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Editors Like Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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SFFWorld Author Roundtable — Carol Berg, Teresa Edgerton, Michael J. Sullivan, Myke Cole

So much going on! Over at SFFWorld, we have our fifth Author Roundtable and it’s author lapalooza with four authors at different stages of their  careers: Carol Berg, Teresa Edgerton, Michael J. Sullivan, Myke Cole, plus a few more like Mark Lawrence and Jon Sprunk joining in the questioning. To check out the conversation, click on the link below:

http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=33424

Me, I will be back here buried in boxes and emptying closets, which is my life these days. The Roundtable is much more interesting.

 

 

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When Good Book Reviews Go Bad

During the holiday craziness at the end of 2011, several friends asked me what I thought of author Glen Duncan’s now notorious book review of Colson Whitehead’s zombie novel Zone One in the New York Times, in which he pairs “genre” novels with porn stars and praises Whitehead’s novel by mostly ignoring that book and using the review as a platform to claim that works like his own novel, The Last Werewolf, can’t be properly understood by fantasy fans:

www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/books/review/zone-one-by-colson-whitehead-book-review.html

My reaction was of course: poor Colson Whitehead. Not only are Whitehead’s views not in line with Duncan’s, (his response to those wondering why he would ever write a zombie novel was “don’t be such a snob,”) but his big Times review could have easily been assigned to a writer like Lev Grossman, China Mieville, Charles Yu, David Eggers, Catherynne M. Valente or Jeff VanderMeer, who have a clue what they are talking about regarding fantasy fiction, rather than a writer who saw the review as an opportunity to audition for media gigs as a 1960’s curmudgeon.

Whitehead, however, has been frequently paired up with Duncan in media coverage for Zone One, (Duncan’s Werewolf is published by Whitehead’s publisher’s sister house, Knopf,) and it was this reason why I was asked about the book review. Back in the summer, the Wall Street Journal, whose interest in fiction is practically non-existent but whose interest in what big movie deals are percolating was attracted by Justin Cronin’s deal for his vampire apocalypse novel The Passage, did an article that incited a wide ranging discussion on SFFWorld. The article couldn’t be just about The Passage for WSJ purposes; it had to be about a proposed “business trend,” and so it was about how non-genre, “literary” writers were recently now turning to genre fiction, presented as the land of the non-literary, to make money:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576343310420118894.html

The article included Duncan, who also had a film deal, and Whitehead, and several other authors.

http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=31197

In the discussion at SFFWorld, I pointed out that Lev Grossman, who was covered in the piece, was not new to this type of fiction as he’s been steeped in the community for years in his work as a critic and then as a writer, and two of the authors touted in the article, Melissa Marr and Michael Koryta, had never been anything else but genre novel writers, Marr writing her YA fantasy series and Koryta writing crime novels. Most of Duncan’s previous novels as well have been suspense and SFFH. His best known novel before The Last Werewolf, I, Lucifer, was a fantasy novel, and there has been no real indication that The Last Werewolf is somehow enormously different from how he’s written his other works, except this time he has had the resources of Knopf behind it in the U.S. The WSJ article was, as has often come up before regarding the imaginary fiction culture war, a bad social science and market research piece that included factual errors, as were Duncan’s assertions into Whitehead’s review about the thinking of fantasy fans, and the follow-up Times piece he got himself, in which he swears it was completely fine to disservice Whitehead in favor of his tirade because some Amazon customer reviews of Whitehead’s novel supposedly proved his point about the rest of us.

I said at the time of the SFFWorld discussion about that Wall Street Journal article that Whitehead had been too lukewarm in his quote in the article for my tastes, but since then in marketing Zone One he’s impressed me. I also said that I hoped Duncan’s novel did well and that this would help other authors get attention as well, even if he was propagating an outdated credo as a PR strategy. So my friends asked if I still had that wish, in light of Duncan’s engineered controversy with the Whitehead review. And the answer is that I do still wish Glen Duncan success, because success for one book helps the rest and success for a fantasy novel helps all other authors doing fantasy, not simply in sales but in media attention, wider awareness, and the kind of understanding about readers of fantasy, science fiction, horror and suspense that Duncan rejects. The Last Werewolf was a bestseller and I do not wish the series ill. For every Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz or Jonathan Lethem, who not only write like a dream but actually understand the historical context and literary power of these types of stories, there’s going to be a Glen Duncan, clinging to a fading dream of an empire that never was and being kind of a jerk about it.

Am I, though, going to read The Last Werewolf? Probably not. There are other writers whose work I value more highly and there’s only so much time in the day. But Zone One by Colson Whitehead? That is a novel I’ll likely try to read at some point. After all, Glen Duncan recommends it, even if he did so as sort of a backhanded compliment.

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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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SFFWorld Interview with Jon Sprunk

Over at SFFWorld, I interviewed Jon Sprunk, author of the secondary world fantasy novels Shadow’s Son and Shadow’s Lure. Check it out and check out the novels, which are filled with skullduggery and derring do:

http://www.sffworld.com/interview/294p0.html

 

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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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John Levitt Interview

Over on SFFWorld, I got to interview contemporary fantasy writer John Levitt about his series featuring Mason, a magic user, and Lou, his spirit familiar who takes the shape of a dog. This is a very interesting mystery series, starting with the book Dog Days, and Levitt is an interesting guy — a musician and former cop. The third book in the series, Unleashed, came out in November, and the fourth book in the series is due out this fall. You can check out the interview at:

http://www.sffworld.com/interview/283p0.html

And Levitt’s website is at: http://www.jlevitt.com/

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