MIND MELD: How to Avoid The Suck Fairy of Re-Reads

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This week we asked our participants to talk about the perils of re-reading. Going back to a book read in one’s golden age of SF reading can be a fraught exercise. Characters we thought we wonderful can turn out to be wooden. Settings we thought diverse and open turn out to be monochromatic. Plots that enthralled us can seem facile. Books we enjoyed can be rife with questionable material. Writers whose work we loved can turn out to be terrible human beings.

Q: Let’s talk about Jo Walton’s “Suck fairy”. How do you find the process of re-reading a book? How does a re-read of a book change your initial bliss and happiness with the book? Do you have any strategies for avoiding disappointment? What books have managed to escape the suck fairy for you?

Here’s what they said…

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BOOK REVIEW: The Diamond Deep by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second half of the Ruby’s Song duology continues the weighty themes of the first novel and continues the focus on character drama.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Creative Fire, generation ship and home to Ruby and her fellow crew, returns back to its home solar system and finds itself embroiled in power struggles on the eponymous space station.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Continues the strong character-based fiction and evocation of themes of the previous novel; stands well on its own despite being the second part of a duology.
CONS: Some world building elements feel underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to Ruby’s Song.
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I’ve been watching authors use Kickstarter for about two years now. Perhaps the best hand I’ve seen at this game is Brad Beaulieu, who kickstarted both the third novel of a series, The Flames of Shaddam Koreh, and his collection, Lest our Passage be Forgotten.

I’ve invited Brad into this guest post to ask him a few questions…


BRENDA COOPER: Both of your Kickstarters funded easily, at well over the asking price. How did you decide what to ask for, and do you think starting low helped you succeed?
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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 is the (not-final) cover and synopsis for Brenda Cooper’s upcoming novel The Diamond Deep, the second book of the Ruby’s Song trilogy (following The Creative Fire) releasing October 8, 2013.

Here’s the synopsis:
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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author Brenda Cooper

Brenda Cooper is the Chief Information Officer of Kirkland, WA by day and a Science Fiction writer by night. Her stories appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld and anthologies including Fast Forward and Footprints. She’s also headlining my forthcoming space opera anthology Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age, due out in November 2013. Her novels include Building Harlequin’s Moon with Larry Niven, The Silver Ship and The Sea and two sequels. Her last appearance was to discuss Mayan December. Her debut at Pyr Books is The Creative Fire, first in a new duology, Ruby’s Song. She can be found on twitter as @BrendaCooper, on Facebook and via her website at brenda-cooper.com.


SFFWRTCHT: We talked about this before but briefly, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?

Brenda Cooper: I’ve always read SF and F. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love, Herbert’s Dune, Madeline L’Engle, Arthur C. Clarke, Nancy Kress, L. Frank Baum’s original Oz. I’m also interested in science and the future. I think those matter.
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I have had lovely covers. Prior to The Creative Fire, my best cover story was when publisher Sean Wallace told me he wanted to buy Mayan December by sending me the cover art (by Scott Grimando) and asking if I thought it would go with the book.  In every other case, I gave input about cover ideas on a basic form, but actually learned what the covers looked like by spotting them on Amazon. My experience with John Picacio’s stunning cover for The Creative Fire has been very different.  My belief is that the support we have each provided the other in talking about the book and the art benefited us both greatly.

I knew John, but not well. We had been introduced at conventions, had talked at parties, and would have recognized each other walking down the street, but we had never had a private conversation that lasted more than two minutes.  I admired his work.  I own his art book, Cover Story: The art of John Picacio. A signed print of his Asimov’s cover, Away from Here hangs on my office wall among other pieces of science fiction art.

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I’m glad to be back guest-posting at SF signal.  This time, I’m interviewing Ramez Naam about his new novel, Nexus, out from Angry Robot Books on December 18th.  Full disclosure: I’ve already read this book twice even though most of you haven’t been able to get it yet. I met Ramez at a Seattle-area gathering of futurists the day that Wings of Creation came out, so maybe it was destiny that we would both stay loosely connected in the fabulous Seattle ecosystem of authors, futurists, and many of us who are both.

So here is my conversation with Ramez:


BRENDA COOPER: I’m very pleased to see Nexus becoming a real book.  Ever since I read an early manuscript draft, I’ve been excited about the possibility that more people would be able to read this. So for starters, congratulations.

RAMEZ NAAM: Thank you!

BC: For any fans or followers of SF Signal, this really is a must-read book.  Most trans-humanist fiction is phenomenally interesting for techno geeks like me, but Nexus is a uniquely human and character driven thriller as well as a brilliant rendering of a believable future.  It should interest fans of Michael Crichton, Greg Bear, David Brin, or Charlie Stross alike.

I’d like to start with a question about the genesis of one of the main characters.  Kade is a near-perfect archetype of the starry-eyed and idealistic young men and women who work in tech and science.  What models did you use when you created him?

RN: *Laughs*  Well, I have to confess to one of the great sins of writing, in that there’s at least a little bit of me in Kade, or maybe me as I was when I was younger.  He’s a lot smarter than I am, but probably more naïve and more awkward.  But I really wanted to have a protagonist who, aside from being extremely bright, was really just an everyman.  He’s never been shot at before. He had a normal childhood.  He’s thrown into situations way beyond his depths, and he has to figure out both how to cope with the stress of people trying to kill him, and how to figure out what the morally right thing to do is when he’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: Cooper marries the classic SF trope of a Generation Starship to an intensely character-driven drama with a fascinating main character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ruby Martin, bot technician trainee on a class-riven generation starship, struggles for freedom and the rights of her underclass peers.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Captivating main character; strong character-focused story with strong themes; stunning cover art.
CONS: A couple of Ruby’s relationships feel a bit false.
BOTTOM LINE: The Creative Fire is a powerful opening half to a planned diptych of novels.

Ruby Martin lives on The Creative Fire, a generation starship, making its way between the stars. As one of the underclass, called ‘greys’ by the classes above her, she feels she is destined to live out her life as a robot technician quietly toiling away, unappreciated and unnoticed, in the bowels of the ship.  An accident exposes Ruby to the world above. At the same time, the shakeup caused by the accident provides Ruby with the opportunity to try and reach that greater world. Little does Ruby realize that her gifts are stronger than she suspects, and her charisma, voice, thirst for knowledge, and potential leadership skills are perhaps more powerful than any weapon on board the ship, if she is only allowed the chance to use them.

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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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Brenda Cooper is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her next novel is The Creative Fire from Pyr Books, a story that explores revolution on a generation ship through the eyes of a young woman who helps bring her people to freedom through the power of her voice. Find out more about The Creative Fire and Brenda’s other works at www.Brenda-cooper.com.

Science Fiction and the Futurist

While science fiction is not always either an accurate predictor or creator of the future, some books lend themselves particularly well to exploration of possible futures.  As someone who is both a futurist and a science fiction writer, I often delight in the careful and well-researched futures that show up as setting and story in modern SF.  I’m going to explore three books that do this well.  One is freshly out from a major publisher, anther is a bit older, and a third is a self-published collection of stories that appeared in Analog.

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John Picacio and Brenda Cooper have revealed John’s close-to-final cover art for Brenda’s upcoming novel The Creative Fire, the first book in a new series. [7/20 UPDATE: updated with final cover image ] Brenda has also shared the synopsis as well:

Ruby Martin expects to spend her days repairing robots while avoiding the dangerous peacekeeping forces that roam the corridors of the generation ship The Creative Fire. The social structure of the ship is rigidly divided, with Ruby and her friends on the bottom. Then a ship-wide accident gives Ruby a chance to fight for the freedom she craves. Her enemies are numerous, well armed, and knowledgeable. Her weapons are a fabulous voice, a quick mind, and a deep stubbornness. Complicating it all-an unreliable AI and an enigmatic man she met-and kissed — exactly once — who may hold the key to her success. If Ruby can’t transform from a rebellious teen to the leader of a revolution, she and all her friends will lose all say in their future.

Like the historical Evita Peron, Ruby rises from the dregs of society to hold incredible popularity and power. Her story is about love and lust and need and a thirst for knowledge and influence so deep that it burns.

Book info as per Amazon US:

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr (November 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616146842
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616146849

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

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: With American Independence Day near, the topic of Independence and Revolutions in Genre is what SF Signal is interested in. From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to The Quiet War, political revolutions are a common theme and staple in genre fiction. What are your favorite stories and novels exploring the themes of revolution and Independence? How do those works explore that theme?

Here’s what they said…

Joshua Bilmes
Joshua Bilmesis the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, and has been an agent for prominent sf/fantasy writers for almost 30 years, including Charlaine Harris, Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett, “Jack Campbell,” Elizabeth Moon, Simon R. Green, Tanya Huff, and many more.

When I think of a great novel about a revolution I think immediately of Harry Harrison’s To the Stars trilogy, which I first read in an SF Book Club omnibus decades ago and which I’ve unhesitatingly recommended over the years to authors who want to write great action SF. Revolutions are a serious business, and they often don’t turn out as planned. We can see that today in looking at what’s happened in Egypt over the past year, as one example where the initial joy and excitement of overthrow gives way to the counterrevolution and the difficulties of switching from a revolutionary mindset to one where compromise might need to be made in taking actual power in society. But there is that joy. There are the people who have to plot a revolution and stay one step ahead of the established tyranny. There are the people who have to be the foot soldiers, perhaps risking all including their lives to fight for what they believe in. That’s what a certain kind of fiction is about, people striving against impossible odds to do what everyone says could never be done. And yes, when you do it, there is a moment of real joy and real elation and real happiness, however short that moment may be. Harrison’s To The Stars trilogy may be heavy on the romance of it all, it is a quick action sf read, but should we object in our fiction to getting to experience the romance of it all without having to worry about the reality, for a few passing hours at least?

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Where and how people (fans, reviewers and authors alike) were first introduced to genre often gives insight into how they think and write about genre. With that in mind, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Where, when and how were you introduced to Fantasy and Science Fiction?

Here’s what they said…

James MacDonald
James D. Macdonald is an author of over 35 fantasy and science fiction novels, often in collaboration with his wife Debra Doyle.

My dad introduced me to genre. He’d been what I guess you’d call a fan since the 1920s. The specific incident I recall was when he took me to the White Plains (New York) Public Library, back when I was in first or second grade, and we checked out Have Space Suit Will Travel and Sea Siege.

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Science fiction fans love new gadgets. The most recently hyped gadget is the Apple iPad. Sure, it’s sexy, but like any gadget, it has its pros and cons.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Do you own an Apple iPad? If so, what are the things you like and dislike about it? If not, are you thinking of getting one? Why or why not?

Here’s what they said.

Marie Brennan
Marie Brennan is the author of the Onyx Court series of historical fantasy novels: Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and the upcoming A Star Shall Fall. She has also published nearly thirty short stories. More information at www.swantower.com.

Full disclosure: my brother works on the iPad. Which doesn’t give me any special insights or advantages — I spent a year and a half not knowing what his job was, just that he’d been moved to a new team at Apple, before they announced the thing publicly — but if you want to read bias into this, go ahead.

I don’t own an iPad, and am not likely to buy one any time soon, for a variety of reasons: cost paired with lack of immediate pressing need, caution regarding the first generation of *anything*, etc. Having said that, when I saw the specs of the iPad, I admit it looked attractive, for two reasons.

Weight/size and battery life…

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Aliens are a classic trope dating back to the earliest days of science fiction, so we asked this year’s panelists this question:

Q: What are some of the best aliens in science fiction? What makes them superior to other extraterrestrial creations?

Here’s what they said…

Tobias S. Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction writer who grew up in Grenada, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has published stories in various magazines and anthologies. His novels include Crystal Rain, Sly Mongoose, Ragamuffin, and Halo: The Cole Protocol. He also has a short story collection titled Tides from the New Worlds.

I always thought the alien in The Thing was great, because at its heart, it deviated from the ‘actors with bumps on their forehead’ sort of approach you get in movies so much. A parasite, with some intelligence (it builds that spaceship out of spare parts), it really is quite a fun stretch that you don’t see too much of. It never communicates (language is already such a gulf between us, let alone something truly alien). You get a strong sense out of that movie that you’ve encountered something truly alien.

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The big news last week was the Amazon/Macmillan eBook Disagreement, so we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What’s your take on the Amazon/Macmillan eBook price disagreement and Amazon’s move to delist Macmillan books? What does this mean for publishers, authors and readers? Does this signal a change in the eBook market, and if so, what do you think is on the other side of this dispute?

Here’s what they said…

Nick Mamatas
Nick Mamatas is the author of two novels, and his third, Sensation, will be published by PM Press in 2011. With Ellen Datlow, he is the editor of the forthcoming anthology Haunted Legends, to be published by Tor (an imprint of Macmillan) in September 2010. His short story collection You Might Sleep… was called the work of “an amazing writer with a singularly unique (i.e. twisted) imagination” by the Barnes & Noble blog Unabashedly Bookish.

Same as it ever was. Amazon did this before, delisting various Print on Demand titles in an attempt to get those authors to sign up for its internal POD service. We also saw something similar with Apple, when music labels tried to pressure that company to do price maintenance. The “big issue” has less to do with ebooks or readers than with the simple fact that e-commerce allows for instant manipulations of pretend inventory. Ultimately, Amazon will start selling Macmillan books again. They’re not Dumpstering the books already in their warehouses, they’re just refusing to fill orders and will probably only do it for a few days. Amazon pays taxes on its real inventory even if pretends on its site that no such inventory exists.

Kindle and other dedicated readers are ultimately not going to take off for the simple reason that there aren’t enough people who read books voraciously enough to support a market for readers-they represent a $200 surcharge one must pay to be allowed to read. Publishing makes most of its money on the one or two books a year that people who only buy one or two books a year buy. Those people will skip the next Twilight or Atkins-style instant diet book or other phenomenon if it requires a special machine to read. Amazon’s attempt to save Kindle in the face of smartphones and tablets that do all sorts of things as well as allowing for reading will ultimately work about as well as its attempts to sell short fiction and articles for 49 cents (Amazon Shorts, failed), its attempt to corner the POD services market (not working), its attempt to get everyone to buy Segways (when was the last time you saw one under the feet of a civilian?) etc. Amazon is a company that spent years selling “Zen gardens” via mail order-these gardens were fish tanks full of rocks. It took the firm quite a while to figure out why they had to keep shipping and reshipping these things to customers, who’d end up with a box of shattered glass and just order a free replacement. Amazon STILL sells sledgehammers and ships them for free. Macmillan shouldn’t be overly worried and really neither should anyone else. This is slow news day stuff.

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There’s an overwhelming selection of appealing titles to choose from when it comes to reading science fiction, fantasy and horror books. Yet some titles float to the top of the pile, making them more immediate candidates for the next books you’ll read.

Q: What sf/f/h books are on the top of your “To-Be-Read” Pile?

Read on to see the tasty selections of this week’s panelists…

Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard is a writer who lives in Vancouver. In 2008, Subterranean Press published The Best of Lucius Shepard, a career retrospective. Shepard’s latest novels include Vacancy & Ariel, Viator Plus, and The Taborin Scale.

Art the top of my stack is Islington Crocodiles, the highly praised short fiction collection by the UK’s Paul Meloy. Intro by is by Graham Joyce. Really looking forward to that.

Next up: Strange Forces – The Stories of Leopoldo Lugones, a collection of fantastical stories from an Argentine writer released in 1906. Lugones is very well known in Latin America, almost unheard of here. He’s supposed to have been an eccentric a la Lovecraft and killed himself over a woman 30 years his junior by drinking a mixture of whiskey and cyanide.

Horacio Quiroga is a classic Latin American writer of extremely dark stories, some of which are included in The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories. A disciple of Poe, he lived a tormented life that included the suicide of one wife and desertion by his wife and child while enduring his final illness. Many of his stories are set in the jungle where much of his life was spent. Sounds like my kind of guy.

Lucy Snyder’s Spellbent — I’m not sure what this one is, a YA I guess, but it sounds like a blast. About hell coming to Ohio. Having played in a lot of Ohio’s armpit bars, I can relate.

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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, Part 2 and Part 3)…

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.

I was totally blown away by Robert Charles Wilson’s book Julian Comstock, which is about a post-peak-oil future in which Canada and the USA are ruled by a totalitarian family of religious fanatics, and the black sheep scion of a discredited branch of the family wants to–

Well, make movies, actually.

Other than that, my genre reading has been kind of sparse this year. I very much enjoyed Nisi Shawl’s Filter House and Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing. I also like Margaret Ronald’s Spiral Hunt, which is light but satisfying

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SF Tidbits for 10/2/09

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