In my latest piece for AE, I survey the short fiction of Peter Watts. What might have been a review of his collection Beyond the Rift quickly grew into a longer piece about the themes found in his entire corpus of short fiction, only half of which is found in that collection. (Most of his stories can be downloaded from his website or found elsewhere online.) Read on to find out why Watts’s stories are so unsettling.
My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Science Fiction & Fantasy
I sometimes get asked how to do a fantasy map. I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m basically a fantasy map critic, not a working illustrator. What the people asking me this question want is an instruction manual for the standard fantasy map, and for that, Roberts is their man, because he’s an actual illustrator. He does operate within the dominant fantasy map paradigm I often critique (though with a good deal more colour and texture than the standard line drawing), but he does it very well, and more importantly shares his methods. Roberts’s blog is full of interesting material on how he goes about creating fantasy maps: see for example this tutorial.
The Aurora Awards are essentially the Canadian equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They’re voted on by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association; and voting takes place much as it does with the Hugos. They’re awarded at Canvention, the Canadian national science fiction convention, which takes place as part of an existing convention. (As I understand it, the French-language Auroras are administered separately.)
The Auroras are a small award in the grand scheme of things (inasmuch as sf fandom can have a grand scheme), but this is my first genre award nomination, and I have feels.
Just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Good Lord it’s a lot of fun.
During this year’s Hugo Awards foofaraw, there was some disappointment expressed that this book was not on the final ballot. That was not because Hugo voters were out to snub a book full of the good old stuff and lacking in social justice virtue, or whatever — it was simply ineligible. The Martian was first self-published electronically in 2011. But don’t weep overmuch for Andy Weir: after brisk online sales, both traditional publishing and Hollywood started paying attention. He got a six-figure advance for the hardcover edition, which came out in February 2014, and the movie adaptation comes out this November.
And it’s not hard to see why. The book chronicles a lone astronaut’s struggle to survive on the Martian surface after an accident leaves him stranded there, and the attempts to rescue him. It’s chock-a-block with technical detail — Weir did a lot of research, and the Mars program in the book reflects a lot of the proposals I’ve seen — and MacGyveresque solutions to problems. It’s written in a light, breezy and entertaining (if not necessarily felicitous) manner. Characterization and prose quality are not among its virtues — it’s basically an Analog story without all the Analog baggage — but Weir manages to maintain real tension while interleaving it with some legitimately funny moments; in many ways it manages to out-Scalzi John Scalzi at his own game. It’s a fun book — just what I needed right now.
A Redditor called Sarithus has created a map of Clichéa, “a map based on fantasy tropes that also pokes a little fun at unoriginal map makers.” Like others of its kind, it hearkens back, probably undeliberately, to early modern maps of Cockaigne and Schlaraffenland and other satirical maps. Cartographer’s Guild thread, Reddit thread.
Previously: The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need.
My review of Jo Walton’s My Real Children is now up at AE. My Real Children came out a year ago, but it just won the Tiptree Award, which made doing the review more timely; AE’s review policy doesn’t limit itself to new releases in any event.
Rereading the book for this review was an interesting experience, as was writing the review. This is the kind of book that could generate several different reviews that each focused exclusively on a different subject. It wasn’t just that I was scratching the surface — I was scratching just one surface.
The fourth issue was late; this one is ludicrously so: I’d hoped to have it out by the end of December. That’s on me alone: everyone else got their stuff in on time. But with everything that’s been happening, it took me a long time before I could brain enough to get things together.
But that means we’ve got an extra helping of … uh, whatever it is that we do here for you this time. Forty pages in all.
My third book review for AE was posted earlier this week: this time I look at Elements, a short story collection by Suzanne Church. (To reiterate: AE is where I’ll be reviewing Canadian science fiction; anything that is neither will likely fall outside that purview. Bear that in mind when deciding whether to send me a review copy.)
It is now a virtual certainty that Jennifer and I will be attending Ad Astra next month. There was some doubt about it in terms of whether she’d be sufficiently recuperated to attend, but she is, so we will. I’m not doing any programming or anything; our plan is simply to socialize.
The other conventions we plan to attend this year are Readercon and Can-Con. I was too slow to sign up for World Fantasy before it reached the membership cap; Sasquan conflicts with the start of Jennifer’s school year; and we’re watching our pennies too much this year to attend anything further afield.
The next issue of Ecdysis is running awfully late (I’d originally intended for it to be out three months ago), but it’s very nearly done. Honest. It might even be worth the wait.
My review of Matthew Johnson’s short story collection, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine, 2014), went live this morning at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.
It’s my second review for AE, and I’ll be doing more, so yes, I think it’s safe to call myself a book reviewer. A few years ago I would have found the prospect of writing full-length reviews, rather than a blog entry a paragraph or two long, utterly daunting, at least for science fiction and fantasy (I’d already been reviewing map books, after all). And yet here I am, to my great surprise. Still feels like I’m learning how to do it, one review at a time, sweat beading.
That said, I’ll primarily be reviewing Canadian sf at that venue (in case you’re wondering whether to send me a review copy). The fact that I know a lot of the Canadian authors in this field, some of them very well, will make things a bit tricky: “full disclosure” may well be a permanent feature of my reviews. To say nothing of the situation if I have to give a book a bad review (see my previous post on that subject). I’m definitely feeling what Amal El-Mohtar expresses about writing reviews of books by people you know or who might see the review, in the most recent episode of the Rocket Talk podcast (which is really worth listening to in full, for Amal’s and Natalie Luhrs’s sharp insights on the ethics of reviewing).
As I announced on all the social media, my review of Ruth Ozeki’s Kitchie-winning, Booker-shortlisted novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was posted at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review on Monday. It seems a little premature to say that I’ve picked up a gig reviewing books when only one review has been posted so far, but this review isn’t a one-time thing. If all goes well I should have a review with them every other month or so (and yes, I know what I’m reviewing next).
My friend Dominik Parisien is editing Clockwork Canada, an anthology of Canadian steampunk stories, for Exile Editions, to be published in spring 2016. Open to submissions from December 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015; Canadians only; 2,000 to 8,000 words; 5¢/word.
One of Jeet Heer’s famous numbered Twitter essays deals with the relationship between history, alternate history and science fiction, and goes down some really interesting alleyways. A few examples:
Another one for those of you who like geofiction as much as I do. The Sorolpedia is an online encyclopedia of the distant and fictional world of Sorol, containing articles about the planet and its inhabitants. The maps are something else: far better than you’d expect from such a project (there’s even a KML file to import it into Google Earth). Its creator has put it on indefinite hiatus since 2010, so we may not see any more updates, but it’s still fascinating stuff.
It’s late: I’d hoped to get it out in September. Even that would have been a bit of a scramble, after summer vacations and Tamara’s sojourn at Clarion. But then life got in the way in a fairly fundamental fashion, as many of you know.
This issue features my editorial on works that are “not science fiction” appearing on award ballots, Tamara’s adventures at Clarion, the art Jennifer creates during readings, and reviews of work by John Chu, Lee Killough and Karl Schroeder, among other things. Plus graphs. I hope you enjoy it.
For another example of using fantasy map design language to create real-world maps, here’s the work of geography professor Stentor Danielson, who draws maps of U.S. cities in the style of fantasy maps and sells them on Etsy. Boston, Cleveland (above), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington are available. His Tumblr. Via io9.
Submissions will be opening soon for two forthcoming Canadian sf anthologies paying semipro rates:
- Second Contacts (Bundoran Press), edited by Mike Rimar and Hayden Trenholm, seeks stories that explore “what happens fifty years after first contact, for us, for them, for our shared future.” Open for submissions from September 15, 2014 to January 15, 2015; up to 10,000 words (3,500 to 6,500 preferred); 2¢/word to a maximum of $130.
- Tesseracts Nineteen (Edge), edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum. Annual Canadian anthology with a different theme each year; this one seeks “any and all permutations of the superhero genre.” Open for submissions from October 30, 2014 to February 2, 2015; Canadians only; up to 6,000 words; $50-160.
I support greater diversity in science fiction and fantasy, and I have to confess that one of my reasons for doing so is selfish: I want more interesting stories to read. The field is at its least interesting when it’s a monoculture (we can’t all be responding to Heinlein and Tolkien); it’s at its most interesting when it includes authors from diverse backgrounds and experiences, who use those backgrounds and experiences to inform their work. It’s a win-win situation: more people see themselves in the fiction they read; readers benefit from being exposed to other backgrounds; the field as a whole gets stronger.
But Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History doesn’t just bring us diverse fiction, though it certainly does that; it brings us fiction from the margins. Let me explain: diverse fiction might include a story from Japan; fiction from the margins might include a story about a Japanese minority like the Ainu.
Volume two of the massive biography of Robert A. Heinlein by William H. Patterson Jr., who died earlier this year, is now out.
I’ve read the first volume, which covered the first half of Heinlein’s life, and found it quite interesting but rather hagiographic. I recall that several critics pointed out the many points at which Patterson muffed the broader historical record, which is problematic for a book series subtitled In Dialogue with His Century: it helps to get the century right.
Alas, Marissa has found that volume two suffers from the same problems: Heinlein’s idiosyncratic take on events being presented as historical fact; Patterson’s idiosyncratic take on Heinlein’s idiosyncratic take being presented as historical fact. Jeet Heer finds in Patterson’s hagiographic approach a failure to address Heinlein’s internal contradictions or to subject his life or work to any proper analysis; he goes into much more specific criticism of Patterson’s books in this blog entry, and has posted a remarkable 37-part Twitter essay on Heinlein and racism.
The book sounds profoundly flawed in ways I can appreciate, having read volume one, but I suspect I’m going to buy it and read it (mindfully, critically, as one always should) anyway.
Ken Schneyer conducted an online survey of writers’ and non-writers’ reading habits to test Stephen King’s hypothesis that too often the audience for short fiction “happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there.”
Ken found that writers and non-writers read novels at roughly the same frequency, but writers tended to read short fiction more often than non-writers.
But what’s really interesting is the difference among writers: while 56 percent of short-story writers reported reading short fiction daily to a few times a week, only 10 percent of novellists did so — to quote Ken, “novel writers read short fiction even less frequently than nonwriters do.”
Maybe King is right, and short story publications are largely supported by people trying to publish in them — or maybe, as Ada Hoffmann argued in Ken’s comments, the people who choose to write short stories do so simply because they love reading them.
Previously: Science Fiction Magazines and Aspiring Writers.
Four more fantasy stories about maps to tell you about.
To begin with, two short stories by Beth Cato, both published in Daily Science Fiction, both available to read online. In the first, “Cartographer’s Ink” (August 24, 2012), cartographers “peddle in ink, earth and war”: boundaries drawn on maps with magic ink have real-world effects. The second, simply titled “Maps” (February 14, 2013), is a brief, quietly horrific tale of a young girl, Christina, whose left hand, against her will, draws maps that predict the future. Both belong to that group of map stories that deal in the tension between map and territory, between representation and reality.
Dark Horse has released a Game of Thrones map marker set, based on a map and markers briefly seen in the first season of the HBO TV series. What surprises me is how much more the map resembles a real-world medieval map, in its use of symbols and text, than do the usual fantasy maps, including those for Westeros (though, as I’ve argued before, real-world medieval maps were much more information-dense, and covered in text). At $200, it’s not cheap, but the markers are up to six inches in height, and the map is made of fabric and roughly four by three feet in size. It’s available for purchase at Amazon and ThinkGeek, among others.
In his afterword to Eileen Gunn’s earlier (and sadly, only other) collection of short stories, Stable Strategies and Others (Tachyon, 2004), Howard Waldrop calls her “about the only writer I know who turns out stories even more slowly than I do, which is a rare thing in this damn field.” Ain’t that the truth. In a field that holds up making your daily word count as a virtue, that often valorizes a pulplike prolificity, writing slowly is practically an act of rebellion. And yet slow writers can produce some of the most distinctive works of fiction we have: writers like Ted Chiang, Howard Waldrop, Peter Watts — and yes, Eileen Gunn.
Slow writers tend to get my attention. I have an affinity for slow writers, partly because I am one myself, partly because of what they produce. A quality vs. quantity argument can sometimes be made.
And I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t paid close enough attention to Eileen Gunn. Rectifying that now.
Last night the 2013 Nebula Awards were handed out in San Jose, California, which meant that watching the livestream required staying up Way Past My Bedtime. I think I nodded off at a couple of points but got to see the tchotchkes handed out.
For the current issue of Ecdysis, Tamara and I contributed some short essays on the Nebula short fiction nominees, but they were thematic in nature, rather than talking about which stories should or shouldn’t win. I wasn’t trying to dodge the question; I just think that handicapping the awards is one of the least interesting things we can talk about in this field.
That said, I was very happy to see Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” and “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard win for best short story and best novelette, respectively. Swirsky’s story hit me the hardest of the category’s nominees: some might quibble about its science fictional content, but this prose poem’s use of science tropes to tell its story more than qualifies it in my opinion. De Bodard continues to develop her Xuya universe in new and (in this case) horrific ways, creating a future history that is strange and detailed and very much alive. The novella winner, “The Weight of the Sunrise” by Vylar Kaftan, wasn’t my first choice, mostly because I got sucked in by the prose of other finalists, but it’s a damn good bit of alternate history, a story involving an Inca empire that never fell, the American Revolution, and a smallpox vaccine.
I have not yet read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the novel winner, but I plan on fixing that soon: I ordered it today. (It’s been nominated for the Hugo, and there has been some whinging from some quarters about the fact that its publisher, Orbit, will only be including excerpts of its nominated novels in the Hugo voter’s packet. I figure that if having to buy books sends you into paroxysms of outrage, you’re probably not cut out to be a Hugo voter.)
So that’s my take on the Nebula results. What’s yours?
This issue was nearly crushed to death under the weight of its own ambition. As I said, this was intended to be a special issue focusing on awards in science fiction and fantasy.
The problem is that awards are a moving target. Much of material I’d assembled to talk about awards was dated before I could finish the issue: every week brought news that changed the parameters of the discussion. I was able to incorporate the controversy about the Hugo nominations into my editorial, but had I taken any longer to finish this issue I’d be confronted with this morning’s controversy about the voter’s packet. And I was running out of time: discussing the Nebula nominees had to be done in advance of the awards actually being handed out, which takes place this Saturday.
Lesson learned: don’t try to be so timely.
In the end, though, we still have many interesting things for you. Tamara and I discuss some of the Nebula nominees — about half the novels, plus most of the short fiction — with art contributed by Jennifer that illustrates some of the stories. Zvi and Tamara talk about Samuel R. Delany, who’s this year’s recipient of SFWA’s Damon Knight Grand Master Award. And I start everything off with a ridiculously long piece exploring why awards matter so much to the field. Plus graphs, of course.
The next issue will probably be out in late summer: August or September.
The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need by Jake Manley isn’t the first map of its kind that I’ve seen (see also the map in Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland); still, it’s clear that fantasy maps are a proven vehicle to satirize and critique the genre. (And be satirized and critiqued.) Via @scalzi.
In The Geology of Game of Thrones, a group of geologists has created a geologic map of Westeros and Essos, as well as an invented geologic history of the planet on which George R. R. Martin’s epic takes place. Via io9.
This isn’t the first time a fantasy world has been looked at through a geologic lens. Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth took a reasonably rigorous look at the landforms of Middle-earth. And Antony Swithin — a geologist in real life under his real name, William Sarjeant — created a geologic map of his invented island of Rockall (see previous entry).
Previously: Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire.
In science fiction, faster-than-light travel is a narrative convention that allows you to move standard human beings over interstellar distances cheaply. But if you want to do science fiction rigorously — with the net up, as Gregory Benford calls it — you have to go without FTL (it’s not an engineering problem; it breaks known physics). They’re mutually exclusive. The problem is, you can’t have an interstellar civilization without FTL, can you?
My father and I have been debating this back and forth for years. On the face of it it’s intrinsically impossible: if you can’t have FTL, the distances and costs involved in travel make trade and communication prohibitive. To accelerate goods and people to relativistic velocities would be insanely expensive, and it would still take decades to get there. Hardly anything would be worth the shipping costs: it would be easier and cheaper to synthesize what you need rather than import it. Transmutation is less expensive than interstellar trade. (No doubt this is why sf focuses on rare goods, from melange to unobtanium.)
Absent that trade, there’s no rationale for having an interstellar civilization. Even if you were able or willing to colonize other planets (though again, the cost of sending a colony ship is of a magnitude that many in science fiction fail to grasp), the colonies would be on their own. With no reason to trade, how would the investment in a colony ship be recouped? And what purpose would there be for an interstellar government — Empire, Federation, whatever — if there was no trade for it to regulate?
On account of the fact that it is relevant to an argument that erupted online this week even though it was written weeks in advance, I’ve posted my editorial from the second issue of Ecdysis in the Articles section. So if you’re somehow adverse to downloading the ebook or PDF version, you can read it here. It talks about sf fandom as a high-context culture and reading the classics as a barrier to entry.
Its relevance to Toni Weisskopf’s screed, and the responses by John Scalzi, Ana Grilo and Foz Meadows, among others, is kind of scary. Which says something about the issue: it’s been with us for a while.
This issue is out about a month earlier than originally planned; between us, we’re producing enough material that it looks like we’ll be putting this thing out on a bimonthly rather than quarterly schedule.
This issue has two main themes: classic science fiction and dinosaurs.
For the former, Tamara has a long essay discussing The Science Fiction Hall of Fame 50 years after its first publication, and how well the stories contained therein hold up today. I also have an editorial that discusses why it can be a problem when people insist that certain classics be read.
For the latter, I look at two sf/fantasy novels set during the Bone Wars and the phenomenon that is dinosaur erotica; Tamara has two dinosaur poems that are pastiches of some well-known classics.
I also have a short, funny story in which a serpent god is summoned in place of a toilet snake. Plus letters of comment responding to the contents of our first issue. All ably illustrated by Jennifer; the dinosaur bits also get decorated by early paleontological illustrations that have since lapsed into the public domain.
Issue three should be out in late April. It will be a special issue, focusing on sf/fantasy awards. The plan is to (1) discuss awards’ sometimes-problematic nature, (2) review this year’s Nebula nominees, and (3) write about this year’s Grand Master, Samuel R. Delany. It’s going to be a big issue, and I’m looking for additional people who would be willing to contribute. Let me know if you’re interested.
Previously: Introducing Ecdysis.
Go read Casey N. Cep’s essay, “The Allure of the Map,” on the New Yorker’s website: she explores the relationship between maps and literature on several fronts, including the role of maps in the creative process and the relationship between mapmaking and reality. Also quite a bit on the recurrent meme of the 1:1 map — the map as large as the thing being mapped — from Carroll to Borges to (I did not know) Gaiman (Swanwick and Eco too, if I’m not mistaken: more could indeed be said). Anyway: relevant to our interests. Go read.
- The Journal of Unlikely Cartography
- Introducing Ecdysis
- Literary SF Gets Noticed
- How to Make a Fantasy Map
- Horse of a Different Color
- Glitter and Mayhem
- The 2013 Hugo Results
- My New Article on Fantasy Maps: ‘Here Be Blank Spaces’
- On Year’s-Best Anthologies
- A Fantasy Map of Ireland
- Three Original Anthologies
- 2013 Hugos: Novellas
- A Fantasy Map of Great Britain
- A Fantasy Map of Australia
- The Mapmaker’s War
- The Best of All Possible Worlds
- Fantasy Maps Project Page Updated
- Review: Here Be Dragons
- The Sixteenth-Century Origins of Fantasy Maps
- 2013 Hugos: Short Stories
- My Own Private Westeros
- 2012 Nebula Award Winners
- 2012 Nebulas: Novelettes
- 2012 Nebulas: Novellas
- 2012 Nebulas: Short Stories
- The Human Division
- Without a Summer
- Iain M. Banks
- Glamour in Glass
- Throne of the Crescent Moon
- The 2013 Hugo Award Nominees
- In Defence of Immortality
- A Natural History of Dragons
- The Imaginarium Geographica
- 2012 Nebula Ballot Announced
- Red Planet Blues
- Ankh-Morpork on the iPad
- The Book of Thomas: Volume One: Heaven
- Saladin Ahmed on Secondary World Fantasy
- Interfictions, Tesseracts
- Gene Wolfe, Grand Master
- Antony Swithin’s Rockall
- Analog and Asimov’s Raise Their Rates
- Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire
- Let Maps to Others
- The World Fantasy Map Panel
- Gardner Dozois Ebooks!
- Now Out: The Lands of Ice and Fire
- Be My Enemy
- Caliban’s War
- Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy
- Two New Online SF Magazines
- Space Navies
- Roger Zelazny’s Here There Be Dragons
- Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas
- The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories
- At the Mouth of the River of Bees
- Leviathan Wakes
- Canadian Calls for Submissions
- The High Crusade
- P Is for Prunes
- Kate Elliott on Fantasy Maps
- Write Like the Wind
- 2012 Hugos: Related Work
- A Scholarly Work on Fantasy Maps
- 2011 Nebula Award Winners
- 2011 Nebulas: Novels
- 2011 Nebulas: Short Stories
- 2012 Aurora Award Finalists
- El Viaje de Argos
- The 2012 Hugo Award Nominees
- The Islanders
- 2011 Nebulas: Novelettes
- The Lands of Ice and Fire: Westeros Atlas Coming in October
- 2011 Nebulas: Novellas
- Christopher Priest vs. the Clarke Awards
- Arctic Rising
- A Fantasy Map of the U.S.
- A Door into Ocean
- 2011 Nebula Ballot Announced
- How Readers Use Fantasy Maps
- ‘The Maps We Wandered Into as Kids’
- Two Writing Workshops
- 2011 Science Fiction and Fantasy Recommendations
- Radio Waves
- Four Map Stories
- Reading Short SF and Fantasy 3
- Incompetent Dwarves and Wizardly Plans
- Reading Short SF and Fantasy 2
- More Skiffy Bits
- Skiffy Bits
- Reading Short SF and Fantasy 1
- Gopnik on Fantasy and Young Readers
- 2011 in Short SF and Fantasy
- 2011 Aurora Awards
- Master of the House of Darts
- Middle-Earth’s Columbian Exchange
- The Farthing Party Map Panel
- Maps in Science Fiction and Fantasy
- Top 20 Steampunk Books
- SF Signal on Fantasy Maps
- 2011 Hugos: Novellas
- 2011 Hugos: Novelettes
- Gardner Dozois: When the Great Days Come
- 2011 Hugos: Short Stories
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
- The Dervish House
- Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Online
- She Likes It Dark
- Engineering Infinity
- Fuzzy Nation
- Realms of Fantasy Will Move to Online Submissions
- Clarkesworld on the Kindle
- Zoo City
- 2010 Nebula Awards Announced
- Michael Swanwick’s Dancing with Bears
- Consensus in Science Fiction Awards
- Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede
- Ad Astra 2011: Top Ten SF Novels
- Reading Jules Verne
- ‘Can’t-Miss’ SF and Fantasy Novels for 2011
- 2010 Nebulas: Novellas
- Aliette de Bodard’s Aztec Mystery Novels
- 2010 Nebulas: Novelettes
- ‘The Fall of Alacan’ by Tobias Buckell
- 2010 Nebulas: Short Stories
- In Defence of the Tolkien Estate
- Writing Space-Based Science Fiction
- Prisoners of Gravity Episodes Online
- Words in 1907
- Copyediting Science Fiction and Fantasy
- Analog Goes Digital