Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is dead. SacksMusic

I met him once. We talked about folklore and Williams Syndrome. He shared his theory that this rare condition inspired tales of leprechauns and changelings. Children diagnosed with Williams Syndrome have unusual facial features, developmental impairments, and a great facility for music.

His book about music and neurology inspired me to write about music and magic.

He was one of the great storytellers. He restored a sense of narrative to the practice of medicine. Doctors had gotten rid of stories. They had banished any sense of lived experience from their meticulous case histories and lists of symptoms. They thought it made them better doctors. But our understanding is always story-shaped. Identity and history are stories that we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, and to everyone else. Scientific theories are stories we tell about the bits of the universe that we’ve noticed. Medical case histories are stories about injuries and disease–and what it’s like to live in their company.

Oliver Sacks understood that, and he shared his understanding.

SacksSquid“When people die, they cannot be replaced,” he wrote a few months ago. “They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”

Thank you, Dr. Sacks.

The Golden Duck and Other Shiny Things

Fantastic new cover art by Stéphanie Hans

Ambassador just won the Eleanor Cameron Award—one of three awards in science fiction kidlit known as the Golden Ducks. Previous winners include M.T. Anderson for Whales on Stilts, Katherine Applegate for The Andalite Chronicles, and Bruce Coville for My Teacher Glows in the Dark, which received an inaugural Golden Duck in 1992.

Worldcon hosted the ceremony. I wasn’t able to attend, but the great K. Tempest Bradford accepted the Duck and delivered this speech on my behalf:

Ambassador is about a kid named Gabe Fuentes who experiences the dangers and possibilities of belonging to more than one world. I’m honored and thrilled to see it win an award named after Eleanor Cameron, an author who also sent kids into space on diplomatic missions of first contact—and who was courageous enough to publicly call out Roald Dahl’s horrible, first-edition descriptions of Oompa Loompas.

I also need to take this opportunity honor the powerful influence and gravitational pull of Sandra Cisneros and Ambassador Carlos Fuentes, whose stories capture the wonders and dangers of borderland life; and of Ursula K. Le Guin, who dramatizes, over and over again, the urgent necessity of communication between our many worlds.

Finally, thanks to K. Tempest Bradford for accepting this award, and for all of the magnificent ways she continues to challenge our community of writers, readers, and fans.

PS – Ambassador ends on a cliffhanger. But the sequel, Nomad, comes out next month and wraps everything up.

Thank you all.



Speaking of Worldcon, I’m proud to have voted in the Hugo Awards. This year the shiny silver rocket celebrated wonderful and astonishing work—and also thwarted the pathetic, flailing rage of irrelevant testosterone. (Long story. Here’s one set of cliff notes.)

And speaking of Nomad, reviews are starting to come in. Kirkus gave it a star and called it “superb.” Publisher’s Weekly said this: “Filled with a Heinleinesque sense of wonder, National Book Award–winner Alexander’s depictions of life in space pave the way for unlimited possibilities in this sequel to Ambassador.”

In other news, the two-year-old has just informed me that she is upset because she is not Robin Hood. Luckily she has Kekla Magoon’s Shadows Over Sherwood to look forward to.


A Goblinish Gallery

Federico García Lorca once gave a speech in Havana—my dad’s hometown—about duende. He used that word to describe a dangerous and impish sense of art.

It also means “goblin.”

The Spanish translation of my first book is now out in the world, and I love the new title.


In his speech Lorca made a point of praising translators, interpreters, conductors, performers—those who make something new out of something that was already there.

Thanks to my translators. It’s a rare thrill to see my book change into something new.

The Chinese title of Goblin Secrets is twice as long as the Japanese. I don’t know what shades of meaning are implied by either. I’d love to know. I also love the masks on both covers:



Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.   – Federico García Lorca, translated by A. S. Kline

(The whole speech is like that. It reads more like poetry than prose.)

Stuff I Wrote in 2014


Ambassador_featuredThis is my first science fiction novel. I babbled about it on John Scalzi’s blog. Kirkus gave it a starred review. The great Héctor Tobar reviewed it for the New York Times. You can find a few sample chapters here.

Short Stories

“The Only Known Law,” Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014. I chat about the story with C.C. Finlay here.

“Welcome,” Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories, August 2014

Death Comes Sideways to the Mall,” Apex Magazine, March 2014

“The War Between the Water and the Road,” Unstuck #3, February 2014. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts just reprinted this one in an absurdly gorgeous, handmade edition illustrated by Amanda Ritchie, Chan Chau, and Amaya Goldsmith. Here’s a woodblock print of the ghost.


This picture might show up sideways in your browser. I don’t know why. It’s probably haunted.

So far the only thing I know about 2015 is that Nomad, the sequel to Ambassador, will be out in September.

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope this next circuit around the sun treats you splendidly.