Just one of those days… Creating “mDNA” for the Mercury Anthology

In some ways my short story “mDNA” in the recently published Mercury anthology by Superversive Press is about as far from that cover image as one could imagine.

It doesn’t take place on Mercury, or even on space heading to or from Mercury. It takes place on Earth and while there is a significant voyage as part of the plot, it’s a voyage in a cargo van with a beefed up suspension down a decaying interstate highway across the overgrown ruins of dying Middle America.

Spiritually, though, I think that my heroine, Topaz, would relate to figure on the cover.  Topaz is a courier for genetic material.  In a world where the majority of the human race has been rendered sterile by a carcinogenic plague, fertile humans are kept in carefully guarded enclaves and breeding is conducted by artificial insemination carefully calculated to insure humanity’s best chance at survival.

The premise for the story grew out of wanting to explore the “messenger” aspect of Mercury. (The title means “messengerDNA”, which is how the main character sees herself, as a method by which DNA is transferred from donor to recipient.)

I was trying to envision a character who had something truly vital to deliver–the whole “future of the human race depends on this” kind of important. Obviously, if there are no little human beings, there is no future for the human race. I worked backwards to build a world in which fertile humans were so rare that it required extreme measures just to stave off extinction.

That’s where I started.  Topaz, naturally, would be one of the sterile humans, genetically female but biologically androgynous, not able to appreciate or even understand sex beyond her professional involvement in the process.

And then, of course, I had to come up with the endpoints of her journey, the man and the woman who could never meet in person, but only through a surrogate. That’s when the story really came together.  I found that I had written about Topaz coming to understand that there is more to sex than just biology, and that something else was a thing that she could carry with her and, in some ways, experience by transmitting it.

It’s a good story.  It makes me cry a little bit at the end.  I hope it makes you cry, too.

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Updated my “Buy My Books” page

It’s been a while since I added to my Buy My Books page, but this morning I went ahead and updated it to include every collection that includes my work.  I also organized them into sections since some of the anthologies are themselves part of a series.

As of right now I have stories accepted for two anthologies that aren’t out yet, stories submitted to several others, and have tentative plans to release a collection of my own short fiction later this spring. (That will include both previously published stories and a couple of new ones.)

That’s an unintended side effect of working in the short fiction format–having to update links on page on a regular basis.  As far as chores go, though, there are worse ones.

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Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Well, 2017 has been an interesting year as a writer.

I’ve learned a lot, and some of the lessons have been unpleasant ones. But I think the net effect has been positive. I know more about my craft and my personal strengths than I did last year at this time.

My plans for 2018 can be summed up in two words; “Short Fiction”.

This isn’t to say that I absolutely refuse to consider a novel length project–it could happen. I might find myself inspired to finish Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, if I can figure out where I went wrong with it. Or maybe I’ll go back to The Bullet From Tomorrow or Tsarina, or A World Edgewise. Or something new might suggest itself.

But I intend to focus on short fiction, primarily because I feel that short fiction is the medium that lends itself best to innovation, and innovation is what I do best.  It also, in my opinion, is what the moribund genre we call “Science Fiction/Fantasy” needs most right now.

Every major advance in genre fiction–the Pulps, Hard SF, New Wave, Cyberpunk–has been driven by short fiction.  Authors were able to try out new concepts and readers were able to experience them with minimal investment on both sides. Writers were free to experiment.

Those experiments that worked were used in novels and the novels grew into the backbone of a new generation of fiction.  Then what was once new and exotic solidified over time into conventions. “Wow, what am I reading?” turns into “Wait, have I read this one before?”

Fortunately, there is a growing market for short fiction.  I have several stories in upcoming collections for 2018 already, and am planning on releasing a collection of my previously published stories in the spring.

So that’s what I’m doing.  How about you?

 

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You Won’t Understand A Word That’s In It But You’ll Write It All Again Before You Die

I’m going to rant here.

Fantastic literature is not the “easy setting”.

The particular spark that set me off today was an argument about The Last Jedi, but it’s an issue that has bothered me for a while now.

Fiction is, first and foremost, the art of telling a story. It is other things as well, just as music is more than arranging a sequence of tones. However, just as everything in a musical composition is conveyed by sound and everything in a painting is conveyed by pigment, everything in a work of fiction is conveyed by story.

I am going to say that again, louder.

EVERYTHING IN A WORK OF FICTION IS CONVEYED BY STORY.

Story is “what happens”. Characters are “those to whom the story happens”. Setting is “the place where the story happens.” Every single word in a work of fiction is part of the story.

If the story doesn’t work, the fiction doesn’t work. Period. A piece of music may have  beautiful notes, but if you play them all at once, the music is lost.

A story is a sequence of events that unfold in a reasonable progression.

I walk to my car. I drive to the store. I buy bread and cheese. I come home. I make a cheese sandwich. I eat my sandwich and I am happy. The end.

That’s a story. Probably not the most thrilling story you’ve ever read, granted, but it is a story. One event leads to the next.  The main character’s actions are logical–he’s hungry and so he takes steps to feed himself. Every step in the sequence proceeds from the prior step.

If the character returns from the store with bread and cheese and uses them to make a root beer float, the story fails because a rootbeer float is not made with bread and cheese.

If you substitute “rocket ship” for “car” and “space station” for “store”, he still has to use bread and cheese to make something that logically be made from bread and cheese.  Even if it’s atomo-cheese and space bread you can’t make a rootbeer float.

You don’t get a free pass to ignore logical necessity just because you set a story someplace other than Earth. You can invent new things and new rules to govern them.  You can erase things from existence.  These additions and subtractions complicate the process of storytelling because the audience has to be made aware that the universe within the story is not the same as the universe in which they live.

They do not, however, change the essential nature of a story as a sequence of events unfolding in a logical progression.

(As an aside, the events do not have to be told in the order in which they would have occured.

As I made my cheese sandwich I thought back over the chain of events that led to my possession of the necessary bread and cheese. I got them from the store–the store that I had reached by using my car. 

That’s the same story, just told differently.)

I wholeheartedly reject the idea that a story that is “just science fiction” (or “just fantasy” or “just horror”) should be held to a lower standard of logical consistency than realistic fiction. Stories that contain fantastic elements should be held to a higher standard, in fact. The audience is integrating the new elements into an existing worldview and both the new and old elements must be rigorously consistent.

Otherwise the audience will decide that there are no rules and anything can happen.  And if anything can happen, then it doesn’t matter what happens.

And your story is dead.

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My problems with “The Last Jedi”

I am not a Star Wars franchise fan. I loved the first film when it came out, was sorely disappointed by The Empire Strikes Back, and pretty much ignored the movies, books, games, toys, and so on for the next several decades.

I did see The Force Awakens, which I enjoyed and reviewed here.  I also saw Rogue One, which I enjoyed and wrote about here.

My expectations for The Last Jedi were shaped by those films, not the mass of other Star Wars related media.  So I won’t be talking about whether or not any particular details meshed with works that may or may not be part of some official or unofficial canon. I want to look at it simply as a film.

I will be discussing spoilers.  If you haven’t seen the film, haven’t run across spoilers in other places on the internet (and if you haven’t, kudos, because they are everywhere) and still intend to see it, read no farther. 

Continue reading

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Rehabbing Wonder

Two films that I saw recently, Justice League and The Last Jedi, left me with very similar feelings that I have been trying to put into words.

As usual, I find that for me the most natural analogies are drawn from my day job. So I want you to imagine a building constructed in, say, the middle 1970s. The architect has very definite ideas about what the building is for and how it will be used. There is a plan.

But over time, things change.

The dry cleaner on the ground floor moved out and a candy store rented that space, so that the washing equipment was taken out and the piping cut off flush with the walls and capped.

An accounting form on the third floor needs a server room, with holes punched in the walls for cabling and new air conditioners, and a new high voltage electrical room put into what was a janitor’s closet.

The broad, wide flight of steps in front of the main entrance isn’t ADA compliant, and so half of it has to be jackhammered out and replaced with a ramp. Suites are subdivided and expanded.  Old walls torn out, new walls put up, doors moved.

Electrical codes change, requiring the service to be updated piecemeal as suites become vacant and inspected for new occupants.

The neighborhood changes and gets rezoned to allow residential space. Suites are rebuilt into apartments, with new plumbing run through the old crawlspaces.

And all of this work over the years has been done by a succession of contractors, some competent and honest, some corner-cutting hacks. The original plans are now entirely worthless and the as-built drawings are hit and miss. A dead outlet can mean looking throughout the building for one particular breaker.  Finding water shutoffs for plumbing work is a similar scavenger hunt.

Systems fail and parts are no longer manufactured, which results in kludges of varying levels of ingenuity. Each new renovation is an adventure.  New repairs are made on top of old repairs, incompatible levels of technology tied together with Liquid Nails and good intentions.

Eventually the property owners have to make some hard choices.  Keeping the old parts in half-assed repair becomes increasingly difficult and costly, and the interval between necessary repairs grows shorter.  Sooner or later the cost of fixing the old building exceeds the cost of tearing it down and building a new structure from scratch.

That’s how I feel about the state of genre fiction today.  It’s not just individual franchises–although I feel both Star Wars and DC Comics are well past their expiration dates–it’s the different subgenres that are in need of a gut rehab at the very least.

The Lord Of The Rings was published in 1955. Starship Troopers was originally published in 1959, The Man In The High Castle in 1962, Dune in 1965. Anne Rice wrote the short story that became Interview With The Vampire in 1968. Night Of The Living Dead was released in ’68 as well.

Isn’t it time we came up with some new ideas? Instead of continually trying to conform to SF/F genres that recreate old worlds again and again, wouldn’t it be nice to find some new worlds to explore?

Respect the masterpieces of the past, yes. Continue to reread them and draw inspiration from them, certainly. But let’s find some new ground to build on, brand new fantastic structures.

Let us speak with new voices.

 

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Reminder: Subscriptions are Open!

Cirsova, Spring 2018, is now ready for pre-orders.

Cirsova

You can get your subscription for Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine for as low as $1!

Issue 7 Cover 1 Front Cover lower res

We need to increase our readership if we’re going to keep this going. Our target for next year is 200 subscribers. Tell your friends!

We’ll have the art for Summer available soonish and will be posting it as soon as it’s ready.

For those of you who’ve been digging the art for spring, you can get it on Mugs, T-Shirts and more from our Tee Public store!

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