Methodology: Not Just For Scientists Anymore

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Telling LiesI’ve been known, via Twitter and Facebook, to let people know how my writing is going. So I’m apt to say things like “chapter 16 is going feral on me, I need a net.” This prompts some of my writer friends to say “been there, done that” and others to say “you write in chapters?”

This isn’t to say that they themselves don’t write in chapters, per se. What I think this particular friend actually meant is that she just writes, and lets the chapters appear where they may. After all, we know that, with very few exceptions, all novels end up being divided into chapters. Exactly when and how that division occurs is part of each individual’s methodology. Or perhaps the sensibilities of their editor.

And all advice on writing tells you the same thing: there’s no right or wrong way, there’s only the way that works for you.

I tend to work and think in chapters of about 25 to 30 pages, or somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words. Why? Because when I was starting to write my dissertation (don’t ask, you don’t want to know) the Chair of the Department gave me this advice: “Make your chapters about 25 pages long, Violette. No one wants to read longer ones.”

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What Old Futures Can Teach Us About What SF and SciFi is Really For

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

In EC Tubb's imagined future... Security means men with guns. And I don't care!

In EC Tubb’s imagined future… Security means men with guns. And I don’t care!

So, last week I talked about how old Science Fiction and most media SciFi fails to portray realistic futures. They often do well at predicting specific technical advances, for example speech recognition, but underestimate the way humans will exploit any technology to its limits, and use it in conjunction with other technologies.

What’s interesting is that (almost) nobody cares.

For example, I’m reading EC Tubb’s Dumarest books. The technology is wildly inconsistent. Conspirators have devices to block eavesdropping, electronic and human, but use landlines without worrying about phone taps.

Did I mention people use landlines?

In EC Tubb’s imagined future, it’s possible to steal a flyer without somebody tracing it through an ID chip, and without it being spotted on radar or by satellite as you cross the sea. Security means men with guns.

And I don’t care!

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Asmodee Acquires Fantasy Flight Games

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fantasy Flight logoFrom time to time, we’ve talked about Fantasy Flight Games, a company at the very forefront of the resurgence of fantasy board games in the United States. Their catalog includes some of the most popular and acclaimed genre board games and RPGs of the last decade, including Deathwatch, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Dust Tactics, Merchant of Venus, Middle-Earth Quest, Relic, Runebound, StarCraft, Talisman, Tide of Iron, Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones, Age of Conan, Arkham Horror, BattleLore, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and many, many others.

France-based board game publisher Asmodee may not be as familiar to many of you, but we’ve mentioned them a few times — most recently with our coverage of their fantasy exploration game Cyclades and the massive space epic Eclipse.

On Monday, Asmodee announced that it had acquired Fantasy Flight Games. Leaders of both companies are trumpeting the strategic benefits of a merger, as it will give Asmodee access to Fantasy Flight’s North American operations and marketing infrastructure, and in return Flight Games will benefit from Asmodee’s distribution and marketing prowess in Europe. No plans to move Fantasy Flight’s headquarters from St. Paul, Minnesota were announced.

This is the second major acquisition for Asmodee this year. Back in August, they announced the acquisition of Days of Wonder, publishers of Ticket to Ride, Shadows Over Camelot, Small World, Pirate’s Cove, Memoir ’44, and many other board games.

No immediate changes to Fantasy Flight are anticipated, which will be a relief to most fans. Read the complete details, including an FAQ on the merger, here.

Somalia’s Forgotten Past: Medieval Empires on the Horn of Africa

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Decoration above the entrance to a traditional coral house in Mogadishu.

Decoration above the entrance to a traditional coral house in Mogadishu.

In a previous post, I talked about Somalia’s prehistoric cave paintings. Today I want to talk about Somalia’s vibrant medieval period.

Due to its location on the Red Sea, the northern Somali region has always been part of an international trade network. For many centuries, however, the main focus of the trade was in what is now Eritrea, which was the coastline of successive Ethiopian empires that traded with Egypt and out into the Indian Ocean. Two eastern outlets are in what’s now Somaliland, the port of Zeila and Berbera. Trade routes led east from the Ethiopian highlands and crossed a short stretch of desert to get to the coast.

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New Treasures: The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Winter Long Seanan McGuire-smallSeanan McGuire published her first novel, the urban fantasy/detective story Rosemary and Rue, on September 1, 2009, barely five years ago. In the last five years, she has come dangerously close to conquering the entire field.

To start with, she’s produced seven additional novels in what’s now known as the October Day series — including the latest, The Winter Long. In between she’s also published three novels in her InCryptid series (with one more on the way.) Both series have put her on the New York Times bestseller list. Because 11 novels isn’t enough in five years, she’s also written five novels under her pseudonym Mira Grant, including the Newsflesh zombie trilogy and two novels in the new Parasitology trilogy, plus at least one standalone novel. I’m not sure how many novels that is in total, because I’ve lost count.

Blackout, the final Newsflash novel, received a 2013 Hugo Award nomination — and in fact, that year McGuire received a record five Hugo nominations, two for Grant and three under her own name. In 2010, she was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention. I’m telling you, this woman intends to conquer the entire genre, and she’s perilously close. If you haven’t been paying attention to Seanan McGuire, it’s probably time to change that. Here’s the compact blurb for her latest novel, The Winter Long.

Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It’s time to learn the truth.

The Winter Long was published by DAW Books on September 2, 2014. It is 358 pages, priced at $7.99 in paperback and $6.99 for the digital version. The cover is by the ubiquitous Chris McGrath,

Vintage Treasures: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick / Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Cosmic Puppets-smallWe’re back to looking at Ace Doubles.

This month, I have a special treat for you. A 1957 pairing of two major science fiction writers, both early in their careers, which resulted in a very collectible paperback: The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, published back-to-back with Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton.

Let’s start with The Cosmic Puppets because, while Dick was never as popular as Andre Norton while he was alive, over the past three decades his fame has grown steadily, to the point where he’s now considered one of the most important SF writers of the 20th Century. The Cosmic Puppets was his fifth novel, and appeared here for the first time (in this form, anyway). While Sargasso of Space is a popular and important SF novel — for reasons I’ll get to shortly — The Cosmic Puppets is the primary reason this paperback commands real interest among collectors.

The Cosmic Puppets is a tale of alien invasion… although, as usual for Dick, it disregards most of the typical conventions of an alien invasion story. Some readers consider it Dick’s most approachable novel (although that doesn’t mean you won’t close the book with a lot of questions.) It’s also the Dick novel that skirts closest to pure fantasy.

The novel opens almost like a Twilight Zone episode, as our protagonist returns to his home town, only to discover that the inhabitants have no memory of him at all. Here’s the summary from the 1957 Ace edition.

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Ancient Worlds: Killing the Bull of Heaven

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

300px-British_Museum_Queen_of_the_NightWhen you kill the Big Bad, it gets attention.

Gigamesh and Enkidu return to Uruk after Humbaba’s death. Gilgamesh bathes and puts on his royal garments. This effect is so impressive that the goddess Ishtar herself appears before him and begs her to marry him.

If you remember back to the Odyssey, this is a pretty typical motif: the hero who is so manly that goddesses are laid low. But while Odysseus tried to have his cake and eat it too (pardon the expression), Gilgamesh has absolutely no interest in playing nice.

He does not offer Ishtar a polite refusal. He calls her a whore. He lists the many lovers she has had and their terrible fates.

And that is just the beginning. He calls her:

a half-door that keeps out neither breeze nor blast,
a palace that crushes down valiant warriors,
an elephant who devours its own covering,
pitch that blackens the hands of its bearer,
a waterskin that soaks its bearer through,
limestone that buckles out the stone wall,
a battering ram that attracts the enemy land,
a shoe that bites its owner’s feet!

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November/December Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction now on Sale

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Fantasy and Science Fiction November December 2014Editor Gordon van Gelder kicks off the Nov/Dec issue with the following, disguised as part of the intro to Paul Di Filippo’s “I’ll Follow the Sun”:

There was a time — or so it seems to your editor — when writers turned to science fiction to explore ideas they couldn’t touch in any other medium. A fair number of stories regarded as classics today were transgressive when they first came out.

These days, however, the internet seems to thrive on posts by people who aren’t keen on tolerating viewpoints that differ from their own, and some of those posts focus on the science fiction and fantasy field. They’ve inspired us here at F&SF to give this issue an extra helping of stories that deal with touchy themes or go beyond the bounds of Political Correctness.

Quite an intro. There’s an impressive list of contributors taking part in this rebellious experiment, including Albert E. Cowdrey, Scott Baker, and David Gerrold.

Even film reviewer Alan Dean Foster gets in on the act with a little honest blasphemy in his column, “On Novelizing Noah,” a meditation on adapting last summer’s biblical-themed movie, written as a conversation with God.

Here’s Tangent Online reviewer C.D. Lewis on Gerrold’s contribution.

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October Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_1851216pr439k8tThe last few weeks have been particularly busy for me in my real life (as opposed to the one I lead as a dashing blogger-about-town on all things old school Swords & Sorcery) so this won’t be as complete a roundup as I’d like it to be. Fantasy Scroll #3 will have to wait until next month. As for Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I failed to read either issue last month, but looking at October’s authors, I see World Fantasy Award-winning (for the splendid “The Telling“) Gregory Norman Bossert, along with some other talented writers, so let’s just assume you should go check them out for yourself.

What I did manage to read were magazines I never miss – Swords and Sorcery Magazine (#33) and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (#22). I’ve been following I since the third issue, so I never want to miss out on what happens next. As for HFQ, it’s consistently the best — and my favorite — magazine for heroic fantasy, which means as soon as it hits the electronic superhighway, I try to check it out.

Swords and Sorcery Magazine #33 presents us with its usual quota of two new stories. In ages past, Jonathan Nathaniel De Este, commander of Queen Isabella’s Dark Army and protagonist of Alex B.’s “Black Water“, “drank the Black Water and took the Darkness upon his spirit.” Every other man who did that found himself transformed into a bestial man or a complete beast. Only Jonathan has managed to hold onto a portion of his humanity and prevent himself from being changed externally as well as internally.

It’s an interesting story filled with grisly bits. There’s real potential for some exploration of Jonathan’s past and motives, but it’s not supplied. The mystery over his relationship to a picture of a princess is left only vaguely answered at best.

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Future Treasures: Sustenance, A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Monday, November 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Sustenance Chelsea Quinn Yarbro-smallI was pleased to be at the Awards ceremony at the World Fantasy Awards last weekend when Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Yarbro virtually invented the vampire romance, perhaps the most popular fantasy sub-genre of the past decade, with her popular Count Saint-Germain novels, the tales of gentleman vampire Saint-Germain and his adventures down through the centuries, beginning with Hôtel Transylvania in 1978. Sustenance, the 27th novel in the series, which finds the Count caught up in Cold War politics in 20th Century Europe, will be released next month.

Just after World War II, Saint-Germain travels throughout Europe, determining what of his business and properties survived the war, and offering what comfort and aid he can to refugees. Charis Treat, an American writer, academic, and professor, is one such. Persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Charis has left her husband and young sons in the United States and fled to Paris, falling in with a community of expatriate intellectuals.

When they meet, Saint-Germain is taken by Charis’s intelligence and by her grace under pressure, and they soon begin an affair. She introduces him to the other expats, and in so doing, brings him under the scrutiny of the fledgling CIA, who are determined to squelch Communist sympathizers at home and abroad. Such close examination might expose the vampire’s true nature, but Saint-Germain has long practice at convincing duplicity.

The expats are not so lucky. Illniss, accidents, and death begin to winnow their numbers, Saint-Germain wonders if the accidents are truly accidents, or if there is a traitor in their midst. In an international game of cat and mouse, it’s difficult to determine who is the prey and who is the predator.

We previously covered Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s novels To The High Redoubt and Night Pilgrims. Sustenance will be published on Dec 2 by Tor Books. It is 480 pages, priced at $29.99 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital edition. Read an excerpt here.

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