Good news, everyone! Life Beyond Us is officially getting published on April 22 (Earth Day).
582 pages. 27 stories. 27 essays. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so enormous when I first conceived the project; it just grew under our hands – and it grew into beauty.
Life Beyond Us can already be pre-ordered on Amazon and has its Goodreads page (where the first reviews from those who’d received advance reading copies might appear soon). If you are a reviewer, a booktuber, a science journalist, etc., don’t hesitate to reach out to me for an advance reading copy.
There are going to be book launches, readings and other events – more about them soon. You can already tune in to the first one next week: Draxtor’s Second Life Book Club on January 18, at 9 p.m. Central European Time (noon Pacific Time). You can also watch the stream on YouTube. I’ll be there together with several authors – Lucie Lukačovičová, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and Peter Watts should be present – discussing the anthology with the show’s stellar moderator and mastermind Bernhard “Draxtor” Drax.
I contacted Lucas K. Law from Laksa Media Groups, whom I knew as author from one of his previous anthologies, in late December 2020, encouraged to pursue my idea by the positive reception of Strangest of All, which served as a proof of concept of an anthology combining SF stories and science essays following up on those stories. Lucas liked the plan and immediately began to improve upon it, we exchanged ideas, chiseled it, began contacting authors… Then it was time to prepare the Kickstarter campaign, run it, which was a job in itself, then hold the open submissions period (with a few hundred stories to read), start editing the arriving stories, start sorting out and editing the essays, go through further rounds of editing and proofreading, fulfill some of the rewards for the backers in the meantime, sort out all the administrative and financial stuff, start writing up online materials for educators to accompany the book, start planning events… It’s been crazy two years. I have scarcely written anything of mine, although I did translate two novels from English to Czech in the meantime, published one more paper for my PhD and wrote quite a few nonfiction articles.
Still; two years. And it’s not over; an important part of the work only starts once a book is published. So, if you like the idea, if you are curious about the book, spread the word. It’s greatly appreciated.
It’s one huge, huge book. And, hopefully, it might inspire some huge ideas.
Chicon 2022, this year’s Worldcon, starts in a few days! I’m attending a few online panels of the hybrid-run convention – here’s my schedule. We’ll be talking planetary science (ever wondered about those single-biome planets?) and translations (not only) to and from Polish (if you wondered – no, I don’t speak Polish, but a few of us non-Pole central and Eastern-Europeans were asked to join to extend the perspective, facilitate comparison, and also – it’s not just only about translations from Polish into English, and Polish authors are quite popular in Czech translation). I also have a reading scheduled on Sunday, where I’ll be reading from my story collection The Ship Whisperer.
After more than two years of online-only talks, I’m back in live programming, starting with moderating the session “To Mars and Beyond” at ESOF2022 on July 14, at 2.15 p.m., in Leiden, Netherlands. Together with astrobiologist Barbara Cavalazzi, planetary geologist Angelo Pio Rossi and ESA’s Senior Strategy Officer Stefaan de Mey, we’ll discuss the future of robotic and crewed Mars exploration. Thanks to Europlanet for giving me the opportunity to engage in ESOF!
It’s also my honor to be the Guest of Honor at this year’s Fórum Fantástico (September 30 – October 2, 2022) in Lisbon, Portugal. There are going to be talks and discussions, readings, an RPG based on my story “Martian Fever”, and possibly more; stay tuned! I’m deeply grateful to the organizers for inviting me.
Needless to say, after two and half years of not traveling anywhere, I’m somewhat nervous; especially as airlines have dropped mask mandates, and as EMA hasn’t certified covid vaccines for children under five yet, so the kids won’t yet be vaccinated before flying to Leiden. Last year, given the relatively fast rollouts for older age groups and data for small children awaited by the end of the year, I expected them to be fully vaccinated by the end of winter… ‘Hoping for the best’ is really not a solution I like, but with no mask mandates, it’s what we’re left with for the first trip. Going alone, though, is not an option with a very attached breastfed child; there is a sense of trepidation as well as very much looking forward to finally showing a small piece of the world to the children. Last time I visited the Netherlands, I was one of the recipients of ESA’s scholarship to attend the IAC, based in Guadalajara that year. Before flying to Mexico as a group of all the awarded students, we each flew to the Netherlands, so I spent a few hours strolling around Leiden before catching the bus to Katwijk. This time, the children will be able to see the beautiful Dutch sceneries. And Lisbon? Can’t wait to explore the city and its surroundings such as Sintra!
It’s that time of the year again. You know, the one when 22,000 people a day test covid-positive in a 10-million country that does not do enough testing and where far too many people remain (and worse, want to remain) unvaccinated —
Oh, wait – that too, but it’s the time of the year for award eligibility posts. Right. Somewhat more enjoyable.
I spent most of the year working on Life Beyond Us– first getting everything ready together with my co-editors Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest, soliciting authors, preparing and leading the Kickstarter campaign… Then came the open submissions period and 250 stories to read, two to pick, and as the deadline for stories approaches, there’s more editing to do. Which is all leading to the question: Wait, how the heck did I only publish a single piece of new fiction this year?!
My futuristic steampunk novella “Aeronauts of Aura” (finally) appeared in Ares Magazine earlier this year, after several years’ waiting.
I did also publish a translation: “An Instance” by Mlok 5, published in Clarkesworld. Go read the story if you haven’t yet, seriously. You might never look at your search engine the same way again. It’s brilliant.
I have also just signed two contracts, one for new fiction and one for a reprint, for two extremely interesting international SFF projects – coming in 2022.
Most of all, I hope for the next year to be more bearable for everyone; for the pandemic to be finally contained worldwide; for more action to be taken in making sure our future is not a bleak one… Personally, SFF-wise, it’s going to be the publication year of Life Beyond Us – yay! Looking forward to that immensely. More news soon…
I’m happy to announce that Life Beyond Us, the anthology of astrobiology-themed SF stories accompanied by science essays we’re preparing at the European Astrobiology Institute and Laksa Media, has not only funded, but also reached the first two stretch goals already! There are still almost two days to go to potentially reach the third – an open submissions period for two slots in the anthology. Even without it, there are going to be 26 stories and 26 essays in the book. It’s going to be a big one – and a brilliant, inspiring and thought-provoking one, we hope!
Life Beyond Us is an anthology of astrobiology-themed original SF stories by 22 amazing authors of SF and accompanying essays by 22 scientists. The Kickstarter for the book is running right now, and I’ll be bringing you short interviews with each of the story authors. Today, please welcome Julie E. Czerneda!
Which branch of science fascinated you the most as a kid or teenager? And now?
When I was young, everything about biology and space was a passion. I dreamed of being the first biology in space, perhaps even deciphering an alien language. I went into university to do a joint biology/physics degree, and signed up for ground school, calculating that combination might get me into space. In grad studies, I continued my passion for how living things interact, researching chemical communication. And wrote SF in my spare time, so honestly? The dream kept going.
Can you hint at what’s your story going to be about?
Though this is preliminary, I enjoy examining first contact where the crucial piece of the puzzle is a difference in sensory perception.
Is there any place in the universe you’d love to see – where and why?
While I’ll always be deeply interested in space exploration, there’s still so much to see first hand on this planet, especially for a biologist, but also to see people as well.
What one technology today you can’t live without? Why?
“Can’t” would include modern medicine, food and energy production, shipping, etc. “won’t” is more within my grasp. We definitely shopped for our latest home based on where we could get high speed internet. To be connected these days is vital.
What do you see as the greatest scientific challenge of our time, and how can (or should) science fiction reflect that?
Climate change, more specially learning to live well on this planet, protecting the biodiversity on which all life depends. Science fiction abundantly addresses this and has for a long time. I do like work that pushes toward a sustainable, desirable future. I’ve no patience for apocalypse.
Why do you write science fiction?
Because the experiments and ideas that interest me most are either too difficult, too dangerous, or too immoral to actually conduct in real life. I wouldn’t, for example, destroy planets to illustrate the urgency of protecting life on this one. I can, and have, speculated on that imperative. I also can play with “what ifs” predicated on contacting other intelligences and build societies based on differences in biology. Which is great fun, believe me.
Julie E. Czerneda is a biologist and author of over 20 novels published by DAW Books: the Web Shifter’s Library series and other books. Her science fiction draws from and investigates the natural world, including us. Twitter: @julieczerneda
Life Beyond Us is an anthology of astrobiology-themed original SF stories by 22 amazing authors of SF and accompanying essays by 22 scientists. The Kickstarter for the book is running right now, and I’ll be bringing you short interviews with each of the story authors. Today, please welcome Premee Mohamed!
What comes to your mind first when you say “astrobiology”?
When I hear ‘astrobiology’ I’m afraid I think of science fiction before I think of science! I think of worlds where life forms have already been discovered and maybe studied or interacted with, not our current reality of ‘well we’ve received and analyzed signatures of some molecules that are useful for life on Earth that are coming from non-Earth places, but we don’t know what generated them or how.’ I also think of the books in my school library that had these models of life that might exist on other planets: ocean worlds, ice worlds, high-gravity worlds, and so on. I still think of those when I write sci-fi: how does where the action is set affect what happens, what choices are made, and what timelines things can happen on? How can we proceed using Earth life forms as a model, when life on other planets is very likely to not follow an Earth-like biological framework in many (or most!) respects? There’s so much we don’t know.
Can you hint at what’s your story going to be about?
Is ‘hubris’ a long enough answer? I think a good hint would be: When humanity eventually goes into space with the intent to settle in permanent habitats, I’m sure that, despite our greater scientific and technical knowledge, we will make the same mistakes that colonizers have made throughout history: misunderstanding, dismissing, and underestimating the life forms that have evolved before we got there.
Is there any place in the universe you’d love to see – where and why?
I’m actually researching lava lakes right now (of which Earth has disappointingly few) so my first thought was, I’d like to see 55 Cancri e! It’s a little ball of rock so close to its star that it’s entirely melted, and so would be lava on one side and rock on the other, and since it’s carbon-rich, there literally might be a layer of diamond inside it. (I don’t want to land there, I just want to look!) I also thought about some places closer to home – I’d love to see what’s under the clouds in Venus (without dying, I mean) and I want to do research on Europa and Enceladus and Mars. But it’s hard to resist the visual appeal of a flying lava sphere!
Why do you write science fiction?
I think when I set out to write science fiction, I’m trying to stretch out the scope of unintended consequences. All my favourite sci-fi (in which the sci-fi technology or premise forms part of the plot rather than just the setting) is about people creating something that they intend to be beneficial, and having it go wrong. I want to delve into what it means to ‘go wrong’ though. For who, when, how, under what conditions? What are the consequences? Are they evenly distributed? Is it a technology that only negatively affects poor people, or people in a certain area, or of a certain gender, or with children, or with certain jobs or disabilities or other circumstances? If it’s still going ‘right’ for some people, what are the conditions that makes that the case? And best of all, are there ways to correct what’s ‘going wrong’ and make the technology beneficial for everyone? How do people fight back, what do they use, how do they organize? Sci-fi is an unparalleled venue to explore how we’re dealing with the intersection of science and society now, and describe the possibilities for a future that could really exist.
Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is the author of novels Beneath the Rising (2020) and A Broken Darkness (2021), and novellas ‘These Lifeless Things’ (2021), ‘And What Can We Offer You Tonight’ (2021), and ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds’ (2021). Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues. Twitter: @premeesaurus
I’m happy to announce that on today’s big 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight, we launched a Kickstarter for Life Beyond Us, an anthology of 22 original astrobiological stories by award-winning authors and essays by scientists active in astrobiology! So – please spread the word and help yourself and others enjoy the science-fictional and scientific visions of astonishing life on and beyond Earth!
Last year, I started interviewing authors from my astrobiological SF anthology Strangest of All developed for the European Astrobiology Institute, some on video and some through e-mail, and I’m bringing you these interviews. Next up is D.A. Xiaolin Spires, whose stories depict alien planets as well as strange apparitions, but regardless of genre are always sublime, intriguing and full of layers.
D.A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in Hawai’i, NY, Asia and elsewhere. Her work is published in Clarkesworld, Fireside, Analog, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Nature, Terraform, Andromeda Spaceways (Year’s Best Issue), Star*Line, as well as anthologies such as Deep Signal, Strangest of All, Make Shift and Nowhereville. Select stories are available in German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Estonian and French translation.Twitter: @spireswriter.
you describe the genesis of your story “But, Still, I Smile”?
for asking about “But, Still, I Smile.” Sometimes I think that
if life exists out there, it might not be in a form we recognize. I
know, Julie, that you’ve written about this and think about this in
your own work, especially most recently in your article in
in which you ask, “when—if—we find alien life somewhere, are we
going to recognize it?” I think the overarching question I had was
along the same lines. If one supposes that life we encounter might
not be a form we recognize… how, then, might first contact unfold?
trying to recall the exact details of the genesis, but it honestly
escapes me. I wrote this a few years back now and sometimes what
remains is what feeling I associate with it, but not necessarily how
it came to be.
sometimes difficult for me to go back to think about how I came up
with something. Usually, it’s an image or concept that gets lodged
in the head.
I’m looking through my notes now and for this one, I wrote
“machinery come alive” and “self-propelling doomsday planet.”
These notes are jogging some memory of the story creation process! I
think for me, the inspiration was actually from AI and the paperclip
maximizing story. I remember at the time I was listening to podcasts
about AI, notions of superintelligence and the prospect or
possibility of the singularity. In this case, I substituted AI with
aliens (or possibly aliens with technology that performed like these
hypothetical AI). What if aliens had different values from us? For
example, what if these aliens had a goal or function of propagating
in a way that would be not only worthless to but incompatible with
our own way of life? How would that look like?
also been considering the tension between anthropocentric forms of
thought and multispecies ways of thinking; if we celebrate life and
if life looks very different than our own, then how do these
competing values play out? Should we assume that individuals would
want a human notion of “what’s best (for us)” to prevail? Or
can we imagine a human who would want to cultivate life, even alien
life, even if it competes with our species’ own interest (or if
there is one interest that can be defined for the species)? If this
human wants so so badly to make life and has the chance, maybe it
doesn’t matter what the life looks like. Maybe it’s just that
goal achieved that counts for this person. Maybe this goal is just to
be a parent or creator and to give birth, in a way, and at any
cost—and still find this birth not just beautiful but sublime.
must have been more going on in my head at the time, different
thoughts swirling about, but I think that just about captures the
main gist of the kinds of umbrella questions I was interested in
tackling in the story when I set out to write it. I also wanted to
paint a portrait of a very driven female protagonist and have this
point of view highlighted—and to show that outward motivations
might not reflect inward incentives.
some of your stories, you tackle environmental problems. Do you think
SF can change the way we perceive them and act upon that, and how?
Are there any books or short pieces that, for you personally, embody
the type of story that might do this?
certainly SF has a role to play in how we perceive, understand and
reflect upon the environment. The environment is our surroundings;
our home more broadly, as well as the home to our various neighbors
(flora/fauna/microbes, etc.) inhabiting the same space. It’s more
than just a space and site; I think it’s something unto itself—the
environment has its own system and mechanism. It can be viewed in
multiple ways: as resource, as system, as habitat, as ‘alive’, as
vulnerable worth protecting, as resilient but susceptible, as value
worth extracting… the list goes on. I think disregarding any of
these functions and qualities undermines the entirety of what the
environment means to us as a species, more broadly.
terms of SF influencing how we perceive and act upon the environment,
I certainly think this can be the case. What first comes to mind are
dystopic or doomsday scenarios in media and fiction that present a
world that we no longer recognize or that we would want to thwart
that might jar people into action, whether that may be individual
action or catalyzing into something more large-scale.
it could also be positive representations that are hopeful. That is
certainly a sentiment worth cultivating. I also don’t think these
two seemingly polar opposites (dystopic/utopic) are necessarily
an interesting point I quite agree with. ‘Hopepunk’, or dystopia –
even if they’re not exclusive, do you have any preference, and if
so, which and why?
not sure if I have a preference. I think there’s space for both and
everything in between or beyond!
I probably have more of the optimism slant in me and I probably write
with more of a hopeful lilt. (I say ‘probably’ twice because, who
knows! People change. Seasons change. I might one day find myself
writing in a different way!) But, I think there’s room for both
versions and everything spanning the two. There’s a panorama of
stories, with each story doing different things for different people.
I think it depends on how powerful the images and ideas are and how
much they stick with you as a reader or viewer that might compel you
to take action or think more about it.
– and that is, actually, why I like using well-written SF in
outreach, this power to evoke emotion and at the same time make
people think. Do you think science fiction draws people more toward
science? Where do you see its role now, when the covid pandemic
highlighted the importance of critical thinking and basic
understanding of science?
certainly think science fiction makes scientific concepts and modes
of thinking more accessible and appealing. By drawing from science
and using that basis for stories, it’s a model of storytelling that
certainly engages readers. You get intriguing narrative, winsome
protagonists and heightened stakes—what’s not to like? (Of course
there are stories that don’t have these attributes or move beyond
these attributes, but in general, I think the answer is a resounding
terms of critical thinking, science fiction asks a lot of what-if
questions and engages readers/viewers in forward-thinking analysis.
Many stories ask or require you to deeply consider a fundamental
question about our humanity or where we’re going and the problems
this might present. It helps us see beyond what is right in front of
us and gently (or brusquely) prods us to delve deeper and broader.
in various forms, from cakes or coffee across cocktails all the way
to breastmilk, appears repeatedly as a motif in your stories; how do
you think our relationship with food might change once some humans
live permanently off the Earth?
love writing and talking about food. Oh… and eating and sharing
food! It’s necessary for survival; everyone does it; it hits all
the senses and it’s cultural, societal and historical. It lets us
gather and have a reprieve, but it’s also a requisite for life.
Food offers a sense of identity and belonging, but also can be a way
to draw borders or let ‘outside’ people in. It’s essential; I
think all life needs some kind of fuel (though perhaps I might be
proven wrong with future encounters in deep space!).
think food can look very different off-Earth, but I think some
customs are hard to shake. I mean, why do we create vegan food that
looks and tastes like meat? Why do we make sugar-free food with
substitute/synthetic sugar? Why do we have such a huge industry
trying to come up with crispy, crunchy, chewy, sweet, salty,
appetizing things that appeal to our palate? We have certain
biologically-driven cravings and certain patterns of expressing our
fuel; this doesn’t mean food can’t or won’t change but I think
there will be drag or lag… inertial or cultural or familiar in ways
that are hard to shake.
have habituated ourselves to eating in certain ways and some of that
might continue on, though I don’t discount the possibility that
food culture in outer space or in future colonies or come what may
might look quite different from any current or preexisting human
cultural context. Especially depending on who or what we come into
contact with out there!
the most surprising thing about you?
not sure about this one! I practice a lot of martial arts and
physical activities in general. Some of this comes out in my writing.
I think bodily cultivation is just as important as mental, and maybe
can’t be pulled apart into (Cartesian) dualities quite in that way!
is also another reason why I like talking about food… it’s
physical, physiological, mental and more!
are you currently working on?
working on a longer form right now that’s on the exploration of
outer space, as well!
have quite a few projects I’m working on… including an
analog/digital hybrid art project that touches on alien life. (This
is not writing, per se but touches on similar themes)! I have a lot
on my plate and am constantly in the midst of clearing it.
you, Julie, for giving me this opportunity to talk science fiction,
the potential of life in outer space and the role of stories with
you! It’s been a pleasure.
If you liked Strangest of All, stay tuned for the next project of the European Astrobiology Institute! We’ll announce it on April 12, and you can look forward to over twenty short stories by brilliant SF authors, just as many popular science essays, and much more… Don’t miss the announcement!
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