Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Woo Hoo.

There, got that out of the way.

My first story – House For Sale – was accepted for publication today by 365Tomorrows, the Flash fiction website, and is on the front page.

No, no money is changing hands – but that’s ok. There were two experiments going on here and they’ve come to successful conclusions.

First: is there and editor out there – someone I don’t know, someone I have absolutely no influence or hold over in any way – who would consider my stuff worthy of placing their own brand on it and publishing?

Second: what exactly is this ‘flash fiction’ thing – and can I write flash fiction?

Well – yes, yes and yes.

If you ask me, despite all of the podcasting, cell phone downloading and whatnot going on, flash fiction is really more of an exercise in short story writing than it is an attempt at establishing some viable, new literary form. I suppose it is possible to make a huge impression in 600 words or less – it might even be possible to write a compelling, cliffhanger style longer story, delivered in flashy segments, but creating a new ‘form’ is not in the cards.

When I say ‘exercise’, I mean practice. This may sound a bit strange, but I looked at this task as being very similar to many of the training drills I’ve put paintball players through.

When you want people to learn how to do something really well and on an instinctual level, you generally employ two elements: first, incessant drilling (and not of the off-shore variety): ‘do it again, do it again, do it again’ is a mantra that many who have trained for sports will be familiar with. Writers are familiar with this concept – they’re told if they want to be writers, they have to write.

The second thing you do is make the task harder – far harder – than it will be in ‘real’ life. If the goal is to hurdle a 3 foot barrier with ease, you train with a three and a half foot barrier. If the goal is to be able to shoot a head-sized target at 60 feet within three snap shots, you train with a half-head sized target and only get one shot per routine.

So, if you are training yourself to write tight, pithy, impactful short stories of normal short story length (and I am not claiming to have achieved those goals, yet), instead of 2500 words, you shoot for 600.


The story itself could use a little copyediting (dare I bite the hand? yes) since I found at least three errors, including a missing comma and a missing word – probably ultimately the fault of my submission.

But I’m happy they’ve accepted it and will probably remain so until the commentary starts coming in, lol.

You can read it here.

I will, of course, appreciate any kind, gentle, considerate and thoughtful critiques. Or checks for reprints, lol.

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Edit:  I realize that parts of this post are seemingly incoherent and that I didn’t actually get to the Stoddard quotes I suggested I would be in the beginning.  This is the fault of TOO MANY INTERRUPTIONS WHILE WRITING.

But I don’t have the time right now to go back in and fix things.  So please read this with a grain of ‘first draft’ and look for the updated version later on today or tomorrow.

So I’m picking up the ball that’s been tossed back at me by Jason Stoddard.

I mentioned the other day that I’d exchanged a couple of emails with him regarding his New Marketing for SciFi pieces on his blog and the fact that he agreed with me that someone, somewhere ought to pick up the scut work of setting up websites, blogs, youtube, myspace & etc pages, RSS feeds, twitters and etc., for authors because utilizing those outlets, creating a community and engaging directly with the fan base in an INTERACTIVE manner is the new way forward to increased sales, recognition and creating a ‘tail’.

What I didn’t mention was that I’d asked Jason for permission to quote his email responses and more details about our discussion.  He graciously granted that permission, and I in turn promised not to write anything that might get him in trouble.

Let me set the stage once again.

Jason (correctly) states that if authors really want to survive the (possible) coming implosion of the publishing world (a speculated implosion, said speculation based on all kinds of observational data, including but not limited to the throttling of distribution channels, the surmised decrease in reading, an increase in cost, the fact that very few authors earn a living solely from writing, the death of the magazine market, the rise of da intarwebs and the great kitchen sink in the sky), they need to step up and GO TO WHERE THE AUDIENCE IS.

Which is of course the internet. Specifically the ‘social networking’ aspects of the internet.

More to the point, they need to establish a presence where the audience is, build up a friends network, provide additional content and engage (Can you hear Picard’s voice?  I can.).

Of course, Jason also identified the key obstacle to all of this, which is (are) the authors themselves.  Most authors live inside their heads. While many do just fine in social settings, its been my experience that they do well when they’ve chosen to go out in public and bask in the warm glow of fan appreciation otherwise known as egoboo.  However, this is done in a schizophrenic manner. The author has two distinct personalities – writer-at-work and writer-on-display.  The split personality is a direct consequence of the requirements of writing: one world consists of being entirely inward looking and brooks no interruption. (Try being the other who says ‘hey honey, can you…?’ during that critical juncture when the major scene is being written.  Actually, don’t try that since cleaning blood splatter off the walls is painfully time consuming.) The other world consists of adopting the persona of raconteur, artist-in-residence, wit, charm and a passive reception of praise, sometimes with a little criticism or silliness thrown in. 

Nothing wrong with either. The problem lies with switching back and forth between the two, which many, if not most, authors, find difficult to do.  There are notable exceptions (Ellison writing short stories in public while the peanut gallery comments), but they are uncommon.

Stoddard recognizes this by frequently mentioning the presumed authorial response to his suggestions, succinctly summed up as “ugh, barf”.  I’ve read enough author’s websites and commentary to believe that this correctly identifies most authors reaction to being told that they need to put together a Myspace page, post regularly on LiveJournal and take pictures of the sunset to stick up on their blog site.

Most authors know how to use a word processor, click around the web, do searches.  Do most know how to set up a website, design a page, activate an RSS feed. Most seem to feel that having to regularly post on a blog, answer emails, add people to their friends list, is a distraction (because it moves them from the writer-at-work persona to the writer-on-display personality). To most writers, getting the next ten thousand words down on the page is far more important than making sure everyone knows that they’ll be attending a book signing at the local book store.

I think it’s relatively easy to see that both activities are requirements in today’s connected world. Finishing up the latest novel is just as important as making sure people buy the latest novel. Unfinished draft equals no sales. No market for finished product equals no sales.

The tasks following the completion of the manuscript used to be the responsibility of the publishing company. However much they laid out in advance and spent on jacket design, printing, PR work, distribution work and etc., they’re not going to get any of it back unless they do the rest of their job, which is selling.

That dynamic used to work quite well in the pre-electronic era, because the publisher was the only entity in the equation that had the channels (shared perhaps to one degree or another with agents). 

What has changed is accessability. Readers now know that they don’t have to go through multiple layers in order to get to the source. They’d much rather hear from the author directly than they would a rep at the publishing company.  “Just finished chapter 12 of the 17th book of the Recursive Redundancy Trilogy and boy does Joe Smith get it!” has a lot more resonance with fans than a flat PR stating “Best Selling Author Dell Schuster is hard at work on…”

Not to mention a fan announcing to their own friends network that they just received a personal note from their favorite author.

Authors can justifiably question why they’re being asked to pick up some of the work that used to be the publisher’s responsibility. The short answer is because this is not really work the publishing company used to do – this is NEW work that responds to and (hopefully) takes advantage of new opportunities and capabilities. The other answer is, because the publisher can’t BE the author. They might get away with an autoscribe when that special edition requires 10,000 signatures, but no one else can replicate the personality and touching the personality is what the market wants.

In looking for a solution to the problem, it occurred to me that a service that handled all of the scut work, one that would let the authors do what they already do (write and wit) might be the answer. The idea being that as soon as a publisher signed an author, the promotional service would conduct an interview (what are your favorite pastimes? do you have pics of family/pets/strange happenings in your life, what kind of music do you like?) and then create a web page, a blog, a myspace page, a flikr image gallery etc.) and then link all those in to the other authors represented by the publishing company. Periodically updates would be performed, or the author could get in touch and say things like ‘Can you set up a podcast thingie for me?”

Just so you know I’m not just blue-skying this, there are a few obstacles. One is making sure that the author stays on some kind of regular update schedule. Another would be authors represented by multiple publishers. These are not insurmountable. RSS feeds from related authors into each website would at least help content updating limp along. A recognition that sales from one publisher is an asset to another publisher would handle the other. Similar obstacles are, I believe, as relatively easy to solve.

The huge advantage is that the market would be immediately tied in to every single author represented by these publishers. Promotion of one author would take place across the entire platform of every other authors’s sites and feeds. Friend networks (and potential buyers) would increase exponentially.

I asked Jason’s marketing-maven persona if he thought that the publishing companies would be interested in such a service. (I also asked him if he thought the answer was yes, why his company wasn’t preparing or offering such a service.)

His answers were instructive and the come down to one basic supposition, one I generally agree with: publishing companies prefer to handle their stuff in-house.

The consensus is clear: authors who HAVE been engaging in the kinds of activities described are experiencing success with doing so. 

Publishing companies that have established interactive, quasi-social networking websites for their company as a whole are experiencing success with those (Tor, Baen, etc.), by which we can ascertain that they already have most, if not all, of the in-house expertise necessary for suporting such efforts.

While I still maintain that such a service as a third party serving all publishing firms and authors would be far more cost-effective (and potentially responsive) than a series of smaller, in-house operations (and would also serve to mitigate internal ‘attention-issues’ – top flight authors getting more love than mid-list folks), where/how it is done is not nearly as important as starting down the path to getting it done.

For publishers that need convincing, allow me to belabor a few points:

1. IF you were to have a website, blog, myspace page, flikr page, RSS feeds and whatever else the market researchers determine is worth spending time on for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR AUTHORS, it will be possible to cut your outside advertising budget. You’re replacing hard dollar ads with in-house costs. Your cost for such advertising could drop as low as maintaining the web-marketing department.

2. You’ll have hundreds of websites all pointing back to the main site; hundreds of motivated ‘sellers’ hawking not only themselves but every other author in your stable.  Each one of them brings along a fan base.  Imagine what would happen to sales if only say, 2% of one authors ‘friends’ picked up a novel written by another author.

3. Traffic. Rankings. Ratings. Marketing stats.

It seems pretty straight-forward to me. For the cost of a couple of staff with specialist knowledge added to the in-house web team and time spent on developing a cohesive interconnection strategy (say, for example, each one of your author’s pages has a feed box that’s updated from other author’s websites, a stylish button accesses a directory of all of the connected pages and your firm’s logo in the upper right corner is one-click away from contextual ordering pages) and the publishing companies would be turning on their greatest marketing resource.

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Not much going on today except for having to take both the cat and the dog to the vets for annuals.  The dog loves going, the cat has to be fooled into the carrying case.  (Put them in backwards without letting them see it – works every time.)

I see that the courts have decided in favor of Andre Norton’s caregiver and against her lifelong fan in regards to control of the literary estate.  Not knowing either party, I’m incapable of rendering judgement on who would do the best job in maintaining Andre’s legacy.  It is nice to know that her works will once again be available for reprint.  What with all the concentration on YA lit these days, Norton’s novels are a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.  There’s the possibility of an appeal which could still delay things so we’re still in wait mode, but at least this thing is coming to a resolution.

I exchanged a couple of emails with Jason Stoddard regarding his “New Marketing for SF” pieces on his blog.  It’s nice to see someone who not only makes recomendations but follows his own advice as well.  INterestingly enough, Jason has Louis Edelman listed as a friend on his Myspace page, and I just exchanged a coupld of emails with Louis last week concerning my upcoming reviews of InfoQuake and Multireal.  (Finished Infoquake, about one third of the way through Multireal – see below for more).

I’m impressed with the accessability displayed by these ‘new’ authors; I’ve yet to not receive a timely response from anyone I’ve had occassion to email – Doctorow, Wolf, Scalzi, Edelman, Frank, Stoddard… 

I do agonize quite a bit over writing to them;  writing is their business and I’m asking them for ‘free’ time in doing so.  I don’t want to come across as annoying, and I try to remember that just because they seemed to appreciate the prior email doesn’t mean that I can start sending them recipes or pictures of my pets.  I don’t want to get classified into the ‘stay away’ column.

But my biggest fear is that some ham-handed attempt at getting an idea across is going to be misunderstood.  Email, blog commentary, etc., lacks the all important inflection conveyed by expression and tone.  There are a million ways to ‘say’ ‘your story sucks’ – from sarcastic to serious, but only one way to type it. Even if you followed it with an lol or a happy face, chances are your intention will be misconstrued.

It’s not all that different from being a fan attending a con, approaching that favorite author with some trepidation – that is until you get to know them (and they you) – but even when you’re on a face-recognition basis, it still doesn’t mean you can monopolize their time.  They’re at the con for everyone, not just you. 


I’ll not provide spoilers for my review of Infoquake that will be appaearing in an upcoming issue of Ray Gun Revival other than to say that I’m now on Multireal.  You might think that statement would give you a hint, but it doesn’t really.  Once the review is out, I’ll offer additional commentary here.

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I was struck (again) the other day by the unending lamentations coming from some quarters of the SF community.  In my head, it sounds like I’m standing in an alley between a Catholic Church and an Orthodox Synagogue as both congregations engage in response:

From the left: Priest: “For God hath created the singularity beyond which there is no knowing”

Congregation: “It is  truly a turd in the punch bowl that stinketh to high heaven”

Priest: “It is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, from which he turneth away”

Congregation: “And there shall be no more science fiction”

From the right: Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these words lacketh in style'”

Congregation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘these characters are flat and uninteresting”

Congreation “Truly, they are non-literary”

Rabbi: “And the Lord said ‘Go ye forth and write literary works for they are a sweet smelling sacrifice. No longer shall ye write in a clunky pulp style”

Congregation “And on that day, science fiction was no more. Amen.”

It seems like every day there is yet another reason why science fiction is no longer relevant, is dying or already finished but for the burial.

The post singularity future is unknowable, so we can’t write about the future.  SF is not literary enough and will therefore die in the marketplace.  We’re living in a science fiction world and therefore can’t imagine a future sufficiently wonderous enough to engage the reader. SF is and always will be perceived as an adolescent affectation. Science Fiction is for geeky nerds. There aren’t enough geeky nerds in the worlds to support the market. YA is stealing SF’s thunder. SF is a literature of short stories and the short story is dead. Magazines are the foundation of SF and magazines are dead. The audience has dumbed down and can’t handle thought-provoking literature of any genre. The society is falling apart and is too distressed and depressed to care about the future.  Genre’s only have a 75 year life cycle and we’re in year 100+.

My first thought is: you can’t have it both ways. Liteature of any kind is supposed to be about character.  SF’s contribution is a focus on the future, a vehicle for illuminating today through non-threatening speculative tropes, the home of the ‘big idea’.  But all of those things are realized through the characters that inhabit the story, the people that things happen to. 

Maybe a lot of SF characterization is ‘bad’ when seen through some ivory tower literary prism, and maybe there is room for improvement but, if stories are really about character (or are supposed to be) then how can a concept like the singularity threaten the genre?

I don’t think any of the aforementioned laments is accurate, nor are any of them the genre-killer they’re sussed out to be. I think the real problem is some underlying dissatisfaction with where the genre is today.  But not even that.  I think it’s dissatisfaction with where the genre is as opposed to some people’s fevered imaginging of where it ought to be. It might be a pay-scale thing. It might be an earnings thing, it might be a marketing thing. Some authors look at their advances and royalties and think they ought to be doing better. Some publishers think they ought to get more notices, or a better distribution deal or more shelf space. A lot of people look at the enormous impact some SF films or televisions shows have had and wonder why the golden touch hasn’t reached the book end of the business.

I’m not intimately familiar with the behind the scenes work that agents are doing for some of the more vocal authors (film options, etc), but of the authors who’s intimates I am familiar with, none of them are amongst the complainers, because they’re doing ok.  I don’t draw any conclusions from that observation, merely pointing it out as a possible data point.

And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with wanting more – better pay, more cultural recognition, bigger presence in the marketplace – but if that is what all of the complaining is about, I think the effort would be better spent on figuring out how to achieve those goals, rather than bemoaning the death of the genre.

Jason Stoddard was recently interviewed and covered a multi-part blog post he’s got going on SF and marketing.  His mantra is self-promotion and social networking (and the relatively low cost of high-impact advertising available via internet resources).

In those pieces he correctly identifies most writers initial reactions – “ugh, barf”.  And I agree that that is probably the standard reaction, except for a chosen few who seem to have a natural bent for it, such as Doctorow or Scalzi.  Not surprising, considering the relatively solitary nature of writing and world-building.  Most authors are, of course, happy to share the end product, but many are reluctant to let all but a few carefully hand-picked people in on the beta testing.

So, maybe the solution is to foist this activity off on the publishing companies? Maybe, as part of their marketing efforts, they need to not only host their own websites with lots of nifty content and quasi-social networking applets, but should, as a matter of course, automatically set up a blog, a youtube channel, a myspace page, add characters to virtual environments, generate appropriate widgets and etc.  Most authors have no problem writing, but many have a problem with the day-to-day maintenance of building a website, adding RSS feeds, finding the tributes and commentary, the reviews and such.

Instead of having each individual author try to do these things, there should be a department at a good publishing house that handles all the background crap.  Think of the traffic: if every single published author had at a minimum, myspace, youtube, flikr, website and blog, and all of those were linked in to the publishers main site AND cross-linked to each other (maybe a company logo at the top of the page), we’re talking a huge amount of internet real estate.  Think of the cross-promotion when every single one of those websites becomes a billboard, not just for the author in question, but for every other author represented by that publisher. 

Then the writers can do what they do – write. Preferably non-singularity conflicted, non-literary, pulpy science fiction.

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Quick Note

Here’s a bit about what’s keeping me so busy:

First, I’m working on a deal.  It’s non-science fictional related, but could greatly influence science fictional things.

The work on this itself is not all that onerous, but the emotional toll can get heavy at times.  This is the thing that is causing most of my exhaustion.

In addition, I have been engaged for a number of days on a complete re-do of the Rim Worlds website.  Progress is posted daily over and there have been some mighty changes.  I had far more content than I realized.

The majority of time spent on that is now going towards the image links for the pulp magazine covers section.  There are some 368 individual images, each of which is presented in at least three ways, with links between them, so we’re talking a massive linking project here.  I think it will all be worth it in the long run.

Finally  the story.  I just finished up my first book review for Ray Gun Revival (Infoquake) and keep on pushing back finishing off ‘Traitor’.  I’ve written the ending in my head about twelve times now, I’m very happy with the way it works out and all I need to do is let it out the fingers onto the keyboard, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

IN other story news, I’ve gathered the second rejection for Masker Aid, this time with a nice note from the people at Futurismic.  Progress!  Formal rejection copy version 2.4.7 from Asimov’s and now an email with a personal note.  Woo Hoo!

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Besides Heinlein novels (and some of the classic classics – Wells, Verne), my early introduction to science fiction was through the pages of the magazines and the numerous anthologies – either newly minted or reissued classics.

Some titles that spring immediately to mind are “Adventures in Time & Space”, “The Big Book of Science Fiction”, “Astounding Tales of Space and Time”, “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame”, Merrils’ Best of the year, Carr & Wollheim’s Best of the year – and so many others.

Like the magazines, the anthologies offered an opportunity to experience a hand and a half of authors who’s works I was unfamiliar with; quick reads as well.

If you were to grab ahold of just those first four anthologies I mentioned and read through them all, you’d get a pretty darned good panorama of the ‘classic’ era. (And I recommend doing so if you want to gain an appreciation for where all of us old fogeys are coming from.)

Recent debates on the relevance of old SF, the out-dated science in old SF, the lack of characterization in old SF, the horribly stifling reliance on IDEA in old SF, the ancient historical context of old SF…

…all of these discussions have prompted me to unearth exemplars that illustrate that at least some earlier works are exceptions to these challenges.  Finding such examples has made me wonder – how many are there and

wouldn’t it be a good idea to put together an anthology entitled something like “And You Thought Old SF Was OLD”.

(This of course would have a companion volume entitled “Science Fiction For People Who Hate Science Fiction”.)

Without an immediate re-reading to verify that my feelings about some of the classics aren’t just wishful thinking, I hesitate (at this moment) to put my own list up.  I do definately have some titles in mind that I believe have compelling characters, decent writing, no overt tapestries that reveal its datedness and a fine balance between story, character and idea.

But before I put my own list up, I thought I’d ask everyone else if they had any suggestions.  Extra points if your suggestions are in the public domain.

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If you noticed, I have a thing for Chandler.   If you didn’t – I have a thing for Chandler.

I particularly have a thing for his Rim Worlds milieu, but I can say honestly that I have read almost everything he has ever written for publication, a few things not originally intended for publication, and probably even a few things never intended to see the light of day, and I’ve never been truly disappointed.  I haven’t always been wowed. A few (very few) of his stories have left me saying ‘um – ok’, but I’ve never had to give a negative review.

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes, from The Anarch Lords

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes from The Anarch Lords

I’ve also seen the man writing – in the buff – and if you aren’t put off by an author who’s literally been stripped of all pretense and illusion, if in fact you can say you still enjoy his or her work, well then, you can only come to one of two conclusion: either they write some pretty damned good stuff, or you’re an unabashed, gushing fanboy.  And please note that those two conclusions are NOT mutually exclusive.

Now truth to tell, seeing ‘Jack’ Chandler writing in the all-together was a second-hand photographic experience (his friends called him Jack and I would have been a friend if I’d ever had the chance to meet him), but I don’t really think that deflates my argument all that much.  It is, however, certrainly much less awkward than experiencing it personally.

When someone has been stricken by unabashed gushing fanboyitis, no explanation is required if they are merely expressing their opinion (however over the top it might be) or somehow manage to keep it to themselves. (I’d keep back a few paces though. You never know when the geyser is gonna blow.)

Justification is only really required  when the goal is to convince others to share the disease.  So, on one level, I really don’t have to say anything else other than I really like his stuff and wish more people did too.  On another level –

I ought to tell you a little bit about his stories. And say something about why maybe you’ll want to hunt up a few of them to read yourself. But first, a bit about the man himself.

He was a sea captain, working his way up the ranks of promotion in the merchant fleet, first of England and later of Australia.  He served as an officer both during war and peace time. His travels during WWII took him to New York where he met with John Campbell, who encouraged him to write. Jack took up the challenge and sold his first submitted story.

The really interesting thing about the man’s personal history that informs his written work is – right now, in the real world, you can’t get much closer to being a starship captain than being a sea captain. Chandler recognized this and used it, bringing a level of work-a-day detail to his stories that has probably been equalled, but not by many.  The degree of realism comes through on every single page; the man didn’t have to ‘make stuff up’, all he had to do was look across the bridge and substitute the inky depths of space for the blue expanse of ocean out the port windows. 

This unique perspective for SF stories translates well to the page and immediately creates a background environment that is familiar and comfortable.

Enough about ‘Jack’.  There’s plenty more biographical and autobiographical material on the official website for anyone who’s interested.


One of the major charges leveled against ‘old’ science fiction is that it lacks characterization.

 Chandler’s work’s certainly qualify as old. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, his last novel was published in 1984.  One of the reasons for writing this piece is that his ‘last’ John Grimes/Rim Worlds story has finally seen print in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology (available this month).  The story – Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – is the only known Grimes story that hasn’t been previously published.

But so far as characterization goes – It simply isn’t possible for a character about whom 18 novels and 31 stories have been written to lack characterization. Simply. Not. Possible.*

Character Characterization is not the only character building that’s going on in the stories.  In addition to the Grimes tales, there are at least eight more novels and at least a dozen more stories that share a common background – an internally consistent ‘future history’ that is at least as complex and as richly detailed as any other, including Niven’s Known Space and Heinlein’s Future History.

What other science fiction author can you name that has 25+ novels and 40+ other length stories devoted to the same consistent universe and ‘future history’?  Right now, off the top of my head, my answer is ‘none’.

 Another shaggy old argument against ‘old’ SF is that the stories are just ‘idea’ stories, with little to recommend them beyond nifty tech or nifty concepts that were out-dated four decades ago:  computers operated by punch card.  Invasive medical technologies.  Telephones with dials on them. Shopping in person.

Let’s talk about tech for a minute.  The man invented three separate and distinct faster than light drives – one of which still remains plausible today.

His first – the Ehrenhaft Drive – took mankind on its initial expansion to the stars.  The ED essentially turns itself and the vessel to which it is attached into a charged magnetic particle, which then travels along the ‘force lines’ between stars.

Out-dated, yes.  Unworkable, yes.  But extremely important for two reasons: first – Chandler abandoned it. Second – this drive often failed, stranding its crew and passengers, who then – if they were lucky – managed to crawl to a nearby habitable world and set up a ‘lost colony’.

Lost colonies – human societies cut off from the mainstream – are meat and potatoes in science fiction lore.  Chandler’s Ehrenhaft Drive gave him a tool he could use over and over again.

His third FTL drive – the Erikson Drive – only works on the outer edges of our galaxy where the fabric of space and time run thin.  The Erikson Drive is hokey, involving an extra kick with a reaction drive when a ship is already at .9999 c.  But it performs the trick of going FTL not by adding this extra push (a physical impossibility)  but by pushing the drive and its ship into an alternate dimension.

This drive has the added virtue of ‘reversing its sign’ and allowing trade and relations with the beings that inhabit anti-matter worlds.

(The Erikson drive is only featured in one novel and a few shorts and various clues throughout those stories suggest that they are not truly canonical works.)

Chandler’s bread and butter was the Manschenn Drive, a time and space distorting gyroscopic affair made with moebius strip rotors.  Chandler is sufficiently and properly vague about its inner workings that no holes can be poked in it (there’s nothing really to poke at); his descriptions of how it works properly intriguing and equally vague: the drive ‘moves ahead in space while moving backwards in time’.

Before the cosmologists jump on me with causality issues and the physicists attack – note that some recent hypothesis and even some experiments have seemed to indicate that some form of time-manipulation may be possible.  ‘May’ is key, because that’s ALL you need to keep your science fiction science plausible.  And Chandler gave due credence to the causality issues as plot devices and so was obviously aware that he was playing with fire. He didn’t shy away from it, he embraced it. 

And unlike many SF authors who get entangled in the strangeness that appears to be the foundations of our universe, he didn’t even try to explain it or wrap it up in some pseudo grand theory of everything.  Weird and bizarre things happen when you play with the Universe’s dice.  Instead he concerned himself with the effect these things had on people and how they dealt with them.

The Manschenn Drive is not the only tech that Chandler introduced which has withstood the test of time.  He was sufficiently familiar with the advance of technologies to realize that what was familiar to him (television with three channels, telephones with dials, no personal computers, etc) would not be what was used in the future.  He was sufficiently sly to dress his future with devices that are cleverly vague and yet workable.  His ‘playmaster’ device, a feature found on every spaceship and virtually every home, is telephone, radio, television, information retrieval and fact checker – home theater, video recorder, audio recorder.  In short, anything you can do with media electronically is embodied in a single machine that you can interact with in a multiplicity of different ways – voice command, keyboard, radio, etc.

There are even ‘planetary networks’ – that serve as air traffic control, security system, long-range communications devices and that interact with individual shipboard playmasters.  And all of this is activated and controlled in very ergonomic user-interfacey ways.  No one apparently has to ‘learn’ how to use these systems, it’s intuitive.  And we’re STILL trying to achieve that level of inter-connectivity and ease of use.

Finally, the boo-hissers say, that old stuff wasn’t literary enough.  It was poorly written and doesn’t take 15 pages to describe the nap of the carpet and another 15 to mention the smell of the new roof shingles. 

Ok,  You got me.  Chandler wasn’t a ‘literary’ writer.  He could write, competently, interestingly, engagingly, but not literarilly.

Although he did write sufficiently well to get  Australia to underwrite a ‘what-if?’ alternate history novel (in print as Kelly Country), one of the last novels he ever wrote.  I think that in this particular case I’ll let the literary review board of an entire nation speak for Chandler’s competence in stringing words together.

Credentials? He’s got plenty.  He’s won several Ditmars – the Australian Hugo award, some Seiun’s from Japan and was nominated for a retro-Hugo. His stories were steadily in print from the 50’s (with ACE) through the late 80’s (with DAW).  He’s in the top 50 of all time SF authors who appeared regularly in Astounding SF, based on reader response. Two of his stories are amongst the most anthologized in the industry – The Cage and Giant Killer.

Those two stories alone have given birth to entire plot schools, being the seminal, original works to introduce the plot: The Cage gave birth to the ‘aliens think we’re animals’ concept, while Giant Killer set the bar for ‘mutated rats as competition for humans’ concept (not to mention one of the best ever ‘think like an alien’ presentations to appear anywhere, anytime in print).

Very well developed characters. A huge and consistent future history.  Future tech that is still future tech. Writing that is at least acceptable to one country’s literary council.

Other than an inability to find his works, I can think of no other argument levelled against classic SF for which Chandler is NOT the exception that proves the rule.  So I’ll answer that one by saying – every single day virtually every single one of his novels and collections are available on Ebay, ABE and Amazon – usually for a couple of bucks each.

Not only are Chandler’s works fully up to snuff in the light of today’s offerings, he’s a cheap read too!

Do yourself a serious favor and check him out.  If you want to start at the beginning, visit the official Chandler site.  For some additional detail, visit my concordance site. If you want to start reading about John Grimes’ adventures from the beginning, pick up a copy of The Road to the Rim. (I just got an ACE double version off Ebay for a buck.)  

*John Grimes is probably one of the most fully realized characters ever created by an SF or fantasy author.  He’s a righteous old bastard who keeps his own counsel, intelligent and crafty enough to get himself out of the messes he  himself into, has no respect for authority just for authority’s sake, has a winning way with women and some well-developed ‘kinks’. He also smokes a pipe, prefers his gin pink and his women red-headed, doesn’t think all that much of convention (unless he’s the one trying to enforce the rules), can be a bit stuck up when it serves his purpose and can’t resist a lady in distress.  John always ‘does the right thing’ even if it might take him a bit to get around to it, and it is very doubtful that you’ll like the way he does it.

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Jo Walton offered some notes on the singularity and the problems it seems to be causing for SF writers in a recent post at TOR.

Here’s what was said:

“What irritates the heck out of me is that so many other people have come to have faith in this, despite zero evidence, and that this is inhibiting SF. “…”Yet somehow the Singularity resonated to the point where Charlie Stross called it “the turd in the punchbowl” of writing about the future, and most SF being written now has to call itself “post-Singularity” and try to write about people who are by definition beyond our comprehension, or explain why there hasn’t been a Singularity.” (bold face mine)

I mentioned before that I agreed with the assessment that there would never be a singularity event, but that opinion obviously shared by some hasn’t prevented the seeming need to adequately explain away the singularity for readers who are concerned about such bible-esque armageddons.

Now admittedly I haven’t read all that much POST Nineties SF (some, and I’m working on it), but I’ve yet to see anyone use the most simple, straight-forward explanation of all.  What I have seen are authors who simply leave the entire concept out of their world building (which works for me), but may not work for others in the ‘believeability’ department.  (How some folks can believe in one fictional concept and reject another fictional work because it doesn’t embrace the first piece of make-believe is beyond my understanding. Selective sense-of-wonder disorder? Adult Willing-Suspension-of-Disbelief Deficit?)

Anyway.  The simplest work-around to the singularity ‘problem’ is – it didn’t happen.

As some have pointed out, the progression towards technologies that could engender a singularity that will occur within our life times (or close enough) requires that the current rate of change remains unchanged.  Moore’s Law describes an exponential increase and the path towards the singularity assumes that that will continue, while prior experience with other technologies will easily illustrate that this is not the case; at some point, a wall is reached, the exponential growth ceases and only cosmetic changes occur until a new technology comes along to supplant the old one, at which point the roller-coaster ride begins all over again.

Fortunately, we don’t even have to wait to see if we come to the end of the exponential growth cycle in computing to know if such will occur before or after the singularity, because there are numerous, plausible future events that could curtail such growth tomorrow.

Natural disasters, biological events, warfare, alien invasion, cosmic blow-offs are just the few off-the-top-of-my-head, easily imagined future events that could slow or even stop technological advancement next year, next month, or even tomorrow, because, if the research stops, so does the development of technologies that could lead to the singularity.

If you presume that a post-apocalyptic* society remembers our concerns about run-away technology – or even blames such for the downfall, and you presume that their cultural attitudes embrace some small piece of ‘just because we can doesn’t mean we should’, and then give them a little time to recover from the apocalyptic* event, you’ve created any number of plausible post-non-singularity futures, futures that can embrace just about any stripe of SF you might imagine.  If you really want to have astrogators plotting their interstellar routes on punch cards fed into the electronic calculator – now you can. (Gotta keep those machines down…).  If you’re full-on with steampunk – there’s your background for coal-fired FTL drives.  And if you really want to get nasty, you can have your pseudo-Victorian Era Earthmen run afoul of an alien species that embraced a singularic future .  The coal-fired Earthmen will win, of course, because their ‘old world tech’ can’t be affected or influenced by mere electronics.

Hmmm.  I like that one so much I think I’m going to start taking notes…

*See comments

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I picked up a copy of the revised edition of the SF Handbook by the de Camps, and I found his take on the late 30’s boom in SF publishing interesting.

Sprague lays the blame at the feet of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play.

He notes that the boom began in the autumn of 1938, that there were four magazines on the stands at the time (Amazing, Astounding, Thrilling Wonder and Weird Tales) and a fifth – Marvel Tales – was being launched.

He then says “But it was an event unrelated to publising that gave the greatest momentum to speculative fiction. At 8:00 p.m., on the evening of October 30, 1938, the twenty-three-year-old orson Welles staged the first radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’s 1898 story, The War of the Worlds.”

…”For science fiction, however, the event was a turning point. Many who had never read Wells’s stories hunted them up. Others bought copies of those magazines  with the bug-eyed monster covers….Soon, seven more science fiction magazines were launched. On July 2, 1939, the First World Science Fiction Convention met at Caravan Hall on East 59th Street, New York City. Two hundred fans gathered from all over the United States and Canada….Time wrote up the convention…Harper’s…took a sharp and not friendly look at the phenomenon….Despite this blast, science fiction continued to expand.”

He notes that a similar expansion followed the end of WWII, much like detective fiction enjoyed a surge following WWI.

My own experience tells me that another ‘boom’ occurred in and around the excitement of the space program’s moon shot (including the Mercury and Gemini programs leading up to Apollo).

It makes a good case for the contention that the genre has only enjoyed expansion through the influence of events external to the genre, and it makes me wonder why, in times past when such things occurred, they led to an increase in both the production and consumption of literature and now, they lead to the increased production and consumption of any form that isn’t literature.

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Lot’s of stuff going on.

First and foremost – my parents have arrived for a visit. Yes, it’s true, I have parents. And, in fact, they actually want to visit with me.  Hey – this blog is about science fiction. Don’t say that didn’t warn you that occassionally I’d post some strange and wonderous things here.

What this actually means is that, for approximately the next ten days, I will not be able to spend all my time at the computer.  What it really, really means is that I may end up losing some of my new-found traffic (thanks to two posts that have been widely picked up – the piece Scalzi’s Whatever linked to about giving fiction away for free and my bit of humor concerning how to convert a mundane heathen into an SF reader).

On the other hand, the visit may provide some interesting material for future posts.  My folks are retired so they’ve got lots of time for day trips to this and that.  Later this morning I’m meeting them to schedule out the trip.  We might end up visiting Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory (don’t tell anyone but they don’t actually make ice cream – they make frozen desserts.  ICE CREAM comes in three, perhaps four flavors – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and maybe tutti-frutti.  All this crunchy-funky-monkey-balls and Phish Pharm Phlava crap is an affront to the dignity of mankind (what dignity?). It may be fun, it may even taste good, but IT IS NOT ICE CREAM!).  Since everyone loves ice cream, I might be able to recapture some of that traffic if I post some pics of the tour.


I’ve been revisiting the commentary on the ‘free fiction’ post and wanted to clear up a couple of things.

First: I made an assumption that any published author is paying at least a little attention to their stock in trade and includes finances in their considerations when placing their work.  There are all kinds of good and valid reasons why an author would offer something to readers for free – whether they receive compensation or not.  In most cases, they are receiving enough compensation, of some kind, to make it worth their while to do so.

An example from my own experience will serve to illustrate this point.  I was writing feature articles and regular monthly columns for several publications, and receiving way beyond ‘standard industry compensation’ for the work.  (My pay scale was 2 to 3 times what other writers were getting.)  I was approached by the editor of another publication with a request to write (there was a time when my name on the TOC or cover was a draw) and I asked what the pay was.  It was minimal comp – $25 an article, $50 with pictures.  This was about a quarter of what the other publications regularly paid, so obviously well below what I was receiving.

I thanked him for the offer and declined the opportunity (why undercut myself?).  About two years later I had occassion to remember something that the editor had said to me:  “We don’t censor” –  by which he meant that, unlike the other rags, he didn’t worry about pissing his advertisers off when it came to running copy.

I was at the time embroiled in a huge political fight and none of the magazines I wrote for would vet my articles on the subject.  I called up the previously mentioned editor and asked if was still interested in pieces from me.  I explained the situation and he agreed to run them.

Not only did I quickly jump to the editor’s ‘higher pay scale’, I eventually ended up as a regional editor and later sports editor for the publication and the ghost writer for many editorials.  Most importantly, I had an outlet for subjects that no one else was willing to publish.

I’d have given those pieces away for free, because in that particular circumstance the compensation I received (airing my viewpoint) was the compensation that I needed.  I’d also previously established the fact that I expected ‘decent’ compensation.


Now on this same subject: the issue of free authorship actually encompasses two different issues.  One is mostly a marketing issue:  the new writer who breaks into non-scale paying markets is willing to accept this as a (required) part of their growth. They get something in addition to exposure and experience, even if it isn’t professional level wages.  Or, as in my case, I’m trying to develop my craft in an entirely new market.  While that progresses (during which time I am receiving NO compensation for lots of hard work) I’m making myself available publicly and hopefully building a potential market.  This is called ‘investment’ and ‘growing the brand’.  If I start selling fiction, I’ll begin to realize a return on that investment.

The other issue is one of intellectual property. Ownership.  Copyright. Copywrong. Creative Commons, digital piracy & etc.

I think it’s important to remember when discussing writers and compensation – especially when the word ‘free’ is involved, to keep these two aspects separate.

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