Posts Tagged ‘scifi’

Mother Characters in Scifi and Fantasy

There’s not a lot of mother characters as main characters in speculative fiction. I can think of exactly two in books that I read (Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest). Part of me is sad, because there’s not a lot of people out there to directly identify with when I read.

But mostly I’m okay with this. Why?

Being a parent is terrifying. There a million horrible things that could happen to children at any point and, as a parent, you worry about them all the time. No one told me before I had kids that doing so would destroy my ability to partake of any media where children are hurt in any way, or where children and parents are separated, or where a parent has lost a child, or…

…you get the point.

Generally, in scifi/fantasy, terrible things are happening. There are wars and monsters and hostile aliens. And to be in a mother’s head through all that, to have to worry about her children through all that–no way. I’m perfectly okay reading about people with no familial attachments. Let them run the gamut of supernatural creatures and political machinations.

(Older children–say in their teens–are not as bad. I don’t know if I’m more sensitive to younger kids because my own kids are littler, or if it’s because older children are at least somewhat competent at life and hence do not need to be constantly protected.)

In case, you’re wondering what brought this on, I had a story idea the other day for a mother main character and

Nope octopusWhat do you think, Squiders? Know of any good speculative fiction books with mother MCs that won’t stress me out too much?

Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Relationships

So, I believe it was last week when I mentioned I’d gone back to watching DS9. I’m a few episodes into Season 5 (watched two this morning, both of which I think I’ve somehow never seen before) and I was again struck by something that has been very noticeable this time around, and that’s the relationship between Captain Sisko and his son, Jake.

I think, as a kid and then later a college student, that I just lumped this in with the rest of the (admittedly, usually excellent) relationships which are, I would argue, really what makes DS9 work. But as a parent myself, rewatching these episodes (especially the tear-jerking season 4 episode “The Visitor”, which you should watch whether you’ve watched any other DS9 or not) have really resonated this time through. And they do a great job–any episode that has focused on Sisko and Jake has tended to be very strong. Kudos to everyone who wrote or acted or was related to them, because I do think it’s one of the best parent/child relationships I’ve seen portrayed on television.

DS9 tends to be people’s favorite or least favorite of the Trek series, probably because it’s so different. But because they have a “home base,” so to speak, it allowed them to do things differently, including a lot more focus on characters and relationships. I love the original series and Next Generation, but they’re more adventure of the week stories. Data and Spock are really the only characters whose background/feelings/growth are explored, and that’s because they’re the Other. DS9 does that to some extent with Odo, but almost every character–even side ones, like Rom or Nog–gets a character arc at some point.

And it explores family more too. There’s actually a lot of single father examples. Besides Sisko and Jake, there’s Rom and Nog and also Worf and Alexander at points. The O’Briens are a complete family unit with small children. They go into sibling relationships with Quark and Rom. And unlike Next Gen, where at times it’s not really clear where the children go during emergencies (or how they deal with the aftermath), these family relationships can be central in an emergency instead of being glossed over.

And I think, as an adult, I can appreciate this all more, both as good television and good writing skills. I stopped watching as a kid (I must have been 12 or 13) because of something silly which, in retrospect, was an opportunity for them to explore what happened when someone was isolated from their own type, even if they’d never really been home in the first place. To adapt to change. To live as something different but common, instead of being what you were and alone.

Anyway, if you want excellent ensemble television, with the occasional explosion or time travel romp, I highly recommend DS9. You do kind of have to watch it in order, though, to understand the multiseason Dominion War arc (and its predecessor wars with the Cardassians and the Klingons).

Fan of DS9, Squiders? Like Trek in general? Why or why not? Which series is your favorite?

Taking a Look at Media

Hey, Squiders, hope you’re all having a lovely July. Mine has been too hot (hot damn), but I have been getting more writing done (mostly short stories, and also some on a joint story a friend and I are testing out) and I don’t really have too much to complain about in general.

I have several half-formed thoughts on books and movies I’ve watched/read lately, and I figured that I’d combine them into one post for simplicity’s sake.

  • Wreck-It Ralph

Have you seen this movie? This movie is a thing of beauty. Non-traditional protagonist, excellent twist ending, great care taken in the world-building and animation design (I love that they animated the main characters to look like their voice actors), great adult-level jokes. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this, you really should. It’s a nice break when the small, mobile one wants to watch this compared to some of the other stuff he likes (like Dinosaur Train, ugh). But in general he has good taste, like Lilo & Stitch or, as he calls it, the Robot Castle Movie (which is really Howl’s Moving Castle).

  • Jupiter Ascending

We finally got around to watching this after everyone said we should. It fell a little flat–felt like they tried to stuff too much into the movie for no good reason, and the big “twist” was pretty obvious from the beginning. Nice star power, though, and very pretty visuals. Whatever Eddie Redmayne is doing with his voice grated on me the whole time, though. Needed to develop their villain better too. Ah well, alas.

  • Deep Space Nine

A few years ago I decided I was going to watch DS9 all the way through because I never had–I watched the first four seasons when they were on, and then caught assorted episodes in syndication in the years that followed (in college I didn’t have class on Fridays, and Spike had five hours of Trek–2 TNG and 3 DS9–which ate a lot of my time). So I started watching, got to the third to last episode of Season 4, and then promptly got distracted by something else. That was probably two years ago. I’ve started up again now, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve done the exact same thing over again.

  • Out of the Silent Planet

I recently finished reading C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a very straightforward scifi adventure, and there is still a tint of Christian religion, but not enough to bash you on the head (unlike another fantasy book I read recently called The Light of Eidon). I’d recommend it if you haven’t picked it up. I’ll see if I can hunt down the other two books in the trilogy.

  • Moonheart

Now I’m reading Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, which I picked up because I like the mythology spins Charles de Lint puts on his urban fantasy. It was written in 1984, and you can kind of tell because everyone smokes. Of all the things to date a story, right? But I find it really distracting for some reason. They do have computers which saves them. I don’t think we had a computer until the early 90s. I mean, my grandparents did before that, but it couldn’t have been much before. Anyway, it’s interesting because the lead up is much slower than I think you can get away with in a modern book, but I don’t mind that so much.

Seen or read anything good recently, Squiders? Or have opinions on anything?

[Guest Post] Chris Mandeville on the Inspiration Behind Her Post-Apocalyptic Seeds

My friend Chris Mandeville’s debut novel, Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, was released on April 18, 2015. One week later it shot to number 6 on Amazon’s Top 100 list of post-apocalyptic books, and it’s been in the top 100 since. She’s agreed to share her inspiration here with us, Squiders.

SEEDS FINAL LARGEMy inspiration for Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure was two-fold: a “practical” inspiration and a creative one. The seed for both came in the form of a phone call that woke me from a dead sleep.

Early one morning my husband phoned me on his way to work to tell me about a news story he’d just heard on the radio about a seed bank. The story was about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage repository for crop seeds in Norway. My husband was convinced that this “Doomsday Vault” would make a great basis for a post-apocalyptic novel, and since he’s not a writer, he figured I should write it. I politely told him “no thank you, I have my own story ideas” (though according to his recollection I wasn’t quite that polite), then I hung up and went back to sleep. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration.

At that time in my writing career, I was unpublished but had completed a fantasy novel, The Spider Prophet, a quest tale that takes place in a Native American dreamspace. When I received the Doomsday Vault phone call from my husband, Spider Prophet was in the submission phase. This means I wasn’t actively writing or revising the story, but instead spent my writing time sending query letters and sample pages to editors and agents. The process of submitting work isn’t very creative, so despite my “rejection” of my husband’s story premise, my very bored creative mind began playing around with the concept of a story where stored seeds would play a crucial role. I still wasn’t feeling inspired by the concept, but something about it had taken hold in my subconscious. I could feel it trying to germinate even as I resisted.

During the course of submissions for Spider Prophet, I queried an agent with the Harvey Klinger Agency, Andrea Somberg, who I really respect and admire. She asked to see “a full” (i.e. the complete manuscript). While she was reading it, I continued to submit the manuscript to other agents and editors, but found myself growing antsy and impatient waiting to hear back.

My critique group strongly suggested I start writing a new story while I waited. It was hard to shift my mindset to an entirely new story, but eventually I acquiesed. You might think this is the part where I embraced the idea of writing Seeds, but you’d be wrong. I still wasn’t “feeling it.” I suspect I was resisting at least partially because the idea wasn’t my own. So I started writing scenes for a time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle story.

Ultimately Andrea came back with a rejection of Spider Prophet. However, it was the best rejection I’d ever received. She said great things about my writing and gave me suggestions for improvement. Encouraged by her comments, I decided to respond to her email with a note thanking her and asking if she’d be interested in seeing my next project.

Here’s where you’re thinking I pitched Seeds, right? Well, not at first. You see, I still hadn’t embraced the Doomsday Vault idea, so I tried to come up with a logline for the story I’d just started working on. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to produce a coherent, compelling pitch for my time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle mash-up. So here’s what I pitched her instead:

In “Seeds” a nomadic journeyman is confronted with knowledge from a past life that could save the remnants of his post-apocalyptic civilization….

To that Andrea replied with an enthusiastic “Yes, send it!” Knowing I needed to send Andrea a story about seeds provided me with a very real, practical “inspiration” to write that story. I still wasn’t feeling creatively inspired, but I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the muse to find me. I had to take action and get the story rolling despite my lack of creative inspiration.

At this point I asked myself “what kind of apocalypse would make a seed vault valuable?” Since I don’t have the background necessary to answer this question scientifically, I went to my scientist husband for help. That seemed fitting since he was the one who got me into this whole mess in the first place. Together we gathered a small group of scientist-friends, provided them with food and beverage, and began brainstorming the apocalypse.

That’s when I got my creative inspiration. The past life/reincarnation element of my pitch was quickly discarded (it was really just a ghost of that time-hopping love-triangle story anyway) and I got totally enthused about the idea of a solar storm that wipes out all the plants, animals, and technology on the planet, with the only survivors being those who were underground. It wasn’t long before the survivors inside Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) became the object of my focus, and the story sprouted and grew from there.

I did eventually send Seeds to Andrea Somberg, who really liked the story and the writing, but ultimately didn’t take on the project because of market considerations—she had recently tried to sell a similar story to publishers without success, so she didn’t think she’d be the best advocate for me. After this, I sent Seeds to quite a few more agents and editors, and received rejection after rejection with similar feedback about the marketplace.

Ultimately I came to accept that the traditional publishing establishment was not going to embrace Seeds, and I had a decision to make: self-publish or stow it in the bottom drawer alongside The Spider Prophet.

I sought advice from one of my mentors who suggested I consider a third option: indie publish with a micro-publisher. That led to a deal with Parker Hayden Media, where I landed a phenomenal editor and cover designer, and couldn’t be happier!

The moral of this story? I suppose it’s two-fold like my inspiration:

1. don’t automatically shun another person’s inspiration when it’s given to you; and

2. when you don’t feel creatively inspired, do the work and inspiration may follow.

20120414_70 aChris writes SF/F and nonfiction for writers. She served as Pikes Peak Writers’ president for 5 years, and has taught writing workshops for 10 years. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. chrismandeville.com

If you’d like to learn more about Seeds or pick up a copy, go here!

Why I Chose to Write About Ghosts and Sci-fi

Today with have a guest post from Erin Zarro, whose new book, Grave Touched, comes out today! Without further adieu, I’ll let her take over.

GT-cover-Y-PRAC3 copyGhosts and sci-fi, you say? Really?

Yep. I’m a big fan of ghosts and the afterlife, and when something [redacted] happened to one of the characters in Fey Touched (book 1), a light bulb went off in my head and I was like, “hey…that could work nicely.”

I’m also a big fan of blending and mixing things. Fey Touched came about when I decided to blend the Fey with sci-fi, making my Fey based in science instead of myth. Now ghosts are considered paranormal creatures, and I can’t think of anyone off the top (or bottom) of my head who’s done it before, so I thought, why not?

But I needed them to make sense within the framework of the Fey Touched world. I couldn’t just slip ghosts in and not have a reason, so that’s where the Nether came into being. The Nether is a frozen wasteland inhabited by the grave touched — restless dead who possess the living for bodies and sensation. Their existence is hellish, and they will do anything to get out. Even possess innocent people. And when they possess people, they take them over completely, erasing who they were before. Sound creepy enough for you?

What’s really creepy is a grave touched could be anywhere, inhabiting anyone — and you wouldn’t be the wiser. They’re good at blending into their surroundings and they use the memories of the poor soul they’ve possessed to fill in the gaps. So, if you really want to get whacky, you could have a grave touched sitting next to you on the bus, or it could be inhabiting your sister or your spouse (which is really nasty). You’d never know. Sleep tight.

There are also Queens fighting over who’s going to rule the Nether, and who is strongest, and who deserves it more. That part was pure fun, and not very scientific, I’m afraid. Both Queens came to me as I was writing the book, and they weren’t planned at all. They just showed up and attempted to take over. It was really creepy how that happened. 😉

Come to think of it, I could be inhabited by a grave touched, but fighting to get free, and wrote Grave Touched to warn the public of the coming takeover. Maybe I’m deep in the Nether, in a prison of ice and dead things, and this is my only way to keep my sanity.

It could happen, right?

Right?

Oh, no, here she comes…

*screams incoherently*

Erin Zarro is an indie novelist and poet living in Michigan. She’s married to her Prince Charming, and she has a feline child named Hailey who she’s convinced is part vampire. She loves all things scary and spooky, and is on a mission to scare herself, as nothing lately has scared her. She writes in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Her first published novel, Fey Touched, is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. She is currently working on the sequel, Grave Touched, and is trying to stay out of trouble. Mostly.

The first book in the series, Fey Touched, is currently on sale in ebook form for $.99 at fine retailers such as Amazon. And you can pick up a copy of Grave Touched here!

Old-School Scifi

So, a few months ago, we were at our local thrift store on one of their half-off-everything days, and I discovered that someone had donated a ton of old scifi books from the 50s. Andre Norton, Asimov, people I’ve never heard of but the stories looked cool. And among them was an anthology entitled SF: ’59 The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy.

(I bought them all. Don’t judge me.)

Yesterday I finished reading the anthology, which was kind of enlightening, honestly. It was like a snapshot into what science fiction and fantasy was over fifty years ago. And it was interesting because most of these stories, the best of the year, would never get published in today’s climate. Part of that is that they would be seen as derivative, but I’m sure they weren’t back then. Some of them aren’t science fiction or fantasy, but just a little off-kilter (like one telling the story of Hickory Dickory Dock in the style of Jack Kerouac). And the editor uses “SF” to mean science fantasy, which she uses interchangeably with science fiction.

There’s still a couple of great stories though. My favorite was a longer story called “The Comedian’s Children” by Theodore Sturgeon, whom I know mostly because he wrote some of my favorite original series Star Trek episodes (including the infamous “Amok Time,” thus delighting fanfiction authors for decades). I should probably read some of his novels or more of his short stories at some point.

Even more interesting than the stories was, at the back, they had a nonfiction section, with essays about space travel and the state of science fiction. In 1959, the manned space program was still a few years out from starting (NASA wasn’t even NASA yet) and Sputnik had just been launched a few years before (in 1957). So it’s very interesting to see them trying to puzzle out how to solve space flight issues since I can look back and see how it actually happened (and I am a huge space nerd, and have read a ridiculous amount of books on early manned spaceflight, so it’s an area I know quite a bit about). And Asimov wrote an essay about the state of science fiction, and how science keeps coming along a few years behind them and proving them wrong, which is kind of hilarious (and I think he meant it to be).

(I think it’s worth pointing out that most of the non-scifi/fantasy stories included were originally published in Playboy.)

Some aspects of this anthology are kind of depressing, because it goes to show how few authors ever truly are remembered past their times. Of the authors included, the only ones I recognize are Gerald Kersh, Fritz Leiber, Brian W. Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, and John Steinbeck (who of course wrote one of the non-SF stories from Playboy). Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a SF expert, but here are a bunch of authors who wrote what was considered some of the best SFF of their time, and I’ve never even heard of them. And that’s a humbling idea.

Do you have an experience with old scifi, Squiders? Do you like the style? Who’s your favorite?

How Reading Order Influences

So, last weekend, I was talking to a random person about scifi and fantasy authors, comparing things we’d read and suggesting new people and the like, and we had the following exchange.

Guy> Oh, {author} is like Philip K. Dick.

Kit> Ah! I like Philip K. Dick.

Guy> I find him highly derivative.

Kit> Really?

And he went on to say that he’d started with a lot of science fiction from the 1910s and 20s, which were a major influence on Philip K. Dick. Whereas Philip K. Dick was some of the first short scifi I read, so it read more original to me.

And that got me to thinking–each of us are directly influenced by the order we consume media in. The fact of the matter is that a lot of books (TV shows, movies, comics, etc.) are similar to other books (…etc.). And our perception of what came first or what is derived from something else is often directly based on the order we consume things in.

Let’s look at Power Rangers and Voltron, for example. Both involve a team of people who wear color-coded jumpsuits. Both involve aliens and robots and swords. Voltron technically came first, being an anime released in the mid-80s, but if you were a kid who watched Power Rangers and then found Voltron later, you’d say to yourself, “Oh, this is just like Power Rangers.” Never mind that it’s the other way around. You found Power Rangers first, and so Voltron seems derivative, even if intellectually you know it came first.

Another example of this is when some novel gets big and attracts readers that don’t normally read that genre. You get a ton of people who heap praises on that novel without knowing that it’s standard (or, in some cases, substandard) for that genre of novel. I’m going to use the Hunger Games as an example here. (Now, to clarify, I liked the first two books–and I think we talked about why the third was bad here, but if not, I will,  but it’s a good example of people reading genres they don’t normally.) I think we can all agree that the Hunger Games as a series brings nothing new to the dystopia genre. Yet, for people who were new to the genre and its tropes, it was amazing.

So, sure, you can sit there and say “Well, Battle Royale did the kids killing other kids thing first” but for people who started with the Hunger Games, that doesn’t matter. They didn’t experience things in that order.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you agree with me? Do you find that you compare things to what you experienced first, or are you able to separate things out intellectually?

With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility

Good day, Squiders. I am out of town this week, and originally I was just going to abandon you to your own devices, but then a friend offered to guest post for me. So aside from this, you will actually get a real post on Thursday as well. You may thank Di for that.

Di is nicely setting up a new WordPress theme for me to use at Kit Campbell Books, which I think we can all agree needs it. Aside from that, she is also an aspiring author.

I be Dianna. I am coding a new theme for Kit’s site thingy. And because apparently ‘guest blogging’ falls under ‘coding new theme’, I am here to provide a blog post.

I stand by what I have said: I don’t write genres, I write ideas. However, of late my ideas have fallen into two genres, fantasy and sci-fi. I can’t explain why this is, but it is. And it’s making me realise how little I actually know about sci-fi, which, believe it or not, makes it a leetle hard to write it. Apparently there is much more than just ‘technology’ to it. Which makes me realise how little attention I pay to things in one sense.

Star Trek, for instance, has a bunch of technology and I could name a lot of it, but beyond obvious things, like transporters, I wouldn’t know what it does. Apart from what is important for the plot, I don’t think I could tell you what technology was used in Star Trek: Into Darkness. However, it’s not only Star Trek. Plenty of sci-fi books have been written, so they have stuff too. And I, regrettably, likely skimmed over it. “Oh, they have gizmo. Whatever.”

This is important. It says a little about me; I quite probably care more about the plot and the characters than I do about whatever technical gizmo the heroine is using. It can also say a little about the writers: they knew when to give details and when not to (although that is speculation because I can’t name a book).

Don’t overload your story with so many gizmos that all semblance of a plot and characters is lost. Please. If your story is becoming “This gizmo brought trouble, this gizmo got them out, but this gizmo interrupted them in the midst of celebratory shagging and of course, brought trouble, which other gizmo…” I would definitely rethink the story.

Use the accoutrements of sci-fi to enhance. Not dominate.

Dianna is a twenty-something girl living in Australia. It may be the future, but there are no robots–yet. She writes, she games, she reads. She blogs at Echoes of Dust, tweets at @moredibell and is okay with not being normal.

Robots!

Beach laying apparently does not devote itself to thinking about appropriate posts for one’s scifi/fantasy/writing blog, so I have appealed to the internet at large for a topic, and the internet has asked for robots.

And I realized I have never actually talked about robots here before. We’ve talked about a lot of different scifi topics–aliensinterstellar traveltime travelutopias/dystopias, etc.–but no robots. And robots are a scifi staple. Everything from Lost in Space to the Jetsons to even Data in Star Trek the Next Generation has robots.

So why the omission?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, Squiders. It’s just…I don’t really like robots.

I mean, I like them okay. I love Data. And the Iron Giant. And…um. Those ones that scientists make that look like animals. And the ones that act with group consciousness. There’s a lot of cool real science happening with robots, and I love seeing what we can get them to do now.

But as a scifi trope? Not my favorite. I think it may be because robots in scifi tend to fall into a couple of basic categories: giant mechanical warriors, servants, androids (whether evil or not, often posing as humans). The first? I’ve never been able to get into Mechs. Servants can be done well, especially when looking into deeper questions, such as what constitutes sentience, but a lot of times they’re just cool toys. Androids are neat and all, but tend also to be limited in their portrayals.

Cyborgs? Cyborgs I like. But it does depend on the story and the set-up.

Care to try and change my mind, Squiders? Which robotic portrayals am I missing? Which ones do you like the best? Recommend me books, movies, TV shows, comics, games, etc.

The Fantasy Race Blog Post Series and Miscellaneous

First off, Squiders, an announcement: starting Tuesday, I’m going to be running a series of posts (on subsequent Tuesdays) about fantasy races. I’m really excited about this one, because I’ve got the posts from the people who know the best: the people that choose to write them.

It’s really interesting to see why authors pick which fantasy staples they want to include, and how they change them to twist cliches and fit the story they want to tell. We’ll start with zombies next Tuesday.

Secondly, twitter led me to this post by Chuck Wendig about sexism and misogyny in writing and publishing. (I admittedly don’t regularly read Chuck’s blog, but I have always found it insightful when I do end up there.) The emphasis is sort of science fiction and fantasy in some places, especially the posts Chuck links to.

This is kind of one of those elephant in the middle of the room topics that people like to pretend isn’t there most of the time (along with the fact the covers tend to be “white-washed,” i.e., that even though the main character may be some minority, a white person is put on the cover because marketers apparently think that people only like to read about white people, or something). I admit I don’t think about it very often myself, so I’m interested to see what you guys think about the topic.

I’ve seen posts on the internet about women “ruining scifi,” and I occasionally run into that sort of people at conventions or other nerdy things (to which I say “Bah” because women have totally been into scifi forever), but it seems to be a small, vocal minority consisting mostly of angry older men. Other than that, it hasn’t seemed to affect me much. It may be because I’m just a small fry right now, doing indie and small press stuff. I have full control over things like my cover art. I may find, as I start reaching wider audiences, that this will become more apparent.

Anyway, thoughts, Squiders? Have you had negative sexist experiences, either as a reader or a writer? Do you feel like anything is changing, for good or bad?