Friday, March 30, 2012

Plug Plug Plug

I'm going out on a limb here—and it won't be the last time, as I'll hopefully have some positive announcements to make, next week—and make two work-related plugs.

One is we published an eBook of Eliza Victoria's novellas:



Lower Myths by Eliza Victoria

Who is Eliza Victoria? Well, she's one of our prolific writer/poets. You can check her bibliography here.

The other is the eBook of one of the country's most talented comic creators, Manix Abrera:



3/12 by Manix Abrera

3/12 is a sampler of Abrera's graphic novel ,12. It's currently available for free for the Kindle.

Abrera usually writes in Filipino, but for 12, the entire comic uses a "silent comic" motif. You can read a review of the book from Andrew Wheeler. (I wasn't working for my current employer back then so who knew?)

And just in case you want to purchase the entire graphic novel:


12 by Manix Abrera

March 30, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Day job just published this:



Lower Myths by Eliza Victoria

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Essay: Christopher on Clarke: Critical or Crazy?

One of this week's controversies is Christopher Priest's reaction to 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist. It's polarized those who are passionate about the competition—some praising Priest, others deriding him for it—and I've had my fair share of deliberating, debating, and arguing with regards to the matter.

The Critical

Priest's blog entry is, of course, an opinion and subjective. Let's not attempt to portray it as if Priest was speaking in an objective manner.

Those who praise the rant share Priest's sentiment: that this year's shortlist are, at best, mediocre, or at its worst, terrible. This, to them, is the heart of his piece, and in that sense, the blog entry must be read.

Personally, I haven't read any of the books, so cannot state any preference on the matter (except for one of the recommendations, Osama by Lavie Tidhar). However, some critics that I admire have similar criticisms of the shortlist, such as James Nicoll and Larry Nolen. Not that they should have the final say in the matter, as there are also critics who do not share Priest's opinion.

Nonetheless, there is merit to Priest's complaints, and he does articulate why the various novels do not work for him. Similarly, when he does recommend novels, he gives ample reasons as to why they are wonderful books.

When it comes to Priest's criticisms, I only have two complaints:
  1. The first half of his rant against China Mieville should have been discarded. This year's awards is judging this year's work; does it matter if Mieville won in the past or not? Unless Priest is insinuating that the sole reason Mieville is on the ballot is due to legacy or popularity voting—which I don't think he is—then he does not need to state that the possibility of a fourth Clarke Award for Mieville should be grounds for him not to win the award. He should have dove straightly to his point, which is that Embassytown was a flawed novel that could have used more editing.
  2. Whereas other authors have several paragraphs (Mieville had six) devoted to analysis, Sheri S. Tepper simply got three sentences, one of which was a rhetorical question. "For fuck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse," alone is not grounds for disliking—or liking—a novel, unless we are stating a personal preference.
The Crazy

On the other hand, detractors of Priest—myself included—focus on the weakness of the blog entry: that his discourse unnecessarily attacks others.

Just take the opening paragraph, and how Mark Billingham's only crime (no pun intended) is to have been a co-panelist of Priest. Arguably it's seeding for the fifth paragraph where Priest criticizes the shortlist, but ultimately unnecessary collateral damage.

The second problem is his proposed solution, specifically "The present panel of judges should be fired, or forced to resign, immediately." Again, I want to reiterate that judging fiction is a subjective endeavor. Theoretically, the goal of having different judges is to cast a wide net, and to decide on the best of the best. Practically speaking, however, it could also result in judges settling on books that they do not mutually disagree upon—after much debate, horse trading, and deliberation—as opposed to the novels that they initially felt strongly about. If you believe in Priest's thesis that this was a disappointing shortlist, this could be one of the reasons why it felt insipid, safe, and dull. Which isn't necessarily the fault of the judges as individuals per se, but part and parcel of having a jury.

And perhaps that's one of the criticisms against Priest. Should we eliminate this year's judges from the competition, forever? Should this year's awards be disqualified in favor of Priest's proposals? My problem with this is that no matter who does the judging, it will be a subjective call, and there will always be dissenters. It begs the question: when is it warranted to void the competition, or rather, whose opinion matters more? When majority of the fandom disagree? If that's the case, why not simply a popular vote?

Synthesis

Personally, I find it interesting that the reactions find themselves in one of two camps: those that focus on Priest's criticisms, and those that focus on Priest's attacks. Not that it is a binary choice. It's possible to like one and dislike the other aspect, but most of the people I've chatted tend to feel strongly about one or the other, and excuse—or omit—the other aspect.

Playing devil's advocate, there was one person who asked me if people would have read the post if it was a considered treatise. To which I replied, so does the ends justify the means?

Looking on the positive side of things, there's gems in Priest's blog entry. For the critics, there's his sincere assessment of the various novels. For prospective readers, there's the list of recommended titles. And this can get lost in the vilification of Priest. But on the other hand, there are also parts of the piece that is arguably unreasonable, or for me, unethical (not that people should conform and agree to my standards of what is ethical).

Personally, my recommendation is to read those books, and judge for yourselves whether they are important books. But also bear in mind that this is all in the realm of subjectivity, and there are no accurate, empirical tests for what is "UK's premier prize for science fiction literature."

March 29, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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Stone Telling #7

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage by Marly Youmans

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Panverse Three edited by Dario Ciriello



The impetus of the Panverse series, according to editor Dario Ciriello in the introduction, is to provide a) a market for high-quality novellas, b) a venue for new authors, and c) publish work that "told a story." As a reader, however, those aren't necessarily qualities that I look for in a publication, or rather, those qualities can be very subjective.

Take for example the first point: what does a "high-quality novella" mean? Each reader will have different standards, and for me, a novella is a commitment, so the text needs to justify its length. Just as some readers might feel there are "padded" novels which could have been tighter and shorter, one important quality for me in judging a novella is whether the author can either sustain the reader's interest, or provide a compelling reason for telling such a long story. There's the opening piece, "Orion Rising" by Jason Stoddard, which, honestly, fails to impress. It's not a bad story, but it is merely competent for what seems like a tedious story. I define it as tedious because there's no single element that is striking: the language and style is plain, the plot feels too predictable, and the focus is too diffused (which is peculiar considering there are only two points of view). The only justification for the story's length is due to the characterization, but it is transparently slow, and fails to reward the reader considering the investment in time. In other words, "Orion Rising" would have been better as a short story.

Which isn't to say this impetus for the anthology is a failure. "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" by Ken Liu conveys so much that many short stories, novellas, novelettes, and even novels, fail to do. First, there is the best practice of "show, don't tell," which the author breaks, but the text doesn't feel didactic due to the epistolary format. By showcasing snippets and different points of view, Liu converts what seems like a blunt, direct method and transforms it into something complex and subjective, mirroring one of the themes of the story. And whereas other writers might home in on one central point, the author provides dissenting paradigms that feels holistic without sacrificing his thesis. One of my problems with some of the novellas in the book is that they tend to revolve around a single idea or impression, which feels like wasted potential considering the format. Here, the conflict exist on several layers: objective history vs. subjective history, preservation of the past vs. concerns of the present, the individual vs. the community, etc. I'm not even touching the surface as it covers other sentiments like colonialism, the expatriate experience, cultural relations, the generation gap, and even "The White Man's Burden" (which is relevant considering the recent Kony fiasco). The more baggage the reader has, the more they have to process, and the richer this narrative becomes. Personally, the issue of comfort women in the Philippines follows the same concerns of the characters in the story. And while lesser writers might attempt to provide a neat answer, Liu shows us a more complex and human reality that feels neither preachy nor a cop-out. The author also gets away with what seems like predictable elements, such as the revelation at the end, which catches you off-guard and feels inevitable. This is a story I could discuss on and on, but my main point here is the discourse it elicits from the reader. If there is one flaw in the piece, it is the author's notes at the end, which can be interpreted as the author tipping his hand.

As far as the second rational for the anthology is concerned, we can make arguments as to what constitutes new authors, but in my subjective assessment, it meets my criteria. I've previously heard of Stoddard, Liu, and Don D'Ammassa before, but I'm honestly not that familiar with their work, nor would the casual genre fan immediately recognize them.

The last point, again, is quite vague for me (I think every successful text, no matter how experimental, surreal, or incomprehensible, at some level has some story to tell), but I'll interpret it as wanting submissions that are plot-driven. In that regard, the anthology succeeds, but it begs the question, does that necessarily make for a satisfying read? Take "Junction 5" by Gavin Salisbury as an example: in many ways, it follows the template of the opening story, and in that sense, also inherits its weaknesses. Perhaps what sets it apart from Stoddard's story is that it uses an unfamiliar setting—more "imaginative," perhaps implausible science fiction as opposed to alternate history science fiction—and so manages to evoke the reader's sense of wonder. And while that's an improvement over "Orion Rising," it's ultimately forgettable in the way most competent stories are. (And in retrospect, Stoddard's usage of the familiar leaves a stronger imprint than Salisbury's otherwordly setting.)

"Martyrs," by D'Ammassa, is what I'd call an idea story in the sense that the purpose of the text is to discuss the thought experiment presented by the author. That, in itself, is not necessarily a criticism, as many of the best science fiction stories are what I'd label as idea stories (and best fits the mold of stories with plot), but the weakness of this text is that it fails to be this rich, engaging narrative due to the author's methodology. D'Ammassa's technique is awfully transparent, whether it's the seeding of the character's personal interests and how it relates to the mystery, or that the characters are, for the most part, vectors for exposition. That's not to say the characters are simply the author's mouthpieces, as there's some personality invested in them, but as a writer and a critic, the story constantly makes you conscious of the author's intervention. Again, not a bad story per se, but it's a piece that's easily discernible and fails to strike a chord.

"Dust to Dust" by Tochi Onyebuchi is perhaps a criticism of personal preference. A personal, character-driven story using speculative fiction elements set in the backdrop of historic events seemed compelling initially but eventually felt dragging. I can see, however, how others can appreciate this story, at how Onyebuchi ties disparate threads, and plays around with the concept of alchemy.  

As far as overall scope is concerned, Ciriello has crafted an anthology with a strong focus on science fiction. Perhaps the most fantastical of the five is "Dust to Dust" but there's still a strong argument for classifying it as science fiction. It also covers a wide variety of the field, whether it's hard science fiction to something more along the lines of space opera. While I am, admittedly, not as impressed with several of the novellas in Panverse Three, "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" is a must read, and easily exemplifies what the editor is attempting to do with the series.

March 26, 2012 Links and Plugs

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 Shadow's Master by Jon Sprunk

Friday, March 23, 2012

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Icarus Spring 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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The Navidad Incident: The Downfall of Matias Guili by Natsuki Ikezawa

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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Armored edited by John Joseph Adams

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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 The Best SF and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 6 edited by Jonathan Strahan

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012 Links and Plugs

Just plugging Scheherazade's Facade Kickstarter.

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Beyond Grimm edited by Phyllis Irene Radford & Deborah J. Ross

Friday, March 16, 2012

Press Release: Tales to Terrify announces The Bram Stoker Awards Short Fiction Initiative

The Bram Stoker Awards™ are a staple and institution among horror writers and horror fans around the globe. As the Horror Writers Association and its members gather to celebrate the exemplary fiction, poetry and scripts of 2011, we at the Tales to Terrify podcast want to show our support for this award by bringing the Short Fiction nominees to a wider audience.

Tales to Terrify has made a commitment to showcase only the best in horror fiction and raise the public profile of the short story as a format. We wish to represent the world wealth of this genre and with this goal in mind, we could not ignore the significance of The Bram Stoker
Awards™.

Without further ado, Tales to Terrify is proud to announce The Bram Stoker Awards Short Fiction Initiative. It is a great honor and privilege to host two consecutive shows reserved entirely for the nominees in the Superior Achievement in Short Fiction category.

The initiative will begin with our Show number 10 on Friday, the 16th of March, and will end with our 11th show on Friday, the 23rd of March. Please find enclosed the show program with the nominees below:

Show 10: March 16th
O’Neill, Gene — “Graffiti Sonata” (Dark Discoveries)
Castro, Adam Troy — “Her Husband’s Hands” (Lightspeed Magazine)
Warren, Kaaron — “All You Can Do Is Breathe” (Blood and Other Cravings)

Show 11: March 23th
Lillie-Paetz, Ken — “Hypergraphia” (The Uninvited, Issue 1)
Saunders, George — “Home” (The New Yorker Magazine, June 13, 2011)
King, Stephen — “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” (The Atlantic Magazine, May 2011)

Don’t forget to tune in at Tales to Terrify Friday March 16th and allow us to haunt your feed.

March 16, 2012 Links and Plugs

Check out Weirdfictionreview.com’s Twelve Days of Monsters: Celebrating the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

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Fair Coin by E.C. Myers

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes edited by Francesca Forrest, Illustrated by Adam Oehlers

Monday, March 12, 2012

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Showtime by Narrelle M. Harris

Friday, March 09, 2012

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After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

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Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

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Venom in Her Veins by Tim Pratt

Monday, March 05, 2012

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In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

Friday, March 02, 2012

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 Clarkesworld #66

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Interview: Tobias Buckell

Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born New York Times Bestselling author. His work has been translated into 15 different languages. He has published some 50 short stories in various magazines and anthologies, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and Campbell awards.


Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For those unfamiliar with your latest novel, could you tell us more about Arctic Rising?

It's a futuristic technothriller of sorts, set in the Arctic Polar North after the ice is all gone, from the point of view of one Anika Duncan: a United Nations Polar Guard airship pilot who gets swept up in a conspiracy of sorts.

How did Tor end up publishing the novel? Was this something you pitched to them or a book they approached you?



I pitched it to them. I've been chewing over the idea for Arctic Rising, and showed it to my editor, Paul Stevens, along with a few others. I'd been hoping he'd go for this one, and he did.

Some of your previous stories also have environmental concerns as part of its theme. What's the appeal of the subject matter to you? How conscious were you of it? Are you planning on writing more in the future?



I grew up on a boat, and I'm always paying attention to maritime stuff. The gears in the back of my head clicked when I first started hearing about shipping traffic companies getting excited about being able to ship over the top of Canada (in some cases it would save them fuel and Panama crossing fees). That's a tipping point when you realize commercial interest in that sort of thing is getting big, and the companies are all moving forward with the assumption that this will happen. They're negotiating right of ways and there is motion to build a deep water harbor up in the area. The more I dug into it, the more I realized not only that it was seen as inevitable, but that the US Navy and military was posting these fascinating foresight studies about how it would all shake out, so I had my research already done for me.

What kind of research did you have to do for Arctic Rising?



As I mentioned before, I was digging into these declassified documents from Navies, and just accumulating interesting things I kept finding whenever I looked into polar resources, oil and gas corporations buying licenses for the next couple decades with the assumption being that there won't be ice in the summers there anymore within that time frame, and other stuff. It was fun just piecing it all together.

What were the challenges you faced in writing the book?



Getting lost in the research was easy. At some point I had to toss all sorts of fascinating stuff I wanted to write about. But I was trying to craft a lean thriller with lots of explosions. Had to go.

Fortunately I've got a massive clippings file on my laptop with scads more stuff for another book playing with these ideas. I really am interested in the idea of mobile offshore medium-run factories that can reconfigure themselves on the fly that are owner-operated and can save on shipping costs by moving to major shipping hubs, for example. I'd like to play more with that throw away idea.

Where are you now as a writer, whether in terms of craft or career (especially with your successful Kickstarter project)?



In terms of craft, I'm trying to spend more time wrapping my head around rewrites (which in the past threw me into long periods of struggling with the work before I was confident I'd incorporated notes from beta readers and editors) and giving the work the space it needs. I spent over two years writing Arctic Rising, which is really long for me, but included interruptions with my health getting in the way. But I really like the longer stew time for this book. I managed to pack a lot of things that I wanted in, and pared a lot of stuff off.

In terms of career? I'm in the trenches, so it's hard to tell what the 30,000 foot view is. From my perspective I'm digging out of this hole that my congenital heart defect put me in for three years. After I collapsed I had only a few hours a day I could work, and I had to focus on high paying freelance work to be efficient with what energy I had in order to put food on the table. So from here, it feels like I've been 'out of the game' for so long, that I have no idea how to conceptualize where it is. I focused on writing what I could when I could in between the freelancing for the last three years, but there a lot of days of doubt in there. And fear about whether I was doing the right thing, because if I'd stopped writing fiction all together I could have made more money. But I'm far too in love with crafting stories to give it up, so I feel like I've been juggling on the edge of a precipice for three years and sometimes I feel a bit fatigued. But I wanted to tell these stories, and you have to imagine that either you'll falter and eat the precipice or slowly climb your way out. It seemed worth it.

The Kickstarter project really helped. I offered readers the chance to pre-order the next book in my Xenowealth series, the sequel to Sly Mongoose called The Apocalypse Ocean. After its success, in November I crunched the figures and realized that I could drop most of my freelancing except for one gig, and spend at least nine months mostly writing fiction. It gave me the wiggle room, and I'm eternally grateful. If I can utilize the freed up time from not having to freelance all afternoon and roll that into more writing, I may be back to the point I was at in 2008 where I spent three quarters of my week writing, one quarter freelancing. And that's a nice place to be. We shall see if it lasts!

What projects are you working on?



Right now I'm working on the Kickstarter-launched novel The Apocalypse Ocean and another novel for Tor called The Infringement. I'm not even sure how to describe The Infringement right now. I have to get a bit further in just to make sure what I think the novel is about, is what it's really about.

I wrote my first script recently, for a small film group in Ireland that is working on adapting one of my short stories. It was a very cool new experience, and I've been lucky enough to be included in a lot of their process building up to this project. It's a whole new set of experiences.

Anything you want to plug?


As always, I'm blogging away www.TobiasBuckell.com for those interested in seeing what shiny things the internet is passing through my own person.

March 1, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Fantasy & Science Fiction, Stories on the Nebula Ballot 2011 (free)