Tag Archives: authors

An Excellent Twitter Rant on Post-Apocalypse and Other World Building

Sigrid Ellis points out a basic problem in writers and of course, television/movie writers in doing post-apocalyptic dystopias. It’s also applicable to pre-industrial secondary world-building as well in fantasy as well.

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I Can’t Even

So I was going to write about some books, really I was, and I will soon, but in the meantime (not counting all the really nasty horrors going about the planet,) we had another one of those incidents. The one where the people running a SFF convention turn out to be bigoted asshats who retaliate against women, POC, queer authors, etc. and fans because they think a crimp is being put in their old-fashioned party. This time, it’s the Odyssey Convention in Madison, Wisconsin, which not only put two known, notorious harassers on their convention committee, but when one of their GOH authors who had been a victim of one of the harassers complained about being forced to deal with the man at their convention, twice, they proceeded to accuse her of lying, lied to her in turn, scolded her for having no legitimate complaint, and when she withdrew as GOH, doxxed her private email address on their public Facebook page while ranting at her with a level of sexism that was high even for the usual rhetoric in these things.

While some of them are attempting to make amends at the moment, that any of them thought they had the right to behave this way in the first place is a shining example of the problems SFF fandom has been tackling head-on the last 5-10 years as the people who routinely get told to suck up abuse say no and are sometimes forced to go public about it to try and help others out. The enough is enough line started getting drawn in the 1980’s and people have been pushing conventions to become safe, inclusionary fun places for everybody, which is a message that should have really sunk in by now, even with convention volunteer organizers who are still trapped in the 1970’s.

The Odyssey Convention hasn’t been doing that well apparently, and it’s not very surprising, given that some of the people waving their harassment policy around as proof of their virtue are the very people the harassment policy was written for. The GOH isn’t the only person who has turned away from this convention — quite a few authors and people were reportedly already not going because of the harassers’ presence, and others have now joined in the exodus in support, because of the concom’s behavior.

I vented a bit on Jim C. Hines’ blog on this one as he is doing a decent round-up of links with the details of this mess, which you can check out if you want: http://www.jimchines.com/2017/04/odyssey-con-frenkel-and-harassmentA number of other authors have been talking about it on Twitter or their blogs, with great sadness.

But in short, if you are a con-runner, here are things you don’t get to do:

  1. Tell guests and panelists who have a problem with the convention that they don’t have a problem.
  2. Tell women and marginalized authors what they should and should not have as safety concerns about the convention workplace.
  3.  Accuse those making reports of harassment of being liars and mentally unstable whiners who will be ignored.
  4. Publicly expose authors’ private contact information and personal information without their consent.
  5. Claim that somebody might be abusive to others, but everybody at the event, who are paying money and time to be there, has to put up with that person because reasons.

This is a lesson that many con-runners have been slow to absorb. And the sad thing is, not simply what that’s going to do to their conventions over the long term, but that whenever one of these incidents occur, we have so many people — mainly women and POC — saying that they’ve never been to a convention and now don’t see how they can try attending any SFF convention, as it seems like they are run by horrible people and aren’t safe to visit. And that is not because of the people who have brought up the issues of abuse and tried to get changes. It’s because of the people running the conventions who announce that they are okay with the situation and who go after those who bring the issue up. Many conventions are not run by such people and can be great experiences.  Some of them have had problems in the past, but have learned and often gotten new people in to run them. But when the people running a convention embrace a con culture that ignores and enables abusive behavior — and engage in it themselves — then it ends up reflecting poorly on the entire SFF network of fandom events and opportunities are lost.

Quite simply, authors — and their fans — aren’t going to go to conventions where they are abused and further abused by the con-runners. They have plenty of choices and it’s not worth their time or their careers to deal with such behavior. If you behave in this manner, surprise — people don’t want to work with you or hang out with you. And if you put people who behave in this manner in charge of your convention and let them speak for you, again, you are going to lose customers and authors who can draw in customers. Far more than the abusers themselves — who are a minority — it’s the people who help abusers and abuse their authority to do it who cause a systemic problem. This one might sink the Odyssey Convention or not, but it would sure be nice to have fewer problems in this vein.

*Up-date: I’m going to add this link to Brianna Wu’s guest column on Hines’ blog because it does speak to the wider systemic problem that created this situation.

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Some Writing Related Links

Well the world keeps being a rolling cyclone, don’t it, so in the meantime, some writing-related links:

Author Kameron Hurley explains how the editor-author relationship works and that it’s not a boss-employee relationship.

Author Ann Leckie offers encouragement about the uncertainties of the submission process, even for those authors facing additional obstacles.

Author Jim C. Hines talks about being rejection and how it’s part of all authors’ lives.

Travel writer Geraldine DeRuiter, of The Everywhereist blog, offers Unhelpful Charts for Writers.

And author N.K. Jemisin offered a Tweet thread about Embracing Your Own Voice as a writer.

Author John Scalzi talks about his new novel, The Collapsing Empire and writing life in general in an interview with The Nerd Reactor.

Scalzi also explained how book contracts work to a, I believe they are called Dreaded Elk or something like that, at a signing he did. It’s a good accompaniment to Hurley‘s piece and just funny:

 

 

 

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Jim C. Hines Returns to Modeling

Fantasy author Jim C. Hines took a break from working on his new series to do one of his famous here’s the ridiculous sexist poses they put women figures in on SFF covers for no reason cover poses. Although Jim has mainly retired from doing such photo shoots, in order to save his back, he came out of retirement for a good cause — to raise money for the Pixel Project, which works to end violence against women. A donor paid $500 and they selected imitating the cover for the YA novel The Selection by Kiera Cass. Here’s the photo here, and you can check out Jim’s blog for info about donating to the Pixel Project.

 

Hopefully his spine remained intact!

Hopefully his spine remained intact!

 

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I Got Quoted in Academia This Year

Back in 2013, I did a blog post about women SFF authors, “Reality and the Welcome Sign — Gender and SFFH,” in reference to Tor UK’s editorial director Julie Crisp’s blog post at the time about how Tor welcomed women authors but they weren’t showing up in submissions, or at least not for things like hard SF. I felt that Crisp was offering a nice welcome message but missing the plot of what women authors actually faced in the field regarding discrimination and marketing obstacles to their success from the industry. Essentially, Crisp was using the “it’s women’s fault that we’re ignoring them” defense, a very popular idea, and the stats that she compiled on Tor UK’s submissions have often been cited by those who want to claim women SFF authors face no discrimination in the market at all. Unfortunately, the stats Crisp offered show the exact opposite.

I was contacted about whether a quote from that blog post could be used in an up-coming non-fiction work on the SF field and I said sure. That book, an academic reference work on early women SFF writers, came out this year from Wesleyan University Press. It’s called Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction, edited by Lisa Yaszek and Patrick B. Sharp. It offers sample works of prominent women writing SF in the early twentieth century, along with lots of commentary and historical context of the field in its early golden age and the women’s role within it. My quote is in the concluding essay written by author Kathleen Ann Goonan, which looks at the women in SF and the science community and the contemporary SF field in contrast.

Being an academic work meant for universities, it’s a bit on the pricey side though chock full of good stuff. If you are looking for a good specialized reference book or teaching writing fiction or SFF fiction, it might be helpful. Anyway, I wish it well and not just because I got a shout out in it. As author Joanna Russ explained so clearly in her non-fiction book, How To Suppress Women’s Writing, if we don’t talk about women writers, society will pretend they aren’t there. Especially these days.

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Well, What Do We Do Now

So it’s been a wild couple of months again, including some unexpected medical crises. And we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the future except that it’s looking bad and probably will involve another global recession. So I’m thinking about what I am going to do/need to do and that includes how I want to handle this blog, which has gotten rather intermittent the last couple of years. For now, I am chugging through the end of the year, and I hope all of you chug through it too without disaster.

In the meantime, I enclose this very sweet piece by author Maureen Johnson about dealing with one’s spoons, this up-lifting quote from Kurt Vonnegut Jr. from his work A Man Without A Country:

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

And lastly, the latest video from OK Go for their new song “The One Moment,” which includes all their favorite things: paint, explosions, Rube Goldberg machines, geometric patterns and umbrellas, plus you can check out the charity causes being supported by their sponsor, Morton’s Salt. And if you don’t want to do that, if you can, support your local food bank.

 

 

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Spectral Cafe — More Books I Have Read!

Post-apocalyptic fantasy novels! They are endlessly varied for such a single-mindedly destructive idea.

 

RADIANT by Karina Sumner-Smith:

Radiant is the first book in Canadian author Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy, and the world is an imaginative one. Set in either a far future Earth or another world entirely, the civilization of her novel survived the long-ago mysterious apocalypse as two communities. In this world, the currency is light energy magically generated by people themselves. Those with lots of magical light live in towers floating above in the air called the City, powered by their inhabitants’ energy, rising and sinking in orbit or joining together depending on their success, with lots of resources and machines. Those without a lot of light energy and wealth, or who choose to hide from the City, live on the ground below the City in the ruins of skyscrapers and buildings past called the Lower City, scrapping out a living with little ability to grow crops in the blighted soil. At night, the inhabitants of the Lower City hide in buildings from roaming zombie-like attackers who come out after dark.

Xhea is an unallied orphan in the Lower City with no light magic at all, only a strange dark energy inside her that causes her to see in black and white. That darkness lets Xhea go down into the ruined subway tunnels and underground places that those with light magic cannot stand to enter, and retrieve old world artifacts to sell for food. It also allows her to see ghosts — the core remnants of dead people that sometimes haunt their loved ones, attached by a tether to their victims, which Xhea can help detach in return for temporary bits of light magic. A rich man from the City above comes down and pays Xhea to take on the tether of the ghost of a young woman. But the ghost, Shea, is a Radiant — a person who generates huge amounts of light energy, and her home Tower desperately wants her ghost back to put into a body. Trying to help Shea and keep herself alive causes Xhea to start learning some new things about her own form of magic and truths about the society that is in a state of flux.

If that sounds complicated, Sumner-Smith actually lays it out very clearly and with lots of high action sequences and good description. She mixes mystery, science fiction elements, horror, politics and action fantasy together into a nice blend. Xhea is an appealing heroine, traumatized but stubborn, and Shea is definitely an interesting twist on the concept of the princess fallen from the high tower. Some of the other characters are maybe a little bit under-cooked, but there’s clearly set-up for lots of exploration in the next two books, and the society itself is really fascinating. So I’m definitely going to read through this trilogy.

 

THE WARDED MAN by Peter Brett (Originally THE PAINTED MAN in the UK):

This is the first book in British author Peter Brett’s bestselling Demon Cycle series that started in 2008. Some folks see him as part of the grimdark lit movement while others don’t. Having read the first book, I’d say that he isn’t quite in grimdark territory and is closer to something like Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series. The world of the Demon Cycle is pretty grim, however. It’s been through the apocalypse, twice, in history and now human beings struggle to survive and hold on to what civilizations they’ve got because the apocalypse occurs every night when the sun sets. At that point, strange monsters with magical powers emerge from the ground/core of the planet (and another dimension,) and attack any living creature they can get ahold of, especially humans, until disappearing in the morning.

The monsters, called demons or corelings and deemed by many to be sent as punishment on humans, are intelligent, but they can be shielded from by means of wards, signs etched into stone or metal or drawn or burned into wood that create a magical barrier. The wards were designed long ago and passed down, but over time, the demons have been winning the war and no one has figured out how to more effectively stop them. The bulk of the remaining human population lives in cities with big warded walls and guard forces. Others live in villages that often get wiped out, vulnerable and largely cut off from one another, but critical for producing food supplies. Small caravans and messengers travel dangerously between them, using portable wards. This lets Brett put a neat twist on a sort of zombie apocalypse landscape, except his demons are much faster, more varied and really quite scary (some of them fly.)

The novel focuses on three main characters — Arlen, a driven young man who trains as a messenger and seeks to find the long lost combat wards that will allow humans to better fight the corelings rather than just defend against them; Leesha, a young woman who flees scandal and an abusive family by becoming a healer and learns that herbs have more uses than she thought; and Rojer, an orphan who is adopted by a bard-like entertainer and takes up that trade, and learns that his fiddling might have an unexpected effect on the corelings. Arlen is the protagonist and a fairly strong character who travels the most, exposing us to different communities. The novel might have been a little stronger if it had just been about him. Rojer is a wonderful character, though, and Leesha has a number of interesting aspects. However, she is the weakest of the three because Brett has some material that is just not really believable for female readers, in my opinion. His women characters overall tend to be a bit one-dimensional in a society very oppressive to women — because they need them to produce a lot of new babies — and Leesha’s village folk aren’t maybe as fascinating for me as Brett would like to make them.

But the writing overall is good and the world and its demons is fairly interesting, with some very emotional scenes. Further books in the series seem to branch out into that world, so I may be reading more in the series. I’m curious to see what else they learn about fighting the corelings and why and how they exist.

 

 

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin: 

This is the first book in American author Jemisin’s new trilogy series, the Broken Earth, and it’s garnered the most attention of her career so far. The Fifth Season just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, is nominated for the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Nebula Award. (In fact, it’s been running neck and neck with Naomi Novak’s Uprooted, which won the Nebula but lost the Hugo, through most of the major SFF awards.)

Do I consider that justified? Oh yes. It’s a lush, brutal, psychological adventure of a novel that uses different timelines that follow different types of stories, all connected. The world in it consists of one known massive continent that stretches from pole to pole. The land mass is full of volcanic and seismic activity that regularly causes natural disasters — boiling lava, tsunamis, etc. — that kill people off or wipe out settlements, so apocalypse is pretty much on-going. However, every few hundred years or so, a really big eruption/quake disaster happens, with ash fall blocking the sunlight and other deadly destruction that can last for years or even a decade, which they call a Fifth Season. So the human communities are sort of feudal with moderately rigid caste systems, but highly independent and ruthless, storing food and water for when a Season comes to their region, according to the stonelore — ancient texts on survival from past civilizations. Above them also float large magical metal obelisks, mysterious artifacts of long ago that sometimes move around.

The continent is mainly ruled by an Empire that solidified its hold over other nations during the various past fifth seasons and benefits from more stable areas near the equator, allowing it to have tarred highways and electricity. Part of the empire’s strength lies in its slaves, the orogenes, who magically have the ability to control, disperse and shape seismic forces by drawing from the heat in air, water, under the earth and all living things and sending it into the earth to do their bidding. Orogenes are blamed by the populace for the seismic instability of the world and are usually highly dangerous without training, so when one shows up in the gene pool outside of the capital, villages often kill the person in fear. Otherwise, young orogenes are taken to or bred in the capital city and then sent out on missions to keep things more stable or advance the empire. They are controlled from an early age by the Guardians, those who have the ability to still the powers of the orogenes.

A powerful cast of characters starts peeling back the facets and secrets of this world, which include the stone-eaters, a dangerous non-human species that are made of and travel through solid rock, and seem to have particular interest in the orogenes. All events lead towards a massive rent in the earth that may cause a Fifth Season that is going to be beyond anyone’s ability to survive.

Further along in her career, Jemisin’s writing is even more assured and sneaky. The world she paints is tragic and has obvious connections to our own (she got a lot of the disaster material directly from NASA.) But the story doesn’t wallow and is about the decision points where humans choose who they are going to be in extreme circumstances and what connections between them they are going to allow. It tackles themes of interest to Jemisin — the nature of identity, the dynamics of oppression, the connection of humans with their habitat, and notions of family and how they change. Plus people who can make or stop earthquakes and eruptions, etc. It’s a rich stew and I really enjoyed this one, though it may not be for you if dealing with serious trauma with superpowers is not your cup of tea. I will be getting to the next work, The Obelisk Gate, fairly soon, I think.

 

 

 

All three of the books above do sound pretty desolate with their apocalyptic wastelands at various stages, but they all also offer a lot of beauty in weird inventions and landscapes, complicated cultures, puzzling secrets to investigate and elements of genuine warmth and human resiliency. They are good representatives of what apocalyptic novels can explore and quite different from each other. (That being said, maybe don’t read them straight in a row.)

 

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