The Hardest Part: Athena Andreadis on The Other Half of the SkyPosted: 1 May, 2013
There’s an awful lot of work that goes into an anthology, from conception, to soliciting and editing stories, and all manner of strange things, I’s to dot and T’s to cross, fonts to choose and cover art to go over again and again. Athena Andreadis, author of the poems “Spacetime Geodesics” which appeared in Bull Spec #6 and “Night Patrol” which appeared in Bull Spec #7, writes about the hardest part of putting together the just-released anthology The Other Half of the Sky.
Essay: “Like Water through Stone” By Athena Andreadis
I was born and raised in Hellás (Greece to non-Hellenes) and I’ve walked between worlds my entire adult life: I’m a research scientist, a polymath of sorts, a polyglot (though I speak all my languages with an accent), a feminist, a lover of space exploration; an avid reader and a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. My native culture doesn’t have genre boundaries in its literature. In the tightly fenced and patrolled Anglophone side, SF has featured prominently in my reading, although it has been the source of increasing frustration. The problems that have endemically bedeviled the genre are what I call the whiteAnglomale/US suburban fifties syndrome, which result in SF (and fantasy) that’s a toxic cartoon of even known history, let alone the vaunted imagination that should be guiding a genre priding itself on its vision.
To address this frustration constructively, sixteen months ago I conceived of an SF anthology – a collection of original stories, rather than the endless reprint churnings.
I wanted this collection to contain mythic space opera stories with women protagonists as heroes and agents of destiny in universes where equality is as natural as breathing, where women are free to do anything they want without having to spend time and energy justifying choices that go beyond supporting roles. I wanted to see layers and echoes, not the standard conquest-mode gizmo-laden wasteland populated by alpha male Chosen Ones. I wanted to see full adults doing the nuanced, shaded things adults do: vocations and relationships, but also the myriad small struggles and pleasures that constitute a full life. And I wanted to see it done as literature, not hackery trying to hide behind the fig leaf of “story of ideas”.
I solicited SF authors I knew would be willing and able to write such stories. It was a lagniappe that while “looking for the best” I also ended up with women in the slots of co-editor (Kay Holt), cover artist (Eleni Tsami) and publisher (Kate Sullivan). The result of this decision, The Other Half of the Sky, was released to the world on April 23, 2013.
At that time, Sam Montgomery-Blinn of Bull Spec asked me: What was the hardest part of the process? Of course, Sam was instrumental in allowing me to bypass what would have been the hardest part: finding a publisher. He introduced me to Kate Sullivan of Candlemark and Gleam, whose elegant taste and meticulous care are visible on every page of the final book. So that cup, which I truly dreaded as a novice in the logistics of publishing and promotion, passed from me. Of the challenges beyond that, two were the hardest: from the editing domain, sending the submissions back for revisions; from the production domain, the saturation of the cover art (choosing fonts came as a close second, but it was much less stressful… dare I say it, downright fun – except that afterwards I had to increase my lens specs by one notch).
Given my temperament and stamina, I had chosen a K-strategy; namely, I solicited all the stories rather than have open submissions. This meant that my unruly group of cats could only get smaller. I was prepared for up to 30% attrition for all kinds of reasons and excuses, for extension requests (which all editors budget in their time calculations) and for last-minute panic flares. At the same time, I wanted the stories to be their best possible selves. So it was with some trepidation that I’d send the stories back for fine-tuning.
I sent the stories back twice on average: the first time for major items, the second time for minor ones. However, some went back more times than that. Yet I found the authors fell right in with my observations and were more than willing to forge solutions that would enhance their stories. It was a jolt of pleasure to hear from most that they appreciated the close attention paid to their work. Of course, it helped enormously to have the informed, discerning input of Kay Holt, my co-editor, who lent additional weight to my conclusions.
While the stories were getting combed, the cover was going through its own iterations. The original was already remarkable; just as with the stories, we wanted it to fulfill its amazing potential. Eleni Tsami was more than equal to the challenge. Like the writers, she was eager to implement solutions that made the final cover the stunning artwork that it is. But when we sent it to the printer to be tested, we found out that its saturation exceeded his maximum. Eleni had to tread a fine line between meeting them and having the cover look washed out. As you can tell, she triumphed over this obstacle as well.
The anthology has now unfurled its wings. What happens to it is largely beyond our control. For me, the journey alone was worth every moment, and the final product fulfilled all my expectations. In fact, I’m girding my loins to repeat the experience. My next SF anthology will focus on women scientists. Its title will probably be that of my introduction to The Other Half of the Sky – because that’s what scientists do: dream and shape the dark.
Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mechanisms of mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. She conceived of and edited the feminist space opera anthology The Other Half of the Sky (April 2013, Candlemark and Gleam). Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Belles Lettres, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Bull Spec, Science in My Fiction, SF Signal, The Apex Blog, World SF, SFF Portal, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.