Mind Meld Archives

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This week we asked out panelists the following question:

Q: With the prevalence of ebooks and audiobooks, how has your sf/f reading and buying habits changed, if at all?

Here’s what they said…

Laura Lam

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

I don’t listen to many audiobooks, but ebooks have definitely changed my reading habits. As a combination of being a poor university student and living in tiny quarters, I avoided buying most books I read because there would be nowhere to store 100 books a year. I limited myself to the occasional splurge but mainly relied on libraries, friends, etc. Now, I still live in tiny quarters but I’m not as poor as I was as a student. I buy a lot more of my books as ebooks, and I’m a lot more diverse in my reading. I also read more books and read them quicker because I don’t have to lug myself to the library or bookstore or wait for the book to arrive. If I read a great review of an SFF book, 5 minutes later I can be curled up on my sofa reading it with a nice cup of tea. I’m able to support authors I admire without running out of room to turn around in my tiny flat. At first, I found reading on the Kindle distracting, but now I’m used to it, and I could never go back to not having an e-reader.
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MIND MELD: Rebranding Fiction as Young Adult

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This week we asked about rebranding adult novels as YA:

Q: What genre novels would benefit from a re-branding as Young Adult? Which YA novels should not be branded as such?
This is what they had to say…
Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger is a New York Times Bestselling author writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She survived her early years by reading most of her local library and memorizing Greek battles. Her YA book Etiquette & Espionage, the first in the Finishing School series, releases Feb. 5, 2013.

I’d like to hope they already have been rebranded, but two of my favorites are part of larger series. Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen trilogy is possibly the most YA of her early Valdemar books. And Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong trilogy is a great introduction to the Pern universe. I’d like to see both reissued with updated cover art, in hardback, for a YA audience.

I’d also add two books that are the first in their respective series but stand well enough alone as YA. Mary H. Herbert’s Dark Horse, and Cherry Wilder’s A Princess of the Chameln both include one of my favorite plot points: a girl disguising herself as a boy.

Last, I think The Forgotten Beasts of Eld would make a great rebranded YA book. Although the protagonist isn’t technically young enough, she has an isolated innocence that makes her seem young. Also Patricia McKillip’s writing style is so atmospheric, like a fairy tale, I think younger readers would really appreciate her style.

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MIND MELD: How SFF Influences Your Life

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Books have been one of the greatest influences on my life. I say this not to downplay the lessons and values taught to be my family and friends, but instead to emphasize the importance of reading in my formative years. A lot of what I believe and how I act is driven by the characters I have encountered and the fictional worlds I have explored. Frequently I remind myself that “Fear is the mind-killer,” a message picked up from Frank Herbert’s Dune years ago – a lesson that has carried me through hard times. There are many more personal examples I could state but I’d rather hear from some of the very writers that inspire me.

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: How has SFF influenced your life? Does it make you a better person? What lessons from SFF do you carry with you?

Here’s what they said…

Tobias Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell was born in the Caribbean and lived on a yacht until he moved to the US. He writes science fiction. His latest novel, Arctic Rising, is out from Tor Books. He lives online at www.TobiasBuckell.com.

The greatest impact it had on me was instilling in me a love of science, questing for information, and a deep love of creative and wild imagination. My life-long walk on the path toward passing those gifts on to others now means I make a living continuing to live all that. So I would say it had quite an impact on my life.

As to if it makes me a better person, I would have no idea. I would hope that my family loved and learned from me whether or not I had SF in my life. In fact, I find a sort of cultish devotion to any mantras learned from just SF to be problematic. I flinch from ideological insistence, and just because I adored a book at an impressionable age… well, I’d hate for that define the rest of my life as a thinking creature.

The lessons involve various snippets of things I’ve picked up over a lifetime that I’ve found useful. I’d hate to highlight a particular phrase out of the stew that makes me a human, as I’ve always loved Bruce Lee’s admonition to “Take what is useful, leave what is not, add something uniquely your own.” I didn’t learn that in SF, but it’s how I’ve approached all text.

But I can’t be the only SF fan who has found himself repeating the Bene Gesserit litany against fear after smacking his hand with a hammer… right?

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MIND MELD: Zombies, and Why We Love Them

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We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: In the spirit of the breathless wait for The Walking Dead to return in February, let’s talk zombies! Why do you think they’ve captured the rotten little hearts and minds of the non- shambling public? If you write about zombies, is it just for pure fun, or are they a metaphor for something deeper and even more diabolical??

Here’s what they said…

Jonathan Maberry
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and freelancer for Marvel Comics. His works include ROT & RUIN (now in development for film), PATIENT ZERO, ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead; DUST & DECAY, MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN and others. He was a featured expert on The History Channel special ZOMBIES: A LIVING HISTORY.

Zombies are a useful monster. In creative terms, they serve a few different purposes. First, they are the well-known metaphor generator that allows every writer to explore a different moral, social, societal, philosophical or psychological issue via an entertaining vehicle. This has a long, long tradition in storytelling. Ask Homer. Ask Aesop.

Second, zombies represent a single, massive, shared threat that impacts the lives of every single character in the story. Their impact is so overwhelming that each character’s life is shaken up, which means that the affected elements of their personalities fall away to reveal a truer inner self. In times of great crisis we see personality qualities emerge (or disintegrate) in fascinating and revelatory ways. A corporate CEO who is used to being a lion in the boardroom may be a useless coward when it comes to surviving a crisis; while a kid working a minimum-wage dead-end job at a convenience store might discover qualities of heroism that might otherwise never have emerged. Don’t forget, all real drama is about ordinary people in some kind of crisis. We don’t tell stories about a bunch of nice people having a pleasant day –there’s no drama (and therefore no insight) in that.

And also, the general public has, of late, had their perceptions of what ‘zombie stories’ are. For decades the perceptual standard has been that zombie stories are about death, dying, and visceral slaughter; that these stories were self-indulgent gorefests with nothing redeeming about them. But now that there are so many zombie stories out there, and in so many formats: novels, TV, comics, movies, short stories, video games, toys and more, it’s forced Joe Public to take a closer look. What they’re finding is that the zombie genre has drawn some of today’s top storytellers –writers who understand that the best zombie stories aren’t actually about the zombies. The best zombie stories are about the people. Real people. After all, the title of ‘The Walking Dead’ does not refer to the zombies. The dead men walking are the people whose lives and preconceptions and expectations have died. They are walking from the world that was into an uncertain future, and the name of the landscape through which they walk is ‘drama’.

As long as good writers bring quality storytelling to the genre, zombies will be around for a long, long time. Deservedly so.

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MIND MELD: Do You Like To Re-Read?

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Q: What are your thoughts on re-reading favorite books and what are some books and/or series you re-read or plan on re-reading?

Here’s what they said…

Elizabeth Bear
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.

This seems like an awfully long way to go to find a controversy. There is no moral aspect to re-reading over reading something new; both are perfectly valid uses of one’s leisure time.

For writers, of course, keeping up with an at least cursory overview of what’s new in one’s field is a professional obligation, and its good to have a founding in the classics. And research often requires reading an awful lot of nonfiction–but reading for pleasure or comfort? I’d say read whatever makes you happy. You’ll get different things out of a book each time you read it–and rereading is certainly a primal human drive. Otherwise, kids wouldn’t want The Little Engine That Could twice a night every night until it becomes engraved on their DNA.

We learn and internalize via repetition, after all–and narrative are the mechanism our minds use to organize information in a crowded, chaotic, and unknowable universe.

Also, sometimes we just don’t want to be surprised. Although the best books are unavoidably surprising; they surprise us every time.
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MIND MELD: The Books We Didn’t Love

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This week we asked about books you don’t love.

What books do people expect you to love or read, but you don’t?  Why?

This is what they had to say…

Jamie Todd Rubin
Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless living. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land was not the first Heinlein book I read. I started with what is still, in my mind, one of his best, Double Star. Nor was Stranger the second Heinlein book I read. Or the third. Or the fourth.

Indeed, back in the days when my interests in science fiction were broadening and I would occasionally talk to people about them, Heinlein would inevitably come up. “You should read Stranger In A Strange Land.” I must have been told this a dozen times by a dozen different people. I even tried reading the book, but on two occasions, spaced years apart, I simply couldn’t get very far into it. I felt terribly guilty about this. Something must be wrong me. It seemed everyone who ever read a book had read and loved Stranger. But not me. I couldn’t even get through it.

It wasn’t Heinlein. Couldn’t be, right? I went on to read and enjoy Heinlein’s future history in The Past Through Tomorrow. I read and loved Podkayne of Mars. I read Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers and found those entertaining. (Although both movies were appallingly bad.) I adored Friday and The Door Into Summer.

It finally took jury duty for me to get through Stranger. In the fall of 2000, in a cavernous room within a Hollywood courthouse, I battled my way through Heinlein’s tour de force. And before my jury service was up, I’d managed to finally finish the book.

And hated it. Just plain didn’t like it. To this day, when asked if I’ve read Stranger, I reply with a world-weary, “Of course. I read it while suffering through jury duty in the fall of 2000.”

“And what did you think of it?”

And without skipping a beat, reply, “I couldn’t be picked for a jury soon enough. My how I suffered through that book!”

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MIND MELD: Storytelling in Video Games

Video games are an evolution of the human tradition of storytelling. It began as tales told around a fire, progressed into images painted on walls, developed into text printed on paper, and advanced to moving pictures accompanied by sound. Video games take story telling a step farther. The audience is no longer a passive spectator, but is instead an active participant in the story being told. Often authors are tapped to write tie-in fiction for popular video game franchises, and sometimes they are even hired on to help craft compelling stories for the games themselves.

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: How do you feel about the state of storytelling in video games? What do developers do right? What could they be doing better? What games do you think tell excellent stories?

Here’s what they said…

William C. Dietz
New York Times bestselling author William C. Dietz has published more than forty novels some of which have been translated into German, French, Russian, Korean and Japanese.

If it was easy to write good games everyone would do it.

There was a time when killing aliens, monsters, and bad guys was enough. But not anymore. Now gamers want good writing too!

Yeah, yeah, I know. There are lots of games that don’t involve shooting things. And that’s good. But since I don’t play those games my expertise (such as it is) relates to shooting aliens, monsters and bad guys. And I believe good writing and good game play can coexist.

But before I get into that I should divulge that my perspective has been shaped by writing tie-in novels for franchises like Star Wars, Halo, Starcraft, Hitman, Resistance, and Mass Effect.

I’ve written games too, including Sony’s RESISTANCE: Burning Skies with Mike Bates, and the LEGION OF THE DAMNED® ios game with Conlan Rios. But I have never been a full-time employee of a gaming studio–so my knowledge is limited to what I have seen from the outside looking in.
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MIND MELD: Strong Women in SF/F

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This one is for the ladies! In the past few years we’ve seen the rise of some pretty kick-ass (physical and otherwise) women in SF/F and Urban Fantasy, and I thought it might be fun for the ladies to weigh in on what they think of the evolution of women in fantasy, what “strong” means to them, and also include some examples of strong women in fiction that have caught their eye! I want the guys involved too, so please don’t be afraid to weigh in in the comments!

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: With the recent popularity of kick-ass ladies in fiction, especially in urban fantasy, how do you see the evolution of women in scifi/fantasy in general, and what are your thoughts on the future of women in fiction? Feel free to add some of your favorite strong women of fiction, past or present, to your answer!

Here’s what they said…

Linnea Sinclair

Linnea Sinclair is a former news reporter and retired private detective who yearns for more adventure than ‘Hold the presses!’ and stacks of case files can provide. The role of starship captain was her dream long before James T ever uttered “Beam me up!” Writing stories is her way of living that dream. When she’s not tinkering with a recalcitrant sublight drive, you can find her in southwest Florida (winters) or central Ohio (summers) living with her very patient husband, Robert Bernadino and their thoroughly spoiled cats!

I think that, to a great extent, SFF pioneered the stronger female character, so as far as the evolution of women in SFF, we’re to some extent “there” already. That “there” has now flowed over into other genres, like mystery, romance, and the cross-genres such as urban fantasy, SFR, etc.. But does this mirror changes in society or is society mimicking its favorite reads? I’m not qualified to answer that. I know there’ve been articles done on the influence of Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura on female fans’ decision to pursue the sciences. Wikipedia and Helium are two of many sites that reference the character’s impact on Dr Mae Jemison’s career. And I’ve received many emails from fans citing one of my female characters as “role models” for their own lives; one fan told me how she deliberately channeled Captain Chasidah Bergren (GABRIEL’S GHOST, SHADES OF DARK) in order to take control of a particularly difficult corporate meeting.

What I do hope to see is more women reading science fiction, and I think that will come from the genre promoting strong lead female characters.

As for my own list of fave kick-ass femmes (in no particular order as I’m right now two-finger typing around a large cat sprawled on my laptop keyboard…): Tanya Huff’s Torin Kerr, Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares, Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax, Elizabeth Moon’s Kylara Vatta, Julie Czerneda’s Sira, Sara Creasy’s Edie Sha’nim, PJ Schnyder’s Kat Darah, Marianne de Pierres’ Parrish Plessis… then there are fabulous secondary female characters in books by R.M. Meluch, Ian Douglas, Jack Campbell…and that’s just for starters.

Totally out of the genre, I can recommend Laurie R King’s Mary Russell Holmes character. Brilliant!

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MIND MELD: SF/F Items on Our Holiday Wishlists

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It’s the holidays, which means it’s time for holiday lists! We’re not above generating interesting lists, so this week’s question is:

Q: Which SF/F-related Items are on your Holiday wish list? Why?

Here’s how this week’s panelists replied..

Connie Willis
Connie Willis‘s most recent books are the time-travel opus, Blackout and All Clear (it’s one book in two volumes), which is partly set at Christmas, and All About Emily, also set at Christmas, and with Rockettes! Last May, she had the very great honor to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction. Right now she’s working on a new Christmas story called “Now Showing,” which will be in George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Rogues and on a novel about telepathy, tentatively called Connection.

I just asked my brother for an extra DVD copy of the British TV show Primeval so that I could loan it out to all the people I’m constantly attempting to convince to watch it. (I refuse to part with my own as I watch it all the time!) It’s absolutely my favorite SF TV show ever! It’s about a team of dinosaur hunters in modern London (I know, I know, but trust me) who are dealing not only with velociraptors but also the government, the need to keep the whole thing secret, team stresses and strains (and romances), a really awful villain. It’s got everything I love–irony, humor, romantic comedy, Andrew Lee Potts, and best of all, a real ending. The show ran 5 seasons (short British seasons) and wrapped everything up with a really emotionally satisfying ending, so no being left hanging like lots of cancelled series we gave our hearts to and/or screwing up the ending, like, say, Torchwood. I’m also giving Primeval to the few people I haven’t already given it to, and a Dr. Who ornament of K-9 to my secretary, who introduced me to the joys of Dr. Who. I would also recommend Dr. Who seasons as great Christmas gifts. It’s on my wish list, too. As for book ideas, I’m currently reading a collection of Jack Finney’s short stories–his time travel stories are wonderful!
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MIND MELD: Great Books to Read During Winter

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This week, in time for the change of season, we asked about Winter:

In the Northern Hemisphere, the weather is turning colder, and the season of Winter is upon us. What are your favorite genre stories and novels that revolve around the coldest season. How do they make use of the season, and how do they evoke it?
This is what they had to say…
Gwenda Bond
Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood, was a September 2012 launch title for Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. Her next novel, The Woken Gods, will be released in July 2013. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online, and has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie. Visit her online at her website (www.gwendabond.com) or on twitter (@gwenda).

The first novel that leaps to mind is Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness. It’s a wonderfully bizarre tour de force about a girl, Sym, who is obsessed with all things Antarctic, including her imaginary boyfriend, the deceased Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates. Her mad “uncle” takes her on a once in a lifetime trip there, which turns out to be a nightmare. He believes in the hollow Earth theory and that they will prove it’s true. Along the way, McCaughrean masterfully reveals more and more about Sym’s own past and her phony uncle. Sym’s voice is arresting despite how very in her own head she is—and it’s perhaps because of how that works with a backdrop that is spectacularly isolated and physically challenging. Some people may argue this isn’t a true fantasy, but I would debate them (citing spoilers), and regardless of which of us won I maintain it’d still be of interest to many genre readers because of the hollow Earth fringe science driving the plot.

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Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas was published in 1987, the first book written of what would come to be known as the Culture sequence (or cycle). Released just this year, The Hydrogen Sonata marks the tenth book in the long running, award winning Space Opera series. But what makes for a good Culture novel, what is the secret to Banks’ longevity?

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: In celebration of Iain Banks’ CULTURE series, what do you think sets this work apart from other space opera fiction? What specifically makes for a good CULTURE novel and why?

Here’s what they said…

John Scalzi
John Scalzi has opposable pinkies.

I’m going to be honest and note that the reason that I read the Culture novels are not for the stories themselves — which are very good, mind you — but because I like wandering around the books like a tourist, gawking at all the cool shit that’s in the Culture. So I suppose what I really want is an “encyclopedia of The Culture” sort of book with pretty pictures and maps and a timeline and crap like that. Which is the exact opposite of a novel. I’m not sure if this makes me a bad reader of Culture novels or just a highly specialized one. What I do know is that I’m always looking out for the next one. So for me, what makes a good Culture novel is that Iain Banks has finished it and his publisher has offered it up for me to buy.
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MIND MELD MAKEUP-Optimistic Scenarios for Our Future World by Paul Levinson

We have a late lost entry to this week’s Mind Meld where we asked:

Q: It’s not unusual to hear negative things about what the future might bring for the Earth and humankind, and dystopian narrative certainly makes for entertaining futuristic sci-fi scenarios (environmental disaster, overuse of technology, etc). In the spirit of optimism and hope, what are a few of your far future scenarios that speak to the possible positive aspects of our evolving relationship with our world?

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You hear new stories every day: humans are ruining the planet. If we don’t do something now, we’ll certainly destroy the world for our children. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction is wildly popular, and for good reason! These scenarios, while bleak, are also exciting and offer the opportunities for lots of what-ifs. However, in the spirit of optimism, I wanted to explore some future scenarios that offer hope and a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: It’s not unusual to hear negative things about what the future might bring for the Earth and humankind, and dystopian narrative certainly makes for entertaining futuristic sci-fi scenarios (environmental disaster, overuse of technology, etc). In the spirit of optimism and hope, what are a few of your far future scenarios that speak to the possible positive aspects of our evolving relationship with our world?

Here’s what they said…

Brenda Cooper
Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction writer and a futurist. She is the author of The Silver Ship and the Sea, Reading the Wind, Wings of Creation, Mayan December, and her newest novel, The Creative Fire, was just released by Pyr.

We are backing into Eden. I’ll actually be delivering a talk about this at the next World Future Society meeting in Chicago in the summer of 2013.

I have always been an optimist. It IS a little tough to pull that off right now, but there is still reason for hope. I know that climate change is a common topic, and you’ll get more than this post on it. But I do think we can get better at taking care of our world than we are now. The just-past election is one example. President Barak Obama mentioned climate change in his acceptance speech (after it had been off the radar all election). Here in Washington State, we just elected a rabidly pro-environment Governor, Jay Inslee. In fast, the US elected five people who are expected to drive change in this area. In addition to Jay, there are two new senators and two new congressional representatives who get it. Our city just passed a levy that funds, among other things, a program called Green Kirkland that is about support for our beautiful local environment. Katrina was a knock on the door. Sandy was a louder wake-up call.

The trick is that we are past the first tipping point – the climate is going to keep on warming even if we shut off all of the carbon spigots tomorrow. Success now looks like slowing and eventually stopping or even (maybe!) reversing the trends that are putting us in mortal danger right now. We caused a lot of this problem, and as ill-equipped as we are, we will have to help mitigate it. In addition to gaining at least some of the policymakers that we need, there is significant progress being made on important fronts: Electric cars, higher emission standards, more efficient buildings, green energy, better batteries. We are also gaining deeper understanding the world through big data modeling. We have the Internet. We have increasingly specific and high quality mapping and sensor nets. We can intervene on some levels, and we’re going to have to.

We have the communication tools to support what we’re going to need to do. If we could turn these tools to unseat bad governments all over the world last spring, and to occupy our own ill-behaved banking system, we can use the power of the Internet to spread ideas and action on climate. All we need is focus. Hurricane Sandy was a focus point. The heat waves were focusers. There will be more on the way. It will take some pain, some death, and a lot of action, but we can transform our relationship with the planet. That may leave us as the tenders of the garden in more ways than we want, but it is a path to success.

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The movie The Princess Bride is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2012. Next year, by the way, the William Goldman novel that inspired it will turn 40, another landmark to be celebrated by fans worldwide.

So, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: How has The Princess Bride influenced today’s fantasy writers?

Here’s what they said…

Rachel Caine
Rachel Caine is the New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including the immensely popular Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series.

The Princess Bride was the first movie I’d seen that was able to take fantasy, give it a gorgeous look and feel, add a snarky, humorous edge and NOT fall over into broad comedy … the jokes were razor sharp, the acting was brilliant, the fencing was Old Hollywood fantastic. And let’s face it, who among us hasn’t said, “Have fun storming the castle!” or, “Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!” … or, my personal favorite, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya …”

In fact, I think Inigo Montoya formed the basis of what I wanted in a character — someone with a tragic past, a sense of humor, a wicked talent for mayhem, and the ability, when the moment of truth came, to shed all of that and convey the fury and passion inside.

It was a watershed for much that came after its release — suddenly, writers in fantasy felt free of the old constraints. Fantasy could be epic without being humorless, and it could be funny without falling into slapstick. It set a solid middle course that allowed fantasy to be seen as thrilling, funny and romantic all at the same time — a feat that Joss Whedon would repeat years later for the paranormal genre.

It’s quite simply my favorite fantasy movie of all time. So excuse me, but I need to go watch it again …
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MIND MELD: The New Future For Star Wars

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The big news from last week was the acquisition of LucasFilm by Disney, giving the Mouse control of Star Wars and many other properties. While fans everywhere cheer the idea of no more Lucas mucking about with the films, another bit of news dropped that doesn’t seem to be getting as much play. Several decades after Lucas first floated the idea, Disney will be making three more episodes in the Star Wars saga, with episode 7 slated to land in 2015. Since this is apparently going to happen, our question is:

Q: What do you want to see from the new Star Wars movies in terms of stories? Do you have anyone you’d like to direct the movies or star in them?

Here’s what they said…
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MIND MELD: The Intersection Between Gothic Horror and Urban Fantasy

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This week, just in time for Halloween, we asked our distinguished panelists about Gothic and Urban Fantasy…

The theme of this year’s World Fantasy Convention is “Northern Gothic and Urban Fantasy”. The thesis is that Urban Fantasy represents the new Gothic; castles and haunted locations have been replaced by the Modern City.

Q: How do you see the intersection between Gothic Horror and modern Urban Fantasy? How connected are these two genres in your mind?

This is what they had to say…

Lyda Morehouse
Lyda Morehouseis the author of the Archangel Protocol novels, most recently Resurrection Code, out from Mad Norwegian Press. She also writes novels as Tate Halloway. Check out LydaMorehouse.com to find out more about her and her work.

I suppose if you go back far enough, this is a valid theory. It doesn’t, however, happen to be mine. Probably because I’m not literate enough. I’m not sure I’ve read a single book that Michael Ashley or John Clute references in their essays.
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MIND MELD: Current SF/F TV Shows We Are Watching

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This week we asked our panelists the following questions:

Q: What SF/F shows are you currently watching? Is there a show, or shows, that you think more people should watch and why?

Several people bowed out citing the fact they don’t watch TV, or even have a TV (which is laudable yet amazing). I think that’s an indictment on the current state of SF/F on TV…

Here is what they said:

Terry Weyna
Terry Weyna blogs for Fantasy Literature, and is particularly engaged with her Magazine Monday column there, in which she reviews short fiction.

I’m enjoying Once Upon a Time. I do wish ABC weren’t using so much of the Disneyfied characters, though; when Mulan showed up recently, I groaned. I’ve also been known to watch Grimm, though I still have a bunch of episodes from last season on my DVR, waiting for me to get to them. I’m tempted to give 666 Park Avenue a try as well.
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MIND MELD: Holding out for a Hero

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

On SF Signal Mind Melds, we’ve discussed Anti-Heroes, Villains, and
Sidekicks. It’s been a while since we tackled straight up heroes.So, this week we asked about heroes:

What makes a hero (or heroine) a hero instead of merely a protagonist? Is the idea of a straight up hero old fashioned or out of date in this day and age?

This is what they had to say…

Emma Newman
Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her debut short-story collection From Dark Places was published in 2011 and 20 Years Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults, was released early 2012. The first book of Emma’s new Split Worlds urban fantasy series called Between Two Thorns will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2013. She is represented by Jennifer Udden at DMLA. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

For me, a hero is someone who actively works to achieve a goal for the good of others when there is a risk of losing something, ranging from a peaceful existence to their own life. Perseverance is critical; a hero persists in their heroic endeavour far beyond the point where most people would give up. Most wouldn’t even try in the first place.

As for whether a hero is old-fashioned; no. The portrayal of heroes (i.e massively flawed as opposed to nothing more than bravery in a bap) changes to fit the needs and sophistication of the audience. However, the basic need to see someone being more than we are – but everything we could be – is eternal.

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An addendum to this week’s Mind Meld where we asked:

Q: If you were creating the syllabus for a high school (junior or senior) English Literature course, what SF/F stories do you think should be included?

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MIND MELD: SF/F Stories For English Lit Class

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

Last week I attended my son’s high school’s open house. In the English Literature class we were informed that the kids had started reading the Arthur Miller play The Crucible which the kids would enjoy because, in the teacher’s words, “It’s got witches and adultery.” Many SF/F stories have those elements (if not in the same form) but, of course, there is nary a SF/F book on the agenda for the year. And in any case, stories can be interesting to teenagers without either or both.

Q: If you were creating the syllabus for a high school (junior or senior) English Literature course, what SF/F stories do you think should be included?

Here’s what they said…

Kristine Smith
Kristine Smith was born in Buffalo, NY. She grew up in Florida, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a BS in Chemistry. She has spent almost her entire working career in manufacturing/R&D of one kind or another, and has worked for the same northern Illinois pharmaceutical company for 25 years. She is the winner of the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and is the author of the Jani Kilian SF series as well as a number of short stories. She is currently working on several projects, and wishes she possessed a time-turner.

My list is by no means extensive or complete, but I thought of stories that contained elements of North American–Mexican, Appalachian–folklore, or that discussed current events and issues–struggles with religion in everyday life, culture clashes and war, discrimination–in ways that weren’t preachy.

Elizabeth Moon: “Knight of Other Days” — one of my favorite stories by Moon. When I first read it, I got the sense of a subtle Twilight Zone/Outer Limits-type tale, grounded in the setting of a Texas border town. The blend of history, mystery, influence of Mexican culture, and legend of the Knights Templar combine to form a multi-layered tale.

Terry Pratchett: Small Gods, Jingo, Feet of Clay — religion, culture clash/war, discrimination, set in a world different enough from ours to qualify as fantasy yet similar enough to equate to everyday life, news headlines. One of Pratchett’s many writing gifts.

Manly Wade Wellman: John the Balladeer tales, esp “Vandy, Vandy” — the Southern/Appalachian folklore, and the sense of how events in history can take on a fantasy spin when some details are scrambled and others are associated with magical intervention. And in “Vandy, Vandy,” there’s a witch! Well, a warlock. And a King, of sorts.
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