Missing Science Fiction?

Someone who will remain nameless suggested that agents are pushing their science fiction authors to write fantasy. As I know of at least two high profile promising authors who have done exactly that I have to take this suggestion seriously.

True, fantasy books earn more than science fiction because the genre has a wider readership. So I can’t blame agents and ultimately the publishers if they are doing this.

The issue is this – if fantasy is taking some of the best science fiction authors away from the genre, then science fiction is losing out big time. This would be absolutely criminal. Authors write their best if they are happy with what they are writing and pushing them towards another genre, albeit closely related, will detract from their happiness. The corollary is that fantasy is not getting the best stories they possibly can and that the fantasy readership are content overall with a lesser standard than they could and should have.

But let us look at the wider picture.

At the moment there are a lot of techno-thrillers and what I call Solar System limited space opera coming onto the science fiction market. They are both a reaction to scientific and investment pushes, the first to the development of the internet of things and its close relations and the second to the political push to return to the Moon and land on Mars. The techno-thrillers will have their reign, but I do not expect that to last more than a few years as I’m seeing reports that the technology introductions from that discipline are slowing down. The close space opera theme will only thrive if there is a continued political push in that direction – and I suspect there will be for socio-economic reasons.

Another influence is the role-playing games side of things. James S A Corey has done well with The Expanse in both the novel and TV series. This was based on RPGs that served to give the series a level of background detail that is missing in most science fiction. It was more than enough to catch the readership’s imagination. Of course RPGs also play into the techno-thriller theme mentioned above with its sub-culture of them versus us coming to the fore.

There is a lot of Earth culture pushes in science fiction at the moment e.g. afro-SF. This is how such cultures would deal with the standard themes of aliens and the like. It gives another viewpoint. I’m going to call this the culturism for want of a better word. One thing that is missing is the culturism of societies close the western world ideal (whatever you define the ideal is). The subtle differences and their implications are just not there. Some of the comments I’ve seen about my short story The Ice Man set in Sweden reflect this lack of appreciation.

The techno-thrillers, close space operas, RPG-basis and culturism are all the hot themes at the moment. So what is missing?

Let’s not talk about what I call the continuance of the once-hot themes such a dystopias, alternative histories and cli-fi (climate fiction). They will continue to be churned out as they have a following.

Let’s instead look at what new themes could come up in siren fiction:

  • gene-ism – the impact of altering genes in the human, fauna and flora species
  • engineering impact – the ability to alter our surroundings to make our lives more interesting or easier (this differs from science impact because it takes into account the practicalities that need to be dealt with in the story one way or another)
  • life-differentials – with the difference in life-spans becoming ever greater for various reasons, how are people going to react to each other and why
  • habitat influencing – where the habitat for humans changes and how their physical and mental well-being are affected over the generations

All these themes have been touched upon in precious science fiction stories and I’m sure you can name various stories that cover some aspect of any of the above four themes.

But they have only been touched upon, not gone into in depth or with feeling.

Let me give you an example for engineering impact. The Expanse series (at least the first 3 TV series) lacks space elevators and true space planes, both of which are currently in development by us mere mortals! Instead we have these clumsy shuttles with their noisy thrusters rattling the passengers. Surely they can engineer these shuttles to be much better than the stories say? Yes, Arthur C Clarke did write about the space elevator in The Fountains of Paradisepublished in 1979, so you can say it has been touched upon. But we need an updated version of this story to take into account the significant research and development that has been undertaken since then, and to link its impact in with other science fiction themes in a pragmatic manner. (And while we’re at it, has anyone in the science fiction community used a space elevator to additionally act as a power generator because of the magnetic field differential against height? See what I mean about engineering impact?)

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But some of these stories will never get written if as has been suggested some of the best genre authors are pushed away from science fiction. Which is absolutely criminal. It has to stop, for the good of the development of humanity.

The even more serious point I’m making is there still is a lot of sense of wonder science fiction out there to be written. It is no being given the chance to see paper or electronic print. In part because it is being starved of the talent to write it.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel it is time this changed…

 

Pick of February’s New Sciency SF Novels

Ooo! This is a once every four years type of February with an extra day! So you would expect something special in the sciency science fiction picks of the month, wouldn’t you?

My pick for February is:

Light of Impossible Stars

by Gareth L Powell

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The Blurb:

Award-winning author Gareth L. Powell delivers an explosive conclusion to his epic Embers of War trilogy.

Low on fuel and hunted by the Fleet of Knives, the sentient warship Trouble Dog follows a series of clues that lead her to the Intrusion–an area of space where reality itself becomes unstable. But with human civilisation crumbling, what difference can one battered old ship have against an invincible armada?

Meanwhile, Cordelia Pa and her step-brother Michael eke out their existence salvaging artefacts from an alien city. But when Cordelia is snatched from her home, she begins a journey that will help her understand the strange songs she hears in her head and the strange things that happen around her. What extraordinary affinity does she have for this abandoned alien technology, and how can it possibly help the Trouble Dog?

The Reason:

I enjoyed Embers of War (which won the BSFA Best Novel award for 2018) and Fleet of Knives (which is currently on the BSFA long-list for 2019  – we haven’t reached the shortlist stage yet). So my expectations are high for the final part of this trilogy.

Of the recurring characters in this saga, I like Nod the best. Nod reminds me so much of my grumpy self that I can easily attune to the character.

As for Trouble Dog… well, she’s kind of cute in her own way as she travels through the known cosmos causing mayhem and chaos in her wake in her own logical way!

Amazon UK link here

Amazon US link here

In Honour of Saint Distaff’s Day…

Well this is a turn up for the books…. my short story, The Ice Man, in the Distaff anthology has reached the British Science Fiction Association’s long list of the 2019 shorter fiction award.

This is alongside four other short stories from the Distaff anthology…

  • The Broken Man by Jane O’Reilly
  • The Colour of Silence by Damaris Browne
  • My Little Mecha by Shellie Horst
  • Ab Initio by Susan Boulton

…and the Distaff anthology cover by Shellie Horst has reached the BSFA’s artwork long list.

As someone else pointed out, over ten percent of the short stories on the long list come from the Distaff anthology.

… and to add to weird coincidences, this is Saint Distaff’s day!

This is a credit to all who helped and contributed to Distaff. Thank you everyone.

Distaff

Amazon UK link here.

New Year, New Look!

Happy New Year to everyone round the world, though I must admit 2020 has got off to a bad start in the arena of world (lack of) diplomacy.

Thanks to the wonderful Shellie Horst, I have a new header. I will be self-publishing The Martian Wind hopefully next month at least in paperback form. It is a novella, which as you can guess from the title, is set on Mars. The blurb for those like me who can’t squint at the header is:

In and Above the Terraformed Chasms of Mars…

Aurora misfires a bolt of the Bolters’ Range into the forest. Unexpectedly, she is accused of murder and being a rebel. The case the Archers have against her is so compelling even her lawyer wants to plea bargain to save her life. But Aurora knows she is innocent.

This is not the only mystery Aurora must solve to gain her freedom…

Pipes supply air, watering nanites to keep the chasms green. Unexpected demands for nanites strains the system. This has to stop or the chasms will revert to dust-blown canyons…

Before you ask, yes a respected publisher did show interest in publishing this novella, but I was not comfortable with them. Others may be, but my personality was not a match to what they expected of their authors.

Don’t worry, I will let you know when The Martian Wind is up on Amazon. You can bet on that!

Why the new look to this website?

The website templates tend to get dropped by wordpress when then become superseded and it pays to update to newer ones before they drop the older ones. Also I am in the process of ‘filing’ my posts by theme. For instance you will now see a page of the recommended new sciency science fiction novels, which is updated by moving month old posts to the top of the stream. Pages on other themes will be added from time to time, which in due course will leave the posts as a news stream.

I have just received the final proof for checking for my short story Rings Around Saturn that is to be published in Kzine issue 26 on 28th January. Saturn is the last planet for me to get a published story out on. When the contracts allow, I will be publishing an anthology of eight short stories, one for each of the planets, but that is sometime in the future. This is more to keep a public record of some of the stories that are no longer available to the public for various reasons e.g. it was in a monthly magazine, than anything else. A full list of my published stories can be found on my stories page.

May 2020 be kinder to us all!

 

 

 

Looking Backward for Future SF

We are now in the final hours of 2019,which for so many people has turned out to be an absolutely dreadful year. No ifs or buts, it has been disastrously awful, and will, like 1978 be remembered as such by many generations to come.

Nevertheless thoughts at this time turn to the past. For those that know me I did weird connection thingy I do sometimes. I can’t explain how I do it, I just do.

Over the period of about 50 years, Sweden lost three great people under mysterious circumstances.

  • Raoul Gustav Wallenberg disappeared on 17th January 1945 – He is remembered for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the later stages of World War II. During the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained by SMERCH on suspicion of spying and subsequently vanished. He was later reported to have died on 17 July 1947 while imprisoned by the KGB in the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters. The motives behind Wallenberg’s arrest and imprisonment by the Soviet government, along with questions surrounding the circumstances of his death and his ties to US intelligence, remain mysterious and are the subject of continued speculation.
  • Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld served as the second Secretary General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld is the youngest person to have held the post, at an age of 47 years upon his appointment. His second term was cut short when he died in the crash of his DC-6 airplane on 18th September 1961 (whose cause is still disputed) while en route to ceasefire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. He is one of only four people to be awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize.
  • Sven Olof Joachim Palme was a Swedish politician and statesman who led the Swedish Social Democratic Party  from 1969 until his assassination in 1986, and was twice Sweden’s Prime Minister,  from 1969 to 1976 and from 1982 until his death. While leader of the opposition, he parted domestic and international interests and served as special mediator of the United Nations in the Iran-Iraq War , and was President of the Nordic Council  in 1979. Palme was murdered  on a Stockholm street on 28th February 1986. Although local convict and addict Christer Peterson was initially convicted of the murder, he was later acquitted on appeal. So we still do not know who murdered Palme.

Doesn’t look like anything connects any of these people at first sight. But they were all heavily involved in foreign politics trying to bring peace and save people’s lives in what was to them foreign parts of the world. And between them they had many successes. They  were a kind of international rescue team in world politics.

It would not surprise me if what happened to these people helped lead to and maintain the Swedish noir detective stories over the decades. After all unsolved mysteries are the food of such a genre.

But what if – yes that famous instigator question of all science fiction stories – what if we could connect them fictionally into a story? What if we could, without necessarily changing the major facts of the world, make them into the political equivalent of Marvel’s Agents of Shield? Wouldn’t it make a heck of a story?

And what if, that political international rescue team was still in existence today, quietly working away in the background? And what if it was there in the future as well?

The far future is not all that new. Think Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

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Yes, I could write that novel or should I say trilogy because it certainly has enough power to push into a trilogy. But I have other interesting stuff to write. So call this my 2019 New Year’s Eve present to would be and established science fiction writers – this theme really has some oomph behind it and if you look into the Swedish psyche there is more than enough material to work on – believe me.

 

 

What now for my 2020 SF?

It seems everyone I know has had a sadder 2019 Christmas than in previous years. There is definitely something yucky in the air, a sort of miasma of misery, which is enhanced by all the rain and grey clouds we’ve been having in the UK (though Orion did poke through the clouds last night). It seems best if we can put 2019 to bed and forget as much as we can about its sad effects. Unfortunately with various hangovers that is not going to happen any time soon. But what can be done is to look forward to some good things in 2020.

January will be off to a good start for me in that Kzine will be publishing my short story Rings Around Saturn. I’ll ‘remind you’ (more like shout it from the rooftops) nearer the time.

February if all goes well will see me self-publish The Martian Wind. And I’ll ‘remind you’ etc.

February will also see the concluding novel of Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War trilogy –  Light of Impossible Stars. So something to look forward to reading-wise. (I wonder how grumpy Nod has become?)

I’ve no anthologies planned for 2020 – the 2019 anthology I was involved in Distaff continues its steady sales, which is good news for the authors concerned. One thing we’ve been told its that it has recouped its launch etc costs – in fact it recouped its costs within a month of being published – so those who kindly gave us launch cost loans will be repaid due course – thank you – you know who you are. So this means I’ll have no sleepless nights worrying about not repaying the loans in 2020. A good thing me thinks.

Distaff

So all in all science fiction wise a promising start to 2020.

Of course I’ll continue to review novels for the sfcrowsnest website… oh didn’t I tell you that I had joined their team of reviewers? Well I’m one of those that likes to just get on with things. (The novels I’ll be reviewing are co-ordinated by their Web-Meister of reviews, so please don’t ask me to review your novels for this website – I’ll refuse point blank.)

I had hoped to finish the first draft of a novel I’m currently rewriting from a different point of view by the end of 2019. It ain’t going to happen. I’m about 15k words short, but with it 85 percent complete, it will definitely be finished in 2020. Then the editing etc can begin.

So that leaves decisions about exciting new projects. What is likely my take my fancy for 2020?

Well, I’ve been working on some background themes for a totally new novel during 2019. It’s got to stage where those thoughts are throwing up some really interesting ideas – the WHAT-THE-HECK type of ideas. I think I might spend some time trying to come with novel plot lines for this… or these… novels.

Short story wise – nothing seems to be singing to me at the moment. Yes I do have a weird idea, but I haven’t hit on a plot line to make it into a story yet. Working on that.

Otherwise, it’ll be a let’s see what 2020 brings on my personal science fiction front.

Happy science fiction reading and writing for 2020 to you all.

 

 

 

A Decade of Science Fiction

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If someone had told me how I would end this decade at the start of it, I would not have believed them. Gordon Brown was Prime Minister in the UK and we were struggling through that awful financial crash. The prospects looked grim, with unemployment high. The country was struggling, or so we thought then. But we have now had ten years of ‘austerity’ measures with all the consequences that entails, including Brexit – yes austerity was one of the pushes for Brexit and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

But I’m not here to review the state of country during the last ten years, but the state of science fiction over the past decade – 2010 – 2019 inclusive.

What I find fascinating is the standout novel was Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which was not only popular with the science fiction readership, but won all the major awards in 2014. It’s a space opera with a significant dollop of cyber-stuff. (I’m calling cyber-stuff because it does not bring with it darkness associated with cyberpunk.)

Anne went on to complete her trilogy with Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, with the former being awarded BSFA’s best novel for 2015.

But what made Ancillary Justice so popular?

To me it was an overdue backlash against the literary and dystopian tendencies which continued to fight for front and centre for the rest of the decade. And that fight has continued for the rest of the decade, in part because there is renewed interest in trying to get into space. We have commercial ventures designing rockets, spaceplanes and space elevators to take people into space. No more stop-go space projects on the whim of politicians. A steady interest in the here and now of the commercially feasible fuelling the imaginative tomorrow in the Solar System.

But Ancillary Justice did not quite come out of nowhere. The ground-breaking Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey was published in 2012 to great acclaim. This turned out to be the first in the Expanse series of realistic space fiction. It was based on a background of role playing games that had developed a heck of a lot of background. The Expanse is now enjoying its fourth TV series (but note the TV series has significantly different subplots to the novels).

As I noted previously, the literary and dystopia sub-genres are fighting back to retain their lead position in science fiction, but whether it is wishful thinking on my part or not, they seem to be gradually losing the battle. They will never completely disappear, but I feel they have had too much attention for their natural place in the genre.

Of the near future novels, the up and up theme is the consequences of the internet. This is because there have been so many technological changes in this area over the last few decades that people want to know what the impact is.

A very good read on the potential impact of big data computing is Everything About You by Heather Child that came out last year. However, this novel is limited computing-wise to big data and does not really cover other areas of computing. What we have not yet really seen in science fiction is the extrapolative development of multiple branches of computing and how they can interact with each other. Yes, we have seen the idealistic humanisation of computers, but that is wishful thinking and very limited in scope. (No, I’m not joking here – wish I were! My head hurts when I think about this subject!) However this decade will be seen as the one that built the groundwork for such science fiction.

I feel the alternative history sub-genre has been taken over by the Marvel comics super-hero films – Captain America et al. Yes, they are good fun and I have enjoyed watching them. But the deep messages of alternative histories are not what they used to be.

One of what I call the disturbing trends is what I call the retro-SF, or science fiction that looks back at that of previous eras such as the 1950s becoming more prevalent. It’s a nostalgia binge as if people are hiding from the reality of the present day or do not want to look too closely into their own future.

The one area that saw a fair number of novels during the first part of the decade was climate change. It even got its own sub-genre name – Cli-Fi. Now that it seems climate change has started becoming a reality, the non-dystopian ones seem to have all but vanished. This is definitely one sub-genre that is falling short within science fiction.

But the good news is that science fiction is still going strong even if its emphasis has changed after another decade.