Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Free Speculative Fiction

SF Signal has compiled a list of 95 newly free online speculative fiction stories. This is cool. Of course, this is used fiction. You get brand new fiction every month here at FlashFictionOnline.com.

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Beware Writer Beware, Again

A lawsuit against the operators of the Writer Beware website hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) has been dismissed by the judge in the case. The case was brought by a literary agent ALLEGEDLY noted by Writer Beware.

Writer Beware is a publishing industry watchdog group sponsored by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) which "shines a light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes and pitfalls."

Web visitors should beware, though. The SFWA site was hacked and infected with a trojan. This has been ALLEGEDLY cleaned, but be especially cautious if you have an old or out-of-date browser. (Yes, even you MAC owners.)

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Publishers' Fears of Book Piracy

The book publishing industry is worried that the chaos of the music industry is upon them. Scribd is a web site that--like all tools--can be used for good and evil. It is quite handy for distributing documents widely that you want distributed. The article mentions that the Obama campaign used it for campaign purposes. However, some are using it to upload current copyrighted literary works:

A search of Scribd by The Times yesterday found copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Ken Follett’s most recent novel World without End among many bestselling titles, raising fears that the piracy affecting the music industry may have spread to books.

Those are probably gone by now. One problem is that the site owners leave it to the publishers to scour the web site to identify their abused works. If informed, the Scribd staff will remove the material. That is quite a burden, it seems, considering that ten more such sites could pop up at any time.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Steven Bach's Final Cut

Steven Bach has died at 70. He was a film producer and later a biographer. He is perhaps best known for his United Artist disaster, "Heaven's Gate" and his surreal memoir of that experience in Final Cut, which I read with relish when it was first published in 1985. The full title is: Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists.

Bach was the executive producer of that film, trying to coral director Michael Cimino just after his five-Oscar film, "The Deer Hunter." Final Cut shows, with upmost candidness, how easily this argument works: you can't throw away $5 million to save $200,000, can you? And then again at 6, 8, 10...36 million, five times the budget. $36 million is chump change now, but then it was the first mega-movie and equally a mega-flop. I also remember Bach's descriptions of driving his entire cast daily (on the clock) for hours into the desert for a 1 to 2-hour shoot during the magic hours (the film- and photo-enhancing hours just before sunset). You couldn't help but like and commiserate with Bach after reading the book.

People stood in line early not to go to the movie, though. No matter how you sliced or diced the four-hour film, it was a western range war story with an unknown (in the U.S.) female lead. I didn't hate the film myself but Bach's book was far more riveting and successful. It's still in print (revised in 1999), or at least available at Amazon.com

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Animal Farm: Unconvincing Trotskyite Politics

Who said that? "Unconvincing Trotskyite Politics." Who rejected George Orwell's Animal Farm for publication by Faber and Faber? He was then director of that venerable British publisher and perhaps the best poet of the 20th century (says the article writer, Richard Brooks, Arts Editor of UK Times Online)...::drum roll::...and more anticipatory delay: T S Elliot. At issue was the timing of the novel with respect to the tenuous WWII alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Eliot wrote: “After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

The article is actually about T S Eliot on the occasion of the release of his private letters by his widow, Valerie, the subject of a BBC documentary.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Toddlers Don't Do What They're Told

So you tell the little br--, um, little guy or little gal to do something, only to be ignored. Sound familiar? Experience and cognitive research tells you toddlers don't always obey adults as they should. However, new research shows that toddlers are not just short adults.

The pupil measurements showed that 3-year-olds neither plan for the future nor live completely in the present. Instead, they call up the past as they need it.

To use the example in the article: you may think that telling the toddler to go get a coat because it is cold outside. The toddler will both obey and learn from this, right? Not exactly. The toddler more likely will go outside into the cold and only then remember your advice, and then might go inside to get the recalled remedy to the cold.

What has this to do with writing fantasy or science fiction (or syfy)? Perhaps toddlers are different enough creatures that they may be considered other-folk or space aliens. They are an object lesson in avoiding the fallacies of writing about fantasy creatures or aliens as if they were human. (No offense. Writers are all from Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average.)

Back to Earth: the article author did give an example of what to say to the toddler rather than repeating the command to get to coat. However, the suggested text seems to exceed the attention span of most toddlers, IMHO:

I know you don't want to take your coat now, but when you're standing in the yard shivering later, remember that you can get your coat from your bedroom.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fictional Account of H.P. Lovecraft on the Big Screen

According to this SF Scope story, Ron Howard will direct a movie based on a graphic novel series on H.P. Lovecraft's life. The H.P. Lovecraft of the novel series sounds like a character that H.P. Lovecraft would have created. (No great surprise, of course.) Ron Howard: that's got to be a good sign. I'll go see it. The graphic novel series is entitled, The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft.

Here is a small gallery of pictures from the graphic novel series web site. Their cleverly named Yog Bloggoth blog gives the details of the Universal and Imagine Entertainment deal.

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Leading Children's Book in 2009, S. Meyers' Deep Run

The bestselling children's book of 2009, so far, is Stephanie Meyer's Deep Run (even though she can't write).

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Food Chain Mechanism and Global Warming

"I think we are seeing the last gasps of ocean iron fertilisation as a carbon storage strategy," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University.

Let's say you want to seed the ocean bottom with iron as an carbon storage mechanism to fight global warming. Sorry, nature won't let you. That darn food chain thing gets in the way. There is probably a speculative fiction story here. I thought of it first, but I'm busy with my translation of Beowulf into Vulcan.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Free Download: Shimmer #10

You've gotta love Shimmer. No, really, you do. It's a law.

To help you avoid violating the social contracts you signed as an embryo, Beth and the Shimmery People are giving away issue #10 as a free PDF download.

The magazine is run by a great team. We published Editor-in-Chief Beth Wodzinski's The Human Clockwork in our second issue, and Shimmer's Art Director Emeritus, Mary Robinette Kowal, was nominated for a Hugo and is the secretary of the SFWA. Other members of the crew have sold to Analog and IGMS or won the Writers of the Future contest. These are seriously good people dedicated to a great small press magazine of dark-ish speculative fiction.

Here's the line-up for issue 10:

Blue Joe, by Stephanie Burgis
The Carnivale of Abandoned Tales, by Caitlyn Paxson
A Painter, A Sheep, and a Boa Constrictor, by Nir Yaniv (Translated from the Hebrew by Lavie Tidhar)
One for Sorrow, by Shweta Narayan
The Bride Price, by Richard S. Crawford
Jaguar Woman, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Firefly Igloo, by Caroline M. Yoachim
The Fox and the King’s Beard, by Jessica Paige Wick
Interview with Cory Doctorow, by Jen West
River Water, by Becca De La Rosa
What to Do with the Dead, by Claude Lalumière
The Spoils of Springfield, by Alex Wilson
Counting Down to the End of the Universe, by Sara Genge

Good stuff. Go get it!

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Archive of NASA's Astronomy Picture-of-the-Day

By way of Ansible, here is a fantastic archive of NASA's Astronomy pictures of the day, starting in mid-1995 to the present. Bump up your ISP account and enjoy.

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Claim Your Author Page Now at FiledBy

FiledBy has a new web site service for authors. The name suggests a linkedn sort of service but it seems more Facebook-ish. They've preloaded it with published authors through data-mining, mostly. So if you are an American or Canadian published author, you might already have a page that you can claim somehow and correct/improve. (This seems nightmare-ish to me, verifying that someone claiming the web page is the actual author and not some digital vandal.)

Otherwise, unwashed authors can create a new page. There are free and premium services, of course. Their About page seems to be the only source of information and is useless, but this business-venture article from Nashville where the service began has more information. There is a bit about it on Publishers Weekly, too.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reviews of Four Ursula K. Le Guin Novels

We'll forgive Graham Sleight for his sleight national slander that U.S. book covers are "weird." We know that, Graham, but you didn't have to say it in public in front of God and everyone. Nevertheless, Mr. Sleight wrote an interesting review for Locus Magazine of four Ursula K. Le Guin novels, including The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Disposed, and Always Coming Home.

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Life with George Orwell--His Son Speaks Up

A man in a lifetime of battles against his philosophical enemies and his health, George Orwell: what would it be like living with him? If you read his Wikipedia article, you'd think that he and Hemingway must have crossed paths often, such as in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

The Times Online (UK) asks the the question about living with George Orwell (born Eric Blair) upon the occasion of his adopted son making a rare interview ahead of a literary festival he would attend with Orwell's biographer. The short answer: it was quite pleasant living with Orwell, though it was a short-lived relationship due to Orwell's early death. Here is the Times article.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top Ten Literary One-Hit Wonders, 2nd Boons and 2nd Flops

Here is a trio of articles from Times Online (UK) listing the top ten one-hit literary wonders, the top ten second-novel hits, and top ten second-novel flops.

The one-hit wonders list includes Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind). There are a couple of surprises in the list, for me anyway. The second-novel wonders list includes Britain's beloved Jane Austin (Pride and Prejudice) following Sense and Sensibility. The cursed second novels includes Joseph Heller (Something Happened) following Catch-22.

One fun part of this trio of articles is that original Times reviews or ads are provided for some novels including, for example, the first Times ad for Wuthering Heights in 1847 and a review for Gone with the Wind in 1936.

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2008 Stoker Nominations for Horror

The Horror Writers Association has announced the (Bram) Stoker Award nominees for 2008. The nominees for superior achievement in a novel includes some new guy, Stephen King. He should've been in the First Novel category. They novelists include:

  • COFFIN COUNTY by Gary Braunbeck (Leisure Books)
  • THE REACH by Nate Kenyon (Leisure Books)
  • DUMA KEY by Stephen King (Scribner)
  • JOHNNY GRUESOME by Gregory Lamberson (Bad Moon Books/Medallion Press)

Skipping to short fiction (sorry):

  • "The Lost" by Sarah Langan (Cemetery Dance Publications)
  • "The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft" by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt (Chizine)
  • "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" by M. Rickert (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • "Turtle" by Lee Thomas (Doorways)

The other categories include superior achievement in a first novel, in long fiction, in an anthology, in a collection (that new guy, Stephen King, is in this category too; I predict a bright future for the young fellow), in nonfiction, and in poetry.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Whew! Stratospheric Bugs (Might) Not (Be) Alien

There are some critters in Earth's stratosphere, according to Indian scientists. They live a harsh life, not quite Earthly and not quite space-borne. They definitely are not alien...if you ask the right person. Here is the concise story.

Here is sort of a related story. Influenza pandemics can be caused by space viruses in comet dust coincident with heavy sunspot cycles. The conclusion: definitely (not).

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Syfy Sysified Sci Fi? President of Sci Fi Channel Answers

Over at Sci Fi Wire, the story about the name change of the Sci Fi Channel to SyFy generated about 1000 comments (mostly negative). I only wrote 850 of them...no, nary a one did I write. Sci Fi Wire questioned Sci Fi Channel president Dave Howe. The main motivation seemed to be branding and expansion to other markets. You can't brand "Sci Fi" anywhere, he says. You may find the rest of the conversation interesting. The rest of the logo "Imagine Greater" seems to follow a recent trend of catchy but ungrammatical phrases.

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Battle Star Galactica Invades the United Nations!

Since we're dangerously close to April 1, I was tempted to say this is a story hoax, but, no, March Madness (U.S. college basketball frenzy), isn't even over. Apparently, the United Nations hosted the Battle Star Galactica cast and discussed matters of universal scope. Says Whoopi Goldberg: "The UN is more than a building with fantastic curtains..."

The point of the conversation, according to the article, was that BSG (as the cool kids call it) often dealt with moral topics that the UN mismanages...um...faces head on, like military incursions, race relations (even if interplanetary), the full meaning of human, abortion and religion (the later two according to an online comment to the article), and so on.

Last Friday was the series-finale after a four-year run.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Your Flight Now: Space Tourism

It is not too early to book your Virgin Galactic flight into space. Although U.S. flights will begin in 2011, a premier venue will be Sweden with flights beginning in 2012. At $200,000 it is a bargain, although the article doesn't make it clear whether these are year 2009 or 2012 dollars. Around 300 tickets have been sold so far.

Even if you're not interested in the travel, there is an unrelated, very sweet art photo of two sisters on the same page as the space tourism article that makes a visit to the web site worthwhile.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flash Fiction Story Hugo-Nominated

Mary Robinette Kowal stopped by yesterday's post, reminding us that her Hugo-nominated story in the Best Short Story category is a flash fiction piece of 970 words. So I thought it worth repeating here. Good luck, Mary. (And you too, Mike.)

Um, this is difficult. Let me do some calculations...Mary's story is a flash fiction piece. Mike already has five Hugos and he published a story here at FFO, but Mary posted here and knows about this blog. Hmmm. Mention Mary first and Mike second, parenthetically. Whatever you do, don't forget to delete this calculation or Jake will be furious and get a real bloggist.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Vampire!

Finally, a blog article you can sink your teeth into. A Venetian archeological dig unearthed a vampire woman from a 16th century burial ground associated with a plague. The woman had a brick stuck in her jaw:

...evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire. The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said.

Well, let's analyze this. Perhaps these scientists have succumbed to logical fallacy. Maybe in 16th century Venice, it was fashionable for women to have bricks in their mouth.

"Vampires don't exist, but studies show people at the time believed they did," said Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University who studied the case over the last two years.

Oh my, where do they come up with these scientists? Dude, if there weren't any vampires, how would we know enough about them to write so many vampire stories?

Medieval texts show the belief in vampires was fueled by the disturbing appearance of decomposing bodies, Borrini told The Associated Press by telephone.

What's your point?

To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire's mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.

So now the dude is contradicting himself. If they don't exist, you can't kill them. I've had enough of this. If you want to read the rest of this travesty, here it is...if you're not afraid.

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Hugo Award Nominees Finalized for 2009

The nominees for the 2009 Hugo Awards have been finalized. The nominees for the best novel are:

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
  • Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)
The best short story:

  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
  • “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
  • “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
The other categories: Best Novella; Best Novelette; Best Related Book; Best Graphic Story; Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form; Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form; Best Editor, long form; Best Editor, Short Form; Best Professional Artist; Best Semiprozine; Best Fanzine; Fan Writer; Best Fan Artist; and Best New Writer.

Comments:

  • Mike Resnick is one of the nominees for Best Short Story. We re-published his "The Fallen Angel" here on Flash Fiction Online in January of this year.
  • Cory Doctorow is on a roll. We noted yesterday his nomination for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.
  • "Evil Monkey Robots" by one of our friends at Liberty Hall, Mary Robinette Kowal, was nominated for a Best Short Story. She also just sold a book to Tor.
  • Where's the Flash Fiction category?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Doctorow among Man Booker International Prize

Cory Doctorow is among the nominees for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction. Speculative fiction writers might take heart at this inclusion, regardless of the final outcome, which occurs around May. According to the prize's web site:

The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. In seeking out literary excellence the judges consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel.

The selections for this prize are made by a small, international group of panelists. Publishers do not make recommendations. The nominees are:


The judges are quite interesting, too: Jane Smiley (chair), Amit Chaudhuri and Andrey Kurkov. Their bios are here.

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Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominees

Via Stephen Hunt's SF Crowsnest web site, one of the sponsors of this award: the 2009 short list for the Arthur C. Clarke Award has been announced. The Award was originally established by a grant from Sir Arthur C. Clarke to promote science fiction in Britain. Presently the nominees may be of any nationality as long as the English-language novel is first published in the UK in the prior year. This year, the prize winner will receive about £2000.

The nominees are:

  • Song of Time: Ian R. MacLeod - PS Publishing
  • The Quiet War: Paul McAuley – Gollancz
  • House of Suns: Alastair Reynolds – Gollancz
  • Anathem: Neal Stephenson – Atlantic
  • The Margarets: Sheri S. Tepper – Gollancz
  • Martin Martin’s on the Other Side: Mark Wernham – Jonathan Cape

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Most Interesting and Best Bookshops and Libraries

The ShelfTalker bloggist from PW had this article about the most interesting bookshops and libraries in the world. Here, interesting refers to the architectural, aesthetic or curiousness of the buildings. The photography is quite good. Take a look.

Out of curiosity, I looked for an article about the best bookshops in the world and found this Guardian UK assessment. There is quite a bit of overlap between the lists.

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Sci Fi Channel to become SyFy? Bleech.

The Sci Fi channel is changing their name to Syfy. Bleech. They believe this will shed their geeky image.

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

One of the comments posted suggested that the Sci Fi Channel was doing so well because of the women who were watching Dr. Who (before the name change). I think it is a bit of a slight to women to suggest that they will flock to science fiction because of a blingy new name rather than the content.

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The Layoff Game

This is not funny. A bejeweled-like game with workers instead of jewels. Get rid of redundant workers and see how much you've save. "The workers are eventually replaced by bankers, who can’t be eliminated."

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Measure of a Writer's Success

I thought this was an excellent measure of a writer: to have created an "imperishable fictional hero."

Sir John Mortimer, who died this January at 85, left behind an imperishable fictional hero (the roguish Horace Rumpole of the Old Bailey), a celebrated legal career, and a ringing defense of delight—profane or profound—in the face of human darkness.

Here, then, is an article about this writer and character from Vanity Fair.

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Auto-Collaborative Tool?

Can you collaborate with yourself on fiction, or any other complicated project? If you have a defective memory like the present bloggist, yes. If you carry a mini-notebook in your pocket or pocketbook because you wouldn't have any short-term memory without it, yes. You can collaborate with the person whose memory state was different a few days ago than now, and that person is you.

Without impugning another's memory, I know of at least one anthology editor who is using TiddlyWiki to help organize his editorial notes. TiddlyWiki is a single-file wiki that you can carry with you on a flash memory stick or post on a web site. Since it is based on HTML and JavaScript, it works with most browsers and most operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

You can use it for entirely personal work or to collaborate with others. The main feature is that it is small and easy to use, yet has impressive capabilities, including plug-ins and themes...and is free, as in free beer and free speech (BSD license). The TiddlyWiki site has a number of examples (see left sidebar on the TiddlyWiki site) created by users. Some look like a traditional web site and others like a wiki. Several examples were writerly sites used to create hyperlinked fiction and poetry or to help organize a story.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Science Fiction Research Awards

Something new every day. I saw on the Locus magazine an award for science fiction research. The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) was founded in 1970 "...for the study of science fiction and fantasy literature and film."

They bestow five awards for scholarship in science fiction: The Pilgrim Award for lifetime contributions to SF and fantasy scholarship; Pioneer Award for the best critical essay-length work; The Clareson Award for Distinguished Service to SF and fantasy scholarship; The Mary Kay Bray Award for the best essay, interview, or extended review to appear in the SFRA Review in the past year; and The Graduate Student Paper Award for the best essay presented at the 2008 SFRA conference. Past awards are here.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Invisibility Cloak?

Some scientists have made some semi-serious noise about a Star Trek-ish invisibility cloak. The proposed system would comprise the object to be cloaked and a complementary object to cloak the first object (mutually, I suppose). It is a sort of light-canceling notion. However, the practicality is limited to one "wavelength." (Here, the HK scientist is referring to wavelength broadly, such as the wavelength of visible light.) So, as the author suggests, if you cloak an object in the visible light spectrum, an x-ray radar could still see it. A little more work is needed.

I have similar problems with my own invisibility project, too. For example, if I go into a room full of runway models, I'm totally invisible to them, but not to their bodyguards.

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2009 Rhysling SF Poetry Award Nominees

The Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) has announced the award nominees for the 2009 Rhysling Award. Categories include short and long form poetry. The SFPA also publishes an anthology of speculative poetry (SF/F/H) through its Dwarf Stars award and an anthology associated with its annual poetry contest.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Americans Weak on Science--That's Good!

Oh, I'm getting annoyed at reports like this that say Americans are weak in science education. They're saying that as if it were a bad thing, but it's not. Here is my reasoning: something that is false is a fiction, right? So Americans who are weak in science and easily write science fiction. The dumber they are, the better the science fiction. See? Where were these journalists educated, anyway?

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Malware as a Service

Flash Fiction Online gets a fair amount of comment spam on its fledgling users' Flash Forum. You wouldn't know it though, since it is swept away immediately. It is disheartening to note that malware and spam technology has become so advanced that it is now offered as a service. You can buy a host computer all mal-ed up and ready to infect the world.

On the positive side, it should be possible to create countermeasures. I expect there will be a lot more attention paid to cyberwars and cybercrime by science fiction writers.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Review of March Short Fiction

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has a treasure trove of short fiction review for March. Depending on the publications' schedules, the current edition may be reckoned Feb. or April-May. They review F&SF, Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, Jim Baen's Universe, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Lone Star Stories, Apex & Abyss, Apex Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

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Generation OMG: the Future

It seems that many if not most pundits reckon the current economic downturn to be a generational event. I have no opinion about that. That aside, here is a NYT guesstimate [hey, the spellchecker was okay with guesstimate!] of the effect the economy with have on the OMG generation. It is more retrospective than predictive, but in general, the reporter says that youth will stay home longer (OMG!), get spottier educations, become more civic-minded, and have more interest in what's really important.

So there. Go write novels for them.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Number of Chimps to Write a Novel Lowered

I read with interest a story about a chimp that executes hours-long nefarious plots against human visitors to a zoo. After scratching my ribs in contemplation for a while, it occurred to me that the previous estimate of how many chimps it would take to pound out a novel on a typewriter, 1,000,000, is no longer accurate. For one thing, where are you going to get 1,000,000 typewriters these days?

My estimate, after due consideration to new evidence, is that it would take no more than 1500 chimps to pound out a novel, if you put this chimp in charge. Here is my reasoning: even humans can't pound out a novel if they have no plot. But the chimp in the story can plot. That is a major hurdle that has been overcome by modern chimps. If you can plot, then you can write a novel.

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Publishers with Street Addresses Consider e-Publishing

Even if you're a Manhattan dead-tree publisher with an actual street address and sell to brick-and-mortar bookstores with street addresses, you're no longer ignoring e-publishers with dot-com addresses, like Amazon.com. Although this PW article is not especially compelling, it does show that the producers of tangible publications with which you can bonk someone on the head are taking the e-plunge.

During this the American Book Producers Association's seminar, HarperCollins hosted a panel of experts on electronic publishing.

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Octavia E. Butler's Kindred in Graphic Novel Form

According to SF Scope, one of Octavia E. Butler's novels, Kindred, will be re-published as a graphic novel. This is the story of a modern black woman who is transported back in time periodically to the antebellum South. Here is a more complete plot synopsis of the novel. Butler is a double Hugo and Nebula award winner.

As SF Scope noted, Publishers Week gave more details of publisher Beacon's general plans for expansion into comics.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saturn Awards Nominations: Best SF, Fantasy, Horror Films

Nominations for the 35th Annual Saturn Awards are in for the best science fiction, fantasy, horror and action/adventure/thriller films. They also honor the associated actors, writers, musicians, etc. (My apologies to the etc.) They also similarly honor television, television series and DVD editions.


Best SF

  • THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (20th Century Fox)
  • EAGLE EYE (Paramount / DreamWorks)
  • THE INCREDIBLE HULK (Universal / Marvel)
  • INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Paramount / Lucasfilm)
  • IRON MAN (Paramount / Marvel)
  • JUMPER (20th Century Fox)

Best Fantasy

  • THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (Walt Disney Studios)
  • THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (Paramount)
  • HANCOCK (Sony)
  • THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (Paramount)
  • TWILIGHT (Summit Entertainment)
  • WANTED (Universal)

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Niffenegger: $5M Advance

Wow, that is a decent advance for a second novel. Audrey Niffenegger reportedly will receive $5 million for "Her Fearful Symmetry." That's a great title. I wonder if there are other Wm Blake-ish aspects to the story other than the title.

I loved her first book, "The Time Traveler's Wife." Its light-handed approach to the sci-fi was: okay, I time-travel because of my chromosomes or something; just get over it. The readers did get over it and read the novel in great quantities. I will read the second novel.

Perspective: here is a story about IBM's Chief Executive Officer, making $21M/year. This isn't grousing or hand-wringing. It is just interesting to see how the market values someone who runs a huge corporation successfully in a difficult market, and an individual who produces a hugely popular novel.

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Philippine Speculative Fiction

In case you're interested, Charles Tan has compiled a list of professionally published online Philippine fiction. It includes Rod Santos's Speed Dating and Spirit Guides from our January 2008 issue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Realms of Fantasy--It's Alive!

Flash Fiction Online has been following the saga [Feb Jan] of Realms of Fantasy. Quite a few of the FFO staffers greatly admire this publication, both as readers and writers, and were disheartened to see it die. They were a profitable publication, but in the current climate, the owners wanted to focus on their core interests.

Fortunately, they've closed a deal with one of their potential buyers. Here is SF Scope's article on this new development. Here is their fledgling website. Thanks to Inarticulate Babbler for the tip.

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Movies: Predicting the Future

In this earlier analytical post, Gary Westfahl tried to predict why Sci-fi writers (of all media) missed the boat on predicting the future.

Now we have a more internal, gut-feel view about which movies are predicting the future. It is a bit gloomy, the mood laden with angst about the present economic crisis. But you might find the dark humor enjoyable, from this Guardian UK film blogger, Danny Leigh:

Is what looms ahead for us all relief or apocalypse? And what movies can give us a sneak preview? Here are some of my choice cuts.

Here are some movies that didn't predict the future.

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Victorian Techno-Thrillers

I suppose many historical and fantasy medieval stories could be thought of as techno-thrillers, but I think of Clancy and the like. As Strange Horizons points out, thinking about war and the consequences of technology goes to antiquity. Strange Horizons has a fascinating article on the Victorian techno-thriller.

Tellingly, Francis Bacon raised the issue in his classic The New Atlantis (1626), in which the scientifically-minded, nature-conquering Bensalemites proudly tell the story's narrator that they possess "ordnance and instruments of war and engines of all kinds . . . stronger and more violent than yours are, exceeding your greatest cannons and basilisks [heavy siege cannons]."

It seems that one of the world's great geniuses, da Vinci had such intrigues in mind. He famously added a mistake to each of his war machine designs, presumably to confound the enemy if the drawing got into the wrong hands.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Review of Upcoming SF Thriller "Repossession Mambo"

The review is at SF Signal. Now, I don't get out to very many movies -- my friends ask whether that's a consequence or a cause of having so many children -- but this is one I have to see. Our Hero is Remy, played by Jude Law. The antagonist, played by Forest Whittaker, is Jake Freivald. No kidding.

No, I look nothing like him, but it is nice to have famous writer friends. :)

The story was written by my friend Eric Garcia (interview, story in HTML, PDF, and MP3 audio,) and Garrett Lerner.

The Big Read

The National Endowment for the Arts, a U.S. Government-sponsored program, encourages communities, through grants for the Big Read program, to select one of twenty-seven books for the whole community to read, followed by related community events. According to this NY times article, participation is wide-spread, although some communities find the program limiting and design their own programs.

More than 200 communities participate in the Big Read or similar programs, modeled after “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” a project launched in Washington in 1998.

On the Big Read website, there is a search facility to find nearby participating communities.

In a related (though not necessarily causative) January story, American fiction-reading is up after a long decline

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View 1970s Japanese TV Spiderman Episodes

By way of 42 Blips: if you like vintage Japanese Sci-Fi, Marvel.com is streaming free episodes of the 197os Japanese TV "Spider-Man" series. This series has a different character set; Spidey is a motorcycle racer in this series.

According to Wikipedia, the basic premise of this series of stories is as follows:

Young motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro sees a UFO falling to earth, in fact a combat spacecraft named the "Marveller". Takuya's father Dr. Hiroshi Yamashiro, a space archaeologist, investigates the case. The incident also brings the attention of Professor Monster and his evil Iron Cross Army (Tetsu Jūji Dan?), an alien group that plans to rule the universe.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Million Writers Award Nominations Open

Nominations for online stories published in 2008 are now open for the storySouth Million Writers Award. This award is determined by the votes of readers rather than a small panel. The award is fashioned to increase exposure to Internet-based publications.

Unfortunately, the only FlashFictionOnline.com and other flash stories qualified by the rules for this award are those whose length happens to be exactly 1000 words. That length is the minimum for the award and the maximum for an FFO story. If they want to make the award inclusive for flash fiction, perhaps they should lower the minimum to 800 words. That's not a huge change to the rules, yet opens up a fairly large body of flash fiction. I suspect that many 1100-1500 word stories that were crunched to fit the flash fiction market were improved.

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Little Mr. Conservative

Here is a NYT story about a 14-year-old conservative pundit with radio talk show leanings.

Wouldn't it be great if his sister were named Valentine. They could have anonymous blogs as Locke and Demosthenes and dichotomize the world to their advantage. What would they do at night? What they always do: plan to take over the world. What if they were mice-folk, too? Gosh, there must be some sort of novel or cartoon I could get out of this.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

What's on your iPod? What's Dusty on your Bookshelf?

The Irish Times made a survey to determine what books people lie about having read. Some of the biggies: Ulysses, 1984 (Seriously? Everyone's read that, haven't they?), the Holy Bible (the actual Bible, not the fishing bible, the cooking bible...THE Bible), War and Peace (I read it yesterday, coincidentally) and others.

I'm curious about the conduct of that survey. Did you read War and Peace? Sure, man. Come on, now...really? Well....this is a little embarrassing...I meant to.

I'd be interested in movies that people lied about not seeing. I personally have not seen Plan 9 from Outer Space five times. And never saw Barbarella (cough).

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Small Presses Prosper

PW chatted with 11 small presses that are doing better than surviving in rough economic times. Some of the survival tactics mentioned were:

  • Moving to a larger trade market
  • Efficient production and careful budgeting
  • Larger royalties instead of advances
  • Tapping an underserved market
  • Special sales through a marketer

According to the final arbiter in all matters (wikipedia), small presses have sales under $50 million, after returns and discounts and average fewer than 10 titles per year. The figure of$50 million is the example for the U.S. market and would change correspondingly for the targeted market.

Here is a terrific list of literary small presses, provided by an industry association for literary presses and magazines and online publishers, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

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My Literary Triumph

With humility, I announce I am a finalist in my semi-anonymous (screen name WouldBe) co-naming of a brand of literary cereal. This Publishers Weekly kiddie lit blogger put out a call for cereal brand names with a literary bent. I had two of the top names, Robert Frosted Flakes and Cap'n Ahab Crunch, both also suggested by someone else. The blogger had a commercial made for Frost Flakes and put it on youtube. A higher-production value commercial is forthcoming.

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Pluto's Status as a Planet Revolved

My mystery of yesterday,Why didn't we ask Pluto if she wanted to be in the United Planets?, was answered in part by the senior legislative body of Illinois, herewith:

RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-SIXTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.

It seems the discoverer of Pluto was an Illinois native and the state took official offense at Pluto's demotion, though the Wikipedia article says he was a Kansan at the time of the discovery, so, maybe Illinois overstepped its bounds a bit. Perhaps Kansas and Illinois should convene a joint session to resolve this. The Illinois Senate must have had their own joint session....never mind.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?

This Guardian UK article has comments from five authors about the professional writing life. These are not Poe-esque tortured souls, forced by an inner demon to write. If you had to reduce the complaints to a word, it would be drudgery, the struggle to always work when tomorrow might be a better day.

Joyce Carol Oats:
Most writers find first drafts painfully difficult, like climbing a steep stairs, the end of which isn't in sight. Only just persevere! Eventually, you will get where you are gong, or so you hope. And when you get there, you will not ask why?

AL Kennedy
The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you're in the mood or not.

And then there are a couple like Julie Myerson:
Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I'm a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I'm doing it.

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Speculative Mystery

I began searching out a genre out of curiousity using "science mystery" as my search. Mistake. I got nothing but stuff like yesterday's post about some of the mysteries of science. I found that "speculative mystery" was a better phrase. At the top of the search heap was the Spec Mysticon blog, that is a very nice resource to learn about speculative mystery. The bloggist (I couldn't easily find his/her name), identified these sub-genres:

  • Science Fiction / Mystery (yeah, that's what I was looking for)
  • Supernatural Horror / Mystery
  • Fantasy / Mystery
  • Dark Fantasy / Mystery
  • Science Fiction / Supernatural Horror / Mystery
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy / Mystery
  • Dark Fantasy / Science Fiction / Mystery
The blog supports an online publication, Speculative Mystery Iconoclast. I do like the websites, but after looking at the submissions guidelines, I think the bloggist/editor/publisher needs to correct his thinking: "No Flash fiction (for now)." I can understand the difficulty with a triple-genre work like dark fantasy/science fiction/mystery. That's only 350 words per sub-sub-genre.


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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grist for the Speculative Fiction Mill--Unsolved Scientific Puzzles

This fine Times Online (UK) article summarizes and provides article links for some of the unsolved scientific puzzles. These puzzles might provide you some mortar for your SF or fantasy world-building. Some of the questions involve dark matter, the ignorance of certain spacecraft that refuse to follow known physical laws, constants that aren't constant enough, what's the deal with cold fusion?, What's the deal with life?, what's the deal with sex?...and more.

As Spock would say, "Fascinating." But I have my own questions:

  • Why didn't we let Pluto vote on whether it wanted to be in the United Planets?
  • Why don't we send Geraldo to the moon to find out, once and for all, whether the moon landing was a hoax?
  • Seriously: how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin? Related: if the number is large, what is the composition of an angel? Are dark angels composed of dark matter?

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SFWA: Mea Culpa on Final Nebula Ballot

The SFWA posted a notice that the final Nebula ballot tally was a bit speculative and suffered a tally error. A novelette and short story were omitted:

  • the novelette "The Ray Gun: A Love Story" - James Alan Gardner(Asimov's, Feb08) and
  • the short story "Mars: A Traveler's Guide" - Ruth Nestvold (F&SF, Jan08)
I updated the earlier post to correct my own tally of which speculative fiction magazines rule the roost this year. F&SF still rules. Through extensive numerical analysis not even attempted by other blogs, my updated tally of ballot nominees is:

  • Fantasy & Science Fiction: 6
  • Asimov's: 4
  • Norilana: 2
  • Analog: 1

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spectrum Award for SF/F/H Art

Flash Fiction Online has always been proud of the original art work used to illustrate its first-publication stories. This art was created by FFO's artist-in-residence, Rich Ware. The speculative fiction industry recognized the value added to SF/Fantasy/Horror publications by graphic artists through the Spectrum 16 Award, established in 1993. The 16 refers to a gold and silver award for each of 8 categories: advertising, book, comics, conceptual art, dimensional, editorial, institutional and unpublished.

Here are the winners, including the images. (It was not clear to me whether they reckon this to be the 2008 or 2009 winners.)

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Transhumanism: Point & Counterpoint

This post spans two issues of the Global Spiral, the online magazine associated with the Metanexus Institute, a group of scholars who study the “human meaning and purpose,” using transdisciplinary approach to science and religion. I thought this would be of interest to many writers since these topics span so much of literature.

The current issue of Global Spiral is an internal retort to their previous special issue on transhumanism, in which their guest authors expressed concerns about transhumanism, the idea that humans can transform themselves to superhuman (the guest editor would say posthuman) status through accelerated cultural evolution and technical means, such as bioengineering, medicine, cognitive studies and other disciplines.

Here is the guest editor's introduction to the first special issue on transhumanism, and here is the issue.

This is the stuff of many science fiction and fantasy novels about modified humans, described with certain level of angst by serious scholars in science and theology...cybernetics, genetics, nanotechnology.... (It is worth going there if only to see the incredible Tiffany stained glass piece.)

“If one accepts that transhumanism is more than an ideology, indeed a philosophy, one must look carefully at its understanding of the human, of biology, and of the relationship between technology and culture.”
Here is the guest editor's introduction to the current issue, which, as stated, is an internal retort to the first. Here is the issue. (This is the February issue if you go there after the next issue is published.)

“Transhumanists counter that nature’s gifts are sometimes poisoned and should not always be accepted. Cancer, malaria, dementia, aging, starvation, unnecessary suffering, cognitive shortcomings are all among the presents we wisely refuse.”

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Abandoned Book Warehouse Mayhem In Bristol

The treasure hunters stand knee-deep in Danielle Steels, Len Deightons and Jeffrey Archers, hoping to find more exotic literary fare.
The scene is Brislington, Bristol, England. The event: clearing out an abandoned warehouse of books. The warehouse owner invited the public to help themselves when the book stock owners did not remove the books. See the Mail Online article for photographs of the mayhem. The warehouse was an Amazon.com supplier.

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Ever Neverending Story

It has been doing well for 25 years with kids and would-be kids. Now, Warner Bros. is considering a rework of "The Neverending Story." They are in discussions with the production company of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

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Very Tense Post

If you are like many writers you have struggled with writing consistently in the same tense. The stories in this set (pdf) were written in 12 tenses (though I counted only 11). The stories, by David Yost, are from the current issue of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing, published through subscription by the University of Central Missouri. However, they have some teaser stories, articles and poems online, including the Yost stories.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paul Harvey, Dead at 90

Iconic American news commentator Paul Harvey has died at the age of 90. He worked for 50 years in radio and television. Speaking of Paul Harvey's pioneering, his son said, “My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news." He is popularly known for his distinctive voice and his "And that's...the rest of the story" close to his similarly named radio feature.

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