Welcome to Infomancy

Welcome to Infomancy.net, the website of librarian, speculative fiction author, 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. These days I mostly write fiction.

Get in touch: Facebook | Twitter | E-mail

Author Wendy Nikel talks time travel, table tennis, and her upcoming novella, The Continuum

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. For more info, visit wendynikel.com or sign up for her newsletter and receive a free short story ebook.

the cover of the book is a stopwatch with the outline of the Titanic in front of itWendy’s novella THE CONTINUUM is available for pre-order via World Weaver Press! (Release date: January 23, 2018.)

The novella follows the misadventures of Elise Morley, a worker for a time travel travel agency whose specialty is retrieving clients gone astray in the past.

To celebrate the upcoming release, I (virtually) sat down with Wendy to pick her mind about time travel and writing–and more important things, like table tennis.

SB: You’re all set to receive your Nobel Peace Prize, but the committee has one last task for you: A pairs game of table tennis against two historical figures.  Who are your opponents, and who’s your partner?

Katherine von Bora portrait

Katherine von Bora

WN: I tried Googling “least athletic historical figures,” but that wasn’t much help, so I guess I’m going to have to forego actually trying to win this game and go instead for the historical figures I’d be most interested to interact with and get to know a little.

I want Jane Austen on my team, because even if we lose the actual table tennis match, we’re at least going to win the psychological match with her witty banter. Who knows? With her Persuasion (pun intended), we might even be able to convince the other team to give up.

On the other team, I’ll go with Katherine von Bora (wife of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther), just because I think she lived a fascinating life. She was a Catholic nun who ran away from the convent of Nimbschen and, as the story goes, refused to marry anyone but Luther, who at that point had been declared an outlaw by the emperor. She was also apparently an excellent hostess, so maybe she’d bring snacks to the table tennis match.

And for her teammate, I’ll pick Clara Barton.  It’s probably a good idea to have a nurse on site, in case anyone gets hurt.

SB: I imagine it’s hard to enjoy yourself properly in the past without screwing up the timeline.  What are your top two travel tips for would-be time travel tourists?  Any places to avoid or must-visit destinations?

WN: In my novella, THE CONTINUUM, the Place in Time Travel agency has ten essential rules that travelers must follow to avoid messing too much with the past, as well as a whole list of “Black Dates” to avoid. They’ll find, throughout the story, that there’s good reasons for these rules and that things get rather sticky when they’re not followed.

Personally, my “must-visit” list would include the early American West, Victorian-era London, and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Painting of the World's Fair by Theodore Robinson

The World’s Fair, as painted by Theodore Robinson

SB: What are the most interesting two things you learned while researching the RMS Titanic?  Any popular misconceptions you’d like to bust?

WN: I’ve been a Titanic buff since I was a kid, well before the Hollywood movie that perpetuated a lot of the common myths about the ship. (For instance: Bruce Ismay dressing up as a woman to secure a place in a lifeboat, First Officer Murdoch shooting passengers, etc). But films aren’t the only places that these myths and misconceptions pop up. A couple I see surprisingly often:

  • There’s apparently a myth floating around about a cursed mummy being aboard the Titanic. (Snopes debunks)
  • Another myth states that, during the construction phase, a man was trapped in the ship’s hull and left there, thus “cursing” the ship. (Snopes debunks)
  • Some say that the Titanic was the first ship to send the SOS signal — also not true. (Snopes debunks)

The RMS TitanicSome of the newer theories or ideas I’ve seen floating around (again, pun intended) have to do with the reasons why the ship sank. Some say a smoldering coal fire in the belly of the ship weakened the hull, causing the ship to tear apart more easily. Others suggest that weak rivets may have been part of the problem. Personally, I don’t think there’s strong enough evidence in either case to say definitively that the disaster would not have occurred just the same if it had not been for these issues. Coal fires were not uncommon in that time, and other similarly built ships — including Titanic‘s sister ship, the Olympic — survived collisions without the rivets giving out.

SB: In addition to writing, you’re a managing editor at Flash Fiction Online.  Has the daily grind of assessing other people’s flash fiction taught you any lessons about writing a novel that you wish you’d known about when you were a baby writer?

WN: One of the lessons I’ve learned in my time at Flash Fiction Online is the importance of brevity. THE CONTINUUM began its life as a 65,000-word novel, and when I cut it down to novella length, I really had to consider every scene, every paragraph, and every word. With flash fiction, you have to make every word count, and learning to do so has helped make my novel-writing prose a lot tighter and more dynamic.

SB: Thanks for stopping by, Wendy! I’m looking forward to diving in to the world of THE CONTINUUM in January.

It’s #FridayReads! Here’s what I’ve been reading this week.

Every week on Twitter, Shimmer Magazine asks people what they’ve been reading. It’s a great way to find new novels and stories that people are excited about–or figure out what might not suit your tastes.

Here, then, are a few things I’ve read this week!

Short Stories

“Hare’s Breath” by Maria Haskins (Shimmer, September 2017)- A beautiful, heart-aching story of loss, love, and midsummer magic of a very Swedish sort. (Note: depictions of abuse.)

“The Lies I’ve Told to Keep You Safe” by Matt Dovey (Daily Science Fiction, October 19th, 2017) – This very short story about an alien takeover of Earth packs a punch that goes far beyond its wordcount.

Novellas/Novels

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson (Tor.com, September 5, 2017) – An unwilling president, an illicit space colony, and genetic alteration–what’s not to love? Mostly: the ending, which read to me like the author just stopped writing the novel he’d started and put on a twist ending a quarter of the way through, and called the result a novella. I was particularly disappointed because the twist (which appeared more or less entirely unforeshadowed on the last two pages of the novella!) seemed to me to rub in my face everything I’d enjoyed about the story to that point. And, okay, I should have figured something was up since the thing’s called Acadie and Arcadia is supposed to be an unattainable paradise that can never be regained. But ugggggh. Very disappointed in this one–if you pick it up, you’ll probably be happier if you just stop when the Bureau ship appears in-system and make up your own ending. (Although the twist ending seems to have worked really well for some people, so what do I know?)

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnoly (Tor, February 2017) – The elevator pitch for this book is “A double-agent sacrifices all his ideals in order to save his smuggler lover before a government coup takes over their decadent city,” which sounds fantastic to me. I really wanted to love this one, but just couldn’t stick with it past the second chapter. I enjoyed the character interactions in the sections of it I did read, but the style just was not my cup of tea, and it was all a little too lushly written for me to get into. (The slang of the world, in particular, felt too self-consciously faux-1920s for my taste.) Give this one a try if “lushly written” 1920s-style intrigue is your thing, though!

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com, April 2017) – Fantastically clever Lovecraft subversion. Aphra Marsh is a Deep One and a woman–and it’s not always clear which of those things the powerful men who want to stop her find the most distasteful. I enjoyed every word of this one! (And, as a bonus, you can read the first few chapters, as well as a novelette that takes place before the events of the novel, for free online at Tor.com.)

I’ve entered “The Thing about Heisenball” in the 2017 Quantum Shorts contest–go check it out!

My flash fiction piece “The Thing about Heisenball” has a non-zero number of non-binary characters, and deals with relationship problems, a game a little like squash, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, with a dash of many worlds theorem thrown in for good measure. You know, it’s just your average all-the-things story.

The story, which was published in Daily Science Fiction in April of 2017, is now up and awaiting eyeballs at the semi-annual Quantum Shorts fiction contest.

Quantum Shorts is a neat contest. It alternates between a short film and fiction contest, and each year pushes creators to explore concepts of quantum physics with their art. In 2015 my Nature story “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator” made it onto the short-list, and I found the short films in last year’s contest fascinating to watch.

This year’s contest has just kicked off, so there isn’t a lot of content yet. But in addition to my story, there’s a very clever little story by fellow Writers of the Future alum (and former librarian!) Stephen P Sottong and several other stories by other writers. (Anything marked as being “by Quantum Shorts” is a winner from a previous year of the contest.) Go check it out, and don’t forget to vote for your favourite!

And if you’re a writer yourself, and want to join in the fun, get to it! The competition deadline is December 1st, and your entry needs to explore some concept of quantum physics and include the sentence “There are only two possibilities: yes or no.” All that in 1000 words or fewer. (If you’re stuck on quantum physics, the site includes a handy reference section, with an A-Z guide on quantum physics, quotes from physicists, and more.)

New co-authored story: “Something on Your Mind” in Kaleidotrope (plus, win a prize!)

A lot of writers I know have “bingo cards.” Basically, these are things that they want to accomplish in their career, like a story in Lightspeed or a Hugo nomination or something.

While I am far too disorganized to have a bingo card, one of the squares on it if I did would probably be to have been lumped into an “et al.” in a fiction story. (That means “et alia” or “and others” for those of you not used to reading academic journal articles. It’s a way to deal with situations where there are a bunch of authors and listing them all would be too time-and-space-consuming.)

So! It is with pleasure I am able to announce the crossing off of this invisible bingo square, by way of a story I co-authored with not one, not two, not three, not even four, but eight other authors!

“Something on Your Mind” by Gareth D. Jones, Stewart C. Baker, Anatoly Belilovsky, Robert Dawson, Kate Heartfield, Holly Heisey, CL Holland, Laurie Tom, and Deborah Walker (phew) is now available to read in the latest issue of Kaleidotrope. (Okay, they didn’t give me the et al. treatment in the byline, but it is in the link!)

Writing this was an interesting experience! Gareth, as primary author and creator of the Astropolis setting, had us all write a short scene from an ordinary day in someone’s life on the station. He didn’t give us any more information about the story–not how he’d connect the pieces or what the overarching plot would be.

And this is where the prize comes in. Go read the story, then come back here and leave me a comment with which of the various characters you think I’m responsible for. I’ll even give you a hint: the order of names in the byline has no bearing on the order of our sections in the story.

You have until 3pm PST next Friday, October 13th, to make your guesses. At that time, I’ll put all the correct guessers into random.org and select one lucky winner.

What will you win? A shiny copy of the September issue of Galaxy’s Edge, which includes my Lovecraftian humour story “Cut-Rate Couples Weekend at the Witch House Inne and Tavern (9 Reviews)”, as well as tales by Rachelle Harp, TR Napper, Nick DiChario and others.

I haven’t been writing a lot of poetry lately, so I was especially pleased to learn recently that my poem “The Fragmented Poet Files a Police Report” was selected as the first place winner in the long category of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2017 contest. My entry deals with the abuse of power by people who are meant to be protectors of the peace, and features an always-on networked environment not unlike what we find on social media today.

You can read the press release, with a list of the other winners, on the SFPA blog.

UPDATE:
You can now read my poem, and the rest of the excellent winning poems, online for free(!) on the SFPA’s contest page.

New story: “Bloodstained Letters Found in a Roadside Shrine on the Outskirts of Kyoto”

It’s story day! (Calloo, callay)

My epistolary story “Bloodstained Letters Found in a Roadside Shrine on the Outskirts of Kyoto” is out now in Syntax & Salt‘s fall issue.

This one is about tanuki, foxes, and other creatures which inhabit the world of bakemono or “changing beasts,” a specific kind of yokai who–as you might expect from their name–can transform.

The story’s a little bloody, in case the title doesn’t make that obvious. Thanks to my first readers at Codex, and Taka Okubo, for their feedback on earlier versions of the story!

If you’d like to learn more about yokai and bakemono, yokai.com is far and away the most comprehensive English-language resource available. Go check them out!

Ten reprints now available at Curious Fictions

As an author, it can sometimes be challenging to find good homes for reprints of stories I’ve had published in magazines. And, as a reader, I know it’s difficult to hunt down more stories by authors I like in one central location.

With all this in mind, I’m please to report that fellow writer Tanya Breshears has created a new website just for reprints, called Curious Fictions.

Curious Fictions provides an attractive home for multiple reprints, making it easy for me to manage my previously published stories and for readers to find them (and those of great writers like Helena Bell, Matt Dovey, Laura Pearlman, Aidan Doyle, and Effie Seiberg–with more sure to come!).

As a reader, you’re given a preview of each story, with the option to pay whatever you feel is appropriate for the rest (currently, you can choose to pay anywhere between $1 and $10 USD). Payments are accepted from anywhere in the world with a valid credit card. There are no ads (glory of glories!) and 75% of each payment goes to the author of the purchased story.

At the moment, you can only browse by genre and author name, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are plans for many other ways to discover and enjoy great fiction from your favourite authors, as well as those who are new to you.

Here are brief summaries of the ten stories I’ve posted to the site, with links to read them:

Love and Relativity – When her husband disappears aboard an experimental starship, Indira researches what went wrong. But the answers don’t always lie on the pages of a book… This story first appeared in Nature Physics, and has since been translated into several languages. It’s currently a finalist for the 2016-2017 Canopus Awards for Excellence in Interstellar Writing.

Little More than Shadows – You’ve always been able to make your dreams take form. You’ve always been able to shape the world around you. To shift it. Now, at the end of everything, what will you do…? This story first appeared in Daily Science Fiction.

Oubliette – The surgery is supposed to take away stress and leave Robert feeling happy, successful, and at peace with himself. But something goes wrong… This story first appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

How to Configure your Quantum Disabiguator – Read these instructions carefully—they may just save your life. (Or you can just forget about it all and push the red button…) First appeared in Nature Futures.

Concerning Your Recent Creation of Horse-Things on the Next Planet Over – Dr Higgelbottem has a bone to pick with the Ancient Academy of the Right Honourable Uplifters, and she wants them to know exactly what she thinks… First appeared in Flash Fiction Online.

Elements of a Successful Exit Broadcast – Stay calm. Stay focused. Remember who you’re speaking to, and why… First appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.

The View from Driftwise Spindle – Gayatri and Ang are different in a lot of ways, but what they want is the same: the best deal for Driftwise Spindle, and for as many people as possible to survive the end of the world… This story was a finalist for the Baen Memorial SF award in 2014. It was first published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Fugue in a Minor Key – All Katja wants is to see her child again, her husband. Get back to her career as a concert pianist. But the two techs sitting across from her insist that none of that is real. That she’s just awoken from an immersive simulation, and only eight minutes have passed… This story was first published in Galaxy’s Edge.

Just Another Night at the Abandoned Draft Bar and Grill – All Alex wants is stop being murdered, chopped up, and hidden in the fridge to serve as her boyfriend’s backstory. So when Francois, who comes from an Afro-futurist science fiction story, tells her of his plan to change their author’s mindset, she readily agrees. What could possibly go wrong…? This story was first published in Galaxy’s Edge.

The Thing about Heisenball – The narrator gets a crash course in Heisenball, a game that melds squash with quantum physics. And, most importantly of all, it’s a game where losing doesn’t matter. First published in Daily Science Fiction.

If you head over to Curious Fictions to check these out, be sure to browse around the site and see what else is on offer!

Two of my favourites are Helena Bell’s “Robot” and Laura Pearlman’s uproarious “I AM GRAALNAK OF THE VROON EMPIRE, DESTROYER OF GALAXIES, SUPREME OVERLORD OF THE PLANET EARTH. ASK ME ANYTHING” (which, really, is better suited to headline capslock than any other title I can think of).

Out now in Galaxy’s Edge: Cut-Rate Couples Weekend at the Witch House Inne and Tavern (9 Reviews)

What do you get when you cross Pokémon Go, witchcraft, cheap dates, Groupon, and eldritch horrors from beyond the fabric of reality as we know it?

Something like my latest story, “Cut-Rate Couples Weekend at the Witch House Inne and Tavern (9 Reviews),” which you can read right now in issue 28 of Galaxy’s Edge magazine, along with stories by Rachelle Harp, Kevin J. Anderson, and other fine authors.

Go check it out!

Reprint: Proceedings from the First and Only Sixteenth Annual One-Woman Symposium on Time Manipulation

My weird and somewhat surreal flash fiction piece, “Proceedings from the First and Only Sixteenth Annual One-Woman Symposium on Time Manipulation,” is up today as a reprint at Flash Fiction Online!

This story first appeared late last year in Time Travel Tales, which you can buy on Amazon as an e-book or in print. The anthology has a bunch of excellent stories by other authors as well as mine, so if you like time travel, go check that out as well!

And—speaking of anthologies—a reminder that my historical fantasy story “Kuriko” is out now in Guardbridge Books’s Tales of the Sunrise Lands, and available on Amazon as well as through the Guardbridge Books website.

Out soon! My story “Kuriko” is in Guardbridge Books’ Tales from the Sunrise Lands anthology

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll have a story in Guardbridge Books’ upcoming collection of short stories set in Japan called “Tales from the Sunrise Lands.” You can pre-order a copy at the link there.

My story, “Kuriko,” is a roughly 7500 word story about a living mechanical doll (からくり人形) trying to survive late 1600s Japan, and features down-on-their-luck samurai, drunken lords, and other unsavoury 時代小説 style characters. It was inspired mostly by a visit to the Ohno Karakuri museum in Kanazawa, Japan back when I lived there for half a year in 2005. Well, that and binge-reading Yoshikawa Eiji and Shiba Ryotaro.

I first wrote this story waaaay back in 2009(?) or 2010 for a writing contest on Scribophile , making it one of my earlier stories in terms of when I wrote it. When the (mangled, disjointed, subpar) first draft didn’t place in that contest, I reworked it and expanded it (too much) and submitted it to Writers of the Future, where it was my first entry and earned me my only semi-finalist. (In fact, it was the only story I ever submitted that earned me more than an honorable mention, up until my story “Images across a Shattered Sea” won first place on my last qualifying entry in late 2015.)

After I got my semi-finalist critique from former judge K.D. Wentworth, I lopped about 1/3 of the story off the front and revised it some more, then sent it out on submission, where it’s come close at a few places (including earning me a non-published contest win at Spark: A Creative Anthology).

I’m pleased to have finally sold it to a great publisher like Guardbridge!

Interestingly, I actually submitted this story more than 2 years ago (June 11th, 2015—I checked!) to Guardbridge’s great Myriad Lands anthology. Since it was over the length the editor wanted and also Japanese-themed and he had too many of those, the editor said he’d like to bump it to a planned anthology of stories by Japanese and non-Japanese authors set in Japan. (The anthology has changed its focus a little and doesn’t include many Japanese authors, apparently due to a lack of response when the editor tried to solicit submissions–a bit disappointing.) Fast forward to October of 2016, and I had received an official acceptance, and in December I signed the contract.

So it’s been quite a wait for those of us behind the scenes, but it’ll be out soon. Other authors include Douglas Smith, Alison Akiko McBain, and Richard Parks.

It’s 9 GBP to pre-order, and shipping in the UK is reasonable. Go give it a gander if you like Japanese stuff.

Link to buy: Tales of the Sunrise Lands