SF and Fantasy

New story in Bless Your Mechanical Heart

Hungry for a new science fiction story from me? Then I suggest reading "We Eat the Hearts that Come for You," which can be found in the new themed anthology Bless Your Mechanical Heart.

The anthology, edited by Jennifer Brozek, mixes sentient robots and androids with the emotional repercussions of that sarcastic Southern USA phrase "bless your heart." In addition to my story, the anthology also features original fiction by Seanan McGuire, Fiona Patton, Lucy A. Snyder, Sarah Hans, Jody Lynn Nye, Minerva Zimmerman and many more.

I think "We Eat the Hearts that Come for You" is one of the most chilling stories I've ever written, so I hope people will check it out.

You can find the anthology on Amazon and in all the usual booksellers.

The new SFWA Bulletin is blowing my mind

I've been a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for a handful of years and, as such, have received their Bulletin magazine since joining. My general response to each new issue: Indifference, with occasional sides of irritation and outrage.

Until now I honestly don't think I've spent more than 10 minutes reading any particular issue of the Bulletin. My process upon receiving each print issue has been to:

  1. Ignore the bad cover art.
  2. If cover art is sexist, rant about it.
  3. Flip through the issue and see if there are any articles worth reading.
  4. Discover that yet again there aren't.
  5. If articles are sexist, rant about it.
  6. File the issue in the recycling bin.

The problem with the old SFWA Bulletin—besides continual issues with sexism—was that the Bulletin covered topics which were already obvious to your average SFWA member. That frustrated the hell out of me because one way SFWA should help authors is by sharing knowledge about both our genre and the business of writing.

So imagine my shock when I received the Bulletin's new winter 2014 issue and found tons of articles I actually wanted to read. I mean, check out the following partial list of articles in the new issue:

  • Science Fiction on the Front Line by Richard Dansky
  • Social Media & the Solitary Writer by Cat Rambo
  • Everything Old Is New Again by MCA Hogarth
  • Website Redesign & Featured Book by Jeremiah Tolbert
  • Anti-Harassment & Diversity by Jaym Gates
  • Moving to California: The SFWA Bylaws Overhaul & Reincorporation Process by Russell Davis
  • Of Myth & Memory by Sheila Finch
  • Picking the Right Convention For You by Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood
  • Better Teachers, Better Writers by James Patrick Kelly
  • SFWA Reading Series by Merrie Haskell
  • Interview: E.C. Myers by Tansy Rayner Roberts

And those are merely the articles I'm currently reading or excited about reading. There are a number of other articles not listed above which I'll eventually check out.

As a bonus, this is also a magazine I can carry in public without being embarressed by the stupidly sexist cover art. Kudos to Galen Dara for the great artwork.

The new issue can be downloaded in PDF and ebook formats from the member-only section of the SFWA website. In addition, print copies are in the mail to members.

Thank you to both SFWA and its members for pushing the Bulletin to be what we always knew the magazine could be. This is what we've all been wanting from SFWA—a member magazine which actually provides useful information to members.

My 2014 Nebula Award nominations

I almost waited too late this year to make my Nebula Award nominations. I could plead that life has been busy—which it has—and that what little free time I have has been consumed by my own writing—which it also has.

But that doesn't change the fact that I waited until the day before the Nebula nominating period closed to post my list of nominations.

Yes, I'm feeling guilty about this. I should have been out there promoting the amazing stories and novels listed below, all of which—in a just world—would make the short list for not only the Nebula Awards but also the Hugos.

Anyway, these are the stories and novels I'm both nominating and recommending. If you're considering your own nominations, take the time to check these out. And if you can't nominate, you should still hunt down these works and read them. They're absolutely worth searching for.

Best Novel of 2013

  • A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press)
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes (Lethe Press)
  • Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Orbit)
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland)

Best Novella of 2013

  • Freefall by Mercurio D. Rivera (Immersion Press)
  • Precious Mental by Robert Reed (Asimov’s)
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente (Subterranean)
  • Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
  • Yseul's Lexicon by Yoon Ha Lee (Prime Books, Conservation of Shadows)

Best Novelette of 2013

  • A Hollow Play by Amal El-Mohtar (Glitter & Mayhem, Apex Book Co.)
  • Pearl Rehabilitative Colony For Ungrateful Daughters by Henry Lien (Asimov's)
  • The Litigation Master and the Monkey King by Ken Liu (Lightspeed)
  • The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard (Candlemark and Gleam)
  • They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov's)

Best Short Story of 2013

  • Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee (Clarkesworld)
  • Karina Who Kissed Spacetime by Indrapramit Das (Apex)
  • Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami (The New Yorker)
  • Selkie Stories are for losers by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
  • The Sounds of Old Earth by Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed)

2013 Bradbury

  • Gravity by Alfonso Cuaron
  • HER by Spike Jonze 
  • Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Francis Lawrence
  • Pacific Rim by Guillermo del Toro
  • The Day of the Doctor by Stephen Moffatt

2013 Norton (Best Young Adult Novels)

  • Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
  • The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

Ed Kramer: Science fiction and fantasy's Woody Allen

Yesterday the New York Times published a heart-rending and eloquent letter from Dylan Farrow describing the sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her adoptive father Woody Allen. Words can't describe the anger I feel at both Allen for doing this and at Hollywood for enabling him and looking the other way.

Roxane Gay gets to the heart of the matter in her must-read essay "Compartmentalizing Woody Allen," about how both America and Hollywood see what they want to see. But I also think it's much more than that, something Dylan Farrow alluded to in her letter when she calls out actors like Cate Blanchett, Louis CK, Alec Baldwin and Diane Keaton for looking the other way.

Basically, as Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" Add prestige and fame to that quote and you're close to understanding why Hollywood wants so desperately to ignore the truth about Woody Allen.

But it's easy to act like we're so much better than those Hollywood big shots, who refuse to see the truth screaming in their face. But some of those in the SF/F field haven't acted much better with our own Woody Allen, the infamous Edward E. Kramer.

For those who don't know, Kramer is a well-known editor and writer who was also a co-founder and former part-owner of Dragon*Con. In 2000 he was charged with molesting three teenage boys in incidents stretching back to 1996. However, instead of going to trial, Kramer fought to postpone any day of justice, saying severe health concerns made him unable to attend his trial. This dragged on for more than a decade until, in 2011, the too-ill-for-trial Kramer was—surprise—caught hiking in Conneticut and staying in an hotel room with an underage boy.

Kramer's long evasion of justice for his victims ended in December 2013 when he pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation. However, since then I've yet to hear any words of apology from Kramer's many defenders in the SF/F genre.

You see, during all this a number of notable SF/F authors voiced their support for Kramer. Now obviously these defenders didn't enable or help Kramer commit his crimes. That was totally on Kramer. But by coming to Kramer's defense they enabled him to claim the role of victim in all this. That helped him draw out his trial for more than a decade, which delayed justice from being served. 

To the credit of SF/F fandom, people eventually threatened to boycott Dragon*Con unless they severed ties with Kramer, which they did. But I've heard no apologies from any of Kramer's other extremely vocal defenders in the genre.

Just like Hollywood, many in the SF/F community are too willing to look away from sexual abuse and child molestation when it is inconvenient to either themselves or the genre. However, doing this actually weakens the genre and harms all of us, as it encourages a culture of silence and allows predators like Kramer to continue harming new victims.

When yesterday became the forever template of the future

Something broke for me the other day. I was reading the latest explosion of anger and hate against a science fiction author for doing what SF authors are supposed to do and I realized that the genre I love and write in—the science fiction dreams which expanded and shaped how I see the world—are dying.

In this case, said explosion came at Alex Dally MacFarlane for writing about desiring "an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories." Specifically,  MacFarlane writes:

"Post-binary gender in SF is the acknowledgement that gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of two genders (female and male): that there are more genders than two, that gender can be fluid, that gender exists in many forms."

MacFarlane is correct, and I urge people to read the essay. And if you want to know what MacFarlane is speaking about, read the novel Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which deserves to make all of this year's major SF award short lists. Ancillary Justice is an amazing story and a mind-bending read, especially with regards to how the novel deals with gender issues.

The novel isn't the be-all and end-all on gender complexity—hell, what could be?—but it shows so clearly what an author can accomplish when we move beyond our staid ideas of what the present and future must be. When we actually realize that the universe isn't modeled after any one of us, and that the diversity of our existence is the diversity of us all.

And that's my problem with the attacks on MacFarlane's essay. That's why something has finally broken within me with regards to the science fiction genre.

The science fiction of today suffers from an extreme case of nostalgia, a nearly fatal case, to be quite blunt. Nostalgia for a white-bread 1950's Golden Age of SF which never really existed quite as everyone longing for it believes. Nostalgia for a future which doesn't even look like our diverse present-day times, let alone how the future might actually turn out to be.

Instead of celebrating new outlooks and ideas, today's SF regurgitates spaceship-filled Happy Meals complete with a side of forgetful fries—forgetting that the Golden Age of SF wasn't golden for so many people. Forgetting that science fiction without true speculation and insight into life is a dead, dead thing.

I'm tired as hell of all this. And I'm not the only one. Jonathan McCalmont ‏has written on this very topic in Interzone

I understand that many people don't like change and want to stay snuggled in their warm dreams of a past which never happened. But if you're reading science fiction, you must on some level be interested in expanding your horizons. On some level you must want to see beyond your own limitations. You must want the future to be more than a forever template of the past.

At least, I used to think this about science fiction. I'm no longer so sure it's true.

My Sci-Fi Strange pop culture and science fiction collection on Medium.com

Let's be blunt—all pop culture these days is pure science fiction. Between Twitter and iPhones and instant message videos of your grandpa's twerking, today's pop culture takes place on and around platforms which only a decade ago would have been pure science fiction.

I've long been fascinated by the intersection of science fiction ideas and pop culture. To explore this I've started a Medium.com collection called Sci-Fi Strange. The collection will be updated daily with SF and pop-culture influenced articles by myself and others.

If you're not familiar with Medium, check out this post. Slate's Matthew Yglesias also offers a great overview of the social media platform, calling it the "best writing tool around."

In addition to Medium being a great writing tool, I also think it's a damn good reading tool. If you have a Medium account, consider following my Sci-Fi Strange collection. I'll still be posting on this website, but depending on how the Sci-Fi Strange collection goes I'll probably be more active there.

The law of diminishing returns on special effects

Yesterday my family witnessed the marketing event that is The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a film so overwrought with special effects that its director, Peter Jackson, was able to magically transform a single novel into nearly 9 hours of media tie-ins.

My family was looking forward to the film because, for the most part, we'd enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Yes, the first Hobbit film was overlong and slow at times, but it was still a decent visual escape.

But that said, there was one scene in the first movie which bored me to cliched tears. This happened when Bilbo's companions were fleeing from the goblins, killing one after another in swordplay and violence which felt more cartoony than true special effects. During this one extremely long scene I kept waiting for the mind-numbing crush of special effects to pass so we could return to the film's actual story.

So imagine my irritation when I discovered that this FX bordom was not only repeated in The Desolation of Smaug, it happened in even more scenes.

Specifically, I was bored out of my mind by two scenes in The Desolation of Smaug—the scene where Bilbo and his companions escape in barrels down the river while fighting orcs, and the one where they fight against Smaug in the ruins of the Lonely Mountain. In fact, this last scene gives moviegoers one of the most boringly majestic special effects I've witnessed in years (spoiler alert) when the dwarves reactivate the forges and create a Statue of Liberty size golden statue, which immediately bursts apart in rivers of gold.

Instead of excitement and awe at this FX spectacle, I checked my phone to see how much longer the film would run.

Now don't misunderstand me—I love science fiction and fantasy special effects, which can show us worlds and visions we'll never experience in this lovely little thing we call reality. And there are some amazingly effective special effects in The Desolation of Smaug, such as when the dragon first appears and plays with Bilbo as he stumbles over countless mounds of treasure. But these effects are effective when they tie in with and support the film's larger drama. When Bilbo is face to face with a dragon, knowing that his words—and the dragon's attempt to learn more about him—are all that keep him alive. In such scenes, wow, the special effects work exactly as they should.

But special effects quickly grow extremely boring when they are supported by neither drama nor tension nor storytelling.

Part of the problem is that special effects have become so relatively cheap and easy to create that they are being used to fill storytelling holes in films. But  when special effects are used in this manner they actually undercut what they're meant to accomplish. 

To explain how this happens, I'd like to propose a law of diminishing FX returns: Every time a special effect becomes 50% easier to create, it becomes twice as hard to impress the audience

This means the first time a specific special effect is shown to audiences, they will be amazed. However, from then on that particular special effect is the new normal, meaning a film which employs it will have to work twice as hard, or use the effect twice as much, to dazzle audiences. But the trap is that once you use the effect twice as much in a film, that becomes the even newer norm, meaning the next time the effect is used it must again be presented twice as much to create the same sense of awe.

At that doubling rate of diminishing returns, a particular special effect quickly becomes nothing but boring background and a waste of the audience's time.

So what does this mean for the future of filmmaking? If Hollywood remembers that special effects are meant to support storytelling and drama, then they'll have no problem. But if directors and producers believe that special effects can be used to cover-up and obscure a weak story, then they'll soon discover that they have to keep shovelling in massively more and more FX BS to dazzle an audience. And that's a special effects arms race Hollywood is destined to eventually lose.

Searching for the Strange in Short Fiction on Dec. 4

I'm presenting a book talk on "Searching for the Strange in Short Fiction" on Wednesday, December 4 at 7 pm in the Bexley Library auditorium. I'll not only discuss the strange with regards to SF/F short stories (including SciFi Strange) but I'll also meander through my thoughts on how short fiction in general—no matter the genre—is at essence an exploration of the stranger aspects of human existence.

If you live in or near the Columbus, Ohio, area, please stop by on Wednesday for the talk. I'll be giving away a signed copy of my Never Never Stories to one random participant. In addition, if any writers show up I'd be happy to discuss fiction markets, writing theory, and anything else after the talk is finished.

Art for my upcoming Interzone novelette "Paprika"

Paprika.jpg

My 13th story in the Britsh magazine Interzone will be published in their upcoming Nov./Dec. 2013 issue (number 249). The SF novelette, titled "Paprika," is set in the far future and involves an artificial construct designed to preserve copies of human lives.

Interzone editor Andy Cox sent me the art for the story and yet again I'm blown away by what they've created. Interzone has no equal for the honor of world's most beautiful SF/F magazine. The art is by Ben Baldwin, who has also created other artwork for my Interzone stories.

As always, if you want to read the story I suggest you subscribe.  Individual issues will also be available in stores beginning in December (for American readers, you'll likely have to wait until January to find copies in stores).

Why do SF fans love to destroy science fiction?

By now most science fiction fans have seen Alfonso Cuarón's film Gravity, or at least heard of it. They've likely also witnessed the building backlash against the film. First came astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who detailed a long list of scientific issues with the film. Then former astronaut Scott Parazynski did the same. I've also heard similar complaints from other science fiction fans, complaints that the most scientifically accurate SF film in years isn't accurate enough.

As a science fiction lover and writer, I'm not going to quibble over all the nitpicks about Gravity. Yes, I realize that space stations and satellites orbit at different heights. And yes, I realize that Sandra Bullock’s hair does not float freely on her head at all times like it would in free fall.

But you know what: WHO GIVE A DANG! I still enjoyed the movie and think it's wonderful that people are watching a SF film which is as close to scientifically accurate as anything Hollywood is likely to create.

Understand this—fiction is NEVER real life. The very nature of stories dictate that they can never be totally accurate. And this obsessive harping on trivial issues while missing the larger picture is one reason science fiction—true science fiction, as opposed to science fantasy like Star Wars or Star Trek—is ignored by most people.

I mean, the only reason I see for all this nitpicking is so a few scientists and SF insiders can show how only they truly understand science fiction, as opposed to all those unwashed heathenistic fans who dared to watched an actual hard SF film. What these people appear to be saying is that only nitpicking asshats deserve to decide what passes some BS "science fiction" test.

Well, as a science fiction lover I'm sick of this attitude. Our genre is bigger than the nitpickers among us. Our genre is bigger than those who would so shrink our science fiction stories that they only appeal to a few insiders.

Making a compelling story which is also a hard SF movie is just that, hard. So I for one applaud the realism in Gravity, even as I understand that some of the film's scientific accuracy was shortchanged in the interest of keeping the story going.

And for those who desire to nitpick the film to death, know this: For a genre which is supposely about such big issues, science fiction needs to stop dwelling on the minutia of fail. Otherwise our genre will so exclude itself from being enjoyed by anyone that nitpicking will soon be all science fiction has left to offer.

Sending love and support to Eugie Foster

One of the great things about the genre community is how many amazing people you have the opportunity to interact with. And one of the best people in our genre is Eugie Foster.

I first began working with Eugie when she edited The Fix, TTA Press' tragically short-lived short fiction review magazine. Eugie was a delight to work with, as anyone who has likewise worked with her on DragonCon can easily attest. But in addition to being a great person she's also an amazing writer, having won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette for her mind-blowing story "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast." This is one of the best stories I've read in the last decade (you can read my thoughts on the story here).

Sadly, Eugie has been diagnosed with cancer and will shortly begin treatment. While she has health insurance, she is still facing significant financial hardships. Please pop over to her site and see what you can do to help. As Eugie mentions, one of the best ways to help—and the best way to easily read her stories—is to purchase an e-book edition.

Good luck during all this, Eugie. And know that your friends in the genre community will be by your side in the coming months and years.

Spoiler mockery of World War Z

You must understand two things about World War Z the movie.

One, never forget that the only thing the film has in common with World War Z the novel is the title. If you read the novel you must remember this point or massive disappointment will smack you upside the head.

Second, make sure to turn off brain upon entering the theater. Do this and you'll enjoy the film. But if you accidently fall into thinking, be warned—logical loops and bullshit will erupt from all frames of the film, and you'll emerge from the theater arguing that this couldn't actually happen. Not because of the zombies, mind you, which are now acceptable SF tropes despite having no means of existing in the physical, entropy-dictated world.

No, you'll go crazy trying to explain the other silliness in World War Z.

Because—"Argh! here be spoilers" (said in pirate talk for no particular reason)—the world of World War Z is saved from zombie infestation by infecting humanity with a deadly disease. Wait a moment and let that tickle through your brain. You see, Brad Pitt discovers, at immense risk to himself, that zombies won't attack someone who is already ill with a fatal disease. Because, you see, those zombies want to spread their infection and infecting someone who is already going to die won't spread it.

Get that? In a movie where zombie infections spread person-to-person in less than 10 seconds, zombies don't want to infect a man with cancer who will die in a year or two.

Brain. Exploding. Which might not be a bad thing, if I was a zombie you needed to kill.

But ignore that logical loop. Instead, think on how Brad Pitt saves humanity. By infecting himself with a disease which will kill him. Meaning the zombies won't kill him. But as the other characters say, "He's a dead man anyway."

Except he's reunited with his family in the end. So obviously that fatal disease wasn't overly fatal, or they could cure it, which makes you wonder why the zombies couldn't sense this and decide, heck, he'll live longer than the 10 seconds we need to turn him into a rapid zombie vector.

Argh!

Still, World War Z is a fun movie. Just don't over-think it. Or think at all during the film.

XB-1 is reborn. Again.

XB-1 April 2013

With all the negative things bubbling around science fiction and fantasy these days—a la SFWA and a certain racist troll who is a member of the organization—it's easy to forget that the beating hearts of our genre are great SF/F stories. Our love of SF/F brings us together and, if we're lucky, keeps us going when the negativity hits. 

Well, here's some good news for the genre. After reporting last week that they were shutting down, the Czech SF/F magazine XB-1 has experienced a second rebirth. According to a post on their website, XB-1's publisher has found new sponsors, which will enable their July issue to come out on time. I'm already writing a new column for them, per my editor's request. 

This is the second time the magazine has defied death. The first close call came two and a half years ago when the SF magazine Ikarie closed. Ikarie's editors immediately found a new publisher and launched their first rebirth as the new XB-1.

In XB-1's announcement, the publisher and editors say the magazine will continue as before but that some changes will be forthcoming. The first change is to raise the cover price to make ends meet.

Congrats to XB-1. This is a good day for the genre.

Czech SF/F magazine XB-1 shuts down

XB-1 April 2013

Sad news today out of the Czech Republic—the SF/F magazine XB-1 has announced that their June issue will be their last. Economic problems and a lack of advertisers were among the issues mentioned as being responsible for the magazine's death.

XB-1 ran for two and a half years and was the successor to the groundbreaking SF magazine Ikarie. When Ikarie's publisher closed that magazine in late 2010, Ikarie's editors immediately started XB-1.

Now, I must admit more than a passing connection with XB-1. They've published translations of a number of my stories and, for the last two years, I've written a monthly SF column for the magazine. In addition to publishing great original stories, translations and non-fiction articles, XB-1 fostered and supported the entire Czech genre community. I've also found XB-1 editors and readers to be extremely passionate about their magazine, as detailed in the comments below the announcement of their closing.

There's some hope that the magazine can be revived just as the earlier Ikarie was brought back from the dead—in the announcement XB-1's publisher says they are very open to offers to purchase the magazine. And if a print magazine isn't possible, perhaps an online version will continue. I'm definitely hoping one of these options happen.

Ironically, this weekend I received my contributor copies of XB-1 covering all twelve months of 2012. XB-1 is a beautiful magazine, with amazing design standards and artwork. While I know e-publishing is both the trend of today and for the future, holding a copy of XB-1 reminds you of the power still held by printed magazines.

Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell

Over on Twitter, K. Tempest Bradford writes:

This would be a good time for the men who write science fiction who aren't douchecanoes to step up and tell the other dudes to go to hell.

Amen to that. This sexist crap wouldn't happen if these men were continually called on their sexism. All genders must stand up against this problem.

And before you think this isn't a problem, consider this: Ann Aguirre writes about the problem of sexism in our genre, and immediately receives hate mail. Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes about the problem and receives hate mail. Starting to see a pattern?

Anyone who has attended SF/F conventions has met the sexists in our midst. They are tolerated because they've always been a part of our genre. Many of them are the authors and fans we loved when we were younger, so their sexism is excused with a wink and a roll of the eyes like they're our beloved senile grandfather passing gas at the Thanksgiving dinner.

But that attitude merely prolongs the harm they do. So let me be blunt to the sexist farts of the SF genre: We're tired of your sexism and hate. Clean up or ship out. You're holding back the genre we love. And it's time for the men of SF to step up and also say this behavior is not acceptable.

Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship or thought-control

Update: This essay only focuses on why it was wrong for Resnick and Malzberg to use the terms censorship and thought-control against people criticizing the depiction of women in SF art. For my overall view on sexism in SF, see "Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell."

 

Yesterday the summer 2013 issue of the SFWA Bulletin arrived in my snailmail box and I immediately read Jim C. Hines's essay "Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People." Now, since this is the official publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, it makes total sense that the Bulletin is a print-only affair. We SF/F authors don't need no fancy futuristic techie-online stuff! So if you want to read Hines' excellent essay, you'll have to hunt down a print copy.

But that said, if you've been following the online discussion about how women are depicted in SF/F art, you likely already have a sense of Hines' powerful arguments. So kudos to the SFWA Bulletin for publishing his essay, especially since the cover for their previous issue played a major part in the debate.

And kudos also to the Bulletin for publishing a rebuttal to Hines' points in the same issue, in the form of the newest dialogue between SF authors Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg.

Wait. What? I'm okay with Resnick and Malzberg saying there's no problem with how women are depicted in SF artwork? What kind of sick SFWA liberal fascist joke is this?

I raise that last question because in the dialogue Malzberg calls people troubled by these types of sexist covers "SFWA liberal fascists." Resnick and Malzberg then talk at length how the campaign to raise awareness on how women are depicted in SF/F art is nothing more than thought-control and censorship.

Now, I think Resnick and Malzberg are taking the issue a bit personally because in the previous issue of the Bulletin they discussed female genre editors, and took flack for commenting on the looks of one of the editors. I also know that they are trying to stir the pot on this issue—hell, they basically admit as much toward the end of their discussion (right before they say this type of thought-control and censorship leads us straight into a world full of Joseph Stalins and Chairman Maos).

But even though I disagree with their views, I have no problem with Resnick and Malzberg presenting them in the Bulletin. I've long enjoyed their dialogues and believe it's a good thing to have their views offered alongside Hines' thoughts. I should also note that Hines' essay nicely rebuts every reason Resnick and Malzberg raise on why sexpot SF/F covers are not offensive.

However, that doesn't mean Resnick and Malzberg's essay didn't piss me off. And the reason for said urine-anger is simple—they throw around the words "thought-control" and "censorship" merely because they've been made to feel uncomfortable for their beliefs.

News flash: Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship. Having to defend your beliefs when challenged is not thought-control.

The only time I've ever agreed with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was during his concurrence in a Washington ballot initiative case. You see, the people in that state who'd signed petitions to ban same-sex marriage protested the disclosure of their names, saying it "subjected them to harassment from supporters of same-sex marriage." But as Scalia wrote in the Supreme Court ruling forcing the release of their names, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed."

Basically, what Scalia and the Supreme Court were saying is that while there might be discomfort and pain in stating one's opinion, this is actually a good thing. 

When Resnick and Malzberg compare the heat they're feeling for stating their beliefs with censorship and thought-control, they are playing a version of the political correctness card. We've all seen this before, where someone complains because they—horror of horrors—have to actually stand up for what they believe in instead of automatically having their beliefs agreed with.  But as the Supreme Court said, this is actually a good thing because it results in honest debates and discussions, which is how both societies and people grow and change.

So yes, I'm glad the Bulletin printed their thoughts. I have no desire to censor their opinions, nor does anyone I know. If you want to live in an economic free market, you can't then whine about defending your beliefs in the marketplace of ideas.

This is a hard post to write because I've met Resnick a number of times and really like him; I also love many of his stories. I've never met Malzberg but I've long respected him for his principled stands and writing style.

But they are absolutely wrong about this being a case of thought-control or censorship.

The Art of Adam Pizurny

HeavensTouch
Adam Pizurny's illustration for "Heaven's Touch"

As an author, there are two big fringe benefits to having your stories reprinted around the world—you get to meet new readers, and you discover new and exciting artists when they illustrate your work.

Allen M. Steele - The Emperor of Mars1

Illustration for Allen M. Steele's "The Emperor of Mars"

Adam Pizurny is a Czech artist living in Prague and he illustrates stories for the magazine XB-1. I love Adam's black and white illustrations, which are designed to fit in a single vertical column of the magazine. At right is his take on my story "Heaven's Touch," which appeared in the April 2013 issue of XB-1. The story focuses on a stranded astronaut whose space suit is infected—or haunted, if you will—by the ghost-like proxy of her dead crewmate. I think Adam did an amazing job capturing the essence of the story.

Another of his illustrations I really like is for Allen M. Steele "The Emperor of Mars." The space-suited face is what draws me to this illustration. The art both tells the story of what is happening and draws the reader deeper into Steele's story.

As you can imagine, Adam is a big fan of science fiction, and says he has loved the genre since childhood. Other samples of his XB-1 art you should check out includes illustrations for Nina Allan's "The Silver Wind" and Gregory Benford's "Immersion." 

Adam doesn't only do black and white illustrations. He works full time in graphic design and has a long list of impressive design and illustration credits, including music art, movie posters, and advertising murals. You can check out more of his illustrations here.

The Gordian Knot of the Night Shade Books Deal

This is a hard post to write. I'm a big fan of the novels published by Night Shade Books, which has published such groundbreaking works as the Hugo and Nebula Award winning The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. However, NSB has a history of not paying their authors on time, a trend which has intensified in recent months as the publishing company came under financial pressure.

A few days ago came word that NSB would be selling their assets — ie, books under contract — to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing LLC. The deal will only go through if a majority of NSB authors agree to the new contract terms for their works.

Unfortunately, it appears the contract is a bad deal for authors, as Michael Stackpole details. You can also view a leaked copy of the contract on Scribd (assuming it isn't deleted in short order).

Night Shade Editor in Chief Jeremy Lassen claims "This is the last chance to make sure all of my authors get paid" and that otherwise these author's contracts will get tied up in bankruptcy for months and years to come. But I wonder about that, and about other aspects of the deal which are now emerging.

Know this — I don't have a dog in this fight, aside from the fact that I'm an author and support the rights of my fellow authors. But the more I learn about the proposed NSB deal the more this seems like a Gordian Knot which simply can't be untied without cutting everything apart.

There are so many unanswered questions. For example, as was posted on the blog Brillig,  Jarred Weisfeld is evidently tied in with this deal through the companies trying to purchase NSB assets. However, Jarred also is tied in with a literary agency called Objective Entertainment, which was mentioned in a SFWA Writers' Beware post. That immediately sets off warning bells, as does Michael Stackpole's previously mentioned analysis of the contract.

In my opinion, this asset deal is a way to cherry-pick the NSB's lineup, a view Stackpole shares. And as Stackpole adds, "Skyhorse and Smart are not buying books here, they’re buying Intellectual Properties, and at a bargain price."

The contract terms, and the fact that Objective Entertainment is, if not directly involved at least possibly tied in with the deal, leads me to suspect that the intent is not to publish NSB authors but to have their secondary rights to those books, which could then be sold to anyone and everyone.

Perhaps I'm wrong. But when a deal is so convoluted and non-transparent as this one, who can say. It appears NSB authors are screwed if they agree to this deal, and, since many of them are owed large amounts of money, also screwed if they don't.

Which is a damn shame.

End the Hugo Award 5 percent rule

The 2013 Hugo Award nominees have been announced and overall it's a strong list. I'm particularly pleased to see so many authors I know and stories I love make the final ballot.

However, there is one irritation — only three short stories are Hugo finalists in that category, while all the other categories have five finalists. This is due to the Hugo five percent rule, which states

3.8.5: No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

Cheryl Morgan has an excellent post about the rule and why it was established. She also invites the SF/F community to have a discussion on if the rule needs to be changed.

I personally believe the rule does need changing. This is the second time in the last few years where the short story Hugo category has run afoul of the rule (the other being in 2011). The changing nature of short story publishing — where there are more short stories being published in many more online magazines and venues — means it's harder for any particular short story to meet the five percent rule. It also wouldn't surprise me if other categories begin having similar issues with the rule in the coming years.

The Hugo Award are intended to promote and honor the best works of the SF/F genre, not be a slave to statistics and rules from three decades ago. I know the rule was well-intended when it was created, but it is not helpful in this current age.