Tag Archives: scifi

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.

 

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.

Na More, Na Less, NaNoWriMo

IDL TIFF fileI’m more or less finished with my first NaNoWriMo. Over the weekend, I came to the end of the story I’d started out to tell (even if I hadn’t realized what it was when I started, and even if it was quite different to what me and Sare talked about during our brainstorming back in August and September.

And oh my goodness, does it need work.

But it’s there – start to finish, opening to closing image, and that there are places in the middle where vast tracts of words are going to get swept out of the way, that’s okay. The original goal for this project was 30K, after all.

Next up is editing. Since I technically still have a few days left in November, I’m working on taking stock of my book as a whole, but the majority of the editing step is scheduled to take place in late January and beyond.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The next thing I have scheduled is a draft of a play for Ingenius Theatre Company, a sci fi piece about women in space. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now and will probably start writing an actual draft soon. That’s the other thing I’m using my “found days” for. Getting ready for a month of playwriting. I’m glad I had NaNoWriMo as a sort of template for process, because it gives me a better idea of how to approach figuring out a set of fairly complex ideas in my head.

But the next you’ll probably hear about my NaNo Novel will probably come a ways down the line. 🙂

Thank you to Sheilah and Matt for their help in keeping new content coming while I was working on the novel.

And PS – I just found out that Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change was nominated for Best Anthology in an indie publishing award that ran over the summer.

ALIENS for the first time

#1 Ellen RipleyI watched ALIENS this weekend for the first time. Before you ask, I haven’t seen the first one yet – though I plan to. Why pick now to watch this classic piece of Sci Fi Action/Horror? Because a friend recommended it. Multiple times. Then gave me a special DVD copy for my birthday earlier this month.

I’m glad I waited to watch ALIENS until I had a good sound system and decent-sized screen to watch it on. I could appreciate the sets and detail in the SFX in a way that I doubt would have come across if I had been watching on my funky laptop screen, or even my less-dinky desktop screen.

Once I popped the DVD in and started it up, I realized I was faced with a choice: watch the original theatrical release, or the special extended edition from 1991? After a quick Twitter poll I decides on the original release. I’m always torn when it comes to picking versions of films – you can only see a movie once for the first time, and the question of following the studio’s vision or the director’s can sometimes be paralyzing. I still think version fatigue Kay play a part in why I still can’t really say I’ve seen Bladerunner, despite multiple attempts. (And yes, by virtue of admitting that here, I’ll probably wind up trying again soon).

(Interjection – I’m writing this on the train and they just ran a missing child announcement. First time for everything, I guess. Anyway, back to the film…)

I liked ALIENS. A lot. It shook up my perception of what a sci fi horror movie could be. It gave me a new lens on a new (to me) action hero. Apparently James Cameron was re-inventing the genre when he made it, so that always helps male things fun, although his fingerprints were also visible all over the shooting style and particularly the wide shots. Then again I suppose that’s part of why people enjoy him – an identifiable style they associate with his movies.

I liked the group of space marines, particularly how each of them was an individual whose story you could watch and get involved with. Did anybody else think, however, that sending them in with their guns seemed like woeful underpreparation at best, and wilful recklessness if we look at the film’s darker consumerist underbelly?

Speaking of dark consumerist underbellies: holy crap, Paul Reiser! When I was little he was on Mad About You; part of me kept waiting for Helen Hunt to show up, or for how character to start swatting at invisible flies. It was obvious from the start, to me, that he’d end up doing something crooked, and I wasn’t sure why Ripley would have taken him at his word, but maybe she let hope cloud get judgement.

And Newt. Newt was awesome. The scenes between her and Ripley were tender but also realistic – I loved that Ripley didn’t talk down to her and how she was brought in by the group of soldiers.

Overall? Glad I watched it. And I’ll probably watch it again – maybe next time, I’ll tackle the special edition.

The Neverending Writing List

As we creep ever-closer towards the end of the year, it’s natural to look back and take stock of the plans I made, and which ones came to fruition – hopefully with just enough time left in the final quarter of 2012 to kick my butt into gear on a few of these projects.

The year started with a rush and a bang. My short story, The Tell Tale Tech was selected to launch a week of tributes to Poe, over on The Veillee Blog. Next, Sare Liz Gordy decided to put together “Sassy Singularity” – an anthology of short stories about strong single women, and my short story Sweetheart, kicked off that collection.

The next month, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change came out. Millennial Ex, a ten-minute play about marriage equality, was given Honorable Mention at a festival in the US before later being picked up as the centerpiece for ANY OBJECTIONS? the upcoming Glasgay Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. (I also have another dozen or so plays from other entrants to read through before the selection committee makes its final decisions.)

I put both Restaurants are Rated Out of Four Stars (a foodie romance, which appeared in RJ Astruc’s collection, The Fat Man At The End Of The World, several years ago) and my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool up. Ran a promotion for that on Kindle Select last week, and the play was both downloaded and reviewed favorably by many. Miranda Doerfler and I oversaw the publication of Haiku of the Living Dead, Zombie haikus collected from contributors around the internet.

I started a Pinterest and a Tumblr and a Goodreads account. I learned how to use InDesign well enough that I could make book covers that weren’t completely embarassing (you can see an example on the Playing it Cool cover on Amazon). I edited Eric Sipple’s first novel, Broken Magic. Got a couple interviews about my work published on a few different websites. Helped organize a massive political protest along with Eve Ensler and grassroots activists from around the country.

You’d need chocolate, too.

But it’s not enough.

There are projects I want to do that still aren’t done. And I wanted them to be done before the end of the year. There’s my AI collection, which will take both The Tell Tale Tech and Sweetheart and pair them with a number of original short pieces pondering alternative and artificial intelligences. I have partial drafts and sketches for a number of these shorts, including some pretty extensive drafts. But there’s more work to be done there.

Next, there’s Electalytics, the 30K novella I said I’d write in thirty days back in July. Currently hovering at about 27.5K, I’m tightening up the rest of the draft before going on to write the final parts of the story. I had wanted this piece to be up in time for the 2012 elections, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that would require rushing it out. So I’ll pick my way through it carefully and I’ll keep making slow progress.

There are two more projects I would very much have liked to complete this year, including the play that kicked me off down the AI collection road, a full-length three-hander called Process0r, about collaboration and language and technology.

So what gives? What’s holding me back? Why aren’t all these pieces done so I can scramble ahead to the next thing?  Aside from the blog updates, the social network building, being interviewed, contributing to charity fundraisers and more?

Life. That’s what. That messy, wonderful, horrible, ever-drumming thing we call life. The saying talks about the best-laid plans of mice and men, but writer’s best-laid plans often go astray as well. Coping with this fact? Not something I do especially well. When I have a plan, I want that plan done. And when it doesn’t get done, I start getting agitated.

So that’s what the next three months are for. It might seem as though the things I’ve already done this year would more than make up for the pieces I still want to finish – but they don’t. When I distill the list down and hold it up against the “life” things happening between now and December 31st, it looks a little like this:

1. Finish the first draft of Electalytics.

2. Create covers for Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (video), so I can put them both up on Amazon alongside their fellow Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool.

I want to add, “Finish AI Anthology” and “Finish Processor” to the list, but given the two solid goals mentioned above and a third, more ephemerous goal I haven’t been specific about, I feel like sticking those two on the list would be a great way to get overwhelmed. So for now I’ll save those two projects for 2013, which – as far as I can tell – still offers twelve months of unspoken-for time.

This is a totally realistic plan.

Right?