Sue Lange‘s latest work of satiric science fiction, The Perpetual Motion Club, is available at fine Amazons everywhere.

Notes from a Postmodernist Anonymous Meeting

by Sue Lange

Hi, my name is Sue and I’m a post-modernist. I’ve been sane for three days.

I haven’t always been like this. I started out a modernist. I questioned religion and morality and absolutes in everything. I read anything Kafka wrote, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Bulgakov. I didn’t understand any of it, but I read it. Come to think of it, maybe that’s my problem. Maybe if I could figure out how a man could wake up one day and be a bug, I wouldn’t have this emptiness and this insatiable need to search out answers to questions that have no answers.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

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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[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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Continuing our theme of science fiction tropes, we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of the coolest robots in science fiction? Why?

Here’s what they said. Are your favorites listed?

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.

The single most memorable robot:

  • Jenkins, from Cliff Simak’s City. Simak made you care for Jenkins at a time when Asimov was creating scores of robots that only Susan Calvin cared about.

Others:

  • Joe, from Henry Kuttner’s “Robots Have No Tail”. Kuttner was another writer who had no interest in the Three Laws, and created a charming robot.
  • Roderick, from John Sladek’s Roderick and Roderick at Random. Roderick was a perfect vehicle for Sladek’s sardonic commentary.
  • Adam Link, from Eando Binder’s I, Robot (sic) and others; he’sthe missing link between clanking metallic monsters and positronic robots.
  • Sisto Settimo, from Robert Silverberg’s “Good News From the Vatican”. He’s only onstage for one paragraph, but the notion of a robot pope is as memorable as they come.

And if I can suggest three totally non-Asimovian robots that made major ballots:

  • Sammy, from my “Robots Don’t Cry”.
  • Jackson, from my “Article of Faith”.
  • Mose, from my and Lezli Robyn’s “Soulmates”.

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What’s Your Favorite Slipstream Story?

Sue Lange is working on a Slipstream project and would love some slipstream story recommendations. In case you aren’t familiar with this genre, Wikipedia defines slipstream thusly:

Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction.

Slipstream falls between speculative fiction and mainstream fiction. While some slipstream novels employ elements of science fiction or fantasy, not all do. The common unifying factor of these pieces of literature is some degree of the surreal, the not-entirely-real, or the markedly anti-real.

So tell us: What’s your favorite slipstream story?

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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“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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[Note: Continued from Part 1.]

Recent events and discussions once again bring the topic of genre fiction’s mainstream respectability to the forefront. So we thought it’d be timely to ask this week’s panelists:

Q: In your opinion, does literary science fiction and fantasy have mainstream respect? Why, if at all, does it need mainstream approval? What would such approval mean for genre fiction?

Read on to see their eye-opening responses…

Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard is a writer who lives in Vancouver. The Best of Lucius Shepard, a career retrospective, is now available from Subterranean Press, and next year will see the publication of a new as yet untitled novel.

I don’t believe mainstream approval would or will do much for genre fiction. It appears to do quite well in the marketplace as things stand, and lumping it together with the mainstream might, heaven forfend, see a decline in the sale of fantasy trilogies. There are authors-Tom Disch springs to mind-who have/had literary aspirations that such approval might have helped, at least as far as gaining them the respect of the literary establishment, but would it have sold more of their books? Perhaps, but who can say?

Does genre fiction have mainstream respect? Not so much, but it’s gaining respect, I think, in certain quarters thanks to folks like Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon. The previous generation of American writers didn’t like to admit they were nerds and geeks ; they were still trapped in antiquated self-images, considering themselves junior Hemmingways and Woolfs, and were threatened by anything that might erode those images; but the fact that both Diaz and Chabon seem to embrace their inner geek has prompted a number of their peers to come out of the closet and admit what an influence Steven King, say, had on their writerly lives and, in several cases, to write genre novels. Yet there are instances today where a writer has felt he had to escape the genre. Take Jonathan Lethem, for example. I feel you can’t generalize intelligently about this topic-it’s such an individual matter. For instance, not all writers are capable of being the self-promoters that Lethem was/is (and I mean this in the most positive sense.) Tom Disch, for sure, wasn’t capable of it. Though he could be charming, his personality was far too prickly for mass consumption.

My own attitude is this. I enjoy writing. I’m fortunate enough to have made a living at it for 25 years. I don’t write to be respected-I write to tell stories I find interesting, to communicate a mood, to resolve inner turmoil, and for a variety of personal reasons, not least among them being that I suck at holding down a steady job. Mainstream respect for what I write would be nice, but I simply haven’t cared about it enough to do doggie tricks. It’s no big deal one way or another.

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SF Tidbits for 8/20/09

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