Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera


by John M. Floyd



Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.


Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.


That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.







24 April 2017

Perspective

by Janice Law

Few things are harder than one’s own – or indeed one’s society’s – unspoken assumptions, biases, and thought patterns. Having just made my way though more than 1200 pages of the Chinese science fiction trilogy, The Remembrance of Earth’s Past, I have been struck by how ethnocentric much of our own popular writing is and also how easily good fiction can be constructed out of different materials and ideas.


Cixin Liu is a popular and award winning science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Except for some short stories, his wildly ambitions trilogy about earth’s encounter with an alien civilization was American readers’ introduction to his work. Launched with The Three Body Problem, the trilogy begins with a scientist with a justifiable grudge. After her family was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie was disheartened about humanity’s prospects and willing to explore radical solutions. Sounds familiar at the moment!

When a message from an alien civilization appears on her monitor, Ye Wenjie hits the reply button and unleashes a host of troubles, the most insidious of which are the sophons, super sophisticated spy equipment that is launched at earth. Worse follows.

A Western reader inevitably thinks of Pandora, but in her Chinese version, she is no curious girl but a brilliant physicist and theorist of what comes to be called the Dark Forest view of the cosmos. Given Western assumptions about women and science, it is striking to see the range of female scientific and engineering talent that Liu includes in the novels.

There are some gender differences, however, although they do not necessarily fit our own stereotypes. Cheng Xin, the young aerospace engineer who is the protagonist of Death’s End, the last of the novels, has indeed the feminine virtues of compassion and caution, virtues admirable but, in the novel, only helpful in the short run. On the other hand, the macho Thomas Wade, one of the few important Western characters, is effective in many ways, but his aggression and violence also prove ultimately inadequate.
The two people who come closest to solving the problem of a hostile universe are both unlikely and quite unlike the typical Western heroes. Luo Ji, who temporarily staves off disaster, is a bit of a slacker. Appointed to work on global solutions to the alien crisis, he goofs off in Scandinavia and appears to waste the time that should be devoted to intensive research. I can’t help thinking that he is a modern version of one of the Daoist sages, in tune with the universe and destined to achieve success through a sort of focused passivity.

Even less likely is the second possible savior of humanity, Yun Tianming, an ineffectual young man dying of lung cancer and awaiting euthanasia. When he comes into money at the last minute, he buys a star (don’t ask, it’s complicated) for a woman he’s admired from afar, Cheng Xin. She, in turn, recruits him for what will be a dangerous, decades- spanning mission to the alien civilization.

Like Liu, Tianming with his modesty and lack of ambition (but notice that romantic gesture with the star) proves to be a remarkable individual with a combination of ingredients superior in a crisis to either stereotyped masculine or feminine behavior. His gesture of affection for Cheng Xin, by the way, is the closest the novel comes to sex of any kind. And this too seems rather traditional, like the film Cheng Xin admires about lovers who are separated by the length of a great river and never meet. Real love is poetic, spiritual – and often doomed.

Similarly, the other great staple of our popular literature, violence, is treated in a different way. I think two people are shot during the trilogy and a couple more are murdered by a robot. But fights and quarrels and car chases and the like are definitely out. On the other hand, the body count is tremendous. Whole civilizations are destroyed and the relatively comfortable eras in earth’s history come after terrible population crashes.

The whole history of the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and ultimately the universe is Darwinian, a matter of the survival of technologically-advanced and lucky civilizations. Nature, itself, hides nasty surprises like the multiple dimensions that can collapse with disastrous results.

Ye Wenjie’s physicist daughter, Yang Dong, even becomes disillusioned by physics, which is as close to a belief system as most of the characters have. She had thought that “The World of our everyday life was only froth floating on the perfect ocean of deep reality. But now, it appeared that the everyday world was a beautiful shell: The micro realities it enclosed and the macro realities that inclosed it were far more ugly and chaotic than the shell itself.”

This melancholy conclusion is more than borne out by the sprawling novels that reach from our Common Era to a scene toward the end of the universe. The latter is more than a little reminiscent of Doctor Who, perhaps because Cheng Xin and her companions are able to time trip, not like the Doctor with a reversible Tardis, but via a combination of hibernation and light speed travel.

Ultimately Cheng Xin and her friends concede that all things must end, but the conclusion of this wildly ambitious and imaginative novel is that the universe can collapse and be reborn, a hope that comforts Liu’s protagonists perhaps more than a Western audience used to heavier doses of positive thinking.

09 April 2017

The Expanse

by Leigh Lundin

A month ago, when Barb Goffman wrote about new television shows, she touched on the sci-fi series, Timeless which, in my opinion, is pretty good as long as they keep SOS out of it.

Becoming an adherent of hard science fiction was foreordained– my first or second adult novel in the third grade was Fritz Lieber’s Gather Darkness (serialized 1943, published in book form 1950). I still keep that novel. Part of its technology of light wave cancellation is under study ¾ of a century later– Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could become a real thing one day.

Mysteries and sci-fi formed two great genre loves, and their golden ages lived for me. Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle… stories like those formed the bookscape of middle and high school.

Soft on Hard Fiction

The term ‘hard’ science fiction defines the purest form harking back to the golden and silver ages. At one time, adherents adopted ‘SF’ to distinguish the real stuff from the lighter fare enjoyed by science fantasy and space opera (e.g, Star Wars) fans, but others resented the co-optation of sci-fi.

This may surprise to those who aren’t yet fans: Hard sci-fi isn’t about monsters or wookies or paranormal. Hard science fiction is about society and ‘what’s possible’ propositions.

The Science of Imagination

One unspoken maxim rules sci-fi… the science must either be real or at least possible. That’s why Superman would be classified more as science fantasy because the physics doesn’t compute. Writers can exploit an exception– they may devise a universe with its own physics as long as the science can logically and consistently be extrapolated.

Consider Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990). Dinosaurs in modern times? What could be sillier? Except Crichton knew his biology. He delved into considerable detail (in a clever Disney Epcot-like presentation) how dinosaur DNA might be trapped in amber. DNA has also also been recently found in mammoth bone marrow, so these ideas lie within the realm of possibility.

Likewise, Crichton’s 1999 Timeline might seem preposterous to congressional and cabinet appointees to science and environmental committees, guys who failed sixth grade Creationism in the Classroom. Facing a career as vacuum cleaner salesmen, they opted to enter politics specializing in the myths of global climate change and those unexplained mysteries of female fertility. Crichton, in fact, based the premise on actual physics experiments of space-time teleportation.

Those then-current experiments in space-time underlaid “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a subtle, almost tender, bitter-sweet episode of The Outer Limits, (2001, S07E08) which had nothing to do with dinosaurs. The program explored ethics and commitment through a vehicle of love and quiet despair.

Hard-Boiled Directives

Dashiel Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s stories touched upon socialism and capitalism gone bad. We’ve read that Ross MacDonald’s works were a commentary on the indolently wealthy 1%, and Dennis Lehane writes about a civilization uncaring about about cops, crime, and corruption. These societal undercurrents– intended or not– are a side-effect of their crime writing. In contrast, the best science fiction centralizes social themes as the core thrust.

For example, 2001, A Space Odyssey reimagined evolution of the human species. Soylent Green and one of my favorites, Silent Running, dealt with a society increasingly indifferent about pollution, over-population, and food shortages. Why fictionalize these issues? The creators want you to care while largely avoiding the politics of the day.

No Expanse Spared

The Expanse
My attention was drawn to the 2015 SyFy television series, The Expanse. Sporting a title in homage to Star Trek, it’s based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, nom de plume of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Their pseudonym combines their middle names.)

The Expanse skipped 2016 but returned this year for a second season, which is running now. A third series is in the works for 2018.

The Expanse… within thirty seconds it hooked me. The music… the dark theme– trust me, this program is so Stygian, it makes noir look like Easter pastels in kindergarten.

The cast includes an intriguing classic detective, Josephus Miller, who channels the quintessential Marlowe and Spade. Another fascinating character is the assistant undersecretary to the UN, Chrisjen Avasarala, played to perfection in the smoker’s voice of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. A third complex character is Colonel Fred Johnson, former UN Marine and accused war criminal who runs a ship-building base at Tycho Station.

And then we have the crew of the Rocinante, kind of a Firefly on steroids. (Firefly was a great but short-lived sci-fi series also made into a movie.) The crews take a while to set aside their trust issues and realize the innate decency of the others.

To my surprise, I came to like the character of Amos Burton, a marine and mechanic, extremely devoted to his colleague Naomi Nagata. ‘Character’ is the key word. Appearing as a man of deceptively simple outlook and tastes, Burton wins over the audience and crew thanks to his private code of loyalty, decency, bravery, and level-headedness. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to marry your sister until you suddenly realized how wrong you were and what a great man she’d miss out on.

A kind of perfect resolution unexpectedly came about in the midst of season 2 titled “Home”. (S02E05) It achieved an unheard-of 9.6 rating in IMDB. At the moment, I’m enjoying a break from viewing, savoring the episode.

The Science of Silence

Last week, John wrote about guilty pleasures. I can’t say space battles do much for me, but The Expanse is enjoyably different. Mainly, it’s much more realistic. For example, rail guns, capable of high ‘muzzle’ velocities, are a real ‘thing’. The US Navy electromagnetically launched projectiles without the aid of chemical propellants or explosives at 8600kmph, seven times the speed of sound, double the speed of a very fast bullet. Think of a hi-tech slingshot powered by magnets.


The shows contain a few mistakes, including a deliberate one. Like every movie and television show ever filmed, you hear the roar of rockets, the sounds of gunfire, and the boom of explosions in outer space. Except… space is absolutely silent. Alien capitalized on this with the tag-line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Space movies would be boring without sound effects and a lot of foley artists would find themselves out of work, so phony sfx are forgivable. (2001 might have used silence in the outdoor scenes.)

And so?

Earlier, I rattled on about societal themes in hard science fiction. What are the underlying social issues of The Expanse? Politics, greed, exploration and exploitation, war and weaponry. Look for a scathing side note vis-à-vis the amoral symbiosis of Werhner von Braun-type Nazi technocrats as exploited by Germany and then the Allied Powers.

Like I said it’s all about society.

24 November 2016

Messages in a Bottle, or Notes from the Pen

For the next several days, our band of authors will be writing about writing— for magazines, especially non-mystery magazines. We’ll have a couple of surprises and a lot of expertize. Thanks to Eve for kicking off the program with non-traditional penmanship. You'll see.
—Velma
by Eve Fisher

I just got back from a weekend workshop at the local penitentiary, which (as always) was full of interesting moments, hard work, and definite characters.  If nothing else, the weekend confirmed (even if I do say so myself) that I really nailed the young meth-head who's the centerpiece of my latest story, "Iron Chef", in the November, 2016 issue of AHMM.  ("He thinks he's a lady's man because he wants to get laid," and more here...)

I did not tell the guys that.  Actually, I don't tell them much about my writing, because (1) That's not why I'm there (I'm there to facilitate an Alternatives to Violence Project Workshop, not talk about myself all the time) and (2) most of them don't really want to hear it.  Including the writers.
(Sometimes especially the writers.  Recent dialog between myself and an inmate:
Me: "There's a place on-line that lists publishers and -"
Inmate (interrupting): "I HAVE an agent. Or I will soon."
Me: "Okay."
Inmate: "Yeah.")
And there are a lot of writers (and artists) at the pen.  Interestingly, I haven't met one yet that writes mystery or crime stories.  I'm not sure if that's because it doesn't interest them, or they don't know how to do it, or if they're afraid if they put anything in writing, it might be held against them in a court of law.  Like a confession or a plan for future criminal activity...  Anyway, most are poets and/or songwriters.  Some write sci-fi and/or supernatural/horror. And a few write autobiographies.

Getting prison writing published is easier than you might think, thanks to the internet.  Here are just a few of the on-line resources for magazines, newsletters, anthologies and e-zines dedicated to prisoners' writing:

From South Dakota, The Prisoners for Prevention blog.
The Prisoner Poetry Page.
The on-line Prison Poetry Workshop podcasts.
The Prisoner Express which publishes poetry, journals, essays, etc.

One of the main problems, of course, for prisoners is that these days so many places only accept on-line submissions, and access to the internet is hard to get in the pen.  And sending out ms. in hard-copy is expensive when you only make 25 cents an hour.  (Not to mention that getting access to a typewriter is hard to come by, too.)  And almost all of the markets specifically set up to publish prisoners' work are non-paying.

In the search for paying markets, Writers' Digest is invaluable to prisoners:  I'd bet there's a (more or less) old, battered copy in every prison library.  I know inmates who've sent stories to Glimmer Train, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Playboy.  (No, I don't know any who've been accepted yet, but at least they're trying!)  I've read a couple of the stories, and even given a critique here and there. When I am specifically asked.  Again, not every inmate wants to hear any opinion other than that it's a great poem/story/song.  For that matter, not every writer OUT of the pen wants to hear anything else...

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing from the Pen ProgramAnother place where inmates writers can get published is with the PEN Prison Writing Contest. Prizes and publication in an anthology make this very prestigious.
And, for all of us, let's not forget sites like Angie's Desk and My Little Corner, both of which list anthologies and markets of all genres (although primarily mystery and science-fiction/fantasy).  Thank you, ladies!  Your hard work has opened up markets for us all!

Most of the work the inmates finally do get published is and has been edited by someone outside for content.  What gets passed around in the tier, chow hall, and our sharing circle is unedited, raw, and cannot be reprinted on this family blog.  Besides the poems of suicidal despair (since this is NOT the Gingerbread House of Corrections)

http://rhymeswithorange.com/comics/november-20-2016/
gangsta rap is HUUUUUGE.  Personally, I get bored with gangsta rap, because they all say pretty much the same thing:  ultra-explicit rap symphonies in F Major on drugs, bling, fights, arrests, killings, and sex.
(It's like the prison tattoos:  the first few times you go in the pen, you see these guys who are absolutely COVERED in tattoos, and it's hard to look away.  But after a while, you realize that they're mostly skulls, naked women, snakes, names, etc., in endless repetition, and the only reason you study them is to figure out what gang they're in.)
But there are those stories that show real creativity and thinking, and poems that take your breath away, like the following from PrisonerExpress.org/?mode=poetry

The thirteenth amendment, Amended

by Name Withheld by Request
A coffle of state slaves shuffles
Slowly into the radiant rays
Of dawn's early light.
Spartacus nowhere in sight.
Flight scarred all, and bone
Weary from strife and stress,
Destined to toil under the sun til
Twilight's last gleaming brings rest.

The tools are issued:
One hoe per man, each
Dull the blade, each
Seven pounds of sweat-stained misery,
Each, in proper hands,
Seven pounds of peril.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
No quick and vicious fights, where, sweat stinging,
Fists flying, we cull living from dying:
No riots fought for fast forgot reasons__
Swinging steel scintillating in sunlight,
Blood gouting from the too slow heads__
Brown, black, white___
Our blood ruby red and thick with life,
No respecter of color or creed.

Let there be no peril today, we pray;
No dry crackling reports of leaden soldiers,
Chasing wisps of smoke from forge fashioned barrels,
Speaking the ancient tongue of Authority;
Guns guardgripped fast by bossfists,
In confederate gray cloths,
Their fire felling friends, freeing foes.

Let there be no peril today, we pray:
Today only__hard work, for no pay.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except
as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall
have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

So let it be rewritten.
So let it, at last, be done.


05 October 2016

The Way It Wasn't

by Robert Lopresti

A month ago I noticed that my wife was reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  What made that particularly interesting was that I was reading Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.

Both of them fall into the genre of Alternative History (AH), which is usually considered part of science fiction.  Science fiction, more than most forms of fiction, is all about "What if?" and AH  asks "What if events didn't turn out as they did?"

The oldest example of AH we know of is about 2100 years old.  The Roman author  Livy pondered the question: What if Alexander the Great had gone west (toward the still developing city of Rome) instead of east?

Let's jump ahead past a few medieval examples and land in 1931 when John Squires published  If It Had Happened Otherwise, a collection of essays by different authors, speculating on how various turning points of history could have turned out differently.  One of them, "If Lee Had Not Won At Gettysburg," is a double twist (as you can probably tell), being written from the point of view of a historian in a world in which the South did win the Civil War.  He tries to speculate how things would have turned out if the North had conquered.

You may have heard of the author of that clever essay.  He later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Winston Churchill was better known for other accomplishments.

You may be surprised that an Englishman like Churchill should have chosen the American Civil War as his subject but that event seems to have an obsessive interest for alternative historians.  Remember those books my wife and I were reading?  Even The New Yorker  recently took note of our country's obsession with the Underground Railroad.

My favorite AH writer is Harry Turtledove and he was inspired to get a PhD in Byzantine History by an AH novel by L. Sprague De Camp called Lest Darkness Fall.  Turtledove's masterpiece is The Guns of the South  (Yup, that War Between the States again).  It starts with a real event: Robert E. Lee writing to Jefferson Davis in 1864 to say the Confederacy could not win.  Except in Turtledove's book the letter is interrupted by some strangers with funny accents who want to sell the South some new weapons called AK-47s.  You see, some Afrikaaners got their hands on a time machine and decided to nip Black aspirations in the bud by saving slavery.

You can argue that that is not pure alternative history since it involves a science fiction concept like time travel.  In that case you might prefer another  Turtledove novel - and it's a mystery! -  The Two Georges, co-written with, of all people, the actor Richard Dreyfuss.  The heroes are cops in the 1960s, but in this world King George III never went mad and when his colonies started protesting his policies he invited the leaders to England to discuss it.  The result is that George Washington became the first Governor-General of British North America.

Some of you may have seen the recent TV series, The Man in the High Castle, which is based (loosely, I hear) on a classic AH novel by Philip K. Dick.  It explores a world in which the Axis beat the Allies.

To my mind, there are two essential elements to an AH fiction: How did things turn out this way (as opposed to the way we know they did)?  And what would happen if they had?  At its best, AH becomes a thought experiment: If Nixon beat Kennedy, how would the sixties have changed?  What if the Spanish Armada had won?

I have had three fantasy stories published and while none of them are pure AH they all, shall we say, partake of its nature.

After George W. Bush became president, Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia proposed Jigsaw Nation, a book of stories that asked: What if the blue states seceded from the nation?  My story, "Down in the Corridor," takes place in the  narrow strip of land between Mexico and the Pacific States of America, connecting the USA with the Pacific.   Yes, it's a crime story, but it's not true AH because it was imaging an alternative near future, not a past.  (Recently Andrew MacRae came up with a similar idea for an anthology about post-current events.)

"Letters to the Journal of Experimental History" appeared in a short-lived humor webzine called The Town Drunk.  It's based on the multi-verse theory of time travel; that is, if you go back in time and, say, kill Hitler, it doesn't change our universe, it merely kickstarts a new one.  You can read it here.

And then there is "Street of the Dead House," which appeared in nEvermore! (and has been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2016 and Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016, he said modestly.)  This one is Alternative Literature, reinterpreting (without changing) a classic Edgar Allan Poe story.

Anyone out there like this genre?  If so, tell me your favorites.










16 September 2015

Alien Fires 2


by Robert Lopresti


Continuing my report on Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention, held in Spokane in the middle of a wildfire disaster last month.

To the best of my knowledge the biggest squabble that ever occurred in the mystery world happened in the 1980s when some people complained that women were underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards.  This was one fact that led to the creation of Sister in Crime, and caused MWA to change the way they formed award committees.

Well, trust me, that struggle was a pebble compared to the Mount Rushmore that hit Worldcon this year.

If you want details search the internet for "Sad Puppies."  As I understand it, one group of SF readers/writers was unhappy about what they saw as the field becoming more political and favoring certain stories and authors.  Frankly, to my ignorant outsider eyes it looked like they were complaining that an insufficient number of straight white men were being nominated.  But what do I know about science fiction?

In any case, they created a slate of candidates for the Hugo nominations and, in a quite legal way, gamed the election. The Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by people who register for the con (like our Anthony Awards), but for $40 you can buy a supporting membership.  That doesn't entitle you to attend, but it does let you vote.  I am told that approximately 400 people bought memberships so they could support the Sad Puppy slate.

One hundred and sixty grand can build an awfully high spite fence.

In some categories all the chosen nominees were part of the Sad Puppies slate.  (And some of these writers chose to remove their names from the ballot, rather than be associated with the Puppies.  Imagine waiting for years for a nomination and then feeling you have to turn it down!)

It got even weirder.  One writer on the Sad Puppy slate wrote to the Spokane Police Department, warning them that one of the guests of honor was "insane" and might incite violence.  (This wasn't a secret, by the way: he announced on a podcast that he did this.)  He later apologized.

The actual  Hugo Awards voting is complicated and allows for No Award (i.e. none of the above).  In five categories the voters rejected all the candidates, and in no cases did anyone supported by the Sad Puppies win.   Now the fans have to figure out a way to clean up the mess and I hope that none of this will repeat net year.

Oh!  Remember the con?  Panels and stuff like that?  Let's talk about that, shall we?  I will stick to stuff that can reasonably be tied to mystery fiction.

I had the chance to hear Connie Willis, one of my favorite SF writers,  read from her next book, Crosstalk.  It is a romantic comedy about telepathy.  (Think about that one for a moment.  The essence of romantic comedy is misunderstanding between sweethearts.  If they can read each other's minds... She set her self a challenge didn't she?)  But Willis also announced that for a future project she is rereading all of Agatha Christie.  She is convinced that Dame Agatha left clues behind concerning her famous disappearance in 1926.  I look forward to Willis's future reports.

There was a panel on fantasy and horror noir which I enjoyed a lot although there was the usual confusion between hardboiled and noir. Panelist John Pitts made the proper distinction, although he later blotted his copybook by calling Han Solo an anti-hero.  A rogue is not an anti-hero.

I attended a memorial for Stu Shiffman, a friend of mine who died last fall.  He was a wonderful graphic artist who worked in both the mystery and science fiction fields.  Attached is one of the many covers he did for Margo Power's late lamented magazine.

I attended three panels on short stories.  It was at one of those that I picked up the best piece of writing advice I heard that weekend, from Daryl Gregory: "Stop just short of the ending.  If you act like Tom Sawyer and let your readers do the rest of the work, they'll be more connected to the story, and thank you for it."

And speaking of quotations, here are a few gems I picked up.  As usual, if you want context, you're on your own.

"Style is what the writer does.  Genre is what the marketing department does."  - Richard Vadry


"Why is some short fiction better than novels?  Because it's riskier."  -Stefan Rudnick


"Other people have 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders.  I have 'No One Edits My Manuscript.'" - -Connie Willis.

"There's no platonic ideal of story."  -C.C. Finlay

"Every other writer's process is sort of vaguely scary and appalling." - Daryl Gregory.

"I can't say hello in less than five thousand words." -Mark J. Ferrari

"What relationships need is less communication, not more." -Connie Willis.

"I vote for more pretty boys reading the weather." -Janet Freeman-Daily

"'Theme' is what the critics use to describe what you did." - Eileen Gunn

"Writing a short story is a tightrope walk.  The craft is getting from one end to the other.  The art is doing a backflip in the middle."  - C.C. Finlay

"We need eco-zombies." - Gregg Castro

"The literary market does not believe in money.  At least, not for you." - Mir Plemmons.

"The happy ending is sadly underrated.  But it has to be earned." -Connie Willis.


02 September 2015

Alien Fires

by Robert Lopresti

Two weeks ago my family cruised across Washington state to Spokane to attend Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention.  It was quite an experience, not least because it was the first such con to be held in the middle of a federal declared natural disaster.  On the way out through what has never been more accurately described as the Dryside of the Evergreen State we were listening to NPR.  The announcer came on and, quite out of the usual calm public radio persona, announced "The towns of Winthrop and Twisp are being evacuated.  If you are in Winthrop or Twisp head south immediately." We were already one hundred miles south.  That was the day three brave firefighters died.

The night before this I realized that I was coming down with a cold so, hoping to spare my car-mates my germs, I picked up a box of paper masks like the one above.  Little did I know that I had scored the most popular fashion accessory in Spokane that weekend. All the members of my group were wearing them and people were asking where they been acquired because the city was sold out.

This is what the view from the Conference Center is supposed to look like:

And here is how it looked on Thursday afternoon just after I left a panel on climate change:

My first thought was, jeez, the panel was convincing enough without the visual aid.

But this is supposed to be a blog about crime fiction, so I want to concentrate on the difference between the mystery fan world and the science fiction fandom, which is larger and has been around longer.  You will notice that some of these differences relate to each other (especially to the first)..

* The median age at a Worldcon is much younger than at Bouchercon.
*  There is much less emphasis on books.  I would estimate that at last year's B-con seventy percent of the energy (panels, special events, etc.) went into fiction with ten percent going to true crime including forensics), the same amount to media (film and TV), and ten percent to other.  At Worldcon I would estimate forty percent was about fiction.  The rest was scattered among real science, media, gaming, art, costuming, etc.
* Speaking of costuming… At B-con you will see a few trenchcoats and fedoras, some deerstalker hats, and occasionally a woman dressed for tea in St. Mary Mead.  But at any given moment at Worldcon at least twenty percent of the crowd was in costumes ranging from full Boba Fett armor to fairy princess complete with wings to a simple set of wolf ears poking out of one's hair.
* Free food is much more plentiful at Worldcon.  In orbit around the main hospitality suite were rooms for gluten-free/vegan, nutfree, kosher, and simply overflow (That's where the hot dogs were turning on rollers.)
* They have tech problems just like us!  I walked out on one panel because there were no microphones and I couldn't hear a thing.
* The swag bags are much better at B-con.  There you expect to find free magazines and half a dozen books you can swap at the multiplying freebies tables.  Nothing like that at Worldcon.
* A few times a year (like B-con and Edgars Week) the mystery writers and readers turn into a community.  But science fiction fandom is a culture, all year round.  There were actually workshops on the history of fandom, to help newbies get on board, and separate discussions of what should be collected now so that fen (SF people like their deliberate alien-y misspellings) in the future will have a record of fandom in the dim distant past of 2015.

And speaking of culture, every family has its feuds and this year a big one broke out.  Next time I will talk about that, and some of the panels as well.

04 June 2015

Science Fiction Fantasy Mysteries

by Eve Fisher

I just got my copy of the July/August Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and (no surprise, folks!) SleuthSayers is well represented:
  • Robert Lopresti's "Shooting at Firemen" just knocked me out. I already knew to look out for it from Rob's blog here (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/05/telling-fiction-from-fact.html) and it's a wonderful story about riots, politics, and race.
  • David Edgerly Gates gave us "In For a Penny", and what the cover says is true: The graft is greener at the border.
  • Janice Law's "A Domestic Incident" - besides being a harrowing account of betrayal on almost every level - raises the question, "what would/should I have done?"

Congratulations to all!

Another great story is Donald Moffitt's "A Handful of Clay". Sadly, Mr. Moffitt died just before publication. He was a multiple science fiction/fantasy/ and mystery writer. I love this story, both as an historian (setting a story in ancient Sumeria - 4500 years ago - and getting the details right without bogging down in them while keeping the universal humanity of the past, now that's an achievement) and as a mystery buff (love the plot). And it also got me thinking about the way so many people have shifted between sci-fi / fantasy/ mystery / horror without missing a beat.

First, some BSP:


Yes, that's me on the left, and later on the right, at the reception and panel discussion for the Startling Sci-Fi anthology that was held on May 16th in Greenwich Village, NYC, NY. Yes, I got my 15 minutes of fame. We answered questions, posed for photos, and signed books. We signed a lot of books. (Huzzah!)

It's a darned good anthology, if I do say so myself: My story, "Embraced" is a black comedy of lust, obsession, war, prophecy, and resistance during the apocalypse, as told by Yuri Dzhankov, who is, unfortunately, having the time of his life. Jhon Sanchez' "The Japanese Rice Cooker" may be all things to all men (and women), but is it the right thing? And Daniel Gooding's "Cro-Magnum Xix" is one of the best takes I've ever read on poor planning in the search for eternal life. And many, many more.

Copies can be purchased here.

This isn't the first of my sci-fi/fantasy work. "Dark Hollow" appeared in the Fall, 2000 issue of Space and Time, and its semi-sequel, "At the End of the Path", in the July/August 2002 issue of AHMM. And I've written a few others that have showed up in various places.

But here's the thing, innumerable authors, far better than I, have done the same thing. To wit:

DoAndroidsDream.png
a/k/a Bladerunner
  • First off, I would argue that every ghost story is also a mystery story - why are they there? Why won't they leave? Why won't they leave us alone? What do they want? Etc.
  • "Dracula", in case you've never noticed, is a mystery as well as a horror/fantasy story. It's not my fault that Jonathan Harker is a lousy detective, at least compared with Van Helsing.
  • Isaac Asimov - who wrote about freaking everything (says the owner of his "Annotated Gulliver's Travels", which I highly recommend) wrote 66 stories about the "Black Widowers", mostly published in EQMM. There's also The Caves of Steel, introducing policeman Elijah Baley and robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw.
  • Ray Bradbury's work switches regularly between fantasy (he himself claimed he never wrote science fiction) and mystery/horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes).
  • Len Deighton's alternate history novel SS-GB, about a British homicide detective in Nazi-occupied London.
  • J. K. Rowling's Cormoran Strike mysteries (which, to be honest, I have not yet read...) The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.
  • Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. (Delicious!)
  • Stephen King has been writing horror/sci-fi/fantasy/and now Westerns, so you figure it out.
  • Our own Melissa Yi recently posted about being a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/04/the-writers-dilemma-risk-vs-reward.html
  • and Melissa just posted about some modern mash-ups of mysteries and werewolves (and other creatures) in Monday's post: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/06/would-you-like-little-werewolf-in-your.html
  • And my personal favorite: that unique, beautiful, crazy, hilarious, and haunting mash-up of history, mystery, fantasy, and Chinese myth, Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. I read it in one gulp at a library and went out and bought it that afternoon. (Can you tell that I used to teach Chinese history?)
    • Best quote: 'Immortality is only for the gods,' he whispered. 'I wonder how they can stand it.'
    • Seriously - go buy it, read it, just revel in it. An amazing work…
Anyway, I think this sort of switching between genres is pretty normal and fairly common. When you're killing people [fictionally] for a living, sometimes you need a wider horizon, or a shift in time, or a shift in dimensions in order to get the point sharpened, the point across, the point driven in.

And really, given the basic universals of pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, gluttony, and even sloth - and yes, I remember reading, long ago, a sci-fi story about murder by betrayal being done because of sloth - Anyway, given these universals it just doesn't matter about ages, universes, or much of anything else. It can always work. Anything is possible. Or at least wildly improbable.


And keep writing.