New fiction in Slate on artificial intelligence and sports

Slate published my short story When We Were Patched on sports and artificial intelligence. In the piece, I explore how A.I. might impact officiating in sports — specifically a future version of tennis with room-temperature superconductivity and augmented reality assistants. It’s tempting to think that code can solve the imperfections of refereing through instant replay and virtual analysis. Officials sometimes make glaring, infuriating mistakes. But there are many times when they’re managing human behavior as much as enforcing the rules. And while algorithms may be executing code, that code was written by human beings using data sets that they often curate themselves. Which means A.I. can have inherent flaws.

I’ve also long been fascinated by the people drawn to officiating, which at the highest levels of sport tend to be a thankless job with meager pay compared to star athletes. This week Serena Williams lost in the U.S. Open tennis final to Naomi Osaka and accused the match official Carlos Ramos of bias. This had nothing to do with whether a ball landed inside or outside the court, which would be assisted by a Hawkeye assistant. It had everything to do with Williams’ behavior and the officiant’s interpretation of that behavior. Williams called the decisions sexist, since she believes male players get away with similar behavior with fewer penalties.

But it’s also worth considering the factors Carlos Ramos was mulling over: how the rules of tennis applied to Williams’ behavior; what her behavior meant for the “spirit of the game”; and whether her behavior was fair to her opponent, Osaka (whose childhood hero was ironically Williams herself). And then there’s the fact that this was probably an important match for Ramos and his entire family was likely watching, so he was both trying to save face and distinguish himself before his peers at the same time.

How do you program such considerations into code? It will be hard.

My short story was edited by Joey Eschrich at the Center for Science and Imagination, and owing to their unique format, there is an excellent “response” essay on Future Tense by algorthmic bias expert Jeanna Matthews, with Kinjal Dave.

You can read the story here.

After the Flare wins Philip K. Dick special citation award

Really honored to have received a Special Citation at the Philip K. Dick Awards. Held at a delightful ceremony at Norwescon in Seattle, I was able to meet other fantastic authors such as Ken Liu and Meg Elison. The PKD Awards are the only science fiction awards that feature live readings from nominees, which I enjoyed while drinking a pan-galactic gargle blaster (below.)

I read a passage about a cybernetic spider from my novel After the Flare, and during my acceptance speech I underscored the importance of imagining a better future for yourself. So often, I have seen in my social justice work that the first things repressive societies do is try to rob you of your imagination. Because if you can’t imagine a better life for yourself, you won’t struggle for one, and you can more easily be dominated. This is especially important for scifi writers of color and marginalized voices.

Thank you to the hosts of Norwescon and the organizers of the awards, who made me feel welcome and only my deepened my love for the science fiction community.

A pan-galactic gargle blaster.

After the Flare nominated for 2018 Philip K. Dick Award

I was thrilled to learn that After the Flare was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, a major prize sponsored by the Philip K. Dick Trust and the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. The award ceremony is sponsored by the Northwest Science Fiction Society.

Here is the full list of nominees. Some of these are my favorite scifi writers!

  • The Book of Etta, Meg Elison (47North)
  • Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • After the Flare, Deji Bryce Olukotun (The Unnamed Press)
  • The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt (Angry Robot)
  • Revenger, Alastair Reynolds (Orbit)
  • Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • All Systems Red, Martha Wells (

And if you’re not familiar with him, the late Philip K. Dick was a prolific science fiction writer whose work has been adapted for film and television over a dozen times. His ideas continue to influence our understanding of technology and society today.

After the Flare makes ‘best of’ lists on Washington Post, The Guardian, Tor, Kirkus, Syfy, more


Thank you to all the reviewers and readers who have enjoyed After the Flare. You can get the novel here (Amazon) and here (indie bookstore).

Washington Post  Best Science Fiction and fantasy to read this month (December) | Reviewer: Everdeen Mason

The Guardian  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2017 | Reviewer: Adam Roberts  Best Science Fiction Books of 2017 | Reviewer: Swapna Krishna  Reviewers Choice: the best Books of 2017 | Reviewer: Jared Shurin

Kirkus Reviews  Best Books of 2017

Ink and Paper Blog  7 Books that surprised me in 2017 | Reviewer: Russell

The Millions  Most Anticipated Books of September (2017) | Reviewer: Lydia Kiesling