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Sue Burke
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Prodigies by Angélica Gorodischer, published by Small Beer Press, is on the 2015 Locus Recommended Reading List for fantasy novels.

I translated it from Spanish. It's not quite as good as having my own novel on the list, but it's still exciting.


-- Sue Burke

20th-Jan-2016 12:26 pm - Spain’s XXXIII Hispacon/GRXcon
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What happens at a Spanish science fiction convention? I’ve written a brief report for the Concatenation website. This Hispacon looked forward this year’s Eurocon, November 4, 5, and 6 in Barcelona. It also took a few more steps toward improving the Ignotus Awards, which are sort of like the Hugos, but with a very different (and much nicer) problem.

Read it at:


— Sue Burke
12th-Jan-2016 03:12 pm - I know what you’re doing
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Sometimes friends and family ask if here in Spain we’ve heard about some item in the news from the United States. The answer is probably yes. To give you an idea, here are a week’s worth of headlines involving the United States from El País, Spain’s leading newspaper. I haven’t included articles that mention the US only in passing. And of course there are other newspapers, along with radio, television, and internet reports.

Tuesday, January 12

  • The chameleon that made pop an art (David Bowie dies in Manhattan; an analysis of his life and work fills pages 23 to 28 and a few other columns)

  • Mexico initiates the complex process of El Chapo’s extradition to the US

  • Six US states want the Sinaloa boss in court

  • Obama’s last paragraph (an examination of his historical legacy)

  • Iñárritu is posed for another Oscar after the Golden Globes

  • Kanye West against the world (in the Celebrity Gossip column)

  • Courtney Love, now a designer (in the Celebrity Gossip column)

  • VW asks for forgiveness and announces an investment of 825 million in US (in the Business section)

  • Baxalta puts itself in the hands of Ireland’s Shire (in the Business section)

  • Playboy mansion on sale for 185 million (in the People section)

  • Madonna to Sean Penn: “I still love you” (in the People section)

  • The madness of Marco Rubio’s boots (the Back Page feature)

Monday, January 11

  • Mexico considers calling Sean Penn to testify about his interview with El Chapo

  • Obama’s strategy in the Near East gets more complicated

  • Porzingis, king of New York (in the Sports section)

  • Bad date with the NBA (in the Sports section)

Sunday, January 10

  • Mexico is willing to extradite El Chapo (to the US; along with several related articles)

  • North Korean nuclear test reinforces US influence in Asia

  • The best series to hear (to learn English, mostly American television; in a special section about learning to speak English)

  • The big market created by fans (about movie tie-in merchandise, especially US films and Star Wars; in the Business section, with additional related articles)

  • AMC imagines the movie theaters of the future (in the Business section)

  • Wall Street runs out of gas (in the Business section)

  • Bezos, the austere millionaire (in the Business section)

  • Interview with Mario Kreutzberger (“Don Fransisco,” star of the Miami television show Sábado gigante; in the Weekly Magazine supplement)

  • For Tarantino, the star is ... Morricone! (about the movie The Hateful Eight; in the Weekly Magazine supplement)

Saturday, January 9

  • Extraordinary new world: USA and China must face Kim Jong-un’s nuclear provocation (editorial)

  • This is the technology we’ll use in 2016 (report from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas)

  • John Hughes, the film-maker who dignified adolescence (overview of the late writer-director-producer’s work, such as The Breakfast Club)

  • World stock markets lose four trillion in capitalization in 2016 (frequent references to US markets)

  • The next-to-last flight of the jumbo jet (about the Boeing B747)

  • United States created 2.65 million jobs in 2015

  • The case of the US missile that wound up in Cuba (the Back Page feature article)

  • Emotional, not sentimental (review of a short-story collection by US author Stephen Dixon; in the Books section)

  • The good villain (an 8-page section about superheroes and their enemies, mostly discussing Hollywood movies)

  • In the US embassy, they don’t eat hotdogs (the ambassador and his chef talk about American food; in the Buenavida magazine supplement)

Friday, January 8

  • Seul asks the US to activate its strategic arms in the area

  • Miami prepares for another massive arrival of Cubans

  • A woman heads up West Point (editorial about Gen. Diana Holland)

  • The Chinese miracle makes Hollywood happy: the purchase of Legendary studios by the Wanda consortium

  • As personal as overvalued (review of the movie Joy

  • My daughter will be a zombie (review of the movie Maggie

  • China’s slowdown and the iPhone burden Apple

  • Dinner discount for wearing a gun (about a Houston restaurant that encourages open carry among its customers, and about the new open carry law in Texas; the Back Page feature)

  • Mythic scenery for John Wayne (a big photo of Monument Valley; in the Travel section)

  • In Elvis’ basement (about a Spanish actress’s visit to Graceland; in the Travel section)

  • Heavenly macro-stage: California visit to the birthplace of televangelism, a boundless glass cathedral by Philip Johnson (in the Travel section)

Thursday, January 7

  • USA defends strategic advances against ISIS

  • An empty alliance (op-ed piece about political connections between USA and Europe)

  • Crude oil drops to $35 for the first time since 2004 (frequent references to the USA)

  • Rocco Richie cranks up the fight with Madonna, his mother (in the Celebrity Gossip column)

  • Janet Jackson suspends her tour due to a tumor (in the Celebrity Gossip column)

  • Amy Shumer supports Obama on gun control (in the Celebrity Gossip column)

Wednesday, January 6

  • Amid tears, Obama urges “don’t accept this carnage”

  • Arms sales peak sharply in the US

  • A new transatlantic relationship (op-ed piece about connections between the US and Spain)

  • Back to Gus N’ Roses paradise: band will lead the lineup at California’s Coachella Festival

  • Volkswagen sales drop in USA

6th-Jan-2016 03:41 pm - 2015 publications
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Most of what I had published last year was non-fiction articles. However, I did translate two fine pieces of fiction:

Prodigies by Angélica Gorodischer, published by Small Beer Press. This moving and subtle novel deals with the women whose lives pass through an elegant nineteenth century boarding house. Considered Gorodischer's best.

“The Dragoon of the Order of Montesa, or the Proper Assessment of History” by Nilo María Fabra, published in the anthology Triangulation: Lost Voices. The remains of a soldier guarding Madrid’s Royal Palace, discovered far in the future, are thoroughly misunderstood.

— Sue Burke

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Refugiado (refugee) is the word of the year for 2015 according to Spain’s Fundéu BBVA.

Why? Because the word has been in the headlines and because it has required a careful differentiation from immigrant. Immigrants want to live in another country, while refugees are driven by war, revolution, or political persecution to seek refuge in another country.

“For that reason,” says Joaquín Muller, general director of Fundéu BBVA, “we believe that refugee fulfills the conditions we seek for the word of the year: it’s been in the news and conversations in 2015, and it also holds some interest from a linguistic point of view and is a term common to the entire Spanish-speaking world, not just one country or region. Whether it’s a new term or not isn’t relevant to our decision.”

Fundéu BBVA is a foundation dedicated to helping the news media and public use Spanish properly.

Europe alone has received a million refugees this year, and 3,735 are known to have died attempting to arrive there by sea. Refugees also exist in many other parts of the world and head toward other countries, including the United States, where their acceptance has become an ugly political battle. This word will be important for years to come.

Compare that to the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2015: emoji, in particular the little face with tears of joy, the most commonly used emoji of 2015. It might be especially appropriate for refugees who finally find safe haven.

Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2015 is binge-watch, a first-world problem, perhaps – and a new word to be entered into the online dictionary, which is part of Collins’ criteria. Other new words for Collins are manspreading, dadbod, transgender, contactless, and clean-eating.

Fundéu BBVA also considered for 2015 such words as despatarre (manspreading), clictivismo (clicktivism), poliamor (polyamory), chikunguña (a tropical disease), trolear (to troll), and inequidad (inequality). In the end, the grimmest expression of today’s reality took the prize.

The Fundéu BBVA’s word of the year for 2014 was selfi (selfie), and for 2013 escrache, a kind of protest.

-- Sue Burke

21st-Dec-2015 04:17 pm - Victory! Nobody won
Spain had a parliamentary election last night. Four big parties and a variety of small parties were running, and as expected, no party won a majority. In fact, no two parties added together amount to a majority. This is important because it takes a majority vote to elect a prime minister or, obviously, pass legislation.

The BBC has a report here, and the Guardian here. You can see excruciatingly detailed results at El País newspaper here (in Spanish).

Although the news reports make this result sound dire, it was what voters wanted – the polls confirmed this ahead of the election, so the outcome surprised no one. Voters wanted to force the parties to talk to each other, to negotiate and come to agreement rather than one party imposing its will on everyone and everything.

Imagine politicians compromising and working together. If that happens, what a victory Spanish voters have achieved. And what a change.

— Sue Burke

Let me see..
I’ve been reading slush lately (God help me), and I’ve noticed a frequent pattern in bad stories: pointless interpersonal conflict.

Suppose – to use actual examples – some sort of horrible disaster has stranded a group of people in a church, convenience store, or hotel, who may or may not be strangers, and they need to cope with a clear and immediate threat to their survival, if not to the survival of the entire human race. What’s the first thing they do? Start to fight verbally or even violently among themselves over old disagreements or because one or more of them is racist, sexist, or otherwise abusive or mentally unstable, or wants to take advantage of the situation at the expense of others, or can’t control his or her sexual tension, or demands special treatment or non-existent information....

These stories fail in a variety of ways. The interpersonal conflicts bear no relationship to the actual conflict (death and disaster!) but merely attempt to inject “tension” to a plot that is unfolding too slowly or has too little tension on its own. Worse, these kinds of fights offer little suspense because people that stupid are bound to fail anyway, and I wind up hoping they die sooner rather than later because they bore me. Finally, these conflicts can feel forced because in real life, people tend to behave much more reasonably when death is looming. Despite what you might suspect if you’ve ever read comments on the internet, most people aren’t idiots.

In fact, I think this kind of story failure ranks as a subset of what the Turkey City Lexicon calls an Idiot Plot: “A plot which functions only because all the characters involved are idiots. They behave in a way that suits the author’s convenience, rather than through any rational motivation of their own. (Attributed to James Blish)”

By contrast, consider The Martian by Andy Weir. In it, an astronaut is accidentally left behind on Mars with insufficient food and no way to communicate. He does everything he can to survive. Meanwhile, on Earth, NASA discovers he’s there and sets about rescuing him. Do the people at NASA waste their time insulting and fighting with each other? No, all of them try to do their jobs as best they can. Even when they disagree, they do so professionally.

There’s enough tension and drama in The Martian to carry the plot without pointless bickering – as there would be if an alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, or WWIII had just begun. But the author needs the skill to move that drama forward. Not everyone has it, as I’m learning.

— Sue Burke

2nd-Dec-2015 07:44 pm - Eagle Street, but not that bird
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A ceramic plaque marks Eagle Street (Calle del Águila) in Madrid, but the bird it depicts is not an eagle – or even a Spanish bird.

The little street in the historic La Latina district of Madrid got its name around the year 1600 because a giant eagle emblem for use in religious processions was stored there. An eagle represents St. John the Evangelist – in honor of the soaring heights of his Gospel’s prose – specifically a black eagle with a red beak and feet, or at least red claws.

St. John’s eagle was also used in the coat of arms of Queen Isabel I and on the Spanish flag during the Franco regime, so it would be easy to find a historic example of that eagle, even a politically correct one. Obviously, the artist who created the ceramic plaque did not use the symbolic bird.

Perhaps it represents a real eagle. Spain is home to four species of eagles, most notably the majestic golden eagle. It cruises over the Iberian countryside preying on rabbits and partridges, clad head to tail in sleek golden-brown feathers. It is not the bird on the plaque.

The white ruff and bald head of the bird on the plaque are a clue that this is in fact a vulture. Spain is home to a black vulture, but it is solid dark brown or black with a bluish-gray bald head and neck – not this bird.

The only vulture with a white ruff and reddish combed head is the Andean condor. That’s what the artist chose to represent St. John’s eagle: a South American carrion-eating bird with a 10-foot/3-meter wingspan that deliberately poops on its own feet for some reason, which is why they look whitish.

Madrid does have a Condor Street, located in the Vista Alegre area, near streets named Goose (Oca), Toucan (Tucan), Albatross (Albatros), Finch (Pinzón), Falcon (Halcón), Turtledove (Tórtola), Seagull (Gaviota), Lark (Alondra), Thrush (Zorzal), and Nightingale (Ruiseñor). I hope the street signs aren’t illustrated. That might be insanely confusing.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website: http://www.sue.burke.name

25th-Nov-2015 12:59 pm - “The Thinkers,” by Liu Cixin
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If you enjoyed The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, the novel that won the 2015 Hugo award, you might enjoy this short story.

It was translated by Joel Martinsen at Paper Republic, a website dedicated to Chinese literature in translation. Martinsen has also translated The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three Body Problem.

This is a story about the links between thinkers, and about the sun and stars:


— Sue Burke
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