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:
This weekend I’ll be at Capricon 39
, a science fiction convention held February 14 to 17 in Wheeling, a suburb of Chicago. This year’s theme is “Strange Beasts Arise.”
If you’re there, say hi. In addition to wandering around and having fun, I’ll be on four panels:
Friday, 10 a.m. – Book Reviews vs. Literary Criticism: But Is it Good?
What is the role of a reviewer compared to that of a critic? What are the differences? What serves the genre more? How do we deal with fan reviews, especially those so-called reviews on Amazon and Goodreads?
Friday, 5:30 p.m. – Literary Economics
Most SF and fantasy assumes that there is an endless supply of money, spaceships, horses, swords, ray-guns and … Our panelists will discuss how and why to consider economics in world-building.
Sunday, 10 a.m. – The Business Side of Writing
Okay, so you’ve written your novel. Now what? Our pros guide you through what your next steps need to be and what your options as a writer are.
Sunday, noon – Resurrecting Strange Beasts
Modern genetic science may be able to recreate extinct life forms (such as mammoths). There is also the possibility of creating even stranger creatures (such as griffons, dragons, and even centaurs) by mixing genes from widely different animals. What are the pros and cons of playing with our new genetic toys in this manner?
— Sue Burke
Megan Leigh at the website Breaking the Glass Slipper has asked me five questions about the novel Semiosis
and science fiction: the lure of first contact stories, the affinity between hard SF and horror, communication obstacles in the story, overlooked female SF writers, and why you should read Semiosis
. Read it here
With all the talk of decluttering
lately, here’s something useless, stored away in a box and half-forgotten, that I will never throw away: the key to my parents’ old home. They left that house more than twenty years ago.
That house … They loved living there, a small ranch home at the end of a cul-de-sac. They enjoyed its wide windows, airy sun porch, and large back yard. My mother planted a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden in back, and together they worked hard to create a charming, comfortable interior. On weekends they would visit nearby parks, go to sporting events, or simply relax at home. They were happy there.
I remember the times I visited. I lived in nearby city, and I had the key because I could come anytime — always welcome, just walk right in — and I came when I could for holidays and visits.
My parents have died, someone else lives in that house, and I’ll never go back. Someone else might think that the old key is useless, but they never used it to walk into that happy home.
Once, that key opened a door. Now it opens memories.
— Sue Burke
The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior
by Stefano Mancuso
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Stefano Mancuso, an authority on plant neurobiology, begins by showing how plants can remember things, although they don’t have a brain. They can move, although they have no muscles. They can imitate items in their surroundings like stones or other plants, although we don’t think they can see. It’s clear that plants pay scrupulous attention to their environment. He describes the ways plants do all this in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way.
Then, in Chapter 4, he pulls these abilities together by stressing the differences between plants and animals. Beings that can move (animals) tend to avoid
problems. If the sun is too hot, animals try to find shade. If something wants to eat the animal, it runs away. Beings that are rooted in place (plants) have to solve
problems. Beings with brains and other central organs can react faster, but that also makes them more vulnerable. Decapitate an animal and it’s dead. Chop off a branch of a tree, and the tree carries on. Beings with dispersed problem-solving abilities may react more slowly, but they’re more resilient.
How can a being with no central intelligence solve complex problems? Mancuso suggests that plants act more like flocks of birds: each part, each cell, reacts to its environment, and the changes in the cell and changes in the environment affect the other parts of the plant around it. Together, the plant acts as a coordinated whole. He offers several ways for decentralized intelligence to work in order to reach what looks to us like a decision.
He goes on to describe the ways that plants manipulate animals, the lessons we can learn from plants in fields like architecture and robotic design, and how plants respond to weightlessness.
I received this book as a gift, and I lingered over the stunning photos. Plants are beautiful, and the presence of plants seems to soothe human beings.
Most of all, Mancuso’s love for plants permeates the text – and his respect for them. By weight, the vast majority of life on Earth is plants. They are master problem-solvers, he says, and we can learn from them how to solve some of our own problems.
-- Sue BurkeView all my reviews
I’ll be reading at an open mic Saturday, January 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, 656 W. Barry Avenue. Free and open to the public to listen or participate. Light snacks provided, BYOB (bring your own beverage, alcoholic or otherwise).
We hold these open mics every few months at my church. Readings, music, spoken word, dance, and other forms of creative expression are welcome. You can find out more at the Facebook event page
I’ll read this essay
, which I wrote while I was living in Madrid, Spain. Spain is famous for encierros,
or running of the bulls, and when I learned there was going to be one at a fiesta in a suburb of Madrid, my husband and I went to watch. (Not to run.) There was no violence, no blood, no harm to the bulls — but no courage on display, either.
Instead, I observed something quite different about humanity, and perhaps not even Ernest Hemingway could have turned it into a novel.
— Sue Burke
In 2009, I started translating the medieval Spanish masterpiece, Amadis of Gaul,
a chapter a week at the Amadis of Gaul
website. It took me nine years (it’s a long book), but I’ve finished!
This novel, published in 1508, traces the life of the greatest knight in the world, Amadis of Gaul, starting with his conception and birth (outside of formal wedlock). He becomes a knight and battles evildoers and sorcerers, and he protects the kings he serves. He also falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the world, an unobtainable princess — and she loves him, too. Courage and passion fill this story.
You can read it at the website, or you can enjoy it in the convenience of a four-volume set in paperback and e-book, now on sale.
Why should you read this novel?1. It’s one of the pillars of European literature and was the first continent-wide best-seller.
It kicked off a century of tales of chivalry, a genre now known and loved as “sword and sorcery.” Knights in shining armor go off to fight for what’s right — with bravery tempered by fear. For readers, it was great fun, and it still is.2. This is a story of the Middle Ages told by people in the Middle Ages.
Their take on love, magic, war, fantasy, and honor doesn’t quite match our own. You can better understand their thoughts and get a glimpse of their daily lives by reading their own words. One thing I learned: being alone made them feel painfully anxious.3. The plot is complex.
It’s not just about Amadis, it’s about his family and friends, his beloved Princess Oriana, damsels in distress, and distressing damsels. The novel became a favorite of women and girls — and, eventually, it was accused of corrupting them. Don’t you want to be corrupted, too?4. If you like Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, you’ll like it even more after you read Amadis of Gaul.
You’ll get a lot more of the jokes. Chapter 6 of Quixote
“the best of all the books composed in this genre” — and there were almost 80 books of that genre available at the time in Spanish, all inspired by Amadis but never equaling it.5. Fight scenes!
Knight versus knight, army versus army, fleet versus fleet, and knight versus horrible monster.6. Love scenes!
“Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful … he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.”
It was originally written as four “books,” each the size of a modern novel. Each volume includes notes to chapters, introductory material, information about the Middle Ages, lists of characters, and references.
Book I paperback
Book II paperback
Book III paperback
Book IV paperback
This novel drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?
— Sue Burke
Here are my award-eligible works published in 2018:
“Life From the Sky”
Novelette. This isn’t a good time for alien life forms, no matter how simple and harmless, to land on Earth.Asimov’s Magazine
, May/June 2018.Semiosis
Novel. A first contact, multi-generational story about colonists on a planet where plants are the dominant life forms — and they see animals, including humans, as their pawns.Tor
, February 2018.
— Sue Burke
Spain’s Fundéu BBVA, which addresses critical questions about the Spanish language, has chosen microplástico
(microplastics) as its word of the year for 2018.
The foundation chooses its word of the year from terms in the news. This word “highlights the awareness of one of the great environmental problems facing humanity,” according to the foundation’s website: many of the questions that the media had for Fundéu BBVA this year involved words related to the environment, which led to the selection of microplastico.
Fundéu BBVA explains: “Microplastics are small fragments of plastic (less than five millimeters) that are manufactured at that size for cleaning or hygiene products or that break off from larger pieces of plastics (shopping bags, containers of all kinds) during their decomposition. Their presence in the sand on beaches, in organisms in animals, in the sea salt we consume, and even in the water we drink have set off alarm bells, leading the reduction of single-use plastics, which are responsible for much of the problem.” [My translation.]
Runner-up words for 2018 were: descarbonizar
(to reduce carbon emissions), hibridar
(make hybrid, as with cars), mena
(“menor extranjero no acompañado” or unaccompanied foreign minor immigrant), los nadie
(the nobodies, people invisible or overlooked by society), micromachismo
(male supremacist microagressions), VAR
(“videoarbitraje” or video assistant referee), sobreturismo
(tendency to consider data supremely important) and nacionalpopulismo
Its word of the year for 2013 was escrache
(a kind of protest), 2014 selfi
(selfie), 2015 refugiado
(refugee), 2016 populismo
(populism), and 2017 aporophobia
(fear of poverty and poor people).
Meanwhile, here in English, the words of the year were toxic
according to Oxford Dictionaries; misinformation
, Dictionary.com; single-use
, Collins Dictionary; and justice
, Merriam-Webster.As I noted earlier
, I can only conclude that in the English-speaking world, the year 2018 had a lot of problems. The Spanish-speaking world had the similar problems. Now 2019 is about to land on us. What will we talk about? Our larger conversations are certain to remain troubled and troubling.
— Sue Burke
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
by Beth Shapiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Summary: It might be impossible to clone a mammoth, or, for that matter, to clone any other extinct animal. And it might not be necessary.
The author leads the reader through the problems and reasons why it might not be a good idea even to try in some cases. For example, some animals have gone extinct due to changes in their habitats, and unless these habitats have been restored, the resurrected animals would have no place to go. In addition, DNA is fragile and hard to come by for long-extinct species like mammoth.
Shapiro also considers the ways to solve some of these problems along with the benefits from de-extinction. If mammoths were reintroduced, they might transform the tundra into rich grasslands. Mammoths would also trample away the snow in winter. Snow acts as insulation from the cold air, so the permafrost would be frozen harder and thus be protected from melting by a warming climate — and permafrost has a storehouse of greenhouse gasses locked up in it. Melting permafrost would be a disaster.
But rather than de-extinct species, existing species could be engineered to be so much like them that they can serve the same ecological purpose and even look a lot alike. We can change elephants in a way to bring back something just like a mammoth.
Shapiro doesn’t oppose de-extinction, but she knows it’s going to be hard to do and wants readers to understand what’s involved and what the alternatives are. She fulfills her goal to teach and to share her cautious enthusiasm.
P.S. I read this book as research for a novel. No spoilers, though.
-- Sue BurkeView all my reviews