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From Bilbo traveling to the lonely Mountain and Frodo’s journey to Mordor, to Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels having armies crossing fantasy continent after continent…the road trip, as it were, is a staple of science fiction and fantasy, particularly epic fantasy. See the scenery, meet interesting characters and explore the world! What could go wrong?

Q: What are your favorite “road trips” in science fiction and fantasy? What makes a good road trip in a genre story?

Here’s what they said.

Gail Z Martin
Gail Z Martin‘s latest novel is Ice Forged.

My favorite fictional road trips include Canterbury Tales, David Edding’s Belgariad books, and David Drake’s Lord of the Isles series.

A good road trip reveals hidden truths about the people who are traveling. If you’ve ever gone on a long car trip with friends or family, you know what I mean! You don’t really know someone until you’ve been stuck in a vehicle with them for 12 straight hours—or on a sailing ship on the high seas during a storm. Since things go wrong on long trips, they provide insight into resourcefulness and character. A really good “journey” story reveals the world and the characters simultaneously, while moving the story forward—no small feat!
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Here’s the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming novel Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

As the calendar rolls over to the beginning of another year, it brings with it the promise of new things and new beginnings. With that in mind, we asked this week’s panelists this question:

Q: What are your favorite beginning scenes from SF/F?

Here’s what they said:

Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele is the author of eighteen novels and five collections of short fiction; his work has received numerous awards, including three Hugos. His most recent novel is Hex; a young-adult SF novel, Apollo’s Outcasts, will be published by Pyr later this year.

I’m sure that most of my favorite opening scenes are from the same classics that many readers would recognize — the gom jabbar test in Dune; Louis Wu’s globe-hopping birthday trip in Ringworld; the introduction of Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land — so I won’t reiterate them. And while I have a number of favorite opening lines as well — a personal favorite is from Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide: “The bureaucrat fell from the sky” — they’re not quite the same thing as a good first scene, which — if done right — will pull the reader into the book.

A perfect example of both is the beginning of The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon. Here’s the first paragraph:

They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He’d been doing it for years.

Exactly what the kid — whose name is Horty — was doing is not immediately explained. If you’re like most readers, though, you’ve probably got a good idea … particularly when you’re told that his guardians (who are not his parents; they’re introduced later) were just as horrified as the school principal, the teachers, and the other kids. But it’s not until you’re a couple of pages into the book that you discover Horty was…

Eating ants.

So what did you think he was doing? And now that you’ve learned that it’s probably not what you were expecting, aren’t you interested in finding out why an eight-year-old boy was eating ants?

Sturgeon was a master storyteller, and he set up this scene beautifully. It is a textbook example of a perfect narrative hook.

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REVIEW: Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

REVIEW SUMMARY: A funny, fast read that mixes gods and mortals with excellent results.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young couple decides to worship Lucky, the raccoon god of prosperity, only to find that Lucky brings with him a whole lot of misfortune.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Interesting premise; lighthearted tone; writing style makes for swift reading; humorous without trying too hard to be funny.

CONS: This is probably nitpicking, but there were some missed opportunities for humor through character dialogue.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun read overall with several laugh-out-loud moments.

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What if Zeus was real?

Not in some abstract, incomprehensible way we tend to think of the divine, but in some genuine physical form. Not just a vague presence or an omnipotent watchmaker or even a warm, fuzzy feeling in your soul. No, I’m talking about a real guy who you might see walking down the street. For thousands of years, this was the conception of divine forces. Not as abstract ideas, but as people you could meet. They didn’t give two damns about faith because they didn’t need it. They were jealous, petty, cruel, and often clueless. In short, they were a lot like us.

This is where my novel, Divine Misfortune, sprang from. What if this ancient concept of gods was the world we still lived in today, and the gods of old were still part of our world? I’ve often heard people say they have a “personal relationship with God” (however they want to classify that), and it always brings two thoughts to my mind.

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This week, we turned our attention to SciFi television when we asked our panelists this question:

Q: Which off-the-air science fiction television show deserves a remake? What changes would you make to update it?

Here’s how they responded…

A. Lee Martinez
A. Lee Martinez is a writer you probably haven’t heard of but really should have. He is the author of Gil’s All Fright Diner, In the Company of Ogres, A Nameless Witch, The Automatic Detective, Too Many Curses, Monster and the upcoming Divine Misfortune. He credits comic books and Godzilla movies as his biggest influences, and thinks that every story is better with a dash of ninja.

I thought long and hard on this one, and with so many great candidates, it wasn’t easy. Manimal? The Night Stalker? Misfits of Science? Century City? Oh, the delightful possibilities. How can one man make such a controversial decision? Well, after much soul searching, meditation, and hours of telepathic communion with my ancient Martian spirit guide (his name is Jack), I can only find one worthy answer.

Darkwing Duck.

How would I update this classic show? Good question. I probably wouldn’t change it much. I’d give it a more action oriented update that wouldn’t lose the humor of the original. Something like Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Fun, retro, and sharp. I’d also expand Darkwing’s universe to include more superheroes and villains. In addition to the classics such as Liquidator, Bushroot, and Megavolt, I’d introduce new characters. And of course, you could never go wrong with a Gizmoduck team up on a fairly regular basis. All of this would inevitably lead to my ultimate spinoff series:

Justice Ducks Unlimited.

But one step at a time…

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SF Tidbits for 10/6/09

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Everyone loves a good bad guy, so we asked this week’s panelists the following:

Q: Who are the best bad guys in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror literature?

Read on to see the responses…

Cecelia Dart-Thornton

Australia author Cecilia Dart-Thornton was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, graduating from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. She became a schoolteacher before working as an editor, bookseller, illustrator and book designer. She started and ran her own business, but became a full-time writer in 2000 after her work was ‘discovered’ on the Internet and published by Time Warner (New York). Her novels include The Bitterbynde Trilogy (The Ill-Made Mute, The Lady of the Sorrows, and The Battle of Evernight), and The Crowthistle Chronicles (The Iron Tree, The Well of Tears, Weatherwitch, Fallowblade) among others.

For me the best bad guy (aside from Tolkien’s Morgoth and Sauron) is Tanith Lee’s ‘Azhrarn the Beautiful, Prince of Demons, Master of Night, one of five Lords of Darkness.’ While reading Lee’s Flat Earth series you can’t help loving him and hating him simultaneously. He can be totally despicable, yet frequently you find yourself on his side. Such ambiguity is refreshingly intriguing!

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SF Tidbits for 8/5/09

TIP: Follow SF Signal on Twitter and Facebook for additional tidbits not posted here!