I have a new story out! “Inside the Body of Relatives” is in the November/December 2019 issue of Asimov’s Magazine. It’s the fourth story I’ve had in Asimov’s, and the first which is actually a short story. Everything else I’ve had published there has been a novelette, so it’s good to have sold them something different. It’s a short story because it’s only a little idea, and sometimes you just don’t need to pad out a good idea with extra words. That idea – and I don’t want to spoil it, exactly – is something that came to me one night when I was lying in bed, tucked up under the duvet and listening to rain on the roof. And it was such a simple idea, and it seemed so obvious…
It’s also a story that features that staple of the science fiction narrative: artificial intelligence. Specifically, an AI dwelling. There’s a reason this is a trope (often a horrifying trope) but I wanted something not-horrifying for this. It’s a quiet little story about aging and loneliness and evolutionary biology, so there seemed no reason to go all overwrought with it. Anyway, here’s a teaser of it:
There’s a reason I don’t have a lot of guests – or worse, a tenant, for all the rent would round out my super. I like my house quiet.
“Quiet as the toooomb,” says the house, in response. It gets sarcastic when it’s worried. “I don’t like to think about you getting depressed,” it says.
“I’m not depressed.”
“Loneliness can be a trigger for depression,” says the house. “You are lonely, and I am not a substitute…”
I’ve a new story out! “The Backward Lens of Compromise” is the third novelette of mine to appear in Asimov’s, and I’m really happy for it to be there. Like the other two, “Backward Lens” is about science history – this time, the history of telescopes and the astronomers who look through them. Interwoven with this is a modern day story of science education.
As a science communicator, I’m all for science ed. But science can be expensive to teach – it needs labs and equipment for hands-on work – and in impoverished communities, with underfunded public schools, it’s easy to cut. And in this story that’s what’s happening, except it’s going further than the classroom. An old observatory is being shut down, one that works with schools to teach students about the stars. The observatory doesn’t make money, and the kids from this disadvantaged community are deemed to be no-hopers anyway, so why throw good money after bad in getting them a proper education? Needless to say, the observatory’s astronomer has no truck with this… and neither do the kids themselves. And the observatory is changing around them, all magic and seeing and comprehension, and it turns out that what these no-hoper kids have already been taught about science and science history is an empowering thing…
Because it is. Because critical thought and objective methodology, the ability to discover new things, is a crucial aspect of education. Kids who lack it become citizens who lack it, and that’s what leads to poor schools in the first place.
I have a new story out!
“The Meiosis of Cells and Exile” is a novelette about the Soviet scientist Lina Stern. It’s just been published in the latest issue of Asimov’s.
I enjoy mixing science history and speculative fiction, and “Meiosis” is an example of this. Lina Stern (1878-1968) was a biochemist and director of the Physiology Unit in the Academy of Sciences. She was also a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and Stalin was not impressed. Free speech was not something he found to be a priority, and the scientists and writers making up the Committee disagreed – to their very great cost. 15 members of the Committee were arrested and imprisoned for several years before being sentenced to death in a political show trial. Most were executed in 1952 in what came to be known as The Night of the Murdered Poets.
Lina was the only survivor, saved by her scientific talent and sent into exile in Kazakhstan instead. She was in her seventies at the time, and my story tells of her travel into that exile, fuming with what has been done to her and the rest of the Committee.
There’s (kind of) a happy ending to all that horror. Lina, despite her age, survived both Stalin and the miserable torturing bastard who imprisoned her and the rest of the League. She came back out of exile and spent the next 14 years of her very long life working for science, heading up the Physiology Department again at the Biophysics Institute.
It’s an apt story to be out at the moment, I reckon. Have been on Twitter the last few days, watching accounts from the Badlands National Park and NASA go rogue on climate change, tweeting science facts even though they’re under significant pressure not to. Scientists have the responsibility to speak truth to power, and I reckon Lina would have agreed.
(If you’re interested in reading more, Lina Stern also turns up as a supporting character in my short (free!) novel The August Birds.)
I have a new story out! Actually, it’s a novelette. My first novelette, and my first story in Asimov’s Magazine.
“Eating Science with Ghosts” is the story of one very long dinner party, where the main character meets a number of dead scientists linked to weird stories of food and drink. Did you know, for instance, that Marie Curie’s cookbook is so radioactive it has to be kept in a lead box in the National Library in Paris? Or that Thomas Edison used to interview prospective employees by feeding them soup? If they tasted the soup before adding salt they were experimentalists at heart, and if they added the salt automatically (like I would, sorry to say) they assumed too much and were useless to him.
It’s science history as much as science fiction – actually, I’ve been planning to write a pop-sci book around this idea, so this wee novelette is like a proof of concept.
“Eating Science with Ghosts” isn’t available online, but if you can track down the Slightly Spooky October/November issue of Asimov’s it’s in there. Here’s a little taster, to see if it’s your kind of thing:
I’m a little bit drunk before the meal even starts. My guests are late, so that’s some excuse – and a bad joke to boot – but it’s always been easier to see the ghosts when I’m not entirely sober.
I used to try and block them out. But they never went, so eventually I learned to live with it. To live with them. In some ways now they feel like old friends, so when I got my doctorate I planned a celebratory meal. Not the one with family and friends, co-workers from the lab. This is the real celebration, the one that matters… and if those astronauts doesn’t turn up soon I’ll be face down on the table, passed out on one of those lovely little sidewalk cafés that Paris does so well, before I’ve even finished the first course.
I think my tongue is going numb. It’s the vermouth, come in a range of combinations and pretty glasses, nearly all of which are empty. This is a place for vermouth. It was advertised here, back in the early twentieth century: the first neon advertising sign in the world, and naturally it was for alcohol. Cinzano, the word lit up atop a building opposite, lit up in shining white against a brilliant red and blue background. Capital letters, a simple font… it all says Look at me! Buy me!