Posts Tagged ‘Saladin Ahmed’

This has been percolating in my head for a while, like most of my bigger blog posts tend to do. I don’t remember any specific thing that spurred me on to this thought train. The aging old guard that hates any sort of change is an ugly thing in the SF community, and it’s all too often that they rear up and stomp around like dinosaurs. One of their many airing of grievances probably set this off.

I grew up reading the Old Guard. That’s what my parents read back in the day because they weren’t the Old Guard then, they were the Newbies. They were the Old Guard though when I started reading their books at ten. A lot of the Old Guard have written amazing things. The cornerstones of science fiction and fantasy came about because of them. That’s past tense. It’s a fact. Even if they’ve turned into curmudgeonly old guys, their past impact on the genre can’t be changed. Prime example: Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card. Today’s version of OSC is not someone I would ever get along with, to put it in nice words that aren’t swearing. However, the book he wrote back in the 80s is profound.

Thanks to this nebulous mass of the Old Guard, there is an image that the Average White Guy who reads in our genre only wants to read about Average White Guys and put their foot down to squash diversity. Eh, that might be a bit dramatic, but the image is one of indifference at best.

I want to put it out there that it is a complete misnomer that people only want to read about people exactly like them. I think this is doubly so within SF circles. If we weren’t all fans of the different on some level, we’d all be reading “regular” literature instead.

Just from a practical point of view, think that I’ve been reading SF for twenty years now. No one can read everything, but I consider myself fairly well read in both the sci fi and fantasy sides of the genre from the 70s stuff my parents were buying in high school on up to the new stuff today. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read about the  Average White Guy Chosen One who must save the universe/kingdom.

Been there, done that. That’s not to say it couldn’t still make for a good book, but it’s a very tired trope. I want something new. We’re fortunate that we live in a day where it is a hell of a lot easier to find that shiny new story. Amazon may be the 900 pound gorilla in the room, but you can buy anything from them, not just what is confined to the shelves at the local big box. Finding something different than the bleached out vision of sci fi or the Anglo based fantasy is a lot easier than it used to be.

Examples galore are out there. Some of the ones I love to recommend (and frequently do) are Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed and a new one I recently read, Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi.

In none of these books, or the myriad of others I read, being different was not the end all be all of the book. Having a different cast of characters and a different cultural basis were defiantly points in favor for the books. None of that would have mattered though if they weren’t written well. How’s the plot? How’s the prose? Drop the ball on that and you’re novel could be about the UN and it wouldn’t matter one wit to me.

ascension-coverI’m going to use Ascension again as an example since it’s new so therefore hasn’t been talked about around these parts before. The protag, Alana, is black and gay. The relationships in the book are polyamorous. That’s quite possibly the polar opposite of the Average White Guy. Ok. That’s all well and good, how’s all the other stuff going on in the book? Plot? Prose? It happens to all be fantastic. Alana is a bad ass engineer who stows away in a cargo ship on a desperate mission. The engineer on a civilian ship is a point of view that’s refreshing in itself instead of the typical guns-blazing space marine. But that’s a tangent for another blog post. The point is, Alana is doing badassery independent of how she identifies herself. Her differences add more layers to a novel that already had a compelling base.

That is the best way to go about adding more diversity into the SF scene.

Because character diversity isn’t the end all be all of a good novel, it doesn’t always work out. I read an urban fantasy with a gay protag that spent more time sitting around moping “Does she love me? Do I love her?” It was book one of a series so the plot never felt any need to move about with urgency and the novel ended up being half relationship, high school type drama, dealing with intolerant family kind of stuff. If that’s your bag, great, fantastic, I’ll let you know where the used bookstore I sent it off to is. It’s not my bag at all because the plot took a back seat to all the introspection. There should be balance between the two.

There was another time I read a steampunk book that made a huge to do and reveal of a transgender character right at the start of Act Three. Ok cool. People are people. And? And nothing. The book went out of its way to make it into a Thing, I expected some sort of plot point out of it. When there wasn’t one, I felt the whole thing was distracting. The drama was distracting, not the character herself. I think it would have been more effective storytelling if it had been brought up earlier in the normal course of business and without the drama of a reveal. But then again, I don’t know anyone else who’s read the same book to solicit other opinions. Maybe other people liked the drama of it.

Having a diverse cast in SF become a non issue is a noble and proper goal. A multicultural, multiracial, multi(insert any adjective that describes people) landscape should be accepted as the norm. I think that treating it as normal is the best way to get people around you to also start treating it as normal. Lead by example kind of thing. Letting the storytelling take a back seat to creating a diverse cast does a disservice to the very cause they want to champion. Maybe disservice isn’t the right word choice. It’s more like a lateral move, not hurtful but not really helpful in the end.

I feel like writing diversity as normal is harder to accomplish as an Average White Guy writer though. I don’t want to deal with questions of “Is this guy pandering for sales?” or “You’re not X, you can’t write about X without authenticity.”

Whatever. Screw that noise. In the end, I’m going to write the stories I want to write. That will frequently be about characters that aren’t like me because otherwise life would be boring as hell. I’ve got a short story about a scientist that happens to be a black woman with genetically engineered pink hair and six fingers. Why? Fun. Also, the character design was inspired by one of my kid’s Nick Jr cartoons (so many points to whoever can call that one). The punk band in my in-progress novel has a Hispanic brother and sister and a Chinese drummer. Why? Well, originally it was set in my hometown which has large Puerto Rican and Chinese communities. There’s no reason the band should be nothing but white guys. That’s just things plucked out of my daily life plunked into my writing.

I might not write different people right. In fact, I’m sure I’ll screw it up once in a while. And if people want to respectfully talk shop about how to improve writing a certain POV, fantastic, I love talking shop and I always want to get better as my writing. The same goes for my reading lists. New points of view from diverse characters will always be another positive selling point in the laundry list of things I look for in a new book. I like to think that the genre community is getting better in that regard. We can drown out the haters by treating differences as a regular part of everyday life. That goes for the real world too.

The Year End Shenanigans for 2013 is going to focus on the books I’ve been reading. Largely because of all that free time I don’t have, I’ve scaled back on book review posts here. But I still love pontificating about great writing and spreading the word. I picked up most of the books I read now because of the people around me, so I want to do the same for the great things I read.

I’m not really feeling detailing out the query grind on this. Anyone familiar with a query grind is nodding knowingly right now anyways.

Onward to the books! I’m going to do this is lumps rather than singling out titles for specific things. Why? Cause it’s my post and I can do what I wanna! Except for the first thing. Always with the exceptions. But it’s an important one…

The Most Recommended Book of the Year

The Lives of Tao / The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

From the overlords at Angry Robot Books, the first Tao book came out in February and did so well the second was pushed up to October. Hence I’m listing them both. There’s all sorts of awesome going on with these books which can tell you all about why I liked it. What makes the Tao books so recommendable for me though is the genre blend going on here. Chu writes science fiction with a healthy dose of adventure thriller. It opens doors to a broader audience. There’s something special about accessible genre writing. We’re not going to grow the genre without pulling new people in. A lot of readers I know in real life don’t read off of the same lists that I do. Tao has been recommended to the military SF readers to the non-SF Jack Reacker Clive Cussler crowd.

The Most Influence on My Own Writing

I guess I lied and I am going to talk about my writing a little bit. This is a special kind of category for me though. I firmly believe that you can’t help being influenced by everything you read. You take cues from positive things you read and steer clear of the stuff you don’t like. There are a few authors that have very directly influenced both the book that I’m shopping around and the one I’m writing right now.

In Amity, the book I finished polishing over the summer, there are two chapters specifically dedicated to positive writing influences. There is a Soviet style show trial going on dedicated to Saladin Ahmed. The third POV character needed the perspective shift so it was dedicated to a person who challenges people to broaden their own perspective both in his writing and generally in life. The second scene in Amity specially dedicated is to Myke Cole. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole entire novel. There’s a riot cop facing off with my main protag. There’s a respect that they’re both just doing their job… one that happens to put them at odds with each other.

My current in-progress novel, the Rhode Island godpunk, owes a lot to Chuck Wendig first. There is so much swearing involved and Wendig is a virtuoso of swears. Seriously, I work in a shipyard and swear every tenth word and it has taxed my ability to creatively swear. The female lead of my book has a little bit of Miriam Black in her. The book also owes a tip of the hat to Delilah Dawson. Remember Wicked as They Come? Oh yeah. Don’t fear the smooching in SF! There’s totally smooching happening because that’s what the characters want, it’s what they need. My novel doesn’t work without the chemistry between the two leads and that means there’s smooching.

The Favorites of 2013

favorites2013I will leave you now with blurb sized exhultations of my favorite books of the year, in no particular order beyond how they’re piled on my kitchen table right now. Fun fact, I got to meet three of the five at conventions this year. They were all very awesome people and personalized books for me. Also, I saw Wes Chu in the distance at Readercon.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu – A genre blend that takes one of my all time favorite tropes, multiple consciousnesses stuffed inside of the same noggin and throws in a history spanning secret war.

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole – Ok so I got to read it early before it’s January release date, but it still counts because I say it does. Bookbinder is a fantastic character bringing a different perspective to the military based SF. The logistics guys are just as important as the front line fighters but it’s not a POV that’s full of traditional glory. I loved getting the new view as watching Bookbinder grow into the roll he is thrown into. I’m loving this series enough that I already made my local B+N order book three for me so I can have it on day one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – How could I not include the new adventures of Locke and Jean? I drove to Massachusetts so I could get mine from the man himself. (I also won at twitter that day) We finally got to see Sabetha in action. Finally! Book one was Locke as a planner and in book two, he was more reactionary. In book three, he’s matching wits with his equal, not something he ever really has to do even when shit hits the fan.

Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri – Straight up proper fantasy novels have had a resurgence in my reading lists lately. There’s a lot of tradition embroiled in fantasy and that’s not always a good thing. Manieri takes all the good parts of the epic fantasy and strips away all the bad breathing new life into the stodgy genre at the same time. World spanning sprawl and very personal stories come together to make something very special.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson – I picked this up as a recommendation by Chuck Wendig. This is dimension hopping science fiction sprinkled liberally with steampunk but shelved as romance. Forget artificial shelf segregation and do yourself a favor by reading this. Tish has a fantastic character arc pulling herself back together after some bad times. The world building is top notch. So what that there’s smooching? Embrace the smooching!

As my novel’s query letter goes off through the grist mill, worrying me into an ulcer, I feel the need to dust off my blog and stop neglecting it for a few minutes.

When writing, it’s as easy as the night is dark, i.e. goddamn very, to worry and doubt over every little thing about every word you’ve ever written. It’s pretty across the board no matter what stage of the career someone is in. Usually I can have confidence in my writing and brush off troubles with “I do tend to write weird quirky stuff, ‘course it’s gonna be trouble to find a home.” But it certainly doesn’t work all the time. Those rejection letters still sting.

Times like that are when it’s easiest to pull back into a bubble, but that’s when bubbles are counterproductive for both the person and the product. For all it’s problems, the SF community is a haven on the tough days.

There are a lot of writers out there in the SF community that are interactive and write fantastic books and blogs. Seriously, twitter is the best thing ever for that kind of stuff. I love to hear updates on projects and offer up digital high fives when people hit their word count. I love the blogs and the book recommendations and finding new authors to read. It’s all fantastic stuff that makes slogging through the word mines easier.

But there are a few authors that have passed on a jolt of momentum thought the smallest of gestures. Things that have effected my productivity, my writing and my whole outlook on this shared passion we all have. I doubt most of them would remember those small gestures that helped me out, but I sure do. It really doesn’t take much for established authors to really help out someone who is striving to be their peer. A digital high five, a couple words of luck and encouragement. Little things like that mean a lot to me. More so because my first author interaction back in the wild west days of the internet called the 90s was a very negative one that discouraged me from writing for the better part of a decade.

When (not if) I get my book out into the world, It’s someone I’m going to make sure to pay the positive forward.

I also believe that as a community, the SF world needs to celebrate the good in addition to addressing the bad. I want to take the time to publicly offer up high fives to a handful of authors who have encouraged and motivated me thought the smallest of gestures. This is by no means an exhaustive list of those who inspire me, but this is an important subset of that list to me. I’ve gotten through bad days in the wordmines because of these small things.

First off are Lauren Buekes and Tobias Buckell. I’ve never actually met either in person, but my sister has gotten transcontinental book signings from them for me. She told them I am a writer and they put words of encouragement in the books for me. They didn’t just dash off their name and write “To Mike” on it and leave it at that. I thought it was pretty awesome that a couple of authors who had barely a couple of twitter conversations with would take the time to do that.

Delilah Dawson not too long ago took a few minutes to answer some “after the book is written” questions on getting things published. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time or effort to do that sort of thing. Putting your work out there finally is a daunting task with big steps. Those little questions I asked have helped me get to the stage I’m at now, (which is actually still trying to give me an ulcer, but in a good way)

Saladin Ahmed and Myke Cole have been such an influence on my work, each one has a specific scene in my novel specially dedicated to them. I’ve mentioned before, last time I went to Boskone, how Myke Cole is super approachable and a hell of a nice guy in person and online. Cole and Ahmed both will both challenge you to think. My output has been better for it. I had my some of my novel’s beta readers call out the scenes they inspired as some of the best in my book.

The last public thank you today is to Seanan McGuire that also prompted this post. Yesterday on twitter she was talking about how fan fiction shouldn’t be looked down on, but rather as a positive fan engagement when treated correctly. She likened it to “Hey, you’ve got all the cool toys, can I come over to your house to play?” It was something that really hit home for me. When I was in high school, I was dabbling with it a bit and first starting to really enjoy the whole writing thing. It was the Wild West days of the internet and authors were still just the mythical paragraph at the end of the book. My first interaction with an author was “You’re bad for even thinking of fanfic!” I’m sure being an awkward teenager had a bit to do with it, but it was still such a bad experience to me, I didn’t pick up a pen to try to write for eight years and didn’t dream of taking it seriously until meeting my wife a couple years after that. I related the tweet sized version of the story to McGuire said “Whoever said that to you was wrong. I am sorry. Hear me teenage Mike? You are awesome for ficcing!” It struck a chord real hard and shifted me into a much more positive mindset.

So thank yous, high fives and fist bumps (with the explosion pow) all around.

When (not if) I get my book out there and get to leap to the other side of the fence to be a peer of the community, know that you had a small, but definitely not insignificant, part to play.