Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Murder of Manatees

For those who haven’t trusted dolphins since Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Larry Correia’s new audiobook, A MURDER OF MANATEES, is for you. Performed by Animal Mother himself, Adam Baldwin, the second adventure of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, places Tom and Jimmy the Intern in a race against the clock to find the missing Wendell T. Manatee before every Florida in every multiverse is destroyed in retaliation. (As Tom points out, manatees love to blow stuff up.) Plus Tom gives professional advice to Larry Correia–the writer, not the Interdimensional Lord of Hate and the inventor of the Combat Wombat. Apparently writing himself into his own story is a bad decision, and Larry should strive to be more professional, like Stephen King or Clive Cussler.

Like all humor, tastes vary, depending on whose sacred cows are getting gored. Or, more appropriately, whose cows just got hit by the Death Star. Larry Correia cuts loose on A Murder of Manatees, as he does in every Tom Stranger adventure, and all subtlety and restraint are gone. It’s open season on memes and newsmakers, wrapped up in exploding mechs, dimension hopping, bar fights, and evil dolphin mercenaries. Or pretty much the average day on Correia’s blog, where many of the jokes originated.

Following in the steps of Monster Hunter International, Correia doubled-down on the challenge to find the most boring occupation possible, and makes excellent customer service amusing. Straight-laced Tom Stranger is a droll badass who lives to provide exemplary customer service, while Jimmy is a parody of a college protester who used not just charisma, but all his stats, as a dump stat. And while Jimmy is the butt of some well-deserved jokes, he also gets a chance to shine every now and again, much to Tom’s confusion and wonder. This odd couple works well together with Tom navigating the perilous currents of interdimensional insurance while Jimmy blunders into usefulness.

An audiobook lives and dies on the performance of the narrator. Adam Baldwin is an inspired choice, forgoing the customary detached and dry delivery to gleefully revel in the madness. His rapid and forceful pacing adds to the intensity of Correia’s chaotic action scenes while giving a touch of deadpan to the humor. Oh, and Baldwin’s attempts to speak the highly nuanced and melodic manatee language have to be heard to be believed.

Just not while drinking.

Monday, January 29, 2018

In search of...

I am currently looking for three articles listed on the Science Fiction Studies site:
For example, Henry Kuttner contributed two articles to Writer's Digest, "Selling the Fantasy Story" (18:29-33, March 1938) and "Selling Science Fiction" (19:34-38 October 1939), and Ross Rocklynne offered the same magazine "Science Fiction Simplified" (21:25-30, October 1941).
If anyone knows where I might find or buy a copy?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

How to Write "Science" Stories

How to Write "Science" Stories
by Hugo Gernsback
from Writer's Digest, February 1930 and

IN modern detection of crime, the X-ray machine, test-tubes, bunsen-burners, the microphotograph, the spectrograph, the spectrophotometer and the polarizer are preceding the baton and police whistle in usefulness. As the pioneer in publicizing these advances in criminal-detection, and in educating both police and public, Scientific Detective Monthly is performing invaluable duties.

The primary aim of this magazine is to interest and entertain. Apart from the fact that all material must deal with scientific detection of crime, no editorial foibles and policies exist against which the writer so often battles in vain. There is only one editorial dictum—scientific accuracy. That accomplished, the author can give his imagination free reign.

Realizing that Scientific Detective Monthly, published at 96 Park Place, New York, is exploring a new field of action, I have prepared for the readers of WRITER'S DIGEST the following lengthy treatise on the Scientific Detective Story.

LET it be understood, in the first place, that a science fiction story must be an exposition of a scientific theme and it must be also a story. As an exposition of a scientific theme, it must be reasonable and logical and must be based upon known scientific principles. You have a perfect right to use your imagination as you will in developing the principles, but the fundamental scientific theory must be correct.

As a story, it must be interesting. Even though you are making a description of some dry scientific apparatus, invention or principle, you should never bore your reader by making your description dry or uninteresting. A really good writer arranges descriptions so that they will always be interesting.

The rules that are given here are recommended for your careful consideration.

Scientific detection of crime offers writers the greatest opportunity and most fertile field since the detective first appeared in fiction. Radio, chemistry, physics, bacteriology, medicine, microscopy—every branch of science can be turned to account. The demand for this material is large, the supply is small. But authors who wish to capitalize on this new source of income must be careful to follow certain well-defined principles. These may be explained by setting forth a list of rules: What To Do, and, as the colored character in Octavus Roy Cohen's story says, "What To Don't."

Here are some hints that will increase your remuneration very materially, and will insure your manuscripts a thorough reading and prompt report.

(1) A Scientific Detective Story is one in which the method of crime is solved, or the criminal traced, by the aid of scientific apparatus or with the help of scientific knowledge possessed by the detective or his coworkers.

(2) A crime so ingenious, that it requires scientific methods to solve it, usually is committed with scientific aid and in a scientific manner. Therefore the criminal, as well as the detective, should possess some scientific knowledge. You will see that this is not an absolute essential to a good story; a scientific detective can use science in tracing the perpetrator of an ordinary crime, but judicious use of science by both criminal and detective heightens the interest because it puts the two combatants on a more equal plane.

(3) As most of our readers are scientifically minded, the methods used by criminal or detective must be rational, logical and feasible. Now, this does not limit the author's imagination; he can develop many imaginative uses of science, provided they are reasonable. For example: one author sent us a story of a man who rendered himself invisible by painting his clothes and face with a non-light reflecting paint. By explaining some of the laws of light and color he made this accomplishment sound plausible, as indeed it is. But he forgot to mention the shadow which is naturally cast by any object standing in the light, whether or not it is visible to our eyes. Readers of our magazine pick us up on these little details. To avoid such mistakes in writing, which really arise from lack of thought, consider your story from every angle before you write your final copy.

(4) What description of clouds and sunsets was to the old novelist, description of scientific apparatus and methods is to the modern Scientific Detective writer. Here again the author must remember that his work will be read by competent scientists among our readers; and, without careful reference to the encyclopedia, no descriptions of scientific instruments should be included in your stories. If you are not in touch with a Public Library, it is advisable to buy a few really good reference books. Criminoscientific fiction has come to stay and your investment will pay you dividends.

(5) A scientific crime is, ipso facto, a mysterious one. Do not underestimate the value of mystery and suspense in your stories; but remember that it is not necessary to commit wholesale slaughter in order to obtain these effects. A story is a good story when the reader can imagine himself threatened by the same peril as the characters in the tale. I can imagine myself killed by a diabolical bacteriologist—I find it harder to visualize wholesale destruction by a mythical organization. The latter is less personal and individual. Your object is to project scientific diablerie into truthful settings.

(6) For your own sake, avoid hackneyed characterization. Keep clear of fair-haired, blue-eyed Irishmen; long, lanky, keen-eyed, dark-complexioned clean-cut Americans, et al. Although good characterization helps a story, better none than poor ones.

(7) With the advancement of science, the criminal-in-fact is turning scientific as well as the criminal-in-fiction. Therefore we prophesy that Scientific Detective fiction will supersede all other types. In fact, the ordinary gangster and detective story will be relegated into the background in a very few years. It is worth your while, then, to study this new development carefully, devoting all your time and efforts towards turning out good stories of this type. Literary history is now in the making, and the pioneers in this field will reap large rewards.

A FEW Don'ts must be remembered if you are to turn out a good story. Here are some:

(a) Don't look through your old manuscripts and tack scientific endings to them. A Scientific Detective Story is a particular type, in which the scientific atmosphere is coherent and permeating right through the tale. To write really good fiction, saturate yourself with the required atmosphere. Read scientific books, visit chemical laboratories and electrical engineering shops. When you are charged with scientific enthusiasm, then sit down and write your stuff.

(b) Don't make your professor, if you have one, talk like a military policeman or an Eighth Avenue "cop." Don't put cheap jokes in his mouth. Read semi-technical magazines and reports of speeches to get the flavor of academic phraseology.

(c) Don't drag in television. It is worked to death and there are so many better appliances you can use in your stories.

(d) What you are not sure about—look up at the library. Don't make your criminal or detective sit down at a table and twirl dials and snap switches without an explanation of what these are for, and why they are operated by the character. Your readers want to know about this; and it gives you a good chance to pad your story legitimately from a scientific text book. Scientific Detective Stories are easy to write once you grasp the swing of them.

(e) Don't fall into the misapprehension that, because your story has plenty of science in it, a plot is therefore unnecessary. The science improves the plot—not vice-versa.

(f) Break up your story into action, dialogue, and description. So many lines of one, so many of another. If you have a long descriptive passage to write, interlope some action, as, for example:

"—————so the machine works best in an atmosphere of seventy degrees." The Professor crossed the room, closing the copper contact as he passed it. "The higher level of the atmosphere is cold," he continued quickly: "When the machine—— ———" etc.

(g) Don't underestimate the importance of properly-prepared manuscripts. Not only is the easy-to-read manuscript favored by editors; but care in typing and layout will induce careful and orderly thought in your actual writing. Short lines are easier to read than long ones; this is due to a well-known optical law. Therefore, leave a wide margin on the left-hand side of your page. You will find it much more remunerative to write one story well and carefully, than three rapidly and carelessly. Therefore edit and retype before submitting manuscripts. Clean the type bar of your typewriter. Triple spacing is even better than double. Give an accurate word count on the title page. Don't put in your own captions or chapter heads; we do this after the story is in type. (h) Don't imitate other writers. Many a story is rejected simply because it is too "close" to another one.

(i) Don't name your characters after those in well-known books. Since Van Dine's books appeared, Adas and Sibellas are appearing in every editorial office. We wish to be introduced to some other ladies.

(j) Don't "splurge." Our office is full of stories that are the "greatest, most terrible, fearful, mysterious, world-shaking mysteries of the age." These stories are usually bad; because, in order to make them sensational to the editorial staff, the author has gone beyond the limits of reason. Besides, we cannot fill a book with superlatives. Many (in fact most) scientific murders are little known, are buried deep in public ignorance. Write stories of which the reader will say: "By Gosh! that might have happened right in this town, and no one heard of it." If you have a good idea, in scientific detection of crime, your story will interest us and our readers. That is all we want.

(k) Don't think that Scientific Detective Stories are hard to write. You are working on virgin ground. The whole field of science is your oyster to open with your pen and extract the pearl of steady work and good pay.

Finally, before you mail your manuscript to us, submit it to some local professor or authority on science, or to a physics teacher, to check the scientific principles involved. If you have studied a text book before writing your story, your theme will probably sound logical and sensible.

Remember that short stories should run from 8000 to 20,000 words; serials 50,000 to 60,000 words. The rate of payment is from one-quarter to one-half cent a word, depending on the value of the story. Higher prices are paid for exceptional stories.

When you have finished the first draft of your manuscript, hold it for a few days. Then read it over carefully and see if you have left any points unexplained, and threads tangled. Although you must try to avoid "giving away" the secret of the mystery at the start, your finale must clear up everything completely; so that the reader understands just what has happened.

The whole secret of scientific fiction lies in reading about your subject before you start your story. Get an idea of what the murderer is going to do and how he will do it before you even put a word on paper. Then think out what clues the detective will find, and what scientific apparatus or methods he will use to trace the criminal. If you have a mental vision of your story before hand, and the scientific details at your finger tips, the story will almost write itself as you work.

I have gone through this subject at length, because I am very much interested in having our writers become successful. As time goes on, you will see certain writers forging steadily to the front and gaining a reputation and a following. Those are the authors who have spent a good deal of time and effort in the construction of their early stories, making them works of art from every point of view.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Heirs of Earth

Two thousand years ago, aliens destroyed Earth. Our fleets shattered. Billions died. The last humans fled a burning planet, heading to the stars.

Today we are still refugees. Hungry. Afraid. Our enemies hunt us everywhere.

So we hide. On distant asteroids. In rundown space stations. In deep caves on frozen worlds. And we dream.
*     *     *      *      *
With the Heirs of Earth, Daniel Arenson starts a heart-rending sequel series to his surprise hit Earthrise. The Diaspora from ruined Earth has not been kind to the human race. Without a home planet, they are treated not as refugees, but vermin that infest space stations and planets, protected by a ragtag set of "terrorists" known as the Heirs of Earth. But the ancient scorpion enemy that cracked their bones and their planet has designs on the galaxy once more--to dominate and inflict a final solution to the human problem. Now the demoralized Heirs of Earth are the thin line preserving humanity from pogrom and extinction.

This is a dark, brutal book that makes the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40,000 into a vacation resort. Every human character has watched friends, family, and children violently and bloodily ripped away and apart by scorpion raiding parties. The strain of survival and the trauma of death wear down the psyches of the Heirs of Earth. And those humans captured by aliens are rendered slowly into sport, meat, and decor. This could have easily devolved into farce like most attempts to create a dark, gritty, and grim story, but Arenson aims for tears instead of shock. Some of the descriptions outright hurt to read, but Heirs of Earth never devolves into the bleakness and despair, the nihilism of grimdark. Amid this darkness shines the light of hope.

For the Heirs of Earth discover Rowan Emery, the only survivor of a splinter faction, and the guardian of the Earthstone, the repository of the sum of human knowledge and accomplishment. That means Aristotle, Shakespeare, and da Vinci. It also means Lord of the Rings, Frozen, and the Hunger Games. Rowan's fascination with 2000s American fan culture favorites does date the story, even today. But hidden within is the way back to Earth, the way home, and a reason to rally hunted humanity to their banners. This hope adds a dignity to the tooth-and-claw struggle that prevents The Heirs of Earth from falling into the easy traps of gimdark and endless brutality. For hope is a treasure and not a mere illusion to be dashed at every opportunity.

The Heirs of Earth is a moving struggle against extinction and despair, although dependent upon a reader's tolerance of dark, bloody situations and 2000s geek culture. Since your mileage might vary, I recommend reading the sample first. But if this tale of darkness and hope strikes your fancy, sequels are on the way.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Geek Gab: the Steemit Revolution

This past weekend, the Geek Gab podcast hosted Benjamin Cheah to talk about the short fiction revolution heating up on Steemit, a new blogging platform that offers considerable advantages to writers. In this podcast and in his thoughts afterward, Cheah describes these advantages:
Steemit offers three main advantages. First, with the content committed to a decentralised blockchain instead of a centralised server, a Steemit blog is inherently resistant to external attacks and disasters. Second, no external party can alter the blockchain after commits are made, allowing users to bypass censorship laws and agencies. Lastly, Steemit helps users monetise content that they would otherwise post on social media for free.

The incentives built into the Steemit platform incentivises everyone to write more, upvote more, comment more and keep improving their writing standard. It's a virtuous cycle that rewards those who invest time and energy into mastering the craft and understanding the system.
For readers, Steemit provides another venue for your favorite writers, allowing them to earn money for their hard work without hiding it behind a paywall. Which means there's more fiction readily available for you to read. Maybe your favorite writer is serializing a new story there right now. And there are a host of new writers testing the waters as well. Plus, on 14 February, Benjamin Cheah and the SteemPulp writers will unleash their first coordinated fiction campaign: SWORDS OF SAINT VALENTINE.
Saint Valentinus of Terni was a priest, a healer, and a hieromartyr. As a priest, Saint Valentine offered aid and succor to Christians in a time when persecution of Christians was a long-standing policy of the Roman Empire. As a healer, he restored vision to the blind daughter of Judge Asterius, who had held him under house arrest. When taken before the Prefect of Rome and Emperor Claudius II, he refused to recant his faith. He was tortured, beaten with clubs, and on 14 February 269, executed by decapitation. That day became the Feast of Saint Valentine. 
Today, we call it Valentine's Day. 
In honour of Saint Valentine, the SteemPulp community cordially invites all Steemit fiction writers to participate in our first open call: SWORDS OF SAINT VALENTINE.

Give us pulpy tales of love or chivalry. Preferably love and chivalry. Give us romantic love and chivalric romance. Gallant knights and fair princesses, fantastic magic and strange technologies, gentle healers and steadfast clerics, cruel emperors and fearsome beasts, unwavering faith and unbreakable honour. No genre restrictions but one: the story must fit the pulp aesthetic.
If such tales of adventure and romance appeal to you, make sure to visit Steemit on Valentine's Day. Meanwhile, to learn more about Steemit fiction and SteemPulp, check out the Geek Gab podcast below:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Conan: Coming Soon in BD

In light of recent news concerning Marvel taking over the Conan license in America, there is good news for fans of the famous barbarian:
After the success of its recent Elric adaptation, one of the largest French publishers GlĂ©nat has decided to adapt 12 Robert E. Howard Conan stories into graphic novels. 
Each adaptation will be from a different creative team, including the folk at CreART. 
There won’t be any kind of “standard” look for Conan’s appearance. Each creative team will draw the Cimmerian their way. 
The first will be published in May, adapting Howard’s early Conan work, The Black Colossus as a comic by Vincent Brugeas and Toulhoat.
Personally, I can't wait to import the English translations from the U.K.. And while I'm dreaming about public domain comics, can someone do a decent Northwest Smith or Jirel of Joiry series in the States?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Quotes on Messages in Fiction

"Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things." - C. S. Lewis

"Except for purposes of entertainment, I consider fiction, like drama an absolute unessential. I would not look to any fiction writer, living or dead, for guidance upon any subject, and, therefore, if he does not entertain, he is a total loss." - Edgar Rice Burroughs

"Before you can educate, you must first entertain." - Harlan Ellison

"This sort of sanctimonious “after school special” type of approach to storytelling is bad not just because it is so transparent and ham-handedly implemented. It’s bad because it displaces deeper and truer things: things that induce wonder and that have the capacity to thrill the soul. In the attempt to be “relevant” or topical, it’s all too easy to sacrifice timelessness. It’s not just the odd scene that’s off the mark either– the entirety of the plot is often structured in such a way as to deliver these ludicrous punchlines. It’s a waste, reducing what should be epic adventure down to the level of shaggy dog story." - Jefffro Johnson

"You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first." - C. S.Lewis

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Game

"Frankly, it seems to me that the average pseudo-scientific tale (always excepting the really fine work of such men as Wandrei, Williamson, Keller and a few others) is pretty poor stuff, below the average level of the weird, detective or adventure yarn. I attribute this partly to the necessity of bending plot, action, and atmosphere to fit some scientific or mock-scientific theory or formula, and partly to the fact that readers of this type of fiction seem to demand the same plots over and over again, and to resent the slightest variation. I may be wrong, but this is the conclusion I have reached from reading the published letters of pseudo-scientific fans. All readers of the wood-pulps are more or less inclined that way (or I should say most, instead of all) but the p.s.f. seem unusually conventional. A queer paradox."

- Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, Dec 1933
One sees the guiding hand of Gernsback here, bending science fiction away from the scientific-marvelous of Wells to something akin to the scientific locked-room mystery. Instead of entertainment through a good story, the goal became to make as few mistakes as possible as Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.points out in The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction:
Contemporary writers of hard sf still refer to writing it as "playing the game." Hal Clement, an acknowledged master of hard sf, formulated it as a cheerful competition between authors and reads: "The fun...lies in treating the whole thing as a game. I have been playing the game since I was a child, so the rules must be quite simple. They are: for the reader of a science fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements, or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them. For the author, the rules is to make a few such slips as he possibly can.
Jim Baen pointed out that readers only allow so many breaks in the suspension of disbelief before they would stop reading. How much harder is the job for the writer when their readers are actively looking for reasons to break the suspension of disbelief?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Destruction of the Four Olds

On the same day, pseudo-criticism of JimFear138's rant decrying the old, and Arch's unrelated criticism of the Cultural Revolution--and just why getting to the level of detail he normally does in his videos is far harder for Chinese history. And I find striking parallels with the louder portions of today's cultural gatekeepers and the war on the Four Olds: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Simple Art of Murder

by Raymond Chandler

Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic. Old-fashioned novels which now seem stilted and artificial to the point of burlesque did not appear that way to the people who first read them. Writers like Fielding and Smollett could seem realistic in the modern sense because they dealt largely with uninhibited characters, many of whom were about two jumps ahead of the police, but Jane Austen’s chronicles of highly inhibited people against a background of rural gentility seem real enough psychologically. There is plenty of that kind of social and emotional hypocrisy around today. Add to it a liberal dose of intellectual pretentiousness and you get the tone of the book page in your daily paper and the earnest and fatuous atmosphere breathed by discussion groups in little clubs. These are the people who make bestsellers, which are promotional jobs based on a sort of indirect snob-appeal, carefully escorted by the trained seals of the critical fraternity, and lovingly tended and watered by certain much too powerful pressure groups whose business is selling books, although they would like you to think they are fostering culture. Just get a little behind in your payments and you will find out how idealistic they are.

The detective story for a variety of reasons can seldom be promoted. It is usually about murder and hence lacks the element of uplift. Murder, which is a frustration of the individual and hence a frustration of the race, may have, and in fact has, a good deal of sociological implication. But it has been going on too long for it to be news. If the mystery novel is at all realistic (which it very seldom is) it is written in a certain spirit of detachment; otherwise nobody but a psychopath would want to write it or read it. The murder novel has also a depressing way of minding its own business, solving its own problems and answering its own questions. There is nothing left to discuss, except whether it was well enough written to be good fiction, and the people who make up the half-million sales wouldn’t know that anyway. The detection of quality in writing is difficult enough even for those who make a career of the job, without paying too much attention to the matter of advance sales.
The detective story (perhaps I had better call it that, since the English formula still dominates the trade) has to find its public by a slow process of distillation. That it does do this, and holds on thereafter with such tenacity, is a fact; the reasons for it are a study for more patient minds than mine. Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that it is a vital and significant form of art. There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that. The growth of populations has in no way increased the amount; it has merely increased the adeptness with which substitutes can be produced and packaged.
Yet the detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels. Rather second-rate items outlast most of the high velocity fiction, and a great many that should never have been born simply refuse to die at all. They are as durable as the statues in public parks and just about that dull. This is very annoying to people of what is called discernment. They do not like it that penetrating and important works of fiction of a few years back stand on their special shelf in the library marked "Best-Sellers of Yesteryear," and nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with a title like The Triple Petunia Murder Case, or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue. They do not like it that "really important books" get dusty on the reprint counter, while Death Wears Yellow Garters is put out in editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies on the news-stands of the country, and is obviously not there just to say goodbye.

To tell you the truth, I do not like it very much myself. In my less stilted moments I too write detective stories, and all this immortality makes just a little too much competition. Even Einstein couldn’t get very far if three hundred treatises of the higher physics were published every year, and several thousand others in some form or other were hanging around in excellent condition, and being read too. Hemingway says somewhere that the good writer competes only with the dead. The good detective story writer (there must after all be a few) competes not only with all the unburied dead but with all the hosts of the living as well. And on almost equal terms; for it is one of the qualities of this kind of writing that the thing that makes people read it never goes out of style. The hero’s tie may be a little off the mode and the good gray inspector may arrive in a dogcart instead of a streamlined sedan with siren screaming, but what he does when he gets there is the same old futzing around with timetables and bits of charred paper and who trampled the jolly old flowering arbutus under the library window.

I have, however, a less sordid interest in the matter. It seems to me that production of detective stories on so large a scale, and by writers whose immediate reward is small and whose need of critical praise is almost nil, would not be possible at all if the job took any talent. In that sense the raised eyebrow of the critic and the shoddy merchandizing of the publisher are perfectly logical. The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average—or only slightly above average—detective story does.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Planetary Awards Nominations

Its that time of year again. Award season, and while controversy will no doubt continue to sweep through the Hugos yet again, there are other alternatives for science fiction enthusiasts to consider.

Such as the Planetary Awards.
Happy New Year — it’s time to nominate your favorite science fiction and fantasy writing for the 2017 Planetary Awards.We’re again doing only two categories:
  1. Shorter story (under 40,000 words/160 paperback pages)
  1. Longer story (novels)
If you’re a blogger, podcaster, or youtuber, the nomination process is easy:
  1. State your nominations on your site/cast/channel, mentioning that they are for the Planetary Awards
  1. Leave a comment on this post, with a link to your nominations
The nomination deadline is February 14th, 11:59PM US Pacific time.
My nominees for this year are:

Short Story: "The Last American", by Schuyler Hernstrom

Novel - Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire, by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole

If you have a book blog, podcast or YouTube channel, join the party and nominate your favorites.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Valerian and Laureline: The Circles of Power

When we left Valerian and Laureline at the end of Wrath of Hypsis, Earth, Galaxity, and most of the human race vanished in a space-time paradox. Valerian and Laureline still wander the galaxy, thanks to a favor called in to the Hypsis "gods", but they no longer have the backing or the money of humanity's superpower behind them. Since then, their adventures have focused on providing for themselves as smugglers with an aging spaceship. But at the planet of Rubanis (last seen in Ghosts of Inverloch), the couple's luck has finally run down alongside their spaceship. Repairing a spaceship from a model line that no longer exists and no longer has spare parts is prohibitively expensive, and Valerian and Laureline do not have the money required.

Salvation shuffles in on the clawed feet of the stool pigeon shingouz, alien spies who have a job for their good friends. For a 10% cut of the profits, of course. Colonel T'Loc of Rubanis needs a pair of spies to sneak into a region of the planet known as the Circle of Power, once the seat of power giving orders to the government, now nothing but a font of gibberish. Valerian and Laureline accept, as the deal will cover their repairs twice over, and are reunited with Laureline's favorite pet--a Grumpy Transmuter of Bluxte able to copy any jewel he eats. With the help of an amorous and reckless cab driver named S'Traks, Valerian and Laureline must navigate the undergrounds and factions inhabiting Rubanis to find a way into the Circle of Power.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fandom's Higher Purpose

Reposted from a comment on over at the Mad Genius Club. This article summarizes the emergence of the science fiction fandom and the fan convention in the 1930s. My comments follow.
Our Higher Purpose
by David B Williams

Not surprisingly, this too began with Hugo Gernsback.
He published what he chose to call “scientifiction” stories in his radio and electronics magazines years before he launched Amazing Stories, the first magazine dedicated to SF.
Since he wasn’t responding to a market demand by providing SF stories to his amateur-radio and science-hobbyist readers, Gernsback must’ve thought this type of story conveyed some special value to this audience. He didn’t give them westerns or detective thrillers.
Radio was the most futuristic development the early 20th century. Telegraph and telephone signals traveled along visible wires, like wagons along roads and barges along canals. Electricity also traveled through wires, like water or gas through pipes.
But radio signals were invisible, undetectable until captured and converted to sound by and electronic receiver. Radio signals went everywhere, even passing through solid walls, unconfined to any kind of pre-existing conduit. This was sense-of-wonder technology.
Gernsback’s readers were up to speed on this new technology and wanted to know what was coming next. They viewed science is an endless cornucopia of progress. They were future-oriented and expected more big changes and amazing technologies to come, an ideal audience for the scientifiction stories Gernsback offered them.
But Gernsback wasn’t just providing entertainment to those readers. He believed SF’s mission was to awaken readers to the power and potential of science, to stimulate the imaginations of scientists and inventors, and even inspire readers to seek careers in science. The readers who read about future wonders could then help to make those wonders come true. Unlike westerns, detective tales, or love stories, SF had a job to do. SF had a higher purpose.
In 1926, Gernsback described the ideal SF story as “a charming romance interwoven with scientific facts and prophetic vision,” proclaiming his model of SF as the bearer of science education and prediction. And he never changed his mind. When he launched his last SF magazine, Science-Fiction Plus, in 1953, the subtitle was “preview of the future.”
Gernsback emphasized this higher purpose in his editorials, and he transmitted this kind of thinking to his readers. It’s no surprise that the earliest stirrings of organized SF fandom came from science hobbyists who were at least as interested in the science of SF as in the fiction.
The first two recognized fanzines were pubbed by these amateur-science enthusiasts. The Comet appeared in May 1930 as the journal of the Science Correspondents Club, followed two months later by The Planet from the New York Scienceers. The pages of both publications were devoted to science, although The Planet also included reviews of recent prozine content.
The International Scientific Association tried to mix the amateur scientists and SF fans, but the fans soon became dominant. The first two Eastern SF conferences (Philadelphia 1936, New York City 1937) were essentially exchange visits between delegations from the ISA’s two major branches.
The growing rift between science and science fiction was simply the first dispute royale of fandom’s first decade. But that dispute didn’t spark widespread feuding. The fans simply won by attrition. The focus on science gradually waned, replaced by increasing attention to SF and to fandom itself.
But if fandom wasn’t about promoting science, what was it about? If, as Gernsback claimed, SF had a higher purpose, shouldn’t SF fandom also have a higher purpose? This question plunged all fandom into war.
The Futurians, a group of New York City fans who coalesced around Donald A. Wollheim in the mid-1930s (and thus were written initially known in fandom as “Wollheimists”), would prove to be the driving force behind this conflict.
In addition to Wollheim, key Futurians included John Michel, Fred Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth, Robert “Doc” Lowndes, and, in a widening circle, Richard Wilson, Dave Kyle, Damon Knight, James Blish, Larry Shaw, Jack Gillespie, even Isaac Asimov, though he was really only one of several social affiliates who did not participate in actual combat.
Wollheim and his circle could not countenance the idea that fandom could just be for fun. Gernsback had already explained that SF had a higher purpose. The Futurians believe that SF fandom also needed a higher purpose.
Wollheim classified most fans as “shallow-minded adolescents” and considered discussion of SF as “childish” and “inane”. His goal was to “raise science-fiction from merely a childish puerile hobby to being an active force toward the realization of those things that science fiction already believed.”
At the third Eastern convention in Philadelphia in 1938, Wollheim read a speech entitled “Mutation or Death” written by fellow Futurian Michel, whose severe stutter made him incapable of delivering the oration. This speech introduced the doctrines of Michelism to fandom.
According to Wollheim, “Michelism is the belief that science-fiction fans should actively work for the realization of the scientific socialist world-state as the only genuine justification [emphasis added] for their activities.”
The address ended with the proposed resolution:
“THEREFORE: Be it moved that this, the Third Eastern Science-Fiction Convention, shall place itself on record as opposing all forces leading to barbarism, the advancement of pseudo-sciences and militaristic ideologies, and shall further resolved that science-fiction should by nature [emphasis added] stand for all forces working for more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life.”
After prolonged debate, the motion was defeated 12-8, with several extensions. No one voted against the resolution’s content, but the opponents did object to introducing politics into fan affairs.
In 1940, as General Secretary of the Futurian League, Wollheim defined a Futurian as one who, through SF [emphasis added], attains a vision of the greater world, a greater future for the whole of mankind. A Futurian seeks to utilize his idealistic convictions, always a democratic, impersonal, and unselfish ways, for the betterment of the world.
General Secretary! Working behind all this was Communism, the doctrine that dared not speak its name. Textbook Communism (“the scientific socialist world-state”) embodied all the utopian principles that appealed to idealists in the 1930s. Several Futurians joined or attended meetings of the Young Communist League, and Michel joined the Party when he was old enough.
The question remains as to whether “Michelism” was really initiated by Michel or whether Wollheim nominated Michel as the titular leader to deflect attention from himself. Recall that President Truman, fearing Congressional opposition to anything that bore his name, cunningly called his reconstruction program for Europe “the Marshall Plan.”
Some kind of conflict was inevitable in the first World SF Convention convened in New York in July 1939, because the Futurians had lost ownership of the event. Leading Futurians had been appointed to the planning committee two years earlier but had accomplished nothing. So, at the New York “national convention” in 1938, Sam Moscowitz, William Sykora, and their New Fandom group stepped forward and were authorized to form a new organizing committee.
It must’ve been bitterly infuriating to the Futurians to know that they had allowed this plum to be plucked from their fingers by their despised opponents, and then to see those opponents host a very successful, even historic, meeting.
As fans from across the country gathered in Caravan Hall, the Futurians handed out pamphlets crying alarm and warning fans about the nefarious plans of the “controlling clique.” Headings included “Beware of the Dictatorship!” and “High Handed Tactics.”
This agitprop Salvo perturbed Chairman Moscowitz, who feared that the Futurians were bent on disrupting the convention. He therefore decreed that any Futurians not already in the hall who did not pledge to behave would be banned from the proceedings.
Six of the Futurians (Gillespie, Kornbluth, Lowndes, Michel, Pohl, Wollheim) refused to give such an assurance and, as a result, never got to attend the First World Con. Thus arose the infamous Exclusion Act.
Moscowitz later speculated that the targeted Futurians welcomed their exclusion, because they thereby gained the advantageous position of victims. Crying injustice and fascism, they subsequently garnered widespread sympathy throughout fandom.
Anyway, the war was on to expunge fascism and restore democratic principles to fannish affairs. Fanzines on both sides were filled with accusatory diatribes. It was hard to find fans who didn’t take sides. It was hard for fans who didn’t give a damn and to enjoy SF and fandom in peace.
But in their quest to give fandom a higher purpose, the Futurians and chosen the wrong tactics. Even sympathetic fans came to resent the intrusion of politics and fandom, for whatever reason. And the Futurians’ aggressive attacks on their opponents became more and more tiresome to uncommitted observers.
And what was all the fuss about? What the Futurians offered was not an action program but resolutions. For them, it was enough that fandom express its support for Right Thinking. This was all very exciting. They were engaged in the Great Struggle. They were doing something.
But it was all talk. The Futurians did not choose to engage in the politics of the Real World. Instead, they focus their considerable energies on becoming SF writers and editors and disrupting fandom with her obstreperous behavior. They were successful in both endeavors.
It became widely believed that the Futurians’ operating principle was simply “Rule or Ruin”. For example, Wollheim and three Futurian acolytes showed up at a meeting of the Sykora-led Queens SFL chapter and joined. This seemed odd because Sykora was on the Futurians enemies list. However, he was absent from that meeting and no one objected to admitting the new members.
It wasn’t long before the Futurians sparked dissension with a motion to send a delegate to a leftist youth Congress. Director James Taurasi blocked a vote. The Futurians accused him of dictatorship and initiated impeachment proceedings. They also blackballed new members who were known to oppose Michelism.
Sykora skipped some meetings because of the newly hostile atmosphere, and the Futurians used in attendance requirement in the bylaws to expel them. Taurasi was subject to a second impeachment proceeding and resigned in disgust. Both sides appealed to SFL headquarters at Thrilling Wonder Stories. Leo Margulies, magazine publisher and SFL director, dispensed with the problem by declaring the chapter dissolved.
In just six months, the Futurians had penetrated and destroyed an active and growing club. If the original plan had been to take over the SFL chapter, the Futurians had made wonderful progress, expelling the president and forcing the director to resign. But dissolution of the chapter left the Futurians with nothing to control.
They then formed the Futurian Science-Literary Society of New York, but most of the non-Futurians followed Sykora and Taurasi into a new and thriving Queens SFL. So, in the end, the Futurians won a Pyrrhic victory.
In 1945, after a pause for World War II, several Futurians holding Fantasy Amateur Press Association offices resigned and formed the Vanguard Amateur Press Association with an all-Futurians board. Based on past performance, it was immediately alleged that they were set on wrecking FAPA, and replacing it with an APA that they totally controlled.
But that was the end of it. The world war had changed things. Real fascism had been defeated on the battlefield, and Communism had revealed itself as a flawed Ghod. In the postwar world, and following internal dissensions (revolutions always devour their own), the Futurians dispersed, in turn, to grown-up careers and marriages. Fandom could no longer demand the total commitment of their energies and ambitions. It was time to get on with life.
Gernsback’s faith in SF’s power to educate readers and inspire them to enter the sciences was not totally misplaced. A number of space scientists have acknowledged that reading SF in their formative years helped to guide them into scientific careers. But they certainly didn’t learn their science from SF, and the number of scientists truly recruited by SF was minimal.
Of more concern within the genre was the effect of Gernsback’s formula on the development of SF’s fiction. Western stories didn’t screech to a halt to explain how cattle-ranching works. Why did SF stories need to pause to explain the science? Rather than being the Father Of Magazine Science Fiction, fandom might have chosen to honor Gernsback as the Father Of The Info Dump.
Following the glory days of Gernsback’s preeminence, writers and critics began to challenge his literary ideology. According to Gary Westfahl in the online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, “some maintain that Gernsback’s impact on SF was harmful because it led to a sterilized in didactic insistence that the road to the future was best apprehended through a focus on science and technology in isolation.”
He cites Brian Aldiss’s assessment of Gernsback as “the worst disaster ever to hit the science fiction field” and adds: “virtually all later voices for SF reform – from John W. Campbell, Jr. and H. L. Gold to the New Wave’s Harlan Ellison and Cyberpunk’s Bruce Sterling – have explicitly or implicitly presented their ideas is a repudiation of Gernsback.”
In the end, the good guys won, in both SF and fandom. SF became less concerned about scientific plausibility and prophecy and more concerned about character development and narrative technique. SF’s job was to awaken a sense of wonder, not a sense of purpose. And, within fandom, the advocates of science fiction and fandom for its own sake replace the amateur scientists and wanna-be Communists.
SF did not need to justify itself with a higher purpose, nor did its associated fandom. It was okay to just have fun.
Given history and the current resurgence of the ideas and tactics of the Futurian Goodthink crusade in science fiction, I disagree that the conclusion has ever been realized. Most authors' disagreements with Gernsback were over his inability to pay a proper rate on schedule--a valid complaint, I might add. But, as is too common with science fiction fandom, the rationale of literary criticism emerges after expulsion from the good graces of fandom, not before. And contrary to this article, the repudiation of Gernsback's message fic was not of his message, but of his methods. After all, a little entertainment sugar made the medicine of the message go down...

In Search of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The Disney revival of Star Wars has been riven with controversy and growing discontent. For every Rebels, there has been an Aftermath or three--and host of blogs, podcasts, and videos from fans searching for that lost feeling of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fortunately, in the frontiers of independent science fiction, a small band of authors have taken upon themselves the challenge of reviving the laser sword and droid adventures of the original trilogy in all new stories, new settings, and new innovations on the familiar formula. In the wake of The Last Jedi, let's take a look at two of the most recent novels to recapture a bit of that old Mos Eisley magic.

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Fans looking for a mystical sword and planet adventure in the mold of A New Hope should try Isaac Hooke's STAR WARRIOR. Like many indie/frontier science fiction stories, Star Warrior is a genre-blender, combining a roaring sword and planet adventure with elements of the litRPG genre and a even a dash of cyberpunk. Tane, a hydroponics farmer from a backwater planet, goes into town for nanotech augmentation. While there, he attracts the attention of an ancient extra-dimensional foe as well as the Volur, an order gifted with the ability to wield the Essence. Per the cover:

"Soon Tane finds himself on a frenzied flight across the galaxy with a woman who can warp the very fabric of spacetime, her bodyguard--who’d just as soon kill Tane than protect him--and a starship that calls him snarky pet names. He's on the run not simply from the aliens but the whole damn human space navy.

"He only wished he knew why."

LitRPGs mean character sheets, and Star Warrior's nanotech system has them in spades. Like many an RPG, the more Tane uses a skill, the more it levels up. Buying nanotech allows him to increase these skills, although Tane suspects the leveling system is a scam by the companies to make people buy more nanotech. After all, the first hit is free...The crawl of characters sheets during these segments is admittedly not to my taste, but the explosion of the litRPG genre over the past couple years shows that there is a market willing to embrace them. Fortunately, Isaac Hooke makes the crunch make sense in terms of the setting and the story, preventing the occasional digression into the stat sheets from grinding the plot to a halt.

Star Warrior also seamlessly melds Luke Skywalker's Jedi journey with Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. Tane steps into the journey of Rand al'Thor, complete with analogues to Aes Sedai, Warders, saidar/saidin, the Forsaken, and the Prophecies of the Dragon. Seamless is not an exaggeration, as the cosmology behind the two parts of the One Power conveniently map to the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Furthermore, Tane's journey takes him from a farm attacked by near-mythical aliens to an Essence reservoir of immense power that will reveal his destiny.  It's Eye of the World dressed in the pulp/movie-serials space adventure of Star Wars, stripped of the bramble of viewpoint characters and the battle of the sexes that hampered the Wheel of Time. It helps that Thane's personality is closer to the pulp mold than Rand al'Thor. And there are enough starfighters, droids, and aliens to please readers thirsty for more Star Wars.

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For those who prefer a more militaristic take on the Star Wars formula, there's Galaxy's Edge, the breakout series of 2017 by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. Released on a monthly basis, this saga of a spreading galactic civil war starts with GALAXY'S EDGE: LEGIONNAIRE and the Battle of Kublar. And in the words of Sergeant Chhun:

The galaxy is a dumpster fire. A hot, stinking, dumpster fire. And most days I don’t know if the legionnaires are putting out the flames, or fanning them into an inferno.

At Kublar, Sergeant Chhun gets his answer. As a member of the Legion, an elite fighting regiment that the Empire's stormtroopers should have been, he is thrust into the mire of a peacekeeping mission alongside Victory Company. But when their cruiser Chiasm explodes overhead, what should have been an annoying milk run turns into a debacle of the likes of Black Hawk Down. Now, fighting every step of the way towards their eventual extraction, the skills of Sergeant Chhun and Victory Company are put to the test as an entire planet tries to wipe them out, spurred on by the meddling of rebels. And it is this spark that will soon blaze into civil war.

If Star Warrior patterns itself on A New Hope, Legionnaire is pure Clone Wars. Like the animated series, the troopers are a mix of numbers and nicknames, fighting for each other with all the grit and professionalism demanded from contemporary mil-sf portrayals. Meanwhile, the machinations of a corrupt and decadent government threaten to erase what the Legion has purchased with blood. If this is a familiar story to vets and history buffs, it is one played out on the headlines of the last fifteen years. When recounting the genesis of the series, Jason Anspach said, "Legionnaire was an idea I had after reading a soldier's memoir recounting his time fighting house-to-house in Fallujah. I thought, what if I wrote a book like this, only put in a Star Wars-like future? And so, Legionnaire was born." The result, as one reader put it, is "a work of military science fiction so detailed you can feel the equipment and choke on the dust.”

The fires of the Battle of Kublar forge iron bonds between the survivors that get tested time and again as, each in their own way, they fight to prevent the slide into disillusionment and chaos. And when the Legion splits in the civil war, those siding with the usurping forces do so in an attempt to force the Legion to return to the ways that once brought it glory. This adds a welcome touch of moral complexity to the ensuing war that Star Wars lacks..

Later books will expand into smugglers vs. bounty hunters and intrigue, but the heart of Galaxy's Edge is the remnant of Victory Company and the Legion.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Struggle and Adventure

One of the great challenges of the day isn't just to resist and mock the fads corrupting entertainment, but to lay out a competing framework of ideas that, frankly, will stomp a critical mudhole into those fads. We're a ways away from that final work, but planks are being laid out on YouTube, podcasts, and blogs.

Commissar Gamza, a prominent Warhammer 40k YouTuber, in describing why one of the factions is reviled by players, lays down a theory of character relatibility. The current fashion in media is that the audience can only relate to characters who look exactly like them. (This is a side-effect of the attempt to craft the reader as a participant in the story instead of the audience to, but that's a future post.) Gamza, in all his sardonic glory, instead ties character relatibility to the the struggles a character must endure before victory.In the video below, he describes how setbacks can make more compelling characters--as well as strengthening the threat behind your villains.

Meanwhile, Vlad at the Castalia House blog takes a swing at some of the myths of science fiction writing by pointing out just how much of the classic Big Idea science fiction actually were adventure stories:
Originally, this article was meant to be different. I was going to examine two approaches to science fiction. One focusing more on action, adventure, and an exciting story, and the other on ideas about society, technology, and the future. Most stories feature both elements, but have a very clear focus preference. And yet, the more I considered it, the more I realized all the worthwhile Big Idea tales are also good Adventure stories. And most tellingly, even a profound, highly intellectual science fiction writer is capable of spinning a fine yarn that would hold its own in any early pulp magazine. 
On the flip side, bad science fiction writers, whether they go for Big Ideas or not, are incapable of writing such “mere” entertainment. Thus, we can consider simple, honest adventure to be the very heart of what makes quality science fiction.