Tag Archives: science fiction

Capsule Reviews – Short SF and Fantasy Stories

In addition to writing short stories, I also enjoy reading them – just haven’t had much opportunity recently. That changed over the weekend, when I found out that I can subscribe to magazines over Kindle. (I know. I know. I knew in theory. Stop laughing.) So I did.

Here are a handful you might enjoy.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2015

Racing to Mars by Martin L. Shoemaker
A ship makes a trip to Mars to drop off some supplies, and one of the people along for the ride is the son of the company’s owner. Along the way, the spoiled brat is forced to grow up, and the narrating character – a woman whose medical career is on the ropes because she blew the whistle on medical negligence at an old job – watches it happen. Interesting because of what it says about how learning – sometimes forced – can overcome ignorance.

The Crashing of the Cloud by Norman Spinrad
Short, but I liked the twist at the end. Can’t say much more than that without giving it away.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, july 2015

Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack
The tone of this story (and several others in the magazine) reminded me of China Mieville, Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman. To do with dreaming and mysticism. Interesting plot and characterization, though the general shape of the story is fairly familiar. Very entertaining and I liked the ways Pollack built her world. Vivid.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir
I liked this one a lot. A weird, dreamy sort of language that was also forceful and specific as needed. The protagonist is a seer from a long line of seers, trying to find her way through a prophecy of death and destruction. Characters were well-drawn and vivid, and while I probably should have seen the final twist coming, I didn’t – and I loved the story all the more for that.

Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk
An engaging concept, well-told. The home of a well-loved poet is run as a visitor center, there’s some interesting stuff done with time travel and relativity, and the narrating tour guide gives some insight into a well-constructed world that quickly becomes enjoyably familiar. Another one with a final twist – and not the one you think is coming midway through.

The Silicon Curtain: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer
I’m not a reader of Kritzer’s series, so I’ve never encountered this world or characters before. It was still a fun adventure, though I feel like there were nuances to the tale that I would appreciate more if I had more familiarity with her world. Industrial espionage plot. I wasn’t entirely sure of the ages of the characters – teens or young adults or thirtysomethings – but this might be because I was reading on a plane. I might look for more of the books at some point.

There were other stories in each magazine, but I wasn’t particularly taken by them. Some were boring, some were borderline offensive, and more than a couple weren’t worth finishing. But I’d be interested in reading more from any of these writers, so even if you don’t feel like picking up the magazine, keep an eye out for their other work. And if you do, let me know what you think of it.

 

GUEST POST: Slaughtering The Sacred Cow // (The Hugo Awards Fiasco)

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll remember contributing writer Matthew Lyons from his yearly film analysis, “That Said…”. Today, he’s delivering his take on the current fiasco surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards and the legitimacy of industry accolades.

Slaughtering The Sacred Cow:
The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Our Current SFF Atmosphere of Total Shitbirdery

By Matthew Lyons

In 1996, Nick Cave wrote a letter to MTV, thanking them for their support and politely asking them to withdraw his name from competition for “Best Male Artist” in their annual Video Awards, citing the fickle nature of his muse and his own desire to avoid visiting “the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring” upon his art.

“I am in competition with no-one,” he said.  His art was his own, independent of some tawdry award that lacked prestige and debased his artistic vision.  It was a brave thing, and the right thing to do, given the situation.

Remember this.  We’ll come back to it.

The current, drama-filled saga of how the Sad Puppies so successfully gamed the Hugo Awards has been well-documented by men and women who are far better writers  and reporters than I, so I’ll spare you yet another three or four pages telling you what you already know. Still, some context is woefully necessary; so let’s do a quick sum up:

  • Socially and politically conservative voting blocs operating under the collective groupname Sad Puppies successfully gamed the Hugo Awards this year, securing three of the five Best Novel nominations, all five Best Novella nominations.
  • This isn’t exactly a stop-inclusivity-in-its-tracks thing, but it’s not exactly not: two of the SP’s most loudly championed authors have gone on record as supporting a certain non-inclusive online hate group, and as this whole fervor seems to be centered around resistance to inclusiveness, no matter what certain people may say to the contrary.
  • They’ve been trying to game the system for three years, and only now have they really succeeded in making a real, visible impact.
  • Everyone’s shitting their pants about it.

The question I want to ask is, why?  Why do we go out of our way to act surprised and outraged when people do this shit?  They’ve been trying to get this over on the Hugos for three fucking years.  So they finally succeeded.  Big shock.

Look at it critically, friends: you’ve had these people banging at the walls of your so-called sacred institution for three years and you act all aghast and shocked when they finally break through?

Please.

You do realize that all we’re doing by acting this way is legitimizing it, right?

Honestly, I’m really asking – do you understand that?

Why put up just a big stupid stink about it?  Is it because the Hugos are an institution?

They’re only an institution because we treat them like they are.  Fifty years of tradition is one thing, but those fifty years only carry the weight we assign them.  The voting only happens at Worldcon because we all sort of, kind of agree that it should.  Prestige is a concept of perception, and if you don’t like people bloc voting, fine.  Fuck them.  You don’t have to sit there and take it.  Have another ceremony and give out another award.  Have the nominations at DragonCon or something, develop special categories for whatever art form you like.  Get weird with it, fuck, make it a party.  No one says the Hugos are the only game in town.  Stop treating them like they are.

But still we’re outraged.  A noted, publicly avowed homophobe got three nominations in the Best Novella category? So what?  No one says that nomination has to mean a fucking thing.  It only means as much as we all think it should mean.  Everybody just needs to fuck off the end of everybody else’s dick.

The stupid, ugly truth is that they’re well within their rights to vote bloc.  That needs to be said.  They can do that.  The system as it exists in its current form is perfectly accommodating of that sort of thing.  It’s not wrong, it’s just kind of a dick move.  Nobody’s disputing that, not even the folks behind Sad Puppies.

And yeah, it’s an easy thing to say If you don’t like it, don’t pay attention.  Don’t let it affect you.  You know what, though? The people that these Sad Puppy assholes are rallying against get that shit time and time again.  “Ignore the haters?” Fuck you.  These assholes have made themselves impossible to ignore.  Pay attention to what they do and how they do it.  Beat them at their own game or go play your own.  They’re going to keep making the same moves over and over and over, expecting shit to change.  Last time I checked, that’s the definition of something.

Don’t ignore them, but maybe be reasonable with your expectations of people.  Because motherfuckers are always going to do dumb motherfucker shit.  The poorly behaved kid in class is pretty much always going to shout “LOOK AT ME!!” before pulling his pants down so everyone looks at his dick.  The best thing you can do in that situation is not fall for that fucking trick.  Stop coddling needy people who insist on throwing public tantrums.  Stop legitimizing them by acting like they’re a bigger deal than they are.  We all know you have a dick, Trevor.  Nobody’s impressed.  Just sit down and listen to Miss Wallace talk about long division, the rest of us are trying to learn here.

You might not be able to ignore them, but you sure as hell can delegitimize the thing they keep trying to stick in your face.

That brings me back to Mr. Cave’s refusal:

Perhaps, if this were a better world, the authors who aren’t part of the Sad Puppies’ slate would politely but firmly withdraw their names and works from consideration in protest.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking revelation?  If this is how they’re going to run the Hugos, maybe you don’t want that sort of recognition.

I mean, it’s nice to be honored for your art, but do you really want to be honored by an award system run by these people?  Again: seriously, I’m asking.

If the answer’s Yes, great, carry on, have fun.  Seriously.  I don’t begrudge anybody the pursuit of recognition for their art.  Really, I don’t.  People are allowed to art and live and believe however the fuck they want.  I just reserve the right to not pay attention if your methods make you a shitbird.

But if the answer’s No, then just why in the fuck do you insist on playing by their rules?  As far as I can tell, the Sad Puppies have been nothing but clear and vocal about what their aims were, and they kept their promises.  You think they won’t do it again next year?  Or the year after that?  It finally worked, after all. Why would we count out a repeat performance?

All I’m driving at here is maybe we all need to take a step back and consider what’s important.  Is it the recognition of your peers, and the public?  Or is it that fancy laurel seal your publisher gets to stamp on your reprints, that cute little tag you get to stick in your Twitter bio: Hugo Award Winning Author/Novel/Tweeter/Whatever.  Consider why this matters to you, because you need to know that the Sad Puppies sure as fuck have.

And if you decide you don’t want to compete with their behavior and tactics?  Then maybe consider taking your name out of the running.  Consider taking some of the widespread prestige away from the awards.  Delegitimize them. Just like engaging with these sorts of dicks on any other platform, the only way to win is not to play.  We can all agree that the Hugos got hijacked, and we as a community would rather our awards be about recognition and community than tradition and prestige.  The Bill Schuckley’s Backyard Barbecue Awards would carry just as much weight as the Hugos if we all decided they did.  Probably even more, because there would be barbecue involved.

Let ‘em have the Hugos if they want them so bad.  But if the ship’s been taken by mutiny, nobody’s making you sail with them.  There’s enough ocean for everyone here, and plenty of able and like-minded sailors to help you build yourself a new ship.  An awesome one.  With flames painted on the side and a bejeweled Santa Muerte for the figurehead.  And a sweet sound system playing nothing but The Clash.  Everybody loves The Clash.

Abandon ship.  Let the barbarians have the temple.  Take the sacred cow out back and put a fuckin’ bolt through its holy fuckin’ head for steak dinner.  If it’s not working, nobody says you have to keep it.

These awards only ever meant what we wanted them to mean, after all.

Matthew Lyons can be found listening to Tool records and old Bill Hicks routines while scorning basically everything and everyone on Twitter at @goddamnlyons. He occasionally writes fiction that is somewhat less pissed off than this guest post.

Other guest blogs by Matthew:

Black Mirror, Blunt Teeth

Last week, a friend recommended Black Mirror – or rather, they expressed shock when they found out I hadn’t watched it yet. I finally got around to starting it a few days ago, armed only with the notion that it was some kind of modern-day British Twilight Zone.

The first episode of the first season, The National Anthem, had me hooked within minutes. “I’m not going to fuck a pig,” the Prime Minister declares, faced with a list of demands from terrorists who’ve kidnapped Britain’s sweetheart of a princess. While the premise of the first episode is set up quickly, the remainder of the hour-long show feels toothless. Objections to carrying through the terrorists’ demands center largely around whether the cost/benefit balances out, and the story tips dramatically once the kidnapper starts sending non-essential body parts to local news agencies. I know there’s a limit to what can be accomplished in an hour of anthology television, but focusing on the journalistic side of the ethical conundrum comes at the cost of really peeling back the layers of what it means for a human being to weigh ethics and choose to make the decision to engage in sex with a creature incapable of consent. The idea of a journalist willing to exploit her body and her connections for a story isn’t a new one, and the story doesn’t delve any deeper than that.

Fifteen Million Merits, the second episode, evokes Doctor Who’s Satellite Five, (“The Long Game,” “Bad Wolf,” “The Parting of the Ways”) in that it’s set in a world based around a reality-show model of civilization. Individuals go to a gym and pedal on stationary bikes all day (I admit, my attention wandered a little bit, here) and earn credits, which they spend on things like food – and avoiding erotic commercials. They watch a reality competition called Hot Shots, paying millions of credits to compete. Here, our protagonist (who’s conveniently inherited millions from his dead brother) falls for a girl whose singing talent, he thinks, is enough to get her a ticket out of their mundane existence. Ultimately, the corruption of the system swallows both of them whole.

So far (I’m now watching episode three, The Entire History of You), the show seems to set up intriguing premises without fully examining them. While ambiguity is the stock-in-trade of shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits (which, I’d argue, this show tracks with more closely), there’s a difference between being ambiguous and being noncommittal, and I would argue that so far Black Mirror is erring on the side of the latter. It’s less stylized than Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place and while its creator, Charlie Brooker, is quoted as saying “Each episode…[is] all about the way we’re living now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy,” I’m not sure that the episodes so far are really being true to that vision.

Might a government official be coerced into an abhorrent sex act? Might we wind up living in pod hotels and generating electricity via stationary bicycle? Who knows. So far, the third episode seems the most realistic – and its conceit actually echos the basis of my story A Fixed Perspective, available in Short Frictions,

I’m not ready to say that Black Mirror is a miss, but so far, it hasn’t hit that sweet spot where, as an anthology show, it becomes more than a collection of brief conceptual exercises and morphs into something truly iconic.

Here’s hoping it hits that sweet spot soon.

Black Mirror is available via Netflix streaming service.

 

Edit: After writing this last night, I went on to start series 2; one episode into that and all I can say is, HOLY JUMP IN QUALITY, BATMAN! Looking forward to the rest of the second series, and hoping the quality keeps up!

SHORT FRICTIONS, Coming Up Shortly!

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn't he look dapper?

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn’t he look dapper?

For the last month or so, I’ve been receiving helpful comments from wonderful people who’ve taken time out of their lives to prepare for advance reviewing of SHORT FRICTIONS – my upcoming collection of short stories. Their assistance has been invaluable, and the book you’ll eventually read has already been made leagues better thanks to their thoughts and comments.

So when do you get to check out this fabulous new collection of stories about vampires, robots, evil corporations and more?

One thing’s for sure: it won’t be long, now!

I’ve met with the designer – the stylish Sarah Hartley (who was responsible for the gorgeous cover of HOT MESS) and she’s working on some frankly brilliant ideas for the SHORT FRICTIONS cover. I hope you’ll like it. I know I love what she’s thought up so far.

I really can’t wait to share this collection of shorts – and a play! – with all of you. Most have been written in the last few years, with one outlier that dates back to my college days. Some, you may have seen in other places in the past. Others are fresh and new and clean and excited to be allowed out into the world.

The e-version will likely debut in August on several platforms, shortly ahead of the print one, and don’t worry – I’ll keep you updated. Just enter your info into the subscription widget – upper right hand side of this blog entry to make sure you don’t miss the new release. Or give me your email address (I’ll never sell or share it), below:

 

Congratulations to the Short Frictions Giveaway Winner!

2014-04-07 11For the last month or so, I’ve been running a giveaway for a gift code from ThinkGeek.com…and now it’s time to announce the winner!

Congratulations to Patricia Salyers!

It was cool to watch how every day, Patricia was on Twitter, tweeting the promotional tweet to get additional entries for the competition – and clearly the work paid off! I’ve contacted her privately to arrange for her to get her ThinkGeek code, and send a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who took the time to enter.

If you didn’t win, but still want something free (and who doesn’t want free stuff) then remember, I’m also looking for advance reviewers for Short Frictions, and am rewarding those who step up with both a free e-copy of the book in the format of their choice and a thank-you on the book’s acknowledgements page.

Having lots of reviews is one of those things that helps us indie writers sell books, so not only will you get free stuff if you sign up – you’ll also be doing me a solid.

Thinning the Book-Herd

paring down my libraryI was reading this article from the Guardian Saturday morning, and it reminded me of my own recent library purge.

I’ve always loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to walk through the halls reading a book. While I never crashed into anyone, my teacher had a prejudice against allowing this kind of nerdery to go unchecked. Similarly, I (though not other children) was banned from bringing a book to the cafeteria for lunchtime. (This problem was solved by reading over a friend’s shoulder – we were both obsessed with The Babysitters Club, so it worked out well.)

Over the years, I built up quite the collection: science fiction, historical fiction, foreign fiction fiction-fiction, mythology and more. Once, I calculated the cover value of my Star Trek novels alone – it amounted to several thousand dollars, and I was only in my mid-teens. Growing older, moving to college and then graduate school and then to live on my own, however, my collection was slowly pared down. First, the books moved to my parents’ basement and garage. Every time I’d come home, I’d go through them and winnow them down to fewer and fewer volumes. Several boxes came to New York City with me, but as my apartments grew smaller and smaller, even these – which I had thought of as the books I could never part with – became fewer in number.

The last few months have seen another reduction, setting bags on the stoop of my building with signs: “FREE BOOKS!” on sunny weekend mornings.

In her article (an excerpt from her book) Linda Grant writes:

The methodology I used for my cull was very high-minded: I would preserve those books of literary merit, the books I had not yet read but wanted to and the books given as gifts with an inscription on the flyleaf. “

This reasoning approximated my own library reduction. I kept the sci-fi greats, books I would not be able to easily replace. Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card – these were books that remained on my shelf, in part because their writing styles always inspired me but also partly because I can’t imagine going out and re-buying these books.

My books of “literary merit” also included classics and old books inherited from my grandparents. I have an entire set of the complete works of Tolstoy, of Sir Walter Scott, of Victor Hugo. The Tolstoy was published in the early 1900s and the author himself was consulted on the translation; I can’t see how reading another version of War and Peace will take me closer to the original Russian, which I don’t read and can’t see myself learning.

Then there are the plays I’ve seen and loved: mostly scripts purchased from the Traverse Theatre or the Royal Court, or gifted to me by playwrights like Alan Wilkins or Jo Clifford.

There are books of sentimental value: my complete set of Moomin novels, by Tove Jansson, or Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. And there are many books I haven’t read yet, but want to, but suspect I may not: Heaney’s Beowulf, some Balzac, a few graphic novels.

What remains on my shelf is eclectic, and still takes up an entire shelf on my wall, but it is pared down. There is a surprising amount of nonfiction, for someone with reading
roots so deeply associated with sci-fi and other imagined worlds. And these days, I hardly buy books any more: I check out digital editions from the library or purchase copies of the books I want from Kindle. If they’re classic, there are almost always free digital versions (or low-cost ones) and if they’re new I can usually borrow the digital copy from a friend, or occasionally spring for it. I read more indie novels, paging through Wattpad in search of samples that get my mind going.

While Grant laments having gotten rid of so many of her books in her move, I find that I rarely miss the physical volumes I’ve let leave my life. Once or twice I’ve wanted a quote only to find that the book in question left me long ago, but for the most part I have what I need. Most of my college textbooks are finally gone – if I want to get back into filmmaking, rather than scriptwriting, there are websites and other resources where I’ll be able to refresh my memory. I no longer felt attached to my British editions of Harry Potter, and kept only a handful of my favorite Star Trek novels – mostly by Peter David and Daffyd ab Hugh (whose no-holds-barred stories satisfied my affection for bloodthirsty sci-fi, as a teen).

What I realized the other day – and what I found a bit upsetting – is how few of the books on my shelf are written by women. While it’s not yet time for me to rebuild my library – that will have to wait until I own my own home instead of rent a small shoebox – the temptation to refill my shelves with Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Poppy Z. Brite, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffery, Diana Gabaldon and more is difficult to resist. They and others are finding their place on my virtual bookshelf, but it’s clear to me that I need to put more effort into reading (and buying) non-white, non-male authors.

What books do you read? What are some that you’d recommend? Leave a comment to let me know, and don’t be discouraged by the weird error message that comes up when you click “submit” – the comments are posting, there’s just something wrong with the blog.

 

Like reading? Enjoy writing reviews? I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more.

Win a $15 Gift Code to ThinkGeek.com!

2014-04-07 11Since Short Frictions, my upcoming short story collection, includes a number of science fiction stories, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a geeky gift code giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ThinkGeek.com is full of fun, nerdy collectibles. T-shirts, toys, robotic knick-knacks and more. Whatever your geeky obsession, from TV shows like Star TrekDoctor WhoGame of Thrones or Breaking Bad to tech-themed house or office gadgetry and beyond, ThinkGeek.com has loads of fun distractions.

From today through June 29th 2014, you can enter the contest by participating in this Rafflecopter giveaway.

Using the above Rafflecopter entry form, join my mailing list, then earn extra “credits” towards winning by sharing this giveaway on Facebook and Twitter – which you can do every day. If you’re already on the mailing list, go ahead and enter your address again – you’ll still only get one copy of each email, and that way your entry will still count towards the giveaway!

List members receive special previews and announcements of upcoming productions and publications, and as always, I promise not to share or sell your email address.

The giveaway results will be announced on June 30th – will you be the winner?

In addition to the giveaway, I’m also currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested in an advance copy, writing a review and being thanked in the digital copy’s acknowledgements, please click here to find out more!