MIND MELD: Books That Carried Us Outside Our Comfort Zone

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This week we asked our participants to talk about reading out of their comfort zone…

The right kind of author, and the right kind of book, can lure readers to try subgenres of fiction and genre fiction that they wouldn’t normally think to try. These authors and books lure unwitting readers into trying and embracing a new subgenre by virtue of being well-written, subverting genre expectations, and sometimes being a case of a favored author trying a new subgenre and following her into it.

Q: What authors and books have gotten you to try new subgenres of fiction and genre fiction?

Here’s what they said…

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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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MIND MELD: What Places Inspire Your Worldbuilding?

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Places. Be it distant cities, or even beyond Earth entirely, strange, unusual and beautiful places can inspire creativity and ideas for stories and novels.

Q: What places, on Earth or beyond, inspire worldbuilding in your writing? What appeals to you about them? Share!
Philippa Ballantine
New Zealand author Philippa Ballantine, is a fantasy writer and podcaster. Her novels Geist, Spectyr, Hunter and Fox and Phoenix Rising; a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel (co-written with Tee Morris) span many speculative fiction genres. Her works have won an Airship and a Sir Julius Vogel Award, and been in the Goodreads Top Science Fiction books of 2011. Her newest book will be Hunter and Fox, a Shifted World novel, from Pyr.

New Zealand has been my inspiration. Even though it is home there are still places there that I cannot get out of my mind.

Everyone thinks of New Zealand as beautiful and green, but there are places that are far different. They did film Mordor in New Zealand too!

The desert plateau right in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand is a pretty bleak, but it is full of secret rivers, volcanoes some dark and dreary, some topped by snow. Wild horses can still be found racing across the plains there. There are skree slopes that if you don’t keep running down, you’d get buried in. In other words it is beautiful and frightening…just the place for me.

It’s a place made for adventure…and consequently the final showdown in my last book of the Order, Harbinger.

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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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SF Tidbits for 9/7/09

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SF Tidbits for 8/28/09

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