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MIND MELD: What We’re Thankful for in the Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Genres

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With Thanksgiving a few weeks away, we thought it was the perfect time to ask our esteemed panel the following question…

Q: What are you thankful for in the speculative genres this year?

Seanan McGuire
Campbell and Hugo award-winning writer Seanan McGuire is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn’t enough, she also writes under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com. She can be found on twitter: @seananmcguire

My grandmother, who had a lot to do with raising me, told me that I should do my very best to be thankful every day. So I do. I am thankful for the fact that I live in a world where the X-Men still show up in the comic book store and the Doctor still comes to take me on adventures, even if I’m not always thrilled by everything about them. I am thankful to be here during the era of superhero movies on the big screen, even if I’m getting tired of waiting for my Black Widow movie. But what, specifically, have I been thankful for in 2014?

I am thankful to live in a world where the biggest Disney phenomenon in decades was a movie about sisters trying to take care of each other. It wasn’t a perfect film, but when I go to Disneyland and see legions of little girls dressed as Elsa and Anna, holding hands, finally having a model where more than one princess is allowed to exist, my heart sings.

I am thankful to live in a world where the Carol Corps, a fan group dedicated to Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, is not only a force to be reckoned with, but a force for good. They are making fandom a better place to be, and we’re all being rewarded with a Captain Marvel movie. I am thankful for the number of people who are still standing up and saying, “It’s not a zero sum game, we still need Black Widow, embrace the power of ‘and.’ ”

I am thankful to live in a world where phrases like “cosplay is not consent” and “fandom is for everyone” are coming up more and more often in normal conversation. We have a long, long way to go, but I still look at fandom today and see a place that is safer for the women of tomorrow than the fandom of the past. We’re moving toward actual parity, and a time when everyone gets to be equally accepted and included in the fannish world. And that’s amazing. It’s just amazing. I barely have the words for how amazing it is.

Thank you, world.

You’re doing okay.

Mercedes M. Yardley
Mercedes M. Yardley writes whimsical horror and wears poisonous flowers in her hair. Her newest novel Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy was released this autumn by Ragnarok Publications. You can find her at www.abrokenlaptop.com and as @mercedesmy on twitter.

I’m thankful for #GamerGate. There. I said it.

I’m not thankful for the sick twists sliming their way out of the woodwork. I’m not thankful for whackadouches (I can say whackadouches in this, yes? Because these people are whackadouches) who are doxxing and threatening and degrading women in the industry. But I’m delighted to see that it’s blowing up, and people are getting riled and becoming aware that such a thing is, indeed, happening.

This isn’t the 1600s. You’d think that the He-Man Women Hater’s Clubs don’t exist anymore, but it isn’t true. Not only are they still out there, but they’re thriving.

As distasteful and downright horrifying as GamerGate and its ensuing debate is, it does my heart good to see how many people are opening their eyes to what goes on in the industry. How women are treated. It delights me to see how many people are reading misogynist remarks and saying, “Oh, no way. That’s not acceptable. This can’t be happening.”

It is happening, and not just in the video gaming industry. It happens in all industries. All genres. It happens to women who are big names and women who don’t have any pull at all. I wrote a comment once in the #YesAllWomen Twitter thread saying, “Because my husband never felt he had to hide a pocket knife in his boot just in case.” I received bitter replies. Threats. Hate mail. I was told I was being sexist and stupid by feeling threatened. I was told I needed to learn a lesson and there were volunteers for teaching it.

I was threatened for saying I felt threatened. All right. That makes no sense to me.

This is abhorrent. It shouldn’t be tolerated. But thanks to the brave new Wild West that is the Internet, you can target, abuse, threaten, and gnash your teeth at another person from the comfort of your own home. We’re not fighting in the sandbox anymore. We’re taking each other out in cyberspace. After all, it’s much more comfortable to do so when you have snacks and a drink at the ready.

The flip side of this is that more and more people are becoming acutely aware of the damage that is being caused behind what were formally closed doors. Neanderthals and trolls are making themselves known, and more importantly, good people are standing up to them. We’re realizing it isn’t a time to be silent anymore, or hope “things go away,” or to “stay out of somebody’s business.” We’re learning that our friends and strangers-who-are-yet-to-be-friends are being harassed and threatened for being a woman/having an opinion/standing up/whatever. And we’re learning that it isn’t weakness to ask for help, or overbearing to help somebody who is being harassed. We’re supposed to link arms and stand together against the jerks of the world. That’s what people do.

I’ll admit I was hesitant to write this, and was counseled by friends not to stir up trouble. What if I’m targeted? What if I’m doxxed? I have small children. I need to keep them safe. But I thought it over carefully. I’m a virtual nobody, but my voice counts. And it maddens me that I hesitated to discuss this because of fear! What kind of message is that? Being intimidated because of predators who may or may not be hiding in the dark?

So I’m thankful for GamerGate because this disgusting mess gives us the opportunity to realize the problem, diagnose it, and hopefully work on it. Let’s change it now so our little girls don’t have to.

Carrie Vaughn
Carrie Vaughn is the author of the bestselling Kitty Norville series of urban fantasy novels, whose most recent installment is Low Midnight. She’s also written several young adult and stand-alone novels, and many short stories, is a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, and has a master’s in English lit, which has been very useful lately in answering all the questions she’s gotten about gothic literature. Visit her at CarrieVaughn.com.

I’m thankful for a lot of things. First, just the fact that we have so much choice–so many books, authors, TV, movies, covering a wide spectrum of speculative fiction. And it’s mainstream and easily available. (Wasn’t so long ago I was the only person at work who watched The X-Files. I bet every single one of those people who called me “the weird one” back in the day is watching The Walking Dead or Grimm right this minute.) So much is available now I often feel like I’m missing a lot, but I don’t really care, because I love having choices.

I’m thankful for superheroes. I love that we’re totally overrun with superhero stories. Again, with the choice: I love that I can skip the latest Spider-Man movie because it just doesn’t look that good and know that I’ll still get an awesome superhero fix sooner rather than later. I thought the glory days of the late-’70s TV bonanza that gave us Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman, Superfriends, etc., etc., would never come again, but here we are.

I’m thankful for being able to read comic books on my iPad. I also discovered the Front Range Downloadable Library this year, and have been checking out e-books like a fiend. I’m also grateful for Project Gutenberg, which has made so many classics easily available.

I’m thankful that idealism appears to be making a comeback. I love that I’m finding more characters who are about saving things, whether it’s Chris Evans’ Captain American, Holden in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, the characters of Warren Ellis’s Planetary (an older comic book that I recently discovered but have been telling everyone I know to read it right now) or just about everyone in the brand-new TV show version of The Flash, it’s okay to be earnest. I like that.

I’m thankful that short fiction continues to be widely available, and still offers a great playground for writers of all stripes to play in. Not every genre has a thriving culture of short fiction, and I think it’s great that SF/F/H still do.

And I’m very thankful indeed that I get to work in this field and play in these playgrounds every single day.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with coeditor Jennifer Brozek for Baen, Mission: Tomorrow and Galactic Games (both forthcoming), also for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond the Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.

Well, I am thankful for my first major publisher release, the fantasy anthology Shattered Shields, co-edited by Jennifer Brozek, which releases November 4th. That’s a big career step for me, and it is the first of several under contract with Baen Books. So I am definitely going to acknowledge that. Beyond that though, yeah, there are others doing some really great stuff which I really am thankful for this year. Two of my friends have really great first novels out, Beth Cato from Harper Voyager titled The Clockwork Dagger and Patrick Swenson from TOR with The Ultra Thin Man. I also am really enjoying some great speculative TV shows, particularly Forever, which looks to be cancelled shortly due to ratings but has been terrific and a much improved season 2 of Agents of SHIELD. I have also been auditing a class from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at University of Kansas and discovering a lot of old, classic science fiction I had never read. It’s fascinating to study the development and history of the genre and see specific examples of how that manifested and how it grew. Some really great reads, including Silverberg’s “Sundance,” Gordon R. Dickson’s “The Dolphin’s Way,” “Requiem” by Heinlein, and several more. Also fun to discover a lot of work by female pioneers like Judith Merrill, C.L. Moore, and others as well. In movies, I was thankful for Gravity which was a great film with a strong female character as the lead. I am also really thankful for the new authors I keep discovering. There’s really some great work by new voices being done out there and I look forward to what the future brings for G.P. Charles, Curtis Chen, Brent Millis, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Aishwarya Subramanian and others.

Margot Atwell
Margot Atwell is a publishing professional with over a decade of experience. She is currently a Publishing Community Manager at Kickstarter.com. Previously, Margot was Publisher at Beaufort Books, an independent publisher of fiction and non-fiction. Margot’s writing has been published in The Huffington Post, Moviefone.com, Publishers Weekly, fiveonfive magazine, and Derbylife.com, among other places. Her first book, The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success, was published in February 2013. Her second book, Derby Life: Stories, Advice & Wisdom from the Roller Derby World, is forthcoming from Gutpunch Press. Follow her on Twitter @MargotAtwell.

I was thrilled to hear the announcement that Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy would be made into an HBO show by Darren Aronofsky. I’ve always admired Ms. Atwood: her prescience, and the rich characters who populate her novels, especially her flawed but fabulous women. She also has an incredible ability to write novels that are admired in the world of literary fiction as well as being comfortably at home in the sci-fi genre. Straddling that line so masterfully, Atwood helps to create new possibilities for genre fiction writers.

Genre used to be a dirty word—a way to dismiss writing as “less than.” However, it seems like lately, it has become more of a description than a detraction. As more talented producers with big budgets choose science fiction and fantasy subjects for their shows and films, our world will become richer. It’s incredible to see something like George R. R. Martin’s huge, brilliantly imagined world of Westeros actually come to life. I’m a die-hard reader, but seeing the world of a favorite fantasy or sci-fi book realized can be incredibly inspiring. Having good film and TV adaptations of SF/F novels is great for the genre, since a TV show can be a much easier entry point for new fans than picking up a 900-page tome like Dune.

Especially for women, science fiction hasn’t always been a terribly welcoming genre. However, Atwood’s characters—male and female—have agency and desires, strengths and flaws. Seeing the dystopian world Atwood has created come to life as a big-budget, high-profile television series is a step towards welcoming more different types of voices into this world. Hopefully, with the success of this project, producers will seek out a greater diversity of voices and works in the future.

Jake Kerr
After fifteen years as a music industry journalist Jake Kerr’s first published story, “The Old Equations,” was nominated for the Nebula Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America and was shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon and StorySouth Million Writers awards. His stories have subsequently been published in magazines across the world, broadcast in multiple podcasts, and been published in multiple anthologies and year’s best collections. A graduate of Kenyon College, Kerr studied fiction under Ursula K. Le Guin and Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegria. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and three daughters.

Of the many genre-related things I am thankful for in 2014, the one that I feel the deepest gratitude for was finally being introduced to Hugh Howey and his works. He’s had a profound impact on my career, and I appreciate the opportunity to publicly thank him for that. I not only loved his Wool series and his short stories that I read in 2014, but his success through self-publishing changed how I look at opportunities for writers.

While I have always considered self-publishing a viable path for writers, it wasn’t until I examined what Hugh was doing that I realized just how dramatically publishing had changed. Thanks to Hugh as an editor, I also experienced self-publishing first hand, only without the associated risks. This was due to The End Is Nigh anthology.

Edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh and having a collection of truly first-rate authors, this self-published volume earned out in less than a month, generating royalty checks for us writers almost immediately. Getting a royalty check from an anthology at all is an accomplishment, but getting them within a month? Wow. I remember immediately thinking this self-publishing thing is for real.

So I am grateful for being introduced to a talented writer, a truly selfless and great guy, and a visionary.

Thanks, Hugh.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When the Blue Shift Comes, which received a starred review from Library Journal. Alvaro’s short fiction, reviews and essays have appeared in Analog, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other venues.

I’m going to start with something obvious that may violate the parameters of your question, but which I think needs to be said nonetheless. Without a doubt, I’m most thankful for my network of individuals within the broader SF community: writer friends, editors, artists, fellow fans, everyone. Forget the labels–I’m thankful to know so many generous, smart, creative, talented and welcoming human beings, who also happen to be crazy about SF (or just plain crazy, as the case may be).

I’m thankful I was able to travel to London and connect with old friends, as well as make new ones. Thankful for the panels I was invited to be on. I’m grateful that at various times throughout the year I’ve been able to spend quality time with Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber.

On the professional front, I’m incredibly thankful for all the opportunities I’ve received. I won’t provide a list of names, because I’d rather this not start sounding, awkwardly, like some kind of acceptance speech–but every time someone gives me a chance, is willing to invest their time and resources in me, it feels like I’ve won a prize.

This year has also brought numerous successes to many in my close social circle, and how could I not be thankful for that? Their success makes me incredibly happy, and it also provides ongoing inspiration.

Books and Stories: I’m grateful that we got or are getting novels and/or collections by Ian McDonald, Robert Reed (a trilogy! I’m thrice as thankful!), Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Greg Egan, Mike Resnick, Daryl Gregory, Mike Allen, Steve Rasnic Tem, Stephen King, Jo Walton, Elizabeth Bear, Karen Haber, Eileen Gunn, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Margaret Atwood, Lydia Millet and Gemma Files. I’m grateful that the major best-of-the-year anthologies by Dozois, Hartwell, Horton and Datlow are going strong. I’m thankful that we got tribute volumes for Robert Silverberg and Poul Anderson (but I want one for Ursula K. Le Guin!). I’m thankful that we received original anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan, Ian Whates, Ellen Datlow, and some marvelous reprint anthologies as well, by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer, Paula Guran, Gordon van Gelder and others I’m forgetting. I’m happy that Volume 9 of Robert Silverberg’s collected stories was published, but sad the project is now over. The Best of Ian Watson–ooh. I’m thankful that various crowdfunding projects came together and will bear fruit in 2015. I’m thankful to have discovered the short fiction of Anna Tambour, Marissa Lingen, Anne M. Pillsworth, Laura Davy, Juliette Wade, Deborah Walker, E. Lily Yu, M. Bennardo, Timons Esaias, Leo Vladimirsky, Spencer German Ellsworth, Greg Bossert, Ron Collins, Jay O’Connell and others. Thankful to have discovered the marvelous photographic work of Beth Gwinn.

Television: I’m thankful that the long and painstaking project to remaster Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray continued with the release of Season 6 in the summer and will conclude with Season 7 in December. These are really outstanding sets and I hope they will set the standard for future releases, Trek or otherwise. I’m also grateful that many new shows seem to be coming out that people seem to enjoy; but I haven’t watched them, so I’m grateful in a mostly vicarious sense, pleased that the people who talk about them on social media seem to be enjoying them so much. (And I do keep a list of SF series I want to check out, which currently has over 25 titles on it. I’m still catching up on SF shows from the ’90s!).

Discovery/Re-Discovery: I’m working my way through all Hugo-winning short fiction, in chronological order, and I’m grateful to have the time to pursue this project, and to have all the stories conveniently available on the shelves/screen. Ditto for reading many older SF stories by writers I admire, and for discovering new (old) writers by reading SF magazines. I’m grateful that folks like Scott Edelman, Michael Swanwick and others have at various times recorded videos of con panels and posted them on YouTube–these are always a blast to watch, and make me feel like I was there.

Nathaniel Lee
Nathaniel Lee puts words in various orders and occasionally is paid for this, although the correlation is not as strong as might be preferred. He serves as the Assistant Editor at Escape Pod (escapepod.org), the premier science fiction podcast, and Managing Editor at the Drabblecast (www.drabblecast.org), searching the slush for strange stories by strange authors for strange listeners. His fiction has appeared in dozens of venues, most recently at Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. You can find his microfiction blog at www.mirrorshards.org or follow him for #badmovienight on Twitter at @Scattercat.

Honestly, the thing I’m most thankful for is the Women Destroy ______! series (so far consisting of Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy, with a Queers Destroy ______! matching set in the works even as we speak.) It was a breath of fresh air in a conversation all too often reduced to people patiently trying to explain simple concepts to a (nearly universally) male audience that has a vested interest in refusing to understand. It took an absurd, insulting remark and turned it into a celebration of those it tried to denigrate, and as a bonus it let us read and share awesome new stories instead of gearing up for yet another episode of “Let’s Rehash Feminism 101 to a Hostile Crowd.” If you haven’t picked up these special issues of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, each produced with a 100% female staff, I recommend finding them all as soon as possible. (WDH has stories that continue to disturb and upset me even now.) (That’s a good thing; I didn’t used to clarify that, but apparently other people don’t like it when their fiction is upsetting? *shrugs*)

Jim Mcleod
Jim Mcleod has been a fan of horror ever since that fateful night he sneaked downstairs to watch Hammer’s Dracula. Thirty odd years later Jim has turned this passion into running Ginger Nuts of Horror, the UK’s most visited site dedicated to horror fiction news, reviews and interviews.

This has been an excellent year for horror and in particular horror fiction. In recent years it felt that great horror was drowning in a sea of uninspired cookie-cutter stories, where every book had a zombie invasion or some misunderstood heartbroken sparkly vampire. Don’t get me wrong, there has always been good horror fiction, it’s just that in many ways thanks to Amazon ebooks the good stuff was just harder to find for the casual reader. 2014, in my opinion, saw a disturbance in the balance. Gone were the days that saw my email drowning in requests for reviews, from people who really shouldn’t be allowed near a narrative.

Enough of the negativity, what I am thankful for in horror in 2014 is the rise in quality of horror fiction. This is the year where I discovered some achingly brilliant new authors, continued relationships with some of my favourite authors and reignited my love of some dear old friends, stories that perfectly show that horror isn’t and never has been just about feeling scared or who can out gross who. These were the stories that stirred the heart and mind.

There was a point early on in the year that nearly had me turning my back on my beloved genre, but thanks to talented authors such as Nathan Ballingrud, whose collection North American Lake Monsters was just so damn close to perfection. In fact North American Lake Monsters is the sort of book that, if it wasn’t hampered by the public perceptions of the genre, would have had its praises sung from every reviewer’s mountain top. Enchanting and lyrical prose combined with stories full of emotional depth perfectly showed that horror can be beautiful.

While Nathan was my discovery of 2014, this was also the year that saw one of my favourite authors go from strength to strength. In many ways Gary McMahon draws from the same well of inspiration as Ballingrud, however McMahon’s fiction has a much darker taint to it. Brutal, honest and at times heart breaking McMahon’s stories will take you down a dark path with very little hope of redemption. You can tell this is a writer that bleeds from the heart when he writes. Even when his stories have a more simplistic narrative such as in his novella Reaping the Dark, which is essentially Drive with Demons, there is an emotional depth that is lacking in the majority of horror fiction. And when he really goes for broke and layers on the emotional depth and brutal honesty with stories such as The End the beautiful darkness of his prose punches you right in the soul. I dare anyone to read this book and not have a tear in their eye by the time they turn the last page.

Horror fiction has always been the black sheep of the genre family. The public perception has always been one of disdain, convinced that it is just about monsters ripping people apart. However, if 2014 is anything to go by, then hopefully this misconception may start to change. When we have writers such as Ballingrud, McMahon, Adam Nevill, Gary Fry, Simon Strantzas, Mark West and Laird Barron showing us that horror does indeed have a heart and soul 2015 may well be the year that horror comes out of the gutter.

Rob Bedford
Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog. He reviews books and moderates forums at SFFWorld, has a blog about stuff, and writes for Tor.com as well as here at SF Signal. If you want to read random thoughts about books, TV, his dog, and beer you can follow him on Twitter: @RobHBedford.

I can think of quite a few things for which I am thankful, so I’ll break this down. The new TV show I’m most thankful for is The Flash. He is my one of my favorite comic book characters and it is nice to see how well the TV show captures what I enjoy about the character. The writers of the show have taken elements of the Barry Allen Flash and the Wally West Flash (my favorite) for their version of the Scarlet Speedster and it works quite well. The movie I was most thankful for was Godzilla. I realize some have come down on the film for not having enough of the titular monster in it, but as a person whose gateway to the genre as a kid was the Big G, I couldn’t help cheering in the theater as the movie drew to a close during the great Kaiju fight.

I’m thankful for a lot of books, almost too many to name and detail extensively, but I’ll call out a two right now: Robert Jackson Bennett for continually impressing me and Robin Hobb for returning triumphantly to a beloved character. I can go into that more during a year-end post.

Those things are nice, right? Good movies and good writers. The people who don’t always get as much attention despite their hard work are the publicists. So, from the genre standpoint as a reader, what I’m most thankful for are those folks; the publicists and people who work for the publishers (and subsequently the authors/writers) and put so much effort to get books into reader’s hands. I’ve been reviewing books online for quite a while now (about 10 years) and this past year I’ve seen the publicists step up their game and really engage with not just myself, but the online genre community as a whole. This isn’t to say they weren’t ensuring books got into our hands in previous years, but there seems to be a much more targeted and personal approach to building audiences for their authors. Ellen B. Wright at Orbit, Nita Basu at Penguin (Ace/Roc and DAW) and Ardi Alspach at Tor have really put their authors work forward with such great care, enthusiasm, and commitment. If I see somebody tweeting about a book they are reading and I tweet back to that person that the book is interesting, there’s a good chance a copy of that book will appear on my porch in the next couple of days; when book 2 of a series publishes, I’m asked if I need book one to catch up with the series; or a monthly email arrives in my inbox (and the inbox of all the other online reviewers) highlighting the books publishing and available for review.

I’ve exchanged e-mails with each of these publicists about their authors, corresponded via twitter, and spoken to them at various genre events, and through it all what comes through strongest is their passion for the genre. These publicists really help to not only build their authors, but as a result of that, help to build a stronger sense of community and connectivity between reviewers/ readers and authors/publishers. That community is something I’m thankful for, too, but without the writers writing the books and the publicists ensuring reviewers and readers get the books, we as a community would have a little less to discuss.

About James Aquilone (115 Articles)
James Aquilone is an editor and writer, mostly of the speculative ilk, from Staten Island, New York. His fiction has appeared in Nature’s Futures, Galaxy’s Edge, Flash Fiction Online, and Weird Tales Magazine, among many other publications. His nonfiction has appeared in SF Signal, Den of Geek, Shock Totem, and Hellnotes. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Visit him at http://jamesaquilone.com
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