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March 2017

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sf farscape leather

water water everywhere and never a drop to drink

On Pinion: 1034 words yesterday night, and 767 words this morning. The page count stands at 243, and as always, I have switched over from "I'm never going to invent enough plot to fill up this book" to "How the heck am I supposed to cram what's left into 157 pages?"

Wow.

157 pages. That's like, doable and everything.  That's an average of 6.6 pages a day, under two thousand words, if I want to finish the draft by February 28.

Which would give me all of March to write "Periastron." And then I could start the rewrite of All the Windwracked Stars. I need to figure out what I'm going to do about that narrative break in the middle, the interludy bit, because it disturbs the tension of the book a lot. Of course, having other POV characters will help. This way, the book doesn't take a month in the country.

Just one of the characters does.

You know, years never used to seem short to me before I started writing for a living. There will be time, there will be time.

So I think we will keep up the two-writing-sessions-a-day thing, morning and night, as that appears to be working gangbusters. I'm getting the same amount of writing done in less time, with, you know, time for other things. 1500-2000 words a day seems to be my sustainable max, no matter how many hours I give myself to get it done in.

And six hours a day seven days a week is a reasonable work schedule, too. (Well, yanno, there's the administrative stuff too, and CEMs and crits and so forth, but the only thing that counts as writing is writing.

I may have finally hit upon a schedule that works. Huzzah, trial and error!

I wonder if, as a genre, (SF, not Fantasy) some of the malaise we keep self-diagnosing is a lack of handwavium. Have we gotten too concrete? Are we trying too hard to stick to the possible? The probably? Instead of just digging in there and making stuff up?

Giant sandworms you can catch and ride! Spiders spinning webs between the Earth and Moon! People frozen on the surface of Pluto, still alive and thinking with the speed of slow! Life forms like gigantic orbital habitats, with oceans and continents inside them! Ringworlds! Matroishka brains!

None of this stuff is particularly plausible. Some of it is, to the best of my knowledge, physically impossible.

But it's shiny, isn't it?

This, of course, presumes that the self-diagnosed malaise and lack of young readers and writers is as severe a problem as is reported. (Of the people my age and younger I know who read, most of them read (among other things) science fiction and/or fantasy. But that is anecdotal, and not a representative sample. That fandom, especially Worldcon fandom, is graying, I have no doubt. WisCon is full of young folks, however. And old folks, too. Or, as somebody said, the ratio of purple hair to blue is about 2:1. Readers =/= fans)

So yanno. We could be right. It could be the end of the world. Or it could be us not pushing hard enough to do cool things, being distracted by the possible. (I know I get distracted by the possible. Dust in its three proposed parts is in some ways an attempt to push through that and get myself thinking on a grander and weirder scale.)

Or it could be not a problem at all. I mean, sure, there's a whole world of pretty generic adventure fiction with SF trappings out there, but there is also a fair whack of Big Idea SF being written. I mentioned the Matroishka brains above. Blindsight is full to brimming over with sensawunda. Light and Spin and the work of Iain Banks and Al Reynolds and various other recently-published SF is full of really cool ideas.

Sometimes it's hard to get at. (Harrison never actually tells you what some of the cooler things going on in Light are--you have to figure them out for yourself, and that's not, you know, necessarily the easiest thing going). But I think there's room in genre for a range of attacks, from the accessible to the more occult.

The most popular and best-selling work may be a little safer, a little less brain-stretchy. But then, pop music usually does sell better than the avante garde.

It's all about the choices and the balance. And making them aware of the consequences. And being aware that you are making trade-offs, and not doing things for sentimental reasons. And now I am gonna have to talk about my own work and some choices I made there to illustrate my point.  Some MAJOR spoilers for Carnival follow:

An acquaintance said to me that he thought I ended Carnival the way I did for sentimental reasons--being too attached to the characters, in other words.

And I knew when I wrote that book that there were going to be any number of people who didn't get it. And who didn't understand why I made the choices I did, and who would construe it as weakness.

But to me, the easy and expected ending is the one where [spoiler] dies. First of all, it suits the genre convention and it's a cheap way of constructing emotion. You can always kill somebody. But here's the thing.

The convention of the Big Gay Romance is the inevitable tragic ending. One of the partners dies, either through disease (these days, usually HIV. Even if the characters are lesbians. Yeah, don't ask, I dunno either.) or through some stupid and senseless act of violence. It's almost as bad as being black in a horror movie. You're just doomed as soon as you kiss another person of the same sex.

I have an issue with that. Being queer does not doom you to death or loneliness. Being queer is not innately tragic.

It's one of the ways that I think the end of The Left Hand Of Darkness cheats a little. It goes for the obvious tearjerker solution, rather than making Genly Ai live with what he's learned. Don't get me wrong: I love the book, and it makes me cry like a child. But it's a constructed solution. The inconvenient love object is dead. Genly is irrevocably changed. But we don't have to see how he deals with it.

And the solution to that, or what I did in Carnival, is in the text. Michelangelo says it, that the terrorists who created the Governors were cowards because they never had to live with what they wrought.

And that's why Carnival ends the way it does.

And it's funny, because in the original draft, it didn't have the epilogue. It was left with a lady and the tiger ending. That would have been more critic-friendly, I think, and certainly more expected. And I looked at it and looked at it and looked at it, and I knew in my heart I was cheating. And I was cheating because I was scared.

Because I didn't want people like this acquaintance of mine saying "Oh, you flinched" because I wasn't giving them the expected, the genre-demanded catharsis at the end.

So I said, to hell with this. I don't care if they hate it, there's a convention here I need to set on its nose.

There's a meta-reason too, of course. And it's because I am aware of myself as a writer, and aware of my audience, and aware that some of what I do is manipulating audience expectations. 

You see, there's this: if I always hit the downer ending, you all are going to know what to expect. *g* And I would hate that.



In other news, I'm going to Boskone!


Sat 10:00am   Fantasy, Folklore, and Myth
If folklore is the traditional customs, stories, jokes, and songs of a people, is myth old folklore? Is fantasy folklore you just made up? What common motifs thread through all three forms? How do you give fantasy the patina of myth, or the arbitrary edges of folklore? Who's great at this, and how?

(M)  Elizabeth Bear
Tobias Buckell
Esther Friesner
Greer Gilman
Gary A. Lippincott


Sat 11:00am    Sniglets

In Sniglets, the moderator will provide a  term out of a science fiction story and the panel makes up definitions. See how many audience members can pick out the "real" definition. In some cases, examples may be picked from works by the panelists. Can they make
up a definition that sounds better than the one they originally came up with?

Elizabeth Bear
Tom Easton
Matthew Jarpe
(M)  Lawrence M. Schoen


Sat  1:00pm     0.5 hours    Reading (anybody got something they want to hear?)

Elizabeth Bear


Sat  3:00pm    The Fantastic and the Mundane:  A Look at Urban Fantasy

What is urban fantasy? A discussion of definitions dealing with what is essentially another umbrella term: we have vampires, werewolves, wizards, elves, ghosts and more all falling under the concept of urban fantasy or authors identifying themselves as urban fantasy writers. Is it new?  Who is writing it?  Some people self-identify as urban fantasy writers.  Some think of themselves as something else.  And some reject the categorization.  Is Neil Gaiman urban fantasy? Margaret Atwood? Anne Rice?  What makes them different or same as Simon R. Green, Jim Butcher or Laurell K. Hamilton?

(M)  Elizabeth Bear
Mark Del Franco
Catherynne M. Valente
Andrew Wheeler


Sat  4:00pm    Literary Beer

Elizabeth Bear


Sun 10:00am   The Best New Writers: Recent Campbell Award Winners Talk

Fresh winners of our field's  Newbie Nobel give a tip of their tiaras to other notable up-and-comers. What are their best new stories? What topics or trends obsess them? What  magazines, small presses, websites, or other venues should we be watching to catch the greatest of the latest? And is it easy being green?

(M)  Elizabeth Bear
John Scalzi
Wen Spencer


Sun 11:00am    Autographing

Elizabeth Bear
Rosemary Kirstein
Tamora Pierce
Steven Sawicki


Sun  1:00pm    What Is American Fantasy?

Is American fantasy different from fantasy in other parts of the world?  What distinguishes it from, say, British fantasy?  What are  the common threads, styles, themes? Or does it even make sense to talk about American fantasy as if there were common threads?

Elizabeth Bear
(M)  F. Brett Cox
Debra Doyle
Greer Gilman
Michael Swanwick

Comments

Oh, I wish I could go to Boskone. The Urban Fantasy panel looks especially interesting, considering some of the stuff I'm currently wrestling with for RT (details in my LJ under a friends lock if you're interested, can't really talk about it in public).
That is interesting.

I'm not really "up" on what they call Urban Fantasty these days--the original Urban Fantasy crew are calling what they do "Mythic Fiction" now, I think.

Um, Steve Brust & Megan Lindholm's THE GYPSY?

Drop me an email if you want.
Yeah, I think they are, too, and that's sort of what's puzzling to me. For a variety of reasons, and until I get it straight in my head it'd probably be best for me to not say anything publicly, lest I say the wrong thing.
Sniglets sounds like a variation on the panel-game Call My Bluff, a TV show which flopped in the US, enjoyed long success on the BBC, and, so the story goes, had the original inventor see it while visiting London, and try to buy this great idea from the BBC.

Since I can remember it being on TV when I was at school, it must have been running on BBC for far too long. One of the mainstays of the show was Frank Muir.

Anyway, diseases of sheep are a traditional definition of some obscure word from the OED, and sometimes that is the real definition. But the show depended on the framing story for the definition. Something like this:

ANSIBLE

"Imagine yourself on the wild and bleak moors of Cumbria, in the days before the railways. In those days, the farmers could send very little of their produce elsewhere, and there was little contact with the outside world. Folk in those parts spoke a dialect which was still close to that of the Norwegian vikings who had sailed around Scotland into the Irish Sea. But what they did sell was sent out from the coastal ports, such as Whitehaven and Workington, and so the languages of the sheep farmers and sailors mingled.

"Sometimes the words of the sailors drifted into the language of farmers, so that a seamn's word such as boatswain would be recorded as 'busson', that well-known blistering under a sheep's tail. Sometimes the word would travel in the other direction, such as happened with 'ansible'.

"But wait! How do we know all this? For some years, the poet William Wordsworth lived at Grasmere, and his sister Dorothy recorded these oddities in her journal. So, in 1802, she writes that the carrier had complained that his horse had got at an 'onster bale', which seems to be a bale of hay that upsets the horse's digestion.

"So this word for bad food was passed on, and associated with one of the Cumbrian exports, the barrels of salt mutton which travelled the world on the ships of Nelson's Navy. It is suggested that the seaman's word for a barrel of foul salt mutton, 'ansible' is a corruption of this Cumbrian term."


Indeed. We could smuggle you over on albatross back. *g*

Re: B&I: fair. I mean, not all of it works as well or the way I would like. I'm certainly open to talking about it.

I'm glad you liked it, though.

I think W&W is the better book, but fair warning, it's the densest thing I've written or am likely to write. *g*
Thank you. Those are lovely things to say.

*g* You know, my editors are always on me to exposit more, to make character motivations more transparent. And I'm not sure I'm good at doing that smoothly.

So yeah, it's quite possible you picked up on some heavyhanded characterization there.
I'm a little nervous commenting here... I've been lurking for a bit. So, excuse the sudden comment. I've been published in non-fiction and just finished my first draft of my dark fantasy novel (personal edits, blech)... so sci-fi I'm a bit, well, terrified to write to be honest.

You mentioned about things that are plausiable and not in sci-fi. I think, and maybe I am very wrong, that there is a lot more pressure to be "acurate" when writing it. I didn't write back in the 70's (well, technically I did, but you really didn't want to see it), so I couldn't tell you whether publishers or fans were any less rabid or sticklers as they are now. All I know is what it seems (and you are FAR more experienced than I am) in my limited circles of fandoms, that people seem to be a lot more anal about being "correct." Plus, I know a few of the short story publishers like Science Fiction abd Fantasy had mentioned about having sound technology writing. Personally that scares the living crap out of me. I barely know how to add two and two together. I'm SO not going to try to write science fiction and possibly screw that up. I'll stay in my safe and happy fantasy land, whee! :)

Steven King wrote a horror/science fiction short story YEARS ago which did get published. I can't remember the name of it, but it was in one of his collections. It probably was published in Playboy or some such magazine originally, but he later apologized for the bad technology. He knew it wouldn't work, but I don't think anyone really cared all that much because the concept/idea was good. I think that's also the important thing too. It doesn't matter whether it is plausable or accurate as long as the writing is sound and it's engaging/entertaining. But I wonder what publishers are really looking for? I'm inexperienced with fiction honestly, but if it was I, great storytelling would win over technology anyday (again, what do I know?).

Personally I think that's why science fiction is a lot less on the "shiny" and more on the accurate. I'm not sure if the publishers are purposely looking for authentic (and really how CAN you be when we're talking about stuff thousands of years in the future, I ask you?) or it's just that way? or, we as writers and fans have edited ourselves into just "keeping it real." Yo. Heh. ;)

Of course, I could have missed your point. I do that a lot. My apologies if I did. I enjoy science fiction and I respect Asimov. Talk about Brainy Smurf, that one. :D
Well, I dunno--I think a lot of it may be self-pressure on the writers, who have internalized this idea that "SF" is "plausible." IT COULD REALLY HAPPEN!

EXCEPT in the case of hard science fiction, where part of the intellectual game is making it plausible and rigorous.

And please don't feel awkward about commenting. The only thing I get upset about is people who are insulting or condescending.
I guess part of the game of writing is putting out a book or short story (what-have- you) that is plausiable. So, that those worlds where Worms reigned, didn't seem so, well, crazy. In the same vien, like with say, Anne McCafferty's world Pern, you have the people that argue that "those sorts of dragons couldn't fly" or that a world in how she described it, technically couldn't hold an atmosphere. But, for most fans, did they really care? It's obvious they really didn't as she keeps cranking out the books and people keep reading it. And as far as I know, people like it (I like her dragons too...and her world... but like I said before, I R NO pointdexter.). Heh.

I got into an arguement with a friend of mine when I started my own novel on the world building. How important IS IT to be scientifically accurate? I don't know if this is in the same vein of your subject, but it made me nuts to talk to him (he's an engineer type PLUS his dad was an astromer). He felt that world building was the singly most important thing to a science fiction book. Me, I thought as long as the book was reasonable, could hold water and float in the worst storms, that was ok. What do you think?

Heh, well... I never appreciate condensending or insulting comments either, but I know sometimes _I_ come off know-it-all-ish. And I'm sure if you don't know me, I could sound a bit bitchy, so I am rather nervous. I know I have my opinions on certain things and many people just don't want to hear em'. I just have to remember that. :)
I think it depends on the genre, really, and any given book. If you are writing hard SF, get it dead right.

Use the back of your page if necessary.

If not... the wow is what counts.
"Sniglets" sounds like an interesting panel - and makes me even more sorry I can't attend Boskone this year (I dislocated my knee back in November and am getting the external fixed brace off my leg hopefully tomorrow, with possible knee surgery in a couple of weeks).
It does sound like fun--I'm looking forward to that one.

Also, ow. ow. ow. ow.
You are such a good Bear.

With all we hear about never flinching and bleeding on the page and going out in public naked and all of that, acknowledging that the happyish or at least non-tragic ending can be the naked, bleeding, unflinching bit is so good, and so needed.

Go you.
Thanks, man.

I mean, I dunno if it worked or not. But I know what I meant to do.

...funny thing is, nobody has suggested that the ending of Worldwired was flinching.
The ending of Carnival was a surprise. I remember reading it and trying to convince myself that there would be a solution where he survived. You managed to do that without it feeling like cheating, so I was happy.

With Worldwired... There were a lot of things that happened in that trilogy where I thought "How did she have the guts not to flinch from doing that?" The meteor comes to mind, of course, but even smaller events.
*g* Kim Stanley Robinson. And Akira Kurosawa. And Peter Watts.

They, collectively, taught me not to look down.

I suspect I am bloody well going to need that when I get to the end of Cleave, and Patience & Fortitude.

Kill the queer as a trope, a tradition

There are unpleasant literary conventions that most of us don't notice if we are not part of a minority until someone points them out. When I was a kid I didn't notice that there weren't any Black people in movies who weren't servants or train porters. I was a white kid in a very white world and I just didn't notice. But once I did see it, I started seeing racial stereotypes and absence EVERYWHERE.

***WARNING: spoilage for Carnival***

The dead or unhappy or insane queer at the ending of a story is a HUGE literary tradition. And it was propagated often by GLBT people themselves (Oh but self-hate is powerful). Sometimes our well-trained imaginations fail us. Ms. Bronte couldn't conceive of Jane Eyre having a relationship of equals with Rochester unless the man was blinded. And for many years GLBT people couldn't imagine a world where the queer simply lives...happily ever after, or at least with a fighting chance at such a fate.

I thought the relatively sanguine ending of "Carnival" was earned and made perfect sense. And I wonder if readers would be thinking it was a sentimental ending if the protagonists were male and female and straight. Because, in SF/F fandom there is a great deal of talk about how GLBT characters are accepted, but I see more talk than walk, frankly. To be sure spec fic fans are better than the average citizen about being accepting of difference, but no way is THAT battle over. If it were over, E. Bear's books would not stand out --in part -- because of the diversity of the cast of characters.

Anyway, that's my longwinded take. It seems to me that your books often grab onto "the accepted" and play with it like a cat with a mouse. Love that.

Re: Kill the queer as a trope, a tradition

It is, more or less, the only way I can write. I am a deconstructionist at heart.

I'm glad it worked for you, anyway.
Yay for Boskone (we're going, too). Although seeing an Urban Fantasy panel on which the only two authors I'm famliar with (you and catvalente) are ones I explicitly associate with non-urban (suburban?) fantasy (although Cat does have some nice fictional cities in her fantastic works) and science fiction.

Plus, my snark-sense tingles when I encounter questions like "what makes Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood different from Laurell K. Hamilton?"

I think the problem you identify with the Big Gay Romance is endemic to Romance in general; happy couples make for less memorable endings than heartbroken survivors. That said, I think a lot of folks set up a false dichotomy of expectations with those endings; if you let them live, you're being too easy on them, and if you kill someone, you're just going for cheap pathos. When there are only two choices (somewhat unavoidable at times*), the question is less which ending is used, but how the author and characters get there. As you said, it's a matter of shaping expectations (or, more imporantly, getting folks to throw 'em out entirely).


*And yeah, I can think of four you could have run with offhand, including the lady-or-tiger and the "never see each other again but pine for each other from a distance" options. Someone would have nitpicked those, too.
Gah. You'd think that after I messed up the coding the first time, I'd have at least not deleted half a sentence that time. Add "seems a little odd" to the end of that second sentence.
*g* I don't write the program description, thank God.

I could think of a couple more--the relationship falls apart in the absence of outside pressure holding it together, one or both of them feels trapped... etc.

And yanno, I can't say that the ending I picked worked *best* of all the endings I could have picked. But I picked it for narrative reasons, not sentimental ones.

I really liked the lady-and-tiger choice--I was enamored of it on a cool shit level--because I love Jack of Shadows. But it felt like cheating in this case.
I am so damn glad you didn't go with the obvious ending. My heart sank when I realized that [spoiler] was probably going to die, but when I read that epilogue and [spoiler] lived, that made me cry. The incredibly risky one-in-a-million plan working with the parties involved being able to continue to work on what they wrought had far more impact with me. It said to me that it's worth taking risks and having hope, whereas the downer ending would have been the usual 'Sure, take risks, have hope, but you're going to have to PAY AND PAY AND PAY for it.'
*g* Well, and I've written that book. Several times.

And I mean, they are up to their eyebrows in alligators, still.

It's just different alligators.

***spoilers***

I find the ending a bit unsettling, because *spoiler1* seems to me to have moved into a different mental head space where *spoiler2* is not a part of the future. Then *spoiler2*, who clearly isn't on that page, reenters the picture. Wasn't sure how to take it. Which may have been the intent....

Re: ***spoilers***

*whistles*

Let's just say, I doubt everything will be peachy and free of conflict.

Also, there's the revolution to consider.
I came across the sequel to "The Lady and the Tiger" a while ago. It does not clarify the first story's ending, and it also has an ambigous ending. It's not very good, which is why I don't remember more about it (like the title).

I think the ending in Jack of Shadows works because it doesn't matter whether Jack lives or dies. His story is over.
Yes. I think you are precisely right.
I still remember reading Jack of Shadows for the first time in, oh, must have been ninth grade. Coming to that ending, that absolutely /stunning/ closing scene. Reading the last line. Thinking "That can't be all there is!" followed almost immediately by the realisation that yeah, that could be all there was. That the story was over with, and some stories need neither happily-ever-afters nor sequel hooks.

Wow.
Well, and similarly, the ending of Carnival worked for me because the story wasn't *spoiler1*'s potential death. The story was his choice to die, and *spoiler2* finally becoming able to honor/allow that choice.

I teared the hell up when I got to the epilogue.
Yes. Exactly.

Or part of the story, anyhow. I was also really interested in the moral quandaries.
Are we trying too hard to stick to the possible? The probably? Instead of just digging in there and making stuff up?

*raises hand*

So very, very guilty. I need to remember to trust my readers to bring a little bit of suspension to the page.
I liked the end of Carnival. But I’m a sappy romantic.

I think that science fiction grounded in our best understanding of modern science is more powerful because of its plausibility. (Warning: personal-experience metaphor approaching. Substitute your own favorite drinks if necessary.) Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars septology is a smoky single malt scotch of wonder served with a glass of cold medieval history water to cleanse the palate. It’s a delight to read, but it never threatens to come knocking on your door. Charlie Stross’ Singularity Sky and Accelerando are margaritas of wonder, hope, and trepidation served over the ice cubes of cutting-edge scientific research, and that stuff could happen to us. That grabs me in a visceral way that handwavium doesn’t.

More evidence for “science fiction is not running out of cool ideas”: Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes and Sun of Suns.

There's just something funny about the question, "Is Neil Gaiman urban fantasy?". In a couple of different ways.

For one thing, I'm pretty sure he's real :-)
For another, I think that's a clear casae of why it's bad to pigeonhole authors too much. Yes, labeling can be necessary if we want to talk about stuff, but then again Stardust is about the farthest thing from urban fantasy and it's one of my favorites of his. There's Neverwhere where the city is essential to the story, and a bunch of others where the city is just where the characters happen to be.
I am not sure about this so-called malaise/i>...True, I am not aware of a new Zelazny, Delany or LeGuin, but we do have Banks, Reynolds, Stross (arguably a successor--in some ways, in some of his work--to Zelazny), occasionally Asher, Slonczewski, Watts, Wolfe, and even Sterling still manages to kick some serious ass once in a while (his latest collection was rather, shall I say, stimulating).

And, of course, there is Bear...;)

That said, I must admit that I read a lot less fiction than I did 10 years ago, so my viewpoint is necessarily limited.
*g* Give us time, give us time.