Monday, August 31, 2009

August 31, 2009 Links and Plugs

I stumbled into the table of contents for Exotic Gothic 3 while researching for an interview. Even if you're not a fan of gothic fiction, you might want to check it out with names like Ekaterina Sedia, Zoran Zivkovic, Terry Dowling, Kaaron Warren, Brian Evenson, Steve Rasnic Tem, etc.

Tomorrow is Outer Alliance Pride Day while Support Our Zines Day has been moved to October 1, 2009.

And congrats to the Philippines Free Press award winners.

Zen photo of the day courtesy of Jim C Hines:

If you have $300 to spare...

Book/Magazine Review: New Genre #6

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

The independent publishing scene is a vibrant source of exciting and cutting-edge fiction, and New Genre #6 thankfully proves that rule. This sleek, small package features just four fiction pieces but each one packs a whallop and lives up to the magazine's name. Each story feels fresh and unique, and doesn't give the reader a chance to sit on the sidelines. At the very least, each one will polarize you and leaves a lingering impact that reinvigorates one's passion for speculative fiction.

The first piece is "Jack the Satellite Jockey" by Michael Filimowicz and the author combines textual rhythm with a hard science fiction concept. Filimowicz's technique is unlike anything I've encountered before in the sense that it'll appeal to either readers who love verbal prowess in their fiction, or those who read science fiction for the core idea. Either reader will also appreciate the emotional anchor the author attaches to the piece, giving life to what would have been a dry, technical piece.

A more "conventional" story is "Lonegan's Luck" by Stephen Graham Jones. I'd not a big fan of Westerns but Jones conjures a convincing tale that hooks you right from the very start. There's immediately a certain sense of foreboding from both the title and the opening paragraphs that the author builds on. Never a dull moment to be found here and despite the simple premise, Jones' technique is such that the story is rich in both character and setting. The transition of our investment in the main character is to be applauded and is easily the hallmark element of the story.

"The Sparrow Mumbler" by Eric Schaller similarly follows a conventional trajectory and it's the author's technique that sweeps you away. Much like "Lonegan's Luck", the story is consistently compelling allthroughout and there's a gradual escalation of the horror. The dialogue of the various characters are convincing and Schaller successfully captures the suaveness of con-men. What surprised me with this story is how one should actually be prepared for the ending yet it nonetheless creeps up on you, surprising yet satisfying. I didn't think an epilogue was necessary, yet it ties so neatly with the established narrative that the reader continues the last line in their mind's eye.

The last piece is "I Am Antenna/Antennae" by Matthew Pendleton and while this is not a particular favorite, I could appreciate the originality and daring of the author. The strongest element of the piece is the atmosphere: it's moody, confusing, and the setting is flat-out weird. And while the text might appear repetitive, this actually ties into the sci-fi concept behind the narrative which one slowly unravels. This melding of science fiction and horror is commendable and definitely presents something new.

It's not every day that I run across a publication that I never heard of yet is full of fiction that's exciting and unexpected. New Genre #6 goes more for quality over quantity, and doesn't shortchange the reader.

Book/Magazine Review: Year's Best SF 14 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

The dilemma with anthologies that label itself as the "year's best" is that tastes are subjective and as a reader, what you're really looking for is an editor (or editors in this case) whose preferences coincide with yours. It's probably both a boon and a curse that there are only so many such anthologies in the science fiction genre that the real challenge is making a selection that has little overlap with the others but nonetheless delivers a satisfying read. If it's just satisfaction that we're looking for, Year's Best SF 14 succeeds in the sense that I enjoyed most of the stories. Did I think they're the best of the best? Well, some certainly are, in the case of Ted Chiang and Paolo Bacigalupi. The rest, on the other hand, are undeniably good, and definitely fun, but whether their slot in this book is irreplaceable is up for debate. Having said that, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer are still ahead of the curve and their choices are worth a look.

The introduction covers the anthology's mission statement and this is important in any anthology. In the case of Year's Best SF 14, Hartwell and Cramer wanted fiction that is undeniably science fiction (as opposed to something interstitial) and looking at the table of contents, I'd say they live up to that promise.

Personally, what impressed me with this anthology is that the table of contents was filled with familiar stories but not all of them grabbed my attention the first time I read them from the primary sources. Revisiting them here, however, gave me the opportunity to reassess my opinions and more than a couple times, I was swayed by the re-reading.

For example, I liked Paolo Bacigalupi's "Pump Six" but felt it lacked that extra oomph when I initially encountered it. The re-reading however made me appreciate the author's technical skill which I previously missed. The first paragraph for example conveys so much in such a short scene and this is where the author's strength comes in: his characterization and his ability to make his protagonists sound genuine and true. The rest is icing on the cake: how Bagicalupi spins a simple concept into a believable dilemma on the micro-level (as opposed to the macro-level which is how many science fiction authors revolve their conceit on), the richness of his setting, and the level of detail that'll make literary professors weep.

Ted Chiang's "Exhalation" is both a compelling and enjoyable read. It might not be his best but Chiang's "good enough" is better than a lot of what's out there. Tone is important to Chiang's narrative and this one is consistent allthroughout, taking its time but nonetheless hooks readers. It's clearly a concept story but one that works on multiple levels. Even veteran readers will appreciate the influence of Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves but still remaining fresh and apt.

The rest are impressive stories although deciding which is better is difficult. What I did appreciate was how the shorter stories managed to deliver an impact despite their brief length, such as Michael Swanwick's "The Scarecrow's Boy" which strikes the balanace between horror, humor, and nostalgia. Daryl Gregory's "Glass" is also noteworthy despite its brevity as the author distills the core elements of both science fiction and horror into a piece where every sentence matters.

No disappointments in reading--and purchasing--this anthology as Year's Best SF 14 will satisfy SF readers. There's a mix of essential reads along with some leeway for indulgences.

Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009 Links and Plugs

For the record, I'm halfway through New Genre #6, and I'm enjoying it. Go read.

Also, please read about the Leukemia Society fundraiser in memory of Dave Stevens.

Check out the 2 limited editions of (one of) VanderMeer's latest book:

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/8/23

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  2. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  3. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  4. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
  5. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  6. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  7. The Shack by William P. Young
  8. Glenn Beck's Common Sense by Glenn Beck
  9. Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
  10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

I might have mentioned yesterday that Jon Armstrong of If You're Just Joining Us interviews Jeff VanderMeer. You should all go listen to it because I did the opening (aside from the podcast being a really, really cool show and Jeff VanderMeer is boar-charging awesome). =)

Linked to it the other day but worth repeating: K Tempest Bradford on Making Lists: Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color.

9/1 is Outer Alliance Pride Day (it's also ‘Support our ‘Zines Day’).

Oh, and have some Goblin Fruit.

P.S. Urgent: If you're an author (especially female), here's a Disturbing Email Heads-Up (and it's not only Sam Henderson who's been receiving such emails).

One of Jonathan Strahan's recommendations:

What Remains by Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman

SF/F/H Reviewer Linkup Meme, 2nd Edition


Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German


7 Foot Shelves

The Accidental Bard

A Boy Goes on a Journey

A Dribble Of Ink

Adventures in Reading

A Fantasy Reader

The Agony Column

A Hoyden's Look at Literature

A Journey of Books

All Booked Up

Alexia's Books and Such...

Andromeda Spaceways

The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ask Daphne

ask nicola

Audiobook DJ


Australia Specfic In Focus

Author 2 Author



Barbara Martin

Babbling about Books

Bees (and Books) on the Knob

Best SF

Bewildering Stories

Bibliophile Stalker


Big Dumb Object

The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf

Bitten by Books

The Black Library Blog

Blog, Jvstin Style

Blood of the Muse

The Book Bind



Booksies Blog


The Book Smugglers


The Book Swede

Book View Cafe [Authors Group Blog]

Breeni Books


Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]

Charlotte's Library

Circlet 2.0

Cheryl's Musings

Club Jade

Cranking Plot

Critical Mass

The Crotchety Old Fan


Daily Dose - Fantasy and Romance

Damien G. Walter

Danger Gal

It's Dark in the Dark

Dark Parables

Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews

Darque Reviews

Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog

Dead Book Darling

Dear Author

The Deckled Edge

The Doctor is In...

Dragons, Heroes and Wizards

Drey's Library

The Discriminating Fangirl

Dusk Before the Dawn


Enter the Octopus

Erotic Horizon

Errant Dreams Reviews

Eve's Alexandria


Falcata Times

Fan News Denmark [in English]

Fantastic Reviews

Fantastic Reviews Blog

Fantasy Book Banner

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Book Reviews and News

Fantasy By the Tale

Fantasy Cafe

Fantasy Debut

Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings


Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' News and Reviews

Feminist SF - The Blog!


Fiction is so Overrated

The Fix

The Foghorn Review

Follow that Raven

Forbidden Planet

Frances Writes

Free SF Reader

From a Sci-Fi Standpoint

From the Heart of Europe

Fruitless Recursion

Fundamentally Alien

The Future Fire


The Galaxy Express


Game Couch

The Gamer Rat

Garbled Signals

Genre Reviews


Got Schephs

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review

Grasping for the Wind

a GREAT read

The Green Man Review

Gripping Books



Hero Complex

Highlander's Book Reviews


The Hub Magazine

Hyperpat's Hyper Day


I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending

Ink and Keys

Ink and Paper

The Internet Review of Science Fiction



Janicu's Book Blog

Jenn's Bookshelf

Jumpdrives and Cantrips


Kat Bryan's Corner

Keeping the Door

King of the Nerds


Lair of the Undead Rat

Largehearted Boy

Layers of Thought

League of Reluctant Adults

The Lensman's Children

Library Dad

Libri Touches

Literary Escapism

Literaturely Speaking

ludis inventio

Lundblog: Beautiful Letters


Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review

Mari's Midnight Garden

Mark Freeman's Journal

Mark Lord's Writing Blog

Marooned: Science Fiction Books on Mars

Martin's Booklog


Michele Lee's Book Love

Missions Unknown [Author and Artist Blog Devoted to SF/F/H in San Antonio]

The Mistress of Ancient Revelry

MIT Science Fiction Society

Monster Librarian

More Words, Deeper Hole

Mostly Harmless Books

Multi-Genre Fan

Musings from the Weirdside

My Favourite Books

My Overstuffed Bookshelf


Neth Space

The New Book Review


Not Free SF Reader



OF Blog of the Fallen

The Old Bat's Belfry

Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy

The Ostentatious Ogre

Outside of a Dog



Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Patricia's Vampire Notes

The Persistence of Vision

Piaw's Blog

Pizza's Book Discussion

Poisoned Rationality

Popin's Lair


Post-Weird Thoughts

Publisher's Weekly

Pussreboots: A Book Review a Day



Ramblings of a Raconteur

Random Acts of Mediocrity

Ray Gun Revival

Realms of Speculative Fiction

Reading the Leaves

Review From Here

Reviewer X

Revolution SF

Rhiannon Hart

The Road Not Taken

Rob's Blog o' Stuff

Robots and Vamps


Sandstorm Reviews

Satisfying the Need to Read

Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics

Science Fiction Times


Sci-Fi Blog


Sci-Fi Fan Letter

The Sci-Fi Gene

Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]

SciFi Squad

Scifi UK Reviews

Sci Fi Wire

Self-Publishing Review

The Sequential Rat

Severian's Fantastic Worlds

SF Diplomat



SF Gospel


SF Revu

SF Safari


SF Signal

SF Site

SFF World's Book Reviews

Silver Reviews

Simply Vamptastic

Slice of SciFi

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Solar Flare

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction Junkie

Speculative Horizons

The Specusphere


Spiral Galaxy Reviews

Spontaneous Derivation

Sporadic Book Reviews

Stainless Steel Droppings

Starting Fresh

Stella Matutina

Stuff as Dreams are Made on...

The Sudden Curve

The Sword Review


Tangent Online

Tehani Wessely

Temple Library Reviews

Tez Says

things mean a lot [also a publisher]

True Science Fiction


Ubiquitous Absence



Urban Fantasy Land


Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic

Variety SF

Veritas Omnia Vincula


Walker of Worlds

Wands and Worlds


Wendy Palmer: Reading and Writing Genre Books and ebooks

The Weirdside

The Wertzone

With Intent to Commit Horror

The Wizard of Duke Street

WJ Fantasy Reviews

The Word Nest


The World in a Satin Bag


The Written World



Young Adult Science Fiction



Cititor SF [with English Translation]




Foundation of Krantas

The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [with some English essays]

Yenchin's Lair






Fernando Trevisan

Human 2.0

Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm

Ponto De Convergencia




Fantasy Seiten

Fantasy Buch

Fantasy/SciFi Blog


Welt der fantasy

Bibliotheka Phantastika

SF Basar

Phantastick News



Phantastick Couch


Fantasy News

Fantasy Faszination

Fantasy Guide

Zwergen Reich

Fiction Fantasy


Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009 Links and Plugs

The alarm woke me up at 3 am but the Internet didn't come back until 7 am so here I am, rushing (again).

If you read yesterday's plugs, apparently the Apex Book of World SF isn't scheduled to be released until November, due to the publisher employing a more traditional form (i.e. offset printing) of publishing (which is good news in the sense that there'll be more copies!). Having said that, might I interest you in a gothic anthology that has a "world" and multicultural flavor: Exotic Gothic 2. Exotic Gothic 3 should be coming out later this year.

And if there's any one Jeffrey Ford interview you should read--not even mine--it's Larry Nolen's which he did for the Nebula Awards Blog (disclosure: I'm in charge of content development for the site).

Oh, and Greenpunk, Greenpunk, Greenpunk.

P.S. From Luis Katigbak--this could happen to the Philippines considering the current year of arbitrary taxation policy of books.

Here's one for charity:
Last Drink Bird Head edited by Jeff & Ann VanderMeer

Essay: Never Fantasy vs. Science Fiction

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

I've always shied away from the fantasy vs. science fiction debate (or rather which is superior, which is better, which is more difficult to write), not just because I love both genres, but because the two have more in common than differences (hence why they easily fall under the umbrella term speculative fiction). Perhaps a better contrast for both genres would be realist fiction but then again, you'd be surprised at how unreal, contrived, or fabricated "realist" fiction can be.

Even authors whom we typically associate with science fiction understand the thin line that they cross. Arthur C. Clarke's third law for example states "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And in the preface of Citadel Twilight's The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 1, Dick writes "Fantasy involves that which general opinion regards as impossible; science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances. This is in essence a judgment-call, since what is possible and what is not possible is not objectively known but is, rather, a subjective belief on the part of the author and of the reader."

As someone who's read a lot of fantasy and science fiction (admittedly more of the former than the latter), one can't make sweeping generalizations of either. There's lots of material in both that spawn numerous genres and sub-genres, in addition to interstitial work that cross boundaries and accepted definitions. What might be true of one title might be the opposite in another. Suffice to say, while I have guidelines for what constitutes fantasy or science fiction, they are not parameters set in stone and chances are, have been subverted by various authors.

So it's a pet peeve of mine when I come across an essay entitled Fantasy vs. Science-fiction. While there are possibly good arguments for the fantasy vs. science fiction debate, this article isn't one of them. In fact, it is, in many ways, contradictory. For example, in the second paragraph, it describes Lord of the Rings as "regressive and nostalgic" but praises the same series in the third paragraph, stating "Fantasy narratives like The Lord of the Rings occasionally break out and do something impressive..." Make up your mind, will you. Is Lord of the Rings praise-worthy or not? Even worse is the numerous exemptions the authors make, especially when it comes to science fiction (and to be fair, a lot of fans also make the same presumption):

"Star Wars is a fantasy film, rather than a science-fiction film."

"Fantasy is referential and narrow and as soon as it becomes unmoored from cliche it ceases to be fantasy and becomes science-fiction or speculative fiction."

"Of course, many science-fiction narratives are so narrow as to resemble fantasy. Just replace the tableau of swords, elves, and magic with lasers, aliens, and advanced inexplicable science and you have the same uninteresting garbage."

That kind of logic can be summarized with the following statement: "If I like it, it's automatically science fiction (or speculative fiction). If I don't like it, it's automatically fantasy."

Not that I'm disagreeing that Star Wars (and while we're at it, Dune) does have some high fantasy elements, mind you, but there's an arrogance in the way the author presents his points, even when they are opinions rather than facts. And ultimately, it's impossible to win an argument with the author's brand of logic because he'll always be making excuses for titles he likes or doesn't like: Title X isn't science fiction, Title Y is really science fiction in disguise.

Having said that, here are the following points that I want to make a counter-argument against:

"Then it occurred to me that fantasy is typically regressive and nostalgic. It represents a longing for the child’s world and an escape from reality. Harry Potter is a good example of this, as is the Lord of the Rings."

I won't deny that fantasy is a break from reality (hence why we call it fantasy in the first place). But the same can be said of science fiction. Despite this disassociation though, both genres nonetheless tackle real-world concerns, exaggerated through literary technique and metaphor. Harry Potter, for example, is anything but simple--Hogwarts is a complex political system, whether it's the faculty or its students (i.e. it's pretty much like any other high school in terms of concerns--there's bullying, cliques, and friendships). And for whatever triumph there is in Lord of the Rings, it's also filled with tragedy. Arguably the hobbits lost their innocence through their travails for example. How is this longing for the child's world? Admittedly, there's a certain sense of wish-fulfillment in Harry Potter (escaping his uncle and aunt) but then again, the two titles have different agendas, the Harry Potter series being a young adult book while Lord of the Rings actually intended for adults.

"The technology in Star Wars is rarely focused on or explained (compared to Star Trek, which does attempt to explain), instead the story is consumed with the magical metaphysics of the Force."

If "explanation" is your only qualifier, then there are tons of fantasy novels which try to explain their magic (The Sword of Truth and The Deathgate Cycle series for example). Which doesn't necessarily make them good fantasy (or science fiction, as the case may be), mind you, but that's a lousy qualifier. And I'm jumping ahead of myself here, but shall we just dump our decades of space opera, just because there's no credible explanation behind some of the technologies? Or even titles like Animal Farm where no one bothers explaining why there are sentient animals populating the world?

"Fantasy worlds operate as cartoonish backdrops for personal dramas and interpersonal narratives. There is often little explanation of how things work or any real consciousness of the larger objective reality."

Again, there are lots of fantasy titles that actually do just that (and similarly, science fiction which use "cartoonish backdrops" for personal dramas and interpersonal narratives--as if those were bad things). The A Song of Ice and Fire is very complicated, layered, and well thought out. The Anita Blake series considers what happens in a world where vampires are real--and become legal citizens.

"There is a narrowness of perspective that often dictates a flatness and reliance on cliche that relegates fantasy narratives to the ghetto of genre fiction. Fantasy narratives like The Lord of the Rings occasionally break out and do something impressive, but only by taking on greater reality and connection to the real world. Much of LoTR is inspired directly by Anglo-Saxon and Germanic history and much of its resonance is due to its connection to this world, also referred to as “Middle Earth” in Norse myth."

"Flatness and reliance on cliche" is typically (not all the time) a characteristic of bad writing, not of fantasy in general (and guess what, it's not limited to the genre!). And I don't know if the author is living in an alternate dimension, but sure, fantasy is usually in a ghetto of genre fiction, but so is science fiction (and some would argue more so).

The author also needs to wake up because every piece of fiction, be it science fiction or fantasy, is inspired by the real world. No fantasy or science fiction author thinks hey, I'll write a story that has no basis in the real world whatsoever. Characters--or at least their behaviors--are based on reality. Setting is typically based on reality. Heck, the possible future is based on reality. There's even urban fantasy which takes place in reality (albeit subverted for the purposes of the narrative)...

"Science-fiction is prophetic where fantasy is sentimental. Science-fiction, since it encourages a more broad perspective, is more creative and interesting."

Hmmm, what advice should I give? That the author should go out and read more? Or snap out of his personal delusion?

Let's tackle some of my favorite short stories. There's Daniel Abraham's "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairytale of Economics". It's clearly fantasy. There's also a pseudo-medieval feel to it. The theme of the story however revolves around two not-so-modern principles: economics and morals. I'd say the thesis is very apt to today's modern reader, and is in many ways, prophetic because it's a very valid concern: what is this currency worth? (Especially with certain countries nowadays going bankrupt.)

Or let's take Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate". First off, is it fantasy or is it science fiction? My gut instinct that it's the former, especially with its Arabian Nights trappings. But sure, since it has a time travel device/wormhole, let's call it science fiction. In many ways, it's sentimental: the setting is set in the past and the themes--escaping fate--is a very old topic.

Now I love both stories but clearly, the generalizations proposed don't fit them. And these aren't exemptions to the rule. There are tons of other stories under both genres that break the author's assumption.

"Of course, many science-fiction narratives are so narrow as to resemble fantasy. Just replace the tableau of swords, elves, and magic with lasers, aliens, and advanced inexplicable science and you have the same uninteresting garbage."

And here's the killer: so will you be the one to tell people that short of reading hard science fiction, you're not really reading science fiction (or good science fiction at that)? Byebye space opera, byebye military SF, byebye sword & planet, etc.?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25, 2009 Links and Plugs

I didn't realize that The Apex Book of World SF is getting released next week. One of the questions on my mind is what can I do to promote it? For all the talks within the genre of multiculturalism, well, here's a publisher willing to back it up with their money. Whether it's a success or not depends on whether the reading public is willing to pay for it.

On a lighter note, the We Have Thumbs podcast features the voices behind Goblin Fruit in their latest podcast. Go listen!

And David Anthony Durham is giving away a copy of his upcoming book:

The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

Interview: Marty Halpern

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Marty Halpern is a two-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award-Professional for his work with Golden Gryphon Press. (“It’s an honor just to be nominated…” Feh!) His career with GGP began in 1999, and in the next 7 years, he edited 23 ½ hardcovers, 4 limited edition chapbooks, and 4 reprint trade paperbacks. The “½” hardcover is original anthology The Silver Gryphon (marking the press’s twenty-fifth book, 2003), which he co-edited with publisher Gary Turner. Marty now freelances, working directly with authors as well as for independent publishers, including Fantastic Books, Night Shade Books and Tachyon Publications. Marty is very enthusiastic about two forthcoming titles that he edited: Mark Teppo’s Lightbreaker (Night Shade Books) and Andrew Fox’s The Good Humor Man, Or, Calorie 3501 (Tachyon Publications). In addition to his work as an editor, Marty has written a series of columns entitled “The Perfect Sentence,” published in The Valley Scribe, the newsletter of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the California Writers Club. And in 2004, he was a guest faculty at the East of Eden Writers Conference in Salinas, California.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, let’s talk about your editing work. Could you talk and elaborate (what is it exactly that you do) on the various editing roles you’ve taken: copyeditor, acquisitions editor, book editor, etc.?

That’s a huge question, Charles, so I’ll try to cover the highlights. I wear many hats, as they say, and those hats tend to change a lot as well for each of the publishers with whom I work. On some projects I will both edit and copyedit the book, working directly with the author and his/her manuscript file, clear through to the final ready-for-print page layouts. For other projects I just copyedit the manuscript or page proofs. One publisher in particular has me scan content as necessary; this scanned material is then folded into the overall project which I will then copyedit. It all depends on the publisher and the project. I’m also always on the lookout for manuscripts that are well-written and intriguing enough for me to pitch to a publisher on behalf of the author. This is how Andrew Fox’s latest novel, The Good Humor Man, Or Calorie 3501, came to be published by Tachyon Publications. I currently have four publishers to whom I can pitch a book but, of course, it has to be the right book. And then, as in the case of the Fox novel, if the publisher acquires the manuscript then I get to edit it!

The label “editor” could mean so many things. When one mentions the word editor, what first springs to mind? Are you satisfied with the term?

As an editor, I consider myself an “advocate”: an advocate of the author and the author’s manuscript and an advocate of the publisher for whom I work. The difficult part is integrating the two: I want to work with the author to ensure that his/her manuscript is the absolute best that it can be, but I also have to work within any parameters that the publisher may have set forward. Ideally the absolute best manuscript will meet the publisher’s goals and everyone will be happy. At issue, though, is not whether I’m satisfied with the term “editor” but whether or not authors, and even publishers, are satisfied with the term. I’m certain that every publisher understands the absolute necessity for editors – acquiring editors, book editors, anthology editors, and copyeditors, or some combination there of. But there are some authors who believe that they are just so “speshul” that they don’t require any editing. (This is why self-publishing still has such a bad rep.)

Backtracking a bit, how did you first get acquainted with speculative fiction?

I actually came late, so to speak, to speculative fiction. I guess you could say my reading habits as I was growing up were more within the norm for a typical boy: sports stories, war stories, etc. In fact, I tried reading The Hobbit way back when and just couldn’t get into the dwarves-and-elves thing. But, obviously, that changed. To tell you the truth, I have no memory of when that transition actually took place. Some people can remember the first SF story they read – the magazine title and date in which the story appeared, the cover art on the magazine, and even when and where it all came together. Not me. Speculative fiction was just another type of book among the many books I was reading at the time – and I read a lot, too. I recall one summer during college reading Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road – all in succession. Whew! Talk about edge city!

I do wish there was the means to selectively delete specific memories. If this were an affordable option, I would immediately sign up! I would give nearly anything to be able to experience once again reading The Lord of the Rings for the very first time.

What’s the appeal of speculative fiction for you?

I have to be challenged with what I read, it’s that simple. (Note the books I mentioned in the previous question!) I read a story to make me think, to extrapolate, to come up with other ideas and scenarios; but the story also has to be excellent writing as well. I remember when I tried to read Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. I knew this to be one of the so-called classics and I felt a responsibility to read it. But it took all my effort to force myself to finish it. Some readers would probably argue that there’s enough grandness in that story to make one think, to extrapolate, to come up with other ideas and scenarios – and that may very well be true, but the story was simply too dry and boring for me.

What made you decide to focus on editing speculative fiction titles?

It wasn’t so much deciding to edit speculative fiction, but rather that’s the type of fiction I was seriously reading at the time, and editing speculative fiction just happened to be the opportunity that arose.

How about what made you decide to pursue editing – and the various sub-categories at that – as a career? I know you’ve written columns for The Valley Scribe but have you entertained the idea of writing fiction?

I was working for Golden Gryphon Press more as a side project while I worked full-time in the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. Then the dot-com crash hit during the summer of 2001 and I lost my job. Less than two and a half months later, we all experienced in some form the events of September 11. In the days that followed, the economy took an even worse tumble, and in the Valley here more than a quarter of a million people were unemployed. I had a couple of short-lived contract jobs, but after 9/11 the job market simply dried up. The expertise I had at the time (SAP security) was obsolete within six months anyhow. So, with no tech work available, I simply continued working for Golden Gryphon and slowly began to acquire other editing work; I even got some part-time work maintaining a website for a genre bookseller.

My apologies in advance to Gordon Van Gelder for using him as an example here: he attended Clarion in 1987 and has often remarked that that experience taught him that he didn’t want to be a writer. I have a similar experience. In 1990, at ArmadilloCon 12 in Austin, Texas, Pat Murphy challenged me to write a ghost story. Right then and there, sitting in an easy chair in the lobby lounge of the Wyndham Southpark Hotel in Austin, an idea for just such a story popped into my head. Unfortunately, the story took me a really long time to write and the writing experience was very painful because some of the story was based on difficult life events. But, I completed it. Pat critiqued the story, I reworked it to some degree (I didn’t agree with all of her suggestions, of course), and then I had Karen Joy Fowler critique the revision. Karen’s suggestions required a complete rewrite. I worked out the changes, began my rewrite, and then thought: All this for a short story? That’s when I realized, like Gordon, that I didn’t want to be a writer. (But I still have that short story stashed away in one of my cabinets.)

In your opinion, what are the qualifications for a good copy editor? Acquisitions editor? Book editor?

Do you ever ask a question, Charles, that allows for a short, easy answer? There are different requirements for each level of editing, and I could easily write a page or more on each. But I’ve already been long-winded enough and I’ve only responded so far to a third of your questions, so I’ll just state some of the highlights here.

An acquisitions editor must be familiar with the field and, more importantly, what people are reading (which isn’t always what the NY publishers are trying to foist on readers, hence the increasing popularity of the small, independent presses). And always – always! – keep searching for that new, truly original, unique story that could start a revolution, or a movement, if you will (i.e. the next Books of Blood, or Neuromancer, or True Names). And while you’re searching, hopefully you’ll find a lot of truly excellent stories along the way.

An anthology editor has the same requirements as an acquisitions editor, but from a different perspective: they have to be aware of the book they are putting together at both the micro and macro level. The editor must acquire excellent stories that meet the requirements for the antho, while at the same time being aware of the overall book – how the theme is handled, the tone, point of view, opening and closing, etc. – to avoid repetition among the individual stories.

A copyeditor must have a solid understanding of the language (as in my case, I’ll assume the language is English): sentence structure, subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, punctuation, and the many nasty little nuances that make up the English language. A writer has the freedom to write whatever/however she/he wants, but it helps to know the rules first before you can successfully break them. When I began working for Golden Gryphon, the publisher informed me that he followed the Chicago Manual of Style, so I immediately ordered a copy from Then once the book arrived, I spent weeks reading it in the evening, in bed, before turning out the light. I read some sections multiple times over the course of those weeks, marking those sections with tabs for quick reference. Imagine reading a dictionary before going to bed each night; my wife thought I was nuts. A copyeditor needs to be extremely obsessive (read: anal) when it comes to detail. And though I’m not going to discuss it here, don’t forget that a copyeditor is responsible for fact-checking as well.

A book editor must have all of the above skills but must also be able to See a book in its totality – beginning, middle, end – as a cohesive whole. Most importantly, does the author deliver at the end of the story on the promises she/he made at the beginning?

I suspect other editors might argue these points with me, or have different critical points of their own. Given more time, and more pages, these paragraphs would be much longer, but these are the points that have immediately come to mind.

How did you first get involved with Golden Gryphon Press?

I had been following editor Jim Turner’s work at Arkham House for a number of years, purchasing nearly every book that he produced. When he founded Golden Gryphon, I went along for the ride as well, so to speak. Jim and I corresponded a bit after he started Golden Gryphon. I recall recommending a collection of Connie Willis stories, but Jim wasn’t overly fond of her type of humor, which had by then become the mainstay of her short fiction.

Then in late March 1999 I read in Locus online that Jim Turner had passed away. Evidently he has been ill for some time, but not knowing him personally, I wasn’t aware of this illness, so the news came as a complete shock. I knew Jim worked solo, but I didn’t know if he had any family to continue the press. I contacted some of the authors I knew who were published by GG, and it was James Patrick Kelly who informed me that Jim had a brother, Gary Turner; Jim also provided me with a mailing address. So, I wrote to Gary (this was a couple months after Jim’s passing), expressed my concerns in seeing the press continue and asked if he had plans in doing so; I also offered my assistance in helping to keep the press publishing. Gary responded via email, we began a discussion as it were, and, as they say, the rest is history.

Currently, how did you end up as Acquisitions Editor for Wilder Publications?

No great secret here: I had read about Warren Lapine’s return to the field, and that he was in need of an acquisitions editor. So, I applied, and was accepted. It’s one of those rare instances where I was at the right place at the right time. Usually, by the time I learn about an opportunity such as this, it’s already been filled. Since then, however, Warren has hired three other acquisitions editors: Darrell Schweitzer, Ian Randal Strock, and Dave Truesdale.

Is there a general guideline you apply when looking for books to acquire across all the companies you’ve worked for? How about specifically for the publishers you’re currently working for?

I have no guidelines, per se. The key is to find a book that I like, that I feel is intriguing, original, and of a publishable quality (and that’s not an easy task, as many writers who have submitted work to me know). Then I determine the best publisher to pitch to. Andrew Fox’s The Good Humor Man goes a bit over-the-top in its sardonic wit; I knew that Tachyon Publications had published work by James Morrow and Terry Bisson, both known for their sardonic writing. Consequently, I knew that if I could get Jacob Weisman, Tachyon’s publisher, to read the book, he would thoroughly enjoy it. And he did.

How about as an anthology editor: What do you look for in a story?

Bottom line: an excellent story. Actually, I’ve mentioned most of this previously, but will repeat myself, albeit briefly. If the book is a themed anthology, then I have to be able to place this story within the context of the theme as well as among all the other stories; I need to ensure that the story significantly enhances the theme while avoiding any repetition with regard to the other stories.

What made you decide to freelance?

As I said, the loss of my full-time job, my technical skills becoming obsolete, the high unemployment rate in the Valley, all contributed to my pursuing freelance full-time simply out of necessity to pay the bills. Over the past half-dozen years, I have taken a contract job on occasion: I worked in the facilities department at Kaiser Hospital in San Jose for about six weeks; I worked in a private medical lab for about three or four months, creating all the lab’s procedures, supporting a software implantation, and entering lab data. But those contract jobs don’t last (though it sure is nice to have a steady income for a while), and I always end up wearing my freelancer’s hat once again. Also, once you’ve freelanced for any length of time, it is very difficult to go back to an 8-to-5 gig, fighting rush hour traffic here in the Valley, dealing with co-workers’ and management’s BS. Not that I don’t have my share of BS to deal with in the publishing industry, I just don’t have to fight traffic to get to it!

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve run into?

A publisher not respecting, not listening to, my concerns regarding some aspect of a book that I acquired and edited.

How has technology aided – or not aided – the editing process? (Compare 1999 to 2009 for example.)

When I joined Golden Gryphon Press in 1999, the typesetter hadn’t yet moved to all digital. The initial page layouts I received were literally galleys: 11 x 17-inch pages, two columns. And when edits were made to the page proofs, the typesetter had to cut & paste the corrected text onto the page. Also, during the earlier editing process, marked up hardcopies had to be photocopied and then mailed to the author for his/her review.

Now, of course, everything is digital. I still personally edit on hardcopy, but once my editing is complete, I can then key in those edits and comments directly into the author’s manuscript file using Word’s “change tracking,” and then send that file to the author as an email attachment; the author can respond in kind since change tracking tracks both sides respectively. No more having to send 400 pages of marked-up hardcopy (unless the author so requests), which saves a lot of expense in photocopying and postage costs. Once all the editing is complete and I have a “final” manuscript file, I then email that file to the publisher for layout. The page proofs should be as perfect as the file that I sent; no more typesetting errors, other than the occasional formatting issue.

What are some of the books you’re currently working on?

I actually have quite a lot going on right now. With regard to my editing original novels, I have two projects from Night Shade: the fifth Detective Inspector Chen novel, The Iron Khan, by Liz Williams, and Mark Teppo’s Heartland: Book Two in the Codex of Souls. Both books will be published in 2010. I’m also doing the story scanning and copyediting for a reprint horror anthology entitled Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow for Tachyon Publications. In addition, co-editor Nick Gevers and I sold an original anthology to DAW Books for publication in 2010. The book is titled Is Anybody Out There? and is concerned with the Fermi paradox. We’ve invited quite a number of authors to contribute to the book, and stories are now being submitted. For Warren Lapine’s Fantastic Books imprint, I have one book in process (and another ten waiting in the wings): I’m awaiting the initial page proofs for novel Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo. And for Warren’s Tir Na Nog Press, I’m now copyediting Realms of Fantasy magazine, beginning with the forthcoming October issue. Lastly, as my time permits, I work directly with authors (for a very reasonable fee) to help them prepare their manuscripts for submission to an agent or editor/publisher. In fact, I have on my desk a manuscript recently submitted by a British author who is trying to break into the US market.

Is editing a sustainable career financially or do you have to turn to other jobs to make ends meet?

If I were working for NY publishers, things might be a bit less hectic, with a higher, more consistent income, but so far I work exclusively within the circle of small presses. The work is sustainable financially, but I do have to watch my expenses. I have no cable/satellite TV; my car is fifteen years old; my wife and I eat at restaurants maybe once or twice a month at most; and I don’t make regular runs to Starbucks (in fact, I don’t go to Starbucks at all!).

What advice do you have for aspiring editors?

Find another, more lucrative line of work!

Advice for aspiring writers?

I realize that writing is something that is in the blood, in the genes, and whether or not a person chooses a writing career, the need to write is consistently present. Regardless, don’t be so quick to give up the day job. Do your research first; learn from other writers. Kristine Kathryn Rusch ( has an ongoing blog series entitled “The Freelancer’s Survival Guide”; Michael A. Burstein ( has written a series of blog entries entitled “The Value of Our Work.” There are dozens of articles and blog posts available on self-promotion, agents, critique groups, etc. So again, do your homework. Be sure this is the professional path you wish to take.

Anything else you want to plug?

I would like to specifically mention two books: The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox (Tachyon Publications) and Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo (Night Shade Books). Both are excellent – and unique – reads, if I do say so myself.

I would also like to point your readers to my entry in the SF Editors Wiki ( for a complete list of all the books I have edited; this list does not include the dozens (and dozens) of titles that I have copyedited over the past five or so years. My blog is entitled “More Red Ink” (; your readers can also follow me on Twitter: @martyhalpern. And lastly, after seeing the types of books that I have acquired and edited over the years, if writers have a novel (or even a unique collection) that they are certain will intrigue me, please do contact me.