Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Writing Resolutions

This year having weekly goals worked out well for me. I like the flexibility of being able to double up one day, or write a good deal more on weekends than I do on weekdays and still be keeping the same numbers I would if I set a goal for every day. This year I'm adding monthly goals as well.

Daily Goal:
1000 words

Weekly Goals:
7500 words written or edited
1 short story or novel chapter critiqued
1 writing exercise
2 fiction or poetry submissions
1 story submitted for peer review
1 story read out loud

Monthly Goals:
3 short stories or chapters revised to submission quality
2 short story or chapter rough drafts
2 additional short story or novel chapters critiqued
2 poems
1 story, article, or poem translated from Spanish to English
1 novel read, at least, no excuses

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yes, but When Will She Get Raped?

Seanan McGuire recounts an instance of being asked kind of a strange question, and reflects a bit on sexual violence and female characters. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

15 Highest Earning Authors of 2012

Normally I hate these things where they only show you one name per click through to maximize advertisement views, but this set of data's worth the hassle. Also I'm pleased that there's only one (arguably) non-fiction author on the list. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Authors Responses to Banning of their Books

Mostly just quick snippets, but they're kind of fun. Ray Bradbury's is kind of confusing. Mark Twain is adorable. But that's pretty much always true. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Year in Rejections 2012

So, yeah.

People often say one of the most important things you can develop as a writer is a thick skin. I know a lot of new writers fret about rejection, but really, it's not so bad.

I've taken the identifying information off of these because it's not per se about me, or the stories, or the editors. Most of these are form letters, some of them are provide exceptional personal feedback. All of them are very nice, and I wrote most of them back to thank them afterwards (where it was not requested I did not, and certainly in every instance where they wrote me personally).

Anyway, here are my rejections from 2012.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Podgasm

Here are some new podcasts I love and recommend:

Starship Sofa. Yes. I know. I'm stupidly late to the party on this one. It's won a hugo, there's like a bazillion back episodes. I know. But it's awesome, even from day one. The production values are high and beautiful, the stories, while often older, have been really top notch so far, and the host seems like a sweet, charming guy. So, yeah, very recommended.

Speculate! The formula for Speculate! is as follows: the hosts will talk about a set of speculative stories, discussing what they think was good about them and why they think the stories work; then they interview the author and have them talk about why they made specific choices. I love not only the picking apart of stories (though I found myself really wanting to argue back with the podcast on the discussion of "Spar"), but also the director's commentary style stuff with the authors. It's super fun, and both the hosts are charming, well-spoken gentlemen.

Roundtable Podcast. Another sort of behind the scenes podcast, Roundtable brings on a different professional writer or editor each week as a guest host, then has amateur writers approach the roundtable with their book ideas. The round table will then ask pointed questions and probe the story for ways to make it stronger.

K.M. Weiland's Word Play Podcast. These are super short and very focused. About eight minutes each. Weiland is a historical fictioneer, but the advice is very generalized.

Nightmare Magazine. It was kind of a given, wasn't it? I love Lightspeed, and this is the same editor and sound company but with horror.

Odyssey Writing Workshop- like it sounds, it's excepts from the lectures given at the Odyssey writing camp. They're all good, but the Bruce Holland Rogers one is my favorite so far.

Outer Alliance. An extension of the Outer Alliance group for Queer Undetermined Intersexed Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay science fiction writers and fans, this podcast can get a little bit self-congratulatory, but it's got some great interviews with writers, some really fun discussions, an awful lot of Australian science fiction, and some liberal use of my new favorite acronym for this sort of thing: QUILTBAG. Very much worth a listen if you're even marginally interested in the subject.

Small Beer Press Podcast. Fantastic mix of stories, theory, interviews, and homebrewing, from the company that puts out Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, among other things.

SFSqueecast- Catherynne Valente, Elizabeth Bear, Lynne Thomas, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, and a guest all bring to the table something speculative that made them go "squee". Great for recommendations, and because of this podcast, I was finally able to find the book Seaward by Susan Cooper, which I'd read in my middle school library, loved, and then forgotten the name of. I could recognize the picture on the front, but I didn't remember the name of the author or the book. So, yeah, that's awesome.

Stuff You Missed In History Class- From the same folks that brought you Stuff You Should Know. These are bite sized chunks of themed history that include stuff like The Most Horrific Storms In History, or The Most Extravagant Historical Weddings, or Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. Sometimes they'll just profile one neglected historical figure. They're just fantastic for tidbits, trivia, and stealables for fiction.

Also, it hasn't started yet, but Strange Horizons, which is a fantastic magazine, is also going to be doing a podcast, so of course I look forward to that.

And per the usual, here are the previous list of podcasts I love:



Fiction
Escape Pod - science fiction
Pseudopod - horror
Podcastle- fantasy
Drabblecast- weird short fiction
Clarkesworld- science fiction/fantasy
Beneath Ceaseless Skies- fantasy adventure
Tor.com- fantasy, seems defunct now
The New Yorker- literary fiction with commentary
Bound Off- literary
Cast Macabre- dark, on hiatus
Lightspeed Magazine- science fiction and fantasy (now incorporates what was Fantasy Magazine)
Dark Fiction Magazine- dark, british
Cast of Wonders- young adult, fantasy
Hooting Yard on The Air-  All Frank Key all the Time.
Toasted Cake- weird, flash
Flash Fiction Online- general, flash
Dread Central Station Dreadtime Stories- horror, camp


Writing/Craft:
 Writing Excuses- fifteen minute topic specific advice
I Should Be Writing- inspiration, interviews, feedback, market analysis. The Good Cop/Bad Cop is a personal favorite.
Locus Roundtable- roundtable discussions

General:
Stuff You Should Know- trivia, various topics

Monday, December 17, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mo Gender Mo Problems

I worry a bit that I have a confirmation bias toward the findings of this study, but what can you do? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

False Positive

You guys know I love webcomics, and False Positive is something very special- rather than a gag strip or a soap opera, it's straight up horror vignettes. The art is wonderful and absolutely perfect for a horror comic. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Arguing

I moved a couple of months ago, very several time zones away from my friends and family. The foreseeable result of this is that significantly more of my communication goes on through the internet. What I didn't anticipate was how much higher this would render the percentage of my interactions with people that ended up hostile and defensive.

That sounds naive to anybody who's been on the internet more than a few minutes, I'm sure, but I just didn't realize how skewed this was going to be.

For example, before I moved, here is a random sampling of conversations I might have with my stepmother in a face to face interaction:

"Hey, how's the baby doing?"
"What have you cooked recently?"
"Omg republicans are lying liars whose flaming pants could be used to heat the entire northern hemisphere, they're so on fire."
(half hour conversation about a book we've both recently read)
"That Stephen Colbert's a really funny guy, isn't he?"
"Hey, don't forget it's your sister's birthday soon."
"You know, you really should call and thank them for that."
"Hey, I've lost my shirt with the marxist marx brothers joke on it, have you seen it around your place?"
"Let me tell you about my day..."

If it's a day where the main interaction I get with her is on facebook, I get the following:

(Pictures of the baby)
"Omg republicans are lying liars whose flaming pants could be used to heat the entire northern hemisphere, they're so on fire."

Which... I mean, I love pictures of the baby, but even the people I agree with, it's either this constant stream of meaningless noise, or it's a constant agitation, either offensive (here's how republicans are always lying and oppressing women) or defensive (Omg, chill the fuck out christians, I just said happy holidays, don't turn me being nice into an excuse to get all pissy (incidentally, as an aside, isn't it funny how we've flipped dialogues on these? You keep hearing straight white men talking about how they're victims whose unique natures have to be respected, and politically correct people telling conservative folk to chill out on their particularness about language.)).

It makes me tired, and it's worse with the folks I don't agree with.

One of my favorite guys to ride out with when I was with the ambulance company was a dyed in the wool fox news listening conservative. We spent about half our time geeking out about science fiction and video games, and the other half having relatively reasoned discussions about taxes, labor rights, and gun control, and I loved both of those. We both had a couple of points where we would sloganeer to our respective sides, but we listened to the other enough that you could go "Now, really, Ed, is Obama actually the most radically liberal president in the last fifty years?" or "What about sarbanes oxley regulations, those are nothing but a stranglehold on business, and you have to admit it". And we'd grumble, but we'd concede reasonable points.

I hate the thought of turning people off in my feed because I don't agree with them politically or religiously. I genuinely believe the majority of people, if they make an effort not to be dicks, can get along with a wide range of people, and some of my very dearest friends have never shared a ballot choice with me in our lives.

But then you get into this venue where everything is graphics and 200 words or less, and everything gets ugly and reductionist.

I try, or at least I feel like I try, to respect the people with different opinions in my circle of friends by not wasting their time and not putting up stuff that's stringent, especially in a way that would be disrespectful or in poor taste. I make sure I don't post anything I can't source. I don't post things that call people evil or stupid. I do post political stuff, but I tend to think of it as very mild like "Yay! I really love being an atheist" or "I don't understand why the church of England is okay with women vicars but not women bishops" or "here's a link to a study about how women who seek abortions but are denied them have measurably worse economic and lifestyle outcomes than women who seek abortions and receive them" or "hey, if you don't like billionaires X and Y, here is a list of products that are linked to their industries that you can boycott if you want".

I say I try to be respectful. That's part of it. Part of it is that I don't like fighting with people and I try not to go out of my way to poke them.

Lately the internet, the main way I communicate with people currently, has been stressing me the fuck out, for all of the reasons listed above. All these "you're a moron if you don't believe this" and "this single, conceivably fictional individual is why massive government programs are evil" or shit that celebrates people getting shot. I've been arguing more on the internet. I've been up past midnight reading statistics because damnit, I'm not going to just argue on gut and hypotheticals. I've been offering critiques of people's graphics. I've been typing out my experience under these awful "please read this" posts that I suspect are made up. I've been coming here and doing stuff like that feminism list because I had been reading up on an awful lot of hateful shit of the type you get on the internet and I wanted to be positive.

Here's the thing about arguing- the thing I hate when someone pulls it on me, and the thing I hate when I catch myself doing it to other people:

I can guarantee you, you're almost never arguing with what the other person actually said.

Everyone does this. We do shit like assume that if we oppose abortion because it kills babies, obviously people who are pro abortion have feelings which are equally rooted in the deaths of unborn fetuses, as opposed to, say, the health and well being of the mother. We carry around a dozen previous conversations that have pissed us the fuck off with people who made ludicrous points and refused to concede when we were goddamn right, and without even thinking about it we treat people who share that position as if they also said every backwards ass thing the people before them did. We're deliberately obtuse and we seek refuge in ridiculous hyperbole.

And of course on the net this is all magnified by the fact that it's not just you, it's everyone you know as well.

I know some people who seem to thrive on strong negative emotion. It motivates and animates them. They're used to it. It almost seems nourishing. That's not me. I like quiet, I like peace. I like intellectual discussion, and I don't mind not winning if all parties come out of it with a better understanding of things. Getting all worked up is generally the opposite of helpful. It makes you say stupid shit you're going to regret. It makes you make emotional arguments and stupid, irrational appeals.

Arguing, when it really gets going, makes me a person I neither like nor respect.

I've stopped following some very nice people. I just couldn't deal with the negativity and the misinformation (that's not political: genuinely and demonstrably false statements. I don't believe they passed them on maliciously, but they were ready to go to the mat for them when challenged). If that was all I was getting from them, I just couldn't do it. I don't like fighting with people, and honestly, I've operated most of my life on the policy that I'd rather just not be around specific people if being around them makes me feel worse than being alone.

And the other problem is that this makes me feel like a coward.

Because the other thing I get in my feed is people pointing out injustice, and ways that the world is hurting the people least able to fight back, while I sit here comfy on my couch and don't even raise my metaphorical voice.

I try to be positive. I try to give a little money, link people here to ways they can help if it has to do with writing. Where I know someone who could help with a thing, or someone who might be interested, I try to bring their attention to it directly. When I can actually have a conversation with one person where we can listen and exchange ideas, I try to do that. I'm aware this is not much. I'm not doing near what I should.

There's so much I don't know how to fix, and it's overwhelming. And I don't feel like just taking care of my own is good enough.

So, yeah, that's that. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Homicide Statistics

Because I love statistics. 

Some highlights:

Between 1980 and 2008
About 50% of homicide offenders were under 24. Also, a little under a third of victims.
The early eighties and early nineties were terrible times if you didn't want to get murdered.
This report contains some unpleasant breakdowns of who kills small children.
By gender: men killing men 67.8% of homicides. Men killing women: 21%. Women killing men 9%. Women killing women 2.2%. Hooray for female solidarity, I guess.
Least likely killers, per the FBI: white women over 25.
2 out of 5 women killed are killed by boyfriends or husbands.

Also, for what it's worth, here's a Texas A&M paper that concludes rates of burglary and theft are not affected by castle doctrine laws, but the laws do correlate to an increase in homicide rates.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This Article is Mostly About Erections

More specifically Ta-nehisi Coates is talking about the place of sexual attraction in a mythology of masculinity that is intensely focused on control. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Last Free Days of Duotrope

If you haven't heard yet, Duotrope.com, which has been an exceptional free service for writers, is moving to a paid subscription model, which is a shame. I've donated for a couple years now, and urged people to donate when they could, because, frankly, it's not a service these people could do indefinitely for free.

A bunch of people have been expressing concern about how $50 a year is an unthinkable number for them to pay, and I would be sliiiiightly more sympathetic if I hadn't seen some of the same people drooling over $300 clothing items, or talking about how they love their morning Starbucks.

I'd rather give duotrope $25 a year instead of $50, but I really like duotrope. We did all have the chance to pay less per year for the last seven years, but most of us didn't take it because free was an option.

Honestly, I'd like for free to still be an option for people who have trouble paying for it. I think it would be lovely if we all got together and kicked in like five bucks each toward buying duotrope submissions for people who legitimately couldn't afford them. How nice a thing would that be? We should all do that- buy somebody duotrope for christmas.

Yeah. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here Are Some Reasons I Am Incredibly Happy Feminism Happened


  1. Because I can earn enough to support myself, I do not have to have sex with someone I may or may not care about at all in order to access his money.
  2. I don't have to lie to people about what my name is (or more specifically what my sex is) in order for the work of my hands or mind to be considered valuable. 
  3. If I am sexually assaulted and attempt to report it to the authorities, they are legally obligated not to dismiss me out of hand.
  4. I can wear all the pink I want, but I don't have to.
  5. If my husband beats me or decides to piss away all the money I make, I can leave him and look for someone better.
  6. I will never have to look into my daughter's eyes and tell her the dreams she has are stupid, because they're things girls simply aren't allowed to do.
  7. I love feminist men.
  8. Because I can and do vote, politicians disregard my interests at their peril. 
  9. Physical violence against me is not considered anybody's god-given right.
  10. I can say no. Or I can say yes. And both of those are okay, because I have a say in these things.
  11. Tina Fey.
  12. Pants with pockets and sensible flat shoes. Jesus, I love sensible flat shoes. Really, any clothes where the maker has prioritized my comfort and the clothes' function over how the outfit will make my breasts and ass look to observers.
  13. Having a vocabulary and an intellectual framework to talk about things that have bothered me about my interactions with people, and the presentation of truisms by the culture at large. 
  14. My "virtue" isn't such a big deal that people are constantly policing my behavior, limiting the places I can go or go alone, or preventing me from having good friends who are men.
  15. If I am actually smarter or stronger than a given man, I'm not obligated to pretend I'm not to protect his ego at the expense of mine. 
  16. I have permission to make my own happiness a priority, so long as I don't go out of my way to hurt others.
  17. Birth control. Oh, man, birth control is the most awesome thing ever. 
  18. No one laughs at me for coming to university seminars, or tries to insist that there's no way I could possibly comprehend them.
  19. I am able to find stories, books, and music that don't make me feel like I could never be a main character in the story of my own life.
  20. My chances of being raped or beaten by a domestic partner, writ large, are only about 25%, which is pretty historically unprecedented. 
  21. As much as people do still expect stereotypical behavior from me, I am almost never punished for deviating from it. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

I respect that writing a novel is a thing I'm going to have to do if I want to make money writing.

I worry I don't have the same hunger for it as a lot of other people I know. These folks get a twinkle in their eye when they talk about their book, like it's their baby that just played concert level piano, graduated with honors, and then rearranged its alphabet blocks into the cure for cancer. By contrast, if we're just judging on enthusiasm, my novel baby could be assumed to be propped up in a corner filling its diaper, gorging itself on paste, and biting the cat.

I like short stories. I like flash. I like tight focus and ending on ambiguity. I like a single piece that can be extrapolated to a larger whole without ever describing the latter.

And honestly, I don't feel like I even have shorts down particularly well. Not enough to go bragging around about it. I can't pull the pieces of it apart and explain how it all works.

People keep telling me I shouldn't be afraid of novels- that I can chill out, relax, take my time. Not everything in a novel has to accomplish something right away; there's all sorts of frills and self indulgences you can sneak in and rather than hurting the novel, they make it deeper and more unique.

But, honestly, a lot of them feel like distractions and dead ends.

There's a weight to a novel too. A thing about many stories I've written- not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing- is that they don't hold up to hours and hours of scrutiny. I like magical realism- stories where why a thing happened isn't as important as the fact that it did. That's way harder in novels.

For example, I wrote a story where horrible monsters come to a school bake sale and set up a table. The people recognize the monsters, but I never went to any trouble to explain how they knew them, what the monsters' ecology was, what relationship the people had with the monsters, whether there were other terrible supernatural things in the world. None of that. The people just went "well, this is a thing that's happening now" and proceeded on with the sale. This idea is spun sugar, prose confection. It wouldn't hold the weight of seven thousand words, much less a novel.

Or maybe it would. I don't think so, but when I took the story to a group, a number of people (people, it should be said, who don't like short stories) said it struck them as the beginning of a novel, and that the end of the story (when it ends nobody is dead yet, but it could go any number of ways) seems to them like the very beginning. It feels to me like a complete three beat story, in a horror sort of way. Monsters come and sow direct terror, people gradually acclimated to the terror and even start to feel a bit normal and in control, monsters reveal a different, worse horror has been their agenda the whole time. That things go badly, I feel, can be reasonably implied without spelling it out. My group thought it should be a book, going into the town response to the monsters, making a character of one of the children, just a dizzying amount of extra stuff for a story I'd conceived of as working on the same formula as a recited joke.

For me, it's a satisfying experience as it is.

Sometimes I feel like the exception. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prehistoric Face Smashing Cult

The article takes this in a silly direction, but the basic archaeology is still really cool. People were exhuming long-buried dead, bashing their faces in with stone tools, and reburying the heads elsewhere. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Human Rights of Ecosystems

Ecuador has set legal precedent in granting ecosystems legal rights as people, not unlike those customarily allowed to corporations, allowing people to sue on behalf of rivers and forests for violation of their rights as organisms. I think it's actually a pretty elegant solution, and apparently so do the people in New Zealand, who have instituted a similar policy for one of their rivers. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Heroes

So over the last few days I've been exposed to a number of opinions, delivered from a position of passionate, self-styled underdog defense, about how there are no more heroes in our fiction, no more ideals, and how nothing could be more terrible. This has generally been in regards to comic books, heroic fiction, and space opera. This always grates on me a little, in part because there alway seems to be the quiet implication to it that if you don't like uncomplicated good vs. evil stories that's a moral failing on your part. Lately it's been really bugging me. 

So here are some responses.

1) I don't believe good and evil are that easy.

The good versus evil narrative structure is constructed. In part it's a question of position- if you know the personal tragedies of your hero and nothing about your faceless, masked antagonists, of course they look evil- this is doubly true in something like Lord of the Rings with their orcs or Star Wars with their battle droids: you have things in universe who were explicitly created with the sole purpose of being evil. How many people does Luke Skywalker kill while being a good guy? Yeah, they were all shooting at him or at his friends. He was also shooting at them. There's not automatically a right side in a gun fight. It's certainly not automatically the side you're on.

To tell a black and white story, there's all sorts of gray you have to deliberately avoid looking at, or do insane world-building gymnastics to make not an issue. 

2) I don't believe your heroes were ever all that good in the past.

People keep bringing up Superman and Captain America here. As the internet may or may not have informed you yet, Superman could be kind of a dick back in the day. One of the guys in the podcast brought up "the way our parents' generation talks about presidents". Like Calvin Coolidge, one wonders? Herbert Hoover? And then there's Terry Goodkind's objectivist heroes, who are all about the genocide and openly hating on pacifists. Or, you know, you have Indian fighters in the Old West. 

The truth is that pulps, fantasy, and science fiction, have always been full of people who were less than morally upstanding. Conan was a thief and a pirate. The best selling comics before the comics code were crime and horror. Your noir detectives were drunks and perverts more often than meaningful cops. People have always wanted stories about Billy the Kid as much as they have about Wyatt Earp. 

We had a blip of profound censorship- this is especially true in comics. A Batman who had previously been dropping people to their death off buildings became a goofy, colorful, prop-centered pun fest, while most of his contemporaries were thhrown away and forgotten completely. 

I think more than anything this has to do with childhood: what you take in when you're still young stays with you. You're told it's right and that's all you need to know. 

I go back now and watch some of the things I loved as a kid- Indiana Jones is a good example, as, honestly, is Star Wars- and the stories are more nuanced than I remembered. The heroes are a little dingier, even darker. And honestly, I like them better that way. They steal, they lie, they do cowardly things sometimes (did you remember the part where Indiana Jones uses a bunch of kids as human shields? Because I didn't), but in the end that makes their decision to do the right thing more meaningful. 

(There's also a really disturbing thing that goes on where the heroes are, at best, marginally less destructive than the villains, but the heroes are coded as heroic and the villains are coded as villainous, and there's no talk about how they're all basically doing the same thing).

3) I don't believe there aren't heroes out there now.

Superman is still there, and still selling loads of books. Captain America is the head of a brand new Avengers team on the big screen. Heck, most of the best selling movies of the last couple of years have been heroes doing heroic things.

Heck, Captain Marvel still sells books and shows up in media, and you can't get any more boyscout than that. 

What about Katniss from the Hunger Games? What about stuff like Mistborn? What about Paksenarion?

Half the times I hear someone gripe about there not being heroes, they're gearing up to sell you their book. About the types of heroes you just don't see anymore. I'm up to at least a dozen people I've heard say this as a preamble to a pitch.

Yeah, there's some grim stuff, and it does well. People like it. But I put it to you that you can still find the type of heroes you want, if you go looking. You're not guaranteed every book you pick up will have them there, but that's not the same as them being gone. Superman doesn't stop being Superman because he's sharing a shelf with Lobo.

4) Shades of gray are not the same thing as total moral equivalence. 

People always seem to want to reduce the opposite position to: there's no difference at all between the good guys and the nazis, and that's not what I'm trying to say, even with the Luke Skywalker example above. 

The main thing, I feel, is that you can't take the difference for granted. There has to be a reason your guy shooting people is better than the other guy shooting people, and I have trouble accepting reasons like: the story is from his point of view, he has the white hat on, he's the one who looks like an American teenage boy. 

If he's exceptionally good, does not shoot anybody, carries old lady's groceries across the street, and always says please and thank you, why? What about his life made him like that? How does he feel about it all?

I actually like quite a lot of Superman stories for this reason. In the best ones, you see the Kents, you hear Smallville Kansas coming through every time the guy opens his mouth. You see the clash of that smalltown idea of right and justice, not just with extradimensional monsters, but with his cosmopolitan friends, with other heroes, even with pushy barristas. Or you see him being apart and alone, holding back from people so that he doesn't hurt them, and imagining Krypton, where he would actually be completely at home. Superman is a fantastic character and "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" is only part of it. 

Of course, part of that might be that I don't think he's always right. Sometimes that mindset is a liability for him- he can't plan or anticipate the way Batman can. Very often he trusts authority and it costs him. He trusts people and it costs him.

Sometimes the way he sees the world causes him to make honest mistakes that hurt people baddly. Sometimes those are the best stories. For my money it beats the heck out of him just punching a guy in different colored spandex in space.

All of that doesn't come from the fact that he's the "good guy". He doesn't proceed outward naturally from a position of truth and justice. He's someone who has a history, a mindset, a set of advantages, and a set of limitations, and he makes what he can of it. 

Likewise, if your villains are hideous monster spawn straight from the depths of hell.. well, honestly that's okay. I like the primal horror side of things. But if your villains are people, and they're acting like they're straight from the depths of hell, I tend to require one of two things: either a specific, personal reason they are like that, not just "because they're fascists/muslims/rednecks/men/feminists/whatever other group I don't like"; or complete horror from every other character who sees their actions (inclusive of members of whatever group the guy belongs to, seriously, his/her own mother should shrink back in disgust).

It's totally cool for one of your dudes to be a better person than the other. There's a lot of fun conflict in that. But it doesn't come just because they have a badge, or they're the king, or they're the chosen one, or they're the viewpoint character. It comes entirely from the way they distinguish themselves through their actions, especially relative to the people they're claiming to be better than. 


I think that's really the heart of it- the two guys punching each other in space thing. We're asked to believe one is good, because he looks like us, because he has our colors on, whatever. 

I'll believe your hero when both he and his antagonist rise believably in a gray world, and live in that gray world, however light or dark they themselves are able to become. 


So... yeah. That was kind of a ramble, but it's what I think on it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fatality and Femmes, Women in Crime Fiction

Christa Faust talks murder, dismemberment, and gender politics. Super fun article. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Escape Pod!

(First off, if you haven't voted yet, go vote.)

The Escape Pod semi-annual flash fiction contest ended yesterday.

I WON!

Actually I both won and took fifth place out of 92 (we were allowed two entries), which was a weird combination of awesome and nail-biting horror for me. I was terrified I would place twice and feel like a total toolbag for making it so there were two published winners instead of the the regular three.

Some of my dearest friends have been perplexed by this reaction. Do I feel guilty about taking first place, they ask. No. Or, well, I do a little, but not enough that I'm not bouncing around like a loon for having got it. The prize is something I've wanted for years: publication on Escape Pod, which is the big bad granddaddy of the fiction podcasts. It's one of those magazines I want to be in because I read it (or in this case listen) and it blows my mind on a pretty routine basis (others include Drabblecast, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shock Totem, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, etc).

So, yes, I desperately wanted to win first place.

But first place is really enough, you know? Anything past that feels uncomfortably greedy.

I wrote the organizer before the finals went up and talked to him about taking the second story out of the running entirely. He talked me out of it, and I'm glad he did, but I still breathed a sigh of relief when that story was coming in a relatively distant fourth, and then got passed up on the last day to come in fifth. It was still a good showing, and it's way better than I showed in the previous competition, with one going into the semi-finals, and one making it to the quarter.

And, speaking of being greedy, this raises a big question.

There are also contests for Podcastle and Pseudopod, both of which I love and would love to be on.

Do I enter these, or do I take my win, bow out gracefully, and give somebody else a chance?

And if I do enter, do I risk entering two?

Questions. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

National Novel Writing Month Again

That's right, two more days.

I'm cheating this year. One of my previous years' novels needs a complete rewrite from the ground up before it's viable, so rather than start something wholy new, I'm just going to do that. Some of the things I need to do urgently, in the next two days are: get rid of every single placeholder name, of which there were like twelve, including "Expendable", whose story ends unsurprisingly; work out some of the peripheral worldbuilding so that I have a wide range of groups to draw characters from- the story is second world, but it's set in a city that I want to have a cosmopolitan feel, and that means multiple ethnicities and naming conventions.

Honestly, despite the fact that I know where this is going, that I've done a revision outline, that I'm infinitely more prepared this time around, that I'm a better writer than I was last time I tried this, I still feel really intimidated by this thing. I don't know how people go into long form with this crazy excitement. I think that probably has something to do with the fact that I deeply enjoy reading short stories.

But, you know, if I ever want to make a significant amount of money writing, a novel is the thing to do.

(Honestly, if I ever want to make a living as a writer, the thing to do is a series of novels in which the main character has a lot of unrequited sexual tension with at least two other parties. And ideally at least one of them is a vampire. And then they all have complicated sex starting three books in. Which sounds like it could conceivably be fun, but the problem is if I write that and enjoy it less than I would some "loftier" thing, there's still a chance that it won't sell worth a damn and I'll just have five books of vampire sex I can't unload onto anyone. And who wants that?)

Sorry, that got a bit rambly.

Anyway, off to make a list of names. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Madness of Andelsprutz

The Madness of Andelsprutz by Lord Dunsany is one of my favorite stories. And it's a ghost story as well, so enjoy. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bristolcon!

Well, I went to my very first UK science fiction convention, which was loads of fun, but a little disconcerting. After having been to a few US cons, I had started taking for granted knowing a few more people. I knew two of the people there, Joanne Hall (who was one of the main organizers) and Fran Jacobs, through an internet writing site, but that was it for me.

I should probably start by mentioning the Ghost of Honor, Colin Harvey, who passed away recently. A number of the Bristolcon attendies have put together a memorial anthology in his honor.

The first panel we attended was on Colonizing the Solar system, with Guy Haley, Michael Dollin, Aliette de Bodard, Ben Jeapes, and Dev Agarwal. All in all, the panelists came down pretty hard on the side of this idea being more science fiction than science fact, citing the astronomical cost and the lack of will, but it was still a very fun panel in terms of people's reasoning- particularly people's assessment of the material cost to the people on earth to keep even a few people up in space. Good moderation, very informed panelists.

We also attended the panels on collaboration, and Toilets in Space, the latter of which went lowbrow very quickly (quick summary: Nick Walters believes teleportation will solve all logistical problems, Michael Dollin has unpopular ideas about recycling, Kim Lakin-Smith reminds us being a girl may actually be less dangerous in these endeavors, and everyone agrees that we don't write sex or poo realistically, because that would make it hard to romanticize space).

We broke for a little while here because Joe Abercrombie was just a few blocks away signing his latest book and we wanted in on that.

We came back to Battle of the Books, which was one of my absolute favorite panels, and one I'd like to see adapted to every con I go to. Four panelists each picked a book (respectively Paul Graham Raven picked Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix, Nick Walters picked Brian Aldiss's Hot House, Janet Edwards picked Terry Pratchet's Wyrd Sisters, and the fourth woman (whose name was not on my program, sorry) picked Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere). Then the authors got time to summarize a bit of their book and tell you why it was the best one there. There were two elimination rounds, and Hot House took home the prize. It was all very genial though, and I think this is a great way to get people talking up books you might not have read. Both the husband and I agreed our pick probably would have been The Dispossessed, by LeGuin.

The Apocalypse panel was also great. Lots of talk about Zombies, but that's to be expected. I was particularly impressed by Tim Maughan, who is a particularly Bristol type of person, in the best possible way. We also took in the Steam Punk panel, the best part of which was Alex Dally MacFarlane and Nimue Brown sitting both literally and figuratively across the table from each other and going back and forth about representation, apology for empire, appropriation, and romanticizing the past. It was also fun to watch how many other panelists had no idea what steam punk was before they were told they had written it. We attended an artist's panel about medium and how digital people are comfortable going, which was lovely, and I think broadly applicable in that everybody has to find what they're most comfortable with.

The last panel we attended was on YA: What's the deal with it being dominated by girls now? This turned out to be an excellent panel, also dominated by girls (which is funny, because it ended up being mostly about boys' reading habits, whereas I've been to plenty of "strong female character" panels that were all or mostly dudes, or diversity panels that were entirely white. It's both fun and sad to see that works in reverse as well). Foz Meadows and Moira Young impressed me especially, though the audience participation was really key here. There was one gentleman who made the excellent point that perhaps an equal stigma to YA books being effeminate insofar as reading was girly and the characters were chicks, was the idea that what was being presented was explicitly labeled as for children at a time in boys' lives where it's very important to feel grown up. Personally, I don't think there's an overwhelming majority of girl stuff in YA, I think it's just parity being misconstrued as advantage, but that's me. It was a really good panel.

All in all it was a really lovely time, and I'm very glad I went. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Forbidden Poetry of Afghanistan

I feel like I should comment on this article, maybe about how it's a piece by a young-ish white Princeton graduate about the beautiful struggles of Afghani women, maybe something about the long dense history of islamic poetry that frankly I'm not qualified to speak on, maybe about the subjectivity of poetry and the perils of translation. I dunno. It's easy to get into an epistemological tailspin about how much we can really understand, how representative a small sample is, how much was correctly translated to this reporter, how much was held back, what biases are brought to the table. Considering stuff I've naively put forward in the past, I tend to get a little gunshy when I don't have as much personal knowledge to back a subject up. But I liked this article. I think it's worth passing on. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Political Test

Were you concerned that you did not know what your politics are? Try taking a test and measuring your results against other people by age, nationality, gender, and level of education!

I'm result 154140.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aspirations, Tolerances, and Strategies

I was just looking at Duotrope, and it has an option to sort potential markets by acceptance ratio. It got me thinking about a friend I'd had back home who had that as her main criteria- she was starting out and she was more afraid of rejection than she was emphatic about high end publications. I had another friend who looked first and foremost at a market's turn around time. With some exceptions (reprints, solicited work, venues I personally love), I submit to pro markets, and I aim most ardently for the ones that publish fiction I really like. My acceptance ratio's pretty low, but when I do make a sale, I feel like the biggest rock star there ever was. I have another friend who's told me he writes principally for the money- it's work and he expects payment.

I think it's important, as you go on, to know what you want from your writing. Not necessarily an end game, but certainly a direction.

Here are some questions to help you think about what you want:

1. What is your pipe dream scenario? (pick just one)

Mine, for example, is to write genre stories so awesome they come up with a brand new award for awesome stories and they name it after me, and for another full century, the Wilder is an honor that commands respect.

Yours might be something like, write a book or series so commercially successful it gets made into blockbuster movies, games, toys, theme parks, etc, and you are able to have more money than god. It might be getting the clout or reputation to be put in charge of your favorite existing property, or given all the resources to create a new one. It might be to write something so insightful and timely that it's taught in schools for a hundred years after. It might be to be so prolific and influential within a genre that your name becomes a byword for that type of fiction. Nobel prize for literature. Bringing down a government.

Go crazy. You don't have to achieve this one, it's just there as a platonic ideal of your career, to set your compass by but very likely never actually reach.

2. What are your fail conditions? (as many as you like)

Under what circumstances would you turn away from writing and not come back? When does it stop being worth it?

For example (and again, it doesn't matter if someone else thinks these are good standards. They're for you personally):

  • You go five years without selling anything
  • You are never able to crack the pro market
  • Your fiction skill plateaus below your expectations
  • You are selling as well as you reasonably can, and still below $20,000 a year
  • Your books meet with consistently poor reviews
  • The stress of writing makes you more unhappy than happy
  • You no longer have enough time for your other interests
  • You are no longer in a position to write the things you want
  • Your mother disapproves of your fiction
  • You are never able to obtain a traditional publisher
  • You are rejected and dismissed by the people who you were writing for
  • A religious leader puts a bounty on your life (also conceivably a pipe dream for some)
You can keep going with your own. If you can look at an idea and go "well, in that case I'd just _____ and keep writing" it's not a fail condition for you. 

You have fail conditions, even if you don't want to admit you do. Writing is like anything else, there will be times when it is not the healthy choice, and you need to know when those are for you. 

For me it's a skill plateau (assuming training, exercises, whatever I could think of had been exhausted), or writing ceasing to make me more happy than unhappy. 


3. What is the most you're willing to write/publish? What is the least?

James Patterson had a year where his name was on the byline of thirteen novels. Ted Chiang produced 12 short stories in 15 years. How fast can you write? What is the relationship between speed and quality in your work? Would you be satisfied writing two or three novels a year? Would you be willing to forego publishing anything for a year or two to make sure you got one thing just the way you wanted it? Five? Ten?

4. What are you willing or unwilling to write for money?

You have your interests and personal passions. What about everything else? Other genres? Apolitical work? Work for different audiences? Non-fiction? Children's books? Pornography? Something pretensious and academic? Something broad and lowest common denominator? Where is your line? Where is the place where if someone came to you with a suitcase of money you would say "no, I don't do that sort of thing"?

Pushing your boundaries is important, but knowing where your boundaries actually are is the base of that.

5. Ideally, how much of your time does writing occupy? What is the most time you're comfortable with it taking up?

It's okay to do this as a hobby. That doesn't make you less a person. But if your goal is to put out Steven King level amounts of work, you're going to need to give it 12+ hours a day. Can you do that? Can you do that without alienating everyone you've ever loved? Remember you only get one life, and your kids only get one childhood.

Think about it, and recognize that your answers don't have to satisfy anyone else. These are questions just for you.

Good luck, and have fun. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Age of Sail II

A fun look at potential wind power designs to supplement increasingly expensive fuel in cargo ships. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ruthless Culture

So here is a very critical essay about how science fiction has quit looking to the future. The comments are also worth reading- there's good discussion going on there. I don't agree with all things being said, but either way, I recommend giving it a look. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Brief, Horrific Lives of Mantis Men

So I recently read Kij Johnson's Mantis Wives. It has a lot in common with her previous nebula winning story Ponies, and to a lesser but still real extent with her OTHER nebula winning story Spar, in that it takes a human relationship we take for granted, makes it alien, and spins out the pathological elements until they're fabulous and grotesque and really gut-punchy.

So, I recommend you read Mantis Wives for yourself, but the gist of it is that even though mantis women realize they don't NEED to kill their husbands, they're locked into their roles and they can't figure out a different way to live.

I quite like it, but it is, by necessity of what it is, largely composed of needlessly cruel torture of boy mantises. That's really kind of the point.

Now there's a fellow down in the comments who seems to be kind of a reactionary jerkface, but I've always maintained that being an jerkface doesn't mean your point is not worth entertaining intellectually.

To what extent are we- am I as a reader- more comfortable with this story because the violence is happening exclusively to men? It's something I've talked about before, and something that continues to worry me.

For all that dudes are disproportionately the people doing violence, they're also disproportionately the victims, and I defy someone to argue that we're not socially conditioned to feel it is less of a tragedy when violence is done to a man (the theory being, of course, that this is not only his natural sphere, but he's big enough and strong enough to stop other people from hurting him; and if he wasn't, he should have been.) I think there's a certain extent to which we sort of view all men as soldiers, and all women and children as civilians- it's part of a totally paternalisitic system that gets used to justify why men ought to have authority over said interchangeable category of women and children who in this line of thinking depend on them for protection and provision; but at the same time it's a system that doesn't have a lot of sympathy to spare for the man who does not end up being the alpha. We're given to believe that fighting and death are ennobling to men in the same way beauty and passive mystique are the ideals for womanhood.

I don't think it does anybody any favors, and it spins off into this idea that it's more wrong to hit a woman. (When a man beats his wife, he's a monster; when a woman beats her husband, it's comedy).

Ish.

There's certainly fiction I've read that demonizes the ladies, to the extent that violence (often sexual or specifically humiliating) befalling them (though usually not at the hands of the actual protagonist) is the cathartic release at the end of the story. Bitch got what was coming to her. Or the not explicitly stated but still pervasive implication that men are predators and women are always prey. Sometimes it's slowly, lovingly rendered. Sometimes it's a joke. But it's a powerless woman having terrible things happen to her, and the gist you get from the story is that you're supposed to enjoy it, even if it's just in the way you enjoy horrific stuff, with a little extra garnish of lady misery. Frank Miller's my go-to top of my head example for this, but there are some horror stories I can point to as well, and we've all seen the splashes and teasers at the front where that attractive girl with the bright red lipstick gets killed so we'll be entranced in the mystery. She might just be one of a dozen victims, but her- the one with the lipstick- she's the one we watch it happen to, over and over again.

I guess we can argue that maybe that's supposed to arouse people's protective instincts, but her skirt is so short, and her lipstick is so red, and the camera focuses so hard on her lips, her hips, and her tits, that I really don't think protection is the instinct they're going for.

And I'm not going to lie, there's fiction that demonizes men. Books, stories, movies, where the whole lot of them are lazy, rude, beer swilling abusers and rapists who think they own the world because they have the upper body strength to throw a punch at a lady's face; whereas the women will be, at least in contrast, developed people with real motivations (though these often arise out of their victimhood at the hands of dudes). And in this vein of fiction (often touted as female empowering) these straw men get what's coming to them, and usually the women get validation and sympathy from a group of right-thinking people who help them hide bodies or reduce their sentences after a teary confession of all the facts. Or they drive off a cliff because death is better than going back to their husbands.

I think in a similar way to the way you imagine creepy dudes picturing that blonde getting stabbed in the alleyway as all the girls who turned them down for sexytimes, there's a group of people who actually will always be satisfied by straight up revenge stories where a blameless lady victim cuts off reproductively important bits of the cartoon man who wronged her.

I think there are people who will say the violence against women as entertainment is not an issue (google sexism and video games if you don't believe me), but I think they're an atavistic minority. I think we're much quieter than we should be about the ease with which we accept violence against men as normal, natural, and even righteous.

Think for a minute- how many female characters have you seen charge into a hail of gunfire, or hold the pass while her friends get away, so that she can die a "good and noble" death? Why do we accept so easily that this is a good thing for men to do? How many times has a gun or sword fight come to a screeching halt because a woman died, after they had just killed nine or ten men without blinking?

I don't think we necessarily think of men's lives as worth less, but we're very willing to accept them being beaten, shot, and killed, without it being something we get upset over.

How weird is that?

(Very little of this actually applies to Mantis Wives specifically, since the story kind of plays around with a power-norm flip, and the violence reads as unnecessary and pathological, at least to me. I don't get a feeling of glee at their suffering out of it, though she does seem to enjoy writing description (I think that's more just language play). I do think, though, that this story would not have worked AS well for me if it were male stand-ins doing violence to females, and that's something that worries me a little, but I think the subversion of the norm in this case helps examine it. That's a technique that can go very wrong in unskilled hands, though). 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Some Hard Advice About Your Novel

io9 offers you some advice about revising that novel you've just finished. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Short Story Greats

A list I'm on took some time recently to organize a list of great science fiction and fantasy stories throughout the medium. Here are the ones they came up with, with links to free versions online if they were available, and amazon if they were not. You can thank me later.

The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson

The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Story of your Life by Ted Chiang

Bloodchild by Octavia Butler

All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke

All You Zombies by Robert Heinlein

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Breaking the Bow



Do you love the Ramayana? Do you like speculative fiction? You should check out Breaking the Bow, edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh , an anthology of Ramayana inspired fiction.


(fair warning, I haven't actually read this book yet, but I'm really excited about it.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A More Diverse Universe Project

Or, two book reviews for the price of one.

Over at Book Lust, they're doing a blog tour to promote authors of color in speculative fiction. I neglected to sign up officially, but heck, I was interested and it seemed like a worthwhile project. So here we go.


The Alchemists of Kush

I had been meaning to read Minister Faust since I first heard an interview with him for Coyote Kings The Space Age Bachelor Pad, but when I went to buy it, I thought that maybe for something I was planning to review online, it was better to pick up something newer, so I wasn't talking about something he'd written years ago. I picked up The Alchemists of Kush without knowing much about it.

Specifically, I didn't know when I picked it up that it was a Young Adult novel.

The book alternates between two separate stories, labeled the Book of Then and the Book of Now. The Book of Then follows an orphaned boy wizard through a landscape of Egyptian myths and nightmares, while the Book of Now follows a young Half-Sudanese immigrant to the New World through his education by a neighbor who teaches him to fight, to think, to respect, and to take pride in his own heritage.

The language in this book is very accessible, which is both a pro and a con for me. I thought it worked against the Book of Then, where the inclusion of vernacular terms felt anachronistic, for all that they helped convey that the first person narrator was a child. The Book of Now made great use of language though, particularly in the first section where we meet our hero Rap (Raphael) and in some of the sections of freestyle rap. The text also has a habit of sentence fragments where the subject has been omitted- again, particularly when referring to the main character, which can be jarring, but it also makes the text moves faster, and perhaps more importantly, it sounds real and raw because of it.

The Book of Then took a while to catch my interest- basically until about a third of the way through when it ties itself firmly to the Osiris myth, both because that gave me something to tie it to and because it represents a stress point for the narrator's relationship with his enemy-turned-friend.

The Book of Now was alternately charming and frustrating, in the way teenage boys are alternately charming and frustrating. Rap and his friends are basically good kids who have lacked community, fathers, role models, and support, and it's put them in a very bad place very early on in the book. When they find themselves in the debt of a neighborhood shop keeper, their sincere attempts (more sincere on Rap's part, honestly) to do right by him put them on a path of growth and self-discovery. Their teacher has a very Pan-African, community-focused outlook, and this is woven through everything that he teaches the boys. If you're a reader who's coming into these ideas for the first time it's explained thoroughly and in a way I suspect will be both interesting and comprehensible. If you're an adult who's already familiar with some of the theory and practice, you may find yourself skimming forward. Be prepared as well for a LOT of name dropping. If you're not familiar with rap, jazz, black writers, black activists, or Pan-African terms, this book is going to give you itemized lists. The boys try to live up to ideals, and find themselves failing sometimes, sometimes succeeding, but always growing. Actually I find myself most charmed by the times they fail, because they've misunderstood or not taken some vital aspect of respect or self-reliance into account. It feels human, and they hurt so transparently that you can't not hurt with them.  

It's very nice, by the way, to have a book about blackness where white folk are a distant presence at best most all of the time. The legacy of slavery and colonialism are still very present in all the characters lives, and white artists and TV programs are mentioned (as well as Asian culture- the kids study Asian martial arts and one of the main characters has adopted the nom de guerre of Jackie Chan), but there aren't present white antagonists of the kids own age taunting them or trying to put them down. The book isn't about defining blackness in opposition to whiteness; it's about bringing to fruition the inner worth of a person, in a tradition that the characters trace to Africa (turning lead into gold, the alchemist metaphor that gives the book its title).  

I can think of several young men I would have nudged toward this book back when I was substitute teaching- the type of kids who push official school assigned books away because they can't find anything in them they can relate to, or who don't like to read because they don't think it looks tough. There are blood, fighting, and curse words in this book enough to make kids think they're getting away with something, and as stated earlier the text reads fast and without a lot of challenging construction or SAT words. It's also built around principles of discipline, community, self-respect, and self-expression that I think will resonate with a lot of young people. I'm a little old for this book personally, but if you have a teenager or young twenty-something who thinks he can't learn because he just doesn't have the smarts in him, and yet can rap an entire album from memory and work through any puzzle he's interested in in minutes, this is a good bet.


The Throne of the Crescent Moon

I have enjoyed a lot of Saladin Ahmed's short fiction (Hooves in the Hovel of Abdul Jameel is still my favorite), and so when I found out he was doing a novel set in a sort of Arabian Nights inspired fantasy, I was pretty jazzed about it. Even moreso when I'd read the short "Where Virtue Lives", which introduces two of the novel's main characters. I have a personal beef with this novel, but I'd like to go through and talk about it objectively before I get to that.

The Throne of the Crescent Moon follows near-retired ghul hunter and all-around sensualist Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, upon whom has recently been foisted a fun-sized religious fanatic apprentice who is as good with a sword as he isn't with chilling out and having a good time. When they find stronger ghuls than they've ever faced before and the last survivor of a murdered tribe- a girl with the power to shift into a divine lion form, it becomes apparent that they're facing something that may be beyond the scope of all of them.

This is a sword and sorcery adventure, and if that's not your thing, you won't like this book. The villains are inhuman and unspeakably evil (one of them has the best evil nick name I have ever seen bestowed to any character: "The Child Scythe"), and the heroes are, for the most part, pretty good. Honestly, for the genre they're practically saintly. The author has clearly read Leiber, but is pleasantly refraining from trying to write Leiber. The action and the magic are fast and cinematic- the mechanics aren't labored over, but there are rules and costs. There is a section in the middle where the book does slow unfortunately while the characters go to ground to wait and recuperate.

This book belongs to Adoulla, and he's a fun, well drawn character, even if he wants to spend a lot of time passing gas and licking nuts off his fingers. One of my favorite things about him is despite the fact that he's something of a holy man and a scholar now, he came up as a bare-knuckles street fighter.  He has a past, and he's a character who has pleasantly learned most, if not all of the lessons that past had to teach him. He doesn't have a lot of growing left to do- instead he has a struggle of holding on as he gets older, as there's a natural tendency to become complacent, as his body stops being able to do everything he thinks it should.

The other characters don't do as well by comparison. Raseed the strict dervish apprentice has a fun relationship with the more laid back Adoulla, but it's overshadowed by his awkward romantic interest with Zamia, who is just as stiffly reluctant to acknowledge it because both of them have duties and commitments. There are also a husband and wife team who are interesting characters, but whose relation to the plot keeps them off to the side.

Having been to Cairo, I love Dhamsawaat all the more for how very Cairo it is (there's even a specific caliph I think the city's ruler is based on, but I can't remember his name for the life of me). It's a big, messy, smelly, corrupt, magical, wonderful city, and I think people who have lived anywhere big will appreciate it. The author's taken a lot of pains to make sure the caliphate empires are represented, to the extent that the married couple presented come from deep in Nubia and far away western China (which is where the original Aladdin story takes place, if you're interested in trivia). People's cultures and philosophies are diverse, and it's the kind of multicultural setting that shows off the diversity that was actually present in the Islamic golden age.

And to my beef.

Raseed bas Raseed.

I'm a girl who has indulged in more than a little dungeons and dragons, and I spent a long time playing a paladin. Raseed bas Raseed was the character I was most looking forward to- an uncompromising holy warrior whose commitment to living up to the letter of his faith puts him at odds with his friends. I was hoping to see him grapple with trying to dutifully obey the man who's been given charge of him while not violating the promises he's made to his order. I wanted to see him refuse to do things that would help the people around him, but would violate his sense of right. I wanted him to be stubborn, and pig-headed, and obstructionist. The short set in Dharmsawaat convinced me that Mr. Ahmed could write that sympathetically, without making Raseed a one-dimensional cardboard crazy, but also without sacrificing the actual rigidity of his principles.

I feel like there were times where this conflict could have happened and happened big, but the author avoided doing it. I guess in part this is because this is Adoulla's book and not Raseed's, but there's a time or two where Raseed is very conveniently not able to find out about something objectionable another character had done, and by the end of the book those chickens have not come home to roost. It never comes to a head. It's possible that's being saved for later in the series, but it feels more like the conflict I was most hoping to see is just not one the author is as interested in writing (or possibly one the author feels like will end the partnership).

I feel like this one is more a personal objection than anything. I had a specific expectation I was really excited about, and it wasn't realized.

It's a good little adventure book overall. I'm just a little grumpy about not getting what I want.

If the nihilism and moral relativity of Martin is not what you want, this is fun fair in a location that is thankfully not just the Lord of the Rings with the serial numbers filed off. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

More on Multicultural Writing

Yeah, yeah, I know some of you are getting tired of it, but I like it.

Or at least, I feel like it's necessary. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Retronaut and More!

In addition to having one of the most fabulous names imaginable, Retronaut is a really cool archive of images and curios from the past- people presenting themselves and their world as they saw it way back when. The tourist bureau for the foreign country of the past.

And while we're looking back, check out US History Minus the White Guys. I know some of you are rolling your eyes about that, but it's got all sorts of fun stuff on it like dispatches from Queen Lili'ukolani, Kate Warne the lady detective, and Matthew Henson, who was on the first trip to the North Pole. (For those of y'all reading this and grousing about the deliberate exclusion of only white men from this history blog, please consider it a supplement to the history available in public schools, which because of lack of time and resources, often confine their materials to dealing principally with the actions of white men in offices of power).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sense of Place

I don't write about real places much, and I recognize that this is something of a failing.

Even in the places I've actually lived, I sort of feel like I'd be giving a tourist-eye view of a place, or dropping names just to sound cool. I'm not really sure how people do it as a regular thing.

It's one of the challenges I'm trying to take on for myself with this story I'm currently working on. I've recently moved to a new city. It's got a dialect different from what I'm used to, pretty singular architecture and local industry, and recognizable, named places all throughout it.

This is a skill I feel I should have, and nothing bestows a skill like a few hearty rounds of trying and failing repeatedly by smaller increments. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inefficiencies Inherent in the System

So an article recently came out about how America throws away over 40% of the food it grows. I have elected not to post an accompanying picture of a starving African child with this link. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Escape Pod Flash Contest (Again)!

I suspect if you come to this blog you're aware that I love Escape Pod, and, possibly, you're aware how much I love the Escape Pod Flash Fiction Contest. I found out about this one kind of late, but it's okay, flash doesn't take that long to write. You have to sign up to the Escape Pod forums to vote on these things, but I think it's very much worthwhile.

Anyway, this year the word limit is 750 (up from 500, which was previously up from 300 (350?)) and the entrance deadline is September 15th.

It's excellent and if you're reading this you should join!

And remember.

Have fun. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

If You Happen to be in a Brazilian Jail

Brazilian prisoners get four days off their sentence for every book they read. Which is awesome. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Superior Memory

Some people have it, and we're looking at their brains in machines!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lovecraft and Weird Fiction


I recently read an article someone linked me about how The Invisibles is a microcosm of all the reasons Grant Morrison is an awesome writer. Having, at best, a lot of ambivalence about both Mr. Morrison and the Invisibles as a series, I clicked on it and read through, discussing with a dear friend as I went.

I think my problem with the Invisibles, I said, was that none of the ideas- the anti-authority stuff, the big secret conspiracy, the idea that governments are lying to you- none of those felt really new or revelatory to me. It's like Cat's Cradle- I really like it, but it's not my favorite, whereas my dad and my brother were blown away by the constructed religion and deliberate deception when they read it. I'd already found that idea elsewhere, so for me it was just a fun read.

And as we kept reading the article (which at one point in bolded italicized texts informed the reader that if they didn't think Grant Morrison was the biggest genius ever, then they were wrong and stupid), we got to the key point: reading back now, this series was just as fresh and important to the article's author as it was when he read it the first time, as a troubled young man of seventeen.

There've been a lot of books I feel like I was perhaps too old to fully appreciate when I read them, with Catcher in the Rye standing out as the worst. I'm not sure it's possible to really appreciate that book after the age where you've had to work to earn a living (though I've also been informed I just don't “get” Holden because I'm a girl). In contrast, I feel like I probably love Even Cowgirls Get the Blues more than it deserves, because it was one of the first books of what is arguably magical realism that I read. My memory of the book is inseparable from my feelings of elation and discovery the first time I read it, when I was, I believe, nineteen.

The reason I bring this up is anarticle by Jeff VanderMeer discussing the unhealthy fixation with H.P. Lovecraft that many people within “weird” fiction have (I also say this having just listened to the Drabblecast's fantastic annual H.P. Lovecraft month, which I never fail to enjoy). I like Lovecraft's work a lot, especially for the time it was written. There is some deeply troubling racism, extreme even for the time, but there's also a dab hand at the horror of the unseen that I really enjoy. When viewed as one among many (and if you're able to muscle past the distasteful elements in some stories- and I don't hold it against anyone who can't), I think he's fun and his cosmic horror really adds something to the conversation- but it's a conversation that also deserves to involve people like Shirley Jackson, Jorge Luis Borges, Kafka... the whole panoply of the surreal and horrific.

And I think for an unfortunate segment of the population, it doesn't.

I didn't realize until Nnedi Okorafor mentioned it, that the world fantasy award is a bust of his head, which feels like it has to be kind of a kick in the jaw to a lot of the writers working nowadays, whom old H. P. would have considered concentrated horror just by virtue of them, you know, being.

(It's probably worth noting that most everything said here about Lovecraft with relation to genre could also be applied to J. R. R. Tolkien (minus the, you know, overt insane racism). He's one of my first and dearest, but he's not the whole genre.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Hardest Poems

Amal El-Mohtar talks a little bit about writing and revising poetry. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jake Kerr on Massive Editing

Inkpunks is a good place anyway, and one that I've recommended before, but if you haven't seen Jake Kerr talk about editing The Old Equations you really should check it out

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mooks

I've been working lately on an adventure story, and I'd like to spend a moment talking about mooks, henchmen, and storm troopers.

As I get older, I'm less and less able to watch or read violence directed at undifferentiated hordes of evil people, often monstrous or anonymous, made up of some genetically evil stock or just wearing face masks that render them human shaped but not quite human. Or rather, I'm able to read it, but I'm far less able to accept that the people doing the killing are heroes.

As a side note, I find I'm less able to watch horrific violence in general- bones snapping, people's heads being turned around backwards, even just punches to the face that, when I was a child, were just so much expected material in action movies and action fiction for me- except with the caveat that it's presented as horrific. I love reading horror and watching flesh get peeled back, slow deliberate cuts, whatever, so long as the feeling that all of this is terribly wrong is what it feels like the author is trying to convey (I feel like there's a distinct difference between violence as horror and the kind of gross out torture-porn...I don't want to call it a subgenre. Let's call it a tradition).

A friend of mine has written a novel that starts with a person hypnotizing an old man in order to steal a sacred artifact. In her mind, this character is obviously a villain, but her first readers were taking him as the hero- probably in part because of his position in the narrative, but I think it's not negligible that this is adventure fiction, and we're not at all surprised when the "good" people have murdered five unnamed people in the first ten pages.

I'm not trying to make any grand statement about it really, it's a personal preference thing for me and it flies in the face of genre convention, but I can't help thinking that all these palace guards, policemen, members of the army, tribes of foreigners- to the extent that this world the book is building for me is believable and real, they are also real people. They have mothers and husbands and a favorite icecream, even if I don't know what it is. There's a chance they petted a kitten on the way to work today, where they're trying to save up money to buy that dream house for the person they love. They're not even going to get described. They don't merit a line of dialogue. They're just going to die a largely unnecessary death to show that the hero is a badass before some more narratively important villain comes to face them.

I dunno. Maybe that's defaulting too much to giving people the benefit of the doubt, but if you're working on the assumption that most people probably deserve to die for something... well then what's the point of saving the village, or for that matter saving the hero?

So, yeah. Mooks. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Best Book Brackets

Huffington Post is doing a bracket book off for greatest work of literature ever. Go vote. Have fun. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Literary Stories Go Wrong

There's probably not a lot you haven't heard before in this article, but it's articulate and well arranged, and cast a few things into sharper light for me. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Identity

This one isn't actually politics, today I'm talking about identity as a writer.

For a really long time, I would correct people who referred to me as a "writer". I would say instead that I write, which ultimately seems pretty empty and semantic, but I did it for the same reasons I refused to refer to myself as an artist: I'd known a lot of people who produced next to nothing, but loudly defended themselves as "writers" and "artists", largely (it seemed to me) as a way to claim some sort of status prize and have an excuse for how they were terribly sensitive people and no one understood them and they didn't have to show up on time for anything because they were artistic. I didn't want to be like these people. I also didn't feel- honestly I still don't feel- like I'd had enough success to make the claim. I've had a handful of publications and I certainly couldn't live off my writing. I also haven't produced anything that feels groundbreaking or clever enough to have someone look at it and go "man! that person is really an artist!" It's an aspiration, but I don't really feel like I'm there yet. More work is needed.

I've stopped correcting people. It's less because my reasons have changed, and more because the number of people who refer to me as a writer now has gotten large enough that it's more of a bother than anything else. And slowly, as I've stopped correcting people, I've started embracing embracing the label as something that actually is mine.

I don't really know how I feel about it.

On the one hand, I'm better than I was, and considering myself a writer seems to establish for me a demand of minimum performance- pressure to maintain rather than aspiration. There's no real reason "artist" ought to be tied to "flake" in my mind (that "artist" always has quotes around it. I certainly have people I'm in awe of as actual artists)- that's really handing power for the definition over to people whose opinion I don't respect in the first place.

On the other, well everything I said before, and the fact that I don't want to come off as pretentious. I'm still pretty quiet about the whole writing business except in situations that are specifically about writing. People don't believe me when I say I'm shy, but it's really something I'm not sure how to talk about. I tend to find it easier just to divert the conversation back to something where people won't feel they're offending me if they're not actually interested, or if something I've written is upsetting or offensive to them.

I don't really know where I'm going with this. The internet is the circle where I'm out of the closet- the rest of my life is often the circle where I try not to make a big deal about it. It's just one of the things I am, and often not the one that relates to the people I'm talking to.

And I've had more than one person tell me that makes them feel I'm shutting them out.

So, yeah. Identity. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quick! Save the Pearls!

So when Weird Tales posted an editorial this morning about how a book where black people had taken over the world (and dystopianized it) and were hunting down a white minority (from whence came the heroes) was totally anti-racist, I assumed it was a joke and moved on. Apparently it's not (here's a fun breakdown of the book and why it's kind of a problem), and Ann VanderMeer has left effective today. NK Jemisin is also putting up her story that ran under the VanderMeers for free, so that you don't have to buy any back issues of Weird Tales to get to it.

Edited to Add: And io9 is saying they're facing a boycott. Man this happens fast. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Murderpedia!

No, seriously. Murderpedia. The Encyclopedia of Murders.