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I Published A New Collection And I Liked It

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Fine, okay, there were some bits that are never fun. Like building an ebook table of contents or going through a bunch of stories written in standard manuscript format and deleting all the tabs so they won’t screw up the ebook.

But yeah, I liked it. There are 21 science fiction stories in there, arranged roughly from the nearest future to the most distant. From the most plausible to the most conjectural. From the least to the most alien-to-us-today vision of humanity.

There are self-driving cars and artificial intelligences in love and undersea civilizations and killer climate change and all sorts of other good stuff.

You can preorder it from Amazon right now. Or from Barnes & Noble, or Kobo, or Smashwords. Or Google Play Books. Or the iTunes bookstore. Or… there are others. How many others I cannot guess. The internet is big. ūüôā

The release date is December 24th. Who doesn’t need something to read on Christmas Eve? I do. Ugh, the stress!

I, Robot Is Old-School Apolitical And Socially Neutral Science Fiction — Um, Right?

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I and some fellow writers (and reviewers, some may pick nits, but isn’t reviewing also creative writing? Yes, it is.) are getting together at The Scary Reviews comment section on Wednesday the 16th at 7 pm to discuss I, Robot. The idea is we’re to review the book on our own sites to kick things off. If you’d like to read a proper review, Lilyn G. over at SciFi and Scary wrote one.

I, however, rarely review anything in the traditional sense. In fact, I have avoided reviewing anything by a living author for years after seeing some of the one-star brigading of indie and self-published authors over personal conflicts and butthurt over receiving critical reviews (I’m going to avoid linking to any accounts of these incidents, as I don’t want to wake up any ill-tempered sleeping dogs).

I’m still thinking the above over — should I say “screw it” and jump in anyhow? Am I being a wimp? Lilyn isn’t afraid to throw a one-star review along with a reasoned explanation of why it wasn’t more. Feel free to chime in with a comment on my possible cowardice. But, onward:

When I do review these days, it’s a dead author.

Well, Asimov is dead, you say. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. I enjoyed reading¬†I, Robot in high school 25+ years ago¬†oh crap I’m getting old who could have predicted this indignity and I enjoyed reading it short story by short story over the course of the end of last month and the beginning of this. Good stuff, if you’ve ever only seen the movie you should read the stories because the movie, as usual, missed and skewed¬†A TON. In fact, more than usual. The stories were really just inspiration for the movie, not much more.

But reviews, as I suggested just a bit earlier, aren’t really my thing.

So I’m going to talk about old-school science fiction, what it isn’t, and what it is, using¬†I, Robot¬†as context.

Asimov wrote this collection in the spirit of Gernsback, a bedrock figure in the US science fiction scene. A scene that some of the right-wing Sad Rabid Puppies movement in current US science fiction hold up as a halcyon age where the genre was all about fun adventure reading that maintained neutrality in contemporary political and social movements.

But as I wrote in an earlier post about Gernsback and his work, that’s bullshit. Gernsback wrote about technocracy and world government — which, if you think about it, continue to be political and social movements across both political wings and anywhere between or beyond the wings today.

Gernsback was a pretty clumsy writer. He wrote the kind of stories that are rejected from slush piles today, because they were all about worldbuilding — describing potential technological advances and their potential ramifications — and had very little actual story in the story.

Asimov writes in much the same way, except he does it much better. He gives you a bit more humanity, and his writing, while equally lean and unflourished, is just plain better at drawing you into what is going on. He’s not very descriptive, but the little he describes sticks in your mind. His characters are sort of cardboard, but the drawing on the cardboard, at least, is interesting. The human story isn’t deep, but the technological story he tells is deep and engaging. The technology-driven story doesn’t hook on to the characters’ humanity — it hooks on to the¬†reader’s¬†humanity by speaking to elemental philosophical and social questions.

Asimov, in I, Robot and elsewhere, writes the epitome of old-school science fiction: technological, revolving around puzzles to solve and difficulties to overcome, basically hopeful of humanity, and inescapably linked to the social and political questions of the day.

A few examples from the collection:

Robbie speaks to the 1940s fear that advertising and television — technology — will warp and subvert the minds of our children as they are raised immersed in it. But Robbie the robot shows the reader that such needn’t be the case. Robbie risks his robotic life to save his young charge’s life and inspires the little girl to value love and loyalty — humanistic values encouraged ¬†by using technology in constructive and mindful fashion.

Reason grasps the irrationality and logic-rejection of religion and the easy handle it presents for manipulating the faithful through the presentation of a robot prophet who organizes a robots-only cult (the profession of robot faith, uncomfortably, mirrors the Islamic profession of faith, giving the Christian reader an out to avoid applying the story personally — but the principles apply equally to any zealous subset within any religion who reject sound science and observation on the theory it must automatically be incompatible with¬†faith). The story’s resolution leaves faith unconquered — but unquestionably¬†wrong, wrong, WRONG.

The Evitable Conflict¬†is utterly, totally politically charged. Place it in its proper context, the United States at the close of the 1940s, and the global political situation. The story revolves around the tendency for technology to rule humanity, in the familiar trope of artificial intelligence attempting to control human events — or dare I say,¬†take over the world? But the story itself is critical of nationalism and Western powers dominating and controlling world affairs, suggesting what is practically political heresy now and was¬†definitely heresy then, that the wheel of history may yet turn and political dominance may pass into hands that are not Western at all. The story suggests that the reader consider that deliberately managed peaceful globalism may be the solution to humanity’s most destructive problem, war, and that humans have never been so in control of affiars as politicians like to imagine, but instead at the mercy of economic and sociological forces.

How’s¬†that for “good old fashioned apolitical science fiction”?

 

Planning A New Collection For December!

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Look, I’m thinking or something. Do I look thoughtful? I think I might think I look like I’m thinking.

I’d have posted a cover, but I don’t have one yet. I may make one, or my stepson Erik may create one. He did the cover for Isolation and Other Stories and it came out great. ūüôā

The working, 99.9% sure I’m using it, title is¬†Closer Than You Think¬†and I’m planning to have it ready for pre-order as an ebook in November and released in December in time for Christmas!

I have over 50,000 words of short stories and novelettes ready for it right now, and if a couple more stories come together I hope to release it at 60,000 or more. That’s on top of the serial I’m doing over the next couple of months. And tweeting too much. And my coursework in my second master’s degree (Communication / New Media — the first just wrapped up in June and is in, surprise surprise, English / Creative Writing). And Patreon pieces like SciFi News Network and thirteen word stories. And homeschooling our 3 and 5 year old sons with the help of my wife and adult stepson. And any work the ugly, rickety trailer all five of us live in needs to keep it from falling apart before we can move the hell out at some as-yet-undetermined date in the future which will be sooner rather than later if you are kind enough to buy, read, and review some of my stories or head over to my Patreon to help me improve my life and income and readership by establishing some reliable and significant income from this writing thing I’m doing.

Um, hint-hint. Seriously, if you can, do the stuff I just said. Because living in this little crappy trailer and having next to no money is stressful and makes it hard as hell to write anything at all because DISTRACTIONS and WORRIES and from the list of stuff on my mind in the previous paragraph I’m also WAY TOO BUSY but everything has to get done if I want to make sure MY FAMILY DOESN’T END UP LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER. *cough*

VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER

But I was supposed to be telling you about the collection so let’s do that:¬†Closer Than You Think¬†will focus on human stories on or near Earth. No aliens, no space travel. Just the future of humanity right here in our cozy ancestral home which we’re currently polluting and crowding up and apparently baking with this climate change thing we’ve done to ourselves.

The stories will progress roughly from near future to far future — from tomorrow to a couple thousand years in the future. There will be stories of failure, disaster, ambition, success, mistakes, and just plain weird futures where humanity has become something most of us would consider just a bit… alien. Despite the lack of “Little Green Men” in the stories.

It’s going to be awesome, and you’re going to love it.

Just wait.

 

Genre Is Small — inspired by the Star Wars Greeks of Travis Durden

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Some art that made me say, “cool!” and a few tweets led to some bigger thoughts on genre writing – which is a pretty normal thing, small ideas leading to larger ones, if you’ve done some writing or pretty much any art I can think of or serious thinking.

I found Travis Durden’s Star Wars Greek statuary through a tweet I saw¬†a couple of hours ago (on the 27th — this post first appeared on my Patreon page ¬†(would you like to support a not-quite-starving writer? Please do! Because every penny helps tear down the budget worries that often occupy my mind when I’d rather be writing) in the wee hours of the 28th) (tweet posted below). Durden’s art is seriously neat stuff.

 

Which lead to this tweet:

 

And this one:

And finally this one:

 

After I graduated from kiddie books so many years ago, I cut my reading teeth on science fiction. I tried reading the paperbacks my father brought home from used bookstores and quickly learned to look for the short story collections and anthologies — I’d recently learned to read, it was hard enough to work through all the words I didn’t recognize without trying to figure out what was going on in a whole novel. But the shorter short stories, in those early years, I could wrap my mind around those. And remember (well, you might not have known, so I’m telling you) this was in the mid-70s, when certainly many authors in science fiction and elsewhere may have been experimental in their writing, but the mainstream in short science fiction stories was heavy with straightforward plots, traditional story arcs, and mysteries resolved with a single final twist. There’s plenty of that now, to be sure. But either there was more then or those are what I remember because they’re the stories I understood as a child.

 

That’s a long way to go to say that science fiction seemed huge to me, but it did. It seemed huge and very distinct because it was my entire fictional world then. Nursery rhymes and the little stories found in early reader books — if you’ve had or been around small children just learning to read much, you’ll recall them — hardly counted.

 

And science fiction is distinct, or at least distinctive. The definition has been endlessly debated over, but most of us who read much of it recognize it when we see it. The same goes for the other genres I mentioned in that last tweet. Horror is distinct enough that we notice the difference, for example, when we read a Stephen King horror story as opposed to a Stephen King something else. Legends have a pretty distinct definition. Magical realism blurs the lines — sometimes it’s fantasy, sometimes it’s science ficiton, sometimes it’s literary, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes.

 

That’s the genre that really makes the point, with its blurryness.

 

They’re all blurry, really. Think of Star Wars: get a SW fan who calls it science fiction and a SW fan who calls it science fantasy in the same room and watch the genre boundary argument fur fly.

 

We love to dicker over what story counts as which genre and who’s that writer whose work is called X but really it’s more Y don’t you think?

 

To say they’re all fiction is too simplistic. But there’s that in pointing out that genres are small things that cannot really contain a story, not the large and well-defined things we’re tempted to think of them as, that we often reflexively think of them as after a scholastic lifetime of being taught the boundaries of genre.

 

They’re all stories. They’re all about human beings and what human beings do and think and feel and wonder. All of them, even the genres where there is debate as to whether or not they’re fiction or nonfiction: mythology, legend, religion.

 

They’re stronger when they wander, stories are. When we get it into our minds that we can’t write in X event because we’re writing science fiction or that Y character doesn’t make sense because we’re reading fantasy, we weaken the stories that we might otherwise love, whether we’re reading them, writing them, or representing them in other forms of art. For centuries fiction and poetry have derived inspiration and imagery from religion and mythology and legend (assuming you divide stories that faith has grown up around into those rather than lumping them together). Star Wars is beloved science fiction in part because it incorporates elements of fantasy and legend and even, at least in the beginning, of the Western movie.

 

Try picking out a few of your favorite stories that have won wide acclaim or are considered enduring classics. Give them a read with this in mind, and look for where the genres blur. You don’t need a story that glaringly throws seventeen genres together; one that’s mostly in one but draws in bits of others is just fine — even better, in fact.

 

Much like the ancient advice that a single stick alone is weak but a bundle of those same sticks is strong together, I think you’ll find that stories that gather together elements of different genres are the strongest.

 

And I also think that it’s more than worth the effort to seek them out as a reader, and to try to create them as a writer.

Part Of Writing Science Fiction Is Asking What The Future Will Forget

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Do you remember this being a thing? I don’t. I do remember the Atari 2600 — plenty of people do. They were all over the place, one of the earliest and most popular video game systems.

But this ‘double-ender’ thing… really? I had no clue before I saw this image. But apparently they saw some success¬†and were an early attempt to mate theme music to games in a way that made sense (and sounded better than the often-cheesy SFX of the 2600).

But my point isn’t “look at this weird thing from the past”… although it’s admittedly a side-point.

My point is, we forget a lot about the past. We’re here, and it’s back there. As with seeing and hearing, the farther something is from us, the less detail we perceive. The same is true of time. The farther back in time a thing is from us, the less we know about it (in general — historians generate specific and focused exceptions). When I’m writing a story that takes place a century or two in the future and the past becomes relevant to the characters, I have to ask myself what they might know and what they might not. What is important to us now, or at least present in our general knowledge, that will be lost to non-historians or entirely lost to the people of the future? If I’m writing something set fifty years from now, maybe they have no clue what¬†Glee was, or that you couldn’t hang a TV on the wall with thumbtacks like a poster. Ten thousand years from now (and I have a couple of stories set that far ahead), and maybe they don’t know what a ‘nation’ was.

Knowledge, like the proverbial pebble dropped in a pond, casts a ripple effect. Knowing one thing implies knowing what a thousand other things are, and it shapes how a person behaves in entirely unrelated matters.

Lack of knowledge acts the same way. And the way you handle that and understand that in your stories about the future will have a ripple effect upon the quality of those stories.

A Year Ago Tomorrow: Isolation

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Time flies.¬† I remember working on these stories and it doesn’t seem possible that it was so long ago.¬† On the other hand, my mind is full of the stories I’m working on now, so I wasn’t even really thinking of them before I realized the anniversary of my publishing Isolation and Other Stories was coming up.¬† I only noticed because I decided to poke around in my blog archives for the heck of it.

Isolation and Other Stories contains my longest work to date.¬† Most of my stories weigh in shy of 7500 words; I’m very much a short story writer.¬† I have given thought to producing something at novel length.¬† I have a couple of stories sitting partially completed that could probably work as novels.¬† Some that I’ve produced in the past might be expanded to that length.¬† The title story of this collection, in fact, could probably become a novel if I were so inclined.¬† As Isolation stands, it is the longest thing I’ve ever written, at 20,000 words.¬† (Down on the Farm, also in this collection, is the second longest at 18,000 words.)¬† While I’m happy with the ending, it is one of those endings that looks forward to an uncertain future and invites the reader to think about what is possible.¬† It leaves room for a continuation.

Maybe I will, one day, sit down and write that continuation.  But for now, I still have the feeling I had when I first sat down to write with the idea that I might produce a story that others would read.  I have the feeling of a psychic backlog of ideas unvoiced.  From grade school through my early twenties, I occasionally produced short stories for my own satisfaction.  I had the creative urge, but did not think what I created could be worthy of the interest of others.  After my early twenties I gave up on writing and let my creative urge express itself through the medium of role playing games.

I like role playing games.¬† I think they’re a worthwhile exercise in cooperative storytelling for most participants.¬† But they weren’t ultimately satisfying to me, and I misused them as an escape from reality.¬† I won’t say I’ll never participate in one again, but I have no plans to.¬† It feels, to me, as if it would be too easy to use them to squander the hours and days I need for writing and for raising my children and for all of the other things in my life.¬† That’s not a problem with the games; it is my problem with them.

The writing is satisfying in a way the games never managed to be for me.  And there is three decades, give or take, of creative pressure behind me, urging me to voice all those backed up story ideas.

So I produce short stories, and I gather them into collections like Isolation and Other Stories once in a while.  And I hope that others will read and enjoy.  It is probably poor form for an author to have favorites, but this is my favorite collection so far.  I think someone who has never read me before would be well served to start here; it feels like my best foot forward.

It also doesn’t hurt that the cover art was contributed by my talented stepson, Erik Elliott.¬† That gives it a certain sentimental element in my thoughts and feelings beyond my fondness for the stories.

You can see the blurbs for all of the stories from clicking through here, on this sentence. 

The first five thousand words are previewed here, so you can enjoy a sample of Isolation.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this.¬† I certainly enjoyed writing it for you.

Coming Soon: Another Damn Cat Story

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I blame the internet for corrupting me with its pervasive and insidious LOLcats and ridiculously cute cat memes.  The cover is a bit silly, but no sillier than the cover I did for Cat Zen.

 

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Meow Right Now will be the second cat story the internets have talked me into writing.¬† Out of 70ish short stories, I’m running at almost 3% cat content.¬† That seems like a little much, but what can I say… I do like cats.

 

Oh, clever internet.¬† Look how you’ve warped me.

Seriously Eclectic, Short Stories Edition

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Double vision!

 

 

The upside of having an eclectic vision, or, put another way, of being a scatterbrain: variety!¬† I love variety in just about everything.¬† Music, food, my reading, my writing.¬† The downside: lack of focus.¬† Focus has its advantages.¬† It’s easier to finish things when you’re focused.¬† Finishing stories can be a struggle for me.¬† I tend to get interested in something else and wander away.¬† If I didn’t make myself go back and finish, I could easily have a couple of hundred story fragments and nothing done.¬† As the hoary old chestnut goes, starting things is easy, but as time goes on… SQUIRREL!¬† Look at the squirrel over there!¬† Wait, there’s something shiny the other direction, wonder what it is… hey, I’m hungry, are you hungry?¬† Wonder what sort of snacks are available…

 

Today’s thoughts of the ups and downs of eclecticism came to me while updating my ‘stories to either resubmit to markets or self-publish if I’m tired of sending them back out’ stack.¬† Right now the stack stands at five; I don’t like it to get much larger than that.¬† Stories sitting around on my hard drive doing nothing are, well, doing nothing.¬† And that’s just not helpful.¬† They’re an eclectic lot.¬† Let’s take a look at what I have here, using 1-word shorthand for titles, since I haven’t sold or released any of them yet:

 

 

Kitty: Near-future. Speculative fiction, just barely.¬† If it wasn’t set in the near future, it would be a mainstream story and it reads like one.¬† A tale of a boy and his cat in an impoverished coastal North Carolina ravaged by severe sea-level rise and powerful climate-change-fueled storms.

 

 

Meow: Call this one contemporary fantasy.¬† A Cat of Power awakes after a long sleep frozen in Siberian permafrost and tries to make sense of what the world has become. Two cat stories in the lot is as close as I come to a theme in this list.¬† I do like a good cat story.¬† I blame the internet’s bad influence.

 

 

Dawn: Definitely science fiction, there are spaceships and everything.¬† The participants in a long-distance relationship meet via interstellar travel.¬† As usual in a long-distance relationship story, there’s something unsaid that must be confronted once they meet.

 

 

Pornodroid: Science fiction, again with spaceships and everything.¬† Not as sexy as it sounds.¬† A pop music star under a very onerous contract discovers that stardom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and finds a high-tech way to attempt an escape.

 

 

Fire: A 100-word western involving a lost Spaniard, a nasty bearded brigand, and a campfire. 

 

 

 

Maybe it would be a little easier to attract readers if I stuck to one thing.¬† On the other hand, I can’t be the only one who enjoys variety.¬† And frankly, if I tried to compress myself into a branding-marketing straitjacket and keep everything focused, I have a feeling that the writing I produced would rapidly start to suck.¬† I’m happy being a bit scatterbrained.¬† My mind is a restless dog, sticking its nose into every corner and smelling after new and exciting smells.¬† If I tried to chain it down it would rapidly become unhappy and you’d get tired of hearing it bark all the time.

Positive Rejection

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Perhaps I’ve been fortunate in not — so far — having received a rude or discouraging rejection. I hear that some do.

 

The closest I’ve gotten was, upon my third or fourth (fifth?) rejection from a particular zine, one that added (paraphrased from memory) ‘this is a great example of what we’re looking for’ with a link to a story. Overall, that’s a pretty nice way to tell me that what I was sending them wasn’t really in the genre they want.

 

I recently got what I think is my most positive rejection to date. It combined the (again, paraphrased from memory) phrases, ‘enjoyed reading your story’, ‘think highly of your writing’, and ‘send more’.

 

My first, selfish thought was, ‘well, why didn’t you buy it, then?’

 

Sometimes, it pays to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about it a bit. So my second, less selfish, thought was to do just that.

 

So: most zines and journals and similar concerns publish a handful of stories in each issue, maybe half a dozen, or twice that, or half. Some publish monthly. More publish six or four or fewer times yearly. That means that most markets you can send your short story to publish fewer than a hundred stories yearly; most publish significantly fewer than that.

 

Each one of them, aside from the tiniest and most obscure, receives hundreds of submissions monthly.

 

Imagine an issue of the magazine you’ve submitted a story to as a branch. There is space for half a dozen birds on that branch.

 

Above the branch, your story is one among a flock numbering at least a couple of thousand. For the sake of this metaphor, the entire rest of the tree is studded with spikes for some reason. Can’t land there.

 

When your bird gets so close to landing on the one available branch that someone hollers “good job!” that’s a good sign. Even if you have to send your bird over to the next tree in search of a place to land.

3 From The Edge

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Edit 6/11/13: Now available from Amazon.

6/16/13:  It just went live on Kobo.

6/26/13: Time got away from me… checking now: it’s on Diesel, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Sony Reader Store as well.

 

New story time again.¬† This time, I had 2 short stories and 1 piece of flash fiction.¬† Together, they add up to about 6500 words.¬† I couldn’t see asking 99 cents for them individually, but together I think it’s a pretty reasonable deal.

The title speaks to the nature of the stories.  Each depicts a turning point in history, something that wrought or will wreak gigantic changes that will touch every life on Earth.

I think you’ll like them.¬† You can find 3 From The Edge at Smashwords, and I’ll update here as it becomes available from other outlets.

Have fun reading!