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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Sometime in the last few months, I read someone’s Tweet about space travel. I don’t remember who it was, but they said something to the effect of how science fiction set in space felt irrelevant or dated to them. Like it was nostalgia and nothing more. Of course, this was right around NASA’s final space shuttle launch, so depression about the space program and the likelihood of humans doing much in space is understandable. But more than the final space shuttle launch itself, that comment depressed me, and I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since.Has space really become so passé that stories involving it are outdated? I began thinking of my own (admittedly small) body of work, almost none of which takes place in space. I have a few subtle nods to the idea that there are humans in space, even though the stories in question take place completely on Earth, and I believe I have one scene of a trunked story that takes place on the Moon. And that’s it. But I’ve written a lot more fantasy and contemporary fiction, so I don’t see myself as indicative. I actually see my lack of space settings as more of an oversight than anything else.

I love space. I love learning about space, and I love reading stories set in space. Many of my all-time favorite novels and series are set in space, and some of the most formative of my reading experiences came from space operas (the Hyperion books and Dune come to mind). As sad as I am that the space shuttle has been discontinued, I would be a whole lot sadder if science fiction that explored the possibilities of space was no longer being written.

Here’s the thing. Economics and politics are always changing. Technology is constantly being developed, and scientists are gaining new knowledge about the world and the universe around us. Our world isn’t a constant–it’s always in a state of flux.

So there aren’t any huge, aggressive space programs right now. Given the present geopolitical and economic climate, this isn’t a huge shocker. But does that mean there never will be a great space program in any country in the world? I don’t think so. The confluence of events, powers, and technologies during and after World War II led to the Cold War and provided the perfect pressure cooker in which the space race could occur. Such a perfect storm could happen again, this time with different political pressures and different emerging technologies.

In the meantime, it is science fiction that keeps the dream of space alive, whether that be in literature, film and TV, or video games. It reminds us of what is possible. Beyond that, space provides an evocative backdrop for storytelling, in which we can enjoy stories of truly epic scope, explore the other (often in the form of an alien race), celebrate innovation and a spirit of adventure, and encounter different cultures and ways of being human.

Just in the past few days, I saw another Tweet from someone who said they were watching Firefly just to see the spaceships. And i09 had an article about how we need more space adventures. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my love for and appreciation of fiction set in space. Yes, I’m an optimist in a gloomy time, but I hope I can find space in science fiction for a long time to come.

ETA: Just found another great article on the importance of science fiction that seems relevant to this conversation: China has decided that science fiction is the key to its future success in invention and design of new products.

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Lightspeed, December 2010

As we descend into award season for the speculative fiction community, I would like to bring to your attention the wonderful new science fiction magazine Lightspeed and its editor, John Joseph Adams.1

Lightspeed began its publication last June and released seven issues in 2010. Every issue features two original stories and two reprints, as well as several nonfiction pieces that often (although not always) connect to the stories. It’s available on-line (for free) or as an e-edition, purchasable as either a subscription or on an issue-by-issue basis.

I’ve been deeply impressed by the quality of the stories published at Lightspeed, and I’m not the only one. Out of the 16 original stories published in Lightspeed in 2010, a full 50% of them have been selected for Year’s Best Anthologies. I’ll repeat that: FIFTY PERCENT.

In line with what I spoke about yesterday, John Joseph Adams seems to select the risky stories, the stories that say something, the subversive or vaguely disturbing stories, the interesting, mind-bending stories. Happily for me, the stories I want to read most.

So first of all, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out the magazine for yourself. You might also wish to consider nominating Lightspeed in the Best Semiprozine category for the Hugos, or its editor John Joseph Adams for Best Editor, Short Form. (He also had some anthologies out in 2010, including The Way of the Wizard and The Living Dead 2.)

Any other semiprozine or editor you think should be considered for this year’s Hugos? Let me know below!

1 Disclaimer: Yes, I know John in Real LifeTM.

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I’ve had many people ask me about Taos Toolbox, the speculative fiction writer’s workshop I attended this past summer of 2010.  Here’s the scoop on what my experience was like.  Please note, however, that every year will inevitably be different, both in terms of participants, lectures, and details.

Taos Toolbox is a two-week residential workshop in the high mountains above Taos.  It is run by Walter Jon Williams, who teaches with one other writer (for my year, this was Nancy Kress, who will also be teaching in 2011).  During this time, each attendee has the chance to have two pieces critiqued.

My Taos Toolbox classmates

Pros of Taos Toolbox:

1. The shorter time (2 weeks) is easier to fit into life without massive restructuring.

2. Participants can work on either short stories OR novels.  Both lengths are addressed in lecture.  In my year, I’d say about two-thirds of the attendees presented the first section of a novel plus a synopsis for at least one of their two pieces.  However, I opted to turn in two different short stories and also received valuable feedback.  So there’s flexibility here.

3. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress are both experienced writers AND teachers.  Not everyone who can write can teach, but these two certainly can.  I learned a great deal about many aspects of craft and business during my two weeks.

4. Because the two teachers are teaching together and present for each other’s lectures, that means you get two different views on many subjects.  Walter and Nancy are perfect for this because they don’t have the same writing process at all.

5. The location is gorgeous and secluded.  You really do feel like you’ve gotten away from it all.  But there was (in my year, at least) still internet and cell service, so you’re not completely cut off.

6. As with other workshops, by the end of the two weeks the group had really bonded and I now have many new wonderful writer friends.  We’re still regularly in touch both one-on-one via email and social media, and through our email list.  I see Danielle every few weeks for coffee.  We’re planning other writing and critiquing events and hang out at conventions.  We even read each other’s blogs (hi guys!)

Potential Downsides:

1. Yes, it’s a wee bit expensive.  But do remember that your fee covers the instruction and critiques from two top pros, most of your meals (except for a few dinners), and your lodging.  Personally, I felt like it was worth every penny.

2. The altitude can be a killer, so be warned.  In retrospect, I wish I had come a day earlier and slept in Albuquerque for a night to help my body adjust.

3. It’s intense and involves a lot of critiquing.  A lot. Happily I learned a lot from all the critiques, whether on my own or other people’s work.  However, if you are not comfortable receiving criticism, this might not be the workshop for you.

Format and Logistics:

Every weekday, we’d gather at 10am and usually meet until around 3 or 3:30pm, with a lunch break somewhere in the middle.  During this time, we’d listen to two lectures, one from each teacher, and go through that day’s critiques, Milford style.  Each student had a two-minute time limit on critique-giving, although Walter and Nancy could speak for as long as necessary.  We were also assigned various writing exercises.

Afterwards we’d have free time to write or critique.  Many people took advantage of the free time to go down to Taos for sundries or take hikes in the surrounding mountains.  There was also much hanging out, playing music (Rich brought his guitar), soaking in the hot tub, and movie watching.  (Walter does a plot breakdown of The Maltese Falcon that shouldn’t be missed.)  We were provided with three meals a day during the week, and everyone had their own room.

I will add that I was unsure if I was qualified enough to attend the workshop, being unpublished and never having attended other workshops in the past.  Obviously it worked out well for me, and I’d encourage you to apply if you’re interested and let Walter and Nancy decide if you’re at a level that could benefit from the instruction.

Topics of Instruction:

  • Cleaning up prose
  • Story and structure
  • Writing in scenes
  • Plotting (WJW and NK have fairly different approaches to this.)
  • Literary elements and rhetorical devices
  • Plotting elements and maintaining suspense
  • Narrative modes
  • Analysis of specific works
  • Opening Scenes
  • Writing description
  • Characterization
  • World building
  • Business and contracts
  • Commercial fiction, genre, and issues specifically relating to spec fic

I would say that overall, the greatest focus was on plot and structure (and related topics).

What I Learned:

Do I think my writing improved due to my Taos experience?  Yes, indeed.  One of my critique group members back at home even commented on the difference.  My understanding of the various elements of writing fiction has been deepened in a variety of big and subtle ways.  For example, when I arrived at Taos, I was relying on intuition and my experiences as a reader to work with plot.  It feels like I was fumbling around in the dark compared with how I think about plot now.  My awareness of some of my most pressing issues has been heightened, and I now have tools to deal with these weaknesses and to gradually improve my skills.  I’ve also become more comfortable experimenting with my writing, which I think will ultimately speed up my learning process.  Combine all of these writing lessons with the fabulous friends I made, and I think of my time at Taos as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Final Note:

If you apply to Taos Toolbox before the end of the year, Walter is offering a discount on the cost of the workshop.  So if you’re interested, consider applying early.  Walter and Nancy are accepting applications for 2011 starting on December 1.

More questions about Taos Toolbox?  Please feel free to email me or ask away in the comments.

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I was flipping through the November issue of Locus a few days ago, ensconced on my couch and trying to get over an unpleasant cold, when I came across Gardener Dozois’s review of “Dream of the Arrow,” a mainstream story by Jay Lake that was in Subterranean’s Summer 2010 Issue.  Mr. Dozois says this story is:

…a story good enough to suggest that Lake’s talents may be wasted working in the genre, as he has the literary chops to make it as a significant mainstream author instead.”

Since I’ve become more educated in the field, I have grown accustomed to the speculative genre being dismissed and marginalized.  I had no idea of any such stigma before my decision to pursue writing seriously, in spite of spending nearly twenty years making a beeline to the science fiction section of any library or bookstore I happened to enter, but I’m certainly not arguing that it doesn’t exist.  Usually when I encounter such sentiments, I blink, shrug, and move on.

But I was actually shocked when I read the above quotation in Locus.  For those of you who aren’t deeply involved in the science fiction and fantasy community, Locus is the trade magazine of the field, and Mr. Dozois is a highly respected writer, editor, and anthologist in the field.  He’s won twenty Hugo awards for his work in professional editing, which should give you some idea of his stature.  And yet, even so, his comment seems to imply that genre writing is in some way not as inherently worthwhile as mainstream (aka literary) writing.

Let’s unpack this quote a little further, shall we?  If it were merely a question of suggesting that Lake might consider a career as a mainstream author due to his particular talent for it, I wouldn’t have paused.  I have no doubt Lake has the abilities to become a literary author if that’s what he wants to do (whether or not he would achieve critical acclaim for it is another question, but not one connected to his abilities as a writer).  There is also no discussion of the possible merits of Lake’s speculative novels being shelved in the general fiction shelves as have books by such crossover successes as Susanna Clarke, Isabel Allende, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

What we get instead is the idea that Lake is wasting his talents working in science fiction and fantasy, and with this idea, I must respectfully disagree.  As a reader, I want variety in my speculative fiction, and I want to read speculative books written by authors with literary chops.  I balk at the implication (perhaps unintended) that writers only work in the science fiction field because they don’t have the ability to do otherwise.  The last thing our field needs is internal ghettoization; we get enough flak from the outside.

I’m proud to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, and I don’t write in those genres because I think it’s easier.  For me personally, writing in the speculative genres is more difficult (world building, I’m looking at you).  I don’t feel the need to apologize for the kinds of stories, worlds, and structures I find interesting and compelling.

Now Lake, of course, can do whatever he wants.  An author makes the decision on what genre to write within based on any of a number of factors (financial gain, critical acclaim, artistic inspiration or satisfaction, etc.)  If Lake wishes to make the leap over into mainstream fiction, I would certainly support that decision (and really, it’s none of my business).  But if he spends his entire career writing in the speculative genres, I believe his creative contribution will be just as valuable.

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The poll is closed, and the winner is….

ZOE from Firefly!

And no, I’m sure that has absolutely nothing to do with this blogger’s stated preference for Zoe, but rather reflects the amazing taste of my readership.

Runner up: Spock

Which one do you like better, the old or new?  I think Leonard Nimoy is too classic to resist.

And, finally, neither Chewbacca nor his Spaceballs counterpart Barf got any votes.  Given that my private prediction was that Chewbacca would win (well, either Chewbacca or Spock), I feel just a little bit silly.  But here’s a photo anyway, mostly because I’ll take any excuse to post something Star Wars-related.

And that’s your bit of Friday silliness before the much-needed weekend.  Next week, I’m planning a series of posts on creativity, so stop on by!

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For my own amusement, feel free to explain why you chose who you chose or suggest a write-in candidate.

This poll will be open for voting for one week, so go ahead and weigh in!

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