MIND MELD: Our Favorite Dragons in Fantasy

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With the arrival of The Desolation of Smaug on movie screens, We asked this week’s panelists about the most iconic of fantasy creatures: Dragons.

Q: What makes dragons appealing? How do you use dragons in your own writing? What are your favorite depictions in fantasy?

This is what they said…

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MIND MELD: Food in Science Fiction versus Fantasy

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This week we asked about Food and Drink in SF.

Food and Drink in science fiction sometimes seems limited to replicator requests for Earl Grey tea and Soylent green discs. Why doesn’t do as much food as Fantasy? Does Fantasy lend itself more to food than Science fiction? Why?
This is what they had to say…
Laura Anne Gilman
Author and Freelance Editor Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy, as well as the story collection Dragon Virus. She also has written the mystery Collared under the pen name L.A. Kornetsky.

This will, I will admit, be a purely foodie view: I enjoy cooking, I enjoy eating, I enjoy reading about cooking and eating. And for a long time, it seemed as though we foodies were, if not the minority in genre, then certainly underserved.

There were the banquets in fantasy, of course, and the trail rations, and sometimes even a discussion of where the food came from, but – like bathroom breaks and sleeping – it often seemed tossed into the pile of “boring, don’t write about it.”

And science fiction? Mainly, science fiction mentioned food in context of technology: food-pills, space-age packets, vat-grown meat, etcetera. I suspect that many writers of the time had been heavily influenced by the early space program, and extrapolated their SF on the actual science. Surely, science fiction was saying, we had more important things to do than cook – or eat!

Even when they were dealing with an important, food-related issue (overcrowding, famine, etc), MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM made it a (very serious) punchline. So did “To Serve Man.” But scenes of characters preparing their food, or even enjoying it, were notably, if not entirely, absent.

(even CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY made the “too busy to eat” point with the 3-course-meal-gum…)
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In writing, point of View matters. So we asked a large handful of authors these questions:

Q: As you see it. What are the strengths and weaknesses, for character, worldbuilding and setting in using 1st or 3rd person (or even 2nd?) Omniscient or limited? And how about the time frame of the tense, past or present or even future?

What kinds of Point of view do you prefer to write in? What types of POV do you like to read?

A.M. Dellamonica
A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up on Tor.com: an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” and one from the cycle she mentioned above, called “Among the Silvering Herd”.  In October, watch Tor for a novelette, Wild Things, that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

As a reader, I’m up for anything. Just put me into someone else’s head, or at the very least transport me to their world, and I’m happy. And if something off-beat like second person is done well, as it is in John Scalzi’s Redshirts, briefly, I’ll even cheer. I also love epistolary POV tales–my favorite is Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, with its hard edges and amazing degeneration of its protagonist’s voice.

I write in past and present tense, mostly in first and a close third omniscient point of view. I’m daunted by omniscient; I don’t mind admitting it. I have the idea that I ‘should’ learn to master this one day and perhaps I will, but I haven’t had a project that’s right for it yet and I haven’t had the space or inclination to say “What kind of project would rock in full-bore, hard-core, omniscient POV?”

My current project is a cascade of third person POV tales, set on a world called Stormwrack. I get to head-hop a lot: I hope, soon, to write something through the eyes of one of this universe’s most challenging, slippery characters. I’m daunted by that, too, but looking forward to the challenge.

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Very rarely does a short fiction anthology score a home run with every single story it contains. Tastes differ from reader to reader. We asked this week’s participants to play the role of Editor:

Q: If you could publish a short fiction anthology containing up to 25 previously-published sf/f/h stories, which stories would it include and why?

Here’s what they said:

Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of 26 books of SF, fantasy, and writing advice. Her most recent novel is Steal Across the Sky (Tor, 2009), an SF novel about a crime committed by aliens against humanity 10,000 years ago – for which they would now like to atone. Her fiction has won multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

I teach SF often and have never been able to find the exact anthology I want to teach! This would be it. I know there are many wonderful stories I left out either because I had no room (you limited me to 25) or haven’t read them. There are also great writers whose novels I prefer to their short fiction. But this anthology would be a joy to teach.

  1. “Sandkings” by George R.R. Martin
  2. “Nine Lives” by Ursula K. LeGuin
  3. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” by James Tiptree, Jr.
  4. “Morning Child” by Gardner Dozois
  5. “Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson
  6. “A Braver Thing” by Charles Sheffield
  7. “We See Things Differently” by Bruce Sterling
  8. “Firewatch” by Connie Willis
  9. “The Faithful Companion at Forty” by Karen Joy Fowler
  10. “Baby Makes Three” by Theodore Sturgeon
  11. “Continued on the Next Rock” by R.A. Lafferty
  12. “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ
  13. “For I Have Touched the Sky” by Mike Resnick
  14. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
  15. “Dead Worlds” by Jack Skillingstead
  16. “Divining Light” by Ted Kosmatka
  17. “Blood Music” by Greg Bear
  18. “The Undiscovered” by William Sanders
  19. “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester
  20. “The Star” by Arthur Clarke
  21. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman
  22. “Daddy’s World” by Walter Jon Williams
  23. “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  24. “Lincoln Train” by Maureen McHugh
  25. “Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel L. Delaney

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“Best of the Year” lists start appearing as early as November, so we are perhaps a little late in asking folks around the community:

Q: What were the best genre-related books, movies and/or shows you consumed in 2009?

[Also added was this note: They don't have to have been released in 2009. Feel free to choose any combination of genres (science fiction/fantasy/horror) and media (books/movies/shows) you wish to include.]

Read on to see their picks (and also check out Part 1 and Part 2)…

Paolo Bacigalupi
Paolo Bacigalupi is a four-time Hugo Award nominee, a Theodore Sturgeon Award winner, and the author of the Locus Award-winning collection Pump Six and Other Stories. His latest novel is The Windup Girl from Night Shade Books.

I’m not sure about the best answer to this question. I must be feeling a little depressed right now. Perhaps I’d suggest this:

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity, by James Hansen.

It’s not genre-related at all, and that seems somehow telling. One hopes that science writers aren’t about to trump science fiction writers as the people who actively look at the world around us and speculate about its ramifications.

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We always remember our first. (Yes, I’m talking about reading!) We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What book introduced you to science fiction?

Check below to see their responses. And tell us what book got you started!

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

Back when I was 9 or 10 years old, I was reading one of the EC horror comics, and my mother chanced to look over my shoulder, and it must have been a typically gruesome EC panel that she saw, because she ripped it out of my hands and took it away from me.

I argued that this was censorship, which she had always told me she was against, and she, dancing on the head of a pin, explained that it wasn’t censorship because the pictures would give me nightmares, and that she would never think of censoring my reading, just my looking (which, she pointed out, Hollywood’s code did all the time and no adults objected, or at least not any she knew of), and I could buy any horror book I wanted, just no more horror comics.

I went right out to the bookstore with a quarter clutched in my outraged little hand. I’m sure she thought I’d pick up something like Frankenstein, which is all but unreadable to the average ten-year- old…but instead I bought the first “horror” title I came across, which was the Groff Conklin anthology, Science Fiction Terror Tales. I still remember the first three stories: Ray Bradbury’s “Punishment Without Crime”; Fred Brown’s “Arena”; and Bob Sheckley’s “The Leech”. By the time I had read them, I was hooked on science fiction — and I remain hooked to this very day.

So I am now 58 novels, 14 collections, 236 stories, 2 screenplays, 1 comic book, 163 articles and essays, and 47 edited anthologies into my science fiction career, all thanks an unread horror comic and a read-again-and-again-and-again science fiction anthology.

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