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Posts Tagged ‘Bookery’

What Came Out In 2017 (AKA: Here’s What’s Eligible This Awards Season)

As the awards ballots start to go out, I’m getting some questions from folks about which work of mine is eligible this year in various categories. Since I have “first publication” on so many stories via Patreon, it can be a little confusing.

For instance “When We Fall” was FIRST published in 2017, but only appeared publicly in January of 2018. This means it’s eligible for this, the 2017 awards cycle, and not the 2018.

Make… sense?

Here’s a handy list:

Eligible for Best Fancast

GET TO WORK HURLEY

Eligible for Short Story Noms

When We Fall 

The Fisherman and the Pig

The Hysteria of Anson U.

Obsidian

The Madness of Memory

Godspeaker

Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial (will appear in Amazing Stories)

The One We Feed

Eligible for Novelette Noms

Crossroads at Jannah (will appear in Apocalypse Nyx)

Paint it Red (will appear In Apocalypse Nyx)

Garda (will appear on B&N SFF blog in Feb, 18)

The Sinners And The Sea

Eligible for Novella Noms

N/A

Eligible for Novel Noms:

THE STARS ARE LEGION (edited by Joe Monti)

Go forth and enjoy award-nomination season!

Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse: Featuring Nyx

Good morning, dystopic peeps!

GOD’S WAR, the first book of the Bel Dame Apocrypha/God’s War Trilogy has been out of print since late last year. The publisher is re-issuing the books in mmp with updated, streamlined covers – just in time for the launch of the new story collection, Apocalypse Nyx!

Because Nyx really is the hero we need right now.

Yes, 2018 is THE YEAR OF ALL THINGS NYX, MY FRIENDS. REJOICE.

Tentative re-issue schedule:

GOD’S WAR: May, 2018

APOCALYPSE NYX: July, 2018

 

INFIDEL: September, 2018

RAPTURE: November, 2018

 

 

Get ready! (I am!)

 

 

Hurley Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Howdy folks! Well, it’s that time of year again, where we take a look at our TBR stacks and think, “Wow! I sure could use more books!”

If you’re hungering for some adventuresome reads that are just a darn good time – perfect for others for the holidays or just need to spend those Amazon/B&N gift cards, I have some recommendations for you…

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Meet Murderbot, the robot soldier that’s broken loose of its programming protocol because all it REALLY wants to do is watch a lot of soap operas. Life, of course, has other plans, and Murderbot may be among my very favorite robots, ever. There’s mystery! Intrigue! Battles! Explosions! Robots! and much, much more. Read the first and pre-order the rest (I sure did)

The Starfire Trilogy by Spencer Ellsworth

Loved the pulpy zippy genocidal fun of Star Wars? If you love gooey space opera, you will adore this wonderfully science-fantasy space opera mashup covering what happens when the Resistance becomes the Empire. Bonus points for Bugs in Space! Chosen Ones! Memory-Stealing Swords! Rail Guns!

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book that made me feel as if the author had crawled into my skin and poured all of my secrets onto the page. This is an astounding work that deals with both the social and bodily experience of being stuffed into the “woman” box at birth in our society. Machado’s approach has been called “fairytale” and I suppose that’s good for the lit mags, but it is, frankly, good old genre body horror at times, creepy and emotionally raw and so true to so many women’s life experiences that reading it felt like getting gutted with a knife. I mean, in a good way. I’m exceptionally pleased that this book has received so much praise and so many accolades. It deserves every one.

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

I love reading about bugs. I know, big surprise. Combine genetically engineered killer bugs with an anxiety-filled CIA-consultant raised by preppers and yes, friends, I was hooked. Bonus points for Elon Musk-lite, Hawaiian villain lairs, and so. many.bugs.

 

 

Books I’ve Pre-Ordered (& You Should Too)

The world is a shitshow, my friends, and we have lots of work to do (5calls.org can get you started). But all work and no escape will burn us out, and we’re on a long road. So let’s talk books. Pre-ordering books is always great, but now it’s even better, as when you pre-order you get little escapist surprises in the mail, regularly. And we all need those.

So here’s a look at the books that have intrigued me so much here in 2017 that I’ve already hit the buy button:

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (January 31)

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must uncover which of them is the murderer — before they kill again.

I mean, I’ve been waiting for this one since Lafferty sold it and told me the pitch. How can you put that down? I mean, you gotta know what happens next. And if you pre-order today, you wont’ have to wait long, because it’s out TOMORROW!~

Grab it, folks.

 

Amberlough By Lara Elena Donnelly  (Feb 7th)

Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, especially from Aristide Makricosta. They suit each other: Aristide turns a blind eye to Cyril’s clandestine affairs, and Cyril keeps his lover’s moonlighting job as a smuggler under wraps. A debut spy thriller as a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup. Trust no one with anything – especially in Amberlough City.

Been hearing a LOT about this one, and it looks simply luscious. It comes out the same day at The Stars are Legion which is… in one week. DEAR LORD. HOW WILL WE LIVE.

 

Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames (Feb 21)

Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.  It’s time to get the band back together.

Something that looks a little light and fun, in an epic sword-slinging way. Now I need to write a gender flipped version.

 

American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad (April 4)

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war.

How could I not pre-order this with a description like that? Even if “second American Civil War” is likely closer to 2020 on this timeline that 2074. I’m glad they got this out.

 

Borne: A Novel (April 25)

In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company?a biotech firm now derelict?and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.

 

 

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by [Wells, Martha]All Systems Red by March Wells (May 5th)

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ? a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Martha Wells is one of the most masterful and under-read worldspinners in the genre, and pretty much everything she writes is an auto-buy for me.

 

City of Miracles by Robert J. Bennett (May 7th)

There are some maybe spoilers in the copy of this one (read it just now and legit put my hand over my heart), so suffice to say: this is the third and final book in Bennett’s excellent Divine Cities trilogy. Having loved the other two, this was an easy pre-order decision.

 

 

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden (June 13)

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges: A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .An emerging AI uprising . . .

I bought this on the strength of the cover and blurb, but then also went and bought a collection of Drayden’s stories to make sure I liked her style. And lo, it was good, and I’m seriously looking forward to this one.

 

 

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (June 27th)

A generations-spanning family of psychics–both blessed and burdened by their abilities–must use their powers to save themselves from the CIA, the local mafia, and a skeptic hell-bent on discrediting them in this hilarious, tender, magical novel about the invisible forces that bind us.

I got addicted to a show on Hulu called Shut Eye, which is about families of warring fortune tellers and psychics, one of whom actually gets real psychic powers. Really interested to check out this book from Gregory, which inspired a heated bidding war at publishing houses.

 

P.S. I’ve also read River of Teeth, and if I didn’t already own it, I’d be pre-ordering it. It’s a great read, which I blurbed, even!

Fresh Fiction: Hammers on Bone

In March of this year I got a DM from Cassandra Khaw asking if I’d take a look at her novella, Hammers on Bone. I get a lot of blurb requests these days, so stuff really needs to hit my buttons to keep me reading. I am a fan of Khaw’s short fiction (there’s plenty to check out, but here’s “Breathe” and “When We Die on Mars“) and she was first on my Campbell nomination list this year.

Khaw’s fiction runs the gammit of science fiction, fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, and weird. Hammers on Bone is a creepy Lovecraftian urban fantasy weird (?) novella that I read all in one gulp poolside in Orlando (some TW’s for violence against women). As I am short on time these days, I will simply share the blurb I wrote with you, and urge you all to check it out:

Cassandra Khaw’s explosive, evocative prose is a treat to read. Khaw’s ability to transform the mundane into the deeply phantasmagorical is nothing short of magical. Prepare to take a long leap into the gory, the weird, and the fantastic in the hands of a fresh new voice in fiction.

Enjoy!

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More Books I Have Been Reading

When you find yourself casting about for ideas, it means it’s time to refill the bucket. So I have been. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I’ve been reading the last few weeks.

Writing How-To’s

I Give You My Body: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon

51swfw1xiul-_sy346_As those who’ve read my work know, while I do have the occasional sex scene in my novels, it’s generally only a few lines. My books aren’t romances, so this isn’t something I’ll dwell on for pages, but sex is still an important thing to my characters, and I have wanted to have more emotional turning points in the bedroom (or wherever) than I have. I’ve read a few primers on writing sex scenes, but this was the first I’ve read that I actually found useful. Gabaldon’s note that the more senses you can engage in a scene, the more tactile it becomes was a really helpful and practical way to think about these scenes.

 

Take off Your Pants: Outline your books for faster, better writing

5100lvz-oql-_sy346_This was NOT about writing sex scenes, of course, but novel outlines and creating master plots so that you can write faster, more efficiently, and of course, write better page turners. Unlike 2K to 10k, it didn’t really change my life or anything, but it provided some good outline suggestions (and noted, once again, that if you’re REALLY interested in structure, head over to those screenwriting books. Screenwriters are obsessed with structure). I wouldn’t pay for a paperback of this, but three bucks for it on Kindle is fair (it’s only 100 pages).

 

Book Research

Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

51nmwmxnxtl-_sx328_bo1204203200_This was one of those books that fundamentally changed how I view the world. Seanan McGuire recommended it to me on Twitter, and I AM SO GLAD. I’ve become very interested in how tied humans are to the organic systems here on earth. We need bacteria from this planet, something that we need to keep in mind if we choose to leave said planet. This book goes a step further and posits that we need those wormy parasites, too, and that many of them, in fact, have been integral to our own development. I’d read a lot of other studies about hookworms curing or reducing the symptoms of chronic immune disorders like lupus and type 1 diabetes, and this book points out that the rise of immuno-disorders like these can indeed be tracked to the elimination of parasites. As the parasites are destroyed, these types of diseases increase. So do allergies. Our immune systems are incredibly powerful, because they have been driven by parasites to become that way. So when you remove the parasites, they are more likely to go haywire and start attacking the body itself. Introduce some worms, and the chemicals that the worms put out suppress your immune system. All this time I thought my problem was I had a shit immune system. It turns out it’s actually very good. So good that it’s trying to kill me. If you want to bend the way you think of humans and how “great” the miracle of life is in the world, check out this book. Halfway through reading about all the terrible things parasites do to animals and people, I decided that it was totally OK for life everywhere to go extinct and all these barren rocks are actually the pinnacle of civilized existence, because for fuck’s sake, life is fucking CRUEL AND AWFUL. I mean, in a fascinating way.

Grunt by Mary Roach

41snvmsomkl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Because I clearly can’t get enough Mary Roach books, I also read Grunt, her examination of some of the less talked about and less glamorous sides of the military. Lots of interesting details here about sleeping, eating, and shitting on a military campaign, and the bazillions of dollars in wild studies that go on (polar bears think used tampons are delicious, but other bears aren’t interested, so hey, don’t run around naked in Alaska while menstruating. Read and find out!).  There is plenty of heartbreak in here, as well. The roundtable of medical professionals who go over the deaths of soldiers in the field and point out how they could have been better treated on the field so that they survived their injuries was sobering.

 

Death’s Acre: Inside the legendary forensic lab the body farm where the dead do tell tales by William Bass

41z4p5lu2fl-_sx324_bo1204203200_I’ve heard about The Body Farm on Bones, of course, so I had to check out this book. It’s a great long look at this life of forensic anthropologist William Bass, who got started doing forensic anthropology back in the 50’s before there really was such a thing. There are some shocking truths here, among them that he and his team spent many summers in the 50’s digging up, literally, thousands of Native American graves before they were covered by water by a dam project. How they find the cemeteries is interesting, and the science is cool, but we’re talking about cemetaries that really aren’t that old, belonging to ancestors of people still alive, and the sheer number here was staggering. What I did appreciate is that he does not look away from these terrible truths of how forensic science was developed. The bodies of the poor, of slaves, of those with less power in society, had their skeletons pulled. For years the body farm actually used corpses from the local morgue of poor people whose bodies were never claimed by anyone. I mean. Wow. This is a wide-eyed look at what has been done to advance forensic science, dark and gray and everything in between. It doesn’t pretend it’s not messy and morally messed up.

The Red Market: On the trail of the world’s organ brokers, bone thieves, blood farmers, and child traffikers by Scott Carney

51low0njnql-_sy346_So, with Death’s Acre, the narrator dug up thousands of Native American graves. That’s… pretty atrocious, despite how “great” it was for “science.” He also sticks to a lot of assumptions about skeletons and race while admitting that actually a lot of those markers can be wrong. But he was not, overall, painted as an unlikable person, if that makes any sense whatsoever. At the end of the day, I respected what he did and found plenty of other admirable things about him. That’s not true of the narrator of this book, who came across like a privileged whiny white kid shocked SHOCKED at the state of the “third world.” A lot of stuff here that got presented felt like rumor mongering. He didn’t question many of the reports, and appeared to do a very small surface level of actual reporting. The book has a great title, but I wouldn’t say it presented anything new, to me. Worse, it starts out with him giving us this personal story of how one of the young people he was leading as a tour/teaching guide committed suicide in a foreign country, and his narrative about it is so self-reflective, so narcissistic (and creepily sexualizes her in death) that it was really tough to get through the rest of the book with this guy as my guide. It’s got a great title and cover, tho. So, there’s that.

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Francis Larson

61e-odigl6l-_sy346_Another book I was recommended via twitter and yeah, wow, this one is great. If you ever doubted that Europeans were bloody weird scary conquering nutjobs, this book will put you straight. I read an amazing book back when I was working on my Master’s thesis called Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa, which talks about all the seemingly “crazy” myths about Europeans that many Africans in the Congo in particular had about Europeans. That they were vampires, that they kidnapped people for their blood, and all sorts of other stuff, and you know, after reading about Europeans actually did in Africa, this shit is not crazy at all. Not in the least. Horrible shit went down. This one also points out how seemingly “barbaric” practices like headhunting were actually driven by European demand (much like scalping). The human obsession with heads across many cultures is explored, and it’s grim and gruesome. For instance, did you know that American GI’s took home Japanese soldiers’ heads in WWII as trophies? You know whose heads they DIDN’T take home? Nazi heads. Why? Racism. This, too, is explored in depth.

Life Hacks

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

514fkvz8z9l-_sx361_bo1204203200_This is a classic Godin book with some outdated examples and such, but the premise of the book still holds up. No matter what business your in, the market is most likely oversaturated. As an author writing in a world clogged with trad and self-pubb’d books, and movies and games and TV and social media and VR fighting for people’s attention, getting eyes on your project is a fucking struggle these days. Godin notes that if you want to stand out, you need to offer something truly and absolutely exceptional. You need to come up with a purple cow. Figuring out what your purple cow is, of course, is the problem. Worse is figuring out how to come up with the NEXT purple cow once everyone else is making purple cows like yours. The gosh-wow treadmill we’re on these days makes me wish I could have built a writing career back in the 80’s.

Stop Saying You’re Fine by Mel Robbins

51bdmtwyrl-_sx322_bo1204203200_One of those self-help books for folks feeling stuck in a life rut. Am I in a life rut? Well, I’ve certainly been cruising along here for five years or so without a lot of massive leaps in forward momentum. My career is ticking up, but slowly, so slowly, the long author marathon, and sometimes it moves forward so slowly so sure do FEEL like you’re standing still. Some good ass-kicking here, some strategies. It did get me to finally institute my sticker motivation calendar. Baby steps.

 

Fiction

Elektrograd: Rusted Blood by Warren Ellis

41qqumeoovlSome good Weird fiction. Don’t expect to get pulled in by the vague plot or enticed by the interesting characters, but gosh-wow worldbuilding, etc. The apartment blocks are these living things that get up and move. Took me a bit to get through, but… worldbuildling.

 

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

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I read this one in… like, two days? It was a surprisingly light, easy read from Mamatas, which was not quite what I expected. A murder goes down at a Lovecraft convention, so you’ve got a murder mystery to drive the “plot,” but the book is mostly an excuse to poke fun at the convention community as a whole. Having been to my fair share of conventions now, I recognize all of these types (there is a disclaimer in LARGE LETTERS at the front of the book insisting that these are all fictional characters, but you know…), and I admit to rolling with laughter at many scenes, especially the ones of panels (“But I AM the moderator!”) because it was a lot like being there. There’s a lot of in-jokes and nods to real SFF controversies. My main issue with the book was that I couldn’t figure out the protagonist’s motivation to solve the murder (and the police weren’t terribly convincing, but hey, Cthulu’s influence can work as an excuse for everything). As a newcomer to the convention scene who barely knew the guy who gets killed, she does things that make sense for the plot, but I never figured out her personal stakes. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter. It was a breezy popcorn read, which I admit is not something I ever thought I’d say about a Mamatas book. My spouse eagerly grabbed this from me after I was done, and I think he’ll enjoy it as well. This was published by Night Shade Books, who I hate supporting because they still owe me a shitbrick of money, but it was a fun book.

What I’ve Been Reading: The Nonfiction Edition

The last month or so has been a non-stop glut of nonfiction reading. My creative bucket has been a little low of late, which signaled to me that it was time to get back to work. I’ve also been spending less time on Twitter, which has indeed helped me up my reading time. Reading is, as ever, a crucial part of being a writer, whether it’s nonfiction reading like this to refill the idea bucket or fiction reading to study for craft purposes.

Stiff by Mary Roach

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Easily the most interesting and entertaining of the Mary Roach books I devoured, this exploration of what we do with all those cadavers donated for research was fascinating. I immediately texted my mom and said her and my sister should read this one, to which she responded that they already had. Which tells you something about how interests in the macabre run in our family. What I love about Roach is her wholly curious and inquisitive nature. Her passion for subjects is impressive. The humor is just an added bonus. While what we do with the dead was interesting, even more interesting were the questions she had for those researchers, students, and doctors who engaged with them as part of their work. I’m profoundly interested in what makes us human, how we determine human from not-human, and how we psychologically distance ourselves from this type of work, so I found this fascinating.

 

 

 

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

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It’s the unsexy side of space that you always wondered about but never uncovered, all in one book. How do people poop in space? How do we study the effects of weightlessness on earth? Who comes up with all those disgusting space foods? Did astronaut ice cream ever really get eaten in space? Great dive into the gooey junk that makes it so difficult to put people in space at all, let alone for the long-term. Tons to chew on here for science fiction writers like me looking to create great galactic empires flitting between the stars. Once again, our juicy human-ness gets in the way, and we’ll need to start tackling issues such as bone loss, bacteria, and vision issues associated with long stints in space if we want to continue exploring the stars.

 

 

 

Gulp by Mary Roach

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If you’ve read any of my fiction, you know I’m fascinated by all the messy guts that make us human. After reading a lot of these Roach books, I suspect she is too. In Gulp, Roach takes us on a tour of the long and twisted journey food takes from our mouths all the way back out again through our butts, and all the stuff that goes right – and wrong – in between. Tidbits here include the fact that Elvis probably died because he had an enlarged colon, you can put about three gallons of food in your stomach until it bursts (typically – food competitors get their own assessment) – and other fun facts to amaze your friends and colleagues… and readers.

 

 

 

 

Spook by Mary Roach

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This was the weakest of the Roach books, for me, largely because it wasn’t hitting the sweet spot of my interests the same way (which is to say, still better than most other books, but I read those other two first), with an exploration of the evidence for life after death. Though I did get a very good Nyx novella story idea out of this, and found myself shocked that 19th century mediums could pass off muslin cloth as “ectoplasm” which they hid in their vaginas (I will certainly be using THAT somewhere too), it was not as rollicking a read as the others. Still, lots of interesting tidbits for writers looking to fill buckets.

 

 

 

Grit by Angela Duckworth

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Why do some people succeed and others fail? (OK, once you take out money and support networks, which are influenced by sexism and racism, etc. out of the equation, because this is America, not an actual equal society). One of the most interesting things to see in writing circles is who is still writing twenty years after their debut novel comes out. And, of course, before that: who from the Clarion Writing Workshop is still writing twenty years after Clarion, or who among your friends actually became the doctor or lawyer they aspired to be in childhood. The difference between those who persevere and those who drop out tends to be a matter of grit, which Duckworth not only quantifies here but teachers others how to cultivate. So if you’re worried you’re not gritty enough to succeed at what you’re passionate about, check this one out for tips. I pretty much found myself nodding along the whole time to this, because for some reason I had that type of personality to start, though I certainly have cultivated it throughout years of slog and failure.

 

 

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova

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Why do we fall for scam artists? From the guy at the corner playing the ball and cup game to the guy in the suit offering you an “amazing” investment opportunity, there are common tricks that scammers use to keep you unbalanced and ripe for scamming, and common psychological reasons that we continue to fall for it while convincing ourselves we didn’t. If you’ve ever watched the show Leverage (about a group of thieves and con artists who do good), you’ll recognize a lot of the plays here, and get more in-depth details about the art of the con. Great stuff. I picked up lots of ideas for another project I’m working on.

 

 

 

 

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

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I’ve been having some real trouble with procrastination, which seems to be getting worse the more I have to do (I got the opportunity to write a script recently and was like SURE I CAN DO THIS INSTEAD OF THIS DAMN BOOK THAT’S DUE IN A COUPLE MONTHS BECAUSE WHY NOT). Jaye Wells recommended this one on Twitter. Worries about critical acclaim and perfectionism are actually just forms of procrastination (and very effective ones at that). This book offers some strategies, which mostly come down to unfucking your brain and thinking about things in new ways and (wait for it) DOING THE WORK. Much of what holds us back from creating in creative fields is indeed our own brains, though, so it’s worth learning how to think differently so you can push through. That said, again, the real trick is: doing the work. Most of these strategies are about finding different ways to think about doing the work so you can tackle it.

 

 

 

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday 

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I found Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, to be a sobering and entertaining read, and though it made me kind of hate him as a person (I may be in marketing, but the sort of deceptive tactics he lays down here are way over my moral line), I found it interesting. In this one, Holiday is not such an unlikable personality, as he talks less about himself and more about other people who have encountered obstacles and reframed them not as stuff stopping them, but challenges that could help them move on to the next stage in their careers. Another good book to help you unfuck the way you think about life.

 

 

 

 

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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Clearly you can sense a theme here in my nonfiction reading. This one tackles the idea that we are at our best when we have large chunks of uninterrupted time. Clearly I know this works for me, what with my preference for cabin getaways where there’s no wifi and binge-writing Saturdays at the coffee shop. Newport gets into the weeds about how distraction is not only bad for us generally, but especially bad in this particular economy when it’s advanced skills, creativity, and frankly, being among the best at what you do that is going to get you ahead. There are no more manufacturing jobs with pensions or bus drivers who can retire with a million in assets (yes, my great grandfather did this. Yes, as a BUS DRIVER with amazing benefits and pension. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE). And to be the best, and to cultivate difficult skills, what we need are periods of intense, distraction-free time where we can actually do the work we must do to get there. Some have heard me say that my goal here as a writer is to be the absolute best at what I do, and that is no bullshit. But to get there I need to find ways to do more high quality work. I’ve been struggling a lot with my productivity lately, and it does all seem to come back to increasing fragmentation. One should not start one’s day reading Twitter, however much it feels like “reading the news” and “being informed.” In truth, it’s just a distraction, and I should be bundling up Twitter time for myself into 15-20 minute blocks once or MAYBE twice a day. So, I’m working on that. My mornings in particular have become lost causes for productivity, in part because that was the habit I got into when our dog was sick. My whole morning was taken up with caring for him instead of working on novel-related tasks, or with work interrupted by his care, and I just couldn’t get anything done. Now I’m working to get that morning productivity back, where I can write posts like this one, work on copy edits, tackle email and contracts, and all those other things I’m super behind on instead of doing those during my “writing” time. This book is good not only for reminding my of how important deep work is to me, but also for considering strategies to encourage it.

The Establishment Has Always Hated the New Kids

 

“I hope that when the New Wave has deposited its froth and receded, the vast and solid shore of science fiction will appear once more.” 

John W. Campbell, frothing about the New Wave

If you spend a lot of time studying history, you’ll know that it helps to put the slings and arrows of the present into perspective. If you’ve been reading science fiction for the last ten or twenty years, you have likely noticed a certain shift in the field the last couple of years. A certain… bump in the level of its quality, particularly at the prose level. There are some award-winning stories from the last decade that I could poke fun at here for their cardboard characters and clunky prose, but on the whole the shift we are seeing in the science fiction and fantasy field is exciting. So exciting, in fact, that if you love great sff books, as I do, it’s impossible to keep up with all the great stuff out there.

About a decade ago, the worlds that I really enjoyed in books were marginal. They were stuffed into the New Weird category for a time, which we all soon learned wasn’t a genre at all. China Mieville was the genre, and the New Weird was a blip. Those experiments with prose and gooey weirdness got subsumed completely by the publishing meltdown in 2008, when editors and authors found their livelihoods lost, and fear sent publishers back to the basics. Many books got the ax, including my first novel, before they could even see the light of day. The field turned inward, betting on solid hits, easy to read prose, simple styles, proven genres.

There were those of us who kept writing, though. There were writers there pushing for more diverse work, less easy to define, and they were publishing slowly but surely, folks like N.K. Jemisin and Tobias Buckell and David Anthony Durham. Daniel Abraham put out a lovely but alas, far ahead of its time series called The Longprice Quartet that was fairly masterful.  Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor continued to publish and inspire writers coming up after them. While we fought and continue to fight about what science fiction is and who should be writing it, a lot of people are just fucking out there writing it already, and go fuck yourself for trying to put us in a box.

Though there has been momentum building for some time, a backlash against the backlash, I’d say it wasn’t until about 2013 when publishing started to catch up. Ann Leckie wrote a space opera (a woman wrote a space opera! With women in it! AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT SHOCKING I KNOW AS IF NO ONE HAD BOUGHT LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS OR ANYTHING BY CJ CHERRYH OR OCTAVIA BUTLER), and it swept the awards. We Need Diverse Books was able to organize the conversation about the overwhelming whiteness of publishing, bringing together disparate voices into one voice crying out for change in who writes, edits, and publishes books, while the first Muslim Ms. Marvel comic book (written by a Muslim, even!) broke sales records.

The water has been building up behind the damn for a long time, and it’s finally burst.

Watching the pushback to this new wave of writers finally breaking out from the margins to the mainstream has been especially amusing for me, as I spent my early 20’s doing a lot of old-school SF reading, including reading SFF history (I will always think of Justine Larbalestier as the author of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction). I was, of course, especially interested in the history of feminist science fiction. Women have always written SFF, of course, but the New Wave of the 60’s and 70’s brought with it an influx of women writers of all races and men of color that was unprecedented in the field (if still small compared to the overall general population of said writers in America). This was the age of Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Sam Delany, and nutty young upstarts like Harlan Ellison. These writers brought a much needed and refreshing new perspective into the field. They raised the bar for what science fiction was. And so the writing got better. The politics and social mores being dissected got more interesting and varied, as one would expect when you introduce a great wave of writers into a field that was happy to award the same handful of folks year after year. They shook up the field. They changed science fiction forever. The established pros had to write their hearts out to catch up.

And clearly, as the Campbell quote above illustrates, not everybody liked them. They hated all these different viewpoints, all these upstarts, all this young energy from these literary backgrounds. As far as they were concerned, the New Wave was ruining science fiction. 

In fact, what history has shown, and what we see on looking back, is that – if anything – the New Wave saved science fiction. It saved it from obscurity, from the endless circle-jerk, from the literary and social margins where it seemed content to argue with itself, and wither, and die. These talented and passionate new writers forced established writers to up their game. They raised the bar.

Here’s what Ursula Le Guin said about the New Wave:

Without in the least dismissing or belittling earlier writers and work, I think it is fair to say that science fiction changed around 1960, and that the change tended toward an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing. The sixties in science fiction were an exciting period for both established and new writers and readers. All the doors seemed to be opening.

It was this bit, here: “All the doors seemed to be opening” that I was thinking about while at the Nebula Awards weekend in Chicago. Here were these astonishingly talented authors entering the field, young and old, yes, but fresh to the field, with new perspectives, incredible talent, and alternate ways of looking at the world. I read Cassandra Khaw’s short story “Breathe” this morning and shook my head at how wonderfully it experimented with language for effect (and achieved it! Nailed it!). There are a dozen stories that wowed me recently that I could just go on and on about. I read The Fifth Season in awe at its technical brilliance, and found that when I sat with my Hugo ballot this year that I’d read so many great books that narrowing it down was actually difficult for me for the first time.

There is, in fact, so much exceptional work out there right now that I find I can’t keep up. We’ve come a long way from the whale rape story, is what I’m saying. Because while there has always been great work, it was a lot harder to find ten years ago, as much of it was coming out in chapbooks and small press editions and stuff like the then-obscure, scrappy little magazine called Strange Horizons. But today, publishers are taking a few more chances, and then a few more, and a few more… and this change is led, more and more, by readers as well as writers.

We are inside a new wave, folks. And it’s amazing.

This is an incredible time to be writing speculative fiction. It is an incredible time to be in the field. And while I understand how it’s easy to get riled up by slap fights and naysayers and racists and extremists who will hate every New Wave in whatever form it takes, stop and take a breath for a moment and look around you. Because the wave doesn’t last forever. The wave washes over a genre and transforms it utterly, but you can only ride the peak of it for so long.

Enjoy that view from the peak.

This is the Dystopia We’ve Built: The United States of Japan

TW for discussion of physical abuse

My grandparents met in France during World War II. My grandfather, whose German family had emigrated to America just a generation or two before, found himself part of the force that liberated France from Nazi occupation. Like many GI’s, my grandfather did not talk much about the war. Mostly he talked about meeting my grandmother, and how he spoke very little French, and she spoke no English.

But what I gleaned over the years is that one of his primary jobs in Europe after the war was driving the trucks that hauled out the bodies from concentration camps. I am not a fan of my grandfather – he was a petty tyrant, probably with a host of untreated issues related to the war that I can sympathize with in retrospect, but in practice, he was mean and abusive and I didn’t cry when he died. My grandmother looked after me and my sister and brother and my older cousin during the week while our parents worked. My parents would get us up so early that we’d still be huddling in our pajamas in the car on the way to grandma’s house so they could get to work on time. My parents would pick us up around six every night with just enough time for dinner and bed by the time we got home. This went on until I was twelve, and legally old enough to stay home and watch my siblings. Until then, my grandparents’ house was our second home.

peter_tieryas_the_united_states_of_japan_by_alternatehistorian-d986jlsBut as many families know, not all homes are happy all the time, and though I had, overall, a fabulous childhood, warm memories do not erase the bad stuff that would go down there sometimes: I remember the searing red imprint of my grandfather’s hand on my little brother’s thigh, from when he smacked my brother so hard that my brother ran away, screaming, for several blocks before my grandfather caught him; the day my grandfather pushed my cousin down the stairs and took me by the hair and slammed by head against the wall; my grandfather dragging my brother, shrieking, out from under the Christmas tree where he was trying to hide from my grandfather’s wrath. My older male cousin, and my little brother, as he got older, got the worst of the physical abuse, which was not constant, certainly, but it was always a looming threat; a possibility. The stories my father told me were of far worse abuses, verbal and physical, that my grandfather had meted out when he was a younger man with five children to feed on a military salary. It’s a wonder my dad turned out to be the World’s Greatest Dad with that upbringing, but as his three older sisters are always quick to point out, my grandfather was so happy to have a son after three daughters that despite the occasional explosive outburst of physical abuse, my dad was showered with praise and expectations while they were called whores and sluts.

And it made a very big difference in how they all went out into the world. But that’s a story for another time.

My grandfather, like all people, was not, however, the cartoon villain from some badly written story. I have some happy memories of being out in the garden with him, weeding, even if he did constantly deposit worms in my pockets to make me scream in terror. When his dog ended up having a litter of puppies that rotted inside of her, and had to undergo major surgery and couldn’t go outside to relieve herself for weeks, he and my dad rolled her onto a plywood board and took her outside to relieve herself, putting in the weeks and weeks of recovery time required instead of putting her down. He went to church, and paid his $100 to the Catholic church every month no matter how poor they were, to secure a place in Heaven. He had a deep fondness for processed American cheese slices, which he would offer up and I would devour, most likely leading to my positive associations with processed cheeses of every sort. Yet when I try to think of other positive memories of my grandfather, what strikes me most is how few I have. For the most part living with my grandfather was like living with a large bear. Most of the time the bear is sleeping – literally in the case of my grandfather, who, after retiring from the military, worked as a night security guard at a bank – but every once in a while, the bear wakes up. And you’re never sure what the bear is going to do. It might go out weeding in the garden with you, or throw you down the stairs. You just never knew.

That was always the worst part, the not-knowing.

None of us are all bad, or all good. I’d argue that this is what makes it so difficult to leave abusive people, because they are never 100% awful all the time. Just like our lives, our jobs, our countries. It’s very rarely a constant shit-fest. This is what can make it so difficult to change it. Oppressive societies and governments, in particular, are like living with that large, unpredictable bear.

It’s this understanding, that we are all a little bit the hero and a little bit the villain, that The United States of Japan understands and illustrates so well. It’s this awareness of itself, and of the current state of America, and what America could be, that makes both this and the Amazon series for The Man in the High Castle such important reads right now. We have built a dystopia in which we live with the bear, now, here in America. Would the USJ be so different?

The United States of Japan opens with the Japanese liberating the US internment camps where we kept tens of thousands of Japanese Americans prisoner for years during the war. I could tell this bit was added later because, admittedly, the prose is a little clunky and ham-handed here. I almost stopped reading the book. But the idea was so compelling that I kept going to see what Tieryas would do with it. This was an important reframing of how we are taught about World War II in this country, and USJ asks the tough question: What if the Japanese were seen as the liberators, here in the US? How would that change not only the whole global economy, but the whole story of history?

The premise of USJ is a clear homage to The Man in the High Castle, only in this instance what the authorities are seeking to suppress is a video game, not a film reel, that posits the idea that the Japanese lost World War II. The game’s proliferation across the country and the world is seen as hugely disruptive, and inspires rebellion. The two primary characters are Beniko, head censor, coward, and bumbling ladies’ man; and Akiko, a hardened, slightly psychotic member of the secret police. Pairing these two opposites together throughout the book results in much of its humor and tension, as their ways of solving problems as they seek to hunt down those responsible for making the game are… quite different.

The action in this one starts slow and picks up the pace throughout to batshit insane levels. For real, there was a moment about 3/4 of the way through where it was like Tieryas was channeling God’s War, with torture, reversals, plans that go wrong, characters who make dumb choices, gooey organic tech, stimulants, explosions, and hey, here’s a giant mecha battle for good measure! It’s so wild that after a time you just don’t even care if there are plot holes because you’re having so much fun in this insane world. Characters are good at keeping their secrets close to their chests, so as the truth bleeds out along the way about what’s going on, you’re surprised and fully invested in the outcome. Bonus points for having complex, interesting characters throughout that are actually gender-balanced. united_states_of_japan_by_alternatehistorian-d92fhzn

While the characters are fun and insane at times, it’s the worldbuilding here that’s truly captivating. Tieryas goes all-out. Remember that whole, nothing is all good or all bad? Japan continues its human experimentation and eugenics programs, which means that though the book is set in 1988, technology and health have advanced tremendously. Cancer has been cured, artificial limbs and implants and stimulants are highly advanced, better than anything we’ve got today. But again: eugenics, human experimentation. There are far more relaxed attitudes toward sex, but the Emperor is divine, so if you talk shit about him, you’re dead. The hey, that’s cool! Oh shit, but you’d have to do that, moments are many, and they reminded me often of the give and take in our own society, the decisions that must be made for every society to build its shadowy Omeleas. Even and especially our own.

This is what’s so clever about books like this one. Books like USJ perfectly illustrate why we read and write science fiction. They have the ability to pick us up out of our own time, so that when we’re finished we look back at our world with new eyes. When you come back from the USJ you can’t help but ask tough questions about history, technology, and the exploitation of labor here in the USA. You are compelled to turn around and see the USA as it really is, not the way the stories pretend it is… and it leads to you question, again, the stories you’ve been told about the way it was, too. We are all of us living with the bear, the oppressive state, to greater or lesser degrees.

We are not all good. We are not all evil. Societies and their histories exist in the seams between things, just like people do.

The United States of Japan is one of those books that you think about long after you put it down. I haven’t been able to shake it. This is a darkly fun, clever, and unrelentingly ambitious book. Pick it up and enjoy the ride.

Just be careful about poking the bear.

Awards Eligibility & Reading Recs

It’s here! It’s time!

I know, I know, seems like it was just yesterday we went over this, eh? But ’tis the new season, and so: the new post.

BEST NOVEL

The second book in the Worldbreaker Saga, EMPIRE ASCENDANT came out in October of 2015, and is eligible in all the best novel categories.

That said, this was another insanely great year for books, and I don’t have my fingers crossed for this one. It’s a middle book, and it’s up against some books I’ll be happily nominating for best novel, including THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT and PLANETFALL. Ann Leckie made another powerful showing with ANCILLARY MERCYUPROOTED was also a huge treat, and if I was nominating work on pure entertainment value, it would be up there.

Yet as much as I loved those, I think this is going to be THE FIFTH SEASON’S year. It’s an incredible book, not just a great read, but thematically and technically brilliant, and I expect to see it on a lot of lists, mine among them. So. Good.

BEST NOVELLA

As ever, a category I don’t read or write a lot of, but there was a huge number of novellas out from Tor this year, and Tachyon, Subterranean, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction continue to put out great stuff. I’m just under-read.

I did really enjoy Catherynne Valente’s “Speak Easy “. So check that one out, too.

BEST NOVELLETE

My Patreon novelette, “The Judgement of Gods and Monsters” came out in 2015 via Patreon and is being reprinted this year in Beyond Ceaseless Skies, which will actually mean it’s eligible for 2015’s awards (I know, the rules are weird). I’ll update this post when the story is live for those who haven’t read it yet.

I really love this one, but I’m biased, naturally.

BEST SHORT STORY

I had some short fiction come out that’s eligible, my favorite of which is “The Light Brigade.” This one was selected for a Year’s Best, but I had to turn it down because it was coming out from Night Shade Books, and I’d like to keep as much of my work away from them as possible; the editor of that anthology is great and totally understood my reasons. It was also chosen for inclusion in PWNING Tomorrow, the EFF benefit anthology.

Elephants and Corpses, a Tor.com short story about body-hopping mercenaries and endearing elephants, came out in May, making it eligible for 2015 awards.

“Body Politic” was out in the anthology Meeting Infinity, and is also eligible, as it’s an original story.

“The Improbable War” which debuted in Popular Science Magazine also counts, as many “short story” categories have an upper but not a lower word count limit.

As for what I’ve read this year, folks know that I’m a fan of Seth Dickinson’s short fiction, like this eligible story.

Nino Cipri wrote a lovely time-travel story I thought was fabulous, “The Shape of My Name.” Read it (I’ve discovered I’m kind of a sucker for time travel stories almost as much as war stories). Another I liked, also chosen by editor Ann VanderMeer, is Haralambi Markov’s “The Language of Knives.” You’ll see why pretty quickly.

I’ll also point folks in the direction of Cassandra Khaw, whose work is new to me this year. Check out “You’re All Going to Die on Mars” and “Her Pound of Flesh.”

BEST RELATED WORK/BEST ANTHOLOGY/BEST COLLECTION

Meeting Infinity fits into any of these categories on various ballots. I think something like half of the stories in it have already been pulled for Year’s Best collections, so you may want to check this one out.

BEST FAN WRITER

Abigail Nussbaum is repeatedly robbed of this title every year. Read her stuff to see why you should vote for her this year.

BEST NEW WRITER/CAMPBELL

As ever, the toughest category of all, as one doesn’t know if an author is eligible unless they tell you. I’ll update this one as the lists start to come out. Cassandra Khaw has let me know that this is her first year of eligibility, so there’s one!

As for the other categories across various awards ballots, I’m going to be reading other recommendations posts looking for new work and artists to check out, and I hope you will too.

The great part about awards season that we don’t talk about enough is how great it is to find little gems of work that we missed in the last year, and great new-to-us authors that we can follow into the new year.