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Posts Tagged ‘Fictions’

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.

Wives, Warlords and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max


I wasn’t going to go and see the latest iteration of Mad Max. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a passionate fan of 80’s apocalypse movies (I wrote a whole series in homage to them!). I love the aesthetics, the desperation, the tough characters, the monstrous masculinity that both men and women must take up in order to survive… But I’ve watched as the heroines of those gritty 80’s epics I loved have been continually debased, ground out, and erased here in the last twenty years. When you’re watching a film from 1979 that has tougher, more complex female characters than a film shot in 2012, something is rotten (I’m looking at you, Riddick, with the director who argued that constant rape attempts, threats, and 2-second “side boob with nipple” shot was actually a vitally important part of his artistic vision instead of just lazy storytelling).  I’ve seen the politics inherent in these types of stories get pushed aside too in favor of mindless, disjointed action sequences and shiny creatures with no bearing on the human plot. These films and their writers and directors had forgotten the truism of the post-apocalyptic world: every resource is valuable. Every person – and hence, every scene – has to pull their weight. Only the toughest or most valued survive. And the stories that we remember, the stories that last – are about people struggling to survive in the midst of overwhelming odds presented both by the landscape and their fellow travelers.

There’s a lot of whining about “message fiction” these days, which is bizarre because every story is a “message” story or it wouldn’t be a story. Asking for “stories without messages” makes me think this is code for a steady diet of inane reality TV shows that do actually have their own “message,” which is selling and reinforcing capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo. The reality is that every story is political, and the stories that stick with me best are incredibly and transparently so. There’s a reason we remember Animal Farm, and A Canticle for Leibowitz and 1984. There’s a reason I can’t stop thinking about Parable of the Sower. Post-apocalyptic stories have always had a lot to say about where we’re headed if we don’t right our wrongs. They warn us about our reliance on fossil fuels, our abuse of the environment and where it will lead us. They tell us about the inevitable future we are building by relying on war, and what our continued reliance on slavery as an economic system means to our humanity. Post-apocalypse stories simply do not exist without politics.

I knew Mad Max was headed in the right direction from the beginning, when Immortan Joe realizes Imperator Furiosa has gone rogue, and he runs to open up a great vault door. I knew immediately what he hoped to find behind that vault door. He is going to check up on his most valuable possessions. His possessions are people with the ability to have babies. When you are living in a post-apocalyptic world of poisoned fertility and scarce resources, controlling the people who can have babies is of the utmost importance. Those who can bear them are the means of that production. Gain control over the means of production, and you can rule the world.

And this is where this film gets all the violence-against-women stuff right, because it boldly and frankly positions it for what it is, stripping it of the male gaze, of sexuality, of uncontrollable male urges. There are no on screen rape threats, rape attempts, or rapes because they would detract from the entire point. You have to strip all that away to see it for what it is:  Sexism is about power. Sexism is about controlling the means of production.

At its core, sexism has very little to do with the act of sex.

It’s why we see a large room full of well-fed women hooked up to milking machines – yes, milking machines – because all anybody drinks in this world is water and milk, and all you ever see them eat is bugs and lizards. The animals are dead. That leaves us with those women. And these women are owned totally and completely by Immortan Joe, who controls all the means of production – he owns the water and the women.

And, once he owns those two things, he owns everyone and everything. He has consolidated absolute power by turning people into chattel.

In this world, those who can bear babies are chattel, used to breed more soldiers and provide life-sustaining milk to the elite. They are fodder used in production of more fodder.

Max (who really is actually crazy in this one. Not angry. Crazy) himself is chattel – captured and kept alive as a “blood bag” to give a much needed blood transfusion to soldiers who are diseased and dying. He is fodder to fuel the soldiers of the war.

The war boys themselves are chattel, bred and raised in a religion that celebrates their sacrifice in battle. They are fodder for the war machine.

“We are just the same,” says Splendid, one of the escaped wives, to Nux, a rogue war boy.  The people in power want them both to believe that they are things, owned and driven to just one purpose.

Women and soldiers are just the same, manipulated by the same terrible elite into sacrificing their bodies for some rich man’s cause.

When I saw the graffiti on the walls of the prison where the wives were kept, the endless recitation of, “We are not things,” I knew we were headed in the right direction.

We live in a world that has made people into things. In Max’s world, there’s just no finery on top of it. There’s nothing to shield you from it. The only media to convince you otherwise is religion, and religion is used again and again here to illustrate how it can help manipulate and control while giving purpose and hope. For mangled, dying boys in the desert, the hope of Valhalla gives comfort.f81500883574fd6d2a842f352d18e0546e635588.jpg__620x932_q85_crop_upscale

And this brings us to Furiosa, our hero. For as most folks who have seen prior Mad Max movies know, Max just sort of wanders into these weird enclaves, fucks around, and then wanders out. He is the traveler, the witness to their stories. And in just that way, he stumbles into Furiosa’s story, this huge complex thing that’s clearly been planned out for a long time and is already set into furious motion.

Max is not the hero. He’s the witness. Just like the war boys yelling at one another “Witness me!” he is the one who goes on, who drags on. He is that wandering 80’s apocalypse male hero, tied to nothing and no one. He has to be, so he can wander off at the end – as he inevitably does here – and leave the real heroes to deal with the messy business of mopping up and governing a new world.

Casting Charlize Theron as Furiosa was an astonishing choice, and I honestly had no idea she was in this film until a few days before it came out. I remember Ridley Scott giving an interview once where he said he hired the very best actors he could find for Alien so that he could give his full attention to the creature part, because he knew the creature part was going to be the toughest. It felt like Miller did a similar thing here – with so many incredible action sequences to film, he needed great actors in place who could work with very little dialogue. And Theron does that here in such a powerful, heartbreaking way that I found myself in awe of how she was able to communicate so much in a glance. There’s this moment when she re-enters the rig after Max drives it away from an attacking motorcycle gang, and she looks him up and down as he scoots over, and she has this tiny – not smile, but almost approving or knowing glance that lets us know  that she knows she’s won him over, and he’ll be on their side now. There are tons of moments like this throughout, where all we get is Theron’s eyes to tell us everything, and they do, and it’s extraordinary.

There’s another amazing thing that happens in this movie that few people have commented on, and that I want to point out, and that’s the lack of the pervy camera. We know the pervy camera. It’s the camera that zooms in on women’s asses and legs and torsos and sexualizes their bodies, like the camera itself is licking them up for the male viewer. We see these every time Megan Fox is in a movie. We see these in every movie from Transformers to Sucker Punch, to BountyKiller, to Grindhouse. It’s become so ubiquitous that I remember watching the end of Gravity where the camera pans around behind Sandra Bullock’s butt and I was like, “Oh God please no” and I was surprised, actually surprised, that the camera shot her the way it would in an actual serious film that was filming a male character instead of the way it would film a woman in a softcore porn movie. And George Miller – for all that he dresses the rebel wives in white muslin bikinis – does not shoot any softcore porn here. Max stumbles onto them while they’re washing themselves off with a hose, and while it’s a striking scene after all that sand and violence, it’s not porny. These women are washing themselves like practical people, not male sex fantasies, and the camera captures them that way. Even when the film has the opportunity for a full-frontal female nude shot – with the motorcycle matriarchy member sitting up on the broken electric pole as bait – it demurs. This is a rated R movie, but the nudity was not necessary to the story.

Hear that, HBO? The nudity was not necessary to the story.

Here’s this movie saying, “People aren’t things” that actually uses its camera work in a way that backs up its political position that people are not things. Yes! “People are not things” is a political position now. Oh, 2015! Who’d have thought arguing that “Slavery is bad” in fucking 2015 would get people complaining about how that was taking an extreme political stance, eh?

Our rebel wives also get plenty to do in this film. Unlike so many heroines hanging off the side of a male character, it’s clear in this world that not pulling your weight will get you dead very quickly, and these women fight in a way that is realistic to how they were raised (my nitpick here is that they clearly cast models for these roles, and in terms of worldbuilding, they should have cast plump women. These women likely could not even menstruate; that’s a bad condition in women you’re keeping around to have babies. Ahem). No, they aren’t out doing kung-fu, but they are hitting people with tools, using chains to haul Max off Furiosa, counting out bullets, scouting ahead, helping to get the truck unstuck, and all other manner of things that people do in a world where they’re on the run and their very survival is at stake. No one survives and escapes sexual slavery and then gets upset at the idea of breaking a nail while hooking up a winch, for God’s sakes, though so many films would have you think otherwise.

Everyone in this film does something.

What’s shocking is how shocking that is to see in a film in 2015.

And I’m not even going to bother going into the motorcycle matriarchy because what else needs to be said here but my god, motorcycle matriarchy where have you been all my life?

I do want to say a little something about the mass of refugees bowing and scraping in the dirt beneath the towers of Immortan Joe, begging and scraping for water. This may have been the oddest worldbuilding break in the movie for me (I can totally buy the metal war guitar guy, honestly). Because here we have this mass of refugees, but they don’t seem to be serving any real purpose. They are not working  – are they meant to be doing mining of some kind? Or are they literally just the masses camped out hoping for scraps? How to they serve the war machine? Is there a soylent green solution here that we’re missing? And, because its absence was really noticeable – where are all the black people in the future? If this is meant to be far-future Australia, where are all the Asian people, and the Aborigines? I could count the numbers of both in among the secondary and even background characters on one hand, which was another weird worldbuilding break.


It occurs to me I have not touched much on Furiosa here, but what is there to say? She’s the hero of the show, the warrior queen, the one with the grit and fortitude to bust out five women from prison and go riding off into the desert in search of a hazy half-memory of a place. She is the one who must ultimately make the decision whether to ride across the desert or to turn back and fight Immortan Joe. All Max can do is suggest it. The entire agency of this entire film rests entirely in her hands.

And it’s that agency that really makes this such a fine film for me, and one I’d call feminist waaaaay before I’d call something like Jupiter Ascending feminist. Because the entire story isn’t about things that happen to Furiosa. It’s about what Furiosa does with what has happened to her. I have heard all sorts of ideas about Furiosa’s back story, but listen – Furiosa is in this because she, too, needs redemption. She has propped up this guy’s patriarchy her whole life. She was been complicit in letting these other women act as breeders, a fate that for whatever reason she was able to avoid – whether because she could not get pregnant or because she was just too valuable as an imperator, or both. And in taking on the role she did, she was part of the problem. She upheld Immortan Joe’s rule. It was time for her to earn her redemption. She drives this narrative hard and fast, and nothing happens without her having to make a decision about it. She’s in charge of her own story.

Perhaps that’s the truly refreshing thing about this film, for me. It’s that instead of women playing a part in some guy’s story, in propping up some guy’s journey, we have, instead, Max stumbling into Furiosa’s story, and simply going along for the ride. He is, if anything, a Manic Pixie Dreamguy who stumbles in to suggest that she turn around and take the citadel herself. Then, after she has won the day and taken her rightful place as Queen Furiosa, he moves on to go and help justice prevail somewhere else.

Max wins nothing for all his troubles. His only win is seeing a wrong made right.

A hero who does something because it’s right, and reclaims his humanity, instead of doing it for a woman or loot reward! My god!

Oh, World of Warcraft generation, you are failing.

And it occurred to me in that moment, as I watched him figuratively gallop off into the sunset, that we’ve been missing those heroes a lot recently. Those 80’s loner dude heroes I loved were messed up, it’s true – they were terrible at making connections with people. They were monstrous. But they used that monstrousness not for their own ends, but to help make the world just a little bit better. They were usually paired up with some more idealistic sort, a truer hero – a Furiosa. And they were doing actual penance for their inability to love. They expected nothing in return. Their names were not writ large. They didn’t become king. But the world was just a little better because they helped somebody else in a fight against injustice.

I love my gritty fantasy and SF stories. But I admit I’m getting tired of rooting for the bad guys who torture people and destroy buildings without a thought for those within. I’m ready to see conflicted nihilistic heroes who accidently get caught up in hope again, who get caught up in the idea that some sliver of something can be saved, even if they must be dragged kicking and screaming back into accepting their own humanity, out here in the light.



(now can we please get a God’s War movie pretty please?)

New Article in Locus Mag: Silence in Publishing

Hey! Guess what!? I’m part of the establishment now!



Or, rather, I have an article in  Locus Magazine this month. Check out the teaser below, and then go grab (or view) a copy of the October issue to read the rest:

“Everybody Already Knows”: How Silence About the Realities of Publishing Hurts Authors

Families are full of secrets. Publishing is no different.

There are the ho-hum secrets – the affairs, the folks who stole money from now dead relatives, the folks who aren’t paying their taxes. There are also bigger secrets.  These are the secrets that matter, the ones that could help others in the family if they were shared. These are things like mental illness – hiding an uncle’s illness means his niece may suffer for years in silence, thinking she’s the only one with that issue. And there are darker things, like abusive spouses and family members who abuse children. We hush these things up because we fear they’re too personal to share. Too personal right up until keeping that secret means your abusive spouse goes on to abuse someone else, or the children abused by a family member go on to repeat the cycle of abuse.

Secrets are knowledge not widely shared. Knowledge shared is power, and leverage, especially in the publishing industry.  Sharing knowledge is how we change things.

Continue reading…




God Bless America: Living our Dystopia

No, that post title is not a directive, that’s the name of a movie I finally ponied up to watch my last night at Wellspring before I passed out.

I’d been putting off this movie for a good long while, primarily because I heard about it not long after some nut job shot up a movie theater IRL, and there’s nothing like IRL violence to put you off lazily violent movies (when I lived in South Africa, I started walking out of movies with gratuitous violence. Unless violence has a good purpose or is trying to make a non-lazy point, I have a very low tolerance for it these days). The idea of watching a movie that could very well be seen to promote shooting people as a way to cure our vapid, self-indulgent culture of its problems turned my stomach.

But I am, if nothing else, a big proponent of protecting our ability to tell stories that we need to tell in the way they need to be told. It’s not as if this film is the first to show folks upset with the current system shooting their way to infamy.

And taking a look at the news these days, I have to say that I think this was the only way to tell this story.

This is, then, a deeply problematic movie, in which our divorced, disaffected, cubicle-living, protagonist finds himself picking up a gun and a manic pixie dream girl and setting off across the country to murder all those vapid reality TV stars and people who text their friends in movies, and people who cut you off on the freeway and – yes, basically, everyone who acts like an entitled asshole in this weirdly adolescent culture we’ve made for ourselves in America.

What precipitates this killing spree is a very strange scene at his workplace in which he’s canned for looking up the personal address of the company secretary and sending flowers to her home. I say it’s strange because I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about it. On the one hand, sure, the woman seems friendly toward him, but, uh, dude, she’s a  secretary – she has to be nice to everyone, and I’m sorry, but any guy who looks up your personal address in your personnel file and sends you something without you expressly asking is, indeed, a little creepy.  My assumption here is that it’s the “zero tolerance policy” response that I’m supposed to think is really ridiculous. He gets canned for looking up the secretary’s personal information. Of course, if I was a guy watching this, I might find what he did rather innocuous and not worth firing somebody for and would rail against the PC’ing of the workplace, but as a woman, well… dude. Unless I give you my address, sending something there is kinda… creepy.

So, that was weird.

The rest of the film follows our protagonist on his journey to murder a teen reality TV star and her vapid parents and ends up as a takeover of the American Idol stage. This is about when he hooks up with manic pixie dream girl, who was very nearly her own person and not a pixie, but then wasn’t, which made me sigh into my cornflakes because her writing was so punchy and the actress was so great. Folks, when you create secondary characters for your protagonists, you need to spend at least as much time figuring out them and their arc and their story as you do your protagonist, or they’ll just come off as lackluster shadowy appendages of said protagonist. And this is, of course, much more prevalent with the manic pixie dream girl, who consistently manages to have no real life, goals, or motivations outside of whatever it is she is waking up the white male protagonist to do. It’s woman-as-muse-as-thing, and it annoys.

Still: la-la-la-la ignoring the pixie for a minute, and the relentlessly, darkly brutal/comic subject matter, this film certainly did well at one thing – holding up a mirror to our own Harrison Burgeron society. You wonder why we don’t write SF stories like this one anymore? Because we already live this dystopia. We already live in the world of vapid reality TV stars and people shooting up theaters and rich kids trying desperately to pretend they’re interesting and middle aged folks with no purpose or motivation beyond making it to the cubicle every morning. It’s a darkly comic movie because it’s a darkly comic time to live in, and I couldn’t help but write in “bread and circuses” especially there at the end where we get the massive TV shooting that reminded me a ton of old Harrison from the movie version; tho of course Harrison was naïve enough to believe that you’d listen to him simply because he spoke to you. Our protagonist today knows we’re going to tune him out unless he’s got a gun or a bomb strapped to him. Our attention spans are even shorter than that in most dystopias.

I guess the depressing part about this movie is that it really wasn’t fiction for me. It felt a lot more like a perfect picture of a snapshot in time; the arrogant, egotistical, uneducated, asshole-validating culture that is American pop culture at the turn of the 21st century.

Twenty years ago, this would have been a science fiction movie. Now it was like watching a documentary.

Sad face.

Secondary world fantasy vs. future fiction

I was only stumped by one question at WorldCon, and that was posed by Elizabeth Bear at the “Looking Forward to the Post-Apocalyptic World” panel. She asked why someone would choose to write future fiction vs. secondary world fantasy and what the primary differences were, or something to that end.

The best I could come up with was, “Well, if I choose to write future fiction I don’t have to make up as many words.”

Seriously. That’s all I could come up with.


I realize I’m a bit weird when it comes to drawing a line between science fiction and fantasy. People kept asking at the con if God’s War was science fiction or fantasy and I kept pulling out my old Thundercats analogy. “Is Thundercats science fiction or fantasy? I mean, hey, they’re space-faring cats with swords!”

Perhaps I was simply scarred by too many Hanna-Barbera cartoons in my youth, but I’ve never seen a huge difference in science fiction vs. fantasy if the book’s done well. I was always a big fan of Gene Wolfe’s work because so much of it blurred the edge between fantasy and science fiction. The thing is, with my science fiction, I want it to be fantastic enough to give me that massive sense of awe and wonder, but I also want my fantasy to be believable in that I’ve been expertly sold on the rules, politics, economics, and machinations of the world. I don’t read a lot of out-and-out absurdist fantasy or parody fantasy (No Piers Anthony for me, or Terry Pratchett, and I’ve read exactly one Douglas Adams novel). I want worlds that feel real.

Like Mulder, I want to believe.

That’s why so much New Weird fiction really appealed to me – here are these fantastic gritty worlds with nasty politics and gruesomeness that have actually been more or less thought through. As for magic, as long as you can sell me on how your magic works, and convince me it has rules, I’m all in.

I write all kinds of worlds, and basically, the rule for me is that if I want to do something that has a very clear line from this world to the next one, then I’m writing sort-of future fiction. That does, indeed, allow me to make up fewer words, and to actually explore and extrapolate on existing, known stuff.  When I choose to write a secondary world fantasy, I think, I’m more likely to be extrapolating on unknown stuff.

So while God’s War may have spaceships and nanotech/bugtech with a shapeshifter thrown in, the secondary world fantasy I’m working on right now has weird portals between realities and particle magic with some nods to nanotech thrown in.  If I’m working with mostly-known stuff, it’s SF. When it’s mostly unknown stuff, I choose to write a secondary world fantasy.

But honestly, there’s not too much terrible difference between SF/Fantasy (cue the unsheathing of swords). I don’t see too much difference in imagining a future colonized world or a terraformed Mercury and, say, Arrakis (another good example for the “is it SF or fantasy?” debate).  Different sorts of SF writers do different sorts of hand-wavey stuff to make their worlds plausible.

I remember the big push toward “Mundane SF” and just about tore my hair out because holy crap, if all we ever did was extrapolate from what we knew, we’d never try to teleport and never try to build a faster-than-light technology because obviously, those things are impossible. It delights me to no end that people continue to try teleportation because, hey, it’s a common SF thing, and, lo, we are teleporting photons and even transmitting information from one atom to another now. Step one!

But if we, as fantasists, just didn’t even talk about teleportation because obviously, that’s impossible, would it have taken longer for folks to figure out? Would they even have tried? I’m reminded of the invention of the steam engine during the Greek period, and the probably apocryphal but still telling story of the ruler who took the inventor of the steam engine aside and said, “Yes, this machine is great. But if we start powering all of our industry this way, what will we do with all the slaves?”  And the guy who invented a very early glider/plane in China who had it destroyed by the emperor, because he just didn’t think humans should be airborne (or believed it could somehow threaten his rule).

We are hobbled all along the way by people telling us we can’t. By failure of imagination. I find that I’m just not as passionate about writing when I’m constrained by “What’s possible now?” because to be dead honest, half the stuff I use every day doesn’t seem like stuff that could be possible. The stuff I can do with my smart phone is, to put it mildly, astonishing. I don’t want to tell people they can’t do things because it’s not probable. I don’t want to limit my own vision.  Some of the most fantastic stories I’ve ever read were the ones that challenged me to think beyond what I believed was possible. And it can be done in any genre, as long as the people writing it are willing to really push beyond their own preconceptions.

So, maybe sometimes you choose to write future fiction with unicorns, or fantasy fiction with spaceships.

Or, like me, sometimes you write Thundercats.

It’s all good.


Unmade: The Half-Made World

Most people buy books on the recommendation of people they know. This is because so many books are crap. You need somebody to take that first hit for you. Somebody’s gotta take the  chance on buying a $25-30 hardcover to make sure it doesn’t suck.

I picked up The Half-Made World on recommendation from @MadHatterReview. I was looking for books with strong female characters and great world building.

And that’s just what I got.

The Half-Made World is a steampunkish tour of a world in a constant state of making. It takes the “new world” of the frontier and makes it literal. Head west far enough and you really will get to the edge of the “made” world. The world is in a constant state of literally making, of being named, and the further west you go, the faster it starts to unravel.

Two warring factions are battling for control of the new world: the Line and the Gun. The Gun and the Line are led by monstrous demons that inhabit made objects – guns and engines, respectively. The Gun employs solitary gunslinging super agents, whereas the Line eats up the world with progress – noise bombs, filthy cities, oil-hungry machines and contraptions.

Into this literal wild west comes Dr. Liv Alverhuysen, searching for purpose, adventure, and (like most psychiatrists/psychologists) some measure of her own sanity.

We follow agents of the Gun and the Line in their pursuit of a missing general of the Red Republic, a rogue group of idealists who tried to fight both the Gun and the Line for their independence 20 years before. They believe in things like equality and democracy. Added into the mix is a fourth group of folks with an agenda, the First Folk – the people who live comfortably in the unmade world and were there before anybody else.

Now you might be starting to see why things broke down here for me. This is a great story – agents of the Gun and the Line and Liv all converge on the hospital where this missing general is purported to be, and there are battles and things and lovely worldbuilding and imagery. But the biggest drawback of the book, for me, was the wild west made literal. It all felt *too* wild west. Not particularly romanticized, as steampunk has been accused of being, but just sort of falling down under the weight of its own metaphors. The fact that everything in the book reminded me of some real-world counterpart was kind of annoying. It kept popping me back through the fourth wall and slapping me in the face. Every time I’d get digging back into the book, it’d do something that went, “See, it’s just like Indians!” or “See, it’s just like industry eating up the glorious old west!” and I was like, “Gah, please, if I wanted a wild west travelogue, I’d read one.”

It also starts to lose steam about 3/4 of the way through as Liv and one of the agents of the Gun track on west and west and farther west. The whole thing goes on far too long. And though I loved the world building, that, too, seemed to break down during the long trek west.

The biggest disappointment in the book, though, was that in the end, the McGuffin remains a mysterious McGuffin, presumably for revelation in some later book? Which was the biggest cop-out. You expect to find out what the general is hiding, or just have him die before revealing it, but it’s like neither really happens. Instead we get sent off to some other-thing to do some other-quest for book two. I found this deeply unsatisfying. The only book I’ve ever thrown across the room is The Mirror of Her Dreams. Why? Because Donaldson literally stops his book mid-book, at the end of some random chapter. He simply took his big book, cut it in half at some arbitrary place, and published it. Talk about disappointment. I never did bother to read the other one. Plus, the heroine was annoying.

Now, that’s something I can’t say about Half-Made World, which had three interesting, complex, broken, messed-up characters. Even the secondary characters were well-polished. I loved everybody in their own way. Liv is one of those strong heroines that gets stuff done without being violent (not until the end anyway), and it really works for her. She was beautifully drawn and executed, as was Creedmoor, the agent of the Gun, who we spent the second most time with. They are perfectly complex in that way that makes you not quite sure what they’ll do next, but knowing that when they do do it, it’s perfectly in character.

Anyway, this is sort of a rambling rant, so I’ll end it there. To sum up: a lush, enjoyable little book with some wild west metaphor problems.

Short Stories Now Available for Download (FREE!)

You have to wait until January 18th to snag your copy of God’s War, but to tide you over until then, I’ve put together a free 150-odd page collection of my short fiction from 1997 to present (yeah, I’ve never been a prolific short story writer). You can download a free PDF here (scribd. Recommended) or here (smashwords. Formatting on this platform is wonky, but readable).

If you’re a Kindle lover, you will, unfortunately, need to pay .99 cents for the same free PDF formatted for your big-corp device. They apparently don’t let you create them for free as yet. You can download a Kindle copy here.

This collection includes fan favorite, “The Women of Our Occupation” about a mysterious group of women who invade a steamy patriarchy, and “Wonder Maul Doll,” an angry anti-war screed about a traumatized group of female war heroes hunting down weapons of mass destruction.

Three Super! Special! Bonus! stories are included – stories that were never published. This includes, “Women and Ladies, Blood and Sand” about a military leader who aligns herself with the bad guys and starts hunting down her own people, “In Freedom, Dying” about a couple of old queers and the end of the world, and “Canticle of the Flesh,” the creepiest, weirdest, most distasteful story I’ve ever written.

I mean, c’mon, what other collection of horrific, bloodthirsty, feministy nonsense would make more sense to gift to friends and family for the holidays?

Also, did I mention it’s free?

Lunchtime Limbo

While I have a few minutes here at lunch, how about some updatitude:

Pandorum was a great little lower-budget SF movie about one of my favorite tropes, which isn’t done enough in movies (likely for budgeting issues). Also, unlike most French films and pretty much all apocalypse novels/movies, the desperate folks were far more interested in eating the ass-kicking female character than raping her, which I appreciated. Because, you know, when you’re starving and desperate you’re far more likely to eat somebody than rape them (dunno what you all feel like doing when starving, but sex – forced or consentual – generally isn’t the first thing that comes to mind). Also, space zombies.

The longer I work at an ad agency, the more I love Mad Men. Am on season 2 and still in love. I had somebody say they thought all of these characters are intensely unlikeable, so they couldn’t watch it. I actually find all of these characters intensely interesting because of their crazy faults. I love watching how other people justify their poor behavior. I love watching people put home/work into neat little boxes and pretending those worlds will never meet. I love watching the lies and half-truths and understandings people come to that allow them to do business every day. And I love watching that struggle. In part, what I love so much about this show is that nobody is perfect. Even more, I love watching people navigate a social climate slightly different from my own. They say that folks who read a lot of books tend to be more empathetic, in part because they’re exposed to so many different points of view. I don’t have to agree with what you’re doing to understand why you did it. Mad Men is a wonderful romp through rich-white-people-are-crazy-land.

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, which was a great little SF jaunt. Atwood’s poo-pooing at SF the last few years had really turned me off to her, and I’d forgotten what a good writer she is (if you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, how is it you’re a reader of this blog??). It’s a solid little book about gene splicing and the end of the world. Strong female protagonists, rich setting, fun thought experiment, and did I mention end of the world? However, unlike Pandorom, she did fall into the “all bad men want to do is rape women especially during the apocalypse when they are starving” thing, which was a tougher suspension of disbelief than aforementioned gene-splicing apocalypse. Have I mentioned that there are certain sexist tropes that just annoy the tar out of me? She does also seem to have a love of exploring the social intricacies of whorehouses, as many of the scenes at a whorehouse in this book reminded me of some of similiar tone/feel from The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ll be picking up Oryx and Crake and giving Atwood another go.

My preference for PCs has evolved into blind hatred for Macs now that I’m spending my 9 hour days in front of one at the new day job. Control click THIS, Mac!!! Yeah, not a fan.

Also, actually pulled out and submitted an old trunk story a couple weeks ago. I haven’t had anything in circulation in a few months, and it was nice to get something out there. Need to get back on that writing schedule that I’d redone and then had to can when all the free time I was expecting wonderfully dried up. No complaints! Just paperwork.

Annnnnnnnd…. I’m off.