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“Let me buy you a pint, Elric…”

This week, we posed the following to our panelists:

Q: We’ve all encountered characters in stories and novels that we’ve felt a real connection to, and would love to chat with more. Maybe buy them a drink. What characters have you encountered in Fantasy and SF that you’d like to buy a pint for?

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MIND MELD: The Best Endings In SF/F Series

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Sometimes it seems that every new SF/F book is part of a series and the reader will have to wait, sometimes years, for the conclusion. Happily there are many, many very good (and finished!) SF/F series, however, not all of the endings measure up to the story that preceeds it. This week we asked our panelists this question:

In your opinion, what SF/F series do you think have the best endings?

Here’s what they said… [Note: If you haven’t read any of these particular series, there may be spoilers included in the responses.]

Nancy Jane Moore
Nancy Jane Moore’s most recent book is a collection of short-short stories, Flashes of Illumination, available as a Book View Café ebook. She has stories forthcoming in PS Publishing’s Postscripts and Defending the Future’s next military SF anthology, Best Laid Plans. She blogs regularly on the Book View Café blog.

The final book in my favorite SF/F series – Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic – has not yet been published, so I cannot address it in this Mind Meld, except to observe that the third book (Water Logic) put the entire series in perspective, so I have great hopes that the forthcoming Air Logic will be equally transformational.

I did not expect the Bold as Love series by Gwyneth Jones to end as it did in Rainbow Bridge, though thinking about it in light of some of her essays, it’s not really a surprising ending. After all, Jones scorns the typical hero tale in which victory is improbably snatched from the jaws of defeat. The world is crumbling at the beginning of the series, but our rockstar heroes – Ax, Sage, and Fiorinda – are taking charge, and their powers are such that we believe they can save us. They do not, and by the end the Chinese have taken over the world, though whether or not they can save us, even with some technological miracles, is still an open question. The closing scene of Ax’s joy in the birth of his daughter lets the reader know the characters will continue to muddle on. Knowing that they’re still out there somewhere pleases me.

Mary Gentle’s Ash, A Secret History, was published in the U.S. as a four-book series. I read the first three books as excellent adventure stories and tended to ignore the modern researcher frame set around the book. But in the fourth book, Lost Burgundy, the frame and story came together, and I realized I was reading science fiction (with fantasy and alternate history overtones). I love it when that happens.

L. Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan Cycle starts with a dystopia not all that far removed from current reality. Classes are stratified in the U.S., and a firmly entrenched 1 percent – the Executive class – is running the show. Then the Marq’ssan arrive. It’s easy to assume that the Marq’ssan will throw out the bastards and improve the lot of the rest of humanity. But while the Marq’ssan do provide some assistance, the story takes us in unexpected directions, including an overthrow of the mostly male executive rulers by female ones, with no real change in society, and the development of an ever-growing Free Zone run on anarchistic and socialistic principles. Change is in progress in the final book, Stretto, but nothing is final. In the final pages, one human character begins to explore something much more complex than political change – a change in her mind. It’s a positive note, and leaves the story open-ended. Utopia does not yet exist, but the possibility is there.
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MIND MELD: The Non-Genre Influences of Genre Authors

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Usually when ask genre authors about the influences on their work we are expecting, and usually get, responses that name other genre authors. This week’s question, as suggested by an SF Signal reader, explicitly asks about non-genre influences. We asked our panelists this question:

Q: Which non-genre writers have influenced your work? How?
Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon’s latest work from Pyr is a science fiction quartet with a fantasy feel: The Entire and The Rose. The lead title, Bright of the Sky, was in Publishers Weekly’s top 150 books of 2007. At her website, she holds forth on writing, the industry and other curious pursuits.

This question is almost impossible to answer; I wonder if we ever know, or whether literary critics with a little bit of distance from the subject could best intuit how admiration for certain works inevitably leads to unconscious imitation. I doubt anyone writes novels thinking they will write like someone else. But you’re asking for influences, which is more subtle, and all the harder. This is especially a tough task since fantasy and sf books have always been my focus. However, here goes:

I remember reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and feeling a sharp ache for what she had accomplished with language. The novel remains seared in my mind, but this was well before I thought that I would be a novelist. Still, I admire her work so thoroughly that I would be surprised if she were not an influence. I value wordsmithing. She is a master at this. Her environmental motifs went straight to my heart. Also: Early on Marge Piercy was a favorite of mine. Gone to Soldiers. Woman on the Edge of Time–although that last one must be considered science fiction; still, she is primarily a literary writer. Her feminism appealed to me, and the woman’s point of view presented with such stark emotion. The emotional dimension is a focus of my work. Writers like these likely showed me the depth that was possible. I’m always aiming for that depth.

I’ve been equally impressed with the big storytellers, especially James Clavell. Some of his books I wished would never end: Tai-Pan and Shogun, especially. The exotic locales of these books tied in to my love of strange worlds in science fiction. As it happens, worldbuilding is the feature most critics mention about my work. I always wonder at that, because I thought I did characters best. It’s a goal of mine to do both, like Clavell, but of course you always fall shy of your heroes.
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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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