Columns Archives

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

Michael J. Sullivan is the author of The Riyria Revelations, The Riyria Chronicles, and his recently released science fiction thriller, Hollow World. He’s been published in just about every way there is including, small presses, self, and the big-five. He spends part of his time trying to help aspiring authors learn the intricacies of publishing through a regular column on Amazing Stories, and soon he’ll be featuring author interviews on Adventures in Science Fiction Publishing. Michael has written twenty-three novels, published nine, and has been translated into fifteen foreign languages. His works have appeared on more than eighty-five “best of” or “most anticipated” lists including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and Audible.com.

Being Atypical in HOLLOW WORLD

by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve been a big fan of Sarah Chorn for a really long time. Not just because of her amazing reviews, although that is reason enough, but because of her resiliency in weathering storms in her own life. Luckily for me, she’s a fan of my writing as well, and I’m grateful for her years of support. With the approaching release of Hollow World (April 15th from Tachyon Publications and Recorded Books), she invited me to do a guest post. So here I am.

I guess I should start out by setting the stage. Hollow World tells the story of Ellis Rogers, who travels far into the future (much further than he intended) in search of a cure for a recently diagnosed terminal illness. What he finds a world where disease, war, and even death has been eliminated. It sounds like utopia, and for some people it very well may be, but there’s a cost…isn’t there always a cost? In the case of Hollow World, genetic engineering has advanced to the point where everyone is identical, and trying to establish individuality in such an environment breeds its own set of problems.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 4/14/2014

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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I have to be honest: of all the genres I cover, fantasy tends to be my favorite. I typically enjoy reading tales that can be fairly ruthless, with characters that are hard to love, but in the end, a sense of hope does prevail. Why do I enjoy a grim, darker take on fantasy? Mainly because these types of stories tend to seem more relatable. The likes of Joe Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, Brent Weeks, and David Dalglish come to mind when I think of novels that fall in to this category. And now, I’ll throw self-published author, Rob J. Hayes into the mix.

This month’s Indie Author Spotlight guest came out of nowhere. I wasn’t even looking for a fantasy book, but The Heresy Within, the first book in The Ties That Bind trilogy just seemed too intriguing to pass up. Check out the synopsis:
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With my bagel overlords here at SF Signal doing a some Military SF podcasts over the past few weeks, as well  an interview with Joe Haldeman, I figured now would be a great time to highlight a very recent example of the sub-genre, and a superb example at that. T.C. McCarthy’s SUBTERRENE WAR trilogy is a fascinating trilogy for many reasons.  For starters, T.C. takes a smart step back. That is, much of Military SF is set in space in the far and distant future (Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet, David Weber’s Honor Harrington, even Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for that matter).  While McCarthy’s series is indeed set in the future, the future might be best described as Twenty Minutes into the Future, and is firmly entrenched here on Earth.

While I haven’t read every Military SF novel out on the shelves, I’ve read my fair share and nothing I’ve read in the subgenre feels so filthy, dirty and uncomfortable as do these books by McCarthy.  McCarthy is, after all, telling a story of war and nothing is spared – the death, the blood, the sickness, even the pure discomfort of having what is essentially power armor which includes a system to get rid of personal waste – there’s the rawness, and that is merely one fraction of it.  Some people may consider disjointed a negative comment, but here, the disjointed feeling of the narrative is, I gather, completely intentional on McCarthy’s part.

On to the three books which comprise this brilliant, intense and grimy trilogy…
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Roaming the Borderlands of Fantasy

Not long ago there was an acrimonious discussion online of what constituted “being a fan” of Science Fiction that focused in great measure on what one did or did not read. I started to write a response to that debate but after I read the first part of it I felt. . . sad. I was a bit angry at myself too, annoyed that I was writing some kind of defense for my taste in reading. So I put it aside and went back to reading stories from my staggering pile of books to-be-read. Part of the stack contained several works by the late SF writer Charles Sheffield, who primarily wrote a fusion of hard SF and space opera. He was going to be the focus of a Three Hoarsemen podcast (and you can hear the results of that here) so I dug in and read. While I was able to get through The Compleat McAndrew collection of short stories, I could not finish either The Mind Pool or Between the Strokes of Night. I kept putting them down and picking up other books to read (or even re-read), such as Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (discussed in the podcast), Nick Mamatas’ Love is the Law and Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria. I found myself much more engaged by them, to the point where I realized that, in a way, I was no longer a “fan” of Science Fiction (or SFF), but a literary wanderer roaming widely to find new moments of fantasy to savor and ponder. But I wasn’t just looking for “fantasy” the genre, either as an inversion of SF or an encompassing category, but for writing that challenged the idea of what was real and how we make things real.
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Venturing out of the soaking rain and bitter cold of March in which they spent more time hibernating than podcasting, John E. O. Stevens, Fred Kiesche and Jeff Patterson add a fourth saddle to their April episode. Paul Weimer, who has commented at every genre blog possible and who has appeared in more podcasts than you can listen to comfortably in one sitting, joins the Three Hoarsemen for this episode.

While hibernating, we spent much time reading, and now gather around the communal fire pit to discuss the works of the late Charles Sheffield, their reactions to Ann Leckie’s Nebula-nominated novel Ancillary Justice, as well as the bits and pieces of the genre that we consumed since last time.

Approx. 1 Hour 25 Minutes

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Watching the Future: Worlds of Whimsy and Despair

Thanks to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its follow-up trilogy The Hobbit), the Harry Potter series, and HBO’s own A Game of Thrones, audiences think they have a good understanding of fantasy, or what they think of as fantasy: a setting with a medieval or quasi-medieval feel, with feudal systems and fiefdoms dotting lands plucked from European storybooks; epic battles waged amid the thunder of hoofbeats, the wail of battle cries, and the clang of swords; magics, both subtle and overt, cast by white-haired, robed old men or children brandishing wands (at times with uncomfortable Freudian overtones); and of course a dragon or two—indeed, seldom does an audience member find a fantasy movie lacking enchanted animals.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from the incredible Elizabeth Bear! – Sarah Chorn

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction. She lives in Massachusetts with a Giant Ridiculous Dog. Her partner, acclaimed fantasy author Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website. On April 8, 2014 Elizabeth Bear released the third and final book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, Steles of the Sky.

On Writing Disabilities

by Elizabeth Bear

It’s kind of funny to realize as I write this that I originally wasn’t going to submit a piece to Sarah’s blog series, because I didn’t feel like I had much to say about writing disabled people in science fiction. But after the second colleague suggested that I would be a good fit for the series, I had to stop and consider why they would think so.

And I realized that it’s probably because I write a lot of disabled protagonists. From Jenny Casey and Genevieve Castaign in Hammered and the sequel books–an amputee with neurological damage and a girl with cystic fibrosis–to the aneurotypical Michelangelo in Carnival from Matthew Szczgielniak with his maimed hand and congenital adrenal hyperplasia sufferer Lily Wakeman in Whiskey and Water to Tristen and Perceval Conn in the Jacob’s Ladder books, one of whom has albinism and the other of whom has lost the power of flight–now that I actually stop and think about it, it seems like most of my protagonists are “imperfect” in some way.

I have written characters with forms of epilepsy and characters with bipolar disorder. I have written anxiety sufferers and paraplegics and I have helped invent entirely new, science fictional syndromes. I have written more than my share of characters with post-traumatic stress disorder. That last, frankly, is because I don’t know how to write people who don’t have PTSD.

I’ve been trying to learn, though. You all are so unpredictable.
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You ever wonder what it sounded like when I spoke slowly on Beware the Hairy Mango? Well, pretend you’ve wondered. It sounded a lot like this terribly old episode!

One has to delve deeply into ancient knowledge to unlock the secrets of the vampire! Yes, as ancient as episode 12! Don your steel-belted shirt collars and wander aimlessly into “The Next Vampire Story!”

WARNING: You’ll be sleeping with the lights on! Even if you work third shift and sleep during the day!

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

Rhiannon Held is the author of Silver and its sequel, Tarnished. In her day job, she works as a professional archaeologist. Held lives near Seattle, Washington. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting her website. The third book in her series, Reflected, was published on February 18, 2014.

Unable to Shift

by Rhiannon Held

When I conceived of my character Silver, from the urban fantasy series of the same name, in a lot of ways she was a reaction to the sometimes troublesome idea of the “kickass UF heroine.” I didn’t even think explicitly about making her disabled, I just wanted to reach out to speak to readers in a different way—not the aspiration of somehow magically being so cool and powerful, but the identification with a character who was struggling and succeeding despite obstacles the reader might recognize. I hope that I’ve succeeded and she does speak to people, even if I’m not dealing with a particular obstacle that an individual reader might.

Silver is a werewolf who was injected with silver nitrate. It removed her ability to shift into wolf form, deadened the muscles where she was injected so she can no longer use that arm, and gave her brain damage so she either sees the werewolf spirit realm or hallucinates—depending on who you ask.
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 4/1/2014

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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Where the heck have I been? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely hoping you can tell me. A better question might be, “Where the heck hasn’t Beware the Hairy Mango been?” Well, here, for one. But all that has changed! At least for a day.

Let’s explore the hilarity of a brutal program of colonialism and tasty computer meat in today’s practically brand new episode, “The Fifth Corner!”

WARNING: I don’t remember if I say bad things in this one, but I usually do.

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“The way things happen, not the great movements of time but the ordinary things that make us what we are, the savage accidents of our births, the simple lusts that because of whimsy or a challenge to one’s pride become transformed into complex tragedies of love, the heartless operations of change, the wild sweetness of other souls that intersect the orbits of our lives, travel along the same course for a while, then angle off into oblivion, leaving no formal shape for us to consider, no easily comprehensible pattern from which we may derive enlightenment…I often wonder why it is when stories are contrived from such materials as these, the storyteller is generally persuaded to perfume the raw stink of life, to replace bloody loss with talk of noble sacrifice, to reduce the grievous to the wistfully sad.” from “Barnacle Bill The Spacer,” by Lucius Shepard.

“[A]mbiguity is a feature of most of my work and I’m used to writing in that mode. As far as the reader’s interpretation goes, I wanted to keep them guessing for a while, but I think that by story’s end it’s pretty clear what’s going on.” – Lucius Shepard

I had a dream two nights after I found out that Lucius Shepard had died. In it I owned a huge, modern house with lots of windows and ramps and angles to the roof, surrounded by a perfectly mowed lawn. I sat in a barcalounger and drank fizzy drinks from wine glasses thin as straws and laughed at those passing by on the busy road nearby, desperately trying to get somewhere in their lives. I watched mummers covered in glitter dance on a wall screen and ignored the cries of those outside. Until I looked out the window and saw that they had all stopped their cars and were crowding on my lawn, erecting a great pavilion of leaves and burlap and scalps. They all shaved themselves and painted each other purple and then massed under the great tent they had built to berate me for trying to wall myself off from the world, until the noise shattered all the windows and the house collapsed around me. That was when I woke up.
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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.

The Completist: THE SUNDERING by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey burst onto the fantasy scene with her alternate history/fantasy/erotic series of novels which began with Kushiel’s Dart and in recent years, she has turned her pen to modern/urban fantasy. The focus here will be on her deconstruction of Epic Fantasy, The Sundering duology comprised of Banewreaker and Godslayer. Many people are familiar with Lord of the Rings (one can safely assume) and to a lesser extent, people are likely familiar with Wicked (either the musical or the Gregory Maguire novel which inspired it) wherein The Wicked Witch of the West is cast as protagonist. Think the same thing here with The Sundering, wherein the villain is cast as the protagonist (and slightly renamed). Since this is really one novel cut in half (an entirely different discussion*), much like Lord of the Rings is one novel broken into three books, I will be discussing The Sundering primarily as one story.

The tag-line of the first novel, and the theme of the duology is best summed up as: “If all that is good considers you evil…are you?”
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Greetings, dear reader.

Rick explained the origins of “Nexus Graphica” in his reboot column last month — in fact referring to our original chat where we came up with the title, I discovered that my predilection for cutting prepositions was, well, predilectin’, even back then.

Which, given my sideline as a journalist, is no surprise. I’m always trying to cut those preps when and where I can.  Though I guess “sideline” brings up its own conundrums: Am I a journalist moonlighting as a novelist, or is it the reverse? Or am I a writing teacher who does both? It probably depends which of those particular hats has last paid for a bag of groceries.
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Lost in Animeland: Lain, Boogiepop, Paranoia Agent

Today I’d like to look at three shows that aimed to create a roughly similar atmosphere, with varying levels of effectiveness. Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, and Paranoia Agent all try to create a kind of creeping horror. Not jump scares, or sprays of gore, but a weird, oppressive feeling that keeps the watcher disoriented and in suspense. They share some storytelling and visual techniques in places, too: surreal imagery, washed-out color palettes, an emphasis on repetition and paranoia. All three have things to offer a viewer, but in my final judgment only Paranoia Agent, the late Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece, is ultimately successful as a single work. Let’s have a look!
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SF/F Crowd Funding Roundup For 3/18/2014

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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Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Disabilities in YA

Being a teenager was awkward for me. It really wasn’t any fun and I hated just about every minute of it. I was a pretty pukey teen, though. Maybe it was more entertaining for other people, but I felt like an outsider. I had almost no friends. I had a hard time relating to anyone or feeling like I fit in. That’s probably why I have so actively avoided reading any young adult books. I want to avoid anything that makes me remember my horrible, hormone filled, confused years.

However, every year I challenge myself to read another area of the speculative fiction genre that I typically avoid, and this year I picked young adult books. This year I’ve read about ten young adult books, which is about ten more young adult books than I’ve read any other year. I am not an expert in all things young adult, and if I’m being honest with you, I should have had someone who reads more young adult than I do write this post, but I didn’t.

My foray into young adult speculative fiction has left me far more surprised than I ever expected to be. These books aren’t only (or always) filled with angsty love triangles, and teenagers who fall in soulmate love almost instantly. Most of the time, these books feel a lot more mature than I expected. These books are filled with young people dealing with very adult problems and situations. However, what has truly surprised me was just how much disability I’ve seen in young adult books.
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Things I’ve written: a few novels, a few short stories, a column on this very website extolling the virtues of comics as a medium for speculative fiction. Now, for better or worse, I’ve written an actual comic too: Rogue Trooper, published by IDW, issue #1 of which is in comic book shops and digital outlets including but not limited to Comixology this very week.

So what happens when a novelist tries to write a comic? Herewith, a select few of the very many things that have occurred to me as I’ve begun to learn this new craft.
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