Pondering best speculative fiction and science for August 3, 2017.
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Welcome to the Reader's Room for 3rd of August, 2017.

Taking A Journey

We don't journey any more. We don't travel. We depart; we arrive. We might spend some of the time between in a can made for people. The cans come in different versions, from personal cans with four tires to shared cans that slide through the air, or along rails. But being in one doesn't make a journey. We see the world through glass, isolated from the assault of our speed. Immediately outside the window is the sterile and casually neglected infrastructure of travel. No one visits a road, a rail yard, an overpass. But we can wake up in our own bed, sit in a succession of cans, and be in a different world by lunchtime, where the only thing familiar is a red and yellow sign, the Golden Arches. We know the white script next to it must say McDonald's, but we arrived here so quickly, in such isolation, we're not even sure what language the words are written in.

Go back a century, or in some places, two. A time before cans of people. If we piled into anything, it might be a barrel, sometimes pulled by animals or pushed by wind, but not for everyday travel. Everyone walked. Over long distances, riding in a barrel might be easier than walking—especially if one was delivering goods—but it wasn't faster. When you travel only forty miles a day, there's no jetlag. There are no timezones because there are no trains that need to run on time.

When we travel at a human pace, we become part of the  world we move through. We become accustomed the the little changes. In the evening, the crow's beaks might be a little more blunt than they were in the morning, the ants a richer brown. One day we see our first aspen, not noticing there are no more cedar. The rocks underfoot used to be limestone but are now shale. Language and culture change too, in fits and starts. Borders are for mapmakers and politicians, not everyday folk. The world changes and so do we.

So when, one day, we look up and see a big red sign with a yellow M, it's the white pictographic script that looks familiar. The Golden Arches is the thing out of place, a strange artifact from a distant land.

Such is Kij Johnson's novel The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. It starts small, with a quiet scandal at a women's college, in a time and place where women's colleges were fragile and rare. When the regent's daughter elopes, Professor of Mathematics Vellitt Boe takes it upon herself to retrieve the young woman before her father finds out and closes down the fledgling college. I hate to say any more, because (despite the book's title) it is a real, and powerful journey that starts most plainly, ends most remarkably, and pulls you along on a trip of unexpected depth and breadth.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was released last year and has been a finalist for Hugo, Nebula, and Locust awards, just to name a few. It's only novella-length, but it's a hell of a trip.
Gabriel Björk Stiernström is a Swedish freelance artist creating backgrounds and scenery for video games, See more of his work.
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Should robot artists be given copyright protection? The answer is (spoiler!) 'no' but that deciding line is moving. Computers are becoming more creative, and the distance between them and their creators is lengthening.

This advice to journalists writing about AI is very good advice for anyone who reads about AI. In short, it's a fast moving and diverse topic. Try to get specifics, and be dubious of what anyone says when they're trying to sell something. Remember, AI is 100% Artificial, and 0% Intelligent.

Uncanny Magazine is doing another anthology that pushes the boundaries of science fiction. Their Kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction has reached it's base funding, but it has a lot of good stretch goals, and is revealing more every day. Uncanny pays their authors and artists a good rate, and has done a lot to expand the voices in science fiction today.

Speaking of people doing good work and supporting artists...

Many of the creators I support on Pateron have seen their contributions dropping this summer. If you appreciate a creator, please support them somehow. Ideally, directly by buying their goods or supporting their Patreons (or increasing your support!) but just spreading the word or leaving a review can be a help.

No one becomes a writer, artist, or other creator because its an easy way to make a living. And with the recent assault on healthcare in America, it's even more precarious to be independent creator. Consider contributing the monthly cost of a coffee to helping them out.

Here are some other creators I've supported over the last month:

Publications Clarkesworld Magazine and Fireside Fiction. I always read both cover-to-cover and Clarkesworld does an amazing podcast of all their fiction.

Author Yoon Ha Lee fills his Patreon with insight into his books, process, and art. It's like an endless DVD extras feed of his work.

I bought a signed print of The Future is Japanese from Yuko Shimizu. It's gorgeous.

I also picked up a fun space-themed t-shirt from Juleah Kaliski.

Who have you supported this month? Let me know.

Listen to the Podcast:

Audio versions of the Reader's Room are posted the Friday after the email.
Listen to them here.
Writing Status:
Yes, it's been a long time since we've talked. I can't say I don't miss putting out a weekly issue, but the slower schedule has done good for the next novel. I've finished the second draft, taking care of the big, structural changes. From here on, it's just smaller revision passes until all the corners are knocked off and everything is nice and smooth.

It's going well. Today, reading through the current draft I both laughed and had my heart broken. So, that's what you're in for. No progress bar today because I'm not sure what it would be a gauge of. I'm halfway through annotating this version. It's getting better.

Do you have suggestions or comments for the Reader's room?
Email me or send tips via Twitter.

Copyright © 2017 Steven Hoefer, All rights reserved.

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