Martha Wells is having a well-deserved moment.
The College Station-based writer has long toiled in the field of fantasy and science fiction, first in fandom during high school and college, then as a writer.
Wells published her first novel, “The Element of Fire,” in 1993. Her books, the majority of them fantasy, have been consistently well-reviewed and -regarded but never real breakouts.
Then, in 2017, something interesting happened. Wells published a 154-page novella called “All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries),” a book that would come to kick off the “Murderbot” series.
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It was her first foray into sci-fi in some time, a story about a slightly dysfunctional security android, the kind one is required to take on deep space missions. Said bot has pretty well had it with humans but eventually needs to team up with them to Solve the Case.
It’s thoughtful, entertaining, smartly allegorical and imagination-firing with its level of world-building. And folks noticed.
“All Systems Red” managed to pick up Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards for best novella, an Alex award (given to YA fiction) and was a New York Times bestseller. Several sequels have followed.
No wonder Wells is a special guest at the 41st annual ArmadilloCon, the long-running (obviously) Austin science fiction convention for (and this is important) people who actually like to read science fiction and fantasy.
Wells grew up in Fort Worth. “I realized a few years ago that ArmadilloCon was actually the first convention I ever went to,” Wells says. “I got my parents to take me to a very early ArmadilloCon in Austin when I was in high school.”
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Wells is also, by her own admission, “still kind of figuring out” why Murderbot resonated so strongly with fans. She is futzing around with a few theories.
“Some people think that the more general a character is, the more generic, the more people it will appeal to,” Wells says. “It's actually really the opposite. The more specific a character is and the more detail you give about their problems and their feelings is what allows more people to empathize with it. I think that I made Murderbot very specific.”
She used the character, who is figuring out its own way of being in the word, to talk about the nature of her own social anxiety. “There's just a lot of people who really identify with that, a lot of people who feel marginalized for different reasons. I just kind of wrote out my feelings and without really trying to specifically appeal to anybody in particular except myself.”
Indeed, that specificity resonated with a lot of people, which is why she is a special guest at the con, along with guest of honor Rebecca Roanhorse, an author of Indigenous heritage who was raised in Fort Worth and received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2018. Austinite author Marshall Ryan Maresca is this year’s Toastmaster.
Also look for fan guest Dan Tolliver, who has been chronicling the Central Texas fan community for decades; Texas-raised editor Patrice Caldwell, whose anthology "A Phoenix First Must Burn," a collection of 16 speculative fiction stories about African American girls and gender-nonconforming teens, is out in March 2020; and science guest and UT aerospace engineering professor Dr. Moriba K. Jah. (There are plenty of others; those are the biggest names.)
But as Wells notes, ArmadilloCon has thrived because it is not about the big names.
“The people who work on ArmadilloCon really care about science fiction and fantasy,” Wells says. “They really care about books informing a community. They care about the state of the field and try to get new authors and new guests and people who are really on the cusp of becoming a big deal and their career is taking off. You get a lot of new ideas and new opinions in the discussion.”
And there is no question that the field itself is having a moment. “A lot of people are saying this is kind of a new golden age of science fiction,” Wells says. “There's so many new authors, writers of color, women of color writing and publishing. It's just getting more open, I think, and that's really energized it.”