Tag Archives: science fiction

Everything is Becoming Science Fiction

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”

J. G. Ballard


I remember squabbling with a friend at fourteen over video games. I told him that someday every video game would be, at its core, a role-playing game. I argued that it was the natural evolution of the platform. (We didn’t use terms like “evolution” and “platform,” but you get the idea.) He disagreed. Here we are, decades later and everything from shooters to sports games to driving sims has role-playing elements. This quote from Ballard reminds me of that argument. As humanity continues to progress, what was once science fiction is now just modern life. The lines between science fiction and today’s reality have blurred. We’re seeing that blurring within fiction as well.

Far Alamo - a short film by Fabrice Mathieu

Far Alamo – A Short Film

It will come as no surprise that I was delighted by Fabrice Mathieu’s mashup of John Wayne’s The Alamo and Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. It’s the combo I never thought I needed and I found it delightful and incredibly well done. I shared it on Twitter earlier today, but it needed to be shared here as well. Someone give Mathieu the funding to make this a feature-length film, please.

You can see more of Mathieu’s work on Vimeo and make sure to follow him over on Twitter.

China Miéville

Fantasy As A Challenge

“When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien’s innumerable heirs. Call it ‘epic’, or ‘high’, or ‘genre’ fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.

Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can’t ignore it, so don’t even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there’s a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien’s clichés—elves ‘n’ dwarfs ‘n’ magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was ‘consolation’, thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.

That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.

Of course I’m not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it’s impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick’s superb IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?

Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it’s getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy’s radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they’re not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.

The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we’re entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn’t been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’m excited. This is a radical literature. It’s the literature we most deserve.”

China Miéville


I don’t usually post quotes this long, but as I’ve been working on Coal Belly, and after publishing my essay on problematic fiction this quote from 2002 has been kicking around in my head. (Originally from here, but it’s been modified over the years.)

My work has frequently been described as “difficult to categorize”—and while I label the Bell Forging Cycle as urban fantasy for simplicity, it’s no secret that its more accurate description is much more complicated. I revel in this, genre classification is boring at best and writing dangerous or challenging fiction within the “Next Wave” the “New Weird” or whatever we want to call it is exactly where I want to be as a writer.

💀🦑💀

Your Fav is Problematic—That's Okay

Your Fave is Problematic—That’s Okay

My favorite character from A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic, is Jaime Lannister, the heir to the Lannister family, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and an all-around terrible person. No, really. There are forum threads dedicated to his awfulness, and I don’t disagree with anything they say. He is awful; that’s not up for debate. But I don’t care; I still like him. There is something about his wit, his tenacity, his strange sense of honor, and his odd drive to do right by his family that draws me in as a reader. He’s my favorite.

In his Banquet Speech, William Faulkner observes good writing as “the human heart in conflict with itself.” I adore that line. As a character, Jamie embodies that for me. There is so much to loathe but a lot to like. It makes him complicated, and it makes him human. However, in some circles, my statement draws ire. How can I enjoy reading about someone so terrible? After all, he is someone who symbolizes the opposite of many values I hold dear. To those people, it doesn’t make sense; it feels two-faced and hypocritical.


“...the human heart in conflict with itself...”


These voices are nothing new. I remember hearing them as a kid from conservatives, and I’ve heard them as an adult from progressives. Recently they’ve become particularly pronounced on social media, shouting down and hunting those who dare explore life through the lens of problematic fiction. Over the last few years, I’ve seen several authors attacked—on social media, within articles, in reviews, and on blogs. Fans have gone after them for the problematic circumstances, events, and behavior of characters within their novels. It’s not surprising; it’s an extension of the same attitude we have seen play out in the social sphere. In addition to holding real-life humans accountable, fandom is now trying to hold fiction accountable.

In 2016, the internet was in a frenzy over one of the questioners from the second presidential debate, Ken Bone, a power plant operator from Illinois. Overnight, he became an internet sensation. He saw endorsement deals, a “Bone Zone” T-shirt line, appearances on ESPN, and was satirized during a Saturday Night Live cold open. But like all people, Ken Bone was human, and soon his heroism was tarnished. Afterwards, Katie Rogers of The New York Times wrote an excellent article exploring his rise and fall from fame titled “We May Be Leaving the Ken Bone Zone.” The article discussed the depth in which people investigated, and eventually exposed all of Ken Bone’s history-both positive and negative. Within the article, there was a line that struck me regarding the fragility of the internet. One I found myself mulling over and over. That line? “The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance.”


“The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance.”


Within some fandoms and genres[1], there is this strange narrative forming that our heroes, and largely our fiction, need to be morally and ethically pure. It leads to the belief that fiction shouldn’t have flawed characters, or focus on stories with plotlines that wrestle with difficult themes. And heaven forbid those characters don’t get their comeuppance, and those themes don’t get resolved satisfactorily. That sort of nuance doesn’t play in the fandom echo chamber.

This leads back to Rogers’ statement: She’s not wrong. The echo chamber doesn’t do nuance. The internet, in particular, abhors it. Nuance is challenging. Nuance requires you to read the whole article, not just the headline. Nuance wants you to put aside your initial emotions and reflect. It forces you to observe the entire character, rather than their action at a particular moment. It loves to do nothing more than draw lines in the sand and force others to step over and pick a side. You are this, and I am that. You’re bad; I’m good.

In early January, Fonda Lee, the author of Jade City (Go read it; it’s good.), had a great little thread on Twitter separating fiction into “the world as it is” or “the world as you wish it to be.” We can call these the mirror and the beacon. The beacon, as Lee says, shows us the world as it could be. It’s aspirational, the shining city on a hill[2]. While the mirror forces us to wrestle with the ugliness of reality and its contradictions, it also takes Faulkner’s approach to fiction—it forces the heart to go to war.

If you’ve sat in on any of my panels, you might have heard me mention that one of the reasons I love genre fiction is that it allows us a place to explore difficult—and often challenging—ideas. Books can be closed and put away. However, that doesn’t mean the themes and ideas held within the pages won’t be disturbing. It also doesn’t mean characters won’t say vile things or perform despicable acts. Often both will happen, and sometimes the results might not align with the reader’s worldview. Here be dragons, after all.

I think grappling, as both a reader and a writer, with challenging ideas, plots, and characters are necessary for a vibrant fictive landscape[3]. It’s also faithful to humanity; human history is rich in dichotomy. Nothing with people is ever black and white. People let you down as often as they impress you. That’s what makes them people. That’s what makes love, love. Love goes beyond the faults. It forgives in spite of transgressions.


“It’s about good people doing bad things for good reasons, and bad people doing good things for bad reasons.”


Lately, when someone asks me what my manuscript Coal Belly is about, I often have a simple answer: “It’s about good people doing bad things for good reasons, and bad people doing good things for bad reasons.” I want that complexity in my work. I want people to like a character, yet struggle with their decisions. I want to explore the gray. It’s why fiction like The Lord of the Rings[4] or The Chronicles of Narnia never drew me in the same way as other fantasy novels. The villains were too villainous, the heroes too heroic. The points made were too explicit and too heavy-handed.

That works for some readers. They’re both fine examples of the beacon, and some people want that in their escapism. However, to me, it comes across as patronizing and quixotic.

Mikey Numan, in his review of the Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke, described its cast of characters thusly: “No villains; only viewpoints.” This means that within the movie, “evil” or the concept of “bad” becomes a byproduct of the characters’ behavior; even the good, well-intentioned characters say and do problematic things[5]. In reality, villains don’t see themselves as villains, and heroes aren’t always heroic. I am more intrigued by stories willing to take this stance, stories that ask difficult questions and force me—the reader—to decide rather than go out of its way to hammer home a particular point.


“No villains; only viewpoints.”


Some people aren’t keen on being uncomfortable. What is an engaging plot point for one person might be disturbing for another. That’s okay. Fiction is like food; not everyone’s tastes are the same. However, that doesn’t mean that we should restrict one set of narratives in favor of the other. Nor does it mean that challenging fiction is inherently bad. The existence of characters and circumstances that are problematic aren’t excusing harmful behavior. Neither are they praising or glorifying the legitimate evils of the past. They’re merely an observation. Good fiction interweaves those challenges into its prose. Sharing points of view, circumstances, and experiences[6] through fiction gives us a place to build both empathy and sympathy. It can help to expose us to other walks of life, and it lets us explore the viewpoints of others—viewpoints that we might not have access to in our everyday lives.

For many readers and some fandoms, it seems that, unless the writer features a Jim Halpert, who slowly turns and stares at the camera as punctuation for what is absurd or offensive, we’re unable to parse it for ourselves. It was funny in The Office, but I loathe it in my fiction. I’m not into passive consumption. I don’t want or need my hand to be held as I read a book. I want the challenge. I want nuance. I want to struggle with my emotions about characters. I want to be offended and shocked. I want to be pushed and made uncomfortable. I want a place where the world’s imperfections are mirrored and explored. I want problematic fiction, with problematic circumstances, filled with problematic characters, experiencing problematic viewpoints. I want to get out of my small echo chamber and explore the vastness of humanity—warts and all. Within the mirror, reconciling those things isn’t easy and isn’t supposed to be. This is why we have fiction. This is why we tell stories. This is what fandoms and the echo chambers need. This is why Jamie Lannisters exist. So, let our hearts be in conflict.


Let our hearts be in conflict.


1 Most notably, Young adult and New adult but it’s bled into Sci-fi and Fantasy. Also, soapbox moment here… New adult features protagonists ‘between the ages of 18-30.’ Look, I’m 36 right now, so this is an old-man-shaking-his-fist-at-clouds thing, but at 30 you ain’t a new adult.

2 Thanks, Gipper.

3 Also for emotional maturity, but more on that later.

4 There are a few exceptions here, most notably: Boromir, he is an incredibly complex personality, and arguably the best character in the series. Yeah, I went there.

5 It’s a great review and a pretty solid film. I say this as a guy who is not a fan of Miyazaki movies.

6 And discussing them. Please, discuss away! Dialog is vital and important. You could argue that discussion is why complex fiction exists. It wants to be talked about.


[Note:] I originally published this article with the title “Your Fav is Problematic—That’s Okay.” While either is technically correct, I have since changed the “Fav” to “Fave” to closer align with the Problematic Fave meme.


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Friday Link Pack - 09/25/2015

Friday Link Pack 09/25/2015

Friday is here! That means it’s time for the Friday Link Pack. Some of these links I’ve mentioned on Twitter this week, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…

RED LITTEN WORLD:

The Red Litten World ARC Giveaway
In celebration of the launch, I am giving away five signed advanced review copies of Red Litten World to five very lucky winners via Goodreads. Signing up is easy. Winners will be selected on October 2nd, a few days before Red Litten World arrives.

First Look: Red Litten World Paperback
Over the weekend, I received the last proof of the trade paperback edition of Red Litten World. It looks absolutely fantastic. Check out some photos and watch a video of the unboxing.

The Red Litten World Instagram Countdown
I’m posting Red Litten World inspired art and exclusive lines from my upcoming novel on Instagram. Check out the first two posts and follow me on Instagram to see more!

WRITING:

Gravity Basics For Sci-fi Authors
Are you writing a sci-fi and want to get the facts around gravity right? Well, author and scientist Dan Koboldt has put together a great post covering the basics of gravity. Nice resource to have. [Thanks to Ben Vanik for this excellent submission.]

Writing Begins With Forgiveness
We have all heard the same advice, “Write every single day.” But what if that advice is actually… wrong? What if the challenge isn’t finding time to write every single day, but actually the discovery of your own writing rhythm. [I’m usually really good about remembering who shared an article, but I cannot for the life of me remember this one. If it was you, contact me and I’ll get you the proper credit.]

72% Of Writers Struggle With THIS
Ideas are cheap, it’s the follow-through that is the toughest. Some great advice from Joe Bunting on what it takes to finish that manuscript. [Thanks to William Munn for sharing.]

NaNoWriMo Cometh – Four Early Tips To Enhance Your Novel Writing
We’re over a month away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepping for success. In this article, I give you four simple tips you can use to give yourself an advantage before you begin.

ART:

The Art Of Kirokaze
I’m a big fan of pixel art, I have even dabbled myself in a past life. So when I saw these amazing pieces by DeviantArt artist, Kirokaze, I knew they’d show up in this week’s Friday Link Pack. Great stuff, both the static and animated versions. My favorite piece right now, probably Red City. (It’s also the featured image at the top of today’s Link Pack.)

With Smiles On Our Lips
The toy company 3A is having an enormous show in Japan right now, headlined by artists like: Ashley Wood, Phil Hale, William Wray, Amanda Visell, and more. There’s a lot of really engaging work from figurines, sculpture, some great prints, and original pieces.

The Art Of Lisa Wright
UK based artist, Lisa Wright, paints figures but the tone in which she paints them carries with them a disconcerting nature that makes each piece hard to pin down. The result is a selection of work that is engaging as it is challenging and ultimately beautiful.

RANDOM:

The Cultural History Of The Hoodie
I am a big fan of the hoodie, maybe it’s my PNW roots, maybe it’s my love of autumn and the winter, but in my opinion there’s not a better garment. This video from Gary Warnett goes into a lot of detail about this garments history and the baggage associated.

New Discoveries Could Explain What Happened To Roanoke
The lost colony of Roanoke might be one of America’s biggest mysteries, but a recent archeological dig referred to as Sight X could hold the clues that will help unravel the mystery.

The Coddling Of The American Mind
“In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.” Great piece from The Atlantic.

Wherever You Go, Your Personal Cloud Of Microbes Follows
Sorry introverts, as it turns out, we’re never truly alone. You can thank your personal cloud of microbes.

WEIRD WIKIPEDIA:

Alien Hand Syndrome
“Alien hand syndrome (AHS) is a rare neurological disorder that causes hand movement without the person being aware of what is happening or having control over the action. The afflicted person may sometimes reach for objects and manipulate them without wanting to do so, even to the point of having to use the healthy hand to restrain the alien hand.”

H.P. LOVECRAFT STORY OF THE WEEK:

Supernatural Horror In Literature
Not a story this time but a long essay on the state of supernatural horror and the gothic novel during Lovecraft’s time. The essay has its list of critics (M. R. James being one) and its champions (David G. Hartwell, Edmund Wilson). Even if you end up loathing it, it’s worth a read, just to get at the core of Lovecraft’s feelings on horror.

GIF OF THE WEEK:
Hey, Red Litten World is coming. I don't know if you noticed, but notice.

Friday Link Pack 02-06-2015

Hear ye, hear ye! Today is the day of Frigg, or as we now know it, Friday. That means it’s time to share a few links I’ve found over the last few days. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! All right, let’s get to it…

Writing:

Wordslingers: An Interview With K.M. Alexander
I’ve done a few interviews in the past. But I have to say my interview with S. Lee Benedict has to be one of my favorites. He asks me some of the best questions I’ve ever been asked during an interview, ended up being a lot of fun. Also make sure you check out Benedict’s own novel, The Heart Thief.

S. L. Huang On The Subject Of Unlikable Women Protagonists
Why do the unlikeable protagonists always have to be men? In her guest post for Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds, author S. L. Huang makes a case appealing for more varied female characters.

To Kill a Mockingbird sequel Go Set a Watchman coming in July
In what has been heralded as the greatest literary news of the year Harper Lee returns to literature after  55 years. And you thought George R. R. Martin was slow. (I can’t take credit for that joke, this fake GRRM twitter account can.)

Oh Noes, The Sky Is Falling
Despite the hand wringing from Publishers Weekly about the decline in science fiction sales, writer Amanda Green explains how science fiction isn’t dead, it’s more alive than ever. (Also, who cares what the Publisher’s Weekly frets about, tell the story you want to tell.)

The Real Science Of Science Fiction
Great piece from the The Guardian on the co-dependency between science and science fiction and how each influences the other.

Art:

Overlooked Details: An Artist’s Journey
A short documentary from filmmaker Scott Wilson about what it takes to be a creative. It’s not just talent. It will never be perfect. And success is not a destination. Starring my wife, Kari-Lise Alexander, our friend Steve Leroux, and even little ol’ me!

Sam Wolfe Connelly: Winter Selections
If you follow me on Pinterest you’ve seen some of Connelly’s incredible and creepy paintings before. Beautiful Bizarre Magazine highlights some of his latest works and some of his classic pieces. I love this stuff. [Thanks to Kari-Lise for sharing this with me.]

Random:

The Creepiest Things You Can Do on Facebook
Yep, this made me laugh. Also, filed under: things I’m going to try out with my sister-in-laws. (They don’t read my blog, so I’m safe.)

The NFL Cleanse
Over the course of a single week, Ruth Baron ate all sixty-two of the fast-food meals advertised during the playoffs. RIP Ruth Baron.

The Psychological Difference Between $12.00 And $11.67
A fascinating look at the effect of pricing on people. Something to consider when you price your own creative work perhaps?

Royalty, Espionage, and Erotica: Secrets of the World’s Tiniest Photographs
Photo Sharing isn’t a new concept apparently, eat your heart out Instagram.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

The Crawling Chaos
“It is the end. They have come down through the gloaming from the stars. Now all is over, and beyond the Arinurian streams we shall dwell blissfully in Teloe.”

Opium’s a hell of a drug.

Gif of the Week:
Googly eyes solve everything!