Alexander Jablokov


I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

More here

Write me at alexjablokow [at]

I'd love to hear from you.





"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction July/August 2017(out now)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010


Monthly Index

Category Index

Recent Entries


Reboot blog



Back from London

I took my daughter Faith to London for school break, and it's taken me awhile to get back on schedule. We were absolute tourists, all the big sights you would expect. So don't expect any undiscovered gems or anything. Thought February was a great time to go, not too cold, not many other tourists. A few highlights:

Faith is a big politics fan, so we saw sittings of both Commons and Lords. The Commons chamber was destroyed during WWII, and is kind of bland, but Lords still has the elaborate 1834 Gothic Revival interior. Faith saw Boris Johnson in the Central Lobby--I saw the back of his head.

In keeping with the politics theme, we went to the Garrick and saw This House, by James Graham, a wonderful play about an unpromising subject, the hung Parliament of the mid-1970s, with the two party deputy whips as the main characters. Watching the procedural infighting, sly tactics, and confict between principle and practice might seem to show how arbitrary procedure is, but really shows how the structure provided by procedure keeps passion within bounds and focused on meaningful ends. Harrison, the Labor deputy chief whip, says, at a climactic moment, that all he ever wanted to do was work in the engine room.  I also liked that MPs were always referred to by their constituency, particularly "Finchley" (Margaret Thatcher).

I kept away from huge museums, which can be tiring, but we both enjoyed the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, which is kind of a museum of the museum's origin, just the right size, and full of interesting oddities.

The Palladian Queen's House at Greenwich is startlingly elegant, with impressive maritime art, including a portrait of the older Pepys, long after his Diary, which placed him right in his day job--and an impressive day job it was, too.

Lots of Hawksmoor churches, one in Greenwich, several along the Docklands Light Railway on the way back, and Christ Church in Spitalfields, where I took Faith afterward to rummage through the vast number of vintage clothing stores there. Faith got tired of Hawksmoor. I did not. My interest him no doubt stems from the Peter Ackroyd novel Hawksmoor which I remember being impressed by when I first read it, but I'd like to think I have my own aesthetic response to his stagy facades.

John Soane collected more things in his house than I would be comfortable with, but I'd still like to liver there. And you can always go right across Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Hunterian Museum to see the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, whose biggest fear was that John Hunter would get hold of his body after he died and put his skeleton on display in his museum. There is something so wonderful and awful about the tangle of love of knowledge, obsessive completism, and showmanship revealed by the incident that I hope well-meaning spoilsports never give the long-gone Byrne the funeral at sea (in a lead coffin) that he was desperate to have. Science is never an emotionally neutral endeavor.

I'd forgotten what a theme park of the war against Napoleon St. Paul's Cathedral got turned into: aside from Wellington and Nelson, it's piled with the overblown monuments of forgotten generals and admirals. And Nelson's black marble sarcophagus (lowered through the cathedral floor to the crypt during the funeral ceremony in what must have been an extremely stressful event for the engineer) was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, then taken by Henry VIII for his own tomb, but never used (perhaps not large enough....) and then knocking around royal palaces for 250 years, never quite matching the decor, until George III finally figured out a use for it.

And we went on the Millennium Eye. I'm from Chicago, so it takes more than a leftover from the Columbian Exposition to impress me, but it's got a good view. Still, I'd advise spending the money on beer instead.

Well, that's enough. Give me beer and a lot of old crap to look at, and I'm happy.


The kind of sentence I like

From Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown:

They brought home bright-colored cloaks and tunics and hose in the brilliant scarlets and leaf-greens of the alum-fixed dyes that were all the rage in twelfth-century Europe; an ell of scarlet wook sold for six times the equivalent length of undyed gray.

Alum is what is called a mordant (a lovely word that, according the Griffin Dyeworks, comes from the French "to bite"): something that gets dye to actually stick to the fabric. I love the detail because it relates to culture, fashion, and technology, and, of course, status, which depends on all of those.

The "home" here is Iceland. The subtitle of the books is "Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths". It is a biography of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th century literary and political genius who seems to have given form to a lot of what we now accept as the standard Norse myths, even as his political machinations contributed to chaos in Iceland, his murder, and the eventual loss of Iceland's independence and its rule by the King of Norway.

His era, called the "Sturlung Era" after his family, is when family and regional sagas were written down in the form we now know--13th century views of events and personalities in the 10th and 11th. Snorri seems to have written Egil's Saga, one of the longest and best known. A story does not tell itself. It says something about both the teller and the listener. The people of the contentious and threatened Sturlung Era looked back to the Saga Era and tried to understand how they had ended up where they were.

This is all research for the book I'm working on. It is not set in Iceland, but is definitely inspired by it. Brown does mention, among things, that Iceland's climate does not allow honeybees to survive. I definitely have bees in my book (growing out of my story "The Forgotten Taste of Honey"), so there you go: not Iceland.




Laying rails for the locomotive

Some writers are able to think of stuff while they write.

I sure can think of stuff, but it is almost always clever, glittery distractions from whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Pointless flashbacks, cool devices, elaborately describe it, I've done it.

In order to actually write a scene, something unified in space and time that has a structure and focus and conflict and a decent ending that kicks you into the next scene, I have to already know all of those things before I actually write it. I've learned this through long experience.

And all that is hard for me, and takes a long time. Sometimes I start writing, with a good amount of planned material, and tear through it, and run out of plan. It really is like driving a locomotive off the end of the tracks. No progress, and a lot of frustration.

So I always have to make sure I've excavated, distributed the ballast, built bridges across particularly perilous obstacles, dropped the ties, and nailed the rails on before I get going.

I'm working on a novel just now (a hefty expansion of my recent novella, "The Forgotten Taste of Honey") and ran out of rails. I got to a location, looked at my notes, and realized they were entirely too vague, lacked conflict, and in general were lazy generalities. Who wrote this crap?

So I just spent almost two weeks (I'm not fast) really getting into it. Now I think I have what I need to get through it. Can I actually work ahead in enough detail to keep my locomotive from burying its nose in the mud again?

I'll let you know.


A hissy fit is not a strategy

I never used to write about politics. I didn't feel that I had anything particularly useful to say about it--no more useful than most people, anyway. But things seem...odd. Almost science fictional! So maybe my profession does give me some specific skills in viewing our current situation.

Which, no matter how things work out, people in the future will study earnestly. If nothing else, my statements here will get fed into some gigantic opinion parser. "What were the people of what was then known as the United States think on the first day of February, 2017?"

Well, here are two articles and one blog post full of useful observations and good advice for those who find themselves in this era, don't quite know how they got here, and wonder what best to do to get through it.

Everyday Authoritarianism is Boring and Tolerable

We live life day to day. All of us. We go to the store, we read stories to our children, we have dinner with friends, we rest our heads on someone else's shoulder, we get irritated with our clueless boss. That's what we do. Normal tyranny becomes...normal. As Tom Pepinsky says

The mental image that most American harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish. This vision of authoritarian rule has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.

Oppressors in movies and books wear snappy uniforms with ominous symbols on the collar. They are easy to spot.

Don't get used to things. I think that's probably the most important lesson. Remember what life in this country is supposed to be like, and hold to it.

In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Venezuela? Seriously? The lessons, sadly, are pointed.

Andrés Miguel Rondón describes here the many mistakes the sensible middle class made when trying to combat Hugo Chávez. Our befuddled and self-regarding left is already making the same ones with Trump.

Don't give up on democracy, because a lack of democracy will never be your friend, even if the voters seem crazy. Don't become hysterical and tell people all sorts of terrifying things that are not really the things anyone really worries about:

But a hissy fit is not a strategy.

The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy.

And, finally

make every question a strategic question

Know why you're doing what you're doing, and what you hope to accomplish by doing it, both near-term and long-term. Are you just expressing your rage, despair, and befuddlement? Stay home, breathe deeply, unplug, and don't go back online until you know what the hell you are trying to get done. Have solid goals you can communicate to others? Move toward those goals, step by explicit step.

Leftists are actually arguing for political violence. Aside from the fact that is just wrong, it's also futile: do leftists think they have some kind of advantage when it comes to the use of violence? Do they own guns? Have they served in the military? Do they have a ballistic nylon bugout bag in the back of their 4x4? Do they even deadlift?

Fredrik de Boer has lost patience with these people, and he's an ardent leftist who has put in the time and paid serious dues. I never had any patience with them to begin with, because I'm a hardshell centrist. Don't Tread On Me, Vibram sole or not.


We will always be the country that elected Donald Trump as President

I every much dislike someone identifying a moment as the one where "America lost its innocence". The United State is a real country, with real people in it, real people with real needs, fears, prejudices, and false beliefs. Its citizens have done many terrible things, to each other and to others. They have also done great things. That is why there is less excuse for us.

My headline comes from Jonathan Kirschner's excellent article America, America, in the LA Review of Books, where he also says "there is no happy ending to this story". (I found Kirschner's piece via Daniel Drezner's Why President Obama is the Jon Snow of American foreign policy)

I do think Trump is the human O-ring, and that we are running a real risk of permanent damage to our political system. Kirschner runs down many of the real issues that led to the rise of Trump, and the refusal of responsible people to deal with these issues. We really do have things we need to do. Serious, hard, unrewarding things that no one will really thank us for, because, despite the fact that we have become rich and free through hard, incremental work, no one seems to find hard, incremental work credible as a solution to anything.

One thing I think everyone with anxiety about what Trump will do to our future needs to do is consider the practical consequences of their actions. They should have a plan, something they are aiming at, and then ask themselves, when tempted to do something emotionally satisfying that will get some clicks and likes from people who agree with them, "is this helping us get to where we should be?"

Does claiming Trump is not a legitimate President get you a step toward where you want to be? Or does it, in fact, make the future where a coalition successfully addresses the issues less likely, because a President they campaign for is then also considered illegitimate?

I tend to support Obama in fighting cleanly and fairly. Others think any weapon in this conflict is welcome. But, again, the question: will fighting dirty help you win? And if you do "win" with such methods, can you govern, help the weak, increase freedom, increase wealth, and do a minimum of harm? Can you pass a working system down to future generations?

But, of course, we know that the important issues revolve around arguments about how many people attended various past public events.

After such an election, what forgiveness?