Columns Archives

NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author J. Kathleen Cheney! – Sarah Chorn

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City came out from Penguin in 2013. The sequel, The Seat of Magic debuted July 1. Her website can be found at www.jkathleencheney.com.

Trying to Write Blind

by J. Kathleen Cheney

One of the more irritating bits of critique I’ve ever received: “Have your POV character feel her way around her bedroom so we know she’s blind.”

Seriously? Is that what people think a blind person does in their own bedroom? Feel their way along the walls like they’re a character in an exaggerated 1920s movie? Or are they the ‘magical’ blind person who goes the other way, never steps a foot wrong, and never walks into the corner of a table?
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CONVENTION ATTENTION: Context27 in Columbus, Ohio

Context27 logoLast month I attended Context27, a small and cozy speculative fiction convention in Columbus, OH. Context is a writers convention, and this year’s guests of honor where Jonathan Maberry and Betsy Mitchell. Other guests included Laura Resnick, Jennifer Brozek, Maurice Broaddus, Jerry Gordon, Jason Sizemore, Daniel and Trista Robichaud, Lucy Snyder, Ferrett Steinmetz, Michael West and more. Along with panels and workshops, the convention also had a flash fiction contest, well-appointed dealer room, a live recording of the Funky Werepig podcast, a consuite, and of course, parties! This was also my first time on panels, but more on that later.

For a small additional fee, attendees could sign up for one of the many workshops, which included Writing for Young Adults, Crafting a Compelling Plot, Characterization Through Dialog,Anthology Editing, and Point of View, among many others. The panels were also primarily writer and publishing focused, and included topics such as Busting Writer’s Block, Hot New Writers, Classics You May Have Missed, Getting a Day Job in Publishing, The Care and Feeding of Beta Readers, Skewering the Tropes, The Art of the Short Story, Social Media for Authors and Readers, Homebrewing Science, Podcasting, Publishing Disasters, Tales from the Slushpile, The Future of Magazines and Periodicals, What is an MFA and Do I Want One,and about a bazillion more. I really have no idea how all this incredible programming was jammed into 48 hours.
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Sean Russell was a fairly prolific Canadian fantasy writer who, over the course of eight years (1991 through 1998) churned out unique fantasies which blended fantasy together with the history of 19th Century science before turning his pen to something in the Tolkien “traditional” Epic fantasy vein with The Swan’s War trilogy. Since then; however, Russell stepped out of the SFF genre and has been crafting historical naval fiction under the name Sean T. Russell. But back to The Swan’s War, the subject of this column which begins with The One Kingdom published in 2001 under EOS, HarperCollins’s then SF imprint. Prior to reading The One Kingdom, I read and enjoyed Russell’s linked duologies Moontide and Magic Rise and River into Darkness so my expectations for an engaging fantasy read were relatively high. Those expectations were met, which I’ll expand upon below in this installment of “The Completist.”

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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 10/15/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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Lost in Animeland: Fall 2014

Fall season, traditionally probably the biggest of the anime seasons, is finally upon us! There’s an enormous avalanche of shows, more than even I can watch. Even restricting ourselves to only the SFF shows, it’s a pretty long list. I’ll go over some that stood out from the first and second episodes I’ve watched so far.

One notable thing is that there are quite a few new seasons for older shows starting up. Psycho-Pass, Fate/Stay Night, Log Horizon, and Mushishi are all getting new seasons. I’m not going to talk about them here, since as far as I know none of those make for great starting points, but you can go back and watch from the beginning!

As usual, these impressions are based on the first few episodes only. No spoilers for beyond that point!
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Last week, I attended the Austin Comic Con (aka Wizard World Texas). Oddly, the show ran Thursday through Saturday. No Sunday at all. Since Saturday was Yom Kippur, I only went on Thursday evening, which ran from 4:30-9, and Friday, 2 until sundown.

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Melanie R. Meadors! – Sarah Chorn


A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in central Massachusetts, in a one hundred-year-old house full of quirks and surprises. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on on more than one occasion. Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest in 2014. For her day job she is the Publicity Coordinator at Ragnarok Publications as well as a freelance publicist. She’s also a contributor to www.GeekMom.com.

Coping With Special Needs in Urban Fantasy

by Melanie R. Meadors

A wizard who is the best paranormal detective in Chicago. A psychometrist who works at NYC’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. The newest van driver for the St. Edward’s Parish coroner’s office who seems to just walk away from whatever accident she has.

Urban fantasy fans might recognize the above characters. I myself have gone on many adventures with them. But lately it’s occurred to me that these characters give me something more than just adventure. I see some of myself in them, and relate to them in ways that perhaps others might not.

No, I’m not magical (or AM I?). But if you look at the daily lives of these and other urban fantasy characters, you’ll see that their powers don’t come without a price. With urban fantasy, instead of having special needs in strange worlds, they have special powers in this world. And they have to still have to find ways to function in this world as normal people.

That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
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Watching the Future: From Other Shores

Movies treated science fiction well this summer, in terms of quality and popularity. The period between the middle of April and the Labor Day weekend saw the release of four major motion pictures—Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Guardians of the Galaxy—that not only fit comfortably within any reasonable definition of the genre (which often stretches to include superhero movies and the kinds of action fantasies that seem a cross between Three Days of the Condor and The Andromeda Strain mixed with the pace of Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the point that the defining material becomes so thin that it resembles Silly Putty pulled so tightly across a newspaper’s surface that one can read the headline through the dermis-colored, taffy-like material) but also allowed one the pleasure of watching without feeling the need to scour one’s brain beneath a chemical shower after the end credits rolled. Yes, studios served some unpalatable cinematic dishes—both Transformers 4: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles passed through multiplexes quickly, leaving unsuspecting viewers with only the mildest cases of cultural indigestion, while The Purge: Anarchy and The Giver made one leave the theater feeling as if having snacked on two five-pound bags of Haribo sugar-free gummy bears—but for the most part, the summer served genre fans with reasonably entertaining, if modestly satisfying, offerings.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Tina Connolly! – Sarah Chorn

Tina Connolly lives in Portland, Oregon with her family, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared all over, including in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her debut fantasy novel IRONSKIN wasd released by Tor Books in 2012. The sequel COPPERHEAD was reelased in 2013. Her latest book is SILVERBLIND. She is a frequent reader for Podcastle, and narrates the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. In the summer she works as a face painter, which means a glitter-filled house is an occupational hazard. Her website is tinaconnolly.com.

Special Needs in the IRONSKIN Series

by Tina Connolly

This post is kind of a melange of issues as I thought through what had been important to me over the course of writing my trilogy. In the world of the Ironskin series, some people were hit by fey shrapnel in the Great War five years earlier-the ironskin. Each person hit by fey shrapnel has to deal with both the physical effects of the injury-grotesque scarring-and the mental effects-a sort of emotional curse. The ironskin must cover their scars with iron, or the curses will affect all those around them with rage, or fear, or depression, or…
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While we don't know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won't look like this.

While we don’t know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won’t look like this.

One thing that’s fairly rare in anime is “science fiction” in some of the stricter senses of the term. What is and is not science fiction is a serious ontological debate that I’m not interested in getting into here, but what is clear is that while anime often includes SF settings and tropes (robots, mecha, spaceships, aliens) it’s much rarer for plausibility to be a major concern. More importantly, in my view, the traditional SF role of examining life and society under potential future conditions is often discarded in favor of setting up mecha battles, sexy aliens, and robot philosophers.

There are shows that examine these ideas, though, so let’s look at a pair that talk about the (for lack of a better term) “cyberpunk” future: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Dennou Coil.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Geoff Matthews! – Sarah Chorn


Geoff Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wit’s end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C. Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter or visit his website.

Special Educational Needs and Reading

by Geoff Matthews

One of our greatest gifts, our greatest pleasures, our most powerful agent for change, and most dangerous of weapons is language. In particular, the structure, use and understanding of language. Words change the world more than guns, bombs and the machinations of war.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 9/30/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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Flying so close to the Sun their duct tape and bailing wire melts and their headphones explode, John E. O. Stevens, Fred Kiesche and Jeff Patterson return this month for our lucky thirteenth episode! Not only have we seamlessly spliced together two different recording sessions (thanks to said duct tape and bailing wire), but we are joined by one of SF Signal’s most prolific irregulars Sarah Chorn as we spelunk the depths of the genre to discuss overlooked works of fantasy and science fiction that deserve more attention.

If your wallet survives that list, we once again bring you a list of books (and other things) that we’ve consumed since last month that may finally tumble Mount ToBeRead down upon your heads!

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Kody Boye! – Sarah Chorn


Born and raised in Southeastern Idaho, Kody Boye began his writing career with the publication of his story “[A] Prom Queen’s Revenge” at the age of fourteen. Published nearly three-dozen times before going independent at eighteen, Boye has authored numerous works—including the short story collection Amorous Things, the novella “The Diary of Dakota Hammell,” the zombie novel Sunrise and the epic fantasy series The Brotherhood Saga. He is represented by Hannah Brown Gordon of the Foundry Literary + Media Agency.

The Power of Speech

by Kody Boye

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “all writers are crazy.” From the voices in our heads, to the long hours of isolation, the inner turmoil of perfection and the pressure of the industry, it’s some small wonder we’re not all locked up. We’re crazy, we may say, to expose ourselves to constant rejection. Nervous ticks are often seen as eccentricities and social anxieties coined as the result of long hours chained to a desk.

What many don’t know is that many of us suffer. Most just aren’t vocal about it.
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Lost in Animeland: Sword Art Online

Last time I mentioned that I was watching Sword Art Online II, and enjoying it quite a bit. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to talk about part three of a series without spoilers, so I figured I’d save the discussion for next time. So today, let’s talk about it!

This column contains spoilers for Sword Art Online. I won’t talk about any of the big reveals or twists, but information of the “which characters don’t die” sort is impossible to avoid. I personally think you’d be fine reading this and then watching it, but you can make your own decision!
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 9/17/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Sarah Hendrix! – Sarah Chorn


Sarah Hendrix spends a lot of time reveling in chaos. Not only does she crush a heaping slush pile but she manages several minion duties. She is a PR for Apocalypse Ink Productions. She loves the developmental stages of a project and likes weaving seemingly unrelated things into a beauteous whole. To complete her love of all things unorganized, she has 2 cats, 2 teenage boys and a fiancé and she makes wearable art with small beads. Her stories can be found in the Space Battles #6 from Flying Pen Press, the In Situ, and the FISH anthologies both from Dagan Books, “Ordinary Hero” from Lakeside Circus and “The Coin Whisperer” in Abyss and Apex. You can follow her on her blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Portraying Disability in Short Stories

by Sarah Hendrix

When I wrote the first few words of “The Coin Whisperer” I didn’t know much about the main character, Paul. All I knew is he was relating a story to me about a friend who could tap into the stories that resided in the change in her pocket. Overall, what I wrote was pretty bland so, like a lot of short stories that I start, I set it aside. It wasn’t until a year later that the story and Paul matured into something I felt had a chance at being published.

Although I love the story, I was very apprehensive while writing it. Paul first revealed he was transgender, which wasn’t an issue at all, but then he revealed something that made me pause-Paul was mute. While writing I wanted his disability to be an element of the story but knew that wasn’t the focus. I wanted to portray Paul as an individual who happens to be mute, and has to find a creative way to tell someone something very important.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Jaym Gates! – Sarah Chorn


Jaym Gates is an editor, author, and communications specialist. She’s edited the anthologies War Stories, Broken Time Blues, and is working on Genius Loci. She is also the Communications Director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She is active in ensuring a safer, more respectful environment in SF. Follow her on Twitter as @JaymGates, or online at JaymGates.com.

My Own Damn Game

by Jaym Gates

My first Dungeons and Dragons game was with four industry veterans. Not just guys who had played for years, but guys who had actually developed the game. Nothing like being thrown in at the deep end.

Fortunately, the two running the game were merciful and gave me a chaos-oriented paladin. Our host had mead and scotch for us to bolster the usual snacks. It turned out to be handier than he’d perhaps planned. The Game Master (GM) began drinking heavily about two minutes into the game because one player wouldn’t stop punning, one had somehow ended up with a cross-dressing rogue, and I was being myself, which is just never good for anyone trying to run a serious game. We romped through the first half of the adventure, puns and lipstick flying, trying with all our might to break the GM.
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Nearly twenty years ago a debut novel took the genre world by storm, at least in terms of awards. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, BSFA, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and author Mary Doria Russell received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a novel that walked a fine line in its themes between science and faith. The intersection between the two is not always a comfortable one and if anything can be a one-word apt descriptor of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God it is the word uncomfortable. In trying to come up with a “completed” series of books for this column, I pored over my reading logs and it wasn’t long before these two books shouted to me from deep within my memory banks. So again, I’m stretching the definition of completed by including a book and its sequel, but these are excellent books that people should be reading even today — nearly 20 years after The Sparrow first published.

Set in the near future (2019), music from the closest star system to ours, Alpha Centauri, reaches Earth — specifically from the planet which comes to be known as Rakhat. Much of the novel is relayed in flashbacks from Father Emilio Sandoz in the year 2059, the only member of the expedition team sent to Rakhat to survive and return to Earth – decades after he left Earth for Rakhat. Other members of the missionary/crew include a young astronomer, an expert in AI systems, as well as two of Sandoz’s retired colleagues. Sandoz is scarred by his experiences, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The framework of the “present” with the damaged Sandoz and a Church shattered by the failed mission involves the investigation of the mission and why Sandoz is the only survivor.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 9/4/2014

Crowd funding is the in thing for obtaining money to fund a variety of projects, with Kickstarter being the most prominent of these sites. With new projects going live daily, it’s a chore to keep up with, let alone find, interesting genre projects. The Crowd Funding Roundup will be our effort to bring projects we think are interesting to your attention so you can, if you so choose, decide to help out. These posts are a collaborative effort between James Aquilone and JP Frantz.

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