The Hazmat Sisters – new fiction @Asimovs_SF !

Fifteen months ago, when Toronto was entering its first lockdown and I had recently turned in Dealbreaker, I embarked on writing a series of novelettes set in the same universe as the books but a little bit further back in the timeline. “The Hazmat Sisters,” is one of these, and I am proud to say it is now out in Asimovs.

Head and shoulders portrait of L.X. Beckett wearing a yellow tunic, holding the July/August 2021 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, containing their story "The hazmat sisters"

“The Hazmat Sisters” is set in the same universe as Gamechanger and Dealbreaker, during a period I call the Clawback, a period of this century when pandemics start spreading across the globe (I swear, I wrote Gamechanger before our current pandemic had erupted!) and the infrastructure of many national governments starts showing the cracks and strain of the VUCA era.

(VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.)

In my previous Clawback piece, “The Immolation of Kev Magee,” I home in on the scramble among super-rich corporate oligarchs to hang onto power in the face of a global reassessment of the value of capitalism. This takes comes through the eyes of three kids who are refugees of a civil war in the U.S.A., over gun ownership and national disarmament. “The Hazmat Sisters,” on the other hand, is also about young people trying to survive that conflict… but they’re not nearly as far away from the shooting. Wilmie, Tess and Fee are trying to get to Chicago from Missouri in time to reunite with their mother and start the school year. But putting up with your sisters is hard at the best of times, and now they’re camping, and suddenly there’s a boy in the mix. The story’s got got plucky girls on the road, cool robots, sisterly love, allergy attacks, missile attacks, a smidge of violence, and lots of banter.

Gamechanger and Dealbreaker are hopepunk books and they depict a universe that, I hope, a lot of readers would like to build, live in, and bequeath to future generations of humans, as well as all the other living beings on this planet. They’re cheery, even aspirational, and they take place in a period whose name reflects it: the Bounceback. The Clawback, on the other hand, is the plunge before the resurgence. These three novelettes come from the historical moment when humanity hits rock bottom. It is the peering-into-the-abyss moment and the reckoning, the point where ever more people come together to climb out of the environmental, economic and systemic holes we’ve dug ourselves.

This makes the timeline for the stories and books I’ve set in this universe:

Anyway, it’s a novelette. If you like it, it has all these literary kin.

As the summer unfolds, I am planning to get back into posting more writing essays on my A.M. Dellamonica website, where most of my fantasy and horror fiction lives, and I’m going to start folding more Alyx news into The Lexicon, my periodic newsletter. This seems like a sensible move, since my dual identity as Beckett and Dellamonica is no longer secret, as it was when Gamechanger came out. I’m also, therefore, going to have the occasional pitch for subscribing to my Curious Fictions feed here on the Beckett site, and for my Ko-Fi.

The first of these writing essays is live now and is about when and how much to revise a story to make it more palatable to markets with PG-13 sensibilities. I hope you’ll check it out.

Also story sale! “Cat Ladies,” to the Magazine of F&SF, aka @FandSF

More of my springtime writing has found a place to roost. This time it’s a novelette called “Cat Ladies,” and as it says above, it’s going to appear in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2021.

Like my Clarkesworld novelette “The Immolation of Kev Magee,” and “The Hazmat Sisters,” which I’ve recently sold to Sheila Williams at Asimov’s Science Fiction, “Cat Ladies” takes place during the Clawback. This puts it after my Setback novella “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling,” (which also originally appeared in F&SF). Also those other novelettes, it falls well before the events of my Bounceback novels Gamechanger and Dealbreaker.

The Clawback is a tough period, riven by human-made disasters, but this is in many ways one of its more peaceful stories, set among a community of lesbians tasked with dismantling Calgary’s suburbs. It has beekeepers and policing robots and sexy sculptresses and–because it’s nominally a Western–a hard drinkin’ garrulous sheriff. But also, because what even is a Western, it has the displaced sister of a pop music sensation.

I’m so happy the story has found a home at F&SF, and pleased and grateful to have sold one last story to Charlie Finlay before he hands over the reins to Sheree Renée Thomas, who is going to be an amazing editor!

Story sale! “The Hazmat Sisters,” to @SheilaWilliam10 @Asimovs_SF

November is always the most difficult month for me, creatively, and 2020 has been double November with a side of sad salad. I am researching a few new story ideas and keeping up with my various cheery Twitter projects, like the weather reports, but that aside it has been a month of much teaching and little story.

But one of the great things about writing is its life cycle. Even as you’re wrangling new ideas or struggling with rewrites, work you did months earlier comes back from the past to joybomb you. And so I’m delighted to announce that Sheila Williams at Asimov’s Science Fiction has bought my novelette “The Hazmat Sisters.”

Like my Clarkesworld novelette “The Immolation of Kev Magee,” Hazmat takes place during the Clawback, the period after my Setback novella that kicked off this universe for me. It falls well before the events of my Bounceback novels Gamechanger and Dealbreaker.

The Clawback is a tough period and this is a tough story, about family and safety and pandemics and war and being a good neighbor, and fighting with your sisters for a shot at the shower. But it’s also about cute girls with pluck, determination and pet robots, because that’s fun!

I’m so happy the story has found a home at Asimovs. It’s my first sale to Sheila and I am chuffed!

Nice Things Universe = Nice News!

I’ve been quiet in this space lately, which is probably a surprise to nobody at all. The pandemic and lockdown have affected my writing practice as they’ve affected… well, everyone and everything… 

I hope as you read this you’re safe and healthy and finding ways to fill the hours and take care of yourself and others. Be gentle with yourselves, and on those around you.

I have been incredibly fortunate. I had a lot of works in progress to revise, pieces that were mostly done, when things went to shit. This week, for example, I turned in the final edits on my novel Dealbreaker. The book is the a sequel to my September 2019 novel Gamechanger, and it takes place about 20 years later, following the adventures of a now-grown Frankie Barnes and her various adopted siblings and spouses as the population of Earth pushes out into the solar system.

Another of the things I finished was a novelette called “The Immolation of Kev MaGee” and I’m so amazingly pleased to announce that I have now sold this piece to Clarkesworld Magazine! This also takes place in what I sometimes refer to as the Nice Things Universe, but it’s set during a thoroughly terrible period known as the Clawback.

Readers familiar with Gamechanger may remember that in this particular near future, our present day, pandemic and all, is part of a period called the Setback. This era is a downward spiral, where many of the world’s human-build systems collapse. Capitalism fails, deadly pathogens emerge, and our network of nation-states begins to crumble under the crush of climate change. Then an even more terrible transition, the Clawback, occurs as the bulk of the world’s population decides it has enough and begins the hard work of reorganizing, basically, Everything. 

By the time Gamechanger begins, capitalism has been seriously upheaved, international cooperation has been set into place to allow massive climate remediation, everyone has a universal standard of living, and the police have been all but written out of existence—though at a massive cost to privacy. Things seem to be improving, and the characters in that book have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Humanity goes from Clawback to Bounceback.

The novelette for Clarkesworld, on the other hand, is one of a trio set during the trashiest of trashfire days of the Clawback, a period where the U.S. is plunged into multiple localized civil wars and corporate oligarchs are attempting ever-more-bizarre ways to preserve their fortunes and privileges. “The Immolation of Kev MaGee” is the first of these novelettes to find a home and I’m incredibly happy about it. Clarkesworld has been on my bucket list for some time!

(I would never choose to live through a real world Setback or Clawback, if I had a choice! But I am trying with these stories to imagine optimistic but credible possibilities for the human race to shoot the rapids of looming disaster in this century, so we can all sail through to a better future. I believe we have to imagine good outcomes to achieve them.

Manwhile, this pandemic is teaching us all many many lessons we weren’t looking for, both about our potential to work together as a global population to stop a threat—and the horrors on offer when we fail. Cooperation is something we need to level at, desperately. It’s riveting and saddening and scary and inspiring to see us attempt it. 

As a science-fiction writer my stock in trade is imagining world-changing events exactly like the ones unfolding around us now. It is a very strange kind of privilege to be hunkered down in my home, watching Setbacky events unfolding in realtime, observing it and trying to write about parallel events and better outcomes.