Yeah, that seems to be a bit of a problem

fireside

 

The original article can be found at Fireside Fiction Company.

I do wonder if this has less to do with systemic racism and more to do with money and the generalized fear of change people experience.

Editors of short story magazines are human, presumably, and as such these editors (in general) have an ingrained sense of right and wrong in regards to the stories that should appear in their magazines. It is this very ethos, that governs story choices, that editors are chosen and employed; for the pieces they pick, presumably, keep the eyeballs coming back to their magazine.

Now, while this may appear to be a culturing of anti-POC dispositions amongst the SFF editors of the world; in reality the likely driver behind this maintaining of the status quo is…money.

Every company in the world has a desire to make money, if for different reasons. For-profits companies, your Apples and Walmarts, want to make money simply so they can make more money. Non-profit organizations (legitimate ones) want to make money as well, if only so they can continue offering the services they provide; for if they made no money they couldn’t operate. SFF magazines are no different; they have to make money. At the very least, so they can keep their website running; and in a better world so they can pay authors and a full-time staff of employees.

So as money the ultimate guiding hand, coupled with peoples fear of change, choosing the same type of story, month after month, for publication becomes the norm. Yes, many magazines will publish stories that are radically different from what they normally publish, but that is done only once or twice a year, normally in a planned featurette. And those magazines are not in the majority, making once or twice a year to read a change in storytelling (from a minority of publications) woefully inadequate. So, it is wonderful, studies like these get done. They put the onus on the editors to go outside their comfort zone of stories and not just for a planned featurette, removing the argument that readers just don’t to read something different.

And why should the task of giving readers a wide variety in stories not fall onto the shoulders of editors? Why should these short story publishers not hire a group of editors with wildly different views on what makes a great story?

Truth be told every SFF magazine should have their editors make a quarter of published stories be from writers with strong technical writing in a style of prose that doesn’t mesh finely with every other story picked. Now this is not an affirmative action type call to SFF publishing; rather it would present to readers a highly varying degree of writing styles that, while the editor may not like the style of, the audience will (at least with some of the stories). Then since the editor stuck to only strong writing, it’s a win-win; high standards are upheld, stories available to read begin to spread away from a nexus of indistinguishability, the possibility of more incoming money presents itself, and changing to new styles of prose feels less daunting.

The folly of making a story as “cool” as can be

Made by Joel Cardboard Cutouts 1

Back in high school I knew of a kid in the graduating class ahead of me who would get to school early so he could be seen standing in front of his Mazda RX-7. A car his parents very obviously bought for him. Come time to go home, he would stand next to his car and…regale kids with stories of his parent’s wealth? I’m not entirely sure what he talked about. In my graduating class there was a kid who went a different route. A lull in a conversation? Good time for him to bring up the latest gadget he supposedly got to play with. He’d quote the price, rattle off the name of some wealthy person no one else knew who had that gadget, then tell how amazing it was. While both acted in different ways, each yearned for the same end result: to be viewed as “cool”.

A recent book I read reminds me of those two kids.

Now, I understand the urge to make a story as cool as can be. People like cool stuff. Fonzi is still brought up in conversation. People buy posters of James Dean to this day. Buddy Holly has a song named after him. Each would have ended up as obscure pop culture references if people didn’t like “cool”.

So yes, adding a little “coolness” to a story is just fine, however there is a point when that “coolness” takes on a life of its own; eclipsing the story it is part of.

This recent story, in the effort to make a totally cool, bad ass story, forgot three key elements which allowed the desired end-point to eclipse the actual story.

  1. Characters that have some sort of growth. ANY GROWTH.
  2. A plot that actually does something.
  3. Suspension of disbelief.

I probably shouldn’t have to explain this, but readers expect characters to not be static. Now, the word “static” is tricky; for how can a character that does stuff be static? When we say something is static, we generally mean it’s the same, has not changed, or has done anything. A character who is talking and running around is doing something, so they can’t be that word.

Wrong.

If characters simply do stuff and go places, doing the same stuff in these new places as they did in the old places, they are static characters in a static plot. Nothing more. But wait, you say, action isn’t the only part of a book! There’s those middle squishy areas in between the doing of stuff. True, there are those areas, but if the characters only talk/have internal monologue about the previous and future doings of stuff, then they go do more stuff; they are static/cardboard/not fleshed out.

Let’s put it another way.

If a reader can read 5 pages, skip a good 30 pages, read a few more pages and not miss anything (no matter how many times a reader does that), you have a plot and characters more static and cardboard than cardboard sent through the dryer without a dyer sheet.

Which brings us to the point about the plot actually doing something. A story that is just a bunch of psychopaths running around murdering people and bitching about the other psychopaths, is not a plot. It’s just a long action scene. And yes, if a character runs around killing people because they get in their way, that person is a psychopath.

Murdering—okay, fine, killing people to achieve a story goal is shoddy writing. It shows lack of imagination or lack of skill or both. Sure, just about every book has violence and killing in it. However, most books (at least the ones that are well written) use the trope only in action sequences to ramp up the tension, not to resolve issues/achieve goals.

Violence that solves issues and progresses the plot works in videogames. Those things can get away with plots and characters that are weak and a gratuitous amount of violence if the gameplay is super fun, because in the end that is why people play videogames, TO PLAY. Books are different. It’s the same reason why movies and TV shows don’t follow books exactly. What works in one medium rarely translates well to a different medium. What is “cool” in videogames is not the same type of “cool” in books.

Books are literary in nature. They should be written to engage the mind and imagination, not pretend to be videogames, eschewing the mind engagement in favor of balls-to-the-wall action. Read the Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach if you think books can’t engage the mind and imagination and be as frantic as a Call of Duty session on speed.

Stories shouldn’t be able to be read and forgotten as easily as the names of the “cool” kids we all knew back in our teenage years.

 

The Problem with Military Science Fiction: Part 1

I might be in the minority here (am I?), but I’ve been looking for articles on military sci-fi for years. Thomas Evans presents one of the better articles I’ve found on the sub-genre. Very interesting and true.

The points that Thomas hits on, are the exact reasons why I rarely finish a military sci-fi book, yet the ones I do finish are the books I love the best.

I wish there were more books that didn’t have good guys be a lawful good Paladin and bad guys be chaotic-evil barbarians. Through them both in the gray zone, that makes for fun reading.

The Archaeologist's Guide to the Galaxy.. by Thomas Evans

This week, I am starting an open ended series of blogs is intended to consider why Military Science Fiction has such a bad reputation, and what (if anything) can be done about it.

Now, I should start by saying that I like MilFic.  I read MilFic, I write MilFic.  Some MilFic is truly tremendous stuff.  Heinlein’s Starship Troopers(1959) Haldeman’s The Forever War(1974) create bookends for some of the best MilFic out there: one gung-ho, the other anti-war.  Orson Scott Card‘s Ender’s Game (1977) is one of my favorite books regardless of genre (or subgenre).  Yet, Military Science Fiction is really considered a literary ghetto by many  people, even many Science Fiction fans. Considering that Sci-Fi in general is often considered a literary ghetto, that puts MilFic Smack-Dab in the middle of one of Literature’s worst neighborhoods.  This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least of which is that many of…

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8 VERY PRETTY PUBLIC LIBRARIES

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Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam

 

All public libraries are created equal. No matter the size of the collection, the rarity of the books, or the location; public libraries are a place of knowledge and learning any can go to and utilize.

Public libraries are genuinely helpful places. With paperback books averaging $8 a pop, reading different books is expensive if you were to buy each one. That’s where public libraries come in. Not only are you able to check-out just about any book you can think of (inter-library loans allow that access), you also get access to the benefits of reading for FREE!

Although, all public libraries being equal, some are a lot prettier than others.

 

7 DAYS

A novelette.

 

DAY 0

An avian shaped starship, a body resembling that of an albatross with the head of a dodo, dominated the satellite and debris heavy space between Earth and the Moon with a presence like that of a second moon. The appearance, so sudden only an unmanned telescope on a back porch in upstate New York witnessed the flash of arrival, was followed by destruction. Blue light spit from the beak of the spaceship, each one hitting a different satellite orbiting Earth. Alien ordnance curved round the earth, seeking out satellites not in the direct line of sight, the blobs weaving through debris, bypassing communication satellites. As the blue of the last weapon winked from existence, taking a British MI6 owned gigajoule laser satellite with it, amateur and professional astronomers around the globe witnessed the most monumental event in human history: the arrival of a fleet of alien spaceships.

Read the rest at 7 DAYS

NO, NO, NO. DO NOT DO THAT.

stop sign

I have an idea for a story. I enjoy Battlestar Galactica, so I think Apollo or Starbuck should be in my story. I love watching Dr. Who, so the much discussed Clara will have a place. Oh yeah, the doc from BSG is great, so he will be there.

Clichés are good, yes? I love clichés, it makes the story run so much smoother.

How could I forget? Explanation for every little action any of my characters make is a no-brainer; because, duh, how will anyone know what is happening without detailed exposition for every action?

Intense action sequences must be broken up with internal narrative; and inconsistencies during those scenes will go unnoticed, so I just gotta stick to the detailed explanations.

And this, this is the most important I have to remember: the tough, grizzled guy gets the woman who instantly falls for him upon meeting him, but she must also act stern and show she doesn’t give a shit when he reacts like a silverback gorilla challenging an intruder. People just won’t find it believable if she doesn’t show a little backbone.

facepalm

Let’s break down the reasons why the above is so wrong.

STEALING CHARACTERS

It is okay to take inspiration from a fictional or real person to create your fictional person. That’s perfectly okay. Nearly every single fictional character ever created has been inspired by person(s) of myth or reality or a little of both. What is wrong, is stealing wholesale from a character someone else has created.

For example: The Chief of Medical on Battlestar Galactica is an old man with silver hair, a rough voice, slight stoop to his back, and smokes cigarettes whenever he gives people bad news.

So, if your doctor is an old man with silver hair, a rough voice, slight stoop to his back, and smokes cigarettes whenever he gives people bad news; you’re not inspired from the doc on BSG, you’re just being lazily and stealing.

CLICHÉS

  1. The soldier with a lot of tattoos is a hot head and great in a fight.
  2. The man from a country in South America, he prays with a rosary before every mission even though he’s agnostic.
  3. A settled new planet has a bazaar, homes made out of rock, and low wealth, and is, of course, settled by people from Middle East nations.
  4. The tough guy leader has a checkered past, doesn’t care about himself cause he’s a leader, and he gets the girl.

The above are called, “clichés”, although I think number 3 is also an overt racist stereotype, and number 2 makes you seem ridiculously uneducated.

I wish I could say people hate clichés, but if that were the case The Big Bang Theory would not be popular. Clichés do ensure you’ll have a ton of really terrible reviews, and not nice things coming from word of mouth because of the lack of originality. You’ll never get away from every cliché, but don’t over do it and stay away from the stereotypes.

EASE UP ON THE EXPOSITION

No. I’ll say it again. No. You do not need to explain every little goddamn thing. If you are writing a military sci-fi book, you do not need to tell the reader what MRE stands for. If the person reading a military sci-fi book does not know what MRE stands for or what a MRE is, they are in a super duper tiny minority and they will look it up.

Explaining precisely why a character is going to do something, and then having the character do exactly what was in the previous two paragraphs is called, “telegraphing”. There is no such thing as good telegraphing, unless you are using a telegraph to send a message to another telegraph. You’re not though, you’re typing on a keyboard.

Ease up on the exposition, and while you’re writing, pretend for just a minute that your reader has an iota of intelligence and can figure something out without you having to paint the Mona Lisa in every paragraph.

INCONSISTENCIES

If you are in walking with maglev boots on the outside of a spaceship in the vacuum of space and you jump off…You will not land with a thud against the ship.

THE DAMSEL

Take a moment to look at what year it is. You’re reading this on a web browser; the date is going to be somewhere within eyesight.

It’s the year 2016 CE. It is not the Mad Men era in the 1950s.

If you create a character who is a giant asshole with mood swings so violent, he has an armed guard to meetings, the woman he talks to will not instantly fall in love with his rugged handsomeness and manly attitude when she meets him for the first time. She will not tell the guard to leave the room while he slams his fists on the table because his authority is being challenged. Seriously, if you think this is perfectly okay for a story…

book and coffee

I love reading; great stories, wonderful stories, just okay stories, it really doesn’t matter. However, authors are supposed to uphold some sort of standard with storytelling. Not everyone on Earth writes stories, which means being the bulwark against terrible storytelling falls to just a small percentage of all alive.

Let’s do the world good.

Let’s create magic with words.

 

CARDBOARD HAS NEVER BEEN MORE INTERESTING – HULL ZERO THREE

 

A man pushed open the saloon style doors of Louie’s on Fox. The right top hinge squealed like nails on chalkboard, acting a better entry bell than a bell would. Paint flaked from the wooden slabs in so many places, regulars made it a game to guess what color Louie claimed the door was that day. As the saloon doors flap closed, the hinge making fainter sounds with each flap like that of an animal letting out their last gasps of life, the man walks with steady steps in the direction of the bar. Dirt, brought in by the miners at the coal seam just outside of town and blown in from lack of glass on the window holes and a proper door, rise in small tufts under the heavy steps of the man. A few of the patrons that sit at the five fight-weathered tables like fleas clinging to a dog’s back give the man a once over, and then look back at their liquid dreams in the dirty glasses in front of them.

Two brown fans, fan blades more gray than brown from the caked on dust, turn as lazily as a vulture on a thermal waiting for a meal to die. It does nothing for the blistering heat that envelops the place, but they’re not supposed to according to Louie. It’s about not allowing the air to go stagnant. The man doesn’t know about that, nor does he care, he didn’t pick Louie’s for its cosmopolitan ambience.

He makes his way to a bar stool with a sliver of cushion and fabric so thin the man does what every other patron to Louie’s does, he tries to pull off the fabric like it was a dirty towel Louie left on the stool. When the fabric doesn’t come free, the man shrugs a shoulder, and sits in front of the bar top that takes up almost the entire left side wall.

Gouges, pits, and scraps decorate the deep brown oak bar top with patches of lighter oak, where fights had removed large chunks, joining the display. The metal running along the edge of the front could have been brass, or copper, or any other type of metal. It was hard to tell from the blood and dirt stains on top of the divots and dents. Behind the bartop that would turn away anyone more refined than a raccoon, five shelves were screwed into the roughhewn cedar wall. Dusty bottles with hardly a drop spilled from their confines sat next to near empty bottles of alcohol, the glass hard to see through from the dirt that covered it.

An old bartender behind the bar shambles over to the man sitting and places a glass as dirty as the bottle in front of the man. The inside could be clean, but the man doesn’t hold his breath. If he was worried about his health he wouldn’t have been at Louie’s.

“Cheapest vodka ya got,” the man says. As the bartender ambles away, he sighs, leans on his elbows against the bar, and just stares.

~

Greg Bear is horrible.

Okay, let’s back up here, shine the dirty glass so things are a bit clearer. If you are an author, you know this one piece of advice because it is a constant. Everyone who gives advice on writing says it; be it a blog post, newspaper article, or just shooting the breeze. If you want to be an author you need to know this; and if you just like reading, not writing, it will make sense when you think about it.

Characters in a story are not supposed to be as flat as cardboard.

An example would be the mini-story above. We know one character is a man and he doesn’t care about his health. That’s it. Why he’s there, what drove him to Louie’s, what drives him to do what he does. They are all absent, but the bar is in great detail. So you have a fleshed out background, but a character as flat as paper.

An entire novel is not supposed to be set up that way, yet Greg Bear does just that with Hull Zero Three, and it works. Which is why Mr. Bear is such a cretin. A story is not supposed to be a great read if the characters have the depth of an atom. Yet, Bear takes that given, throws it on the fire, and then writes a story populated by cardboard characters that is a really good read.

There is a reason why the characters are so one-dimensional in Hull Zero Three. To provide the reason would give away what makes the book wonderful, but that doesn’t mean the story is supposed to succeed. Even though the characters have to be cardboard, Hull Zero Three should be boring, but I couldn’t put it down.

For two days I read the book every single chance I got. Two free minutes waiting for the kitchen sink to fill with hot water? I read. Walking from the car to inside, I read. I read at night by the light of my phone, and during the morning while waiting for bread to toast.

The main reason for why the story is so fascinating is that the story is interesting despite being populated by cardboard characters. I don’t have a clue how he pulled it off. No idea.

Hull Zero Three is a great read. It’s really good. I highly recommend it.