Category Archives: SFFH

Editors Like Stories

A bit back, we were having a discussion on SFFWorld.com about submitting short fiction to SFFH magazines. That SFFH as an area of fiction still has a viable magazine market in this day and age is a truly wondrous thing. It’s due to the deep interest of fans in checking out a variety of voices, a lot of interesting on-line magazines trying new models and older print ones trying new approaches, and a lot of authors willing to give short fiction a shot, even though it no longer pays a living wage.

When submitting short fiction to magazines, writers do have to be aware that individual magazines (and anthologies,) have specific audiences and select stories in line with those needs. Consequently, when the magazine puts down guidelines about what sort of stories they do and do not want to see (as well as the usual admonishment to read their magazine to get familiarity with it,) writers do have to pay attention. There’s no sense in beating your head against a brick wall.

The problem is, writers often don’t know how thick the brick wall is or even if it’s there. You usually can’t know, in fact, unless you submit a story and see if it flies with the particular publication. Because the reality is that the terms we use for various sub-forma of short SFFH fiction are often vague and open to a wide variance of interpretation. Outside of things like sending a science fiction story to a magazine that never publishes science fiction, or vice versa, a writer may not really know what the boundaries are. The requirements of many of the magazines are in fact fairly wide; a magazine might publish science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery all in one go.

And editors of magazines like stories, so much so that they may publish stories that aren’t quite what they would usually go for in the magazine but they think the stories are too good not to share with their readership. And sometimes, they think a writer’s story does fit within their parameters. A story that a writer doesn’t really think is steampunk, for instance, but does have a Victorian setting and one or two details that might be considered kind of steampunky, may totally work for a magazine editor as steampunk. So the range of magazines a writer can submit to is usually a good deal broader than what stated guidelines may imply. Writers simply can’t completely know what might make it through, and the penalties for trying a submission out within reason are slim to none. (The postage cost used to be considerable, but electronic submissions are fairly common now.)

A clear example of this issue was displayed in an April article at io9.com by Charlie Jane Anders, given the provocative headline: “10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories That Editors Are Tired of Seeing.” How useful — stories that editors didn’t like, didn’t want to see anymore, so you know what to avoid and never try. Except if you read into the article, the reality is that editors aren’t necessarily tired of certain stories and are often just noting some recent trends in what they’ve been sent. As Anders herself says:

Also, no editor ever wants to say “I’m tired of unicorns,” because right now someone is probably writing a unicorn story so good it’ll make you weep to read it — and chances are, the editor who just swore off unicorn stories would buy that story in a heartbeat. So this mostly isn’t a list of stories you shouldn’t write — more a list of areas where you’re going to have to work harder to stand out.

In actuality, it’s not even a matter of “standing out” more on a subject that has commonly appeared. Nearly every subject in SFFH has already commonly appeared, and stories about such subjects might not be filled with dazzling prose and certainly not with new plot twists, but may still connect with editors who feel it is right for their magazines. And the situation is often self-selecting — editors may see more of one kind of story because writers have gotten the impression that it’s the kind of story their magazine likes.

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Rest In Peace The Mary Sue

I absolutely hate the entire concept of Mary Sue, which I regard as an incredibly sexist device for trying to slam female writers of fan or published fiction, and very ignorant when applied to published authors in understanding how they work. (And no, don’t bother to bring up Gary Stu; nobody cares about that and they came up with it as a sop to critics that Mary Sue was too unfair. It’s a sexist knockdown and always has been.)

So as such, I was not entirely comfortable with the name of the feminist website The Mary Sue, even though they were in a sense knocking the sexism of the term. Their tagline was “A Guide to Geek Girl Culture,” however, and they covered geek culture from a female slant and focused on women’s voices and participation in that culture which is a good thing. I did read articles from there that sounded interesting that people made me aware of, and I did link to some of their articles, finding them interesting and useful and with good info about upcoming geek releases. Above all, for many female fans, The Mary Sue was a safe space where they could talk about geek culture and be heard without being attacked, sneered at and having their conversations derailed by the usual troll attitudes.

However, The Mary Sue is owned by a media company and that company decided to A) merge the successful Mary Sue site with a less successful general geek site on their slate; B) strip off all the woman stuff to make the site more “inclusive,”; C) bring in male editor/writers who have no clue how to do PR with feminist readers and let them shoot their mouths off; and D) bring along a bevy of troll comment makers to whine about the annoying women-folk.

Abrams Media is owned by Dan Abrams, a lawyer and news commentator and general feminist supporter. So why he and his staff decided to gender wash The Mary Sue when it was one of their most successful operations is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the advertisers, as advertisers so often do, demanded the change. But the reality is that once a site does this, it’s probably not coming back. The female Editor-in-Chief is already pleading that she has orders coming down from on high and that really, they aren’t going to ditch the ladies, but you know, inclusion and changes, etc. Odds are, she may not get to stay in that position long.

So it’s a shame, but hopefully other sites will fill in the new gap, as well as existing sites. Here’s the deal: sites that focus on feminist issues, women characters and female creators in geek culture are “inclusive” precisely because they are doing that — they are making sure areas that usually get excluded, excised and ignored because they are about women are included in the conversation, and doing so with the understanding that those conversations are actually of interest to all genders. Having to dump feminist content to be “inclusive” is an argument that means you want to exclude that very vibrant and vital part of geek culture from the conversation and stick to the social default — male issues, characters and voices. If that’s how you explain what it is you are doing, then you’ve already hoisted your flag that not only are you not women friendly, you feel more comfortable with them shut out, especially when any topic involving marginalization occurs.

As soon as The Mary Sue dumped its tagline, it was dead on arrival. It seems unlikely a really strong phoenix version will rise from its ashes, given the statements they’ve made so far. So rest in peace, The Mary Sue. Let’s hope your writers can find other venues.

 

 

 

 

 

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Godzilla — Roar!

Went to see the new Godzilla movie last night. Things I learned:

1) Godzilla has less screen time than you would expect. (But he has the most adorable eyes!)

2) So does Bryan Cranston.

3) Breathing under a mask is loud.

4) Do not mess with school bus drivers.

5) The military never listens to scientists when it comes to monsters.

6) Apparently, the military does not have a lot of EOD specialists lying around. Or tools to break plastic glass.

7) The director of the movie is obsessed with train tracks.

8) Everyone now in San Francisco will get cancer, and definitely don’t eat the fish there.

9) The neatest part of the whole movie is watching a hotel resort I stayed in get destroyed. (Look, it’s the boat dock!)

10) The thing that frightened me the most was a pelican.

11) Woman in the fridge!

12) The plot was slightly less nonsensical than the plot of Pacific Rim, and definitely was a brain trust compared to Prometheus.

It was silly and generally fun, but a bit too long maybe. The monsters and monster battles were pretty well done. I happen to be someone who liked the 1998 Godzilla film (which was very successful financially,) but I will say that this one is probably more in keeping with the spirit of the original Godzilla films. Consequently, it does not have a lot of (intentional) humor to it but there are plenty of smashed buildings. And Godzilla himself has the patience of a saint in this movie. Really, don’t expect him to put up with all this stuff in the sequel.

 

 

 

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Videos for a Rainy Friday Evening

My desk looks like a tube of paper exploded on it. So have some entertaining videos:

1) The wonderfully clever short film called Darth Baby’s Lightsaber. This is my new favorite Star Wars parody:

2) The amazing group Arstidir (close as I can get to reprinting properly,) sing an old Icelandic hymn in the stunning acoustics of a German train station:

3) Dan Newbie‘s rendering of the theme to Game of Thrones on water glasses, jugs and pans:

4) The trailer for the up-coming new t.v. show, Constantine, adapted from the comics and airing on NBC in the U.S., which looks pretty good:

5) The trailer for the new New Zealand mockumentary film about vampires, What We Do in the Shadows. I’m hoping it gets widely distributed:*    *Apparently, it’s not a film; it’s a t.v. series, which is even better.

6) And lastly, an amazing street performer reproduces Bumblebee from the Transformer movies in Michigan. I don’t know if this is the same guy as the one in New Orleans but it seems very likely, and I don’t know who he is but the special effects people in Hollywood should hire him:

 

 

 

 

 

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Comicon!

This is how I do Mother’s Day weekend, booya!

Ash, Ash, Baby!

Ash, Ash, Baby!

Your Left, Your Left, Your Right, Left, March!

Your Left, Your Left, Your Right, Left, March!

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Happy May the 4th Everyone!

star-wars-old

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May 4, 2014 · 1:28 PM

Hugo Rumblings

I’m actually trying to put a lot of stuff together, books wise and such, but it’s taking me a bit. Meanwhile, there seems to be a lot of screaming all around over the final ballot for this years Hugo Awards, which will be handed out at WorldCon, which this year is in London, England, as LonCon. The WorldCon was already a bit beleagured on the Hugos due to a thoughtless and brief decision to have “lad humor” British talk show host Jonathan Ross as host for the Hugo banquet. (This seems to have come about because Ross’ wife is a producer who has worked Hugo nominated sci-fi projects and worked with Neil Gaiman.)  As this came right after promises from the con to the author community that they would be particularly watchful as to treating female and non-white authors as equal professionals and work on an atmosphere of accessibility, inclusivity and workable harassment policy for authors and fans, that plan detonated nuclear style for a few hours before Ross stepped down after calling various people stupid on Twitter.

Currently, the uproar is about nominations achieved for author Larry Correia in the Best Novel category and for various authors/artists he put on a recommended slate, including controversial far right extremist author Thomas Beale under the pseudonym Vox Day. Correia has expressed disdain for Hugo voters and the kind of works they nominate (which seems strange, given that the Hugo often puts very popular bestsellers on the ballot.) And the slate was supposedly a way to up-end the Hugos, at least at the nomination stage. So a lot of folk are unhappy about what they see as a log-rolling effort for a political agenda on the ballot, while the other side claims that looking at the political agenda they said that they were doing is out of bounds. Given the form of the voting on the Hugo (you either buy a membership to attend WorldCon which includes a vote or buy a voting only supplemental membership and then you vote on the entire slate of nominees, not just for one,) political agendas aren’t likely to get you very far, nor particularly cause harm to the Hugos, but the wider discussion has some value.

Then there’s the smaller debate over the nomination of the Wheel of Time series for Best Novel Hugo as one unit, written mostly by Robert Jordan, with Brandon Sanderson finishing the series under Jordan’s outlines and partial ms. after Jordan’s saddening death. Because none of the books in the series have been nominated for the Hugo before and the series is finished, Hugo rules allow the whole series to be nominated in that category, (and indeed Wheel of Time is one giant novel spread out over a lot of books.) The Wheel of Time being a seminal work in SFF and an immensely popular bestselling series of length, there are fears that Jordan fans will overwhelm the other, individual title nominees. It’s entirely possible that Wheel of Time will take the prize on a combination of enthusiastic fans and the need to give this last chance tribute. On the other hand, WorldCon is in London this year, with more UK denizens attending than others and Wheel of Time is a bigger deal in the U.S.

I don’t have a problem with Correia and even Day being on the ballot. If they got the votes, they got the votes, and soliciting doesn’t enter into it. I certainly don’t have a problem with Wheel of Time being on the ballot, daunting as it may seem. But I also have no problem with vehement debate and disagreement over those developments. Awards are cultural, and by that nature, political. The whole point of nominating works for these awards is to draw awareness to first the existence of literary works of any kind and the interesting facets of visual media ones in SFF; and second, to provoke just these sorts of discussions about what is there and what is not but perhaps should be there. (If we could do it without death and rape threats for the female side, though, that would be nice.)

Do these discussions open up new possibilities and sensibilities for authors in disadvantaged groups, like women and non-whites? Or does it allow old obstacles to linger? I’m not sure; I think that they may do both but lean towards the former. I do know, though, that you can’t block fans from expressing their interests in the field and voting on those interests, especially when it involves paying a fee to do so. And I do know that such a situation does not mean that an award will fall apart or become utterly worthless, no matter who is on the ballot.

For whatever reasons, these works were of value to somebody in enough numbers to get them on the ballot. Now they will be judged on that value. And that value, like always in fiction, is subjective and open for discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Want the Album

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What D’Ya Know, Science Fiction Isn’t Dead

If you had a conversation in the SFFH community sometime in the 1998-2003 time period, you might well have been arguing with people who felt that contemporary fantasy fiction was rare, unimportant, limited mainly to YA, used to not exist in the past, and would never be anywhere near as popular in the field as pre-industrial secondary world fantasy. (By 2004, those conversations stopped.) If you had a conversation in 2008-2012, it would probably have been concerning wild assertions about e-books, how they were made, what they should cost, the right of illegal downloading, and how they and electronic self-publishing would kill all publishers off by 2014. As we know, these things are cyclical.

No conversation, however, in the SFFH community and at times in the media, is as cyclical as the science fiction is dying and soon to die conversation. And if you were having a conversation in the SFFH community in the 2004-2010 time period, it might very well have been about such claims: how fantasy was pushing SF out as a category market (again,) how women were the big readers and the myth that they didn’t like SF as much (again,) how technology had somehow magically invented all the inventions and big theories and so science fiction’s musings on the future couldn’t keep up (again,) how science fiction was largely dead in the movies (again,) how science fiction doing well in YA didn’t count, how vampires were the only thing going, etc.

Those conversations have died down now to occasional mumbles about how hard SF, the real SF, is still dying, but that never changes. The refrain of widespread science fiction and sci-fi death, however, has become forgotten. That’s because science fiction is all over the place and has now gotten enough hits to have people actually accept it as a media interest, rather than dismiss science fiction hits as somehow rare outliers.

In the movies just recently, Divergent, adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction novel, scored with a $56 million opening weekend, without even yet getting their global audience. It joins The Hunger Games movies, also adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction series read by both girls and boys and with female leads (trickle, trickle.) Last year, nearly a dozen science fiction movies were the big launches, everything from Iron Man 3 to Elysium to Gravity. This up-coming year, SF movies are quite plentiful – more Hunger Games, and Transcendence, Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Jupiter Rising, etc. And that’s just Hollywood – world cinema is doing plenty too. This is not a sudden change; 2009 — a year in which the claims that science fiction was on its way out reached a fever pitch – saw the Star Trek reboot, District 9 and Avatar, the movie that took the number one box office slot. Science fiction is, in fact, and has been, more trusted in Hollywood than fantasy movies, which are seen as unpredictable.

On television, science fiction is on networks, on cable, on the Internet, and again global. Shows like Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Continuum, Almost Human, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Defiance, Under the Dome, etc., are thick on the ground.  Some are more successful than others, but science fiction shows are a staple of the medium, a medium which is becoming more and more international and melding at least partially with web television on the Net, where science fiction stories are long time favorites.

In written fiction, science fiction has been building and rebuilding its audiences. The burgeoning YA fiction market was commonly seen as either a devourer of the adult category market or unimportant to the adult category market, depending on which claim people wanted to make about trends. The success of The Hunger Games in that market was dismissed as not sufficient for science fiction, given that it was YA and the phenom status of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, while other SF YA bestseller series like Maximum Ride and The Uglies were ignored altogether. Now YA is awash in dystopian SF series that have done well, to the point where the media wonders if they are taking over the field, both for teens and adults. This is of course not happening any more than the purported vampire takeover; teen readers are simply cycling through different types of stories. Right now, they are also enjoying SF with alien contacts, zombies, genetic engineering, cyber AI and space travel adventure, such as Karl Schroeder’s recent novel Lockstep.

The presence of big, acclaimed authors doing SF novels was regarded by some as “outsiders” whose success was supposed to destroy the SF category market, rather than bring more readers to it, as they usually do. Best-selling novels like the time travel love story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, the alt history near future The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, post-apocalyptic novels Oryx & Crake, The Road, World War Z and The Passage were seen by some as death knells for more established (and often equally acclaimed,) SF writers. Instead, they brought in a flurry of movie options for themselves and for SF classics that is still going on, and helped build a general interest in science fiction, as did SF thrillers that were sold in both general fiction and the category market. Currently, Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation is adding to that steady pool.

Category market authors – those working with SFF specialty imprints – saw big deals in the last decade, such as the one given a few years back to British author Alastair Reynolds, with more titles published on most major lists. Currently, The Martian by Andy Weir is causing a big splash and is already optioned for film. Novels like Influx, Red Rising, A Darkling Sea, Air, Ancillary Justice, and new offerings from older authors like C.J. Cherryh, David Weber, William Gibson, and Dan Simmons are racking up sales and buzz. Hugh Howey’s Wool succeeded as both an example of self-publishing audience building and science fiction bestsellerdom, with an adaptation and foreign sales. John Scalzi’s satirical Red Shirts also scored big on the lists and will be a short-run t.v. series. Bestselling novels like The Wind-Up Girl and The Quantum Thief have scored big in recent years, highlighting the crops of military SF, space opera, SF horror, quantum exploration, alien contact and whatever else they can come up with.

So at this point, I am reasonably confident in saying that the predictions I made back in 2008 for SF’s continued health have been accurate. And that perhaps people need to read the story of Chicken Little every so often.

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Unreality Junction: Books Ahoy!

Some novels to explore:

 

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias – SF: Humans encounter their first alien species underwater underneath miles of ice. Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh – Historical Fantasy: An immortal muse survives on the creativity of the artists she inspires but must contend with another immortal who feeds off human pain in a story that ranges from the 1300′s to present day New York. Spider Wars: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher — SF: A grand epic in the far future in which a disconsolate spaceman believes he hears space transmissions from the rumored lost Soviet cosmonauts of the past, indicating a danger of an alien nature.

Prospero’s War: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells — Urban Fantasy: First in a new series in an alternate Earth where magic comes in the form of alchemy and drugs, and a female cop must help a federal task force with a case with connections to her troubled past.

Ancillary Justice  by Ann Leckie – SF: A female soldier who was once a massive starship linked to corpse solidiers via A.I. seeks vengeance on those who destroyed her.

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