Tag Archives: science fiction

How to Write Good Flash Fiction & Announcing “When the World Stopped”

Quick post this week to share two pieces of exciting news.

First, I have another flash fiction story out–my first pro sale! It’s magical realism, titled “When the World Stopped”, and you can read it for free at the Daily Science Fiction e-zine. (Flash fiction is defined as a really short story. This one is a little under 600 words, plus the bonus “making of” blurb at the end.)

Second, if you want to polish your own flash fiction writing skills (or are just curious about what goes into making a really short story effective), you’re in luck! Last weekend I was a guest at an online seminar on writing flash fiction, a roundtable hosted on Facebook by the website Queer Sci Fi. Read the results here: How to Write Good Flash Fiction.

Now I have no more pending publication announcements, so I need to get busy and write some more shorts…

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Reading Recap: 2017

blog-Kindred-coverHere I am to return this blog to its non-marketing roots! My most popular posts are the ones where I geek out about books and movies, with occasional appearances by travel posts. Luckily for you, that’s exactly what I have planned. To kick things off, here’s Part 1 of my annual reading recap (read my 2016 reading recap).

I read 21 books last year, one more than the previous year. That’s a little lower than past years, but it seems to be my new normal.

Genre breakdown is as follows:

  • 6 adult fantasy (same as the last 3 years!)
  • 4 adult SF (same as last year)
  • 3 unclassifiable/other adult speculative fiction* (2 last year)
  • 2 YA fantasy (same as last year)
  • 1 YA SF (same as last year)
  • 2 non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year)
  • 2 non-fiction (1 last year)
  • 1 anthology (same as last year)

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17* This includes genre mashups like Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (near-future vampire apocalypse) and Erin Zarro’s Ever Touched (futuristic world with fey), as well as stories where something inexplicable happens but it’s not clearly treated as either SF or fantasy, like Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I usually put magic realism and other literary stories into this category as well.

13 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my genre reading. In last year’s post, I declared my intention to focus on series I was already in the middle of. That had middling success – I started 7 new series. (Some of them I won’t be continuing.) I didn’t actually finish any series, but I read 4 middle books of series with defined ends (trilogies or tetralogies). So 2018 will be the year of finishing. …And starting more new series, because who am I kidding?

Author Breakdown

14 of 20 books were by women (the 21st was an anthology), a slightly higher ratio than my reading in most years. I attribute that to the political climate.

blog-Profession-of-Hope-Butler4 of the authors were people of colour, one more than last year – Tobias Buckell (Crystal Rain), Jenna Butler (A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and Octavia Butler (Kindred).

Only 2 of the books were by fellow Canadians. That wasn’t a metric I was particularly paying attention to this past year.

6 of the books had strong LGBTQIA+ representation – my new metric to track.

11 of the authors were new to me, same as last year. I love discovering new favourites, but it does explain why I’m not getting through the backlists of authors I already know and love! This year will require more Lois McMaster Bujold, Naomi Novik, and Elizabeth Bear.

Publishing Years and Formats

Of the 21 books I read, only 7 were published in the last 5 years (and 17 were published in the last 15 years). That’s slightly better than last year (5 and 11 respectively), but still not good for a writer like me, who needs to keep up with the market. I’m pretty good at hearing about new books, but not so good at reading them in a timely fashion!

blog-Twelve-Cronin15/21 were ebooks, or 71% – the highest ratio of ebooks to paper books ever (I’ve had a Kobo ereader since 2012).

This is for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is that a lot of books in my genre are no longer coming out in mass market paperback size, and I find the larger sizes uncomfortable to hold, especially since I do a lot of my reading on public transit, when I may be standing up. I have started buying the occasional trade paperback (mainly in an effort to support my local indie SFF bookstore, Bakka-Phoenix Books), but only the lighter ones – anything that’s bigger or heavier gets bought as an ebook. I’m looking at you, Cixin Liu’s and Justin Cronin’s publishers!

 

If you can’t get enough of book stats geekery, check out 2017 Books in Review by my City of Hope and Ruin co-author (and fellow Turtleduck Press author), Kit Campbell. And stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I discuss my favourite reads from 2017…

 

Chappie: Gender Influences At Play

blog-Chappie-Movie-PosterThis weekend I saw two films about the performance of masculinity, coming-of-age stories about struggling with machismo, as well as surrogate fatherhood and flawed role models.

One was the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning Moonlight.

The other was the critically panned Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s answer to Robocop.

I don’t feel qualified to talk about Moonlight (though there’s a great discussion here: “Masculinity and ‘Moonlight’: Eight black men dissect Barry Jenkins’ momentous film”), and besides, this blog is mostly about science fiction and fantasy. So I’ll just say that the accidental juxtaposition of the two films gave me a different lens for Chappie, and one that I think improved the viewing.

In Chappie, an escaped police robot is taught how to behave, how to think, how to be by two very different influences: the cultured but amoral engineer Deon and the countercultural trio Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. (I’d call them punks, but the Internet tells me they’re “Zefs”, the South African equivalent.)

A good chunk of the film revolves around Chappie’s education: Deon brings him paints and books, going for a well-rounded education of the mind, while Ninja teaches him how to swagger, swear, and shoot (and Yolandi provides an unconventional yet feminine, nurturing touch). Chappie veers into feminine pastimes and Ninja tries to “man him up”. Simplistic and played for laughs? Yes, but also poignant, as Chappie tries to navigate these competing influences, please everyone who matters to him, and understand what makes a man.

Deon’s rival at work, Vincent, is yet another representation of masculinity: an ex-soldier full of repressed rage, trying to get approval for his military-grade killer robot, whose ambitions are being held down by his female boss (the fabulous Sigourney Weaver–capable but sadly underused in the role). Deon, slim, bespectacled, and feminized or perhaps asexualized, is everything that Vincent hates.

Chappie’s level of success at integrating these influences determines the outcome of the film…but I won’t spoil it.

If you’re looking for an accurate and nuanced depiction of AI learning, you won’t find it here, but as a more metaphorical exploration of what it means to be a man, Chappie is worth seeing.

 

 

In Defense of Sense8

Apparently I’ve never blogged about Sense8, the Netflix show whose cancellation is making waves in the news this week. Time to correct that…

sense8-trailer-pic

The show first came to my attention because it was created (and written and directed) by the Wachowskis of Matrix fame and J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5. Then I learned about the hyper-diverse cast and concept, and I was sold. It features eight people from all around the world who are telepathically connected. They’re also being hunted by shadowy figures, but the focus is really on their connection, and it’s a joy to watch.

What does a Detroit cop have in common with an Icelandic DJ living in London, or a trans hacker in San Francisco, or a Nairobi bus driver, or a closeted gay Mexican actor, or a Mumbai pharmacist, or a kickboxing business heiress in Seoul, or the son of a mob family in Berlin? Perhaps not much…and yet…

It’s really neat to see all these people who don’t usually get stories, especially not science fiction stories. I know people who identify with one or more of the characters so strongly, and are devastated by the cancellation, because they never get to see themselves onscreen in the genre they love. Of the eight characters in the ensemble, only two are straight white men. The show is L, G, B, T, and Q-positive; it’s even poly-positive. It treats its diverse cast and their homes, families, and cultures with respect.

Granted, the depiction of the San Francisco queer scene is better fleshed out and relies less on obvious tropes than some of the other settings. (Our man in Nairobi is caring for his mother, who has AIDS; there’s a Bollywood-esque dance sequence in Mumbai.) But the tropes are gradually explored and deepened. It’s a start, and better than a start.

You do have to be patient: as noted above, the story is more interested in exploring the slow development of interpersonal connections than in plot or explanations. But there’s plenty of action and excitement as season 1 draws to a close and in the Christmas special. (I haven’t seen season 2 yet.)

And…it’s going away.

There are petitions. Netflix has a “request new material” feature where you can put in “Sense8 season 3”. If you haven’t seen it yet and are interested, now’s the time to watch it so Netflix can see the viewership soar.

Fan mobilization worked to save Star Trek (the original series). Maybe it can work here too.

In author news, I have two things to share!

First, my short story “The Data Carrier” is now posted at Turtleduck Press.

renewal-book-selectionSecond, my flash fiction piece “Urban Renewal” has been accepted to an upcoming anthology published by Queer Sci Fi. The anthology also includes a contest — three winners, judges’ choices, runners-up, and honorable mentions — and the results aren’t out yet, so keep your fingers crossed!

 

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?

Reading Recap: 2015

The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken LiuHi all! I’m sneaking back in after a hiatus, with the aim of posting weekly. To kick things off, here’s my annual reading recap…

Favourite Books of 2015

In no particular order, my favourite books last year were:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Janus by John Park
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Honorable mention: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (reread)

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge questions/twists, either in plot or in worldbuilding, that seem like they could have no possible answer…until they do
  • location, location, location
  • strong narrative voice
  • interpersonal conflicts, not necessarily with a single clear antagonist
  • layered stories – frame stories, tales within tales, etc.

Reading Stats

blog-Janus-coverI have no idea if these statistics fascinate you as much as they do me (if they do, please comment…) but here goes.

In 2015 I read 20 books, 4 fewer than the previous year. Not good! Must correct!

Genre

  • 6 were adult fantasy, 3 were adult SF, and 1 was hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction
  • 2 were YA fantasy, 1 was YA SF, and 1 was YA speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF YA fiction
  • 1 was a book of poetry, and 1 was a graphic novel
  • I read no anthologies for the second year in a row. Or rather, I read parts of two but did not finish. Short fiction is just not my gig right now. I also read parts of two non-fiction books but did not finish them either.

12 of the books were parts of series – almost all of my genre reading. The exceptions were Janus by John Park, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (which almost made my “favourite books” list), and Moonheart by Charles de Lint.

blog-Thirteenth Tale-coverAuthors and Publishing

9 of the authors were male and 11 female – a much more even showing than most years, as I tend to tilt heavily female.

To my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) However, in 2016 the stats will be much better because I’m doing a book-buying challenge – half of all the books I bought in 2015 were by authors of colour. I just haven’t read them yet because my buying is at least a year behind my reading…!

Of the 20 books I read, 14 were published in the last 5 years – a higher ratio than years past, thanks in part to the Turtleduck Press books I read and in part due to a book club I’m part of on Twitter (#20reads — come join!), which tends towards recently published books.

Acquisition

I got 3 books from the library, 2 were e-ARCs (electronic Advance Reader Copies), 2 were rereads, 1 was a gift, and 1 was a loan of a physical book. The other 11 I bought.

11/20 were ebooks – 55%. The ratio of ebooks to physical books I read continues to creep upwards – last year it was 40%, then 33%, then 25% (the first year I had an ereader). I own a smartphone but don’t tend to read books on it; I don’t own a tablet. What I acquire in ebook form breaks down like this:

  • books where the paperback wasn’t out yet and I wanted to buy it right away but didn’t want the hardcover (3)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • e-ARCs (2)
  • library books (2 of the 3 library books I read were ebooks)
  • big fat fantasy novels that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (1 – I’m looking at you, GRRM)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

…argh, I counted something twice there, but I can’t be bothered to go back and figure it out. Ahem.

Your turn! Did you notice any patterns in your reading last year?

 

Reading Challenge: Authors Not Like Me

If you hang out on the Internet a lot, you may have seen this post by K.T. Bradford:

I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year

It’s been the subject of much discussion, which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice to say that I’ve been thinking about it a lot. For several years I’ve been intending to buy and read more “authors not like me”, as John Scalzi puts it, but somehow it keeps not happening.

I do read a lot of female authors — last year was roughly 3/4 female, the year before was more like 60% — but they’re nearly all white, straight (as far as I know), and cisgendered (i.e., not trans).

I think it’s time that changed.

So here’s my highly personal variation on Bradford’s challenge:

For the rest of 2015, more than half the books I buy/otherwise acquire will be by writers not like me: women and men of colour and/or LGBTQ writers.

I’m setting the bar lower than Bradford’s because I know I’ll end up making some exceptions–for example, authors on my auto-buy list, or series I’m in the middle of. Again, most of these are likely to be women, so at least there’s that.

The fine print:

  • I’ll probably keep my reading habits the same in other respects. I read mostly SF and fantasy (both adult and YA) and that’s not likely to change.
  • I said acquire, not read. A lot of the books I read this year will be those that are already on my shelf/ereader, because I don’t want all of them to languish for another year. But at least some of the ones entering the queue will be more diverse, and some of them will get read this year.
  • I may also add other sorts of “not like me”, such as works in translation and/or writers with disabilities — especially if they are also POC or LGBTQ.

In case you’re thinking of a similar challenge, here are some LGBTQ speculative  fiction writers I’ve read and enjoyed:

  • Candas Jane Dorsey (bonus: she’s Canadian)
  • Kelley Eskridge (mini-review here)
  • Nicola Griffith (mini-review here — and I haven’t yet read her latest, the very well-received Hild)
  • Tanya Huff (also Canadian)
  • Ellen Kushner

Writers of colour, ditto:

  • Kathryn Anthony
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Thomas King — okay, technically what he writes is more literary than speculative, but it’s also hilarious and meta. My favourite is Green Grass, Running Water.

Finally, here are some of the SF&F writers of colour on my radar:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed – Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn
Saladin Ahmed
Aliette de Bodard
Tobias Buckell
Octavia Butler
Joyce Chng / J. Damask
Samuel R. Delany
David Anthony Durham
Andrea Hairston
Nalo Hopkinson
Keri Hulme
Ogawa Issui
Chohei Kambayashi
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Malinda Lo (YA)
Marie Lu (YA)
Tahereh Mafi (YA)
Nnedi Okorafor
Helen Oyeyemi
Cindy Pon (YA)
Michelle Sagara / Michelle Sagara West / Michelle West (both YA and adult)
Sofia Samatar
Douglas Smith

Your turn! Would you take Bradford’s challenge or something similar? Who am I missing in that list up there?

Quick administrative note: My short story The Haunting of Heatherbrae Station is now posted at Turtleduck Press. Go! Read! Enjoy!