On the resolution to read more female authors: recommendations welcome

I have  a huge to-be-read list. I don’t have the actual books; I mostly buy the book once I’m ready to read it, and I’ll do that even more now that I have the new Sony e-reader I got for christmas. The fact that I can buy a book anywhere I have wifi, means that it’s easy enough to buy a book that I don’t feel the need to stock up on books to be ready when I finish one.

Anyway, I want to make sure I get myself caught up on what’s going on with awesome female authors these days. It seems, when I go to grab a book, it always seems to be the male authors that I pick up. I’m not sure if that’s because the male author is more hyped, or the covers tend to be more action oriented, and covers of books by female authors seem like they’re going to be about catty women, or what it is. Even though I know that there are lots of awesome female writers out there. I don’t really know why this happens.

Anyway, I want to change my own habits, because, as I said, there’s a bunch of authors I’ve been wanting to read, so I have a list so far:

  • Who Fear’s Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • Something by Holly Lisle
  • Something by Elizabeth Bear
  • Shadow Magic, by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
  • His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Honestly, that would likely get me most of the way through the year – I don’t read fast these days, I’m too busy writing. But if anyone has suggestions on others that should be on this list*, please make them. I’d like to catch some of the new rising stars in fantasy and science fiction.

(I picked up Who Fears Death, though, on christmas day, and sadly it did not last into 2012, as I devoured it obsessively and finished it on new years eve while at a party, because omg, I can’t think about anything but this story and there’s only 20 pages left….)

*Keeping in mind I hate superheroes, and don’t read sword and sorcery or urban fantasy. Epic fantasy is a possibility, but tends to go to the bottom of the pile in favour of shorter, more succinct books.

The Eyelet Dove – Teaser Posted!

I’ve been working on this revision a while, and this novel has gone through at least six different opening scenes. Two different ones for the original short story version that was too long to be a short story, and then one for the first attempt at novelization, and three different ones for this novelization. Finally, now, I have an opening scene that I’m really happy with. And that other people like too. I’ve edited the opening, and had a number of reviewers I trust to be honest, as they’ve been honest before when my work sucked :p and I think it’s ready to give people an official sneak peek at what I’ve been working on for the last six months.

This story was originally a short, about five years ago, and ballooned out to a novelette, at which point, there was this side character Michel, and he had so much more story to tell than could be fit into a short. Joshua Palmatier read it on the OWW, and gave me some feedback, saying if if needed to be a novel, let it be a novel. So I did. I plotted and got ready, and in 2008, I tried to write it as a novel, and failed miserably. Partly because I was trying to do nano while planning my December wedding, and partly because I tried to stuff a love story in where it didn’t belong.

Then two years later, in 2010, I tried again, this time with new viewpoint characters, and no love plot except a somewhat casual relationship of convenience between a pair of jaded middle aged characters, and a female soldier falling a bit in love with a male prostitute in a gender reversal. I trashed almost all of the 2008 version. I came up with Claire about a month before I started writing it, so she was a late addition, but mainly because I couldn’t decide what kind of character to fill her role.

This time it took, and while it came out roughly the way I wanted it, roughly is the operative term. There were two entire scenes that didn’t have enough setting description to figure out where they took place. (I assure you, however, that this will be repaired in the revision.)

It’s a Dieselpunk secondary world novel, set in country of Avalice, from it’s decadent floating castles and aeroplanes armed with gattling guns, right down to the orphan kids living in the sewers. And the poor people on the ground are getting restless.

Years ago, Etienne started a union, but it was put down brutally by the King’s forces. Now, pardoned for the sake of his valuable skills, Etienne serves in the air corps as a machinist, but when  the stirrings of revolution begin again, Etienne is the first one anyone points fingers at, even though he knows nothing about who’s behind it.

Claire is a young woman with dreams of being the first woman fighter pilot. But in this world, women do needlework and bake, and Claire will have to fight to make a place for herself alongside the men in the air corps. When revolution strikes, her loyalty and courage will be put to the test.

Roland, the Admiral of the Air, has enough trouble keeping his bastard son, ace pilot Michel from ruling the roost on the floating aircraft carrier Omnipotent. His life gets more complicated when he gets word that there is a saboteur planted on his ship, and he must identify him before full scale revolution starts, and the Eyelet Dove strikes.

As conflict heats up in the city, their lives intertwine, but when the rebels’ plans begin to fall to pieces, the Eyelet Dove may be the only one who can bring the revolution to victory.

So, without further ado, The Eyelet Dove, Chapter 1.

Why I write Fantasy and Science Fiction

I have an in person critiquing group that I get out to when I can, and there’s one member I’ve often got together with for coffee or drinks after the meeting. We chat about the craft because the other members of the group tend focus on word choice and phrasing and not to be interested in delving into the more structural aspects of writing.

He has often asked me, in as polite a way as he can, but it’s still pretty obvious that he looks down his nose at genre fiction, if I’ve considered writing mainstream fiction, set in the real world.

I have, it just doesn’t hold my interest. I tried to explain that I don’t go to sit down and write something – the story comes to me, and I write the story that comes.

But I’ve thought about that, and that’s not a complete explanation, because I’ve often had plots come, but not come with settings. I could slap any setting on that plot and run with it.

Only I couldn’t. There is a definite certain type of story that comes to me, and the stories that come to me are big stories. I mean, stories where the characters are influencing the outcomes of wars, revolutions, etc. Things that are big enough that I can’t just set it in the real world because it’s too big to fit. There was never a revolution that went down the way it did in The Eyelet Dove, and the characters are not the little people you can hide in a big event. The plot requires them to be major players, and in history, no such characters and situations existed, and they’re too big to force in without the audience saying, hey, there was never such a character in such and such a time, that could never happen.

There’s just no way to take such plots and tell the story without changing something major in the setting. Which brings you into the realm of alternate universe, futuristic settings, and my personal favourite, secondary world settings. Which is necessarily, the realms of science fiction and fantasy.

I think that may be part of the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to many readers, especially the many lovers of epic fantasy. Perhaps the people who read sci-fi and fantasy just think bigger than people who enjoy mainstream fiction, and want to read about people who make real change in the world. In times where free agency dwindles and people have less and less control over their own fates and ability to make a living, and a sense of free agency is a major psychological factor in satisfaction with one’s life, they want to read about characters who take on huge challenges and save their world. People who have the power do something.

Not all Science Fiction and Fantasy is like that, but the stuff I like most is.

Steampunk: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I promise to get back to the Utopia posts, but I’m in the middle of Nanowrimo now, so here’s something I was working on before I started: A discussion of the nature of steampunk.

It’s often referred to as a genre, an aesthetic, a subculture, a way of life, even. Sometimes it’s only a minor element in a bigger sense of setting in a work of fiction, sometimes it’s the entire point. Some call it science fiction, some call it fantasy.

The obvious: Steampunk is characterized by Victorian or Edwardian aesthetics, or later periods, if you’re getting into Dieselpunk. And there’s the Steam powered gadgetry (or, again, diesel powered, if you’re going Dieselpunk). And finally, unless you’re going Gaslight romance instead of full-fledged Steampunk, there’s the “punk” part – the social commentary.

So, is it science fiction or fantasy? First, then, what’s the defining difference between science fiction and fantasy? The best definition I’ve found is the one given by Robert J. Sawyer: On the difference between Science fiction and fantasy.

So, Science fiction is a possible present or future, where fantasy is a world that never was and never could be. So where does that put Steampunk? It often has “technology” in it, that from where we stand today, we know is impossible and ridiculous, even. Often to bridge the gap of suspension of belief, the author must resort to stating it runs on some form of magic. But just as often, the Steampunk element will be something that, to the people of Victorian or Edwardian times, might have been possible. Like using a zeppelin to fly to the moon. Or even better, a chair with fireworks strapped onto it. (That last one’s an example from a much earlier period than Victorian times, but I had to include it because it’s awesome.)

So people will argue, well, when H. G. Wells was writing, they believed these things were possible. Time machines, making animals sentient, turning people invisible, traveling to the center of the earth and finding live dinosaurs down there, submarines that could carry people deep under the sea (oh, wait, that one turned out to be possible). So if what H. G. Wells wrote was science fiction, then is Steampunk science fiction?

Lets put it in perspective. Look at all the tons of medieval fantasy there is out there. Look at medieval times – what did they believe was possible back then? Well, they believed in mermaids and unicorns, and dragons, and wizards, and magic.  And when people write medieval fantasy now, no one asks whether it’s fantasy or science fiction. Granted, no one asked whether it was science fiction or fantasy in medieval times either – but that was only because they hadn’t invented genres yet. For that matter, when H. G. Wells and Jules Verne were writing, it was still being called “Scientific Romance.”

So if we look at it being not the subject matter or setting that defines science fiction, but the perspective of the author, then Steampunk, even when it contains nothing that the author calls magic, is fantasy. Since science fiction looks forward, to what the author believed was possible at the time he/she wrote the work, and fantasy looks backward, at bygone eras, and imagines what fun it would be if the dreams of the past were not shattered by the reality of present knowledge.

This is why you find Steampunk on the fantasy bookshelves, not the science fiction ones.  The point of genre, after all, is to categorize books into if-you-liked-that-then-you-might-like-this, in order to make it easier for readers to find things they’re likely to enjoy.

P.S. – Halfway through nano – a little behind, but catching up. Wish me luck.

Lamenting the Death of Print or Why I Don’t Have an E-book Reader

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of print and the rise of electronic books. Many say that authors need to get with the times and go electronic, and then others say they like the feel of a book in their hands, and will never buy an e-book reader, and the people like them will keep print alive, if only on a smaller scale.

I keep saying I’d love to have an e-book reader, because it would make buying books easier, and if I got the sony one, I could do copyedits on my fiction on it. Someday when the credit card is paid off, I’ll get one.

Then I read this post, from Seanan Mcguire: http://seanan-mcguire.livejournal.com/390067.html

And there it is. That’s why I don’t have an e-book reader. I can’t bloody well afford one.

The library was my place, right from an early age. My dad took me regularly – it must have been every two weeks, because that’s how long you were allowed to keep a book back then. I went through books like nobody’s business, right from the time I learned to read, which was pretty young – my dad read to my brother and I regularly, and he would point at each word as he read it, so that I started to pick up patterns pretty fast. I would read anything I could get my hands on. When I’d read all the children’s books in the house, he must have started taking me to the library when he saw me reading the backs of cereal boxes for the lack of anything to read on the table.

When I graduated from picture books to chapter books, it was to Thornton Burgess, and his books about forest animals. When I got to longer books, it was because I was in love with horses (what teenage girl isn’t? (well, except for my mother…)) and got into the Black Stallion series, and Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague ponies. I read every book in the library that had a horse or a unicorn on the front.

When I got into science fiction, that was how it happened to. It was “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” by Madeleine L’engle, and I went back to read the first books in the trilogy first, because I’m neurotic that way. But it had a unicorn on the front, with bonus wings, and I had to read it.

So then I started cleaning out the library of their science fiction and fantasy, eventually moving over to the adult section. This would have been thousands of dollars worth of books, easily. I would go through one a week at least. Lets see, one book a week, for a year, at, say 10$ a book, we’ll be conservative, even though a lot of those we probably 30$ hardcovers, would be around 500$ a year. And I’m not even counting the non-fiction I took out. Which tends to be more expensive. I educated myself on all kinds of things, just browsing the racks to find interesting things.

It’s like a bookstore! Only free!

We do need libraries, and our libraries need funding. As the gap between the poor and the wealthy widens, opportunities disappear. Libraries have always been a haven for enlightenment, and when public schools are losing funding, and teachers are overwhelmed with class sizes, students with the desire should always have the option to initiate their own learning opportunities.

(as the concepts of intellectual property and information ownership and the rights of the poor to access them creep into the setting of my next novel….)

Banned Books Week

So banned books week is coming up, and I always go to read the list of most frequently challenged books thinking I probably haven’t read any of them, because I don’t do a lot of reading gay literature, but then I remember, oh yeah, Harry Potter is on there, and a whole ton of other books that no one who isn’t dumb can really understand why they’re on that list.

“Of Mice and Men” anyone? Yeah, that one was on the list one year. It doesn’t even have racial or homosexual angles. It’s just a sad story. On the list for being in the top ten most frequently challenged books – for being a sad story.

Oh well. At least they haven’t been very successful with suppressing this stuff. I think a book making the banned list would only give the author extra publicity and make their sales skyrocket. When I am one day published, I would live to have my book banned. It would inevitably be for content that I was unabashedly proud of.

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.