Thursday, 29 October 2009

Sci Fi and Literature: They're Both Genres

I just read this interesting article on Science Fiction and Fantasy Media by Ellen Datlow. It's about how literary authors, editors, reviewers and readers just can't get their head around the fact that science fiction and fantasy novels have just as much to offer readers and society as the literature genre does (yes, literature is a genre, it has it's own section in bookshops and is marketed that way, don't kid yourself that it is otherwise).

The article made me think of something an English teacher said to my class once in high school, that when William Shakespeare was writing plays most of his audience thought that his stories were unfolding there and then, and couldn't understand the concept of tales being set in other places and times. I asked the teacher this is how the modern world saw science fiction, as it is often set in other places and times, and all of them imagined and that maybe most people couldn't get their head around the fact that these stories are set in make-believe lands. He said it was completely different, because science fiction wasn't a real genre.

In highschool I used to quote science fiction books in my essays, until I was told that I would not be well received by my examiners if I did that and that I would score poorly. So I stopped only in terms of self interest, but felt that I was betraying something fundamental by doing so. That something was wrong with society's ideas on fostering creativity.

I'm not saying science fiction and fantasy is for everyone, but I do see it as sad that we live in an world where it is constantly dismissed as not being worthwhile. Unfortunately I believe science fiction movies and television series have been at least partially responsible for this misconception. Ideas in visual media are often 50 years being the literaturary scene. Take the movie I, Robot which came out more than five decades after it was written. Good film, but the ideas about artificial intelligence and how it could actually work and the implications on society are far more developed than that these days (for example read Charles Stross' Saturn Returns).

Then you get movies and shows like Star Trek which really fail to understand the genre it was based upon, and their writers just coming up with stupid ideas. If I was captain of the Enterprise being attacked by Klingons, I wouldn't teleport over three men in jumpsuits and no environmental suits just in case there was no oxygen on the other side. I'd also wouldn't just arm them with only small arms to take out the ship, rather I'd transport over a nuclear bomb, then detonate it from afar. In the movie Sunshine the starship obviously has artifical gravity inside, but that same force is not used to accelerate the ship to the sun which would have otherwise reduced the trip from months into days. Plus the sun isn't going to die out for billions of years.

What I loved about science fiction and fantasy in the written form (novels and short stories) is that its scope is so broad, which you just can't get in any other form of fiction. I'm not limited to stories set on Earth in the present or in the past. If I want to write about alternate forms of society and government I can. Dune by Frank Herbert is a classic example of what I'm talking about here.

A friend of my wife's is a professor of quantum optics in England. He recently returned to Adelaide to see his family and catch up with us (amongst other friends) and he and I started talking about science fiction. He saw its influence as essential to the development of science and technology. Simply put, he'd noticed that his peers who didn't read science fiction didn't have the imagination to solve real scientific problems that scientists who did read in the genre could. Without science fiction, society wouldn't evolve as rapidly as it does.

I know that science fiction and fantasy authors and readers can and do read in the literary genre, but sometimes I feel that the reverse is not true, that many literary authors and readers, like Shakespeare's audience, don't have the imagination to understand it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, people should read what they like, and can only take on new information they are ready to take on. But to critise the genre because one can't understand it, well that just shows poor form, and perhaps fear of the unknown.

There are many fantastic science fiction and fantasy books out there that are thought provoking. If you haven't tried the genre, I would highly recommend it. The best works in this genre are equal to the best in the literary genre.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

My Greg Egan Interview in Albedo One #37

I've been waiting to announce this one for a while; I've recently interviewed Australian science fiction author Greg Egan which has now appeared the latest issue of Albedo One. My first in-depth interview with a high profile speculative fiction author.

Greg talks about his influences, his writing proces, his favourites of his own work, upcoming books, his experiences with the Australian speculative fiction scene, sources for his idea, and his involvement with securing the release of illegally detained refugees in Australia.

The same issue features several of my reviews, and because I don't have my contributor copy with me yet, I'll have to announce what those reviews are in a latter post.

To read more about this issue visit the Albedo One website. Fiction by Robert Reed, the second place winner of the Aeon Award 2008, "Aegis", by D. T. Neal, Sara Joan Berniker, Gustavo Bondoni, Richard Alan Scott, Gareth Stack and T D Edge.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Another Nice Review of The Spiraling Worm

Noticed today that another really nice review of The Spiraling Worm popped up on today by Stephen Jarjoura: "This was an excellent and fun book to read. If you are well versed in the Mythos, you'll find many references to the classics ... but without all of the "squamous tentacles" and "ichor covered walls" ... instead, the horrors are real, tangible, and described in fascinating detail."

Great to see that after two and a half years the book is still being read and enjoyed, and that our book remains one of the favorites of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu fiction series.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Best New Tales of the Apocalypse (It's coming...)

A while ago my story "Subtle Invasion" from The Black Book of Horror was selected for the first volume of Best New Tales of the Apocalypse, edited by Bobbie Metevier and D.L. Snell, and to be publsihed by Permuted Press. Naturally I was excited.

Then for a long time I heard nothing and thought the project was on indefinite hold, but then a recent email from Mr. Snell informed me that this was not the case at all. Then I discovered the table of contents here and thought I would post it myself.
  • HURRICANE WATCH ... Rebecca Day
  • THE SIXTH MISSION - Joe McKinney
  • ALL THE THINGS THAT CAN'T BE - Ian Randal Strock
  • TODAY IS NOT - Michael Sellars
  • RESTORE FROM BACKUP - J.F. Gonzalez & Michael Oliveri
  • SUBTLE INVASION - David Conyers
  • AMERICA IS COMING! - Dario Ciriello
  • THE SHAPE - Tim Curran
  • BETTY IN SIDESHOW - Daniel R. Robichaud
  • PIGS AND FEACHES - Patrice Sarath

Definitely one I'm looking forward to, sometime in 2010. I also hope this becomes an ongoing series.

Meanwhile "Subtle Invasion" remains my most successful story to date, with a reprint in Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror Vol. 3, an Australian Shadows nomination, and being read on The Writing Show.

Jason Fischer Writers of the Future Contest Winner

A belated congratulations to fellow South Aussie author Jason Fischer, who's short story "The House of Nameless" came first place in the Writers of the Future Contest. His prize is a week-long workshop in the United States in 2010. Well done Jason.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Honourable Mention in Best Horror of the Year Vol. 1

Just learnt that my Australian Horror Writers Association competition winning short story "Homo Canis" that was later published in 2008 Award Winning Australian Writing has received an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Years Vol.1. It is always nice to have one's work recognised in a professional medium.

See the complete list of honourable mentions here, which I was pleased to see included stories from Cody Goodfellow, C.J. Henderson, William Jones, Jason Nahrung and D.L. Snell. Also congratulations to Charles Black for so many honourable mentions for stories in his Black Book of Horror series.

Special congratulations to Kirstyn McDermott who had her story "Painlessness" reprinted, which is much better than an honourable mention.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Worlds of Cthulhu #6

A nice surprise greeted me in the mailbox today, Worlds of Cthulhu #6, which features my artwork for Dennis Detwiller's "The Sense of the Sleight of Hand Man" Call of Cthulhu role-playing game scenario.

I know this issue came out in June 2009, so I'm a bit late to post (and arrange my contributor copy). Still an impressive looking issue from editor Adam Crossingham featuring scenarios from Oscar Rios and Frank Heller.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Influences: Lightship by Jim Burns and Chris Evans

When Lightship came out in 1985, a showcase of the science fiction illustraitions of British artist Jim Burns, I was blown away by the vivid and imaginative worlds he captured in paintings. I was in high school at the time and already planning my career as a science fiction writer, and when I saw this book my imagination went into overdrive, visualising some of the stories I could tell based on the pictures that were engrossing me. Stories from books I had never read, but now felt intrigued to read.

I’d studied art in high school and had considered a career as an illustrator, but I never did much more once I was at university except to dabble. That said I did enough to have had my illustrations published in books such as Secrets of Kenya, and although I was never very good and my writing was more important for me to pursue, art did give me a great starting point in imagining the future. For example, for a long time while I was developing my space opera setting for a series of books I’m planning in the future, I used to do lots of illustrations for that setting and my art skills really helped me imagine what my universe would look like. It was Lightship that sent me down this path, influenced me to give illustration a go to develop future settings.

In a recent conversation with D.M. Cornish we discussed the merits of writers who are also illustrators, and how it can greatly enhance the creative process. I certainly see that in his Monster Blood Tattoo series he is head and shoulders above most fantasy authors in creating amazing worlds with his words alone, because he illustrated it all first. I hope my illustrating experience eventually leads me to similar success (one can always hope).

My favorite illustrations in Lightship include the covers for Downward to the Earth, Mechanismo Spaceport, The Lovers, The Deathworms of Kratos, Bio of a Space Tyrant 3 and Startide Rising, but they are all great. The accompaning text by Chris Evans was an added bonus, openning me up to a whole host of science fiction ideas I’d never considered before, including terraforming and pantropy, concepts I would have never come across just from watching science fiction movies and television shows of the time.