Novel news!

Interference: The sequel to Semiosis is now available as a trade paperback, available through all major outlets and local bookstores. Links here. It’s still available as an audiobook, ebook, and hardcover.

Semiosis: The French translation is now available as an audiobook.

Immunity Index: My next novel will be released on May 4, 2021. You can learn more and pre-order it through links here.

Burning Fennel and Usurpation: I’ve just signed a contract with Tor for two more books. That’s the good news. However, the pandemic has affected publishing, including the ability to print books, so these won’t hit the bookstore shelves for a while — but they’re on their way.
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Review: "Recognize Fascism"

Recognize Fascism: A Science Fiction and Fantasy AnthologyRecognize Fascism: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Anthology by Crystal M. Huff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter campaign to fund this anthology. The book sounded exciting. It turned out to be excellent and, despite the grim-sounding subject matter, a pleasure to read.

Besides quality, what fuels this anthology is variety. The authors bring viewpoints from different countries and different kinds of narrators, including a turnip (really). While you might expect stories about fascism to be grim and angry, and some of them are, others are fun and funny, even absurdist. One is a romantic meet-cute. Another is brief and poetic. Some of the voices soar.

The kinds of fascism also vary, including a bullying schoolgirl, a shattered armistice in a war over magicians, a waitress whose job becomes increasingly oppressive, lovers separated by space and politics, a magical object carrying memories of slavery, and the arbitrary replacement of clocks.

How do you recognize fascism? You might have known it all along, or you might see the world unravel as your freedoms shrink. How can you fight fascism? You might use music, a network of allies, a pissed-off artificial intelligence, or a sudden glimpse of your own power. You might have choices.

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Review: "Imagine Wanting Only This" by Kristen Radtke

Imagine Wanting Only ThisImagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this graphic memoir as a gift, read it in one sitting, and came away unsatisfied. The author, a young woman, tells of her search for permanence, but no matter where she goes, she can’t find it. Still, she asks vital questions along the way, and she probes the depth of her sorrow over the loss of her beloved uncle and the losses that other people have suffered. She visits a variety of ruins, learns of a possible distant relative who survived the Peshtigo Fire, and considers the costs to people when their livelihoods end.

During her trips, she assembles a wide range of fascinating facts and observations. The art and questions are haunting and seem to lead to some sort of journey’s end. A number of passages could stand strong as excerpts. Although she is empty, she takes a lot of ideas and items (including some that she shouldn’t) with the intent of doing something with them.

And she never does. The story ends with a series of questions, such as: “Who knows what will be significant when we have all moved on to whatever is waiting or not waiting?” She has no answer. Despite all the amazing things she’s seen and learned, she has assembled nothing from her experiences and has not changed and grown. She was callow and glum when she started, and she stays that way.

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Why not "normal"?

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month,  so I’m posting this excerpt from a newspaper article I wrote 40 years  ago. I still remember Dawn’s words. She went to high school in Oak  Creek, Wisconsin, where she was a member of the school’s Explorer Post  1841, made up of the school’s special education class.

The students were planning a trip that would include a four‑day  cruise on a tall‑masted sailing ship and a day at Disneyworld. They were  involved in the decision‑making from start to finish. They had raised  their own money and arranged to bring a small sailboat into the high  school’s pool to practice swimming and sailing techniques. They had  studied ways to handle long days cooped up on a bus. Their teacher knew  they would learn important life skills.

The trip was a success, by the way.

I interviewed the class before it left, and this is part of my  report. While some of the language has changed over the years, the  lesson the students taught me is still fresh.

(A thoughtful and generous response to the same issue was  expressed by Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin  Stephens in this letter.)


“It stinks!”

That’s what it’s like to be called retarded, according to Karen Gass. “I’m just a slow learner,” she insisted.

But some of her classmates didn’t like being called slow learner, either. Special education students sounded better to them.

Normal was what Dawn Cain wanted to be called.

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Celebrate International Translation Day, September 30

The feast day of St. Jerome, a famous ancient translator, is September 30, so today is celebrated as International Translation Day.

FIT, the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs/International Federation of Translators, has created this poster and explanation to celebrate this year’s theme: Finding the words for a world in crisis.

FIT explains: “Our profession has been pivoting rapidly to keep up with changing realities and expectations, and the importance of our work to ensuring clear information reaches everyone and overcoming language barriers — both global and local — has been highlighted in unprecedented ways this year.”

Here are two more ways that you can celebrate translation, especially science fiction in translation:

FutureconSF, an online international science fiction convention with the slogan “The future happens everywhere,” was held September 17 to 20. Sixteen panels explored topics as varied as “Future Science Fiction in Translation: A Hidden Treasure to Innovate the Genre,” “Future East Asia: Techno-Traditions in Japan and Korea,” and “Anthropocene and Capitalocene: Threats and Hopes to the Future of Mankind.”

The sessions were recorded and are available on YouTube.

A new bilingual speculative fiction magazine is coming to the internet. Constelación will publish stories in both Spanish and English with four issues each year. Writers can submit their stories in science fiction, fantasy, and horror in either language. Fifty percent of the stories in every issue will be from authors from the Caribbean, Latin America, and their diaspora.

I hope to do some of the translation. A Kickstarter campaign will launch tomorrow, October 1. Submissions will be open from October 15 to November 1, 2020, for the first issue with the theme: The Bonds That Unite Us / Los lazos que nos unen.
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My next novel: “Immunity Index”

Here’s the cover art for my next novel, Immunity Index. Notice that the skyline is Milwaukee.

The book will be released on May 4, 2021, and may it be a better year for us all.

I began writing this long before Covid-19 appeared, and as I finished it early this year, I became deeply troubled — then I realized why. This novel tells the story of a better coronavirus epidemic than the one we have. I am heartbroken by our real-life loss and suffering. The challenge to our perseverance and compassion will last for months and years.

More information and preorder links for the novel are here:

The official synopsis somehow fails to mention the woolly mammoth, but he’s in there and he’s loveable:

Sue Burke, author of Semiosis and Interference, gives readers a new near-future, hard sf novel. Immunity Index blends Orphan Black with Contagion in a terrifying outbreak scenario.

In a US facing growing food shortages, stark inequality, and a growing fascist government, three perfectly normal young women are about to find out that they share a great deal in common.

Their creator, the gifted geneticist Peng, made them that way — before such things were outlawed.

Rumors of a virus make their way through an unprotected population on the verge of rebellion, only to have it turn deadly.

As the women fight to stay alive and help, Peng races to find a cure — and the coverup behind the virus.

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Susie Homemaker’s zucchini couscous salad recipe

This is more of a cooking method than a recipe. I love to cook, and I’ve noticed that zucchini (also called marrow, summer squash, or courgette) gets kind of soggy when cooked. This works fine in ratatouille or similar dishes, but not in a salad. Then I figured out a way to make sog work for me with the aid of modern technology.

The secret is instant couscous. The photo shows tricolor instant couscous. Any brand and variety will do.

Begin several hours before you plan to serve the salad. Use ¼ cup/45g of couscous per zucchini. Put the couscous in a microwave-proof bowl, and, if you want, add herbs and spices to taste. Then chop the zuke into bite-sized pieces, put them in the bowl, and stir so the pieces are coated by the couscous. You can also add any other vegetables you might want lightly cooked in the salad, such as onions, garlic, or bell pepper. Do not add tomatoes at this point. Tomatoes get way too soggy when they cook.

Now cover the bowl and microwave until the zuke is almost tender. The exact time will depend on your microwave and the size of the batch. I do about five minutes for a two-zuke batch, stirring halfway through. It’s easy to overcook the zucchini, so keep an eye on it.

Take the bowl out, keep it covered, let it cool, then refrigerate. The zuke will continue to cook a bit as it cools. The couscous might seem dry, but don’t worry. The zucchini will eventually release a lot of liquid. Those things are mostly water anyway.

Before you serve it, add dressing, such as oil and vinegar, salt to taste, and any other herbs, spices, or vegetables you want in the salad, even cheese or cooked meat. Here’s where tomatoes can safely go in. (The photo includes black olives and onions.) Toss gently because the zucchini is a little fragile.


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Writing advice: a moment of panic

Write what you know is debatable advice, but I think it’s good — if it’s understood in its broadest sense. Write what you know, what you’ve learned, what you’ve observed, what you can know through imagination, what you want to know, and what your emotions know.

Here’s an example. How does it feel when the world is about to end?

By experience, I know it feels horrifying and confusing.

This is what happened. I grew up in Milwaukee. Lake Michigan is to the east. All my life, the sun has risen in the east over water. Water is to the east. Always.

Then one evening I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles, and we were having dinner at an oceanside restaurant. I noticed that the sun was setting over the water … but water is to the east! The sun was setting in the east! The universe was suddenly and horrifyingly wrong!

After a moment, I recovered enough to look around the restaurant. Everyone was talking and enjoying themselves. No one noticed what was happening. Was I the only one? And physically, everything looked okay, but logically, if the Earth had reversed its course or flipped its orientation, there would be consequences. Gravitational disturbances. Big ones, like planet-wide destruction. But people were walking around just fine.

And … oh, I was in California. I’d seen maps. The water is to the west there. The Pacific Ocean.

It was okay! The sun was normal. Life was normal. The universe was normal.

… Dinner was delicious.

I still remember that moment, though: I think I forgot to breathe. I was aware of only one thing, the sight of that sun going down over the water, knowing what it had to mean: an enormously wrong thing, very possibly The End — and then a cascading series of smaller things that were wrong, too, but in a different way that didn’t make sense.

That moment and other imagined or real disasters have taught me that panic often comes mixed with confusion, perhaps waves of confusion and panic as the situation changes. Different people react in different ways depending on their personalities and experiences. I tend to seek more information. Someone else might be more inclined to act immediately. (That person might have made quite a scene at the restaurant. It’s fun to imagine.)

So — once I saw that the world was about to end. I know how it felt to me at that moment. I can write what I know.
Escudo de España

Two bits and pieces of eight

From Wikipedia.

You may know the American English-language expression two bits from the musical/rhythmic riff, “shave and a haircut, two bits” or from the meaning of two-bit as something cheap or trivial. You may even know that in the United States, two bits is twenty-five cents, a quarter-dollar, so you might think that one bit is one-eight of a dollar. You would be right.

How did this linguistic oddity come to pass?

Back when the United States were British colonies, due to a coin shortage, the colonies tended to use a Spanish coin called a dollar, also known as a piece of eight because it was worth eight reales. The real coin had been circulating in Spain since medieval times, and because of the rich silver mines in Spanish colonies in Mexico and South America, during colonial times reales and Spanish dollars became common currency throughout the world. The one-eighth dollar coins became known as “bits” or parts of a dollar.

When the United States became an independent country, it started making its own silver dollars and smaller coins, including quarter-dollars, and the terminology for bits as eighths hung on for a couple of centuries. Language changes slower than currency.

As for Spanish, the only meaning of bit is another meaning for that word in English, a BInary digiT used in computer sciences. Spain stopped using reales in 1868, when it replaced them with the peseta, until that was replaced by the euro in 2002.

In English, a piece of eight remains as part of Caribbean piracy lore. Now you know the booty the pirates were after: silver coins. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.