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2019 and all that

This was… not a productive writing year for me. My day job was very demanding from January to July, and then again from September to December. Add to that family stress – the first half of the year saw one long-term relationship break up (not mine, but one involving a close relative), and three trips abroad I could have done without, for one deathbed visit and two funerals. Plus, you know, Trump, Brexit – which will directly impact me and my family – and general world blah. So I had limited energy for writing or projects related to my stories.

On the other hand – I had a book published! In June, my collection of 365 science fiction stories was published by the German publisher Mikrotext, in both English and German. It was well received by reviewers too. I am incredibly grateful for the work done by Nikola Richter at Mikrotext, and Birthe Mühlhoff who translated my little stories. And of course, I’m grateful to everyone who bought a copy. Thank you!

I also visited Dublin again, and attended WorldCon where I met a lot of friends I haven’t seen in ages, and went to a lot of really good panels. While I had volunteered to do panels (with the caveat that there are plenty more interesting voices than mine), I was very glad I was not asked to do any, and could treat it as a holiday.

But what have I written? Looking at the archive at microsff.tumblr.com I see 30 pages, with 15 posts each, from 2019. Discount individual tweets from longer stories, plugs for the book, or my Patreon and Ko-Fi, and other announcements, and I probably ended up at around 300 micro stories written and posted during the year.I also wrote two serial tweet stories:

Hugo Award eligibility

Hugo nominations have opened, so should you deem my work worthy, the two stories linked above are eligible for Best Short Story, and as usual I am eligible for Best Fan Writer for, well, everything I write.

Nani and the shadow

Nani swore when she realised what ailed her grandson. She should have seen it sooner.
“Where is your shadow?” she asked.

He had given it to a mysterious, beautiful girl he met at the Midsummer dance.
“Did she pay?” Nani asked.
“With a kiss.”

“You fool,” Nani shook her head. “Your shadow is your anchor in this world.”
No wonder the lad was growing vague and wan.

He had missed one chance of reclaiming it, at the autumn equinox. And now he was too far gone.
She sighed. “I’ll get it.”

The gates never quite close, but at the four balance points of the year they open widest.
So. She had until dawn tomorrow.

Nani packed a satchel, put on skis, and set off. The only gate she knew of was a mile away. She hoped it was the right one.

The gate was at a waterfall, a step out from the edge. Nani leaned her skis against a tree and saw a black cat watching her.

She looked at the stepping stones along the edge, the spray of icy cold water around them.
“Want a ride?” she asked the cat.

Cats, of course, go to any realm they please, but icy water is icy water. Nani held still as the cat jumped to her shoulder.

She stepped carefully along the edge to the middle of the waterfall. The cat jumped off her and was gone. Nani followed it.

She stepped into a spring meadow and halted. The cat jumped down and ran off, without looking back.
“Welcome to the Court.”

A beautiful person stood smiling by the gate. Nani bowed.
“I seek a shadow.”
She saw no shadows when she looked down

“Here?” The person laughed. “Let’s go ask the king. May I have your name?”
Nani knew that trick.
“You can call me… Nina.”

Everyone Nani saw was beautiful and wearing bright, colourful clothes. None of them, however, outshone the king. He smiled.

“Do you see shadows here?” the king said.
Nani squinted and looked around. There was a dark patch by- no, that was the cat.

“Nevertheless.” She opened her satchel. “I offer you this bread I baked.”
“Would you offer your youth?” the king countered.

“I have none,” Nani said. It stung. “I offer you these mittens I knitted.”
“Would you offer your beauty?” the king smiled.

“I have none,” Nani said. “I offer this stone with a hole in it, which reveals illusions.”
She held it up in front of her.

“Rude!” the court shouted.
Nani quickly put the stone back in her bag. Her look through it had only shown beautiful people.

“I am sorry,” she said.
The king frowned. “Nina, Nina,” he said.
Nani felt her name being pulled, but it stayed with her.

“No youth, no beauty? Then your health, wealth and titles,” the king said.
Nani stood as straight she could. “I have none.”

“I have no more to offer,” Nani said, “so I’ll go, taking nothing of your court, leaving nothing I have brought.”
“So go.”

As the king said those words, the black cat froze in place. Nani hurried there and lifted it by the scruff of the neck.

She shook the cat, and a woman fell out, leaving a shadow skin in Nani’s hand.
“I think you owe me a kiss,” the woman said.

Nani hesitated, then shook her head. “No. I gave you a ride.”
She turned, left the court, and headed home to her grandson.


This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2019, tagged with #AdvenTale.

Review roundup

This summer, the German publisher mikrotext has released a collection of 365 of my science fiction stories. Called “Micro Science Fiction”, it is available in English and German, as ebook or paperback, from all major ebook stores and some realbook stores (lists of shops here and here).

I realised that while I did post about it, I haven’t done a roundup of reviews, which I ought to, since it has received very positive reviews in German media:

Exberliner
“With razor-sharp wit, riddle-like playfulness and moments of poignancy, Westin tackles the big issues facing the future of civilisation […] Each microstory is Tardis-like in its depth and philosophical scope”

Sueddeutsche Zeitung
“[…] in the brevity of a tweet, compress ideas that could carry a whole novel […] in the best of his ultra-short works, Westin succeeds in allowing the reader to unfold a whole small cosmos out of two or three sentences.”
[Google Translated]

Book Gazette
“Westin’s stories are remarkable and can serve as a prime example of storytelling and building worlds with as few words as possible. […] For the sake of form alone, [they] seem even more enchanting and brilliant. ”
[Google Translated]

Deutschlandfunk
“Westin grabs current debates [or] sci-fi scenes [and] compact the material until the beginning, middle, and end merge. Until only a tiny, polished diamond is left.”
[Google Translated]

Camestros Felapton
[…] the shift in perspective provides emotional insight into a character or social commentary or a disturbing reveal (or all of those).
The brevity invites readers to imagine the world and setting around the story.”

The Princess’ Dragon

For her thirteenth birthday, the princess asked for a hunting bird of her own. Or rather, she asked for a small dragon, to use as a hunting bird.
So the king sent his knights all around the land, to find one. But every dragon that saw a knight approach flew away.

At last, the queen ordered her horse saddled, and rode out with only a maid attending her.
They returned a week later, carrying a small dragon in a basket, and without the queen’s royal signet ring. They would not tell anyone where they had been, or where the ring had gone.

The princess was delighted when she was presented with the dragon.
“This is Goldeneye,” the queen said.
“He is beautiful,” the princess said.
“Thank you,” Goldeneye said, “but I am neither a he nor a she.”
“They will serve you,” the queen said, “until you send them away.”

“Oh! Of course you can talk! How wonderful!” said the princess.
“Indeed,” the queen said, “so they are not yours, like a bird would be. Neither are they a servant.”
The princess nodded and turned to the dragon.
“Goldeneye,” she said, “will you ride on my arm as my friend?”

Goldeneye spread their wings and took off, flew around the Great Hall, and landed on the princess’ outstretched wrist. The princess grunted a bit, and lifted her arm with all the strength and dignity she could muster.
“One day,” GoldenEye said, “I will be too heavy for you.”

“Then I shall just have to get stronger,” the princess said.
So she went to where squires exercised, and asked to train with them. The master-of-arms agreed, on condition she put her title away.
“Here you can not be princess Amanda, but squire Amand.”
“Why change my name?”

“To help the other squires,” the master-of-arms said, “at least until they have got used to you.”
Every day, squire Amand trained with the other squires, and while they all recognised the princess’ face, it was easily forgotten under the sweat and dust of the training yard.

Years passed, and Goldeneye grew, and proved to be an excellent hunter, as well as a good friend to Amanda, full of wisdom and wit. And like the princess had promised, she grew stronger, and rode to hunt with them on her arm even when they were the size of an eagle.

By the time she turned twenty-one, princess Amanda was not only stronger than all the squires, but the strongest person in the land. Ladies at court wore dresses with large, poofy sleeves to emulate her broad shoulders and mighty arms.
And yet.
Goldeneye had grown too large.

“Maybe it is time for you to send them away,” the king suggested.
“No!” said Amanda, Goldeneye, and the queen.
“Oh,” said the king. “Well. On a unrelated note, have you given the idea of marriage any thought?”
“No?” said Amanda.
“Hm,” said Goldeneye.
The queen said nothing.

“Well, I shall arrange a grand tourney,” the king said, “and invite all young princes and knights.”
He left, and Amanda turned to her mother. “Does that mean I will have to marry the winner?”
“That is the custom. As long as the winner is of noble birth, and knighted.”

“And who may make someone a knight?” Goldeneye asked.
“Anyone of noble birth,” said the queen.
“For my birthday, may I have a suit of armour?” Amanda said.
“I have already ordered it,” said the queen.
“And a steed?”
“Are you strong enough, Goldeneye?”
“For her, I will be.”

And so, on her birthday, in front of all the court, princess Amanda called for squire Amand to step forth. She stepped forward, turned around and bowed. She did the whole ceremony, including tapping herself on the shoulder with a sword, and finished with: “Arise, sir Amand!”

Goldeneye sportingly did not fly, and did not bare their fangs at the other knights’ chargers. Sir Amand won the tournament by the strength of her arm, and the courage of her heart, and the sharpness of her eye. The king sulked, but the queen gave Amand Amanda’s hand.

The crowd and all the squires cheered, but the knights and princes looked no happier than the king.
“It is traditional,” the queen whispered, “for young knights to go seek adventure.”
“But I don’t-“
“Or themselves,” the queen continued.
Amanda thought, and bowed her head.

Amanda and Goldeneye left the castle that night, and flew away in darkness. The dragon’s wings were not strong enough to carry them far, but they landed well out of sight of the castle.
“So,” said Goldeneye, “adventure or yourself?”
Amanda laughed. “Neither. I seek you.”

“You have me,” Goldeneye said simply, “until you send me away.”
Amanda hugged them. “Whyever would I want to do that?”
The dragon did not reply.
They traveled in silence the rest of the night, the companionable silence of good friends who do not need to chase the quiet away.

They traveled in shadows and slinks, far away, to an old tower, where they settled in. There, they hunted and ate, talked and were silent.
Amanda kept training, and Goldeneye kept growing. And one day they were seen.
A tower, a dragon, a princess; the story told itself.

Knights came from distant lands to slay the dragon and rescue the princess. Not a single one could be reasoned with, so Amanda would don her armour and fight to protect her friend.
“If you sent me away, they would stop coming,” Goldeneye said.
“Why should I?” Amanda said.

Then one day a knight rode up to the tower, and did not issue a challenge to the dragon.
Amanda, wearily, donned armour and went out, but before she could draw her sword the knight lifted a hand in greeting.
“Hold, gentle sir,” the knight said, “I come but to see my child.”

Amanda stopped in her tracks. “Father?”
The knight laughed. “No, I am not your sire.”
Goldeneye jumped up. “Parent?”
The knight removed their helmet, revealing a wise, beautiful face with familiar golden eyes.
“Yes, dear,” they said with a smile. “I have waited for you.”

“She is my friend,” Goldeneye said.
“I see.”
The knight took off a gauntlet and held a hand out to Amanda. On the middle finger was her mother’s signet ring.
“I don’t understand,” Amanda said.
“We made a bargain, your mother and I. A child for a child.”
“She… she sold me?”

“Not at all,” the knight said. “She bought you everything.”
The knight put gauntlet and helmet on, and shrugged. They seemed to shimmer and grow; then, in a flash of light, a huge dragon stood there.
“Come, child,” they said.
Goldeneye walked up warily. “I’m not going.”

The knight dragon laughed. “You are of age and size now, you are your own. But I must teach you this.”
Goldeneye walked up to their parent, who lowered their head. Gingerly, the dragons’ foreheads met, held still.
Then Goldeneye stepped back, shrugged, shimmered, and shrank.

Amanda blinked. A person stood in Goldeneye’s place. No, Goldeneye stood there, just in a different shape. She still saw her friend.
Hesitantly, she turned to the knight dragon.
“Um,” she said.
“Yes,” the dragon said. “You are also of age.”
“Wait,” said Amanda and Goldeneye.

“What your mother bought,” the dragon said, “was that you can be anything you want, if you want it hard enough.”
“At what cost?” Amanda asked.
“You can be anything you want.”
“That doesn’t… Oh. I see.”
“While my child was with you. But now you are of age and size.”

Amanda looked at Goldeneye.
“Did you know?”
“No. I mean, yes, I always knew you could do anything, you showed me from the start, but-“
“I’m not going to marry you,” Amanda said. “I love you, but, you know…”
Goldeneye stared at her. “What?”
“I love you.”
“Yes, of course.”

“And I love you,” Goldeneye said. “We both know that. So?”
“If I may explain,” the knight dragon said, “we-“
“You want grandkids, hear the flitter-flutter of little wings,” Amanda cried, “isn’t that what this is about? That’s what it’s always about!”
“No!” both dragons said.

“You understood the price your mother paid?” the knight dragon asked.
“Yes,” said Amanda. “If I can be whatever I want she had to trust in what I wanted.”
“But sometimes she gave advice? Showed you a way?”
“Yes.”
The dragon leaned forward. “Let me show you.”
Amanda leaned in.

She shivered, felt her whole body sneeze, and… Spread her wings in wonder.
“That’s where little dragons come from.”
Amanda looked up. Goldeneye towered over her, twice her height. They bent down and held an arm out. She jumped on.
“Are you strong enough?”
“For you? Yes.”


Live-written as a serial tweetstory in 30 (long) tweets in the evening of July 29. It grew longer than I had expected, and I had to take a break for dinner. I finished it around one in the morning, local time.

New collection

I have worked with the German publisher Mikrotext to put together a collection of 369 science fiction stories, which is now available both in the original English and in a German translation by Birthe Mühlhoff. It looks rather spiffing, I think.

Cover of "Micro Science Fiction" by O. Westin
Cover of "Micro Science Fiction" by O. Westin, aus dem Englischen von Birthe Mühlhoff

Available as ebook and paperback, in English and German translation.

English:

German, translated by Birthe Mühlhoff:

Right not to hear

I still have a green/black PrivacEar headset from the first kickstarter. Of course, I don’t use them, they are far too valuable as a collectible, but yeah, I was one of the initial supporters. Loved them from day one. I used to play music too loud, just to drown out the conversations from randos on the street, so having the headphones cancel not just noise, but unwanted speech as well, was perfect.

My husband loved them too, once I showed how easy it was to set up the list of people you wanted to hear. No more shouting to get through to me when I had them on, he could just speak normally and I’d hear him. Like every other early adopter, we had our mishaps, shocking people overhearing our conversations. It’s so easy to forget others can listen in, when you have got used to not doing it yourself. It’s funny, but once you commit to respecting the privacy of others, you assume others will be as courteous.

We make progress, as a society, but sometimes we need to be shown the way, so I was very happy when the government made PrivacEars – originals or one of the other makes, even though everyone call them PrivacEars too, no matter how much they insist on calling them Generic Device for Privacy Respect – mandatory in public. I think back to when everyone walked around and had to overhear the private conversations of others, and shudder. We were so barbaric, so disrespectful.

“Excuse me, sir.”

An unknown voice. I look to the side, and see a police officer. Of course, he is automatically authorised to speak to me while he’s on duty.

“Yes, officer?” I say.

“Please take a different route, there is a disturbance ahead.”

I look past him. A large crowd of people, some with placards, are marching towards city hall. I can see them chanting something, but thankfully I don’t have to hear them.

“Of course, officer. Thanks for warning me.”

I leave him to redirect other pedestrians, and backtrack so I can avoid the obstruction.


I had forgotten this story. I wrote it in response to, and posted it as a comment on, “Pixel Scroll 5/24/18 Filenheit 770” on File770, May 25 2018.

2018 summary

I have not counted every story/poem I have written this year, but the final tally seems to be around 300 tweet-size pieces of microfiction or poetry. This is way below my usual tally of 500+ pieces, which I mostly attribute to the world being too distracting/distressing, and to the fact that from June onwards, a change in my role in my day job meant it became a lot more stressful and exhausting, but also very rewarding.

I also wrote some longer pieces:

The stories above are all eligible for the Short Story Hugo award. If you would like to nominate my whole body of work – the microstories, the short stories, the poems, and the AdvenTale – for a Hugo award, you can nominate me (e.g. O. Westin, writing at twitter.com/microsff) in the Fan Writer category.

Orum and the dragon

Orum weighed the lump of star metal in his hand.
“It can’t be smelted,” his father said. “The forge isn’t hot enough.”

“When my dad gave that to me, he said it should remind me any skill has limits,” the old smith said.
“We’ll see,” said Orum.

The next day, Orum packed tools and supplies in a sled, picked a spear, strapped on his skis, and headed for the mountains.

Years ago, men came through the village, showing gold taken from a dragon. They had snuck in and out, as the dragon slept.

The widow and the Sea

“You took my man,” the widow said.
“I did,” the Sea replied.
“He was my man, and now he’s dead.”
“He loved me, ere he died.”

“He loved us both,” the widow said.
“He did,” the Sea replied.
“I loved my man, by hearth, in bed,
I loved him by my side.”

“He kissed your lips,” the widow said,
“as if you were his bride.
So kiss me now, as if we’re wed.”
They kissed, and then Sea cried.

The woman left, with lonely pride.
The Sea, in love, then pled:
“I’ll come again, with every tide!
With all the tears you’ve shed!”

The woman moved inland instead.

Competition: MicroIllioctober

I have seen a lot of awesome InkTober drawings this year, and even a few that illustrate my stories. I can’t adequately explain how awesome it is to see what pictures my stories have put in the heads of artists, but trust me when I say it is really awesome.

So I decided to try to run a low-key competition, in the hope I’ll get to see more.

Rules

Pick a MicroSFF story you want to illustrate (single-tweet only, no short stories or multi-tweet stories), and create your illustration using whatever materials you prefer (ink, digital, pencil, watercolour, fingerpaint, oils, acrylics, pastels, markers, airbrush, pasta shapes…). Or dig out one you made earlier, as long as it was made to illustrate one of my stories.

Do not include the text of the story in your illustration.

Quote tweet that story, with an image of your illustration and the hashtag #MicroIllioctober, before midnight GMT October 31, 2018.

At the start of November I will merge your image and my story into a new image and post it to Twitter, with attribution of course, and ask my readers to vote for their favourite (if there are more than four submissions, there will have to be a multi-stage vote).

By participating, you grant me permission to merge your image and my story, and post that on Twitter and on my website (microsff.com). ETA: As people have expressed concern this would be me asking for “work for exposure”, I have struck out the latter part. I need permission to merge text and image in order to facilitate a vote, but that is all it will be used for, and I will not post any of these images after voting is complete.

The artist retains all rights to their work.

First (and only) prize

I will print the winning illustration (I will ask for a high-res version, if you have one), handwrite the story it illustrates on the print, sign it, and post to the winner, anywhere in the world.