This Blog’s First Meme

I picked up this meme, it might be a little stale, but it is a cool idea:

This is a list of the 50 “most significant” science fiction/fantasy novels, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club. Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished, and put an asterisk* beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe*
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison*
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester*
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson (couldn’t get much into book #2)
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson*
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner*
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer*

I’m a great Heinlein fan, but somehow I just haven’t gotten to his two books on this list.

The Politics of SF…

Thanks to the SF Signal Blog, over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to read a couple of articles about the politics of science fiction. It’s interesting to compare the thoughts of Eric S. Raymond and David Brin about the political subtext of Science Fiction in general, as both have clear thoughts about what the natural political ideology of science fiction is. From Raymond’s point of view, when you sequence pure SF DNA, you have radical libertarian individualism. Brin looks at the genre and finds a heart of progressive anti-authoritarianism. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both authors find, at the heart of the genre, something close to their own ideals.

Now, I happen to agree with many of both authors’ points about the various political threads winding through individual works of science fiction, however what I disagree with is the conclusion that a given strain of political thought is somehow more sfnal than another— because every argument of this type that is ever made stacks the deck in its own favor. Raymond casts his history of SF as a dialectic between Campellian Hard SF and a series of failed movements in reaction to it. Brin sets off Star Trek against Star Wars to argue that the authoritarian and elitist themes in Star Wars is not “true” SF.

Both authors present compelling arguments insofar that they are based on premises that justify their own arguments. Or, or bluntly, they pick a region of the genre and draw a boundary around it and define this as the true heart of science fiction. They then derive the political subtext of the selected area of the genre and declare that as the real political subtext of the genre as a whole.

The thing is, science fiction is not that narrow a field. It has carried themes of militarism and pacifism, optimism and pessimism, individualism and collectivism, capitalism and socialism, Marxism, libertarianism, feminism, racism, egalitarianism and elitism throughout its entire existence. Norman Spinrad wrote The Iron Dream in large part to skewer the authoritarian proto-fascist themes of a particular tradition of space opera, a tradition that saw its apotheosis in Star Wars, a tradition that’s a deep part of the genre despite how distasteful Mr. Brin might find it. And while Raymond finds the political heart of SF to be libertarian— and there’s a mighty big swath of libertarian SF out there— the fact is there’s a definite plurality, if not a majority, of science fiction that is not part of the Campellian tradition, or written in reaction to it. Authors like Phillip K. Dick, Mack Reynolds or Harlan Ellison are not outsiders, or somehow divorced form the “core tradition” of science fiction. They are part and parcel of the genre and its history, and that history can not be placed in a neat little political box.

Exposition Part I: “The Butler Did It…”

First in what I hope to be a ongoing series on the technical aspects of writing fiction, particularly genre fiction, and even more particularly, SF/Fantasy fiction.

A challenge to all writers, and SF/Fantasy writers in particular, is the troublesome need to get across all the important background details that the reader needs to make sense of a given fictional world. It can be the past history of the world and/or individual characters. It can be details of feast days or religious festivals. It can be how a starship drive works. Whatever it is, the reader has to know it to fully understand the story. . .

There are many tools in the exposition toolbox, and one of the oldest and most misused is dialog. Beginning writers are advised to avoid the dreaded “Maid/Butler Dialog,” which can be defined simply as having characters tell each other things solely for the reader’s benefit. (Named for the cliché in which the servants gossip about the Lord and Lady of the manor for the purpose of informing the observer of the Lord’s recent service in the army and the Lady’s inappropriate attentions to the gardener.) There’s nothing that can be more destructive to suspension of disbelief then having characters tell each other things they already should know.

However, pitfalls aside, dialog is still one of the major tools in the toolbox. After all, if it wasn’t for dialog (and monologue) there’d be no exposition (or much else) in Shakespeare.

So what do you need to do if you’re interested in expository dialog? Just follow the three cardinal rules:

  1. The characters need to have their own reasons to say what they say.
  2. The characters need to speak in their own words, not the author’s.
  3. The characters need to speak to other characters, not the reader.

Follow those three rules, and you have interesting characters doing interesting things, any exposition you embed in your dialog will come across seamlessly, and not as an unnatural info-dump.

A special bulletin

This is from a friend of mine in college radio. While I’m all for IP rights, it irks me when someone steps between me and my rights just to enrich themselves. Not to mention the Kafkaesqe red tape is truly frightening:

WCSB 89.3 FM in Cleveland and other college radio stations across the country may have to give up webcasting their signals due to new rules set up by Sound Exchange and the US Copyright Office. The rules were created to ensure that artists would be paid for their work that was webcast online. It sounds like a noble cause. Paying musicians for the music they make sounds wonderful to me and I’m all for it. WCSB pays royalties to BMI every year for broadcast materials which I don’t have any problem with. Unfortunately the rules from Sound Exchange will guarantee that all but a few bands never receive a dime from getting played and fewer people will know they exist.

The fees for reporting are expensive and more importantly the reporting requirements are prohibitive. The costs are .02 per listener per song and there are 11 data fields that must be tracked for each song played. Bands receive .0007 cents per song played and Sound Exchange will not send out checks until a band accrues at least $10.00 in songs played. A band would have to be played more then 14,285 times before they would receive their first check! And to rub a little more salt in that wound it costs $45 to register a sound recording with the US Copyright office.

Almost all of the money paid in to the system by college radio stations will never reach the artists that these rules are supposed to benefit. It is much more beneficial for college radio to be able to introduce new music to audiences all over the world via webcasts. Most bands played on WCSB would make more money by selling one cd then they will ever see from sound exchange fees.

The new rules will force college stations to either adopt a mainstream radio format (it’s a lot easier to report songs when you play the same thing every hour) or in many cases cease webcasting. A few stations might try to comply with the new reporting rules but when you look at the reality of what goes on at college stations it would be difficult. A college radio DJ has to pull their music and cue it up. They need to choose their Station IDs and PSAs and cue up more music. They need to monitor what they play for decency standards or else face the prospect of being fined $325,000.00 by the FCC and cue up even more music. They need to answer phones and pull requests and did my Dead Kennedy’s CD just end?? Oh my god dead air!!! Throw anything on! When is a DJ that does a rock show supposed to enter the 11 data fields required by Sound Exchange? Most rock songs only last 2-3 minutes. It can’t be done during commercial breaks because there aren’t any. College DJ’s would need to get secretaries just to handle the paperwork.

The new rules are not about paying artists. They are about controlling content and limiting competition. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has been hemorrhaging money for years and is trying to make it all back by controlling the information you can access over the web. As bad as this is for college radio it is far worse for the bands that will never be heard by an audience that wants to hear them.

So enough bitching… I do appreciate if any of you are still reading this. Here’s what you can do about it.

1. Go to www.wcsb.org and read the SAVE OUR WEBSTREAM message. If you already feel you’ve read enough you can skip reading it and go to step 2.

2. Click on the text of the SAVE OUR WEBSTREAM message. This will take you to a page with a form letter that you can send to your elected representatives. If you don’t know who your representatives are we have links to help you out. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be 18 years old to write your representatives!

3. Pat yourself on the back for helping to support college radio and making the Internet a better place.

For more information on this issue you can read Michael Gill’s “A threat to Your Stream” article from the Cleveland Free Times. http://www.freetimes.com/story/4757. Some of the details listed here came directly from his article. Others came out of my own research in to the matter including information from http://www.soundexchange.com

Feel free to post or send this to anyone you think might be interested in radio, fair competition and free speech.

Thanks for your time and your activism,

Keith Newman
Scruggscorp Syndicated Radio & Crap!
Mondays Midnight-2:00 AM EST
WCSB 89.3 FM, Cleveland
www.wcsb.org

Places to Be, People To Kill: "Fealty"

About the other anthology:

My story “Fealty” is about the strange return home of a knight from the siege of Antioch, and his final crusade.

From the cover blurb:

Assassins—are they born or made? Do they choose this role out of necessity, because someone or something forces them to, or because they just enjoy killing? And what does an assassin do when he or she isn’t out killing people?

Man vs. Machine: "The Historian’s Apprentice"

As requested, a little info on the antho and my story in it.

My story, “The Historian’s Apprentice,” is in large part a homage to Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. It is a far-future Dying Earth story set long after an apocalyptic man-machine war that’s left the moon little more than a cloud of debris orbiting the Earth. A young woman is purchased out of captivity by an enigmatic historian, and is taken on a journey into the ancient bowels of the city-state Thalassus.

From the cover blurb:

As our world and our daily lives become more and more involved with and dependent on complex technology, concern over what the future holds increases. If computers achieve genuine artificial intelligence will they still willingly serve humankind? Or will they develop their own agendas, ones that may be harmful to people? If the machines rebel, can we shut them down? What kind of world would we be left with if we did?

These are just a few of the questions explored in fifteen brand-new stories by some of science fiction’s most visionary minds.

Covers are in…

Just got covers for two anthologies that are going to contain my stuff:

Places to Be, People to Kill will be coming out June 2007, will contain the story “Fealty.”


Man vs. Machine will be out July 2007, and will contain “The Historian’s Apprentice.”