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Straight On Till Morning

Sunday, August 14th, 2016 | Posted by Athena Andreadis

The Other Half of the Sky-small The Other Half of the Sky-back-small

“I’ll be your gypsy joker, your shotgun rider.”
– Bruce Springsteen, “Soul Driver”

The first book I clearly remember reading was the unexpurgated Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Its portrayal of Captain Nemo as a swashbuckling polymath certainly influenced my decision to become a research scientist. But the story, hands down Verne’s best, also irrevocably inclined me towards science fiction (SF; fantasy was already in my blood courtesy of my people’s myths, songs and aeons-long history). By cultural background and temperament, I disliked the Leaden… er, Golden SF Era. I preferred the Silver Age and the New Wave, with their explicit charters to write worlds and characters with more depth and flavor than cardboard. Not Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, but Anderson, Butler, McIntyre, Scott, Jablokov, Zelazny, LeGuin.

When I did become a scientist with a lab of my own, I found out that the vocation was much more ambiguous and complex than my starry-eyed young self had envisioned. And just as science beguiled me while frustrating me, so did SF: the quasi-sanctified Campbel/lite neoteny, the mangling of basic scientific concepts, the false dichotomy between inspiration and craft… above all, the almost-proud parochialism.

So here I was, holding several tangled threads: a research scientist, a space exploration enthusiast, a biology-based spokesperson for astrobiology; a politicized world citizen aware of the larger contexts and double edges of all scientific undertakings; a zero-generation immigrant to whom cultural fault lines are visible; an unrepentant feminist and book devourer who detests the standard SF portrayal of scientists, women and non-Americans (to name but a few sore spots); a decades-long reviewer and editor, and a published writer of fiction and non-fiction.

My choices were unpalatable. I could abandon the genre altogether and fall back on good biography and history books which repeatedly demonstrate that truth can be stranger than fiction. But I have an incurable yearning for starry lanes. Or I could re-read the old collections — Sargent’s Women of Wonder and its sisters — fall out of touch and become a relic myself.

Women of Wonder The Classic Years-small Women of Wonder The Contemporary Years-small

So I decided to do some conjuring of my own. I would elicit and curate SF of the kind I wanted: nuanced derring-do, mythic layers, three-dimensional characters, carefully-built universes, stories that lodge in cortex and breastbone, worlds realized by sensibilities that extend past the comfortable clichés of Hack Workshops 101 and fifties US sub/urbia. I sent out my hope-laden message bottles, and when the responses arrived I heard what I thought I might never hear again: the wind whispering between the stars.

My first effort as an astrogator resulted in The Other Half of the Sky (TOHOTS), which was to some extent an exploratory feeler — but also a banner and blueprint. There were several visible contributors to TOHOTS: the authors, cover artist Eleni Tsami, co-editor Kay Holt. But there was a less visible but equally critical one: Kate Sullivan, the founder and owner of Candlemark & Gleam (C&G). She was the only publisher who gave me fair terms (without prompting on my part, yet). I owe Sam Montgomery-Blinn of Bull Spec many craft beers for suggesting Kate to me and doing the introductions.

Kate proved an ideal collaborator who carefully and lovingly helped me prepare TOHOTS for what would be a triumphant publication arc: the anthology went on to win unprecedented awards and accolades (including a Nebula for one of its stories and four reprintings in Best Of compilations) way before the “X Destroy Y” mode became either fashionable or safe — achievements that are even more momentous when one considers C&G’s infinitesimal PR budget.

After the resounding success of TOHOTS, I wanted to do at least two more anthologies. The next one would be blood of my blood and bone of my bone: it would foreground and celebrate women scientists who are not subject to the snooze-inducing conflict of work versus family; who are aware of the limitations and consequences of their vocation; and who come from cultures where science is a holistic endeavor as necessary as art — or air. I knew the title of this antho even before I sent out the invitations: it would be called To Shape the Dark, because that’s what scientists do. It went without saying that I wanted Kate’s small but intrepid, meticulous press to bring this out. There could be none better for this expedition.

To Shape the Dark-small To Shape the Dark-back-small

But Kate had been running C&G single-handedly in addition to a full-time day job. The heroic effort had tired her and she was contemplating closing down C&G rather than see her vision and standards compromised. So I told her of my own vision. I told her of my dream to elicit SF that combines quality craft and vivid characters with a non-triumphalist sense of wonder, awareness of scientific principles, and original universes. I told her of my desire to nurture stellar talents whom I consider neglected due to the publisher/editor stampede to be “edgy” (if only). We talked and planned. And in November 2015, I became the new C&G helm with Kate as my indispensable Number One during the transition year.

It’s a fitting symbol and a good omen that To Shape the Dark was the first book brought out by C&G under its new astrogator. It already won a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and an equally ecstatic one in Analog SF. And much more is in the pipeline, from amazing works that Kate bequeathed me to full-blown novels that spun out of stories I solicited for my two anthos.

The transition is very like living in a house while renovating it, even with Kate’s formidable knowledge, experience and resourcefulness. I already knew theoretically (and now know concretely) that running a small press is almost identical to running a small lab. Its astrogators have to be jills-of-all-trades and operate with essentially zero redundancy on a budget that might buy one nail in the Pentagon. Add to that our disinclination to use Kickstarters in lieu of business plans, and we have near-zero room for error.

I’m not knee-deep in flowers and rings (yet). But as long as my stamina holds, I plan to take this little starship to as many journeys as its sturdy, lovingly attended frame will bear — and if luck is with us, we’ll bring back tidings of many new worlds and new civilizations, stories of spider silk.

There is the sea, and who will drain it dry?
Precious as silver, inexhaustible, ever new,
It blooms the more we reap it.
Our lives are based on wealth untold—
Fortune has seen to that.”

– Clytemnestra, in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon


Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She spent her adult life doing basic molecular biology research on brain dys/function. She has given many invited talks (that included NASA venues and the 100-Year Starship Symposium) on the biological and cultural issues of space/planetary exploration and settlement.

Athena is an avid reader in four languages across genres (though she has an accent in all of them). She’s the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. She conceived of and edited the widely acclaimed feminist space opera anthologies The Other Half of the Sky (2013, Candlemark & Gleam), and To Shape the Dark (2016, Candlemark & Gleam). Her work can be found in Scientific American, Harvard Review, Belles Lettres, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Bull Spec, Science in My Fiction, SF Signal, The Apex Blog, World SF, SFF Portal, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless. As of late 2015, Athena is the owner and chief astrogator of Candlemark & Gleam.

3 Comments »

  1. Wow, remarkable post.

    Sas efcharistó gia óles tis prospátheiés sas !

    …and now to see about acquiring some digital ink 😉

    Cheers, -Anthony

    Comment by AWAbooks - August 15, 2016 10:26 am

  2. Ki’ egó sas efharistó gia to shólio, and I hope the works meet expectations!

    Athena

    Comment by Athena Andreadis - August 15, 2016 10:38 am

  3. First story: Tight, quite right, and more fun than a bag O’ puns :-)

    Comment by AWAbooks - August 16, 2016 4:08 am


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