Upcoming: Avians by Timothy Gwyn

I’ve been waiting until I had a little more to link to, but I’m super excited to announce that one of my critique group is getting his novel published!

Timothy Gwyn is the pen name of Tim Armstrong, a pilot who flies out of Kenora – about – well, okay, I’ve never driven to Kenora, but it’s about 45 minutes in a Cessna 172 – east of Winnipeg.

I met Tim at Keycon – he had found my blog fairly close to the beginning of my epic journey into the world of aviation, and he introduced himself to me at my home sci-fi/fantasy convention. I think he was the first pilot I met and got to know that I didn’t meet outside of my flight school. And he was there because he had a novel he was working on.

He offered to take me on a tour of one of the King Airs he flew, and I took him up on it – that was the day I made a kick ass landing in 9G17 straight across the runway in Kenora and naturally no one ever sees when you make a good landing.

Anyway, we had a fun chat about writing and flying, and I was intrigued by his worldbuilding, so we traded novels to give one another feedback. I really enjoyed it – I mean, I’ve said this before about my fellow local writers, but you read a local writers work ready to sift through and find nice things to say, but the local writers I’ve read, I’ve been pleased to find I don’t have to look hard.

The planet his story is set on had an atmosphere so dense that  it’s uninhabitable at sea level, and the human life exists only high on the mountain peaks. Which are mostly volcanoes. Can’t think of anything that could go wrong with that? Neither can I. (/sarcasm)

Society wise, he’s got what would normally be considered an iron age, except that for reasons you’ll have to read the book to find out, there is next to no metal available to the inhabitants of this planet. Their coins, instead of copper and tin, are made of glass.

Between the sparsely situated volcano peaks on the planet, is a trade network of mysterious airships. Communication with the airships is strictly limited to accounting and commodity availability, and the closest the planet’s occupants ever get to these ships is the glider pilots that deliver goods to the ships. Glider pilots like the main characters.

I think I read the original draft in two days – it sucked me in in a way few books do, to be honest. It’s young adult fiction, and that’s definitely something I enjoy, and it was the sort of thing I’d be happy to give to my young cousins or if I had kids myself, to read. I can only imagine it’s gotten better since he’s revised it himself. When my critique group lost a member, we invited him on my recommendation to join our group, and he brought a few scenes in to us. He mentioned in a blog post when my best friend and I went over his opening thirty pages to help him get them ready to present to the editor in time. But we were really just excited to be a part of a novel that we could see was worthy of publication, and we were over the moon to hear a contract was the result.

It’s set for publication in August of 2017, from the sounds of it, and you can be damn sure I’ll remind you all.  So if aviation, and in particular alternate aviation and it’s convergence with science fiction intrigues you as much as it did me, keep your eye on his blog, where he’s posted a blurb to taunt you. He’s got a informatively created planet, with aviation focused exclusively on women pilots, and a story that more than passes the bechdel test. This novel is gonna kick ass, and I will be plugging it in the future closer to the publication date, be prepared!

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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.