Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grand Master line up

So, I've decided on my 12 reads for the SF Grand Master challenge at Worlds Without End. My choice was a bit limited in some cases, because I'm reading them all on Kindle (the pbook is dead). Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting to grips with:
The Forever War - Joe Haldeman, Non-Stop - Brian Aldiss, The Deceivers - Alfred Bester, Deathbird Stories - Harlan Ellison, Double Meaning - Damon Knight, Emphyrio - Jack Vance, Station in Space - James Gunn, Time Enough for Love - Robert Heinlein, The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula LeGuin, Iceworld - Hal Clement, Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg, The World of Null-A - AE Van Vogt.

Happy reading ahead.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SF Grand Master Challenge - what to read?

I came to this a little late, but the very cool Worlds Without End spec fic book site is running an SF Grand Master reading challenge. It started in January and the idea is to pick and read 12 Grand Master's novels in the year and review at least six. It's an opportunity for me to read some authors I already love and others who, for want of time and/ or motivation, I just haven't gotten around to yet.

I'm currently reading The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, but what other titles should I read? Does anyone have any suggestions of 'must read' novels by the following worthies?

L.Sprague DeCamp, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, Damon Knight, Ursula K.LeGuin, Michael Moorcock, Andre Norton, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance and Jack Williamson.

Head over to Worlds Without End and get your own Grand Master list happening.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Verisimilitude

It's a beautifully formed word, isn't it? Playing on the lips like a kiss. It's also life and death for speculative fiction. I was reviewing some handouts I got from Terry Dowling at a spec fic writing course many moons ago. Terry advocates a huge amount of thought should go into building imagined worlds. Some might say he takes it to an almost ridiculous degree, but you only need to read one of Terry's stories to feel the reality of the worlds he creates at a granular level. So I'm firmly with him on this.

As writers, we think about a lot of these things in broad terms. You focus on the immediate detail to support plot advancement. But if your character is a loner you may not worry about kinship structures or how family units function in a particular society, what the prevailing view is on monogamy, polygamy, hetero or same sex couplings, associated mores, taboos, how property is invested, and passed on. But all of those things, if you really took the time to sit down and map them out, could provide some interesting local colour for your story. That's nice. But even more importantly, they could open up a whole raft of previously unconsidered plot twists, complications and so on that take your story to the next level.

Terry has a list of 14 major headings to think about in world building. Some are obvious, like religion, to the not so obvious like the preferred sport and its origins. I won't go into the whole list here because it's not mine. But 10 or 15 minutes leafing through a newspaper will give you an idea of the sort of things that are deemed 'interesting' or 'essential' to our society. It's only a short thought experiment from there to constructing a radically different set of fundamental societal keystones. Then the fun can begin.

Oh, if you can get a hold of it, I also recommend Worldbuilding by Stephen L Gillet. That looks more at the physics that form and act upon planetary bodies. Another way to add that all important verisimilitude.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Non-existence

Just caught up with the Aurealis Awards' Peter McNamara Award for Excellence blurb. It was great that Galactic Sububia won. They do a fantastic job, and it's nice to see the Aurealis Awards look past the written word.
But. I just read the award rationale. I think the AAs need a fact checker:
Galactic Suburbia was one of the first Australian podcasts of SF literature and culture, and has inspired many new Australian podcasts, including The Coode Street Podcast, The Writer and the Critic, and Bad Film Diaries, Live and Sassy and The Book Nut. Thus GS has founded a new arena for SF criticism and review in Australia, as well as bringing a new international audience to Australian writing...
Great stuff. Though the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast actually began 15 months before Galactic Suburbia ie Nov 2008 compared with Mar 2010, so the Australian podcasting scene wasn't exactly Terra Nullis before GS came on the scene. Just saying.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Failure

Well I've been thinking about the reception and 'impact' of Anywhere but Earth which I published via coeur de lion publishing in November last year. And I have to admit that despite loving that book and having three stories shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards for SF short story (one of which won - thanks Rob!), ABE has been a bit of a failure. Of course I didn't expect to make money out of the book, so I wasn't particularly looking for commercial success. But critically, I think it's fair to say it has failed. ABE failed to make the shortlist in the anthology section of the Aurealis Awards. It failed to make any shortlist - short story, collection or otherwise - in the Ditmar Awards. It hasn't been listed in any other awards that I know of. Despite sending advance copies to reviewers at Locus, ASIF,  and SF review sites and magazines here and overseas, no-one has gauged  its content or anything else about it  worthy of review. We've had some great feedback from readers on Goodreads, but that, and the short story award have been blips in what, on the whole, has been a whistling downward trajectory into independent publishing oblivion.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Superficial too

Redrafting stories is an essential part of writing. 'The Superficial Contact of Two Bodies' is a short story I've been redrafting periodically since 2004. I think I've finally cracked it. It's a cliche that authors have to kill there darlings. But the underlying truth of that is that as writers our skills develop and improve and what we considered as our own good writing one or two years ago looks cringeworthy on later re-read. I still believed in the narrative of Superficial but it contained much that was overwritten and overblown. I think I've pared it back  now and included detail that rounds out the world and the scenario. A week in the bottom drawer and a final review and I think it will be ready to hit the markets.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Unconscious writing


I’m a big fan of my brain. Well, not just my brain, but the writer’s brain – you know, the one that throws up the plot twist or thematic link that you’ve needed and wanted for so long, and does so when you least expect it?

Yesterday, while ironing a shirt, my brain laid out the key piece of dramatic and thematic tension for the (as yet unwritten) third Kresh book. It came, not from nowhere, but from that unconscious problem-solving part of the brain that knows so much more than my consciousness about what the hell is going on and why things are they way they are. Book three is a long way off but I’ve been wondering on and off what it should be about without actually sitting down and pouring some real effort into it. Now I know. It’s also affirmed one of the things I want to discuss in my GOH speech at Conflux 8, tentatively titled ‘Good Editing: What is it and does it have a future?’ I’m a firm believer that the job of the editor is to point out what’s wrong in a piece but not necessarily to suggest a solution. The best solution comes from the author, once they’ve been alerted to the problem, and the author’s best tool to provide that solution is generally the unconscious mind. Anyway, more of that in times to come. Right now – with a hiatus in editing Pyrotechnicon – I’m going to try and finish a short story that’s been in the bottom drawer for quite some time now. Thanks again to my unconscious, and the passage of time, I think I see what it needs. It’s called ‘The Superficial Contact of Two Bodies’ and it’s my love, betrayal, revenge, redemption and end of the universe story. Hopefully coming to a magazine near you in the next 12 months.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What the Hemming!

The Norma K Hemming award was set up to acknowledge excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in Australian speculative fiction writing . It sounded like a great idea and I submitted two brilliant stories from X6 (the World Fantasy Award winning 'Sea-Hearts' by Margo Lanagan and the Aurealis Award winning 'Wives' from Paul Haines) for the inaugural award in 2010. Both stories were amazingly written and tackled head on just the sort of issues that the Hemming was set up for. Both of these worthy stories missed out to the truly execrable The Gene Thieves by Maria Quinn. See my review to understand just how bad a piece of writing this actually was. This year's shortlist for the Hemming Award has just been released. While I know some of the works listed and many of the writers are noteworthy, there seems to be a huge gap in the shortlist given the focus of the Hemming. Where on earth is Kim Westwood's gender bending noir thriller The Courier's New Bicycle? This piece of work has already picked up a mention on the Tiptree Honours List (as did Paul Haines's 'Wives') and been shortlisted for Aurealis and Ditmar Awards. The organisers and judges of the Hemming Awards have (as they did in 2010) missed out big time and done another disservice to the credibility of the Hemming Award.