Saturday, 2 October 2021

Never finished finishing school

Not doing the last button up on a waistcoat.  Never drinking when it's you being toasted.  Not acting like an American tourist.  Etiquette is difficult, isn't it?

I've blogged previously about the etiquette of simultaneous submissions.  Re-reading the 45-year old me, I clearly still had some sense of honour left as I meant what I said about observing publishers' rules.  Standards have slipped - or my approach has become more pragmatic, depending on your point of view - since then.  Too many submissions either not responded to or getting stuck for too long.  Too many publishers offering next to nothing but still wanting exclusivity without commitment.  I've become more militant in my view that 'no sim subs' is an unreasonable rule.  Christ, even the New Yorker allows sim subs.

So, I now divide the world into those whose 'no sim subs' rule I observe - pro and semi-pro markets; those who respond in a reasonable timescale (say, a month); those who I know are business-like - and the rest.  And with the rest, I'm prepared for the embarrassment of having to withdraw (my submission) before you finish (my submission), leaving you confused as to how there was ever another suitor.  I've pretty much adopted that strategy since writing that earlier blog posting, which had the effect of crystallising my thinking.  And you know what, I've never been left embarrassed.

But I have encountered a variation on the problem: how quickly to withdraw a story from markets which allow sim subs when that story has been accepted elsewhere.

My story Arlecchino is forthcoming in 'The Dead Inside' from Dark Dispatch.  Obviously delighted that they've taken this little clown-related nugget - go buy it when it's out.  But when the email arrived about a month ago, the story was still with two other publishers, including one that would pay more.  I've had too many acceptances turn out to have all the substance of a mirage, including two with the same publisher this year.  An acceptance isn't the same as seeing it in print, or getting paid.  Reading submissions and sending out acceptance emails is a lot easier than getting a publication together, and too often events get in the way or the process gets too difficult or costly for amateur outfits.  Counting chickens, and all that. 

Of course, I withdrew the story the same morning from the other venues.  But unthinkingly, the compliant actions of my forelock-tugging side.  As soon as I pressed send I wondered whether I should have waited for the contract, even waited for payment or a point of no return.  (I've even been farcically over-eager previously: I misread an email from newmthys.com telling me that a story had been accepted for further consideration and withdrew it from other markets - it's still being chewed over, and I'll feel a fool if it comes back to me).

Perhaps next time I'm faced with the same situation I'll find that writing this post has, again, crystallised my thinking... and I'll adopt a less na├»ve strategy.

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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Silver linings

You know that winning silver can actually make you depressed? That it may be better for you never to have put your feet in the starting blocks in the first place?

Well, here's my silver medal and I have no problem with it all, because my story 'The $100 Fortune' is tucked somewhere within. Click on an image to pre-order.



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2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Friday, 10 September 2021

A suggestion for your reading list...

...there's a little slice of me in here.


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Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Lean in

This is partly a blog posting, partly a book review, partly an attempt to make sense of something that has been bugging me for some time.

I've borrowed the title Lean in from the ever-brilliant podcast Rule of Three, a phrase Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley (who I may have sat at the same table with once or twice at Week Ending open writers' meetings) as a phrase they often employ to sum up comedy that makes you want to listen. Good comedy, good writing, makes you lean in. And my difficulty with Lightspeed Presents Futures & Fantasies is that it only intermittently makes me want to lean in.

My starting point is, of course, that the problem lies with me. John Joseph Adams and Lightspeed have won just about every accolade and award they possibly can, and most of what's here has also appeared in whichever annual 'best of' applies. It's a publication I've not come close to getting into, although this made them encourage other submissions. This is the creamiest cream, science fiction-wise, that money can buy.

Or, in this case, money can't buy, because it's a freebie. Which makes being churlish about it feel even more misanthropic than it already does. Because I can't pussyfoot around the fact that it's taken me fourteen months to wade through and, I suspect, stands for many of the things that I really, really don't like about much modern science fiction.

In an attempt to put some flesh on the bones of what is at best a gut feeling, I skimmed back through the tome. It starts well. I think I've read Adam-Troy Castro's 'The Thing About Shapes to Come' before. There's a straightforwardness to the telling that doesn't get in the way of the surreality. It's a straightforwardness that is less in evidence in Caroline Yoachim's tale: "The conversation made sense in the way dreams often do." Hmm, the story too - possibly the leap of imagination here is so great that the words fail to map what's in Yoachim's mind into mine. Or maybe I prefer my sci-fi grounded, which Jeremiah Tolbert's story was.

My recollection of Brooke Bolander's story is frantic style with substance hard to get hold of - who, exactly is doing what to whom, and why? It's all detail and little context. Like I said, the writing needs to map what's in the writers head to mine, and the more crazed the scenario the less I need my writing gnomic.

I seemed to remember quite liking Charlie Jane Anders' tale without quite remembering anything specific about it. Hao Jingfang's... I'm sorry, but this is where the chin-stroking takes over and story... well, story doesn't even come for the ride. Seanan McGuire's and Sarah Grey's stories are, however, stories, which, to me, means a somebody wanting to do something but having hurdles in their way, and if you have that foundation in place it can carry the weight of your fantasy and phrases like "the krosuta-whitened stare of the Henza abbess". Otherwise... well, you're choosing soft furnishings before you even have the walls built.

Ashok K Banker's is also a story, I think, but it's long and gives away the ending at the beginning which makes for a dull trudge to get from one end to the other.

If Hao Jingfang's story illustrated one of my gripes - erudite and literate world-building for world-building's sake without it being the setting for a particular tale, like enjoying the thrill of the open road by studying the maintenance manual; Jaymee Goh's sort of makes it into that category by writing beautifully about not much, rather than nothing at all.

Now, Jake Kerr's story is a story, but was the only one that made me angry, not just for being implausible - I'm not convinced that spaceflight is possible without the knowledge that the tale denied - but, more importantly, for having a character called Mars, so it was only halfway through that I realised that it wasn't a planetary base that was also in communication with the capsule. I think it was meant to read like a clever twist on The Martian, but was just annoying.

I'm going to contradict what I said about lack of narrative, because Carmen Maria Machado's story is, like Jingfang's, a bit of clever word-smithery, but at least it has wit and charm, and was also succinct.

Hugh Howey's piece left little impression on me, so I'm glad I read the Wool trilogy before this, otherwise I may not have pursued it. Cadwell Turnbull's, however, did stick with me, possibly my favourite, being focussed, with a clear single element that differentiates it from normality, and isn't written by somebody in love with language first and ideas second. Sofia Samatar's has similar qualities.

Ken Liu may be a big name, but the conceit here is quite lame and, with Yoon Ha Lee, we're back in "light the colour of fossils burns from the ships, and at certain hours, the sun casts shadows that mutter the names of vanquished cities" territory. Does somebody have the keys to the pretentious phrases generator? Please throw them in the shrubbery. I was recently pulled up by an editor for describing a sound as being "like being inside the mouth of a volcano". Have I ever been inside the mouth of a volcano, he asked. No, but the leap of my imagination can get me there. But light the colour of fossils? shadows that mutter? No, me neither.

Theodora Goss' piece, I must have read very, very recently - just days ago - but can recall virtually nothing about other than it being more conceit than story, ditto Violet Allen's, which is pretty much all about the inability to tell a story.

Which leads me, like an Agatha Christie character gathering everybody in the drawing room, to draw my conclusion. And my accusation is: insufficient story.

It's that simple.

You can do all the world-building and sentence polishing you like, you can think up all kinds of different worlds and maybe come up with wonderful lexical tricks, which I may or may not call out as emperor's new clothes, that describe the additional colour they have in their palate compared to ours. Describe cities in the sky all you like, but if you don't tell me about the kid who lives there who wants to weave a ladder long enough to reach the ground, and all the reasons why they can't and what they do to make it so, it's just word sludge passing by my eyes. I'm no longer reading, I'm staring at words in order.

And a little less po-faced helps too, guys. Not sure how much of this made me crack a smile - Machado's, I think, and Cadwell Turnbull's had a lightness of touch - but there's a real sense of writing for the author's benefit alone, to some template of what 'literature' looks like, as if writing and reading are endurance sports, with an obligatory essay to follow.

But, if this is what good science fiction is – did I mention the pages of award and accolades? - then the problem is still me, and I doubt I'll make it from the foothills of semi-pro publishers up to the high snow-covered peaks. But do I really want to be there? The air's thin, you risk losing your fingers and have to carry your shit back in a plastic bag. I just need to learn to be happy where I am.

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You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Not (a) suspect, but hunt it down anyway...

 


It's got a little bit of me in it...

#

Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.



Thursday, 22 July 2021

Science fiction? No, fictional science...

No names, no pack drill, but the family recently invested in some food intolerance testing, despite being generally sceptical of such things and, in fact, having only a minority of us who suffer from symptoms which may, or may not, be related to what we eat.

As to the outcome of those tests, well, perhaps the email I wrote them best summarises:

I recently purchased a pack of four tests - two premium and two junior tests - which we took last month.

We chose **** because my wife has previously found the results chimed with her experience of foods which did and did not cause issues.  However, I am writing to express my family's disappointment at the results of these tests. My son displayed a 100 score for reactivity with cow's milk which he has drunk all his life with no ill-effects. After the results he tried a week where he had no cow's milk products at all - and noticed no change in his energy, skin, digestive health, or any other issues.

My wife scored 73 for reactivity with white fish mix - this has left her perplexed as she has eaten white fish, including cod and haddock, all her life with no ill-effects. My daughter - who we expected to show the most pronounced results given, of all of us, she displays the most symptoms that could be food-related - had only borderline reactivity to milk. I tentatively tested my apparent borderline intolerance to hemp, and now add hemp seeds to my morning muesli.

What had motivated our purchase was a desire to find if specific foods were causing, in particular, my daughter's eczema and my own occasional migraines. The results of my wife's previous test in 2007 were almost life-transforming.  The same cannot be said for these. It has left us confused and disappointed.  We cannot see that the foods identified are causing any issues. Certainly, cutting down on cow's milk dairy for my daughter (she showed borderline reactivity to cow's milk) has not made any difference to her eczema, and my son, who is allegedly as intolerant as it is possible to be to cow's milk, found no change by trying a week without it.

Given the lack of face validity of these tests we wonder if it would be possible to run them again to verify the results produced first time round?  If not, could we be refunded the cost?

Well, soon after pinging off my email, I found myself in conversation with a customer representative called Rhys.  All credit to him, he'd swallowed the company philosophy hook, line and sinker and there was no way this zealous adherent would be swayed. I didn't keep a note of the meeting - indeed, I wasn't expecting to be on the phone for almost 25 minutes - but highlights included:

  • Food intolerances need not result in symptoms.  Just because the test shows that you are intolerant to a particular foodstuff, that intolerance may be displayed asymptomatically.  But you're still intolerant.
  • Or it may be the case that you show symptoms, but you don't identify them as such.  Rhys suggested that my son's high scores may actually be displayed as, say, brain-fog or inability to get up in the morning.  (I pointed out he was a straight-A student, probably Russell Group-bound, who gets up at 6.30am every morning for a part-time job.  He wasn't fazed.  Chap.)
  • Or, alternatively, you may have symptoms related to foods which aren't captured by these particular tests (I didn't want to bring up me and eggs and, honestly, you don't want to know, but my results were silent on those ovoid joys).
  • And there was no way Rhys would let us repeat the tests gratis, because their analysis proved their reliability and on this we just had to trust them.

I did wonder about bringing up Karl Popper and falsifiability, if only to see how he would bat it away, but didn't.  Indeed, part of the point of those members of the family who weren't suffering symptoms taking the tests (and Rhys really pressed over why we would do something so strange) was so they could show an absence of intolerances.  I did, however, point out that his arguments, hugging any supportive evidence close to his bosom whilst dismissing the inconvenient truths, is exactly how people try to justify astrology.  He barely flinched.  Truly a credit to the cause.

Rhys promised to escalate my email as a formal complaint as that I would be contacted within five days.  A month later, having had no contact whatsoever, I emailed to say that I was making a Section 75 claim for mis-representation.  Minutes later my mobile rang and we agreed a 50% refund.

If only the world could get the same deal on astrology.

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You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Roadkill

 



He scans the torch around the wreck. He is about to leave the scene when something catches his attention on the far side of the rocky outcrop into which the vehicle has punched itself. He walks over, bends down to investigate.

“Jesus.”


He recoils in shock, staggers back, vomits.


Shakily, he returns to the pick-up and spends some moments just leaning against it thinking, thinking, before, suddenly decisive, he takes the pistol from the glove compartment. He goes back behind the rocky outcrop and aims it at whatever has occupied his attention.


The still of the night is broken by a gunshot...

#

Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?


2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth

2084. The world remains at war.

In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.

The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.

Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.

Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four slipstream stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.