Shared Worlds: The Eighth Year of This Unique Teen SF/Fantasy Writing Camp


(Above: One of Jeremy Zerfoss’s wonderful pieces of art for the camp’s annual book of student writings.)

Can you believe the Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp has been around for eight years? Program director Tim Schmitz shares his thoughts on getting close to a decade.

We’ve grown from 20 students to 60 each year, from all over the world. And this year is the most robust yet, with over 150 applicants with several weeks left to register. Any teen who loves writing but also using their imagination in general should enjoy this unique camp. In the first week, the students build worlds in groups of 10 and then in the second week they write stories set in those worlds. Along the way, they receive expert instruction on creative writing as well as presentations on game creation. Many also have the opportunity to indulge their artistic bent in creating videos to present their worlds to the entire camp at the end of the two weeks. The students also receive a consult and critique from a professional writer–and a book of their fiction after the camp.

Written up by the Guardian, Washington Post blog, and many more, Shared Worlds has been a recipient of an grant for several years. We’ve also entered into such unique creative ventures as its Critter Map and Hand in Hand—with contributors like Patrick Rothfuss, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman.  (You can view these wonderful projects via the link above.)

This year we have a stellar list of guest writers coming to Shared Worlds: Catherynne M. Valente, Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant, Monica Byrne, David Anthony Durham, Nathan Ballingrud. Hugo Award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer will also be there, to, along with Grant, give the students insight into the world of editing. I will be there to teach from Wonderbook, the world’s first image-based creative writing book. In addition, camp founder Jeremy L.C. Jones will continue to add his worldbuilding insight and writer/game-design expert Will Hindmarch, our assistant director, will provide valuable thoughts on storytelling in general.

I’ve served as co-director of the camp for many years now, and it’s just simply the most rewarding thing I do every year—to see such dedicated and creative teenagers, who are also so invested in reading and the written word. Please help us spread the word as we enter our eighth year. Just a few more weeks to register for what might just be a life-changing experience.

Southern Reach / VanderMeer Events: Summer-Fall 2015

Southern Reach--paperback covers(The brilliant new covers for The Fourth Estate’s UK release of all three Southern Reach paperbacks on July 30.)

It’s going to be a busy second half of the year for me and for Ann, especially with more foreign-language editions of the Southern Reach trilogy being published–and The Fourth Estate bringing out the S.R. paperbacks in the UK on July 30. Here’s a look at the schedule, with additional events in Italy and Germany in September still possible. We’re looking forward to all of this–some great opportunities and some wonderful lit fest invites. Ann will be with me for Sardinia, Calgary, and the Vancouver Wordfest, too.

May 1-3: Ann VanderMeer is the editor guest of honor at Mo-Con X.

June 18-21: Wonderbook Workshop at the Yale Writers’ Conference (with Ann VanderMeer)

June 25, Thurs, 7pm: Worthington Library event (Ohio; ticketed event)

July 2-5: Sardinia Literary Festival

July 17-August 1: Teaching at the Shared Worlds writing camp in Spartanburg, Wofford College (with Ann VanderMeer; Hub City Bookstore event TBA)

October 13-18: Calgary Wordfest

October 20-25: Vancouver Book Festival

October 26–November 6: University of British Columbia mini-residency (with Ann VanderMeer;  public events TBA and classroom visits/critiques)

Hyperobjects: The Slow Apocalypse, Spooky Science at MIT, and Ex Machina


A few things of interest have occurred in the past week or two, and I wanted to draw your attention to them.

—Ex Machina is out in theaters, a film written and directed by Alex Garland. Since Garland’s on board to write and direction the movie of my novel Annihilation, I was curious to see what his debut as director would look like. Both Ann and I found the movie mesmerizing, intelligent, thought-provoking, but also visceral. It also carries through to the end in a way that’s rare in cinema these days. There are also so many little details that are so right, including something as simple as a Jackson Pollock painting that creates a chaotic counterpoint to the stasis of the principal setting. The acting is also first-rate. Ex Machina is also a film that assumes an intelligent audience, and so there’s really not a scene or moment wasted in unnecessary exposition. The cinematography we also found first-rate. Highly recommended, and it makes me even more excited for a possible movie version of Annihilation. (There’s a great interview with Garland here, in which he briefly mentions my novel.)

—Recently, I spoke at MIT, for an event entitled “The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach.” You can now listen to that conversation here. For over an hour, I talked about science and SF and collaboration with my long-time collaborator and friend G. Eric Schaller–he also happens to be a scientist and a fan of SF and fantasy. We talked about the slow apocalypse, when science seems right in novels, and a host of other subjects. The event was moderated by author Seth Mnookin, and I thought it turned out pretty great. We had a very responsive audience and thanks again to Harvard Square for providing books for the event.

–Finally, I wrote a long piece on “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” for Electric Lit, which documents my reaction to participating in the Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival and which also includes a review of the book published in conjunction with the event. I also touch on how we perceive animals in fiction, talk about the relevance of hyperobjects to fiction, etc. As noted, novels by Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson have entered the public awareness in a way others have not. What does this mean? What doesn’t it mean? The essay is meant to serve as an initial personal inquiry, not to be taken as a definitive list of answers. These issues are so vast that it is generally a mistake to reach conclusions, but it is important to ask questions.

As I said in my presentation at Sonic Acts festival, there’s a caveat to some of this exploration. “Fiction is contamination–of the writer by something foreign to the self (if you’re lucky) and yet intimate to it, and contamination of readers, who themselves mutate, and mutate the text. Because people are not at heart rational. Because fiction is not a road to a theorem or a final accounting of sums–and not just the hackneyed idea of a ‘journey,’ but also a series of microcosms in the paragraphs along the way and sometimes a series of traps. In such a context, philosophy or ideas must warp and be rendered at times as disinformation or misinformation, overheard wrong even, and remade as something living, understood and misunderstood in the usual, everyday human world. In other words, to ‘cook’ philosophy into most fiction, you must beat the living crap out of it metaphorically speaking.”

Jeff VanderMeer Southern Reach Events: April through June


Starting in April, I’ll be doing a series of interesting events in the U.S.. In the second half of the year, I’ll be teaching at Shared Worlds and may be going over to Europe for some literary festivals. In addition, Ann VanderMeer and I will be teaching at the University of British Columbia for a couple of weeks in late October. I’ll have more information on all of that shortly. In the meantime, here are the details for April through June…

April 9, Thurs, 7pm, Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo Exhibit X Reading Series, at 468 Washington St (WNYBAC), Off Campus. More information on this exciting series and on my event.

April 11, Sat, time TBA, Tallahassee, Florida: Word of South book festival Southern Reach/Weird fiction event with Living Colour founder musician Vernon Reid, moderated by Ann VanderMeer. More information on the events at this new festival, which will feature Oscar winner J.K. Simmons.

April 14, Tues, 7 pm, Beloit, WI: Beloit College reading at Richardson Auditorium (Morse-Ingersoll Hall). More information here.

April 16, Thurs, 5pm, Boston, MA: The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach: An Evening With Jeff VanderMeer also featuring G. Eric Schaller and Seth Mnookin (Stata Center–32-123). Jeff VanderMeer, author of the New York Times bestselling Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance), will join G. Eric Schaller, Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth, for a broad-ranging discussion about the scientific and philosophical ideas that inspired the series. The two friends and occasional collaborators will discuss conservation science, VanderMeer’s relationship with the natural world, and the theme of extinction in “slow apocalypse” fiction, as well as the role of real-world science in science fiction. Moderator: Seth Mnookin. Event listing here.

April 21, Tues, 7:40 pm: Inside the Writer’s House Skype Series (in association with Rutgers); details here.

June 18-21: Wonderbook Workshop at the Yale Writers’ Conference (with Ann VanderMeer). Hugo & World Fantasy Award winning editor Ann VanderMeer and NYT bestselling author of the Southern Reach trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer, teach a mini-course on literature of the imagination, using Jeff’s Hugo Award-finalist Wonderbook, the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing guide. Whether expressed literally or through metaphor, a non-realist worldview permeates aspects of many genres and approaches. In-class exercises will include finding the autobiographical in the fantastical, use of surrealism and constraint to energize even the most traditional approaches, and analysis of successful but atypical scenes as the jumping-off point for discussion of characterization, setting, and the numinous.More details here.

June 25, Thurs: Worthington Library event (Ohio); details TBA

Vintage Science Fiction Readings #7–Alice B. Sheldon

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

1972: Author note entitled “Man of All the World” from Best Science Fiction for 1972, edited by Frederik Pohl (for Tiptree’s story “Mother in the Sky with Diamonds”)

As with Doris Piserchia (elsewhere in this volume), James Tiptree, Jr., is a writer I would not recognize if he walked into my office and sat on the corner of my desk. We have never met. I rather think the chances are we never will, because every time I see in my peripatetic career a date when I will be in the neighborhood of the city where he lives and suggest we get together for a drink, it turns out that in his peripatetic career he is that week off to Borneo or Brooklyn or Swaziland. I do not know what he does in these places, I only know that he must have been on every airline in the world, and must by now know every customs clerk by first name and bribe rating. I also know that I like very much the way he writes, and above all the way he writes his stories, nobody else’s.

1974: Author note for Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr

Like any branch of literature, science fiction reflects the trends of current thinking. Last year Joanna Russ won a Nebula Award for a feminist story entitled “When It Changed”; this year James Tiptree, Jr., offers  a male viewpoint on the same subject. As you might expect, other than the basic theme, there’s very little similarity between the two stories.

1976: Author notes from Aurora: Beyond Equality, an anthology of “amazing tales of the ultimate sexual revolution” edited by Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson. The Sheldon story included was “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” and the Tiptree story was “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”

Raccoona Sheldon, a retired teacher who lives in Wisconsin, has published many articles in technical journals but only recently began writing fiction. “Your Faces, O My Sisters,” uses an especially imaginative approach to explore feminist themes.

James Tiptree, Jr., was born near Chicago but spent most of his childhood in Africa and India. Many of his stories show the influence of these and later explorations in extrapolation to alien worlds in a wider view of human potential, and the variability of social systems. In 1974, he won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

1977: Author note for “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats,” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #6, edited by Terry Carr.

James Tiptree, Jr., has been the mystery man of science fiction for the past several years. No one in the sf community had met him or even knew what he did for a living; his address was a post-office box in Virginia, near enough to Washington, D.C. to make some people suspect that Tiptree was a CIA agent or some such. Others, noting Tiptree stories on feminist themes such a “The Women Men Don’t See” and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” suggested that Tiptree must be a woman.

Tiptree ignored the rumors as much as possible, issuing little personal information out of the conviction that the stories should be judged for themselves, not as products of a known person with all the expectations and usually irrelevant interpretations to which that situation is prey. But early this year Tiptree finally allowed the truth to come out: “he” is Alice B. Sheldon, 61, a married semiretired experimental psychologist who has recently begun publishing science fiction under the name Raccoona Sheldon.

Of Tiptree, Sheldon wrote to me, “I swear he exists, and is in part dictating this. Much as I hesitate to embrace Jungianism, it seems as though one contains shadow-shelves—or maybe something was waiting to get incarnated.”

The news of Tiptree’s identity is already stirring comment. Theodore Sturgeon remarked in a speech prior to the unveiling that all the major new sf writers with the exception of Tiptree were women—“The exception is now gone,” wrote Charles N. Brown when he broke the news in Locus. But Tiptree/Sheldon was right all along, of course: an author’s identity is irrelevant to any given story.”

1978: Author note for “The Screwfly Solution,” from The Best Science Fiction of the Year #7, edited by Terry Carr.

You’re probably more familiar with “Raccoona Sheldon” under her more famous pen-name “James Tiptree, Jr.” Actually, as I explained in last year’s book, her real name is Alice B Sheldon, and most everyone in the field was stunned (and many delighted) to learn that the author who had written so many excellent stories in a crisp, supposedly “masculine” style is a woman…The fact is, of course, that personal data about an author is seldom, if ever, relevant to our enjoyment of stories; what matters is simply the quality of the stories.

1978: Author note for “The Screwfly Solution,” from The 1978 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim.

[This story] is the sort of thing that readers expect from the mysterious James Tiptree, Jr. And we mention that because Tiptree is no longer a mystery. “He” is the person signing this story. Just add Alice.

1980: Author note for “Slow Music,” from Interfaces: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Virginia Kidd.

James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym. He is a woman. She is also Raccoona Sheldon. They are an experimental psychologist of great insight, a writer of surpassing strength, and a person of infinite reserve, generosity, and charm.











(Image from Wikipedia.)

Vintage Science Fiction Readings #6–“But That’s Not Science Fiction”

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

The following excerpt is from Judith Merril’s introduction to George P. Elliott’s “Among the Dangs,” published in the Merril-edited The Year’s Best S-F, 7th Annual Edition, published in 1963. “Among the Dangs” was first published in Esquire.


But that’s not science fiction…!

Even my best friends [to invert a paraphrase] keep telling me: That’s not science fiction!

Sometimes they mean it couldn’t be s-f, because it’s good. Sometimes it couldn’t be because it’s not about spaceships or time machines. (Religion or politics or psychology isn’t science fiction—is it?) Sometimes (because some of my best friends are s-f fans they mean it’s not really science fiction—just fantasy or satire or something like that.

On the whole, I think I am very patient. I generally manage to explain again, just a little wearily, what the “S-F” in the title of this book means, and what science fiction is, and why the one contains the other, without being constrained by it. But it does strain my patience when the exclamation is compounded to mean, “Surely you don’t mean to use that in ‘S-F’? That’s not science fiction!”—about a first-rate piece of the honest thing.

For some reason, this comes most often from other editors—and most irritatingly from the editor who first bought and published the story in question, and does not want to think that he printed that kind of story. But the ultimate frustration is to hear the same thing from the editor who is publishing me

[It is hard not to add commentary here, since Ann and I have experienced the same frustration. What the tribalism of genre usually results in is invisibility for some authors and an incomplete understanding of the amazing constellations of fictions that make up the entire SF and fantasy universe. What it does, too, is wear down those editors and writers who try to breach these boundaries, who want to present the complete picture. I’ve rarely read such an evocative description of the frustration inherent in dealing this issue. – JV]


Leena Krohn Omnibus: Call for Nonfiction

Cheeky Frawg Books is publishing a hardcover Leena Krohn Omnibus consisting of several of her short novels and some short stories.  The publication date is December of this year.

We would also like to publish some nonfiction essays, articles, or appreciations of Krohn’s work in the omnibus. We have no particular length restrictions and reprints are, of course, fine. Academic pieces are fine as are those intended for a more general audience. We have some limited ability to translate into English from various languages and to take some original pieces as well.

Our deadline for receiving materials is April 30, although the earlier the better. We must receive queries prior to April 1. Please provide a description of what you propose with credentials, or an attachment of the piece in question. We have no particular length or format requirements. We can provide more payment details on request.

Krohn is an iconic Finnish writer and we hope in this omnibus to do justice to her fiction. It should go without saying, but we expect anyone who queries to already be very familiar with Krohn’s work.

You can send me email about this project to: vanderworld at Please note that I am traveling intermittently from February 20 to March 8 and may not answer all email immediately.





Vintage Science Fiction Readings #5–1971-1975, Presented Without Comment


Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.

“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise…All but one of the stories in this book were originally published before anyone set foot on the moon. And yet these stories foretold the perils of space travel, often with uncanny accuracy and curiously precise detail.

“A case in point is ‘Here Comes John Henry,’ [by Ray Russell] the protagonist of which is a black astronaut. The story was written in 1967, just a week or two before the announcement of the first real-life black astronaut, Major Robert Lawrence (since deceased). That appointment compelled the editors to delay publication of the story for over a year, to help dispel any erroneous assumptions that the fictional astronaut was based, even remotely, on Major Lawrence.” – from the introduction to the Playboy anthology The Dead Astronaut, published 1971

“Some of the ideological declarations that have been made concerning the New Wave have been as meaningless as they have been asinine. Proponents of so-called traditional science fiction have declared that the New Wave does not exist, while out of the other sides of their mouths attacking this supposedly nonexistent phenomenon as nihilistic, anti-rational, involuted, and a threat to the special virtues that supposedly distinguish science fiction from the ‘mainstream.’ For their part, some of the writers and critics who have become associated with the label New Wave…have expended a great deal of energy in attempting to substitute the label ‘speculative fiction’ for the label ‘science fiction’ when classifying their own product.” – from Norman Spinrad’s introduction to The New Tomorrows, described on the first page as “a predestined collision of fifteen first-rate stories of somewhat scientific speculative fiction”, published 1971

“[In The Mirror of Infinity anthology,] James Blish, that most erudite and academic of sf authors, can be discovered mourning the loss of the stringent plotting demands of the extinct pulps, and giving a little succinct advice about the art which gave rise to Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula (an invaluable work, to be found on the shelves of all those much loved and sadly departed masters of interplanetary adventure). Who would remember Whip Queens of the Scarlet Asteroid, Mr. Blish implies, if that narrative of courage in extremity had not been founded on a ‘sympathetic character with whom the reader can identify’?…[followed by discussions of types of sympathy, bad and good in the writer’s estimation and reviews of novels by Blish and Jack Story, which leads to…] If the genre as a whole imagines that it has somehow become worthwhile [because of mainstream attention], that its relationship to real life has been consummated, because a few men have walked on the moon, then it had better stop and think. Because until…the Master Plot Formula and Mr. Blish’s ‘sympathetic viewpoint character’ are replaced by a little observation of reality and human understanding, it will never become relevant to anything.” – from M. John Harrison’s essay “The Problem of Sympathy” in New Worlds Quarterly #4, published 1972

[Read more…]

Amsterdam: VanderMeer Events at the Sonic Acts Festival and American Book Center


I’ll be in Amsterdam the end of this month, where my Dutch publisher is releasing their edition of Authority, the second novel in my Southern Reach Trilogy. My two events are listed below–hope to see some of you there! Should be fun!

Friday, Feb. 27, 6pmAmerican Book Center, ABC Treehouse (Voetboogstraat 11 1012 XK). I’ll give a brief reading from the Southern Reach (what I call my “vegetation medley” and then be joined by Hugo Award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer and Dutch sensation Thomas Olde Heuvelt for a wide-ranging discussion, followed by a book signing.

Saturday, Feb. 28, 2pm–Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival (Paradiso main halllocation; see info here). I will read from the Southern Reach and take questions, but I will also present some thoughts  on relevant and outdated approaches in fiction related to ecology and the environment. “In this modern era, what constitutes escapism or commodification in near-future fiction, what are old ideas in new clothes, and what is truly revolutionary? How can the philosophy behind new ways of looking at the world inform fiction?”

Books will be available at both events. Click on links for any ticket information.

Vintage Science Fiction Readings #4: Talk to the Hand

Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back about current reading and conversations about the anthology.




Also from the past week.

“That was a movie, not a short story.”

“That was written in 1834.”

“That wasn’t an alien. That was not an alien.”

“Because there was no internet, he got away with it–look at the copyright page.”

“That was it? That’s all that happened?!?!!”