Progressive Science Fiction – Part 4

27 07 2014


In part 3 discussed the second of the first of the four points below about how the cutting edge science fiction was becoming less available in the shops due to:


  • innovative technology needs more knowledge and understanding than in the past, because we are dealing with a bigger body knowledge, and therefore needs in general more or better explanation of how it affects us humans
  • the more politically correct society limits the subjects we can write about when it comes to political and social science fiction themes
  • ‘new’ places requires more understanding and aligning with sciences to be plausible that requires a lot of work on the part of the writer, which in turn can severely detract from a writer’s income
  • publishers not wanting to publish or push the really innovative science fiction because they want to invest in ‘safe bets’, like something similar to what sold well before

This post goes onto to discuss ‘new’ places…

One of Arthur C Clarke’s strengths as a science fiction writer was describing new places exceedingly well. It didn’t matter whether it was a desolate moonscape or the rich vibrant life of the underwater world, you felt you were there, exploring it with him. In some ways, the late astronomer, Patrick Moore, made his fame by describing what you would see and experience if you were on another real world, using the scientific evidence available at the time.

Naturally, apart from when we improve our knowledge of the other worlds, these descriptions have been ‘in prnt’ for some time now. We are familiar with them, we know them only too well. So to come up with a new, let’s call it worldscape, would take more effort.

Let’s go through what needs to be done these days to make up a new world… a really new world (yes, I’ve done this, but it isn’t published). First of all you need to understand which of the human senses your world is engaging with. Apart from the traditional five senses known to the mediaeval world of sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, there’s senses of balance and temperature.

There is a kind of 8th sense, which I call the sense of the ethereal. It’s the understanding we derive from extrapolating of what we know of our world into what we cannot through any of our senses perceive. We can only interact indirectly with this, but that does not mean there won’t be consequences in our perceivable world.

A person in a spacesuit (if it’s working properly) can only use the senses of sight, gravity and the ethereal. The science fiction world has done sight quite extensively. After all there’s only a limited spectrum of colours and positions in which those colours appear relative to our eyes. Gravity has been played with e.g. Hal Clements, Mission of Gravity. We are only really scratching the surface of our experiences of the ethereal, and even then, it’s been mainly through the medium of quantum mechanics, which in itself has been limited to what science can demonstrate as an immediate consequence.

So if you want to go exploring, it has to something in the gravity domain not written about before or something in the ethereal. Now try imagining anything of this ilk, and even if you can, try describing it. Darned near impossible. Of course, if you can’t get the message across clearly, the publishers won’t, quite rightly, publish your work.

Even if you can, there are still hurdles. We are into this is something really new game and wary publishers, worried about guaranteeing income, will not touch it.

So what is the point of developing a completely new world to experience, putting in all the hard work to make sure you explain very clearly (and had it checked by independent experienced beta readers), and making the effort to overcome nerves to send out the work to potential publishers?

From my personal experience, I have to say none at all. It’ll never get published.  It is this that makes me believe that at least part of science fiction is stuck in a rut. Sorry to end on such depressing note.


The Evidence Continues to Mount Up…

20 07 2014

The issue about the bias against women science fiction and fantasy writers just will not go away. Why? Because it’s a bias that is real, tangible and has evidence.

The latest bit if evidence comes from Juliet McKenna about Waterstones having a bias towards displaying male-authored books. See here. This evidence has been added to by Cheryl Morgan saying that businesses have a bias against women in an indirect way. See here.

Quite frankly, the fact that this is still going on, nearly a hundred years after women earned the right to vote, is disgusting. If the genre can’t be fair and seen to be fair, then it deserves to wither and die. No right-minded citizen would condone such behaviour, and they’ll vote with feet and with what they choose to purchase. 

The trouble is that such actions will take the innocent down with them, the ones who are trying to do a good job, develop their art and generally give good entertainment. And this will happen as society in general becomes more fair-minded and justice-conscious over time, which in turn is a driver for globalisation. [Hint - this is a good theme for a science fiction story.]

And the publishing industry being in an chaotic maelstrom is no excuse. Decent people do not tolerate such biases, rise to the occasion and after a while get rewarded for their acting with honour. What is more, their businesses do well. [Look at history if you want the evidence.]

What I find extremely worrying is the comment on Cheryl’s blog:

 “At Finncon Elizabeth Bear noted that she found UK publishers much more hostile to women SF writers than in the USA.”

When you push the logic through it boils down to this:

The British publishing industry will give way to, be bought out by, whatever, the American publishing industry. End of story.


Free to Enter SF Short Story Competitions

12 07 2014
Sorry this is a bit later than normal… chaotic lifestyle at the moment what with publications, story writing and Loncon3  preparations… Here’s my 6-monthly list of free to enter competitions in alphabetical order – well I don’t want to be accused of favouritism, do I?
a) Baen’s Bar – still going as strong as ever – see here. The editor goes through the subs and if you’re lucky enough to catch his eye it will get published with fee being paid. Be warned, he has very few slots available. But you do get critiques of what you submit from fellow writers.
b) James Patrick Baen Memorial Writing Contest that looks for hard, near future, space-based science fiction –  This competition will open on 1st October 2014 and normally closes mid-February the following year. Word count limit is 8,000.  See here.
c) James White competition- this is an annual competition – it opened on 1st June this year, though I can’t yet see a closing date for this – so keep checking as this seems to be moveable because they need to announce it at Eastercon. See here. Word count limit 6,000.
d) Writers of the Future contest – up to 17,000 words and many budding science fiction writers have worked their through their echelons Open for one story per quarter – unless of course you are successful! Their year ends 30th September. Its forum can be found here.
I don’t know whether it’s me or not, but there seems to be a bias towards the fantasy end of science fiction at the moment… BORING… I wants me raygun… remember some people have claimed that they can beat the diffraction limit that leads to the dispersion of power and diminishes its effectiveness over distance… and if they can bend light the way they say then can, then breaking the diffraction limit looks really feasible… which incidentally has interesting consequences for space travel… Out with the fairies, trolls, orcs, elves, dragons, witches, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, steampunk, backward time travel, fluffy literary science fiction, and in with the technology – real humdinger technologies that are appearing in our world here, now, in the near future…. (OK That’s me grumblings done for now…)

Progressive Science Fiction – Part 3

6 07 2014

In part 2 discussed the first of the first of the four points below about how the cutting edge science fiction was becoming less available in the shops due to:

  • innovative technology needs more knowledge and understanding than in the past, because we are dealing with a bigger body knowledge, and therefore needs in general more or better explanation of how it affects us humans
  • the more politically correct society limits the subjects we can write about when it comes to political and social science fiction themes
  • ‘new’ places requires more understanding and aligning with sciences to be plausible that requires a lot of work on the part of the writer, which in turn can severely detract from a writer’s income
  • publishers not wanting to publish or push the really innovative science fiction because they want to invest in ‘safe bets’, like something similar to what sold well before

Notwithstanding the debate I’m having amongst with my friends who are really into true non-dystopian science fiction (i.e. with no fantasy elements) about inspiration and innovation (or rather the lack of it at the moment), I’m moving onto the influence of politically correctness.

With the onset of global communications and jet-set travel, we have become aware of the traditions and beliefs of many cultures. We have also become aware of what can offend them. As, with the help of globalised e-books, our stories can reach obscure corners of the world (yes, my blog has been read by people in places like Mongolia), we authors try to avoid giving offence to anyone. After all we want to get our books out there, sold and read.

But for some of us, it means deliberately avoiding subjects that we have something to contribute to. But have you ever thought why it’s taboo there, perhaps the surrounding countries and nowhere else?

We all live in different landscapes, ranging from desert, through jungles, mediterranean climates, northern farmland, tundra and onto the ice-sheets and glaciers; from beside the sea, along rivers, into the rolling hills and then mountains. We had to adapt our way of living to these climatic conditions. It means warm clothes for the ice-scapes, being frugal for those areas lacking in abundance (e.g. lack of water in the desert) and our bodies adapting to breathe at higher altitudes (e.g. as the Tibetans do). It’s a no-choicer.

Naturally, some things become taboo, and anathema to those people. They feel instinctively it’s wrong. They react without thinking. And it’s that reaction that our stories, if we were to publish them, would come up against.

The problem is further compounded by zealots. Ones who go overboard in trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of society. What works for one place does not work for another. They will find themselves instinctively rejected.

Furthermore, if people emigrate from one culture to another, they will over time adapt more to their adopted home. Take a look at Britain – despite the Roman, Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, we still adapted to the our climate and how to farm the land, build from local materials and so on….

But it all boils down to us authors limiting what we can write about, or at least the way we can write about some things, even if we want to add healthily to the debate and wider human knowledge.

This in turn cuts of areas of social exploration that would be inspirational.

In some ways science fiction has more freedom than other genres. By setting our stories out of time zone and building a world to suit (e.g. H G Wells’ The Time Machine) we can highlight things that cannot be done in say contemporary fiction. And if we really want to put something risky out there, we can put it into an invented alien culture. Even so, the risk is that it does put people off.

Still, globalisation means we are becoming more and more constrained in what we can offer our readership. We’re losing territory that we would have previously had the freedom to write about.

What to do about it, other than invent aliens as I mentioned earlier? Go into the fantasy realms? I know of at least one author that has done exactly that.

Well…. there might be another way… the singularity – when we can load our minds into computers – is edging towards us (see note below) – if we load human minds, why not animal minds or constructed minds? It would certainly let us see things from another perspective.

Now which taboos would I be breaking if I wrote about any of these ideas….

In the meantime I have added some main authors to my science fiction history diagram below. It needs further development, but I’m getting there…


Note: There have been quite a few predictions that the singularity will happen soon. My caution is that they’ve recently realised that our brains also rely on quantum mechanical processes as well as the electro-chemical neurological processes. So I think the singularity will happen further in the future than is widely speculated. In the meantime, people will try and that means we will end up with part-ghost minds in the machines.




Another Bath Spa Publishing Success on its Way!

1 07 2014

I promised to keep you wonderful informed of publishing successes from fellow students on my MA Creative Writing course at Bath Spa University. Well, next up, to be published on 28th August this year, is Jane Shemlit’s novel ‘Daughter’. You can find more details here… and it’s already getting good reviews. And just look at the cover… Wow!…




She was on one of the courses I was on… so I had the pleasure of reading some early draft pieces of her novel…. even if she playfully elbow me in the ribs on one occasion!

I still remember the day when we handed in our final assignment… our precious half-a-novels that we had slaved on all through the year. We went to the pub for lunch. All of us sat round the table sipping our drinks, too exhausted and blown out of our minds to talk much… except Jane. She was hyper, couldn’t stop chatting, couldn’t wind down. To be honest, I think we welcomed her liveliness that day!

Her novel was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbitt award, which is given annually to the most promising novel on the MA course. I know the winning novel is due to published nest year, but am awaiting confirmation that it will come out on the suggested date before I say anything more. 

Yes, my novel was also one of the very few shortlisted, but as yet has to find someone interested in publishing it… sigh… such is life, the universe and everything.

Progressive Science Fiction – Interim Look Back

22 06 2014

As you good people will realise I’ve been rather overwhelmed with other very good things this week. So I haven’t had chance to put together a more erudite blog for this week. So below, paltry as it is, is all I can offer for now.

In order to understand why progressive science fiction is going to come to the fore, we need to understand how and why science fiction got to the place it did. I’ve drawn a little diagram, based mainly on the accepted understanding of how science developed, but it is still my own interpretation in places.


Note the time scale is not uniform.

When you look at the drivers for each science fiction period and align them to the times they were dominant, you quickly come to realise that a lot of it is in reaction to current issues. Science made massive strides during World War 2. So science fiction grabbed at it to try to work out the implications. Equally the sociology dominant 1950s was at a time when people were getting to used to the fact that the old world order of a class-riven society was gone and were trying to get their heads around the ‘what now?’ issue.

What I call the ‘first great floundering’ around in science fiction began with the New Wave, when science fiction ideas had slowed up enough for the talented writers of the day to search for something new to write about. Literary techniques came to hand. It is from this time onwards that straight forward story telling tended to be replaced by literacised works.

The brief flourish of military science fiction was due in part to the reaction to the Cold War and at the time, its apparent impasse. Needless to say this led on to the US Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) of the mid-1980s.

Cyberpunk was in reaction to the impending computer access by the man in the street. So it was a natural thing to do in science fiction.

But then things kind of slowed again and we now have the ‘second great floundering’. This time science fiction started to go into partnership with its sister genres of fantasy and horror (yuck – horror always sends a shiver down my spine).

So all in all, this diagram shows to me science fiction is, in general, a running commentary on the issues of the day.

Of course, the big question is ‘WHAT NEXT?”

What are the answers to questions like:

  • what is the next big technology that is going impact the ordinary person in the street?
  • how is society changing in reaction to the situation we find ourselves in?
  • where are we going to explore next and what will it be like?


Newsy ‘Stuff’

19 06 2014

I got my Loncon3 draft programme. I didn’t put in for much (had other things to do on my list), but I’m on one panel:


Duelling by Starlight: The Joyful Poetry of Space Opera

Space operas are stories of freedom: from the quotidian, or the logic of history, or the constraints of physics itself … and, often, freedom of the imagination, freedom of the pen. It’s sometimes said that the futures of space opera are fantastical, but when are they poetic? Consider the wit of Iain Banks’ Culture, the baroque of Justina Robson’s Natural History, or the ceaseless invention of Yoon Ha Lee’s mythic tales: how do these writers, and others, use language and narrative structure to liberate and excite us? And in our liberation, what do these writers let us see more clearly?

Robert Reed, Jaine Fenn, Adam Roberts, Elizabeth Bear, Hannu Rajaniemi

Please remember this is DRAFT only.

On another score, my fourth C.A.T. story Space Blind got an honourable mention from the second quarter of the Writers of the Future 2nd quarter contest (and that’s without Terry, bless him, at TWBPress having any editorial input!) So I must be doing something right!!!! Well pleased about this for other (rather complicated) reasons.


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