REVIEW: “Going Through an Impasse: Evading Writer’s Block” by Eileen Gunn

Review of Eileen Gunn, “Going Through an Impasse: Evading Writer’s Block”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 137-146 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Gunn’s essay is one of the longer ones in the collection, appropriate given how big a feature writer’s block often is in a writer’s life! — in fact, one could probably put together an entire collection on advice on what to do when you want to write but just can’t. Gunn’s approach is to talk about how to deal with writer’s block, rather than how to “cure” it:

I’ll help you analyze the way you experience blocking and offer some suggestions on how to circumvent the trauma and get on with your work (p. 138).

This process of analysis ends up weirdly feeling like sitting in a therapist’s office, being asked questions that probe us and challenge us to answer honestly and emotionally. I suspect people will have varying degrees of success with this approach: my own experience, reading the essay while in the midst of a writer’s drought, was to feel strong resistance to her questions and suggestions, a refusal to engage — even when her suggestions are exactly the same suggestions that I give to other people! And perhaps that’s part of my problem. 🙂

REVIEW: “Night Shift” by Eileen Gunn

Review of Eileen Gunn, “Night Shift”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 175-190 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

2032: An interplanetary gold rush has begun, and the prize is water, not gold. The miners are robots, with human intelligence and superhuman survivability.

The opening premise of this story resembles that of the previous one, “The Use of Things” (read the review), with a focus on the mining of asteroids by robots for water.

2032 no longer feels like that far in the future. When the author rehearses what has gone on in the 2020s, it all of a sudden has this uncomfortable feeling like this is right around the corner, except — and here I sort of slip into an uncanny valley — given how the world actually is, now, in 2018, I cannot quite fathom how it could be as Gunn describes in the 2020s. We’ve got a long way to go if we want to be populating near-Earth space with sophisticated mining technology by the end of the next decade.

This is all backdrop for what is a pretty ordinary story of coders and mining and slime mold (a lot of slime mold) which was enjoyable but unfortunately marred by one story thread that was probably thoughtless rather than intentionally hurtful, and yet is still problematic. When Tanisha, the manager, refers to Seth as “she”, and the narrator, Sina, one of the coders, “rolled my eyes. Tanisha thinks Seth is a girl”, my first thought was “if Tanisha is misgendering one of her staff, then I wish Sina would do more than just roll her eyes, but would speak up and correct her. But then it turns out that Seth isn’t trans, he’s an AI, and I found that deeply disappointing. What could’ve been the first instance of an openly queer character in this anthology instead became an example of the very problematic trope of othering trans people to the point where they are — literally — not even human.

I guess I had hoped that an anthology about visions of space and space exploration for the future would do better than that.