anthologies


Oh, I do have a blog.

In the last month (and in no particular order), I’ve had two coworkers quit, another replacement hired only to quit three days later, job responsibilities increase, my father get remarried, multiple people in my life diagnosed with ugly things like cancer, and more news that will eventually get shared, time permitting. It’s not been an easy nor pleasant November, but now its December, and I love the cold(er) weather and hope we get snow this afternoon. And that things eventually become sunny and lovely again, even in winter.

But the real reason for this update – some excellent fiction.

Chris Stabback, a fellow Clarionaut from this last year, published a story in Clarkesworld which is up today. Gave me chills when I first read it, and inspired me. Nothing is better than a story that inspires you to write one of your own.

Caitlyn R. Kiernan’s collection Two Worlds and In Between has as few remaining collections left on Amazon (I’d bought mine directly from Subterranean Press). This is hands down the best collection I’ve ever read – and considering that I own nearly as many anthologies as books, that’s a pretty lofty statement. And, it’s her early work. But it’s a must-have, in addition to being a stunning hardback book.

I’d also be amiss not to mention the Lightspeed Year One book, also available, which is also quite gorgeous, and full of excellent reads – both originals from Lightspeed and reprints from our first year. I’m very pleased with it, as it well represents all the work we’ve done there and the great words that have been shared!

More soon – happy holidays!

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And it’s here! The latest Coeur de Lion anthology, Anywhere but Earth, is now available in your preferred format. The reason why you should buy it? Because this is the same publisher that brought the specfic community a little novella anthology called X6 (some of my ranting about X6 here), and AbE is bound to bring the quality. Plus, some terrific authors in it, with twenty-nine brand-new science fiction stories, including my “Lisse.” Win, all the way around. I think I may need to buy an e-book for my iPad, too, although I’ll eventually get the snail-mail one when its shipped from the other side of the world. But I’m delighted and honored to be part of such good company.

As for current wips – work is still crazy busy, but I’ve managed to break 30k on the first of the Harvester novels. Or perhaps they should be called The Resplendent City novels? I’m not that far along for a decision like that, and my progress feels slow enough as it is. But with an additional pov added to Heloise’s, I’ve got a lot to work with, including politics, which overwhelms me, but one step at a time, right?

I’ve also cleaned up another story written right before Clarion, and I’m very happy with it. It may not find a market due to its horror-y aspects combined with the fantastical, but we’ll see. And I’ve started revisions on the first week Clarion story, but for some reason that’s turned out to be tedious.

The  real news here, aside from AbE, is that this house is finally ours! Closing was on Friday, Saturday we purchased a dining room table, and next week we start painting. I’m so very, very relieved its over, and that we can really settle in. Eventually, I’ll be able to say it was worth the wait, I’m sure. Pictures to come, once these walls are painted!

Happy Monday!

I’ve been trying to catch up on crits I either owe or have promised that have slipped by, because of my sudden lack of available time: I’ve begun to get up at 5am simply to get in an hour + on Harvester the novel. It’s not nearly as much time as I need, nor does it allow me to rewrite and revise the stories waiting for attention – 5 Clarion stories, plus 2 written previously that need editing before submission.

However, I’ve got 22k of the first Harvester book written, 40k of the second (as I’d initially planned those to be a single book), and the 3rd just revealed itself to me the other day. I’ve been wanting a new book for a long time now, and now, diving into it, despite the vast overwhelmingness of the project and my fear of another novel (and trilogy) and all the what-if-this-doesn’t-succeed-again fears, I’m happy to have it, and even happy to get up an hour early for it.

I still need to find the right music for it, too, to listen to while writing. None of my previous soundtracks work, nor does anything new. I need a science fantasy soundtrack, since that’s what this book is. Alternate reality, where serious dark magic exists, as does alchemy that cures cancer.

The real reason for this post is what Elizabeth Bear called “the reader backpack,” which she brought up one day at Clarion and I’m guessing no one in my class has forgotten yet. I consistently see this as in issue in Lightspeed slush – even with some of the really, really impressive stories that we don’t end up taking for whatever reason. And I just read a story from a talented fellow in my writing group that had the same issue, so I thought I would ramble on about it a bit.

So, Bear’s concept in my words: every story comes along with a backpack that the reader puts on when they read. A nice, empty backpack. First line, (with new characters/setting/conflict) a rock gets added. Next unusual revelation/question asked, a second rock. Now here’s where things either get better or worse. The author can lighten the backpack by removing rocks (answer questions), or make it worse by adding – which happens too often. Give the reader a rock with every question introduced, and they’re so bogged down without answers that they’ll stop reading because they cannot stagger down the path of the story any longer.

Bear’s suggestion was 1st question/rock, 2nd question/rock, then answer 1st. Hand out 3rd question/rock, answer 2nd. Move along like that so the reader is constantly intrigued, but you’ve got to remove enough rocks that they won’t get annoyed and throw down the backpack altogether.

While I’m on the bandwagon…

I also see things that don’t work for the story. Too much going on, too many unusual structural choices (which in an of itself are awesome) alongside intense content and you’ve got an indecipherable blob of genius that no reader like me (I’m slow-witted when it comes to stories) can decipher. Every element in the story works to serve the greater purpose of the story, but if you’ve got too many elements doing the same thing, or doing too many things, your gorgeous tech-happy alien story has turned incomprehensible. (And I am so guilty of this, too.)

Just like everything else in life, it’s all about the balance.

Oh, and while I’m here – reading. I’m almost done with Embassytown by Mieville, of which I have mixed reactions. Just some absolutely brilliant things going on there, including his very thought-out alien race. But wow did it get sloggish in the middle; I put it down for almost 4 months, and only picked it back up again because I had bought the hardback and decided I need to at least try and finish it. I slogged through a few more chapters until holy shit the apocalypse and it FLOORED ME for 3 more chapters of breathless reading until I hit expositional apocalyptic summary, to which I’ve slowed up again, although I think its very important I watch what he does because of my own apocalyptic novel. So…yes. So many amazing things, but I prefer a book I inhale consistently.

Also finished Valente’s Deathless. Some absolutely stunning prose, and I found the first half of the book captivating in a way I rarely come across these days, (the Baba Yaga scenes are absolutely priceless). Because of that, truly a must-read. On the technical side, I like books that push forward, driving to the end (even in a subtle fashion), and this one doesn’t do that. While consistently gorgeous and evocative, the motivations dwindled in favor of consistent, evocative imagery, which wasn’t enough to keep me intrigued. As a result, the last third of the book was hard for me to finish as I wasn’t invested in the protag’s journey anymore (which was also my reaction to her Palimpsest). Despite that, I’m certain I’ll go back to this book one day; it’s simply too lovely and original not to.

And I will add again that this James Tiptree, Jr. collection is the most amazing thing I’ve read all year, still (with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Sirenia Digests‘ second). A must read for every SF reader/writer.

Happy Friday! A movie is in order this weekend, I think.

The new SF short is going by the title of “Sarscon 8,” for now. I’d intended it to be a Lovecraft ode, but it’s turned out more of a Caitlín R. Kiernan ode, which is more my preference (and perhaps renders it unsuitable for the market I’d written it for). It’s been an unusual story for me – typically, I start a story with the relationships between characters, the emotion one (or more) feels in a certain environment/after an event, and the story unfolds from there. But “Sarscon 8” has been different. It started with the alien, the reactions to its behavior, the off-world life, and now that I’ve got it all written down and mostly fleshed out, I’m stuck on the main relationship. The soul, the core of the story, isn’t there. And it’s driving me mad, because I can’t force it to work. I can’t hammer something out to fill in the space because it’s not a hammering out kind of thing, the way you can toss in some worldbuilding and/or plot elements and clear them up later.

Without its core, I’m not certain it’s worth pushing out to my crit partners, because they’ll miss the heart of the story, too. It’s a bit of a bummer, to know the best thing to do is wait and let it come to me when it’s ready. On the other hand, could a new perspective help? Help me find the ending that’s not quite there, or the emotional core that I normally get from the beginning?

And then there’s consistency factor. I read a phenomenal story today in the Lightspeed slush that made me think yes yes yes yes for nearly 3/4ths of it, and then I thought what? What just happened? To be so very close, and then just drop the reader. It’s tricky, this emotional game played by the writer, the balance he or she creates for the reader in the unfolding of events. And that’s the reason why I love short stories so much – the reader expects an experience in the brief amount of words, and when they’re really taken for a ride, how exciting that is!

Which leads me to…30 days until Clarion!

We have a private blog for the Clarion class of 2011, where we’ve gotten to know a little more about each other as well as the instructors. Karen Joy Fowler, current president of the Clarion Foundation (and author of the unbelievable story “The Pelican Bar” in the tremendous anthology Eclipse 3, which every short story lover should own; it happens to be my favorite of the Eclipse anthos, too, by the way) has written several motivating and encouraging posts, including one with the following paragraph:

You have to find ways to protect the joy of writing, those things that first gave you pleasure and made you want to do it again. Anytime you feel yourself losing that, it’s worth taking a long hard look at what can be done. Because something must be done! I don’t mean that every day you love it. But the overall trend should be toward continuing to feel the things that made you want to be a writer in the first place.

And so I’ll brainstorm “Sarscon 8” a while longer.

While the title can see a little dramatic out of context, consider it after reading Kij Johnson’s “Story Kit,” in Eclipse 4. Breathtaking.

I am even more excited than ever for her Clarion week.

(Oh, the Kiernan is marvelous, too, but I had read that before in a Sirena Digest. No less stunning the second time around, though.)

That is all. Now back to the SF short I’m trying to finish, although I keep sabotaging myself with Words with Friends matches.

I’m catching up on my reading, and can check Joe Hill’s Horns off the list. A fascinating idea, and quite well written; a few parts made me feel a little ill, and I think I actually had nightmares from it one night. However, the more Ig transformed into the devil the less interesting the book was to me; the momentum seemed to peter out. But his relationship with Merrin was heartbreaking, as was what happened to her, and while I have more thoughts, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, as it’s indeed a book to read and buy.

Next to buy will be his short story collection, and Mira Grant’s Deadline. Oh, and Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique, both of which I believe come out next week? In the meantime, Valentine has a story up from her Tresaultiverse at Fantasy Magazine. Sometimes the way she phrases things reminds me of early Tanith Lee, which of course I love. But since those aren’t out yet, I’ve just received in the mail Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, and Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse 4 and Engineering Infinity. The Lanagan comes first, although I still have collections by E. Bear and Karen Joy Fowler and the Grace Krilonovich waiting.

But the real reason for this post is Eric Gregory’s “The Harrowers,” which starts off Lightspeed‘s issue 12. Post-apocalyptia and zombie bears, with a gun-touting preacher man! Gregory is definitely a writer to keep an eye on.

And a bit randomly, I found 1k + words on Harvester the book last night, which was so exciting. I’m ready for more, but Heloise is jockying with a new little SF short that unwound itself over the weekend, so we’ll see who wins out.

I’ve subscribed to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, for some time now, and while I’ve flat out loved several issues in the past, lately the stories haven’t been per my tastes, which, in all fairness, has fluctuated greatly in the last few years. In attempting to hammer out the reasons why (and why that market is so hard to break into), I’ve come to the conclusion that I love misdirection. There’s nothing more compelling and memorable for me personally than a story that goes one way and then wham! hits you with all its got, in a completely new direction. Or, I’m great if the direction is predictable, but there’s an emotional bang for the buck. (Take, for instance, a story I commented on a few blogs back, in Strahan’s Best of SFF Volume 5, and originally, Subterranean: the Maureen McHugh. Not only was I shocked about halfway through at the main character’s actions, but I was horrified at the person he was, and that I’d “liked” him in the first half of the story. And then this..! Also, from Black Static issue 18, a story that I will likely never forget: Mercurio D. Rivera’s “Tu Sufrimento Shall Protect Us.” As this SF Signal review said, one of the best of the year.)

But those kinds of stories, with misdirection, don’t appear often in F&SF, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect with the new Van Gelder-edited anthology released by O/R Books, Welcome to the Greenhouse. Marketed as science fiction on climate change, two things I happen to be very interested in, I’ve now dog-eared and folded it up, and I consider it a boost to my anthology collection.

The stories cover a variety of positions regarding climate change: eminent change, change currently taking place, post-change, etc, and do an excellent job at avoiding any hitting on political views with hammers of authority. The result is a thought-provoking collection, although it leans to the grimmer side (which I found appropriate). The authors include many familiar to the SF world, such as Bruce Sterling, Alan Dean Foster, Mathew Hughes, and Paul Di Fillippo, and some I’ve never heard of, including Michael Alexander and Chris Lawson. Out of the sixteen stories, only three are by women – which is a shortcoming, I think, but not enough to avoid the book. What’s more important is that climate change is being discussed and written about, which will hopefully encourage the reader to consider both the facts and possibilities of this as an issue one day, or even today. It’s far too easy to stick one’s head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist, and several of these stories even reflect upon that, too.

(This is also why the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres rock. We also have Atwood, Bacigalupi, Kim Stanley Robinson, and dozens of other books regarding this topic out there on the shelves.)

The stories. Most of them will appeal to those who subscribe and devour those regularly published in F&SF. To my delight, there were also some that appealed to people like me. Not so much with the misdirection, but with the emotional weight they carried, or that they threw me off from the beginning and I never quite regained my ground, resulting in a meaningful read.

My favorite three:

Gregory Benford’s “Eagle.”  Even though I read it a week ago, I still remember how I felt when I was finished the last sentence, sitting in my favorite chair at the coffee shop. Power is a funny thing; who has it, who doesn’t, and who should have it. And where’s the line, when it comes to the health of our world? I wasn’t certain what to think, or if I had even been rooting for the right person, which made me uncomfortable, and made the story memorable, perhaps for a long time to come.

“The Bridge,” by George Guthridge. It horrified me once I finally got into it, as the content isn’t for those that shy away from the ugly, and the unhappy, non-storybook endings. Not quite as brutal as Paul Haines’ novella “Wives,” from the X6 anthology of last year, but a distant cousin.

Paul di Filippo’s “FarmEarth.” I went into this story with certain expectations, as di Filippo’s writing isn’t for a reader like me. This story started off with unusual words and flippant narrative, yet I was so interested to find out what he wasn’t telling us that I was drawn in despite myself. Before I realized it, the story got bumped up to my top five of the collection. And even in the last few days, I’ve found myself thinking about what di Filippo was saying, and how quickly we as a culture are so quick to believe what anyone tells us, without thinking for ourselves.

All in all, it’s a varied and worthwhile read. Add it to your anthology collection!