering editing services.

Get in touch: Facebook | Twitter | E-mail

I have a new story out today in Chappy Fiction’s Time Travel Tales

Time manipulation is a delicate, difficult practice. First you’ve got to will (be/have been) get/got/getting the right verb tense (or just give up and go with simple present). And then there’s the matter of simultaneous n-breaks—a tricky tactic to stretch and twist time back on itself, allowing for multiple iterations of the same person to exist in the same room at the same time for an academic conference. Not to mention hangovers.

What am I even talking about? My latest published story, “First and Only Sixteenth Annual One-Woman Symposium on Time Manipulation,” which is out today in Chappy Fiction’s Time Travel Tales anthology.

Will Dr. Mirai and her various iterations make revolutionary breakthroughs as they tinker with time, or will they break the universe and suffer the consequences? If you want to find out, you’ll have to snag the anthology: Time Travel Tales on Amazon, available in Kindle and paperback forms!

The anthology has a lot of other great stories on offer, as well, from the metafictional to the traditional, the academic to the adventurous.

Just take a gander at the names which grace the table of contents:

Brian Trent, Catherine Wells, Sean Williams, Stewart C Baker, Robert Silverberg, HL Fullerton, Auston Habershaw, Brenda Anderson, SL Huang, Tony Pi, Steve Simpson, K Kazul Wolf, Rasheedah Phillips, Martin L Shoemaker, Alter Reiss, David Steffen, John A Frochio, Alisa Alering, Desmond Warzel, and Rosemary Claire Smith.

Original story: “Fallinghome – A Reevaluation” free to read at Big Echo SF

In the year 2168, the Earth was destroyed in a gravitic anomaly. Humankind, which had already begun to spread to other planets and off-world habitats, was greatly reduced in number, and was dealt a devastating psychological blow.

This is the backdrop for my latest story, “Fallinghome: A Re-evaluation,” now live and free to read at Big Echo SF.

Told in the style of an academic essay mixed with documentary footage and primary source material, the story charts the career of Akiko Cheung, famed architect and anomaly survivor, in the decades after the disaster. It’s a story of loss, grief, resignation, and determination in the face of adversity both personal and natural. How do you keep going when everything you cared about is gone?

Here’s a teaser:

Cheung floats unmoving in a cavernous station chamber, her form hidden in a bulky utilitarian spacesuit which is tethered to the ceiling. Her creation lurks behind her, monolithic, monomaniacal, insane.

She does not speak, but closes her eyes as the rear wall of the chamber folds away and Fallinghome is gently pulled free of the station by automated tugs. We see, distantly, the first burst of fusion fire from its directional jets, and the home drops from view.

Cheung floats in front of the camera for several minutes — eyes closed, unmoving, unspeaking — and then the footage abruptly ends.

My Writers of the Future winning story “Images Across a Shattered Sea” is now live at Kasma

Last summer, I submitted what I knew would be my last entry to the Writers of the Future contest: a post-apocalyptic, timey-wimey story called “Images Across a Shattered Sea.”

Of course, I thought at the time it would be my last entry because I was soon to be disqualified for having too many published stories, not because I would win the contest with it.

But I did! Huzzah, and etcetera!

That winning story is now available to read for free from the fine folks at Kasma SF, with some shiny original art to boot. (That makes this the only story I’ve ever had two pieces of art done for, I think.) Double huzzah! Double etcetera!

Go give it a read: “Images Across a Shattered Sea” at Kasma SF.

(And in case you missed it, the story is also available to play as a piece of interactive fiction over at Sub-Q! An audio version is forthcoming. All the huzzahs!)

“The Plumes of Enceladus” now back online for your reading pleasure

My story “The Plumes of Enceladus” was published in Abyss & Apex earlier this month, but there appears to have been some kind of technical mix-up, since trying to read it would net you a 404 page not found error.

That’s been resolved! You can now go read this story—which features a disabled protagonist, a race to Saturn, and a not unreasonable amount of angst and poor decisions—online at http://www.abyssapexzine.com/2016/09/the-plumes-of-enceladus/.


“Love and Relativity” now available in Spanish at Axxón!

My story from Nature Physics, “Love and Relativity,” has been translated into Spanish by the fine folks at Axxón magazine.

You can read the translation, “Amor y Relatividad,” by author and translator Claudia De Bella, here: http://axxon.com.ar/rev/2016/10/amor-y-relatividad-stewart-c-baker/

Gracias, Claduai y Axxón!

Three quick tips for writing believable dialogue in your fiction

One of the things I often find myself changing when I’m editing people’s fiction is dialogue.

Dialogue is one of the cornerstones of fiction writing: it gives your characters a chance to show off who they are, and–just as in real life–serves as a way for them to learn about each other and work to resolve their differences.

Good dialogue can really make characters come alive. Wooden, unrealistic dialogue, though, can throw a reader out of your story very quickly indeed.

To misquote Mark Twain, the difference between the good dialogue and wooden dialogue is really a large matter—’tis the difference between “Reach for the sky!” and “Hello, Miss. Yes, I am here to rob the bank. I am holding on to a gun in my hand here. Can you please give me all of the money that you have in the sack behind the counter there now so I can take it. If you do not want to give me the sack I will have to shoot you with my gun instead and I do not want to do that if I do not have to and I am sure you do not want me to shoot you either so just give me the money now and I will go.”

Here are three simple, concrete things you can start doing right now to improve your written conversations.

Use contractions

Although it varies a bit depending on your locale, most varieties of spoken English use contractions.

In stories, however, I often see writers who would say “I’m going to the store. Want anything?” in real life make their characters say:

“I am going to the store. Is there anything that you would like me to get for you?”

This turns what would be an otherwise unmemorable line into something that sticks out–in the worst possible way.

While the occasional “I am” or “you are” can serve to make a character’s point, most people use contractions when they speak. (And, as Mark Liberman of Language Log points out, they’ve done so for quite a long time where informal speech is concerned.)

To return to our shopping character:

“I’m going to the store. Is there anything that you’d like me to get for you?”

With this one small change, the dialogue already sounds more realistic.

Make every word matter

Brevity, as Shakespeare tells us, is the soul of wit. My bank robber example above shows that it’s also important to dialogue.

Every sentence–and ideally every word–in your fiction should serve some kind of purpose, whether it’s furthering the plot, advancing the action, deepening characterization, or any of the other things that help draw readers in.

Dialogue is no different. Indeed, since it’s how your characters express themselves most directly, every word carries even more weight.

In the end, it comes down to whether you want your characters to come across as interminable blowhards, or smart and snappy. There’s a place for both kinds of speech–but by and large, shorter is better.

This goes double for sections where your characters are saying something that’s crucial to resolving the plot or their conflict with another character. A reader will feel the impact of a terse “I just–I love you, okay?” much more than a long, rambling discourse on the nature of romantic attraction, complete with detours through every kiss your hero has ever shared with his lover.

Break up dialogue with action

Outside the technical aspects of dialogue itself, it’s important to consider what else is going on during your story.

Your protagonists are rarely likely to be in a situation where they can talk for hours, so it’s important to fit what they’re saying in with what’s happening around them.

Dialogue tags are one easy way to intersperse action and dialogue. Working in short, sentence-long paragraphs in between bits of speech can also do the trick:

“I’m going to the store,” Jeyna said. “Is–”
A shattering of glass filled the air as a zombie broke down the window at the front of the room.
Jeyna pivoted and put a bullet through its forehead, then returned her gun to its holster. “Is there anything you’d like me to get?”

Although there isn’t an exact formula for mixing dialogue and action, at least make sure your long, meaningful heart-to-heart isn’t happening during a time when your protagonist and her estranged brother are in the midst of fighting off an army of invading alien warriors armed with rapid-fire laser blasters. Few things are less convincing than ten paragraphs of dialogue squeezed between dodging one attack and then returning fire.

If your story isn’t action-oriented (and even if it is!), make sure other characters nearby don’t suddenly stop existing while your two characters talk to each other. Either put your characters in a place where they can be alone, or work in a couple of short interruptions–which can also be a great way to increase tension.

Bonus Tip: Read it Aloud

If you’re not sure your dialogue is working, try reading it out loud–either alone or with a friend.

Things that are hard to spot on the page often become very obvious when spoken.

I hope this post is helpful to you in your writing.

If you have a completed manuscript you want to take it to the next level, need a critique on a new short story you’ve written, or Want to make sure your novel is the best it can be before you indie publish, check out my editing services.

New story, “The Plumes of Enceladus” out now at Abyss & Apex

My short story “The Plumes of Enceladus” is free to read in this month’s Abyss & Apex: http://www.abyssapexzine.com/2016/09/the-plumes-of-enceladus/

The story is about pilots from two rival corporations involved in a race to Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn, to collect water from its cryovolcanoes.

The pilots are:
Andry, a woman who’s driven by her grandmother’s life as a space pioneer to take her own place in the annals of space exploration. She’s a loner by choice but not necessarily a cold person. She also just happens to be a wheelchair user, although she has prosthetics for most of the story instead.

Frank, who feels lingering guilt from leaving his wife and their infant daughter at home on Earth.

Who wins the race? Only one way to find out. Go check out “The Plumes of Enceladus” in Abyss & Apex!

Like my story which came out in IGMS earlier this year, this one was originally written as an entry for the Baen Memorial contest. I’m pleased to have sold all my submissions to that contest now!

(note: There are a few minor formatting errors in the text of the story at the moment. I’ve contacted the editor to resolve them.)

New story, “Five Recipes You Can’t Live Without” now up at Spirit’s Tincture

My flash fiction story disguised as a series of magical cupcake recipes, “Five Recipes You Can’t Live Without” is now available to read in the inaugural issue of Spirit’s Tincture magazine.

To give you a taste (get it?) that will only serve to increase your appetite (get it?!), here is a sample-sized serving (okay, I’ll stop) made up of the opening lines:

One — Vanilla-Almond and Anise Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. With your dead sister’s image foremost in your mind, chant an awakening spell and light a stick of absinthe-infused sandalwood afire

The story was a runner-up in their flash fiction contest, and the issue also has stories by excellent writers like Laurence Brothers, Darcie Little Badger (whose story won the contest!), Spencer Ellsworth, José Iriarte, and more!

The issue’s free to read online (albeit in one of those funky page-flipping things), and you can also buy a print version if you’re into that sort of thing. Go and check it out!

Here’s the online version:

(PS: Peltandra Sagittifolia and snakeroot are kind of toxic, so do me a favour and don’t try to reproduce those recipes in your kitchen!)

In a feat inspired by quantum interference, I will be at WorldCon this year while I am not at WorldCon this year. #FlatStewart

Ah, WorldCon. Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom’s largest annual shindig. Where you can rub shoulders with upcoming SFF authors and renowned bestsellers alike—and thousands of other industry professional and fans—and even see some people take home fancy (if phallic) rocket ship trophies.

But for all of WorldCon’s fame and staying power, it’s not without its drawbacks. Like, for instance, how no one* has ever dared to attend the convention while also not attending the convention.

That’s all about to change. For the first time ever**, I will be attempting this daring feat, thanks solely to the generosity and ingenuity of author, editor, miniature poodle***, and all-around awesome person-type being known as K.M. Szpara.

Kelly has, through the magic**** of printing, created a proxy for me, dubbed Flat Stewart.

Aren’t I magnificently deranged-looking? I mean magnificent? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, Kelly will be taking Flat Stewart around the place, and no doubt getting up to all sorts of misadventures. You can follow along with the fun by looking at the #FlatStewart hashtag on Twitter*****.

Quantum interference has never been so easy.

* That I can think of, anyway, because I’m too lazy to look it up and see.
** See previous footnote.
*** It is possible I may be misreading his bio.
**** Any sufficiently advanced technology, &.c, &c.
***** Note that there appears to be some other Flat Stewart in the tweets prior to 16 August 2016. Judging from his profile and relative lack of facial hair, I’m the evil twin.

Reprint: “The Butterfly Disjunct” in Strange Constellations under a CC-BY-NC licence

My far-future story “The Butterfly Disjunct” is now up to read free of charge in Strange Constellations, a web magazine that publishes stories under a Creative Commons licence. a CC-BY-NC licence, in particular.

And what does that mean?

In practical terms, it means that you can do whatever you want with this little story, so long as you:

  1. Credit me as its author
  2. Make it clear that you’ve modified my work (if applicable)
  3. Don’t make money as a result

Want to paste the whole story on your web page? You can!

Want to put it in a free anthology of other CC-BY stories? Knock yourself out.

Want to remix it, or make it part of a bigger work? Cool. Go for it!

Thinking about making a Polish-language post-modern opera about it where the whole story takes place in a Cold War bunker? Sounds neat.

Again, so long as whatever you’re doing is not commercial in nature, there’s no real limit to what you can do. (Although as the author of the story, I can waive this on a case-by-case basis. So just get in touch!)

As a librarian with an interest in the Open Access movement, I’m excited to be able to publish a story under a Creative Commons licence. Especially since this particular story hasn’t appeared in the wild for free before. I hope you enjoy reading it! (Or doing whatever else you plan on doing to it.)

Read “The Butterfly Disjunct” at Strange Constellations.