Archive for the ‘Conventions’ Category

Alien Characters

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Conventions, Reading, Writing

So in my writing about Boskone 49 yesterday, even with all those words I threw down, there was still stuff I wanted to elaborate on. So I’m doing it. All about the aliens.

One of the most important things I got from the panel on Creating Alien Characters was the importance of avoiding Star Trek aliens. I love Trek. I was raised on TNG. It happens. But the aliens are all bipedal humanoids which is practical for filming television but not so much in realistic speculation.

But you can’t talk about what has been done wrong without giving a counter example of what has been done right.

So I’m gonna throw down the three examples that leaped into my head during the panel on aliens that are truly alien.

The first one got nominated for a Nebula today. (check out all the noms in all the categories) Embassytown by China Mieville. The aliens, Ariekei, communicate with more than one mouth. That’s a fundamental part of how they speak and can’t understand human unless they are genetically engineered twins. There’s a part of me that wants to pontificate about it, but the levels of communication are a fundamental part of the story and I don’t want to screw that up for someone who might just now be checking it out. Also setting themselves apart with communication are the Drapsk of Julie Czerneda‘s Trade Pact Trilogy books two and three. They communicate with smells and waving around fuzzy antennae around. Their society is organic but completely unique.

The best example I can give you, frankly surprised the hell out of me that it is available for purchase. Hailing from the dark days of 1980, easily before I was born, is Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward. I think I read this book when I was 12 or 13, a copy that was my parents. I didn’t really read kids books, just theirs. The Cheela are little aliens half a millimeter high because they live on the surface of a neutron star. This is definitely hard SF. Helps when written by an actual astrophysicist. The book details the evolution of the entire race and how the gravity and such effect all of this.

So yeah. I wanted to share some examples of a counterpoint and show off some aliens done well. And I did. Eighteen years since I started reading my parents books because Lord of the Rings was more interesting than kids books, so I’ve read a lot. Out of all those years these aliens are the ones that jump into my noggin as the best nonhumans. I’ve remembered the cheela for fifteen years since I actually read the book. That’s how cool the little guys are.

Enjoy the examples. I did when I read them. I’m going to go use the rest of my words on my new short story. Have at it.

Saturday at Boskone 49

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Conventions, Reading, Writing

So I spent yesterday at Boskone 49, hence the conspicuous absence of stuff yesterday when I’ve been on a roll.

This was the first con I’ve been to which was literary in focus rather than sweaty nerds in costume. Sweaty nerd cons can still be fun, but it was a nice change to go to something with a different age bracket. Driving to Boston, never ever ever would that be something I would recomend to anyone. I had an easier time driving a backwards rental in Dublin than I ever have in Boston. Seriously. Don’t do it. Rhode Island shows up in all the “worst drivers in America” searches but we all blame Massachusetts for that.

Awesome navigation got us there relatively painlessly. That’s a lot of adverbs but it happened.

I ended up going to five panels, bought a few books of said panelists and got a mess of stuff to work into my writing. The panels didn’t always stay on topic, which it was mentioned that they don’t usually. A couple could have stayed on topic better but meh, I enjoyed myself at all of them. I rolled in to Creating Alien Characters, The Writing of Short Fiction, Character and Hard SF, When Underpinnings come Unpinned, and Optimism vs. Darkness in SF. As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed all of them even when they wandered off.

The most helpful panel in terms of my own writing was Creating Alien Characters. This was staffed by Claire Eddy, a Tor editor, Frank Wu, artist with a PhD in bacterial genetics, and authors Benjamin Tate and Michael Flynn. There was a lot of talk about creating motivations and physical appearances that avoided Star Trek style “people with latex on their faces.” It really brought to mind a lot of things involved with character creation and how interconnected everything from appearance to behavior to the chemical composition of said aliens. In fact, it was Frank Wu talking about how one molecule in DNA being different can make big changes that gave me the idea for my next short story I’m going to work on.

I came away with a very good point from Writing of Short Fiction which was that short pieces are the “representation of the singular most important moment of a person’s life.” I quoted it because I did in my notes but I must have had a derf moment because I didn’t write down who said it. I think it was F Brett Cox who is a short fiction writer and creative writing professor at Norwich University in Vermont. (edit: It was Cox quoting David Hartwell. High five Lisa from the comments!) I tend to write like I talk, with a lot of tangents and some made up words for good measure. Keeping things short is a very conscious and difficult thing for me and that line kind of stuck with me. I need to keep thinking “How important is this moment?” and keep it from going off on tangents.

My gem from Character in Hard SF was kind of about the subgenre itself. There was a lot of talk of what really defined hard sci fi and to what extent you had to dive into the tech to make it legitimate. The general consensus was the science does not have to be current (although it should at the time of writing) but it is more of an attitude towards the science. It becomes almost a character in itself. But the example of Frankenstein was used, the science was considered cutting edge at the time but it’s all the other stuff that made it stand the test of time.

When Underpinnings com Unpinned. Buh? It was about the views of Golden Age SF and whether or not they are valid anymore. There was a lot of overlap with Optimism vs Darkness in SF, even though all the panelists were different. Myke Cole was at this one and holy hell he’s hilarious. He took this pic at the end of the panel. That’s half of my noggin second from the left. Captain America guy moved at the wrong moment. I have stated that I will buy him a beer due to the awesomeness. Hell, just for scolding the old man with the cell phone is worth. I could not find him later at the bar so if he’s ever in Rhode Island I’m gonna make that happen. At the end of the panel there was a woman who was chatting and/or hitting on him and I didn’t want to disturb that. Anyways. The panel talked a lot about how the norms in sci fi paralleled changing norms in everyday society. People hooking up with vampires and werewolves and the such was one of the best examples. People didn’t talk about that kind of thing between regular people way back in the day at all let alone in fiction.

Optimism vs Darkness in SF got very philosophical. Jennifer Pelland, amusingly cynical, was all over the darkness and kind of saw it as a challenge. She also made it a point to say how some things have to end badly because the uncertainty of a good or bad ending keeps writing from getting stale. Leonid Korogodski get real deep and brought in the laws of thermodynamics saying how “balance is death” and a constant struggle between optimism and darkness is needed to keep things moving on. The surface optimism of the 80s has led to a lot more realistic version of characters that shows their flaws and dark sides. I took it as an increased level of realism rather than darkness.

One of the overall things I enjoyed the most was seeing all these authors as real people. The internet has enabled readers to find out all they want about other authors but it’s different to see them talking in person. Peter V. Brett was at two of the panels, Character in Hard SF and Optimism vs Darkness. In the first one he mentioned “yeah that sounds like something in this afternoons panels. I think I’m in it. I think I might be moderating it…” And then the rest of the panel poked fun at him for not preparing and he’s all like “meh.” This resonated very well with me and Navigator Jim. If he hadn’t mentioned that in the morning, we would have never known because he pulled it off just find. On the way home Jim said “He has me sold as a person, now I want to find out what he has to say.” I echo that feeling about him and a number of the other authors there.

The only real disappointment of the con was the art show. Not the content, that was great. There were giant original pieces of books I’ve read. Big and small the art ranged across genres and mediums. There was even a section of bona fide drinking horns. The disappointment was that I wanted to buy some but since I had one day at the con I couldn’t. Unless someone wanted to purchase from the small section of multiple prints, you had to pick it up Sunday instead of take it with you. I understand wanting to have it all on display all weekend before people take it away but come on! Not everyone is local or can roll in town for a whole weekend. Lameness. Anyways, the piece I wanted to buy was a limited print by Alan F Beck who has been nominated for Hugos and all sorts of kickassery. Go check out his art but don’t buy the ones I want since I want to buy them myself.

So I was good in the hucksters room and only bought three books. Myke Cole’s Control Point: Shadow Ops, Benjamin Tate’s Well of Sorrows and Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. There were a lot more books I saw there I wanted but for the sake of my wallet, I was good and got books by people that were there and I got a chance to see. I saw someone selling an autographed first ed hardcover of China Mieville‘s Embassytown. Excellent book. $150 bucks though. There was also a signed first ed hardcover of Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. I was all like “……. want….” and then saw the price of $550 and almost threw up. I didn’t even turn to the autograph page because I felt I shouldn’t. And it was just sitting there on a shelf with a bunch of other stuff. And it wasn’t even Amber. Oi.

So yeah. That was my day at the con in a nutshell. It’s been a lot of words, now if only I can get that many words down on my story this evening. I will end this with the top three quotes from the day.

  • “Maybe you’ve learned to cope with being dead.” -Random woman at the Optimism vs Darkness panel
  • “When you say pairings, it’s just a nice way to say screwing.” -Myke Cole on changing social norms in sci fi
  • “I’m gonna go out and shoot and fuck the universe.” -Peter V. Brett on the ‘Baen book macho voice’