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Cress is the third in The Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder, a book I definitely enjoyed. Scarlet I wasn't quite so taken with. I'm back on board with Cress, though.
What Cress does really well is get readers into the story without leaving them mystified because this is part three of a serial and who remembers what happened in part two? Book One was a clear and clever Cyber Cinderella story. Book Two was an intriguing take on Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but connecting it to Cinder's story a little awkwardly. The awkwardness is gone in Book Three.
Cress is a techie Rapunzel figure, trapped on a satellite for years doing the evil queens bidding. She is also an inexperienced romantic who believes the space cowboy she ends up leaving the satellite with is the hero of her dreams. It makes sense that she gets pulled into Cinder's scooby gang, which is plotting to save a Prince Charming from having to marry an evil Moon Queen who is planning to...
There's some romance going on in these books. It's pretty clear to me that all kinds of couples are going to come out of these Chronicles. I don't usually care for romance. But there are clever things going on with these people. Cress, for instance, is such an over-the-top sucker for romance and the object of her affections is so bad-boy questionable that there is almost a little parody going on there.
This is a serial, and I do wish I'd been able to read them in a binge instead of over a few years. That's pretty much my only complaint at this point.
Raise your hands if you enjoy any of the following: Conspiracy theories! Fighting the man! Technology in the future! Androids! What it means to be a human! …or embodied! …or an individual subject! Playing “catch that allusion” re: sci-fi as a genre! Because The Body Electric thinks about all of these things, and if these are things you are also interested in thinking about, you’re in for a good time, I promise. While I wasn’t totally in love with everything in this book (and I’ll get to that), the book does a lot of things right: it entertains many interesting questions, features solid world-building, and is written beautifully. And those aspects were enough to make my readerly experience a positive one. Here’s the premise: our heroine, Ella Shepherd, lives in postwar Malta in the new city of New Venice, the site of a new global government. Shortly after Ella discovers that she... Read more »
We’re big fans of These Broken Stars here at The Midnight Garden, so when we were asked to host the tour for the second Starbound novel This Shattered World, how could we possibly resist? Last year’s tour was tons of fun, and I’m excited to be working with Amie and Meagan again. These authors are such a dream to work with, as they’re both super creative, responsive, and funny–and their guest posts and interviews are always entertaining and informative, both for their avid fans and for new readers. Tour Details We’re finalizing details of the tour, but here are the basics of what you can expect. As with all TMG tours, these are a labor of love for us, so you know you’re in for a good time when you see one! Tour Dates: December 8 – 19th, 2014 Featuring: Exclusive guest posts, interviews, character interviews, excerpts, and review stops... Read more »
The world probably isn’t ready for it, but I’ve learned that the world is never ready for all the good stuff. So don’t wait. Do it now.
So why not Latino/a Rising, the first collection of U.S. Latino/a science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative genres? Editor Matthew David Goodwin already has Kathleen Alcalá, Giannina Braschi, Pablo Brescia, Ana Castillo, Daína Chaviano, Junot Díaz, Carlos Hernandez, Adál Maldonado, Carmen Maria Machado, Alejandro Morales, Daniel José Older, Edmundo Paz-Soldán, Alex Rivera, and Sabrina Vourvoulias onboard.
Latino/a Rising will not only include literature. There are many Latino/a artists who are using science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative genres in their art work. And this anthology will include some of their most interesting artwork.
Wait a sec, I think I forgot something . . . oh yeah!
There’s going to be a story by yours truly in it, Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails.
The Paco of the title in none other than Paco Cohen, Mariachi of Mars, hero of two of my stories The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and the Marichis of Mars and Death and Dancing in New Las Vegas that originally appeared in Analog.
And yes, I’m working on more stories that I hope to assemble into an epic -- suitable for adaptation into a major motion picture or miniseries -- novel . . .
Meanwhile, contribute to the campaign. Help turn these wild Latino/a dreams loose on this troubled planet!
Ernest Hogan is trying to find time to finish a number of stories while publicizing the new edition of Cortez on Jupiter, and helping get High Aztech ready for re-release. There are also other projects he keeps remembering.
As a Chicano writer of fantasy and science fiction, in 2013 I was invited to participate on eight panels of the World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WorldCon, the biggest annual gathering for sci-fi/fantasy, including the prestigious Hugo Awards for best fantasy and sci-fi of the past year. I felt more overwhelmed by the number of panels than I felt honored, so I trimmed it down to five. You can read about my Con experience in the series Strange Chicano in a Stranger Con.
My panels were part of Lone Star Con's "Spanish Strand," the organizers' effort to diversify a normally very white-attended event. Honored to be involved in that, at the conference I turned out to be one of just a handful of Latino spec fans or writers. For WorldCon to improve Latinos', and other's, participation, I made a few recommendations in my report. Apparently, I should have made more, like, including some as special guests.
The 2015 WorldCon, Sasquan, will be held in Spokane. According to their latest (Aug.) progress report, the line-up of guests of honor looks much like 2014 LondonCon and 2013 LoneStarCon, as well--a bunch of white people. You need to go back to 2011 for the last time a non-European, non-white person received such an invitation, Peruvian-born Boris Vallejo.
Vallejo invited because?
It's funny to see a Sasquan graphic of brown, green and purple aliens, wondering if that indicates a growing awareness of the need for the American sci-fi/fantasy too-white community to diversify itself more than it did at LoneStarCon. Or perhaps that was meant to be a one-time effort. Especially given that next year's con will be held in the Northwest, in a city named Spokane and for a con named Sasquan.
Spokane was named for a Salishan tribe, the Children of the Sun. Sasquatch, the Big Foot creature that's the take-off for the Con's title--was the original Halkomelem tribe's name for the creature. And here's a map of the tribes who were forcibly removed so that SF/F fans can enjoy next year's event without having to worry about "Indian raids" or paying anything to those tribes.
People like to say that I'm "frustrated" or "bitter" bringing up such history, so to pre-empt that, here's the short version. The city of Spokane's land wasn't settled in the 1800s; it had been lived on, in and with for thousands of years by Salish-speaking tribes, renamed the Flathead tribe. Beginning with the 1855 Hellgate (appropriate?) Treaty, the U.S. gov't, military, and illegal white squatters took over 20,000,000 acres of homelands, built railroads through their villages, forged signatures of their leaders and eventually ratified the "relocation" to the Jocko (Flathead) Reservation. The Salish practiced a belief in nonviolent resistance to meet the threats of bloodshed and starvation they faced if they didn't relocate. To keep tribes from exercising to at least hunt outside of the reservation, in 1908 the Swan Valley Massacre sealed the deal. Included in the desecration of a way of life were American heroes like U.S. Grant, James Garfield, and maybe some ancestors of those who'll attend Sasquan 2015.
Sherman Alexie, SF indio author
So, next year, instead of simply trying to diversify the Con's attendance as WorldCon did in San Antonio, organizers could consider INCLUSION of Native American SF/F authors as invited guests. Maybe Sherman Alexie, author of Flight will be available. If he's not, I don't doubt he could suggest other First Nations authors who've written spec lit. At the least, I could provide some names.
But I'm not done being "frustrated and bitter." Since the Con is on the West Coast, why don't organizers realize what was begun in LoneStarCon with the Spanish Strand should be continued by INCLUSION of Latino SF/F authors? Putting aside my own literary obscurity, there are many who could help increase Latino participation from populous California and the Northwest--for instance, Victor Milán or Junot Díaz (writing a new sci-fi) as Special Guests. Or how about some youth for Toastmaster, for a change, like Matt de la Peña or Amy Tintera? There are many more, but at the moment, none on the Con's agenda who would interest Latinos into attending. Chingau, what if they were interesting to Anglo attendees?
spec author Matt de la Peña
Here's two other points, adjusted, that I suggested to WorldCon organizers:
• If high school and college Latinos (add Native Americans) are desired, more day passes need to be made available to nearby communities. Attendance could turn significant and be a good investment where it is normally not available.
• Con organizers should allow for one very famous gringo author on every panel related to Latinos (add Native Americans) in order to attract sufficient, Anglo attendees. Small audiences for such issues can be interpreted as belittlement.
Amy Tinter SF novel
If you want to contact them, here's the word from Sasquan organizers: "Make Sasquan a truly unique convention. We're always looking for program suggestions. If you have any, drop by our Idea Forum. We'll be sending out invitations to be on programs, between this fall and next spring. Sasquan would like to hear from you if you're interested in being considered as a Program Panelist and/or Events Performer. Fill out our Panelist/Performer Volunteer form."
By the way, I hope Sasquan doesn't fall into minority-bloc mentality and use an Asian SF/F writer to fulfill a "quota." In 21st Century U.S., Asians are definitely in and easy, all over the screen and on the tube whenever the historically under-represented Others need to be assuaged. An Asian SF/F writer would be good diversity for WorldCon. What I've been talking about is INCLUSION of Latinos and Native Americans. They are different, even if not as accepted and respected.
To pre-empt another point, someone might suggest I volunteer to help diversify WorldCon's exclusion of us and the indios. Bastions of white privilege should fix themselves, not expect our free time and labor to divest themselves of what we point out to be exclusion-problems of their own making. I would help. As soon as WE saw more reasons for doing so. Like I did at LoneStarCon. And, if I have a new book coming out, as a Chicano spec writer I hope to attend Sasquan. I hope its program and speakers list gives me and others more reason than that for doing so.
The accent in Milán
I recently had an exchange with SF author Victor Milán where I pointed out that the accent in his last name didn't appear on the cover of his latest book, Dinosaur Lords. In La Bloga's Latino Spec Lit Directory, we hadn't established what he considered himself, but now that's settled. Here's how it went:
1st response: "Thanks, Rudy. Also thanks for including me in the Latino Spec Lit Directory. My father was puertorriqueño; I have considered (and characterized) myself as a Latino writer pretty much throughout my career. Also, thanks for reminding me about that accent mark...."
2nd response: "All done. Wrote to Editor Claire asking for the change. For them as don't know: that's not an affectation. Milán is my family name. It's not on my birth certificate, but they didn't do none o' that there furrin stuff in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid-1950s. But I've used it as my name pretty much everywhere the "ick" (as a long-ago lady friend amusingly termed it) was an option. Also, those who have followed my work know that Victor Milán is my professional name as well as my actual surname. And so appears on much if not most of my published writing. "It shouldn't be hard to change. It's not as if it's incorporated into the swell painting or anything. And when the becomes a Bigassasaurus of a blockbuster movie, the accent's gonna be on my name in the credits, too. So there." - Victor Milán
I want to thank and welcome fantastic fantasy author, Carol Browne for sharing her personal writing journey with us on my blog today. Carol’s book The Exile of Elidel is the first book of a trilogy and can be purchased from Musa Publishing, Amazon, and other on-line bookstores. Bonus: Stay tuned for a chance to win an ecopy of The Exile of Elidel at the end of this post. So let’s get this interview started…
How long have you been writing, Carol?
I started scribbling when I was about seven years old. From that point on I always wanted to be a ‘proper’ writer. It was a very long time before I achieved that goal – we’re talking nearly five decades!
I feel you, Carol. It sounds like we’ve been on the same path. Where did you get your idea and inspiration to write The Exile of Elindel?
In 1976, I was listening to a jukebox in an English pub when Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo came on. The music conjured up an image in my mind of two fantasy characters who seemed to be nearing the end of some kind of quest. I felt compelled to write their story and find out who they were and what was going to happen to them. I set them in Dark Age Britainbecause Anglo-Saxon had been part of the English degree I had just completed at University and the era appealed to me. I felt I was going with these characters on their adventure, watching as they collected back stories and companions along the way.
What sets The Exile of Elindel apart from other books/series in the same genre?
I have to confess to not being a great reader of the sword-and-sorcery type of fantasy genre, so there’s little I can compare mine with. I like to think my elves are a bit different, though. They’re vegetarians and they talk to animals and have tremendous reverence for nature. They would definitely join the Green party if they were around today!
I also like to add humour to lighten the mood. Too much angst and jeopardy can get very tedious. I mixed up the genres a little too. In Book II there is an element of sci-fi as well as fantasy, while in Book III there’s a good dollop of horror. I’ve added some light romance as well; so something for everyone!
You’ve certainly thought of everyone, Carol! As a fantasy author, what is your writing process?
I write my first draft in longhand and have all my notes and research Blu-tacked to the walls of the room where I work. Once I commit myself to writing something, it is with me all the time so I take a pen and paper out with me in case I get any fresh ideas. I have a housekeeping job and frequently have to stop to jot something down. I hate it when characters start talking to each other in my head. I have to say ‘Shut up! I can’t write all that down now.” It’s infuriating that I can’t set aside regular time slots for writing. I guess I’ll have to hang on till I retire.
Seems like you’re always prepared when your characters come a-calling! How long did it take for you to start and finish The Exile of Elindel?
That’s a difficult question! I can’t remember that far back. (Those files have been deleted!) I do remember the first draft being ENORMOUS. It rambled on forever; more padding than a king-size duvet. I wrote it in the summer of 1977 and spent the next thirty-odd years lugging it around in suitcases, storing it in attics, taking it out to rewrite it and submit to publishers, putting it back in the attic.
Thirty years? Now that’s dedication! Do you have any advice for other writers striving to write in your genre, Carol?
Use your own original voice and ideas. Don’t try to be the next Tolkein.
Brilliant advice! Everyone is unique in their own way. So, what’s next for Carol Browne the author?
The rest of the trilogy will be out next year: Book II, Gateway to Elvendom, in March and Book III, Wyrd’s End, in December – as long as everything goes smoothly with the editing process. Meanwhile, I’m nearing the end of my work in progress, a paranormal thriller. I recently wrote myself into a corner with this one and so lost a few days while I worked things out. I have discovered over the years that if you are stuck with a plot or character, there’s always a solution, but it might have to simmer away in the old brain pan for a while before it bobs to the surface.
It sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you! Okay, here’s one for me, since I’m writing a time travel series—If you could time travel anywhere into Earth’s past, where would you go and why?
If I could go back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and somehow make sure the Saxons won instead of the Normans, I would. But let’s be realistic! I have always admired Horatio, Lord Nelson, and I love those old ships of the line. (I stood on board HMS Victory myself during a visit to the Naval Dockyards in Portsmouth a few years ago, and it is a day I will never forget). If I could, I’d like to go back to the time of the Napoleonic Wars and meet Nelson. I’d love to know if he was as charismatic as everyone said he was.
Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Sharon. I did enjoy the experience!
Elgiva, a young elf banished from Elvendom, must seek shelter among the Saxons as her only hope of surviving the coming winter.
Godwin, a Briton enslaved by the Saxons, is a man ignorant of his own inheritance and the secret of power he possesses.
A mysterious enemy, who will stop at nothing to wield absolute power over Elvendom, is about to make his move.
When destiny throws Elgiva and Godwin together, they embark upon the quest for the legendary Lorestone, the only thing that can save Elvendom from the evil that threatens to destroy it.
There is help to be found along the way from a petulant pony and a timid elf boy but, as the strength of their adversary grows, can Elgiva’s friends help her to find the Lorestone before it falls into the wrong hands?
Carol Browne first appeared on the planet in 1954. She regards Crewe, Cheshire, as her home town and graduated from NottinghamUniversity in 1976 with an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her dog, Harry, and cockatiel, Sparky, when she’s not writing fiction, Carol spends her time as a housekeeper, proofreader, and ghost writer in order to pay the bills. Pagan and vegan, Carol believes it is time for a paradigm shift in our attitude to Mother Nature and hopes the days of speciesism are numbered.
ENTER TO WIN: Carol has her magical elfin hat cleaned out and rearing to go. All you have to do is leave a comment along with your contact information, and Carol with add your name into the hat for a chance to win an ecopy of The Exile of Elindel. You have until midnight EST Monday, October 6th2014 to submit your comment, and then POOF— the magical elfin hat picks the winner! Good luck, everyone!
M. T. Anderson has a talent few other authors can boast: he can suck in a reader like nothing else. Hilarious YA novel about competing burger chains? Yep. Picture book biography of Handel? Check. Middle grade fantasy about (among other things) mechanical goblins? No problem. Historical fiction written in next-to-perfect 18th century diction? Of course! An increasingly long series of books written as a pastiche of historical series books, with perfect understanding of the series tropes, characters that appeal to modern readers, and extremely affecting (and hilarious) stories? Why do you even ask?
He Laughed with His Other Mouths is the latest in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. This one focuses on my favorite of the three main characters — Jasper Dash: Boy Technonaut! In the 1930s and 40s, Jasper starred in his own series of sci-fi adventure novels (and movies, and t.v. serials and advertisements, etc), but now he lives in Pelt with his single mother (Jasper was created by a highly concentrated beam of information projected from the region of the Horsehead Nebula), and tries, with the help of his friends Lily and Katie, to fit in the modern world.
After a disastrous science fair project (it didn’t even try to take over the world! AND people laughed at him!), Jasper feels so low that he decides, over the objections of his mother, to transport himself to the Horsehead Nebula to see just who it was that originally sent that concentrated beam of information. Was it his . . . father? Or was it Something Else? This rash decision will have drastic consequences not just for Jasper, not just for his mother, Lily, and Katie, but FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD!
CAN YOU STAND to find out what Jasper discovers in the Horsehead Nebula?!
THRILL to outer-space hijinks!
SHIVER at the desperate danger!
DON’T WAIT to read this fabulous book, filled with, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear: “Even more death rays! No, really! Way, way too many death rays”!
Musa Publishing's speculative fiction imprint, Urania, is thrilled to be celebrating the release of Merm-8, Eric J. Juneau's novel about what happens when a mermaid is found in the future:
"It doesn't matter if you believe in mermaids. She believes in you.
Gene is a rogue-for-hire, using his one-man ship to make a decent living on the flooded Earth. Most of the population has been driven out to Seaplexes--artificial islands glutted with poverty, commercialism, and organized crime. His AI companion, Stitch, does most of the work of their salvage and smuggling jobs. Life is good.
Until a mermaid crawls into his ship's exhaust port.
Now it's not enough for Gene to avoid the mafia he's in debt to, enforced by bio-engineered hulks. Everyone wants to know what this fantasy creature is doing on a dying planet. Corporations want to exploit her. Old friends want to capitalize on her fame. Gene has to choose between protecting her and keeping himself safe. And all she wants is to return home."
Merm-8 will be sold for 20% off until Friday October 3rdto celebrate its release, so grab your copy sooner rather than later!
Last fall, Tu Books released Killer of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure by Joseph Bruchac. Readers were introduced to seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen, a kick-butt warrior who kills monsters to ensure the safety of her family.
Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies, titled Rose Eagle.
Rose Eagle is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle of the Lakota tribe who is trying to find her place in a post-apocalyptic world.
Before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.
In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.
Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.
Thanks to the following blogs for participating in the Rose Eagle cover reveal:
My friends, I am in COUNTDOWN MODE. Beth Revis’s new novel The Body Electricis nearly with us, and it’s so close I can taste it! October 6th, you are so close! From the NYT bestselling author who catapulted us into space with Across The Universe, this is a new story that answers the question: what happened on earth while the Godspeed was making her way to a new world? Bring. It. On. I’ve already ordered my limited-edition copy! And today, I’ve got Beth here with us to answer all our burning questions!
But first, a little about The Body Electric…
Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.
But not all is at it seems.
Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…
Someone’s altered her memory.
Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.
So who can she trust?
Beth, welcome! In Across The Universe and its sequels, you took us into space, trapped us on claustrophobic ships and landed us on incredible new planets. Tell us about your inspiration for The Body Electric! Where did this story start? A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?
I first started getting the idea for The Body Electric while writing Shades of Earth, the last AtU novel. Amy and Elder have a little interaction with Earth, and it’s not positive. It made me start thinking: what was happening on Earth while Amy and Elder were in space? How did Earth change to become the kind of place where the events that happened in Shades of Earth happened?
Of course, I was also influenced by a lifetime of reading and SF movies–especially the works of Philip K. Dick. There are hints of Total Recall and Blade Runner in this book.
That’s insanely cool, and I think it’s a question more than one reader has wondered about– I certainly did! So, if you were transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?
NONE OF THEM OMG EVERYONE IS ALWAYS ABOUT A CHAPTER AWAY FROM DEATH IN MY BOOKS. I want to stay right here, pants-less and on my couch, thank you very much.
That is a point very well made. On to other things! Your decision to self-publish The Body Electric has given you a lot of freedom to release and promote the book exactly the way you want, from getting hands-on in cover design to the choice to include amazing swag with your limited-edition paperback. Can you tell us a bit about that decision and your journey?
I did not come to self-publishing lightly, although now it seems like the clear, obvious choice. My agent helped me a TON in making this decision and in realizing the potential I had with doing this book exactly the right way for my readers. A big part of my motivation to self publish came from wanting to thank the people who made my career what it is: my readers and indie bookstores. So I made the Limited Edition–it has 30 pages of extra content, full color art cards, a coupon for an ebook copy, swag, and more. And I was able to choose the price, and keep it at $14.99. And the Limited Edition is only available from my local indie bookstore, but the Special Edition–with all the same content, minus the art cards and my signature–is available from any bookstore in America.
Of course, the book is available in lots of other formats: a cheaper paperback available through Amazon, e-book editions, etc.
The freedom of this has been amazing. I love having such a voice in every aspect, from the cover design, to the price, to literally everything. It’s been so freeing.
Seriousness aside: Pub Brawl!!!!! What weapon are you wielding?
My weapon is Jayne from Firefly. I win.
Yes, yes you do. I have nothing to add on that count. What are you reading right now?
I’ve just started reading The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin. I’m so jealous I didn’t write this book. It’s been brilliant–an engaging plot, crafted masterfully. [Amie: On Beth's recommendation I've just picked up a copy, can't wait to get stuck in!]
Beth, thank you so much for visiting! We can’t WAIT for The Body Electric!
Beth Revis is the NY Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe series. The complete trilogy is now available in more than 20 languages. A native of North Carolina, Beth’s new science fiction novel for teens, The Body Electric, will release October 6, 2014. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram.
Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD is out in December! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.
Other info: Malinda Lo has also written Huntress, Ash (review here), and Inheritance.
Summary: Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands of people die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On Reese's long drive home, along a stretch of empty highway at night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened. For Reese, though, this is just the start. She can't remember anything from the time between her accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: she's different now. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?
Review: It all starts when Reese Holloway is waiting for a plane back from debating and birds fall out of the sky. Stranded, she and the debate team decide to head home in a rented car, and things change even more. With no idea of the events after a crash, nor the later happenings or procedures, Reese finds some anwers that will change her life, and humanity, forever.
Huntress, I didn't enjoy especially, but Ash was one of my favourite books due to the writing style and the new take on an old story. Adaptation leaves the fantasy route and goes down the scifi men-in-black route, and it does this really well.
I love the characters. Amber's probably my favourite, because she's adorable and funny and I fell in love with her. I also liked that you had to constantly question her and her loyalties. David- CHINESE MC HECK YEAH (I get excited by chinese main characters) was also really adorable and smart. Reese isn't one of my favourite characters, she seemed a bit ordinary compared to a cast full of scientists and government agents and conspiracy theory website runners and things which I want to say but that's kind of spoilery, but I did like the fact that she constantly questioned things. Oh, and love to Reese's mum. See the lawyering badass love for her daughter and reaction to her coming out as bisexual.
Nowhere in this book is a good place to stop reading-most certainly not the end.. Every point in Adaptation was either too intriguing or too exciting or too adorable to let you even think about putting it down, and I've had the must-never-stop-reading-this-feeling for very few books before.
Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book I recommend to everyone, especially mystery, scifi, thriller, romance fans.
Other info: Chris D’Lacey has also written the Last Dragon Chronicles.
Summary : When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop -- a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance. A bold and thrilling tale of alternate realities, paranormal mystery, and extraordinary adventure.
Review: Michael’s going to school via a non-normal route when he senses the thoughts of a suicidal dog, and somehow manages to stop her going over a cliff. This brings him to the attention of UNICORNE, who say they can tell him what happened to his father, who disappeared. They set him on the task of finding out what the dog was doing on the cliff, and this leads him to a mystery involving a classmate, a dead girl, and his newly discovered powers.
I’ve heard great things about Chris D’Lacey’s other work (which I have never read) so I was hoping this would be good. The blurbed concept isn’t particularly original, but I really liked the idea of cellular memory and the way it played out in the book.
There’s science-fiction elements, fantasy elements, and some thrillery elements too. It could have been a good mix, but in parts it goes so quickly that things don’t get explored as much as they could have been.
I like the characters, especially Josie, Michael’s ten year old sister, Chantelle, a UNICORNE agent, and Freya, Michael’s sick classmate.
The plot twists and turns, sometimes well, and sometimes in convenient places. I like the mix of more normal things that Michael has to deal with, in between the paranormal. I think the start of it was stronger than the way the setup played out though; it started with a strong hook, but then got a bit confusing. The main mystery did get played through well looking back on it, but with side elements being created due to Michael’s powers, it is harder to follow than it needed to be.
Overall: Strength 3 tea to a genremixing thriller.
For most teenagers having your mum die, having to live with your mum's twin sister in another city, and having your body go all strange on you (massive growth spurt, tingling all over body, visions and nightmares) would send you in a depression - not Evie. She's feisty and motivated even when thrown a curve ball on top of everything else ... When she meets up with her childhood friend Kitty it sparks a desperate desire to protect her friend at all costs.
Find out who is trying to harm her friend and why Evie feels so compelled to rescue her. Throw in a potential romance, intrigue, and you have an exciting Sci-fi thriller for YA. Okay, so I love science fiction but even people who do not have Dr Who or Star War leanings will love this book. There's no other world, or planets, or aliens but an ordinary girl mixed up in an experiment gone wrong two generations ago.
I literally couldn't stop reading this book (until the early hours of the morning); the twists and turns in the plot had me turning page after page. When I finished the book (matchsticks propping up my eyes) and tried to find out when the next book in the series was coming - I read the author's bio and was really surprised ... The story is set in USA and it reads like an international bestselling book - I was not expecting it to have been written by a first time author from a provincial town in New Zealand.
Rachael Craw has a great support team: agents Barbara and Chris Else, her writers' group, and the Walker Book team, and she has been an English teacher at High School - needless to say, this is a writer to watch. Her writing is taut, the plot is gripping, and her characters are very likeable. I can't wait for the next two books in the series: Stray (book two, 2015) and Shield (book three, 2016). If you're a Divergent or a Viral fan - you'll be hooked on this new exciting series.
In Virals, acclaimed mother and son writing duo Kathy and Brendan Reichs have created a captivating and enthralling series by incorporating science fiction and crime with a contemporary perspective, via 4 teens who are navigating an unusually adventurous adolescence.
Seventeen-year-old Seth drowns; in fact his action is deliberate. He wants to escape the horror of his existence. Racked with guilt over the fate of his younger brother, an event he feels is his entire fault, he doesn’t have much to live for. Then he wakes up, back in his old home in England, and things start becoming very weird indeed. He is wrapped in silvery bandages, and his old street is deserted. The whole place is uninhabited and overgrown. He seems to be the only person left alive in the world. He must now forage and scrounge for clothing, food and water. He wonders if this is hell. His dreams don’t help because his previous life comes back to him in huge, unwelcome chunks of memory. Then he meets two other people, with their own unique and strange tales to tell.
Despite the fantastic beginning, with a description that pulled me right into the ocean with Seth, I struggled to finish this book. Parts of it were incredibly exciting and then would grind to a halt with unnecessary introspective and philosophical meanderings on the part of the main character, meanderings which became boring and one had the urge to say, “Oh, just get on with it!” The plus side: an utterly riveting and plausible story premise that comes much later on (just when you are wondering what on earth this is all about and is he dead or not, and if everyone else is dead, then where are the bodies?); really wonderful descriptions that have the reader in the grip of the moment; action and tension to add to the positively bleak and hopeless situation; events that come out of nowhere that have a cinematographic and surreal feel to them; the depth of emotion Seth feels for the loss of his younger brother and his friends. In fact, Seth’s guilt is so palpable that one is consumed with curiosity to learn the truth. The two characters that join him are so different, so lost as well, and so eager to hide the circumstances of their lives/deaths. One feels the pain of the characters as they reveal the humiliating and tragic burdens they each carry.
What I did not enjoy: the flashbacks were sometimes jarring and intrusive, until I accepted them as part of the story-telling process; the fact that this world, while it began as an interesting construct, did not have enough to sustain the story and/or the last three inhabitants. I found the ending abrupt and it short-changes the reader in a way. There were many loose ends in the unfolding of this tale that I feel the author might have tried to answer. The characters were confused and, as a result, the reader becomes confused. It is as if the author didn’t bother to work things out to the last detail, which is possibly not the case, but feels that way. The reference to same sex love/relationships was dealt with sensitively and delicately, in an almost tender way. However, this might surprise readers who are not prepared for it, especially if the reader is younger than the protagonist’s age of 17. Ultimately, the characters’ thoughts on what constitutes life and death, and the option of living in a constructed world, avoiding the reality of a life too sad/tragic/hopeless to contemplate should give readers food for thought. However, I have no doubt that the intended audience of older teens and YA readers will love this book.
Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.
To Say Nothing of the Dog. Connie Willis. 1998. Bantam. 493 pages. [Source: Bought]
I have every intention of rereading all four Oxford time travel books by Connie Willis this year. Earlier in the year, I reread the first book, Doomsday Book. To Say Nothing of the Dog, the second book, is a book I originally read and reviewed in July 2009. While the first book offers drama, drama, more drama, with just a touch of humor now and then, the second book is a romantic comedy. I happen to love both books though they are very different from one another.
Ned Henry is the hero of To Say Nothing of the Dog. He is on a mission, not a mission of his own choosing perhaps, but a big mission all the same. He is one of many time travelers working for Lady Schrapnell on her latest project: restoring Coventry Cathedral. The novel opens with a very overworked Ned Henry beginning to show severe signs of time-lag. What he needs is rest, permission to rest. That isn't likely to happen if Lady Schrapnell learns his whereabouts. For better or worse, Ned Henry is sent to the past--to Victorian times--to recuperate. He's been given another mission too. This time by someone much nicer and calmer than Lady Schrapnell. The problem? Ned Henry wasn't capable of listening and understanding. Now he's in the past without a real clue of WHY he's there and what he's supposed to accomplish.
Verity Kindle is the heroine of To Say Nothing of the Dog. She is on a mission of her own. While Ned Henry was given the assignment of finding out the whereabouts of the bishop's bird stump, Verity's assignment is to read Tocelyn's diary. The diary is available to read in the future. But the most relevant pages to the Coventry Cathedral project were damaged. So she's been sent to the oh-so-important summer of 1888 to read the newly written diary entries. She's having about as much success as Ned Henry. In other words, not much luck at all! These two work together as best they can. Verity manages to travel back and forth a few times to the future. Their mission--as they see it has changed a bit. They worry that they've damaged the future and that something horrible may happen as a result. Like Tocelyn, they know, was supposed to marry a "Mr. C". They know this for a fact from future diary entries. Yet here they are and she's engaged to someone else! Their "new mission" is to find the identity of "Mr. C." and make sure they meet when they're supposed to meet....
I loved this one. I have always loved this one. It is a delightful time travel novel. I love the humor! I do! It's so very, very funny! And I love the details and the dialogue. This one is just a joy cover to cover!
Science fiction books supercharged my imagination as a kid. Everything from Star Wars storybooks to Ray Bradbury radio adaptations to The Black Hole – Read Along Book and Record inspired my childhood attempts at telling stories.
I caught up with Von Der Lohe recently, and she had a simple message for GalleyCat readers: “Authors, illustrators and publishers, please please please please please include more girls in science fiction picture books. Parents, read science fiction with your daughters.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to participate in one of the most exciting and memorable things I’ve ever done: the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Dubbed a “space camp for writers,” it brings together established writers, editors, and creators for an intensive, week-long crash course in astronomy: basically a semester’s worth of Astronomy 101 classes in seven days. It was breathtaking (literally—it takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, about 7,100 feet above sea level), mind-blowing, and, most of all, inspiring.
We were in class almost every day from 10 a.m. until well after 5 p.m., with some lab sessions and outings thrown in. So what sort of things did we learn? Just as an example, our Monday lectures included the Scales of the Universe, Units, the Solar System, Seasons and Lunar Phases, and Misconceptions about Astronomy. By Friday and Saturday we were discussing galaxies, quasars, and cosmology (including dark matter and dark energy). That’s quite the learning curve! Most of us felt like our heads were full by the end, yet we were always eager to hear more.
Yup. That is totally an exoplanet.
I know I must have learned some of this stuff in elementary school (and forgotten most of it), but there have also been so many breakthroughs in astronomy since I was a kid (sorry, Pluto!), I was learning much of this for the first time — and I also had a new appreciation for the topic. Every class was a revelation. What made it even better was having the opportunity to see the science we were learning at work: analyzing the emission spectrum of different elements in the lab, searching for exoplanets at planethunters.org (warning — that site is addictive!), learning how those famous images of space are put together for the public, and visiting the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory to photograph stars with a giant telescope. It was there, at the top of Jelm Mt., that I experienced the highlight of my week: viewing the Milky Way with the naked eye in a clear night sky. (It also looks very impressive in expensive night vision binoculars.) Returning home and looking up at night was depressing; the city lights blot out all but the brightest stars, and I can imagine that some people go their whole lives without seeing a sight like that.
People always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Look up. Look around you. Ideas are all around us! As a science fiction author who doesn’t have a background in science, all too often I get distracted by fun concepts like time travel and parallel universes and faster-than-light space travel. It’s so easy to forget just how fascinating and exciting actual science is and skimp on it in stories. Why make everything up when we have a whole galaxy to play with, and an even bigger universe full of weird and mind-boggling things?
I’ve always enjoyed doing research for stories, but from now on I’m going to pay more attention to what’s happening in astronomy and physics and the world and universe we live in — and hopefully the things I learn will inspire new stories, instead of the other way around. (Added bonus of the workshop: Now I actually understand those astronomy articles in Scientific American!)
We also stopped by the Geological Museum at the University of Wyoming. I love dinosaurs. Meet Dracorex hogwartsia, “Dragon King of Hogwarts”!
I want to continue learning about astronomy, and work real science into more of my fiction. It’s important to keep “refilling your creative well,” and Launch Pad was a great way to do that. If you’re a science fiction writer, I encourage you to apply to next year’s workshop, and I also encourage you to donate to keep the program going. It’s a wonderful resource that is helping to get more people interested in science, and helping we writers to make our stories as scientifically plausible and accurate as we can.
For other perspectives on this year’s Launch Pad experience, read accounts from my awesome classmates and instructor:
How about you? Would you go to Launch Pad? How do you refill your creative well?
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN; his next YA novel, THE SILENCE OF SIX, will be published by Adaptive in November 2014. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Eye to the Telescope (ETTT) is a guest-edited online publication of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. ETTT 14 will be edited by John C. Mannone, who is looking for ekphrastic submissions for the October 2014 issue. Deadline September 15, 2014.
There is no particular theme for this issue, but the speculative poems (sci-fi, fantasy, surrealism, etc.) must be exactly 100 words (excluding titles and epigraphs/postscripts that cite other sources) and be connected to the visual art linked below (see website). They may contain tones of humor or horror, but most importantly, I am looking for literary quality writing with literary depth. All forms/styles are accepted. Either write a poem directly inspired by one of the images posted on our site or pair up a poem influenced by a current science event (include an online reference) that also complements one of the pictures. Identify which image elicited each poem.
See our website for the links to the pictures and for more submission details.
Earth Awakens. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. 2014. Tor. 400 pages. [Source: Library]
I enjoyed reading Earth Awakens the third in a new series by Orson Scott Card. At first, I had a hard time reconnecting to all the characters because it's been a year since the last book. There are many characters to keep up with after all. But by the time I was halfway through this one, I was hooked once more. I liked the characters. I didn't always like how they acted. But Card can write flawed characters that I actually like.
In this third book, all the characters are trying to fight the Formics. Some are working together officially to defeat the aliens. Others are more on their own with their own plan. For example, some characters are fighting them on earth; other characters are fighting them in space. But by the end of this one, all the characters stories have merged into one which is probably for the best.
Series books are always so difficult to review because to talk about plot reveals spoilers from the other books. But essentially I liked this one. Maybe not love, love, love but a good, solid like.
The problem, however, is that Survivor is a book Butler disavowed and, once she had the ability, she prohibited it from being reprinted. Used copies tend to sell for at least $65 (although one just sold on E-Bay for $15. Alas, I discovered it only after the sale!).
However, I figured I might be able to get a copy through interlibrary loan, and that's how I discovered my university library had a copy. (You can also find a bootleg PDF online if you search for it. But I didn't tell you that.) I went to the library fully expecting that the book did not exist — that it had disappeared off the shelf without anyone noticing, or that for some reason the catalogue was mistaken. But no. It was there: a hardcover without a dust-jacket, in pretty bad condition, its mustard-yellow boards scratched and torn, its corners crushed and frayed, its binding broken. I will be returning it with a note, something to the effect of: "Please take care of this book. It might not look like much, but it is rare. It is valuable. We need it to be preserved."
Having now read Survivor — or, more accurately, having compulsively devoured the novel in two days, which for me is very fast, indeed — what I find myself most wanting to say is exactly that, to whoever will listen: We need this book to be preserved.
After reading/devouring Survivor, I went looking for reviews of it and articles about it. I read every interview with Butler that I could find where she mentioned it. I wanted to know why she had gone out of her way to keep this book from us, because for me it was not just a satisfying read, but a far more satisfying ending to the Patternist series than Patternmaster, her first-published novel, a novel I like well enough, but which feels thin: a book for which Butler had considerable vision, but not yet the skill to bring that vision to vivid life. Survivor is certainly not as skilled as many of Butler's later novels, even the later-published novels of the Patternist series (as novels, I think both Wild Seed and Clay's Ark are more accomplished) — but it's at least the equal of Mind of My Mind, and in some ways superior to it: I found the ending quite moving, for instance, while for me the most interesting sections of Mind are in the middle. Survivor also provided a certain sense of closure to the Patternist series that Patternmaster didn't for me, perhaps because Survivor is about some of the last remnants of humanity, the ones who escape Earth and don't end up the "mute" slaves of the Patternists.
When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like "the natives" in a very bad, old movie. And I thought, "No way. Apart from all these human beings populating the galaxy, this is really offensive garbage." People ask me why I don't like Survivor, my third novel. And it's because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.
One of the central elements of Survivor is the ability of humans to have children with the natives of a far-off planet, and this biological improbability seems to be a part of the problem she sees with the book. Elsewhere, she spoke of publishing Survivor too soon, as if she wished she'd given it another draft or two, maybe to at least gesture toward some justification for the ability of humans to procreate with the Kohn, the native people of the planet (a common ancestor, for instance).
The biological improbability isn't the main thing. Though no explanation would make it highly scientifically sound, there are improbabilities in Butler's other novels, and this one is hardly a reason to condemn a book to the memory hole.
The main reason she gives there is that of, we might say, the colonial gaze, something common to science fiction from its beginning. In this, though, I think Butler underestimated the richness of her own writing. While certainly the Kohn could have been portrayed more complexly, the novel is not as simple as she makes it out to be, and the humans are often portrayed negatively — they are unprepared, deeply prejudiced, almost suicidally stubborn, and sometimes just stupid.
It is interesting to see female fantasies emerging in science fiction; it is also important to perceive them for what they are, because a fantasy — one of the persistent, satisfying day-dreams of mankind — is not a good story. This has been amply demonstrated by hundreds of male fantasies masquerading as science fiction or sword and sorcery. ...
The female fantasy that is currently gathering momentum seems to run as follows: "I was the chosen mate of a large, alien-looking male." There is a treament of this in Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland and an interesting variant in Octavia Butler's new novel Survivor. In both cases, with Holland's six and a half foot black Styth and Butler's giant, blue-furred Tehkohn Hao, the aliens are distantly human and the union is blessed with issue.
The Morse review begins:
If you enjoyed Mandingo, that titillating tear-jerker about the lust of a white plantation mistress for her black slave, you'll probably enjoy Survivor, which raises the tension at least theoretically by introducing a pleasant bestiality in the male partner, who would closely resemble a six foot tall blue gorilla if such a thing existed.
Survivor isn't a bad book, and the ploy of miscegenation perks up an otherwise uneventful story, but with apologies to the gorilla, there's no real meat in it.
I don't know if Butler read these reviews, but if she did, I can see them causing her to rethink her novel. She might have thought that if she had failed so spectacularly as to elicit such responses from reviewers of, presumably, at least a modicum of intelligence and literacy, then she must not have written the book she thought she wrote. Because though of course I'm just speculating here, I'm pretty confident that Octavia Butler did not set out to write a hot-and-heavy interspecies romance fantasy. (I would also suggest that Morse is misreading Mandingo, but lots of people did.)
Survivor is not a fantasy about how much fun it would be to be ruled and dominated by a big furry blue guy. But I can see where readers' discomfort comes from. Diut, the leader of the Tehkohn, is at first repulsed by Alanna, but then works through his repulsion until it becomes a kind of attraction, and he takes her on as a kind of project. He then decides she'd be a great wife for him, and he takes her to his bedroom. She fights him. He says the Tehkohn do not have a tradition of forced mating, but he also doesn't offer her much choice. She gives in when he tells her that if she mates with him, she will be free to live how she wants. At first, it causes her pain ("'I always give pain before I give pleasure,' he said. 'Your body will accustom itself to me.'" ), but Alanna finds his fur pleasant and an attraction for him grows. She comes to value him and eventually to love him.
Butler's purpose, it seems to me, was to show how repulsion can become attraction. Humans and Kohn find each other's bodies at best alien, at worst utterly repulsive. They see each other as animals and savages. Alanna is a perpetual outsider, though — on Earth, her parents were killed by Clayarks (humans mutated by the disease brought back on the Clay's Ark starship) and she roamed feral for a while until she was adopted by the religious missionaries who soon take her with them to the new planet. She does not share their very strict religion, though, and plenty of the missionaries thought she should be cast out — not only because she wasn't of their faith, but also because of her ancestry.
Here's an important passage from early in the novel:
"Neila, I've been talking to some of the others and they agree. If we're going to keep the girl in the colony, surely she'd be happier with her own kind."
There had been a moment of silence, then Neila spoke quietly. "Her own kind? Who are you suggesting I give my daughter to, Bea?"
The older woman sighed. "Oh, my. I knew this was going to be difficult. But, Neila, the girl isn't white."
"She's Afro-Asian from what she says of her parents. Black father, Asian mother."
"Well, we don't have any Asians, but one of our black families might..."
"She has a home, Bea. Right here."
"Most of the blacks here are no more interested than the whites in adopting a wild human. The ones who are interested have already been here. Jules and I turned them down."
"...so I'd heard."
"Then why are you here?"
"I thought that after you'd had a few days with the girl, you might... reconsider."
There was the sound of Neila's laughter. "Come to my senses, you mean."
"That's exactly what I mean!" snapped the older woman. "Several of us feel that you and Jules ought to be setting a better example for the young people here—not encouraging them to mix and..." 
A fear of mixing, a fear of impurity and contamination, carries through the whole novel, again and again leading characters toward decisions and actions that harm them. One of the pleasures of reading even Butler's earliest books is that many things which seem straightforward and even obvious are complicated by something else within the story. She doesn't just show us that the fear of mixing and contamination is a hindrance and even a danger to various characters — she shows that sometimes it's a justified fear. The other group of Kohn, the Garkohn, kidnap and seem to plan to inseminate some of the humans because within their ethical system, this means the humans are then bound by Garkohn laws and dictates. In all of her novels, Butler is fascinated by the ways that power is wielded, and even when she seems to show power to be a necessary and perhaps benevolent tool, it is never unambiguously so.
This reminds me of something Dorothy Allison wrote in a 1989 essay on Butler for the Village Voice (collected in Reading Black, Reading Feminist ed. Henry Louis Gates):
I love Octavia Butler's women even when they make me want to scream with frustration. The problem is not their feminism; her characters are always independent, stubborn, difficult, and insistent on trying to control their own lives. What drives me crazy is their attitude: the decisions they make, the things they do in order to protect and nurture their children — and the assumption that children and family always come first.
...While acknowledging the imbalances and injustices inherent in traditional family systems, Butler goes on writing books with female characters who heroically adjust to family life and through example, largeness of spirit, and resistance to domination make the lives of those children better — even though this means sacrificing personal freedom. But she humanizes her dark vision of women's possibilities by making sure that the contradictions and grief her women experience are as powerfully rendered as their decision to sacrifice autonomy. ...
Homosexuality, incest, and multiple sexual pairings turn up in almost all her books, usually insisted on by the patriarchal or alien characters and resisted by the heroines, who eventually give in. Her women are always in some form of bondage, captives of domineering male mutants or religious fanatics or aliens who want to impregnate them. Though the men in Butler's novels are often equally oppressed, none is forced so painfully to confront the difference between surrender and adjustment. Women who surrender die; those who resist, struggle, adjust, compromise, and live by their own ethical standards survive to mother the next generation — literally to make the next world. Maybe if this world were not so hard a place, butler might be writing less painful fiction.
I think the patterns that Allison sees in Butler's novels are sometimes more nuanced than she describes here, and this description doesn't really show the way that Butler's interest in the idea of family is an interest in the idea of a chosen family, or at least a family less of blood than convenience. Her families often become communities. Her interest in power (and power struggles), though, leads her to depict families and communities where not everyone has the equal power to choose whether to be a member. Again and again, people are pulled into communities against their will. They may come to see the community as the best place for them, but usually it is some person of power who brings them in. (For more on family, communities, and kinship in Butler's work, see some of the references in Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson's "'Gambling Against History': Queer Kinship and Cruel Optimism in Octavia Butler’s Kindred" in Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler.)
Nonetheless, Allison gets at the peculiar frustration, discomfort, and even discombobulation that reading Butler can cause. I struggled with this myself when I read my first Butler novel, Parable of the Sower, somewhere around 1996 or so. I hated it. Viscerally and vehemently. Mostly because I thought Butler was trying to write a book about how wonderful the protagonist Lauren Olamina was, and how much we should all worship and admire her. As a novice to reading Butler, I didn't yet understand the complex stance her books take toward their protagonists, particularly the ones like Lauren who become the leaders of a group or community. Yes, there is attraction, but the attraction can also be a trap, and that was the trap I fell into: I legitimately liked Lauren through much of Sower, but I was also put off by her confidence in her, I thought, insipid spirituality. (Again, I was reading it shallowly. The text is quite ambivalent about that spirituality, if "spirituality" is even the right word for it.) In Butler's work, power always corrupts. But sometimes, there's just no better option.
It also counters the power fantasies so prevalent in SF and popular culture in general. Cherry Wilder was, I think, spectacularly wrong about the "female fantasy" of Survivor. In various interviews, Butler noted that as a child she was an avid reader of comic books, and the influence is clear — indeed, the Patternist series sometimes feels like a version of the X-Men. But Butler's take on the power fantasies inherent to both superhero comics and a certain strain of science fiction is not an uncritical one. She knows the seductive power of such fantasies, and she's more than aware of the terrors that seduction can lead to. (As I, perhaps prejudicially, read her, she sees similar seductions in religion. Sometimes I think a basic theme of Butler's work could be stated as, "The power fantasies of comic books, sci-fi, and religion are not all that different...")
Along similar lines, a clever idea that Maria Holmgren Troy proposes is that Survivor can be read as (among other things) an allegory of science fiction itself:
Interestingly, in the context of science fiction, it is possible to see Alanna—and by extension Survivor—as a child of Butler’s imagination, and the name “Jules Verrick” as a reference to Jules Verne, who is sometimes considered to be the “father of science fiction.” Verne is regarded as one of the most important “pioneers of the tale of the extraordinary voyage into outer space, the most typical of all science-fictional themes” (James 16), which ... is one of the premises of Survivor. Verrick’s wife is called Neila, which if the letters are reversed spells “alien.” Thus, in this allegorical reading, Octavia Butler’s wild child is adopted by the white science-fiction tradition with its domesticated aliens, a tradition which her transgressive work challenges; consequently, the genre and its audience’s generic expectations are forced to expand in order to contain Survivor. Butler stated in an interview in the late 1970s that what she would really like her novels to accomplish is to “make people feel comfortable with characters who are not all male, who are not all white, and who just don’t fit. Who are not middle class, who don’t fit the stereotype” (“Butler Interviewed” 31).
Of all of Butler's books, Survivor may be the one most clearly in dialogue with much of the science fiction that came before it. While reading it, I thought repeatedly of some of the novels of John Brunner, perhaps because Butler cited them as an influence in a 1997 interview with Joan Fry for Poets & Writers (collected in Conversations with Octavia Butler): "The writers who influenced me most tended to be those who were the most prolific. John Brunner was very prolific — my favorites are Polymath, The Whole Man, and The Long Result." (The influence of those three books on the Patternist series seems pretty clear, with Polymath the closest to Survivor.) One of the things I find notable in the two original reviews of Survivor that I was able to dig up is their determination to read the book within the standard science fictional frame, and thus to see it as unoriginal and thin and perplexing; whereas it's a much more satisfying novel if read as an at least somewhat skeptical outsider to the conventional conversation, the standard narrative.
I have moved away from so much of what I thought I'd be writing here, and I haven't written much in detail about Survivor itself, but perhaps that's for the best. I need to read it again. I am very torn about many of its elements and implications. But I am not torn about one thing: no matter how much Butler regretted the book, no matter how embarrassed she was by it, it is, I think, a perfectly respectable part of her oeuvre, and vastly better than the work of many, many writers.
With that in mind, I think it's worth considering whether Butler's literary executor(s) should consider re-releasing Survivor. The question should be considered carefully, because it was Butler's wish that no-one read the book. (In Strange Matings, Nisi Shawl says the first Butler novel she read was Survivor, and so eventually she asked Butler to sign it for her. Butler did, but wrote: "Nisi, I wish you didn’t have this one.") Any new edition should of course make Butler's disavowal clear. My own desire would be for an academic/critical edition, a book where the text of the novel was accompanied by some essays about it (and not just fawning ones). With the release of the new short stories, it seems especially valuable to have Survivor available again. But I don't know. It's entirely a selfish desire on my part — I'm fascinated by the book and would like to own it, and I'd like to be less worried that my library's copy is going to disintegrate and be impossible to replace.
In any case, if you happen to find a copy of Survivor, don't be afraid of it. It's worth reading. It's not Butler at her best, by any means, but it's at least a worthy companion to Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind, and it's not nearly as bad as she thought it was. Indeed, when I think of Survivor now, it's with some sadness, because I don't like to think of Butler disliking her own work so much that she would want it to disappear, especially when that work is more complex and thoughtful than much of what's out there.
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In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award.
Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:
What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?
I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.
But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.
So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.
Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:
Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
Confusing plot—jumped around too much
Excessive detail/hard to keep track
Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in
We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:
Chapters way too long
Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
Nothing gripped me
Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).
So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.
Know your target audience
When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.
Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)
But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?
Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.
Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.
If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.
Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.Plotting affects pace
In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.
Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.
Character affects plot
This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.
Find an organizational method that works for you
This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.
Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.
An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.
Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.
Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.
This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)
“Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.