Several months after I joined Water Dragon Publishing the editor invited me to submit a manuscript to their shared-world anthology The Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. This was just as the first other stories were being prepared to appear. But I was game to give it a try. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Patricia Monk wrote an interesting review of shared universes in 1990 and concluded that they represent an extension of collaborative writing that can become an effective way to foster in-group bonding among authors. And they can be an effective way to help readers bridge the gap to becoming writers.

I hadn’t been there for any of the initial discussions and creation of the shared-world setting so I didn’t really have any idea what it was all about. But, in a couple of days, I knocked out a weird short story and ran it by the editor, who was enthusiastic. It was about a somewhat odd man named David who is trying stop a bad guy from selling non-human biological androids, called “Little Angels,” as sex slaves.

David knew from past experience that the “Little Angels” did not exhibit a programming interface. All androids, whether biological or mechanical, were required by law to exhibit a public programming interface, even if locked, that would allow anyone to confirm their status and the responsible party: the owner or manager of the android. But it wasn’t just a feature of daytime dramas for rogue androids to have their interface turned off.

from Better Angels

By the end of the story (not to give too much away), the Little Angels have been rescued and have been returned to their original mission as singing and dancing idols called “Better Angels”.

It was just a short story, only available on-line as an eBook, but I really enjoyed writing it. And I particularly enjoyed playing with the characters. As a daily writing exercise I participate in the #vss365 group, which offers a prompt word every day. Early on, I actually found participating very helpful to let me sharpen my ability to tell an actual story with a problem, rising tension, and some kind of payoff — in just a few characters. I found myself telling some Better Angels stories this way.

In many of them, the Angels make David’s life difficult:

“Play dodgeball, David!” the Better Angels called.
Reluctantly, David joined the game. One by one, the girls were eliminated until it was just David and Zaza.
Zaza tossed it to David who tried to not catch it, but it stuck to his hands.
“I’m out!” shrieked Zaza. “David wins!”
“Wait! Who covered the ball with glue?”

Or where Zaza is one step ahead of the other Angels:

“Let me hold your hand, David!” Zaza said. David held his hand out and Zaza took it.
“No fair! No fair!” the other Angels called, crowding around.
“Here!” David said. “You can each have a finger.”
After two steps, Zaza said, “I have a thumb!”
“No fair! No fair!”
David sighed.

Most of them could have the caption “Poor David”:

“What should we eat tonight?” David asked.
“Fun Meals!” shrieked the Angels.
“No!” David said, putting his foot down. “You need a balanced diet. You can’t keep eating Fun Meals everyday!”
“Look, David,” Zaza said with a sly look, opening the replicator. “We already made Fun Meals for tonight. But we made you a Fun Dinner.”

For Halloween that year, a friend persuaded to me to write a Better Angels story which I did:

The lights suddenly cut out and there was darkness. There were a handful of screams in the giant space. Then the drums started up and the space stadium erupted with cheers. The bass picked up the beat. Then a spotlight stabbed down illuminating Zaza, wearing a pink-and-blue magical girl costume. She made a dramatic gesture and the stage lights came up, illuminating the rest of the Better Angels who struck a pose while the crowd went wild. They moved smoothly into their first number, a cover of a favorite PuzzyCure song.

The Better Angels and the Very Scary Halloween

My editor was interested enough that he encouraged me to write a few more stories. And then I found I couldn’t stop. He finally suggested constructing an anthology to contain them all. Eventually we got to sixteen and I thought a title might be The Better Angels and Sixteen Seriously Sweet and Significantly Sanguinary Stories Set on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. My editor suggested that would simplify creating artwork for the cover, since there wouldn’t be room for any. But then I wrote one more story so the number wouldn’t work anyway. And, after much discussion we settled on Better Angels: Tour de Force. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

On Sunday, Nov 19, 2023, I set up a vendor table for Water Dragon Publishing to sell books. The event had originally been scheduled for the day before but the weather looked iffy, so they exercised their rain date for the following day. There were some 50 vendors there selling different arts and crafts.

I was in the second group to set up and arrived around 9am. I’m starting to get the hang of setting up and running a vendor table, but it’s still a lot of work to do by myself and I have recognized the need to set up a checklist to make sure I get everything and do everything in the right order. But I was easily set up well in advance of when the public began to arrive.

The occupant of the booth next to mine was a woman I had met earlier in the week via a Zoom meeting because she also teaches a course for the Honors College at UMass. She was as surprised to find that I was an author as I was to learn she was a potter. It was nice to have a friendly face nearby and we found several moments to exchange pleasant conversation over the course of the day.

Revin’s Heart once again sold extremely well. I didn’t sell out, but sold nearly half of the books I had received from my publisher. And a handful of other books, including a book of haiku. I had hoped to have Better Angels: Tour de Force ready, but we just couldn’t make it happen. The woman commented that she was impressed at how well Revin’s Heart sold and said that my pitch was very effective. From a strictly monetary perspective, I shouldn’t quit my day job. But it’s fun to meet with the public and talk about my writing.

In the morning, the weather was sunny and it was very comfortable. But by noon, the weather turned cloudy and a cold breeze started up. I nearly lost the canopy of my tent and had to take down the Water Dragon banner because it was like a sail blowing the tent around. I will need to get some weights to hold down the tent going forward — another thing to add to my checklist.

By the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted. Loading the car, setting up, spending a whole day interacting with people, and battling the wind had left me totally beat. I came home, just left everything in the car, fixed a strong cocktail, and then went to bed by 7:30pm. But I had mostly recovered by the next morning.

Overall, it was a very successful day. And I look forward to doing more of these events in the coming weeks.

The Better Angels. Entertainment. Music and Dancing. (And Rescues!)

Life is tough for non-human biological androids trying to make their way in a big galaxy. You have to be prepared to install whatever programming modules are needed for any given circumstances. Join the Better Angels and their associates as they launch their careers on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy.

Tour de Force, an anthology of Better Angels stories, comes out December 15, 2023!

twitter logo

I joined Twitter in March 2008 and, after initially puzzling about what it was for, found it to be an amazing place. I particularly appreciated the focus on text, rather than copypasta pictures that seemed to dominate most of the other social media environments. I loved the requirement to be concise. I enjoyed taking the time to carefully craft a complete thought in 140 characters.

But it was also who else was there. Authors, scientists, journalists, historians. It was like a 24-hour cocktail party — especially when events were happening. It was also where you could call out a corporation and they would immediately respond to head off having your issue go viral.

And I used the Twitter API for a number of projects. I had created a twitter bot that could post Esperanto quotes. I had set up system to capture my tweets and save them at my website. I had a block on the front page of my blog to show my tweets. I frequently embedded tweets to support posts I was writing. I had set up Discord bots to gateway tweets for my publisher.

When I became a published author, my publisher encouraged me to create a separate social-media account for my publishing work, and so I created a new twitter handle and began developing a readership focused primarily on science fiction, fantasy, and publishing.

On Oct 27, the purchase of Twitter was completed. And, unlike some who immediately bailed, I thought I would wait and watch for a bit. But it didn’t take long to perceive what the new owner was going to do. And so, I began looking for alternatives.

I had actually created a Mastodon account in June, 2019: I was very much in favor of the idea and the model. (And, actually, I also had created another account for an instance created by a student.) But most of the people I was interested in interacting with just weren’t there. So I’d logged in a handful of times, but had not spent much time there.

On Nov 10, I created a new Mastodon account and began to wean myself away from Twitter. This was during a huge exodus and the entire fediverse was straining to accommodate so many new users. I could see that was probably the best instance for SFF authors, but I couldn’t get an invite code. And, rather than waiting patiently, I decided to create an account at another instance that seemed interesting: “A Mastodon server friendly towards anti-fascists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, hackers, and the like.”

It was a rather heady time, with vast numbers of new people trying to figure out this different thing. The guy who ran was adding capacity like mad to accommodate all the people looking for new accounts. It went from 8000 to nearly 80,000 users in just a few months. He set up a patreon and people contributed money such that, in short order, it was financially self-supporting. But he quickly decided that trying to run such a service on his own wasn’t any fun. He never said exactly what happened — at least not that I ever saw — but he evidently became disillusioned and, by February, had flamed out. He posted a bitter message that the service would be shutting down in a few months. And then he vanished.

By this point, I was easily able to get an invite code for and, on February 9, 2023, I migrated my account to

For a while, my publisher had encouraged me to continue to post book promotion tweets at Twitter. And I did so until Jun 21, 2023, when the owner of Twitter asserted that “cis” and “cisgender” were slurs and would result in people saying them being suspended. This was a bright line for me and I informed my publisher that I would no longer be posting at Twitter. He indicated that this was fine.

By this point, I had largely finished grieving. I was already no longer visiting Twitter. But it was sad to watch all of the cool services around the Internet that had depended on Twitter gradually vanish. The block on my blog quite working. The bots for my publisher quit working.

Every so often, I would see another high profile defection as people gave up and grieved what they had lost. I still feel some pain, like a phantom limb. I like the new community at Mastodon. But it’s not the same.

It’s still astonishing to me how many people are still ostensibly there.

Even more astonishing to me are the people who, after watching their whole online world purchased and set alight to satisfy the ego of an unbalanced lunatic, are migrating to other commercial properties, like Bluesky or Threads. Did you learn nothing? Sigh…

During the academic year, my time for pursuing my writing is extremely limited. Almost all of my time is devoted to reading and commenting on student papers. But I do find time for a few things.

I do continue to do several small writing activities. Using the #vss365 prompt on Mastodon, I’ve started writing a story about the Butter Angels: A group of girls who are minor celebrities because they do a cooking show on Volpex and who occasionally get mistaken for the Better Angels.

On Wednesday evenings, I continue to offer Straw Dog Writes. It’s been very successful, with a growing attendance. It’s a fun support group of writers and it’s given me a little time for writing each week that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I’m hopeful I will be a participant at several upcoming conventions. I have returned the participant survey for Arisia-2024 and have been notified I will receive the survey soon for Boskone-2024. I have also requested to be on the program of Norwescon-2024. I’m also planning to attend Worldcon in Glasgow in summer 2024.

I have joined the volunteer staff for Readercon. I’ve ostensibly joined the “tech team”. But I’m also doing some flyers and other simple graphic design stuff. I’m not really a graphic artist, but I can use vector illustration programs and simple page layouts.

I’m looking forward to the imminent release of Better Angels: Tour de Force. I’m hoping to have copies available for sale in time for the holidays. I’m planning to be at the Holiday Market in the Mill District in North Amherst and the Amherst Farmer’s Market. Books always make great gifts!

And we’re still on track for the release of the Revin’s Heart fix-up with additions and three side-stories in January! Watch for it!

For more than 20 years, I’ve taught a course in scientific writing. In the course, students write a proposal. A number of years ago, I realized that a particular challenge for students was crafting a persuasive argument.

Aristotle identified the rhetorical characteristics of a persuasive argument: logos, ethos, and pathos. (Sometime people also include “kairos”). So I give the students a prompt and ask them to draft a persuasive essay that takes a position on some weird question.

The rubric essentially evaluates “logos” as checking that the argument is organized into clear paragraphs with good internal structure. It gives credit for “ethos” for using scientific citations and references. And “pathos” is kind of a giveaway in actually referring to some kind of human values as a rationale.

I don’t like to re-use the exact same assignment, so each semester I come up with a new prompt that students have to respond to.

The first one I wrote was really just an excuse for an elaborate joke.

A new retrovirus is killing domestic dogs at terrible speed: in a few months all domestic dogs are predicted to be extinct. However, scientists have developed enough vaccine to save one pregnant mother and her puppies: which breed of dog should be saved?

No matter what dog they selected, I would say “But we all know that the correct answer was ‘boxer dog.'”

I was a bit lazy another year:

Due to rising sea-levels, an island with a unique ecosystem is being inundated and its species will be lost. Should these species be introduced to other islands to preserve them?

Blah, blah, blah. I mean, it’s fine. You can make a case either way and there’s good science you can refer to.

This one was one of my favorites:

A scientific breakthrough has enabled the genetic engineering of cetaceans small enough to fit in the pocket of a shirt. Should corporations be allowed to create and market “pocket whales”? And, if so, what kind of whale (or dolphin) should be chosen first to be a pocket whale?

Almost everyone chose the “pocket whales are an utterly abhorrent idea whose marketing for sale should be condemned” angle, but one gal wrote a brilliant essay advocating for them:

Orca whales would be a good species to engineer, as they have distinct black and white coloring. With a neutral color base, they will match any color shirt pocket. The wearer will not have to worry about the whale clashing with their outfit. Whether it is a suit pocket, or a t-shirt pocket, orca whales are very versatile.

Lately I’ve been getting weirder:

A new genetic engineering technique has enabled people to grow animal ears on their heads, which corporations believe will lead to a popular, new fashion trend. Corporations claim the technique almost never produces undesirable behavioral changes (e.g. needing to use a litter box). Should corporations be allowed to market this technique and, if so, at what age should children or adults be allowed to use it?

And this semester is even weirder yet.

A corporation claims to have developed a medical process that enables people to pupate, where they enter a period of morphological degeneration and re-development, that can allow them to change any aspect of their physical appearance. Should corporations be permitted to market a process by which people could change into other species (e.g. otters)?

I can’t wait to see what students do with it. There are so many directions you could take it. I think there’s a “ship of theseus” argument you could make. Are you really the same person after pupating? And, if you’re an otter, how would you even tell? But who *wouldn’t* want to be able to become an otter? It’s a conundrum!

This morning at 2:10am I got an email from the organizers of LOSCon indicating that I was going to be offered an opportunity to be a participant. Unfortunately, LOSCon appears to be “mask optional.” Their COVID Policy page is actually totally unhelpful and doesn’t actually tell you what the policy is. But here is how I replied:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to identify additional panels of interest at LOSCon.

In July, when I proposed myself as a participant, I was anticipating that my pulmonologist would clear me to attend an event with unmasked participants. And, briefly, in August she did. But then, a week later, she personally called me from the ICU to say that, due to the rise in COVID cases, I should withdraw from events where participants are unmasked.

When I last checked, it appeared that LOSCon was planning to be “mask optional.” If that’s true, then — on the recommendation of my pulmonologist — I will have to withdraw as a participant.

I very much regret not  being able to attend. And if the policy has changed, please let me know so that I can make prompt arrangements to attend.

Best wishes for a successful con!

I’m particularly sad in that I have the new Better Angels book coming out and was really looking forward to being able to promote it at the convention. But my health really needs to come first.

I notice that, at “mask optional” events not even Neil Gaiman can get people to mask up. This is definitely not the best of all possible worlds.

This fall, I’ve launched a new program at the Straw Dog Writers Guild: Straw Dog Writes. Modeled on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association Writing Date, I offer a Zoom session where Straw Dog members can come for some light socializing and two 45-minute writing sessions. I’ve found this as a really useful way to enforce a little productivity and networking. I’ll be offering these at least through mid-December and then we’ll decide whether to continue the program into the new year.

Recently on Mastodon there have been several interesting daily prompts for writers: #WritersCoffeeClub, #WordWeavers, and #PennedPossibilities. During the academic year, when my professional responsibilities give me limited time for writing, these are a fun way to reflect on my writing and let me feel like I’m still engaged.

I also write a lot short fragments on Mastodon, some of which find their ways into finished works. I credit writing the fragments with helping me improve my sense of story structure: writing a complete story in 500 characters really forces you to cut the story down to its essential elements. It reminds me of when I was a graduate student and writing haiku was a way to keep doing Esperanto in a small way. I have a lot of fun with the fragments and they often give me ideas for larger stories. I often post mine using the hashtag #vss365.

In mid-September, I delivered the final manuscripts for the Better Angels anthology: Tour de Force. It’s like a TRIPLE entendre. We spent a long time workshopping titles. I had been inclined toward “The Better Angels and Sixteen Seriously Sweet and Significantly Sanguinary Stories Set on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy.” My publisher said, “Oh, great. Well, at least with that title we won’t need to worry about cover art.” The anthology should be out by mid-December.

I’m also working on the fix-up edition of Revin’s Heart. This will include the seven novelettes, but also three side-stories that tell stories where Revin isn’t present: Where There’s a Will (about how Will and Grip meet and fall in love), Curtain’s Rise (how Will and the Baron originally met), and Riva’s Escape (Revin’s transition). I’m currently writing pieces that will bridge between the novelettes. It’s giving me a chance to expand on things that readers have asked about, or expressed interest in.

I’ll be appearing in a local holiday market on November 18 at the Mill District in Amherst. I’ll have not only my own books, but also a selection of other books suitable as gifts. There are discussions about a winter market I may also attend. Stay tuned.

I’m hoping to appear at several upcoming conventions. But the current surge in COVID cases requires that I be cautious.

I had planned to attend LOSCon, but it’s looking less and less likely that I’ll be able to attend. The aren’t committed to masking and I had applied to be a participant, but they haven’t gotten back to me. time is getting short to buy plane tickets and secure housing.

I’ve applied to be a participant at Arisia (which is close by) and they’ve already committed to requiring masks. So, with any luck at all, I’ll be able to attend.

I’m hoping to attend Boskone this year. Last year, I was hospitalized and wasn’t able to make it. But, hopefully, this year will be different. I still haven’t heard that they’re requiring masks, however.

I will plan to apply to be a participant at Baycon. It’s fun to attend a conference that so many of my fellow Water Dragon authors can attend.

I’ve signed up to volunteer for Readercon. I will also apply to be a participant. I applied last year, but wasn’t accepted. Maybe by volunteering, I’ll get greater consideration.

I’ve already signed up to attend WorldCon in Glasgow in 2024. I’ve just filled out the survey to agree to be considered for participation. I had a great time at the WorldCon in Chicago and I’m super excited about going to Scotland.

I remember as I became an adult, beginning to adopt responsibility for the actions of my country. I was a voter and, even though my candidates frequently lost, I accepted that I was a participant in the imperialist and capitalist society that was visiting harms on the rest of the world. And I started using the language of “we” when talking about my own culpability in these harms. Today, regarding the failure of the UN to achieve the sustainability goals, Ross Douhat says:

Lofty goals could be forgiven if they inspired progress, but I worry that they were sometimes less a spur to action than a substitute for it. Yes, the pandemic created setbacks, but let’s be honest: We dropped the ball.

That’s bullshit. I didn’t drop the ball. I’m being disenfranchised by fascists that are gerrymandering the shit out of the country. My voice and agency are being drowned out by a firehose of money coming from oligarchs that can hire whole stables of unscrupulous lobbyists that make sure that their voices are heard and not mine. I’m being overwhelmed by a flood of disinformation that rises like a tide from a stockyard waste pond over the civilized discourse of the country.

It’s not my fault. And I don’t have to accept responsibility for it.

We need to stop saying “we” and start saying “they.” It’s the billionaires and the unscrupulous greedy people that accept their money who are to blame. Not us. And don’t let them make you forget it.

Steven D. Brewer at BayCon2023.

I had an exciting summer! I drove cross-country to attend BayCon in July and then visited the tropical island of St. Croix where I did a lot of writing. But soon the fall classes begin and I will be swamped with academic work.

In December, the Better Angels anthology will come out. We’re still nailing down the title, but you can expect sixteen alternately sweet and sanguinary stories featuring everyone’s favorite non-human biological-android magical-girl singing-and-dancing idols.

In January, the compiled Revin’s Heart anthology will come out. It will include revised and extended versions of the novelettes plus three special side-stories, that provide histories for some of the key events leading up to Revin’s Heart. You won’t want to miss it!

I have a whole series of conventions coming up. I have registered to attend WorldCon2024 in Glasgow! I am super excited! I have been hoping to attend LOSCon in November, but with the appearance of new COVID variants, I may not be able to make it. My pulmonologist has given me orders not to attend public events that are not double masked and it is not currently listed as a “masks required” event. I’m hoping to attend both Arisia and Boskone this year. I didn’t make Boskone last year due to my hospitalization. I have my fingers crossed for this year.

I’m starting a new program for Straw Dog Writers’ Guild members: Straw Dog Writes. Members will be able to join a Zoom meeting Wednesday evenings at 7pm to write together. In a survey last year, a number of members were interested in ways to meet other members and write together. And were looking for events that didn’t require driving in the dark. I’m hopeful this will find an audience.

On November 18, I will attending the Mill District Holiday Market to sell books. I will have my own books plus a selection of other books people might want to purchase as gifts. In February, I’m hoping to arrange readings at local bookstores.