Four years ago, I started writing “Immunity Index” and made mistakes

Back in March 2018, I made two mistakes when I started writing the novel Immunity Index.

The first mistake was to try “pantsing” as a writing technique — that is, to write from the seat of my pants rather than from a plan and an outline. While my first drafts are always shit (which does not make me at all like Hemingway in any other sense), this first draft was especially bad and required nine painful complete rewrites.

The second mistake was trying to tell a story set in the near future. Events in the future, like the things seen in a convex mirror, are closer than they appear.

This vision of the future, however, started back in the 1980s. As a newspaper reporter, I was covering news about AIDS, then a terrifying new disease. One evening, before a meeting, I was chatting with the Wisconsin state epidemiologist. He said that as bad as AIDS was, it could have been worse. He was a gay man, and we both knew that AIDS was already a disaster, and the disaster would keep growing.

He said, though, we were lucky that AIDS was only communicable, not actually contagious. Worse would have been a fatal illness that could be spread as easily as a cold.…

In 2018, I imagined a deadly, contagious coronavirus. It was fiction. Until it wasn’t.

My fictional story, though, is better than our shared reality. For one thing, the novel has a happy ending — and it has suspense, intrigue, adventure, and a woolly mammoth.

Immunity Index — now available as a trade paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. Find your favorite retailer here.

My choice for the Nebula Award for Novella

As a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I can vote for the Nebula Awards. Usually I focus on the shorter works  — short stories, novelettes, and novellas —  due to time constraints and because these categories tend to attract fewer voters, so my vote matters more.

The 57th Annual Nebula Awards will be presented on May 21 during the Nebula Conference Online. Although the conference is for paid attendees, the award presentation will be live-streamed.

A novella, according to the Nebula rules, is at least 17,500 words but fewer than 40,000 words — a short novel. Some consider it the ideal length for speculative fiction, long enough to create a world but short enough to allow for unrelenting tension or unusual storytelling techniques. Here’s a brief evaluation of each finalist, ending with my choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed each one.

Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn (Tordotcom) – A woman gives birth to a monster in a monstrous world. Lyrical, visceral, nightmarish.

Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden (Tordotcom) – Two old frenemies face off in a fully imagined fantasy setting. However, the ending feels more like a first chapter than a novella because problems are deepened rather than resolved.

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom) – Two princesses form part of a danger-filled love triangle. It illustrates what I think is the hallmark of Aliette de Bodard’s work: impeccable storytelling.

“The Giants of the Violet Sea” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny 9–10/21) – A young woman in a hardscrabble colony on a distant planet must confront a frayed family, repeated betrayal, and venom. Beautifully told.

The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler (Neon Hemlock) – A diplomat, suffering from debilitating mental and physical decline, must face both an alien attack and a deteriorating world. Lush prose, although the story seems to insist that the woman’s troubles are routine for age 63.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom) – A lost monk in a solarpunk-style world finds themself, or maybe they get found. Humane and uplifting, as we would expect from Becky Chambers.

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed (Neon Hemlock) – A murder victim in a brutal world seeks justice — to say more about this lyrical piece would be a spoiler. The tension never ebbs, the language is poetic, the voice is outstanding, and the characters glow with life. I loved this story and A Psalm for the Wild-Built equally, but the poetry and voice in Premee Mohamed’s work was the feather that tipped the scales.

Reading at Strong Women Strange Worlds on May 19

I’ll be reading from my novel Immunity Index on May 19 as part of the Strong Women Strange Worlds series. The Zoom presentation is at 7 p.m. ET. Sign up to attend at https://strongwomenstrangeworlds.weebly.com. Other readers are Heather Rose Jones, Missy Jane, Kyoko M, Cass Morris, and Mari Ness.

The novel Immunity Index is now available in trade paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio book editions. Find your favorite retailer here.

“Prescient and powerful, this is a gut-punch of a book.” — Seanan McGuire

My choice for the Nebula Award for Novelette

As a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I can vote for the Nebula Awards. Usually I focus on the shorter works  — short stories, novelettes, and novellas —  due to time constraints and because these categories tend to attract fewer voters, so my vote matters more.

The 57th Annual Nebula Awards will be presented on May 21 during the Nebula Conference Online. Although the conference is for paid attendees, the award presentation will be live-streamed.

A novelette, according to the Nebula rules, is at least 7,500 words but fewer than 17,500 words. There’s more depth than a short story but many of the same constraints. Here’s a brief evaluation of each finalist, ending with my choice, but every story is worth reading, and I had a hard time picking only one.

“O2 Arena” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Galaxy’s Edge 11/21) – In a dystopic Nigeria, a law student decides that survival is overrated. “This world needs a wake-up call that might be only found in an arena of our own making.” Taut and gritty.

“(emet)” by Lauren Ring (F&SF 7–8/21) – “Emet” means truth in Hebrew. An IT worker finds the path to truth runs through golems, and self-discovery leads to a very reasonable paranoia. Timely issues add to the depth of the story.

“That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell (Uncanny 11–12/21) – A terrified young man overcomes his fears, just barely, of a vampire. The story is really a beautiful tribute to friendship.

“Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Uncanny 3–4/21) – An immortal painter struggles with art, recognition, and meaning. Quiet and philosophical.

“Just Enough Rain” by PH Lee (Giganotosaurus 5/21) – God is lonely and gets involved in a woman’s life, but God doesn’t plan ahead very well. I laughed out loud. This gets my vote because there’s never enough humor in speculative fiction and because I need a reason to pick just one story for my vote, so laughter wins. Any of the stories is worthy of the award.

My choice for the Nebula Award for Short Story

As a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I can vote for the Nebula Awards. Usually I focus on the shorter works  — short stories, novelettes, and novellas —  due to time constraints and because these categories tend to attract fewer voters, so my vote matters more.

The 57th Annual Nebula Awards will be presented on May 21 during the Nebula Conference Online. Although the conference is for paid attendees, the award presentation will be live-streamed.

The nominees for short story present a solid ballot. I’m frustrated that I can only vote for one because a six-way tie isn’t an option. Here’s a brief evaluation of each finalist, ending with my choice, but every story is worth reading, and your choice might be different.

“Let All the Children Boogie” by Sam J. Miller (Tor.com 1/6/21) – Two misfit teenagers meet and fall in love as they try to find the source of some mysterious radio interference. Intense emotion faces the unknown in a hostile environment, but with 21st century values in a 20th century setting. The ending sort of fades away, but the story lingers.

“For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots 4/21) – As someone with arthritis, I love the way this story centers on chronic pain and a supernatural cure. I’d give a lot for that bed. I also love the way friends help each other out. Overall, a heartwarming story about the importance of friendship.

“Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/21) – No spoilers, but this story is sweet, heartfelt, and lovely, which I didn’t see coming. A Junior Reaper of Death must take a toddler “across the river” to join the cosmos, and it’s just too hard.

“Laughter Among the Trees” by Suzan Palumbo (The Dark 2/21) – An intense horror story about a sister who gets lost in the woods. Complex emotions are skillfully portrayed, especially survivor guilt.

“Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny 5–6/21) – A son and a simulacrum of his father work together after the father’s death to solve a mathematics hypothesis, a process that isn’t emotionally satisfying for the son. The story was emotionally moving to me as a reader, though.

“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3–4/21) – An online group debates and investigates the meaning of a traditional song. The storytelling format is untraditional and effective. This is my pick because I like to reward experimentation.