Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Killed Clio, Part Two

Well, I did make one change to the era that's actually a lot more significant than Geoffrey's date of death or John's ability with a claymore. And that's attitude.

Or more precisely, attitudes.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Taste of "TXT"

I'd never ask anyone to buy a book without a look see into what's inside. Here's the opening paragraphs of The Excalibur Trick:

The king stumbled down the tunnel, trailing blood. He had ridden for three days without stopping, and he could barely stand. His queen was dead. So were his sorcerer, and his best friend, and most of his capital city. His own son was hunting him, with traitors and foreign mercenaries. His dreams of uniting the land again under one pax, one law, were dead as Alexander.

Sometimes, it sucked to be the king.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Cloning

It should be noted that, despite its technological mystique, cloning is something that occurs regularly in nature - as identical twins.

The real gut-wrenching question at the core of (artificial) cloning is the fact that human clones in science fiction are generally created not to be beings in their own right, but to take the place (or provide spare body parts!) for their primogenitors. In other words, they are textbook examples of treating the subject (an individual) as an object (a thing). That's as bad as it gets, morally speaking.

The Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin
Bug Jack Barron, Norman Spinrad

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Save This Story II

It's the early '60s. There's this young guy, quiet, lanky, big nose. Loves mythology, the Bhagavad Gita, martial arts. Comes out of Columbia with an MA in Elizabethan drama, goes back to his home state of Ohio and starts working for the Social Security office. Evenings and weekends, he writes fantasy and science fiction, working his way up from short stories to novels.

His name is Roger Zelazny-


Friday, January 27, 2012

I Killed Clio.

Clio, my victim
That's Clio, the Muse of History.

I done her in.

It was me, in the secret underground cavern of Excalibur, with the text of The Wrong Sword

TWS is set in the High Middle Ages, about 1190 CE. Some historical figures make an appearance - hence my earlier posts on the Plantagenets (which I promise I'll get back to...er, eventually). Eleanor of Aquitaine shows up with her Court of Love, and her sons Geoffrey and John, and Raymond of Toulouse. But, well, I made some changes.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Body Modification

We improve the breed by sticking ourselves full o’ junk – personality modifications, physical improvements, etc. etc. Or maybe we use drugs or genes instead. See also “Human Evolution.” Body modification is also one of the recurring themes in the biopunk sub genre.

"Scanners Live in Vain," Cordwainer Smith
The Six Million Dollar Man (TV)
(ETA: A friendly Anonymous commenter has reminded me that this show was based on Martin Caidin's 1972 novel, Cyborg. Thank you, Anonymous Commenter!)

Blood Music, Greg Bear
“Flowers for Algernon,” Daniel Keyes
When Gravity Fails, George Alec Effinger

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Say, Did I Mention Medieval Drinking Songs?

This one's my favorite, from the Carmina Burana:

In taberna quando sumusWhen we are in the tavern,
non curamus quid sit humus,we do not think how we will go to dust,
sed ad ludum properamus,but we hurry to gamble,
cui semper insudamus.which always makes us sweat.
Quid agatur in tabernaWhat happens in the tavern,
ubi nummus est pincerna,where money is host,
hoc est opus ut queratur,you may well ask,
si quid loquar, audiatur.and hear what I say.
Quidam ludunt, quidam bibunt,Some gamble, some drink,
quidam indiscrete vivunt.some behave loosely.
Sed in ludo qui morantur,But of those who gamble,
ex his quidam denudantursome are stripped bare,
quidam ibi vestiuntur,some win their clothes here,
quidam saccis induuntur.some are dressed in sacks.
Ibi nullus timet mortemHere no-one fears death,
sed pro Baccho mittunt sortem:but they throw the dice in the name of Bacchus.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Save This Story!

We've consigned entire classic F/SF novels to obscurity - Jack of Shadows, The Eyes of the Overworld, Stand on Zanzibar - so what chance do individual short stories have? Let's save some of these gems.

For this post, the short story is Green Tea, by Richard Wadholm. Published in 1999, anthologized in the 17th Year's Best Science Fiction, it combines vengeance, disaster in space, and advanced particle physics, and serves them up with an elegant Spanish accent. It is tasty, my friends. You can find it as an individual ebook at BarnesandNoble.com. Only $1.39. And you can download the Nook app onto your laptop or iWhatever for free to read it.

And after the jump, a sample to whet your appetites:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nerd Interlude

My new laptop has lighted keys, so I can type in bed in the morning without turning on the lights. This makes me happy...

It doesn't take much.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Scrabbling in the Wainscot

My fantasies aren't wainscots.

Wainscoting is wood paneling for walls. It's also a term used by F/SF writers to describe a fantasy in which a magical world exists side-by-side or hidden within the mundane world...just as elves might be hidden in the wainscoting of the family manse. It's very common in contemporary fantasy: Harry Potter is a wainscot fantasy, as are Percy Jackson and The Dark Is Rising. The Dresden Files is a good example of wainscot urban fantasy for adults. In the YA classic The Borrowers, the main characters are literally (sorry) in the wainscoting.

By contrast, Lord of the Rings is a "secondary world" fantasy - Middle Earth is its own fictional world, and isn't connected to the real "primary world" at all.

But my two fantasies are very much NOT wainscots. More after the jump-

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Androids, Robots, AI

The idea of Mankind creating life - especially intelligent life - has been around forever, a subset of the Promethean Myth...we get too smart, we get too uppity, and disaster ensues...or not.

For SF purposes, "artificial intelligences" or "AIs" are artificially created beings, usually computers, that are self-aware; "robots" are AIs that can move themselves and other objects; and "androids" are robots built to look and sound like human beings. Cyborgs, on the other hand, are organic beings with cybernetic replacements, like The Six Million Dollar Man.

The Golem, traditional
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley
R.U.R., Karl Capek (originated the term "robot" and the concept of the robot uprising)

With Folded Hands, Jack Williamson
I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Berserker, Fred Saberhagen
"2001," (film) Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick
"Bladerunner," (film) Philip K. Dick, Hampton Francher, David Peoples, Ridley Scott (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
"Farewell to the Master," Harry Bates (adapted for the screen as The Day the Earth Stood Still)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What I'm Doing Now-

-is either smart or stupid, I'm not sure.

I'm working on Hero's Army, the sequel to The Excalibur Trick. Which is smart...because, ya know, you guys deserve to find out what happens next. (Plus it's a cute story - Crusades, Assassins, Richard and Saladin in a total bromance - at least from Richard's POV...so wait for it.)

But I'm also working on a second book, a NON-wainscot contemporary fantasy - or alternate world fantasy, depending on how you look at it - and it's kind of taken up squatter's rights in my temporal lobe, where I keep important stuff like phone numbers and the lyrics to filthy medieval drinking songs.

So I guess I'm going to have to write it all out of biological storage and onto the page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Embedded History

One of the things I like about reading "old" science fiction is seeing little bits of history cemented into the story - details, attitudes, and customs that the writer clearly thought were mundane and just "the way everyone did it," but were actually very much a part of the writer's time and place. Examples after the jump.

In my last life-

-when I lived in a (North) Hollywood bungalow, and swam in a (tiny, run-down) swimming pool with palm trees overhead, I read (horrifying) screenplays for a (meagre) living. I accumulated some writing tips that I will scatter throughout these posts, among the sotletie recipes and paeans to dead pulp authors.

Because at this blog, we are all about the chunky writer goodness.

Monday, January 16, 2012

But even without the heat-

I'm up in the middle of the air, sitting literally higher than anyone in America could have done two hundred years ago, and I'm looking out on other tremendously tall buildings. It's a view no one could have imagined. I'm living in the science fiction of the 18th Century.

Gahh. No heat.

30 degrees outside, and the heating pipe just burst in my building.
I'm typing in a sweatshirt with numb fingertips...I remember the medieval monk who, in the middle of making yet another copy of the Bible, took time to scribble My hand is so cold I can hardly hold the quill in the margin...
Okay, it's not as bad as all that.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One of the Great Side Effects of eBooks

So there's this writer, Barry Hughart.

And he writes these three terrific, virtually unclassifiable fantasies...think Sherlock Holmes meets  The Sandman, set in Medieval China...and funny. In fact, he wins a World Fantasy Prize for The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox.
But he and the publishers get into a big tiff and the series ends after three books, instead of the planned-for seven, and all the books disappear from view. Ten years after their original publication, an omnibus version went for $50 - if you could find it.

But now, thanks to ebooks and the Internet, Master Li and Number Ten Ox ride again! Hardcover omnibus, sure, for $40...but also as an ebook for $10. And you, lucky you, can buy the three books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Alternate History

Also known these days as counterfactual history, an alternate history is a timeline in which events occurred...differently. Battles lost were won; fallen empires remained intact; great figures died before their time, or lived on past it; and we are given a tour of the consequences.

Paratime & Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, H. Beam Piper (Some Paratime stories are freely available on Project Gutenberg)
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
“A Sound of Thunder,” Ray Bradbury
“Mirror, Mirror,” Star Trek episode (AKA "Spock With a Beard")
It’s a Wonderful Life, film, 1946
"Roads of Destiny," O. Henry
Some side notes after the jump.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Lives of SF Writers, the Death of SF

I've posted about Harlan Ellison, Cordwainer Smith, and Isaac Asimov, and it occurs to me that all of them had interesting lives outside of their careers. Ellison ran away to the circus and worked, lived and partied in '60s Hollywood. Smith was the godson of Sun Yat-Sen, a friend of Chiang Kai-Shek, a pioneer of psychological warfare, and a doctor of Asian literature and history. Asimov was a professor of biochemistry who worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yards during World War II (along with L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Heinlein) and served in the army afterwards. Heinlein was an engineer who served in the Navy, sold real estate, mined silver, was active in politics, and invented the waterbed. They were all engaged in the world around them (even though Asimov was a bred-in-the-bone New Yorker who liked enclosed spaces and was afraid of flying).

But a lot of F/SF folks today are part of a fan culture they see as a refuge, a place to hang out with like-minded enthusiasts. If more and more writers emerge from that culture and not from the world at large, will their stories have the same impact?


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: The End of the World...and After

"Apocalypse" is Greek for "revelation," but has come to mean the end of the world thanks to the Apocalypse of St. John, better known as The Book of Revelations. "The Singularity" is the idea that our technology (specifically, our information/intelligence/computer technology) will soon improve at such a rate that it will be incomprehensible to us, and ultimately lead to an unpredictable event that will so alter us or the world that we will be unrecognizable. Popularized by Ray Kurzweil, its roots were laid out in a 1993 paper by Vernor Vinge, who noted that the key element of the Singularity would be "technological runaway." Anticipation of the Singularity has since become the central tenet of Trans-Humanism.

"What Is the Singularity?" Vernor Vinge
Planet of the Apes, film, Rod Serling (NB The film varies significantly from the original novel by Pierre Boullé)
“By the Waters of Babylon,” Stephen Vincent Benét
Marooned in Realtime, Vernor Vinge
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Stand, Stephen King
The Apocalypse of St. John (aka The Book of Revelations), traditional

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Taste of Cordwainer

"Isaac Asimov": 8.8 million Google hits.
"Cordwainer Smith": 274,000 Google hits.

I've always liked Asimov, and I can quote the Three Laws of Robotics by heart. But if you want to talk about stories that burrowed into my brain and stay with me now, thirty years later, it's Cordwainer Smith, hands down. And nobody knows who he is.

More after the jump.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Angels and Devils

Once they were abstract concepts, metaphors, or simply undefined "messengers" (the original meaning of malakh, the Hebrew word for "angel.") Since at least the 17th Century, however, angels and demons have been mythologized as entities who could be commanded and feared - and then turned into characters of fiction. Modern fantasy, especially, has treated these beings as just individuals with great power, wisdom, and life span, following the lead of John Milton and taking it even farther.

Paradise Lost, John Milton
Hellblazer, comic, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, John Ridgway
The Prophecy, film, Gregory Widen
Black Easter, James Blish

Friday, January 6, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Alien Invasion

One of the oldest tropes in science fiction. Hell, you could even make a case that The Iliad is the earliest tale of invading aliens...told from the aliens' point of view. It's also one of the most hackneyed ideas in Hollywood. SF literature has done the idea much, much better (with one exception) - so read these before you write yours:

War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
“Who Goes There?” John W. Campbell (This novella is the source material of no less than three movie adaptations, all called The Thing.)
The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein, 1951
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jack Finney 1956
“Come Into My Cellar,” Ray Bradbury, 1962

What was that one movie exception? It's after the jump.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Classic Fantasy and SF Ideas, Part Two

...and that idea is a list of the books that first laid out the Big Ideas in SF. The ones you should really know if you're going to play in the sandbox. If you want to write post-nuclear dystopias, you should know A Canticle for Leibowitz. If you want to write about STL interstellar travel and you haven't read Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, you're doing yourself no favors. In other words, these are the stories an F/SF writer should know so that he/she can avoid reinventing the wheel.

I'll be giving each idea its own post. But if you want to see the list in its entirety, you can take a look at my original thread on the AbsoluteWrite.com writers forum. (And a shout-out to the AWers who contributed suggestions, especially IdiotsRUs, Polenth, TMA-1, Dawnstorm, Lyra Jean, Fenika, Marguerite Ming, MommyJo2, Hallen, Rachel Udin, PEBKAC, and of course Pthom, the super mod.)

First up: Alien Invasion! No one is safe...