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SFWA Ripples

So last year, the Bulletin, the official magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) writers organization, got into a scandal that was complicated and disenheartening and sexist. Members called for changes that would keep the Bulletin to the standards and policies of the SFWA towards all members. The editor resigned, the Bulletin was suspended, and a large overhaul got underway, starting with a task force to work out new procedures. One of those, after lots of discussion and input from members, was an advisory review committee, which would be formed with volunteers who then would advise the SFWA President, the person in oversight of the Bulletin, about material that broke the standards.

A really horrible petition that presented a false characterization of this committee — which isn’t even formed yet — recently was floated, written by a guy who seems to me to be a reactionary kook, and unfortunately a lot of prominent authors signed their names to the thing, including several prominent female authors. This led to several other incidents/conversations, such as one on SFF.net, where a contracts administrator at Macmillan went after his house’s own author, Mary Robinette Kowal, former VP of SFWA, for feminist activism. 

John Scalzi was President of SFWA when the Bulletin put out its controversial issues, which did upset a lot of people, particularly because Scalzi has been a strong supporter of diversity and civil rights values, and of making the organization more professional. He admitted he’d messed up by not doing enough oversight, ap0logized and pledged to support in-coming President Steven Gould in fixing the issue and making SFWA more professional, particularly by staying out of the way so that others could speak up. But he nonetheless couldn’t help talking about free speech issues when the petition popped up, and he’s thrown himself more into the ring after a number of really awful comments were springing up on the Net, by proposing in comic support that those fighting discrimination and under-representation, those wanting the industry and SFWA particularly to treat female authors and others more professionally, should form an Insect Army. This was in direct reaction to a particular comment on SFF.net that called those speaking up for equal treatment “insects.” This call to arms has gotten terribly silly, but the impetus behind it is sincere. Discrimination doesn’t end unless people speak up, unfortunately, and that speech is the one good thing that comes out of these conflicts. 

On this particular thread at his blog Whatever, I did a post comment, one of several, looking at the chain of history of discrimination on this issue and the recent conflicts. You can read it on that thread, but some folk asked me to also post it here, so I will. I was responding to a commenter named Bruce, who was wondering about the intent of the person who went after Kowal and who I quote at the beginning in italics. (The cricket references are because I chose to be a cricket in Scalzi and Kowal’s mock Insect Army.) Warning: as always, it is long. 

Bruce:

“I can’t say that this anger is warranted, but I think what he wrote is more about his anger at MRK and not so much about sexism and/or censorship at SFWA.”

But he didn’t talk about his anger at MRK blocking his efforts. He talked about her body, about how she supposedly flaunted her body, about how her speech about sexism was therefore false, and he derided her credibility as someone anyone should listen to because she was a nobody writer, despite her books, awards, etc. He deliberately went after her on the basis of her gender and the issue of sexism. So it is actually very related. And it is also related because the people who objected to the sexism in the Bulletin, were doing so because they also want the SFWA to be a professional organization and focus on digital rights, copyright, etc.for all members, rather than write about how sexy some women writers are and how they shouldn’t criticize men ever, the little tyrants.

Let me see if I can cricket this for you:

Long way back, a handful of decades ago, women writers of SFF were told that it would be better if they wrote under a male pseudonym because fans (all of whom were erroneously assumed to be men,) didn’t want to read women’s writings.The threat was that they could have free speech (use their real names and show that they are women,) or they could have a successful career, hiding as men among men. You could do that back then, write anonymously under a pen name and not promote and still make a living, because of the wholesale market. And that was what was politically correct. So it was U.K. Le Guin, C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, James Tiptree Jr., etc., and they stayed silent under the threat.

But you can make a better living if you do promote your work, go to conventions, stand up for awards, etc., so women started to partially or fully decloak and risk their careers for a better, more equal one with the men by promoting as themselves. They used their free speech. And the new women authors who came in, having that as role models, then sold their work as themselves. They came out of the shadows and refused to be scared by the light of the threat. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

But women writers were still frequently told that they shouldn’t write about certain subjects in certain ways. They shouldn’t write about sexism in society or issues related to their lives, nobody wanted to hear it from women and it wasn’t reasonable or fair. The threat was, you could have free speech (write about sexism or whatever you wanted,) or you could have a career. That was what was politically correct. But some women wrote about it anyway, fiction and non-fiction, and formed a movement called feminist SF that sold both in the field and in academia where they were sort of starting to realize it might actually be worth studying more female writers. And other women writers coming into the field also felt free to write about those subjects or to write about different subjects that had previously been declared men’s territory. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

But women writers and publishing folk and fans were still frequently told that they weren’t very important in the field or society, and that they should not object to men patting their bottoms or groping them at conventions or propositioning them or talking about their bodies and sneering that they were nonentities. It was unreasonable and exaggerated as a problem. The threat was, you could have free speech to object to the treatment, (and the assault,) or you could have a career. And that was what was politically correct. But some women spoke out anyway and objected, and allies objected. And new women writers coming in, seeing that their fellows had made things safer for their free speech, also spoke up and objected. And standards of professionalism towards women in the field slowly developed. And what was politically correct, changed and became more equal (and professional.) Although the discrimination didn’t totally go away.

I mean, it doesn’t entirely go away, even with women at the helm. So a woman editor okayed and designed, and a male president, who was JS, signed off on and didn’t catch/think about, threats in four issues of the Bulletin, the professional trade journal, threats that violated SFWA’s standards and policies. The threats were best expressed by Mr. Henderson, the Barbie guy, who told women members that the key to career success was to be like Barbie and never blame Ken for discrimination effecting her career. In other words, you can have free speech or you can stay silent and have a career. But women writers and their allies did speak up and object that this wasn’t professional, or equal, or what they needed from SFWA — nor what SFWA was allowed by its policies to do.

I doubt Mr. Henderson would feel that he made a threat, any more than Resnick and Malzberg did — he would probably characterize it as advice, but that particular type of “advice” — a threat against free speech, happens all the time. It’s happened to me here on Whatever, for instance, when a person I’m talking to brings up the advice that unless you are really, really nice and mostly quiet in talking to men about sexism, they won’t listen or help improve equality.

JS could have threatened defensively. Instead he apologized for having okayed threats to free speech. He helped set up a task force to work towards more equality and professionalism in the Bulletin and no threats to women and other vulnerable members. Some people still can’t forgive him for letting the threats go through and have gone away and aren’t coming back, as is their right. Others decided that he had understood the objections and worked to get back on track. And most are waiting to see how Mr. Gould does.

Then came the petition, which was a fairly blatant threat — give up free speech and stop being offended by sexist speech and unprofessional treatment, or everybody’s careers will be tanked and the field ruined. Tell us who is on the advisory committee so we can stop them. Tell us the standards even though we already know the standards because SFWA already has the standards, etc. Women should behave. Feminism ruins everything. Vigorous debate should happen as long as women know their place in the comments section.

Mr. Fedora didn’t threaten MRK with sexist speech. Mr. Fedora threatened incoming women writers who might see MRK as a role model. Since she was an influence as a former VP of SFWA, he declared her an unreasonable and hypercritical radical who had no real influence and sexualized her body — she’s not worth professionalism because she’s female. Because her career is successful despite her free speech, he argued that her career wasn’t successful. If you asked Fedora if that’s what he intended to do, I’m sure he’d say no, and he would honestly believe it to be so. After all, it was a casual conversation; he wasn’t pushing the petition. But that’s because these sorts of threats — free speech or your career, your family, your life, are so ingrained and ubiquitous towards women and disadvantaged groups, they’re habit.

So even though it was completely unprofessional to trash one of his house’s authors, he did it. Because women need to know their place, just like when J.K. Rowling was told, still, in the 1990′s, to pretend to be a man so that boys’ parents would buy her books, (nobody caring about the girl readers because they are girls.) Should she not have decloaked and used her free speech, do you think? She’s had a horrible, unprofessional career, having done so, and really should be given no respect. Because even if you are the most successful author on the planet, possibly ever, the threat gets made — your free speech or we talk about you in a bikini.

If the people on SFF.net in that thread really do care about having a trade organization tackle professionally digital rights, copyright issues, royalties, marketing, etc. — and representation and encouraging diversity which benefits the field and its profits — then they should have totally supported the outcry over the Bulletin about those very things, and the formation of a task force and an advisory committee, and upholding the standards SFWA already has. Instead, they are making threats to discourage free speech.

The insect commentator, who may be a woman, is quite open about that. Women writers are cockroaches, insects to be crushed if they make noise, who should be silent and hiding in the shadows and scared. But instead, they and their allies come out of hiding and speak up. And this isn’t new, despite what the commentator claims — it’s always happening. Because the threats don’t make things better, more equal, more professional, more full of choices and increasing reading audiences, etc. for women or male authors. They are just threats that cause a lot of damage and stagnation, that keep women authors from, say, getting as good royalty rates, marketing and digital rights deals as men. It’s the next frontier, and they’re swarming in. Chirp.

As you can see from that comment post, I’m pedantic and overly detailed when it comes to paper trails in negotiations and conflicts. It comes from my days as an agent doing book contracts, where the difference between “legal expenses” and “reasonable legal expenses” is all important, and from working as an editor where the job is to catch every problem, inconsistency and hole and go over them with authors. I truly believe the ripples from this thing are going in a positive direction. I just wish that all the turmoil didn’t have to come with them. 

 

 

 

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Unreality Junction: Goodies for the Holidays!

I’m still dealing with the fallout of this last part of the year, but here are the book goodies I got (not that I necessarily need an excuse to get them, but you know, it looks better when you have a handy gift giving seasonal cover.)

1. White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana Rowland

The third novel in Rowland’s contemporary fantasy series about Louisiana morgue attendant and zombie Angel. I read the first one of this series, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and liked it, though I thought the ending seemed a little rushed and overly heightened. But then I got the second book, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, where Angel starts to find out a lot of info about being a zombie and the ending of the first novel made more sense from that. This third installment ups the action even more than the first two as Angel has to deal with a zombie film shoot, mysterious deaths, the local zombie syndicate, the return of various antagonists, rain and flood, taking the GED, etc. Rowland is great at combining her small town frame with Angel getting her life together, with essentially a spy thriller. This novel has a bit less humor than the first two, but also an increasingly confident Angel. My only complaint is that the heavier spy thriller aspects meant less cop and morgue time this go round. Rowland is a former cop and morgue worker, so she does that stuff very well, as well as a really interesting take on zombism and the strange mix of pathos and advantage therein.

2. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Moving on to the new titles I haven’t read yet, is the second novel in Hines’ new contemporary fantasy Magic Ex Libris series about a libromancer, Isaac, who can pull things from books and helps guard the world from magical threats. The second book focuses more on Lena, the dryad dragged from the pages of an old pulp fantasy novel, who is Isaac’s bodyguard and sometime lover. New enemies are after Lena’s powers, and that can mean some very bad things for everyone. The first novel, Libromancer, made quite a big splash, has a lot of humor and interesting stuff, and also let Hines bring in his fire spider from his Jig the Goblin novels, so I’m looking forward to this one.

3. Nysta: Duel at Grimwood Creek by Lucas Thorn

Continuing with the sequels is book two of Australian author Lucas Thorn’s Nysta series, a secondary world western, D&D epic, satirical dark fantasy revenge quest mash-up of awesome cussing proportions. I featured the cover art for the first volume, Nysta: Revenge of the Elf, on my blog, by artist Amir Zand, then got the first book and featured the next two covers. The Nysta books read exactly like westerns, except they are about elves, wizards, gods and magical forces in really interesting landscapes. The first book was violent, rough, slyly funny and quite moving all at the same time. Nysta, the central character, is an elven destroyer out to get the gang of elves who killed her husband. In the second book, she is closing in on the Bloody Nine but dealing with strong magical forces and monsters in the Deadlands. (I’m hoping that Thorn and Zand can get some sort of comic book spin-off going on this world sometime — great fun.)

4. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Not a sequel, but a continuing world novel, and a western to boot, in this novel Abercrombie expands his First Law world by traveling to a new frontier land in which presumed dead Northern barbarian king, the legendary Logan Ninefingers, has been hiding out on a farm under the name Lamb. The central character is Shy, his stepdaughter, who sets off after her kidnapped brother and sister with Lamb/Logan in tow. Other characters from Abercrombie’s previous novels make appearances and probably there are clues to the mysterious past of wizard battles that seems to subtly affect everything in Abercrombie’s secondary world. You probably don’t have to read the First Law trilogy and standalones Best Served Cold and The Heroes first, but it would help to get the full effect. Abercrombie’s mix of brutal war, black humor, and fascinating mythology is a hoot but it’s his characters who sing — each has a distinct voice that lets him try out one type of story after another. Interesting to see what he will do with the western one.

5. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch broke on the scene with the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, to much acclaim. The satirical dark crime thriller fantasy about con artists in a remarkable city had a few minor plot issues for me, but the writing was lovely with its dual chronologies and the scenery sublime. The sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, had some plot issues too, but expanded the world of the story in interesting ways, plus pirates! Lynch ran into some personal issues that delayed this third book in the series, and it may be the last, but I think it may also be the most interesting. A poisoned Locke has to become a pawn in a battle of mages that pits him against the long gone con-woman he loves — Sabetha, whom we finally get to see. So fun and I had to get.

6. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Wendig’s first book in this Miriam Black series, Blackbirds, was another book whose cover art first drew my attention to it. It’s a contemporary fantasy series about a sarcastic and desperate young woman who, when she touches someone, knows when and how they will die. In this sequel, Miriam is trying to do the settling down thing with her truck driver boyfriend and has achieved more control over her powers, but then she sees a death that may change everything. Wendig has a deft hand, a sensibility with looney and weird characters, and a central character with a great voice. It also has some genuine mystery to the suspense and interesting supernatural elements.

7. Feed by Mira Grant

I read Grant’s contemporary fantasy novel, Rosemary and Rue, written under her main name Seanan McGuire, and liked the writing (she’s a Campbell award winner,) but wasn’t quite as blown away by the world and focus of that story. So I decided to try her horror science fiction with this first book in her Newsflesh trilogy. Feed got a ton of attention and a Hugo nomination. It’s a near future zombie thriller that takes the mutated virus approach to zombies, with a dark satire of political campaigns and conspiracies, news media and blogging, horror films, medical research, etc. Grant has a very sharp eye, so I suspect I will like it.

8. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I am a huge Atkinson fan. She has occasionally dipped into fantasy, magic realism style, and her standalone bestselling novel Life After Life is a full out fantasy novel that has been nominated for the Orange Prize and probably will pick up quite a few of the major nominations for the year. The novel is about Ursula, who continually dies but in alternate overlapping universes lives as the world marches towards World War II and a fate that Ursula’s unique repeating life may affect. That’s going to be rich toffee, the way Atkinson writes, so I shall probably save it for a bit later when chaos declines a little, but I am looking forward to it, even though WWII is not my favorite era.

9. Shadow’s Sun by Jon Sprunk 

Technically this wasn’t a new goodie for the holidays, but it was a book temporarily misplaced in our move last year, so now I’ve got it recovered finally and can tackle it. It’s Sprunk’s debut secondary world fantasy novel, with divine cover art, about an assassin named Caim, who finds himself, as assassins frequently do, a pawn in a complicated and high stakes plot. But this particular assassin has some unusual aspects to his life — ever since he was a child damaged by tragedy, Caim can call shadows to cloak him, a magic that haunts him and he distrusts, and he has been visited by a ghostly, mercurial and mysterious spirit named Kit who sometimes helps him out. The writing style has a traditional, grand feel to it, but with bickering, a combination I think I’m going to like. It reminds me a bit of some of Glen Cook. Sprunk has started a new series, The Book of the Black Earth, which sounds interesting, so I will have to catch up over time. But I think I will enjoy Caim’s tale first.

My mother was astonished that my husband and daughter were watching the end of How to Train Your Dragon, a favorite animated film of ours. I was astonished that she hadn’t seen the movie, as it’s tailor-made to be the sort of movie my mom would like. So we sat down and watched the film and she did indeed love it. There is also a cartoon spin off; if you’ve got young kids you might as well try it out. And the sequel film, How to Train Your Dragon 2, comes out next year; we’re looking forward to it. Here’s the trailer:

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The Scope of SFFH — A Brief Examination

The following was a response of mine to another member’s question on SFFWorld about genres, especially fantasy, and how things are classified. The response is composed of facts that I know and my opinions on such facts:

 

Back in the first part of the 20th century, a category market for SFFH developed containing a mix of comics, magazines with short fiction, and novels (often novellas) and short story collections. This category market was eventually called science fiction, largely thanks to Hugo Gernsback (of Hugo Award fame,) founding Amazing Stories in the late 1920’s. It did not contain only science fiction stories — it contained fantasy stories, horror stories, weird tales (Weird Tales magazine — a style of Gothic horror stories,) etc. The category market did not contain all or even most of the SFFH being published, especially in book form. But what it did contain were magazines and publishing imprints dedicated to specializing in SFFH. This became more and more common in the first part of the 20th century — specialized publishing, such as children’s and suspense.

Most of the books in the SFFH category market were in mass market paperback that cost about as much as the comics and magazines. The publishers who did comics and magazines and paperbacks were largely different from the publishers who did hardcovers and large paperbacks. However, after/during World War II, the paperback publishers and the hardback publishers began to merge and book publishing became somewhat more separate from magazines and comics which built itself a more specialized industry. The specialized imprints for adults, the category markets — mystery, science fiction, westerns, romance — still kept mostly to cheaper mass market paperbacks but limited hardcover runs or hardcovers for big sellers became more common. These category markets came to be called genre fiction, with them being considered genres — types of stories by general common content.

However, there was a certain social class conflict in that merging of paperback that was seen as for the masses and hardcover seen as the domain of the more literate well-off. “Genre fiction” — the specialized imprints — were seen as pulp (whether they actually used pulp styles or not,) cheap paperbacks not worth much as fiction. SFFH published in general fiction, in hardcover, was often declared not pulp and therefore not science fiction, not genre, even though it was also being sold to category market readers who loved it as genre. To this day, a lot of people are invested in that notion that came out of early bookselling and the equalitarianism of increased literacy and education of the society. “Genre fiction” was considered all the same, whatever notion of sameness a particular person had.

All of this was reinforced by the use of the term “sci-fi” which came from writer Forrest J. Ackerman in the 1950’s, and which referred partly to the greater use of SFFH in movies and television, particularly what was seen as the “B” pulp horror movies. Over time, the term was used mainly to refer to movies and television and was often used as an insult to indicate stuff that was not well made and for the teeming masses. Written SFFH preferred to distance itself from movie/tv sci-fi by insisting on being called science fiction or SF. During this time, science fiction and sci-fi both acted as umbrella terms meaning fantasy and horror as well as science fiction.

That began to change in the 1960’s, when the publishers of the SF category market decided to branch out. They launched a separate but allied fantasy fiction category market, labeling fantasy stories directly as fantasy. There had been magazines dedicated to just fantasy or horror, and there were more of them. The fantasy category market was greatly helped out by publishing then-cult favorite later-Godzilla title The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien in a set of paperbacks, both in the U.K. and twice in the U.S., once illegally and once legally. It was additionally helped out in the 1970’s by the popularity of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, the development of the gaming industry and the idea of tie-in novels to help market games. Category market fantasy was sold with science fiction in the category market section of U.S. bookstores — there was less separatization in other countries as they often didn’t have special sections. Horror did not have enough dependable fans to form a steady category market of its own for a long time, although horror titles often sold better than SF and fantasy (see Stephen King, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz.) Horror was sold either with SFF in the category market if it came from a specialized imprint or a lot of it in paperback general fiction.

The fantasy category market hit high speed in the 1980’s and being a young market, was one of the few that kept growing during the Great Paperback Depression in the 1990’s, when the wholesale non-bookstore markets in most western countries shrank with great speed, greatly damaging the mass market paperback market, the paperback fiction market and the largely paperback SFF category markets. (Also, it was a firm blow to the declining SFFH magazine market and other magazines.) Fantasy’s growth for the first half of the 1990’s during the depression relied on well selling “epic” fantasy series — secondary world fantasy stories usually in a pre-industrial setting — novels by Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Weiss & Hickman, etc.

The secondary world fantasies of this type had their obvious roots in mythic ballads and what Tolkien and others had done with them, but they also had their roots in planetary and what was called romance science fiction, such as John Carter on Mars, etc., which also lead eventually to some of what we today call space opera science fiction. There were fantasy series like Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle and Andre Norton’s Witch World that were also the descendents of the planetary fiction and were initially sold as science fiction. There were the very fantasy-like science fiction series of Gene Wolfe’s Ur-Sun and New Sun, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, which were often the inspiration for secondary world fantasy writers like Guy Gavriel Kay. Telepathy, time travel, vampires, multiple dimensions, alternate histories and the like all could be given a scientific or supernatural basis and so were used for both science fiction or fantasy (or SF or fantasy horror.) So there is crossover in the foothills with the slightest of words and it isn’t usually a problem. A large majority of the writers wrote both SF and fantasy stories, and often horror and suspense stories as well. (And this still goes on today.)

Since the two category markets worked together and had the same publishers and had a lot of cross marketing and were sold in the same sections of bookstores, there were groups of people desperately trying to separate them (especially SF fans who regarded the popularity of fantasy as a threat rather than a help and fantasy fans who regard SF fans as snobs,) while others insisted that they should all still be considered science fiction or floated new terms like slipstream (weird surrealism literary movement,) or speculative, none of which particularly caught on as an umbrella term. SFFH books published in general fiction were cross-marketed with books in the category market imprints — for publishers, there’s no difference between a hardcover SFFH novel published by one of their fiction imprints and a paperback SFFH novel published by their category imprint. But they will give them different packaging and some marketing efforts to capture audiences who might be looking specifically for a hardcover fantasy novel that seems general fiction or a paperback with a bright cover sold in the special section of the bookstore, while selling the hardcover to the category audience too or the paperback to the general fiction audience too. (It’s really a giant shell game.)

In the late 1990’s, as had been predicted, booksellers started splitting the SF and fantasy category markets into two separate sections. This allowed the booksellers to do what booksellers like to do with category markets, why category markets exist in the first place — expand the shelves with offerings but also make them easy for interested folks to find. Having a fantasy section and a science fiction section meant twice as many shelves, although it did make it a bit complicated with the writers who did both. In the late oughts, things were going so well in these category markets that the specialized publishers decided to expand into another dedicated category market — horror. The renewed popularity of horror movies and the crossover interest from contemporary fantasy, horror SF and dark fantasy meant there was a solid core audience willing to explore with new authors, which is the starting place for a category market.

Around the same time, in the late 1990’s, romance category publishers expanded their imprints that did supernatural (or as it got eventually named paranormal) and SF romance. So popular was this area that in the mid-oughts it got its own category market and often its own section in the bookstores. The SF romance was slower off the block than the fantasy, but is now catching up. The paranormal romance expansion coincided with the horror expansion and the contemporary and urban fantasy expansion. And all of this also came on top of the expansion of YA fiction. YA was the sleepy, small part of children’s fiction, but with Harry Potter moving from middle school to YA in focus and other YA books (SFF and not-SFF) getting attention in its wake and the Potter movie adaptations, YA became the juggernaut of children’s fiction. Fantasy YA was a driving force there, but YA SF was also immensely popular. So large has the audience become, that we are beginning to see some bookstores split fantasy and science fiction from the rest of YA and have separate fantasy and science fiction YA sections. The crossover reading between adults and teens/kids in the YA market sent readers back and forth between children’s and adult sectors and lots of crossmarketing, bolstered by the increasing interest of film/t.v. in SFFH both adult and YA. (And then there was Marvel Films and what happened between movies and comics.)

A lot of people who came into reading fantasy in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s read just the big secondary world pre-industrial war epics and tended to think that was all there was in the fantasy category market. However, fantasy has always had numerous types of setting and its “sub-genres” or sub-categories are all setting based. The big general seven are secondary world fantasy — both pre- and post-industrial; historical or alt history fantasy; contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy; dark fantasy — a dark, moody, sometimes violent setting sold as either part of the horror market or the fantasy market; comic/satiric fantasy with a comic setting; portal/multi-dimensional fantasy in which people travel between different realms/worlds; and lastly futuristic fantasy which takes place in a setting in Earth’s future or a dimension involving space travel. (Futuristic fantasy tends to be largely post-apocalyptic and this often confuses people who see any kind of post-apocalypse as science fiction, especially in a future Earth.) Right now, the biggest sector of fantasy is the contemporary fantasy, not secondary world. However, secondary world fantasy (still largely but not exclusively pre-industrial,) is still the flagship of that category market. Historical fantasy is also quite large, especially its industrial/steampunk/western division.

Science fiction, in slight contrast, is loosely divided by types/use of science. Hard SF focuses on the physical sciences of physics, biology and chemistry. Sociological SF focuses on cultural, political and psychological issues related to physical science. Cyberpunk (which is also a literary movement,) focuses on the cultural, political and sometimes biological effects of technology and computers, specifically in regards to young people, dystopias and revolutions. Military SF — what it says on the tin. Comic/satiric SF and horror SF, and SF romance. And space opera refers to a wide swath of SF stories that are more focused on adventure than a branch of science, which would include the planetary SF stories that sometimes seem fantasy-like to some people. There is also post-apocalyptic SF, one of its most popular sectors. Alternative history SF postulates a quantum theory of multiple-dimensions which allows for a changed Earth that is not supernatural in any way.

So why am I taking you the long way round on this topic? Because it may be helpful in understanding why people have the differing views of terms that they do and what exactly is going on in the market now and how we got there.

So basically, science fiction is those stories in which the unreal phenomena are given a scientific explanation for existing that is clear and definite as scientific, natural, even if the science is not detailed or strongly physical science or particularly good science. And fantasy uses elements where the explanation basis is supernatural, not having a natural explanation and basis — magic, supernatural and divine phenomena. You can have a fantasy story with a lot of SF elements, because the SF is natural, just like real existing things such as a car or a dog. But you cannot have a SF story with fantasy elements because the definition of SF is unreal elements with a natural basis and fantasy elements are unreal with a supernatural basis, outside SF’s purview. When you get into really squishy stories, it really doesn’t matter to readers much — and this is often an issue with slipstream — but that’s how the orientation works. Horror can be anything — science fiction, fantasy or neither and just using suspense such as serial killers. Most horror is fantasy horror, but it’s not exclusive.

So the first suggestion I’d have for you is to drop the term sci-fi. It’s really focused on tv/movies and it means fantasy, science fiction and horror together. Since you’re dealing with the written market, where sci-fi is seldom used as a term, it’s not going to be particularly helpful to you. Let’s look first at some of the other ones you mentioned:

1) China Mieville — Mieville’s rather useful for talking about various movements and sub-genres. Mieville is heavily influenced by Weird Fiction, which is a literary movement, originally centered around but not limited to the magazine Weird Tales, and sub-genre of horror of the Gothic, creepy, monsters, deep depression, weird surrealism kind. It is an ancestor of slipstream (which gets loosely described as weird surreal stories,) SF horror and dark fantasy. It’s also had an influence in other areas such as some steampunk. Mieville also has a mentor in legendary author and editor Michael Moorcock. Moorcock in many ways launched a New Weird movement itself in reviving Weird Fiction (though it wasn’t called that,) and more, he was a driving force through his editing of the New Wave SF movement. This was a literary movement in the late 50’s to 1970’s around the thematic concepts first of artistic writing in reaction to the blunter SF stories of the earlier part of the century, and second of the social ideas of the Beats and the counterculture — exploring cultural norms and conformity, liberalized sex, revolution, drugs, etc. The New Wave authors were writing mostly sociological SF, occasionally with a hard edge and occasionally space opera.

Steampunk was a name made up by author K.W. Jeter for some of the sort of stories he and other authors like Tim Powers and James Blaylock were sometimes doing. It was a deliberate play on cyberpunk, and while the two movements have some similarities, steampunk was not a non-computer version of cyberpunk. Unlike cyberpunk, steampunk could be either fantasy or science fiction in mainly the alternate history version. In steampunk, the main thing is the aesthetic of steam technology and anachronisms/inventions in relation to steam technology, which has spread beyond storytelling at this point. Mieville has a lot of interest in colonialism and its destruction, the rot of cities, etc., and so steampunk has been an influence for some of the things he was doing.

Perdido Street Station, the novel which vaulted him up into prominence, is a fantasy novel, which blends weird tales horror, New Wave SF attributes and a steampunk story. It is specifically a post-industrial secondary world fantasy novel, Victoriana flavor. And the whole line is that it’s a post-industrial secondary world dark dystopia steampunk thriller fantasy, and a good one at that. It’s not a new form, but it has really interesting themes. Mieville does a bit of cuteness by having the magic elements in his story studied academically and coming up with equations for them. However, these equations do not offer a natural basis for the existence of the unnatural phenomena that defies the natural laws of Mieville’s world. It’s simply magic that can be analyzed and manipulated, by will without a natural world explanation or basis. He also has sentient robots, but they are that way again through a combo of electricity and magic. (Magic robots are not new to fantasy fiction.) But because of that sort of thing, which is reminiscent of The Compleat Enchanter by de Camp and Pratt, some SF fans regarded Perdido as SF, and some fantasy fans declared it not fantasy because no elves and the world was post-industrial. That steampunk crosses into SF or fantasy also added to this impression. Some of Mieville’s other work may be SF, but his city trilogy is fantasy.

When Perdido Street Station got such attention, Mieville regarded it as the chance to jumpstart a conversation about experimentation and advocated a new literary movement in SFF that he called New Weird, essentially a new, somewhat different version of Weird Fiction, somewhat in line with New Wave SF, and encompassing SF horror, surrealism (slipstream,) dark fantasy, dystopia SF, etc. (not necessarily steampunk or alternate history SF.) A lot of people were interested in this — Jeff Vandermeer did things with it, there were some anthologies, publishers started slapping the term on things. But because Mieville’s definition of the movement was deliberately nebulous, and because he was not editing a magazine as Moorcock had done to shape the fiction of a group of authors into something more thematically consistent, it never really coalesced. It certainly was an influence, as Mieville’s work has been, and the term is sometimes still used, but Mieville basically tossed in the towel and said he was done with it as it hadn’t really developed.

2) Dune is the venerated elder of space opera and a descendent of planetary SF. While the science in Dune is certainly shaky, it is actually based on natural science theory — quantum theory and environmental biology, which Herbert researched. Everything in Dune — the mental powers, the spice, the worms, etc., is given a natural basis explanation. There is nothing magical in the story, though some characters are superstitious. Some fantasy readers quite naturally like Dune, with its desert adventure and grand houses, but like Wolf’s Ur-Sun, it’s SF of a particular type.

3) C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy is also SF, again in the loose category of space opera. The natural explanation for the phenomena in her doomed colony planet is based on quantum theory, physics and neurology, with the idea of energy in a natural planetary energy field which can be absorbed and channeled through conscious minds into solid matter. It’s pretty shaky science again, but she did base it on actual theories. Many fantasy readers, however, treated it as another Lord Valentine’s Castle and declared it fantasy. Friedman basically threw up her hands and accepted that people could view it as they liked. She has written military SF — In Conquest Born — and fantasy novels as well.

Pure surrealism and magic realism are fantasy stories. Surrealism that then develops into a natural explanation for the surreal heads into SF. Slipstream may encompass both SF and fantasy based stories, but it has also been a rather nebulous literary movement. Sentience is an area of particular interest to SF, the idea that sentience could develop naturally, scientifically in entities we would not normally expect, such as computer networks. Therefore, when you write a story about a space colony in which a body of water is sentient — if it seemed that you were giving a natural explanation for how that body of water can have an intelligent consciousness in the story, then readers might regard the story as SF. Even if you don’t, it might, yes, be assumed it’s SF because it’s on a space colony and the supernatural elements are not clearly delineated. If you had a ghost for instance that was inhabiting the body of water, that would be more clearly delineated as supernatural, although even then some might claim it to be SF.

The setting of a space colony is a SF element but does not guarantee that the story isn’t fantasy based. A medieval (pre-industrial) setting could be in a historical fiction story that has no unreal elements or even an alternate history SF story; the medieval setting does not make something fantasy and there are thousands of fantasy novels that have no medieval setting. (Go to a search engine or Amazon, etc., and type in the phrase contemporary fantasy.) However, when people have data sets about these things, it can effect their perception. But perception is not the whole market.

Using the term a futuristic fantasy story may help others understand what you are going for. I would also suggest that you check out some of the titles I’ve mentioned earlier and some of these as well maybe, so you can start to get a feel for the range (you don’t have to read them all, but take a look at them and be aware perhaps:

Emma Bull — Bone Dance — futuristic post-apocalypse fantasy
Stephen R. Boyett — Ariel, sequel Elegy Beach — futuristic post-apocalypse fantasy
Terry Brooks — The Sword of Shannara — futuristic post-apocalypse fantasy
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison — The Keltiad series — futuristic fantasy in another star system
Liz Williams — Inspector Chen series — near future, alternate history thriller fantasy
Genevieve Valentine — Mechanique — post-apocalyptic fantasy in either an Earth-like secondary world or future Earth
(she keeps it vague on purpose)
Kameron Hurley — God’s War series — futuristic fantasy (another one lots of people feel is science fiction; this would be an interesting one for you)
Charles Yu — How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe — meta, surrealistic quantum science fiction
Hannu Rajaniemi — The Quantum Thief — quantum based cyberpunk (may have some bits in the general neighborhood of your story)
Tad Williams — Otherland series — VR science fiction (Williams is a big fantasy writer so a lot of fans insist that Otherland is fantasy because of medieval settings in the virtual reality system)
C.J. Cherryh — Rider at the Gate series — planetary sociological SF in the same neighborhood as Coldfire (fantasy-like)
Gayle Greeno — Ghatto series — space opera political thrillers with psi abilities (fantasy-like)

These may be of less use to you, but give you an idea of some of the things being done:

Cathrynne Valente — Palimpsest — multi-dimensional fantasy
Michael Swanwick — The Iron Dragon’s Daughter — multi-dimensional fantasy
Tim Powers — Declare — historical fantasy (World War II-Cold War)
Roger Zelazny — Princes of Amber series — multi-dimensional with futuristic elements fantasy
Michael Moorcock — Eternal Champion Multiverse series — multi-dimensional fantasy with futuristic elements
Stephen King — Dark Tower series — multi-dimensional fantasy includes futuristic elements
Matthew Stover — Caine series — multi-dimensional fantasy series
Carrie Vaughn — Discord’s Apple — alternate Earth near future fantasy novel
Charles Stross — Laundry Files series — multi-dimensional satiric spy fantasy
Kelly McCullough — WebMage series — an oughts version of computer based contemporary fantasy
Cory Doctorow — Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town — surrealism
Hal Duncan — Vellum and Ink — multi-dimensional fantasy with surrealism elements

SFFH — it’s a big wide world.

 

(Do check out some of the authors above even if your interest in the topic is limited — good stuff.)

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Interesting Writings — 6/12/13

Quick Linkage time*:

Chuck Wendig entertainingly talks about Kindle/Warner’s team-up to sell licensed tie-in fiction to some of their book/t.v. show franchises as a form of “fan fiction.”

Foz Meadows talks about realism and outliers in SFFH.

One more sexism in SFFH entry by Emily Finke, because I thought this very cogently talked about the larger problem beyond the big controversies.

Tobias Bucknell explains publishing math to people who don’t really know anything about it.

Video interview and quoted excerpts from an interview with recently deceased writer Iain M. Banks. The award winning author was an excellent ambassador for doing away with the imaginary wars and an all round great guy. It is a loss, but check out the legacy of his novels, including his last one coming out this week.

*For reasons known only to WordPress, only one link here got the traditional blue coloring, but they all seem to be working, so click on the underlined words. Thanks!

 

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You Be Ladies Now, Ya Hear! — The SFWA Bulletin Dust-up

Just when I was planning to move on from “lady” stuff, apparently a bomb of controversy exploded at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) concerning the organization’s newsletter, the Bulletin. It had been a slow brew of exasperation that bubbled over just before SFWA President John Scalzi was safely able to exit and pass his post over to in-coming President Steven Gould. A fairly good summary of events with commentary that I think is fairly apt is offered by Trisha Lynn.

Back in the day, the Bulletin, the main newsletter of the organization, was basically a bulletin. It was published in plain print on 16-20 double-sided pages on thick, stiff paper usually colored vanilla or an office memo pastel shade. It had a few small ads of only print and graphics, and it was filled mostly with announcements — publication opportunities, the movement of editors, agents and imprints, member author book deals and publications, convention and conference schedules, SFWA news, services and legal campaigns. There might be a few brief articles on sales and other trends in SFFH, or a brief author interview. It looked like a dull brochure and you could subscribe to it if you weren’t a member of SFWA. It was something of little interest to most people, but had useful information if you were in the field or trying to break in.

Over time, SFWA tightened up its membership regs and the Bulletin itself morphed into a semi-glossy magazine with cover art and more articles. Somebody running it got the idea to have prominent SFF author Mike Resnick and writer/editor/former agent Barry Malzberg do a regular column in which they have a conversation about various topics. And with the Bulletin approaching 200 issues, Jean Rabe, the current editor, asked the two to talk about women writers and editors in the past for issues #199 and #200. Which they did, by talking about lady writers and lady editors, bathing suits, and how one editor’s main contribution was that she was a dish, and, well, you get the idea. Two older guys talking about the old days of the 1960’s and 1970’s when the “ladies” were around and working hard, but didn’t mind the comments and a slap on the rear — because it could tank their career if they didn’t put up with it. (This is not just an age thing, as plenty of younger people unfortunately also have these views.) What caused more than minor grumbling about this was that issue #200 with Part 2 of the guys’ dialogue was accompanied by a cover image that seems to be a Red Sonja reprint or tribute picture — Sonja in her traditional metal string bikini and cape in the snow standing over a dead giant. There are a lot of 1980’s or earlier art images they could have picked from SFF history, but in an issue that was supposed to be supporting women’s contributions in the field, that one was more than a bit out of place.

So there were a lot of complaints by men and women in the membership. And then the next issue, #201, came out and might have been unremarkable except that comics and horror writer C.J. Henderson, in an otherwise innocuous article about lasting in your career, decided to school the “lady” authors about how to behave if they wanted to keep their careers — like Barbie. An imaginary Barbie who was ladylike, neatly dressed, nice to people, had her career without demanding that Ken was blocking her from it, etc. Of course, the only reason that Barbie ended up having “careers” is because women got demanding and un-ladylike towards real-life Kens about not blocking them from the workplace and advancement with artificial sexist barriers. Mattel saw the change in society and what little girls wanted to emulate, and went with it. They also took rivals (Bratz) to court in a not very nice manner.

Issue #202 saw the Bulletin’s attempt to respond to the complaints about the cover of  issue #200 with an article by Jim C. Hines about women in cover art, related to his previous, hilarious cover art flips and writing that won him a Hugo. But they also figured they’d let Resnick and Malzberg respond to their critics about the previous ladies in publishing articles. And their response was, well, chiefly to declare that long ago women used to keep quiet if they had a problem with anything — because they never heard a complaint — and women should keep being quiet or they were liberal fascists trying to censor the two gentlemen by disagreeing with them and not liking what they said. You can imagine how this went over with men and women author members. They were angry and took the anger to the Net, because Resnick and Malzberg are right — it’s no longer the past when the ladies “don’t say anything about it.”

Scalzi apologized for dropping the ball on really understanding what had happened with the Bulletin and appointed a committee to review procedures on SFWA publications and help Gould out for future policies. So yet another incident yields a bright spot for improved dialogue about discriminatory problems and diversity in the field. But we are left with the knowledge that these incidents will likely continue because both men and women (Rabe is a woman,) unthinkingly say women are and should behave like docile dolls, and then get confused and upset when others angrily point out that they aren’t.

Overall, SFWA has been a smart organization run by sturdy volunteers and has changed and adapted to the needs of its membership in shifting market conditions, and it will probably do so again. And voices like Resnick, Malzberg and Henderson are not ignored, nor evil, nor do they have nothing to contribute as members and authors to the field. But because their viewpoints on women are so exclusionary, they can’t be the main voices speaking for the Bulletin or SFWA, nor can images of Red Sonja, groundbreaking though she was in her time. And neither can Barbie. Instead, SFWA and the field itself will have to put up with loud-mouthed, unladylike female authors and their allies, because in a conversation about women, women are going to keep talking.

Some links of possible and related interest:

http://www.jimchines.com/2013/06/roundup-of-some-anonymous-protesters-sfwa-bulletin-links/

http://jesshaines.com/blog/2013/06/01/sfwa-sexism-misogyny-and-a-call-for-change/

http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2012

http://www.thenation.com/article/173743/my-so-called-post-feminist-life-arts-and-letters#

http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/05/22/the-underserved-population-of-readers/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/coverflip-maureen-johnson_n_3231935.html#slide=more296089

http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/05/understanding-the-sexism-of-fantasy/

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The Invisible Woman — Sometimes Attrition Is Mindnumbingly Slow

The pieces that I did on female movie stars and attrition towards better female placement in movies keep coming back to haunt me lately. That attrition is of course too slow, as all removal of prejudices is, but at least it is understandable that the movie studios, however much we disagree with many of their choices, are the “gatekeepers” for their own projects on which they are spending millions of dollars. There is another kind of gatekeeper who works very hard against attrition, however, who has no justification at all for what they do — the self-appointed guardians of the flames of culture. These people mistakenly believe that culture exists to keep people out of it and appoint themselves the wise folk of the culture and volunteer to man the imaginary fortress doors. Of course, this is useless. They aren’t keeping anyone out of anything and they have no authority to their prejudices, but they do get to throw boiling oil and venom down on their targets and sometimes create obstacles for some of them or at least a hostile social climate. Their targets are inevitably people who are not like them.

Obviously, the really big, systemic problems in society, the big battles of attrition in the world, are far more serious and life and death power struggles than cultural battles of arts and entertainment, but the cultural battles reflect those bigger battles, contribute to them, and often require some extra attention, precisely because people often think they aren’t terribly serious. One of the most pervasive in the world of SFFH creative expressions, in all media forms, is the invisible woman. Women — and girls — have been involved in SFFH during its whole existence in human history. They are fans, scholars, organize conventions, create SFFH or help produce and promote it. And yet, despite this, there is a persistent, non-factual belief that the women are not there. Why? For the same reason the movie studios drag their heels on women in film and filmmaking — it means sharing power, credit and money with more people and having less control thereby. Of course, again, the movie studios actually have power and control over something. The culture guardians most of the time do not. (Yes, the same can be said for other groups in SFFH, such as non-whites, but we’re going to concentrate on women here for a particular reason below.)

Attrition nonetheless does its work. The women refuse to leave, and as they have more equality in general society, more openly express themselves and their roles in SFFH, no longer following rules by self-appointed guardians, no longer hiding under male pseudonyms or attributing credit to males, with young women joining them in their turn. This causes the self-appointed guardians (not always male,) to suddenly notice that some of the women are there, where they’ve been all along. These women, however, are declared rare, exceptions, and usually not particularly welcome but grudgingly over time accepted as existing and occasionally interesting. The women continue to assert themselves openly, to carry over to generations, to climb over obstacles put in their way by the self-appointed guardians. Attrition does its work and the guardians have to admit the existence of more women, so they immediately divide them into good girls and bad girls — girls we allow to do things and be with us and girls we still think are not allowed in.

The good girl and the bad girl is one of the oldest, hoariest chestnuts of attempts to control women and reduce them to objects. The madonna and the whore, Eve and Lilith, Mary and Mary Magdalene, the virgin and the femme fatale — the woman who behaves in an approved manner for women and the woman who does not. It’s a way, in culture, to attempt to keep some control and power, to keep the myth of the invisible woman going just a bit longer, to keep women there but not important. Attrition has to chip, chip, chip away at this, but it’s terribly hard to get rid of it completely because the dichotomy is far too attractive.

We were given a spectacularly awful example of this in a column for CNN’s website by Joe Peacock, a self-appointed guardian of the flame, or as John Scalzi termed it, self-appointed Speaker for the Geeks. Peacock is apparently involved with video games, and, despite the fact that women have been involved with video games from the beginning, the gaming world is certainly well behind on the attrition front compared to other SFFH media, and in fact really likes to fling the venom around when it comes to women in a desperate belief that they can keep them out. Mr. Peacock’s piece is chockful of good girl-bad girl ideology. He goes after teenage girls dressing in costume and professional models doing a job and gives them what-for, while praising good girls for recently entering a world in which they’ve actually been all along. He even divides up actresses he doesn’t know into helpful good girl and bad girl categories. Mr. Peacock has finally recognized that the invisible women are there, and unless they follow his orders exactly, he’s desperate to get them out. He even thinks up handy thought processes for them to have to establish that the teenage girls are in fact evil, which instead sort of make you wonder about Peacock’s sex life.

It’s an astonishing bit of open sexism by a guy who quite clearly thinks he’s defending good girls and his beloved supposedly male culture that he will share with only those who are worthy. Many annoyed rebuttals have been made on the Net on bigger blogs than mine that you can check out. I particularly recommend Nick Mamatas’ pointing out that not only have women not been invisible in SFFH, but that the idea that SFFH geekery is an outcast subculture is a ridiculous myth (and his earlier geek pride essay on the damage of self-appointed guardians.) Jezebel‘s response wasn’t bad either, though it does accede a bit to the geekery wasn’t popular before and women weren’t there a lot myths.

I do actually see Peacock’s piece — and most of the responses to it — as a good sign that attrition is working in SFFH when it comes to women. If it wasn’t, Peacock would have seen no need to defend the culture he has no actual say in. He would not have bothered to couch it as a defense of women while he attacked them. But given the venom in it, it is unfortunately also a sign that attrition is going very slowly, too slowly, that backlashes against women on the Net are getting nasty, and that news sources like CNN are now so used to bashing women and their behavior as women that they thought nothing of putting this piece up and getting the controversy hits.

It’s very, very tiring to have to continually tap guys — and unfortunately also some women as well — on the shoulder and say, “we’re here, we’ve always been here and you are not actually in charge of us” over and over. Luckily, that herd of teenage girls in sexy costumes whom Peacock so despises are very good at it. They’re going to run right over the man and right past him. Because the one who is really invisible in SFFH is Peacock. Maybe one day he’ll figure that out.

Below are some related articles on this subject of invisible women (cause I happened to have them saved up):

http://www.salon.com/2012/06/14/lara_croft_battles_male_jerks/

http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/675153.html

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/08/31/the-sort-of-crap-i-dont-get/

http://www.jimchines.com/2012/05/questions-i-never-get-asked

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/laurie-penny-a-womans-opinion-is-the-miniskirt-of-the-internet-6256946.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/tribeca-film-festival-women-starring_n_1430917.html

http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2010/07/09/words-are-not-fists-on-male-strategies-to-defuse-feminist-anger/ 

http://www.kateelliott.com/wordpress/?p=571

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/tribeca-film-festival-women-starring_n_1430917.html

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Author Interviews and Roundtable Chats

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging a lot is that I’ve been interviewing authors for SFFWorld, in particular for the new Author Roundtable chats we’re doing in the discussion forums, where we talk with groups of authors further about their work and whatever silly thing that comes into our heads. Most recently, I’ve gotten to interview Carolyn Crane, author of The Disillusionists fantasy series;  SFF horror writer Tim Marquitz, author of the Demon Squad series; and SFF horror writer Lincoln Crisler, author of WILD. I also got to touch base with contemporary fantasy author John Levitt (Dog Days series,) whom I had interviewed last year, in a Roundtable with him, Carolyn Crane, and J.A. Pitts (Sarah Beauhall series.) Tim and Lincoln are currently participating in a Roundtable with dark fantasy author Jasper Kent (the Danilov series.) Click on the links below to check out these interviews and the Roundtable discussions — good fun all around.

John Levitt Interview: http://www.sffworld.com/interview/283p0.html

Carolyn Crane Interview:  http://www.sffworld.com/interview/298p0.html

Tim Marquitz Interview: http://www.sffworld.com/interview/304p0.html

Lincoln Crisler Interview:  http://www.sffworld.com/interview/305p0.html

Author Roundtable: Levitt, Crane and Pittshttp://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32546

Author Roundtable: Marquitz, Crisler and Kenthttp://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32632

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The New Villain

Written fiction is an industry that expands, not competes, but this is very hard for people to wrap their heads around. Whenever one-three authors are successful at one type of story or another around the same time, it attracts readers to that type of fiction, and then from there, some of them drift on to other types of fiction, related and less so. But the fear is always levied that this will not happen, that the perceived popular type will take over, crush most of the others out there and revolutionize the field, usually in horrible, commercial, etc., ways. Identifying apparent trends is really identifying the enemy. Meanwhile readers have already moved on to try other types of stories. It seems we must have a villain to worry about, the thing that will take over readers’ brains because readers can never be trusted.

In the late 2000’s, the villain was urban fantasy, first as a perceived horde of icky women authors, then just as a horde of fantasy writers. Reams were written on the Internet about what the popularity of contemporary suspense fantasy could possibly mean, and there still remains fear, among SF fans and alternate world fantasy fans, that urban fantasy — dismissed only six years ago as of no importance — will destroy them. The reality — that a third wave of new fans in the late 1990’s and early oughts, plus old ones, went exploring — is apparently considered too prosaic an explanation.

A good chunk of those fans then went on to try out historical fantasy titles, which have also been expanding along with the rest of fantasy, and the most popular era for the historical fantasy novels to start with is the Victorian era and the Sherlock Holmes turn of century, allowing a return to steampunk. Steampunk, a term coined in the 1980’s along with urban fantasy, was applied to certain types of alternate history SF and historical and alt historical fantasy, as well as occasional alternate world fantasy tales that featured a version of Victoriana. It had gadgets, and usually steam trains. The interest in steampunk came initially from fans who were interested in popular cyberpunk SF then exploring various different incarnations of that type of suspense. While never a big sub-field, it was widely respected. A new wave of hard SF/cyberpunk authors have had some degree of popularity in the oughts, especially coming out of Britain, and post-apocalyptic SF, where the more modern world breaks down but gadgets remain, has also been having a good run attracting readers, especially in YA SF, in part catching the readers that flooded in thanks to fantasy titles like Harry Potter and Twilight, as well as new readers interested in SF through YA series like The Uglies. So it was hardly surprising that some authors and readers would return to steampunk SF as well, in both YA and adult fiction. And some of them, such as Cherie Priest with Boneshaker, have had some solid success, supported also to a degree by an aesthetic movement that embraces steampunk and likes to make gadget home decor and wear really cool waistcoats.  (And seriously, even if you aren’t a steampunkian, who doesn’t like a cool waistcoat and tophat?) China Mieville’s earlier respected forays returning to steampunking in alternate world fantasy also laid some ground.

Despite this success, however, the steampunk trend in fantasy and SF is not terribly huge, (some people don’t like waistcoats.) And if you look at SF, steampunk is really not the hot factor right now compared to zombie SF. But perhaps because zombie SF is always, often incorrectly considered to be part of horror, that invasion hasn’t registered or at least is not that much of a concern yet, (kind of like the early stage of a zombie movie.) But steampunk has recently been made the villain du jour on the Internet SFF community, the thing that is polluting and diluting the beautiful science purity of SF. (It’s not yet considered a huge threat to other versions of fantasy, but give it a few years. Also, zombie fantasy may start to be considered a threat down the road.) Some people are complaining about it, (not steampunk again!) including the very bright author Charlie Stross, and others are pointing out that this is kind of a ridiculous complaint. (Welcome to success, Cherie Priest!)

Ben Peek has done a reasonable job of assembling links to some of the key threads of debate:

http://benpeek.livejournal.com/797422.html

My friends, you will have to decide whether it’s worth your time to read such back and forthing that sounds exactly like the same back and forthing on all the other proposed past villains. It might perhaps be better to wait for the next villain, possibly the zombies, or alien SF which readers are pursuing, or environmental SF or comic fantasy or alternate world horror fantasy, or anything female SFFH authors are doing that sells well. If nothing else, it’s a sign that SFFH is doing relatively well in a difficult economic and retail world. And it is a break from all the complaints about vampires. Unless they have waistcoats.

 

 

 

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Interesting Writings for the Last Bit of September

1) Excellent SFF writer A. Lee Martinez points out that screaming “The Internet will destroy your brains!” has no more meaning than when people shouted it about other forms of media:

http://www.aleemartinez.com/in-defense-of-the-internet/blog/23092010/

2) Excellent SFF writer Patricia Wrede delivers interesting insights into fiction writers on her blog:

http://pcwrede.com/blog/

3) The Borders blog has been very busy lately. First off, excellent SFF writers Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks have a semi-satiric and semi-serious discussion about mostly alternate world (epic) fantasy:

http://bordersblog.com/scifi/category/brandon-sanderson-and-brent-weeks/

4) Second at the Borders blog, excellent SFFH editors Lou Anders of Pyr Books, Ginjer Buchanan of Berkley Ace, and Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books have a wonderful discussion about the symbiotic realities of fiction publishing and being SFFH editors:

http://bordersblog.com/scifi/2010/09/28/lou-anders-ginjer-buchanan-and-jeremy-lassen/on-the-nature-of-rivals-and-the-rising-tide/

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SFFH Reviewers

One of these days I’m going to get better about at least talking about some of the books I’m reading, but in the meantime, there are many good, ernest reviewers of SFFH out there, as well as other stuff. Some possible ones to check out:

http://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/ — by the little redheaded reviewer who kindly dropped a comment in my blog and who has a nice review blog that covers manga too.

http://booktionary.blogspot.com/ — The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Review, which I ran across while doing the Mad Hatter Awards and which seems to be a comprehensive site that also has author interviews.

http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/ — Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist has become a big SFFH site over the years, and includes author interviews, general news and giveaways as well. Pat has announced that he may be phasing out the review at the end of this year. He’s got a lot of projects on his plate and the site is a lot of work. I’ve had quite a few pleasant arguments with Pat on SFFWorld’s forums and always found him very sharp and publishers feed him useful intel as well sometimes. So it’s worth checking out while it’s still around.

And then there is SFFWorld itself:

http://www.sffworld.com/ — author interviews, lots of reviews by my good online pals and they must be doing something right, because they get quoted a lot on book covers these days.  🙂

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Filed under book publishing, SFFH