Keycon 29 Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the beginning of Keycon 29, for which I’ve booked off time from work to make sure I can go. I really needed a vacation anyway, so I have a week after.

As usual, they have guests of honour.

I have new costume stuff for this year. I have a real, steel boned corset, and a pair of aviator goggles from the Abney Park market that came with dog tags with the AP jolly roger on them (skull with spiked hair, goggles, and a propeller and cutlass instead of bones, hee! My best friend thinks it’s ridiculous.)

I’m doing a panel, on Saturday at 1pm, apparently with Ellen Smith, on writing query letters and synopses, and I’m excited about doing a panel for the first time. No idea what the turnout will be – I hope it’s more than one or two people, but if it’s more than ten, then I’ll be glad to have a co-panelist with me, so I don’t get eaten.

There’s also the readoff, but I don’t think I have anything to read for it that really fits with their theme of Survival. Not that I likely have anything short enough for the five minutes you’re allowed to read. Just not really a flash fiction author.

And Author Idol is back! The first year they did that was really cool, and had a great turnout. It had a panel of four authors and editors as judges who would raise their hands (Robert J. Sawyer opted for armpit farts) at the point where they would stop reading a submission, and when three of four hands were up, the reader would stop and go on to the next piece. It was just the first page of your novel or story, that year, and my submission did decently well – the editor running the show didn’t like it and made them stop, despite there being only two hands up, and Robert J. Sawyer even argued with her, adamantly refusing to armpit fart my story.

That opening needs work, I’ll concede that, and I’ll go back and revise it, possibly when I’m finished with The Eyelet Dove, but for now, this year they’re doing opening pages or one page synopses. So when I found out, I scrambled to whip together a synopsis for Dove to throw at them, and I’m excited to see what they think. I don’t know if the rules will be the same. It’s also tempting to give them my first page, since the opening of the story has gone over so well with readers in general, but the synopsis is probably what I need feedback on more, and on top of that, well, I’m doing a panel on queries and synopses, so I should darn well do the synopsis option. If they’ll allow both, then I’ll give them both.

As usual, there will be the social, and the fancy dinner. I’m tempted to go to the fancy dinner – we weren’t going to, but apparently the entertainment is the sequel to the steampunk play they put on two years ago, by Kiss the Giraffe productions, which was fun. There’s usually tickets available for the dinner still available at the con, so we might pick them up at the con.

And the Dead Dog, where we drink all the alcohol left over from the hospitality suites. Giant room party taking up the entire fifteenth floor. Be there.

But I’m off today, too, so really, today is my Friday. I think I pretty much have all my costume stuff ready. I might make lists, so I don’t forget things. I still want to buy a pair of steampunk earrings from that guy who calls himself Thorgrid, or Thorgrid Jewellery. Hopefully he’ll be there again – he has the last three years, I think. Has nice stuff.

In other news, my chapter 2 of The Eyelet Dove was well received by my new critiquing group last night. They had some great feedback on where there’s details and description missing – always my weak point, but as far as story and character, I’m getting pretty much the reaction I want. Just some cosmetic touching up to do on that chapter.

As far as the revision, I’m on the touching up description/dialogue/flow part, and it’s going faster because I fixed a lot of this stuff in earlier stages as I came to it. The biggest trouble at this point is running out of space on the page to make corrections, and wanting to just type it up so that I can see the flow clearer. I think in later revisions, I may do the type-in earlier, though that may depend on how bad a wreck the story is to begin with. This one’s bad, and yet, it’s interesting to realize how the state of a first draft doesn’t really reflect the quality of the final draft once it’s done, only how much work it is to get it to final draft. This one’s just a very complex story, and to try and get everything straight, and things revealed in the right order, it’s been a challenge.

I hope to be done the final draft, or at least as good a draft as I can get on my own without beta readers helping tighten and clarify, in the next few weeks. I’d like to be on the typing out stage by the end of my vacation. Will try at least. Wish me luck, I want to start sending this to agents.

New Critique Group

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to regularly attend a critique group – my old one in my home town is too far to get to on a regular basis.

But I heard from a friend about one that meets down the street, and I never would have heard about it if not through the grapevine. So I checked up on it, and the owner of the store where they meet said to bring something to read and come by.

They’re a mystery writers group, but they have decreed that their definition of mystery would be very broad, to include anything with mystery in it. With my love of intrigue, most of my work fits their broad definition, which is awesome, because they’re an awesome group and I’m very excited to have found them.

With my old group, bless their hearts, but there was always a genre gap – they were writers of memoirs and non-fiction, mostly or literary fiction at best, and while they were always open minded and never snubbed me for writing genre fiction, I always felt like they weren’t quite sure what to make of me.

These guys, even if they’re mainly into mystery, we were far more on the same page, and I got great constructive feedback on the setting and fight scene and suggestions on how to make them better. They were all very nice people — and good writers, and they seemed to like me too. I’m very much looking forward to meeting with them again next month!

The Art of Bad Titles or Words I Swear Never to Use in a Title

There are certain words that make catchy titles, and certain words that make my eyes glaze over if I see them in the title of a book. Basically, if one of the following words is in the title of the book, you’ve got one strike against you in convincing me to read it:

  • Heart
  • Moon
  • Star
  • Crystal
  • Blade
  • Shadow
  • Quest
  • Dream
  • Dark/Darkness

If I ever am tempted to use two of the before mentioned words in a title, somebody please shoot me.

I mean, I’m not the best at titles, but skimming over a list of amateur fiction titles in a workshop, I found at least four to seven titles containing each of those words. I read a couple out to my husband, and he said, “I think I’ve read that book. Like, five times.”

Really, if the best title I can come up with for a story is The Crystal of Dreams, or The Moonblade, or Heart of the Whatever the Hell, then maybe you need to rethink your story. If that really, honestly is the most appropriate title, then, well, I don’t know what to say.

But chances are, it isn’t. Chances are, there’s something more unique and intriguing to your story than the name of the object of power that’s going to save the day when your hero acquires/uses/destroys it. What titles like that tell me, is that this story is about a thing, that’s probably some kind of gimmick that makes the story go, and little more than that. Doesn’t tell me about characters, or anything like that.

Titles that attract me are ones that have more, you know, unique words. Actually, I think the word I’m looking for is specific. Words that refer to something specific, rather than vague ideas. The first thing that comes to mind is the one I keep looking at, and I’m not sure if I’ll read, but the title grabs me, is “Whitechapel Gods.” Whitechapel is a district in London. It has meaning to me. It gives a lot of context to the word “Gods.” The words in my list, they could mean a hundred million things, in context, and paired with another one of the words in the list, it’s even worse, because then you have no context provided by the second word.

Which reminds me, there’s a clause in my vow never to use those words that states that those words may be used freely if they are being used literally. Peter S. Beagle’s story “Two Hearts” refers to the two hearts that a Griffin has, in the world of the story, because both must be pierced to kill it. If a character’s actual heart has been replaced with clockwork, then I’m good with a title like “Clockwork Heart.” I reserve the right to use “Moon” in my title, if the characters are actually traveling to the moon. “Star” and “Dream” would be reserved for sci fi only. The rest, I can’t really think of a good excuse for.

Just my two cents, and just my opinion. Anyone else have anything that makes their eyes glaze over when they see it in a title?

First Lines Contest at Blog: Between the Sheets

More than one critiquer has commented on liking the first line of The Eyelet Dove, so when someone tweeted about a first lines contest, I figured what the hell, and entered my opening line.

And what do you know, I got a runner up prize. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve had a number of critiques on the OWW on this particular opening chapter, and it’s gone over pretty well, overall. I’m quite proud of it, and I think that it’s within a few line edits of being ready to send to an agent or editor.

I like this idea, overall, for a contest. I think I might try to do something like this myself. Thing is, one line makes it not such a heavy commitment for the person putting it on, and yet, you get feedback on one of the most crucial parts of your story. I like that idea.

And she says she’s thinking of doing a pitch contest in the future, so stay tuned, if you’ve got a novel to pitch:

NEXT CONTEST COMING IN APRIL:

Create your best pitch and win a FREE WRITER’S WEBSITE (a $450 value!) or BLOG from professional web designer and developer, Brian Mowell. Details coming soon. YES, this is a FREEsetup of your author website or blog! A-M-A-Z-I-N-G PRIZE! Already have a site? No problem. Have your existing site revamped for FREE!

NaNoWrimo: Five Things to Do Before November 1st

When you ask what someone does to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, their mind usually goes to outlining, or deciding what they’re going to write. That’s not all you can do to prepare, though. Even pantsers (fly by the seat of your pants authors – as opposed to outliners) have things they can do to make their lives easier when November 1st hits.

1: Story Prep – Whe obvious, figure out what you’re going to write, and if your mind bends that way,  at bit of plot, characters, conflict, etc. If you’re a panster, don’t worry about it, do it your own way. There’s no right way, just what works. I know of some very good and very famous authors who are pansters.

2: Catch up on Laundry and Dishes – When you get off work (or school) and you have to do dishes before you can make food, and you have to eat before you write, that’s not good for your word count. I know, you cant do so many dishes and so much laundry that you don’t have to do it all of November, but you can start off November at least not behind on them so badly that it screws up those first few days word count when you’re most psyched up and ready to write.

3: Clean House – I don’t know about anybody else, but on those days when I don’t feel like writing, there’s nothing so distracting as housework staring at me. When the house is a mess, there’s always something I should be doing that seems more important than writing I feel like I should be doing, and I use it as an excuse not to get my word count. And the last thing I need is excuses not to get my word count.

4: Prepare Quick Meals – On those days when things are rough, and you’re behind on your word count, it really helps to have easy meals in the freezer, that are healthy. Sure you can order pizza, but it’s important to get a healthy meal in as often as possible when your brain is working so damn hard. People joke about living off energy drinks and candy through the month, and we all know that’s not healthy. But not only is it unhealthy, but your overall ability to function, and obviously, to write, will suffer. So throw together some spaghetti sauce, soup, chili, etc, and put it in containers in the freezer, for those days when time is tight and you’re behind on your word count.

5: Talk to Your Family – Family, and friends too, can be a great support during Nano, but when you’re behind on your word count and your SO hasn’t seen you in a week, it can be a strain on things. Not all your family members may be supportive, and they don’t have to be, but do your best to make them aware of what you’re going to be up to this month. Tell them what they can do to help you, if they’re willing, but even if they’re not on board, you should at least be on the same page, as far as their expectations of you in the coming thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon.

That’s the main things I look to. You may be psyched up now, and ready to go, but when week two rolls around (and the veterans know, week two is when anyone who quits drops out, because it’s the hardest week to hack through) you’ll be glad you did a little prep before hand. Happy Nanoing!

NaNoWriMo 2011 – Road To Elysium

It’s that time of year again, NaNoWriMo is coming around, and I’m gearing up to participate.

My Nano history: my friend Turtle talked me into it six years ago; I started three days late because I was convinced that I wasn’t interested until I saw her so motivated and having fun, and the peer support, and finally caved and started. Failed miserably – exams were at the same time. But I was hooked. Same deal next year, but I got to about 25k this time. Next year I hit under 20k, but that was a month before my wedding. The year after that was 2009, and I wasn’t going to school, and I booked time off work in November to prove that if I had the time, I could do it. And I finally did. Last year I got a new job, and the weeks I had booked off in November disappeared. But I was working close to home, and slightly shorter shifts, that gave me two hours a day extra to do it, so I was determined to give it all I had, and I made it again last year, if barely.

This year I figure I got it in the bag. I have 1 week off, and I’ve had my hours reduced at work – bad financially, but writing wise… eh, I’m enjoying the time it’s given me to work on revision, so there are perks. As long as I don’t get overconfident and lazy, I should be golden.

The project this year: Road To Elysium. Breaking away from my usual Dieselpunk, and delving into science fiction, specifically cyberpunk. The setting will be intergalactic, and largely inspired by current economic events, extrapolating the Corporate personhood idea out to where corporations are now government, and there are no nations, just Companies. Workers are often brainwiped to protect corporate informational assets.

There is slavery, though they don’t like to call it that. In this world, people in debt are forced to work off their debt in service of whatever corporation that owns their debt. Whoever owns their debt, owns them. Society is composed of mostly debt slaves, since the companies don’t pay their workers in cash, but credits that can be spent only on company goods, or traded for cash at a pointless conversion rate, so that no one can actually get out of debt. Or their parents debt, passed down to them. The only other option for someone who can’t work, or refuses to, is bankruptcy, in which case they must go to live on one of the refugee camp planets.

The story starts with the main character, who’s been brainwiped, and doesn’t remember anything before being rescued from an escape pod two years ago. A strange woman shows up to take her away from the mining asteroid she works on – her debt is being sold to another company because that company is looking for a “certain type of worker”. What that is, they won’t tell her, other than she fits the bill.

Once they’re free and clear, she finds out that the woman who’s taken her away is an AI from the planet Elysium, a paradise where all inhabitants live in perfect harmony and equality. The woman tells her that’s where she came from, and she’s come to take her home. But the Corporation that owns her debt catches on, and their journey home becomes a desperate flight from the corporation’s mercenaries, among others.

Seeing as I’m breaking out of my old habits with genre, I figure I might as well in other ways as well. I think I’m going to try writing in first person, present tense, just to mix things up. The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi was in present tense, and while I noticed right away, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. First person is a little less foreign to me – I wrote my first novel in first person (an abomination that will never ever see the light of print on paper). And most recently, I wrote a short story in first person. I hadn’t planned that, I just had the plot entirely worked out, and sat down to write and the first sentence came out in first person. I looked at it and blinked, and went with it. It’s one of my better pieces, but too long for a short, so it’ll probably be a novel some day.

In any case, I’m being ambitious and daring this year – I suppose I had to make up for having a more comfortable amount of time to work on the thing. Which reminds me, I should go finish the outline for it. 😛

The Zeitgeist – Writing in the Spirit of the Times

This is something of a followup to this post and this post. Robert J. Sawyer touched on this on his “Idea is King” lecture as well. It’s about finding an idea that will hit a nerve with your audience.

Think about what concepts are big right now. The current issues and events rocking our world today. A work that makes statements on that is the sort of work that will get people talking, and right from the time of Jonathan Swift and H. G. Wells, science fiction and fantasy have been a platform for making a statement.

I find as I’ve matured, the ideas that come to me are the sort of ideas that are in the Zeitgeist. Obviously I can’t feel strongly about every concept being debated right now, but the bigger ones that I feel most strongly about, I write about.

My last major project, The Box, was about religious tolerance and faith, and the conflict between science and religion, approaching it from the speculative standpoint of “what would a society look like if science was the dominant religion?” From that, the idea was born of a country where an underground group of rebels dedicated to science had overthrown the reigning theocracy, and captured God in a contraption they’d built, and ultimately turn out to be no better ruler’s than the theocracy had been.

My current project, The Eyelet Dove, originally was about a country occupied by a conquering country and revolting against the occupying country. I slowly got frustrated with it, there was something wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then finally I realized that the reason I didn’t like it, was because I didn’t want to write about an occupation – what was on my mind was the conflicts in the world today between the corporate aristocracy and the working class people. That’s what I feel passionately about right now, and when I realized that, the story turned into a people’s revolution, overturning an oppressive and indulgent monarchy and upper class.

And with the way the world is going right now, that’s totally on the front page of the Zeitgeist newspaper.

And now I have NaNoWriMo coming up, which I do every year, and have finally decided on which of many ideas bouncing around in my head that I’m going to do. It’s going to be science fiction this time, possibly classifiable as cyberpunk, with AI’s being a major theme, but then I read this article on debt and my worldbuilding elements began to fall into place. Many futuristic science fiction novels themes center around an extrapolation of how the world will be in X number of years, if things keep going the way they are.

This one’s going to look at debt, and how the current economic situation has turned the lower class into little more than a slave class, with no upward mobility and no power. So that will be the world my main character is trapped in, only with spaceships and asteroid mines, where there is no government anymore – the government has been bought out by the Corporations, and their employees are their citizens, and if they have any debt, they’re their slaves. Only they won’t use that word – that’s an ugly word. There will be internment camp for the bankrupt, and defaulters will be hunted like escaped slaves. The companies won’t pay employees in cash, but in credit that can only be used for buying company goods, so that their employees can survive, but can never get out of debt. And there will be an attack on one of the companies, attempting to delete all of their financial records, so as to free their employees from debt, by a legendary hacker. It will be fun.

Write something that matters

First, read this; it’s relevant and also entertaining:

http://hollylisle.com/index.php/Workshops/how-to-write-suckitudinous-fiction.html

I have read one book of holly lisle’s and I did very much enjoy it. It was Minerva Wakes, about a woman who gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity when her husband bought their wedding rings; the guy at the ren fair or wherever he bought them mistook him for one of the “weavers” who are the arch enemies of the unweaver – basically force of creation, vs force of destruction, good old fashioned good and evil. So, having these rings, they are supposed to take up the fight against the unweaver and their love and powers of creativity, as I remember, is what’s supposed to help them do it. Or something to that effect. It was a long time ago – but that only goes to show how much of an impact on me that I remember it. Them loving one another was important. Catch is, when the story begins, their marraige is in shambles and she’s considering divorce when they find out what these rings mean. So she gets dumped into a fantasy world where she has to get in touch with her dreams again in order to awaken the weaver powers she’s been oblivious to. And of course there’s the happily ever after in the end, but it was cute, and I liked it.

Anyway, that’s only partly relevant. The relevant part is that it had a purpose and a theme and likable characters with flaws and dreams and goals and things they cared about dearly that drove them, and the story.

Some people, particularly in writing circles, don’t like stories to have an obvious message, because they don’t like being preached at. I never like those sorts of stories. Experimental stories that dance around the fact that it doesn’t give me any compelling reason to read on. Drives me friggin nuts, I’m like ok, why did I read that? What’s the point of a story if it doesn’t have a point? Why write it at all, if there’s no reason to write it?

They say, for entertainment. They just want a story to entertain them and nothing else is allowed to creep into it. These people have never given me a more compelling argument than “I don’t like it.” And yet, these people defend their position vehemently, like a rabid atheist, trying to push others to adopt their position, and warning other authors that if they writing something that expresses their opinion, especially if it’s a political opinion, well, be careful, because there’s no market for that stuff.

Which is just not true, I don’t know what kind of crack they’re on, and they never have any statistics to back them up, unlike arguments to the contrary.

I wondered where this attitude comes from. But then I look around at the world, and at my generation, I think, no wonder they’re writing this blather. My generation is a generation that’s jaded by helplessness. Even if we vote, we’re outnumbered by the earlier generations who have vastly different values and ideals, so that our votes don’t matter. We feel that the old guard hasn’t given up the keys to our world and we can’t make the changes we see need to be made. Because there aren’t enough of us, and it’s too big a fight, too much work, and the guy beside us isn’t going to take up that banner alongside and fight beside us for what they believe in and what they want.

I’m not even going to get into all the things we see wrong with the world; that’s not the point of this particular outburst. The point is that we’ve lost hope.

It’s what they want us to believe. They’ve always wanted us to believe that things are the way they are and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Politicians promise it, but they don’t come through. The people in power don’t want change, and they’ve convinced us that there’s nothing we can do.

The complacence is deadly. We give up on our dreams, take jobs that don’t matter to us, and when we feel unfulfilled, we say, well, that’s life, you have to accept it. And when we can’t accept it any more, we put guns to our heads, because we have no hope for anything better.

I may still be relatively young, but I’ve been through a fair bit, and even been close to losing all hope. But I’ve come back from it. Most recently, my last job was really getting rough and it wasn’t allowing me enough time that I was coherent enough to work, to work on my writing, which is my dream. It took a while but I realized that job was outright stopping me from following my dream.

I don’t generally act rashly in those situations, so I didn’t quit right that moment, but I started looking for a new job pretty quick, and awesome friends came through for me in helping me find one. Things are way better now. Because I did something.

I could have survived on that old job. I could live in this ghetto apartment indefinitely and raise kids in here that I didn’t have time to see, and never write another novel. Hypothetically, I mean. I’d actually just do what I did because I couldn’t bear giving up progress or at least the hope of progress.

Right around that time, my favourite band released their new album, with a song that hit home just then:

Letters From A Little Boy To Himself As An Adult
Lyrics by Captain Robert

”Robert as boy:”
Dear Mr. Brown,
One day I’ll be you and
Although I’m only eight now,
You need to hear my rules
Never stop playing
Never stop dreaming and
And be careful not to
Turn into what I’d hate

”Robert as adult:”
Dear little boy,
I’m doing my best up here but
It’s a thankless job and
Nobody feels the same
You work long hours
Watch your credit rating
Pay your taxes and
Prepare to die

”Jody Ellen:”
I have tried to keep my soul
I lost the fight to keep a hold
Now I am not awake
Now I’m not awake

”Robert as boy:”
Hey Mr. Brown,
That can’t be what life is like!
I’ve watched some movies,
And I’ve, I’ve read some books
Life should be exciting
And sometimes scary but
What you’re describing doesn’t
Seem worth the time

”Robert as adult:”
Hey little boy,
I think you are always right
I’ve dropped that worthless life and
I’m moving on
Life should be adventure
I’m stealing back my soul
I’ve lost too many years now
I’m awake

”Robert and Jody Ellen:”
You were right
I nearly lost my soul
I will fight to steal back my soul
Now I am awake
Now I’m awake

This became Etienne’s song, and all my feelings about my life then came out in the novel I was writing for national novel writing month. Etienne is a man who led a small uprising against the oppressive monarchy that was put down brutally. He lost friends, spent time in jail and when he got out, he no longer believed it was possible to change the way things were. Eventually someone convinces him to try again, and he dares to hope again.

Then there’s Claire who dreams of flying a fighter aeroplane, and since it’s a man’s world, she has to fight society’s rules tooth and nail to follow her dream. But she does, right to the end. She never gives up on it.

And there’s the admiral; he doesn’t like the way things are, but he accepts it, and doesn’t believe that change is possible, so he tries to make the best of the way things are.

And finally there’s Maddie, the little girl, who is too young to know she shouldn’t hope for better, and inspires it in others too.

I want my writing, and my characters to inspire people. I think people want to believe and to hope, they’re just inundated with apathy, and there needs to be more hope in the world. I want to put more hope in the world, and this is how I’ll do it.

Where Do The Ideas Come From?

I’m told that one of the questions that comes up at cons repeatedly, and the one that authors dread the most is “Where do you get your ideas?”

Because they all want an easy answer. Take a piece of paper and write something in the middle, then write related ideas around it, and then make a story out of it. Use the snowflake method. Write prompts on slips of paper and draw them out of a hat. Sit at your computer and stare really hard at it like a scrying mirror, until the words magically appear.

And what the authors really want to tell the person is “Get a life.”

Literally. You don’t get ideas from staring at a blank screen. Stories come from life, characters come from real people, settings come from real places. Even in science fiction and fantasy, where the world is so vastly different from our own, this is true.

I have never, ever, once in my life got an idea for what to write while I was sitting typing a story. Maybe some people do, but my ideas come while I’m out in the world, and talking with people. Also, many get their start from dreams.

For example, the novel I’m currently revising is “The Eyelet Dove.” It started as a dream, but the dream only contained the characters Maddie and Etienne, without names, and their antagonists were vague, I originally imagined the city being occupied by a neighboring country.

But over the last few years, I’ve learned more about the state of economics, and the growing gap between the working class and the corporate aristocracy. It’s only getting worse, and I’m not part of the corporate aristocracy. The setting and conflict became no longer and occupation, but a civil war to overthrow the monarchy who’s holding the working class down to fund an expensive war that’s not progressing.

I’d originally imagined the story setting to be more steampunk with airship battles somewhat akin to tallships, but then our local aviation museum hosted one of the few (single digits) lancaster bombers that are still in flying order. My Dad wanted to take me to see it for my birthday, and when his girlfriend said, “Now Don, shouldn’t you ask Lindsay what  *she* wants to do for her birthday?” my response was, “I kinda want to go see the plane…..” I am my father’s daughter, and I think these things are cool. This is a WWII plane, and I got to go inside and see it, and talk to the pilots and find out how many people would have been in the crew, how the plane was used tactically, and that it carried the biggest bombs dropped in WWII.

Suddenly now the story has bombers playing a major role in the story, along with WWII style aeroplanes.

So if you’re an aspiring writer sitting staring at a blank screen and whining to yourself  “I don’t know what to write”, stop. Go to the museum. Go to the zoo. Go see a movie, or read a book. Read non-fiction. Click through wikipedia, follow links until you find stuff that intrigues you. Take a course. Take up a hobby. Learn to dance. Go on a trip. You don’t want characters sitting around the page feeling bored and sorry for themselves, why let yourself do it?

Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War

I really expected to like this one – it’s a Hugo and Nebula award winner from back in the golden age of science fiction. Only I didn’t. Glancing at reviews, no one seems to have picked out the greatest flaws in this book.

It was interesting, had it’s moments, and I laughed a couple times as the author’s extrapolations of where we’d be fifty years from now. For example, he figured by the 90’s we’d be way past mars and have a military base on Charon, one of Pluto’s moons. On the other hand, he also anticipated that we’d have electronic money transfers by the year 2115 or something like that. I suppose back then they were hopeful that exploration and human curiosity would be the leading drivers of innovation, rather than convenience.

That wasn’t what disappointed me though. Those things – see, those are the same as H. G. Wells’ man eating orchids and anything else he wrote about that we know can’t exist now. I don’t have a problem with that.

It was the story crafting that lost me. See, the theme of the story is embedded in the setting. The extrapolation of the progress of culture is the point of the novel. The fact that the main character was going away, losing time, and coming back, fifty, a hundred, seven hundred years later, was the macguffin the author used to show the theme. The problem is the plot has almost nothing to do with the theme.

The main plot is the romance between the main character, William, and his fellow soldier, Marygay. The plot does nothing to further the point of the story. Furthermore, the main character is not in a position to affect anything to do with the state of the world, so he’s not exactly the idea candidate for a main character. The only reason William goes back to view the changes that occur in the world each time he returns from a mission is so that he can observe the state of the world now. The theme is wedged into the plot, like an after thought. I was expecting the plot to eventually have some link to the theme, and it never did. There are those that argue that, well, it does, sort of, but should a story’s plot only touch on the point obliquely?

Robert J Sawyer has a great article on how to choose and create an effective main character, here: http://www.sfwriter.com/ow02.htm. He explains that your main character should be the one in the best position to illustrate the purpose of your story. Plot, I believe is the same – you choose a plot to illustrate your point, to make your story a cohesive whole. As I learn more about the craft of writing, I notice these things more, and they annoy me more.

Did it get a Hugo and Nebula because the readers of the time were less discerning? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s simply that what they considered important about the novel was different. There are people who are nuts for Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and I didn’t care for that one either. I supposed that’s just not the time period I’m nostalgic for.

Back to H. G. Wells.