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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spam Botnets

Ars Technica has a small piece on email spam, based on a Symantec report. Symantec is one of the major virus/malware protection companies. According to the report, botnets (networks of computers) account for over 80% of all spam. People continue clicking through to disreputable suppliers of suspicious products, so the spammers likewise continue.

Not mentioned in the article is comment spam. This is spam posted on public forums, such as the Flash Fiction Online Forum. This type of spam may promote a "product," but much of the spam has what seems like an irrational number of often-undecipherable links. These spammers are simply trying to get as many links back to their websites of interest to improve their ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. As a generalization (the search engines are more-and-more sophisticated and opaque in their analyses), the more links there are to a web site, the closer to the top of a keyword search they'll land. Google and others try to punish such behavior via analysis, but the art of spam and the art of spam counter-measures continue.

From FFO's experience, much of the forum comment spam is done by botnets, too. Someone teaches the botnet to create accounts and post comments automatically. That's why, occasionally, you'll see the "Latest Member" with a suspicious if not appalling name. These are soon banned from the forum and their spam, if it manages to make it through, is soon removed.

The problem with botnets is that they don't tire. They keep plugging away, attempting to create accounts and post comment spam...sometimes for months after their IP address or email address has been banned. I've seen some forums so inundated with spam that the forum is useless (100-to-1 spam to legitimate post or worse). Fortunately, FFO staffers check often so that the forum remains a pleasant place.


The Truth about Writers

This guy has some odd ideas about writers. He seems to think they waste a lot of time, so that by the end of the day, they've only done an hour or two of real work. That's just insulting. I read the first paragraph of the article and had to go for a walk before I read the next, to blow off some steam. The walk was tiring, so I *had* to stop at a coffee shop...research. By then, the morning was shot because of that guy, so I went to lunch. After lunch, I read the second paragraph, and that really ticked me off.

He ruined practically my whole workday. So now that my day job is over, I'll really be in a foul mood when I go home tonight to do some writing.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Campbell and Sturgeon Award Winners 2009

According to the University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction:

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year is one of the three major annual awards for science fiction.

Although this award is announced officially at a banquet later in July at the university, the result is out, according to Locus magazine, a tie:

  • Cory Doctorow's Little Brother (Tor), and
  • Ian R. MacLeod's Song of Time (PS Publishing)

Here is the long list of finalists.

Also reported by Locus magazine is the winner of the the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, for the year's best short fiction, presented at the same banquet: "The Ray Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner (Asimov's 2/08)

Here is the long list of finalists for the Sturgeon Award.

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Locus Award Winners 2009

The literary award season is about over. Today, there are two results to report. Following this report of the Locus Awards will be the Cambell and Sturgeon winners.

The Locus Award is a readers' poll award conducted by Locus Magazine, with the original intent to inform Hugo award voters. The Locus Award honors the publishers of the works. This year's winners include:

  • Science Fiction Novel: Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
  • Fantasy Novel: Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
  • First Novel: Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)
  • Young-Adult Book: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
  • Novella: "Pretty Monsters", Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters)
  • Novelette: "Pump Six", Paolo Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories)
  • Short Story: "Exhalation", Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)

The remaining categories are found here. Here is the 2009 Locus Award long list (finalists) .

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hulu Bests Fox with Simpsons in Advertising Rates

This is not a bellwether event, perhaps, since demographics plays such a vital part in interpreting it, but the cost of advertising during "The Simpsons" is now higher on Internet service Hulu.com and TV.com than on the Fox network by about twice. This PC World article (by way of SlashDot) exposes other issues which make interpretation difficult: 37 seconds of advertising during an online show versus 9 minutes during a TV/cable broadcast, smaller online viewing audience, and others. No doubt, the chins of many network executives are being scratched contemplatively.

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Crop Circles Finally Explained

Wallabies make crop circles, according to BBC News. They wander into legal (medicinal) poppy fields in Tasmania, get stoned, and then wander about in circles. Sheep have shown the same tendencies.

However, FFO is not afraid of the truth and will ask what the BBC reporter dared not ask: can you prove they weren't space alien wallabies, hmm?

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's Starmap for NASA

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not happy with NASA's present agenda. He thinks they're trying to repeat the past. He suggests focusing on more forward-thinking goals. Here are his immediate concerns:

...the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the Orion spacecraft, which will take us no further than the moon—a place we’ve already been. Aldrin thinks NASA can do better. His plan is to scrap Ares I, stretch out the remaining six shuttle flights and fast-track the Orion to fly on a Delta IV or Atlas V. Then, set our sites on colonizing Mars.

In this many-faceted article in Popular Mechanics, Aldrin (now 80) speaks of a few regrets, mainly not speaking out against what he thought were bad decisions while an active astronaut. He speaks of the short-term issues created by the five-year gap between the shuttle program’s retirement and arrival of its Ares I and Orion replacements.

Medium-term issues that he addresses include
returning to the moon with an international consortium rather than a unilateral program; and developing an affordable runway lander craft based on something like the Air Force's robot X-37B spacecraft scheduled for orbital flight this year. He'd like to commercialize use of such a spacecraft.

Aldrin's more far-reaching plans include:

Develop [an] Exploration Module for manned flights of up to three years to comets, asteroids and Martian moon Phobos, where robots prep nearby Red Planet outpost for human settlement.

To see the details of these proposal, see Buzz Aldrin's article in Popular Mechanics.

Bonus!: Here is some unfortunate, related news that could retire one of the shuttles early, worsening the short-term issues that Buzz Aldrin addressed. In a bizarre mishap during Atlantis' last flight, a floating bolt was lodged between a windshield and a dash. It can't be easily removed and may take up to six months to disassemble that part of the craft to repair the situation. They may choose to retire the craft early, instead.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Story Pitching Technique--The Right Way and Right Ear

If you're at a writers' conference or somewhere else where you have a chance to pitch your story idea, pitch it into the editor's or agent's right ear. This is an extrapolation of the more general research, reported by the Telegraph (UK) and others, that people are more receptive to ideas heard in their right ear. They attribute this to the cross-wiring of humans. Something heard in the right ear is first processed by the more logical left hemisphere of the brain.

You should have a flash-pitch handy in case you're stuck in line on the editor's or agent's left side. You'll point off in a direction to her left (stage right) and say, "Hey, it's Stephen King and he's looking for a new agent." When she turns her right ear to you, give her your flash-pitch to put her in the right mood: "Think Old Man and the Sea but with newlyweds." When she turns back to you--but before she has a chance to get angry--start your pitch: the old man in the sea loved his game fish and his fish stories, but suppose he happened to have his new trophy wife aboard. Old Man and the Hussy is my blockbuster new novel that....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wired Magazine Editor Eating at Wikipedia's Table?

This Guardian (UK) story states that a Wired magazine editor borrowed larges sections of text from Wikipedia without attribution for a book. (It was not a book on Thai cooking; no, it had to be a book about why online material should be free. Had to be.)

This FFO blog post is not intended to be a muckraking story, though (nor is this implying that the Guardian story is, either). The point of it is to remind writers about how easy it is to look at sources like Wikipedia as unencumbered. However, Wikipedia has a copyright policy. Wikipedia has material imported under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA), the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), and others. A writer wishing to use material from Wikipedia must look at the license associated with the particular article to find out its restrictions and citation requirements.

Here is list of FAQs about Wikipedia, including a readers' FAQ and a copyright FAQ.

Free Energy for All?

By way of Slashdot: Steorn is an Irish company that made a big splash stating that they had a technology to produce free energy. They unblinkingly stated that their system produced more energy than was put into it. Here is how Steorn's technology (Orbo) works, according to them. Briefly:

Orbo is based upon time variant magnetic interactions, i.e. magnetic interactions whose efficiency varies as a function of transaction timeframes.

Not surprisingly, there were doubters, so about two years ago, Steorn engaged a jury of 22 scientists and engineers to determine the truth of their claims. Recently, the jury finished their research and voted unanimously against the claims, making this terse statement. In part:

...The unanimous verdict of the Jury is that Steorn's attempts to demonstrate the claim have not shown the production of energy. The jury is therefore ceasing work....

Nothing's easy. Steorn states now that new answers to the jury's questions have come to light. Steorn claims that they will start licensing the technology later in 2009.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to Track Vampires, Space Aliens, Shoes and Wasps

How to Track Vampires, Space Aliens, Shoes and Wasps: if you're going to track all these with the same gadget, then you'll need something small. Here is the world's smallest RFID (radio frequency Identification) device. Not long ago, they were finger-sized. Now, they're mote-in-you-eye sized. The article explains the technology and shows photographs of some mote-in-your-eye RFID devices made by Hitachi.

Wal-Mart put the price pressure on RFID technology years ago by demanding that pallets of inventory arrive at stores with RFID tags, so that the pallets can be easily identified for content and location. Expensive inventory with legs (such as expensive shoes) can be easily tracked. A customer can be tracked as well, to learn his/her buying habits. There are many other uses, including the ones SF writers will imagine.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

This is one of two posts today involving (U.S.) federal law with fiction-writing sidebars. In this article, the (U.S.) Federal Trade Commission is now paying attention to bloggers, particularly the ones who are paid or otherwise compensated for publishing product or service reviews on their blogs. At issue is the assumption by consumers that opinions on blogs are independent and therefore trustworthy. This is far from the truth for many bloggers. I recently read a "search engine optimization" (SEO) book that covered websites and blogs. There are quite a few bloggers or blog networks that write articles for hire and link those articles back to the promoted product or service. For some, this lowers the credibility of the review.

This Yahoo News article on bloggers suggests that the FTC's recent interest in bloggers suggests some future liability for this practice:

The practice has grown to the degree that the Federal Trade Commission is paying attention. New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers — as well as the companies that compensate them — for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

The connection with writers? Most can't help themselves; they gotta blog or die. Some bloggers are thinking about monetizing their blogs with ads, reviews and such. According to the article, there is some worry that the coincidence of a banner ad from an ad service that happens to appear while a related review has been posted constitutes risk.

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Stephen King's Text Message Horror Story

This is one of two posts today involving (U.S.) federal law with fiction-writing sidebars. In this story, Simon & Schuster sent text messages promoting a Stephen King book (Cell). In 2006, a woman who'd signed up for a ring-tone service with promotions for the service received a Stephen King book promotion. She alleged this violated consumer protection laws and sought a class-action suit.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that sending SMS messages potentially violates the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from using automatic telephone dialing systems to make calls to cell phones unless the owners have consented.

This 2009 ruling reverses a previous one, equating text messages with voice calls. It is not clear from the story what the connection is between the Simon & Schuster text messages and the ring-tone service. It would seem that if the ring-tone service were serving unrelated ads to their customers, it would be the alleged culprit [unsolicited layman's view]. Here is the rest of this Media Post News article.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fahrenheit 452, Don't Burn the Libraries

The legendary Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and much more, wouldn't burn books, but he might burn the Internet, according to this NYT article:

“The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles....“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Mr. Bradbury had other thoughts about Yahoo's request to publish one of his books on the Internet. (Hint: he was not an advocate.) See the NYT article for the rest.

But Mr. Bradbury is wholly in favor of public libraries, where he got a substantial education for free, since he received no advances for his future books as a young man during the Great Depression. He's putting in his time as an octogenarian raising money for some Ventura County (California) libraries that are facing closure due to reduced property tax income which supports libraries, among other things.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

David Gemmel Legend Award for Fantasy Winner

According to the David Gemmel Legend Award website: "the award will be given to a work written in the 'spirit' of the late, great David Gemmell, a true Master of Heroic Fantasy."

According to various sources, the award winner for the 2008 best fantasy novel is Andrzej Sapkowski for his Blood of Elves (in Polish, Krew elfów), although the award website does not yet reflect this, at the time of posting. This is the first award of this prize. Andrzej Sapkowski is a highly acclaimed Polish science fiction and fantasy writer. Blood of Elves is the first novel in the Witcher series. The English translation was published last year. Some of his novels have been translated into many languages, excepting English. Perhaps this will change, now.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Shrinking/Bulldozed U.S. Cities: a Writing Opportunity

This Telegraph (UK) article describes the real- and thought-experiments on bulldozing the shrinking (mostly rust belt) U.S. cities down to a manageable size. The shrinking population of these industrial areas can not support the infrastructure designed for larger populations. Better to bulldoze them and return them to the environment than poorly manage them, they think. The article is good; go there for more details.

Now, what can a writer do with this information?

  • Crime: what fellows will the bulldozing crews dig up from under the roads and building foundations? Who stands to gain and lose the most from these activities? What will they do about it?
  • Thrillers: who will find themselves caught in a building about to be demolished?
  • SF: what pods, spaceships and ancient cities will be unearthed?
  • Fantasy/Horror: zombies, vampires and politicians.
  • Romance: (you have to get those demolition contracts somehow)

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New Google Book Search Features

Whatever you may think of Google's scan-every-book-on-the-planet play, they have added some interesting new Google book search features. According to the Google blog, they've tried to make the search more like your experience with a paper book. You can scan through it looking for pictures (and get clickable thumbnails), improved preview of the book, improved context around the search terms, and others. They've provided a feature so that you can embed previews of books on your websites and blogs. It's not clear if there is an affiliate program in the works using this feature.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Montana Town's Anti-Social Networking Policy

By way of SlashDot: If you want to work for Bozeman City, Montana, you're going to have to 'fess up all your Internet secrets: your web pages, blogs, your membership in Facebook, IRC chat rooms, YouTube services and the like. This is part of their background investigation. For writers and readers, this could include your writing sites.

When asked about creating a separate Bozeman Facebook page, then asking applicants to add the City as "friend," thus allowing the City to view the applicant's profile, Sullivan said officials could explore the option. This would limit the city to only view the page of the applicant.

According to several Internet sources, Bozeman has a population of about 27,500. It is hard to imagine such a town being able to pay for the inevitable legal challenges to their policy, especially since several organizations provide free legal service to defend Internet rights.


Most SF/Fantasy-Like Cities on Earth

You want to write a SF story but don't want to event a world. What to do? What until tomorrow; that always works. Or go to Shared Worlds' article by Jeff VanderMeer and see what some SF/F authors think are the most SF-fantastical cities here on Earth. I can imagine they'd good horror settings as well.

Elizabeth Hand votes for Reykjavik, Iceland. Ursala K. LeGuin likes Venice, Italy. Michael Moorcock thinks Marrakesh, Morocco is the best choice. And there are others. But why these cities? Go to the article to find out, but here a sample from Hand on Reykjavik:

It's more like an off-world colony than any place on Earth. Architecture that consists largely of corrugated metal and concrete (think Quonset huts), a dauntingly inhospitable landscape –lava flows, cliffs, glaciers, hot springs, immense waterfalls....

Shared Worlds is a two-week interdisciplinary workshop at Wofford College focused on creating shared worlds. Jeff VanderMeer is an assistant director and instructor there, and has done everything else, too.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Reviews

The SF Site has the following SF/F book reviews for June 2009:

  • The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker
  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow
  • Xenopath by Eric Brown
  • Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover
  • Blood and Ice by Robert Masello
  • Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
  • The Pretender's Crown by C.E. Murphy
  • Fast Forward 2 edited by Lou Anders
  • The Caryatids by Bruce Sterling

If you look after the July 2009 issue is published, look here for the June and other issues.

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Tiny Microbes to Take over Box Offices?

From Science Daily: tiny microbes that have been frozen in glacial ice were warmed up very slowly (over nearly a year's time) and now have begun to replicate. The idea behind this is that these antique microbes that are up 1/50th the size of E. coli, may give clues to extraterrestrial life, since some space aliens are stuck with really crappy planets. That's why they're always coming here (in movies) to our verdant planet and trying to take over Washington, DC, even though Venice would provide more water habitats and hiding places.

For the writers, here are 224 titles of extraterrestrial-themed movies, if you want to mine this story and that list for a new story ideas.

I did mention E. coli. Here is a list of eco-horror films.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fiction News: Good, Not So Good, Bad

News from Ralan:

The Good:
--Emerald Tales: new bimonthly PDF publication (all genres and poetry).

The Not So Good:
--Polluto (SF/F/H counter-cultural) is going from quarterly to bi-annual publication.

The Bad:
--Talebones (SF/dark fantasy) is ceasing publication as a periodical (but will complete the presently planned issues) and may continue as an annual anthology in a year.

--Lone Star Stories (SpecFic/Interstitial): shuttered.

All of the above happen to be in the "Paying" category at Ralan.

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Flash Non-Fiction: Warpships

Do you have a guilty pleasure in reading or writing faster-than-light (FTL) SF stories? Here is something to take the edge off your guilt.

Dr. Richard Obousy, a physicist with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Leicester and Baylor, has looked at some avenues for FTL travel and has made some buzz with a diversity of publications, such as Discovery Channel (online), EE Times (Electrical Engineering), Science Daily and, most importantly, FlashFictionOnline.com. Here is Obousy's warp drive summary from his web site, but I'll go with the Discovery Channel explanation because (this is a bit technical) they have pretty pictures.

In a nutshell, the idea is to harness the sizable dark energy in the universe to distort spacetime in the vicinity of your warp-drive ship.

...the extra dimensions as predicted by superstring theory could be shrunk and expanded by the warp drive through manipulation of local dark energy. At the front of the warpship spacetime would be compressed, and it would expand behind.

That's how I'd do it. Here is an interview that preceded the above-linked slide show article.

FFO Skeptic's Report: to be fair, I've found a completely unqualified skeptic (moi), to give balance to this article: dark matter and dark energy are the asterisks attending quantum mechanics that should scare the pants or skirt off theorists. Enough said.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Millions' The Prizewinners 2008/2009

The Millions website has finalized their prize winners for this year. This award is made by assigning a weight for winning or appearing as a finalist in various American, British and international English-language literary prizes since 1995 and determining therefrom the most celebrated books (as opposed to authors).

More details of the methodology and the list of the top 65 or so books are shown at the link above. The top five are:

  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  • Underworld by Don DeLillio
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
  • The March by E.L. Doctorow
  • Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

You're more likely to find Philip Roth than Stephen King on this list as all the qualifying prizes are literary prizes.

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2009 Stoker Award Winners for Horror

The winners of the 2009 Stoker Awards for horror have been announced:

  • Novel: Duma Key, Stephen King
  • First Novel: The Gentling Box, Lisa Mannetti
  • Long Fiction: Miranda, John R. Little
  • Short Fiction: "The Lost," Sarah Langan
  • Fiction Collection: Just After Sunset, Stephen King
  • ANTHOLOGY: Unspeakable Horror, edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder
  • NONFICTON: A Hallowe'en Anthology, Lisa Morton
  • Poetry Collection: The Nightmare Collection, Bruce Boston

You can see bios and pictures of all these horror-able people and the nominees, at the 2009 Stoker Awards website.

Lifetime achievement award winners were announced:

  • F. Paul Wilson is best known for his Repairman Jack series of novels, and
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro rose to fame with her vampire hero, Count Saint-Germain. She is the first woman ever to receive the International Horror Guild's Living Legend award.
You can see more about the lifetime achievement award winners here.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twitpocalypse Now

Captain and intelligence officer Ben Willard wiped the gin from his chin as two superior army officers arrived at his hotel room to deliver him to a new, dangerous mission.

"Where are you inserting me?" said Willard.

One of the officers looked at his iPhone to get his instructions.

"Oh, dear me," said the war-weary officer, since FFO is a family magazine.

"What?" said Willard, who was always suspicious of higher officers.

"The message is coded...YAJL. I wonder what that means."

"Lemme look," said Willard. He snatched the iPhone and gasped. "That's no code. It's the twitpopcalypse! We're doomed."

To be continued...maybe.

The twitpopcalypse (which is incredibly difficult to type without error) has affected some twitter clients. In geekspeak, the unique number assigned to each tweet recently exceeded the range of unsigned 32-bit integers...the number of tweets got too big. Considering the little time the twittersphere has been with us, its popularity far exceeded the software developer's expectation. According to this twitpopcalypse article, the fix is easy but some users will be tweetless for a short time.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brief History of Arthuriana

Ruth Nestvold has an interesting and brief overview of the changing state of Arthuriana...the legends and literature surrounding the myths of King Arthur. She is an oft-published author with a PhD in literature.

Nestvold warns that a short article can not be complete considering that there were 200 novels and short stories related to King Arthurin English since 1884. She concentrates, therefore, on the post-WWII retellings. Here are a couple of snippets as teasers for her Arthuriana article at IRoSF.

Deliberately anachronistic and ahistorical, White's novel [The Sword and the Stone] is simultaneously comic and tragic. A number of critics have noted how the books become increasingly bleak, reflecting the fact that the two central books were written during the Second World War.

Regarding this snippet from The Book of Goddesses and Heroines:

….in Welsh mythology, she was said to be a queen of Avalon, the underworld fairyland where King Arthur was carried—some said by Morgan herself—when he disappeared from this world. In some legends, Morgan was Arthur's sister, whereas in other tales she was immortal, living with her eight sisters in Avalon, where she was an artist and a healer.

Nestvold says:

Using such feminist interpretations of the legends, Zimmer Bradley created a new mythology within the framework of the old, one that has substantially contributed to the way we now view Arthurian literature.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

John W. Campbell Award Finalists

The finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science fiction novel have been announced.

The Award was created to honor the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, now named Analog. Campbell, who edited the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971, is called by many writers and scholars the father of modern science fiction. Writers and critics Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell's name as a way of continuing his efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work.

The finalists are:

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Ralan Adds Flashzines and Twitterzines Categories

Ralan.com is a site that's useful to readers and writers for finding literary magazines of interest and learning their status (such as story submission status or publishing status) and long-term or short-term publishing themes.

The familiar user interface seems to be in a transition, but two new categories have appeared of interest to fans of flash and shorter fiction: flashzines and twitterzines. FlashFictionOnline.com is in the flashzine section, of course. The sections will probably expand since they've just been added in the last day or two. Other sections include Pro, Semi-Pro, paying, 4theLuv, book, anthologies and others. These categories overlap. For example, FlashFictionOnline.com pays pro rates, but because Ralan also separates publications by size, FFO is now in the Flashzine section. This may cause some confusion regarding pay rates, but I think this organization has more advantages than disadvantages. It certainly is a boon to flash fiction fans. (I suppose they could put links from the pay-rate categories to the size-of-publication categories.)

Since the site is in transition, I've only linked to the Ralan home page.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

SF Author Interviews and Essays

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Magazines on iPhone

You may now view many magazines via an iPhone or iTouch. For example, Zinio is offering 20 mainstream magazines such as Car & Driver, Technology Review, and Woman's Day for free (but I'd read for now into that).

More interestingly, though, are some magazines created specifically for this platform, such as this one reported by SF Crowsnest: a '20s and '30s-inspired pulp fiction magazine called Steampunk Tales. The first issue includes contributions by Jay Lake and others. Here is the SF Crowsnest write-up and the Steampunk Tales website.

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Dune-Like Water Harvesting

Slashdot made note of a Science Daily article that reports a new air-humidity water-harvesting technology that is especially useful in the desert. It is energy self-sufficient and harvests potable water.

In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

The technology is applicable to community as well as personal water-harvesting devices. The Science Daily article did not mention the science fiction connection to the idea, but the Slashdot article writer mentioned Frank Herbert's "Fremen collecting water from the air via moisture traps and dew collectors," in his Dune novel.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

British Fantasy Award Nominees 2009

British Fantasy Awards

The British Fantasy Society Has announced the shortlist of the British Fantasy Awards. Naturally, the short fiction is the most important category. The rules only mention the upper length limit (10000 words) so presumably flash fiction is permitted. The short fiction nominees include:

  • All Mouth (Paul Meloy) Black Static 6, Ed. Andy Cox - TTA Press
  • Do You See (Sarah Pinborough) Myth-Understandings, Ed. Ian Whates – Newcon Press
  • N (Stephen King) Just After Sunset - Hodder & Stoughton
  • Pinholes in Black Muslin (Simon Strantzas) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin - Humdrumming
  • The Caul Bearer (Allyson Bird) Bull Running For Girls – Screaming Dreams
  • The Tobacconist’s Concession (John Travis) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin - Humdrumming
  • The Vague (Paul Meloy) Islington Crocodiles, TTA Press
  • Winter Journey (Joel Lane) Black Static 5, Ed. Andy Cox - TTA Press

The nominees for the long-winded folks (novelists), include:

  • Memoirs of a Master Forger (William Heaney/Graham Joyce) Gollancz
  • Midnight Man (Simon Clark) Severn House
  • Rain Dogs (Gary McMahon) Humdrumming
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) Bloomsbury
  • The Victoria Vanishes (Christopher Fowler) Little Brown
  • Thieving Fear (Ramsey Campbell) PS Publishing

Other categories include Best Anthology, PS Publishing Small Press Award, Best Collection, Best Novella, Best Comic/Graphic Novel, Best Artist, Best Non-Fiction, Best Magazine, Best Television, and Best Film...all found here.

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Australian Ditmar Awards Winners for SF/F/H

The Ditmar Awards

The winners for the 2009 Ditmar Awards for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror have been announced.

The Ditmar Awards have been awarded at the National Science Fiction conventions since 1969 in order to recognise achievements in Australian Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.
The short story nominees and winners (tie) are:

  • “Pale Dark Soldier”, Deborah Biancotti (in Midnight Echo, #2)
  • This Is Not My Story”, Dirk Flinthart (in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, #37)
  • The Goosle”, Margo Lanagan (in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow (ed), Del Rey)
  • “Her Collection of Intimacy”, Paul Haines (in Black: Australian Dark Culture Magazine, #2)
  • “Moments of Dying”, Rob Hood (in Black: Australian Dark Culture Magazine, #1)
  • “Sammarynda Deep”, Cat Sparks (in Paper Cities, Ekaterina Sedia (ed), Senses Five Press)
  • “Ass-Hat Magic Spider”, Scott Westerfeld (in The Starry Rift, Jonathan Strahan (ed), Viking Juvenile)

The best novel nominees and winner are:

  • Fivefold, Nathan Burrage (Random House)
  • Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch, Simon Haynes (Fremantle Press)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbaliester (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Daughters of Moab, Kim Westwood (HarperVoyager)
  • Earth Ascendant (Astropolis, book 2), Sean Wiliams (Orbit)

Other categories include: Best Novella, Best Collected Work, Best Artwork, Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist, Best Fan Publication, William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review, Best Achievement, and Best New Talent, all found here.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

SF/F TV Broadcast Shows for 2009/2010

SFF World has a list of science fiction and fantasy shows for the 2009/2010 season (U.S.), including new and returning shows. Some of the highlights of the new shows include:

  • ABC: Eastwick (based on the John Updike novel and movie "Witches of Eastwick")
  • ABC: Flash Forward (based on Robert J. Sawyer SF novel)
  • CBS: Merlin (BBC import)

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Two Agatha Christie Poirot Stories Found

If you bought the world's thickest book, you're going to be annoyed or happy, depending on the angle of your book collector/reader seesaw. According to the NYT, author John Curran found two new Poirot short stories while researching Agatha Christie's papers.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mark Twain Assassinates James Fenimore Cooper

You can say a lot about Mark Twain, but you can't say he doesn't have an opinion. Here is a literary assassination in Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. As you would expect of Twain, it is full of wit and fun to read in its own right, but it has little mercy for Cooper. A few quotes:

Twain lists the offenses, but here is the lead-in:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them.

Bless you[r] heart, Cooper hadn't any more invention than a horse; and don't mean a high-class horse, either; I mean a clothes-horse.

If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases -- no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Review of Short Fiction, June 2009

Internet Review of Science Fiction has short fiction reviews now of some major print and online speculative magazines, including Asimov's, Analog, Interzone, Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Heliotrope.

Oh, and some newcomer to speculative fiction, The New Yorker.

Some of the issues are monthly and others quarterly. Disclosure: Yours Truly has a story reviewed in the Abyss and Apex section.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Benjamin Franklin Award Winners 2009

According to their website, the Benjamin Franklin Awards are:

Named in honor of America's most cherished publisher/printer, the Benjamin Franklin Awards™ recognizes excellence in independent publishing. Publications, grouped by genre are judged on editorial and design merit by top practitioners in each field.

The award includes many non-fiction categories and some fiction categories, and the Bill Fisher Award for First Book. The fiction awards are not genre-specific; the present first book award in fiction is a SF/F story: Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, Mermaid Publishing, LLC

Here are the finalists for 2009. Interestingly, they don't mention the authors' names. The awards are for the independent publishers.

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Space-y News

Two items by way of SlashDot.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is not for sissies. You can win $30 million. That's good. But you have to land a robot craft on the lunar surface where it must travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Here's the not-for-sissies part: teams must be at least 90% privately funded. Ouch.

The slashdot article writer also pointed out concern that the artifacts of human landing on the moon (such as Neil Armstrong's footprints) should be preserved. There is another prize for photographs of human artifacts on the moon. [Is this NOT a hint that it was all a hoax. Sheesh.]

Zero Gravity Wedding: this will be a near-space event, but will be at zero-gravity. The link is a personal wedding blog, but is different. It even has a press kit. "The weightless experience" will be provided by Zero G Corp, via a parabolic flight.

You heard it here first! The Flash Fiction Online Faster-than-Light Wedding Prize: we offer a $5 (U.S., Canadian or Australian dollars, we don't care) for the first wedding to be performed in a spaceship going faster-than-light. I haven't approved this with Jake, the editor-in-chief, so I'll front the money in the meantime.

The small print for the FTL wedding prize: no zeros to the prize money are explicitly stated or implied. It is $5 (five dollars) in 2009 or future dollars, whichever has the least purchasing power. To save postage, the prize will be paid via PayPal. The prize may be collected ONLY ONE TIME! No going back in time through black holes or flying around the planet real fast to collect the prize multiple times. The total payout will be $5, tops. Once the time-certified 5$ is paid out, it is gone. No tricks, please.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Horn Book Awards Announced for 2009

By way of SF Scope (who mentioned our June issue) is news that the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners have been announced. According to the Horn Book website:

...the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards are among the most prestigious honors in the field of children’s and young adult literature. Winners are selected in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction.

The 2009 winners are:

  • Fiction and Poetry: Nation by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
  • Nonfiction: The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade/Random House)
  • Picture Book: Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Clarion)

The honor books are:

  • Fiction and Poetry
  1. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick)
  2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
  • Nonfiction
  1. The Way We Work by David Macaulay with Richard Walker, illustrated by David Macaulay (Lorraine/Houghton)
  2. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)
  • Picture Book
  1. Old Bear by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins)
  2. Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick)

Top Speculative Fiction Editors Tell All

At the Hatrack writers forum, someone posted a link to a Clarkesworld Magazine article by Jeremy L. C. Jones that had editorial statements from many SF/F/H magazines, such as Fantasy Magazine, Jim Baen's Universe, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov's, Weird Tales and others. I think the readers and writers of Flash Fiction Online will find this article interesting...to see what is behind the story selection process in the magazines that they read.

Here is what editors were asked:

  • The Editors, Their Magazines & Their Editorial Philosophies
  • What do you look for in a short story?
  • What does "fit" mean for your magazine?
  • What are some reasons why you'd reject a good story?
  • How has the magazine business (especially as it pertains to fiction) changed since you started out?
  • Lastly, any advice for someone submitting fiction?

Here are a few bon mots:

Mike Resnick (Jim Baen's Universe): The only reason I'd reject a good story would be that I was running something too similar to it — and then I'd probably buy it and hold it for a few issues. A good story is any well-written, well-characterized story that elicits an emotional reaction; everything else is gravy.

Stanley Schmidt (Analog): Ideally, I would like a story so engagingly written that I forget I'm reading it, with a provocative idea I'd never thought of before so deeply integrated into it that it couldn't be removed without making the whole story collapse.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Disney/Pixar's "Up" Movie: Lessons for Writers

Since my movie viewing is under the control of a nine-year-old, I had seen several trailers for Disney/Pixar's "Up." The trailer wasn't that appealing to me but it was inevitable that I would see the movie (and I haven't even seen the new Star Trek movie!).

Wow, was I surprised. I think the movie is a must-see for writers, particularly of short fiction, to see how quickly and fully a writer can paint a compelling character. I'm particularly talking about the Ellie character, who in a short time on screen, grew from 'tween to gray-haired old lady, tugging at you every step of the way.

Here is a snippet from Variety's review of "Up," the movie:

Tale of an unlikely journey to uncharted geographic and emotional territory by an old codger and a young explorer could easily have been cloying, but instead proves disarming in its deep reserves of narrative imagination and surprise, as well as its poignant thematic balance of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled.

And this:

...in less than five minutes, encapsulates the life-long love affair between Carl Fredericksen and his wife Ellie in a manner worthy of even the most poetic of silent-film directors.

The review says little else about the character of Ellie, because as the second snippet reveals, she enters and leaves the movie very quickly, but who was for me the highlight of the movie.

I'll bow to the Variety review for the rest of the story.

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Tour of SpaceX Factory

Here is a tour of the SpaceX factory, complements of Wired, with nice photographs and concise commentary. Here is their stated philosophy (my emphasis):

Started in 2002 by PayPal founder Elon Musk, SpaceX (short for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) brings a startup mentality to launching rockets into orbit, which until recently was almost exclusively government turf. The hope is that minimal bureaucracy, innovation and in-house manufacturing and testing can be used to put payloads into space at roughly one-tenth the cost of traditional methods.

If you want to enter the space business, I suggest starting something like PayPal and getting bought out by eBay. (Or start something like eBay; that works, too.)

SpaceX will have a test flight of their larger craft (Falcon 9) and hope to have a commercial payload by the end of 2009.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review of Flash Fiction Online May 2009 Issue

Sam Tomaino at SF Revu has a review of the May 2009 issue of FFO, which should have this link after the June issue is published, otherwise, it is the current issue.

Sam's favorite story is "Billions of Stars":

"Billions of Stars" by KJ Kabza was the best story this month. Dom finds a planet that has fallen from the sky. If that's not strange enough, wait until you read the rest of the story. This one was very clever, indeed.

Sam also reviews the most recent editions of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Interzone, Kaleidotrope, Murky Depths, Paradox - The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction (perhaps Paradox's last issue), and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

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History of UFOlogy

Oh, no, a UFO article right after yesterday's post on the release of British UFO records under their Freedom of Information Act? Yes, but this is coincidental and both articles are about the culture of UFOlogy. (I'll keep enough playdough around to model a mountain, just in case.)

This article by Robert Sheaffer, a columnist for the Sceptical Inquirer Magazine is about the history of UFOlogy, noting the trends of UFO sightings. One of the earliest sightings was quite telling. The sighting was of a boomerang-shaped object which was reported to skip across water like a saucer. Soon after, there were a rash of reports describing "flying saucers," which were amusingly inaccurate copycat sightings, but which had great impact on future sightings and fiction writing.

The author describes several phases or seasons of UFO events: In The Beginning (1947—1973), Abductions Gradually Replace Sightings (1966—1995), “New Age” vs. “Science Fiction” UFOlogy, UFO Crashes and Retrievals (1980—present). Interestingly, the author suggests that the New Age wing is inhabited mostly by women, while the Science Fiction wing is inhabited mostly by men. Other sections include "Conspiracies Abound," and "Promotion of UFO Belief Today." In the latter section, the author notes that UFO belief (or at least interest) is mostly a media activity to promote movies. There hasn't been a UFO best seller in 20 years.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Release of British UFO Files

The senior staff of FlashFictionOnline.com gathered (I wasn't invited) and voted on UFOs: They're real. So there, you have it. But the British haven't learned of the vote, yet.

This article on the release of British UFO files is interesting on two levels: the anecdotes reported and the candid report on their process of handling reports after the Brit's Freedom of Information Act (in force in 2005) and its legal predecessor, the Public Records Acts.

The article derives its information from Nick Pope (great name for a character in a UFO novel), who headed up the British UFO project in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). He no longer works for the MoD. He (and his staff, presumably) looked at UFO reports to determine their defense value and importance. He also handled many documents under the rules of the FoI Act.

One of the many anecdotes mentioned in the article begins this way (Kent Pope narrating):

Close Encounter Over Kent: One of the most interesting cases from the second batch of files occurred on 21st April 1991. I remember this incident very well and indeed I was involved in the official investigation. We were informed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - the UK equivalent of the FAA - that there had been a near miss involving a commercial aircraft. The aircraft was an Al Italia MD-80 with 57 passengers on board. It was a height of around 22,000 feet over Kent, near Lydd, when a brown, cigar-shaped object passed so close to the aircraft that the pilot shouted “look out, look out”....

See the article for the rest of this anecdote and the others, and more about MoD's handling of the documents. The article was published by X-Journals, "a companion blog following the research, planning and production of a series of documentary films...."

Future of Science: Where's My Jetpack?

In March, we covered Gary Westphal's thoughtful piece about why science fiction writers have failed to predict the future. He gave 7 fallacies that plague SF writers. We also did a piece on Bruce Sterling's thoughtful look at the future of science fiction.

CNN has a piece that is more "where's my jetpack?" The article writer looks more at how the future failed the technologies than what has gone wrong with SF writers. The jetpack is one example. We've actually made some, but they haven't found a practical civilian or military application. In the military, a warrior in a jetpack is an obvious and easy target, and the jetpack lasts an embarrassingly short period of time.

Other technologies visited in the article include Rosey the Robot (robot housekeeper) and teleportation.

More interestingly perhaps, and more in line with current SF, is the turn from the pulp fiction view that technology is always a Good Thing that will make life easier, to a more dystopian view that technology is the enemy of survival. The author uses Battlestar Galactica as an example:

It depicts a world where human beings have created amazing technology that has brought them to the precipice of extinction. There's no Buck Rogers zooming blissfully through the sky.

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