Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

samatarphotoNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fourth part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” the Hugo and Nebula nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” and other works. She is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Sofia is a co-editor for “Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts,” and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

I don’t know whether things are worse for women in speculative fiction than they are for women in mainstream or literary fiction. What I do know is what everybody knows, if they pay attention: that the publishing industry, in both of these genres, is male dominated. It is also white dominated, and privileges heterosexist and ableist narratives. These inequalities create the atmosphere in which we work. To speak as a woman in speculative fiction specifically, the inequality creates a situation in which you know certain things in advance. Even if you’ve never been harassed at a con, you know it happens, and that knowledge shapes your interactions with other professionals. You know that you’re statistically less likely to rise to prominence than a male writer, to draw attention, to make people listen.

All of this explains why the past year stands out. This was the year Ann Leckie swept everything — award after award, it was amazing! All the Nebula award winners were women. This is also the year the folks at “Lightspeed Magazine” made ten times their goal amount with the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter, enabling them to do “Women Destroy Fantasy” and “Women Destroy Horror” as well. Now, that whole series started in response to the sexist notion, which some people actually hold, that women are destroying these genres. But the immense interest in the series, and the energy around it, shows that there’s a significant number of people who believe the opposite.

It might just be a coincidence. This could be the year we all look back at like “Hey, remember that year a bunch of women got attention?” But I really don’t think so. I think that transformation comes in waves, each one bigger than the last, and that this is a particularly big one. It will probably recede, but things won’t go back to the way they were. Every woman writing science fiction now is looking at Ann Leckie. Each change makes the next change possible. That’s why, all things considered, this is a pretty great time to be a woman in speculative fiction.

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Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website: renamasonwrites.com

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the second part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

ELLEN DATLOW

Ellen Datlow hard at work in front of her booksEllen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for Tor.com. She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual “The Best Horror of the Year,” “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Nightmare Carnival,” “The Cutting Room,” and “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells” (the latter two with Terri Windling).
Forthcoming are “The Doll Collection” and “The Monstrous.”
She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

 

I’ve been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror since 1980. When I was promoted from Associate Fiction Editor to Fiction Editor of OMNI Magazine, there was some blowback against me for not emerging from fandom (which was overwhelmingly male and from which most of the sf editors up to that point came). There was some silly talk by a few male writers who criticized the entry of female sf editors into positions of power. These women — again, most of whom did not come out of fandom — were assumed to have had no experience in the genre, although we were all longtime readers of sf/f and we all worked our way up from the bottom.
I’ve been involved more with fantasy and horror than science fiction for a number of years so I’m not as familiar with who is writing what in science fiction these days. But my perception is that fewer writers are writing science fiction at all. Saying that, there are certainly many excellent female writers of science fiction and if a male editor chooses an entire sf anthology with stories only by men it means they just aren’t looking beyond their old boys network comfort zone.

science fictionMy recent review of Jon McGoran’s excellent thriller “Drift” got me thinking about the definition of “science fiction.”

On the surface, defining science fiction looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? Does it have science in it? Is it fiction? Then it’s science fiction. Whew! Gotta take a nap. All this thinking has plum wore me out!

Except maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.

Don’t want to go into too many details here lest I drop any spoilers. McGoran’s book is about a modern-day cop who stumbles into a criminal conspiracy involving the bioengineering of crops. I’ll tell you this much. The secret he uncovers turns out to be pretty jaw-dropping, yet it’s grounded in modern scientific developments. Incredible, but not intelligent-walking-plant-creatures-menacing-humanity incredible.

That aura of plausibility, coupled with the fact that it takes place in modern times instead of the future, would seem to place it in the realm of “techno thriller” rather than “science fiction.”

Though I’m not one of these obsessive buffs who reads nothing BUT science fiction, I still love it.

It’s interesting to me, how science fiction developed. It (debatably) started around the turn of the 20th century, at a time of staggering scientific and technological advances that were radically changing the world for better and for worse. People were interested in reading stories that speculated about what changes might be in the works, and what those changes might bring.

A lot of early science fiction wasn’t intended as escapist fantasy, so much as a peek at how sweeping technological developments could affect the future.

I’m not suggesting that all science fiction was based on sober speculation. I doubt anybody read John Carter’s adventures on Mars because of their gritty realism. Still, a lot of early science fiction was based on a sense that the fantastic scenarios and inventions being described were plausible. Even imminent. If transcontinental air travel — a bizarre and fanciful notion for the generation preceding those early science fiction writers — was plausible, how much of a leap was it that the next generation would be living on the moon? If Americans could meet and interact with people on the other side of the globe, was it really that big a stretch that we might someday be shaking hands with the occupants of Mars or Venus?

So what makes one fictional work involving science a “techno thriller,” and another “science fiction?”

I saw a few reviews comparing McGoran to Michael Crichton. I’m reluctant to do that, because I really liked McGoran’s book, and I’m not a big fan of Crichton as a writer or as a scientific theorist. (“Global warming? Poppycock!” Good call, Mike. Very scientifically rigorous.)

Still, Crichton’s books were frequently classified as techno thrillers too, as opposed to science fiction. No matter how outlandish the premise — such as resurrected dinosaurs — the contemporary setting and mere nod to scientific plausibility would take them out of the realm of science fiction.

It seems that these days, a work gets classified as “science fiction” more because it incorporates certain tropes associated with the genre, than because it has anything to do with science. Tropes such as time travel, space travel, extraterrestrials, cyborgs, etc. Not based in actual scientific research on any of those topics, so much as variations on previous works about them. Being curious and knowledgeable about science doesn’t necessarily appear to be a qualifier for science fiction writers anymore, so much as a desire to write about spaceships and robots.

That’s not a diss. Like I said, I love science fiction — vintage and modern. And I guess it’s not a recent phenomenon. I just did a Google image search for science fiction pulp magazine covers, and they don’t exactly make the words “scientific rigor” come to mind. The raison d’être for many of them is apparently finding excuses to depict babes in metallic bikinis on the covers.

And of course there are plenty of exceptions. The subgenre of cyberpunk, much like early 20th century science fiction, attempted to combine rollicking adventure with genuine speculation about how radical contemporary technological developments might affect the future. You’ve also got works such as Scott Pruden’s “Immaculate Deception” that deliberately subvert standard science fiction tropes for purposes of social satire.

Still, it’s interesting that incorporating genuine science into a story these days might disqualify that story as science fiction.

Clones, FairiesSpeculative fiction tends to be a weird mix of progressive and conservative.

I don’t necessarily mean “progressive” and “conservative” as synonyms for “left wing” and “right wing.” I’m thinking of a more apolitical context. An outlook based on change and reform, vs.one that favors the status quo.

On the one hand, you could argue that speculative fiction is progressive by nature. Science fiction in particular is frequently concerned with the future. It’s all about picturing what’s possible, and how it could happen.

At the same time, a lot of speculative fiction is bogged down in a series of rigidly defined subgenres, each with its well-worn tropes. And often, those fantastic adventures are played out by a cast of characters as ethnically and culturally diverse as your average small-town Republican Club meeting. Speculative fiction writers may be able to envision galaxy-spanning interstellar empires, but they frequently have trouble picturing them as inhabited by anybody other than a bunch of square-jawed heterosexual white guys named John Smith.

So it’s good to see an anthology come along that challenges both readers and writers of speculative fiction — and genre fiction in general — to broaden their outlook. “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” from Exter Press is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery with a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) theme.

I should mention here that I’m a middle-aged straight guy who’s a big supporter of gay rights, but who’s had limited exposure to lesbian and gay culture. I bring this up because I ask for your indulgence if I use any outdated or insensitive terms or descriptions in this review. Should that happen, I assure you that it’s inadvertent.

Anyway, the book is a nice mix of genres, styles and perspectives, which is good in an anthology. Some take a more traditional and some a more experimental approach to the material. Can’t really offer any sweeping generalizations about them, except to say that they’re of consistently high quality and a rewarding read.

Yes, some of the stories touch on romantic or erotic themes. But none of them cross the line into flat-out erotica.

Unsurprisingly, a number of them deal indirectly or overtly with themes of discrimination and gay rights. Yet even the stories with a clear message don’t get overbearing with the preachiness, which I appreciated.

I’m as interested in current events and the opinions of the day as the next guy, and I’m totally OK with it if a writer wants to insert a political or social message into a work of fiction. But when I want to read editorials, I read editorials, not novels or short stories. When fiction writers get so caught up in delivering a message that they forget to tell a story, they lose me. A few of the stories in “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” come close to that boundary, but never cross it.

Of course, you could argue that those stories are necessary for an anthology like this. They give somebody like me, who’s never experienced it first-hand, a glimpse of what it’s like to live in a society where you’re treated with systematic discrimination because of your sexual orientation. You might daydream of outlandish revenge scenarios against the people who treated you that way, or simply fantasize about a world where you can walk around hand-in-hand with your partner free of scornful glares.

Other stories don’t try to make any overt statement about the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people in society. They simply feature characters who fit those descriptions.

The LGBT people are frequently the heroes of the stories, but not always. In some, they’re just participants in the action. In a few, they’re even villains.

They’re just … people. Which I guess is kind of the point.

 

Space girlTechnically, I guess I’m a science fiction writer. I mean, I’ve written exactly one science fiction story, and that was a parody. But what the heck, I wrote it and it’s going to be published in a forthcoming anthology.

As a writer, I identify more with the rubric “speculative fiction” — a blanket term encompassing science fiction, fantasy and horror. Still, I’m a lifelong science fiction fan. Maybe “lifelong” isn’t strictly accurate. Let’s just say since I was old enough to read.

Hands down, the best part of actually becoming a published author has been the chance to meet and interact with other writers, including some science fiction writers I admired as a kid. I’m old enough (47, for the record) to remember a time when science fiction was considered the purview of a small subculture of weirdos. Say what you will about the genre, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an aspect of popular culture that hasn’t been directly or indirectly influenced by science fiction.

And as it’s become more mainstream, I’d like to think that the popular image of science fiction creators and fans has changed as well. Hey, guess what? We’re not all a bunch of sexually and socially stunted dorks.

As I said, I’d LIKE to think that’s what’s happened. Then I see something like this. And it makes me wonder if the science fiction community is truly free of that image. Or if it even deserves to be.

“Girls wanna join our club! Eeewwwww! Yucky!” Seriously guys. Grow the fuck up.

For the record, I can’t see any of the science fiction writers with whom I’ve interacted saying anything like that. Indeed, I’d make a point of NOT interacting with them if I ever heard them say something to that effect.

Still … call me a traitor to my kind, but this makes me suspect that maybe some guys urgently need to be shoved into a gym locker for old time’s sake.

drunken comic book monkeysIf you go to a book fair, horror convention or science fiction convention in the Central Pennsylvania region, you just might encounter a small collective of literary visionaries — made up of writers, editors and publishers whose mission is elevating speculative fiction to unprecedented levels of quality and craftsmanship.

You might also encounter The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys.

But seriously, folks. The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys are Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano. I’ve run into them at a few events, along with their project manager and handler Christine Czachur.

They, along with editor and writer Jeff Young, comprise Fortress Publishing. I’ve become a big fan of their magazines “Trail of Indiscretion” (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) and “Cemetery Moon” (horror).

I also picked up their “Scary Tales of Scariness,” in which Brian and Chris pit themselves against a variety of adversaries, including Cthulu, zombies, vampires, and The Potato People (don’t ask). It’s really funny.

They’ve got a bunch more publications, including a sequel to “Scary Tales of Scariness,” that you can check out at their Website here.

Of course, the Federal Bureau of Nickname Registration would have long-since revoked their license to call themselves “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” if they weren’t also a fun group.

So in the following interview, I try to convey the magic. The madness. The raw, unbridled sensuality that is … The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys experience. Read on. (more…)