New Short Story – ‘The Conquered’

I’m pleased to say that ‘The Conquered’ was submitted to Clarkesworld for rejection consideration this morning. This comes after beta testing it among the readers of /r/sciencefiction and finding a general acceptance that it was ‘pretty good.’ Fingers crossed that this story is accepted; here’s a synopsis:

Three explorers land on an unknown world. The local population is both primitive and wise. They know who the spacemen are, so aren’t they allowed to travel to the stars themselves? The answer comes in the form of an angry alien, willing to kill everyone on the planet if it means keeping peace. Soon, the explorers will know why these humans are called ‘The Conquered.’

As always, if ‘The Conquered’ doesn’t get accepted elsewhere, I’ll self-publish to Amazon and elsewhere. Meanwhile, here’s hoping! 😀

More Thoughts on Idea Theft and Originality

This blog post is from last year, but contains so many good points about originality. I’ve talked about the absurdity of ‘originality in sci-fi’ before – but clearly others have thoughts on this too. Honestly, unless it’s a direct act of plagiarism, Dan Brotzel says you need to relax:

Ideas make room for ideas. A new idea or approach or style that gains currency can open up interest in that area for others to exploit. Think of how Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett brought a new self-conscious, post-heroic comedy to sci-fi and fantasy, or how Ringworld influenced the space opera. Think of the impact on the canon in their different ways of Neuromancer, of Tolkien’s Ring trilogy, of Jules Verne. ‘We are all, in one way, children of Jules Verne,’ said Ray Bradbury. ‘His name never stops. At aerospace or NASA gatherings, Verne is the verb that moves us to space.’ The greats open up spaces that let others in to explore further. That’s not copying; that’s inspiration.

Seriously, relax. To the best of your ability: Be original, be bold, be authentic. Be you.

What Makes You Think Your Idea’s Even Worth Stealing? – SFWA

Notes from the Week or So

A quick bunch of notes from the past week. Personal drama kept me from updating the blog, but I was also head-down on Mesh for reasons I’ll explain:

Mesh feedback arrives in the form of a contest elimination

I entered the book in a couple of competitions on Coverfly.com Although Mesh didn’t make it to the final round, it was a semifinalist and that’s pretty awesome. I took the given feedback and updated the draft again. That led to …

New Beta readers pore over the tenth draft of Mesh

Eight teenage/nerdy people are reading this version of Mesh for the first time. I’m excited to see what they think. Meanwhile …

The journey continues

I’ll end this post by sharing this animated short ‘My Body,’ which is a powerful reminder that all of us often fight against seeing the worst in ourselves.

 

My Body | 2018 from PÔLE 3D on Vimeo.

Free Sci-Fi EBook - Body Issues

That’s more or less what I’m trying to say in Body Issues, the scifi/near-future answer to this ancient problem, which btw is free to read. Best to you and yours.

New Short Story Drafted – ‘The Conquered’

Pleased to say that I’ve finished a draft of a new short about human explorers making contact with a primitive society, only to find more than they bargained for. Inspired by my undying love for old school scifi (Bradbury, the Twilight Zone, etc) I’ve been thinking for years about this premise. Finally, I had some idea about how to tell the story and got to work while waiting for feedback on Mesh. Ruined civilization, space men, and aliens … I think you’re going to like ‘The Conquered.’

Is Firefly the Last Space Western?

News came out last week sparking interest from nerds all over the world. They’re talking about bringing Firefly – the best space western in the universe- back to life. No, I’m serious. They’re really doing it this time. According to this article, “Fox’s president of entertainment is open to the idea – if they can find a way to do it right.” So, time for some thrilling heroics. Minear might use his leverage as supreme overlord of good TV to revive the Little Show that Could. All good fortune to the man, it gives me an opportunity to talk about space westerns since they make up a large part of science fiction.

The real question I want to talk about is whether Firefly is the last space western, since that subgenre of scifi is more or less done to death. Star Trek and Star Wars are both space westerns, heck Star Trek was originally described as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’ by Gene Roddenberry. TvTropes has more information on what this type of story is and other common themes to watch for. The main thing is, that space westerns are more or less done to death. Firefly simultaneously disrupted and celebrated space westerns, thanks in no small part to some great writing by Tim “The guy who exec produces 9-1-1 right now” Minear. How would you improve on Space Westerns after Firefly came/comes to an end?

Cowboys and Indians but the Indians are aliens? That’s Star Trek. The Union versus the Johnny Rebs? That’s Firefly. Cowboys and Indians but the Indians aren’t aliens they’re robot aliens? It’s been done.  It’s been done. Lonely settlers surviving against the elements on the frontier? It’s been done. Sheriff cleans up a lawless town in space? It’s been done. I could go on but I think you get the point. The Western genre has been carefully mined, re-mined, and now we’re down to the mine tailings.

Moreover, in this day and age, most of the tropes of Western stories fall flat when viewed through the 21st Century lens. Plucky cowboys aren’t so heroic when you consider the vast, shameful history of exploitation, victimization, and genocide suffered by Native Americans.  We’re decades away from the cheerful jingoism of John Wayne movies and cringeworthy pulp Western stories.

The interesting aspects of the Wild West often fell to the wayside, in favor of sanitized versions of revised history. If you don’t believe me, go look up Bass Reeves. They couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate a black law enforcement officer, so they invented the Lone Ranger instead. Shameful.

So all that being said, is Firefly the last space western? I’ll let you decide. Firefly proves you can still make something valuable out of those tailings, but you’d better be prepared to work for it. I’ve taken a crack at the genre myself. In ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater,‘ I took a page from Firefly and some notes from the boring dystopia we’re living in. What if people moved to Mars, only to find out that corporate greed was even worse there than it is here? How would they fight the big bad guy, and how would they win?

Space Westerns are fun stories to tell, but I don’t plan on making a living off of them. Maybe someone else with the motivation and resources can, but I’m still figuring out what modes and methods work for me. I think this is a natural process; look at Bob Ross. Took him years to figure out what his favorite painting style was. Developing a talent takes patience and faith. You’re digging through the mountains , hoping and believing that you’ll find treasure that you can bring to the surface. Hey, that makes me think of miners in the Gold Rush. Maybe there’s more to the Space Westerns after all!

New Short Story in Progress: The Necktie Party

Just a quick announcement: started working on a new short story. It’s called ‘The Necktie Party,’ and it takes place in a small Southern town some time in the future. I’m excited about it, this short story’s been rolling around in my head for years. This week I finally found a way to start telling it.

I’m fascinated by how new technology affects people. How would a small town react to something like cyberware and neurocybernetic tuple processing? Ever think about that? I do, and that’s why I’m writing ‘The Necktie Party.’ I can’t wait to show it to you!

Have a great Thursday. Write on!

Asimov: Another Reason I Don’t Want to be Famous

Like many others, I was deeply troubled by the article written about one of scifi’s greats – Isaac Asmiov – for all his success as an author, he wasn’t a nice person. Reading through the details, it underscores yet another reason I don’t want to be famous. More and more, notoriety sounds like a problem rather than a solution.

“’Whenever we walked up the stairs with a young woman, I made sure to walk behind her so Isaac wouldn’t grab her tush,” the writer Harlan Ellison is quoted as saying in Nat Segaloff’s biography A Lit Fuse (2017). “He didn’t mean anything by it—times were different—but that was Isaac.’ […] The damage he caused was inseparable from his power. In general, Asimov chose targets who were unlikely to protest directly, such as fans and secretaries, and spared women whom he saw as professionally useful.” You can read the full story below:

Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall

My takeaway from all of this is, I’d like to think that I’d be one to stand up to Asimov. Maybe every other person quoted in the article feels the same way. When confronted by success and fame, Asimov succumbed to his baser instincts, and his reputation will forever bear that mark.

These are things I think about as I contemplate Mesh and it’s potential success. I’ve done my time being a person who can’t stand to look in the mirror. I have no interest in anything resembling that again, so like an alcoholic who avoids bars, I’m gunshy of any circumstance where something like this could happen to me.

If all power corrupts, then so can all fame, because in this society fame is power. One cannot ignore the corrupting influence of fame on otherwise civilized individuals.  Just as there are dozens of horror stories about the destructive influence of fame, when was the last time you heard about fame making someone into a better person?

Again and again and again, I’m here to tell stories. Fame won’t help me do that. I’ll talk more later about the financial side of creativity, but I wanted to jot some thoughts down while I work on other things.

 

Sci-Friday #49 – 75 Words You Need to Know

Just like the Reader’s Digest, I think it it pays to increase your word power. Question is, how do you do it for science fiction, specifically? I ran across this list and decided to pass it along for Sci-Friday #49. Here are the first eleven:

  1. Alderson disk (n.)
  2. arcology (n.)
  3. areography (n.)
  4. astrogate (v.)
  5. avatar (n.)
  6. Bernal sphere (n.)
  7. chrononaut (n.)
  8. Clarke ring (n.)
  9. Clarke’s First Law (n.)
  10. Clarke’s Second Law (n.)
  11. Clarke’s Third Law (n.)

Sound good so far? Keep reading, and gain:

75 words every sci-fi fan should know

 

The Big ‘So What?’ of Science Fiction

Reading this article about ‘The Fact and Fiction of Martian Dust Storms,’ I couldn’t help thinking, as I read the ensuing discussion on /r/scifi: “So What?” Part of me is very glad right now that there are no trees on Mars. If there were, many Redditors would be missing the forest for them.

I’m not sure what the deal is, but it’s a common theme in science fiction – the purity test. There’s this recurring logical fallacy that science fiction cannot truly be appreciated unless its science is 100% accurate, or the story is 100% canon, or the plot is logically consistent end-to-end. It’s a pointless, counterproductive exercise and unless the scifi community exercises some self-awareness and self-restraint, it’s bound to end up in utter irrelevance.

Don’t believe me? Look what’s happening to the RWA community right now. That should be a canary in the coalmine for the SFWA and other organizations; you literally can become the villain by trying to be the hero too often. There’s no such thing as institutional immunity. There’s no such thing as institutional infallibility. Sooner or later, we all pull a foul, stub our toe. To err is human.

So by squawking about the science of The Martian, you’re doing a disservice to scifi everywhere. Here are the real questions sci-fi fans should be asking themselves:

I say all of this to remind you of one simple thing: It’s science FICTION. You’re supposed to have fun. It’s not supposed to be 100% accurate. If it was, we’d never have cell phones because we couldn’t stop saying “Hey, those flip communicators on Star Trek can never work.” Somebody at Motorola saw those and said “Hey, what if they did exist?” The rest, of course, is history.

The Martian deserves every bit of credit it gets for one simple reason: It’s an emotionally consistent story. It helped renew people’s sense of adventure and space exploration, tapping into our own imagination and enterprise. If it sacrificed some of the details to connect with more people, that’s a small price to pay.

So to all of you that got your panties in a twist about the science in The Martian, there’s one simple question you need to tack onto the end of the discussion:

So What?

I bounced these ideas off of /r/scifi and they had some interesting insights. For example, Mobyhead1 hit the nail on the head: “All these attempts at retroactive continuity from the fans is bad enough when attempting to explain a simple plot hole; attempting to ‘fix’ a funny little flaw that the writer straight-up mea culpa’ed is pecksniffery in the first degree.”

I actually had to look that up – pecksniffery is a real word and it comes from Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. It means ‘A hypocritical display of benevolence,’ and I can go along with that. Mobyhead1 expands on this by saying: “I’m going out on a limb, here, but I don’t think the pecksniffs have a great many science degrees amongst them. I think they’re regurgitating criticisms they’ve heard elsewhere simply to piss in someone else’s cornflakes.” I can go along with that, too.

TheDevilsAdvokaat added: “It depends on the reader. For example, I’m a programmer and have been for 40 years. Often when I read sci fi where programming is integral to the plot the writer’s lack of knowledge about how it really works diminishes my involvement…because to me it’s not a ‘tiny niggle’ it’s a huge glaring flaw.” I agree. That’s also a good point.

GregHullender put it this way: “A story can be really good and yet still have flaws. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever read a story with no flaws. Being human, we like to talk about the flaws. We just need to be sure we don’t leave the impression that we thought the flaws ruined a work we actually thought was great.”

Finally, Mobyhead1 wrapped it all up again by saying: “My pet peeve isn’t the prevalence of soft or hard elements in a science fiction story (I like some fantasy stories, too); it’s whether the writer makes his intentions clear and plays fair with the audience.” I can’t make it more clear than that.

So to wrap up the discussion, perhaps it’s just a matter of taste – I find myself allied with scifi readers / experiencers that like hard science fiction but understand it’s not going to be 100% hard. They can live with the apparent inconsistency if they feel the author is playing fair with the audience. I hope that they find Mesh to be ‘fair’ in that way, because these are the kind of people I really want to win over with the stories I tell. If I can reach them, then I can reach their next generation.

 

Quick Epitaph for Star Wars

Quick Epitaph for Star Wars

I’m sitting here on a drippy Monday morning, having spent the weekend processing The Rise of Skywalker. The words won’t come, because words won’t change the truth. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was the epitaph of the franchise. Now, it’s likely to be reborn as something else and for that I say: good.

There were things I liked about The Rise of Skywalker, but this isn’t the place for a review of the movie. I washed my hands of Star Wars years ago, when I realized it was time to make other sci-fi universes. I still watch and enjoy the films when I want to, but after that, I’ve let them go. Further, toxic fans don’t listen to reason, so I don’t waste my time.

I will say that there were a ton of great scenes, a few clunkers, some laughs and a few ‘huhs?’ But, whatever. I liked it, I had fun. I had to suspend disbelief more than I wanted to, but … yeah. Anything else is just reviewing Star Wars, Speaker for the Dead style.

Now that Disney owns Star Wars, I’m excited to see what other films and stories they tell. Rogue One and the Mandalorian prove they know how to get it right when they want to, so I’m comfortable with the idea that Star Wars is dead, so long live Star Wars.

Let’s make it official, let’s give the old franchise a quick funeral. Then we can begin telling new stories if that universe is the one we want to explore. I came up with a small epitaph if you need one:

Here Lies the Body of the Star Wars Franchise
For Forty-Two Years, They Told Beautiful Lies
1977 – 2019

All that said, now it’s time to get to the business of making another universe to explore. Mesh is my first attempt to show that I can make those universes, and I have many more in store. Write on!