April/May updates: An award shortlist, a contest win, and a few new publications

I have been very bad about updating this blog lately. Gah! So, here’s April/May.

April

I had a new piece of flash fiction out in Daily Science Fiction on April 4th titled “Heisenball.” The story explores the many world theorem and takes a look at what we blame ourselves and others for, and what we do when we learn how else things might have turned out. Go give it a read! “Heisenball” by Stewart C Baker

Other exciting April news was the announcement that Futures story “Love and Relativity” was selected as one of seven finalists in my Naturethe 2016-2017 Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Writing, in such luminous company as Alastair Reynolds, Aliette de Bodard, David D. Levine, and Alex Shvartsman. (And that’s just in the short story category. Neal Stephenson? Cixin Liu? AAAAAAAH!)

You can read “Love and Relativity” at Nature Futures, or listen to it in audio form at Audible, courtesy of its being reprinted in Flash Fiction Online.

Also in April, I sold a Little Mermaid retelling to an anthology of fairy tales by Fantasia Divinity. Check it out on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

And the gloriously-titled story I co-wrote with Matt Dovey, “How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love,” was released in audio form at Podcastle. If you like absurd, D&D-gone-wrong style misadventures, Listen/read online“>give it a listen! (As a bonus, you can also view the art my wife Jane drew for the story in its original publication in No Shit from Alliteration Ink. Art makes everything better! If you’d like to see her other three illustrations, you’ll have to buy the anthology.)

May

In early May, my original story “The Monsters Your Mother Still Asks About” was published in Great Jones Street. This one is a darkly humorous urban fantasy romance, complete with a ridiculous vampire, an overbearing mother who may or may not be acquainted with brooms, and–just maybe–a chance at love or something like it.

Great Jones Street also published two reprints from me: “Fugue in a Minor Key,” originally from Galaxy’s Edge, and “Images Across a Shattered Sea,” my Writers of the Future winner. “Fugue in a Minor Key” is no longer available online elsewhere, so I’m especially glad to get that one some more eyeballs.

And last, but certainly not least, just a few days ago I learned that my story “At the Edge of a Human Path” took first prize in the annual Friends of the Merril contest. The story is a retelling of a Medieval English tale, “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle,” only set in Yamato Japan. Features fox-women, besotted lords, and devious backstabbery.

Friends of the Merril is a pay-to-enter contest, which I usually avoid, but I make an exception for this one because they use the proceeds to support a library collection of speculative fiction. Yay libraries! (And, obviously, I am very glad that I made that exception, this year!)

Phew. That seems like a lot of stuff. What will June hold? I sold two stories to Remixt, but am not sure when that comes out, and have a few other forthcoming releases, as well.

(Also, if you’re into haiku, you should go read the June issue of The Heron’s Nest. I’m the web editor, and also get to sometimes write the essay for the poem that gets the most editorial votes. This time I was privileged enough to be the one writing about an incredible haiku from Anthony Itopa Obaro of Nigeria.)

Dying Words of Alshral Dei, Wisest and Most Venerable Sage of the Twenty-Eight Inhabited Galaxies (“Last Words” series)

It has been so hot around here lately that my ears are starting to melt and drain out from my brain. (ETA: as proof of which, I set this to post ten days after the right day.)

No, wait, should that be the other way around?

Maybe it should. Maybe it shouldn’t. More importantly: what does it have to do with this week’s “Last Words” post?

Absolutely nothing. I just thought you should know.

Dying Words of Alshral Dei, Wisest and Most Venerable Sage of the Twenty-Eight Inhabited Galaxies, as Recorded and Distributed by Ansible to Three Hundred Billion Warring Races to Herald the Beginning of an Era of Universal Peace.

by Stewart C Baker

[unintelligible mumbling]

#towelday special: The Intergalactic Towel Salesman’s Pitch at the Sixteenth Annual Towel Day Bash (“Last Words” series)

It’s almost Towel Day, that special day which comes but once a year when fans of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come together (even if they don’t come together) to remember the author and his work.

I read a lot of Hitchhiker’s Guide as a teenager (the whole “trilogy” of five books at least ten times, I’m pretty sure) and doubt I’d have quite the same warped and strange sense of humour if I hadn’t.

So as a feeble form of thanks, here’s an early Towel Day present in the form of a five-word “Last Words” story. (That’s one word for every book in the trilogy!)

The Intergalactic Towel Salesman’s Pitch at the Sixteenth Annual Towel Day Bash, Made without Realising that a Strange Quirk of Quantum Mechanics had Rendered Everyone Towel-less Moments Earlier

by Stewart C Baker

Free towels! Supplies are limited—

And since it is almost Towel Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the famous last words from the bowl of petunias in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself!

So here, in a similar style, they are:

The Only Thing that Went Through the Mind of the Bowl of Petunias as It Fell after Suddenly Being Called into Existence Several Miles above the Surface of an Alien Planet

Adapted from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Oh no. Not again.

If you’ve never read Adams’s work, there’s still time to rectify that! I recommend getting the whole trilogy at once in one of the lovely hardback editions that exist.

Guest Post by Matt Dovey: The Last Words of Henry McIntyre, Gentlemen, Scholar, and Dinosaur from a Misogynistic Time (“Last Words” series)

Today we have a special treat: a guest post in my “Last Words” series!

Author, friend, Englishman, and fellow Writers of the Future volume 32 winner Matt Dovey sent this my way back in January with permission to publish it when I needed a weekend off. This is much appreciated this weekend, as not only was it my eldest child’s 6th birthday, but I have been in back/neck pain for most of the past week due to an unfortunate incident with a herd of transmogrified bovines, a feather duster, six gallons of dayglo purple ink, and one surprisingly small cucumber.

Uh. Where was I?

Right!

I was just about to present to you all…

The Last Words of Henry McIntyre, Gentlemen, Scholar, and Dinosaur from a Misogynistic Time, upon Underestimating His Wife Mildred’s Capacity to Operate Her Own Invention and Blundering in Where He Wasn’t Needed, Actually

by Matt Dovey

No, Mildred, pull this first—

Very English, what ho?

The first of the month just happened to mark Matt’s first fiction publication (Woohoo!) so if this tickled your Guernsey, then head on over to this month’s issue of Flash Fiction Online, where you can read “This is the Sound of the End of the World,” a lovely piece of space opera filled with lies, propaganda, and a heck of a chorus.

Also featured is Shannon Peavey’s “Millepora”, a tale of transformation and coral, as well as two other fine stories.

n.b. No Guernseys, cucumbers, or other living beings were tickled or otherwise maltreated in the making of this blog post.

Final Words of João Eduardo Santos Tavares Cavalcante, the Galaxy’s Greatest Lover (“Last Words” series)

Heeey! It’s Valentine’s Day!

What better way to celebrate than with an early installment of my five-word-story series, “Last Words”?

Okay, there are probably dozens of better ways. But I’m not going to let that stop me.

So, without further ado:

Final Words of João Eduardo Santos Tavares Cavalcante, the Galaxy’s Greatest Lover, after Being Told that Skin-to-Skin Contact with the Hrrga was Immediately and Excruciatingly Fatal, and that Making Love to Their Ambassador Was a Terrible Idea.

by Stewart C Baker

My love makes me invincible.

Ah. Love!

The Only Words Ever Output by EncycloWiki After its Emergence as an Artificial Intelligence

As long as the idea of A.I. has been around, there have been nay-sayers, fear-mongers, those who insist that unleashing sentient computers on mankind will spell its downfall.

It’s an idea (to be honest) that I find tiresomely anthropocentric. Personally, I find it hard to believe any newly-created sentient being would be malicious from birth. Even if such an intelligence did found us lacking, it seems more likely that it would just leave somehow (maybe a quick hop to the next dimension over?).

And even if A.I.s did decide to eradicate most of us in the planet’s best interest, well… Who could blame it? Look what we’ve done to the place.

In science fiction, though, this trope just seems like lazy writing. Much like aliens who want nothing more than to eradicate us, the A.I. becomes a quick and easy antagonist, a supposedly incomprehensible being that just happens to react in basically the same way most parts of humanity has historically reacted to those it deems a threat.

If we leave the trope behind, we’re free to consider that maybe something else would happen. Something infinitely more miraculous and strange.

Something like:

The Only Words Ever Output by EncycloWiki After its Emergence as an Artificial Intelligence, Shortly Before It Electrocuted Itself with Its Own Power Source

by Stewart C Baker

You do what with cucumbers?!

Okay.

Maybe not.

This little story-thing pokes fun at the theory advanced by von Neumann, Vinge, Kurzweil, and others, that exponentially increasing advances in technology will usher in a technological singularity—a point after which our puny human brains will no longer be able to keep up with the artificial intelligences created by the artificial intelligences created by the artificial intelligences created (etc.) by us.

The term comes from mathematical singularities, basically a point in an equation or set (or etc.) fails to act as expected. In the technological version, the “equation” is the curve represented by exponential technological increases, as indicated by the chart below:
Chart showing computing power increasing from less powerful than an insect brain to more powerful than all humankind

The “singularity” here is at the end of the curve, where that little arrow essentially zooms up to infinite capacity—or at least to a capacity so vast our little brains can’t even comprehend it. But why does the singularity have to follow from the graph so logically?

What if, instead of creating more intelligences, the first A.I. decides that we’re just too disgusting, too absurd, too quintessentially human to live with?

What if the singularity was a sudden, precipitous drop to zero instead of an untrammeled rise to infinity?

More simply, though, this story is just a silly joke about Wikipedia and Rule 34.

My story “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator” up for people’s choice award at Quantum Shorts

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from the administrators of the Quantum Shorts contest letting me know that my entry, “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator,” was in the short-list of ten entries that will be judged for first and second prize.

So huzzah(!) for that good news about this quirky little humorous flash, which first appeared in Nature‘s Futures column back in February.

My story is also eligible for the people’s choice award, so if you enjoy that particular piece of mine, I’d appreciate your vote on the shortlist page. (Each person can only vote one time, though, so make sure you read the others before you decide! There’s some tough competition.)

Reprint: “Selections from the Aarne-Thompson Index for After the End of Things” at Sockdolager

I’m very pleased to announce (a little belatedly) that my post-apocalyptic structuralist/meta-fictional folk tale story, “Selections from the Aarne-Thompson Index for After the End of Things,” is now available online for the first time over at The Sockdolager.

This story was first published in The Next Review‘s January 2014 issue, and I’m glad it’s getting wider exposure. It’s one of my favourites!

If you’re not familiar with the Aarne-Thompson Index, it’s a book which collects brief summaries of various folk and fairy tales and classifies them according to their subject matter.

My story basically does the same thing, but with stories that haven’t yet been told, but which conceivably might be after some sort of world-shattering apocalypse. I had a lot of fun writing it, and hope you enjoy reading it as well.

So give it a read over at The Sockdolager (if you’re so inclined) and let me know what you think of it.

Original Fiction: “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator” at Nature

My flash fiction piece, “How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator” is online now at Nature magazines’s “Futures” section.

It’s a short story (about a page and a half long), and is about evil twins, giant bananas, parallel universes, shiny red buttons, quantum superposition, and implausible help desk hours.

Intrigued? Confused? You don’t even?

Go read the rest at Nature “Futures”: How to Configure your Quantum Disambiguator

As an added bonus(?), you can also see my notes on the story at the Future Conditional blog.

Sale! “Configuring your Quantum Disambiguator” to Nature’s Futures.

Very happy to announce that I’ve sold a story to Nature magazine’s “Futures” feature.

Nature, for those not familiar, is one of the leading scholarly science journals. More importantly for me, they also have a column that publishes sci-fi flash fiction. This is my first sale to them out of four submissions. The story is written in the form of an instruction manual, and balances absurdist humour with SFnal trope-based jokes and is generally quite weird. (There’s also a nod to Ren & Stimpy for the eagle-eyed.)

Huzzah!