Every Single One Of My Titles

Dystopian Science Fiction: Is It In The News?

Ferguson Seasons Greetings

By my headline, I’m not asking if there are any current stories about dystopian science fiction in the news. I’m asking if perhaps the things we see on the news are influencing the science fiction we writers write. Science fiction is speculation about what the future may bring, but like all literature and art it is a reflection of the context of the writer. It is a reflection of cultural context, of what the writer thinks the world is now and what that might develop into as time proceeds.

A while back, I asked if pessimism in US-authored science fiction might reflect a perception — arguably, a reality — that the USA is declining from a peak of prosperity and power. I think that thought has merit, and I think it’s linked to what I’m talking about here.

Yes, this post is sadly inspired by the injustice and violence we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri over the last four months; the scene above from the events of November 24th is rapidly becoming an iconic symbol of social order at any cost, militarization of police, and the deep frustration of people — here, the black community of Ferguson — who feel that working within the system has failed them, the system has failed them, and the system will not validate even something so basic as their right to be the equal of every other US citizen under the law.

That’s dystopianism. People denied their rights, human or legal, that those above them have. We see it rearing its head in the United States, and many of us hoped, somehow, that the worst was over. That privilege and oppression were the language of the past in our country, and that the exceptions we saw were just that: exceptions.

But that has always been the hope of the sheltered, the hope of those who are less oppressed, the hope of those who see opportunity. Too many of us have never really known those hopes. Before the internet, before the explosion of social media and hand-portable smartphones capable of livestreaming video in the hands of ordinary citizens, it was easier to be sheltered.

Year by year, it is more difficult to be sheltered, more difficult to deny uncomfortable truths of inequality that the internet holds in front of our faces. Not only in the USA, but abroad, we more and more frequently see tweets and Facebook updates and blogs and YouTube videos and so on and so forth from oppressed people and groups around the world.

The internet and the smartphone are doing for this generation what television did for the Vietnam War. We’re getting a look, collectively, all of us who have access to the internet, a look at dirt that has traditionally been swept under the rug and stayed there, invisible. It’s far easier to see it for what it is.

And that’s sort of depressing. Right now, many of us are depressed by what we see in the world, and we’re afraid it’s only going to get worse. Perhaps this exposure will continue to grow and my little ones will grow up in a time marked by reform and renewed optimism. I can hope. I’ll try to write about that.

But right now, I’m just sad and it is FAR too easy to proceed from watching dystopian current events to writing dystopian science fiction.

I’m A Thanksgiving Literalist: I Give Thanks For Stuff And Ignore Our Weird National Fables

Turkey

I WILL EAT YOU. YOU ARE A DELICIOUS TRADITION.

The title pretty much says it all: I take the word “Thanksgiving” at face value, and I give thanks. Some folks might — and do — question how an atheistic sort like myself can give thanks without giving thanks TO something, by which they mean to a deity. Well, I answer, it is entirely possible to feel thankful for something without there being an object to hang the thanks on. I’m thankful for my wife. I’m thankful to have three awesome kids. I’m thankful for what my parents did to help me grow and I’m thankful that when they made mistakes, they were mindful and thoughtful enough to own those mistakes and say ‘whooops’ in a good and productive way. I’m thankful that when I make a parenting mistake, my kids are good enough to listen to my saying ‘whoops’ in what I hope is a good and productive way. And I’m thankful for delicious food, and a warm home, and…and…and…

…you don’t want to listen to all this. It’s a big laundry list, and you have your own laundry list of thankfulness to tend to. Suffice it to say, there is much in my life that is good and positive.

It means something, for me to have this day to focus on thankfulness. Its existence helps me remember to work it into the other 364 days of the year (your mileage may vary on leap years), and many of those days it is not easy to remember. Because I can be pretty darn pessimistic sometimes. Just as there is always something to be thankful for, there is always the potential for something to go wrong, or at least not right. And those things loom large in my vision. It has been like that for as long as I can remember. When I sell a few books, my mind wants to focus on how many more I had hoped to sell, not on being happy that the ones who bought them, bought them. When one of my blog posts gets five likes, my first thought is a grumble that it’s not fifty, rather than being thankful for the five who were good enough to pull the trigger on the positive reinforcement button. When the car is running well, I worry that it could break down tomorrow. When the bills are paid, I worry about next month.

As my maternal grandmother put it once, “we are worry warts.” To one degree or other, worry runs in the family. And yet, it’s not entirely a family thing. I read news and tweet on Twitter and look at what people post in various online forums and I see worry warts all over. Maybe it’s a human thing. Well, I’m all too human, and it often makes me grumpy. It’s important for we grumpy worry warts to take some time to focus on what there is to be thankful for.

And as for the portion of the title pertaining to “weird national fables”: what? They’re weird. They were built in a time when our nation was trying to pretend that genocide of First Nations people wasn’t part of this nation’s history (not that plenty of people — too many — aren’t trying to pretend so even today). Giving thanks is good, a ‘first Thanksgiving’ fable that glosses over the wrongs in our history isn’t so great, to say the least. So, I’m glad to cut those fables loose from my household. On other days, I tell my kids about history, and I tell my kids that people or nations that do not acknowledge their past wrongs are hurting themselves and inviting more wrongs. Honesty with self, human or nation, is vital to doing right today and in the future. Period.

But we don’t talk about that much on Thanksgiving. We’re too busy being thankful for each other.

Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Tao23:

I’ve been tweeting the living daylights out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s speech lately, so I might as well reblog it as well.

And it’s well to remember, as she says, that books are art before commodity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad when someone buys something I’ve written. And I’d love to make a living from people buying things I’ve written, exclusively. I’m sure Ursula K. Le Guin is happy with the life the sales of her various works has given her. None of that invalidates her points. Art is valuable, whether it is formed of the written word or otherwise — and we’d do well as a society to value artistry over advertising hype.

Originally posted on Ekostories:

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

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Thirteen Word Story: Desperate Restraint

NukeCloud

Somehow, they restrained themselves until their children traveled among the stars.

Then: self-destruction.

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I remember the Cold War, going to school in a designated nuclear shelter, the uneasy jokes about getting nuked, Reagan joking about nuking the Russians, ha-ha, ho-ho, we’re all going to die so let’s yuk it up black humor style.

But somehow we managed not to unleash the nasty nuke genie. And we still manage today. After seeing the horrors two bombs wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’ve managed to resist the temptation and continue to kill each other by less wholesale means, keep the torture and shooting and dronestriking down to a dull subnuclear roar.

When the day comes (I say when and not if out of hope that we’ll actually manage it, we self-sabotaging humans) that humanity has significant settlements off earth, I wonder if the gloves will come off. Once there are a million people on Mars, or in asteroid habitats, or on the far side of Luna, or on a planet around another star (should be be lucky enough to stumble into some sci-fi method of faster than light travel), will it sink in, that nuking each other now will not doom the human race?

Will that be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that allows some politician to finally reason, hey, letting the nukes out isn’t such a big deal, even if we wipe life off the planet our descendants will live on, humanity will survive?

It’s a dark cold night, and my imagination is playing nasty games with me. I hope when you read this it’s sunny, and I’m wrong.

Words about writing from one of the masters

Tao23:

This is a wonderful adjunct to the post I published minutes ago, “Reviews And What The Hell Do I Actually Write?”
Ursula K. LeGuin is one of those authors whose work never quite fit into a neat genre pigeonhole, despite the fact that marketing writing demands that stories be fit in genre pigeonholes regardless. And while I’m just getting started, LeGuin has long and valuable experience in writing the difficult-to-categorize.

Originally posted on Michelle M. Welch:

locus2I finally got around to catching up on my Twitter feed this morning, and it served me up this fantastic interview with Ursula K. LeGuin. (Ignore the click-bait headline; the interview goes into so much more than Amazon.) LeGuin is one of my absolute idols, one of the few authors I can really identify as a direct influence on my work. When I encountered her books as a teenager, already weary of Tolkienesque fantasy, she demonstrated that so much more can be done with the genre beyond wizards and epic battles, from the way it can explore social conventions to the way it can use allegory to pinpoint things about the human condition.

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Reviews And What The Hell Do I Actually Write?

MEgreen1000sq

The author, reflecting on the ain’t-easiness of being green.

The other day sometime between now and a thousand days ago, I got a review for a number of stars I won’t reveal, from a person whose identity or online alias I won’t reveal, on one of my stories which I also won’t reveal.

Because writers who call out reviewers, both I and most of the internet believe, are assholes. And I have quite enough assholishness without adding any more, thankyouverymuch.

But that’s not my point. My point is this: the reviewer referred to my story, which I had not written with the intent of making it YA, as YA.

And that made me think.

What exactly do I write?

I’ve already put out some stories that don’t fit neatly into commercial genre lines. Mainstream with a taste of science fiction, science fiction with a taste of mainstream, fantasy that didn’t turn into fantasy until the story was almost over, the ever-popular horror-science-fiction mashup… well, sort of. Not quite.

But I had never given a thought to writing YA, even when I wrote Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, which has a preteen protagonist, a family-centric storyline, a sympathetic cat character, and a title that sounds like YA. I didn’t think of pitching it as YA until my wife read it and said, “you should sell it as YA because it’s YA.”

I tend to favor straightforward storylines, which are not a requirement for YA, but which are common in YA. While some of my work is undeniably adult, much of it is in that gray area that can be enjoyed by the teen reader and the adult reader equally.

So I’ve concluded that I write stories, and some of them can be enjoyed as and thought of as YA because I’m pretty sure they’re all-ages-friendly. Most of them are science fiction, probably because most of my reading, for all of my literate life, has been science fiction.

I sort of wish I could throw them out uncategorized and let the readers decide what pigeonholes they fit in. That would be easiest, if there was any practical way to do that. But there isn’t. So I’ll try to fit the round stories in the round holes and the square ones in the square holes, and when a story is both round and square, I’ll just pick one.

The way the market works, we have to worry about genre. Especially when we’re self-published, and have to face the publisher’s jumbo menu of categories your story must fit in — please pick one already and stop stalling! But the way I write, the way most of us write, I think, we tend to write our stories and then worry about what genre it can be called part of.

So keep writing, and keep pigeonholing as needed. And let the reviews and the puzzled comments about what you’ve written fall where they may.

City of the Future

Tao23:

I can forgive the failure of the flying car to materialize despite the optimistic promises of the 1950s…

…but where the hell is my self-driving car? I could be getting in valuable writing time instead of fighting the traffic between me and the grocery store!

The only thing better would be a self-REPAIRING car.

Originally posted on pundit from another planet:

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Thirteen Word Story: Revenge Of The Food

AppleEvil

He worried endlessly about his diet.

He died young: heart attack from stress.

————-

I like six-word stories, but I thought I’d try a slightly longer form.

And thirteen is my favorite number.

Unless we’re talking money, in which case my favorite number involves a whole bunch of zeroes.

Inside Outer Space (Essays)

Tao23:

Interesting; if I can find a copy I’d love to read it, too.

Some things do change in 30 years, just look at the self-publishing landscape then and now. The ebook explosion. Cyberpunk, steampunk, movie influences, computer technology, smartphones.

But while some stylistic elements in writing change over time, the base elements of good storytelling do not, and the base elements of good science fiction have not. Interesting characters. Interesting situations. Tension. Resolution. Speculation about what the future may bring, scientific or social or otherwise. Making, as this post points out from the C.J. Cherryh essay, our best educated guesses about how our science-fiction scenarios might play out and what makes sense in the context of the worlds we invent.

I’ll be looking for this book online — high availability of long-out-of-print books and relative ease of finding them is one more thing that has changed since 1985.

Originally posted on the Little Red Reviewer:

2014-11-15 09.03.57Inside Outer Space:  Science Fiction Professionals Look at Their Craft, edited by Sharon Jarvis

published in 1985

where i got it: friend gave it to me

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My friends know I’m drawn towards the obscure, and they also know I really like the “behind the scenes” of everything. A friend found the perfect gift for me: an obscure book of essays by spec fic professionals, published in 1985. What value is there in a book of essays from 30 years ago? More than you’d think.  Editor Sharon Jarvis curated a short list that included her friends and a few authors she’d been referred to.  She assigned people to write on a topic such as humor, or war, or fandom, or small presses, told them approximately how many pages she wanted, and left them to it.  The resulting essays…

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Two New Stories: He Shot First –and– Waiting For

HeShotCover

Available now on Smashwords, and via the distributors in the right sidebar within a week or two of the date on this post.

I arrived at that cover art by fiddling around with a picture I took today in GIMP, trying different effects, until I hit upon something pleasingly trippy and retro. For a moment I thought, ‘hey, that’s sort of weird looking’… but a little weird is GOOD for science fiction. So I went with it.

Here’s the blurb for He Shot First:

Dan Tippdale is a human among aliens on an unfamiliar world. A bar fight lands him in jail — and he shot first. The charge might not be murder, but that might not matter — from the looks of things, he might not live to stand trial. And then there’s the matter of his lawyer, who has something big in common with the alien Dan shot…

WaitingForCover2

Also available right now on Smashwords, and elsewhere within a week or two of this post.

Plus, this one is really short, under 2000 words, and therefore I’ve made it FREE.

The cover art for this one is much more straightforward than for the other, but the dark sky and rising rocket reflect some key imagery from the story very well. And when my covers aren’t trippy, they’re straightforward.

The blurb for Waiting For:

Rudy has the honor of being one of the first permanent human colonists on Mars. Sonya plans to follow him in a year so they can be among the first to be married on the Red Planet… but Rudy’s brother Aaron has been keeping a secret that may throw those plans into a cocked hat…

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So, there you have it, my newest two offerings, self-published titles #61 and #62. Both science fiction, one (Waiting For) in a nearer future, much closer to home, and the other set far away in a future where humans haven’t just encountered alien life, but are familiar enough with aliens to run afoul of their legal systems.

Enjoy!

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