Saturday, 20 November 2021

Is it right to have favourites?

No, not amongst your children - what could possibly be wrong with that? - I mean amongst your stories.

I’ve just finished final edits on 'The $100 Fortune', which will appear in Dark Cheer, Cryptids Emerging from Improbable Press next February.  The story of a fortune-telling, time-travelling orang pendek, I think it may be the best thing I’ve written.


Coming back to it some months after last looking at it gave me a perspective I’m rarely allowed once a piece is accepted.  It meant I could read it cold, like a real reader would, which led me to notice things like a change in setting that wasn’t flagged up, hence had failed to move the scenery in the reader’s mind.  It allowed me to tweak elements like that, and elsewhere where I hadn't quite said what I meant or meant what I said, shave a bit more fat off here and there, and so forth.  Recently reading Stephen King’s excellent 'On Writing', whilst telling me little that wasn’t in Ken Rand’s brilliant '10% Solution', reinforced many of those lessons and helped me spot those redundancies.  If the rest of the two volumes is as good as I think my piece is, they should be a cracking read.

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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.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

People of Earth, your attention please - read more!

Apparently, it makes you more open-minded, improves thinking skills, and even helps you live longer.  And whilst you're deciding which great work of literature to start on next, perhaps you'd like to give 'General Katutian Surveys her Triumph' published on Martian, the magazine of science fiction drabbles, a go.  It's only a hundred words, so it won't delay you getting to the Kafka or Chekov.


If that's not long enough for you, then there's always 'Karl, I Hope You Don't Read This Letter', on Australia's Etherea Magazine, a bit longer, but still under a thousand words.


Just whilst you're deciding, you understand. And, if you're still uncertain you could just plump for...

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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.

Monday, 25 October 2021

There can be only one - except for sequels and spin-offs, of course

Something of a family tradition now, Saturday night is popcorn movie night with each of us taking turns to choose.

Recently my choices have been relative clunkers, with Primer too gnomic for the beer-and-pizza vibe, and the well-reviewed Vast of Night turning out to be dreadful - incomprehensible verbiage, insufficient story that stalls on the start line and doesn't even inch forward for twenty-odd minutes, and nobody minding that the switchboard girl saw her duties as optional, as opposed to the traditional radio operator going down with the ship - unless you're on the SS Californian, of course.  Oh, and a long distance call in response to an item on a local radio station, which nobody even comments on.  That's now three and a half hours of my life you own me, Kermode - for that and White Lightnin'.

So, to remind myself what a crowd-pleaser looks like, I re-watched Highlander.

Highlander is a film I don't think I've seen for thirty years plus, and then I only saw it once, twice at a push.  There were vast amounts I’d forgotten, from Celia Imrie as the acidic girlfriend to the fact that most of it takes place in modern-day New York and the Highlands are but secondary backstory.  Actually, I probably would have dredged that last bit up had I thought about it.  But not Celia Imrie.

But what stuck in my mind from my teenage viewing, as much as the accents, is the Highlander rulebook.  Here is a race of immortals born of mortals—or, possibly, individuals who were born mortal who somehow became immortal, if that constitutes a material difference—who are destined to come together at the Gathering to fight until there is only one left.

Why?

The lack of explanation left me puzzled then, and even more puzzled now.  Says who?  Who's making this stuff up? Why does nobody ask why?  Why doesn’t Connor McCloud just laugh.  Even the soldiers roped in to carry out the so-called Captain Kopenick's bank robbery or the volunteers Stanley Milgram asked to turn the voltage up can claim to have been mesmerised by the power of a white coat or uniform. But this just falls into the category of if someone asked you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

If the other immortals had managed to take out the Kurgan early doors - and remember, the only excuse for Ramirez giving somebody he’ll have to fight and kill if he is to be ‘the One’ a heads-up is that it’s to his potential advantage, that immortals have some notion of alliance - would they have circled each other with their claymores and broadswords until somebody wondered why:

“Because there can be only One!”

“Says who?”

“Yeah.  Says who?  We’ve never had an issue with each other up to now.”

“Why don’t we get a camper van, you know, travel around and solve mysteries.”

“I thought maybe a deli serving coffee and panini.  Or a little restaurant.  Ethnic.” 

There are plenty of shit rulebooks in storytelling.  It’s just that most attempt some kind of disguise. But not Highlander.  It just blurts it out, in the Scottish tones of Sean Connery’s Egyptian immortal.  It’s the fore-knowledge that gets me.  Immortals fight to the last man standing, not because only one can claim sole inheritance or kingship, or the others are a mortal threat, or reducing their number to one somehow enables some greater good, but because it's what they do.  Ice cream melts, seagulls shit on my newly cleaned car, and immortals fight to the last.  It's just how the world is.  Roll with it.

Maybe there is some priest class with a convincing motivating backstory (I haven’t seen any of the sequels, prequels or spin-offs; I’m dealing with the original alone) and maybe Connor McLeod is somehow late to the party and just getting what’s necessary. But if McLeod is late to the party, who says more immortals can't be born or found?  Maybe you're the One for a bit, but there’s a new immortal just born in Outer Mongolia.  How does no longer being the One feel?  What difference does it make?  I’m guessing none whatsoever.

There’s something unusual, possibly unique, story-wise, going on in Highlander and I wonder how many people have noticed.  I looked it up on TVTropes - one of my favourite websites, by the way - and there isn't a sniff of recognition.  They can't have not noticed?  Can they?  My guess is it's almost too large to credit.

It’s the ultimate what’s my motivation?  The pay-check?  It’s in the script?  Did the writers simply spend a morning scratching their arses as they tried and failed to finagle a convincing explanation as to why the world was this way, only to declare what’s it matter? let’s go to lunch?

Which all leaves me wondering, is Highlander the ultimate bad writing metaphor?  What motivates the characters?  Answer: absolutely nothing; they’re just following a script.  They say things and do things because that’s what the little black squiggles on the white page tell them to do.  And the writers have decided they must come together and fight to the death for no better of more meaningful a reason than it’s cool.

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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, 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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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.

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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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.

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.

#

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.