Category Archives: SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Take two aspirin…

It’s been an eventful week, and I found myself lying here this morning thinking. I’m far from home, out of schedule (this post was supposed to be written yesterday) and have a headache. It’s all worth it, though. My eldest graduated from highschool last night. She’s a fiercely independent soul, and will go far in her studies at college.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Toni Weisskopf shared a photo on Facebook of a computer module absolutely infested with an ant nest, seething with eggs, and her comment was that she’d like to see more stories like that in science fiction. It’s an excellent point. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read ( and written) where the tech performs flawlessly. Which does happen. There are also stories where it doesn’t, but how many can you think of where the characters have to deal with an infestation? How would we prevent that, control it, and what kind of adaptations will we see?

I’d run across an article recently about bacteria which will break down plastics that were formerly thought invulnerable. Then there was another one speculating about why less plastic (by an order of magnitude) is found in the ocean than projected, and the discovery of novel bacteria on that plastic. The concern was focused on reducing pollution, but what happens when bacteria evolve to eat stuff we want to stay intact and functional? The stories about nanotech making gray goo aren’t that far off from what bacteria are already capable of – only fortunately they are not so fast to act.

We can’t escape our invisible (to the naked eye) friends. Microbes cover every inch of us, and our surroundings. We can only culture a tiny fraction of them in the lab, we’re still working on understanding the ecology of our own “inner gardens,” but we are already harnessing the power of their replicative properties for good… With the advances in molecular genetics we can use bacteria to copy/paste stuff we want, like drug ingredients and human proteins. With enough time and development to move beyond ‘we can do that’ to ‘and cheaply!’ the future looks very interesting indeed.

So those two aspirin I want might someday be extracted from bacterial sludge. Trust me on this, if you think that’s gross you don’t want to contemplate where some modern drugs originate. Not all of them are turned out from sterile molecular synthesis. Heparin (an anticoagulant) involves tons and tons of pig guts every batch made. Think about this in terms of going to space. If we don’t come up with highly efficient methods of synthesis, there are going to be problems.

It’s fascinating to extrapolate from current science, to bleeding edge, and beyond. As a science fiction author, it’s an exercise in developing my stories into something approaching hard science. As a baby scientist, it gives me food for thought about my career (and my daughter, who plans to study molecular genetics) path in the coming years.

Will we ever harness the power of Leeuwenhoek’s animalacules? We already have, now we just need to make that more efficient. Will they slip their leashes and turn on us? Well, yes. They already have, many times. The history of pathogens and disease goes back before the dawn of history. We can read it on the bones left behind, long before men scribbled on pages or chipped runes into stone and pressed them into clay. Speaking of which, I found a neat book on KU, for the readers like me who appreciate an in-depth look at science and history – Old Bones: a brief introduction to bioarchaeology. 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Homework for SF authors: NASA’s glory years

It still surprises me just how many would-be science fiction authors know so little about the period between 1945 and 1985. Oh, they know about the moon landings, sure. The names of Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin come readily to mind. But can they tell you which pilot was the first to Mach 2? Or which plane he did it in? Which test aircraft could beat Mach 5, and needed a reaction control system to help it fly beyond the atmosphere? Can they state with surety what Operation Paperclip was? Without rushing to Google the details on their cell phones? Can they recognize the voices of astronauts like John Young or Bob Crippen, just from hearing a few seconds of CAPCOM tape recorded the morning of April 12, 1981?

These might seem like superfluous details. In the era of the International Space Station, astronaut derring-do has become entirely too ho-hum. Many people take the space program for granted.

But I happen to think that every science fiction writer worth her salt owes it to herself — and her readers — to take a wayback machine voyage to those crucial four decades, during which humanity did something it had literally never done before.

NOVA: “To The Moon” — Produced in 1999, this excellent two-hour NOVA special does a brilliant job portraying the drama of the Mercury, Apollo, and Gemini programs, during which the United States kicked the race (with the USSR, for the Moon) into high gear. Not only does this special cover the vast technical challenge faced by the engineers and scientists tasked with building the rockets and spacecraft which would go the distance, it also contains priceless interview outtakes from various astronauts who offer their candid opinions about their missions, the political capital invested in those missions, and the danger they each faced every time they climbed through the hatch for yet another launch. Attention is also given to the Russian side of the race, with fresh details (then) on the ambitious Russian N-1 super-booster — a Saturn 5 equivalent which sadly (for the Russians) never overcame its technical faults.

SPACEFLIGHT (narrated by Martin Sheen) — A four-part 1980s series that not only covers Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but also the years leading up to manned spaceflight, as well as the post-moon phases of Skylab, and the Shuttle Transportation System. Like the NOVA documentary above, this series includes a great deal of interview footage, some of it quite rare.
Episode 1: “Thunder in the Skies” covers the genesis of organized rocketry, how these civilian efforts got rolled into the military, and the post-WW2 years when the pursuit of ballistic missile technology dovetailed with the famous Right Stuff years of Edwards AFB, where the various x-planes made and broke an endless number of records.
Episode 2: “The Wings of Mercury” covers the President Kennedy era, during which manned spaceflight became a central pivot of the Cold War between the United States, and Soviet Russia. Including the frustrations and problems experienced by the politicians and administrators charged with getting a young NASA rolling. Interviews with both Mercury and Gemini astronauts are numerous.
Episode 3: “One Giant Leap” covers Apollo’s roots in President Kennedy’s famous challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and how that pressure ultimately resulted in the deaths of Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. Rising from its ashes, Apollo would ultimately put 12 human beings on the Moon. Also included are details on the fascinating Skylab flights, as well as many more astronaut interview clips.
Episode 4: “The Territory Ahead” covers the shuttle program, with special emphasis on the (then, at the time of production) recent Challenger disaster. The second half of the hour spends its time discussing the (then) plans for military use of space, against the backdrop of nuclear war. There is also speculation regarding the projects which would eventually become the Hubble Telescope, and the International Space Station.

I should also point you to these many official NASA films, detailing the Apollo series. If you can get past the mildly dated production values (narration, as well as music) they’re marvelous windows into the Apollo program. Featuring spectacular footage of flights, flight prep, launches, animations regarding experiments and mission profiles, and so forth. Hard to believe this was all half a century ago!

Link for Apollo 4 is here.
Link for Apollo 5 is here.
Link for Apollo 7 is here.
Link for Apollo 8 is here.
Link for Apollo 9 is here.
Link for Apollo 10 is here.
Link for Apollo 11 is here.
Link for Apollo 12 is here.
Link for Apollo 13 is here.
Link for Apollo 14 is here.
Link for Apollo 15 is here.
Link for Apollo 16 is here.
Link for Apollo 17 is here.
Link for Apollo-Skylab 2 is here.
Link for Apollo-Skylab 3 is here.
Link for Apollo-Soyuz is here.

Beyond history lessons, there’s also a lot to be learned from play-by-play of the missions themselves.

An enterprising soul, using the alias lunarmodule5, has been uploading some brilliantly-edited videos to YouTube. Using both authentic audio and video, as well as still imagery — interlaced with skillful CGI — these videos are about as close as most of us can get to actually sitting in the cockpit of a space shuttle, or riding atop a Saturn 5 rocket. These are not documentaries, as much as they are highlight reels. Of particular note is the reel for the Apollo 12 flight, including full command module commentary prior to, during, and directly following the lightning strikes which almost caused a mission abort. Also of note is the segmented full-mission upload covering STS-1, the original launch of the shuttle Columbia. We hear a tremendous amount of pre-launch chatter between the crew and mission control, as well as get a front-row seat for STS-1’s two days in orbit.

Now, you might think CAPCOM tapes are an extremely pedestrian way to learn about spaceflight. But I happen to think that the CAPCOM tapes are the most revelatory, because they provide a candid picture of how a modern space mission is conducted. From the moment the crew sit down to breakfast before the launch, right through touchdown at the end of the trip. Including all the minutae that must be monitored by the staff on the ground — checks and guidance without which no modern space mission could ever succeed. It takes thousands of people to put a spacecraft into low earth orbit. Imagine the staffing needed for a truly ambitious voyage to Mars, or beyond.

Essential facts, data, and — best of all — food for thought, for any science fiction author.

Even if you’re not particularly “hard” in your approach to your stories. It never hurts to have these kinds of details rumbling around in the back of your brain, while you conjure up stupendous stories of interplanetary, interstellar, or intergalactic adventure.

Because the truth is that space is very possibly the most challenging environment humanity will ever face. Of all the planets we know about, the only one guaranteed to be friendly — with relatively safe temperatures, water to drink, and air to breath — is the Earth.

When we go anywhere else, we’re going to be taking it all with us. Our food. Our oxygen. What we drink. The clothes on our backs. The tools we use, including space suits — which are essentially self-contained miniature spacecraft. And if we’re not taking it with us, we’re hoping to find the raw resources (on the other side) capable of sustaining us in artificial habitats, once we’re there. To include ores and other things we will need to manufacture new artificial habitats.

After almost 60 years of putting people into space, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Enough so that fatalities are extremely rare, and your average astronaut being sent to the International Space Station can pretty much guarantee (s)he’s coming back down without incident. Again, thanks to the effort of thousands upon thousands of engineers, scientists, and support and administrative staff.

But just because we’ve gotten good at a thing, does not mean it’s not hazardous. Or expensive. Two huge factors when you (as author) create space-worthy civilizations of the future. It takes a hell of a lot of “oomph” to put people into space. In terms of logistics. In terms of intestinal fortitude. And in terms of the technological and human-specific hurdles which must be overcome.

Such as: how well do you think you would adapt to spending 14 days trapped in the front seat of a compact car? You have to wear the same clothes the entire time. There is no privacy. Nowhere to use the toilet. You get your food and drink from tubes and small packages. You cannot take a shower or a bath. Sleeping is hard. And you must be constantly prepared to do technical, challenging tasks involving equipment which may or may not be working the way you expect it to work. While trying to tamp down potential worry that your compact car might not get you back through the atmosphere in one piece, when the mission is over. And you’re doing this all right next to your side-seat co-driver, who is in the exact same predicament.

That was the job of Gemini 7. One of the most unglamorous — yet vital — pre-Apollo flights. Which proved human beings could function in space long enough for a full-fledged moon mission.

What will a Mars mission entail? A mission to Jupiter? Neptune? The Oort Cloud? The nearest stars? Or stars much father away?

Understanding the nitty gritty of the NASA glory years, can give a science fiction author proper grounding in all the problems that will be faced by such (as yet) imaginary ventures.

It really is not as simple as Star Trek or Star Wars make it seem.

Case in point: the space shuttle was never a souped-up airliner. Because a Boeing 737 doesn’t have to be able to fly in an environment where the wings and tail don’t work. Nor does a 737 have engines powerful enough to boost it to orbit, using super-cooled fuel in such large quantities that the fuel outweighs the plane itself many times over. Nor does a 737 have to be able to survive three-thousand-degree (F) heat while deceleration from a speed of 18,000 miles per hour.

The shuttle — even though it did not take us anywhere we had not been before — was the world’s first reusable spacecraft. In this regard, it was several orders of magnitude more complex and expensive than a 737. Both in terms of designing the thing, and in terms of operating it. How much more expensive and difficult to operate would the shuttle have been, if it had been armored and armed for warfare in space? Like the spacecraft in a science fiction movie? How much bigger would it have to be, to voyage to the Moon? Or beyond? What kind of engines would it need? What sort of fuel would those engines burn?

These are the kinds of mundane (but necessary) questions that a science fiction author begins to ask herself, once she retraces the steps taken from 1945 to 1985. They are the kinds of questions which will enrich your stories immeasurably, and give your SF tales the sort of gripping authenticity that will make the challenge of space flight — space exploration, space warfare, and so much else — become real for your readers.

Lastly, familiarity with space history also humbles us. Because space history is a reminder of what real death-defying heroism looks like.

How such heroism walks, talks, and gets the job done.

I suspect we desperately need these reminders. As writers, and as a culture too.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: CRAFT

I Quit!

I. Quit.

No, no, not MGC.

But I’m taking a hiatus from my big series and trying some new things this summer.

Now, why would I do a silly thing like that? Well, it’s pretty simple. I’m a (nearly) complete unknown and as such my sales numbers are low. And since I’m in this for the money–yeah, I’ve got an husband bringing home the bacon, but he’s teetering on the brink of retirement, and I’d really like to bump up the projected (post retirement) household income. That means I need to do a number of things. Marketing . . . I’m also working on. But another (and much more fun!) thing I can do is broaden my fan base by publishing in other genres.

But how is a writer of a huge series to break the bad news to her fans?

Well it depends. If the series is at a natural stopping point, it’s easy. This is one of the advantages of an overarching Mega Problem. Once it’s solved, you can give your readers a brief glimpse into the Happily Ever After and then quit.

Hahahahaha! As if!

And the more popular, the more fans will want you notice that there’s a problem behind the problem and keep going.

In my case most of the stories are stand alones . . . but it’s one big saga with a fair amount of background that builds up. But there’s no clear cut end point. It’s just a Cross-dimensional Multiverse full of potential. It has been mentioned that it would make a great SF soap opera.

So again, why quit?

There’s a dozen reasons.

I need to broaden my reader base, so getting out of this specific sub- genre and into Time Travel, Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy sounds like a good idea. I mean, Regency Romance may sell better, but I seriously doubt I could tempt any of those readers to try my older work . . . where SO and UF have plenty of overlapping interests with my old series.

And then there’s the challenge. Something that will stretch my knowledge base and send my research in a new direction. Time Travel hurts my head, BTW. And I have zero knowledge of how Law Enforcement actually works. Which is really necessary when you’ve got a thin blue line standing up against demonically engendered werewolves. Space Opera will be the easiest, what with me being a space fanatic. All I have to do is check that what I know really is so. Ouch! Our knowledge of reality changes so fast it’s easy to fall behind.

I recommend this to all writers. It’s too easy to get into a rut, to coast. “Oh, I know everything about this Universe, after all, I created it. I don’t need to research anything!” Too easy to depend on the character building you did in the previous books and leave your character flat and uninteresting. Or viciously attack and maul him, to give some space for Mr. Perfect to (re)grow. Kill her, because you’ve come to hate her.

It’ll be a good separation, a refreshing vacation. I’ll come back to the Wine of the Gods with a new perspective, new enthusiasm.

I’m breaking the news to my fans gently. Umm, because, being an addict of my own series, I seem to have, umm, let me count. Oh bloody . . . eight stories in the pipeline. Not counting the novella that’s out with the Beta Readers. That will be published next month. So while I’m going to write other stuff this summer, I’ll also get out at least one more big Wine of the Gods book sometime this fall, and the rest at reasonable intervals. So it’s just a slow down, not really quitting.

I can get over this addiction. I can stop any time.

Can you? Tell me how that works, eh?

And, being unfortunately well acquainted with my subconscious, as soon as I post this, it will pop a story into the frontal lobes, crack the whip and make me write it . . . What’s that? Xen teams up with Ebsa, Ra’d . . . and Eldon! To defeat the Cyborg Empire!

Oh, just kill me now!
But first, buy a 99¢ short story. I promise I won’t leave [spoiler] in [spoiler] for too long.

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PAM UPHOFF, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

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Filed under AMANDA, POLIT(ICK!)S, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Small Press Co-Authoring Madness

Since we’re here, let me regale you with tales of old…

As many of the established readers of this site know, I’m still fairly new to the business. This coming November I’ll be celebrating 7 years since my first novel was published. Part of my highly exaggerated “charm” is that I have no clue as to the little nods and winks in science fiction that bigger names understand. I don’t get the geek humor a lot (I’m not of you, but adopted) and I don’t even understand why there are cliques in fandom now (outside of the obvious psychological need to exclude people when oneself was excluded from social functions many years ago, but that’s a different essay).

So believe me when I am surprised when people mock me when I say I’ve published the majority of my work with small press publishers. I don’t quite grasp their looks of horror when I share how many co-authors I’ve worked with over the years. I am, as they say, naive to the horror stories of small press and co-authors.

Don’t misunderstand, neither is all roses and cash all the time (God, I wish it were!). No, it takes a dedicated focus to succeed at either. To succeed at both takes a certain level of crazy that… uh… gets you invited to… er… write for the Mad Genius Club.

Son of a…

I first approached a big publisher back in 2005 with my completed novel “Corruptor”. It was a decent first novel that needed an editor’s touch (still does) but fit into the (at the time) needs of the growing YA/Teen subgenre. However, nobody would touch it and the book ended up being contracted with Twilight Times, a small press I had heard about through a friend. It was a lengthy book that didn’t fit into the “mold” at the time. You see, this was when urban fantasy was really taking off and people were saying that it would be the death of science fiction, so nobody was taking anything like what I had written except small houses. Unless I had werewolves falling in love with humans while battling vampires and vice versa, I did not have what they wanted.

While I have had troubles with one or two of the small houses I’ve worked with, all in all it has been a collection of very pleasant experiences. I don’t have the issue of being the sole person responsible for editing and publishing my books, as I could have had if I had gone indie. I’m still responsible for marketing myself, but the publisher usually has ideas that can help. They also design the cover art, something that I suck at, and often get truly commissioned art for the cover and nothing recycled (“Corruptor” and “Wraithkin” come to mind). The other added benefit of working with a small press publisher is that, unlike some of the bigger houses, you get paid far more often at rates that are comparable to that of going indie. It’s part of the reason I haven’t truly gone indie yet: I like writing, but I hate everything else that publishers can take care of for the writer.

As for working with co-authors… well, I can only say that I have had great success with finding them and working together with them. Everyone knows the insanity in a novel when Chris and I work together, and I have had great financial success with Eric. I worked with another co-author, though, who almost soured me on the prospect of writing with others back before I had “Corruptor” contracted. That was partly my fault, since I bought into the “hype” and ignored a lot of the lack of substance he brought to the partnership. Plus, he was a bigger name than I was, so it probably worked out for the best.

Why, you ask? Well, because working with a co-author is harder to make work than a typical marriage.

It is hard to write a book with someone. It takes more than setting your ego aside. It takes a full commitment to the relationship to make it work (oh wow, total marriage comparison). Both authors have to know the limitations of their collaborator, and be receptive to ideas that you might not initially think would work. You have to listen, and not simply wait for them to quit speaking so you can say a rebuttal piece. Active listening is key here, people.  For example…

When Chris and I wrote “Kraken Mare”, we pretty much rewrote the entire book (I’d completed about 35,0000 words before I called in for some help). Even though there was a lot of insanity (and by a lot, I mean immeasurable amounts here… crazy giggling while talking and plotting/writing) we realized that we worked well together. We would easily feed off one another, hound each other when needed, and come up with ideas that the other would never have thought of, and pop culture references that one of us might have missed. It was fun, enjoyable, and we’re planning on more projects in the future once our free time reappears.

All in all, you have to be more than a little crazy to do either. To do both, well, you have to be certifiable Mad Genius. 🙂

And now your promotional news. Jason has a book out right now that you should buy. For a measly $3.99 you too can pick up your copy of the latest, Wraithkin, from Theogony Books. If you have KU then it’s free! Pick up a copy and leave a review.

 

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Filed under SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WARP CORDOVA, WRITING, WRITING: LIFE

Sad Puppies 5 and recommendation lists

Sigh. There are mornings when it really doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Or perhaps I should learn not to look at my phone as soon as I get up. What usually happens when I do is that I see something on social media that sends my blood pressure rising and has me racing for the keyboard to fire off a response. Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds sort of like what the president-elect must act. At least I don’t do Twitter.

Anyway, this morning, the BP rising bit came in the form of a private message from a friend of mine. We are in a number of groups together on Faceplant. In one of those groups, someone had posted a notice with the header of “Sad Puppies 5 Suggestions.” Now, that got my eyes open real quick because the person posting it wasn’t Sarah and, the last I heard – which was last night – Sarah was the one coordinating SP5. So, with coffee starting to brew, I figured I’d go see what I had missed overnight.

That was my second mistake. I should have realized what a mistake it would be. After all, the friend who left me the PM is one of the most even-tempered and nice people I know. The fact he was upset should have warned me that this was not going to end well. See, this is what happens when I try to function pre-coffee.

So, if you woke around 0630 CST to the sound of loud thumping, I apologize. That was me pounding my head against the wall. After reading the post my friend warned me about, I saw why. And I saw red. And I made the mistake of taking to Faceplant to write a response – still before coffee. I should have waited. Then I could have made a more detailed response, complete with link. As it was, it took a couple of posts and I’m still not sure I got my point across.

No, let’s be accurate. I know I didn’t get my message across. Or, to be more accurate, I may have but certain folks didn’t want to hear it. And that, my friends, is a problem and one we don’t need to be dealing with.

So, let’s be very clear. The New Year is here and with it comes the time when we need to start thinking about the books we read and whether we feel they are worthy of being nominated for any of the various awards being offered this year. Be it the Hugo, the Dragon, the Rita or whatever, it is something we need to keep in mind and, if we are so moved, we need to nominate them for the appropriate award(s).

It also means we are going to start seeing folks saying they are “making a little list”. Some will follow through with their lists and keep a running tally. Others will simply have a single post where you can add your comments. What they do is up to them – up to a point. However, when they start implying they are involved with something they aren’t, or when they seem to be stepping up and taking control of something they have not been involved in, then they have crossed the line.

So I will start by saying to be careful about where you leave your recommendations. Read very carefully what the OP is saying he or she will do and judge what their motivations might be. If their post comes across as implying they are with a certain group or cause, verify. That is especially true when someone – Sarah, in this case – has said she is in charge of SP5 and now, suddenly, someone who has been on the fringes at best is suddenly implying they are preparing the SP5 recommendation list.

One of my fears is that folks will post their recommendations on a site they think is associated with a group or cause and then get upset when they find their way to the official site and realize their recommendation isn’t there. That is especially true when someone takes to Facebook and says it is time to start getting those Sad Puppy recommendations in and then says he is starting a list for folks to contribute to. The implication is there for folks to make that he is part of the leadership of SP5 and his list is “official”. It isn’t.

With that said, Sad Puppies 5 will be getting off the ground very soon with a new website, a blog and more. Sarah A. Hoyt – yes, our Sarah – is running it this year. (The only reason the site isn’t up already is because she has been ill and has had a deadline to meet.) The official SP5 site will be the only place where recommendations for the various lists SP5 compiles will be accepted. If you go to anywhere else and they claim to be speaking for SP5, they aren’t. Not unless Sarah has specifically announced it here, on her blog or on the SP5 site.

Does that mean others can’t support the Puppies and still have their own lists? Absolutely not. But I am asking them to think before posting. After all, we ran into the problem of people becoming confused when Vox came out with Rabid Puppies. The names were too close. There was an overlapping of recommended titles. The result was that Sad Puppies got painted with the same brush as Rabid Puppies and not because of the titles recommended but because of how some folks felt about Vox.

Our biggest hurdle this year isn’t going to be name recognition. It is going to be avoiding clouding the water. We have already had one blogger talk about how he had been involved in the Sad Puppy movement, leaving the impression he had been on the inside when he had not. Now we have someone else leaving the impression that they are collecting recommendations for the SP5 list. That sort of thing is counter-productive. It will only wind up confusing people and, in some cases, upsetting them when they find out they weren’t giving their recommendations to the official Sad Puppy list.

One of the biggest lessons anyone following the Sad Puppy movement over the years should have learned is that perception is everything. So what I’m asking, as someone who is helping Sarah this year and who will be taking over for SP6, is that we do everything we can to make sure there is no confusion over what the Sad Puppy movement is, what it stands for, who is officially in charge of it this year and where the official list is being collected.

So, to be clear, Sad Puppies 5 is under the guidance of Sarah A. Hoyt. Until the new site is up to date, any recommendations for the SP5 lists can be posted at last year’s site (give me a couple of hours to set up a recommendation page). I promise the information will be migrated over to the new site as soon as it goes live. Anyone else claiming to be collecting information for SP5 or speaking for it is misspeaking at best.

And, yes, this post has been run past Sarah before I took it live. She has approved everything said.

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Filed under AMANDA, reading, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Really?

It has been quite some time since I have felt the need to rip apart someone else’s blog post. Well, except when it comes to politics. Usually, I can step away from a blog I don’t agree with, telling myself that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. However, yesterday my attention was directed to a blog that was so filled with half-truths, inaccuracies and more that it left me no choice but to respond. The source material will be in italics, my comments will follow.

What Happened To The Sad Puppies? In 2015 the Sad Puppies were a presence in SF and in culture in general.  In 2016 the Sad Puppies became almost a nonentity.  All through the year it was the Rabids that drove the show and that hurt both the Sad Puppies And possibly the future of Sf in the long term.

Wow, I guess the OP forgot about the years leading up to 2015, years when Larry Correia led the SPs and had the other side foaming at the mouth. Years when the SPs were much more in your face than they were in 2015 under Brad Torgersen, who happens to be one of the nicest guys around. He forgot that, while Brad did engage with the other side, he did so only after he — and his family — were attacked. The OP also seems to have forgotten that Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies made their appearance in 2015, hijacking much of the movement and muddying the waters for so many who weren’t intimately familiar with what the SPs were after, leading people to think the two groups were basically the same. The OP also forgot that, no matter how hard Brad and others tried to make it clear SPs had nothing to do with RPs, it didn’t work. But, I guess if he mentioned that, it wouldn’t fit his narrative that Kate somehow failed.

Also, how in the hell did Kate and SP 2016 possibly hurt the future of SF in the long term? The Hugos are a non-starter for most fans of the genre. You walk into any bookstore or library and ask readers of the genre, or of any genre, if they could name a Hugo winner (or even a nominee) and the vast majority will be unable to. Those who can will probably tell you that they run from books that have won the award because those stories quit being entertaining years ago.

I think that the problem is that Kate Paulk, when she took over leadership didn’t understand what she was getting herself into. I think that she thought that if she had a more moderate approach that the kind of beating around that the Sad Puppies got in 2015 would be moderated.  I’m not sure what led her to believe that, but there was.

Ah, here we go. The “I think” or “I believe” excuse so many bloggers and journalists — and I use that term loosely — use to avoid having to actually do their homework. Did the OP actually go to Kate to ask her if his “beliefs” were right? Nope. He did not. I guaran-damn-tee you that he not only didn’t talk to Kate but that he didn’t talk to any of the rest of us who know what her thought process was. I know because I am one of those who were involved in the discussions about who would take over the leadership of SPs last year and what tact should be taken. Kate knew quite well what she was getting into and she knew — and discussed with the rest of us — the approach she would take.

Then there was the launch of the Sad Puppies site, the nominations and then, nothing.  For months no reviews, no blog entries, nothing. It’s not as if she was off line either.  Yet for months she left the stage empty except for the Puppy Kickers and Vox.   I’m not sure why but it may be that she was hoping to avoid conflict.  Or she just got busy and could not give Sad Puppies the attention it deserved.  Yet there weren’t even any blog posts on either the Sad Puppies blog or the Mad Genius Club.

First of all, SP has never been a 24/7, 365 day a year obligation. Second, there were posts on MGC. Third, I guess the OP thinks being online is the only way to get the message out. He seems to ignore the fact that Kate went to cons. She used face-to-face conversations to discuss with those who had been sitting on the fence, even those who opposed SPs in the past to get the message across. She showed that we weren’t all frothing at the mouth as we had been depicted. But that, too, doesn’t fit the OP’s narrative. Whether it is because he ignored her posts about what she was doing — as well as the guest post and comments by some of those she spoke with — I don’t know.

Here’s something else OP seems to ignore. The Sad Puppies movement was aimed initially at pointing out the bias in nominating and awarding the Hugo Awards. That takes place over a small portion of the calendar year. Kate announced Sad Puppies 4 officially on May 19, 216. However, a quick search of the MGC archives using only one key term and not the various short hands we have come to use for Sad Puppies, finds at least 2 more posts by Kate about Sad Puppies. But OP says she didn’t blog about them. Sigh.

So, in the interest of accuracy, I went to Brad’s site and looked to see when he announced SP3. His intorductory post is Jan 7, 2015. Kate announced SP4 September 2015. That would be some months sooner, in the grand scheme of things, than Brad.

OP then spends time, after saying Kate didn’t give us reviews, etc., quoting others who take issue with her reviews of the Hugo nominees. Kate did more than most who were telling people who to vote for. She read everything in the Hugo packet and gave her honest opinions. But that obviously isn’t enough, especially since OP quotes notoriously anti-puppy sites to back his stance.

Essentially as result of inactivity the Puppies left the field to Vox and “Raptor Butt invasion.”  Which was funny for a while, but after a while you realize that it’s puppy butt that’s being invaded.

OMFG. I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or the OP’s. That statement is not that much removed from that of the other side telling SPs they had to denounce Vox or it proved we were all cut from the same cloth. One thing those of us closely involved with the Sad Puppy movement learned in 2015 is that there is nothing anyone can do to rein in Vox. We would have had Raptor Butt no matter what. Vox will do what he wants, when he wants and he doesn’t give a flying fuck who he bumps against in the process.

The problem is that if there any desire to keep the Hugo Awards as anything other than a pissing contest between the vilest people in SF, we Puppies failed miserably.  The Rapids dominated the noms and the Kickers “No Awarded” every thing in sight, again. Both sides followed by crowing victory, when in fact everybody lost.

See, here is the biggest problem with OP’s post. He thinks that Sad Puppies is about saving the Hugos. It isn’t. I’m not sure it ever was. It was about showing how the Awards have been manipulated and ruled over by a very small group of Fans, folks who don’t want the unwashed masses joining in their little club. The Hugos were effectively dead, at least to most fans, long before Larry started Sad Puppies. It is in its death throes now. Don’t believe it? Look at the rules changes that are being proposed and those that have been passed. Fans with a capital “F” want to to make sure they continue to control the awards. Most real fans aren’t going to pay the price of even an associate membership just to vote. Why should they when they can buy a number of books for the same price?

I don’t know about you, but I would rather buy 8 – 10 e-books than spend money to be able to vote one time for an award where the inner circle thinks I’m not worthy of taking part.

The fact is that when you are in the culture wars you can never let up and you never, ever say you are sorry.  I think that Kates more modest approach and attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable only fed the beast.  The failure to create any buzz or even respond just made things worse.  The biggest issue to me is that, for months, Kate never asked for any help, any blog posts, nothing.  She embarked on no politicking and can’t find any evidence of any activity other than setting up a safe space at Worldcon for the yet again no awarded nominees.  For her approach, in the end the Sad Puppies got nothing tangible, no respect, no handshake and no attempts to meet the Puppies half way. The fact is that in the end as little as I like to say this, it turns out that Vox and the Rabids were right.

Ah, there it is. He drank the kool-ade. Because he couldn’t find something, he assumed it wasn’t there. Again, he ignored the cons Kate went to and all the folks he talked with. He ignored the fact that she did exactly as she said she would and that many folks applauded her for it, people who never would have supported SPs otherwise. Why did they support us? Because we were the face of reason in a sea of insanity. But that doesn’t fit the narrative. Sigh, nothing any of us say will change his mind — as is obvious by his comment that it didn’t gain respect, handshakes, etc., and yet a simple search of comments here on MGC and in social media will show the opposite. But, I guess if you aren’t screaming it from the rooftops, it never happened.

At least the war was not only reliant on the efforts of the Puppies, either Sad or Rabid.  Somebody took the Puppy Kickers advice to heart and with DragonCon, came up with awards that returned the emphasis to fans and readers rather than a small clique of people dependent on the fading traditional publishing and the poor stuff that they had been putting up for awards.

Here’s why I started laughing. OP has spent pages telling us how the Puppies failed under Kate to take the Hugos and save them. Now, all of a sudden, he has fled from the Hugos and is applauding the Dragon Awards. Note how he loves that the Dragons took the awards directly to the fans and away form a “small clique of people”. Yes, he added the descriptor they were dependent on trad publishing, etc., but let’s be honest. Sad Puppies is also a relatively small clique, at least when you look at the greater picture of how many people love the genre.

As far as this goes, the Hugos are dead, The Puppies didn’t kill them, they were dead when Larry started the Puppies. The Hugos were dead because nobody cared anymore.  The Hugos died because the small clique that had expense accounts from their employers and could go to WorldCon after WorldCon nominated the kind of stuff that pulled further and further away from what the readers really wanted.  That is death to an award that is supposed to represent the opinions of the readers.  Unfortunately all the WorldCon types wanted was an echo chamber and little hood ornaments on their shelves to appease their egos.

So, if the Hugos are dead, why has the OP spent so much time condemning Kate? I’m confused.

Maybe if Kate had actually been more proactive things might have been different.

Oh, I get it now. He must think Kate is a necromancer. I guess she had some arcane power to revive an award he said was dead even before Larry started the Sad Puppy movement. Wow! I never knew Kate had that sort of power. Apparently, she could have saved the Hugos in one year when a best selling author and the Powder Blue Care Bear with a Flame Thrower couldn’t in 3 years.

If only she had asked for more help if she thought she needed it, if even to just keep up a weekly Sad Puppies blog post.  I’m sure that there were those of us who would have been willing to do more.  In the end though, I doubt that any minds would have been changed.  So let Vox continue his games, that is if he hasn’t found bigger targets to play with.  In any case, like so much that the progressives have taken over, the Hugos and what was the science fiction establishment are dying. The plain fact is that what they had to sell, nobody wanted to buy.  They should have read their Heinlein and tried to understand what he was talking about when he said, :”We are writing for Joe’s beer money and Joe likes his beer. It’s our obligation to give him at least as much fun from our books as he’d  get from a six pack.”

Ah, here we are again with the vague assumptions and passive-aggressive condemnations. I ask again, if the Hugos were already dead and a best selling author could not save them in 2 years of battling with the powers that be, what was Kate supposed to do in a single year? Why weren’t these criticisms leveled against Larry or Brad for not saving the Hugos?

The puppy kickers have forgotten, in the corporate, commoditized, NYC bubble that they live in, that simple fact.  Science fiction fails when it tries to be something it’s not.  Much of the old pulp stuff is available online for free and before sneering at what the Puppies were talking about, the kickers should read the stuff that already has met the “six pack test.” The fact is that there’s a lot of competition for that beer money and if Joe doesn’t like what you are plumping out at eight bucks a pop, Joe is putting his money some place else.  That’s the essence of the Puppy message and that’s what the Puppies need to  keep repeating.  We need to do better, much better next time.

This one paragraph is something I can agree with, mostly. Yes, the other side should read and figure out why we love those old stories. There is an entertainment factor they have forgotten about, just as they have forgotten that the Hugos were meant to be a fan award. Instead, they want it to be a literary award. They have worked for years to make it one. That is what is killing the award.

Whether the OP wants to admit it or not, the Sad Puppies movement has won. It brought attention to a number of authors who never would have made the Hugo nominee list. SP4 was particularly good about it by opening the process up and letting people post their recommendations to the list — something that went on for months before Hugo nominations opened.

Ask yourself this. What is more important: reclaiming an award that means nothing to most fans of the genre or expanding the awareness of the genre and authors within it to those fans and to bring in new fans in the process?

 

It is so very easy to sit back and criticize someone when you haven’t walked in their shoes. Kate announced from the beginning what she was going to do. She was going to have an open and transparent process where people recommended works they felt should be nominated for the Hugos. She collected those recommendations on the website and then collated them and presented those with the most recommendations for everyone’s consideration. She used social media to promote SP4 and she took the hits, and there were many, from the other side. She spent her own money to go to cons and make the case for SP4 in person.

No one who has been involved behind the scenes with Sad Puppies thought it would be a quick skirmish. Far from it. The question has always been, can the Hugos be saved with a sub-question of “should they?”. I’m not sure they can be saved, whether we think they should be or not. As long as a small group of Fans think they are better than the fans who put money into the pockets of authors and artists, as long as they refuse to admit indie published works can be as good — or better — than traditionally published works, and as long as they refuse to admit that the Hugos were meant to be a fan award, they will continue to disenfranchise most fans of the genre.

Sad Puppies 1 – 3 beautifully pointed out, and proved, the pettiness in Fandom. Sad Puppies 4 continued what Brad started with Sad Puppies 3, the ourtreach to those fans who didn’t understand what was going on. Fans who had been drawn in by the outrageous rhetoric from the other side started looking closer at Sad Puppies when Brad and his family were attacked. They started listening closer when Kate engaged only when she was forced to. So explain how, when Kate reached out and made connections with people how had never before considered backing the Sad Puppies, she failed in her job?

There is more to this battle than whipping out your dick and proving it is bigger than the other guy’s. Kate understood that. We should be thanking her for taking on the job instead of condemning her because she didn’t do “the job” the way someone else wanted her to.

Before anyone starts throwing stones at this post, be sure you aim them at me. I’m springing this on my fellow MGCers at the same time I spring it on you.

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Filed under AMANDA, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING