Brenda Cooper

Aug
23

Fire and Water…Musings on Climate and Governance

This post is a lightly-edited version of one that went out in my newsletter.  If you like it, please consider signing up.  I send out about ten newsletters a year.  They include posts like this, reading recommendations, and sometimes some of my writing.

My son just came home from fighting wildfires in Washington State. The smoke from those same fires gave us the worst air quality ever recorded in the Puget Sound this week. A local weatherman in our Seattle area, Cliff Maas, is calling this week a “smokestorm.”  The air is dangerous for all of us to breathe, not just the weak and young and old (not that that isn’t bad enough!). Someone I work with has family in Kerala, India where record rains have killed hundreds. So pick your element. Too much fire? Too much water?  Unsafe Air?

As my father and I were walking the dogs last night, we discussed how we might all benefit if things get bad quickly with the world economy, so we can establish planet-wide governance that can handle problems like climate. I’m not sure how how to make that happen or what that government looks like. I used to think that the American model could work worldwide, but at the moment the American model has been gamed and is deeply cracked, if not broken. If we were still leaders and still function well, we might have partnered with the world to fix this. But now I don’t see the leadership we need.

In the future world I create with Wilders and Keepers, a strong federal government rips people from land to save them from dangers and re-wild the land. But then they lose power as it spreads through cities. I can imagine that future, but it may not be one that humans survive in the long run.

It does appear that even clear and obvious climate change challenges that have been predicted for years are not enough to make us act. This year I have protested and collected signatures. I’ve written about justice. And yet I feel like I haven’t done enough. All around, there are signs that we all must do more.

There is a pod of Orcas in Alaska that has not had children since they were near the Valdez oil spill.  There is another pod of Orcas dying in the Puget Sound. A mother carried her dead calf for days, and most of us who live here cried for her. When I am out walking in our local forest, it feels like I am walking through a beautiful place that we have already doomed. I want that feeling to be wrong. But I expect us to spend this week choking on the ash of buirning trees, and to still act like everything is normal.

It may take a political break/fix to solve this. It will certainly take change.  We also need technology and science and engineerings. We need support for smart young companies who are creating new sources of power, new materials, and new business models. Most importantly, we need to get past ourselves and care more about the dying orcas and the burning trees and the drowning world than we do about our next moment. We need to become bigger and more empathic.

Cover of After the Orange taken on an old tableSorry to run a bit preachy, but its hard to breathe in Seattle this week, and our orcas are dying. We can solve for this, but longer we wait, the harder the job will be.

In other news, I have a new story out this month. All of the stories in After the Orange are about what the world might be like after the Trump presidency.  Mine is a precursor to the world in Wilders. It’s called “Maybe the Monarchs.”

I think it’s one of my better – if bleaker – short stories.  I hope you buy a copy of the book, and that you like the story.  There are a lot of good stories in the book. If the anthology makes money, a portion of the profit will be donated to the ACLU.

Jul
07

Reading Recommendation: Overstory, by Richard Powers

Every once in a while, a book’s ideas and presentation will wake me from sound sleep and make me fumble out of bed and grab coffee at an odd hour.  This does not happen often anymore; as a writer I am often ever-so-slightly distanced by being able to see the bones of a book. But not by this book.

The Overstory pulled me in and held me.  Richard Powers has clearly been reading the same books I have (The 6th Extinction, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, The Hidden Life of Trees, more…). I turned these ideas into science fiction with Wilders, and shortly, Keepers.  Richard Powers turned them into a powerful work of high-art fiction, with a mild speculative undertone.  It’s really, really good.

Powers’s prose is excellent.  He’s as good as Barbara Kingsolver or Ursula LeGuin. There are beautiful sentences and brilliantly executed ideas and subtly transmitted emotion and information.  All of the things I read great literary fiction for.

Perhaps the best book I’ve read so far this year. Note that I recommend you buy it in hardcover. It’ a beautiful book.  I consume much of my fiction in audio, but this book is one I wanted to feel in my hands, to thumb, to stop stare at sentences and admire them. Audio does not allow you to see the shape of sentences.

Even as pretty as they are, none of his sentences are as beautiful as the trees and people he is writing about, although they make those trees and those people luminescent. That is the work of a truly skilled writer.

 

Mar
17

Norwescon Schedule

Friday

Genetic Manipulation and Made-to Order Species: Biotech in SF
10:00am – 11:00am @ Cascade 10
Brenda Cooper (M), Nancy Kress, K. C. Alexander, Fonda Lee

Futurism 101
11:00am – 12:00pm @ Cascade 9
Peter N. Glaskowsky (M), Brenda Cooper, PJ Manney

Speculative Poetry
2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Cascade 12
Brenda Cooper, Cat Rambo, Alexandra Renwick, Evan J. Peterson

Reading:
3:00pm – 3:30pm @ Cascade 4

 

Saturday

Making Your Speculative Fiction World Real: Writing Workshop
12:00pm – 1:30pm @ Cascade 13
Brenda Cooper (M)

Autograph Session 1

2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Grand 2
Chris Pramas, Galen Dara, Ken Liu, Matthew Wedel, Nicole Lindroos, Alexander James Adams, Brenda Cooper, Cat Rambo, Donna Barr, Echo Chernik, Ethan Siegel, Evan J. Peterson, Greg Bear, Jennifer Brozek, Jeremy Zimmerman, John (J.A.) Pitts, Julie McGalliard, Kay Kenyon, Kent Hamilton , Laura Anne Gilman, Lisa Mantchev, Django Wexler, PJ Manney, Spencer Ellsworth, Dr. Vicki Wedel, Lish McBride, Kurt Cagle

The Nature of AI
4:00pm – 5:00pm @ Evergreen 3 & 4
Shweta Adhyam (M), Kurt Cagle, Brenda Cooper, Django Wexler

Science Fiction Worldbuilding
5:00pm – 6:00pm @ Cascade 9
Greg Bear (M), Brenda Cooper, Nancy Kress, Patrick Swenson

 

Feb
10

A Year Without a Winter

I’m really excited to share some news. If you read my newsletter, you heard this story.  If you don’t, and you want new stories about once a month, you can sign up here.

Here’s my news…..I finished my first-ever work as a fiction editor. This project, the anthology A Year Without a Winter, was full of adventure and lessons.

Back when I was working on my MFA, I had to do a big project.My choices were “do a fun project” or “write a paper.” Project sounded like more fun. I decided to edit an anthology.

I made some queries, lined up writers, found an experienced editor to work with, and then he and I tried to sell our idea to publishers.

Crickets.

So I gave up on that project, and started calling people I knew and asking for help. This worked. The writing business is peculiar  – it’s a rhythm of rejection and happiness. You do your work, and you occasionally get an unexpected reward.

Some of you may remember that I had a story in the optimistic science fiction anthology Hieroglyph, which was a Neal Stephenson project co-edited by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn. I’d only met Ed a few times, but I liked him. He runs the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, and he said he had a project for me.

I said great.

Little did I know that I would have a two-year journey that ended up doing me little good toward my MFA, but taught me life lessons.

Ed paired me with his able senior assistant Joey Eschrich, and we set off to find four writers who might like to visit ASU, chat with climate scientists, join a slumber party in a concrete relic in the desert, and then write stories about the experience.

This was not as easy as it sounds.

We managed to round up four utterly awesome writers: Tobias Buckell, Nancy Kress, Nnedi Okorafor, and Vandana Singh. I knew Toby and Nancy, but had barely met Nnedi or Vandana. I knew – and admired — all of their work.

The writers, editors, and friends at Arcosanti

We had four writers. We also had four editors. So the four editors spent months planning an event for the four writers.

When we all got together, Climate scientists regaled us with uncomfortable facts. I had no idea that the ocean could lose enough oxygen to do real damage. The move to clean power was doable if we abandoned fossil fuel fast. Etc.

Dehlia Hannah, the primary curator of this whole concept, linked the idea of a climate-change driven “Year without a Winter” to the “Year without a Summer” two hundred years ago, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

We drove for hours to Arcosanti, which is an elegantly weird community in the high desert in Arizona. There, we read to each other, met many more spiders than I felt like meeting, saw marvelous stars and views, broke into a kitchen for early coffee, and played a fun card game about the future.

All this to set up for the four stories.

Which are excellent.

I’m really proud that I had any part in them at all.

They are – or will be — available separately.

  • Nancy Kress’s “Cost of Doing Business” explores an unusual political and scientific solution to climate change, championed by a charismatic and ethically ambiguous billionaire. It will appear in Asimov’s Science Fictionin the next few months.
  • Tobias Buckell’s “A World to Die For” is a ripping yarn, a reality-bending thriller that uses real climate science to give us a new way to see how bad things really could become. It is out now, in the January 2018 issue of Clarkesworld.
  • Nnedi Okorafor’s “Mother of Invention” draws on folklore, botany research, and machine learning to consider the unique challenges posed by climate change in a rural community in Nigeria. It will be published digitally in February 2018, on Slate magazine’s Future Tense channel.
  • Vandana Singh’s “Widdam,” is in the January/February 2018 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

But wait! There’s more. Joey and I edited the fiction, with help from Cynthia Selin, the Director of the Center for Study of Futures at ASU. There’s also non-fiction, art, and more collected together into a beautiful academic volume. The book will be out from Columbia Press in May of 2018. But you can pre-order it now. The fiction alone is worth it, but the whole package is even better.

If this all sounds more academic than my usual pursuits, well, remember that it was rooted in my MFA. And by the way, I did have to write a paper after all.

Things I learned:

    • Wrangling writers is tough. Wrangling academics is as bad.
    • There is weird money in academia. This can pay for cool things.
    • I am a good content editor. I kinda fail at line editing (Joey kept finding things I missed – and in fact, I sent this newsletter to him and he found things I missed).
    • Editing takes a long time.
    • Editing provides a bit of pride in ownership. I’m proud of all of the writers and their stories.

If you want to learn more, here’s a link to an interview with me and Joey and Vandana about the project.

Dec
24

Some Tales for the Holidays

Last night, mom and dad and I sat in a favorite restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, and swapped holiday stories while a musician sang a mix of holiday, country, old folk, and hippie songs. The songs were full of the past, and prompted me to ask my parents about their favorite holiday memories.

Mom’s reminded me of all the change that she has lived. She and her four siblings were quarantined for scarlet fever and an Aunt brought presents. Mom’s present was a heart-shaped locket with room for pictures in it. Even better, two of her sick brothers were cured by penicillin. These were the early days of the drug and it was used as a test on them. It worked, although her oldest brother was bedridden so long that he had to learn to walk again.

Dad and I shared the same favorite Christmas morning. It was the year I was six. We lived in Hidden Hills, California. The Christmas tree was in the living room, which had a wall-length window include a sliding glass door (if you wonder how to repair broken windows, we have recent experience in that. will write later in a new post), all of it covered with mustard-yellow curtains. I woke up and sat by the Christmas tree, and dad pulled open the curtains.

My mouth fell open and my heart filled with a combination of joy and disbelief. I thought I might burst with happiness. For there, just outside of the window, my very first horse cropped the lawn while patiently waiting for me to run out and greet him. Before I could greet him, I had to actually believe that the moment was real, that miracles existed, and that my beloved father had bought me a horse. Mom and Dad had hidden him at a neighbor’s overnight and gone out and gotten him before I got up, which must have been the early cold of just before dawn.

Poncho was a beautiful creature, a half Morgan and half Shetland mutt of a pony who got me kicked out of a pony class and a horse class in the same show once. But he was beautiful, and well mannered, and I loved him for years. He and I rode in parades and I did tricks on his back in front of crowds of people and lay in deep California grass with him on a lead while I watched him snack on the hillside and thought about life.

Today, these memories feel like old times, almost like fiction. They shine through the past, freighted with emotion. I can still remember what it felt like to see the curtains open on a horse. While we listened to the singer go through all the verses of Jingle Bells, we referred to a nearly-infinite library in our hands, using it to answer questions. We spoke in terms none of would have known in these memorable Christmases from fifty-one and almost seventy years ago.

My parents and I are lucky to be alive and healthy to share our memories, to listen to music together, and to have a holiday morning together tomorrow.

 

 

Nov
01

KEEPERS — A book by the numbers

So the first draft of Keepers (the sequel to Wilders) is turned in!

I track my time, and it took 255 hours to get the book to this point. The first entry was in February. So that’s 9 months, at roughly 28 hours a month, although in reality there were three big pushes and much dinking in between. Finishing my MFA meant interruptions, and then I took some time away from it for short stories, and for promoting Wilders and the 10th Anniversary edition of The Silver Ship and the Sea. There are probably 100 hours left in redraft after comments, copyedits, and page proofs, and then another 100 or more in promotion, but most of that will probably happen next year.

I think I would call that binge writing – you can see the hours on the first part (which ended up being my thesis) and then the dip for other MFA things and two more rises.

.

 

For reference, I’m a little over 1100 hours for the year on my writing career including writing, promoting, conventions, travel, and the final semester of MFA work (much of which was actually work on the first part of this novel).  So I’ll finish the year around 1300 hours on my writing career, plus full time (usually 45-50 hours a week) on my technology career.  I will make something like fifteen times as much money from my regular job when you consider benefits and all that this year, and it gets worse when you add in writing expenses (those conventions and ads aren’t free!)

Writing – the avocation where you add a greater than half time job to increase your income by less than ten percent, but you love almost every minute!

Oct
29

I’ll be at Orycon 2017

Sat Nov 18 10:00am-11:00am
Autonomous robots and intelligence
When we should actually start worrying about robots as a fellow species rather than appliances – when do they get rights and when should they?

Sat Nov 18 11:00am-12:00pm
Ghost in the Machine or Grandpa?
Is a personality upload a real person? Can they vote? What do they do for a living? Or for fun?

Sat Nov 18 12:00pm-1:00pm
Science Fiction as a Tool for Social Change
Many writers have put their ideals into their writing. Some have even tried to get people to follow those ideals.

Sat Nov 18 3:00pm-4:00pm
What society will really look like an a post-AI age
When labor is all but obviated and (in theory) the human cost of goods has dropped near zero but so has employment – what does this really mean? Are we gonna get Blade Runner, Star Trek or Terminator?

Sat Nov 18 6:30pm-7:00pm
Reading

Sun Nov 19 10:00am-11:00am
Women Role Models in Science Fiction
Are there any good female role models in science fiction? Or are they still relegated to being damsels in distress? A discussion of both weak and strong female science fiction characters across all media.

Sun Nov 19 11:00am-12:00pm
Pamper Your Muse
How to get your creative mind to talk to you. How writing prompts, mind maps, creative dates with yourself, tarot and story telling cards can help you tap the muse.

Sun Nov 19th 4:00 PM
Science Fiction Authorfest
Come to Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing for a group signing

Oct
19

Science Matters: Great Deal on Adventure Science Fiction!

The Silver Ship and the Sea has been included on a storybundle.  That means you can get it — the new 10th anniversary version – and a lot of other great fiction from writers like Jody Lynn Nye, Robert Sawyer, Kevin J, Anderson, and more.  Pay as little as $15.00 for 13 ebooks.  Some portion of your payment goes to support the Challenger Center for Space and Science Education. We’ve already raised over $600 in support of Challenger Center.  Science matters right now.  The future needs voters with healthy curiosity about science, with love for it, with a willingness to accept consensus while still pressing for more knowledge.

So stop by the Storybundle site and pick up a lot of great fiction. Even if you’ve already bought a copy of Silver Ship, there are a lot of other great books in this bundle, which was curated by Kevin J. Anderson.

 

 

Aug
14

10th Anniversary Silver Ship and the Sea Cover

I’m pleased to share the beautiful cover that Wordfire Press designed for the 10th anniversary edition of The Silver Ship and the Sea:

I love the simplicity of the cover, and wanted to share it.  Thanks to Janet McDonald for a great cover design.

If you want  copy, the best deal for this new version of The Silver Ship and the Sea can be ordered via our already-funded kickstarter.  You can preorder the electronic version of an anthology of stories set in the same world for only $3.00 for the next few days at the Kickstarter site, poke around at other options, and maybe benefit from stretch goals as we meet them going forward.

You can also get the Kindle version now at Amazon.  The paperback will be available soon.  Note that there are used copies of the original version available at Amazon, but I think new readers will enjoy this version more as I’ve polished off clunky bits while otherwise leaving everything the same. If you already read it, you might not notice the hundreds of small improvements, but I hope new readers pick up this version.

Aug
10

Stories of Fremont’s Children

My first solo novel, The Silver Ship and the Sea, is getting a fabulous tenth anniversary edition from Wordfire Press, available this month.  This is a favorite tale of mine, with beloved characters I got to spend many long hours with.  It was my first award-winning novel. The basic story is that six genetically altered children get left behind as spoils of war on a planet that detests genetic modification.  What could go wrong?

To celebrate, I’m crowdfunding an anthology called “Stories of Fremont’s Children” which will include both beloved and new stories set in the series. Much more on the Kickstarter itself soon. It’s a great way to order your copy of Silver Ship and also get the stories for a great deal.

More on the Kickstarter soon.

There were always supposed to be four books in this series.  Wordfire will put out the fourth, which will be a promise kept to readers. A promise made a decade ago.  I can’t tell you how good it will feel to get that story out there.  And I’m in a better position to finish than I was years ago — I know more about the problem I was trying to solve with these novels.

The new editions are beautiful (cover reveal for book 1 coming soon!) and I’ve updated the sentences while leaving the story intact.  I’m pretty excited about these anniversary editions. I hope you’ll come along with me, support the Kickstarter, and get both The Silver Ship and the Sea and Stories of Fremont’s Children.