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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: science fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Space Camp: The Final Frontier

Writing Life Banner

by

E.C. Myers

20140714_213020A 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.

It was inspiring not only because of all the story ideas it generated and the opportunity to learn more about our incredible, mysterious universe, but because there’s nothing like meeting and spending time with other writers and creative professionals. The 2014 class included authors, reviewers, editors, and television and film writers: Amy Sterling CasilGeetanjali DigheDoug Farren,Susan ForestMarc HalseyGabrielle HarbowyMeg HowreyAnn LeckieWilliam LedbetterAndrew LiptakMalinda LoSarah McCarryJames L. Sutter, Anne TooleTodd Vandemark, and Lisa Yee. Our intrepid instructors were Mike Brotherton, Christian Ready, and Andria Schwortz, whose enthusiasm for their field was apparent and contagious.

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.

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.

Copyright Todd Vandemark

© 2014 Todd Vandemark

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"!

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:

Gabrielle Harbowy
Andrew Liptak
Sarah McCarry
Christian Ready
Jenn Reese

How about you? Would you go to Launch Pad? How do you refill your creative well?

LaunchPad

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 blogTwitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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2. Science Fiction Picture Books for the Youngest Readers

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 want my 4-year-old daughter to have the same kind of experience, so I turned to the brilliant Goodreads “Science Fiction Picture Books List” for inspiration. It was created by Amanda R. Von Der Lohe who studied children’s literature at Hollins University—writing an entire thesis about science fiction picture books.

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.”

(more…)

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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3. Reread #28 To Say Nothing of the Dog

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!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Call for Science Fiction Submissions: Building Red--The Colonization of Mars


A new science fiction anthology—Building Red-The Colonization of Mars—is currently accepting submissions. Payment is $25 per story accepted, five free contributor copies, and 50% off copies contributors purchase
 
Deadline for entries is November 1, 2014
 
Complete submission guidelines. Included on the blog are web resources regarding the technicalities of getting to and living on Mars. Please note: we're looking for science fiction, not fantasy stories. Submissions can be funny, dark, quirky, serious, etc., but must include hard/believable science in the fiction. Send questions to:
 
janetcannoneditorATgmailDOTcom (Change At to @ and DOT to . )

Janet L. Cannon, Acquisitions Editor
Walrus Publishing, Inc.



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5. Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore

PLANET KINDERGARTEN is a brilliant idea for a picture book - the kind that makes you wonder why no one thought of it sooner! PLANET KINDERGARTEN is written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt with a great attention to details when is comes to comparing the first day of kindergarten with a NASA mission. But what really puts PLANET KINDERGARTEN over the top and into orbit are the brilliant illustrations by

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6. Collision: The Battle For Darracia, by Michael Phillip Cash

In this second book of the Darracia Saga, Collision, Michael Phillip Cash continues his sci-fi drama with more deception and multiple character developments that take readers deeper into the solar system and the history of its inhabitants. As the battle for Darracia continues, there are internal traitors, blossoming romances, family tensions and everyone, besides the enemy, is questioning their faith in the Elements.

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7. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II


Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of 
Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.

But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader?

It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve received that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when not handled with Collins-esque finesse.

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the reader is given clues to work out rather than having any new terms explained to them. This approach needs just as much, if not more, finesse. It’s a process that some readers who are new to speculative fiction might stumble over the most, which is why I think there’s so little of it in middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen it called “incluing,” which is a silly word, but I don’t know of another name for it and the description of incluing in that Wikipedia link is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I—as a lifelong fantasy fan—prefer to see in the beginning of a book, particularly one set in a world that has no connection to our own, or if it’s in the future of our world far enough into the future that the society is unrecognizable to us, such as the society in Tankborn. Karen Sandler does a wonderful job at incluing readers as we read chapter 1 of the first book in the Tankborn trilogy.

The prominent example I like to give writers for this kind of worldbuilding is from The Golden Compass. Check out the first paragraph of that book:

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table.”

Pullman jumps right into the scene, with Lyra sneaking down the dining hall with her daemon. We’re hooked—she’s doing something sneaky, and we don’t know what. And we want to know. We don’t even know what the daemon physically looks like until paragraph 4, and even then we don’t know why he’s called a daemon or what makes a daemon special.

What is a daemon, anyway? We don’t know! In fact, this is one of the major conflicts of the book—we need to read more to find out about daemons, and further mysteries are revealed as we read that deepen our understanding of daemons and of Lyra’s world in general. As we discover more clues that intrigue us, we want to know more, and keep reading.

But the line between intriguing the reader and confusing the reader is very thin, and I would argue that for some readers it’s in a different place than for others. Those of us who are familiar with fantasy might be more willing to patiently wait for more information about daemons because we trust that this author will let us know what we need to know when the time is right. We know that they’re teasing us with this information so as not to overburden us within the first few pages of the book (or, in the case of The Golden Compass, because the reader can’t know what the majority of people in that world don’t know, either).

Tankborn coverIn situations in which you need to establish a world that’s entirely different from our own, I find that putting a character in a situation that’s somewhat familiar to the reader can help with establishing the unfamiliar. In Karen Sandler’s Tankborn, for example, Kayla has to watch her little brother instead of going to a street fair with her friends. While Kayla calls him her “nurture brother” instead of just her brother, it’s still a situation to which a lot of readers can relate, even if it is set on another planet and her brother is catching nasty arachnid-based sewer toads instead of familiar Earth frogs and toads.

M. K. Hutchins, author of Drift, approached it in a completely different way. She starts with a dangerous situation—a family on the run from authorities, splitting up. The mother, our main character Tenjat, and his sister Eflet are embarking on a terrible journey that’s almost certain death, setting off on a raft in the middle of the night into an ocean full of snake-like monsters, and leaving the family’s father and smallest brother behind to face unknown punishment. While perhaps no reader has been chased by authorities in the middle of the night, it is a dangerous situation and a parting of family—mixing the familiar (family) with the unfamiliar (a dangerous situation in a completely new setting).Drift

It’s the difference between showing and telling. Philip Pullman, Karen Sandler, and M. K. Hutchins all show us how their worlds works, rather than pausing to tell us how it works (“in this world, all people are born with an animal companion called a daemon”).

Telling can work, though, especially in small doses—Katniss’s voice is so conversational that the brief moments of telling in the first few pages of The Hunger Games work, particularly because Collins is mostly showing what Katniss is up to. The brief pauses to “infodump” feel like the reader is being told a story by a storyteller, like a friend telling a story over the kitchen table after a nice big meal would pause and explain something you didn’t understand (a friend who’s a very good storyteller). It’s an awareness of audience that most speculative fiction doesn’t have the luxury of.

Showing isn’t always better, and telling isn’t always bad, when done right and mixed in with showing. Whichever method you use, remember that sometimes readers will trip over new words so you need to give them as much context as possible without over-infodumping.

And here is where the art comes in. I can’t tell you what that balance is, but if you look at examples like the ones above, you’ll get a better feel for how much to reveal and how much to hold back in your first few pages—revealing enough to orient your reader and give them a sense of the differences of this world (while grounding them in something familiar like Lyra’s hallway or Katniss’s humble home) while seeking to avoid overburdening them with too much all at once.

What about you? How have you found the right balance of introducing your world without overburdening the reader? What books do you recommend that do this particularly well?

 


Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

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8. Chicanonautica: Who’s Afraid of Diversity?



I’m developing some funny reactions when I hear or see the word “diversity” -- especially when concerning science fiction, speculative literature, or what ever we’re calling that twisted wad of imaginative genres today.  It happened when I read Rudy Ch. Garcia’s recent La Bloga post. Before I knew it, I had tweeted:

I was diverse back when it scared the shit out of people.

Right away my friend Selina Phanara reminded me that I still scare people “plenty,” and Bill Campbell of  Rosarium Publishing remarked that “I think it still kinda does.”

Yup. Diversity still does kinda scare the shit out of people. It's just that nowdays, it’s supposed to be a good thing, what we’re all working for in this here civilization. You can still be scared of it, but you have to grit your teeth and look brave.

Reminds me of some old job interviews where the interviewer would turn a shade paler and give me a forced smile. It was as if I was H.R.Giger’s Alien, drooling slime and deploying the inner jaws. It would have been hilarious if I didn’t really need a way of making a living at the time . . .

Long before everybody was talking about the need for diversity in sci-fi, people in the genre would go around congratulating themselves about how they were always promoting “tolerance” -- and you’d always be running into stories where caucasians would learn that people with green skin, that looked like giant insects, could be okay folks.

Tolerance ain’t so great. Ever been around people who were “tolerating” you? And trying hard not to notice the color of your skin? Talk about quiet horror.

After all the stories where the hero shoots first and asks questions later, the subject of tolerance usually came up when trying to sell sci-fi to a highfalutin audience.

So now there’s all kinds of talk about diversity and sci-fi, and since I’ve been tilting with this windmill for about forty years it brings back memories, and the desire to speak out.

Even back in the Seventies, diversity was considered desirable. It would bring prestige, if done right, so it doesn’t scare away the perceived predominately white audience. You couldn’t go too far. Make it like “mild” salsa . . .

Ocatvia Bulter, Samuel R. Delany and Steven Barnes would be interviewed and discussed, but somehow, their race wouldn’t be mentioned. Better not bring it up. The audience may be disturbed.

Diversity was desirable, but wasn’t considered profitable. The audience was seen to be white folks from the Midwest. And not everybody liked sci-fi. What would happen to the profits if they lost the racists?

Of course, it’s the 21st century now, a new millennium. The publishing world is in turmoil. Ebooks are rocking their universe, which is no longer centered around New York City and a white elite. 

And when they go out to meet the audience, more and more of them aren’t white.

It scares them.

Kinda like I scare them. And for me, it ain’t fun until it gets scary.

In the next few years, where books come from and how people get them will change radically. Diversity will be necessary for survival in this brave, new global village.

Or will it be a global barrio? Or an intergalactic barrio?

Hollywood and the surviving publishers will follow, not lead.

Ernest Hogan is a Chicano science fiction writer, an unlikely thing to be, but he really had no choice.

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9. Diversity and sci-fi movies

Latinos and other People of Color (PoC) are expanding their presence into more than the White House. The last frontier, what might prove to be the most resistant to our inclusion is speculative literature [fantasy, magical realism, science fiction, horror, fables and myth, and alternate histories]. Por qué?

author N.K. Jemisin
From the growing movement #WeNeedDiverseBooks, to a black female author not attending a conferencebecause of physical and sexual threats, to black author N.K. Jemison's Guest of Honor speech at WisCon, to how POC are caricatured in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, People of Color are pushing an agenda of inclusion, but there's push-back from the White Male Dominated spec-lit hierarchy.          

Among others, two important, interplaying factors might explain the resistance to our inclusion.

Spec lit is BIG money for those within certain cliques

Sci-fi, fantasy and horror are all over the American screens of cable, network TV and movie houses. Good or bad, blockbusters or not, apocalypse or dystopia, a lot of stories are making chingos of dinero, and in certain cases, the road begins in spec-lit short stories or novels. For writers of those stories, the lucrative film-rights would have to be spread around, if POC enter this arena.

The young, including whites, are attracted to the cultures of POC

Forget about backwards caps and low-hanging baggies, reggae and reggaetón--if the spec stories of POC reach the screen, Anglo kids might find more to love than just wearing J-Lo T-shirts.

POC stories can include themes sympathetic towards immigrants, the Chicano Movement, monetary retribution to Native Americans and descendants of slaves, Puerto Rican independence, the Cuban Revolution, the disenfranchisement of mexicanos after Texas's secession and the Mexican American War, families' communal values (instead of Western-ethic individualism), pride in ancient indigenous cultures like the Aztec and Maya (Matt de la Peña's Maya character, Sera, not the savagery of Apocalypto). And that's not a complete list.

If such ideals and beliefs from the novels of POC reach the screen in the most popular genres of speculative fiction, imagine what rebellious, white (and other) teenagers might adopt as their own values. Like, Amy Tintera's Callum Reyes character--"the perfect solider who's done taking orders!" Or, to plug my work, what if teens identify with my fantasy novel's Chicano hero who won't accept "assimilation" and joins others to save and change their world? Nomás diciendo....

It's no longer fantasy to imagine a Latino in the White House (although it's harder to imagine he would be sympathetic toward immigrants, workers' rights and stopping military invasions.) A more frightening possibility to the white-male-dominated establishment is the horror of their children accepting and even advocating for POC in EVERYTHING!

To look at it from the perspective of the white male, spec-lit establishment, as hot as spec lit is now, the old writers feel like they are finally being recognized and rewarded, as never before. For POC to demand entry into this monetary wonderland at this point is just the WORST time!

Hollywood and its young audiences may not agree. Sci-fi, as well as other spec lit, needs new blood, themes and direction, which is what Project Hieroglyph is attempting. Change will come and Latino writers entering these genres can have a great effect on its direction. Vamos a ver.

This Friday, I'll be on NPR, expounding on Latino writers and Sci-Fi, courtesy of Producer Daisy Rosario, Latino USA. I'll let you know info as it comes in.

For that broadcast, here are cites I used:

Latino readers will become more of a significant book market. "Hispanics" make up nearly a quarter of public school students, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and are the fastest-growing of the schools' population.

Only 1% of the more than 5,000 children's books published in U.S. are about Latino protagonists, and even fewer are written by Latinos. This pattern of discrimination has not changed in the last 20 yrs.

Hollywood directors, producers and film companies generally ignore a significant percentage of their audience-goers by not developing more Latino heroes on-screen. Latino movie-goers equal the total number of all other minorities.


Will there be Latino authors in Big Book of Sci-Fi?

 

Jeff and Ann VanderMeer will be editing The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, an 800-page, time capsule of the last 100 years of sci-fi. They will have an open reading period for reprints when you can submit links or electronic manuscripts of your own work or recommendations of rare or often overlooked stories you think deserve their attention. 

Clearly, to cover a century, they can't just focus on the contemporary scene. They say, "As ever, we’re committed to including work from a diverse array of sources." It may be a few months before setting up the submission process, but they'll make sure it’s widely publicized. It will be up to Latino authors and fans to submit material so this doesn't become another Big White Book of Sci-Fi. Connect with Jeff to make your literary contribution, when it's time.

Es todo, hoy, (but wait to see what mañana brings)
Rudy G, aka author Rudy Ch. Garcia

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10. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part I

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

During the first week of June, I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. At the conference, I met writers from all over Asia and the Pacific, discussing craft, marketing their books at home and abroad, and translation. I even ran into Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac, the Australian author/illustrator team behind the LEE & LOW picture book The Drummer Boy of John John. I enjoyed all the panels and the chance to see Singapore and meet so many people from the other side of the world—it gives you a perspective as an editor you might not otherwise have.

One of the panels I participated in was a First Pages event, in which I read about 20 first pages of picture books, middle grade, and YA novels and then gave feedback on whether the pages were working for me and if I’d want to read more.

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

For the fantasy and science fiction entries, a common problem was—and is in any new writer’s writing—revealing enough about the world that you create interest and intrigue, but not too much. Too much, and you risk alienating your audience, confusing them, or simply not hooking them. Reader reactions are so subjective. One person might think there’s not nearly enough worldbuilding in a book (“give me more! MORE!”) and another might say of the exact same book that what worldbuilding there is was way too confusing (“I couldn’t keep all those made-up words straight!”).

So how do you, as the author, balance the needs of such a wide range of readers when you’re working in a complex world? And how do you balance the need to establish your characters, setting, and plot with the need to spool out information to your reader to intrigue them rather than confuse them?

This is a question that almost every author and editor of speculative fiction struggles with, particularly because we, as veterans of the genre, are already more comfortable with a lot of jargon than your average teen reader, particularly teen readers whose preference for fantasy runs more toward the contemporary paranormal variety.

Singapore 2

Stacy Whitman at the famous Singapore merlion fountain

There are a number of reasons why I think Twilight was so popular on such a broad scale, but one of the biggest ones was the relatability of the initial situation. Not vampires showing up at school—before that. We start with a simple story about a girl who is leaving her mother behind in Arizona to live with her father in an unknown small town on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Relatable: divorced parents, fish out of water, adapting to a new school and a new climate.

Think about all the really big fantasy hits of the last decade or so in children’s and YA fiction: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent. Of these books’ beginnings, only the dystopian tales start all that far outside the everyday experiences of your average young reader, and even The Hunger Games starts with a relatable situation—a coal mining family lives in a desperate situation and must hunt for food.

While most kids who would have access to The Hunger Games don’t live under a despotic regime, it’s plausible that it could happen in the real world. Every kid has been hungry at some point, though perhaps not as hungry and desperate as Katniss. Every kid has taken a test in school, and sometimes it feels like those standardized tests do determine your everlasting fate, as they do in Divergent, even if Tris’s Abnegation explanations are a little tedious. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are ordinary kids going to school, living somewhat normal lives (even if abusive ones, in the case of Harry) before their worlds change with the discovery of magic.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children's Content.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Next Thursday, I’ll go into detail about each of these techniques and give some examples. In the meantime, think about your favorite science fiction and fantasy books. How do they bring you into their world? What works best for you as a reader? Answering these questions about your own reading preferences can help guide you as a writer.

 


Filed under: Publishing 101, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

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11. Submit Your Novel to Our New Visions Award for New Authors of Color

New Visions Award seal

We are thrilled to announce that submissions for our second annual New Visions Award are now open! The New Visions Award, which was created in 2012, will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW that publishes YA and middle grade science fiction and fantasy, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.

With the recent uproar over the lack of diversity at this year’s BookCon that led to the creation of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, to articles in the New York Times by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers addressing the lack of diversity in children’s books, it’s obvious that readers want to see more writers of color represented. It is our hope that the New Visions Award will help new authors begin long and successful careers and bring new perspectives and voices to the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres.

The New Visions Award is modeled after Lee & Low’s successful New Voices Award, which was established in 2000 and is given annually to a picture book written by an unpublished author of color. This award has led to the publication of several award-winning children’s books, including It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate and Bird by Zetta Elliott.

Details

The New Visions contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published.

Manuscripts will be accepted now through October 31, 2014. The winner of the New Visions Award will receive a grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. For further details, including full eligibility and submission guidelines, please visit the New Visions Award page.

If you have any questions about submissions, eligibility, or anything else, feel free to drop them in the comments and we’ll try to answer them. And please spread the word to any aspiring authors you know who might be interested. We look forward to reading your entries!

Further reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part I

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part II

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV

Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction


Filed under: Awards, Diversity in YA, Diversity, Race, and Representation, New Voices/New Visions Award, Tu Books Tagged: diversity in writing, middle grade, middle grade writing, New Visions, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, writing contest, young adult, young adult writing

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12. The Church of Science Fiction




Back in January, having imbibed too many book reviews and flame wars, I spouted on Twitter: "Most critical writing could be summed up as, 'My god is an awesome god! Your god sucks.'" That especially seems to be the case with so much writing about science fiction, which is less rigorously analytical than it is theological.

Let's look at two examples.

Adam Roberts's new Guardian essay on science fiction and politics reminded me of a provocative essay in the current issue of Science Fiction Studies, "Fascism and Science Fiction" (JSTOR) by Aaron Santesso.

Here, I'm not going to wrestle with their arguments so much as speculate (perhaps irresponsibly, erroneously, ridiculously) on what itch such arguments scratch, because though I am skeptical of the overall thrust of both pieces, I don't find either to be especially bothersome. As I read each, I realized that I didn't understand the desires and assumptions that motivated them, because they are the desires and assumptions of a religious denomination I don't adhere to. I've explored and dabbled with various sects of the church of science fiction since childhood, and a part of me still very much wants to be a believer, but I just can't make the proper leaps of faith. Call me Doubting Matthew.

To show the theological import of the two essays, we'll have to look first (briefly, inadequately) at how they argue their cases. Let's start with Roberts. A key sentence:
Asking whether SF is "intrinsically" leftwing or rightwing is dumb, since literatures are not "intrinsically" anything. But I'm tempted to thump the tub nonetheless.
"This is dumb, but I will do it." I admire the honesty. This is a leap of faith admitted boldly and in the open.

And so Roberts leaps and thumps:
Conservatism is defined by its respect for the past. The left has always been more interested in the future – specifically, in a better future. Myriad militaristic SF books and films suggest the most interesting thing to do with the alien is style it as an invading monster and empty thousands of rounds of ammunition into it. But the best SF understands that there are more interesting things to do with the alien than that. How we treat the other is the great ethical question of our age, and SF, at its best, is the best way to explore that question.
This is a straightforward version of dogma offered by more abstruse, monkish scholars such as Darko Suvin, Fredric Jameson, and Carl Freedman (the holy trinity of Marxist SF critics). Against these ideas, Santesso addresses the tendency to see SF as inherently progressive, or to define "good SF" as SF that agrees with the (Marxist) reader's ideology:
So the critical argument, as it stands, is that the “generic tendency” of sf is progressive, that its themes are naturally progressive, that its structures are naturally progressive. I suggest, in response, that the claims one can make about the inclinations of a genre if one concentrates on certain strands and tendencies of the tradition are limited only by the strands and tendencies chosen. Over the remainder of this essay, I will argue that certain other strands of sf—since sf as a whole (encompassing everything from cyberpunk to military science fiction, at the very least) is indeed hardly politically unified—can be recognized as anything but “naturally” progressive, instead being more strongly allied with fascist politics. Furthermore, certain foundational tropes and traditions of the genre carry the DNA of fascism, as it were, to the extent that even liberal, progressive authors working within the genre’s more refined strains often (inadvertently) employ fascistic tropes and strategies. These tropes and strategies interrupt and disappoint certain ideological expectations advertised as, or assumed to be, native to the genre.
Both writers explicitly recognize that this search for one, true SF is a fool's errand, but both play the fool — Roberts admittedly, Santesso more circumspectly, but just as strongly. They are defenders of the faith.

Santesso's essay does a good job of delineating fascist tendencies within particular stories and types of stories. His essay seems to me to be a useful beginning, a sketch of analytical possibilities that would benefit from being expanded, and Santesso's careful definition of the term "fascism" certainly allows readers to expand the ideas themselves. (A good companion to Santesso's work is Barton Paul Levenson's "The Ideology of Robert A. Heinlein" in NYRSF 118, April 1998, which similarly applies a relatively precise definition of fascism to specific texts.)

Santesso's final paragraph is dense, but it's worth working through:
Given his influence on progressive sf criticism, we may give the last word to Jameson, and in particular his celebration of the Brechtian notion of plumpes Denken (“crude thinking”), which he defines as the postulate that even the most subtle, academic, or experimental “neo-Marxist” works must contain a core element of “crude” or “vulgar” Marxism in order to qualify as “Marxist” at all. Jameson alludes to plumpes Denken in order to make a point about science fiction: “Something like this may have its equivalent in SF, and I would be tempted to suggest that even within the most devoted reader of ‘soft’ SF—of sociological SF, ‘new wave’ aestheticism, the ‘contemporaries’ from Dick to the present—there has to persist some ultimate ‘hard-core’ commitment to old-fashioned ‘scientific’ SF for the object to preserve its identity and not to dissolve back into Literature, Fantasy, or whatever” (Jameson 245). Might it also be the case that the fascist energies and ideas of pulp sf are precisely the kind of identity-confirming “core” or definitional element that makes it possible to speak of “science fiction,” even when discussing literary, progressive sf? It is understandable that progressive critics would wish to distance themselves from both the aesthetics and the politics that accrued to a generation of stories featuring scenarios of the Golden Races vs. the Scaly Ones variety. But to deny that politics altogether, to claim that it belongs only to the past, is to evade a serious investigation of what makes the genre work, what gives it its identity and indeed its appeal. It is, ultimately, a denial of “science fiction” itself as a genre worthy of discussion, for surely the point of genre criticism is to identify and trace the various constitutional energies, themes, and plots that animate a form and in doing so account for all its variant strains and trends, not just the ones that accord well with a narrow set of critical pieties. To speak of “science fiction” at all is to admit to certain links and ideological ties that go beyond subject and setting, leading readers and critics into unexpected places and opening up unexpected connections. One cannot simply disown unwanted relatives or pretend not to recognize their features when they pop up in later generations. It is, indeed, precisely those ancestral presences—sometimes odd, sometimes eccentric, sometimes distasteful—that give science fiction its remarkable diversity and continuing vitality.
I'm not entirely convinced by many of the premises here*, but I'm fascinated by the continuing appeal of the desire not simply to define science fiction, but to define it toward a particular ideology, even when the writer knows and admits that this is a simplification or just "dumb".

The assertion that "good" science fiction is, in the view of Roberts et al., "progressive", is a statement that serves to set up criteria for true faith and for apostasy. (It's analogous to the use of the term "literature" to mean "that writing which I value and consider worth study".) Such a desire is similar to the one that propels people to claim that science fiction began with Mary Shelley or Newton or Lucian or Gilgamesh or the Big Bang, all of which are also ideological claims to an origin story that suits the storyteller's self-conception (or, if not outright self-conception, then at least the theological denomination they have chosen to associate with).

The stories told of science fiction are stories that reflect well on the storyteller. If the storyteller is an avid reader of science fiction, then the story is one that justifies that reading. Often, it's the fannish story of SF being somehow at the heart of literature, and therefore worthy of respect and study and love (as opposed to the "mundane" literature of a false church). Sometimes, it's a story of SF being the superior denomination. (My god is an awesome god!) One is not just a reader of science fiction, but a proud reader.

Adam Roberts's Guardian piece is perhaps best described as an example of faith-based writing. Lots of people of faith have written brilliantly, have done great things in the world, etc., so I don't mean this as a condemnation, and Roberts is particularly clear-eyed about his faith. He may be proselytizing, but he's perfectly aware that that's what he's doing. He's like a Campus Crusade for Christ guy standing out in front of the library, randomly accosting people with, "Hey, do you have a minute for Jesus? Jesus is cool!"

Aaron Santesso's essay is a useful corrective to the faith-based initiatives of the One True Church of SF missionaries (for instance, it would be interesting to read Santesso's approach to Iain Banks alongside Roberts's), but Santesso ends up giving in to the theological impulse himself by offering a story of original sin. Perhaps we could call it a Calvinist approach to SF dogma. He gives us an Old Testament sort of god, all grumpy and authoritarian and given to genocides, while Roberts sees science fiction more as a hippie Jesus. This unites the two essays, for Santesso has faith that science fiction can achieve its own new testament, and Roberts seems to think it already has.

As I said, I'm not separate from all this myself, even if I don't understand the fundamentalists and evangelicals. In many ways, I admire and even envy them their leaps and faiths. Perhaps their dogma is more honest than my anti-dogma, which is little more than the habitual uttering of, "Yes, but—" I have my own gods, my own idols and rituals and sacred texts. In that way, perhaps personal taste is always religious, always faith-based. Despite all attempts to figure out the empirical (or ideological) engines of taste, the explanations remain inadequate against the mysteries. Perhaps our passions are not only best expressed but best maintained through expressions of ecstasy. Perhaps faith is the best way to organize our desires, to give meaning to our pleasures and displeasures.

I'm a doubter, and so always and forever chained to maybe and perhaps...

Perhaps your god is an awesome god. Or, perhaps life is richer and more coherent if we believe in a god (or pantheon) that is an awesome god, regardless of whether such a belief itself is rationally justifiable. Maybe we need more tub thumping dumbness, more leaps of faith. Maybe...

Or maybe it's your god that sucks.

---------------------------------
*
My own proclivity is to view SF as a set of discourses sustained and propagated by a network of discourse communities, all of which can and should be historicized — a position certainly not opposed to Jameson or Santesso, but oblique to them.

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13. Cleopatra in Space: Book One: Target Practice, by Mike Maihack, 169 pp, RL 3

How can you not love a graphic novel titled, Cleopatra in Space? Just when I was quietly mourning the end of Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl trilogy, Mike Maihack gives us a new spacegirl to root for. As is the way with many great graphic novels, Cleopatra in Space began life as a webcomic in 2009 and ran until 2012 when Maihack began working on the graphic novel format of the story.

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14. The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth

The One Safe Place, by Tania Unsworth  (Algonquin Young Readers, middle grade, April 29, 2014)

Climate change has brought North America to the brink of collapse.   But shielded from the merciless sun in a remote valley, Devin and his grandfather have managed to keep a peaceful life going.  Then Devin's grandfather dies.  When the work of their farm proves too much for him, Devin sets out to find what's left of civilization.  In a wreck of a city where feral children run wild (but the rich can still afford the water to keep their lawns green) Devin is taken under the wing of Kit, a girl who's a practiced thief.   But then comes the promise of a refuge for children--a place where they will be safe and cared for--and though Devin has his doubts, he allows himself to be persuaded to enter that mysterious sanctuary.

And indeed, the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Children offers all the food, all the divertissements, and all the other creature comforts a kid might want.  But Gabriel H. Penn did not have the well-being of children in mind when he established the Home.  He was thinking solely of himself....and the rich old clients who might join him in benefiting from the "happy childhood" the Home provides for its young residents.

Devin does not fall for it.  He can't help but be appalled by the zombie-like state the children periodically fall into, and senses there is a dark underside to the whole set-up (and boy is he is right!).   And so he sets about solving the mysteries of the Home, and planning an escape.... On the plus side, Devin has perernatural gifts of memory conferred on him by his profound synesthesia, and he has allies among the kids who have their own abilities.    One the down side, the trap they are in is a pretty tight one, and it will take a whole lot of luck for the ragtag group of kids to escape the "safe place" that is their prison.

"Plucky, quirky kids working together in a fantastical setting to defeat evil adults who are keeping them prisoners" is pretty much always a good plot, as far as I'm concerned, and this one was no exception.   It's fun to see the dark side of the Home slowly becoming clear, and to get to know its young residents as they start to work together to escape.   And I don't think I'm alone in this-- there is lots of kid appeal in this portrayal of  the superficial elements that comprise "happy childhood" being horribly twisted, and the children fighting back, especially when the kids are well-drawn enough to have distinct personalities!  Devin's synesthesia is a particularly engaging aspect of the story.  Fascinating in and of itself, and allowing Unsworth plenty of scope for appealing descriptive language, it is a lot more than just an add-on specialness.  It plays a Pointful role in the plot, which I appreciated lots.

I did feel, though, that the near-future climate horror was not quite as well done as may be-- though it certainly helps set up the paradise of the Home, giving good reasons for the kids to end up there, it felt like a bit of an unnecessary dystopian accessory to the sci-fi premise of what is really happening at the Home. I questioned the premise that there still have been enough left of civilization to support an uber-rich class (though the rich certainly good at surviving), and I wasn't able to accept the kids as believable products of  catastrophic climate change.  They were just a bit too much like kids of today (would Kit, for instance, uneducated street kid that she is, really be familiar with IQ tests?).   I think that young readers won't notice or care, but it kept me personally from truly embracing the story.

Short answer--a good, solid story for the eleven year old or so who enjoys creepy sci fi suspense in which brave, resourceful kids are pitted against evil adults.

And now the part of review writing I always enjoy--going to see what the professional reviews said.

Here's the starred Kirkus review-- "A standout in the genre’s crowded landscape. (Dystopian thriller. 10-16)

Me--what's with that upper age range?  The kids are 12ish, some younger...there's no romance...the violence is muted though disturbing...I'd say 12 or 13, tops.  Any older and you run into readers of YA dystopia who will find this too tame.

No star from Publishers Weekly, but a very positive review-- "a page-turning mix of suspense, intrigue, and anxiety. The kids are genuine and quirky, just the right kind of mismatched misfits to snag readers’ hearts. This is a wholly enjoyable journey, and a dystopian vision with some great new twists."  

Me--not sure my heart ever got snagged, exactly, but I agree with the main points here (though I think "dystopian" has become somewhat overused and cheapened these days).  The major twist is indeed not one I can remember seeing before (though I'm not quite sure about this......).

Another star from School Library Journal-- "The suspense and dread build as the mystery gradually unfolds, but it stops short of becoming truly horrific. The conclusion is fast-paced and gripping." 

Me--nothing to disagree with here (although the spectre of old age trying to siphon off the vitality of the young is perhaps something that will be found truly horrific by those concerned about the collapse of Social Security as the Baby Boomers age...).



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15. Son by Lois Lowry, 393 pp RL 5

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - SON -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Son by Lois Lowry completes the quartet of books that began in 1993 with The Giver, followed by Gathering Blue in 2000 and Messenger in 2004.  Son begins at almost the

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16. Book Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett


Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett

Imagine a world with no sun. A world where the only heat and light comes from geothermal energy and bioluminescent plants and animals, and everything else is dark. Imagine a community of 532 people living on this planet, all descended from two astronauts who were stranded on the planet. (And yes, there was some incest in order for 532 people to be descended from only two.)

One hundred and sixty-three years after Tommy and Angela were stranded on Eden, their descendants still live in Circle Valley, where the landing vehicle originally came down, because Angela told the family to stay close, so that they could be found when rescue arrived from Earth. Food in Circle Valley is running out, but outside of Circle Valley is the Snowy Dark, and no one has ever crossed the Snowy Dark to find out what (if anything) lies beyond. Everyone in Family fears to leave the valley, lest they be stranded when the rescue comes from Earth.

Everyone except teen ("newhair") John Redlantern. John feels suffocated in the closeness and stagnation of family, and he asks the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask. No one will listen, so John does the unthinkable, with consequences that will affect everyone in Family and cause lasting change.

Dark Eden is a compelling story and a fascinating study of a society with characteristics derived from its unique environment, as well as from its tragic origin story. As the book progresses, it starts to become clear that the origin story portrays a very dysfunctional family. How would it affect an entire society to be based on such dysfunctional origins?

The worldbuilding is amazing. Although I have trouble imagining how a planet like Eden could exist, every detail of the world is so well developed, the ecosystem consistent and logical, that it came across as fully realized and believable. All that detail is developed very naturally through the story and the characters; there are no infodumps. The society, culture, and language are all distinctive and consistent.

The characters are interesting, diverse, and well-developed. John Redlantern is a bit of an anti-hero. Although he is honestly trying to help Family, he acts also out of self-interest, restlessness, and a compulsion for change. John's sometimes-lover and co-conspirator, Tina Spiketree, is an equally interesting and complex character. In addition to John and Tina, there is a rich tapestry of well-developed characters, some of whom become point-of-view characters for a short time.

Story is an important theme running throughout Dark Eden. Obviously the origin story plays a significant role. As in many cultures, the stories from the past are retold and reenacted at important events. These stories are distorted by the lens of time, and by people who don't really understand, in some cases, what the stories mean, because they have no experience with things that could form a basis for understanding. John Redlantern is keenly aware of the power of story; he consciously makes choices that will make him a mythic character to other people, and he wonders how his descendants will tell his story in the future.

The title of the book fits on multiple levels. The planet is named Eden, and obviously Tommy and Angela are its Adam and Eve. But Earth is the Eden that they've been exiled from. The Family doesn't seem to have a religion or worship any gods, but waiting for the return to Earth has an almost religious fervor to it. Later in the book, there is also a kind of Cain and Abel vibe happening.

Dark Eden is an astonishing, compelling, and unique science-fiction story. If you like science fiction and this isn't on your TBR, it probably should be.

Note: Dark Eden is published for the adult market, but I think it has crossover appeal for teens. Besides the teen protagonists, it has a teen outlook and themes of social change that will appeal to teens. There is some fairly explicit sex, so it would be best for mature teens, but sex is not uncommon in YA today. And in spite of the explicit nature of the sex, it's some of the least sexy sex I've read in books — it's supposed to be, because it's another symptom of the stagnation of this society.

Diversity?

  • Mother Angela was black, according to the stories, and Tommy was white (Jewish, if I remember right). One minor character in the Family is described as being a "dark bloke with dark curly hair," but other than that, I didn't see any other mention of racial characteristics. Given the description of Angela and Tommy, I think it's safe to assume that everyone in Family would have multiracial characteristics.
  • Nations are mentioned in the stories from the past, but because the people in Family have no basis for understanding — their closest analogue is the smaller groups within Family —it doesn't really pay a role.
  • At one point, Tina is thinking about how all of the boys want to "slip" (have sex) with her, and then she adds, "except those who prefer boys." Although I didn't notice any same-sex couplings in the book, it seems that in this society they're accepted as routine.
  • Cleft lip and club foot are common congenital deformities in Family, probably due to the incest and inbreeding. These play a significant role in the story. The effect of the deformities on the individuals is shown, without it degenerating into stereotypes. And they are individuals, that have distinctive personalities of which the disability is only a facet. One adult character is angry and mean as a result of bullying in childhood, but others are caring, respected members of society. One boy with clubfoot who appears to be an object of pity in the beginning ends up becoming a leader.
Who would like this book:

Mature teens and adults who enjoy unique science fiction with richly developed worldbuilding and characters

Get it from:
Audiobook

FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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17. News and More: Book Reviews, Blog Posts, and Caught Between Two Curses

Busy spring!

Busy spring!

Lots going on lately in our household with birthdays, Mother’s Day, spring winery trips and the end of the first year of preschool. So, I have also had a lot of web happenings that I’m late on reporting. Here’s a round-up:

  • Caught Between Two Curses (CBTC) news: I’m so excited that YA author Brian Katcher reviewed CBTC over at Foreveryoungadult.com  and he said, “There’s a lot of creepy stuff going on in the wings, with baseballs flying out of nowhere and the grim specter of death hanging over Julie’s family. But they’re Cubs fans. They’re used to living in hell.”  He also said, “Dill does a great job of linking Julie’s family curse to the cursed Chicago team. Can Julie and Matt stop the curse that is destroying her family? Will the Cubs go all the way this year? Keep in mind, this is a work of pure fiction.”
  • I was also lucky enough to be featured as the Indie Spotlight on Reading Teen, writing about how I got my idea for CBTC and how I wanted to explore the question of destiny and why some people survive accidents and others don’t, as well as the Cubs Curse. You can read about that at the link above. I also was lucky enough to answer some questions about writing fiction on the St. Louis Writers’ Guild blog, The Writers’ Lens.
  • News-Gazette Book Reviews: As many of you know, I write a Sunday Book Review column for the News-Gazette. I recently reviewed two very interesting books, one science fiction and one non-fiction parenting book. To check these out, both written by strong and interesting women, click on the titles: The Self-Esteem Trap (parenting) and Zero Time (science fiction).
  • Over at WOW! Women On Writing, I posted about writing in multiple points of view, how to do it well, books that do it well, and why authors may consider using more than one character’s point of view to tell the story. We have an interesting conversation going on The Muffin and on our Facebook page!
  • At Lit Ladies critique group on May 5

    At Lit Ladies critique group on May 5

    Lit Ladies blog: On the Lit Ladies blog, I am blogging about strong women and girls (GIRL POWER!) on Tuesdays now, and I talked about a book that changed my life, Half the Sky! Put it on your summer reading list. Find out how you can help women and girls find their voices around the world. I also blogged about my friend Kelly who exemplifies the Margaret Mead quote about never doubting what a small group of citizens can do.

And last but not least, I am currently organizing a blog tour for myself and my YA, Caught Between Two Curses. If you have a blog and want to participate, I have some dates in July! I am writing guest posts about young adult topics, writing, strong girls and women, baseball, curses, adult illiteracy and more. Please email me at margo (at) margodill.com if you would like to participate. You get a free ecopy of CBTC for your participation!

 

 

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18. Book Review and Giveaway - Glaze by Kim Curran

Title: Glaze
 Author: Kim Curran
Published:  12 May 2014 by Jurassic Park
Length: 293 pages
Source: author
Summary : Petri Quinn is counting down the days till she turns 16 and can get on GLAZE – the ultimate social network that is bringing the whole world together into one global family. But when a peaceful government protest turns into a full-blown riot with Petri shouldering the blame, she’s handed a ban. Her life is over before it’s even started.Desperate to be a part of the hooked-up society, Petri finds an underground hacker group and gets a black market chip fitted. But this chip has a problem: it has no filter and no off switch. Petri can see everything happening on GLAZE, all the time. Including things she was never meant to see.As her life is plunged into danger, Petri is faced with a choice. Join GLAZE… or destroy it.
Review:  Glaze-the next level of social media. A chip is inserted into your head, and you are on Glaze. You can see everyone's names and stories. You can see the history of an object. You are connected to everyone all the time. Petri is fifteen when she is charged with inciting a riot. As a punishment, she isn't allowed onto Glaze until she's twenty-one, as opposed to the standard age of sixteen. Unable to take being left out, Petri goes to some hackers to get a  chip inserted on the black market. But this illegal chip means she can't get away from Glaze even if she wants to.
I really enjoyed Shift and Control, and I'm looking forwards to Delete coming sometime soon. When I heard about this, the concept and the author made me sure i'd have to read it.
I loved the world of this. It's scary how we're progressing ever faster towards it; google glass is putting our data in front of our eyes, it's only a matter of time before we get data in our heads. And the dystopian element of a company having all the data and controlling you is something that intrigues me a lot. 
The pacing is really good. There's always something happening, and the ways the plot develops keeps you hooked. It was a little predictable as to who did –the thing-- but the reasoning behind it was harder to see, and I still enjoyed reading. 
The characters are all varied and really well done. I loved Petri, and her desire to fit in is not an unfamiliar one for anyone. I didn't really feel anything for any of the romance in this, but i'm glad that it didn't detract from the plot. I liked the characters by themselves though, from the resourceful hackers to the  friendship and to the real social dynamics of the school to the slightly crazy Mimi.
The best thing about this book is the way it connects with contemporary life, the way this kind of thing could happen if the way we’re going is taken to extremes,, and that this is a book about our reliance on the internet and what happens if we let this internet connectivity control our lives.


Overall:  Strength 4 to a fast paced dystopian with a great world and a look at what happens if technology goes too far.



Also, because I forgot on Saturday, there's a tourwide giveaway happening of one of 75 hardback copies of Glaze, plus other stuff like signed copies of Shift & Control, Glaze Bookmarks, Glaze badges and a meet with Kim Curran or Skype chat if you're not able to come to London. Enter!!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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19. Silver by Chris Wooding

Scholastic Press, 2013
Adam, Paul, Mark, Erika and Caitlyn….all of them attend Mooringham Boarding Academy. These students have a web of relationships from enemies to friends, love to hate. The one thing that binds them together is the solitude of the Academy. Cell phones don’t have signals, and the nearest town is  a long walk no student is interested in. But the academy has more than enough to keep their students academically challenged, well-fed and healthy. Mr. Harrison, the headmaster, is not very pleased with Paul, the newest student to the Academy. Together, they possess a relationship of disdain and noncommittal acknowledgement of each other.

One day, Mr. Sutton, a mild-mannered science teacher, take his students out to the fields to find insects and it’s here where one of his students encounters a peculiar beetle. And that single small beetle is the beginning of the nightmare for those who survive the rampant horror and death at Mooringham Boarding Academy.

Those who are lucky aren’t bitten. Those who are begin a strange metamorphosis. Their skin begins to turn silver and their veins look more like tech cables. Slowly, the bitten are losing their humanity to become zombie-like cyborgs with one mission in mind – create new machines for the collective. Adam uses his brute strength to fight while Paul becomes a leader through quick thinking. Mark lets his intelligence protect him and the others while Erika’s physical traits gets her further along in the game. And then there’s Caitlyn….

If you have readers who need the next sci-fi for young adults, hand them this book. A page-turner from start to finish, Wooding comes back into the world of YA with another great story that will create even more followers to his other books. The imagery he writes about is one that I could easily picture in Technicolor in my mind. Wooding runs that gamut from horror to romance, nanotechnology to humanity in one thrill fest of a read. What is equally rewarding are the characters Wooding creates, which makes this a read for both genders. It left me with the question, “Will there be a sequel?” Recommended for JH-HS

Paired fiction: Variant by Robison Wells Being by Kevin Brooks
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-mQi9MlKVA

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20. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, 211 pp RL 4

I was (finally) writing a review of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and I found myself referring back to my May 1, 2009 review of A Wrinkle in Time, which was a complete mess. So, in honor of the 5 year anniversary of my review, I present a tidier version for your viewing (and reading) pleasure! A Wrinkle in Time: A Brief History of the Covers  (review follows) I absolutely love the

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21. The American Shore by Samuel R. Delany from Wesleyan University Press


Now available for pre-order. Here's the Wesleyan University Press page for it.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction, should your appetite need whetting:
It may, on a quick glance, appear to be a book about a short story. On further examination, it may appear to be a book about how science fiction works, or a contribution to the literary and cultural theory of its day. It is those things, but not only those things. Like so much of Delany’s writing, its strategies and concerns nudge our view wider. Much as the best science fiction’s trivalent discourse easily lures us into considering the meaning produced by the intersections of world and text, and thus provides a powerful space for reflection on both, so Delany’s dive over and between the lines of “Angouleme” stands as a model for and instigator of various levels of thought about all the signs and languages that produce and obscure our lives. No great text ever ends if there are still readers to read it and re-read it, to diffuse it and re-fuse it, reveling in the possibilities of polysemy and dissemination. Even the briefest moment of meaning can be, itself, a meaning machine.  Signifiers and signifieds want to dance till the end of time.

0 Comments on The American Shore by Samuel R. Delany from Wesleyan University Press as of 5/4/2014 12:29:00 PM
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22. Call for Fiction and Poetry Submissions: Devilfish Review


Devilfish Review is looking for fiction and poetry for our next issue. We specialize in science fiction and fantasy, with the occasional foray into horror.

We offer token payment of five dollars for flash fiction and poetry, and ten dollars for fiction in exchange for first publication rights.

Visit our website to learn more about us. Submit here.

Submissions representing those who are marginalized in mainstream fiction are especially encouraged, as we do not get nearly enough of them.

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23. Ancient Fire, by Mark London Williams for Timeslip Tuesday

Sometimes a reader just has to ask "does the sentient dinosaur boy actually add anything to the story?"   In the case of Ancient Fire (Danger Boy, book 1), by Mark London Williams (2001), I'm happy to say that he does. But before we meet this particular sentient dinosaur from an alternate reality, a lot of other things have to happen.

It is 2019.  Physics has advanced, to the point that two scientists, husband and wife, have made a breakthrough that may allow time travel to be a workable proposition.  A secret government agency is very interested indeed in the ramifications of this...and its agents have invaded the lab where the research is being carried out, and are pushing the experiments to dangerous levels.  So much so that the female scientist disappears, as it were, in a puff of (metaphoric) time smoke.  Her husband, desperate to escape from government control, flees across country with their son, Eli, but the government agents track them, and force the work to continue.  And when Eli incautiously interferes with an experiment, he becomes unlocked in time himself!

In the meantime, a young saurian lad is headed out on a mission to an alternate earth, because this is what all young saurians do in middle school.  The physics of his journey collides with Eli's first rush through time, and they find themselves in ancient Alexandria, just in time to be attacked by an angry mob.   There they meet Thea, daughter of Hypatia, librarian of Alexandria.  After some bouncing in time/near death at the hands of angry mob/manipulation by government agents/the revelation that Eli's mom might be alive in the 1930s/a plague that might have been brought from the past/an angry rhino, the book ends....with lots more story left to be told!

Basically, the sentient dinosaur boy, Clyne, made the book for me.   Without him, it would be generic science-driven time travel for the young; with him, there's lovely cross-cultural exploration, with bonus surrealism.  He's the most engaging character, qua character, as well--perhaps because Eli and Thea are both in such unhappy and anxious states that they don't add much lightness to story (Clyne's major worry, until he's in mortal peril himself,  is the grade he's going get), but mostly because he's such a pleasant, inquisitive, optimistic sentient dinosaur that I liked him lots.

The book also offers a nice introduction to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, for those anxious to learn about the past (harrowing, though, to watch the scrolls go up in smoke), and for those who are physics geeks, doubtless the science of nanoparticles and the nature of time and space will provide interesting fodder for critical thought.

I enjoyed this one a lot more than I though I was going to.  It is the first of a series (Danger Boy), and for Clyne's sake I'll actively look for the next book, Dragon Sword--even though the introduction of Arthur and Merlin as allies sends up even more red flags that sentient dinosaurs do! Try this one on the imaginatively adventurous nine or ten year old who enjoys a swirl of complicated plot, sooner rather than later, because 2019 is almost here....and although the book is not that dated yet, physics keeps getting stranger in real life....

(The only other sentient saurian character I can think of is the one in Sherri Tepper's Gibbon's Decline and Fall, which I've whited out the title of because it is a spoiler.  And I didn't mind it there either, so maybe I am more open-minded viz dinosaurs than I think I am.  I still have no desire to read Anne McCaffery's Dinosaur Planet books though).

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24. Dark Eden (2014)

Dark Eden. Chris Beckett. 2014. Crown Publishing Group. 448 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dark Eden is a science fiction novel. It is set on an alien world, a sunless world. It has been colonized by one renegade human ship. Two chose to stay, one man, one woman. Three chose to try to return to Earth even though their ship was a bit damaged. Dark Eden opens over a hundred and sixty years later. The descendants of those two original survivors now number just over five hundred. Dark Eden is mainly narrated by "newhairs" like John Redlantern and Tina Spiketree.

John Redlantern is definitely the hero of Dark Eden. He is an ambitious, slightly rebellious young "newhair" that wants more. He wants to cross the Dark and explore the planet, he wants to move beyond "the Circle" of Family. He doesn't want to stay in the same tiny spot of land that the starship happened to land in all those years ago. He wants to head into the Unknown and see for himself what else there is out there. He does not want to spend his entire life waiting and waiting for rescue from Earth that may not come in his lifetime, or his children's lifetime. It turns out he is not the only restless spirit among the newhairs. But only John is rash enough to ACT and force change. Will he be strong enough to lead when it matters most?

Did I like Dark Eden? It was an interesting enough read in some ways, but I also found it predictable.

Perhaps the best way to approach Dark Eden is with realistic expectations. You can read an excerpt for yourself from this site.
Already remarkably acclaimed in the United Kingdom, Dark Eden is science fiction as literature: part parable, part powerful coming-of-age story, set in a truly original alien world of dark, sinister beauty and rendered in prose that is at once strikingly simple and stunningly inventive.
With phrases like "science fiction as literature" and "truly original" and "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive" it wasn't quite fair to the book or the reader. "Science fiction as literature" is a strange phrase to begin with, in my opinion. As if genre science fiction is lesser in value than "science fiction as literature." Is Dark Eden literary? I'm not a fair judge of that at all. Since I tend to think that what passes for literary these days is less than extraordinary. (I can tell you that Dark Eden uses crude words liberally. Yes, that is just my opinion that certain words are crude. But when they are used heavily on almost every page, or every other page, it becomes harder to ignore.)

I'll give you a sample of the prose and let you judge for yourself if it is "strikingly simple" and "stunningly inventive."
"I'll tell you a funny thing, I said, "when we saw those woolly-bucks up there on the snow, I thought for a moment they were a Landing Veekle from Earth. Hah! That was pretty dumb of me, wasn't it?"
Gerry laughed.
"Tom's dick, John! You just killed a leopard!"
"But I suppose one waking someone will come, won't they? They say the starship was damaged when Angela and Michael chased after it in their Police Veekle and tried to stop it. They say it leaked. But even if the starship broke on the way back, and even if the Three Companions died, the people on Earth would find it sooner or later, wouldn't they? I mean it had a Computer, didn't it, and a Rayed Yo? Okay it's two hundred wombtimes ago now that they left Eden. But think how long it must take to build a new starship. I mean it takes old Jeffo half a wombtime just to build one lousy log boat to fish with out on Greatpool."
Gerry took my shoulders and shook me.
"Gela's tits, John, will you stop talking about bloody sky-boats! You've killed a leopard! All by yourself! with a kid's spear!"
It was weird weird. The leopard was still twitching in front of me, I was covered with its black blood, and I was shaking shaking all over. (24, ARC)
I was torn, torn all the time. We weren't going to be safe where we were forever. We had to move as soon as we could, and that meant finding a way over Dark. So I was desperate desperate all the time to get up there, and I was working working all the time on how to do it, how to make better wraps, how to light our way. But at the same time, and for the same reason, we had to watch out for attack from Family. (253, from ARC)
At the end of a waking, two sleeps after he did for that leopard, me and John Redlantern walked up along Dixon Stream. We climbed the rocks beyond London and Blueside fence until Deep Pool was there below us, shining with wavyweed and water lanterns and bright beds of oysters. (62, ARC)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. My Favorite Thing About Zita : An Appreciation of Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl

I am so honored to be part of the farewell blog tour for Ben Hatke's brilliant graphic novel trilogy. Be sure to check out the other fantastic tributes by people like Tom Angleberger and this awesome post at the graphic novel book review blog Good OK Bad where the author's 4 year old daughter spent the last several months learning to read so she could read The Return of Zita the Spacegirl on her

0 Comments on My Favorite Thing About Zita : An Appreciation of Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl as of 5/10/2014 5:34:00 AM
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