Dangerous to those who profit from the way things are

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My SFContario 4 schedule

This Black Friday marks the advent of SFContario 4, where I will be a panelist (among many others). Here is my schedule, for anyone who may be interested.

Saturday, 11:00am, Ballroom BC: “No, I’m Hero Support.” Good sidekicks aren’t just ciphers. They have back-stories that may be as rich as the main character’s. A good sidekick does more than point, ask questions, and scream. Our panelists discuss what goes into creating a good companion or sidekick. (I’ll probably spend this time talking about Javier.)

Saturday, 1:00pm, Courtyard: “Social Commentary and SF.” The SF genre has long delivered a conduit for discussing controversial contemporary issues and has often offered insightful social commentary on potential future issues. The presentation of disconcerting issues can be made more acceptable when they are explored in a future setting. Does current science fiction continue to explore social and political issues? Should it? (Someone will probably ask me about pedophilia and robots.)

Saturday, 3:00pm, Courtyard: “Multiculturalism in SF.” Multiculturalism in SF: We live in a real world of cultural contact and immigration, yet a reflection of the immigrant experience seems to be rare in our imaginary worlds. Is the success of  stories such as Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie” evidence that we want a more nuanced portrayal of being between two cultures than we can get from angsty half-elves and intergalactic vagabonds? (Yes. Yes it is. Christ, I hope so.)

Sunday, 10:00am, Gardenview: Reading I’ll probably read from Company Town, because I’m really excited about it. After that, Dave reads in the same room. Let us nurse your hangovers with much cursing and squick.

Thoughts on being taken in by 23andMe

A while ago, I paid for a personal genomic saliva kit from 23andMe, a California firm that screens saliva samples for a variety of known genetic trouble spots. Recently, the FDA ordered 23andMe to stop marketing the testing kits, saying that the claims made by the marketing are not backed by science, making possible a dangerous scenario wherein false positives or negatives encourage expensive and unnecessary surgeries, treatments, or tests. Basically: 23andMe’s test might tell you that you carry the BRCA1 or 2 mutation, and you might get a preventative double mastectomy like Angelina Jolie.

This has received a lot of press, in part because 23andMe is backed by Google, run by Sergey Brin’s estranged wife (whose marriage blew up in a public and painful way), and has operated for over five years without receiving another FDA cease-and-desist order. It’s a perfect storm of healthcare news, tech industry gossip, and excuses to talk about Angelina Jolie (see above). But it’s also compelling because it’s about the future of healthcare, and the growing trend toward personalizing that healthcare with the quantified self in mind. 23andMe’s service is popular for the same reason the FitBit is popular: it purports to take an objective, completely personal measurement and then offers encouragement and advice based on that measurement. No more reading studies about sample populations. No more wondering if those sample populations include enough women or ethnic minorities, who are statistically under-represented in clinical trials. Just knowledge about the self, the one person on this planet who you might actually have some control over.
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About my next novel, Company Town

Recently, Angry Robot announced something I’ve known about for quite a while now: I’m writing a book called Company Town, set apart from the Machine Dynasty series. It’s about an escorts’ escort named Hwa, who takes a job bodyguarding the young heir to a family-run corporate energy empire, just as that empire colonizes Hwa’s hometown: a floating city of Slocum towers built around an oil rig 500 km northeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Taking the job means quitting her gig with the United Sex Workers of Canada (Local 314), going back to high school (after dropping out three years ago), and trying to figure out if the death threats sent to her client are really coming from another timeline.

And then the murders start.

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Hey, look at this fan-made cover of vN!


This was Carol Riggs’ third-place contribution to Angry Robot Books’ competition to re-imagine their covers, and as it turns out, Carol also took first place, for illustrating one of Anne Lyle’s novels with an Etch-A-Sketch. An Etch-A-Sketch, people. Your own artistic talents are officially meaningless, in the face of that achievement. (Also, don’t piss off Carol. She clearly has the patience and attention to detail required to orchestrate a slow, painful act of retaliation.)

I should add that I’m really flattered that someone even considered my book for re-crafting, and over the past couple of days I’ve gone back to look at it over and over again. It’s a careful, loving interpretation of the book in visual form, and I’m tickled by it. Thanks, Carol.

Addicts lie: Rob Ford and the future of Toronto

“I’m just so sad,” my mom told me, when she learned Toronto Police Services Chief Bill Blair told reporters he had seen video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine. “It’s just…sad.

It is sad. It’s sad that my partner has to wonder about his mayor screaming in his face and shoving him the way he does other journalists, when the mayor bothers to show up for work — though he apparently has no issue showing up drunk at two a.m. with “unidentified females” who were almost certainly not his wife, the woman who he was charged with assaulting in 2008. It’s sad that our mayor vouchsafed a man who was convicted of threatening to kill a woman, and then employed him as a driver, fixer, and possibly as a drug dealer. It’s sad that the murder of Ford’s friend Anthony Smith is still unsolved. It’s sad that Ford made executive decisions and shaped municipal policy to the tune of $900 million in cost overruns, while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. Those are all sad things.

But that’s not what my mother finds so saddening. Not really. It’s something else entirely.

“Are you feeling badly because we’ve lost people to addiction?” I asked. “Is it because we’ve heard all of this before, and it’s pushing some buttons?”

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New story, “Permacultures,” available now

Today sees the release of Cautions, Dreams, and Curiosities, another anthology from the Tomorrow Project at Intel Labs. I was asked to write a story pertaining to the White House Grand Challenges, and I focused on food security. I watched a lot of TED talks (Netflix helpfully organizes the subject headings, and there have been a lot on the subject of farming, food security, food science, genetic modification, and so on) and a lot of documentaries like Food, Inc. and others that the organic/green/foodie community has been familiar with for a while, now. This was all months before I decided to go mostly vegetarian for health reasons, but the knowledge sure helped reinforce that decision. (I’ve since become one of those annoying people who tries not to eat meat that doesn’t come from a butcher I know by name. My butcher’s name is George. He sells us meat from, among other places, Beretta Family Farms. I no longer eat chicken unless it’s given to me, but I highly recommend their beef.)

With that said, the story turned out to be mostly about the future of imprisonment. That’s not a Grand Challenge, but it should be. The United States has mostly privatized the problem of how to spend the wealth of humanity generated by zero-tolerance laws and the War on Drugs, and the solution seems mostly to save it somewhere where it can never be seen or touched. To bury the talent. I wanted to write a story about people using their talents and achieving things. I was raised with the Catholic social teaching that values the dignity of work, and although I haven’t attended Mass in years and have no intention of doing so again, I still think that giving people jobs also gives them agency and purpose in life, and that alienating people from their labour also alienates them from that sense of purpose and meaning. The same goes for protagonists: compelling protagonists take control of their circumstances in order to achieve results, even when those circumstances are limited and opportunities for action are few. So in this story, prisoners prototype new ways of farming that lead to both personal and agricultural redemption. It’s the healing of the land as the healing of the self.

At least, that’s the theme I had in mind at the time. I’m not sure if I executed it clearly enough. That’s not really for me to decide. I can promise that it also includes tower farms, the future of Detroit, wild boars, spider bots, sparkly prison makeup, and a guy who gets sent to jail for open-sourcing GMO seeds. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you might enjoy it. I hope that you’ll read it, and that if you read it, you’ll like it.

More words about demos and cons


So, this happened. I went to the Kingston WritersFest, where I was on a panel with Margaret Atwood and Corey Redekop. It was a really fun panel, but I felt kind of embarrassed about how I fumbled through my reading. Also, I didn’t sell very many books. Given that my publisher helped send me there, I feel like I didn’t bear out their investment. On the other hand, I was there to represent a series of novels, one of which has a brown guy on the cover, and at Atwood’s request I read a section of the book that details blowjob technique.


Actually, she asked about “the part with the little girls.” Which I realise sounds even worse.

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Bad words: depicting female arousal in your fiction.


Recently, Kameron Hurley shared this piece by E.M. Kokie on the seeming dearth of language available to workaday prose writers to describe what arousal feels like in a cis female body. Said Kokie:

When I found myself stuck and looking for the words, I started pulling books off my bookshelves and scanning for the romantic scenes I remembered from prior readings (much like when I was an adolescent reader). I was shocked to find a complete lack of language for the female anatomy in all but one of the books I checked, and none at all during an intimate scene. Despite effective and appropriately done intimate scenes, none of these books actually used specific words to refer to the female anatomy below the waist. Almost none of them refer to the obvious reactions these female characters would be having to the scene, and none while the character was actually in the moment. Not one mention of words like slick and wet. No mentions of scent or taste.

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iD: something from the butcher’s block

Over the last few days, Twitter has been all, well, a-twitter about diversity in science fiction. Most of that has to do with this piece in The Guardian, which begins thusly:

Science fiction loves a good paradox. Here’s one for you: how can a genre that dreams up alien cultures and mythic races in such minute detail seemingly ignore the ethnic, religious, gender and sexual diversity right here on the home planet, here in the real world?

In other words, for a school of writing that swims so deeply in the unconventional, why is science fiction and fantasy so darned conventional?

Those are all good questions, and they reflect frustrations I’ve felt myself. The piece also quotes Cheryl Morgan, a class-act lady who I was lucky enough to have lunch with this summer. She was really nice about how I basically hacked up a hairball in front of her when I choked on my naengmyeon, effectively re-enacting the moment in The Ring when Naomi Watts chokes on electrode. Because no lunch with a well-respected editor and blogger is complete without total mortification. After lunch, she casually informed me that, without having read it, she was already impressed with iD for one reason: it had a non-white man on a genre cover sold in England.

“I don’t think you know what a big deal that is,” she said.

I didn’t.

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Memento mori. (Or, how Worldcon’s youth problem will resolve.)

This year at Ad Astra, I did a panel on Fake Geek Girls. Or rather, their mythical quality. (For future reference, there are about as many Fake Geek Girls in existence in 2013 as there were witches in Salem, MA in 1693.) During the question period, a teenaged girl at the back of the room asked what was to be done about all this, about the guys who would seemingly never accept her in their space (which was never their space to start with). I told her two things.

  1. Plenty of things are being done. It is not your responsibility to do all of them. Your responsibility is to show up, even when those guys don’t take you seriously, because your showing up unnerves them more than those dreadfully subtle Cialis commercials. The medium is the message. You are the message.
  2. It’s okay, because someday they’ll all be dead.

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  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. She has been a guest on TVO's The Agenda multiple times. Her novels are published by Angry Robot Books. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.
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    Madeline Ashby's books on Goodreads
    vN vN (The Machine Dynasty, #1)
    reviews: 18
    ratings: 27 (avg rating 3.56)

    Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF
    reviews: 18
    ratings: 44 (avg rating 3.45)

    Tesseracts Eleven: Amazing Canadian Speculative Fiction Tesseracts Eleven: Amazing Canadian Speculative Fiction
    reviews: 6
    ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.50)

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  • Madeline 's bookshelf: read

    Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices (2nd Edition)Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways: To Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients into Your CookingGluten-Free Girl and the ChefPeople Crossing Borders: An Analysis of U.S. Border Protection PoliciesHalf the Day Is NightThe Magicians

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