If you’re here because I wrote the novel Semiosis, welcome!
You might also enjoy the website devoted entirely to the novel with scenes and information that didn’t make it into the book, associated fiction and essays, the full Constitution, and a blog.
You can find it here:
The finalists have been announced for the Ignotus Awards
, Spain’s equivalent of the Hugos. The categories are novel, novelette, short story, anthology, non-fiction book, article, art, audiovisual production, comic, magazine, translated novel, translated short story, and website. The winner receives a trophy in the shape of a black monolith.
I used to live in Spain, and I’m a member of the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror, which presents the awards.
Here are the nominees for best novel, which might give you an idea of what’s popular in Spain.Bionautas
[Bionauts] by Cristina Jurado
If you realized that no one on Earth is like you because your father is a bionaut, a human being who came from space, would you listen to the recording in which he tells you his story?Neimhaim. El azor y los cuervos
[Neimhaim: The Goshawk and the Crows] by Aránzazu Serrano Lorenzo
In the kingdom of Neimhaim, Jörn, son of the White Monarchs, is now 18 years old and has returned from his exile in the mountains, only to face grave challenges before fulfilling his prophecy of a great destiny.Genesis. El libro de Phlàigh
[Genesis: The Book of Phlàigh] by Juani Hernández
Kyra flees personal failure to Boston, her home town, when a mysterious man with intense blue eyes invades her dreams and holds a terrifying fate, the apocalypse itself.Ojos verdes, negra sombra
[Green Eyes, Black Shadow] by Javier Quevedo Puchal
In 1935, as Spain’s Second Republic begins to fall apart, a woman accused of a crime flees with her brother to a tiny town balanced between the past and present, magic and reality, love and hate.Tiempo de caza
[Time to Hunt] by José A. Bonilla
A business magnate is invited to join a hunting club that acts in secret at the limits of the laws of physics and the future of humanity.
I recently moved, and the wall outlets in my new apartment include two standard three-pin electrical power sockets (two power blades plus a ground pin), which are used here in the United States and in some other countries. The wall outlets also have that mysterious four-pin socket. What is it? It took me a while, but I remembered. Do you know?
I’ll give you time to think.
Hint: This building was constructed in 1973.
Another hint: Ironically, this kind of socket, installed in several places in every room as a minor luxury, almost immediately became obsolete.
Answer: It’s a 505A wall jack
for a Bell telephone. This was where you plugged in your landline. In the 1970s, this kind of jack was replaced by the modular connector plug
, which is still in use.
I graduated from high school in 1973, so I know about landlines. I remember the excitement when push-button touch-tone phones first came into use. (You could use the tones to play songs!) Still, I can’t figure out why I’d want a landline telephone now.
— Sue Burke
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the finalists
for its 2019 awards today. Semiosis is one of the ten finalists in the Best First Novel category.
Winners will be announced during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle, WA, June 28 to 30. Awards are presented in sixteen catagories. Locus Magazine has covering the speculative fiction field since 1968 with news, reviews, commentary, and data. No one knows the field as well as Locus!
The full list of Best First Novel finalists — all well worth reading:Children of Blood and Bone,
Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan)Semiosis,
Sue Burke (Tor)Armed in Her Fashion,
Kate Heartfield (ChiZine)The Poppy War,
R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)The Quantum Magician,
Derek Künsken (Solaris US; Solaris UK)Annex,
Rich Larson (Orbit US)Severance,
Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)Witchmark,
C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)Trail of Lightning,
Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)Empire of Sand,
Tasha Suri (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
I am thrilled to announce that Semiosis
is shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award
. The shortlist was announced today
, and the full list is:Semiosis
by Sue Burke (HarperVoyager)Revenant Gun
by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)Frankenstein in Baghdad
by Ahmed Saadawi (Oneworld)The Electric State
by Simon Stålenhag (Simon and Schuster)Rosewater
by Tade Thompson (Orbit)The Loosening Skin
by Aliya Whiteley (Unsung Stories)
These are splendid books, and I am lucky and honored to be among them.
The award describes itself as “the UK’s premier prize for science fiction literature.” The winner will be announced on July 17 in London and receives an engraved bookend and a cash prize.
I’m studying Latin — a lively language, even if it’s nobody’s native tongue. Beginning students of Spanish learn to say “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?” (Where is the library?) and “Mi casa es grande y azul” (My house is large and blue). These sentences serve mere quotidian purposes. In Latin, we learn “Otium sine litteras mors est” (Leisure without literature is death) and “Angustus animus pecuniam amat” (The shallow mind loves money). These sentences soar with ancient wisdom.
Along with grammar and vocabulary, a language learner must study culture, since language and culture interlock. So far I’ve studied Rome’s legendary founding, its customs, and a few witty observations from Horace’s satires.
Romans were very concerned about the future, and among their many fortune-telling techniques is the Homeromanteion. To use this, you must formulate your question, then roll a dice three times. The resulting number corresponds to a numbered list of lines from the verses of immortal Homer’s Illiad
Line 335: “He promised that the people would stay safe and not perish.”
Line 622: “Remembering our talent, such as to us.”
Line 263: “They might feast here for the last and final time.”
You can test your fortune at the online Homeromanteion
, which comes complete with a virtual dice. Remember to pray to the gods so they will give you the wisdom to interpret the answer.
Vale (May you be well).
You can find more information on ancient fortune-telling at the British Library’s medieval manuscripts blog
You can browse an archive of the Latin Word of the Day and see the word’s use in a wisdom-filed sentence at Transparent Language
. From May 27: Hodie (today). Qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit. (He who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow.) Note the elegant juxtaposition of “hodie” and “cras” (tomorrow).
Out of the Silent Planet
by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
C. S. Lewis wrote this novel in 1938 after a conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien. They lamented how little fiction was available to their liking, and Lewis agreed to write a space-travel story. He’d written little fiction so far, but as he says in a note preceding the story, he’d enjoyed H.G. Wells’s “fantasies” and owed them a debt.
The resulting novel, more science fantasy than science fiction, contains many pages of imaginative worldbuilding and thoughtful philosophizing. At times, though, the plot slows and thins, as does characterization. Unlike The Screwtape Letters,
which I enjoyed and recommend, it offers little humor or stylish writing.
Readers making their first forays into science fiction and fantasy might enjoy more recent books better – the writing here is a little too dated and unsophisticated. However, readers who are trying to grasp the history of science fiction should read this as a milestone in the development of the genre and Lewis’s career. In addition, patient readers might enjoy the intriguing questions it raises about spirituality and ethics.
Although it’s part of a trilogy, this novel reaches a satisfactory stand-alone ending. When our protagonist, having wandered the solar system, finally returns to Earth, his first act is to find a bar and order a pint of bitter.
-- Sue BurkeView all my reviews
In front of Spain's National Library in Madrid, a statue of Miguel de Cervantes stands with one foot resting on a pair of books. One of them is spine-out, and we can read its title: Amadís de Gaula
(Amadis of Gaul).
That book tells the story of Amadis, from the fictional kingdom of Gaul, who was the greatest knight in the world. This Spanish novel of chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and published in 1508, became Europe's first best-seller. It was reprinted nineteen times, translated into seven languages, spawned forty-four direct sequels in several languages, and fueled an entire genre that lasted a century. (I also translated it into English
.) Most notably, around 1600, it inspired Don Quixote of La Mancha.
The second half of Don Quixote
was published 400 years ago in 1615.
In many ways, Cervantes satirizes (or pays homage to) that tale, including a characteristic element of novels of chivalry that began with Amadis of Gaul.
An earlier version of Amadis
had existed since the 1300s in the form of a three-book novel, but Montalvo's edition was different, as he explains in his prologue:
“I corrected these three books of Amadis,
such as they could be read, due to poor writers or very corrupt and dissolute scribes, and I translated and added a fourth book and a sequel, Exploits of Esplandián,
which until now no one has seen. By great good fortune, a manuscript was discovered in a stone tomb beneath a hermitage near Constantinople, and it was brought by a Hungarian merchant to eastern Spain in such ancient script and old parchment that it could only be read with much difficulty by those who knew the language.”
Of course, Montalvo himself wrote the fourth book and Exploits de Esplandián
(Sergas de Esplandián). Why lie about it? Because, as he himself put it, the novel “had been considered rank fiction rather than chronicles.” By proclaiming it an ancient story and perhaps even forgotten history rather than fiction, it could obtain the status of works by Homer and Cicero.
He doesn’t seem to have fooled anyone, but he did set a pattern. Supposedly, the manuscript for the sequel Lisuarte de Grecia
(Lisuarte of Greece) by Juan Díaz (1514) had been written in Greek in Constantinople and taken to Rhodes when the city fell to the Ottomans. Amadis de Grecia
(Amadis of Greece) by Feliciano de Silva (1530) had been found in a wooden box behind a wall in a cave in Spain, hidden during the Moslem invasion in 711. Silves de la Selva
(Silves of the Jungle) by Pedro de Luján (1546) was encountered in the magical sepulcher of Amadis himself, written in Arabic.
And so on. Manuscripts were discovered in distant castles and during voyages to far-off lands. Some were written in Hungarian, Latin, Tuscan, German, Chaldean, and "Indian" (Sanskrit, perhaps). A few were even supposedly written by characters from earlier novels.
Among the many jokes in Don Quixote
whose punchline we have forgotten today is the one in Chapter IX. It recounts how, in a market in Toledo, a boy was selling some old paper to be reused. Cervantes looked at one of the pieces of paper, a pamphlet, and it turned out to be part of the History of Don Quixote of La Mancha,
written in Arabic by Cide Hamete Benengeli. He purchased a translation of the pamphlets for two pecks of raisins and two bushels of wheat. This discovered manuscript, Cervantes claimed, became the basis of the rest of the first part of his novel.
Rather than being found in some exotic place after a search filled with drama, difficulty, and great cost, Don Quixote
was rescued from the garbage and translated on the cheap.
Besides that satire in Quixote,
there's another joke based on one of Montalvo's books that we’ve forgotten to laugh at. An imaginary island described in Exploits of Esplandian
overflowed with gold and was ruled by a califa. Spanish conquistadors had read many novels of chivalry and sometimes compared the wonders of the New World to the marvels in those books, but when they sailed up the western coast of what we now call Mexico, they found a place that offered little besides rocks and condors. To entertain themselves, they started calling that barren land after the fabulously rich island in the book: “California.”
— Sue Burke
This article was also published in the Fall 2015 issue (pdf)
of The Source,
a quarterly publication of the American Translators Association Literary Division.
I’ve read all the short stories nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards
, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The awards, which include novels, novellas, novelettes, game writing, dramatic presentation (television, movies, etc.), and young adult books, will be presented May 18 in Los Angeles.
I’m sorry to say I loved only two of them. As a member, I must vote for one (ranked voting is for the Hugos, not the Nebulas), and here’s my vote:“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
My heart was in my throat, hoping the witch librarian would help the troubled boy find the book he needed to escape his life, and the boy would accept the magic that the book had to offer him. I read this slowly, knowing it was a short story and would end soon, trying to give myself more time to enjoy it. Magic, indeed.
My opinions of the other stories, ranked in order of preference:Second place: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside 2/18)
The story encompasses nine short biographies of the slaves whose teeth came to be part of Washington’s dentures. (True story: Washington had dentures made of human teeth.) Since they form an alternate history of a world in which there are various kinds of magic, I kept expecting the consequences of this magic to change the sweep of history, but they did not. Still, well worth reading.Third place: “And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3–4/18)
A visit to a haunted house led to disaster for a boy. Now an adult, he returns. The house is still haunted, but he might be able to beat its time-space mutations. The real story is the protagonist’s personal history of his unhappy family, shortcomings, and childhood disasters. This is done well, yet it feels familiar, resembling quite a few other literary short stories I’ve read. Perhaps unhappy families can be alike, too.Fourth place: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)
A boy discovers the cost of magic, and he learns that good intentions do not overrule cold cause and effect. The fable-like telling feels too distant, and the story seems familiar. There are no new stories, true, but perhaps a more detailed, close-up telling could have revealed new contours of yearning within an old idea.Nope: “Going Dark” by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
A military commander must turn off a humanoid robot that was badly injured in the line of duty. Up until that moment, the commander has shown the emotional response of a turnip, yet he suddenly sinks into bathos. This story got on the ballot through the not-a-slate 20BooksTo50K® slate. It has some merit, but it’s not ready for prime time and is not one of the year’s five best short stories. It shouldn’t be on the ballot.Nope: “Interview for the End of the World” by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
An asteroid is about to destroy the Earth, and a rich man with a rocket must pick the three thousand people who will escape death and perpetuate humanity. This is a cliché within a cliché, and poorly told at that. The story is another on the not-a-slate 20BooksTo50K® slate, and it doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot.
— Sue Burke
I’ll be reading “Who Won the Battle of Arsia Mons” as part of the Writers Aloud
series at Prop Theater on Sunday, April 7. The event, from 3 to 5 p.m., will also feature Johanna Drew reading “Ask Me for My Photo (my life in online dating).”
Free and open to the public, with refreshments, at 3502 N. Elston Ave.
If you can’t come, you can read my story at Clarkesworld
. It’s about battle between robots on Mars!
— Sue Burke