Patreon Content for May & June 2019!

Patreon content went up this week! There’s a poem for all patrons: ” Silver Tree Day” which I wrote about the street where my grandparents lived. For $2 patrons, there’s an excerpt from an unfinished story about first business in space exploration titled “The First Spaceship I Ever Flew.” And for $5 and up patrons, there’s a reprint of my story for Chicks Unravel Time, a collection of essays about Dr. Who from a feminist perspective, “Guten Tag, Hitler.”

Last month, I posted a story for all patrons “The Station at the Corner of Enning and Pine” I was 16 in 1998, and the political details of this era are in my skin.  For $2 patrons, there’s a rough story, The Noodle Effect, that I started with a three word prompt and a commitment to keep writing no matter how weird it went. And for $5 and up patrons, there’s a first to last draft evolution of  “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”.

As always, thank you to all my patrons! You help make my writing possible and keep my head in one piece!

Posted in Fiction, Patreon | Leave a comment  

Silly Interview with S. L. Huang, Spectacular Specimen of Superhumanity

SL Huang. Photo Credit: Chris Massa

Rachel Swirsky: When you were at MIT, did you take any writing classes? What was it like studying writing in that environment? 

SL Huang: I did not!  Which is kind of strange given that MIT has a ridiculously good creative writing program, but I was in my “writing is the one thing I do that I will not stress out about or set any goals for” phase. (You can see how that has worked out for me, she says, eyeing the current mountain of deadlines.)

RS: Your bio says you are a gunslinger. Are you really a gunslinger? I hope so. Feel free to lie if you aren’t (or if you are, actually).

SLH: I am indeed really a gunslinger.  Some number of the following facts are true about me:

  • I have qualified at the Expert Rifleman level on a civilian version of the Army Qualifying Test
  • I can field-strip an AK-47 in less than seven seconds
  • I once fixed a malfunctioning Springfield XD with a piece of duct tape
  • I have fired an Uzi in the middle of Market Street, San Francisco
  • I’ve had conversations with police officers while hiding five shotguns under my trench coat

(NB, for the NSA agents reading this: the police officers knew they were there.)

RS: What is your gunslinger origin story?

SLH: I learned to shoot at MIT.  No, really.  MIT has one of the best pistol programs in the country.

My pistol coach from MIT now coaches the U.S. Paralympics Shooting Team.  We’re still in touch.

RS: You mention liking the abelian grape joke which I must admit I do not understand. I really like the Heisenberg’s speeding ticket joke. What does our shared love of terrible nerd jokes say about us? I remind you that you are free to lie.

SLH: It means we are spectacular specimens of superhumanity who ride into battle on dragons and eat gas giants for breakfast.

(p.s. I love the Heisenberg speeding ticket joke, too.)

RS: In 2016 you put together an anthology of Campbell-eligible writers so that they can show off their work to potential voters. In the past, it has always been difficult to identify eligible writers, let alone find all their work in one place. How did you figure out who to include? Did you reach out to writers who were in professional TOCs, or did you wait for people to come to you?

SLH: We (my co-runner Kurt Hunt and I) sidestepped the identification-of-eligibility question by pawning off the work on our friends at Writertopia, who maintain a list of Campbell-eligible writers as a genre resource.  Put yourself on their list, we said, and you can be in the book!

In all seriousness, we did not mean to cause so much extra work for them — we figured most people interested would be on the Writertopia list already.  But we figured WAY wrong, and Writertopia got flooded with add requests.  Bill Katz and David Walton over there are absolute gems of human beings — they did an incredible job vetting and adding people before our deadline, and they’ve given us nothing but support.  We owe them big time.

As for how we reached out — hahaha, we had less than two weeks to get submissions; there was no way we could wait for people to come to us.  We posted on forums, blogged, and tweeted.  We sent over a dozen press releases to genre sites and asked for signal boosts from well-followed voices in SFF.  We also wanted to reach out to eligible writers and invite them directly, but could only find public email addresses for about 60% of the people who were already on Writertopia’s list — and here our Writertopia friends did us yet another solid and forwarded an invitation to them all on our behalf.

I was so, so pleased with the response we got.  120 authors!  Over A MILLION WORDS OF FICTION!

We passed the torch on it the following year, and I hope anthologies of the year’s Campbell-eligible writers keep being a thing as often as possible. Some of our authors told us the anthology felt like an enormous group hug, and I’m so proud to have been a part of that.

RS: Looking at the stories in the Campbell anthology, would you say there were noticeable thematic preoccupations? What was the zeitgeist for new writers in 2015?

SLH: The biggest zeitgeist, I think, is that there wasn’t one.  The thematic diversity in this group is incredible.  I wasn’t able to read even close to all million words, but we had stories from F&SF and Analog, Strange Horizons and Mothership Zeta, Angry Robot and Baen.  We had self-published, small press, and Big Five.  We had funny stories and tearjerking ones, swashbucklers and horror, aliens and myths and hard SF and fairy tales.  Flash, shorts, novel excerpts, even a play!  And the authors came from all over the world and from all walks of life — we even had at least one translation.

If this anthology proved anything, it’s that the upcoming generation of SFF writers want there to be room for all types of stories.  And so far we’re kicking ass at making that happen.

RS: Any projects coming up, or anything else you’d like to write about?

SLH: So much!!

My main novel series is the Cas Russell series with Tor Books — the first book, Zero Sum Game, came out last year, and the sequel Null Set is dropping in July. Billed by Tor as “the geek’s Jack Reacher,” it’s about a superheroine — an antiheroine — who can do math really, really fast.
She uses it to kill a lot of people. As you do with math.

I’m also one of the collaborators who wrote The Vela, a serialized novel that was just released from Serial Box. My co-authors are Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, and Becky Chambers, and you can read the whole thing right now!

That “let’s not set any goals or deadlines for writing” philosophy from college REALLY was not very successful for me…

(This interview was posted early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Interviews | 6 Comments  

Silly Interview with Monica Valentinelli, Who Aspires to Terrify You with Marshmallows

(Editor’s Note: This interview has been in the vault. For Monica’s most updated work, visit her at

Rachel Swirsky: You can write any tie-in on any subject you want. All the normal rules are out the window. If you’re writing Star Trek, you can have Q take over the universe. Whatever you like. What’s the tie-in book you’d write?

Monica Valentinelli: Well, I’ve been staring at this question for five minutes now, and I’m finding it impossible to narrow my options down to one. The book I would absolutely love to write is a Star Wars novel written as a mosaic (Yep, Game of Thrones!). The story for that would be a sordid tale of how different factions (which includes the Sith, Jedi, Witches of Dathomir, Kamino Cloners, Hutts) are all vying to become “the” de facto leaders of the Republic well before the the Old Republic ever existed. I’m talking centuries before the technology was created that allowed pilots to make the jump into hyperspace; here, space travel still exists it’s just a lot slower. For this to work, I wouldn’t kill off the Force-users and make them as rare as they currently are. Instead, I’d go the exact opposite direction. Force-users exist, but nobody believes they have real power, because they pass them off as religious or think their “tricks” are due to scientific or technologic advances. Only, they’re (Force-users) are not gifted due to genetics or midichlorians at all. So, it’s far less about “one family’s legacy” and more about “faction”. Everybody has a stake in controlling the galaxy, and sometimes they forget there’s other, more terrifying threats out there—like the Yuuzahn Vong or an unknown force. I think there’s a lot of politics in Star Wars that sometimes gets missed due to the high-octane action; its iconic setting is a treasure trove for storytelling potential, and I’d love to see (Who knows? Maybe write?) more genre-bending tales set in the universe.

Fantasy and horror are a bit tougher, because I prefer to create my own worlds in those genres; magic and mystery are comfortable wheelhouses for me. Of course, it doesn’t help that some of my fandoms (especially anime, Final Fantasy, and Miyazaki films) I’m way too nervous to touch; I don’t know if you’ve seen Madoka Magica, but I wouldn’t change anything after watching that; it’s perfect just as it is. If we’re going SUPER silly? Ever since Universal announced they were rebooting their universe, I kept thinking about the breakfast cereal. You know, Boo Berry, Franken Berry, Count Chocula, etc.? Yeah, a novel…but instead of scary monsters you get edible marshmallows and the only way to stop them from terrorizing your town is to eat them. Tasty. I have a lot of fun writing the ridiculous, and I don’t get to do that terribly often.

RS: Can you describe how you put a game book, like the Firefly RPG, together?

MV: Sure thing! So, the role I’m elaborating on is called a “developer”. This position requires management and participation in the team-based production of a game (or an entire line) from concept to approvals to print, while balancing the needs and desires of the publisher, license holder, and fans. The logistics of this position will vary widely from license to license and publisher to publisher. The Firefly RPG corebook, for example, was a complex and very involved undertaking for a number of reasons ranging from our focus on the TV show as opposed to the movie, which are two separate licenses, to ensuring that we made a game that Browncoats would be happy with. We encountered a lot of demand for the game after we announced in February 2013 but found there wasn’t enough time to produce a full corebook for our projected launch at GenCon, which took place in August 2013. Since GenCon is a significant show for game releases, we decided to release a preview, instead, so we could incorporate fan feedback for the full corebook.

In general, however, the tasks related to producing a game book happen over many months and might include: designing the production schedule, developing clear outlines and instructions for each book, finding, hiring, and managing other freelance game designers, writers, editors, indexers, artists, and layout artists, managing playtesters, working with sales or marketing partners, sending out contracts, making canon-related decisions and sticking to approval guidelines, etc. In addition to all of this, I feel the biggest responsibility I have as a developer is one of quality control. On each game I develop, I’m involved and participate in every step of production (outlining, writing, editing, layout, proofing, and approvals) to ensure the result is something everyone will love.

RS: You also wrote and designed a dictionary and encyclopedia for Firefly. Can you tell us about those books?

MV: I had a great deal of fun working with my editor at Titan Books to produce Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Phrasebook in the ’Verse, which is available on April 12th. We designed this reference book to pull words from the television show scripts and define them, in context, for the benefit of the reader so that they might get a clear idea of what it’s like to live in the Verse. Every word chosen was intentional—even the simpler words—to establish what setting bits and pieces of dialogue mirrored our own world exactly as we know them, and to contrast the definitions that are slightly shifted or engineered to fit the world of Firefly. We also added character write-ups for the cast and a huge section featuring Jenny Lynn, the show’s translator, and her work on Firefly.

Following this, I was hired to write the Firefly Encyclopedia. Revisiting the universe, I was able to incorporate the comics to write a narrative retelling of the story thus far, dive into the culture, offer interviews, feature Tony Lee’s work (who was the Chinese translator on both the Firefly and Serenity RPG lines), and provide an analysis of the scripts that included my commentary and information about the story’s inspiration.

Both books are available wherever they are sold. When I was in Seattle recently, I signed some copies of the encyclopedia at the Barnes and Noble, but they’re going fast!

RS: If the characters from Firefly could choose any cake flavors, which flavors would they choose?

MV: Such a fun question! Kaylee might go for strawberry shortcake, and Simon would probably go for a devil’s food—so he could savor what a real chocolate cake tastes like! Let’s see, Book is pretty interesting because he’s a preacher with a mysterious past, so I think a vanilla cake with a surprise filling inside, like raspberry, works out pretty well for his character. Inara is very elegant and sophisticated, so she might prefer something like a ginger peach cake with green tea icing. Mal? I’m guessing he doesn’t care if his cake is fancy provided it has frosting on it. For Jayne, I’d have to go with apple pie. Technically it’s not a cake, but I imagine the smell of apples might remind him of home—even though his mom may not have been able to afford enough apples to bake such a confection. River? Hrmm… That’s a tough one, because depending upon her state of mind she might enjoy a birthday cake she had as a child, or something a bit more colorful like red velvet. That leaves Zoe and Wash. Being the insufferable romantic that I am, I have to go with the top of their wedding cake for both of them.

RS: Tell us about your most recent story.

MV: The story I published most recently is titled “My Name is Cybernetic Model XR389F and I am Beautiful” for Uncanny Magazine. I talked a lot about this story in my interview with Caroline M. Yoachim in that issue. Since the story debuted, I’ve learned a lot about perception and identity. You see, I wasn’t angry when I wrote this story. I simply relayed a specific experience that I, and a lot of other women have, using the lens of science fiction to examine and question it in a fictional context. Not so much “write what I know”, but more “write my truth.” I’m deeply concerned that we laud technological achievements without recognizing our inventions don’t change who we are; they will reflect our biases and core beliefs, because we made them. If we don’t broaden our perspectives now, then how can the future belong to all of us? I suppose that’s the beauty of writing and reading science fiction. There are so many wonderful authors who answer questions like these in their work, to propose a better future.

I also wrote a prequel to “The Dunwich Horror” for an anthology called Sisterhood: Dark Tales and Secret Histories featuring the Woman in White, wrote a tie-in story about cats for the Monarchies of Mau RPG, and have a handful of others that’ll debut this year. Plus, I developed a new fantasy world and wrote a novella to launch a solo game series called “Proving Grounds”. I’m thrilled that a bunch of my stories’ll be out this year. Exciting!

RS: Your cats have unusual names. How did they get them? Can we see some pet pictures, too?

MV: Hah! Well, we have two cats (one ginger polydactal manx with yellow eyes, and a black cat with green eyes). The ginger cat was originally named after the ancient Babylonian god of dreams, and our black kitty for the god of storms. Over time, as their personalities emerged, we wound up with sillier-sounding names to offset those four a.m. wake-up calls and our bewilderment at their addiction to catnip. We nicknamed our ginger cat Lord Lardbottom, because he’s a bit lopsided. Because he doesn’t have a tail, he biffs when he tries to jump up higher than the length of a footstool, and he often sits and pouts when he doesn’t get his way.

Our black cat is a chatterbox, gaping maw, and alarm clock all rolled into one. He has a high-pitched voice, which led us to affectionately refer to him as Captain Whinypants.
Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your world, Rachel. If your readers would like to check out me or my work, I invite them to visit

(This interview was posted early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Cats, Interviews, Patreon | 1 Comment  

Open Thread and Link Farm, happy robot edition

  1. An Expert on Concentration Camps Says That’s Exactly What the U.S. Is Running at the Border
    “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz.”
  2. After two trans migrant women died in ICE detention, Tucker Carlson says trans detainees are treated better than American citizens
  3. Inside the horrors of migrant detention centers – Axios
    “At a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in El Paso, Tex. more than 150 migrants were held in a cell meant for just 35 people…”
  4. What’s Actually Causing Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Immigrant Detention Centers? – Pacific Standard
  5. Hitler Was Incompetent and Lazy — and His Nazi Government Was an Absolute Clown Show | Opinion
    People underestimated Hitler, because you don’t have to be competent to do a lot of harm.
  6. Could Oregon Become the First State to Ban Single-Family Zoning? – Willamette Week
    “… allowing smaller dwellings or breaking up single-family homes into multiple units creates more housing and the chance to make housing more affordable in pricey neighborhoods.”
  7. Every NIMBY’s Speech At a Public Hearing – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
    “I’ve lived in the same house in the Elm Heights neighborhood for the past twenty years, and I just love everything about this town except for the problems that my politics have directly created.”
  8. I’m from a Mexican family. Stop expecting me to eat ‘authentic’ food. – The Washington Post
  9. Why Elizabeth Warren Left The GOP – POLITICO Magazine
    “Warren says the first trip to a bankruptcy court in San Antonio upended her feelings about Law and Economics and the more theoretical, free-market approach she had espoused.”
  10. Incels are now mad about women smiling at them :: We Hunted The Mammoth
    “Now I have been black pilled about female smiles just being another form of teasing.”
  11. A Year After Internet Infamy, Ronaldo Sculptor Gets Another Shot
    The weird thing is, the first sculpture is so much more engaging and interesting than any better-done sculpture could be. But I’m glad he’s gotten another chance; hopefully he’ll get to keep on sculpting.
  12. My Jewish Trek | Jewish Journal
    “‘Gene was anti-Semitic, clearly,’ Nimoy replied as my heart sank.”
  13. Global Implications of FOSTA | Slixa
    “The passage of FOSTA rests on an extensive history of abolitionist attempts to pass legislation that restrict sex work or apply paternalistic narratives to workers.”
  14. Baby Anacondas Born At New England Aquarium — Without Any Male Snakes Involved
  15. Political Cartoonist Not Sure How To Convey That Large Sack In Senator’s Hand Is Full Of Money – The Onion
  16. Report: Google News Does Not Have an Anti-Conservative Bias So Much as a Pro-Credible Source One
    And, unsurprisingly, a pro-gets-a-lot-of-clicks bias. (Conservatives will respond that the measures used to access “credible” are also biased against conservatives.)
  17. Virginia EMT who made racist remarks on podcast loses his job – CNN
    As y’all know, I’m generally against firing people for their off-the-clock political speech. Well, here’s a case where I completely approve of the firing.
  18. The Trade Secret: Firms That Promised High-Tech Ransomware Solutions Almost Always Just Pay the Hackers
    Via Ozy.
  19. Dogs’ Eyes Have Changed Since Humans Befriended Them – The Atlantic
    “For the study, a team at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre looked at two muscles that work together to widen and open a dog’s eyes, causing them to appear bigger, droopier, and objectively cuter.”
  20. Black Missouri drivers 91% more likely to be stopped, state attorney general finds | PBS NewsHour
  21. The Political and the Principled: A Different Take On Grievance Studies
  22. Many Analysts, One Data Set: Making Transparent How Variations in Analytic Choices Affect Results
    Journal article giving the same data to 29 teams of analysts; the various teams found significantly different results, despite using the same data. “These findings suggest that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid, even by experts with honest intentions.” Thanks to Harlequin for the link!
  23. The kidnapped Yazidi children who don’t want to be rescued from ISIS – The Washington Post
    What a nightmare.
  24. Animals Are Becoming Nocturnal To Avoid Interacting With Humans
  25. Pleading Guilty to Get Out of Jail – The Appeal
    Too many people have a choice between 1) remaining in jail because they can’t afford bail, or 2) pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in order to get free.
  26. Which is why there are movements to end cash bail. But the politics can be complicated, plus there’s the worry that without cash bail, DAs and judges will try to divert more people into simply being jailed with no bail possible.
  27. D.C. Sex Workers Want Decriminalization—and City Council Members Agree –
    The article doesn’t give a sense of how likely the bill is to pass, however. Anyone got a feel for that?
  28. Everyone Got the Dutch Teen ‘Euthanasia’ Story Wrong –
    The real story – a complex story of a suffering teen choosing not to eat and her parents choosing to no longer force-feed her – became, in English newspapers, a completely fabricated cautionary tale about euthanasia.

Posted in Link farms | 230 Comments  

Cartoon: How Dare They Call Me A Conservative!

Help me make more cartoons – support my patreon! A $1 pledge really helps.

A few years ago, writing about popular anti-feminist pundits Christina Hoff Sommers and Cathy Young, I criticized their self-identification as pro-choice.

 I only know Cathy, Sommers, and their compatriots are pro-choice because they mention being pro-choice as a credential to advance anti-feminist positions.

…Their pro-choiceness is opportunistic.  None of these writers extend their pro-choice views to publicly  defending the right to an abortion, even though abortion is in desperate need of defense.

It’s hard to take the “I’m pro-choice, so I have credibility when I  say feminists are evil” mantra seriously when saying that appears to be the entire extent of their commitment to reproductive rights.

In the years since then, that tactic – claiming to be progressive as a credential when attacking “social justice,” but without spending any significant amount of time advocating for progressive positions – seems to have become more popular, not just among anti-feminists, but among anti-“identity politics” folks in general.

Matt Jameson, a self-identified centrist, writes:

On Twitter — again, with the help of centrism’s brand ambassadors — it’s  becoming standard operating procedure to display centrist bona fides by  claiming to be on or at least sympathetic to the policy positions and  goals of the left, while vociferously criticizing the left’s excesses.  As if devoting essentially 100 percent of your online energy agitating  against “leftist excesses” is somehow consistent with centrism because  you’re also—in some latent sense—“open to leftist ideas.”

That seems to me quite on-target. It’s fine for leftists to criticize the left (as I’ve done from time to time); but if someone’s public advocacy is virtually all attacks on the left, then their claim to be of the left is empty.

On a technical level, my main worry with this cartoon is that readers might not understand that the “whispering” panels are whispers.

(Special thanks to patron Ari A, who suggested panel 5. Thanks Ari!)

As always, thanks to my patrons for supporting these cartoons. I seriously, honestly, literally could not make all these cartoons without their support; that I’ve gone from six poli cartoons a year to almost fifty a year is incredible! And all thanks to my patreon supporters!

That’s why they got to see this cartoon a week ago. :-p


This cartoon has six panels. All six panels feature a 50ish white man, wearing glasses and a suit jacket over a black tee shirt, speaking directly to the viewer. Two of the panels are much narrower than the other four. In addition to those six panels, there’s also a tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon.


A medium shot of the man. He is speaking excitedly and angrily at the viewer, holding a fist in the air. We can see there’s a tree behind him.

MAN: Did you read my article in Quibbette? I show how there’s no freedom of speech for anyone criticizing the “woke” fascists!


A longer shot lets us see he’s standing on a path on what might be a college  quadrangle. It’s a park-like space with trees and a faux-roman style building in the background. He continues to speak intensely, holding up a forefinger to make a point.

MAN: Like I said in the Times, the campus left are coddled, free-speech hating totalitarians!


In a closer shot, and a much smaller, narrower panel, the man, smiling, cups his mouth with a hand to whisper to the viewer. He’s making a thumbs up sign with his other hand.

MAN (whispering): Psst! I’m pro-choice, and I voted for Obama.


He’s back to angry rant mode, raising both hands into the air.

MAN: Like I said on Fox: The Democrats have been taken over by identitarian totalitarians who hate white men!


Again smiling and whispering in a much narrower panel.

MAN: Psst! Have I mentioned I have a Black friend?


In the final panel, the man has a hurt expression, and is holding one hand flat on his chest.

MAN: And how dare they call me a conservative after I took all those liberal positions!


Still talking directly at the viewer, the man looks angry again.

MAN: And why can’t those fascist totalitarian cowardly thugs be more civil?

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 38 Comments  

Cartoon: Reducing Abortion Is Definitely Their Number One Priority

I’ve gone from making about six poli cartoons a year, to making almost fifty! That couldn’t happen without the support people give my patreon. A $1 pledge really matters.

Democrats often say that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”

I’ve seen some feminists argue against this slogan. “Why should we care if abortion is rare? There’s nothing wrong with it.” And they make the very good point that Democrats shouldn’t embrace a slogan that could be read as implying that abortion is immoral.

I can understand that perspective – I’m definitely in the a-fetus-has-no-independent-moral-value camp myself.

But even if we attach no moral value to the fetus, we should still want abortion to be rare. Abortions are expensive, and often extremely unpleasant for patients. So wouldn’t everyone be better off if fewer unwanted pregnancies happened in the first place?

It’s like appendectomies. I’m glad that the procedure exists for people when they need it. But if there were some sort of treatment that prevented appendicitis in the first place, so fewer people needed surgery, that would be even better, because it would be physically and financially easier on patients. Saying so is not saying that there’s anything immoral about appendectomies!

So I think liberals can, and should, want abortions to be rarer. So this is an area of potential compromise between pro-choicers and pro-lifers, right?

It doesn’t turn out that way.

I find it useful to use some economics language when I think about reducing abortion. Supply and demand. We can reduce abortion by reducing the supply – trying to shut down clinics, waiting periods to make abortion less available, and at the extremes, bans. All of these methods are coercive in some way.

Or we could reduce abortion by reducing the demand – changing society so that fewer people want abortions. This primarily means trying to help people who don’t want babies avoid getting pregnant, but it can also include better safety nets for people having babies. These methods are not coercive.

The pro-life movement, at least among the policy makers – Senators, congressmen, the leaders of the major pro-life orgs, etc – simply has no interest in reducing the demand for abortion. In fact, they actively oppose non-coercive ways of reducing abortion.

And that’s why the most obvious seeming compromise between pro-life and pro-choice – which is to embrace non-coercive methods of reducing abortion – is a no-go.

(I wrote a twitter thread about this recently, which has some more info on how extremely effective giving away free birth control can be for reducing abortion.)

Another strip where I paid a lot of attention to drawing environments! I think panel 4 came out pretty nicely. I also decided to color everything except hair and skin in shades of blue, which I think is really neat looking.

I was binging “Person of Interest” on Netflix while drawing this cartoon, and decided to draw the pro-life guy as one of the stars of that show, Michael Emerson. (Emerson is probably most famous for playing Benjamin on “Lost.”) I didn’t do this as a comment on Emerson’s politics – I have no idea what Emerson’s opinions on abortion are. He just has a super interesting face.


This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same two figures walking through a city environment while they talk. The first figure is a dark-haired woman wearing a business outfit, with a black shirt. The second figure is a middle-aged man wearing glasses, slacks, a collared shirt, and a striped necktie.

In the first three panels, they’re both walking in the same direction with the man in front, so the man is facing away from the woman.


Both speakers are friendly-looking.

WOMAN: Okay, Pro-Life… let’s brainstorm ways to reduce abortion!

MAN: Reducing abortion is definitely my number one priority!


The man dismissively waves a hand.

WOMAN: Research shows that giving people free long-acting reversible contraception reduces abortion more than anything!

MAN: Nope. That would encourage promiscuity.


WOMAN: Okay, um…  How about a super generous child benefit program, like Belgium or Germany?

MAN: I don’t want taxpayers paying people for being irresponsible.


The woman loses her temper a bit, looking angry and holding up her hands. The man has turned around to face the woman, smiling and looking eager and excited.

WOMAN: Come ON! There must be SOME way of reducing abortion you approve of other than punishing doctors and patients!

MAN: Now you’re talking! What’d you have in mind… Shaming? Prison? Death penalty?


The man from the previous four panels is now talking sternly at Barry the cartoonist.

MAN: If a million “pre-born babies” have to die to avoid compromise on birth control, it’s worth it!

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | 47 Comments  

Silly Interview with John Chu, who will tell you about the great injustices of American Musical Theater

(Illustration by Christopher Silas Neal for “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere“)

Rachel Swirsky: I am completely fascinated by the translation work you and Ken and others are doing to bring Chinese SF to the US audience. (Also, I am very grateful for it as a reader and writer; I am so happy to be able to see those stories which I wouldn’t otherwise.) We talk a lot about the challenges of bringing something into a new cultural context–for obvious reasons!–but what are some of the good parts? Do stories pick up new resonances sometimes?

John Chu: A translation is a trade-off. (This is hardly an original thought.) Yes, we lose something in the process but it wouldn’t be worth doing at all if we didn’t also get something in return. At the end of the day, it’s is not practical to be fluent (enough) in every language that is the original language of some work that you’d like to read. (I’ve lost track of how many languages I’d need to be fluent in.) A really good translation, combined with knowledge of the culture the original work is a part of, can get you much of the way there. It is a way to experience what would otherwise be impractical to experience. (That said, I don’t think you should let yourself think you are, somehow, engaging directly with the original work. Translation is always an intermediated experience. If you want to engage directly with the original work, I’m afraid you need to become fluent in the language of the original work. And the standard is that you are fluent. If you can’t understand in that language well enough, you are probably better off with the translation.

Stories inevitably pick up new resonances. Part of translation is to get the readers of the translated work to feel what the readers of the original work feel. One way of getting there is to find equivalents (to the extent possible) for what can’t be directly translated, like the resonances of the story. For example, I translated a story once where each section was written in a distinct style. What I needed to do, then, was to find styles in English that had the same affect as the styles referenced in the original text then write the translation in those styles. The translations end up harkening back to different traditions of storytelling than the original, but the effect on the reader is much closer to reading the original than if I’d just translated the text so-called ‘literally.’ (Again, if you really need to see what the writer actually need, you need to read the original work directly.)

RS: Your wikipedia page calls you “an American microprocessor architect” before also mentioning that you are a writer and translator. It took me a minute, reading that, to parse it, and for a second I was wondering about what kinds of buildings you’d design. So, what kinds of buildings would you design?

JC: I love Brutalist and Modern architecture. (Postmodern architecture is also wonderful but we’re still in that period (or we’re still so close to it) so it’s hard to generalize.) One of the joys in visiting Chicago for me is that its skyline beautifully details the evolution of skyscrapers as tastes changed and construction methods improved. One of the things I most treasure about my trip to Helsinki is the day I played hooky from WorldCon and just walked around the city encountering one lovely piece of Modernist architecture after another. The juxtaposition of buildings from many eras in Helsinki was also a delight. (The city also inadvertently make it clear that we have left the Modernist Era. Still, if you are able—and it’s a lot of walking, sometimes on cobblestone–I highly recommend walking around Helsinki and engaging with one fabulous example of Modernism after another. It’s a beautiful city.)

The buildings I would aspire to design would probably draw on the sleek elegance of the International Style of Modernism whether I intend to or not. (It’s probably not literally true but one of the things I love about Chicago is that it kind of feels like a giant tribute to Mies van der Rohe, not to mention Frank Lloyd Wright (who, yes, is not of the International Style).) However, it’s the early 21st century, not the early-to-mid 20th century. Left to my own devices, I hope I would be brave enough to engage with humor, like Frank Gehry. (Not specifically his sense of humor, though. Mine. Frank Gehry is already the world’s best Frank Gehry. We don’t need another one.) I hope that my work would follow in the tradition blazed by Arata Isozaki, who pointedly does not design in any one architectural style. Instead, he is very site-specific and project-specific, letting those requirements dictate what the building needs to be. (Also, he just won the Pritzker Prize! *kermit flail*)

RS: I read an interview where you said that you make it a point to find out things about obscure musical theater history! Me, too! (I took classes in this! LOL.) What are some of your favorite forgotten musicals?

JC: Well, I’m not sure how forgotten these are but I do wish they were more popular:

The Golden Apple. I will flog that musical until it gets the mainstream recognition it deserves. Jerome Moross and John LaTouche set The Illiad and The Odyssey at the turn of the 20th century (and engage in a search for the truths necessary to survive the 20th century). I won’t say that it’s a perfect musical but the score is absolutely glorious. It’s appallingly short B’way run is one of the greater injustices of American Musical Theater. A mostly complete recording of the show was released in 2015 (and it’s absolutely worth getting).

You can see snippets from 2017 concert production (which I saw!) here:

The Day Before Spring. Lerner & Loewe would go on to Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot. Before all that, they wrote The Day Before Spring. The story is nothing to write home about but the score is pretty terrific. (Bits of it was recycled into their later efforts.)

Sweet Adeline by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. It played B’way in 1929, Set in the 1890’s, it’s a lush, nostalgic story of a woman who becomes a Broadway star and her various failed relationships along the way. For me, its take home hit is a choral set piece in the middle of Act II called “Some Girl Is On Your Mind”:

St. Louis Woman. Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Book by Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen (based on Bontemp’s novel God Sends Sunday). It’s the musical that “Anywhere I Hang My Hat Is Come” and “Come Rain, Come Shine” comes from. Love! Revenge! Murder! And a happy ending. Here is Audra McDonald singing “I Had Myself a True Love”:

Golden Boy. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Lee Adams. Book by Clifford Odets and William Gibson (not that one!) based on Odet’s play. It’s about a man who becomes a prizefighter to escape his ghetto roots. He does, but at a cost. I saw a concert production of this that makes the book never really worked. It has a lot of terrific songs though.

“While the City Sleeps”

“Night Song”

“Stick Around”

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for now.

RS: Relatedly, what words do you have for young gay, American men who don’t know who Judy Garland is?

JC: My feelings about this are weirdly nuanced. Basically, I don’t think it’s good to be the gay version of That Guy Who Wants Everyone To Read Heinlein. So I’m not going to be. Without taking anything away from the brilliance and genius of her work (and, at her best, Judy Garland was in a class of her own), it’s not unfair to say that the near-religious reverence for her was also, in part, a consequence of a culture that, as a matter of life or death, had to stay underground. The discovery and the love of her work was part of how you found your (secret) tribe. There is a reason why, once upon a time, one might discreetly inquire whether one was a “friend of Dorothy.” And, back then, if you were gay and never discovered a love for her work, I suppose you might have lived your entire life thinking you were the only one in the world and remained desperately and heart-breakingly alone? 🙁

Nowadays, though, on one hand, I’m not saying that we have achieved full equality. In fact, it feels like reactionary forces are desperate to drag us back into the closet. On the other hand, we are freer than we once were and the path to finding other gay men does not necessarily go through a discovery and a love of the works of Judy Garland. (Yes, she was a huge star in the mainstream, too. I’m making a point. Hush.) Gay culture has become much more diverse and much more mainstream. (I mean, RuPaul’s Drag Race is on VH1!) I think we may be inching towards the point where it’s not Gay Culture as much as it is just part of culture. Assimilation is a tricky topic and way outside the scope of this interview. However, to the extent that Gay Culture was a reaction to the systemic oppression of LGBTQ (although, in the case of Judy Garland, let’s face it, the demographic in question is mostly cisgender gay men), the way the culture shifts because we are no longer as oppressed can’t be a bad thing on the whole.

So, if you are a young, gay American man and musicals are not your thing, there’s no reason to subject yourself to Judy Garland. If you love musicals though (and I loved musicals long before I realized I was gay) and you have not yet encountered the works of Judy Garland, boy are you in for a treat.

RS: I also have some improv training, although I don’t feel like I use that a lot in my work. (I’m sure I have much less experience with it than you do.) What techniques prove especially useful?

JC: I actually have an entire lecture about this! This is what I talk about when I’m invited to fill an hour at a workshop or something. (The lecture, perhaps appropriately, is a constantly evolving work-in-progress.)

I steal shamelessly from the improv toolkit when I write. In improv, you are on an empty stage with a scene partner who, because the two of you are not telepathic, does not actually know what you are going to do (and visa versa). And yet, merely through the things you say and the things you do, you two are able to fill out an entire world and a relationship that leaves the audience satisfied. If you can do that with improv, imagine what you can do when you bring in the other tools that a writer also has at their disposal. Improv turns out to be a great lens (for me, anyway) to strip everything to its fundamentals, work the skills it takes to write a great scene, before you then add back in all the other things you can do. (Also, the ability to revise is huge. In improv, of course, you get only that one shot.)

Everything you do on stage makes a promise to the audience, whether you intended to or not. That promise has to be kept no matter how small it seems. So, if you walk from point A to point B, you jag around what you have decided is a table, you have defined the length and width of that table. Until someone moves the table or destroys the table or changes the location of the scene, no one can simply plow through that empty space. That would break the promise and throw the audience out of the reality you’ve created.

Improv forces you to consider, in real time, “OK, if this is true, what else is true?” The most obvious place to apply this is world building, but it’s a question that writers need to ask about everything. For example, once I played a scene where I squinted, shaded my eyes and my first line was something like, “OMG, you’re so happy, you’re glowing. I can barely stand to look at you.” Because my body language was that of someone looking at a very bright object and because I was working with a terrific partner, he immediately recognized that the glowing was literal, not metaphorical and that he was glowing out of joy. Now, because he’s an awesome partner, he took my second sentence also for its emotional truth and considered if I can’t look at him because he is so happy, what else must be true about me? The result was this really searing scene of loss and healing that neither one of us could have anticipated from my admittedly somewhat goofy opening offer.

RS: What projects are you currently working on?

JC: Being mostly a short story writer means I’m always in the middle of writing multiple somethings but I almost never have anything in progress that I can announce. I do have a story forthcoming at Uncanny Magazine and another story in the anthology, The Mythic Dream, forthcoming from Saga. As for what I’m currently writing, I have great hopes but nothing is locked down yet.

(This interview was posted early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Interviews | 1 Comment  

Bunny Chicken

Bunny Chicken is a character I drew for a role-playing game I was sketching out called Cats and Dogs Living Together.

Bunny Chicken is a muscular, black domestic shorthair. He’s five years old, weighs twelve pounds of sheer strength, and is vain about his shining fur and whiskers. He thinks of himself as Alpha, master of all he surveys. He’s genuinely tough, but he’s been tame all his life–deep down, he wouldn’t be cat enough for the mean streets. He’s smart enough to see the benefits of power, but not to worry about consequences.

(originally posted on my patreon)

Posted in Cats | Leave a comment  

Straight to the Point: What can we learn about ourselves from the world around us?

Verses of Sky & Stars: How to Write the Poetry and Science Fiction and FantasyMy online speculative poetry class, Verses of Sky & Stars, is coming up on June 9th! The class changes a little each time as the group composition does, but if you want to get a basic idea, I talk about why I like teaching it in this post from April:

As our understanding of the world grows to incorporate more science and technology, our metaphors grow to include them. The static human behavior of looking outside to understand ourselves combines with an evolving society to give us reference points that shift over time and cultures. … Science fiction wrestles with how to figure out the universe and our place in it. Poetry allows writers to focus on metaphors and internal states. Science fiction poetry can get straight to the point and ask, “What can we learn about ourselves from the world around us?”

Poetry requires intense linguistic control. Every word matters. Whether you’re a poet who wants to create fantastical verses, or a prose writer who wants to learn the finely tuned narrative power that poetry can teach, you’ll find something in this class. 

Over the course of a few brief lectures, peppered with plenty of writing exercises, we’ll discuss some common forms of speculative poetry, and the challenges they represent. I’ll also send you home with market listings, and lists great authors, poems, and books to pick up to continue your journey.

There is still time for you to join us next weekend. Enroll here at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

Posted in classes, Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry, Verses of Sky & Stars | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: The Woman I’ve Been Waiting For

I make a living because people support my cartoons on Patreon! Join them!

Sorry for the relatively short post this time, but I don’t think this cartoon would be enhanced by a big discussion of what it’s about.

This one is pretty unusual in tone for me. (Don’t worry, we’ll be back to your regularly scheduled snark next week.)

I’ve been working hard to up my game when it comes to drawing environments, and to using smaller, full-figure drawings rather than relying on close-ups. And although I have a long way to go, I’m pretty confident that I couldn’t have drawn this as well a few years ago.


This cartoon has four panels.


A man and a woman stand on a fancy pedestrian bridge over a stream, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes. Both are smiling.

MAN: I’m so glad I found you. You’re the woman I’ve been waiting for! You’re always supportive, always cheerful.


A closer shot of the two of them, walking while holding hands. They’re still looking fondly at each other.

MAN: You never think about your appearance or diet, yet you look like a model. You’ve got a career, but it never interferes with time for me.


A long shot shows them walking side by side down a path in a park. He’s looking ahead, smiling as he talks; she’s turned to face him a bit, smiling, with an “explaining hand” gesture.

MAN: You insist on doing the cooking and my laundry. You’re eager to hear about all my hobbies..

WOMAN: But don’t forget, honey – I’m also imaginary.


The same setting and shot as in the previous panel. The man has come to a stop and is looking down a bit, expression sad, one hand reaching out a bit as if to grab onto something that’s not there. He is completely alone.

MAN (in a thought balloon): I always forget that part.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | 29 Comments