Guest Post: Dan Koboldt on Magic Versus Technology in SF/F

It’s always bothered me that fantasy and science fiction get lumped together into a single category. The two genres seem very different, at least on the surface. Fantasy usually features some kind of magic as a core speculative element. It often takes place in a secondary world at a pre-industrial state of technology. Science fiction, in contrast, usually takes us to the future in which some as-yet-nonexistent technology underlies the plot. Granted, there’s a huge overlap between fantasy and science fiction fandoms. Maybe that means we live for escapism, whether to a fantasy world or outer space.

The Crossover Genre: Science Fantasy

It’s rare but wonderful when we get both sci-fi and fantasy elements in the same story (a genre sometimes called science fantasy). Dune is the first example that comes to mind. Disclaimer: Dune always comes to mind when I’m thinking of science fiction, because I love it so much. Most of the series is sci-fi: space travel, drones, laser rifles, and a sprawling galactic empire. But there are other elements that I’d call magic: the practices of the reverend mothers, for example, and the prescient powers achieved with a spice overdose. When the story goes out into the deep desert with the great sandworms, it feels like a fantasy to me.

I could also argue that the original Star Wars also blends the SF/F genres. The talking droids, epic space battles, and planet-blasting Death Star make it mostly a science fiction story, but there’s also magic that plays a pretty central role to the story. Like all great magic systems, this one is accessible to only a select few, requires considerable training, and has certain limitations. And it plays a key role in the central conflict. Obviously, I’m talking about the Force. It’s not just a magic system, but practically a religion among its practitioners.

Technology Versus Magic

The interplay between magic and technology in Star Wars is fascinating. When it comes to technology, the Empire has almost every advantage. Bigger, better ships. Armored combat walkers. And a planet-destroying space station, albeit briefly. The Rebellion’s scrappy fighters win unlikely victories against these overwhelming forces. They did so often with the aid of that mystic religion. The Force, in other words, can level the playing field.

Magic and technology as speculative elements actually have quite a bit in common. Given a new capability – either arcane or technological in nature – we tend to apply it to similar problems. Both serve as weapons (curses and lasers) or in defense from attacks (wards and deflector shields). Healing is another popular application, whether that’s with a medical tricorder or a fistful of athelas. The same goes for teleportation, construction, destruction, and many other forms of speculative wish-fulfillment.

Which Element Matters More?

Given their similarities, one has to wonder: in a world where both magic and advanced technologies exist, which side has the upper hand? It is tempting to say technology matters more, because a technical advantage is both practical and constant. If you have guns and they have bows, you’re likely to be victorious. If the technology gap is wide enough, Clarke’s third law might be applied: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Even so, I can’t help but notice that the scrappy underdogs facing a huge technology deficit often emerge victorious if they have magic on their side. In both Dune and Star Wars, the underdogs manage to topple powerful emperors. And in both cases, they do so with considerable help from arcane sources: the Jedi’s mastery of The Force, and the witch-like powers of Bene Gesserit. In a conflict between two mismatched sides, magic can be a powerful equalizer.

About the Author

Dan Koboldt (website) is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager) about a Las Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world. He is currently editing Putting the Science in Fiction, (Writers Digest), a reference for writers slated for release in Fall 2018.

By day, Dan is a genetics researcher at a major children’s hospital. He and his colleagues use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to uncover the genetic basis of pediatric diseases. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals.

Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into the woods to pursue whitetail deer with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and three children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard. Follow him on Twitter as @DanKoboldt.

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Two Seattle Memorials to Ursula K. Le Guin

We’ve got two coming up in the next couple of weeks and I’ll be at both.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
7:00 PM
$10 at the door
$8 for Folio Members, SFWA Members, and Town Hall Members
Complimentary wine reception to follow

Folio Forum
A Tribute to Ursula Le Guin
Noted local authors and fans honor the great writer.
Plus a recording of Le Guin, reading her famous story

Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum
314 Marion Street, Downtown Seattle
Parking tips and map:

Many deeply mourn and greatly esteem Ursula Le Guin, the famous, and famously prolific, Portland-based writer of science fiction, fantasy, and many other works. To honor Le Guin, who died last month at the age of 88, Folio is hosting a gathering of authors and readers moved by the works of this remarkable author. Le Guin wrote poetry, children’s books, essays, and short stories. Her science fiction works attracted an immense readership and she brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy.

A highlight of the evening will be hearing Le Guin on a recording where she reads from one of her most famous stories, “The ones who walk away from Omelos.” Those sharing memories and tributes include Cat Rambo, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and critic Edward Wolcher of Town Hall Seattle.

That weekend:

Sunday, February 25
7:00 PM (please support our venue by buying food and drink!)
Celebration of the Life and Work of Ursula K. Le Guin
Blue Moon Tavern, 712 NE 45th St, Seattle, Washington 98105

Please join us for a reading to commemorate the words and worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018). One of the most beloved writers of our time, Ursula K. Le Guin inspired generations of readers with her science fiction and fantasy literature, from Earthsea to Hain-Davenant. Let’s keep her spirit with us always.

Our evening celebration will consist of readings of Le Guin’s work by Eileen Gunn, Nisi Shawl, Cat Rambo, and you. Please bring up to five minutes of your favorite writing by Ursula K. Le Guin to share during open mic. This event is *free* and open to the public.

There will be a sign-up at the venue for open-mic readers. (Slots will be limited, readers selected in order of sign-ups.)


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More on The First Chapters Project

If you don’t know what the SFWA First Chapters project is, it’s an effort to collect first chapters from F&SF novels published throughout the year in a single compendium. This should help with reading for awards in that you have a chance to sample books before figuring out what you want to read in its entirety. For writers, it should be a chance to get that first chapter in front of reader eyes in order to convince them they want to keep going. In 2018 the focus is getting indie writers up and running with the program, but if you’re a small publisher interested in participating, let me know.

As part of that project, I asked the group working on it to make sure that people uploading first chapters can keyword their work so, for example, if you just wanted to see chapters eligible for a specific award, like the Sideways, Prometheus, or Andre Norton Awards.

Here’s the list I just gave them. Any other awards you’d add? I didn’t include ones that are restricted by geographical area like the Aurora or Endeavour Awards.

List of all keywords:
Alternative history novel
Anthropomorphic novel
Fantasy novel
First novel
Game-related novel
Horror novel
Media tie-in novel
MG novel
Military SF novel
PKD eligible
SF novel
Urban fantasy novel
YA novel

Bram Stoker Award

Keywords: First novel, horror novel, YA novel


British Fantasy Awards

Keywords: fantasy novel, horror novel


British Science Fiction Awards

Keywords: SF novel


Compton Crook Award

Keywords: First novel


David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy

Keywords: fantasy novel, first novel

Dragon Awards

Keywords: SF novel, fantasy novel, YA novel, MG novel, military SF novel, alternative history novel, media tie-in novel, horror novel

Ennie Awards

Keywords: game-related novel


Hugo Awards
Keywords: SF novel, fantasy novel


Keystroke Medium Awards

Keywords: SF novel, military SF novel, post-apocalyptic novel, fantasy novel, epic fantasy novel, urban fantasy novel, horror novel

Locus Awards

Keywords: SF novel, fantasy novel, first novel, YA novel


Nebula Awards/Norton

Keywords: Fantasy novel, SF novel, YA novel, MG novel


Philip K. Dick Award

Keywords: PKD eligible (appeared in paperback rather than HB first)


Prometheus Award

Keywords: libertarian novel


Sideways Awards
Keywords: alternative history novel

Ursa Major Awards

Keywords: anthropomorphic novel


World Fantasy Awards

Keywords: fantasy novel

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For Reviewers/Book Bloggers: ARCs and Review Copies for 2018 Projects

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 4.23.34 PMI have enough coming out in 2018 that some of the different campaigns are colliding a bit. Some are self-pubbed projects, others are with presses but I’m helping with the marketing where I can.

If you’re someone who would like a review copy or copies of any of the following, please drop me a line with your contact info, where your reviews appear, title(s), what format you prefer, and where to send it. I don’t mind sending e-copies out to people who want to review it on Amazon, GoodReads, etc, but be aware that requests for physical copies may both take longer and that I have a limited number available, so I try to send those where I get the most bang for the buck that’s coming out of my pocket. If you’ve got a podcast and would like me to appear, I’m happy to send copies of my work beforehand.

Here’s the list of what’s coming in 2018 in alphabetical order:

Creating an Online Presence for Writers, 3rd edition. (Plunkett Press). Nonfiction, covers how to create and maintain an online presence in order to build a writerly brand and sell books. Appearing in July.

Godfall and Other Stories by Sandra Odell is a collection from Hydra House that I’m editing. These stories are both fantasy and science fiction, and are usually on the darker side, with occasional flashes of humor. They’re wrenchingly strong at times, and I’m very excited to be one of the people making this book real. Appearing in mid-April.

Hearts of Tabat (WordFire Press). Novel, secondary world fantasy. While this is the second book of the Tabat Quartet, you do not need to have read Beasts of Tabat to understand it. Appearing in mid-April.

If This Goes On (Parvus Press) is an anthology of political science fiction focusing on what the world will look like a generation from now. Open for submissions through the end of March, the anthology will appear in conjunction with the 2018 elections.

Moving From Idea to Finished Draft. (Plunkett Press) Nonfiction writing book based on this class, which contains stories illustrating each section. Appearing in late February.

Tales of Tabat (Plunkett Press) is a collection of all the short stories and novelettes set in Tabat, including several pieces original to the collection. I’ve got that tentatively slated for September.

The World Made Flash. Plunkett Press. A collection of all my flash pieces along with several essays about writing very short fiction should appear in July.

I am also re-releasing my first solo fantasy collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight (February) in print form, and a new version of steampunk collection Altered America with the horrible typos removed in both electronic and print form.

If you’re promoting your own book this year and are interested in doing a guest post here, let me know! Here’s my guidelines for guest posts.

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What I’m Telling the Slush Readers for If This Goes On

negative-space-woman-reading-philosophy-book-thought-catalogA week or so ago we had the orientation session for the slush readers. I gathered them by posting announcements in my newsletter and other social media, but I also tried to reach out to a range of people in order to ask for recommendations in order to ensure I had a diverse pool. We ended up with over a dozen slushreaders, and one of the things I want all of them to take away from the experience is better understanding of stories and how to sort through things.

We video-recorded the session, and the publisher went over the mechanics of the slush system in that as well. Parvus Press has mentioned recently that I asked to have the slush read blind, which to me seems like a better approach. Studies have shown that perception of the attached name can change the way someone reacts to a scholarly paper, and I’m reasonably sure similar things happen when reading fiction.

One of the things I’ve stressed is that typos and grammatical errors aren’t a dealbreaker – we can fix those. A compelling story with some issues like that is something I want to see. But the world’s most immaculately formatted story won’t do much for me unless there’s a good story attached, by which I mean a story that entertains while at the same informs or engages or makes you think or hopefully some combination of all of that. Look for the stories that startle and amaze you, I told them. Or really piss you off, I added, because sometimes that’s the sign of a good story.

If the story is from a viewpoint radically different than their own, I’d like them to make sure some other eyes check it out. (Nonetheless I’m going to be a pain in the rear and read everything, partly because I want to be able to talk to the slushreaders about stuff as it comes up.)

I emphasized a policy that I have borrowed from John Joseph Adams, who has edited a kerjillion anthologies, and asked people not to talk about the slushreading experience in anything but vague and enthusiastic terms. I know writers will be watching those utterances and often taking stuff to heart that was not intended for them. In my early years, I had the odd experience of having an IGMS slushreader blog about my story submission in mocking terms. This probably would have been more discouraging if the actual editor hadn’t just bought the story, but I will always remember reading through their account of the slushreading party and the lines about all of them laughing about hitting a story written from an elephant’s POV. The vividness of that moment is not something I really want the slushreaders inflicting on other writers.

We closed up by talking a little about how to stay un-depressed in the light of what may well turn out to be a whole bunch of grim stories. It’s okay to step away from the keyboard sometimes, and we have enough slushreaders that plenty of eyes will be looking at the stories.

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Promises for the 2018 SFWA Presidency


  1. I will not threaten any countries or national leaders with veiled (or direct) references to my boobs. Or vulva.
  2. I will continue not to be involved with SFWA controversies, slights, feuds, grudges, mishaps, bureaucratic screw-ups, gross incompetences, and other scandals of note that occurred before I first defeated all comers and ascended to the throne took office as VP in 2014.
  3. I will continue to let other people run the following things: the EMF, Griefcom, Writer Beware, the discussion forums, SFWA social media, the SFWA website, the Bulletin, the SFWA volunteer process, the SFWA Grants program, the Singularity, and the vast majority of SFWA committees.
  4. I will celebrate the glory of SFWA by wearing both tiara and trident to the 2018 Nebulas. I will not abuse the trident. Much.
  5. I will also wear my “Gay Haldeman Fan Club” t-shirt to the Nebulas while continuing to celebrate the many excellent volunteers and staff of the organization at both the volunteer celebration breakfast (if you are a SFWA volunteer who is coming to the Nebulas, please leave time in your schedule on Sunday morning for this!) and throughout the overall weekend.
  6. I will refrain from blowing part of my discretionary fund on Nebula temporary tattoos this year because last year they weren’t enough bang for the buck.
  7. Throughout the year I will try to push good stuff forward as best I can without totally sacrificing all my writing time.
  8. I will continue to be slightly cranky towards people who contact me via social media or my personal e-mail instead of official SFWA email while refraining from pointedly providing “Let me Google that for you” links.
  9. I will work at paying attention to all the disparate groups that make up SFWA and serve their needs, particularly both our newer groups, like game writers and indie writers and groups that have in the past been underrepresented or underserved in/by the organization.
  10. I will continue to piss off a few people with what they think is my irreverent or otherwise inappropriate sense of humor/outlook/set of principles.
  11. And finally, as always, when I screw up, I’ll admit it and say what I’m doing in the future in order to do better.
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Reading Doc Savage: The Czar of Fear

IMG_0699I’m skipping around a bit in the course of these rereads, but this is number twenty-two of the Bantam Reprints. On the green-toned cover, Doc is menaced by several figures in black hoods with glowing green eyes. A trick of the light makes it appear that the middle figure actually has three glowing green eyes, but the text does not support this, alas. This figure also has a shape half-obscured on its chest that will turn out to be a green bell but in this looks more like one of those things you put over food to keep them warm. Doc is posed very awkwardly, head turned towards the men and stepping toward them while wrenching his chest towards us in order to display rippling muscles half-obscured by the customary ripped shirt.

The narrative begins with a radio squawking and a man in a lunch-room: “pale fright rode his face”. He’s gulping his fourth mug of coffee, accompanied by two women, one “a striking beauty” in her twenties who turns out to be his sister and the other “a pleasant-faced grandmother type.” We learn their respective names are Jim, Alice, and Aunt Nora and they’re in search of Doc Savage.

There’s a pause for atmosphere to build tension before our action begins:

Rain purred on the lunch-room roof. It crawled like pale jelly down the windows. It fogged the street of the little New Jersey town. The gutters flowed water the color of lead.

And then we hear a sound from the radio: “a tolling, like the slow note of a big, listless bell. Mixed with the reverberations was an unearthly dirge of moaning and wailing.” The trio react with panic, but Aunt Nora reassures them, “It’s not likely the Green Bell was tolling for us — that time!” We learn that whenever the bell tolls, it means death and insanity.
Continue reading

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Yearly Recap Plus What’s Ahead in 2018

Among the things I’ve done in 2017:

  • In writing, I did the works listed here as well as turning Hearts of Tabat (so MANY thanks to my awesome editor, Kevin J. Anderson) into the publisher (also Kevin) and starting book #3, Exiles of Tabat, which I’ve got about 40k on so far. I didn’t publish any book-length work, but I’d had two in late 2016 (to the point where I was thinking one had come out this year) and will have at least two in 2018, so I guess it all evens out.
  • Lots of new classes for the Rambo Academy, including guests like Alex Acks, Jennifer Brozek, Cassandra Khaw, Rachel Swirsky, Paul Weimer, and Fran Wilde.
  • In skill acquisition, I added how to cook sous vide, coffee roasting, basic lockpicking and (even more basic) scuba to my overall character sheet. I also learned how to load and shoot a pistol, along with basic gun safety.
  • In fear conquering, I swam with sharks (twice) and took a self defense class.
  • In travel, I visited Orlando, New York City, Indianapolis, and Pocatello (ID) in the US and Dominical and surrounding areas in Costa Rica.

Picture of SFWA President Cat Rambo holding a small robot sculpture

Nebula weekend, 2017.

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My Award Eligible Stuff for 2017

IMG_3041If you’re looking for my roundup of F&SF posts by other writers, it’s here.

Most of my stories appeared privately for Patreon. Those Patreon stories included:
PATREON, October, 2017. A Restless World, co-written with Rachel Swirsky. (flash)
PATREON, October, 2017. Penned. (flash)
PATREON, August, 2017. A House Alone. (children’s story)
PATREON, July, 2017. Another Selkie Story. (fantasy story)
PATREON, July, 2017. Say Yes. (flash)
PATREON, June, 2017. Leaves. (far future SF story)
PATREON, May, 2017. The Houses of West Seattle. (fantasy story)
PATREON, April, 2017. Fix the Page. (flash)

Other stories included “Preferences” (SF) in Chasing Shadows, edited by David Brin and “Girls Gone Wild” (crime) in Blood Business, edited by Josh Viola and Mario Acevedo.

I am happy to send copies of anything people would like to see.

I am eligible as a fan writer; here are the essays and pieces I am particularly proud of:

Another Word: The Subtle Art of Promotion in Clarkesworld magazine
Another Word: Reading for Pleasure in Clarkesworld magazine
Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Report (Part One) (Part Two)
SFWA and Indie Writers (Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four)
Celebrating Rainbow Hair
Time to Fix the Missing Stair
Reading Doc Savage: Land of Always-Night
Reading Doc Savage: The Sargasso Ogre
Reading Doc Savage: The Spook Legion
Reading Doc Savage: Quest of Qui

I have another novel coming out next year, Hearts of Tabat! If you’re interested in a review copy, please drop me an email or comment here. While it’s the sequel to Beasts of Tabat, it should read perfectly well even if you haven’t read the first book.

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2017 Award-Eligible Work Blog Posts & Roundups for F&SF

Time to start reading!

Time to start reading!

Hello! I’m posting my yearly round-up of eligibility posts. If you’ve got one, let me know by commenting here, e-mailing me, or messaging on social media. I’ll update daily.

An eligibility post is a blog or social media post listing what you published in 2017 that is eligible for awards such as the Compton Crook, Dragon, Endeavour, Hugo, Lambda, Nebula, World Fantasy Award, and WSFA awards, and sometimes including information such as which pieces you like the best or think are the strongest, word length, and genre. You can click through for many examples.





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