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A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.

 




 


Editor

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Contributors

Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Gregory Wilson Guest Post–“Creativity and Collaboration”

Moicarus-coverst of the time, authors are used to flying solo. Well before we start thinking about submitting work for publication, we’re scribbling in journals, writing poems mostly for ourselves, coming up with characters and places and plots for short stories and novels which we think are cool—us, not some mythical other reader who floats in the aether, ever out of reach. As we mature as writers we become more aware of our reading audience, of course; as Damon Knight says, writing for ourselves alone is Stage One writing, valuable in its own way but not really equivalent to work which is intended to convey theme and concept to other people. And even if we don’t collaborate with other authors, when we begin to submit work to agents and publishers we become aware of other people involved in the transaction of writing: the gatekeepers, slush pile readers and acquisitions editors who need to love our work as much (or more!) as we do before agreeing to publish it in publically available form. Even if we self-publish, we need to be aware of potential readers and what they might value. But none of this changes the fundamental solitary nature of creative writing in prose and poetry—we come up with the people and places and ideas, others react to and tweak and alter them.

In the progress of my own writing career I got very used to this solo approach. I certainly appreciated what my editors did for my work, but I still imagined myself as the initial source of the creative process—though oddly, in other aspects of my professional life as a professor, both with colleagues and students I tend to lean towards collaboration and group discussion, even a decent amount of collaborative work in my creative writing courses.

And then came Icarus. When I first developed the concept, about a young man with wings falling into the heart of a massive dormant volcano on another planet and the creatures he finds there, I thought of it in prose—though, as is often the case, the visual image (this time from a Cirque du Soleil show) was always in my mind as I was writing. And I wrote it as a novel in the usual way, on my own, with several beta readers I trusted providing feedback as I went, before submitting it to agents and publishers. It came close but didn’t get picked up, and it was on the back burner until I met Ron Garner from Silence in the Library Publishing and we began chatting about graphic novels. I had always known Icarus was a very visual story, and when Ron started describing what it could look like in visual form, I got as excited as he was.

But I had no experience in writing a graphic novel, and I assumed it was mostly just a matter of sending the book to the artist (decidedly not me!) and being ready to consult on the characters and world after that. I was… very wrong. First of all, Icarus is indeed a visual story, but that wasn’t enough on its own—I had to create a visual outline, highlighting the major visual cues and making suggestions about character appearance, set piece pictures at high points in the story, and so on. And an 84,000 word novel isn’t suitable for an (ultimately) 150 page or so graphic novel, and that meant we needed a script—which was written by Keith DeCandido, who did his usual professional job in adapting my story for use in the graphic novel medium. And space restrictions which are a reality of any visual medium in print meant additional compression, particularly in dialogue; the letterer, Kris Siuda, did tremendous work to create space to fit the dialogue which remained. And we had two artists, not just one, so both the work of Matt Slay and Mark Dos Santos went into representing the final product. And there was layout to be done, started by Glenn Haumann from Comic Mix and continued by Kris and Ron. And, and, and….

You get the idea. Icarus the novel was written by me, read by a couple of others, and (had it been published in its original prose form) edited by a couple of people after that. Icarus the graphic novel was written by me, read by a couple of others, edited by Ron, scripted by Keith, artistically rendered by Matt and Mark, lettered and color corrected by Kris, laid out by Glenn and Ron, and the list continues. It truly was a group effort, which was frankly kind of terrifying. It has my name on the cover, sure, but what happens when it’s actually the work of a lot more people than just me? Is it really mine anymore?

Well… sure. It’s mine because I came up with the concept in the first place; it’s mine because I was the one with the original understanding of the characters and the place where they lived; it’s mine because I signed off on the look of the world and its people; it’s mine because the story and narrative was the one I originally conceived, and the themes are the ones I wanted to present. But more important, I’ve realized that in letting go of full control of the story’s execution I wasn’t letting go of the story itself. In fact, Icarus is a considerably richer story for all the different people who have contributed to its representation. The first time I saw Matt Slay’s cover art, a close up of Icarus’s arm as he falls into the heart of Vol, I was blown away, just as I was when I saw Mark Dos Santos’s first drawing of the ancient and awe-inspiring Salamander Kings. And when I finally got to see the full book, laid out on my widescreen computer monitor, I was deeply moved. My story had somehow inspired this brilliant work from brilliant people, and their work had inspired me in turn.

It’s a lesson I might have learned before but had forgotten: at its best, creative writing is communication, and communication is a function of community. I feel incredibly lucky to have found a community of such impressive creative people, and really excited to see how the next and most important group of people—the readers—will respond to the work we’ve done. All of us.

 

About the Author

GregorGregory-Wilson-Back-Cover-Photo-683x1024y A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City, where he teaches creative writing and fantasy fiction along with various other courses in literature. His first academic book was published by Clemson University Press in 2007; on the creative side, he has won an award for a national playwriting contest, and his first novel, a work of fantasy entitled The Third Sign, was published by Gale Cengage in the summer of 2009. His second novel, Icarus, will be published as a graphic novel by Silence in the Library Publishing in 2016, and he has just signed a three book deal with The Ed Greenwood Group, which will be publishing his Gray Assassin Trilogy beginning with his third novel, Grayshade, in 2016.  He has short stories out in various anthologies, including Time Traveled Tales from Silence in the Library, When The Villain Comes Home, edited by Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy, and Triumph Over Tragedy, alongside authors like Robert Silverberg and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and he has had three articles published in the SFWA Bulletin.

He is a regular panelist at conferences across the country and is a member of the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium, the Origins Library, Codex, Backspace, and several other author groups on and offline. On other related fronts, he did character work and flavor text for the hit fantasy card game Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, and along with fellow speculative fiction author Brad Beaulieu is the co-host of the critically-acclaimed podcast Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, a show which discusses (and interviews the creators and illustrators of) speculative fiction of all sorts and types.  He lives with his wife Clea and daughter Senavene–named at his wife’s urging for a character in The Third Sign, for which his daughter seems to have forgiven him–in Riverdale, NY.

Appreciations for David G. Hartwell (1941-2016)

We received more appreciations for the late David Hartwell than we had room to run in our March issue, but would still like to share them with our readers. The following memorials from his friends, admirers, and colleagues are just a small part of the outpouring of appreciations for his life. Further appreciations are welcome in the comments.–Locus

 

Chuck Gannon

I generally do not write memoriams. My first and last reaction is, “did I really know the person well enough?” This was my reaction when I read, with shock, of David Hartwell’s untimely passing from a stroke. But then I realized, looking at the Facebook threads begun in his memory, how many people qualified their statements with “I did not know him/never met him/never spoke to him, but….” And that changed my mind.

I do not claim to have been a fast friend of David’s; his circles and mine intersected only so much over the years. But he was always unfailingly friendly, as well as soft-spoken–to the point of seeming shy, at times. But his passions for the SF/F genre, for books, and for a life of the mind were as bright and vibrant as the stars that intrigued him.

David was the first person to publish my work in SF. Ironically, it was not fiction, although in the last two years, we had chatted about addressing that situation. But perhaps, being a nonfiction publication, it was ultimately more influential upon me, because it set in motion a string of events that led me to where I am today.

In 1989, friends of mine brought me to the first SF/F convention I had ever attended. I did not grow up in the fannish community, so when I entered the strange reality of Lunacon, the environment was terra incognita.

In the course of that convention (itself a tale with many odd excurses, such as meeting Tom Doherty in the rest room and having no bloody idea just who I was talking with), I sat in on a panel in a large room, almost filled to capacity, where the literary merits and particulars of SF were under discussion. Toward the end, I raised my hand, and asked a question about the aesthetic relationship, as the panelists saw it, between the evolution of SF in the 20th century and the (often helpful, often problematizing) temporally parallel modernist and post-modernist movements. One of the panelists–a distinguished looking fellow in a conservative sport coat and outrageous tie–asked me to provide more detail about where I saw the affinities and the bricolage between SF and these literary trends. I did so. On the spot, he asked if I’d be willing to write that up and send it to him for publication in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

For anyone sensitive to narrative structure, it has become obvious that this panelist was none other than David Hartwell. But for those who knew him, they were certain of that identity from the moment I mentioned the outrageous tie–of which David had an extraordinary and seemingly inexhaustible collection (I am not sure I ever saw him wear the same one twice). And those who knew David well will have realized it was him for another reason: his thirst for serious discussion of SF in all its shapes and forms. In this case, manifesting as a panel-ending solicitation for an article on a related topic, risking his time and energy on a completely unknown 29-year-old who had the great, dumb luck to ask the final question of the hour and thus have that coda-like request ringing in his ears loud and long enough to take action upon it.

The article was indeed long (and those who know *me* will not be surprised to learn that). But David ran it in its entirety, giving it a new, Tennysonian title (“The Ringing Grooves of Change”) and providing some (typically) excellent editorial comments and guidance as it moved to readiness. I was delighted.

Five years later, when market forces had driven my first freelance career into a ditch, I determined to ensure a secure professional foundation by becoming a professor. And so, the essay for which David had been the catalyst now sparked the conceptual fire that grew into my dissertation proposal. In modified form, it became the first chapter in that dissertation, which ultimately went on to become my first book, Rumors of War and Infernal Machines. When its second, American edition won the American Library Association’s 2006 Choice Award for Best Book, I dropped David a line to thank him for the seminal role he played in that almost 20-year journey. His reply was, predictably, very congratulatory while also being wholly dismissive of his influence.

I offer this story not because I believe it to be unique, but because, conversely, I suspect it is one of a vast throng of similar tales: of how David reached out and, without even knowing it, set someone on a course that would one day lead to a profound rendezvous with some aspect of the SF/F genre and/or community. I hope others will step forth with their analogous remembrances. I doubt there could be a more fitting tribute to a man who gave this field so much of himself, his energy, his vision, his passion: a bouquet of dreams given substance in this, the true “field of dreams.”

I will miss David a great deal; after all, who other than he shared the almost contentious conviction that Pynchon is, at the core, a modernist not a postmodernist? I will miss him hovering like a proud mother bird over his tables of used books, the treasure for which had both an insatiable appetite and also a near-evangelical zeal for sharing. I will miss his balance, his gentlemanly manner on panels (we sat our last together at Loncon), his dry wit, his strong tendency to depoliticize the field wherever possible, his elegant turn of a phrase, his slow smile, his omnipresent camera. And of course, his ties.

David’s last decade seemed to churn with a great deal of change and challenge, some being health-related issues. However, in recent years, it seemed he had found renewed energy on those occasions we met and chatted–although our talk never turned to personal matters: David was in many regards a very private person, and I never presumed to do anything other than respect those implicit conversational margins. But on the day before his passing, I had seen that he was on the same last-day panel at Boskone that I was, and so weighed whether I should make my departure a little later, just for the pleasure of touching base with David, and sharing our love of SF. But now that chair will be empty.

And we and our field are permanently diminished because of that.

Gerard Klein

I was terribly sad when I heard about the accident of David Hartwell. Then absolutely upset when my friend Robert Silverberg announced to me the brutal death of David.

I met him twice. The first time, some years ago, he came to my place in Paris and we had a very interesting dinner, at least for me.

One of my Bibles is his The World Treasury of Science Fiction (1989). I owe to him the honor to be represented in that Institution but that is not the reason for my admiration for his work. I think he was one of the best editors of all times in the science fiction field, at Tor and elsewhere, as was Ian Ballantine in the fifties and the sixties and later.

We met him, my wife Jackie Paternoster and me, a second time in November 2014, in New York at the Tor offices in the legendary Iron Flat Building. He gave us with his boss and collaborators a warm and kind welcome.

And I hoped to meet him again in NY or in Paris and to develop, beyond the admiration, a deep friendship such as I had and have with so many personalities of science fiction I read, admired and published.

I wrote to Bob: David lived by books, he died by books.

If it is true he fell in his house transporting a handful of books….

My English is not so good so I am not sure this is an appropriate sentence.

But I mourn him and partake the grief of his family and friends.

Mack Hassler

“Young David as Leader”

His coat of princely fit
Mixed with many colors ruled
Our realm. No one fooled
With Hartwell. Now his death
Strikes us hard. No breath
Nor tear suffices for the loss
That shall deeply cut across
The world of writers. Without him
We must stagger forward dim
In our vision for awhile,
Disoriented with no smile.
He assumed youthful command
In the field and led a motley band
Of believers with much compelling wit.

Henry Morrison

I first met David Hartwell either in his last days at Signet or his first days at Berkley, and we did a fair amount of business over the years. I was very happy to learn early on that David was knowledgeable about a lot of things in a lot of fields. He was one of the few people I knew who really loved science fiction. I’m sure he enjoyed the living from it, but I’m also sure he’d have enjoyed it just as much as a fan. Since we both lived in Westchester, we’d get together once or twice a year for lunch, and he’d fill me in on the world of science fiction, and then we’d get on to talking about the world in general.

Brad Linaweaver

David Hartwell made essential contributions to many specialized areas of science fiction–among them the libertarian contingent that should celebrate his memory for years to come.

Nick Mamatas Guest Post–“Influence Without Anxiety Or, What’s That Sneaking Around in the Corner of the Novelist’s Mind?”

I suppose I wear my influences on my sleeve — most of them anyway. My most recent novel, the dipsomaniac zombie story The Last Weekend, is a tribute to some of them. Mike Berry at the San Francisco Chronicle nailed it: “it is the shades of Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, John Fante and other hard-drinking scribblers who haunt the pages.” One boozy author most everyone has missed so far is Frederick Exley, whose “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes I freely used as a structural template. But there is a deeper influence at work in The Last Weekend as well, specifically Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

Before becoming the simple classic that it is, The Forever War was marketed as a satire. “What A Hitch!” reads the back cover call-out on the Ballantine edition I read years ago. On the front, a confident claim that the novel is science fiction’s own Catch-22. If that wasn’t enough, here’s something about protagonist William Mandella we’d almost never see on the cover copy of a novel today, in the Era of Spoiler Warnings: “Battling the Taurans was the least of his problems as he worked his way up through the ranks to major.” Interstellar battles? Fuggedaboutit! The real story is somewhere else.

Mandella’s story is about something wildly different; his disaffection from a rapidly changing world. The satire in The Forever War is occasionally brutal—rape is essentially institutionalized through the practice of confraternity/bunksharing, and there’s no side character or plot device to wag a finger and say, “That’s bad!” as would be typical in a twenty-first century milquetoast satire. (We must recall that satire’s goal is to critique vice, not just power. Journalists are supposed to “kick up and kiss down”; satirists piss on everything.) And then, as Mandella’s travels keep him young while humanity’s cultures continue to evolve, he finds himself entirely at the mercy of the crazed and hidden logic of war. “Strike Force Command plans in terms of centuries,” after all. “Not in terms of people.”

There is a broad stroke similarity between military science fiction and zombie apocalypse fiction. The former tends to focus on regular troops and the drama of the battlefield; the latter on civilians or “irregulars” trying to survive the drama of complete invasion and collapse. The enemies are frequently either the hive (in military SF) or the horde (in zombie fiction). Of course there are tons of exceptions as well, but we’re talking genres here, so we can make broad and reasonably accurate claims. The Forever War stands out, even after decades, even after the narrative of the Vietnam War has been eclipsed by those of Iraq and Afghanistan, because it violates the strictures of generic hardcore military SF. The particulars of the war against the Taurans are essentially irrelevant. It’s a critique of the form, and as Thomas Disch points out in his essay “Republicans on Mars—SF as Military Strategy”, “[u]nlike the various survivalist series and the Soldier of Fortune adventures of Pournelle, Drake, and Co., The Forever War said what it had to say once…. It is but a single book among entire ranks of paperbacks” that feature the exact opposite message.

That’s what I tried to do with The Last Weekend. It’s a satire, and a complaint about zombie fiction, while also being zombie fiction. Like Mandella, my protagonist Vasilis “Billy” Kostopolos is brought into the battle and isn’t very good at it, but muddles through sufficiently well to eventually be the longest-serving “driller” of reanimated corpses. Though he’s an alcoholic, was barely functional prior to the apocalypse, and whines about the slow death of his literary ambitions constantly, Billy ends up being pretty proud of his work as a driller too. And there is no moral center, no handy side character to tsk-tsk and say, “But Billy, you’re a terrible person with bad ideas. Can’t you be a good Bernie Bro instead?” so that even the least discerning readers will know that I’m only funnin’ with them. (I’m not!)

Further, like the war against the Taurans in The Forever War, the fight against the zombies is essentially secondary in The Last Weekend. As one mostly positive review put it, “for readers looking for down-and-dirty zombie action, with a strong plot and lots of tension, you’ll most likely be disappointed with this book.” True, so far as it goes. See also the relative handful of one-star reviews of The Forever War on Amazon.com. Elementary confusion between portrayal and advocacy with regards to the sexism in future military society, and the idea that war may not be swell. A few of them even complained about “swear words.”

But with all that said, except for readers of this essay (hello!), almost nobody reading The Last Weekend would think to themselves, “Aha, this is like The Forever War.” But occulted influences are not uncommon. Years ago I was on a panel with author Terry Brooks of Shannara fame, who minimized the influence of Tolkien on his work. Who really influenced him? “Faulkner,” he said in a word. Shannara is an intergenerational saga taking place in a region that’s seen better days, I suppose. An even more hard-to-spot influence might be Raymond Carver on Haruki Murakami. The world’s leading novelist of phantasmagorical weirdness, featuring people who turn into sheep and such, informed by the paragon of “dirty realism” in American short fiction? It’s somewhat more obvious if you read Japanese, but it’s there. Murakami’s Japanese is closer to English than is apparent from English translations. The content is very different, but the form hauntingly similar. When you read a book, keep in mind that you’re not only reading a snatch of conversation within a subgenre, but perhaps also the palimpsest of novel in a different genre entirely.

 

About the Author

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including the recent The Last Weekend and the forthcoming Lovecraftian murder mystery I Am Providence. His short fiction has appeared on Tor.com, and in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Weird Tales, and Best American Mystery Stories 2013, among dozens of other venues. His latest anthology is the hybrid crime/SF Hanzai Japan, co-edited with Masumi Washington.

 

Lisa Goldstein Guest Post–“Traveling in History”

There’s a passage in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost that gave me pause when I first read it:

“For I must tell thee, it will please his grace, by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger, thus, dally with my excrement…”

Thank goodness for the glossary, which defined “excrement” as meaning “that which grows out (such as hair, nails, feathers).”

I bring this up to illustrate how hard it is to write from the point of view of someone in a historical period. Should you have a character in Elizabethan times use the word “excrement” to mean “hair, nails, feathers”? That one’s straightforward: the answer’s no. But what about something more ambiguous, like having your characters say “thee” and “thou”? I think archaic speech tends to distance the reader from the people in the story, to make them seem old-fashioned and quaint, but I’ve also seen it done well, for example in In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Then there are the social attitudes of the time. Sticking with the Elizabethans, should you have your character make an anti-Semitic remark? Such remarks were distressingly common for the time period, but you can’t suddenly stop and explain this; you have to stay within the point of view of your characters, and they would have no idea that anyone would find those comments objectionable.

I’ve been writing about other eras for years, and wrestling with these questions, but that barely prepared me for my latest book. Weighing Shadows is a time-travel novel set partly in ancient Crete, a place which even the stuffiest gentleman scholar admits was a matriarchy. And if Elizabethan England differs in a good many ways from the present, those differences are nothing compared to Crete. The concept of a matriarchy was so foreign to me that I had to stretch my mind in all kinds of ways, just to encompass the mindset of the people who lived there. And it didn’t help that very little is known about the place. (Well, it did help, actually, because I got to make things up. But in terms of their culture and traditions, even their language, I was thrown out in the deep end.)

I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with this. A number of books on Crete called a beautiful chair in the palace at Knossos “the throne of King Minos”–but a matriarchy would have a queen, not a king. One book, Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete by Rodney Castleden, says, “‘Women’ and their children are mentioned on the tablets too, without any reference to menfolk, implying slavery and absent males.” But wouldn’t the women and children be listed because they were more important? (Parenthetically, I don’t know why “women” is in quotes here.)

I have to admit, though, that sometimes I was just as clueless as these authors. At one point I wrote about a male artist up on a scaffolding painting a mural–then reread what I had written, beat myself up, and changed the artist into a woman.

There were so many things I needed to think about, to reassess. Who went out to work and who took care of the children? What kind of work did they do, and was it divided along gender lines? Did they have marriages, and if so what kind? They seemed to worship goddesses, but what about gods? What were their religious ceremonies like?

In addition to all of that I wanted to include other, more intangible parts of their culture, things like proverbs or table manners or smells. (I have to recommend Mary Renault here, an author who is absolutely terrific at this.) I wanted readers to feel as if they were visiting a culture far removed in time, a place where even a simple gesture might have a different meaning.

One of the things that helped me was the fact that my main character, Ann, came from our own time period, so I could use her as a stand-in for a present-day reader. I could have her feel puzzled when she was faced with something she didn’t understand, or comment on some difference between the two cultures. I’ve written a number of novels set solely in the past, and putting in Ann’s reactions made my job much easier, and gave me a freedom I never had before.

Just doing research isn’t enough, though. After all the books are read, after all the notes are taken, you have to somehow close your eyes and jump into your chosen milieu, to make an almost physical effort to locate yourself within it. I can state unequivocally that I didn’t do as good a job as Mary Renault. Still, I hope I gave readers a sense of what it would be like to visit ancient Crete, if only for a moment. To smell the cypress trees, feel the hot sun on their shoulders, take their seats in the arena and watch as men and women danced with bulls.

 

About the Author

Lisa Goldstein has written fourteen novels, among them The Uncertain Places, which won the Mythopoeic Award, and The Red Magician, which won the American Book Award for Best Paperback. Her stories have appeared in Ms., Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and The Year’s Best Fantasy, among other places, and her novels and short stories have been finalists for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. She lives with her husband and their irrepressible Labrador retriever, Bonnie, in Oakland, California. Her web site is www.brazenhussies.net/goldstein.

Lawrence M. Schoen Guest Post–“The Book in the Drawer”

I started writing Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard late in 1989. I’d been writing short stories for a while, but hadn’t sold any. I’d recently completed my doctorate in cognitive psychology and was teaching at a small, liberal arts college in Sarasota, Florida, and to this day, more than twenty-five years later, I really can’t say what made me decide to write a novel. But I did.

And it was horrible.

Not the story, mind you. The ideas in the book still intrigue and captivate me. The nature of immortality. Memory as a form of time travel. The relativistic aspects of intolerance. The power of friendship to transcend even death. Good stuff, all of it, and I’m proud to say it—and more—all survived into the book coming out next week. But that’s after more than two decades of studying and learning and growing and writing, writing, writing. Back when I originally wrote the book, it was bad. Oh Lord, it was bad.

But more than that, it was bad in multiple ways.

One of the problems of being a beginner is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t understand pacing. I thought plot was something optional. I hadn’t yet realized there’s a difference between things occurring because they follow from a character’s motivation and happening because they suit the author’s need. I was blissfully ignorant of over-used tropes while at the same time finding myself drawn to far too many of them. And I seemed determined to embrace literary devices that worked well the first time they were done but really wouldn’t fly any more.

You probably don’t believe me when I tell you how bad the original version of this book was, so I’m going to give you an example of that last sin on the above list. Do you remember reading Dune, Frank Herbert’s brilliant novel from 1965? Arguably one of the classics of the field, do you recall how chapters began with a brief paragraph from the Manual of Muad’Dib written by Princess Irulan? It was a great device, one which allowed for gentle info-dumping, foreshadowing, and mood setting. Back when I started writing Barsk I must have thought this was the best thing since sliced bread—not that anthropomorphic elephants inhabiting arboreal cities in a rainforest necessary have bread, but I digress—because I swiped this idea and made it my own. And if a little was good, more would be better, right? My protagonist, Jorl, is an historian, and I decided he would be a prolific one. The result was that each of the novel’s fifty chapters began with an excerpt from some book, monograph, lecture, or journal article by Jorl. The info-dumping in these bits was far from gentle. Why show when you can tell, tell, and tell some more? Oh, and did I mention that for several of these chapters, the excerpt ran longer than the chapter itself?

It was bad. Okay, really bad. Worse still, I didn’t know it was bad and I spent years tossing that finished manuscript over transoms, hopeful that some editor somewhere would see its brilliance.

Ahem.

Thankfully, no one did, or I might have gone down in history as the author of an anthropomorphic SF novel on a par with Atlanta Nights minus the irony to justify its existence.

Instead, the manuscript went in a drawer and slept for many years. Meanwhile I didn’t sleep. I wrote and I read and I got better (and less stupid) and ever so slowly began to acquire the skills and assemble the tools so that one day I might open up that drawer again and reclaim the promise behind that badly written book.

It’s been said that a writer’s first million words are just practice, and if perchance that author gets paid for some of them, well, that’s just practice getting paid. I’ve put in much more than a million words of practice since the first draft of that novel. I’ve written and sold five other books. I’ve been a Hugo nominee and a Nebula nominee. I’ve run my own modest small press and learned even more about writing by editing other people’s fiction. And I’ve come to an appreciation that a writer’s life is not about arriving at a destination but rather being on an ongoing journey of growth and self-discovery.

A couple years ago I felt I had finally reached a point on my own journey where I could do justice to the book I’d first attempted to write. The result comes out next week. It’s by far the best thing I’ve written thus far. It may turn out to be the best I ever achieve, but I hope not. I’d like to aspire to do even better.  But for this moment in time, I’m really happy with what I’ve done. I hope you find you are too.

 

About the Author

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.

Ann VanderMeer Guest Post–“A Universal Condition”

One thing about fantastical fiction that I like is it’s a universal condition — you find examples from all over the world of writers expressing themselves through the fantastical because sometimes there’s no other way to get across a unique idea or perspective. Everywhere, too, this impulse or way of thinking about the world is different — sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in vastly different ways. So in addition to fiction in English from overseas, it’s important to promote and fund translations. As someone who unfortunately only reads in English, I want to make sure my creative world is as cosmopolitan and modern as possible, and sometimes translations are the only way to have a more complete view of world fiction.

That’s where StoryBundle comes in. It includes fiction from the U.S. and Australia, but also from Norway, Germany, and Finland—not to mention my new anthology, The Bestiary (here’s a link to a fun excerpt over at Tor.comhttp://www.tor.com/2015/12/14/animal-author-bios-from-ann-vandermeers-the-bestiary-anthology/ ), which in addition to work from Cat Valente and China Miéville  features work from Serbia, the Philippines, Iran, Sweden, and elsewhere. In The Best of Spanish Steampunk you’ll also find work from Venezuela, Spain, and Chile, among others. But the reason we’re running the StoryBundle is to set our sights even farther afield, with the monies we receive going into research into fantasy from India and Pakistan, as well as continuing to explore the untranslated work of Latin America, among other regions. Translations are expensive and setting aside the time for the research is also expensive. It’s sometimes a bit like detective work and luckily we’ve maintained relationships with people all over the world over many years.

So here’s some information on a few of the titles—and here’s hoping even more readers will pick up StoryBundle. It’s a great deal. Several of the titles are not available anywhere else.

 

Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction. The critically acclaimed 850-page omnibus—starred review in Kirkus, on the best-of-year lists of the New Yorker and the Onion’s AV Club. From cities of giant insects to a mysterious woman claiming to be the female Don Quixote, Leena Krohn’s fiction has fascinated and intrigued readers for over forty years. Within these covers you will discover novels that feature a pelican that can talk and a city of gold. You will find yourself exploring a future of intelligence both artificial and biotech, along with a mysterious plant that induces strange visions. Including two novels not previously published in English. One of Finland’s most iconic writers, translated into many languages, and winner of the prestigious Finlandia Prize, Krohn has had an incredibly distinguished career. For readers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Milan Kundera, Virginia Woolf, Tove Jansson, and Italo Calvino. Featuring a foreword by Jeff VanderMeer. (Here’s a link to the New Yorker’s favorite books of 2015 which includes this one: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/books-loved-2015 )

The Bestiary, all original fiction anthology edited by Ann VanderMeer. A modern bestiary of made-up fantastical creatures organized from A to Z, along with an ampersand and an invisible letter, featuring some of the best and most respected fantasists from around the world, including Karen Lord, Dexter Palmer, Brian Evenson, China Miéville, Felix Gilman, Catherynne M. Valente, Rikki Ducornet, and Karin Lowachee. With an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer. Currently available only via this StoryBundle for now.

Crandolin by Anna Tambour. The World Fantasy Award nominated novel, for the first time in e-book form. In a medieval cookbook in a special-collections library, near-future London, jaded food and drink authority Nick Kippax finds an alluring stain next to a recipe for the mythical crandolin. He tastes it, ravishing the page. Then he disappears. The only novel ever committed that was inspired by postmodern physics AND Ottoman confectionery.

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen. Brandon leaves his boyfriend in the city for a quiet life in the mountains after an affair with a professor ends with Brandon being forced to kill a research animal. It is a violent, unfortunate episode that conjures memories from his military background. In the mountains, his new neighbors are using the increased temperatures to stage an ambitious agricultural project in an effort to combat globally heightened food prices and shortages. Brandon gets swept along with their optimism, while simultaneously applying to a new astronaut training program. However, he learns that these changes—internal, external—are irreversible. A sublime love story coupled with the universal struggle for personal understanding, Not Dark Yet is an informed novel of consequences with an ever-tightening emotional grip on the reader.

The Best of Spanish Steampunk, edited by Marian & James Womack. Featuring stories from Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Chile, as well as from writers in Spanish living in Germany, Dubai and the UK. They are authors who write from the margins, using Steampunk to investigate themes such as the ethical questions posed by scientific and technical developments in our globalized culture of rapid change, and how that leaves countries not from the dominant culture behind. Through Steampunk these authors are offering alternative retellings of their countries’ histories, “critically” reimagining key moments such as the North-American-Spanish Cuban war, the Mexican war, or the Anarchist revolts of the 1930s in Andalusia. They are also attracted to a genre that foreshadows our actual economic problems, high unemployment levels, and frustration with increasing social inequality.

 

About the Author

Over a 30-year career, Ann VanderMeer has won numerous awards for her editing work, including the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award. Whether as editor-in-chief for Weird Tales for five years or in her current role as an acquiring editor for Tor.com, Ann has built her reputation on acquiring fiction from diverse and interesting new talents. As co-founder of Cheeky Frawg Books, she has helped develop a wide-ranging line of mostly translated fiction. Featuring a who’s who of world literature, Ann’s anthologies include the critically acclaimed Best American Fantasy series, The Weird, The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Sisters of the Revolution, and the forthcoming Big Book of SF (Vintage).

Michael J. Martinez Guest Post–“Goodbye and Hello: Moving On to a New Series”

I know Thomas Weatherby and Shaila Jain better than anyone else in the world. I know how they think, what they believe, what scares them and what drives them. I know the worlds they move through better than they do, every shadowy nook and every bit of history.

I know this because I created them, and their world.

Weatherby and Jain are the protagonists of the Daedalus trilogy, my debut series with Night Shade Books. I’ve watched Weatherby go from a green second lieutenant aboard a frigate that crashed into Mars to a full admiral in command of Mercury’s defenses against Napoleon’s rapacious revenant armies. I’ve shepherded Jain through PTSD and dead-end assignments to piloting the first 22nd–century mission to Saturn and beyond. They’ve both found love, lost much and lived to tell about it.

And I’ve bidden them farewell.

Part of me could continue writing Napoleonic space opera and interdimensional shenanigans for years to come, but there’s something deep inside me that knows it’s time to let go. There is a risk in continuing when the story is done and well told. The universes are saved, Napoleon defeated. How does one go from there?

Many authors do just that, and do so with grace and style and pitch-perfect stories that seem to get better with each installment. For the Daedalus trilogy, however, the story simply…ended. I told the tale I wished to tell, and the telling was worthwhile.

And now, as I embark on a new project–the Cold War paranormal spy thriller series titled MAJESTIC-12–I’m faced with complete strangers, living in a strange new world. The four-color interplanetary adventure, the sailing ships in space, the Big Damn Heroes–they’ve been replaced by threats from the shadows, questionable motives and the sound of a gunshot from a silenced pistol.

It’s daunting. Who are these new players? Ordinary Americans, affected by an unknown force, have become Variants–empowered by something beyond science’s ability to explain. And yet the government seeks to use them anyway, to make them “assets” in a Cold War that could grow hot at any moment. What would that do to people? How would they see themselves, and how would they be seen in turn by the people who hope to control them?

It’s thrilling. As a writer, I’ve spent more than three years in a world of my own devising, and I’ve grown comfortable with it. I knew the world, I knew the people in it. I could tell their stories with greater confidence and greater success each time I returned to them. The crutches are gone, now. It’s all fresh and new, and all on me to start from scratch and see if lightning can strike twice.

I’m back to square one. Characters are newly sketched and allowed to grow as the story unfolds. The tone shifts from proper English of the early 19th century to the weary, clipped words of the late 1940s. The jungles of Venus are gone, and the cobbled streets of newly Communist Prague beckon.

It’s a new beginning, but it’s not really starting over. As much as I created Weatherby and Jain, they taught me so much in the telling of their stories. They may sail forth into the stars on their own, but their lessons apply. I’m no longer the rookie writer, the wannabe hoping the literary agent e-mails back. (She did that four years ago.) I’m published and I’ve been extremely fortunate in that regard.

And now I get to play in a new world–different and darker, more nuanced and with more challenges for me as a writer. I get to forge mysteries and plumb the gray areas. I get to figure out who these new characters are–Frank and Maggie, Cal and Ellis and Danny. Soldiers in a Cold War.

Goodbye, Daedalus. It’s perhaps odd to want to thank your own creation, but…thanks.

Hello, MAJESTIC-12. Let’s do this.

 

About the author

Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy, a multi-genre epic that marries Napoleonic Era naval adventure with science fiction and fantasy. His debut, The Daedalus Incident, was named one of the top five SF/F novels of the year by Library Journal. Publishers Weekly gave The Venusian Gambit, the final book of the series, a starred review and said Martinez “seamlessly blends popular elements from science fiction and fantasy, producing a work that raises the bar for both.”

His short fiction has been published online by Paizo and in the Cthulhu Fhtagn! anthology released this summer by Word Horde. His newest short story will be published this fall in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, alongside stories by Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Piers Anthony and Esther Freisner. He lives in the New York City area with his wonderful and patient wife, an amazing daughter and The Best Cat in the World. He blogs at michaeljmartinez.net and is on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

Ilana C. Myer Guest Post–“A Protagonist of One’s Own”

Ten years ago I began writing a quest fantasy and went on a journey at the same time. Outwardly it was a physical journey, with real signposts: from fluorescent-lit offices in the Empire State Building to a sunlit apartment in Jerusalem, to a wedding, another apartment, and onward. Like many journeys in fiction, ultimately it came full circle, back to the city where it began. As with a fictional character, I did not return the same. Because in truth, despite the dramatic life transitions, the real journey was taking place internally, was threading its way with subtle inexorability into the shaping of my first novel.

You could say it began before the Empire State Building, in college. I was taking a class in basic Astronomy, and the professor was using metaphors to describe the size of the quasars. While I don’t recall the exact metaphors used, what I do remember is the realization that struck me. Or rather, it was a question. I remember looking down at my knees, demurely covered with a long black skirt. I remember thinking: How can a God who created a universe that big—a God who created the quasars—care about the length of my skirt?

I had grown up with a strict code of modesty for women. Like most women raised in that context, I had bought into the apologetics: that modesty was intertwined with female preciousness, our sanctity. In practice, these transcendent concepts broke down into quotidian specifications: the permitted length for one’s sleeves and skirts, the height of a neckline.

Skirts, necklines, sleeves, against the vastness of the universe. It began to break down.

I started writing my novel before the advent of social media—even before Facebook was where people announced the details of their breakfasts in the third person. I’ve come to realize years later that a lot was happening on LiveJournal, but I wasn’t plugged into it. Today the discussion about what female protagonists should be, how they should be written, is a major topic of the literary Internet. But in 2004 I had only my own thoughts and ideas and some pent-up anger. Pent up, it must be admitted, beneath long sleeves and long black skirts. Sometimes the most outward appearances are the last things to go.

I was also researching the medieval troubadours and courtly love for my book about poets, and the themes that emerged from my readings resonated in surprising ways. The discourse about women, and the symbolism surrounding them, was centered on sex yet oddly detached from the reality of sensuality. And again, the woman was something precious, protected—and stationary.

There are two female protagonists in the novel. They suffer. I did that to them. But I didn’t do it out of sadism. Through these women, each different—though both very intelligent—I explored a particular experience. One of the protagonists is a poet in a society where poets have power, and women are not permitted in their ranks. She calls herself a poet, but actually doesn’t count as one in the ways that matter. The other protagonist is a young woman whose wealth, beauty, and loving home have kept her in a state of extended innocence.

For each of these states of being there is a cost—both for the active state of rebellion, and the passive state of innocence. And modesty, or rather the code of thought which culminates in female modesty, is at the heart of both of these states for women. A woman who deviates from her traditional place, who draws attention to herself, is immodest by definition. She loses the protection and sanction of her society and becomes an exile.

Conversely, my innocent protagonist represents an ideal of femininity for proponents of modesty. She has no weapons with which to defend herself, because to learn about defense we must first know what might be about to attack us from the shadows. The world is ready to eat her alive.

After I wrote the story of these women—along with their male counterparts—I began to come across discussions online about how writers should depict female protagonists. I followed, and have continued to follow these discussions, and have written some of my own thoughts on the subject as well. But when I think of my own characters, I think of the inward battles that made them what they are. They are shaped of conflicting values and agonized questions and some fury. Not perfect, not anyone’s ideal—but for the place and time in which they were written, necessary and real.

 

About the Author

Ilana C. Myer has written about books for the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Her first novel, Last Song Before Night, is forthcoming from Tor/Macmillan in September 2015.

Rodolfo Martínez Guest Post–“Twenty Years Ago…”

Note: Special thanks to Steve Redwood for his assistance with the translation of this piece.

Between 1985 and 1994 I wrote, more or less, a novel a year. All of them, except Cat’s Whirld and Jormungand, have been lost. Although not completely; somewhere there are typed copies of a few of them, or parts of them; and many of the themes, situations, and incidents of the majority of those novels have been used in later works; an example would be Where the Shadows Lie, which twenty years later became the embryo of  my novel Fiercely Human (Fieramente humano).

But in terms of published books, which is what might interest readers, those novels do not exist, apart from the two mentioned.

You might be wondering why I let them get lost, why I didn’t send them to publishers, or enter them in literary competitions. Believe me, I did! The discouraging result was a pile of rejections—or simply silence.

The first time a publisher replied with something other than the usual rejection letter was with Cat’s Whirld. So what did it have that the others didn’t? Had I perhaps somehow made a great qualitative leap, and changed from being a bad writer to an acceptable one?

I don’t think so. If I analyze my work from that period, the difference in quality between this novel and the one before it is small. As is the difference between that earlier novel and the one before that. As is the difference… Yes, I believe there was a certain progression from one novel to the next, but such progression was slow, unhurried, quiet, and constant: with each novel I wrote, I was learning to do it a little bit better. And one day, without realizing it, I crossed the frontier, I passed from being a collector of rejection notes (or deafening silences) to being someone about to publish a novel. It was a gradual process, during which, it’s true, I almost threw in the towel more than once.

I didn’t do it. I suspect it’s because by then I couldn’t. I’d been writing since I was twelve, and I simply couldn’t stop now. I was always thinking up stories, characters, situations: they’d be forever going round and round in my head, and in one way or another I had to free myself of them, let them out, put them on paper. And the moment that was done, my head would begin to fill up again with new stories, characters, situations….

I was a writing junkie. I think I’d been one almost from the very beginning, from the moment when, at the age of twelve, and armed with one of those BIC cristal biros and an A5-size ringed graph notebook (yes, PC’s were far in the future, to say nothing about the internet), I sat down to write my first story. From then on, from the moment when what was in my head took shape on paper and I realized how incredibly entertaining the process was, I was doomed. I was condemned to continue writing for the rest of my life, whether I managed to publish anything or not.

In the end, obviously, I managed it, but things might easily have gone the other way. The road to publication isn’t a straight one, nor a cursus honorum whereby if you do A, you will get B, and that will lead to C. It depends partly on how good you are, of course, but also to a large extent on chance, on being in the right place at the right time, and being able to offer the publisher what interests him at that particular moment, not a year before or two years afterwards. So yes, I’m aware I might well have spent my whole life as an unpublished author. Or maybe resigned myself to publishing short stories in fanzines without ever making the leap into novels and the world of professional publishing.

Who knows?

But the fact is, at the start of 1995 Miraguano Ediciones decided that Cat’s Whirld was right for their Futurópolis collection, they offered me a contract, I signed it, and a few months later the book was on sale.

So, did my life change?

Not in the sense that the cinema or the sensationalist press would have us believe. I didn’t strike it rich, I didn’t produce the bestseller of the decade, and suddenly become a person not merely able to make a living from his writing, but able to live well, surrounded by groupies, and with Hollywood licking his feet and begging to be allowed to adapt his novels to the screen.

No, I went on working as a computer programmer, and in general my life was just the same as it always had been. A few small things changed, but nothing substantial.

But in my mind, in that real world which was what really mattered, everything had changed. I had published my first novel! I had arrived; I wasn’t at the finishing line, because it’s a journey without an end, but I was well on the first stage of the journey. Here I am and here I stand, as Duke Leto Atreides is reported to have said on reaching Arrakis.

Cat’s Whirld was the beginning of a journey I’m still making and which, I suspect, I’ll be making the whole of my life. It wasn’t the first step, of course, but perhaps it was, to use a metaphor I particularly like, my official entry submission, the exam which allowed me to move on from being an apprentice to becoming a qualified practitioner, a journeyman, we could say.

Indeed, I have always viewed literature more as a craft than as an art. Maybe that thinking comes from my rejection of the idea of the artist as someone above the rest of the mortals, a kind of superior being with a special sensitivity that cannot be judged as a common person. To hell with that! We are just people, subject to the same misery and greatness everyone else is. I am not an artist, I cannot see myself as one: I am just a craftsman—of course, I like to think I am a skillful one, but I am not qualified to judge that. It is you, the reader, who has to decide if my work is good enough or not.

Cat’s Whirld was very well received by Spanish SF fans, a small but enthusiast group in those days, and they proved it the following year when the novel won the Ignotus Award for Best Novel. The Ignotus are, so to speak, the Spanish version of the Hugo Awards: back then, they were voted on by the members of Spanish Science Fiction & Fantasy Association and were announced during the Spanish SF & Fantasy Convention, the HispaCon. Today the voting has been opened to everyone, but they still are announced in the HispaCon.

Even today, twenty years later, I find people who tell me that it’s their favorite of my novels. Well, I like to think that I didn’t stop improving and that I have written better novels: several prizes and numerous books might be indicative of this. But I understand those readers: yes. I think I’ve written better novels, but Cat’s Whirld has a special place in my heart.

I hope that, twenty years later, people enjoy the novel as much as those who read it in 1995. I hope they like the hybridization of spy thriller, cyberpunk and space opera and the combination of adventure, drama, humor and character interplay. And, of course, I hope they find the Whirld (that space station with the shape of a spinning top where everything happens) spellbinding.

I confess that I have: while I was revising the novel for the 20th anniversary Spanish edition, and despite being aware that there were many things I would now have written quite differently, the style, the story, the action, the ambience, and the characters still work, at least for me. I am not the same person that wrote it, yes, but I still like that guy and the way he made things.

I cannot finish without talking about the great work Steve Redwood has done in translating the novel into English. Steve is a terrific writer and a good friend. During the translation he worked very closely with me and was very careful in his efforts to get same effects in English I was trying to achieve in Spanish, specially, but not only, with the slang I invented for the novel. I think he succeeded: when I read myself in English I recognize my voice. Yes, it’s me, I wrote that novel–or at lest it is the novel I would have written if my English were good enough.

It’s always a pleasure for me to read my work in English, a language I’ve loved since I was a boy, when I received my first English lessons; and without Steve that wouldn’t have been possible. I only hope that my Spanish version of some of his work lives up to the same standard.

 

About the Author

Rodolfo Martínez (Candás, Asturias, Spain, 1965) published his first short story in 1987, and soon became a key figure in Spanish fantastic literature; although if one characteristic defines his work, it is the fusion of genres, as with he unashamedly mixes numerous registers, from science fiction and fantasy to the crime novel and thriller, making his books difficult to classify.

Winner of the Minotauro Prize (awarded by Planeta, Spain’s biggest publishing house) for Los sicarios del cielo (Hitmen from Heaven), he has won many other awards during his literary career, such as the Asturias Novel Prize, the University of País Vasco Short Story Award, and—several times—the Ignotus Prize (awarded by the Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Terror) in the categories of novel, novella, and short story. His novels based loosely on the Sherlock Holmes canon have been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, and French.

In 2009, with El adepto de la Reina (The Queen’s Adept) he began a new narrative cycle which combines elements of the spy novel with some of the themes and settings more characteristic of fantasy.

More recently, he has collected his Drímar cycle (the universe in which Cat’s Whirld is set) into four volumes, and has also published the fourth novel in his City cycle, Las astillas de Yavé (The Splinters of Yahweh), under the Fantascy imprint of Penguin Random House.

Carolyn Ives Gilman Guest Post–“Becoming the Other”

A friend once told me she couldn’t get interested in a book unless it was about people just like herself. She meant 21st-century African American women, but the demographics were not the point. Her comment made me realize I am exactly the opposite: I read books to become something I am not. To capture my attention, a book has to take me to a time or a place or a culture I have never lived in.

Most science fiction readers are probably like me, while most readers of realist fiction are like my friend. There is no point arguing about which of us is “right.” We simply have different needs, and thank goodness there is fiction enough in the world for both of us.

But why do I find it so alluring to inhabit the skin of someone unlike myself? It’s partly that, growing up, I didn’t find myself or my world terribly interesting, and I seized every opportunity to escape it. Besides reading—and eventually writing—science fiction, I became a historian, then a historian of cultures other than my own. As I began working with people unlike myself, and eventually had the disorienting and profoundly uncomfortable experience of being alone in another culture, I began to realize how far short I had fallen in trying to imagine myself out of my own shoes. Today, I work in a museum where my bosses and most of my colleagues are American Indian (no, they don’t say Native American; that’s another long story). Misunderstandings and cultural collisions are a daily occurrence. I am lucky they tolerate my boneheadedness. But I learn a great deal.

Naturally, I write a lot about first contact.

Recently, I have been working in a setting I call the Twenty Planets, a universe inhabited by hundreds of diverse human cultures and by a class of people called Wasters who travel among them. Because of the time delays caused by lightspeed transport, Wasters are constantly out of sync with everyone else. Even when they arrive on familiar planets they have missed years in transit, and they are constantly scrambling to catch up. When they travel to unfamiliar planets, they are forced to negotiate culture shock.  My novellas Arkfall and The Ice Owl are both set in the Twenty Planets, and so is my most recent novel, Dark Orbit.

I like this setting because it allows me to write about other cultures without having to navigate around the shoals that surround the real ones. For example, I would not feel comfortable writing from an Indian point of view, because I have not experienced what they have. But I can write from the point of view of an invented culture. In fact, it can be tremendous fun—though a lot of work—to invent a culture by making a few assumptions about the environment and history of a people, then seeing where it takes them. In The Ice Owl, I was writing about a harsh and unforgiving planet, and its people ended up with a culture so unbending it was ready to shatter. In Dark Orbit, the planet is so challenging that the only people who can survive there are a culture of the blind. Imagining the type of architecture, arts, and social structures a blind civilization would construct was a thought experiment that occupied me for months. Since it has never (to my knowledge) happened in this world, no one can say I am wrong.

In writing about diverse peoples, the drama—the true meat of the story—generally lies at the edges, the borderlands where dissimilar societies collide and challenge one another’s values. That is the uncertain territory where I live most days, and where more and more of us find ourselves living in this world of migration and mixing. My most grandiose hope for our beloved genre is that, by reading stories that require us to practice seeing the world differently, we may be building skills that will serve the human race well. The ability to imagine ourselves into another person’s point of view is no longer just a nice thing; it is becoming as critical to our survival as opposable thumbs.

Who knows, maybe science fiction may yet save the world—not through the wonders of technology, but through changing our habits of mind.

 

 

About the Author

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s latest novel is a space exploration adventure, Dark Orbit. Her other books include Isles of the Forsaken and Ison of the Isles, a two-book fantasy about culture clash and revolution. Her first novel, Halfway Human, was called “one of the most compelling explorations of gender and power in recent SF” by Locus. Some of her short fiction can be found in Aliens of the Heart and Candle in a Bottle, both from Aqueduct Press, and in Arkfall and The Ice Owl, from Arc Manor. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Phantom Drift, Bending the Landscape, Interzone, Universe, Full Spectrum, Realms of Fantasy, and others. She has been nominated for the Nebula Award three times and for the Hugo once.

In her professional career, Gilman is a historian specializing in 18th- and early 19th-century North American history, particularly frontier and Native history. She lives in Washington, D.C. and works at the National Museum of the American Indian.


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