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Archive for the ‘Science fiction and fantasy’ Category

Life is going forward at a breakneck pace, and I’m feeling kind of tired. So let’s talk about Star Trek today, shall we?

I have very little exposure to Star Trek in my past. The original Star Trek series aired right after the Brady Bunch when I was quite young (maybe around six?) so I saw a few episodes, which didn’t make much sense to me. At some point in my childhood, I also saw the Star Trek movie that has whales in it. In college, I saw a few episodes of Voyager. And this was the extent of my knowledge until the movie reboots came out, at which point I also took it upon myself to watch The Wrath of Khan movie.

Yes, I’ve always been a Star Wars person.

My sparse Star Trek knowledge came up at a party this summer, and a few friends and I hatched a plan to expose me to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Since the beginning of September, we have watched the highlights of Season 1 and are now a few episodes into Season 2.

And suddenly I understand! I’ve heard about the world of Star Trek before, but I’ve never seen a replicator in action. With the little bit of Star Trek I’d been exposed to, it hadn’t really sunk in that it was set in a post-scarcity society. I didn’t know this Enterprise could break into two different ships. I hadn’t thought carefully about the implications of the Prime Directive. I knew Wil Wheaton from Tabletop.

And now that I know them, I’m beginning to notice the references being made to Star Trek around me. They were probably always being made around me and just flying right over my head. This week I met a guy who described what he’s working on as being like the communicators in Star Trek. Before I would have nodded but not really had any image of what he was talking about, but now I know! Someone else referenced some characters from the show, and I got all excited because I knew who they were talking about! It’s like a whole new world of cultural references has been revealed to me.

(And I can’t wait to see Galaxy Quest again because I’m sure there were so many references I completely missed.)

I was afraid I wouldn’t like TNG because it’s pretty much episodic (at least so far), and I tend to enjoy shows with larger arcs. And, um, the plotting (at least so far) is not really all that. It’s pretty predictable, problems are generally solved pretty easily (which, I mean, of course they are because there’s only forty minutes to do it in), and for most of the episodes, I don’t feel a lot of plot-driven tension.

But I reckoned without the characters, the ideas, and the general tone. I don’t know if these are the reasons why other people watch this show, but they certainly are my reasons. Because it is optimistic, and that’s nice to see. And sometimes it’s ridiculous and random and silly (any of the Holodeck episodes, pretty much), and I enjoy the characters’ enjoyment even while I appreciate the absurdity. I love Captain Picard’s speaking voice because how can you not enjoy that diction with that dialogue? It is simultaneously wonderful and hilarious.

And I’ve completely fallen in love with Data. I would watch The Data Show, I really would. I love his expressions, I love his idiosyncracies, I love his desire to understand humanity and become more human himself. It is pure joy to watch him.

So yes, I’m more than twenty-five years late to this party, but even now it’s a great party to find.

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I was approached by a few people who read my last blog post and were concerned that bad things had happened to me on my vacation.

On the contrary, friends. On the contrary. I had an amazing trip.

The plan was as follows: to begin in East London at WorldCon, to move to central London to enjoy a week of blissful London time, and then to end with a few days in southeast Wales. This turned out to be an excellent plan.

I had an emotionally challenging summer. Any time your best inspirational words are “things get worse before they get better,” you know things aren’t going so great at that particular moment, however optimistic you may feel about the future. My hope was that my vacation would give me a chance to clear my head, gain perspective, and get some emotional rest. And it certainly succeeded at giving me all these things.

For me, travel, whether it is recreational or to a convention or a combination of both, takes me outside of my familiar, everyday world. I see people I normally wouldn’t see, I have conversations I normally wouldn’t have, I learn about things I wouldn’t normally learn about, I spend my time differently. Not only does this refill the creative wells, but it also serves in a larger sense as a reminder of what is possible.

I think this is always valuable, but when you are having a difficult time, it becomes even more so because it shows you potential ways forward. It encourages movement instead of paralysis. It encourages analysis with an eye toward positive change instead of hopelessness. It gives new context to old problems.

It allows space to imagine a better world. Or at least a healthier life.

Why is this important? Because you can’t move closer to that life unless you can see enough to know what direction to take. It’s difficult to make choices based on your priorities until you are very clear on what those priorities are. And sometimes they need to be reaffirmed several times before they become truly internalized.

The other helpful ingredient for imagining a healthier life is hope. And WorldCon delivered big time on this one. I cried at the Hugo ceremony. Okay, I always cry at the Hugo ceremony, but this time was different. Kameron Hurley and her double win for Fan Writer and for her brilliant essay “We Have Always Fought” meant a lot to me. This recognition from my community for such important work gave me hope. The respect and support of my colleagues gave me hope. The steps forward I had been making in recent months, however difficult, began to give me hope too.

So yes, it was a wonderful vacation indeed. And I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.

At the Hugos.

At the Hugos.

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I’ll be attending WorldCon in London next week, and I was persuaded to participate in the programming, so here are the details of the panel I’ll be on:

 

Friday, August 15 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 8 (ExCeL)

Swords that go schiiing! as they’re drawn, hay bales lying around in medieval times, and flames in a vacuum: just a few examples of factually erroneous writing. The panelists will look at the most anachronistic and scientific blunders and descriptions that just don’t make sense, but continue to be used over and over again. Do these obvious errors serve a purpose within the larger context of story? Are they comforts from which an author can build discomfort?

Ian Nichols (M), Andrew Barton, Amanda Kear, Alison Sinclair, Amy Sundberg

 

This should be an interesting panel, if only because I am one of those readers who often doesn’t care about these sorts of factual mistakes. As a writer, however, I do want to get it as right as I can, because perfectionism, but I also care a great deal about the story and about everything working together in service of telling that story. So perhaps we can find a way to make this panel a little more lively and less predictable than simply a list of all the stuff writers always get wrong. We’ll find out next week, when I will be in all my jet-lagged glory!

In the meantime, I should probably crowdsource and discover more of these factual mistakes that I often overlook  but that drive other people nuts. I’d love to hear about your factual pet peeves in science fiction and fantasy. What would you like me to spread a little awareness about next week? I’m looking forward to referencing Kameron Hurley’s “We Have Always Fought,” for starters.

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I recently read an article by PZ Myers about how silence is political, and it gave me pause. While I do place a lot of importance on having a voice, I am frequently silent. In particular, I often remain silent about the controversy du jour of the science fiction community, of which I am firmly a part.

I remain silent because it is the easy thing to do, and it is my privilege to be able to choose to do so. I remain silent because I want to be liked, and I usually have friends on both sides of the issue. I remain silent because it takes a lot of energy to produce a well-crafted statement of opinion, and sometimes I don’t have that energy to spare.

The choice to remain silent is, however, inherently political. I am choosing not to rock the boat. I am choosing not to expend the energy. I am choosing what is important enough that I’ll brave the inevitable conflict for speaking about it. I don’t know that this is incorrect in that I have finite resources, but it is an act of privilege that I feel I can afford to stay silent, that I even have a choice at all.

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

It is with this in mind that I’m going to talk about my recent decision involving SFWA. For those of you who don’t know, SFWA is the professional organization for science fiction and fantasy writers. My membership came up for renewal last month, and I was quite torn about whether to renew. Much of this, I confess, came down to the mundane fact that I didn’t particularly want to spend the $90 required, but I’ve also been disturbed by the controversies regarding sexism that have been rocking this professional organization for the last year or so. What to do, what to do?

I was speaking about SFWA to a friend of mine who stated he didn’t think he’d join once eligible. He talked about how all the scandal has tarnished SFWA’s reputation and how they don’t behave like a professional organization. He criticized organizational decisions and responses and behavior. He made several valid points.

And to my surprise, I found myself defending SFWA. When an organization is striving to make large and systemic changes, it is bound to be messy and slower than we would wish, I argued. But if I support the intended changes towards more professionalism and less sexism, can I in good conscience abandon the organization before giving them time to correct? The latest revamped Bulletin (the organization’s newsletter) is an excellent example of something deeply positive and helpful coming out of all the controversy of the last year.

Ultimately I feel that my decision as to whether to remain a SFWA member is also political. And this year, I chose to pay my dues and stay a part of the organization.

I believe that communities cannot change without experiencing growing pains. And a lot of the controversy of the last year and a half is happening because people are no longer staying silent. Having people speak up about difficult issues almost always causes a push-back. Just as some people in my life were unhappy with my decision to leave my people-pleasing days behind me, so some people in SFWA have been unhappy with those members who have chosen to speak out against the sexism of the Bulletin, among other issues. Change is hard and painfully slow. But the only way the change will stick is if the people invested in the change hold the course.

So yes, sometimes SFWA does not act like the professional organization it is striving to become. Sometimes its officers make errors of judgment. Sometimes it seems like its responses are ridiculously slow. But I believe it is on the course to becoming more professional. And I’m willing to give it some more time to see if it’s able to continue to transform itself into an organization of which I am proud to be a member.

Next year I’ll probably go through the same mental gymnastics in order to decide whether to renew. But for now, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I’m speaking up about my decision.

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Now that I’m back home from ConFusion, and after talking a bit about impostor syndrome, a few of you might be wondering how my panels went.

Short answer: I had a great time!

Longer answer: Once I was at the convention, any nerves I had melted magically away. I had been afraid I’d be that panelist who sits there silently while everyone else talks, but that didn’t happen. I always had a lot to say, and most of the panels went by very quickly. Plus I had the great fortune to share the panels with a lot of intelligent and well-spoken people, talking about subjects that I am very interested in.

My favorite panel was “What Does Rejection Mean?” Not surprisingly, I can talk about the psychology of being a writer (or more generally, being an artist) all day long, and I also really liked what my fellow panelists had to say. I moderated three of the five panels, having only prepped to moderate one of them. I’m a planner so the idea of moderating on the fly is one that filled me with a certain horror, but as it turned out, I was able to improvise without too much difficulty.

Getting ready for battle

Getting ready for battle

I decided a couple of months ago to set myself a few goals that I could have confidence in my ability to complete while definitely still stretching myself. So many of my goals are long in duration, very challenging, and involve a lot of me stumbling around and making mistakes. This is necessary; I am ambitious. But sometimes it’s good to balance all the striving with achievement I know I can reach quickly if I commit myself to it. Participating on these panels at ConFusion was one of those short-term achievable goals, and it was a welcome change to try something that made me nervous but that I knew I had the skills to do. (I have another of these goals coming up in a few weeks, so more about that soon!)

More generally, I always have a great time at ConFusion, and this year was no exception. I was struck by how much value I receive when I have the opportunity to spend time with my fellow writers, whether they’re just starting out, have been around a few years like I have, or are at more advanced stages of their careers.

I’d been feeling a bit bummed out ever since my last novel fell apart, operating under a cloud of discouragement. I didn’t let this feeling stop me from planning my next novel project or continuing to query agents, but it’s been there, and it hasn’t been pleasant. For lack of a better way to describe it, I haven’t been feeling writerly. ConFusion reminded me of who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish, and talking to other writers about our projects and our processes has given me a renewed sense of focus.

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan

Being writerly at the ConFusion barcon. Photo by Al Bogdan, 2014

More generally, I’ve been thinking of how important my writer community is to me. As a consequence, I’m bumping a Seattle visit up the priority list this year and considering the possibility of scheduling some Skype writer dates. Too much creative isolation does not a happy Amy make.

All in all, it was a very successful and productive weekend.

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This weekend I’ll be attending Legendary ConFusion in Detroit. I am so excited! This is my third year at this convention, and I always have a lovely time.

I’m also going to be a panelist this year, for a few reasons:

1. I remembered to sign up. And I knew I was going far enough ahead that I could sign up.

2. This is a great time for me to get panelist experience because the stakes for me right now are fairly low. I’ve been a panelist (actually, a moderator) at FogCon a few times, but I figured it would be good to give it a try somewhere besides my home con. Plus, the idea makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel very qualified, which means I’m probably experiencing impostor syndrome.  So I absolutely have to challenge myself and do it.

3. I really care about gender parity on panels, so I felt I should volunteer to increase the pool of female panelists. And if my schedule is any indication, ConFusion is doing a great job including female panelists this year, which is super awesome.

If you are going to be at ConFusion this year, or if you’re just curious, here is my schedule: (FIVE panels.  I’m going to talking a lot this weekend!)

 

What you might want to be reading RIGHT NOW

Saladin Ahmed (M), Amy Sundberg, Merrie Haskell, Patrick Tomlinson, Gretchen Ash

11am Saturday – Erie

Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.

Who Would Win: YA

Sarah Zettel, Aimee Carter, Amy Sundberg, Courtney Moulton

12pm Saturday – Southfield

Beyond Katniss versus Katsa and Alanna versus Tris–let’s also talk Elisa’s council versus Bitterblue’s council, Tris’s Factions versus Cassia’s Society, Moulton’s Fallen versus Taylor’s chimaera, and whatever else our panelists and the audience can devise.

What does rejection Mean?

Elizabeth Shack, Mike Carey, Amy Sundberg, Nancy Fulda, C. C. Finlay

5pm Saturday – Rotunda

Rejections are a part of the business when writing, but few of us understand what a rejection is – beyond the soul crushing part. We discuss what a professional rejection is and isn’t, and try to help shed light on both the why? and the what now?

How do I find the right fit when looking for an Agent?

Amy Sundberg, Lucy A. Snyder, Aimee Carter, Christian Klaver

7pm Saturday – Ontario

What do you look for? Should you ever consider changing agents or is there a situation where one should find more than one? What are some warning signs or things to avoid?

I, Symbiote

Amy Sundberg, Wesley Chu, Sarah Gibbons, Doselle Young

10am Sunday – Erie

AI, alien entities, ghosts, and hallucination can all result in  narratives with two minds in one body. What about this appeals to us, and what might that say in an era when we are approaching this level of technology?

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This weekend at Legendary ConFusion I’m going to be on a panel in which we discuss recent science fiction and fantasy novels that we thought were good, along with some that are coming out soon that we’re looking forward to. So it’s basically a recommendation panel. The perfect time for me to write about what I think about recommending books.

The problem with book recommendations is that taste differs. The biggest mistake I see people making with their recommendations (or at least the one I notice most often) is that they assume because they liked a book, that means I’ll like the book, even when they know nothing (or very little) about what I like and dislike. Which is another way of assuming everyone will like the book.

Everyone will NEVER like every book. I know this all too well because I have what I’ll call a distinctive sense of taste. This doesn’t mean I think my taste is better than other people’s, or even particularly developed. It means that there are plenty of books–particularly adult science fiction and fantasy–that are extremely popular and that I either really didn’t like or can’t force myself to get through.

Photo Credit: jinterwas via Compfight cc

As it turns out, readers enjoy different things and are bothered by different things. I read primarily for character, although I also appreciate a good plot. (See my love for Agatha Christie. A lot of her characters are pretty cardboard, but the mysteries are so compelling to me that I don’t care.) If the characters are interesting to me, I don’t mind a slower pace and I’ll even overlook some sloppy plotting (aka a coincidence or two). I am bothered by characters who don’t seem real, by extremely dense prose, by large and gaping plot holes, and by most large infodumps. I can sometimes let fairly far-fetched world building go, especially in the high-concept stage of the world, as long as the world remains consistent and the characters are involved in a struggle that captures my imagination. But even I have my limits. (Love is a disease that everyone is cured from when they’re 18? Nope. Couldn’t believe it.)

I don’t mind dark fiction, and I don’t mind sad endings, but I’m less excited if the entire novel is just flat-out depressing to me. (I couldn’t finish Revolutionary Road for this reason.) There are certain fantastical tropes that I’m pretty tired of, including: werewolves, Fae anything, dragons, and portal quests. That being said, I still read novels with these elements, I’m just more picky about how they’re handled. For some reason I have more patience for vampires, witches and other magic users, and the politics associated with monarchies. There is a whole complicated system of subgenres that I’m more likely to enjoy or bounce off.

This is all to say, recommending novels blindly is like doing anything else blindly: your success rate is not going to be all that great. So when I recommend novels, I prefer to do it by describing what a novel is like and leaving it to my audience to decide if it fits into their taste. For example:

  • This novel is like this other novel you might have read or heard about, and this is how.

  • This novel is great if you don’t mind the silly central world building idea. If that kind of thing bothers you, though, give it a pass.

  • This novel is this particular sub-genre, or maybe these two sub-genres combined.

  • This novel is fast- or slow-paced.

  • This novel concerns itself with this fantasy or science fictional trope. (If I think it’s a fresh take on the trope, I’ll say that as well.)

  • This novel is on the literary side. (If questioned, I can then try to define how I think this expressed itself in the particular novel under discussion.)

  • This novel is all about the action. This novel is light and fun.

  • This novel really made me think. (And if I can say about what, all the better!)

It’s okay that we’re not all going to love exactly the same things, whether they be books, movies, or activities. And not all recommendations are going to be equally successful for all people. To me, a book recommendation is more like a blip on my radar. Now I know the book exists, and I can make my own decision as to whether to read it or not.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to try new things, educate our taste, and expand our horizons. No one else can do it for us. They can only offer ideas and possibilities of which directions to go exploring.

Can you describe your taste in novels?

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