Tom Lux, who holds two endowed chairs of poetry at Georgia Tech, hosts one of the finest poetry readings in the country several times a year, Poetry At Tech. He invited me to read fiction, IN WAR TIMES (a first for Poetry at Tech), which I did, but I began with a poem about Lew Welch called “City Lights.” This is from December 2010, when I first began teaching at Georgia Tech, where I am now a Professor of the Practice.
Poetry At Tech is free and open to the public, so if you live near Atlanta you should check their schedule and hear marvelous poets read their work.
April 14, 2013 No Comments
April 11, 2013 No Comments
April 9, 2013 No Comments
Today I opened an envelope containing CYBERPUNK WOMEN, FEMINISM AND SCIENCE FICTION, A Critical Study, by Carlen Lavigne. I thought, this looks interesting. I order lots of books–as presents to my near-future self, as a professional necessity, and for love. Books are my joy, my drug, my economic original sin, and I was glad that I had ordered, in some seemingly unremembered past, this intriguing-looking book.
When I opened it, Carlen’s card fell out, and I remembered: a while back, I had answered a lot of her email queries. I never imagined I was contributing to something as ambitious, wide-ranging and necessary as this study.
A few years ago, a Wikipedia editor and close reader of my work said, “Your Wikipedia entry calls you a cyberpunk writer. That’s odd. Do you think of your work as cyberpunk?” I told her that I didn’t, although what an author thinks about her work is generally neither here nor there when it comes to how it is interpreted critically, by the public, or by her most avid fans. However, I’m glad to see my work so strongly included in Lavigne’s book. She views cyberpunk through a new and refreshing lens.
In her Introduction, Lavigne writes, “As this study will show, authors such as Marge Piercy, Melissa Scott and Kathleen Ann Goonan have indeed used the cyberpunk mythos to work against prejudice and limited worldviews; they have expanded the genre far beyond its original tenets (7).”
I’m eager to read this book not only because Lavigne sees my work and the work of Pat Cadigan, Sage Walker, Melissa Scott, Lisa Mason, and many other women who began to publish science fiction in the 1980’s and 90’s as critically important–that’s not new, although SF written by women has indeed not been given as much critical emphasis as that written by men–but because, from my initial brief tour of the book, her work goes a long way towards giving women in science fiction, and the ideas they consider worth writing about, their due. The cover copy says “The study treats feminist cyberpunk as a unique vehicle for examining contemporary women’s issues and analyzes feminist science fiction as a complex source of political ideas.”
CYBERPUNK WOMEN, FEMINISM AND SCIENCE FICTION: A CRITICAL STUDY by Carlen Lavigne is published by McFarland. Lavigne holds a Ph.D. in Communications Studies, and she teaches Red Deer College in Alberta, Canada.
February 16, 2013 No Comments
INTELLIGENT MACHINES, UPLOADED MINDS, edited by Russell Blackford and Damien Broderick, has been accepted for publication by Wiley-Blackwell. This will be an extensive and wide-ranging book, to which I will contribute one chapter, based on the following abstract:
“’What does it mean to be human?’ is the iconic question that religion, philosophy, many of the sciences, and science fiction explore. The development of computers has encouraged many serious thinkers to believe that we can create computers to which we can transfer the contents of our living brains and retain that elusive but essential aspect of ourselves that we call consciousness — our self-awareness — and thus extend our lives and enable humans to change at a more rapid pace than is now possible. Exploration of the problems and questions such scenarios suggest is essential to posing them as puzzles to be considered and solved before concrete progress can be made in this endeavor. I will explore the problems and questions that seem most pressing in this chapter, focusing on the complexity of biology, recent progress in the neurosciences, the seemingly inextricable embeddedness of the brain in the body and the body in the world, present-day models of consciousness and memory, societal implications of realization of this far-off goal, and a possible nanotech model for preservation of the self in a new body.”
With contributions from eminent participants in this long-running conversation, ranging from David Chalmers, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University to Max More, Ph.D., founder of the Extropian Institute and CEO of Alcore Life Extension Foundation, Intelligent Machines, Uploaded Minds will be “a state-of-the-art selection of articles and essays on the themes of mind uploading and machine consciousness.”
I am excited to be a part of this project.
–Kathleen Ann Goonan, Professor of the Practice, LMC
February 3, 2013 No Comments
Paul Kincaid reviews ANGELS AND YOU DOGS on the SF Site. The review begins:
“I get the impression that Kathleen Ann Goonan would like to live very far away from the rest of us, in a remote cabin somewhere, preferably where it snows a lot. This is not necessarily a place to escape the present, but rather a place where one might encounter, understand, and perhaps even embrace the future.”
He gets the right impression–I perpetually await snow! And, because I am in Florida most winters, I live in a somewhat Proustian state of perpetual longing for that ur-space of creativity, which for me seems to be the isolation that snow imposes. Perhaps longing is better than reality–flying off the road in my Ford pickup, busted water pipes, reviving the cooking skills of my Midwestern ancestors at a time when winters were harsher and colder and there were no grocery stores . . . oh, heck, the reality is still tempting! There is the cozy necessity of laying in a good supply of wood, down and wool clothing and canned goods and sturdy boots, and other pleasures. But there is also the daunting realization that my wood-splitting skills and strength have atrophied somewhat over the years.
I prepared for this, as a child. Sure, I had a calling for writing, but perhaps more importantly, I had a calling for wilderness. I read many Tales of the Frozen North, James Oliver Curwood in particular, and SNOWBLIND, and THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS, and WE TOOK TO THE WOODS, books in which isolation seemed to bring moral fortitude and the associated search for identity into sharp relief. I emerged from used book stores with sacks of depression-era books about Living Off The Land. I studied the Boy Scout Handbook to hone my survival skills. I wanted to Live in the Woods on a Nickle a Day. I practiced knots, slapped bannock bread (an unhealthy mix of white flour, baking soda, and water) into frying pans, had my father build a portable camping kitchen. The places that enchanted me were cabins far back in the woods, on lakes big and small, in Michigan. In my formative years as a young adult, I did live in such places in the mountains of southwest Virginia, near the West Virginia state line, experienced deep, isolating snows. During those snows I tramped through a world mysteriously transformed, was buffeted by invigorating winds, pelted by rain, hail, sleet, and snow, took evocative photographs, stoked wood stoves, and got a lot of painting and writing work done.
My grandmother’s antique snow globe burst in one such setting; I left for my job as a Montessori teacher–you see, I have been in the world of humans, and for many, many years–after dressing under my electric blanket (for I always let the stove go cold at night) driving a ribboning high road over said snowy mountains, was immersed in a world of children and their parents for the day, and returned to find that my beautiful snow globe, my emblem of fantasy, had frozen and burst–not unpredictably–during the day.
Perhaps I simply long for childhood days in Cincinnati–far from being a wilderness!–where my mother and I trekked intrepidly through the snow, took buses everywhere, and enjoyed many a snowy day. A month in Michigan every winter could not have hurt. My deepest happy memories are embedded in the snows of childhood.
I am a bit surprised at how strong this germ of what fosters my own creative life is in these stories. I think that most creative people used to thrive in isolation, free from chatter, and probably still do. How else is one to get work done? And if this work is the most important thing in one’s life, and if one’s attention is fragile, as is mine, than it is much better to gaze at snowy mountains than to rent a windowless room, as do some writers, and to ensure that if a visitor braves long, snow-covered roads, cutting trees blown over the road with the chain saw one keeps in the truck for just this purpose, it must be for a very good reason. Writing through the night resembles writing during days of snow. There is metaphorical isolation, and the comforting knowledge that I will not have to start a fire in the stove at dawn because electricity will brew the coffee.
I know, but do not understand, that many creative people enjoy working on teams, collaboratively. Perhaps I would enjoy it too. I enjoyed the collaborative dance of teaching preschoolers where I and other adults slipped unobtrusively in and out of each child’s sphere with those light suggestions that are the essence of teaching, forming that creative world, that low buzz of concentration, that seems a single entity when it works, when light builds in the room. Perhaps that is how team-building and maintaining a fictional digital world works, and how it feels–more than the sum of its parts.
(As an aside, I always opened my school on snow days. I’d drive crunchy, slippery, unplowed roads in the dark, put my key in the door, open another kind of world that I’d built from a dream, welcome ten children rather than fifty, tell my employees to stay home, and delight in the brilliant, white day, with children.)
The most important point is that I am not really alone in wilderness. In fact, I am never alone. The world, whether in city, in wildness, in that in-between space of country, is alive for me. We intersect with one another. I am not sure that I nourish it, but it nourishes me. The characters in my stories and novels, who are fictions, ghosts, build themselves in such spaces and are my companions. They insist on themselves.
No one ever said that writers are normal, did they?
Most people spend much of their time surrounded by fictional people and stories, via television. Television fills those quiet, creative spaces and tramples on the quiet voice of Thought, but obviously most people do not feel that their time in this world, their time to think and to create, is limited, as do I. People may be watching said television with others, they may discuss the characters and plots with others, but they are, essentially, alone when they engage with that screen. They are tethered to it. They bend over their phones and watch, alone; they buy more cable options so they can watch their own shows, sucking down these worlds like I suck down solitude.
I like fiction, too. I have my own television, which is filled with fictional worlds in which characters insist on and argue for their own existence, reveal their lives in dialogue. I can best hear and see it, and think about how to transmit it, however engaging it may be to others (one never knows), when alone. Writing is active, not passive, and it is kind of like a virus. It takes over one’s life. Writers who publish are those who cannot turn off that urge. Happy writers like myself have families who understand this urge.
And I hasten to add that I have written many more short stories than these fourteen, bursting! with engagement and . . . and . . . . Well, come to think of it, the main character in “A Love Supreme,” which appeared in October’s DISCOVER MAGAZINE, is an agaraphobe . . .
For works just bursting with Engagement, see: The Novels of Kathleen Ann Goonan. And keep an eye out for “Bootstrap,” a story of collaborative engagement, in MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW SCIENCE FICTION, out next year, and “Sport,” in ARC early next year. You’ll see!
And great thanks to Paul Kincaid for his wonderful review.
November 17, 2012 No Comments
I just got welcome word that Arc will publish “Sport,” a short story, in 2013, in their first issue to include print as well as digital editions. I’m very pleased!
Arc , Futures & fiction, is a lively New Scientist spinoff edited by Simon Ings that blends cutting-edge science, futuristic extrapolation, the arts, and fiction in an elegant format. Past issues have included work by M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, China Mieville, Jeff Vendermeer, Margaret Atwood, and many other fascinating writers and scientists. You can subscribe and get access to past issues at their web site.
“Sport” is about a synestete girl recruited to work for the NSA at the Utah Data Center.
See what Arc is all about at www.arcfinity.org .
October 26, 2012 No Comments
Here is a link to the June 21 2008 edition of Geekspeak, where Lyle Troxell, the cohost, talks with me, Rick Kleffell, Sean Cleveland, and Ryder Brooks about IN WAR TIMES. It’s a nice conversation about jazz, technology, and science fiction in general. I don’t think I’ve posted it anywhere, and I came across it on my iPod the other day. Since the trade edition of IN WAR TIMES is now in bookstores, I thought it might be of interest. After you click on the link, press the button on the right for adio.
October 10, 2012 No Comments
I’ve encountered surprise–nay, amazement–that Discover Magazine has published “A Love Supreme” in its September/October issue because it is science . . . fiction.
To my mind, Discover Magazine and science fiction are a perfect match. The august science journal Nature has reinstated its long-running “Futures” feature–vignettes written by science fiction writers, which can take the form of an essay or a short science fiction story. New Scientist is publishing Arc, “Futures and fiction,” which features several science fiction stories per issue. I think this close linking of science with science fiction in science magazines and journals is a trending wave.
It may seem obvious why science fiction and science journals and magazines are a good match, but on the other hand it might seem counterintitive, depending on what you point to when you say “This is science fiction.”
Science fiction, as I think of it, is rooted in science, but extrapolates worlds, premises, futures, and, most importantly, characters who live in these worlds, these futures. In the main, these worlds are increasingly our own, and the time is the present, once-removed. It is easy to recognize ourselves in these stories.
This is because that which has long been characterized as “science fiction” (often with the qualifier just science fiction) has become our present. That simple assertion packs a huge wallop. When Jules Verne wrote about traveling to the moon, he was extrapolating from known physics and technology, but it all seemed far off. Science-fictiony. Weird.
Scientific knowledge has burgeoned since Jules Verne’s time. It has become more intimate: what will “we” be when our very genes will soon be embedded in myriad products (see Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, by George M. Church)? It has become more far-reaching: “what if” Hugh Everett’s many-world theory is true? Those two examples are just nanoparticles in the flood of information about our physical world, which includes us and our mode of relating to the world–consciousness–available to lay readers today through easily accessed science magazines, science documentaries, and books written by scientists striving to meld their specialized languages with plain English.
Stories are a powerful vector for exploring who we are and who we might be. They are miniature “other worlds” in which we briefly live.
Science fiction is one way of examining possible futures, but it is not predictive. Science fiction a literary and often lyrical window on our increasingly strange present. Science fiction authors are writers who take into account all of the possibilities of our present, our day-after-tomorrow future, and our possible far-futures. Because of the recent plethora of our interface with scientific information, more and more readers are interested in reading science fiction referencing such. This is an exciting writerly path, as evidenced by the many “mainstream writers” who reach out with their cane of outmoded fictional models and subjects to hook themselves to the maglev of science fiction, thereby to try to find new purchase in the minds of readers who are immersed in the world-as-it-is as that world morphs ever more quickly into “the future.”
It is an honor to be one of Discover’s first science fiction authors. “A Love Supreme” references one of my favorite musicians, John Coltrane. Jazz, like science fiction, is outsider’s art that is deeply embedded in American culture, both having been born from it. Much of my fiction has jazz underpinnings, beginning with my first novel, Queen City Jazz. With Coltrane’s iconic chant at its heart, the story is a meditation on the present and near-future state of medical acess for Americans, showing how one agarophobic emergency physician copes with overpopulation and her father’s cancer, with new awareness; with epiphany.
October 8, 2012 No Comments
I read a lot of books about neurological development. There are a whole new flock of them every month, so I am rolling in riches–memory! synesthesia! tetrachromacy! My background as a Montessori teacher serves me well here and, in fact, opened me up to our own astonishing, minutely calibrated developmental feats.
Of course, this sense of wonder extends to all life, but I am narrowing the focus to myself, for a few paragraphs, then widening it at the end.
I am thinking that what we crave most in life is the kick of the new. And I’m thinking that when, for some reason, we lose the ability to get this kick in everyday life we use neurological enhancers such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, even food, to try and get this kick. We want to go back to a time when everything was new, and find it difficult. Billions of self-help books recommend ways to recapture the kick of the new with meditation, the right wheat-grass-juice diet, doing Mensa puzzles, purging one’s home of old receipts the week before the IRS comes looking for them, and other methods. I agree that it sometimes takes a lot of effort, and sometimes heartbreak, as when one has finally given away a beautiful, classy suit that has been too small for years and then goes on the wheat-grass-juice diet and finds that it actually works. So it goes.
I remember experiencing several important developmental milestones. In fact, I hadn’t even realized they are developmental milestones until today, when I went searching for a copyright-free photo of a child’s foot on a step. Yes, I can scare up a child and take that photo at some point myself. But we do like images.
I wanted an image that illustrated the moment when I realized that I could take each stair-step with one big stride, separately, like grown-ups, instead of bringing both feet to a single stair and then proceeding to the next: clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk. My mother could fly up the Victorian staircase in our Lockland, Ohio house, and that was my goal.
I consciously worked on developing this physical skill. I thought, this foot on the step, then–streeeeetch–the other foot on the step above. Never two feet on the same step. That’s what babies did. I may have been wearing clunky white baby shoes, or slippery-soled black patent-leather shoes, or little saddle shoes. I think that Keds, which pretty much promised that I actually could fly, run up the sides of trees, and leap tall buildings in a single bound (and showed the mechanism of this magic–lines and arrows of power stamped on the insoles, insuring that they really did work as advertised) might have come later. I was probably close to two years old. The stairs–“The wooden hill,” as my father called it in the evening when it was time to go to bed–“Time to climb the wooden hill,” he’d say–were tall. I practiced. I succeeded.
I also recall a moment in the alley that bisected our blook. We lived in an older neighborhood, and all blocks had alleys, which gave access to driveways, garages, and the back entrance to the house. No one used the front doors. The back yards, the kitchens they led to, and the alleys, were where everything happened. We had spacious yards with big trees. There was little traffic in the alley, so it was a good place to play or ride a bike. The alley was where I learned that I had a little ladder in my abdomen–a golf ladder, actually, which was probably a small plastic parakeet ladder with a golf ball lodged between the rungs. This is what made the ladder so painful that it had to be removed, as my mother’s friend Mrs. Jones revealed, discussing a friend’s surgery. I also learned that some of the men in the neighborhood worked at plants, which probably led to a vision of buildings with flowers on the top, which eventually led to me writing Queen City Jazz.
Oh, the kick of the new is powerful stuff.
I was probably four when I thought about height and perspective, performing an expiriment in the alley. There was honeysuckle on our fence, and my small wheelbarrow, with which I trundled sand from our garage (a very old garage, perhaps built for a carriage) stood waiting next to my father’s big wheelbarrow, which carried most of the sand. I remember kneeling in the alley–I used to be this tall, and this is what I saw– and then standing — now I am this tall and it is different.
These goals and comparisons were what I did, constantly. This is the work of growing. Despite sounding dull in retrospect, these are the moments that make childhood luminous and exciting. This is the kick of the new. This is how the brain, meshing with the body, grows.
Neurologically, or neuroplastically, we ought to be working on drugs that help us re-experience this growth, to experience the kick of the new even when life seems repetitive, even when the brain grows old. We’ve made feeble stabs at this, but they are blunt, hit-or-miss emergency weapons for severe cases. We need to work on finding the wheat-grass diet for the older brain.
And of course, we work on this all the time. It’s what we do. It’s the underlying drive that keeps us going. Some people skydive. Some people read. Some people write. (That might seem like a huge conceptual leap (no pun intended) to some of you, but I can say from experience that writing is just like skydiving. And if reading isn’t, switch books.)
This is why I think that learning something new, seeing something new, gives us that kick that we seek. It is neurochemical.
When we think there is nothing new, we die a little.
So go out and do something new.
October 3, 2012 No Comments