I first came across Athena Andreadis online after I read something of hers at the Singularity Hub. I like to hang around the fringe of the Singularity just so I won’t miss out when it happens. I mean that only slightly sarcastically because, although I’m not sure I buy the theory, I like to keep up with news and gossip just the same. I want to know who has signed up for SmartBlood transfusions and where to get the freshest organs for transplant.
The Singularity is strange and not for everybody. People like me prefer to occupy a spot somewhere between the conservatives who believe heaven makes a good enough afterlife, and the cheerleading transhumanists who do not. Us fringeheads watch from the rim of the event horizon with our cryogenically frozen heads stuck in the sand.
As I was trolling the fringe, I stumbled across a longish piece written by a person who does research on, of all things, the brain. “Aha!” I said to myself. “Someone who knows.” Not just someone who reads other people’s conclusions and then enthusiastically jumps aboard the “we’ll be in Virtual this time next year” train, but someone who has actually done the homework.
In the article, this Dr. Andreadis gave a cogent argument for why brain uploads—the holy grail of the transhumanist movement—are impossible. With extreme sarcasm, chiseled wit, and footnotes, Athena laughed the idea of the digitized mind out of the water. I have been a faithful follower of her posts ever since.
She writes mostly about pop culture, whatever the entertainment and news agencies serve up. She’s especially attuned to the realm of science fiction. She’s a huge fan, very well read, and an unrepentant feminist. Everything she reads in our field is scrutinized and judged with a feminist’s eye. She misses little. Movies, novels, blog posts are all subject to her comment and caustic wit. Truthfully, she ends up praising much work, but whoa to the author of story, review, or off-hand remark if he or she missteps. Her analysis is usually entertaining and often enlightening. I have promised to follow her to the ends of the ‘net just to catch a few pearls of Andreadis wisdom now and then.
It has not always been easy to be an ardent follower. Athena often incites an angry backlash. She’s made some enemies. If you don’t like waves, you do well to stay out of the deep end when Athena is around. On the other hand, if you can stand the inevitable sniping, you’ll learn something and probably have fun as well.
Above all, the thing that keeps me going back for more is her courage. She’s not afraid to have an opinion or take on a giant. And now after all her jabbing, knocking, and calling out, she’s putting her money where her mouth is. She’s publishing a science fiction anthology. I can hear the sharpening of knives already.
When I say she’s publishing I don’t mean she’s written a bunch of stories and plans to sell them via Amazon. No. Although Athena has made some enemies, she’s also made a lot of friends. Talented friends. And they—we, actually—are contributing original work to her anthology. It’s entitled “The Other Half of the Sky,” an allusion to female protagonists living large on the largesse of the universe.
Apparently Athena got tired of asking people where the women in their stories were, so she bugged a bunch of writers until they wrote the women in. She demanded it be space opera (science fiction for science fiction fans) with a heavy dose of mythology if at all possible. Damn Campbell and his ideas; Athena will bankroll her own myths. (I mean Joseph not John W, BTW.)
“The Other Half of the Sky” is due out in spring. That’s the galley cover up there. Not the finished cover, just a temporary one. The ToC and a sampling of the first few paragraphs from each story has been posted at Athena’s blog. I’m proud to say my story “Mission of Greed,” is number four in the queue.
It was not an easy thing to write. When she first approached me I said “yes,” without looking at the guidelines. I’m pretty much up for anything that Athena suggests, mostly because she flies in the face and there’s always that wake of entertainment following her around. Chills and laughter. How could I say no?
Reality hit me as soon as I read the fine print and that bit about space opera and/or invented mythology (but no fantasy). First off, I don’t do mythology. Psychology, sure. I’m a fan of the long, slow turn of the mind. Twenty pages of cogitation? You bet. But a quest? Er…not my bag.
Space opera, too, is a problem for me. When I try to write Star Wars, I end up with Space Balls. I just can’t keep a straight face while going toe to toe with somebody holding a light saber.
So what the heck, you say, do Space Balls. There are no rules against comedy in the nether regions of the universe. Yes, but this is overtly feminist literature and you know the rules about that. Feminists are not allowed mirth. It’s the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not make fun of gender stereotypes.
Besides, why shouldn’t I write space opera, dammit? Because I have no talent for it? Pshaw. To be honest I’m not sure what space opera is. Which is why, despite my instincts telling me to back away, I ended up getting excited about the project. It was a chance to ramble on about something I have no business rambling on about.
And ramble I did. I couldn’t stop myself. It was as if, because I was writing about the galaxy, I actually had to fill the galaxy. I wrote way over the limit. At the Readercon panel where we announced the anthology, I mentioned our limit of 10,000 words and how I had hit 13,000 words before the crew had even taken one small step for mankind. I stopped to do a word count just before they opened the airlock. I was shocked and appalled. How on Earth, (or rather, the unnamed planet sweeping through the solar system claimed by ValeroCorp) could I wrangle it down?
Whatever. Wrangle I did. Did I delete characters? Exposition? Tangents? No, like Frank Lloyd, I can scrimp on necessities, but not luxuries. I cut plot and theme and the jokes that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place due to rules of feminist engagement. I got the story down to 9,984 sober words. Straight up science fiction, ready for the fanatic fans and licensing deals. Unfortunately, now some stuff didn’t make sense because I had cut a few key details. Father of the baby type stuff. I added a couple of infodumps towards the end where only the truly dedicated would notice (and the truly dedicated don’t mind infodumps), and wound up with 11,000 words. I turned it in anyway, hoping Athena wouldn’t count.
She returned it with a note to get rid of the jokes.
What jokes? I had taken them all out. I made her circle them in red because I honestly didn’t think they were there. I was wrong; these jokes were following me around like something you step in on a Bronx sidewalk. No amount of scraping against the curb dislodges it so you give up and move on. After a while you don’t notice it anymore. You no longer smell it, but everyone else does, and it stinks and you know it and you’re embarrassed as hell.
So I cut the jokes circled in red. I’m proud to say the story is now clean and fresh. Ready to be published. Watch for it next spring. It’ll be out from Candlemark & Gleam, the new kids on the spec fic block. Kay Holt from Crossed Genres is co-editing. Other notable contributors are Melissa Scott, Jack MacDevitt, Nisi Shawl, Joan Slonczewski (next year’s Wiscon GoH), Vandana Singh, Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Alexander Jablokov, Martha Wells, and a whole bunch of other authors I don’t know but am looking forward to meeting. Check out the roster at Athena’s blog. Read the openings there. For the record, here’s mine:
Mission of Greed*
“In the third week after gagarin123 landed on an unnamed planet sweeping through a solar system claimed by ValeroCorp, First Mechanic Bertie Lai’s chance for fame slowly swirled down the shitter.
And just yesterday things had been moving along swimmingly. René Genie, the mission biologist, had not yet found sentient life; the geologist, Aadil Alzeshi, had discovered beautiful 1.4. Specifically, he’d hit some pitchblende with enough uranium in it for ValeroCorp to recoup the cost of this mission.”
Thanks for reading. And by the way, Charles Tan interviewed Athena about the anthology over at Worldsf. Check ‘er out.
*Apologies to fans of Hal Clement for the title, but it’s just so…perfect.
(This essay was posted at Book View Cafe on September 27, 2012.)