Saturday, March 31, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Frog Jones on The Death (And Re-Birth) of Science Fiction

To continue the discussion about the future of science fiction as a genre, I'm delighted to have Frog Jones, a fresh new voice, join us.

Stephan's Quintet, Hubble Space Telescope
Genres don't die. They just cycle back around. There were a couple of big surges for science fiction, and now we're in a lull, but sooner or later someone will write a great science fiction book, or make a great science fiction movie, and the fickle beast that is pop culture will swing its gaping maw back to the science fiction trough.

If you think about it, science fiction has part of the popular imagination ever since the Greeks told stories about strapping wings to your arms and flying around. True, Icarus is more of a cautionary tale of hubris, but from the perspective of a Greek we're still talking about the dangers of a potential technology, which is a common science fictional theme.

Science fiction is based on an imagining of future technology. The problem with such an imagination process is the degree of future you need to pull off. In 2012, the rate at which human knowledge increases is far faster than it was in the times of either Verne or even Asimov.

Nowadays, low-orbit space travel is routine, but no more impressive than flying an airplane in 1920. Not exactly the stuff of science fiction.

Faster than light speed? Possible.

Of course, if FTL is possible, then time travel?

Extraterrestrial life? Possible.

Those little pads on Star Trek that contain any book you'd ever want to read?

My point is, most of the normal science fiction tropes have begun to lose their "fiction." 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just wouldn't feel like real science fiction if it had been written today. They're in a submarine. There's a giant squid. Big deal.

This, by the way, has happened before. That's why we see surges and lulls in science fiction; an incredible author with an amazing vision will come along and figure out what the world will look like in a hundred years, and then write about it. A swarm of copycats will follow.

The trick to renewing science fiction is to imagine beyond the current borders of science, then write about what life's gonna be like for the people who live then. That's getting harder and harder to do, because the borders of actual science are growing at such an incredible rate. That difficulty is compounded by the fact that this generation has seen a massive growth in technology, and it actually hasn't impacted the day-to-day life of a person noticeably. Sure, some things are easier, but the vast majority of the population still wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, watches some television, and goes to bed. That tends to lead to disillusionment that technology can bring about a paradigm shift.

I have faith that this visionary exists, and eventually we'll see a book that is just a much a revelation now as the Foundation trilogy was for its release. Once that book breaks, a hundred copycats will follow, and science fiction will be back.

Right up until the scientists catch it up again. Thus will the cycle continue.

Frog Jones writes collaboratively with his wife, Esther. You can follow their blog here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Feathered Edge: Culverelle Meets Jemina Puddleduck

A short while ago, I received this email from Sean McMullen, author of "Culverelle:"

Relating to my story, I was re-watching Miss Potter (the movie on Beatrix Potter's life) on the weekend, and many of the Lake District scenes were shot at Derwent Water! So, Culverelle and Tordral meet Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck. That would be quite a story.
I wrote back that he'd have to write it himself. And he did.

"Good morning, Sir Gerald."

"Good morning, Jemima. And what have you and the other ducks been doing lately?"

"Oh bother the other ducks! I'm going on a date, it's so exciting. I met this nice Mr Elf yesterday, and he invited me to dinner. He said to meet him at dusk tonight, and to bring some things to help with the meal. Now what did he say? Bring a baking dish, some parsley, some chives, lots of breadcrumbs, olive oil, orange sauce – oh and an onion, bring a nice onion."

"And where is dinner to be?"

"I don't know, but I'm meeting him at the old footbridge."

"Indeed! Well, here's some advice for you. When you meet Mr Elf, someone behind you just might call out 'Duck!' If that happens, don't turn around and say 'Good evening', just flatten yourself on the path with your wings over your head."

"Good heavens! Whatever for?"

"If you don't,  you just might get an arrow through your poke bonnet."

… with apologies to Beatrix Potter.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GUEST POST: Phyllis Irene Radford on Heroes, King Arthur, and Creating the "Merlin's Descendents" series

When I read Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur for the first time in junior high school, I knew I’d found the heroes lacking in my life.  I think that’s one of the reasons Arthuriana has lasted so long.

Everyone has times when they need a hero.  This first reading of stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was long enough ago that heroic figures were still supposed to be men, and I hadn’t seen enough of the world to realize that heroism can be a feminine characteristic as well.  More about that later.  

 At that time in my life, I knew I was smarter than the football stars in school that my classmate worshipped and lusted after.  To me that made these heroes less than ideal.  I knew that my teachers were ordinary people doing their job and going home to their families, like everyone else.  I knew that my father had a bunch of military medals, but he kept those in the safe and didn’t talk about them.  He was away from home serving his country so much in my early years that I had trouble identifying him with heroes.  Later I knew better.

I was hungry for someone to look up to, someone who could solve the world’s problems and still have time to nurture the love of his life.  I still appreciated the great Romance in heroic stories.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SPECIAL GUEST BLOG: Lambda Award Finalist J.M. Frey on creating "Triptych"

Today's Guest Blog is a special treat. J.M. Frey's impressive debut novel, Triptych, is a Finalist for the Lambda Award. It's an absorbing, moving, satisfying and humane story, one that marks Frey as an author to watch. Here she talks about her love affair with writing, and how she came to create such a compelling and original tale.

"A Fish Out Of Water"

I have an absolutely massive soft spot for fish-out-of-water stories. I mean, huge. I blame, in the best way, J.M. Barrie for this. (And yes, my professional name is my little tip-of-the-topper to Mr. Barrie – thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the same initials.) I wanted, so badly, to go to Neverland as a child. 

This desire informed my reading and viewing choices as a kid– if I the cover copy of a book even hinted at the possibility of someone from “our” world falling into and experiencing another, then I was all over that. I must have watched Warriors of Virtue five billion times, and I could probably still recite My Little Pony’s Escape From Catrina. Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast? Yup. I really got turned onto fantasy with Piers Anthony’s Xanth books, especially the Heaven Cent trilogy, and I know I read Howl’s Moving Castle until the glue on the spine flaked away (oh, how I wanted to be Howl!)

I love stories where the protagonists are also “from” the world they are in, but are thrust into a situation that is new, terrifying, and leaves them unstable. I loved Jennifer Robson’s Chronicles of the Cheysuli. I love Naomi Novak’s Temeraire books now, and Anne Rice’s Lestat will always have a place in my heart for being a bit of a bumbler in those first books, and I could die happy if I got cast as Constance Ledbelly in Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet).
Of course my tastes matured as I did, but that one hook never quite got out of my skin. Tell me the film/comic/book has a fish-out-of-water character and I will throw my wallet at it.

Which means, unsurprisingly, that when it came to academic work, I focused on the ultimate fish-out-of-water:  the Mary Sue. (Read more about this fanfiction literary trope here.) I became enamoured, and eventually went on to write my Master’s thesis on the topic. But before I did that, I wrote a lot of Mary Sue fanfiction – I wanted to get the feel for the response it got online, the way people reacted to it, and study the kind of feelings I had when I was writing and reading it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Feathered Edge: Return to Meviel...With Pirates!

One of the challenges of writing short fiction is how much must be accomplished in how few words. Harry Turtledove once said that novels teach us what to put in a story, but short stories teach us what to take out. Every story element must serve multiple purposes - setting the scene and evoking the larger world beyond it, creating and heightening tension, revealing character -- oh, and moving the plot along. It's a tall order to accomplish in only a few thousand words. Some writers do the world-building part so well in even so short a space that it keeps beckoning them to return. That happened to me with a series of short stories I wrote for Sword and Sorceress (that eventually became a fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield). It also happened to Madeleine E. Robins with her world of "Meviel."

The first I saw of this wonderful place was the story Madeleine wrote for the first anthology I edited, Lace and Blade from Norilana Books. It was called "Virtue and the Archangel" and began thus:

Veillaune meCorse left her virtue in the tumbled sheets of a chamber at the Bronze Manticore. This act, which would have licensed her parents to cut her off from family and fortune, was a grave error; but with her maidenhead, Veilliaune also left the Archangel behind, and that was a calamity.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The State of Science Fiction, A Personal View

Exploding Planet, by Mico Niemi
I just finished reading Jo Walton's marvelous book, Among Others, and was delighted at the many references to science fiction in 1979/1980, when the story takes place. At that time, I was an avid reader of sf like the protagonist, and I well remembered the excitement of discovering new authors, new books, the exhilaration of new ideas and the idealist belief that through science and technology, we could build a better world (not to mention explore strange new ones and seek out new civilizations).

Walton's book made me want to run to my shelves and re-read all my old favorites. Then I wondered what had happened to the love affair with sf. Did we all grow up and give up, or did we get lost in Mirkwood and never come out? Is today's sf too technological for new readers? Has the sense of wonder disappeared? Or merely gone sideways, so that instead of tuning into Star Trek confident future, we are wallowing in angsty vampires?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

GUEST POST: Brenda Clough on Arctic Centennial

March 16 or 17, 2012, is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Antarctic explorer Lawrence Edward Grace ‘Titus’ Oates.  He’s the quintessential British hero, a role model for the kiddies and a mine of inspiration for writers, including me. He died possibly one of the most dramatic deaths of all time; when you want an example of character being destiny Oates is a perfect case to cite.
Also along about now is the centennial of the death of Robert Scott and his party of explorers, of which Oates was a member.  The actual date of their demise is understandably fuzzy, since they froze and starved to death in a dark tent on the ice.   Uncounted heroes have died unknown and unsung, but what saved Scott from oblivion was his writing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kay Kenyon on recovering enthusiasm for a story that's stalled

Leonid Pasternak, 19th C.
Kay Kenyon, who is one of my favorite writers-on-writing (as well as a fine novelist in her own right) describes a situation many of us have faced. I'd say "all," except there might be a lone exception somewhere out there in Writerland.

Sooner or later in your writing life you are going to run up against a novel that just won’t spark to life. Technically the story appears to have all the needed aspects, but as a whole, it is less than the sum of its parts. The characters don’t engage, the plot wanders, and your beta readers are unmoved.

She suggests that the best strategy might be to not work harder. I talk a lot about being tender with yourself, especially when it comes to creative endeavors. Continuing to push, to flog ourselves, keeps us locked with whatever is blocking us in the first place. We often do better when we step back, take a deep breath, refresh the creative well, work on something else. Kay says:

Trying to write when you’re discouraged or tired might seem like a brave thing to do–and if you are often discouraged or tired, it is brave to keep on–but in most cases it’s a bad idea to flog yourself until you get back at the project.

Sometimes taking a few week’s break is not only good for your mental health, it can do wonders for your novel rewrite. Work on a short story or an essay. Pile up some reserve blog posts. Don’t be idle, but don’t work on the problem project.

There is an almost magical power you can tap into when you let your manuscript sit for two weeks or a month. It is called perspective. Perspective is what you lose when you’ve been too close to your novel, especially if you’ve read the draft a number of times either aimlessly fussing with style or remodeling the story arc.

The rest of the article is well worth reading.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A New Anthology: Beyond Grimm: Tales Newly Twisted

First of all, a Happy Editor dance... [dance, dance, dance]

This is the first anthology I've edited (actually, co-edited with Phyllis Irene Radford) for Book View Cafe. It began, lo these many many months ago, with an in-house discussion along the lines of "Hey, wouldn't it be fun to..." Book View Cafe has already published several anthologies (Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, Dragon Lords and Warrior Women -- which has a story of mine! -- The Shadow Conspiracy I and  II), so there was some precedent. We knew to ask things like, Will this be reprint, original stories, or both? Will it be a benefit for BVC or will the authors receive shares of the proceeds? How will we define the theme? At a certain point, we'd reached a sufficient level of enthusiasm and clarity so that someone had to put on an organizational (aka editor's) hat.

Thinking this would be marvelous fun, I volunteered, and the way it worked out, Phyl co-edited it with me. I supplied time and my own editorial experience, and she had the expertise of working with the BVC anthology publication procedures. Because there were two of us, we could submit our own stories to one another, thereby avoiding the editing-your-own-work scenario.

One of the things I love about editing anthologies is watching the process, the landscape of that adventure, unfold, discovering moments of truth and hilarity and heart-wrenching sadness and sheer beauty and poetry in prose. Beyond Grimm was no exception. Although we started with "let's retell classic fairy tales," our imaginations took us in other directions as well - the sun-drenched islands of Greek mythology, legends from the frozen north, Arthurian tales, nursery rhymes, even my own riff on the plots of classical ballets. Fairy-tale lands, contemporary urban settings, magical and not-so-magical steeds, spells and epistles of the people's revolution, mysterious locked chambers and shape-shifters...moonlight and storms.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

GUEST POST Madeleine E. Robins on Regency Romance

I wrote Althea, my first book, because I needed something to read.  I think most readers know that feeling: you look around wanting a particular something and you cannot, in that moment, find it.  What I wanted was more Georgette Heyer, new Heyer; but Miss Heyer had recently died, and there would be nothing new from her any more.

I discovered Georgette Heyer's books in high school, and read her entire oeuvre, including her medieval books and her mysteries; what I really loved were her Georgian and Regency romances.  They were witty and sparkling and filled with nifty sense of the time and place, and unlike most of the period fiction I had stumbled over up to that time, they weren't Victorian; call it aesthetic preference or just cussedness--the Victorians don't speak to me.  But the Regency, as depicted by Heyer, was bright and frothy and delightful.

Then I encountered Jane Austen, and fell into an entirely different and deeper love; Austen writes of love and money but without Heyer's fascination with the nobility of the nobility (virtually none of the titled characters in Austen are admirable).  Austen is deadly funny, observant, and firmly rooted in a real time and place (my favorite line in Sense and Sensibility comes at the end, when the heroine and her husband are so happy that "they had in fact nothing to wish for, but the marriage of Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their cows.").  I went through a brief period where my passion for Austen kind of spoiled Heyer for me.  But I got better.