Events on Aug 18 & Aug 20, 2022

August 13, 2022

There are a couple of events coming up this week, one virtual and one in-person:

  1. A conversation with Ken Liu – Virtual event hosted by An Unlikely Story
    Thursday, August 18, 7pm Eastern

    I will be chatting with Ken about Speaking Bones, the final volume of his Dandelion Dynasty series of silkpunk fantasy, as well as about the upcoming AMC+ animated series Pantheon based on his short stories.

    Register for this free virtual event at the following link:
  2. A signing, reading and panel at Barnes & Noble in Paramus, NJ
    I’ll be joined by fellow authors Randee Dawn and Brian Trent for this event, organized by the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. Saturday, August 20 3pm-4:30pm

    Details are posted on the Facebook event page here:

UFO9 Live on Kickstarter and Other Awesome Books

June 21, 2022

The Unidentified Funny Objects series is back! Check out our latest volume, with hilarious stories by Simon R. Green, Jane Espenson, Esther Friesner, Lavie Tidhar, Jim Hines, and more. Don’t get left behind planetside–climb aboard the UFO with us!

And if you like your anthologies exciting, original, and found on Kickstarter you should also check out James Aquilone’s Shakespeare Unleashed, which launched roughly at the same time as my campaign:

Finally, today is the release date for Speaking Bones, Ken Liu’s fourth and final installment in the Dandelion Dynasty epic fantasy/silkpunk series. I’ve been a huge fan of these books from the start and it’s amazing to watch a nearly-decade-long journey reach a satisfying conclusion.

Cover and TOC reveal: Funny Science Fiction

July 23, 2015


Funny Science Fiction is a spin-off anthology from the Unidentified Funny Objects (UFO) annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. While UFO attempts to collect some of the best speculative humor being written today, Funny SF gathers seventeen from among the best funny science fiction stories published in the last decade.

Whereas UFO covers both genres, Funny SF collected science fiction stories specifically. There are tentative plans for a Funny Fantasy reprint anthology to follow in 2016.

Cover art is by the talented Flavio Greco Paglia. Cover design is by UFO’s amazing graphics specialist-in-residence and game designer Emerson Matsuuchi.

I’m indebted to the original publishers of these stories, who have done their share to publish and promote humor in SF/F. Special thanks to the editors and publishers of Crossed Genres and Galaxy’s Edge magazines who allowed me to include stories that are still under contract with them, because I wanted badly to make sure current short fiction is well-represented in this book.

Funny SF will be published on Amazon on September 1, 2015. It will become available on other e-book platforms in 2016.

Table of Contents:

Foreword by Alex Shvartsman

“Observation Post” by Mike Resnick (Beyond the Sun, Fairwood Press, 2013)

“Flying on My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog” by Shaenon Garrity (Drabblecast, 2013)

“Wikihistory” by Desmond Warzel (Abyss & Apex, 2007)

“Distant Gates of Eden Gleam” by Brian Trent (Crossed Genres, 2015)

“Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug” by Oliver Buckram (F&SF, 2013)

“Hark! Listen to the Animals” by Ken Liu and Lisa Tang Liu (Galaxy’s Edge, 2014)

“Whaliens” by Lavie Tidhar (Analog, 2014)

“See Dangerous Earth-Possibles!” by Tina Connolly (Lightspeed Women Destroy Science Fiction, 2014)

“Kallakak’s Cousins” by Cat Rambo (Asimov’s, 2008)

“Kulturkampf” by Anatoly Belilovsky (Immersion Book of Steampunk, Immersion Press, 2011)

“Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs” by Leonard Richardson (Strange Horizons, 2009)

“Miss Darcy’s First Intergalactic Ballet Class” by Dantzel Cherry (Galaxy’s Edge, 2015)

“Pidgin” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Aliens and A.I., Eggplant Literary Productions, 2005)

“Nothing, Ventured” by James Beamon (AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, 2013)

“Last Thursday at Supervillain Supply Depot” by Sarah Pinsker (Daily Science Fiction, 2015)

“Chicka-Chicka-Bow-Wow” by Mike Rimar (Cucurbital 2, Paper Golem Press, 2011)

“Troublesolver” by Tim Pratt (Subterranean Press, 2009)



The Hook: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

April 6, 2015


The Hook:

A white bird hung still in the clear western sky and flapped its wings sporadically.

Perhaps it was a raptor that had left its nest on one of the soaring peaks of the Er-Mé Mountains a few miles away in search of prey. But this was not a good day for hunting—a raptor’s usual domain, this sun-parched section of the Porin Plains, had been taken over by people.

Thousands of spectators lined both sides of the wide road out of Zudi; they paid the bird no attention. They were here for the Imperial Procession.

They had gasped in awe as a fleet of giant Imperial airships passed overhead, shifting gracefully from one elegant formation to another. They had gawped in respectful silence as the heavy battle-carts rolled before them, thick bundles of ox sinew draping from the stone-throwing arms. They had praised the emperor’s foresight and generosity as his engineers sprayed the crowd with perfumed water from ice wagons, cool and refreshing in the hot sun and dusty air of northern Cocru. They had clapped and cheered the best dancers the six conquered Tiro states had to offer …

Ken Liu says:

The Grace of Kings is a silkpunk epic fantasy that re-imagines the rise of the Han Dynasty in a secondary world archipelago setting.

It’s the story of two unlikely friends, a bandit and a duke, who join together to overthrow tyranny only to find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly rivalry about how to construct a more just society.

The novel features a melding of classical Western epic narrative techniques with tropes taken from Chinese historical romances and wuxia fantasies. The “silkpunk” aesthetic employs many elements inspired by Chinese and East Asian traditions that I’ve always wanted to see in contemporary English fiction: silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, honor-infused duels that are as much dance as warfare, magical tomes that describe our desires better than we know them ourselves, gods who regret the deeds done in their names, women who plot and fight alongside men, princesses and maids who form lifelong friendships, and, of course, sea beasts that bring about tsunamis and storms but also guide soldiers safely to shores.

The opening scene does two things: introducing the setting and establishing the narrative voice.

The Grace of Kings tells an epic-scaled story through individual characters that readers can empathize with and care about: a street urchin who rises to command tens of thousands under her banner, a ne’er-do-well who discovers his talent for crime as well as politics, a princess who navigates a maze of expectations to preserve the lives of her people, an actress who finds the parallels between kingship and theatre, an aristocratic scholar who is forced into inventing machines of death and plotting warfare … but one of the most important characters of them all is the setting.

The silkpunk aesthetic shares with steampunk a fascination with technology roads not taken, but what distinguishes it is a visual style inspired by Chinese block prints and an emphasis on materials primarily of historic significance to East Asia—silk, bamboo, ox sinew, paper, writing brushes—as well as other organic building materials available to seafaring peoples like coconut, whalebone, fish scales, coral, etc. The result is a technology vocabulary that feels more organic and more inspired by biomechanics. For instance, the bamboo-and-silk airships compress and expand their gasbags to change the amount of lift and are powered by feathered oars. When illuminated at night, they pulsate and move like jellyfish through an empyrean sea. Similarly, artificial limbs described in the book draw their inspiration from the “wooden ox” of Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, being constructed from intricate wooden mechanisms powered by flexible ox sinew.

The opening scene introduces the reader to this aesthetic gradually: in the following paragraphs, readers will discover that the approaching raptor is really a stringless battle kite, establishing the connection between the organic and the technological. As well, readers are given a preview of a few of the silkpunk wonders that will make more detailed appearance later on in the book.

The narrative voice of The Grace of Kings is also something where I had a lot of fun. It is a deliberate melding of narrative conventions taken from two very different traditions. There are wuxia-style flashback character introductions as well as Anglo-Saxon-style kennings, poems based on Tang Dynasty models as well as songs imitating Middle English lyrics, rhetorical devices taken from Greek and Latin epics as well as formal descriptions reminiscent of Ming Dynasty novels. The opening scene features an extended series of parallel sentences with repetitive structure to form a catalog, something familiar in old oral epics but not often seen in modern works. I wanted to cue the reader to expect something different from what they may be used to, something that should, after an initial period of adjustment, prove the right fit for the story I wanted to tell.

That’s the hook, and I hope you enjoy reading the rest of the novel.

Buy The Grace of Kings on Amazon

B&NPowell’sIndieBoundSimon & Schuster

Link to the novel excerpt at

About the author:

Ken Liu is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, he has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Besides Ken’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, Saga Press will also publish a collection of his short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, later in the year.

Visit his website or find him on Twitter or Facebook.



If you’re an author with a book coming out soon and you wish to participate on The Hook, please read this.

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories

July 28, 2014

I’m very excited to announce my upcoming short story collection, “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories,” forthcoming in February 2015 in trade paperback and e-book formats. Here’s your first look at the cover, with art by Dixon Leavitt and graphic design by Emerson Matsuuchi. We may still tinker with some of the typesetting, but it’s very near-final.

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman

Ken Liu has graciously agreed to write the introduction to this book, and some other great people are on board to help out (but I don’t want to spoil all the cool stuff at once!)

The physical book will contain approximately 40 short stories (including at least one previously unpublished story unique to this collection). The e-book, in addition to these stories, will include nearly 20 more, offering my complete body of published work from when I began writing fiction in 2010 and until recently (part of the reason for the February release date is to wait for the exclusive rights to expire on as many stories as possible, so they can be included). Each story is going to include author notes — commentary tidbits and (hopefully) interesting anecdotes that relate to the stories. I’ve had so many stories published, reprinted, translated, etc. — but this will be the first time they’re collected together!

To that end, I’m also launching a Kickstarter campaign to help defray the costs of copy editing, original illustrations, and–if we venture into stretch goals territory–some other very cool stuff such as an audiobook version and additional original stories.

If you would like to get a copy of this collection, it would be of significant help to me if you were to pre-order it via Kickstarter rather than waiting until it’s released in February. The more funds I’m able to raise, the better I can make this book.  There are lots of other cool rewards for the backers, too. Notably, every pledge (even if you only pledge a dollar) will receive a FREE e-book 0f Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse, a space opera anthology I co-edited with Bill Snee for Deorc Enterprises.

Dark Expanse cover

Even if you can’t pledge  now, please check out the campaign anyhow. There is a video of me in my natural habitat (aka living room), links to some free fiction, and lots of corny jokes. I would also greatly appreciate a signal boost — let your friends (and enemies) know about this book. That way, they can back it, and you can borrow their copy!

I’ve put in what feels like infinite hours editing anthologies of other authors’ work, and while I love doing that, unleashing an entire book of my own fiction onto the world is a really big deal to me. I hope people like it.




Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse is out today

March 20, 2014

Dark Expanse cover

The anthology of space opera stories set in the universe of the Dark Expanse video game is out on Amazon today.

Here’s the table of contents:

DARK EXPANSE: Surviving the Collapse

Edited by Alex Shvartsman and William Snee

Castles in the Sky by Nancy Fulda
Dominoes Falling by Alex Shvartsman
The Ten Suns by Ken Liu
Betrayal, Clear as Kanzai Glass by Deborah Walker
The Price of Escape by David Walton
Hellfire Unleashed by Simon Kewin
Breaking Down by Michael Haynes
They Cannot Scare Me With Their Empty Spaces by Deborah Walker
A Small and Secret Freedom by Matt Mikalatos
Lightspeed Back to You by David Wayne
Escape from Planet Error by Michael Greenhut
Jump by Deborah Walker
Loud for All the Stars to Hear by Alex Kane
To Soar on Winds of War by David Wayne
Fires of Night by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure by Robert L. Russell
Ghost Ship by Nancy Fulda
The Shadow Conspiracy by Nancy Fulda

Pick up a copy. It costs less than a Subway foot-long!


Announcing Dark Expanse anthology TOC

February 25, 2014

Dark Expanse cover

Announcing the table of contents and cover for Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse, edited by yours truly and William Snee.

This is a collection of 18 short stories set in the universe of the Dark Expanse video game.

  1. “Castles in the Sky”” by Nancy Fulda
  2. “Dominoes Falling” by Alex Shvartsman
  3. “The Ten Suns” by Ken Liu
  4. “Betrayal, Clear as Kanzai Glass” by Deborah Walker
  5. “The Price of Escape” by David Walton
  6. “Hellfire Unleashed” by Simon Kewin
  7. “Breaking Down” by Michael Haynes
  8. “They Cannot Scare Me With Their Empty Spaces” by Deborah Walker
  9. “A Small and Secret Freedom” by Matt Mikalatos
  10. “Lightspeed Back to You” by David Wayne
  11. “Escape from Planet Error” by Michael Greenhut
  12. “Jump” by Deborah Walker
  13. “Loud for All the Stars to Hear” by Alex Kane
  14. “To Soar on Winds of War” by David Wayne
  15. “Fires of Night” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
  16. “Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure” by Robert L. Russell
  17. “Ghost Ship” by Nancy Fulda
  18. “The Shadow Conspiracy” by Nancy Fulda

This book will premier on Amazon in March 2014.

How I Spent My First WorldCon: An Illustrated Report

September 5, 2013


Much like everything else about my life as a writer, attending cons is a fresh experience for me. Starting about two years ago I went to several regional cons as a civilian, and I loved it. As I leveled up within the SF/F fandom, I was afforded the opportunity to attend more cons, and to return to my original haunts as a panelist. I was beginning to have this convention thing figured out; I was beginning to grow comfortable. Then I went to my first WorldCon, in San Antonio, and it blew my mind.

WorldCon is the big time, the most important convention in all of science fiction fandom. It travels around the world – next year it’ll be in London – and attracts thousands of attendees. It is where the Hugo Awards, the most prestigious honors in speculative fiction, are handed out in an elaborate ceremony that is both very similar and very different to the Oscars, but more about that later.

LoneStarCon, the convention hosting this year’s WorldCon, was sprawled across two enormous downtown hotels, a huge convention center hall, and many conference rooms. It offered panels, meeting spaces, gaming, parties, a masquerade ball, and a con suite stocked with free snacks and drinks around the clock.

Amazingly, the entire affair was – and always is – ran by unpaid volunteers. And although I heard tales told of absolute behind-the-scenes chaos (at this con and most others), to this outsider’s view, everything was handled with near-military efficiency and precision. Senior con runners, called Secret Masters of Fandom (or SMOFs) dedicate enormous amounts of time and effort to put on conventions large and small, and although they do not receive or seek the sort of recognition the writers get (hence the “Secret” in SMOF), both writers and fans owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.

The main hall hosted the vendors displaying rows upon rows of irresistible books, as well as some games, costuming supplies, and other fandom-related items. There was also a large area dedicated to displaying fantasy art. These two spaces are common features at writing cons. But, this being WorldCon, there was so much more.

Replica of the Star Trek (original series) bridge stood side by side with an exhibit featuring Dr. Who’s TARDIS (also life-size, but possibly bigger on the inside), guarded by an array of Daleks and a moving, remote-controlled K-9. A real life Russian cosmonaut spacesuit was on display next to a partial suit, cut off so one could get their head into the helmet and hands into the gloved sleeves of the suit, and have their photo taken. And, towering above it all, was the Iron Throne from the HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

The first rule of Game of Thrones is... Wait, wrong logline.

The first rule of Game of Thrones is… Wait, wrong logline.

This may sound like WorldCon is some sort of Disneyland for geeks, but the props and the toys are a sideshow, mere distractions from the main focus the convention, which is the people. One attends in order to take in panels and listen to the wise and the experienced dispense genre wisdom, to meet their favorite authors and artists, but mainly to encounter fascinating, larger-than-life characters, and to talk, talk, talk.

To explain the sort of person one might run into at WorldCon I need go no further than to describe my three roommates, two of whom I never met prior to this convention:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

There was Bryan Thomas Schmidt – an anthology editor, novelist, and interviewer from Kansas City. Congenial and extroverted, he seemed to know literally everyone and was not shy about making introductions.  Despite multiple setbacks, including losing his smartphone on the trip to San Antonio, Bryan remained positive and upbeat, and was every inch a tireless networker. He was the glue of the group: friends with each of the rest of us, he engineered our rooming arrangements. I bet Bryan was the only person to wear a sleeveless leather vest to the Hugo Awards.


Lou Antonelli

Lou Antonelli, who is a bit older than the rest of us, hails from Southern Texas. Although not a native Texan, he adopted the state many years ago, and his many, many published short stories are infused with the Texas sensibility. When dressed in his suit, Lou looked a picture of an old newspaper journalist that he Is (he runs his town’s paper), but then he’d add a medium-sized wind-up alarm clock on the chain around his neck and suddenly looked like a character out of some steampunk story or fairy tale. “An old journalist contributes nothing more than bad jokes and flatulence,” Lou said at one point. Delivering off-the-cuff lines like that to punch up an inexhaustible stream of anecdotes kept him constantly interesting.

Maurice Broaddus (right)

Maurice Broaddus (right)

Maurice Broaddus, an urban fantasy writer and anthology editor from Indianapolis, could easily give Bryan a run for his money when it comes to schmoozing. “I am going to keep vampire hours,” he warned us on the first day. True to his word, Maurice came and went (mostly went) at random intervals, and seemingly slept no more than three or four hours over the course of the entire weekend. You could almost always find him at the bar, talking with a different group of people each time. There is no private party Maurice couldn’t (or wouldn’t) crash. And it’s not like he was trying to be inconspicuous about it – much of the time he wore a bright red velvet suit.

The four of us arrived from different parts of the country, representing a range of different backgrounds, politics, philosophies, and personalities – but within minutes we were bantering and enjoying each other’s company like old friends. This Is the con experience: the love of speculative fiction brings people together in a way which trumps most differences.

In the age dominated by social media, you don’t merely go to a big convention like this to make new friends. More often you encounter acquaintances from Twitter or Facebook. Once again, the connection is instantaneous and deep. You are at ease with people you’ve never seen before in real life; it feels more like reconnecting with old friends.

Seamus Bayne

Seamus Bayne

Having registered for the convention and scoped out the main hall, I almost immediately ran into one such friend. Sean, who writes under the nom de guerre Seamus Bayne, is another Texas author. We chat on Facebook and were thrilled to meet in person. We hung out, on and off, throughout the con, but that Thursday we quickly found several Codexians – members of the online writing group I belong to – and held court in a set of armchairs strategically positioned on the crossroads of the con. We became somewhat of an impromptu cross between an information desk, lost and found, and a writers lounge.

Lesson learned: instead of running around and trying to meet people, it is often more efficient to sit down in the right place, and have them come to you.

Thursday culminated in a dinner with Sean and Trina Marie Phillips at Fogo de Chao, a fancy Brazilian all-you-can-eat steak house.

* * *

As Thursday closed with a memorable meal, Friday opened with one as well.


Lawrence M, Schoen, a Nebula nominee and one of the founding members of Codex, organized a special Codex breakfast, as he often does at large conventions. Between Codexians and their guests, there must’ve been nearly fifty people there, and while hotel restaurant food is both mediocre and ludicrously overpriced, the company more than made up for it. I got to meet so many people at once that it was difficult and overwhelming keeping track of them all.  Thank God for convention badges!


Everyone at the con wears a badge with their name listed in large, easy to read letters. “I used to be very self-conscious about staring at people’s badges,” confessed one convention veteran later that weekend, “but it’s almost impossible to keep track of people otherwise. Everyone glances at badges. It’s not a faux pas.” He’s right. I recall reading somewhere that an average person can’t maintain a social circle of more than 300 people. These numbers must be climbing significantly thanks to social media, but I must’ve met and interacted with 300+ people at this convention alone. And I stole glances at badges constantly.

Another lesson learned: Make sure to always wear the badge in a way that makes your name visible. Don’t make it difficult – or even somewhat embarrassing – for people you might encounter.

* * *

I didn’t get asked to participate on any panels at WorldCon – and given the sheer number of brilliant people in attendance, who can blame them? – but I did get to co-host a writer’s workshop.

An experienced writer (in this case, TOR novelist John A. Pitts) gets paired up with a neo-pro (in this case, me) and three “students.” Everyone gets the three manuscripts ahead of time and the instructors listen to the students critique each other, then add their own insights. The two-hour workshop was a lot of fun, the writers were highly intelligent and very open to feedback, and John was masterful in his comments, so much so that I would readily sign up for whatever workshop he might host in the future. After it was over, I hung out with two of the students for another hour or so as we grabbed lunch together. More friends made!

Lesson learned: Pay it forward. I was fortunate enough to attend the spectacular Viable Paradise workshop last year, and was able to apply the tools and techniques I learned there to help someone else.  As is the case with con runners, there is never a shortage of volunteers willing to help and nurture newer writers.

Although I was fascinated and engaged by everything so far, I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed and also sleep-deprived. After lunch, I crashed and slept for several hours, missing out on whatever interesting things were going on out of sheer necessity. I woke up around nine p.m., just in time to attend the parties.


Parties are a very important part of every con. Naturally, WorldCon has the best parties. I wandered from the party to the Dell Magazines party for Asimov’s and Analog.

I am not a party person. I don’t drink alcohol and I much prefer the quiet dinner conversation to trying to outshout the ambient noise of the crowd in a hot, crowded room. Even so, I found the WorldCon parties fascinating. People meet, mingle, and – of course – talk.

Publishers and con runners love to throw a great party. Mostly there are your typical chips and cookies and beer, but It’s not uncommon to find good scotch, expensive champagne,  and decadent chocolate. Baen party (which I attended Saturday night) featured amazing velvet cake and gourmet chocolates. Dell Magazines party plied guests with free copies of Analog and Asimov’s, and in addition to all sorts of other food, two huge cakes depicting the covers of the current issues they were handing out.

Asimovs Cake

Analog vs. Asimov's: The Cake-Off

Analog vs. Asimov’s: The Cake-Off

The cakes looked so great, no one was willing to cut into them, until Sheila Williams (editor of Asimov’s) made the first cut. “I always make sure that Asimov’s gets the chocolate cake” she said in a bit of friendly rivalry. “Analog has to settle for whatever other kind of cake we get.” Of course, I had to sample both cakes. And although I somewhat prefer Asimov’s stories, I must admit to liking the Analog cake better this time. Sorry, Sheila.

* * *

Saturday was a free day for me, with nothing specific scheduled and little to do. I bummed around the con and – can you guess it yet? – talked to people. I also spent a fair amount of time in the SFWA suite.

Science Fiction Writers of America provides a private suite for its members where they can relax, get some food or drink, and mingle with other SFWA members. There’s a bouncer, referred to as the Door Dragon, who checks to make sure you’re a member before you can go in. You are allowed to bring a guest, too. Like everything else at the con, being a Door Dragon is a volunteer position. I took over for a friend, acting as a temporary Dragon for half an hour. I also put in a little time at the SFWA table at the dealers room. I had a great time hanging out with the other volunteers, and talking to legends like Robert Silverberg and Connie Willis, who walked the dealer room floor and were surprisingly approachable and willing to interact with mere mortals. #SFWAPro

Lesson learned: It’s OK to strike up a conversation with almost anybody at the con, no matter how famous they might be, as long as you aren’t interrupting the conversation they’re already in, and unless they look like they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. In most cases, pros are more than happy to talk to you as long as you are polite and don’t attempt to monopolize too much of their time; there are other fans who want to meet them as much as you do.

By the middle of the day on Saturday, I’d had too much. I am an introvert who can occasionally act extroverted, but generally around people I already know and am comfortable with. As awesome as this con experience was, its sheer size, the rapid succession of names and faces, and the mostly-self-imposed pressure to be social really got to me. A couple of times over the course of the con I had to go to the hotel room, shut the door, and be alone for a while. I don’t know what sort of interesting things I missed out on because of this, but those brief respites were necessary.

Lesson learned: Pace yourself. At the end of the day, being at the con isn’t a job. It’s important to enjoy the experience at whatever pace one finds comfortable.

I recharged well enough to attend a Baen party and called it an early night. I had a very full schedule for Sunday, my last day at the con. And it’s a good thing I rested up, because Sunday turned out to be the most interesting and memorable convention day of my writing/fandom life to date.

* * *

Alex Shvartsman, Robert Silverberg, Karen Haber, Bryan Thomas Schmidt (photo by Neil Clarke)

Alex Shvartsman, Robert Silverberg, Karen Haber, Bryan Thomas Schmidt (photo by Neil Clarke)

The day started on a high note, as I got to have breakfast with Robert Silverberg. His short stories were among the first science fiction yarns I read, in translation, back in the Soviet Union, at a tender age of ten. His writing, along with that of Robert Sheckley, had a tremendous formative influence on mine. It was a bucket-list sort of thing for me to have worked with Bob and to have published a story of his in UFO2, and I was thrilled to meet him in person – in fact, he was one of the first people I ran into on the first day of the con. When I learned, prior to attending, that my WorldCon roommate Bryan had a planned breakfast with him, I obviously had to ask if I could be invited along. And so I got to enjoy a long, interesting conversation with Bob, his lovely wife Karen, and Bryan. We didn’t even talk about writing, almost at all.

Much of the early afternoon was spent doing more of the same – saying hello to old friends and meeting new ones.  Then it was time for the Hugo Awards.

Ken Liu at the 2012 Hugo Awards in Chicago (photo by John O'Halloran)

Ken Liu at the 2012 Hugo Awards in Chicago (photo by John O’Halloran)

When I first learned that I would be attending WorldCon after all, I e-mailed my friend Ken Liu to see if he wanted to room together. “I won’t be able to attend this year,” Ken replied. He was scheduled to attend a different event in Singapore on the same weekend. “But I was wondering if you could do me a small favor while you’re there.” And then he asked me to be his designated acceptor at the Hugo awards.

Being a designated acceptor means you get to stand in for the nominee who was unable to attend. You get to attend the pre-ceremony reception and the afterparty. You get to sit in the front rows during the ceremony, and you get to go up on stage, accept the Hugo, and deliver the speech, should the nominee you’re representing win.

So who was doing whom a favor, exactly? I was humbled, thrilled, and honored to stand in for Ken.  I even bought a new suit to wear to the ceremony. Obviously, it had to be a Hugo Boss suit.

When the time came, I changed into the suit and dress shoes, put on a tie for, literally,  the first time this century, and headed downstairs.

First up was the hour-long pre-ceremony reception for nominees and their guests. Everyone mingled, enjoyed complimentary drinks and cocktail-party food, but it was the guests and the designated acceptors like me who had the most fun. For the nominees, the pressure was on. “It doesn’t get any easier,” confessed one nominee who already has an impressive collection of awards on his mantle. “You’re still just as nervous.”

Free from such pressure – relatively speaking, of course – I had a blast mingling and rubbing shoulders with the best and brightest people in SF. Among the few people who might have had even more fun there than me was Christopher Kastensmidt, who was the designated acceptor for Aliette de Bodard.

Ken, Aliette, and Kij Johnson were the only three authors nominated in the short story category this year. This meant Chris and I were in direct competition, and he immediately challenged me to a fight, whereas the winner would walk away with the Hugo. I countered with an offer of a Magic: The Gathering duel instead, but Chris had left his deck in Brazil. So we posed for fight pictures, amusing the passerby, and being totally oblivious to the fact that, if the Hugos were to be decided by combat, Kij Johnson would have probably mopped the floor with both of us.

Chris Kastensmidt and I go the extra mile on behalf of our respective nominees.

Chris Kastensmidt and I go the extra mile on behalf of our respective nominees.

Finally it was time for the big show. The nominees piled into the hall, sitting down in the designated rows nearest to the stage.  We snagged front row seats, dead center. Perhaps the only better spot to watch the ceremony was from the stage itself, where the hilarious British writer Paul Cornell hosted the ceremony.

Earlier, I mentioned that the Hugo Awards were both alike and different from the Oscars. It’s a big, professionally orchestrated gala, with awards and speeches and a significant budget. But it still felt more casual, more comfortable than awards I’ve seen on TV. Some nominees showed up in tuxedos, others in jeans. There was a sense of comfort and general good spirit from everyone involved. People genuinely rooted for, and were happy for each other.  It’s hard for me to imagine that level of camaraderie at the Oscars but, of course, I don’t speak from experience. If anyone needs a designated acceptor for that particular event, I’d be happy to volunteer.

Jokes were told. Speeches were read. Awards were accepted. And I was on cloud nine. I clapped so hard, my hands were beginning to hurt. And, all too soon, the Short Fiction category came up, and the announced winner was “Mono no aware.”

On stage, delivering Ken Liu's speech.

On stage, delivering Ken Liu’s speech.

The next few minutes were a blur. I remember jumping out of my seat and walking up onto the stage. I remember accepting Ken’s Hugo and holding it up for a few seconds as we were taught to do during the walk-through earlier in the day, facing the audience while completely blinded by stage lights, and then making my way to the podium. I delivered Ken’s speech. And although I was totally fine up until that point, for some reason I started getting really nervous mid-speech. I hope it didn’t show too much. Still waiting for the LoneStarCon team to post the video, so I can find out. Then I was ushered off stage and returned to my seat, clutching a Hugo rocket.

The first thing I did when I sat down was to send a tweet to Ken.  I later found out that, at that exact moment, Ken was aboard his flight to Singapore. It wasn’t until he landed and turned on his phone that he learned about his win, via thousands of Tweets, text messages and emails pouring in and draining his international data plan. “I definitely recommend this way of finding out. It’s overwhelming and really, really energy-boosting when you’re jet-lagged J” Ken wrote.

After the final award was announced, the winners (and us lowly acceptors) were whisked away for a round of photo-shoots. I loved every minute of it. When else am I going to get photographed standing next to a gaggle of insanely talented writers, editors, and the actor who plays The Hound on the Game of Thrones TV series?

2013 Hugo Award winners panoramic shot (photo by Andrew S. Williams)

2013 Hugo Award winners panoramic shot (photo by Andrew S. Williams)

This isn’t so much a lesson learned as a bit of trivia: the Hugo trophy is heavy. It has a cast-Bronze base and a stainless steel rocket, adding up to a good few pounds. If you are ever interested in holding a Hugo, just follow someone who has one around. Invariably they will get tired and need somebody to carry it for them, for a spell.

After the ceremony, Bryan and I whisked the trophy downstairs to the bar, so anthologists Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, who published Ken’s winning story in “The Future is Japanese,” could take some photos  with it.

"The Future is Japanese" editors Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington

“The Future is Japanese” editors Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington

If you ever really want to be the center of attention, walk through a WorldCon hotel lobby while carrying a Hugo. Everyone wanted to check out the trophy, touch it, and take a picture of it. And since I knew exactly how all of them felt, I let my friends and even complete strangers pose with the rocket ship.

It may not be my Hugo, but I still enjoyed carrying it around for the evening.

It may not be my Hugo, but I still enjoyed carrying it around for the evening.

Beth Cato was one of many writers to practice their posing-wth-an-award skills that evening.

Beth Cato was one of many writers to practice their posing-wth-an-award skills that evening.

Then there was the after-party. I heard that there were supposed to be two – a Hugo Losers Party and a Hugo Winners Party.  But, at least at this WorldCon, the two were combined.  With the pressure of waiting for the verdicts over, everyone was able to relax and enjoy themselves.  I socialized with more people, and even managed to get George R.R. Martin to bless Ken’s Hugo.

Ken's Hugo receives the George R.R. Martin seal of approval.

Ken’s Hugo receives the George R.R. Martin seal of approval.

It was well past midnight by then, and I had an 8 am plane to catch, so I reluctantly had to allow that wonderful day to draw to a close.

As I write these words, almost a week later, I still haven’t gotten over how amazing my experience at WorldCon was. This post is nearly 4000 words and I didn’t even cover recording a multi-author podcast for the Beyond the Sun anthology, having lunch and insightful conversation with Nick Mamatas and Maurice Broaddus, meeting legendary editors Ellen Datlow and Stan Schmidt… I could easily go on for another 4000 words. But I don’t need to because I think I have made my point: WorldCon is awesome.

Your first WorldCon experience might not be the same as mine. I can’t promise that you’ll get to hold a Hugo, or dine with celebrities. But you’ll almost certainly have your own amazing experiences, meet wonderful, quirky people, and create memories that will last a lifetime. So do yourself a favor and make plans to attend sometime. WorldCon is in London next year, and in Spokane, WA a year after that.

I hope to see you in London.

My 2012 Nebula Nominations

February 15, 2013

Today is the deadline to nominate for the Nebula award. Associate and Full members of Science Fiction Writers of America are each entitled to nominate up to five works on fiction in Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story categories.

Here are the books and stories I selected:


I read *very* few new novels published in 2012. As such, I could not intelligently nominate multiple works in this category.  My plan is to read the five novels that get the nominations so, at least, I could cast my final Nebula ballot intelligently. But of the novels I did read, I loved John Scalzi’s Redshirts. Redshirts is a meld of space opera and humor that reminded me in some ways of Galaxy Quest. I loved every minute of it. It also gives me enormous pleasure to vote for a humorous book. As the readers of this blog already know, I’m partial to humor in SF 🙂


I did not cast any votes in this category. I was overwhelmed by the amount of great short stories and novelettes I was reading and just couldn’t allocate enough time to read in this category. I did begin to read Barry’s Tale by Lawrence Schoen and was enjoying it. I’m pretty sure it would get a nomination vote from me had I been able to finish it in time, but I want to be responsible with my votes and not cast one for something I hadn’t read all the way through. Still, the very least I could do is point out this entertaining read to all of you. It’s a free download, too.


This is where things flip around — I read many GREAT novelettes and short stories but could only vote for 5 of each. This is what I went with:

The Waves, by Ken Liu (originally printed in Asimov’s) – This is, by far, the best piece of fiction I read in 2012. I *love* this novelette and wish there was an online version I could point readers to. Alas, it is only available in Asimov’s so far.

Taking Care of God by Liu Cixin — I fear that this novelette isn’t very widely known to the American readers. It appeared in Pathlight, a Chinese magazine published in English. But this is an amazing story, and I highly encourage everyone to read it.

Liberty’s Daughter by Naomi Kritzer, F&SF 5/12  — This near-future novelette in a libertarian setting made me want more. I Kritzer is going to expand this into a novel or at least write more stories featuring the same setting and characters.

Small Towns – Felicity Shoulders, F&SF 1/12

Alien Land – K.D. Wentworth, F&SF 1/12

Both of these last two novelettes came from the same issue of F&SF. This was easily the best single issue of a magazine I read in 2012. Not only did it feature those two novelettes, but several other excellent stories that made it relatively high on my list as well.

Short Stories

Mono no Aware by Ken Liu, The Future is Japanese anthology

Scraps by Michael Haynes, Daily Science Fiction

Seven Losses of Na Re by Rose Lemberg, Daily Science Fiction

England Under the White Witch by Theodora Goss, Clarkesworld

Earthrise by Lavie Tidhar, RedstoneSF

Once again, these are just some of truly amazing stories I read this year. Alas, there are only 5 slots per category.

Note that I couldn’t nominate any stories from Unidentified Funny Objects – per Nebula rules, editors cannot nominate the work they published.






Sneak Preview: Love Thy Neighbors by Ken Liu

July 25, 2012

The next story I’m unveiling for Unidentified Funny Objects is “Love Thy Neighbors” by Ken Liu.

Ken’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He has won a Nebula Award  for “The Paper Menagerie” and been nominated for the Hugo and Sturgeon Awards for “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” and several of his stories have been selected for inclusion in various Year’s Best anthologies. He lives near Boston with his family. His website is

I’m a huge fan of Ken’s writing and am very happy to be able to include one of his stories into the book. Here’s a little preview:


McComber: But there are some negative consequences to what you’re doing, aren’t there?

Filip: Negative? We’re saving cuddly and cute creatures! Who doesn’t like more pandas? Everyone loves pandas!

McComber: I think many of our callers feel differently. All right, you’re on.

First Caller: Hi, this is Mary from Waterford, Connecticut. I hate your mutant penguins. There’s a colony of them camped right outside my house, and they smell.

I’ve never seen such aggressive birds. My children can’t play in our yard anymore because they get pecked. You people need to be put in prison.

Filip: Mary, I’m sorry you feel that way. Maybe instead of feeling so entitled to your yard, you can try to make friends with the penguins? Try learning their language. I can recommend some good tapes made by the WikiGenes Foundation.

Second Caller: Hi, this is Jordan from Ansel, New Jersey. Let me tell you, watch these giant pandas dig through garbage for a few weeks, and they don’t seem so cute any more. One of them has even started to steal the tomatoes from my wife’s garden. And that constant mating, right in the street!

I can’t wait till the governor declares panda hunting season.

McComber: Mr. Filip, you’re responsible for the terror of our suburbs: the omnivorous, sex-maniac panda.