Category Archives: Genreville

Amazon’s New Idea is Old Hat

Rose Fox -- December 6th, 2013

Whether you think the notion of Amazon “Prime Air” delivery via drone aircraft is fabulous or farcical, it certainly seems futuristic. When I saw the images, though, they immediately reminded me of a 1921 piece in Popular Mechanics (featured in the book The Wonderful Future That Never Was) predicting that packages would soon be individually delivered to your doorstep by aircraft. The only difference is that 92 years ago, the proposed delivery system was a parachute:

The nonstop delivery of airplane mail via parachute is being rapidly developed in the United States, France, and England. Valuable matter—the only kind carried by airplanes—must be carefully guarded, which means, among other things, that it must be landed within a few feet of the person authorized to receive it. At present the accuracy with which the bags are landed depends entirely upon the skill and aim of the airman. However, some astonishingly close “hits” are being made with, and still greater accuracy is expected from, a two-speed parachute which is being developed in France. In the meantime it is quite safe to predict that parachute delivery will sometime become the rule.

Quite safe, indeed!

The concerns about security bring up some questions I haven’t seen anyone address regarding Prime Air. How would the drone know it’s delivering to the right person? Could it collect a signature? How would it deal with apartment buildings, offices, and other places where delivery outside the front door is obviously unfeasible? I’m willing to buzz in the UPS delivery driver; I’m a lot less willing to open the door for some random flying robot carrying an unlabeled box. And that doesn’t even get into the FAA aspects. All told, I think Amazon Prime Air is about as feasible as parachuting packages.

I wonder what impossible methods of package delivery will be proposed 92 years from now. Teleportation, perhaps.


Uniquely Compelling and Poignant

Rose Fox -- November 8th, 2013

poignantPW‘s reviews director has issued a ban on the words compellingunique, and poignant in our reviews. When I wrote to my reviewers asking them to avoid these overused terms, they had some creative replies.

Can we portmanteau our way out of this? I’d like to describe a book as “poignelling.” Or maybe “compique.”

I replied that “Poignelling” sounds like the last name of an obscure 1930s politician. Vote Poignelling! Another reviewer suggested that “poignelling” would be the gerund of “poignell”: to speak movingly, at the top of your lungs. A third put in a vote for “unipellant.”

Just replace the word with the definition. “The author rendered the main character’s loss in a poignant manner.” becomes “The author rendered the main character’s loss in a manner painfully sharp to the emotions or senses.”

Alas, this technique would be incompatible with PW review length limits.

Maybe I’ll just switch to various smiley faces.

That sounds much more efficient!

One reviewer asked plaintively whether we could supply a list of substitutes. We could–but then everyone would use them and we’d have to issue another ban three months down the road. It makes much more sense to let each reviewer find their own gripping, unusual, and vibrant (or fascinating, standout, and heartstring-tugging) alternatives.

PW reviewers Adam Lipkin, Steven H Silver, Stefan Dziemanowicz, Michael Levy, and Vicki Borah Bloom contributed their wit and wisdom to this post.

A Fitting Memorial for Pohl and Crispin

Rose Fox -- September 6th, 2013

Frederik Pohl has died.pohlheadshot

Ann Crispin has died.

There’s been a lot written lately about the “greying” of Worldcon. Ursula Vernon has a particularly wonderful post up about how she’s felt very welcomed by older people who share her hobbies of birdwatching and gardening, and wishes she saw that sort of welcoming attitude at speculative fiction conventions. Separately, Alisa Krasnostein blogged about her first time at the Romance Writers of Australia conference, and how different it felt from SF/F cons. “This, I discovered, is what it’s like to go to an actually friendly convention,” she wrote.

crispinheadshotGoing by the many reminiscences being shared, Crispin and Pohl could have given workshops on how to make speculative fiction conventions more friendly. “[Pohl] kissed my hand at my first Worldcon,” recalls Farah Mendlesohn. Kij Johnson writes, “I met Fred Pohl in the summer of 1994, when I received the Sturgeon Award at the Campbell Conference. My vividest memory of the event was him shaking my hand and telling me I had written a fine story. I still feel proud and warm every time I remember this.” Natalie Luhrs remembers Crispin inviting her to join a dinner group at a convention after the briefest of introductions.

Both Crispin and Pohl were devoted to the notion of SF/F as a community. Pohl was beyond delighted to win a Best Fan Writer Hugo Award in 2010; he thanked “the whole world of science-fiction fandom, which I have inhabited since before I quite reached my teens, and to which I will stop giving my allegiance when I stop breathing, but not before.” (I’m blinking back tears rereading that now.) Crispin was widely and rightly lauded for co-founding and chairing SFWA’s Committee on Writing Scams and Writer Beware, an outreach program dedicated to protecting writers from fraud and other misconduct by agents, publishers, and scammers. Her collaboration with Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware has undoubtedly saved thousands of writers a great deal of money and heartache. Her Star Trek and Star Wars tie-ins and her own Starbridge series of science fiction novels also inspired countless women to write SF.

Commenter “Neil in Chicago” on Pohl’s blog sums it up: “We know we have lost the last of the dawn age giants, but what’s striking to me is the broad, implicit reverberation of how *accessible* Fred was. Huge numbers of people are explicit about large personal debts, as readers or as pros, but no one sounds afraid to have approached him.” And at io9, Charlie Jane Anders writes, “You couldn’t really be an aspiring writer of science fiction or fantasy and not be aware of the amazing work Ann Crispin was doing on your behalf.”

The best memorial we could give these two fine people is to learn from their example. Convention attendees, let’s shift away from gatekeeping and toward welcoming people who don’t fit the current demographics of convention fandom (a phrase I use to distinguish between the fans who attend SF/F conventions and the many, many other fans and fandoms out there). Convention organizers, let’s create programming that’s friendly to teens, people of color, queer folks, women, and others who haven’t traditionally felt very welcome at cons—and invite those people to be panelists, too. (And when they tell you there are problems with a panel description or push you to have gender-balanced panels, listen to them.) Men, treat women with respect instead of challenging them to present “geek” or “nerd” credentials. Established authors and industry pros, encourage and educate new and aspiring authors in Crispin’s honor; take an extra moment to chat with a fan, sign an autograph, or make a career-changing introduction in Pohl’s honor.

Annalee Newitz’s obituary for Pohl at io9 rightly says, “His career is a reminder that sometimes the greatest contributions to the genre came from collaboration and community-building, as well as the solitary work that’s done at the keyboard.” No one can replace Fred Pohl or Ann Crispin in our community. But we can do them proud.

Strong Female Characters, in Context

Rose Fox -- August 16th, 2013

Sophia McDougall’s New Statesman piece “I Hate Strong Female Characters” is getting a lot of attention today, most of it positive. I want to highlight a particular element of her argument. Talking about the character of Peggy in the movie Captain America, she says (emphasis mine):

when one recognises that sole responsibility for representing her gender and tackling sexism rests on Peggy-the-character’s shoulders, that her actions are outlandishly large to compensate for all those other women who simply aren’t there, some of the strain and hyperbole in her characterisation becomes more explicable.

McDougall goes on to say that having multiple female characters would help to relieve this pressure.

I conclude from this that McDougall hasn’t read widely in the fields of romance, women’s fiction, and urban fantasy, where secondary female characters are common. I’m all in favor of casts with a 1:1 male-female ratio (and some characters from other parts of the sex and gender spectra too, not just McDougall’s casually tossed-in “genderless robot”) but I don’t think for a minute that they encourage authors to avoid writing stereotyped characters. Instead, you just get different stereotypes filling up the cast: the dotty aunt, the controlling mother, the granny who fires off hilarious one-liners while matchmaking like mad, the wise-beyond-her-years daughter, the obnoxious sister, the ditzy best friend, the tough-but-fair boss, the hero’s jealous ex. And the heroines are often Strong Female Characters even with all those other women around, perhaps because the authors feel a need to justify making them heroines (and, in romance novels or books with romantic subplots, justify having desirable people fall in love with them).

Diverse casts are awesome, but they’re not panaceas. Lazy writers will write stereotypes until the end of time, whether their characters are all men or all women or all small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. The only cure for Strong Female Character Syndrome is for writers to work on making all their characters well-rounded and interesting and complex and real, with a mix of physical, emotional, psychological, familial, professional, and social strengths and weaknesses.

Mourning Iain M. Banks

Rose Fox -- June 10th, 2013

The death of Iain M. Banks, just a couple of months after he announced his cancer diagnosis, has been reverberating through my literary community. Banks was well known and respected for his mainstream novels (written as Iain Banks) and mind-expanding science fiction, and all the personal remembrances of him describe a generous, funny, upright fellow. I’m very sad I never got the chance to meet him.

Last September, PW ran a brief Q&A that Joe Sanders conducted with Banks, which you can read here. As often happens, there were more Qs and As than we could fit in the magazine; but blogs have no such constraints, so here are the ones that didn’t make it to publication.

Joe Sanders: It sometimes seems that the Culture’s real citizens are the Minds (and Ships, Drones, etc.)—since humans and other flesh-mortals are too slow and vulnerable to participate usefully. What’s the relationship of mechanical and meat?

Iain M. Banks: We are their pets. Or their passengers. Or maybe their parasites; hard to be sure. Maybe (d)—all of the above. The trouble with the machines from their own point of view is that they’re too perfect, too self-sufficient, too self-consciously pristine; we—with all our weaknesses, idiocies, dramas, dreams and vulnerabilities—and our need to be protected, from ourselves as much as from anybody or anything else—provide them with a reason to keep real; we are their project, their hobby. They need us. Though I am thinking that part of the business of the next Culture novel will take place in a part of the civilisation where the humans are running things themselves and the AIs keep away, just to take a look at how that might work. We’ll see.

JS: Would you like to live in the Culture?

IMB: Good grief, yes! I don’t know what sort of messed-up sadomasochist you’d have to be not to want to live in the Culture!

JS: What would readers have to give up if they wanted to join? Do you think that would be as serious as entering the Sublime?

IMB: Your religion and your money. Nah, just kidding. It’s the Culture; you can believe what you damn well please, and while they might be baffled by a collection of billions of rather boringly similar scraps of paper, that would be indulged like every other eccentricity. So, ‘Nothing’ is the real answer. Though, on a civilizational/ethical level we’re—ahem—probably not quite ready to join yet. And besides, the Culture is slightly paranoid about looking too imperialist, so would generally encourage people to go their own way and find their own path into the future rather than just grab hold of the Culture’s trailing edges and surf along behind it. Plus it’s profoundly non-coercive and non-prescriptive anyway; you can always ‘leave’ again with no penalty or hard feelings (and you never really ‘join’ in any formal, ceremonial sense; you just start behaving like them—that’s pretty much all it takes). Subliming is a rather more profound and one-way process and very much not to be taken lightly. Lightly, on the other hand, is probably the only way to take the Culture.

JS: Why so many names that stretch the human mouth and vocal cords?

IMB: Self-indulgence, frankly (always a risky route for an author to take). There are two naming regimes in the books; one is the crazily long names for Culture people—names which act as their address should they happen to stay where they’re born—and the ship names. The human names were kind of a rejection of the idea around when I was starting to think about this sort of stuff that in the future we’d all have numbers—and probably be popping a pill instead of eating a meal, and so on. I just took against this sort of thing and went wildly in the other direction, deciding no, we’d all have very long, meaning-rich names—and we’d eat extremely well, thank you. It was also done to try and hint at the classless but effortlessly opulent nature of life in the Culture; the inhabitants all live in the absolute lap of luxury and so giving them names like aristocrats just seemed fitting. With the ship names, I was reacting against the implicit assumption that, post-artificial intelligence, we’d have much meaningful control over the kind of AI you’d have to put in a starship to make it work right; they’d be their own creatures, we would not get to captain them and they would choose their own names, names that would not be the earnest, taking-yourself-a-bit-too-seriously names we tend to give capital ships (whether maritime or space). In all honesty, I may have taken this too far, but, what the hey; taking things too far is partly what SF is about.

Reading Banks’s plans for the next Culture novel is a bit heartwrenching. I wish he could have gotten many, many more years in which to “take things too far”.

Night Shade’s Final Chapter

Rose Fox -- April 9th, 2013

Last week PW covered the news that Night Shade Books contracts with authors were up for sale. Skyhorse and Start Publishing offered to take over print and digital contracts, respectively. Many people were skeptical of the deal as originally offered (see Tobias Buckell’s excellent and thorough roundup of links). Skyhorse and Start revised it, and response to the revision has generally been positive, including from SFWA (which has been criticized heavily for its secrecy around Night Shade–related matters) and critics of the original deal, such as agent Joshua Bilmes. So it looks much more likely that the sale will go through, which at least broadly takes care of Night Shade’s back payments to authors.

However, authors aren’t the only people who would really like to see some of the money that Night Shade owes. In a blog post comment, artist Todd Lockwood wrote:

Not only authors were harmed by their business practices.

I love Jeremy Lassen and really wanted Nightshade to succeed. I have a soft place in my head for underdogs. I cut my rates in order to paint covers for them. It took over a year and a half to be paid for one. Another dribbled in in bits, the last check bounced, and I have never received full payment. I understand that other cover artists were never paid at all. I would be surprised if Skyhorse & al felt any need to make those repairs, but I’d love to know what, if any, plans were made in that regard…?

And editor Marty Halpern emailed me to add:

There has been absolutely no mention, nor commitment made, to all the artists, designers, editors (including myself), and others who are owed tens of thousands of dollars — and seem to have been forgotten in all this “discussion” over the authors’ deal.

…now that NS is essentially closed and in “escrow” for this potential sale, the money that is owed to me (for invoices dating back to October of last year) — and all the other production people — may never get paid.

There would be no books to speak of if there weren’t editors, artists, and designers willing to work continuously for Night Shade for just the promise of pay. We are a dedicated lot and deserve to have our story told — and responded to — as well.

I’ve reached out to Night Shade to ask whether the revised Skyhorse/Start deal going through would make it possible for Night Shade to make payment to freelancers. If they reply, I’ll revise this post to include their comment. EDIT: NSB co-owner Jeremy Lassen wrote back declining to comment on this matter.

I also called up Jarred Weisfeld at Start Publishing to ask whether Start and Skyhorse would be taking on the responsibility of paying Night Shade’s non-author creditors. He told me, “Night Shade is responsible for paying those debts, but all creditors of Night Shade will be taken care of if the sale goes through, and freelancers who are owed money would be considered creditors. Nobody’s going to be left high and dry. The deal is contingent on those individuals getting paid.” So that’s a sign of some hope for Lockwood, Halpern, and everyone else in their shoes. EDIT: Weisfeld called me back to clarify that if the deal goes through, settlements for creditors will likely be in the 30%–50% range. Not ideal, obviously, but better than zero.

Weisfeld sounded like he’s been talking for a week straight, which is probably not far from the truth. Before we got off the phone, I offered him a sincere welcome to the genre publishing community; for better or worse, he’s going to be one of us now, especially if Start and Skyhorse do end up not only taking over Night Shade’s contracts but publishing 90 new titles under the Night Shade name over the next few years. It will be very interesting to see how that changes the local landscape. In the meantime, as a frequent freelancer myself, I really hope that all of Night Shade’s creditors do get paid one way or another.

From the X-Men to the Greeks of Antiquity: Genre in Contemporary Poetry

Nora E. Derrington -- April 1st, 2013

Happy National Poetry Month!

You may not have been expecting an exclamation like that in a blog post with the “Genreville” tag, but the truth is that there’s a lot of poetry out there that plays with genre tropes, or fits into the category of genre entirely (and I’m using genre here as an umbrella term that includes fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, or science fiction). People often still seem to have the idea that poetry is inaccessible, suited only for those in ivory towers, but poetry that includes elements of the supernatural, mythological, or romantic (just to cite a few possibilities) can give readers points of connection, of entry. I know I can’t be the only person around here who was first drawn into both poetry and horror by the darkly creepy atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”! In that spirit, then, here are a handful of recommendations for poetry that incorporate genre.

Lucille Clifton: The Book of Light

Clifton is perhaps best known for her poems that explore feminist ideas and celebrate her African-American heritage, but her work explores mythological and speculative themes as well. Perhaps most notable, at least for our purposes here, is her series of poems addressed to Superman, published in her 1993 collection The Book of Light: “if I should,” “further note to clark,” “final note to clark,” and “note, passed to superman.” If you could write a note to Superman–or another fictional or mythological character–what might you say? What Clifton chose to say might surprise you, but it makes for compelling reading.

Gary Jackson: Missing You, Metropolis

Jackson takes the idea of including comic book characters in poetry several steps further in his debut collection, Missing You, Metropolis. Poems that describe the realities of growing up African-American in Kansas rub shoulders with monologues from characters as well known as  Lois Lane and Magneto, or as obscure as Dazzler. Jackson’s love for the comic genre shines through in this collection, making it a must-read for anyone who appreciates the form. Continue reading

Making the Grade

Rose Fox -- March 25th, 2013

hostThis year’s shortlist for the Aurealis Awards, Australia’s top awards for science fiction and fantasy, has a surprise in the science fiction novel category: a self-published book, And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst. I believe this is a first for major SF/F awards (unless you count the Andre Norton Award as part of the Nebulas, in which case precedent was set by Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). It’s certainly a sharp retort to people who sneer at self-published books as being universally terrible. I expect to see more self-published books showing up on various award shortlists in the next few years as self-publishing authors get more sophisticated and increase their reach.