Wayward Wormhole– A Castle in Spain – REMINDER: Patreon Early Bird Fees end April 20!!

Bedrooms. That quiet, cozy sanctuary where all things heavy can be folded away, tucked into a corner and laid down for a while. My quiet time is important to me. I work alone 90 percent of the time and find it hard to talk to others without taking breaks.

When I saw the size and comfort of the bedrooms at Castell de Llaes, I was not only charmed, but tremendously relieved. They’re as big as any standard hotel room, yet built with stone blocks carved back in 998 AD. Here’s four of the eight rooms. The owners have moved the two beds close together, but there’s lot of room to move them apart.

There is at least one outlet in every room, so you can charge your phones and computers, as well as use any medical devices, such as a CPAP machine. Linens are changed weekly.

Plus, every room has stunning views of the Spanish countryside.









Since we’re reaching the end of the Patreon Early Bird submission, I want to address one other concern I’ve heard from applicants. Bathrooms.

There are four full bathrooms at the Castle. Two in the tower, and two in the main area. They are modern, with a shower, toilet, and bidet. Bathrooms are thoroughly cleaned weekly, or as needed. We hope to see you there!

Check out http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/how-to-apply-for-the-wayward-wormhole-regular-and-virtual-versions/ for more information.

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Wayward Wormhole: Stepping Into the Castle

Up a set of rugged stone steps, the doors of the castle opened and we entered. I’d been awed by its structure, by its historical significance, and its position in the Catalonia countryside. Now I was nervous. So much could go wrong in the next half hour. We had criteria regarding comfort, workspaces, relaxation areas, kitchens, and modern plumbing. After all, sixteen people living for three weeks in a drafty castle with tiny rooms and narrow hallways could end up being memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Plus, we wanted a private lounge for Ann Leckie, Tobias Buckell, Sarah Pinsker, and Cat Rambo, along with intimate indoor and outdoor spaces for students to read, chat, and think. Could the reality inside this 10th century castle possibly meet our needs? Our lifelong dream of writing in a castle depended on it.

With a mind set on problem-solving, I passed through my first ever castle doors and found myself in a spacious semi-furnished room with a storage area off to one side. My list covered a lot of rooms, a check for onsite supplies, and other areas requiring scrutiny. The entrance room wasn’t on the list, but it had a good air about it and my nerves dropped to a manageable level. With that, I grew confident that this experience was about to get awesome.

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The Wayward Wormhole lands in Spain

Information about the Wayward Wormhole Intensive Writing Workshop

There’s a stillness atop Sant Bartomeu hill that settles my bones and calms my brain. At 998 meters above sea level, I lean against a centuries-old stone wall, part of the Castell de Llaés, and look across the fields below. Thirty-nine km to the right is a second hill of 1025 meters, where I can see remains of the castle of Besora as it sits alone with its past. In the other direction, at 961 meters, sits the medieval remains of Castell de Milany. With the slightest effort, I lower a cellophane sheet over the scene and add people in tunics walking with horses wearing baroque saddles. A second overlay adds dusk and wispy tendrils of cloud to the picture. Torches flare along the castle walls to both sides of me, and the glow of a central fire, ready to send messages across the gap between them as night descends. -Janet K. Smith

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An Apology to the F&SF Community, and Particularly to Those who Look to Me for Leadership

So let me start out by saying I screwed up, and in a way that I should have known better than to do. The problem is that the Wayward Wormhole intensive writing workshop that I’m hosting is in one way absolutely not up to standard, and that is its lack of accessibility. This is particularly unacceptable given that I have called out inaccessible venues in the past.

I’ve also called out economically inaccessible stuff, and yet this workshop, unlike the other school efforts, does not have guaranteed scholarships in place to help make the workshop cost easier on anyone, although we’ve structured fees to try to fund at least two scholarships this year.

I made this poor choice in part because – while this is not an excuse – 2022 was the year of the biggest changes of my life (the end of a 20+ year partnership and a cross-country move) and I just let the wheeeeee castle vibe carry me along past any thoughts other than how do I make spending my birthday in a Spanish castle a reality? And when the voices in my head stopped saying that and one in the back nervously raised its hand and said hey what about accessibility, I told myself we’d addressed that by making sure there was a virtual version.

Except now that I’ve thought about it, that’s not enough, because the virtual version lacks some features that the on-location includes. So I apologize to the community for setting a bad example. I apologize to my teachers for having involved them in this ethical lapse. And I apologize, abjectly, to my students for having let them down in this regard.

Given that I have already made a substantial down payment that is nonrefundable and which I can’t afford to lose, what are the material steps I can do to show I understand I fucked up and mean to make it right?

  1. The first is already done. The location we have for next year is fully accessible physically, and that is a requirement for all future locations.
  2. The second is that we will be providing a yearly full scholarship in memory of Vonda N. McIntyre.
  3. The third is that a quarter of my profits from this year’s workshop will be donated to a charity that advances accessibility issues, like the American Association of People with Disabilities. (I want to research the best choice here.)
  4. The fourth is that I have learned from it and, as the friend I was talking to about it put it, gained a point in humility, so I can do better going forward and not let whee castle override the let’s look this over before agreeing notion.

So. There you have it.


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Announcing The 1st Wayward Wormhole Intensive Writing Workshop

The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, fantasy and science fiction’s premiere online learning center, announces a new venture for 2023 – the Wayward Wormhole, an intensive writing workshop with some of the industry’s top teachers.

The inaugural Wayward Wormhole will run November 1 to 21, 2023 at Castle de Llaés, in the municipality of Gurb, Spain. Look northward from the castle to see the Pyrenees and southward to see the rolling hills of Catalonia. Ten students and four instructors will spend three weeks here writing and critiquing, while a virtual component allows other students to experience Wormhole-Light.

The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers has been in existence for twelve years, serving hundreds of students who have gone on to win awards, honors, and accolades, including Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. “I attended Clarion West, and have taught at multiple workshops now,” says Academy founder Cat Rambo. “While others have delivered the gold standard, I want to stretch to the platinum level and deliver an amazing workshop in an equally amazing setting.”

The Wayward Wormhole instructors for 2023 are Tobias Buckell, Ann Leckie, Sarah Pinsker, and Cat Rambo, all seasoned instructors of the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Details on how to apply for the workshop, costs, and other information can be found at http://www.catrambo.com/waywardwormhole

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Guest Post: Confessions of a Reluctant Writing Gamer by Janet K. Smith

Writing games. I avoided them for years because I was short on time, not ideas. Once I lifted my head from my page, I realized my focus was all wrong. This one-hour-a-week “game” held incredible lessons I couldn’t get anywhere else.

So why the reluctance? That’s the easy part. Take a first-born, type-A personality with a novel in its final draft, multiple short stories out on rejection—oops, I mean submission, numerous other half-written stories, and a second novel that’s itching for a conclusion, then disrupt that work with “games” full of nonsensical sentence prompts, and odd pictures, and you’ll find a non-believer who prefers to focus on “real” work.

I’d occasionally pop into the session, but more often than not, I’d log out as soon as I heard it was a writing game and not the story discussion or feral writing time I’d expected. If I had a deadline to meet, anything with the word “play” was dismissed automatically. Who had time for play? For five and a half years, fun writing seemed like an oxymoron.
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Guest Post: Juliet Kemp On Writing as Play

Book with balloons and the words "Writing as Play"I admit to being a sucker for the Ticky Box. Which is to say, I am perhaps excessively motivated by having Lists and Ticking Things Off Them. I like setting goals for myself, and I’m good at breaking those goals down into smaller steps, rewarding myself for them, all that sort of self-management stuff. I’m keen to write, to write more, to write better; so I use my goals to manage all those things. And as far as it goes (and for as long as it works), that’s great.

The trouble is that sometimes all those lists and goals instead get me stuck in fear: fear of not meeting the goals, fear of not improving ‘enough’, fear of not writing the book of my glorious imaginings. (Spoiler: I am never going to write ‘the book of my glorious imaginings’, because my glorious imaginings are a cloud of inchoate vibes, not a collection of real actual words, and a book is a collection of real actual words, not a cloud of inchoate vibes. The best I can do is to approximate it.)

Fear is not good for creativity.
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It’s All About the Algorithms: My Take on AI Art

Four images generated on Canva's AI art tool, using the phrase "a pop art style cat rambo sitting at a desk writing"A day that I’ve been saying would arrive for about twenty years now is starting to loom on the timeline, and it’s taking a lot of smart people by surprise when it shouldn’t have.

I’m talking about AI (artificial intelligence) creations – art appearing in visual, auditory, and textual forms. Such creations are in the news lately because we’ve hit a point where what they’re creating is pretty sophisticated. Not sophisticated enough though (yet) – Clarkesworld Magazine just stopped taking submissions because of a sudden upsurge in AI-generated stories, none of them actually publishable. But the quality of that prose will improve and already people are talking about how to create systems to distinguish between a submission written by a human writer versus a machine-generated one.

Speaking as a former Microsoft employee and long-time technologist, I’m utterly unsurprised. In 2005, I wrote “Zeppelin Follies,” a story about a future “writer.” (You can find the story in my collection Near + Far if you want to read it in its entirety.) Here’s a section:

I forced a smile and patted Fitz’s shoulder. “Be ye of good cheer,” I said. “I think I’ve got that dialogue problem I was having licked.”

Fitz, as I well knew, hated getting drawn into the technicalities, so when I started to explain how reducing the adverbial modifier minimum downwards had tautened the syntactical delivery, he backed out pretty fast. I spent a few hours testing it out, and was pleased with the results. 90% of writing is putting together the formulas, so once I had this one, and a slight problem with the scenery equivalence parameters solved, I’d be sitting pretty, ready to generate a manuscript to hand over to Mikka the editor. Around three, I took a break and went out to sit in the Plaza.

In “Zeppelin Follies,” the writers don’t write. Instead they create the algorithms used to generate their fiction. Will there actually be a point where AIs can generate prose sufficiently adept to construct something that’s an entertaining read? Absolutely, and I would suspect that point is much closer than current writers would like to admit.

But I think the question that most people are deluding themselves about is this: will AI art reach the point where it touches the human soul, the way a Georgia O’Keefe painting can make you stand and stare or the way an Ursula K. Le Guin can make you stop and think, and perhaps even copy it into your notebook to ponder over later? I believe it will, because the consuming human soul remains a constant in that equation, and it doesn’t require another, second soul to be involved in creating the thing we’re appreciating: we can pause for a sunset, for a scrap of birdsong, or to admire the Fibonacci curve inside a conch shell. The experience of the aesthetic depends on the viewer perhaps more than the origin of the viewed.

We would like to think that there is something inside ourselves that recognizes “authenticity,” a word that is a little nebulous. What makes the words coming out of a biological entity’s mouth “authentic” in a way something created mechanically is not? Is it the intent behind the creation? Or something else? We would like to believe that we are more than biological machines, whose actions are on some level as predictable as those of the mechanical ones. We move in a cloud of delusion, in fact, thinking ourselves unique in this universe.

As far as the consumption of what is produced by machines versus what is produced by human hands goes, there are things we buy to use, and there are things we buy to enjoy. We usually don’t worry about the “authenticity” of the dishes we eat out of, but at a certain economic level, we may worry about it as a status symbol, a way to display affluence by using handmade rather than mass manufactured goods. And I don’t know that most people worry too much about the authenticity of what they enjoy, unless they are a connoisseur of it.

I used romance writing as my example in “Zeppelin Follies,” because romances are notoriously formulaic. But the truth is that every genre has its tropes, and that’s something that an AI can use.

Some artists have stopped putting work up online in order to keep it from being fed to artificial intelligences to use. I don’t know that will work all that well, but it’s worth thinking about. But art is also meant to be seen, music to be listened to, text to be read, and we cannot make it so humans are the only ones seeing, listening, and reading.

I think that one way writers will be able to survive a while is by holding onto the overarching ideas of their properties, and the things that make them distinctive and enjoyable. This is one reason why I plan to keep writing books about bioship You Sexy Thing and its crew, because I hold the rights to its world and character. But will AIs create new properties, new worlds? Beyond question, although they will be made of the fragments of other properties, recombined and reworked. Which is, I would argue, on some level what literature is about, replying to the stories that have come before.

Which makes me ask – will an AI be able to look, for example, at Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and come up with something that is not a reworking, but an original thing that speaks to the Tales? That I’m not sure of. But I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens when one tries.

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Creative AI vs. Creative Humanity: Guest Post by Laurence Raphael Brothers

AI is coming for your jobs, creatives! Or… it will be, eventually. Not this year. But coming soon.

The last two years have seen surprising and indeed almost shocking advances in AI creative work. Image-generators like Dall-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion that work from text prompts using diffusion models are capable of some amazingly high quality work at times, though admittedly their understanding(1) of fingers still leaves something to be desired. The even more astonishing ChatGPT can sometimes not just hold conversations that pass the Turing Test, but can also create working computer programs, compose poetry, and also write coherent short stories, apparently from scratch.

Some may reasonably argue the work of such AI systems isn’t creative at all, but is a mere regurgitation or combination of human efforts compiled from its training sets. But on the other hand, much of human art is based on pastiche and emulation, not to mention plagiarism, and both writers and artists have to spend years of training learning the techniques passed on by their instructors.

The State of the Art

Caption: Protagonist Bunny Häschen from my novel in progress. Generated by Stable Diffusion 2.1 using the text prompt “intersex bunny detective”. A generally rather appealing caricature, but note the odd left hand, the characteristic nonsense characters in the sign, the content oddity of them holding a sign at all, and the mysterious flap rising out of their cravat.
Source: Stable Diffusion

Recent developments are truly astonishing given previous struggles to get AI systems to create art, prose, and other works. It’s now possible to type a few words and get some art back in a minute that might have taken a human hours or even days to produce from scratch. The quality of the AI-generated art is quite variable; from one request to another you might get back commercially usable material or you might get worthless trash. But even considering that you may have to make quite a number of requests of the system to obtain a usable image, the results are still much faster and cheaper than using a human artist for the equivalent level of work.

It’s arguable that if created by a human, these AI-generated images would sometimes be direct plagiarism. Even when not clearly a direct copy of an existing work, it’s often the case that the AI system builders failed to obtain artist permission to incorporate their work into the system’s training data. The legal consequences of this failure will work themselves out in the courts, but for now there’s nothing stopping people from making use of these tools.

At present, complete high-quality AI art is generally unobtainable no matter how much time is taken playing with prompts, but on the one hand, commercial-grade art is often quite acceptable, and on the other hand, by using the AI’s art as a basis, a skilled digital artist can create a high-quality composite of human and AI art much more quickly than working from scratch. This, for example, is what Tor did with Christopher Paolini’s recent book cover.

In the world of prose, with suitable guidance ChatGPT can generate a coherent and consistent story, but not one that’s very high quality. Without substantial revision, the current quality of such text is typically mediocre, but at present it’s not inconceivable for some exceptional AI-generated story to make it past a slush reader’s quality threshold and at least be held for review. Quite the achievement considering the high level of competition many magazines impose on contributors. This is already motivating many AI-generated submissions, though it’s unclear if they are meant for prestige and profit for their pseudonymous submitters or to count coup. Clarkesworld, for example, has reported a recent spike in AI submissions despite their guidelines to the contrary.

The Future of the Art

Because these recent developments in AI art generation have seemed to come almost from nowhere, it’s hard to say how rapidly they will improve to match or even exceed human capabilities. We should keep in mind that autonomous cars were expected to be widely available by now on the basis of work done in the 2010s, and yet after a promising beginning, only slow progress has been made and such vehicles are still unsafe on real-world roads.

On the other hand, given the eagerness of many extremely well-funded tech groups to work in this area, including not just OpenAI but Microsoft and Google among others, it’s reasonable to expect further progress up to a point. What’s the limit? For current system architectures, I expect that limit is based on these systems’ lack of explicit real-world knowledge. Just as ChatGPT is capable of absolutely authoritative but totally incorrect and easily refutable statements, these systems will be hamstrung by the inability to reason until such capabilities are combined with their generative models.

Let’s establish three bars:

  1. Acceptable low-grade commercial art. The kind of graphic art that creative freelancers currently make to order for ad campaigns and other commercial applications without much funding, but which will still pay their rent. Equivalent prose would be acceptable for publication in some token and semipro magazines and for routine copywriting assignments.
  2. Acceptable high-grade commercial art. Commercial art produced for highly funded campaigns by major agencies and design firms, or prose and content that can be published in the better magazines and journals.
  3. Superior-to-human fine art. Masterpieces that would displace human efforts from galleries and museums and bookstore racks and win awards if AI and humans competed on a level playing field.

We’re currently just entering stage 1 for certain applications. This means that soon some semipro freelancers may experience serious competition from AI systems, and after a while some agencies and design firms may reduce their staff because their routine low-end work can be done by machine. There will still be plenty of human work involved in revising, incorporating, or compositing AI work into larger and higher quality artistic achievements, but the amount of human touch in the overall process will diminish.

At stage 2, entire industries will be turned upside down and the effects will shake up whole economies. For example, design firms may no longer require creatives, or else the few creatives they retain will largely be employed managing requests to AI systems. There will be no more need for human touch in photoshopping or otherwise compositing AI art with human-created elements as in stage 1; the AI will do all the work on demand. (Note that while some very high quality AI art has been created already, it typically requires considerable manual effort from a human to achieve such a level).

The good news is that my average-case guess for stage 2 is at least ten years, and it may well be generations before this level is achieved. The bad news is that I could be wrong and it could be next year. I was shocked by ChatGPT’s capabilities in 2022 after years of crappy chat bots that wouldn’t fool Turing for a minute, and so I may easily be wrong again. Still, I do think that without explicit real-world knowledge and reasoning abilities these tools will be unable to really excel for quite some time. At present no one has any idea how to give a generative AI system that kind of understanding.
At stage 3, humans start wondering why they should even bother creating art, especially if such superior work can be routinely requested of AI systems by anyone without incurring much cost.

Similar considerations apply for stage 3, which to my mind requires Artificial General Intelligence to achieve. Such a system is not absolutely out of the question. We just don’t know how to build one today, nor do we even have a good idea on a direction to follow to achieve such a goal.

Still, even stage 1 is problematic enough for human creatives. I’d guess full stage 1 will be achieved within five years, and whatever the courts decide about existing systems and their theft of artist work without permission, one way or another AI-generated art will become ubiquitous for inexpensive applications.

(1) Indeed, the reason that such systems don’t know how to draw fingers properly is they don’t even understand the concept of fingers. These systems don’t have old-fashioned knowledge bases that contain explicit facts or relations. The appearance of a hand is emergent from mysterious mathematical features derived automatically from the digitized training set. Discrete counts of things that characteristically appear in fixed numbers in nature but are often hidden from view in individual images can be problematic for such systems. Human images very frequently show two clearly identifiable arms and legs and so AI images get these right more often than not (not always however!) but hands in photographs less frequently show all five fingers clearly, and so generated images often don’t do so either.

BIO: Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist with five patents and a background in AI and Internet R&D. He has published over 50 short stories in such magazines as Nature, PodCastle, and Galaxy’s Edge. His noir urban fantasy novellas The Demons of Wall Street, The Demons of the Square Mile, and The Demons of Chiyoda are available from Mirror World Publishing, while his new standalone novel The World’s Shattered Shell has just been published by Water Dragon.
Pronouns: he/him.
Twitter: @lbrothers.
Mastodon: @laurence@petrous.vislae.town.
Website: https://laurencebrothers.com.

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Patreon Revamp, AKA Why You Should Join If You Haven’t Already

I have been wrestling with this for a while trying to figure out the schedule for the year but here’s what I arrived at. Check out Patreon if you would like to sign up!
$2 Campus Pass
  • Access to the Discord server, which runs about 100 members online at any given time,  and its over two dozen channels, such as #critclub for story critiques (and a chance to be the person whose story I pick for a crit each month), #marketnews for market information, #motivation for weekly goal keeping, and #cutebreak for pet pictures and other life-enhancing photos.
  • Informational posts (weekly events, writing games, internet rabbitholes) as well as fiction snippets.  Includes access to 7+ years of past posts.
  • Monthly class for Patreon supporters.
  • Weekly Zoom events: Wednesday Writing Games, Friday Clean and Chat.
  • Monthly Zoom events: Story Discussion group, special speakers, and Social Media talks.
  • Advance chance to sign up and special rate on live classes through the Rambo Academy, as well as early access to sales and writing retreat registration.
$5 Deluxe Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • Access to recordings of past events and classes.
  • Ability to submit questions in advance for classes, special speakers, and social media talk.
  • Yearly limited edition sticker (sent out in December).
$10 Campus Pass plus Library Card
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • Yearly ebook  (sent out in December).
  • 1 live or on-demand Rambo Academy class per year  (transferable but non-cumulative, starts on 3rd month).
$25 Scholar’s Edition Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers, but live class is every 3 months  (transferable but non-cumulative, starts on 3rd month).
$50 Schoolhouse Rock Edition Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers but live class is monthly and starts immediately (transferable but non-cumulative).
$100 Super Extra Deluxe Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • A monthly 15-30 minute coaching session or story edit up to 4,000 words.
Everything from the $5 level up will also be available through Paypal subscription for people who don’t want to add Patreon to their addictions. I tried to keep everything equitable because I didn’t want any level to feel like I was taking away stuff.
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