In November, I traveled to Italy for the release of Blackfish City in Italian translation, published by the fabulous Zona42 as La città dell’orca !!
We stayed in my beloved Venice, and our visit happened to coincide with the worst flooding that city has experienced in sixty years. It was sobering and intense to be promoting a book about rising sea levels at the same time as one of my favorite places on the planet is facing an existential threat from record-breaking flooding.
As part of the massive literary festival Book City Milano, we had a release event at the awesome Covo della Ladra bookstore in Milan, where I was in conversation with my editor Giorgio Raffaelli and my translator Chiara Reali. The crowd was huge and attentive, and talking to these two brilliant folks was a real pleasure and privilege.
There’s a great write-up of the event over at Zona42’s website – it’s in Italian, but if Google Translate is to be believed, they say nice things about me!
We already knew that Sam J. Miller was a great author, but we were really pleased to discover a prepared, helpful, very kind person, who made himself available to Zone 42 for a whole afternoon. First the interview with Angela Bernardoni that preceded the presentation (you can read it on Stay Nerd ). Then the meeting at Covo della Ladra , which began with the parallel reading of English / Italian of a chapter of the novel (and we owe it an infinite thanks to Chiara Reali , as usual , that if it didn’t exist we would have to invent it!), Continued with the discussion on the many themes and suggestions that enrich the city of orca and culminated in an exchange of questions and answers with the public. Sam J. Miller was as precise, as enlightening, politically explicit and fun.
I’m thrilled by the news that Blackfish City is the recipient of the 2019 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel! An incredible honor that has gone to some of my favorite books and authors of the past several decades.
Big big love to the award jury – Gregory Benford, Sheila Finch, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Paul Kincaid, Christopher McKitterick, Pamela Sargent, and Lisa Yaszek – as well as my magnificent fellow finalists: Semiosis by Sue Burke, A Spy in Time by Imraan Coovadia, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, Time Was by Ian McDonald, Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice, Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman, Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts, and The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley
Over at LitHub, I was one of seventeen authors profiled about the role of fiction in addressing climate change – check out my comments, below, and then check out the full, excellent Amy Brady article!
“One hard lesson I’ve learned from my fifteen years as a community organizer is that changing the minds of our enemies is less important than giving hope and power to our friends. I’m not writing for the people who are against us. I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to convince people with great art—other writers might legitimately feel like the role of fiction in the climate change fight is to convince the skeptical—but that’s not my priority. I want my fiction—and my activism—to galvanize and energize people who already know that something is wrong, but might not feel like they have the power to do anything about it. I want people to see their own power, and the power they can build with others, and to see that fighting back—and winning—isn’t just possible; it’s already happening, every day, all around us.” – Sam J. Miller, author of Blackfish City
Kill your darlings, they say – and it’s true – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Editing makes books better, but the process of cutting down a novel means some things you love MUST DIE.
In early drafts of my novel Blackfish City, there were several chapters that were “one-offs,” meaning they were written in the voice of a character who only narrates one chapter – as opposed to the four POV characters who narrate most chapters. My genius editor felt like four narrators was already asking a lot of readers, and these additional voices risked losing some folks. I agreed, and we cut a couple chapters, while some others were incorporated into other chapters. Only one ‘one-off’ remains in the finished text – a chapter at the center of the book, by the character who stands at the center of the story: the mysterious orcamancer.
But the chapter I was saddest to lose was actually narrated by the orcamancer’s killer whale companion. It was the right call, but I was sad to lose it.
So I’m super excited to share that this deleted chapter has been published in its entirety, over at Tor.com!!!
Most peopled places turn the sea sour, foul, toxic. You can smell them from a day’s swim away, the filth they put in the water. The stink of their suffering. This place is not so bad. They have huge machines for processing their waste. The cold keeps them out of the sea. A giant metal cone warms the deep water. We’ve been to seventy-three peopled places, and I think I like this one best. Which isn’t to say I actually like it.
It’s overwhelming, that my story of lesbian warrior grandmas and oversexed gay boys and gender-non-binary revolutionaries AND KILLER WHALES AND POLAR BEARS has received such a positive response. And now, to have gotten this kind of nod from my peers in the science fiction & fantasy community, is beyond incredible.
The whole ballot is full of magnificence. Rebecca Roanhorse, R.F. Kuang, Tomi Adeyemi, Justina Ireland, Roshani Chokshi, BLACK PANTHER (!!!!!), Janelle Monae’s DIRTY COMPUTER (!!!!!!), Henry Lien, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, A.T. Greenblatt, Phenderson Djèlí Clark, Sarah Pinsker, Andy Duncan, Brooke Bolander, Jose Pablo Iriarte, Martha Wells, Kelly Robson, Aliette de Bodard, Mary Robinette Kowal, and tons of other artists whose work I adore.
Charlie Jane Anders, one of my very favorite contemporary science fiction writers, was kind enough to include me in an awesome new article over at Tor.com, talking about why serious sci-fi needs to grapple with climate change.
It’s a great article, and discusses some of my favorite books of the past few years, by writers I adore like Cindy Pon and N.K. Jemisin.
Here’s some of what I had to say:
“With Blackfish City, I wanted to paint a realistically terrifying picture about how the world will change in the next hundred years, according to scientists,” says Miller—a picture which includes the evacuation of coastal cities, wars over resources, famines, plague, and infrastructure collapse. “But I also wanted to have hope, and imagine the magnificent stuff we’ll continue to create. The technology we’ll develop. The solutions we’ll find. The music we’ll make.”
“The Road/Walking Dead-style abject hopelessness is not entertaining or stimulating to me,” adds Miller. “Humans are the fucking worst, yes, but they’re also the fucking best.”
To whet the appetites of French audiences, they’ve released a translation of my short story “Calved,” originally published in 2015 by Asimov’s – the first time I explored the floating city of Qaanaaq, which would later become the setting for my novel.
Francophones can download a PDF of the translated story, by clicking here!!
I don’t read French, so I can’t speak to the quality of the translation. BUT, it’s translated by the magnificent Anne-Sylvie Salzman, who also translated the full novel, and she’s been amazing to work with, so I have full faith in her ability to grasp and communicate the heart of the story.
BLACKFISH CITY appeared on Publishers Weekly’s list of the Best Books of 2018!! Here’s what they had to say:
“Miller’s ambitious and driven first novel for adults is a smashing story of everyday life on a floating city after a climate apocalypse. While tackling class, technology, politics, and more, Miller never loses sight of the human beings at the heart of his story, producing a deeply empathic and lovely work of science fiction.”
In addition – an eerie six months after the book’s release, when one has long despaired of seeing any further reviews – Kirkus gave a coveted starred review to BLACKFISH CITY! And said lots of nice things about the book. “Harsh and lovely” is the kinda thing I’d gladly put on my tombstone:
…Populated by the refugees and descendants of refugees from nations destroyed by social upheaval and environmental disasters, Qaanaaq is run by software while political and economic power rests in the hands of landlords, crime gangs, and the ultrawealthy, never-seen shareholders. But what was once a relatively stable system is headed for a shakeup as the gulf between the haves and have-nots widens. Someone is transmitting subversive broadcasts about life in Qaanaaq; a gang lord is planning her ascent to the ranks of shareholders; a woman seeks to help her mother, who’s imprisoned, perhaps unjustly, in an ultrasecure mental hospital; a brain-damaged fighter is pressured into becoming an enforcer; an ambitious courier becomes a spy; and the grandson of a shareholder contracts a sexually transmitted disease that fatally afflicts its carriers with the memories of the previously infected. But true chaos only enters the city with Masaaraq, a tough warrior woman who travels with her psychically bonded orca and a chained polar bear. She has a very specific reason for coming to Qaanaaq, and she does not care whom she harms or what plans she disrupts in the course of fulfilling her purpose. Although it has its bleak and very violent moments, there’s also a certain amount of optimism in this story, which ultimately proves to be about family and the hard-won strength of those who survive against all odds. Author and professional activist Miller (The Art of Starving, 2017) allows his passion for advocacy—for people desperately clinging to their hope for a home, exploited minorities, and those outside the cishet dichotomy—to inform and structure his fiction but in such an integral and yet casual way that it never feels preachy.
Harsh and lovely.
It’s up on their website, so I guess it’s cool to share that I’ll be traveling to London for MCM Comic Con to talk BLACKFISH CITY!!!!
… along with a ton of other excellent writers… and artists… and movie stars… (OMG HICKS FROM ALIENS)
“Sam why are you hiding in the green room the entire con?”
“Shut up I’m hoping Hicks from Aliens needs a soda.”
MY FIRST INTERNATIONAL BOOK TRAVEL YALL
Programming details are still being finalized, but I am going to be on four fantastic-sounding panels – if you’re gonna be there, look me up in the program and COME THROOOOOOOOOUGH
I was super-honored to be interviewed by living legend Scott Simon for NPR’s Weekend Edition – and the interview is now up live on their site!! Check it out if you’ve got 6.25 minutes to spare to hear me talk about BLACKFISH CITY, being a small-town butcher, the hypocrisy of American anti-immigrant sentiment, and how awesome my dad was.
MILLER: … people will still find a way to come together and live together, and that it’ll be really hard and really beautiful.
SIMON: The really-hard-and-really-beautiful part sometimes made me wonder if – are we talking about something that’s dystopian or, in a way, utopian?
MILLER: That’s a great question. And I’m not entirely sure I have an answer and probably because I actually believe that both things exist simultaneously in books and in the world around us. There are so many things in our world that are amazing and wonderful and that people a hundred years ago would be shocked and overwhelmed to find that we have the kind of technology and medical care and food abundance that we do now. And so in many ways for many people, this current moment is very utopian. But it is also deeply dystopian, and many people are living really, really hard lives that other people are sort of perfectly happy to ignore.
On Tuesday, April 24th, we’ll celebrate the launch of BLACKFISH CITY at the phenomenal powerHouse bookstore in Brooklyn – and I’m over the moon to announce that I’ll be in conversation with my hero and friend N.K. Jemisin!! Winner of multiple Hugo Awards, including Best Novel for The Fifth Season, possibly my favorite fantasy novel of the past five years, N.K. Jemisin is a genius and I am so so excited to be chatting with her about my book.
DO NOT MISS THIS AWESOME EVENT.
Tuesday Apr 24, 2018
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
POWERHOUSE @ the Archway
28 Adams Street (Corner of Adams & Water Street @ the Archway)
Brooklyn , NY 11201
In just over two months, my novel BLACKFISH CITY will be published by Ecco Press in the US, and Orbit Books in the UK! It’s my first non-YA book, and it’s set in a floating city in the Arctic after rising sea levels have transformed the globe… and a woman arrives one day with an orca and a polar bear, on a mission that could be bloody or beautiful, or both.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, it’s already getting some awesome buzz.
“Miller made waves with his YA debut, The Art of Starving, and will make more with this rich and intense dystopian ensemble story set in a harsh near future.”
and Barnes & Noble listed it under “25 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Debuts to Watch For in 2018“:
“Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving was one of the most acclaimed books of last year) looks to be a complex jewel of ideas… This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for.”
First review for BLACKFISH CITY is in, and it’s a hell of a thing – a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly!! Here it is in its entirety:
“Miller, fresh from his YA debut (The Art of Starving), makes the jump to adult SF with an ambitious, imaginative, and big-hearted dystopian ensemble story that’s by turns elegiac and angry. The floating city of Qaanaaq was constructed after many mainland cities burned or sank. The arrival of a woman with two unusual companions—an orca and a polar bear—draws a disparate group together. Ankit, a political aide, wants to free her institutionalized birth mother; her brother, Kaev, is a brain-damaged fighter at the end of his career; Fill, a rich playboy, has the breaks, an illness that throws sufferers into strangers’ memories; and Soq, an ambitious nonbinary street messenger, is trying to hustle their way into a better life. Together, they uncover a dramatic series of secrets, connections, and political plots. Miller has crafted a thriller that unflinchingly examines the ills of urban capitalism. Qaanaaq is a beautiful and brutal character in its own right, rendered in poetic interludes. The novel stumbles only at the very end, in a denouement that feels just a little too hurried for the characters’ twisting journey.” Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Apr.)
Feast your eyes on this beauty: