Thursday, January 31, 2013

Speculative Fiction and Prospective Writers

To take the lead from authors such as Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card, I’ll classify speculative fiction to include science fiction and fantasy, as well as the myriad of sub-genres out there (i.e. steam punk).  Thankfully, my interests in writing bridge from fantasy into the wider spectrum of genres of speculative fiction.  I have a number of short stories and ideas for some novels in a science fiction setting, both set in different future Earths.  Why does this matter?  Well, apparently the market has a huge influence on what avenues most writers pursue to get published.

For the most part, short story outlets (be they magazines or short story compendiums) are where the majority of new writers get their first publications.  Most of these outlets are either purely or predominantly science fiction.  The options for the budding fantasy author in the paying and large circulation short fiction milieus are much fewer and farther between.  This isn't a rebuke or critique of the system; it simply reflects the market demands.  The fewer places one can go to submit fantasy short stories, the more and more it makes you lean towards full-length novels to find a way to express the stories you wish to express.  The other option of course is to throw your story into the mix with the others in the crowded fantasy market.  This I have done and will continue to do so.  I thankfully also have a number of ideas to springboard out of the fantasy genre.  I can’t wait to get them out there.

This of course doesn't discount the novelization avenue for a speculative fiction story, be it science fiction or fantasy.  It certainly is the harder of the two to break into, with the obvious pay-offs dramatically higher, both financially and professionally.  Thousands of budding authors present what they hope to be the next best seller to an industry that is also looking for the next book to sell millions of copies and make them money.  It is a business, and the model is ever adapting with the introduction of electronic formats of publications.  How this will define the publishing industry is still in its nascent stages; how this will impact prospective authors is still anyone's game.

What does this mean for me?  Well, my darling manuscript at the moment is the first of a hopeful series tentatively called the Ochra Cycle.  I retooled it and reworked it from the initial behemoth of 182k words – yeah, that sucker was over 700 pages long.  Looking back at the first draft, I shake my head.  Ludicrous, ridiculous in more places than I care to admit, and a number of other choice adjectives come to mind.  Heck, it was painful to read.  The current version is down to around 90k – less than half – and better by an immeasurable magnitude.  More characters, sub-plots galore that actually reinforce the main story line, and a bit of key research missing finally found and applied.

I can’t wait to get it out there.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

2012 – Books Read in Review

Something I picked up from another site, I thought I'd take the chance to review all the books I've read over the passed 12 months.  It appears a fair amount, and an acclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction.  Who knew?

1. The Eisenhorn Trilogy (Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus), by Dan Abnett (8/10 each).  One of the seminal series for the Warhammer 40k novels, Dan Abnett takes us away from the grand armies and elite Space Marines clashing against titanic enemies and world-spanning conflict.  This espionage, crime thriller set in the far future does a marvellous job of expanding the everyday setting that the tabletop game is based on.  A really fun read with a great cast of fallible but supremely dedicated characters.

2. D-Day to Carpiquet (The North Shore Regiment and the Liberation of Europe), by Marc Milner (7/10).  This one was something of a professional development read.  It accounts the history of my Regiment’s advance through the landing at Normandy, through northern France and up into Belgium/Germany.  There are a lot of great stories within that frankly translate very easily to fantasy and science fiction.

3. The Way of the Samurai, by Inozo Nitobe (8/10).  Another notable review of samurai history, customs and culture of the era.  It covers content ranging from bushido as an ethical system to the samurai concepts of politeness, duty and loyalty, sincerity, as well as training and education of the samurai, to a woman’s place in society.

4. The Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite, by Jonathan Clements (9/10).  When writing about a fictional world based on samurai and ancient Asian myth and history, it behoves an author/prospective author to bone up on history.  This book was a great read and a treasure trove of ideas.  It also demonstrated just how much political manoeuvring played into samurai culture before and leading into the Edo period, which largely defines what we currently think of when we think of samurai.  A definite score and forced an entire re-write of my manuscript, which brought it leaps and bounds forward in terms of quality, complexity and characterization.

5. The Warrior’s Way: A Treatise on Military Ethics, by Richard A. Gabriel.  Another professional development read, this was primarily to reinforce some of the ethics lectures I’ve had to present throughout the year.  Adapting this textbook like reference to spec fiction sometimes provides a springboard for more in-depth characterization, particularly how to reinforce villainous activities.

6. Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein (10/10).  This was almost a dare from someone on the Writers of the Future boards.  I couldn’t help but admit that, after watching the film, the book held relatively little interest.  Once I got past the first page, I couldn’t believe my folly for not picking this up sooner.  Heinlein got both the military training atmosphere down to a ‘tee’ and he developed the character’s motivations in ultimately believable ways that anyone in the military would immediately identify with.  The over-arching themes and story arcs blended beautifully into an instant favourite of mine.

7. The Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (8/10).  Off another recommendation, this book literally took me three days to read over summer holidays.  It was that engaging.  The Arabic style setting is richly detailed and the characters involved play off each other really well.  The magic system and the main character (a fat old man desperate to retire) are very different from the norm.  I can’t wait to see if a follow-up novel is offered.

8. The Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay), by Suzanne Collins (9/10 for the first two, 6/10 for Mockinjay). I’ll be the first to admit that YA is not typically my thing; I bought this post-apocalyptic trilogy for my Kobo on sale.  I couldn’t put it down.  The play involved within the arena and the characters building up to the conflict were outrageous but well characterized.  The first two books were incredibly well done, while the third is something of a let-down.  Of note, I was impressed in the film adaptation, and equally surprisingly, so was my wife.

9. Ashes of a Black Forest, by Chris Evans (7/10).  Completing the escapades of an Elf leading a human regiment of musket bearing soldiers against a magical enemy threatening to take over the world, there are some really great characters herein.  A good twist on the norm, it’s 19th century technology and strategy meets Lord of the Rings.  A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

10. Helfort’s War Book 4: The Battle for Commitment Planet, by Graham Sharp Paul (7/10).  Not a huge fan of space operas and grand space fleet conflicts, this series was a definite and refreshing surprise.  The fourth book really departed from the first three, which I know upset a lot of his readers.  Personally I thought it was a brilliant departure and the tactics and politics involved in the insurgency on Commitment Planet, as well as Helfort’s involvement, were well played.  The only critique I must agree with is the Mary Sue-ism that Helfort’s character seemed to fall into.  That said, book 5 is on my ‘To Read’ list.

11. The Gathering Dark, and Walking Nightmares, by Christopher Golden (8/10 each).  After the initial trilogy, which I admit to rereading and enjoying much less than before, thus starts the new adventures of Peter Octavian, former vampire turned mage.  It builds on the original trilogy, taking the vampire mythos and turning it sideways in a very refreshing twist.  The new demons and enemies encountered are really wild and unique, each more than a match for Octavian alone; and there are still rogue vampires out there to deal with.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Year, Five Resolutions

So we’ve made it into 2013 and proven the Mayans are right up there with Nostredamus and a series of recent quacks coming out of the woodwork predicting the end is nigh.  The sky isn’t on fire, oceans aren’t boiling or bloody red, cats aren’t sleeping with dogs and the only grogs I’ve seen lately was a recent visit to the Montreal Biodome. So I guess we’re good.

Having spent New Year’s in Montreal, we spent a lot of time with my brother-in-law and his family; we don’t get to see them that often, so this was a treat for my wife and our kids.  One of the things my brother-in-law’s wife mentioned was a tradition from Peru, something they do in her family each New Year – resolutions.  My first reaction was to groan inwardly.  Then she explained how members of the family did five resolutions, wrote them down and gave them to their significant other or posted it.  Five instead of one?  Sounded like a greater chance of failure to me.  The other family members would police the resolutions in an effort to support the others, effectively making the list a semi-contract, with any number of people to watch out and keep you honest.

My wife and I hooked on to this idea and exchanged our lists.  Needless to say, one of them was my lack of commitment in my writing.  This is easily supported by a fairly close-supervising and high standard expecting boss, which has led to more than a few 60+ hour work weeks.  Well, this is no longer an excuse and my wife, Caroline, will be doing her darndest to keep me typing.

So, with a view to getting things started, here is the pertinent resolution:

I’ve committed to a blog a week, in addition to completing the last edit of my fantasy manuscript and no less than two short stories, with a view to submitting all before the close of 2013.

May the New Year be prosperous and peaceful.