Author Archive

[Here's an addendum to the this week's Mind Meld that asked: Where would you take the T.A.R.D.I.S., coming from Rachel Swirksy]

Q: If you could take one trip in the T.A.R.D.I.S., where would you go?

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MIND MELD: Where Would You Take the T.A.R.D.I.S.?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

It was the recent Mind Meld on Favorite Convention Panels, combined with the romance of the phrase “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will…,” that inspired me to ask our panelists this question:

Q: If you could take one trip in the T.A.R.D.I.S., where would you go?

Here’s what they said:
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Stephanie Saulter is a freelance business consultant who read biology at MIT before majoring in English Literature and minoring in Anthropology. Born in the Caribbean, she now lives in England. The first book in her ®Evolution series, Gemsigns, is currently available in the UK and will be published in the US in May. The second book in the series, Binary, will be available in the UK this spring, and she is currently working on the third book in the series. Learn more about Stephanie at her website, or by following her on twitter.

Stephanie was kind enough to answer some questions about the ®Evolution series.


Andrea Johnson: What can you tell us about Gemsigns and its sequel, Binary? What’s the elevator pitch for the ®Evolution series?

Stephanie Saulter: The bulk of the action in Gemsigns takes place a year after an international edict – think of it as an updated Declaration of Human Rights – resulted in the mass emancipation of genetically modified humans, or ‘gems’, from the biotech companies that had created and owned them.
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This month’s Convention Attention column is an open discussion thread. Your responses will help shape what I talk about in upcoming months.

Here are your discussion questions:

  1. Is attending conventions* important?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. Who should attend them?

Sound off in the comments!

* By “convention”, I mean any regional, national, or international Convention, be it fan-organized or media sponsored (like a ComiCon), be it big or small, be it writing-focused, specific fandom-focused, or general. I’m not picky.

Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends her time practicing piano, studying karate, and playing a variety of role-playing games.

Her many publications include over forty short stories, the Onyx Court series, and A Natural History of Dragons. Her second novel in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, The Tropic of Serpents, hit bookstore shelves on March 4th 2014.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Many of us got hooked on science fiction and fantasy in our teen years or later. But why should the newest generation of readers have to wait that long? With that in mind, here’s what we asked our panelists:

Q: What science fiction or fantasy books would you recommend for children under the age of ten?

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BOOK REVIEW: The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Gene Wolfe returns with a fascinating  and multi-layered novel that keeps its own secrets.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An American writer is arrested while visiting the country he is writing about, and is forced to navigate a culture he knows nothing about.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Enjoyable to read and accessible; fun characters; a good place to start if you’ve never read Gene Wolfe.
CONS: Little to no payoff and the end; dialog is easily misinterpreted; not Wolfe’s best work.
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable and entertaining novel you’ll find yourself wanting to read again due to the subtle tricks Wolfe plays on the reader.

An American travel writer, Grafton, decides to write his next travel book on a rarely visited eastern European country. Even entering this country is a challenge, as flights he books are cancelled, and drivers are advised to turn back from mountain roads. He finally gets a train to the capital, but gets accused of being a spy, and is arrested. His passport is taken, and thus the plot begins.

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Convention Attention: Con or Bust

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately on the importance of “Convention culture”, of how wonderful it is to have face-to-face conversations with fans, authors, editors, and people you’ve only interacted with on twitter or over e-mail.  I even started writing this month’s column on that topic. Something that always comes up in this type of conversation is that going to conventions isn’t cheap, but we make it happen anyway, because it’s important to us.  Through no planning on my part, these conversations tended to occur with people who are like me: they have enough disposable income to attend conventions, and they are Caucasian. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but the conventions I have been to have been pretty pale skinned.

Finances shouldn’t be a barrier. Being a minority at a convention shouldn’t be a barrier. If you are a fan, and convention culture is important to you, nothing should be a barrier. So instead of smugly talking about how great it is for me to be able to travel all over the place and attend Conventions and how I blend right in, I instead have for you an interview with Kate Nepveu, the organizer of Con or Bust, the organization that removes such barriers.  People, this is important.
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MIND MELD: What’s “Wrong” with Epic Fantasy?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

On episode 224 of the SF Signal Podcast, a discussion began about how epic fantasy can sometimes be too long, too detailed, too sprawling, often getting weighed down by its own epicness, and running the risk of losing the reader.  With that podcast and the comments it generated in mind, I asked our panelists this question:

Q: Is something Wrong With Epic Fantasy? If yes, how might it be fixed?

Here’s what they said…
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Patrick Tomlinson, Cherie Priest, Cindy Spencer Pape, and Seleste deLaney at a panel

Patrick Tomlinson, Cherie Priest, Cindy Spencer Pape, and Seleste deLaney at a panel

I recently returned from Legendary Confusion, a fan run Convention in Dearborn, Michigan.  A multi-faceted convention, programming included author readings, science panels, events for kids and teens, weaponry demos, anime viewing, filking, masquerade, role playing and board gaming, a massive autograph session, and more panels on speculative fiction that you can shake a stick at.  As expected, there were more panels than I could get to,  covering everything from trends in urban fantasy, to researching vs making it up, to using (or avoiding) bad language, to how to build a Dalek, to hybrid publishing, to working with agents, to editing your manuscript, to astronomy and biology in science fiction, to Doctor Who discussions, to getting the period clothing  correct, to…well, you get the idea.

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BOOK REVIEW: Control by Lydia Kang

REVIEW SUMMARY: A light, fun, young adult medical thriller that serves as a good gateway book for YA fans looking for something SFnal.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After the death of their father, sisters Zelia and Dylia are separated. In this dystopian future, genetic mutations (be them natural or not) are illegal, and it’s believed Dylia has a secret genetic trait that can be exploited. Zelia needs to rescue her sister from a dangerous organization and come to terms with their father’s secrets.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent scientific explanations of genetics and biology without infodumping; empowered teenaged characters; interesting world.
CONS: Many plot points felt rushed; over-the-top villains; story never quite reached that “Wow” moment.
BOTTOM LINE: A light, fast SFnal thriller with some fun hard science aspects and a satisfying (if somewhat telegraphed) twist at the end.

After the car accident that killed their father, teenage sisters Dylia and Zelia are quickly processed through social services. Hopefully they will be placed with a foster family soon, and won’t have to spend too long at the New Horizons Center. Older by four years, Zel is very protective of her thirteen year old sister, Dylia. When their father was alive, his medical practice kept him working long hours and moving around the country, so it often fell to Zelia to raise her little sister.

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Convention Attention: Let’s talk Cosplay

Just your average Saturday afternoon at a mall in California.

Just your average Saturday afternoon at a mall in California.

Cosplay is a lot more than just dressing up. Let’s start with a basic overview of what Cosplay is, where you’ll find it, some history, and some links for those of you who want more information.

Simply put, “cosplay” is dressing up as an identifiable character or object from fandom. It’s a way to promote a character or fandom you like, or even a character that would just be fun to dress up as. Cosplayers are most often found at ComicCons, Anime conventions, and  media specific conventions. You’ll even occasionally find cosplayers dressed up and wandering around town just for the heck of it,  or at cosplay events at comic shops.

Convention attendees have been dressing up, or “cosplaying” since the beginning of the idea of conventions, when it was simply called “dressed up”, or “masquerade”.  Rob Hansen’s extensive online science fiction history archive features articles that include photos (warning, some may be NSFW) of masquerade and cosplay at Conventions going back to 1939. The only thing that’s changed over the years is the type of camera used to take the pictures.

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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Nanotechnology, lifelike robots, Google Glass, Invisibility Metamaterials, and 3-D Printing are just the beginning. Many technologies that recently existed only in the pages of a science fiction novel are becoming reality. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What science fictional technologies do you think are right on the horizon and will become part of our everyday lives in the next ten years?

Here’s what our panelists had to say…

Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He has won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives near Boston with his family.

Advances in artificial intelligence are not making many headlines these days, but I think within the next decade computer thinking will make inroads in many areas touching our lives. The reason advances in AI don’t seem very “science fictional” to us is that we keep on moving the goal post: computers now can beat humans at chess, answer Jeopardy questions, understand and transcribe your speech, translate in real time, and make billions on the stock market. While most people still seem “skeptical” about whether computers can think, we already live in a science fictional world.

Perhaps two areas will challenge our comfort. One is the military. Right now, military computers are still used in a way that is “supervised” by human decision makers. The drones that are in the news so much are operated by remote pilots, and targeting systems make recommendations, leaving the final decision to kill up to the human (though some have already described the human oversight as “illusory”). But the machinery of war has a relentless logic: eventually, human oversight will be seen as too slow and error-prone and undependable. We will have fully automated robots fighting our wars, where the decision to fire and kill will be made by machines alone—human oversight, if any, will be limited to the crafting of the algorithms governing these systems.
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BOOK REVIEW: Reanimators by Pete Rawlik

REVIEW SUMMARY: This homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator” breathes life into minor Lovecraft characters. A slower pace and certain characterization stylings will get the reader into the mood of the source material.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While getting his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, Dr. Stuart Hartwell romps through the author’s favorite Lovecraft stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A great way to pay a visit to the fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft; compelling cover art.
CONS: Pacing is incredibly slow especially at the beginning; episodic action often felt forced; I never connected with the protagonist
BOTTOM LINE: Readers well versed in Lovecraft lore will find a lot to love, but readers new to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft may have a tough time getting their bearings.

Odd things are afoot in the sleepy new England town of Arkham. Strange creatures stalk the night, and even stranger research is happening at and around Miskatonic University. Dr. Stuart Hartwell is determined to get his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, the twisted man whose reanimation experiments were responsible for the deaths of Hartwell’s parents. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft (and certain fans of some early 80s cheesy horror flicks) may recognize the title of the book and the name Herbert West.
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Convention Attention: Money Matters

My first year attending conventions, I attended only one. The next year, three. For 2014, there are at least four or five I’d like to attend. I’ve started registering, booking hotel rooms, and requesting time off from work. And then it hit me: My new hobby of going to Conventions? No way around it — this new hobby ain’t cheap.

There’s plenty of planning that goes into attending a convention (Whose autograph line will you go to first? Are you going to get up early on Sunday morning to see the stage fighting demo? Which Doctor Who t-shirt and which Firefly t-shirt will you wear? What time are you going to leave and how long will it take to get there?), but taking some time to think about your budget will give you peace of mind and help the weekend be a little easier on your bank account.

The easy part is that budgeting for a convention weekend isn’t any different from budgeting and planning for any other weekend getaway. You’ve got to figure out how you’re getting there, where you’re staying, where you’re eating, and how much money you have for shopping. And just like any weekend vacation, there are plenty of ways to plan ahead and save some money. Everyone’s situation will of course be different, but the following tips have worked for me, so maybe a few of them will help you out. (If you are a seasoned traveler and have other tips, please share them in the comments.)

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MIND MELD: Why are Anthologies Important?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week, we asked our panelists the following:

Q: Why are anthologies important for writers and readers of Speculative Fiction? What have been some of your favorite anthologies?

Here’s what they said:

Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Benjanun Sriduangkaew likes airports, bees, and makeup. Her works can be found in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and anthologies such as End of the Road and Clockwork Phoenix 4.

I adore anthologies. As a reader still new to speculative fiction, it’s a quick way to discover writers, both established and up-and-coming, in one go. In any anthology though there’s a unifying theme there is also usually a huge range of styles, forms, and perspectives – diversity in every sense of the word. It can be exciting compared to reading a novel by a familiar writer; there’s something new every time you reach the end of a story and turn the page. Rapid-fire and heady!

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Convention Attention: Bring The Kids!

You and your family are making plans for the weekend.  What should you do? Camping? Tye-dying in the garage?  Indoor Waterpark? Cider Mill followed by pumpkin carving? Playground followed by a movie?

Why not take the whole family to a Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention?

Many Conventions have entire programming tracks designed just for kids and teens.  To learn more, I interviewed Larc Bogdan and Lisa Ragsdale, who oversee and organize the youth programming for ConFusion (January 17-19 in Dearborn, MI), and volunteer for youth programming at other conventions as well.  If you’ve ever worried that your children wouldn’t have anything to do at a Con, allow Lisa and Larc to put your worries to rest.

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BOOK REVIEW: Odd Men Out by Matt Betts

REVIEW SUMMARY: In his debut novel, Matt Betts successfully mashes up a whole lotta things that wouldn’t usually go together.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Entertaining and fast-paced Civil War era alternate history mashes up steampunk, zombies, and pop culture references.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Amusing pop culture references are smoothly and slyly put into the narrative; the story is wildly imaginative, yet feels plausible; dialog is fun and at times laugh-out-loud funny.
CONS: Light on world building and characterization; short chapters made it hard to keep track of everything that was going on; final action sequence was predictable.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun and entertaining mash-up that’s not without a few issues, but shows that the author has plenty of potential.
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MIND MELD: Worthy Media Tie-ins

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

From Star Wars to X-Men, Halo to Star Trek, many media franchises also offer tie-in novels, giving fans another way to enjoy their favorite worlds and characters.  But which media tie in novels are the cream of the crop? we asked some experts:

Q: Many movies, TV shows, comic books, and even video games have gotten the novelization or media tie-in treatment. Be it a direct novelization of the original property or an original story based on the characters, what media tie-in books have been a worthy addition to their franchise?

Here’s what they said…

Tricia Barr
Tricia Barr writes about fandom, heroines, and genre storytelling at her blog FANgirl and contributes to her Star Wars expertise to Suvudu.com, Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Blog and Star Wars Insider magazine. She has completed her first original novel, Wynde, a military science fiction epic with a twist of fantasy.

Over thirty-five years later, many fans do not realize that A New Hope, known simply as Star Wars back in 1977, used a novelization and Marvel comics to generate considerable pre-release buzz. The Prequel Trilogy continued this tradition, with April publications of the novelizations in advance of the May movies. When Episode III novelization author Matthew Stover stepped on stage for his book panel at the official franchise convention Star Wars Celebration III, after the book’s release and before the film opened, he was greeted like a rock star. The impending release of Revenge of the Sith certainly helped spur on the fan hoopla, but it was the way Stover masterfully wove together the fall of the Jedi Order and its hero, Anakin Skywalker, that excited a fandom that had survived the Dark Times – the period between the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy – by reading books and comics. The standing-room- only crowd of novel enthusiasts appreciated the way he had turned a visual story into powerful prose. While much of the Revenge of the Sith novelization maintained the traditional third-person-limited point of view narrative, Stover ventured into second-person explorations of the key characters like Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Count Dooku, and Padmé Amidala. He also explained at his panel why the battle scenes that took place on Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk were not included in the novelization: to maintain the thematic focus on Anakin Skywalker’s fall. While there were no Wookiees in the book, Stover used a recurring metaphor of a dragon to foreshadow the story’s conclusion.
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Convention Attention: All About Panels


Michael deLuca, Alastair Reynolds, Howard Andrew Jones, Brian McClellan, Saladin Ahmed at Immortal ConFusion
(Click to embiggen.)

In my opinion, one of the best ways you can spend your time at a Convention is by attending panels. You can hear your favorite authors and other industry professionals talk on a subject you’re interested in, hear authors and industry professionals you’ve never heard of talk on a topic you’re interested in, hear scientists discuss how to get to Mars and other scientific endeavors and discoveries, hear media professionals talk about movies and comics and tv shows…the options truly are endless. Panels aren’t just the panelists talking at each other, and they aren’t just a Q&A session. This is an unscripted conversation between people who are passionate about the panel topic, are experts in it, or have shown interest in being part of this conversation. Panels are just one part of the Convention’s programming schedule, but you’ll find that it’s easy to fill your day with panels, panels, and more panels.
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